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Religions in China
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Buddhism (Fojiao 佛教)
The Historic Buddha - Teachings of the Buddha -Small and Great Vehicle -Buddhism in China -Eminent Monks -Buddhist Literature: Chinese Tripitaka -Excursion: Pali Canon -Important Schools -Lamaism in Tibet
Teachings (dharma) of the Buddha>Buddha found out the Four Noble Truths (chin.: sidi 四諦) that lead to rebirth, the form of which is a result of doings and behaviour accumulated during the past lifes of a person: life is suffering, and the cause for the suffering is craving for existence and sensual pleasures. This suffering can be suppressed by the Eightfold Path (chin.: bashengdao 八聖道): right views, right intentions, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfullness, and right concentration (yoga). To successfully walk on the eightfold path, it is necessary to observe a strict moral discipline, not to commit evil, but to do good, and to purify one's own mind by mental discipline, fixing it at the important part of doings. Lead by intuitive wisdom (prajna; chin.: zhihui 智慧), the meditating person is able to know that he has to give up imaginations of a permanent self or soul in favour of the non-self (anatman, chin.: wuwo 無我). During life, a person is only a conglomeration of the five aggregats or factors (skandha, chin.: wuyin 五陰: se 色, shou 受, xiang 想, xing 行, shi 識): body, sensation, perception, predisposition and consciousness. Another pattern of explanation is the chain of causation, ignorance being the base, leading to predisposition, consciousness, name and form, the six senses, sensation, contact, craving, grasping, becoming, leading to birth, and birth leading to age and death. A normal being that is not able to enter the nirvana at least tries to become a heavenly being (deva, chin.: tian 天 or Da Fan Tianwang 大梵天王). The Three Jewels (sanbao 三寶) of the Buddhist religion are Buddha, his teaching (dharma, chin.: fa 法) and the community (sangha, chin.: seng 僧).
Buddhist cosmology bases on the Hindu world image that is much more complex than the unsystematic chinese cosmic picture. Mount Sumeru (short: Meru) is the center of this world, which is only one of millions of worlds that will perish after millions of years only to be replaced by a new one. Every world has its own Buddha who acts as world master, therefore depicted by huge Buddha sculptures.
The confession of the Great Vehicle, Mahayana (chin.: Dasheng 大乘), instead spread Kashmir, Gandhara, Soghdia and Inner Asia into China, and further to Korea and Japan. It teaches that salvation is possible to all sentient beings because they posses the Buddha nature in them and hence all have the potentiality of being enlightened. Enlightenment is simply achieved by faith and devotion to Buddha and the religious ideal, the Bodhisattva (chin.: Pusa 菩薩), Pratyekabuddha (chin.: Pizhifo 辟支佛) or Arhat (chin.: Aluohan 阿羅漢, short: Luohan). These beings, though qualified to enter nirvana, delay their final entry in order to bring every sentient being across the sea of misery to the calm shores of enlightenment. The most important Bodhisattvas are Manjushri (chin.: Wenshushili 文殊師利), the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Avalokiteshvara ("Observing the Sounds of the World", chin.: Guanshiyin 觀世音, short: Guanyin, or Guanzizai 觀自在), the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and Samantabhadra ("Universal Goodness", chin.: Puxian 普賢), the Meditation Teacher. Buddha appears in different shapes, according to the belief that Buddha appears in every age in a special appearance, like Amitabha (Amitayus, "Buddha of Endless Light", chin.: Namo Amituofo 南無阿彌陀佛, jap.: Amida Butsu) or Vairocana "Universal Illuminator" or Lokeshvaraja (chin.: Pilushena 毘盧舍那, short: Lushena), the Buddha of the Past; Maitreya (chin.: Milefo 彌勒佛), the Buddha of Future. The Light Buddhas are clearly an influence of Iranian religion with the god of light, Ahuramazda. Compare a text the Large Amitabha Sutra. Popular Great Vehicle Buddhism is very fond of describing and depicting hells and heavens and the many Arhats, best seen in the wall paintings of Dunhuang.White Horse Monastery (Baimasi 白馬寺) near Luoyang. Many similarities with Taoism made Buddhism look like another sect of Huang-Lao-Taoism; both religions have no sacrificial ritus, believe both in immortality and operate with concentration, meditation and abstinence. The early translations of Buddhist sutras all used Taoist terms to paraphrase the complicated construct of Buddhist metaphysical philosophy, like dao 道 for dharma, bodhi, yoga, or zhenren 真人 as arhat, wuwei 無為 as nirvana, and ming 命 as karma. Later translators were more cautious in translating Buddhist terms and sometimes did not even dare to translate it. Nirvana was simply transscribed as niepan 涅盤, abhidharma as apidamo 阿毘達摩. Experienced tranlators of Tang Dynasty finally were able to define exact terms of translation: ji 寂 and lun 論, in our example. The first great time of Buddhism in China was during the Eastern Jin Dynasty, when the new religion entered the gentry class. Disappointed and not more interested in governmental officials, the landowning class joined the Buddhist community. But also scholars, that were more interested in Taoism since the end of the Later Han Dynasty, became fond of the new religion, that gave both groups a stronghold in a time of ceaseless war. The Non-Chinese rulers of the Northern Wei Dynasty converted to Buddhism and saw themselves as personification of the Buddha. 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 revival of Confucianism under the Song Dynasty caused the decline of Buddhism as a state religion. But as popular belief, Buddhism is still very widespread, but highly mixed with Taoist belief.
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), but the missing of a central power during the 3rd and 4th centuries gave room for the Buddhist religion of salvation of the individual. The power of spells and charms had a great attraction not only to Chinese peasants, but also for the foreign rulers in the north. Finally, many people escaped military service and tax duty by entering a monastery. Looking at Confucianism, we see that this state doctrine is totally lacking the aspect of the spiritual world (except ancestor veneration), and it is quite understandable that people found a good way to meet their religious needs in Buddhism.
Buddhism and its representant objects became part of the Chinese culture like dragons and chopsticks. The Laughing Buddha ("Pot-Belly Buddha") is the transformation of an Indian askete into a deity objecting Chinese ideals. The Indian stupa, a small buildings that contains relics of the Buddha or his scholars, and at the same time symbolizing the center of the Indian universe, mount Meru, became the Ceylonese dagoba, the Thai chedi, the Tibetian cherten (the most beautiful being erected in Katmandu/Nepal), and finally the Chinese nine-floor pagoda (ta 塔).
Eminent monks: translators, teachers, and travellersThe first monks in China all were foreigners, the first Chinese clerics are found the 4th century on. An Shigao 安世高 (mid 2nd cent.) was the first translator of Buddhist sutras (chin.: jing 經) Sanskrit (chin.: Fan 梵) into Chinese. During the Jin Dynasty, the teaching of prajna ("sage wisdom") became prevalent, manifested in the sutra Prajnaparamita ("Perfection of wisdom"), translated by Dharmaraksha (chin.: Zhu Fahu 竺法護) in 291. Other representatives of this school were Zhi Dun 支盾 (d. 366) and Xi Chao 郗超 (d. 377). The 4th and 5th century brought up a number of famous monks of Chinese and Non-Chinese origin who tried to translate accurately Buddhist sutras into Chinese and to make the early translations free Taoist tought and terms: Fotudeng 佛圖澄 (d. 349), Kumarajiva 鳩摩羅什 (413), Faxian 法顯 who travelled in 399 to India to bring back the whole corpus of Vinaya texts "Rules of Discipline" (chin.: lü 律) and translated them into Chinese, Daoan 道安 (d. 385) who compiled a catalogue of sutras and promoted the Maitreya cult, Huiyuan 慧遠 (d. 416) who promoted the Amitabha cult and together with Buddhabhadra 佛馱跋陀羅 (chin.: Juexian 覺賢) the practice of meditation and yoga, and Daosheng 道生 (d. 434) who focused on the Nirvana-sutra, like Dharmakshema (chin.: Tanwuchen 曇無讖, around 400). The Chinese monks did not only translate the sutras that Indian and Inner Asian missionaries had brought them, but many translators brought back the Buddhist writings India themselves, like Dharmaraksha, Faxian, Huisheng 慧生, Xuanzhao 玄照, Buddhadharma, Yijing 義淨 and Zhihong. But the most famous pilgrim was the translator Xuanzang 玄奘 who even figures as the main person in the Ming time novel Journey to the West. With the closure of the trade routes by the Arabs and Tibetians, the decline of Tang central government and the proscriptions of Buddhism in the 840ies, pilgrim travels were ended. Tang Dynasty, almost all Buddhist scriptures were translated into Chinese, and many catalogues have been compiled to collect the different translations of all the sutras. The most important catalogues are:
Zongli zhongjing mulu 綜理眾經目錄 "Comprehensive catalogue of sutras" by Daoan 道安, unfortunately not preserved
Chu sanzang jiji 出三藏記集 "Collection of records concerning the Tripitaka" by Sengyou 僧祐
Zhongjing mulu 眾經目錄 "Catalgue of collected sutras" by Fajing 法經
Kaiyuan shijiao lu 開元釋教錄 "Catalogue of the Kaiyuan era on Buddhism" by Zhisheng 智昇
The whole corpus of Chinese Buddhist writings is compound in the so-called Tripitaka "Threefold basket" (Sanzang 三藏). The modern edition of that corpus was made in Japan under the Taishô Emperor 1922-1933, therfore called Taisho Daizokyo 大正大藏經 "Great Sutra Storehouse of the Taisho era" (chin.: Dazheng Dazangjing). It is divided into 86 volumes, distributed into the sermons of the Buddha (Sutras; jing 經); the Vinaya writings (rules of discipline; lü 律); the Abhidharma writings ("Higher Subtleties"; chin.: lun 論 or apitan 阿毘曇); Madhyamika ("Middle path", i.e. Great Vehicle; chin.: zhongdao 中道) and Vijnanavada (Idealistic School; chin.: Weishizong 唯識宗) writings; shastra (treatises; chin.: lun 論); commentaries by Chinese monks; literature of the various Chinese schools; historical records; encyclopedias; catalogues.
Mouzi lihuo lun 牟子理惑論, an essay about controversies between Buddhism and Chinese tradition (3rd cent.)
Foguo Ji 佛國記 "Record of Buddhist kingdoms", a report of the traveler Faxian (around 400)
Fayuan Zhulin 法苑珠林, an encyclopedia by Daoshi 道世
Many rulers and eminent persons wrote poems about Buddhism and Buddhist life, among them the Empress Wu Zetian.
Yaoshi Jing 藥師經 "Sutra of the Master of Medicine"
Dabei Chan 大悲懺 "Great Compassion Penance"
Excursion: While the Mahayana tradition ("Great Vehicle") of Buddhism in China, Korea and Japan is based on the Chinese Tripitaka Canon, the Theravada or Hinayana tradition ("Smaller Vehicle") is based on the Pali Canon (Pali is a Middle Indian language). The composition of the Pali Canon is older than that of the Sanskrit Mahayana tradition. The order of writings - and their content - is different to the Chinese Tripitaka. The main sections of the Pali Canon are:
The Tiantai School 天台宗 (Tiantai Zong, jap.: Tendai Shu, kor.: Ch'ontae Jong) was founded by Zhiyi 智顗 (d. 597), basing on the Lotus Sutra. According to Zhiyi, the Buddha taught different Sutras during his lifetime. Because the early sermons, were too complicated for the mass, the Buddha relied on simplier "Scriptures" (agama, chin.: ahan 阿含) to preach. Later on, he preached the elementary vaipulya "broad and equal" (chin.: fangdeng 方等) sutras of the Great Vehicle, to end with the "Sutra of Perfection of Wisdom" (Prajnaparamita-sutra) and the Nirvana and Lotus Sutras. A central teaching of the Tiantai school is the Threefold Truth (santi 三諦): voidness of all things, temporariness of all phenomena, and the synthesis of emptiness and phenomenal existence as the truth of the mean or middle. The absolute mind embraces the universe in its entirety, small and huge things. To separate one's consciousness worldy phenomena (dharma), spiritual concentration and insight consiousness help to become aware of the non-existance of all appearance and that all is a manifestation of the absolute mind. The Buddha nature can even be found in inanimate things.
Fazang 法藏 (d. 712) founded the Garland School (Huayan,, jap. Kegon, kor.: Hwaòm) 華嚴宗, basing on the Garland Sutra 華嚴經. The empty phenomena are thought to arose simultaneously by themselves. The static principle (li 理) and the dynamic phenomenon (shi 事; things and their appearance) of the emptiness are interfused and mutually identified. No phenomenon can exist independently and alone, all things depend on others and are combined to a whole. This system of totality finally points to the Buddha in the center.
A very special school that renounced dogma, asceticism, rites and the traditional monastery system, was the Chan School 禪宗 (Chan Zong, jap.: Zen Shu, kor.: Jòn Jong; a term deriving the Sanskrit word dhyâna "meditation, yoga"), founded by Bodhidharma (chin.: Putidamo 菩提達摩; d. 524) and Huineng 慧能 (d. 713; see an excerpt his writing "Altar Sutra" Tanjing). The believers of Chan relied on riddles (gongan 公案) and spontaneous actions to achieve enlightenment. Because of the emptiness (shunyata; chin.: kong 空) of reality, the Buddha nature can only be apprehended by intuition. Avoiding conscious thought, reality is expressed by silence or negation of the object in mind. It was the Chan School that also developed the worldwide known fighting techniques (gongfu 功夫, "Kung-fu") in the Shaolin Monastery 少林寺. The spontaneity thought of Chan Buddhism is familiar to Taoism and the nature-near spontaneous action of the free individual. Chan monks also composed writings like the "Green Cliff Records" Biyan Lu 碧巖録, and the "Gateless Pass" Wumenguan 無門關.
Important branches of the Chan School are the Caodong School 曹洞宗, Linji School 臨濟宗.
The Idealistic School (Faxiang Zong 法相宗) was founded by the great pilgrim Xuanzang 玄奘 (d. 664) and based on the Mahayana-samgraha "Compendium of the Great Vehicle" and the Yogacarin writings. According to the idealistic teachings, the external world is but a fabrication of our consciousness and does not really exist and is only an illusion. The five sensual consiousnesses like sight, hearing, and so on, are helped by the conscious mind, which forms conceptions out of the perceptions received outside. A seventh consciousness is the thought center, and finally the storehouse consciousness, which stores and coordinates all the ideas reflected in the mind. This school did not survive the great persecutions of 845 AD.
Very little impact on the history of Chinese Buddhism had the Sattyasiddhi School (Chengshi Zong 成實宗) that was originally a Theravada school but was oriented to Mahayana by its explanation that Buddhahood can be attained by destroying the attachment to names, elements and emptiness. Its main writing is the Sattyasiddhi-Shastra.
The School of the Middle Path (Zhongdao Zong 中道宗 or Zhongguan Pai 中觀派), is the Chinese branch of the Indian Madhyamika School that seeks a middle way between two extremes like existence and non-existence, between emptiness and non-emptiness. The most important representants of this school were Buddhapalita (chin. Fohuo佛護; d.540) and Candrakirti (chin. Yuecheng 月稱, d. 650).
A branch of the Madhyamika School is the Three Treatise School (Sanlun Zong 三論宗). The most important representant is Jizang 吉蔵 whose thought bases upon the three treatises Zhong Lun 中論, Shiermen Lun 十二門論, and Bai Lun 百論, all writings that deeply influenced the Chinese Tiantai and Huayan Schools.
Less important are the two vinaya schools Jielü Zong 戒律宗 and Nanshan Zong 南山宗, the Nirvana School (Niepan Zong 涅槃宗), and the School of Consciousness (Weishi Zong 唯識宗).
The native religion of Tibet is the so-called Bon religion, a belief in spirits, demons and ghosts in nature, that can bring good and evil. Sorcery and magic were influential instruments of Tibetian religion. Buddhism was introduced into Tibet during the 7th century by a Tantric master named Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpotche), but it was only during the 11th century that Buddhism gained a real foothold in Tibet. The resulting religion was Lamaism (tibetian bla-ma means "Superior"), that is Tantric Buddhism mixed with a good portion of the Bon religion. A special feature of Lamaism is that abbotship of a monastery is inheritable, thus creating monastery dynasties. When the Tibetians submitted to the Mongols during the 13th century, the nomadic people was quite ready to replace their shamanism by the the more subtle and systematized magic of Tibetian Buddhism.
Tantric Buddhism, also called Tantrayana, Mantrayana or Vajrayana (vajra means "thunderbold" or "diamond", chin.: jingang 金剛), in the West sometimes called "Diamond Vehicle", is a third confession of Buddhism. According to Tantrism, freeing ignorance is possible by esoteric consecration, diving into the cosmic relations. Magic spells are of great importance to defend oneself evil and temptation. Tantra (chin.: mi 密 "secret", jap.-chin.: shingon 真言 "true words"), esoteric literature, borrows many items Hindu mythology but gives them a new meaning. Gods and their femals counterparts are symbols of function, energy and will of the universe. Four kinds of instruments help to transform knowledge into action: Mantras (chin.: zhou 咒) like the famous "om mani padme hum" (Oh, the jewel in the lotus!) are mystic syllables sometimes without real meaning, are seen as a shortcut to enlightenment (see an example of a mantra in the Heart Sutra). Mandalas (chin.: ti 體) are cosmograms, a picture of the universe with all its deities and beings, easily being destroyed to show the vanity of what the five senses feel. Mudras (chin.: yin 印) are gestures by a particular position of hand and fingers, showing words without sound. Abishekas (chin.: huanding 頂) are sacraments like baptization and yoga practices. A special yoga practice is the unio mystica or sexual unification of a priest symbolizing a deity and a virgin, showing his counterpart. Only known in Tibetian Buddhism are the prayer mill, prayer flag, while prayer rosaries are also known to Chinese Buddhism. Depictings of Tantrist deities show a god and his corresponding goddess, like the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (tibet.: Chenresi) and the female Tara-Dolma. Another kind of presentation in Tantrism is the emanation of a deity, that means that above the head of Buddha or the god of death appear heads of the deity itself, - the Buddha is multiplied, having eleven watching heads and thousand helping arms. The counterpart deity of Bodhisattva Manjushri is Yamantaka, the god of death. Tibetian Buddhist art makes use of rolled pictures, called thanka, that are rolled out during festivities and then cover a whole mountain slope. In proper China, Tantrism could only flourish for a short time during the 8th century, and was ostracized because of the obscenity of its secret cults.
The head of Tibetian Lamaism is the Dalai Lama, a title granted to the head of the Yellow Cap sect by the Mongols who helped the Tsong-ka-pa to reform Tibetian Buddhism and to fight against the old Red Cap sect. The second highest person is the Panchen Lama, the third is the Karmapa who belongs to another school.