The Taoist Concept of Life After Death

Death is neither dreaded nor desired in Taoism; rather, the person enjoys living. From the viewpoint of Taoist philosophy, the afterlife essentially does not exist — in a sense it is in life that we are eternal. The afterlife is within life itself. When living, we are of the Tao and again, are of it, upon death. Your essence is not the real you and in death, your essence is that part of you that ceases to exist. The closer to Tao you are believed to have become, the longer your life is. To achieve Tao, your aim is to become immortal, to have attained the deeper life. For a follower of Taoism, to be one or in harmony with the universe is the afterlife. For most Taoists, there is no “afterlife”, but rather consider the Tao as merely “logical.”

In death, Taoists do not rely on some weird mysticism or belief or an invisible sky god to come down from heaven to resurrect his body, they think that a person is not important enough to be reincarnated – one simply returns to the Tao when he dies. After death, every Taoist desires to be an important ancestor in their Heaven, where they’re able to assist the living. The thing is, they do believe in a Hell and a “Purgatory.” The latter has nine levels of punishments, each one ruled by a demon monarch; to help a person get out of this hell or purgatory, prayers are offered for him or her.

Death is not actually a loss for a follower of Taoism, it is merely a transformation, and that what we remember as the person moves on to take part in a never ending continuously changing dance of expression, de-expression and existence that is the Tao. Mortal life is merely one among a countless numbers of expressions of the Tao. According to Taoism, one needs to learn how to conquer human predispositions, to see mortal death as to comfortably rest, understanding that what happens to a person after mortal death is also part of the eternal process of the Tao. If during our mortal lives, we are able to learn how to live with the Tao in harmony, at the time of our mortal death, we will also be in harmony with the Tao.

If we can manage that, then everything else will fall into place – that is the essence of the Tao. Taoists believe that the world is filled with invisible spirits. Some of the dead are humans who are still capable of helping some people. Taoists think also that the world is filled with the spirits of nature: stars, mountains, stones, rivers, animals, and plants. The ruler of the universe is Shangdi and is considered to be the Great Spiritual Being. Spirits have been worshiped by people since time immemorial to get blessed with wealth and health and to keep their troubles away. There are Taoists who believe that spirits broadened nature, both the inner world, within the bodies of people and the natural world.

Balance and Taoism

After death, Taoists believe in the survival of the spirit. Followers believe death is not an end and birth is not a beginning. During ancient times, a Taoist was considered to have transcended birth and death and has attained Tao if was able to severe the Thread of Life. To a Taoist, the spirit or soul does not die at death, it simple “migrates” to another life and its soul does not get reborn. This is how a Taoist views reincarnation; the soul transfers to another life until Tao is attained. In Taoism, rebirth, death, and life are continuous cycles that have no start and no end. Each of us has an eternal soul, yet it is not the object of reincarnation.

In Taoism, the soul “drifts” to another life and is not reborn. Some people theorize that a Taoist has no form of conceptualization that compares to karma. The Taoist philosophy has no mention of the soul migrating to an animal. Instead of entering the regular after life, a very important and common objective of Taoists is to attain immortality. It is quite difficult to reach that goal since, in order to be eligible for immortality, the person may need to perform various tasks that must be completed during his or her entire lifetime. A person’s energy or soul, in Taoism, is deemed to be meshed with the Chi or vital energy, which is the nourishment of the soul. Eliminating impurities from the body can boost this energy. In addition to these requirements, you need to live a good-hearted, moral, and upright life.

In certain cases, Reincarnation is a moment to moment happening. We are continuously experiencing change, down to our cells, molecules, and atoms. The soul may change form, conglomerate, or divide. The soul of an animal, for example, can incarnate into a human body. When that human body dies, the soul may join with a couple of other souls to become another human. Probably, the larger soul divides into smaller souls, and so on so forth. You may have a problem finding the concept of Reincarnation among the aphorisms of the Tao-te Ching (600 B.C.); therefore, it most probably have later appeared in Taoism. While it is not stipulated what reincarnates, although something needs to pass from one life to another. The Chuang Tzu (400 B.C.), one of the most important writings in Taoism says: Death is not an end, birth is not a beginning. There is progression without a starting point; there is being without limitation.

Space is being without limitation. Time is progression without a starting point. There is birth and death, there is issuing forth and entering in. That is the Portal of God through which one goes in and out without seeing its form. Taoism’s objective is to reach the final goal; as a physical being, to transcend life on earth, and to attain harmony with the universe and nature. The terminal objective is to attain immortality. This is known as the ultimate goal Tao for the Taoist. Taoists affirm an existence beyond life and this can be achieved by heeding the proper behavior or path. The way to Nirvana and Tao is the same, yet different. A person is guided by an Inner Light to help him walk in the right direction towards the ultimate objective. In order for a person to be guided by the Inner Light, personal desires must be abandoned in order for him or her to attain eternal bliss. Each person needs to walk the path of the Tao (which comes from within) alone. For the Taoist, the path can only come from the Inner Light: no one else can chart a path for him. While Tao is defined as the Way, no direct path is expounded or explored in the initial and subsequent documents.

God and Taoism

Correspondingly, there are spirits in earth and heaven who record the transgressions of men, and based on severity or lightness of their misdeeds, take away from their term of life. During ancient times, as there was no concept of an immaterial soul and morality was perceived to be a man-made distinction, Taoism had no concept of Hell. In China, where Taoism borrowed some of the dogmas of other religions, it is now accepted that there is a Taoist Hell where many spirits and deities punish sin in a variety of ghastly ways. This is considered Karma in Taoism. Integrating beliefs from traditional Chinese folk religion, Taoism, and Buddhism, a type of purgatory called Diyu is a place where spirits are not only punished but also where they are renewed to prepare themselves for their next incarnation. In the Chinese Hell, the actual number of levels – and their related deities – varies according to the Taoist or Buddhist perception. Some believe there are four ‘Courts’, while others believe there could be as many as 10. The 10 Kings of Yama are also the ten judges of Chinese hell. Each Court takes care of a different type of atonement.

For instance, in one Court, adultery is punished, in another, murder. There are eighteen levels of Chinese hell based on some legends. Punishment may also differ based on belief, but a most legends tell of chambers where transgressors are beheaded, sewn in half, and forced to climb trees fitted with sharp blades or thrown into pits of excrement.

However, most legends concur that souls are given the Drink of Forgetfulness by Meng Po and sent back to be reborn in the world, perhaps as a sick or poor person or even as an animal, for further punishment once he has repented and atoned for his deeds. When they are dead, all Taoists will go through this experience for sure.

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