08 January 2009

Buddhism in China

Buddhism was introduced from India into China in 6th Century AD. One of the Han Emperors sent a mission to the west of China and brought back the scriptures, Indian monks and the images of Buddha. Since then Chinese translation was made available and the further exchange of scholars among China, India and other Asian countries brought about the rapid development of Buddhism in China. Buddhist monasteries and temples were built to promote the Buddhism and some of the Emperors were also the followers of Buddhism. Buddhism, just like Confucianism and Taoism, guides people to behave, to be honest and responsible. It promotes harmony and peaceful mind, sharing and compassion. Buddhists never force people into their belief. Buddhism emphasizes in "awakening of mind". Through learning, one will develop intellectual capacity to the fullest so as to understand, to love and be kind to other beings.

It was not until the late fifth and early sixth centuries AD that Buddhism of a Dàshèng (Mahäyäna) sort was able to weave itself fully into the fabric of Chinese life. By then it had become a spiritual complement to secular Confucianism and had provided the idea of Enlightenment to Daoism. In time, the three schools of thought would be seen as a complementary unity. The maturity and great age of Buddhism in China was the Tang Dynasty when emperors spent their wealth to establish monasteries and sculptures in different Buddhist caves. But this age was not free of persecution, especially by Confucian oriented statesman that wanted to get rid of the foreign religion. Many people converted and entered a monastery to escape military service and tax paying.

The transition of the foreign religion into a Chinese one was made easy especially by the ideal of charity and compassion of Great Vehicle Buddhism. Both terms are quite similar to the Confucian idea of filial piety and the compassion of the ruler for his subjects. Other concepts of Buddhism are quite contrary to Confucianism (suffering - enjoying; celibacy - family; mendicant monks - productive farmers; monastic community - subordination under the state). Buddhism refers collectively to the various schools of Buddhism that have flourished in China since ancient times. These schools integrated the ideas of Confucianism, Taoism and other indigenous philosophical systems so that what was initially a foreign religion came to be a natural part of Chinese civilization albeit with its own unique character. Buddhism has played an enormous role in shaping the mindset of the Chinese people affecting as it has aesthetics, politics, literature, philosophy and medicine.

Buddhism does not require belief in God but it requires belief in People. In Buddhist teaching, there is no aggressive promotion of Buddhism or strong rejection of other religions. All these make Buddhism fall into the same scope of Confucianism and Taoist. Its ability to co-exist with any other religions makes it being developed into one of the largest religions in China.

The first Buddhist parishes are found in China in the 1st century AD and focused mainly on the suppression of passions by means of meditation, charity and compassion. The monastery claiming to have been the first in China is the White Horse Monastery (Baimasi) near Luoyang. Many similarities with Taoism made Buddhism look like another sect of Huang-Lao-Taoism; both religions have no sacrificial rites, believe both in immortality and operate with concentration, meditation and abstinence.

Buddhist practices to lead one into the ultimate happiness in life and even afterlife. Buddhism also promotes code of conduct in life. That is what they call Five Precepts of avoiding killing, stealing, indulging, lying and alcohol drinking. Buddhist teaching introduces the way and concepts of meditation, rebirth, intellectual development and comparisons. It leads to self-understanding, instead of blind believing.

In their world they believe that: "Giving up false speech he becomes a speaker of truth, reliable, trustworthy, dependable, he does not deceive the world. Giving up malicious speech he does not repeat there what he has heard here nor does he repeat here what he has heard there in order to cause variance between people. He reconciles those who are divided and brings closer together those who are already friends. Harmony is his joy, harmony is his delight, harmony is his love; it is the motive of his speech. Giving up harsh speech his speech is blameless, pleasing to the ear, agreeable, going to the heart, urbane, like by most. He speaks words worth being treasured up, seasonable, reasonable, well defined and to the point."

The Buddhist concepts are accepted universally in China. Apart from the beliefs of the Buddhist monasteries, there are four famous Buddhist Mountains in China: Putuo Mountain, Wutai Mountain, Emei Mountain, and Wutai Mountain.
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