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Chinese Buddhism


Chinese Buddhism refers to the Buddhism religion that was introduced and developed in China. It has history of over 2000 years. There is no conclusive result when exactly it was brought into China, but people generally believe it was between the Western Han Dynasty (202 B.C - 8 A.D) and Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220 A.D). The major schools of Chinese Buddhism are Han Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and Southern Buddhism.


History of Chinese Buddhism


1.Who brought Buddhism China?

In the first year (2 A.D) of the reign of Emperor Ai of Western Han Dynasty, Jing Lu was sent to diplomatic mission to Dayue Tribe. The King of Dayue Tribe from western regions (today’s Xinjiang) sent a person named Yin Cun to dictate the "Fu Tu Jing" for Jing Lu. In 67, Emperor Mingdi of Eastern Han Dynasty dreamed about the golden men, so he sent people to western regions. As a result, two great Indian monks named Kasyapa Matanga and Dharmaraksa and many Buddha statues and sutra were brought into Luoyang by white horse. To receive the esteemed guests and valuable Buddhist scriptures, the emperor ordered a special place to be built in Luoyang, which is the White Horse Temple. In the temple, the first translated version of the Sutra of Forty-two Sections was completed.


2.How did Buddhism spread to China?

The development of Chinese Buddhism has roughly undergone three stages:

1). The sutra translation stage in Han Dynasty, Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties.

2). Flourishing stage in Sui and Yang Dynasties. At this time, Chinese monks began to found different schools and theory systems based on the Indian Buddhism.

3). The integration stage of Chinese Buddhism. In Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, the Buddhism was greatly integrated with the Confucianism and Taoism. Meanwhile, the Chinese Buddhism became an important part of Chinese folk customs by the artistic forms of literature, painting, sculpture, and architecture.


3.How did Buddhism influence Chinese culture?


Chinese Art

The introduction of Buddhism has enriched the Chinese art, especially on the Chinese painting, sculpture and temple architecture. Since Buddhism was brought into China, the Chinese rulers ordered a lot of caves to be chiselled, which included tons of Buddhism murals, sculptures, statues. The most well-known caves are Mogao Caves, Yungang Caves, Longmen Grottoes, and Maijishan Grottoes.


Chinese Literature

Buddhism has imposed an indelible impact on Chinese literature. During the flourishing times of Buddhism, many poems and scholars studied the Buddhism sutra, befriended famous monks and created numerous poems and masterpieces relating to Buddhism and Zen. Meanwhile, many monks themselves were great scholars and introduced Buddhism into poems. In addition, the Buddhism has a mark on the traditional Chinese novels and dramas created in Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties.


Chinese Politics

Buddhism was introduced to China by the request of upper class rulers in the first place. Thus, it's quite easy to understand why it have an influence in Chinese politics. During the prime days of Buddhism, the monarchs often use it as a tool to consolidate their own ruling and stabilize the society. Meanwhile, there are often knowledgeable monks like Xuan Zang who can influence the rulers to make better policies.


Beliefs and Rules of Buddhism


1.What do Buddhists believe?

Buddhism is not a religion in general sense, it's more of a methodology that reveals the truth of the universe and the human beings, and guide common people to escape the earthly suffering and pursue peacefulness.

1. All phenomena are impermanent; all Dharma are not-self; eternity is Nirvana are the Three Seals in Buddhism. The first seal reveals that the essences of the things in the universe are impermanent and ever-changing. The second seal means that there is no such thing as self and there is no permanent god. Therefore, people don't have to pursue the idea of soul. The last seal implies that only the eventual death is the real peace.

2. Do good and don't be evil. Buddhism believe that everything has its cause and effect. A person want good things, he must do good things first.

3. Be compassionate, do good deeds, and serve others. The core idea is that only compassion and mercy can make the mortal world a good place.


2.What Does It Mean to Be a Buddhist?

To be a Buddhist, one must have the ceremony of proclaiming himself a Buddhist just like taking an oath when joining a party. Only this way, you can be a true Buddhist disciple and follow the path of Buddhism. Some people may wonder if there is a way to cultivate Buddhism without the conversion. People who have this thought do not have enough faith in Buddhism. They just follow their interests and understand the parts they want to believe in and ignore the part they don't. If they fully embrace the Buddhism, they must have a strong faith and determination to make Buddhism their sole purpose and pursue it with the rest of their life.


3.What Are the Rules of Buddhism?

The rules of Chinese Buddhism are mainly the Buddhist monastic disciplines. Anyone who becomes a Buddhist disciple need to abide by the Five Precepts and Ten Good Deeds. The Five Precepts refer to the abstaining from killing living things, pilferage, lasciviousness and lust, falsehood, and drinking. The Ten Good Deeds are actually the specifications of the Five Precepts, which include the behavioral goodness of not killing living things, not stealing and not having lascivious deeds, the verbal goodness of not telling lies, gossiping, speaking curses, or talking frivolous things, and the conscious goodness of no desire, no hatred or complaint, or no distorted thoughts.


4.What Buddhist Cannot Eat?

There are a lot of restrictions on the food Buddhists should have. First and the most important one is they must only have vegetarian food, which means they can’t eat any meat or eggs and the food with strong flavors like the garlic, Chinese onions, and leeks. However, there are still many food options like vegetables, mushrooms, and bean products.

Besides, Buddhist monks can’t drink alcohol, smoke cigarette and have snacks. Alcohol includes all the drinks that can be intoxicating or narcotize people’s nerves like rice wine, beer, Baijiu and other alcoholic drinks. Smoking is not technically forbidden in the Buddhists, but it’s a bad habit that may cause psychological dependence. Therefore, smoking is also prohibited in Buddhist monks. Lastly, the rule of no snacking is mainly to cultivate a fine comportment.


5.What Can't Buddhist Do?

In the personal life, a Buddhist disciple can’t marry or have savings. Buddhism believes that the converted Buddhist disciples shoulder the big responsibility of spreading the Buddhism theories and inheriting the Buddhism wisdom. Only when they are completely unattached can they make accomplishments. Besides, Buddhist disciples are required not to dance, listen to music, take fancy bed, receive treasures, do business, or tell fortune.


How to Practice Buddhism?


There are three levels to practice the Buddhism.

Step 1: Comply with the Buddhism Rules

Step 2: Meditate

Step 3: Seek Wisdom


Schools of Chinese Buddhism


Han Buddhism

Han Buddhism was introduced into China in eastern Han Dynasty and rapidly developed in Southern and Northern Dynasties Period. It entered the prime times in Sui and Tang Dynasties and was integrated with Buddhism and Taoism in Song and Yuan Dynasties. The spreading of the Buddhism can be divided into two routes. The first route is southern route passing southeast Asia, while the second route is the northern route that passes China, Korea and Japan. Han Buddhism has a lot of schools and the most popular one is the Mahayana.


Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetans used to believe in the primitive Benism until the introduction of the Buddhism during the middle 7th century to 9th century. In 841, the Buddhism was abolished and it remained abolished for over 100 years until the late 10th century. Although the Tibetan originated from Indian Buddhism, it absorbed some Benism rituals and ideas, forming a unique religion. There are four schools of Tibetan Buddhism nowadays, namely, the rnying-ma-ba (whose disciples wear red cassock, frock and mitre), Sakya sect (the wall of such monasteries have red, white and black patterns that represent Manjusri Buddisattva, Avalokitesvara and Vajrapani respectively), Kagyu (whose monks wear white frock and tops), and Gelug (the monks wear yellow mitre shaped like peach). With the support of Ming and Qing governments, Gelug school became the ruling class.


Southern Buddhism

The Southern Buddhism was mainly popular in Xishuangbanna, Dehong, Simao, Lincang and Baoshan in Yunnan. It has a deep influence in the cultures, politics and customs of Dai, Blang, Deang, and Achang people. For example, men of Dai group must be a monk at their younger ages for at least once and resume the secular life in 3-7 years. Any men who haven’t been a monk will be despised.


Chinese Buddhism Nowadays


Buddhism has existed in China for thousands of years and the Buddhism practice are quite often causally performed in commons, therefore, it’s hard to say exactly how many people in China believe in Buddhism. According to some statistics, there are at least 187 million people in China believe in Buddhism theories. Geographically speaking, Buddhism is more popular in west and south China and urban people tend to believe in the Buddhism more.


6 Famous Worshiping Place of Buddhism in China


White Horse Temple in Luoyang

Built in 68, White Horse Temple was first Buddhist temple in China and the birthplace of Chinese Buddhism. The very name originated from the fact that the white horses were used to carry the sutra from India. Since the building of White Horse Temple, it underwent several times of   abandonment and renovations, and it reached the prime times in the reign of Wuzetian. Inside the temple, there are a lot of precious Buddhist statues like Buddhist Trinity, Two Heavenly Generals, and Eighteen Arhats.


Shaolin Temple in Luoyang

The Shaolin Temple is the cradle of Chinese Buddhism and Chinese martial arts. Situated in the verdant forest of Shaoshi peak inside Mt. Songshan, Dengfeng City the Shaolin Monastery was inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2010. The monastery was originally established by Emperor Xiaowen in the 19th year (495 A.D.) of Emperor Taihe in the Northern Wei Dynasty to accommodate the Indian master in another location in addition to the then capital city of Luoyang. The whole complex ranges about 57 600 sq meters, and its current abbot is Shi Yongxin. Besides spreading its significant influence in Buddhism, the Shaolin Monastery holds a prestigious reputation in martial art, especially Shaolin Kung Fu.


Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian

Situated in the Da Ci’en Temple in the southern suburb of Xi’an, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is one of the most famous Buddhist pagodas in China. The pagoda was a real skyscraper in Chang’an city for over a millennium since it was first constructed in the 7th century AD. It was a place where people could have a bird’s-eye view of the whole city from the top. The story behind it is related to the well known story of the Monkey King which has made it pretty famous all over the country.


Fohuang Temple on Wutai Mountain

Located on the Wutai Mountain, Foguang Temple was first built during the reign of Xiaowen Emperor (471-499) of Northern Wei Dynasty when the Buddhism was very popular. In 845, the temple was greatly damaged until in 847, it was restored with Buddhism regaining the popularity. Nowadays, with the Wutai Mountain, Tang dynasty architectures, sculptures, murals, and calligraphy works, the Foguang Temple is popular again.


Huazang Temple on E'mei Mountain

Huazang Temple, is located on the main peak of E'mei Mountain. As the halls of the temple have golden roofs, people also call the temple Golden Peak, and the peak that the temple is located on is also named as Golden Peak. It’s a must-to-visit when you visit the E’mei Mountain.


Jokhang Monastery in Lhasa

Jokhang Temple is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery located in the old town of Lhasa. Built by Srongtsen Gampo in 651, the temple underwent a series of renovations in Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. It’s one of the earliest wooden structural architectures in Tibet and it has integrated the architectural styles of Tibet, Nepal and India. Therefore, Jokhang Temple is an example of the Tibetan religious architecture.


Experience Chinese Buddhism with Lilysun China Tours


Join the 2 Days Heritage Tour to Terracotta Warriors and Jingdi's Tomb to Admire the Magnificent Da Ci'en Temple in Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Explore the Shaolin Temple and Longmen Grottoes in 3 Days Terracotta Warriors & Longmen Grottoes Tour

Revere at the Mogao Caves and Giant Buddha Temple in 11 days China Silk Road Trip

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