Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Frank » Tue May 15, 2012 11:55 pm

Taoism is very cool, lots of amazing teachings and works. It almost seems like it's the last pieces of Buddha Kassapa's teachings from long ago, it's got such a vague underlying similarity to Buddhism (Obviously I know this is not the case, just a fun thought). Not that that's all that's great about it! There is so much rich philosophy and wonderful mythology surrounding it!

Anyway, anyone know about it? Similarities to Buddhism? Differences?

Interface, overlap and and combining with Ch'an/Zen?

I have read, own, and love the Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu. The latter contains what some believe is the kernel for the development of Shikantaza meditation in the Ch'an school, called, in chapter six "sitting forgetfulness". There are many other similarities in writings and teachings and some over laps, like some Ch'an schools practice qigong alongside Buddhism, etc.
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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Huifeng » Wed May 16, 2012 2:41 am

In general, the influence of the Lao-Zhuang* teachings on Buddhism in China was not that deep. It hit a few earlier Buddhist exegetes rather heavily, but it was largely shaken off in later generations.

However, the influence of Buddhism on Daojia* was much, much heavier. For example, even during the Tang when the ruling Li family supported Daojia as their personal and state religion, Buddhism was still more popular and more powerful. The Daojia group rather shamelessly copied Buddhist scriptures just changing key words and so forth, while the whole approach and structure remained the same. (eg. Laozi hua Hu jing "Classic of Laozi converting the Barbarians".)

For example, despite claiming the Daojia influence on Chan, one cannot find a single reference by an classic Chan teacher to common phrases from, say, the Laozi or Zhuangzi. References to Buddhist scriptures, however, abound everywhere.

The term "Shikantaza" is from Dogen's Soto Zen school in Japan. This derives from the Chan Caodong school, but Chan doesn't really use the phrase itself. Moreover, it is partly from the Japanese Tendai (Ch: Tiantai) school that influenced Dogen before he went Zen. The influence is obvious.

Daojia "qigong" is quite a later invention. Buddhism had forms of breath meditation right from it's earliest times in India (ie. anapana, etc.) These forms became standard in Chinese Buddhist meditation systems, including Tiantai and Chan in particular. So, the roots can be found elsewhere.

* I use the Chinese terms Lao-Zhuang and Daojia, rather than the confusing English neologism "Taoism" or "Daoism". Laozi and Zhuangzi were only adopted as the founders of Daojia at a rather later date, partly influenced by Buddhism having a clear founder. The term "Dao" is a pan-Chinese culture term, and not confined to any given philosophy or school of thought. But, in the Tang, the Daojia brought in Lao-Zhuang thought, trying to formalize and systematize things in the light of every increasing Buddhist presence and influence.

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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Frank » Wed May 16, 2012 3:17 am

Huifeng wrote:In general, the influence of the Lao-Zhuang* teachings on Buddhism in China was not that deep. It hit a few earlier Buddhist exegetes rather heavily, but it was largely shaken off in later generations.

However, the influence of Buddhism on Daojia* was much, much heavier. For example, even during the Tang when the ruling Li family supported Daojia as their personal and state religion, Buddhism was still more popular and more powerful. The Daojia group rather shamelessly copied Buddhist scriptures just changing key words and so forth, while the whole approach and structure remained the same. (eg. Laozi hua Hu jing "Classic of Laozi converting the Barbarians".)

For example, despite claiming the Daojia influence on Chan, one cannot find a single reference by an classic Chan teacher to common phrases from, say, the Laozi or Zhuangzi. References to Buddhist scriptures, however, abound everywhere.

The term "Shikantaza" is from Dogen's Soto Zen school in Japan. This derives from the Chan Caodong school, but Chan doesn't really use the phrase itself. Moreover, it is partly from the Japanese Tendai (Ch: Tiantai) school that influenced Dogen before he went Zen. The influence is obvious.

Daojia "qigong" is quite a later invention. Buddhism had forms of breath meditation right from it's earliest times in India (ie. anapana, etc.) These forms became standard in Chinese Buddhist meditation systems, including Tiantai and Chan in particular. So, the roots can be found elsewhere.

* I use the Chinese terms Lao-Zhuang and Daojia, rather than the confusing English neologism "Taoism" or "Daoism". Laozi and Zhuangzi were only adopted as the founders of Daojia at a rather later date, partly influenced by Buddhism having a clear founder. The term "Dao" is a pan-Chinese culture term, and not confined to any given philosophy or school of thought. But, in the Tang, the Daojia brought in Lao-Zhuang thought, trying to formalize and systematize things in the light of every increasing Buddhist presence and influence.

~~ Huifeng


:good: :applause: :good:
The Shikantaza-like meditation is from a book written long before the Caodong school existed, and obviously before Dogen was born. This by no means definitively proves that that's where it came from, it's just speculation. However outright denying any influence of Taoism on Buddhism in China is a little to far out there in my opinion, considering Taosim was big in China when Buddhism came in, the odds of it having no influence at all are incredibly small. And qigong or at least closely related practices were being used in China before the Buddha was even born so that's definitely Taoism or just simply native Chinese practice being an influence on Buddhism as qigong is very different than anything the buddha taught. One could argue that qigong came from India in the first place (since it's so similar to prajna moving yoga practices) or vice versa, but it's irrelevant since it was being practiced separate from Buddhism when it arrived in China and then was adopted by Buddhist schools.

By no means am I one of those people who thinks all Chinese Ch'an is just Buddhism with Taoism added to it! I am fairly confident that the majority of Chinese Ch'an did in fact come from India, but I feel it would be short sighted to say either extreme:

Taoism influencing Buddhism is the only reason Ch'an exists.

or

Ch'an and Taoism are totally separate in every way and never overlap or borrow from one another.

Or any variation of the two, such as Taoism borrowed from Ch'an but Ch'an borrowed nothing from Taoism, or vice versa.

All of these extremes are highly unlikely. Maybe Taoism borrowed more from Ch'an than Ch'an from Taoism, but certainly Ch'an borrowed at least a few things from Taoism.

This is not the meaning of this post either, I probably should have been more clear and worded it better, sorry for any confusion. I think I've covered the different view points of scholars out there so we can just let that part go. Let's talk about Taoism in general and it's similarities to Buddhism, shared beliefs, Taoist mythology, or anything like that would be fun. If this becomes an arguement about who influenced who I'm just going to bow out and let whoever wants to fill up page after page of meaningless debate since scholars that know more than most of us are at a stand still due to lack of historical evidence (among other things), we will never really know, so lets just let it be.

I'm not trying to be harsh or anything, I just do not come to forums to argue :)
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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Huifeng » Wed May 16, 2012 12:12 pm

"However outright denying any influence of Taoism on Buddhism in China is a little to far out there in my opinion..."

Okay, but I never "outright den[ied] any influence...", I said "influence ... not that deep", so please don't quote my post and then argue against things I never said.

When you say "The Shikantaza-like meditation is from a book written long before the Caodong school existed", may I inquire as to what book you are referring to?

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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby White Lotus » Wed May 16, 2012 4:12 pm

i have studied the tao teh ching, and once had half of it memorized. i have also read chuang tze.

''the name that can be named is not the eternal name''. ''all things return to the tao/one''; when looked into have quite profound buddhist implications. nonetheless im not sure whether any taoist ever saw the true nature of things. personally i would be surprised if they hadnt done so.

the tao has its uses, especially when it comes to speaking about paradox.

the tao takes the approach that all coming is all going, or that no coming is no going. this is only half of the eqation. it can also be said that all coming is no going, or that no going is all coming.

no winning is no losing (tao), or no winning is all losing. (conventional wisdom).

lao Tse says that he who speaks does not know, one of my teachers freed my mind from attachment to views when he said that ''he who speaks knows.'' (in response to my ''he who speaks does not know - either approach can be taken).

the opening chapter of the tao is i would say worthy of buddhism, but the rest is just ordinary paradox taken from an oppositional point of view. oppositional in the sense that everything is said to be nothing; this occurs throughout the tao teh ching and is an over used formula.

so yes, respect for taoisms classisc books and realisation; with the question,.. does it go far enough?

best wishes, Tom.
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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Seishin » Wed May 16, 2012 5:37 pm

Ven Huifeng;
Am I right in thinking that "Daoism" wasn't ever formalised as a religion until Buddhism was brought to the country? I think I read it somewhere but really can't remember. :emb:

Frank: Ven Huifeng is right when he said that the term shikantaza came from Tendai. We call it "makashikan" which was a term that came from the Tientai monk Zhiyi (538-597 CE) "mo-ho-chi-kuan" (摩訶止観) which was also a meditation instruction manual by Zhiyi (Chi-i in Japanese). Altough I'm not any kind of historian, I doubt that Ven Zhiyi was the guy who coined the phrase, I believe it's much older, but I don't have anything to back me up there.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhiyi
http://www.tientai.net/lit/mksk/MKSKintro.htm

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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby LastLegend » Wed May 16, 2012 6:07 pm

I think Lao Tzu was an enlightened being. However, Taoism does not really emphasize liberation from suffering or any clear cut teachings to liberate sentient beings from suffering. And from what I heard, many Taoist practitioners end up in heavenly realms for that reason. But still Taoism is big moral teaching which is no difference than Buddhist teachings of moral conducts. In that respect, there is overlapping. But in terms of liberation from suffering, it is quite illusive.

Similarly with Confucianism, Confucius was probably an enlightened being. And Confucianism is a moral teaching also. If people really follow and practice Confucianism, they will become saint like no difference from Arahants. Out of all the 3, Buddhism is most comprehensive in terms of teachings and practice.

And my conclusion is Lao Tzu and Confucius were probably manifestations of Bodhisattvas.
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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby kirtu » Wed May 16, 2012 9:16 pm

Frank wrote:Taoism is very cool, lots of amazing teachings and works. It almost seems like it's the last pieces of Buddha Kassapa's teachings from long ago, it's got such a vague underlying similarity to Buddhism (Obviously I know this is not the case, just a fun thought).


What follows is really about one stream of Taoism - Taoism has at least two broad streams: one yogic and one basically for common people (although they are not entirely separate). This is about the yogic branch. Taoism is basically a mundane "energy" or more correctly a mundane siddha path. It's mundane because it does not transcend samsara. It's an energy or siddha path for yogis because it's short-term/intermediate yogic goal is life extension (primarily). It's long-term goal is enlightenment but this isn't Buddhist enlightenment. The enlightenment is more about transformation (spiritual and to some extent "physical" alchemy). Taoism has a subtly realist view with it's own realist view of emptiness.

Their meditation can be very effective esp. wrt health and mental/emotional health (I mean a specific meditation here - Taosim has other forms of meditation than just what I learned). They are organized into lineages, schools and temples. Actually I never visited a Taoist temple as my Taoist teacher was here in DC and his teacher is a very famous Taoist and martial artist, Wang Yen-nien (I just found out that he died in 2008 - :crying: - very sad - I only met him once and his taiji teachng was wasted on me but he was a very great master).

From a Buddhist viewpoint Taoism would be a "higher-pinnacle" school like Hinduism.

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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Frank » Wed May 16, 2012 10:06 pm

Huifeng wrote:"However outright denying any influence of Taoism on Buddhism in China is a little to far out there in my opinion..."

Okay, but I never "outright den[ied] any influence...", I said "influence ... not that deep", so please don't quote my post and then argue against things I never said.

When you say "The Shikantaza-like meditation is from a book written long before the Caodong school existed", may I inquire as to what book you are referring to?

~~ Huifeng

Yeah you're right :) . Sorry, I just wanted to make it clear I don't want a long debate about origins of Ch'an being involved or not with Taoism. My fault, not yours. The book is Chuang Tzu, written around 300 AD. Ch'an didn't even exist back then, let alone Caodong. But like I said it's just speculation, not saying ''Shikantaza definitely came from Taoism via the teachings found in Chuang Tzu.'' Just that it's a possible link in development over hundreds of years. Not so much Ch'an stole this from Taoism, but maybe Taoists were developing a distant ancestor to shikantaza when Buddhism arrived in China, some Taoist monks converted to Buddhism, and then it developed over the next few hundred years and became uniquely Buddhist. The same as jhana meditation already existed in India when the Buddha came about, but the Buddha developed his own methods and highly systematized it's practice, making it uniquely his own thing.

Or maybe there's no connection but it's still fun and interesting that they are similar and even more interesting if they developed independently of each other!
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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Huifeng » Thu May 17, 2012 1:56 am

Okay, gotcha.

First, however, I think it highly pertinent to clarify the issue of this term "Taoism".
In general, it is now recognized by most scholars in the field, that "Taoism" is something of a Western creation.
I'd much rather stick with (at least) two indigenous phrases in Chinese, namely "Lao-Zhuang" (老莊) and "Daojia" (道家) / "Daojiao" (道教).
Some comments on the relationship between these two is given above. A critical one being that it was really only by the Tang that Lao-Zhuang was brought under the so-called Daojiao fold. Now, Chan was already there before this time. So, if the influence you see is from Lao-Zhuang, then we can almost abandon the Daojiao references, and just stick to Lao-Zhuang.

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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Frank » Thu May 17, 2012 2:35 am

white lotus, :applause: thanks for the great post! I feel the same. ''does it go far enough?'' maybe, but it seems to be just on the edge of leading one to a realization, just the right kind of attitude but without the specifics and extremely focused practice techniques found in buddhism. although its possible i just don't know enough about it. being just on the edge is what makes me feel like it, more than most other traditions, is a distant relative of buddhism. even though it's not, it still is an intriguing thought, perhaps an important note on the shared mental and spiritual development of man.
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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Frank » Thu May 17, 2012 2:38 am

LastLegend wrote:I think Lao Tzu was an enlightened being. However, Taoism does not really emphasize liberation from suffering or any clear cut teachings to liberate sentient beings from suffering. And from what I heard, many Taoist practitioners end up in heavenly realms for that reason. But still Taoism is big moral teaching which is no difference than Buddhist teachings of moral conducts. In that respect, there is overlapping. But in terms of liberation from suffering, it is quite illusive.

Similarly with Confucianism, Confucius was probably an enlightened being. And Confucianism is a moral teaching also. If people really follow and practice Confucianism, they will become saint like no difference from Arahants. Out of all the 3, Buddhism is most comprehensive in terms of teachings and practice.

And my conclusion is Lao Tzu and Confucius were probably manifestations of Bodhisattvas.

confucious and lao tzu as bodhisattvas ? love it!
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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Frank » Thu May 17, 2012 2:48 am

Seishin wrote:Ven Huifeng;
Am I right in thinking that "Daoism" wasn't ever formalised as a religion until Buddhism was brought to the country? I think I read it somewhere but really can't remember. :emb:

Frank: Ven Huifeng is right when he said that the term shikantaza came from Tendai. We call it "makashikan" which was a term that came from the Tientai monk Zhiyi (538-597 CE) "mo-ho-chi-kuan" (摩訶止観) which was also a meditation instruction manual by Zhiyi (Chi-i in Japanese). Altough I'm not any kind of historian, I doubt that Ven Zhiyi was the guy who coined the phrase...
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okay, all i was saying is some speculate the method or it's predecessor was first mentioned in the book chuang tzu, written 300 ad. or maybe it only seems that way by coincidence. but either way the techniques are similar and the book was written before tendai school book by zhiyi. again though it's just fun speculation. there is no conclusive evidence to say for certain that it's the same method or not.
Last edited by Frank on Thu May 17, 2012 2:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Frank » Thu May 17, 2012 2:52 am

kirt, :twothumbsup: thank so much! wonderful information and comparisons! expanded my thinking some! if you wnt to share more that would be great.
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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Huifeng » Thu May 17, 2012 3:07 am

Confucianism is originally more concerned with secular human relations.
Daojiao originally with longevity.

It is only in neo-Confucianism (Lixue) and post-Tang Daojiao that they start to have anything much like the Buddhist systems of ethics or idea of liberation. And that is simply because of the enormous pressure that Buddhism put on these two indigenous systems to either make massive changes to their own systems to stay in the game, or be totally overtaken.

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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Indrajala » Thu May 17, 2012 6:15 am

seishin wrote:Am I right in thinking that "Daoism" wasn't ever formalised as a religion until Buddhism was brought to the country? I think I read it somewhere but really can't remember.


"Daoism" as something which people self-identified with seems to first exist around the 5th century and was a response to the growing power of Buddhism. See the following on page 16 in Kirkland's work:

The first socio-cultural group whose participants consciously identified themselves as "Taoist" - and began conceiving the first comprehensive collection of Taoist texts - appeared in what some would call "early Medieval China," during the fifth century CE. That group consisted specifically of people whose sense of Taoist identity was stimulated by the fact that Buddhism had gained acceptance and political favor throughout the land, which was, at that time, politically divided, with one imperial regime in the north and another in the south. There were many then, in the north and south alike, who had no wish to identify themselves with Buddhism.


See Taoism: The Enduring Tradition by Kirkland, a preview of which is available on Google Books:

http://books.google.com.tw/books?id=o9O ... &q&f=false

Frank wrote:Taoism is very cool, lots of amazing teachings and works. It almost seems like it's the last pieces of Buddha Kassapa's teachings from long ago, it's got such a vague underlying similarity to Buddhism (Obviously I know this is not the case, just a fun thought). Not that that's all that's great about it! There is so much rich philosophy and wonderful mythology surrounding it!


In the early centuries some believed Laozi and Buddha were the same person. As the legend goes Laozi exited China westward and was never heard from again, which some took to mean he went to India to enlighten the people there.

That aside, in the early days a lot of Buddhist terms were translated using terminology from the contemporary philosophical lexicon, much of which was derived from texts which later individuals identifying as "Daoist" (intentionally in contrast to Buddhists) would claim as their own. This is why you hear scholars speak of "Daoist influences on early Buddhism", which is actually just anachronistic and sloppy.

In the later Han Dynasty (25-220) and subsequent kingdoms which arose following its collapse Buddhism was introduced and some native Chinese authors were often at a loss on how to translate and interpret terminology, so they used what they had using a exegetical method called "matching terms" (Chn. ge yi 格義) with mixed results. For example the term wu-wei 無爲, originally derived from classical Chinese philosophies (none of which were specifically "Daoist" until long after their original authors had turned to dust), was used for nirvāṇa. Ultimately this was abandoned and a phonetic transcription of nirvāṇa came to be favored, which is still the case today.

So, there was some degree of influence from contemporary philosophy of the time on Buddhism in the early centuries in China. This would apply to some effect with Chan as well. This cannot be denied.

It is quite similar to the west where Buddhism has continually and still is read through the lens of western psychology. A lot of Buddhist vocabulary is also rendered using items from the psychological lexicon. For example, translating ātman as ego. This no doubt influences the way the concept is formulated in the minds of people already directly or indirectly influenced by western psychology.

Interface, overlap and and combining with Ch'an/Zen?


There was a movement in East Asia, especially after the Song Dynasty it seems, that proposed the "unity of the three teachings" (san jiao he yi 三教合一), which was in vogue not just with Neo-Confucians, but a few eminent Chan masters like Hanshan Deqing 憨山德清 (1546–1623). However, you see this in earlier literature as well with the Chan and Huayan patriarch Zongmi 宗密 (780–841) expressing such sentiments. Zongmi was a unique case because he was very well learned in non-Buddhist literature before taking an interest in Buddhism and later renouncing to become a monk.

The thing to keep in mind is that when we speak of "Daoist influences" it can be misleading because the texts self-identifying Daoists would claim as their own are often actually part of the shared common literary heritage of China. Zongmi might have read Laozi extensively, but then so did everyone else. Some might have claimed the text as their holy scripture and interpreted it in their own way, but that does not mean everyone else shared the same views.

Likewise, China had its own philosophical lexicon and physics which might be called "Daoist" by some, but in reality was just the default base of knowledge for society. Yin Yang theory might be erroneously associated strictly with Daoism, but it was just as natural for a Chinese Buddhism to speak of Yin Yang as it is for me as a modern western Buddhist to speak of gravity without having to be identified as a physicist.

As to influences from Tang Dynasty Daoism on Chan, this is something I don't sense. To be clear, the Daoists of the time developed their own scriptures by plagiarizing large amounts of Buddhist works and they had their own unique pantheon as well. You simply do not see any of that in Tang Dynasty Chan literature at all. Nothing.

I know some Buddhist practitioners in the Tang Dynasty engaged in longevity practices because they thought it was the "dharma ending age" and thus liberation being impossible now they figured they would try to live until Maitreya arrived. However, that was not specifically Chan and was probably a kind of fringe cult.
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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Frank » Thu May 17, 2012 7:08 am

Huseng, very interesting! thanks for taking the time! :smile: the thing i find very similar between chan and taoism is the literary techniques. speaking in paradoxes, talking very vaguely about reality while framing it in very starkly contrasting tones, speakung in riddles, and just the way some of the writings sound and are put together. there is much more similarity between chan and taoist writings than between, just for contrast, the pali canon commentaries or other sri lankan writings from around the same era. this is true about every non chan influenced school of buddhism and the opposite true for ones that are influenced by chan such as many japanese schools or even some vajrayana works. almost all chan influenced schools have very close literary similarities to what is written in the tao te ching and chuang tzu. the same cannot be said about many other writings from china around that era. it's not like everybody wrote the same style across the whole country.
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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Frank » Thu May 17, 2012 7:29 am

so it seems some group or specific pilosophy/spiritual tradition directly influenced, at the very lest, chan literature. whether or not we can call them taoist or assume it was a few different groups later lumped together and called taoist doesn't change that.
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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Huifeng » Thu May 17, 2012 8:25 am

In the literary sense, pointing to Rujia (= "Confucian") style yulu (= "analects" / "records of sayings") literature, would probably have a greater influence on Chan literature. But again, this is just common Chinese heritage when it boils down to it.

Other ideas, paradoxes, riddles, etc. can already be found in Indian Buddhism, particularly some early Mahayana works. Similarity does not necessitate influence.

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Re: Taoism in general, specifically it's connections with Ch'an

Postby Frank » Thu May 17, 2012 8:38 am

Huifeng wrote:In the literary sense, pointing to Rujia (= "Confucian") style yulu (= "analects" / "records of sayings") literature, would probably have a greater influence on Chan literature. But again, this is just common Chinese heritage when it boils down to it.

Other ideas, paradoxes, riddles, etc. can already be found in Indian Buddhism, particularly some early Mahayana works. Similarity does not necessitate influence.

~~ Huifeng

why don't we see such consistent similarities in non chan influenced schools? i have seen... actually i give up, this is exactly what i didn't want this to turn into. again, my fault, no one elses. and my problem, no one elses, these are great posts, just not what i personally want. thanks so much for all the awesome info guys!!! i l learned a lot! you are all great! :twothumbsup: and with that i bow out :smile: :bow:
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