Last week, after a brief sitting meditation in class, one of my students asked me this question: what is the difference between Buddhism and Taoism? She asked “me” because I explained before the meditation that I had trained with Buddhist and Taoist meditators. This question has been asked before, so I thought that I would share my views about the topic.
First, I am not an expert on Buddhism or Taoism, as I am not an expert in “spirituality”. I am only a human being with certain spiritual experiences. As a child, I grew up in a Catholic family who used to go to mass every Sunday. I loved going to church because we used to sing and people were very quiet. To me, it felt good inside. Praying was part of my daily life until I became a young adult. It made me feel calm and relaxed, reassured that God would look after me.
In my twenties, I moved to Ireland, where the Catholic church was being sued for atrocious crimes to children. I started to feel ashamed to tell my friends that I used to be a Catholic and going to mass used to make me feel good. I kept it to myself, and I let my spirituality die. Until I discovered the Eastern meditation practices during my tai chi classes. What I loved about them was that they made me feel good inside, just as praying did when I was a child. I was training for a long time with Jan Golden, tai chi instructor and Buddhist practitioner, and I did Taoist workshops, attended a Jesuit-Indian meditation workshop, and mindfulness sessions led by a caring female energy healer, called Ann Margaret. All of these practices made me feel good inside, made me feel connected to a higher power, to God, to the universe, to whoever you want to call it.
Master Liming Yue said once that spirituality is like connecting to the Internet of the spirit, and each religion is a different broadband that allows you this connection. For me, Christianity and Buddhism have a rather sad, pessimistic flavour that I am not too keen on. But some people are very happy Christians and Buddhists. Most of the Taoists that I met in my life were very cheerful and quick to laugh, so I am very drawn to them. They remind me of my Catholic grandfather who used to say: “Where there is love, there is no sin” always with a smile in his face. But he was a very liberal Catholic, and I haven’t met many along the way. Because of him, possibly, I believe Jesus’ energy and his love cannot compete with Lao Tse in my heart. That is because I prefer Jesus broadband to connect to the universe, but I am often using a Taoist provider. Does this all make sense? Maybe not. Does it matter? Possibly not.
So what is the difference between Buddhism and Taoism? I haven’t got a clue. I have never trained long enough in any of these practices to know. But I do know that their pratices feel the same as Christianity, as walking in nature, as sharing a difficult time with another human being, as a child’s smile, as a heart-felt hug, as being a witness of someone’s fear of death, as any spiritual moment that I’ve ever experienced in my life.