Religion in China: Chinese Buddhism
As of July 2008, the population of the People’s Republic of China has reached 1,330,044,544 which has always been governed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since October 1, 1949 (Central Intelligence Agency). Though PRC is under very strict communist control, the country has already opened itself up to the rest of the world after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. Deng Xiaoping turned the country into a market-driven economy issuing the Open Door Policy and engaging into foreign relations with countries like the United States of America.
Aside from rejoining the world affairs, the people also experienced independence after being inhibited by the Cultural Revolution which suppressed all forms of freedom. One kind of freedom that the people have experienced is religious freedom (Central Intelligence Agency). PRC is a multi-religious country; hence, the country has diverse religious practices and beliefs (Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America).
The major religions, though, in the country are Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism and Protestantism; however, there are still Chinese who practice traditional folk religions.
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In 1997, there are already more that 100 million Chinese who devote themselves to the religions mentioned above. Moreover, there are 85,000 locations dedicated to religious activities, 300,000 clergies, more than 3,000 religious organization, 74 schools and colleges managed by religious organizations (Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America).
This paper, though, will center on Chinese Buddhism and attempts to prove that is the country’s true religion. According to Travel China Guide, the most important religion in China is Buddhism. About 102 million Chinese practice Chinese Buddhism, making China the country which has the most number of Buddhists in the year 2007 (Buddhist-Tourism). In 1997, there are already about 13,000 Buddhist temples and 200,000 monks and nuns. In addition, there is also a Buddhist Association of China (Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America).
Gautama Buddha and His Teachings In general, Buddhism was formed through a Nepal prince, Siddharta Gautama, of the Shakya family. Ever since he was born in the 6th century BC, he was not aware of suffering of the people outside the palace; however, when he did become aware of this, he got upset and decided to leave the life of royalty. After leaving the life he used to live in the palace, Gautama resolved to practice asceticism for seven years only to find out that an ascetic lifestyle is not sufficient to take away suffering (Theobald).
He then added meditation with asceticism and through meditation he was able to formulate inferences which turned him into a Buddha or an “Enlightened Man. ” Afterwards, he went on and spread his teachings called the “Wheel of Teaching” – where the “wheel” stood as a symbol of Buddhism – and died at Kusinara (Theobald). Gautama Buddha formulated the Four Noble Truths which can be summed up as life is suffering due to the continuous yearning for survival and sensual pleasures (Theobald). Thus, Buddha devised the Eightfold Path that would restrain suffering.
This Eightfold Path consists of (1) right views, (2) right intentions, (3) right speech, (4) right action, (5) right livelihood, (6) right effort, (7) right mindfulness and (8) right concentration which can be attained by conforming to a strict moral discipline, avoiding evil actions, doing good, cleansing the mind through mental discipline and mending it through the important aspects of doing good (Theobald). The Buddhist religion has what they call the Three Jewels which consists of the Buddha, the teachings and the community; moreover, the center of any Buddhist world is called Mount Sumeru that has its own Buddha (Theobald).
Arrival of Buddhism in China Centuries after Gautama Buddha passed away, Buddhism was finally able to enter China and began to co-exist with Confucianism and Taoism (Theobald). The Chinese Empire was able to gain contact with Buddhism in the Silk Road where there was a constant movement of traders and missionary. Chinese people were able to mingle with Buddhists from Central Asia – this was made possible due to the spread of Han Dynasty (25 AD – 220 AD) to the Central Asia during the 1st century AD in which increased the interaction of China and Central Asia through trading (BDEA Inc.
& BuddhaNet). The Emperor Ming Ti of the Han Dynasty who ruled from 57 AD to 75 AD is said to have been a huge follower of Buddhism and Taoism (International Dunhuang Project). It was said that the Emperor dreamt of a foreign god – this triggered his sudden decision to sent messengers in India to look for Buddhist texts and teachers (Edkins, 88-89). Buddhists from India went to China along with the messengers that the Emperor sent as there is already a demand to translate Buddhist texts to Chinese. Buddhist monks like Lokashema, Kaspaya, Dharmaraksha, Kashiammadanga, Anshigao, etc.
translated various Buddhist texts like the Shravakanaya texts, the Mahayana texts done by Lokashema, the Sutra of Forty-Two Sections done by Kashiapmadanga (who was said to have died in Lo-yang), Kasyapa and Dharmaraksha, etc. (BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet; Edkins, 89; International Dunhuang Project). Along with other Buddhist texts being translated, Buddhism was spread more in China leading to the formation of a Chinese monastic order. In addition, there were already monks that are of Chinese decent – the first of them is said to be Anshigao’s disciple (BDEA Inc.
& BuddhaNet). However, the Chinese were not able to comprehend the teachings of Buddhism at once for the translators used Taoist terms in order to translate the Buddhist terms; they encountered difficulty in finding the appropriate Chinese words to translate Buddhist concepts (BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet). Hence, the Chinese associated Buddhism to Taoism. Buddhism continued to grow despite the fall of the Han Dynasty in the early 3rd century. Translated Buddhist texts kept on going around and monasteries are being put up (BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet).
Chinese monks, like Dao-an, who is considered to be the most excellent Chinese monks of the 4th century, continued to invite translators like Kumarajiva from Kucha, who translated more important Buddhist texts and also revised the early translated Buddhist books (BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet). Development of Chinese Buddhism In Travel Guide China, the development of Buddhism in China is divided into four periods. The first period is Buddhism in Han Dynasty which was already discussed earlier, it was also in this period where the White Horse Temple was put up which is said to be the first Buddhist monastery in China (Theobald).
The second period was in Jin during the 265 AD to 420 AD – at the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (385 AD – 589 AD). At the period of Jin, more Buddhist texts were translated, written and spread out, Buddhism became even more popular all over China and there was a growth in number of Chinese Buddhists (Travel China Guide). The third period was from the Sui Dynasty (581 AD – 618 AD) to the Tang Dynasty (618 AD – 907 AD). During these two dynasties, Buddhism reached its peak and its development had been exceptional.
This unparalleled development of Buddhism during this period was because the Sui emperors are Buddhists and the Tang emperors accepted the growth of other religions despite being strict Taoists (Travel China Guide). During the Tang Dynasty, Buddhism became a part of Chinese Art, Chinese Literature, Chinese Sculpture, Chinese Architecture and Chinese Philosophy (BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet). The development was, however, halted during the late feudal society due to the heightening of social unrest in the country (Travel China Guide).
The slumped development of Buddhism occurred on the dying period of the Manchu Dynasty when the country got involved in wars against the Great Britain and series of peasant uprisings (ie. Boxer Rebellion) where China got striped off of its land and was divided among western countries and Japan in what was called the Spheres of Influence. The foreign occupation was followed by the fall of the Manchu Dynasty which was caused by the rise of the Nationalists, followed by the rise of the Communists which again triggered another civil revolution in the country which was briefly cut short due to World War II.
Nonetheless, Buddhism was able to recover after the establishment of the PRC and even more after the reign of Mao Zedong. In addition, Buddhism has progressed into three different forms, namely, Han Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and Southern Buddhism (Travel China Guide). Schools of Chinese Buddhism There were different schools of Chinese Buddhism which emerged during the Tang Dynasty. It was said that these schools were derived from old forms of Buddhism that came to China, however, modern scholars stated that the said connections are most like tampered and flawed.
Nonetheless, there are four main Chinese Buddhism schools that surfaced during the 7th century, namely, (1) T’ien-t’ai, (2) Hua-yen, (3) Ch’an, and (4) Pure Land (Lusthaus). T’ien-t’ai School This school was founded by Zhiyi (Lusthaus). He led Chinese Buddhism to a direction different from the path that various Buddhist theories and practices are leading it into. Zhiyi recommended a comprehensive synthesis. The whole T’ien-t’ai school was rooted on the Lotus Sutra – in this school, they view the Lotus Sutra as the carrier of salvation based on practice (China Views).
This school is portrayed as principled and meditation- and philosophy-centered. It served as the connector of the developing Buddhism in Northern China as both religion of faith and discipline, and the intellectual tradition in Southern China (China Views). Hua-yen School While T’ien-t’ai School was based on the Lotus Sutra, the Hua-yen School has the Avatamsaka Sutra as their root (Lusthaus). The leading belief of Hua-yen School is “dharmadatu” or the “universal causation of the realm of the law” (China Views).
The said realm refers to the whole of the universe including all of its dimensions while the universal causation is a philosophical development that is purely Chinese. The universal causation is an extension of Buddha’s teachings regarding “dependant origination” (China Views). Ch’an School The Ch’an School is the result of the reaction that rose against the T’ien-t’ai School and Hua-yen School (Lusthaus). The Ch’an School viewed the two other schools as an impediment towards enlightenment due to their capacious and complicated literatures. This school centers on meditation.
Ch’an School was founded by an Indian monk from Southern India named Bodhidharma who arrived in China around the 5th and 6th century. He taught according to the Lankavatara Sutra and also practiced a tremendously simple mediation (China Views). Pure Land School Unlike the other three schools of Chinese Buddhism which center on devotional elements and rituals, the Pure Land School which focuses on the very fundamentals of devotionalism (Lusthaus). In addition, compared to the other schools, the founder or the origin of Pure Land is not known. However, there are contributors named Tanluan, Dao Chuo and Shandao.
Aside from centering on devotionalism, the school also stresses the faith in Amitabha Buddha (China Views). The devotion will be centered on Amitabha in order for him to grant them salvation which is in the form of being born again the in the west pure land. Furthermore, this school has also ignored the need for self-development through the teachings of Buddha regarding the way of salvation (China Views). The scriptures that the Pure Land School use are the Larger and Smaller Sukhavati Sutras and the Guan Wuliangshuofo Jing (Lusthaus). Chinese Buddhist Temple and Deities
The temples of Chinese Buddhism are built according to the palaces of their imperial family and are definitely unlike the temples of Buddhism from other Buddhist countries like India. It is established facing south and have three cluster of buildings divided by courtyards (BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet). The first cluster is the front hall where the four massive images of the Four Heavenly Kings (Devas) greet anyone who enters (BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet). The Devas are the Guardians of the Four Directions and two of each are placed on the right and left. Thus, the hall is called “Si-Tien Wang Tien” – a name derived from the Four Heavenly Kings (BDEA Inc.
& BuddhaNet). Visitors are mostly greeted by the soon-to-be Buddha called Maitreya Buddha, commonly known as the “Laughing Buddha” or “Ta-pao Mi-Lei-Fwo. ” This particular Buddha is usually the one with a fat paunch. Precisely at the back of the Maitreya Buddha is the Projector of Buddhist Temples and Faith, the great King, Wei-to (BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet). He appears to be dressed in his full armor and is either holding a staff or a weapon in a shape of scepter. Aside from being the Projector of Buddhist Temples and Faith, Wei-to is also called the Protector of Buddhist Books (BDEA Inc.
& BuddhaNet). Wei-to is always built facing the Great Hall or “Ta-Hung-Pau-Tien” – the second cluster which is separated away from the front hall by either a wall or a courtyard (BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet). The main altar of the temple is found in this hall, the image of the altar being Sakyamuni Buddha and his two chief students, Mahakasyapa and Ananda, if not, the place of the two students can be replaced by other Buddhas from the past. Even the image of the main altar can be different; temples of Pure Land Schools will have the image of Amitabha Buddha.
Nonetheless, on the both left and right side of the main altar are the two Great Bodhisattvas, Manjusri or Wen-Shu-Shih-Li and Samantabhadra or Pu-Hsien, however, this too can vary (BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet). The east and west halls of this hall have the assembled figures of the Eighteen Arhats. These Arhats or Lohas are said to be in control of different supernatural powers (BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet). On the north wall is the images of Dipankara or Jan-teng Fwo and other popular and non-popular Bodhisattvas. There are also instances when the image of the Protector of Buddhism, Kuan Ti, is also found in this hall.
The Great Hall serves as the place where the dedicated Buddhists pray and offer flowers, fruits, etc. in the main altar (BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet). The last cluster is the back hall which is, most of the time, split into smaller halls or smaller rooms. In the center of this hall is usually an altar of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva (BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet). The right is usually the funerary tablet of the founder of the temple while the left is usually a hall for either teaching or meditating. Finally, there are living quarters, dining area and kitchen that are located either on the side of the three clusters or at their back (BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet).
Chinese Buddhism in Modern China The Chinese people realized the need for Chinese Buddhism to modernize as early as the 20th century. There were efforts to modernize Chinese Buddhism and these efforts began during the Manchu Dynasty led by Yang Wen-hui by republishing and redispersing Buddhist texts (Lancashire, 220). He also tried to learn the significance of Chinese Buddhism in the modern world as a whole. Through his examinations, he was able to construe that Buddhims goes well with modern science, and, also, Chinese Buddhists have a role to serve – to introduce Buddhism to the outside world particularly in the West (Lancashire, 220).
Hence, he encouraged the Chinese Buddhists to recognize the value of modern science and the existing connection between it and Buddhism, and also helped the Chinese Buddhist to prepare for the missionary tasks they have to fulfill in introducing the religion to the west (Lancashire, 221). It continued until the Chinese Buddhist Association was also established in 1929. Membership for the association was divided between the laity and the clergy with the latter having more dominance (Lancashire, 222).
During the early stages of the association, it was able to saw of the two most politcally active monks of that period, namely, T’ai-hsii and Yuan-ying. T’ai-shii was said to be the leader of the progressives while Yuan-ying was the major head of the much contemporary ideas (Lancashire, 222). Personal Interest: Marriage Buddhist weddings are usually characterized as worldly and materialistic, however, the couples who are about to be wed always make sure that they will be able to receive the blessing of the monks from local Buddhist temples exactly right after accomplishing the civil registration procedures (BDEA Inc.
& BuddhaNet). Chinese Buddhists strictly abide to their religion that even if two people are already married in a civil ceremony, they still need to have a Buddhist wedding in order to be considered as rightfully married (Urban Dharma). Choosing for the wedding day is usually relied on fortune tellers, however, the couple or the their parents could now have the right to choose for the appropriate wedding day (Urban Dharma). Before the wedding, as early as 5:30 AM, the family of the man will go to the house of the woman with trays that they will give to the woman (Walsh and Poremba).
Each tray has its own corresponding purpose and may contain things like wine, fruit, traditional and western cake, tea, meat, trau cau and jewelry. One tray will have a pair of candles that will be lit up by the fathers of the soon-to-be groom and bride to represent the union of the two families, in addition, there will also be a tray that will have the traditional gown that the bride will wear for the wedding (Walsh and Poremba).
A roasted pig will also be given to the family of the bride; this roasted pork will be cut into three, the family of the woman will keep the middle part while the rest will be given back to the family of the man (Urban Dharma). Afterwards, a tea ceremony will be conducted in which the couple will serve the elders of the woman’s family with tea and, in return, they will give them red packets with money or jewelry inside. The tea ceremony will also be repeated in the house of the man (Urban Dharma).
The wedding ceremony will come after, in Buddhist weddings, the groom and the bride will be the ones who will administer the wedding ceremony (Walsh and Poremba). Just as how early the groom and his family went to the bride’s house for the gifts and ceremonies, they groom will again go to the house of the bride, or wherever she is staying, early in the morning with his groomsmen. Before the groom could enter the house, the friends of the bride will ask him questions that are difficult enough to test if he is suitable for the bride.
In addition, another test will be on the financial aspect where the groom will give the bridesmaid red packets with money or jewelry (Urban Dharma). Afterwards, the bride will bid farewell to her family and will pay respects to her ancestors in the their family’s spirit house, the groom will also follow suit, offering a bowl of trau cau to them with him (Walsh and Poremba). The couple along with the bridesmaids and groomsmen will then go to the house of the groom. The mother of the bride and the mother-in-law will put earrings on the bride to signify her virginity (Walsh and Poremba). Respects will again be paid to the ancestors of the groom.
Again, a tea ceremony will be held where the groom and the bride will serve their parents. The tea ceremony will symbolize that the couple is married, it is also this ceremony which makes the bride a part of the groom’s family (Urban Dharma; Walsh and Poremba). Professional Interest: Interacting with Chinese Investors The essential beliefs and values of the Chinese are deeply rooted from philosophies and teachings of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism (Miroslawski, 46). Hence, even the holistic configuration of the Chinese society has its origin in the three major philosophies and religions in the country.
Thus, in order to fully comprehend the Chinese culture, one must understand the different philosophies that the Chinese believe in and how these philosophies affect their way of life. In his study, Miroslawski (2008) compared and contrasted China and Germany using the cultural dimensions formulated by Geert Hofstede. In the comparison, it was learned that the organizational model of the Chinese emphasized on the necessity of a single supervisor at the top who will give those below instructions that should be followed.
This model is due to the Chinese inclination towards extensive power distance and the necessity for them to have an apparent and influential type of leadership (Miroslawski, 46-47). The Chinese are also collective in nature, hence, they always put the welfare of their group over their personal interests (Miroslawski, 47). Chinese have the tendency to not to speak out from the group just so they could maintain their good relationship with one another – this is also the case by not choosing to speak out towards their superiors.
Aside from Hofstede’s explanation that if there is a high power distance, there is also high collectivism in the society, the organization model can also be attributed to China’s extended family and patriarchal society. Moreover, it is also due to Confucius’ teachings about filial piety (Miroslawski, 48). It is also because of the fact that Chinese are collectivists that their communication vary from those who are inside their group and those who are outside. This is also due to the huge amount of loyalty that the Chinese put on one another (Miroslawski, 48).
Another finding was that China has a very high-context culture, hence, the value on face-saving is high and tremenduously important (Miroslawski, 48). Face-saving refers to instituing, sustaining and intensifying status. Despite being collectivists, the Chinese still give themselves value by having a significant status in the group, still, this reflects only within the group as every group tries to contain all their knowledge within them. In order to comprehend Chinese more easily, then, they must be from a high-context culture as well or at least attempt to study their ways (Miroslawski, 48).
Conclusion Chinese Buddhists range from 50% to 80% of the Chinese population, their infrastructures are more than 10,000 in numbers while there are hundreds of thousands Chinese Buddhist monks, nuns, lamas and Buddhas (Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America; Vipassana Foundation). The Chinese have, indeed, welcomed and nourished the Buddhist religion ever since it arrived in China during the Han Dynasty. Emperors were open enough to accept its unstoppable growth and even allow it continue its development.
Despite the turmoils that the country experienced during its fall at the period of the Manchu, the Chinese people still resurrected and modernized the religion in order to make it still fitting with the changing times. It can be said that the Chinese Buddhists are very loyal to their religion that when it comes to marriage, the couple should still be wed in a Buddhist ceremony in order to be considered married. Though the Chinese are no longer particular about having their child marrying another Chinese, they would still want the couple to undergo a Buddhist wedding ceremony.
The rituals, the ceremonies and the traditions are still being strictly followed. However, there are practices that were no longer constantly done, like parents arranging the marriage of their children, going to the matchmakers, and consultation with forture tellers. Chinese are now allowing their children to chose who they want to marry irregardless of nationality and the couple are also free to choose what day they would like their wedding to be held. Perhaps the most difficult matter where other people from other countries to get along with the Chinese is regarding business.
Chinese tends not to share what they know with others even with their fellow Chinese. Moreover, they also wanted to play a big role in a certain agreement. In addition, engaging a business with Chinese might take a lot of time as they will always consult their group regarding the business at hand. These qualities of the Chinese is attributable to their high power distance, collectivism and context culture (Miroslawski, 46-48). Chinese prefer having a someone above them who are capable of leading them irregardless of the circumstances.
They will always put the best interests of the group their their own and they do not share anything to anyone easily for they find it hard to trust other people, however, they gave their utmost loyalty to their group. This is due to their philosophies and religion – Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism (Miroslawski, 46). Works Cited BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet. “Buddhist Studies: Chinese Buddhist Temple. ” 2008. Buddhist Studies: Buddha Dharma Education Association & BuddhaNet. 13 October 2008 <http://www. buddhanet. net/e-learning/buddhistworld/monastery. htm>. BDEA Inc. & BuddhaNet.
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