Spread of Buddhism Among the Chinese
the third century B.C., Emperor Asoka sent missionaries to the northwest
of India, that is, present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. The mission
achieved great success as the region soon became a centre of Buddhist
learning with many distinguish monks and scholars. When the merchants
of Central Asia came into this region for trade, they learnt about
Buddhism and accepted it as their religion. By the second century
B.C., some central Asian cities like Kotan, has already become important
centres for Buddhism. The Chinese people had their first contact
with Buddhism through Central Asians who were already Buddhists.
When the Han
Dynasty of China extended its power to Central Asia in the first
century B.C., trade and cultural ties between China and Central
Asia also increased. In this way, the Chinese people learnt about
Buddhism so that by the middle of the first century C.E., a community
of Chinese Buddhists was already in existence. As
interest in Buddhism grew, there was a great demand for Buddhist
texts to be translated from Indian languages into Chinese. This
led to the arrival of translators from Central Asia and India. The
first notable one was Anshigao from Central Asia who came to China
in the middle of the second century. With a growing collection of
Chinese translations of Buddhist texts, Buddhism became more widely
known and a Chinese monastic order was also formed. The first known
Chinese monk was said to be Anshigao's disciple.
The early translators
had some difficulty in finding the exact words to explain Buddhist
concepts in Chinese, so they often used Taoist terms in their translations.
As a result, people began to relate Buddhism with the existing Taoist
tradition. It was only later on that the Chinese came to fully understand
the teachings of the Buddha.
After the fall
of the Han Dynasty in the early part of the third century, China
faced a period of political disunity. Despise the war and unrest,
the translations of the Buddhist texts continued. During this time,
both foreign and Chinese monks were actively involved in establishing
monasteries and lecturing on the Buddhist teachings.
Among the Chinese
monks, Dao-an who lived in the fourth century, was the most outstanding.
Though he had to move from place to place because of the political
strife, he not only wrote and lectured extensively, but prepared
the first catalogues of them. He invited the famous translator,
Kumarajiva, from Kucha. With the help of of Do-an's disciples, Kumarjiva
translated a large number of important texts and revised the earlier
Chinese translations. His fine translations are still in use to
this day. Because of political unrest, Kumarkiva's disciple were
later dispersed and this helped to spread Buddhism to other parts
of Buddhism in China: From
the beginning of the fifth century to around the end of the sixth
century, northern and southern China came under separate rule. The
south remained under native dynasties while the north was controlled
by non-Chinese rulers. The Buddhist in southern China continued
to translate Buddhist texts and to lecture and write commentaries
on the major texts. Their rulers were devout Buddhists who saw to
the construction of numerous temples, participated in Buddhist ceremonies
and organised public talks on Buddhism.
China, except for two short periods of persecution, Buddhism flourished
under the lavish royal patronage of rulers who favoured the religion.
By the latter half of the sixth century, monks were employed in
government posts. During this period, Buddhist art flourished, especially
in the caves at Dun-huang, Yun-gang and Long-men. In the thousand
caves at Dun-huang, Buddhist paintings covered the walls and there
were thousands of Buddha statues in these caves. At Yun-gan and
Long-men, many Buddha images of varying sizes were carved out of
the rocks. All these activities were a sign of the firm establishment
of Buddhism in China by the end of this period.
of Chinese Schools of Buddhism: With
the rise of the Tang Dynasty at the beginning of the seventh century,
Buddhism reached out to more and more people. It soon became an
important part of Chinese culture and had great influence on Chinese
Art, Literature, Sculpture, Architecture and the Philosophy of that
By then the
number of Chinese translations of Buddhist texts had increased tremendously.
The Buddhist were now faced with the problem of how to put their
teachings into practice. As a result, a number of schools of Buddhism
arose, with each school concentrating on certain texts for their
study and practice. The Tian-tai school, for instance, developed
a system of teaching and practice based on the Lotus Sutra.
It also arranged all the Buddhist texts into graded categories to
suit the varying aptitude of the followers.
arose which focused on different areas of the Buddha's teachings.
The two most prominent schools were the Ch'an and the Pure Land
schools. The Ch'an school emphasized the practice of meditation
as the direct way of gaining insight and experiencing Enlightenment
in this very life. (see link)
The Pure Land
school centres its practices on the recitation of the name of Amitabha
Buddha. The practice is based on the sermon which teaches that people
could be reborn in the Western Paradise (Pure Land) of Amitabha
Buddha if they recite his name and have sincere faith in him. Once
in the Pure Land, the devotees are said to be able to achieve Enlightenment
more easily. Because of the simplicity of its practice, this school
became popular especially among the masses throughout China.
of Buddhism in China:
In the middle of the ninth century, Buddhism faced persecution by
a Taoist emperor. He decreed the demolition of monasteries, confiscation
of temple land, return of monks and nuns to secular life and the
destruction of Buddha images. Although the persecution lasted only
a short time, it marked the end of an era for Buddhism in China.
Following the demolition of monasteries and the dispersal of scholarly
monks, a number of Chinese schools of Buddhism ceased to exist as
separate movements. They were absorbed into the Ch'an and Pure Land
schools which survived. The eventual result was the emergence of
a new form of Chinese Buddhist practice in the monastery. Besides
practicing Ch'an meditation, Buddhist also recited the name of Amitabha
Buddha and studied Buddhist texts. It is this form of Buddhism which
survives to the present time.
Just as all
the Buddhist teachings and practices were combined under the one
roof in the monasteries, Buddhist lay followers also began to practice
Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism simultaneously. Gradually, however,
Confucian teachings became dominant in the court and among the officials
who were not in favour of Buddhism.
continues to be a major influence in Chinese religious life. In
the early twentieth century, there was an attempt to modernize and
reform the tradition in order to attract wider support. One of the
most well-known reformist was Tai-xu, a monk noted for his scholarship.
Besides introducing many reforms in the monastic community, he also
introduced Western-style education which included the study of secular
subjects and foreign languages for Buddhist.
In the nineteen-sixites,
under the People's Republic, Buddhism was suppressed. Many monasteries
were closed and monks and nuns returned to lay life. In recent years,
a more liberal policy regarding religion has led to a growth of
interest in the practice of Buddhism.