Buddhism and Taoism are two major religions in the orient, especially China. There are several similarities and differences between the two.

Comparison chart

Buddhism versus Taoism comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartBuddhismTaoism
Place of origin Nepal China
Place of worship Buddhist monasteries, temples, shrines. Taoist monasteries, temples, shrines.
Practices Practices of the Threefold Training: Virtue, Concentration, and Wisdom, a.k.a the Noble Eightfold Path. Philosophical maturity, virtuous conduct, internal alchemy, and some sexual practices.
Use of statues and pictures Common Common
Belief of God The idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent creator is rejected by Buddhists. The Buddha himself refuted the theistic argument that the universe was created by a self-conscious, personal God. Tao literally means the Way, which indicates the movement of a dynamic existence that is composed of opposing forces. Taoists do not believe in a personal God.
General Belief Belief in the Buddha's doctrine until one experientally sees the Dependent Origination, which opens the door to nirvana. Belief in one's own potential to reach the immortal state and become one with the Way, a.k.a the Tao.
Founder Gautama Buddha (born as Prince Siddhartha) Lao Tzu
Goal of religion To attain enlightenment and be released from the cycle of rebirth and death, thus attaining Nirvana. To be one with the Tao.
Life after death If nirvana isn't attained during life, the aggregates will be renewed into a completely different entity. Furthermore, if certain qualities are subdued, like perception, one's karma can cause any type of aggregation, like rocks, stars, or plants. If immortality isn't attained during life, the Tao will continue to evolve and manifest in different forms, in accordance with the entity's general conduct during a state of existence. This applies to all sentient and insentient beings.
Human Nature Ignorance, as all sentient beings. In the Buddhist texts, it is seen that when Gautama, after his awakening, was asked whether he was a normal human being, he replied, "No". If humans are in tune with the Tao, their sufferings will cease. Taoism teaches that humans are capable of experiencing immortality.
Literal Meaning Buddhists are those who follow the teachings of the Buddha in order to become like the Buddha. To follow the Tao.
Principle This life is suffering, and the only way to escape from this suffering is to dispel one's cravings and ignorance by realizing the Four Noble Truths and practicing the Eightfold Path. The Tao is the only principle. The rest are its manifestations.
View of the Buddha The highest teacher and the founder of Buddhism, the all-transcending sage. Some Taoists argue that the Buddha was a student of Lao Tzu, although there is no concrete evidence for it. Most Taoists respect and follow the Buddha's teachings.
Clergy The Buddhist Sangha, composed of bhikkhus (male monks) and bhikkhunis (female monks). The sangha is supported by lay Buddhists. Taoist clergies are led by the daoshis, masters of the Tao, and followed by daojiaotus, followers of Taoism who also support the clergy, although it is not common.
Original Language(s) Magadhiprakrit Old Chinese
Sources of Teachings Gautama Buddha, and later masters, such as Nagarjuna and Dogen. Lao Tzu, and some other Taoist masters, such as Zhuangzi.
Followers Buddhists Taoists
Scriptures Tripitaka - a vast canon composed of 3 sections: the Discourses, the Discipline and the Commentaries, and some early scriptures, such as the Gandhara texts. Daozang, a collection of 1400 texts organized in 3 sections which includes the Tao Te Ching, Zhuang Zi, I Ching, and some others.
Views on Other Religions Being a practical philosophy, Buddhism is neutral against other religions. Taoism teaches that all religions are as anything else; manifestations of the impersonal Tao.
Status of women No distinctions between men and women. Women are equal to men, and men are equal to women in the Sangha. No distinctions between men and women, as both are seen as manifestations of the Tao.
Goal of Philosophy To eliminate mental suffering. To gain balance in life.
Geographical distribution and predominance Theradava Buddhist countries, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Sri Lanka are the places of predominance of Buddhism. The Noble Truths are presently best heard in Myanmar only. China, Korea, to lesser extent Vietnam and Japan.
Time of origin 2,500 years ago, circa 563 B.C.E. (Before Common Era) Approx. 550 B.C.E (before common Era)
Status of Vedas The Buddha rejected the 5 Vedas, according to the dialogues seen in the nikayas. Foreign texts from the perspective of the Taoists.
Can atheists partake in this religion's practices? Yes. Yes.
Holy days/Official Holidays Vesak day in which the birth, the awakening, and the parinirvana of the Buddha is celebrated. Chinese New Year, 3 Day Festival of the Dead, Ancestor Day.
Offshoot Sects None. Although Buddhism is divided into many sects in itself. Mahayana and Vajrayana are the two big yanas, while Theravada is closer to earlier Buddhism. Confucianism was based on early teachings of Taoism, and many folk religions derive from Taoism. Zhengyi and Quanzhen are the two big historical sects within Taoism.
Concept of Deity Gods are seen as higher life forms, still bound in samsara. Being manifestations of the Tao, Gods are seen as higher life forms.
Religious Law The Dharma. The Tao.
Means of Salvation Following the Noble Eightfold Path. Following the Tao.
Marriage It is not a religious duty to marry. Monks and nuns do not marry and are celibate. Advice in the Discourses on how to maintain a happy and harmonious marriage. A social bonding, applicable with clerics as well.
Confessing sins Sin is not a Buddhist concept. Sin is not a Taoist concept.
View of other Dharmic religions Since the word Dharma means doctrine, law, way, teaching, or discipline, other Dharmas are rejected. Taoism has many similarities with Buddhism. Taoists are neutral against other Dharmic religions.
Authority of Dalai Lama Dalai Lamas are tulkus of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. They are cultural figures and are independent of the doctrinal basis of Buddhism. Taoists respect the general Buddhist traditions, but the Dalai Lamas have no special significance to Taoists.
Use of Statues Used as meditation objects, and revered as they reflect the qualities of the Buddha. They can be used as meditation objects, but they are not that common.
Population 300-350 million. 30-40 million.
Symbols The Wheel of the Dharma. The Yin and Yang.
Teachings about General Conduct Abstain from evil, strive for nirvana, constantly cleanse the mind. Live in accordance with the Tao, find balance in life.
Clothing Bhikkhus and bhikkhunis are supposed to wear the Buddhist robe. There is no such rule for lay followers. No clothing rules.
Ontology Existence is called samsara; literally, "rounds of becoming". To not become is only possible through attaining nirvana. Existence is called the Tao; literally, "the Way". We are subjects, and the Way is the object. If we become the object, we are freed.
Animal Rights The Buddha taught that animals have equal rights as humans. They are still bound in samsara, and suffer as humans do. Although he urged vegetarianism, he didn't restrict monks from eating meat when it was offered. Animals are manifestations of the Tao, as living entities, they are not different than humans, so they should be treated accordingly.
Moral Obligations The Buddha taught that karma is the reason that we exist. According to the teaching, all our actions of body, speech and mind, will yield results, either in this state of existence, or in a later one. Lao Tzu taught that understanding the reality of the Tao will naturally result in balance, self-control, and virtuous conduct.
Sexual Conduct The Buddha taught that a lay follower should subdue sexual misconduct, which includes consciously cheating on one's spouse, sexual intercourse with another's wife or husband, a minor, or an animal. Monks and nuns are celibate. Sexuality is a natural phenomenon that occurs due to the yin and yang aspects of existence. A balanced, virtuous sex life will lead to enlightenment. The whole topic of sexuality is finely dissected and categorized in the texts.
Compatibility with Science Aside from the concepts of karma and rebirth, Buddhism is said to be compatible with many scientific findings. Most Buddhist practices can also be labeled as cognitive science. Taoism is said to be compatible with science, although it has its own ontological understanding of existence.
Homosexuality The Buddha accepted both homosexuals and asexuals into the Sangha. In the Buddhist understanding, it is a natural phenomenon, and not different than heterosexualiy. Homosexuality is a natural manifestation of the Tao.
Taijitu, the symbol for yin and yang in Taoism.
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Taijitu, the symbol for yin and yang in Taoism.

History

Buddhism finds its roots in Nepal at a time when religious and social turmoil was prevalent. A sect of people who shunned the traditions of the Brahminical religion followed the path led by Gautama Buddha. Indian Buddhism is categorized into five periods. Mauryan emperor Ashoka was a big supporter of this religion and put his efforts in spreading the Buddhist philosophies and ideologies. It spread to Central Asia and to Sri Lanka and eventually to China.

Some forms of Taoism find its roots in Chinese prehistoric folk religions. Laozi is regarded as the founder of this philosophy and Taoism gained official status in China. Many Chinese emperors have been instrumental in spreading and propagating the teachings of this religion.

For a comparison of Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist beliefs in China, watch the video below.

Underlying Concept

Buddhism as a religion believes in Karma and has unique spiritual, physical and metaphysical beliefs which are well grounded in logic, belief and meditation.

Taoism is a philosophy of harmony with nature by way of use of principles like acceptance, simplicity, compassion, relying on experience, wu wei, living in the moment beside others.

Buddha statue in Phnom Penh
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Buddha statue in Phnom Penh

Important Beliefs

The tradition and practice of Buddhism emphasizes the Three Jewels that include the Buddha, The Dharma and The Sangha. Buddhist ideologies vests on the Four Noble Truths (Life ultimately leads to suffering, suffering is caused by craving, suffering ends when craving ends and the liberated state can be reached by following the path etched by Buddha) and the Noble Eightfold path which when adhered to is believed to put an end to the suffering.

Ethics of Taoism lays stress on the Three Jewels of the Tao that include moderation, humility and compassion. Reverence for immortals and ancestor spirits is important in Taoism. Chinese alchemy, Feng shui, many Chinese martial arts, Zen Buddhism, Chinese traditional medicine and breath training find their roots in Taoism.

Branches

There are two major branches of Buddhism:

The former is the oldest surviving branch and is widely popular in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. Mahayana is popular in East Asia. Vajrayana is a sub category of Mahayana which is also accepted as the third branch. Buddhism is recognized as the world’s fourth largest religion.

Livia Kohn categorized Taoism into three branches:

Ethics

Buddhism defines ethics as Sila which is the overall principle of ethical behavior. There exist five precepts in this religion that are pre-determined training rules to lead a happy and better life. These precepts include:

The basic ethics or virtues of Taoism are the Three Jewels or the Three Treasures:

Texts or Scripture

Buddhist scriptures are written in Pali, Tibetan, Mongolian and Chinese languages. A few others include Sanskrit and Buddhist hybrid Sanskrit. There is no single central text that is referred to by all traditions.

Tao Te Ching or Daodejing is the most influential Taoist text. The other Taoist texts include Zhuangzi, Daozang and a few other significant texts.

Further Reading

For further reading, there are several books available on Amazon.com on Buddhism and Taoism:

References

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