During the third
century B.C., Emperor Ashoka 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 distinguished 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. With the support of
these merchants, many cave monasteries were established along the
trade routes across Central Asia. By the second century B.C., some
Central Asian cities like Khotan, had already become important centres
for Buddhism. The Chinese people had their first contact with Buddhism
through the Central Asians who were already Buddhists.
of Buddhism Among the Chinese
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.
Kumarajiva, the translator.
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.
translators had some difficulty in finding the exact words to explain
Buddhist concepts in Chinese, so they made use of 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 understand fully 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. Despite the war and unrest,
the translation of Buddhist texts continued. During this time, Buddhism
gained popularity with the Chinese people. 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 political strife,
he not only wrote and lectured extensively, but also collected copies
of the translated scriptures and prepared the first catalogue of
them. He invited the famous translator, Kumarajiva, from Kucha.
With the help of Dao-an's disciples, Kumarajiva translated a large
number of important texts and revised the earlier Chinese translations.
His fine translations were popular and helped to spread Buddhism
in China. Many of his translations are still in use to this day.
Because of political unrest, Kumarajiva's disciples were later dispersed
and this helped to spread Buddhism to other parts of China.
Establishment of Buddhism in China
the beginning of the fifth century to around the end of the sixth
century, northern and southern China came under separate rulers.
The south remained under native dynasties while non-Chinese rulers
controlled the north.
in southern China continued to translate Buddhist texts and to lecture
and write commentaries on the major texts. Their rulers were devoted
Buddhists who saw to the construction of numerous temples, participated
in Buddhist ceremonies and organised public talks on Buddhism. One
of the rulers expanded on the earlier catalogue of Buddhist texts.
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 even employed
in government posts. During this period, Buddhist arts 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 Yungang 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.
Development 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 Philosophy of that time.
By then, the
number of Chinese translations of Buddhist texts had increased tremendously,
The Buddhists were now faced with the problem of how to study this
large number of Buddhist texts and how to put their teachings in
to 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
aptitudes of the followers.
arose which focused on different areas of the Buddhist teachings
and practice. The two most prominent schools were the Chan and the
Pure Land schools. The Chan School emphasised the practice of meditation
as the direct way of gaining insight and experiencing Enlightenment
in this very life. The Chan school of Buddhism is said to have been
introduced to China by Bodhidharma who came from India at the beginning
of the sixth century. He was, like many early missionaries, not
only well versed in the Buddhist teachings, but also proficient
in meditation. However, during his lifetime, he was not very well
known as he secluded himself in a mountain temple. Later, through
the efforts of his successors, this school became one of the most
important of the Chinese schools of Buddhist practice.
The Pure Land
School centres its practice 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 Pure Land, the Buddhists 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.
Pilgrimage to India
During the sixth
and seventh centuries, when the various Chinese schools of Buddhism
were being developed, there were more monks than before making pilgrimages
to India to study the Buddhist scriptures there. Among the most
famous of these pilgrims was Xuan-zang, who travelled overland to
India. His journey was extremely difficult, as he had to cross high
mountains and deserts and was also confronted by bandits. He studied
at the well-known monastic university at Nalanda and later travelled
widely throughout India. On his return to China, he brought back
a large collection of Buddhist texts, which he translated during
the remaining years of his life.
Because of his
profound understanding of Buddhism and his excellent skill in languages,
his translations marked a new period in Buddhist literature. His
travel record gives detailed descriptions of Central Asia and India
and provides an eyewitness account of these regions during his time.
Development 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 melting of
metal Buddha images. Although the persecution lasted only for 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, including the Tian-tai
School, ceased to exist as separate movements. They were absorbed
into the Chan and Pure Land schools, which survived. The eventual
result was the emergence of a new form of Chinese Buddhist practice
in the monastery. Besides practising Chan meditation, Buddhists
also recited the name of Amitabha Buddha and studied Buddhist texts.
It is this form of Buddhism, which has survived to the present time.
Just as all
the Buddhist teachings and practices were combined under one roof
in the monasteries, Buddhist lay followers also began to practise
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.
Buddhism, generally, continued to be a major influence in Chinese
religious life. In the earlier part of the twentieth century, there
was an attempt to modernise and reform the tradition in order to
attract wider support. One of the most well-known reformists was
Tai-xu, a monk noted for his Buddhist 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 Buddhists.
In the nineteen-sixties,
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.
of Buddhism to Korea
earliest historical records state that there were three kingdoms
in Korea, namely Koguryo in the north, Packche in the southwest
and Silla in the southeast. According to tradition, a Chinese monk
in the second half of the fourth century C.E first introduced Buddhism
to the northern kingdom of Koguryo. A Central Asian monk is said
to have brought Buddhism to Packche sometime later.
The Silla kingdom
was the most isolated region and was at first not ready to accept
Buddhism. The people held firmly to their traditional religious
beliefs. There was such strong opposition to Buddhism that a monk
who went there to spread the Buddha's teachings is said to have
been killed. Eventually, by the middle of the sixth century, even
the Silla people accepted Buddhism.
of Buddhism in Korea
During the sixth
and seventh centuries, many Korean monks went to China to study
and brought back with them the teachings of the various Chinese
schools of Buddhism. Towards the end of the seventh century, the
three kingdoms were unified under the powerful Silla rulers. From
then onwards, Buddhism flourished under their royal patronage. Great
works of art were created and magnificent monasteries built. Buddhism
exerted great influence on the life of the Korean people. In the
tenth century, Silla rule ended with the founding of the Koryo Dynasty.
Under this new rule, Buddhism reached the height of its importance.
With royal support, more monasteries were built and more works of
art produced. The whole of the Tripitaka in Chinese translation
was also carved on to wooden printing blocks. Thousands of these
blocks were made in the thirteenth century and have been carefully
preserved to the present day as part of Korea's national treasures.
of Suppression of Buddhism in Korea
Under the new
rule of the Yi Dynasty from the end of the fourteenth century to
the early twentieth century, Buddhism lost the support of the court
when Confucianism became the sole official religion of the state.
Measures were taken to suppress the activities of the Buddhist community.
Buddhist monks were forbidden to enter the capital, their lands
were confiscated, monasteries closed and Buddhist ceremonies abolished.
Despite all the troubles of this difficult period, there were occasionally
some great monks who continued to inspire their followers and kept
of Buddhism in Korea
With the collapse
of the Yi Dynasty, Korea came under Japanese control. The Japanese
who came to Korea introduced their own forms of Buddhism, which
included the tradition of the married clergy. As a result, some
monks in Korea broke away from their tradition of celibacy.
From this period
onwards, there was a revival of Buddhism in Korea. Many Buddhists
in Korea have since been actively involved in promoting education
and missionary activities. They have founded universities, set up
schools in many parts of Korea and established youth groups and
lay organisations. Buddhist texts, originally in Chinese translation,
are now being retranslated into modern Korean. New monasteries are
being built and old ones repaired. Today, Buddhism is again playing
an important role in the life of the people.
of Buddhism to Japan
the sixth century, the king of Packche, anxious to establish peaceful
relations with Japan, sent gifts of images of the Buddha and copies
of Buddhist texts to the Japanese imperial court. Buddhism was recommended
as a means of bringing great benefit to the country. The Japanese
people soon accommodated Buddhism along with their indigenous Shinto
beliefs. Being a religion of universal appeal, Buddhism helped to
foster harmony within the country.
From the very
beginning, the establishment of Buddhism depended on the protection
and support of the Japanese rulers. Among these, Prince Shotoku
deserves special mention for his great contribution to the early
growth and expansion of Buddhism in Japan during the early part
of the seventh century. Tradition says that Prince Shotoku wrote
the first "constitution" of Japan, which promoted moral
and social values as taught in Buddhism. His devotion and royal
patronage of Buddhism helped to make it widely known. Many Buddhist
temples were built and works of art created. Monks were also sent
to China to study. Besides encouraging Japanese monks to read the
scriptures, Prince Shotoku lectured and later wrote commentaries
on some of these scriptures. His commentaries are said to be the
first ever written in Japan and are now kept as national treasures.
The eighth century
in Japan is known as the Nara Period. During this period, Buddhism
continued to spread as more new temples were built in all the provinces,
the most famous being the Todaiji Temple at Nara. Buddhist scriptures
were copied and distributed throughout the country. It was also
during this time that Chinese monks started to arrive and many Chinese
schools of Buddhism were introduced to Japan.
monks not only studied and practised the Buddhist teachings, but
also became involved in administrative roles. Some of them served
as scribes and clerks in the court, while others helped in the carrying
out of public works. A few were assigned to explore and draw maps
of distant parts of the country. Though the monastic order grew
in size, it remained firmly under the control of the court as the
ordination of monks was only permitted at a few centres approved
by the court.
The Heian Period
began towards the end of the eighth century, when the capital was
established at Heian (present day Kyoto). During this period, two
Japanese monks named Saicho and Kukai brought two schools of Buddhism
to Japan from China.
Saicho had a
temple on Mount Hiei, which was near the new capital. Soon the ruler
began to patronise the temple and also sent Saicho to study in China.
On his return to Japan, Saicho introduced the Tian-tai school of
Buddhism from China. However, he later combined several schools
of Buddhism into one comprehensive system. At his temple on Mount
Hiei, monks had to undergo a twelve-year course of study and meditation.
Some of those who completed their training stayed on the mountain,
while others left to serve the state in various administrative posts.
The Tian-tai school of Buddhism soon flourished and at the height
of its development, there were three thousand buildings on Mount
Hiei and thirty thousand monks. Its influence on the development
of Buddhism in Japan continued to be felt even a few centuries later.
At about the
same time the other monk, Kukai returned from China and introduced
Vajrayana Buddhism to Japan. This school of Buddhism became very
popular with the Japanese court and its influence was even greater
than that of the Tian-tai school of Buddhism. Kukai himself was
a learned monk and wrote a great deal on the teachings of this school.
At the end of
the twelfth century, political power shifted to a group of warriors
(Samurai) who had their headquarters at Kamakura. During this period,
a number of distinctly Japanese Buddhist sects arose. They became
popular because of their simplicity and directness of approach.
Among these sects were the Jodo Shinshu, Nichiren and Zen.
(a) The Jodo
The Jodo Shinshu
was founded by Shinran who studied at Mount Hiei. His master, Honen,
taught that the practice of reciting the name of Amitabha would
be sufficient for its followers to be reborn in the Western Paradise.
However, the other monks on Mount Hiei objected to his teaching.
As a result, Honen and his disciples were forced into exile. Shinran
was one of the disciples who accompanied Honen into exile.
was a modification of his master's. He taught that one need only
to have faith in Amitabha to be reborn in the Western Paradise.
According to Shinran, it was not even necessary to recite Amitabha's
got married and, in this way, started the tradition of the married
clergy in Japan. Those who follow this tradition continued to live
in temples and conduct religious services, while leading a family
(b) The Nichiren
sect was founded by Nichiren who studied at Mount Hici but was not
satisfied with the traditional Buddhist practices taught there.
He later left Mount Hiei and travelled widely before returning to
his native district.
that the truth of Buddhism was to be found in the Lotus Sutra. He
taught that reciting the formula, "Homage to the Lotus Sutra"
is the only means of attaining Enlightenment. As he was intolerant
of other Buddhist sects and vigorously denounced them, he was later
sent into exile. In his later years, he was pardoned and allowed
to return. After his death, his followers spread his teaching throughout
the country and it soon gained popularity.
(c) The Zen
The Zen sect
is actually a Japanese version of the Chan school of Buddhism. It
gained popularity among the warriors because of its emphasis on
strict discipline of the mind and body. Zen teaching also influenced
the development of the tea-ceremony, black-ink paintings, the art
of flower arrangement and the Noh drama, which consists of dances,
and recitation of poems that conveyed Buddhist ideas.
from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century
From the sixteenth
century, Buddhism lost favour with the military rulers who feared
the rising power and influence of Buddhist religious groups in Japan.
Some important Buddhist centres were even destroyed by these rulers.
In the next three centuries, Buddhism came under the close supervision
of the military dictatorship, which had strict control over all
areas of life. The traditions of the various sects were, however,
maintained. The temples also continued to play an active role in
the fields of education and social service.
In the middle
of the nineteenth century, the Japanese emperor took control of
the government. He did not support Buddhism. In fact, many Buddhist
temples were demolished and valuable Buddha images and scriptures
burned. The Buddhists in Japan responded by modernising their organisations.
Schools and universities were established and Buddhist monks were
given a modern education.
in the Present Century
Since the Second
World War, Japan has seen the rise of many religious groups which
are modifications of the older established sects. Nichiren Shoshu,
for example, grew out of the Nichiren sect of the Kamakura Period.
The lay members of these newer religious groups play a prominent
role in promoting Buddhist culture and education. At the same time,
the older sects continue to exist and still attract support both
inside and outside Japan.