Buddhism In China Essay Sample

Researching different religions helps to understand how other nations and communities live. For some people, religion is an abstract and distant notion. At the same time, it guides others through all their life and explains their actions. Buddhism is a separate chapter in the Chinese religious history, which tells about the way the Chinese interpret and practice Buddha’s teachings. The current paper tells about the history of the Chinese Buddhism and proves that this religion has greatly impacted all life aspects of the Chinese nation and contributed to its development.

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Buddhism coming to China

Initially, Buddhism was considered as an Indian religion and a specific system of thought. It came to China in the first century A.C. with Buddhist monks and Asian traders. The impact of this religion on the country was not immediate, but its scale was fully revealed in the course of its development: “[<…]> the influence of Buddhism did not clearly emerge in China until the patronage of the early Six Dynasties Neo-Daoists brought it more powerfully to the attention of the literate elite”. Buddhism became a leading religion in China, which marked a turning point in its development. The founder of Buddhism was a prince named Siddharta Gautama. He lived around 500 B.C. Since he was the Shakya tribe’s member, he was also called Shakyamuni. The religious name of Shakyamuni means Buddha and it has the meaning of “the awakened one” (Eno). In order to perform an analytical research of Buddhism in China, it is important to consider the essence of the religion and its core values.

Main ideas of Buddhism

Buddhism has long been celebrated as a religion of peace and non-violence”. Buddhists consider their teacher Buddha to be enlightened, being guided by the laws of the Universe (Der-Ian Yeh), and the most essential of all these universal laws is the law of karma, which in Buddhist terminology means “dependent origination”. This dependent origination means the genuine nature of things in the world that are all related. Eno mentions that Buddha adopted the notion of samsara and believed that the entire existence of a person was a cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The author states that that the Four Noble Truths, the main laws of Buddhism, tell people: “<[…>] 1) that life is suffering; 2) that this fact has a cause – our longing for illusory things; 3) that this suffering may be finished by following the way of the Buddha; 4) what that way is”. The Universe, as it is seen in Buddhism, represents a net of interconnected core points and each of this core points comprises a small universe inside. This universe model strives to prove that everything in this world is interrelated and understanding the Four Noble Truths may assist a person in enduring sufferings. The ideas of Buddhism seem to become clearer for the Chinese with time.

Buddhism and Taoism competence

As China is a country with a complex religious history, it is not fair to discuss Buddhism without mentioning the religion that started confrontations with Buddhism from the very beginning. It is reasonable to state that when Buddhism came to China, the country “had its own rich intellectual, philosophical, and religious traditions”. It also had a feeling of cultural and political identity that was not vulnerable at the first sight. Primarily, the Taoists’ moods were quite peaceful and they were aimed at cooperation. Local monks started working together with Buddhists over the translation of sutras. This fact gave birth to the first arguments between them relating to different interpretations. Buddhist travelling monks brought more and more written Buddhist sutras and Taoism was becoming less widespread among people. If the main goal of Buddhism is attaining Nirvana, Taoism, in contrast, advocates for the unity with the nature. Buddha was the Teacher with the main purpose to show people the understanding of the Four Noble Truths and the way to enlightenment as compared to Laozi of Taoism who wanted a person to be united with the nature. It is possible to contrast the basic idea of all world religions, namely, life after death, as it is seen by Taoism and Buddhism. Thus, according to the Buddhism theory, a person will be reborn many times until he/she manages to reach Nirvana, but Taoism states that there is life after death and a person’s soul is capable of living and even travelling in different time periods when a person dies. If Buddhism finds its roots in India, Chinese folk religions gave birth to Taoism. The history of China proves that Taoism became the main philosophy of the Chinese population and quickly turned into an official religion. In contrast, it took more time for Buddhism as a teaching to gain popularity in China. “By the end of the period of disunity, Daoism had been completely overshadowed by Buddhism”. Regardless of the disputes started by monks of Buddhism and Taoism and the differences in the main religious concepts, Moiller states that Buddhism and Taoism have the forms of two pyramids with the same foundation. The author writes that the tops of these pyramids are for religious specialists and the bottoms are for usual people who are just believers. Therefore, “the summits are clearly separated and distinct from one another, the bases merge into a poorly differentiated lay religion, a blurred and confused mass of popular beliefs and practices”. Her point of view explains why Taoism lost its popularity in the course of the Chinese history as those usual believers quickly adopted and spread the ideas of Buddhism. Anyway, Buddhism and Taoism are believed to be closely interrelated and their mutual influence has been proved (Moiller). “Taoism owes part of the formation of its identity to its face-to-face encounter with Mahayana Buddhism”. Blooming Buddhism encouraged Taoism to express its laws more accurately. Hence, the history of simultaneous Buddhism and Taoism development in China proves that the appearance of Buddhism formed the competence of two religions that in turn impacted positively the development of each of them.

Buddhism in the times of the Han dynasty

As it has been mentioned above, Buddhism passed a long way of development before becoming a core religion in China. Thus, its way started from the Han dynasty.  Emperor Wu who reigned in 14 – 87 B.C. was the first Chinese emperor who ordered his troops to investigate the lands of the Central Asia. His policy resulted in the fact that commercial contacts were established between China and Central Asia, a secure trade rout was formed for the regions, which is now known as the Silk Road, and missionaries-Buddhist started travelling with the caravans. When the first Buddhist monks came to China, they got deeply interested in its culture and were ready to share their religious views (Eno). “However, China was at that time ideologically and politically stable and Buddhism found no ready audience there.” However, in some time the social aspects of China’s life suffered from political disturbance and by 220 A.C. China already consisted of small independent kingdoms. Such conditions were more than favorable for adopting new religious perspectives. Thus, the Chinese monks started expressing interest towards Buddhism. They formed a movement of Neo-Taoists and started cooperating with the Buddhist monks, trying to interpret sutras, as it has been mentioned above. The monks tried hard to make the language of their translations sound good for the Chinese, having some exotic Taoist tone (Eno). As a result of being aimed not at the quality of the translations, but at personal interests, the Chinese misbelieved that “the Buddha was actually Laozi, who, it appeared, towards the close of his (fictional) life, wandered off westwards with his Dao de jing in hand in order to “convert the barbarians [<…]>.” Such erroneous Buddhism interpretation seemed ridiculous to later Buddhists who had a chance to practice Buddhism more vastly and interpret in a more sophisticated way when the Tang dynasty came to power.

Buddhism in the times of the Tang dynasty

The Tang dynasty was the second powerful dynasty in China. It ruled the country in 618 – 907 B.C. The first Tang emperor named Li Shimin continued the political lines of the Han dynasty. The Silk Road was blooming. The emperor promoted Buddhism and invented wood work that at that time assisted with spreading Buddhist manuscripts. In the early periods of the Tang dynasty, the Buddhist monks were welcome guests in the country and they organized some Buddhism sects with the locals. The Christian religion was also promoted. However, as the economic impact of the Buddhist temples grew, “During the latter period of the Tang, as the dynasty suffered a series of destabilizing events that undermined its self-confidence, the government began to take radical actions against the Buddhist establishment.” The mentioned economic influence was revealed in the fact that though some leaders of the Chinese separate kingdoms were Buddhist, they did not approve of the Buddhist monks, nuns, and temples being tax-exempt. Moreover, it became normal for rich people to donate finances and property to Buddhist temples, “both to earn increased access to paradise for their charitable works.” They also had a chance to receive some favors from the Buddhist temples. The crisis of Buddhism in China started in 845 when the Tang emperor took harsh measures to suppress the religion, closing the Buddhist temples and withdrawing the status of nuns and monks. However, this crisis did not last for more than a year and with the death of the last Tang Emperor the new government opened the temples again and monks and nuns returned to them, but Buddhism lost a lot of its ideology – “although Buddhism remained a significant force in China, it never returned the influence that it possessed during the early and middle periods of the Tang dynasty.” Hence, Buddhism also experienced some challengers in the Chinese history, mostly conditioned by economic and political factors.

New schools and the heyday of Buddhism

Political and economic factors influenced the status of Buddhism in China, but did not affect the development of the Buddhist thought. Mahayana Buddhism mentioned in the context of Taoism was a new teaching line in the history of Buddhism that coincided with the heyday of the religion in the times of the Tang dynasty. This new form of Buddhism named “Mahayana” at once got the highest evaluation from the Chinese Buddhists. The Buddhist monks claimed that Buddha decided to stay “partially bound to the wheel of samsara, delaying his own final release so that he could move in order to “ferry” others towards release.” This was a highly moral and more ethical interpretation of Buddhism than the version based on individual salvation only. The heyday of Buddhism was also characterized by the development of different Buddhist schools. The most popular of them was the school of Chan Buddhism that is often called Zen Buddhism. The word “Zen” (sometimes “Chan”) has the meaning of “trance”. “Zen School focused Buddhist teachings entirely on the cultivation of ideal meditational techniques named “zazen.” An outstanding feature of Zen Buddhism was the elements of a verbal play. Zen Buddhists meditated on certain questions that needed some rational responses. This tactics was used to distract the Buddhists from their usual understanding of a linguistic nature of Buddhism’s interpretation. The appearance of the new Buddhism schools demonstrates how actively Buddhism developed.

The influence of Buddhism on political, social, and cultural life in China

The main influence of Buddhism on the social aspect of life in China lied in the fact that this religion recognized importance of each individual for the society: “Buddhism rendered a great service to the Chinese through its new evaluation of the individual.” Before that, an independent personality in China had no value. Each person was a representative of some family or clan. Buddhism managed to change the views on the highest moral and social values of the Chinese completely. Thus, people comprehended the importance of love, mercy, and social equality. Buddhism cultivated social cooperation and common work for obtaining social well-being. In terms of culture, Buddhism had enough power to become the way of life of any Chinese man or woman and gave them some freedom of interpretation. Though the above mentioned Neo-Taoists translated Buddhism scriptures not accurately, their work attracted attention of the Western monks who came to China and brought their own cultural traditions. Young Chinese people at that time greatly increased their educational level. Architecture and music culture were also developing in the times of Buddhism as “China was covered with Buddhist monasteries [<…]> that included living quarters for monks and nuns, temples, where visitors worshipped images of Buddhist deities, pavilions and courtyards where religious festivals and carnival markets were held.” The influence of Buddhism on the political life of China is controversial. As it has been indicated above, many emperors were Buddhists and supported the religion as strongly as they could. However, when the question of taxes aroused, the ruling emperors were ready to betray their Buddhist ideas for the sake of economic benefits. This research demonstrates that Buddhism and political forces were closely interrelated and some financial disputes of the politicians did not manage to force Buddhism to leave the country because of its magnificent positive influence on the cultural and social aspects of China’s life.


Taking everything into consideration, it is worth stating that Buddhism has influenced life of the Chinese nation in the way no other religion could. Buddhism has managed to do it because its ideas of peace and enlightenment and their individual interpretation have attracted people. The Chinese citizens have felt their individuality, practicing Buddhism and comprehending the essence of its teachings. Any religion has a chance to impact people the way Buddhism has done if it treats people with respect and gives each person a clear understanding of how important moral values are for living in a society. {t_essay_1}

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