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Buddhism in china and japan history essay

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Today there are millions of believers of Buddhism and over thousands of Buddhist temples in China . Buddhism became the largest religion in contemporary China. Unlike other uncivilized Middle Asia and Southern Eastern Asia, China and Japan experienced a long time controversy when Buddhism was brought in. And both in China and Japan, Buddhism faced challenges from indigenous religions. Buddhism benefited China’s Japan’s civilization, and China and Japan also both contributed to Buddhism’s development, it was a reciprocal process.

Buddhism was firstly brought into China from India by missionaries along the Silk Road in the Han Dynasty. After the fall of Han Dynasty in 220, Buddhism developed so many adherents in China during the roughly 300 years. There exists no forced conversations. China’s initial contact with Central Asia in Han times did not lead to prompt spread of Buddhism of the the region. Buddhism has contributed greatly in shaping the thinking system of the Chinese culture, deeply impacted on their appreciation of beauty, politics scheme, literature, philosophy and traditional medicine.

By that time, Indian Buddhism already existed for over centuries, but the faith did not begin to flourish in China until the fall of the Han Dynasty which put an end to the dominance of Confucian beliefs. In the Buddhist philosophy two major branches were developed. “ There were those that followed the traditional Theravada Buddhism, which involves strict meditation and a closer reading of the original teachings of Buddha. Theravada Buddhism is prominent in Sri Lanka and most of Southeast Asia.” The Buddhism took hold in China was Mahayana Buddhism, Mahayana includes various forms such as Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. Mahayana believe in the broader appeal to Buddha’s teachings compared to the more abstract philosophical questions posed in Theravada Buddhism. Buddhism was able to directly address the concept of human suffering , which enjoys wide appeal for the Chinese public who were dealing with the chaos and disunity of warring states competing for control over China after the fall of the Han. 】

When Buddhism is disseminated from its home country, it became the foregoer of civilization in many of the regions it penetrated. Many of them even did not have writing language before the arrival of Buddhism. But China, however, was the biggest exception of this situation. By the time Buddhism was transmitted into China, China was the only truly civilized country in the world of the time. So when Buddhism was the intermediary for the introduction into Central Asia of many civilization, missionaries found China a country that possessed these things in an already highly developed level. When first introduced into China, Buddhism faced challenges from followers of Daoism. Not only Daoism is even older than Buddhism, Daoism was also Chinese indigenous religion. Buddhism was obliged to compete with indigenous philosophical and religious systems to win the hearts of the Chinese, and the Chinese, for their own part, were hindered in their understanding of Buddhist philosophy by preconceptions based on indigenous philosophical systems like Daoism..

【Daoists do not view life as suffering. They believe in an ordered society and strict morality system, but they also hold strong beliefs such as ultimate transformation, where the soul lives after death and travels to the immortal world. Because the two beliefs were so competitive, many teachers from both sides borrowed from the other. Today many Chinese believe in elements from both schools of thought. Buddhism’s popularity, led to the quick conversion to Buddhism by later Chinese rulers. The subsequent Sui and Tang Dynasties all adopted Buddhism as their religion. The religion was also used by foreign rulers of China, such as the Yuan Dynasty and the Manchus, to connect with the Chinese and justify their rule. The Manchus strove to draw a parallel between Buddhism. a foreign religion, and their own reign as foreign leaders. 】

The Chinese were particularly desirous to know whether Buddhism could add to their knowledge of elixirs and practices that would contribute to longevity, levitation, and other superhuman achievements. As it happened, Buddhism provided a precise set of practices, which was believed to enhance the intuitive faculties. The early Buddhist missionaries found that the scriptures containing these prescriptions were what the Chinese wanted most to read, and so they proceeded to translate them, This was the beginning of Buddhist literature in China.

In China, women turned to Buddhism as readily as men did. “ Although incarnation as a female was considered lower than incarnation as a male, it was also viewed as temporary, and women were encouraged to pursue salvation on terms nearly equal to men. ” Joining a nunnery became an alternative for women who did not want to marry or did not want to stay with their husband’s families in after her husband’s death.

Buddhism had an great impact on the visual arts in China, especially sculpture and painting. Earlier Chinese had rarely depicted gods in human body form, but now Buddhist temples were furnished with a profusion of images. The great cave temples at Yungang was sponsored by the Northern Wei rulers in the fifth centry. They contain huge Buddha figures made with stone, the tallest standing Buddha is about seventy feet high. In Dunhuang, the original painted plaster of Buddhist caves has often survived, giving testimony

to the great accomplishment of artists.

Buddgism also provided the Chinese with a new reason to travel. Chinese monks made pilgrimages to India to see the places of Buddhism and seek out learned teachers.(Faxian)

On the positive side, Buddhism benefited from the dedication of missionaries who traveled east from Central Asia along the Silk Road. Buddhism also had something to offer almost everyone. It offered learned Chinese the intellectual stimulus of subtle cosmologies, and rulers a source of magical power and a political tool to unite Chinese and non-Chinese ethnics. In that rough and boisterous time, Buddhism offered people an appealing emphasis on kindness, charity, humanity, the preservation of life, and the prospect of salvation.


It took centuries for Buddhism to transmitted to Japan from India, its home country. But at the moment Buddhism was established in Japan, it flourished. Buddhism exerted an invaluable impact on Japanese civilization process. It was recorded that in the 6th century, “ a delegation sent by a Korean prince arrived at the court of the Emperor of Japan. The Koreans brought with them Buddhist sutras, an image of the Buddha, and a letter from the Korean prince praising the dharma.” This was commonly recognized as the official introduction of Buddhism to Japan. “ At the same time, schools of Buddhism imported from mainland Asia became distinctively Japanese.”

First sponsored by the Soga and other immigrants from Paekche, it had to overcome opposition by Shino ritualists before receiving official government support. Enhanced by scribes, painters, and other artisans, it became the faith of rulers in a symbiotic relationship that strengthened both. In Himiko’s time, religious beliefs held society together. One of her tasks was to perform rituals that propitiated the deities, leading to the argument that politics and religion in Japan were one and the same. Early Japanese believed that important people became gods, and the gods ordered the conditions for their existence. This kind of belief system is called animism because it assumes that spiritual forces animate even inanimate objects.

Aristocracy in Japan quickly split into pro- and anti-Buddhist clique. Buddhism gained almost no material acceptance until “ the reign of the Empress Suiko and her regent, Prince Shotoku, 592-628 CE.” The Empress and the Prince recognized Buddhism as their state religion. “ They encouraged expression of the dharma in arts, in philanthropy, and in education. They built temples and established monasteries.” During the following centuries, Buddhism in Japan developed vigorously. During the 7th to 9th centuries Buddhism enjoyed a “ golden age” in China, and Chinese monks brought the newest developments in Buddhism practice as well as scholarships to Japan. The schools of Buddhism that established in China were also founded in Japan. The Yamato kings transformed Japan from chieftains of confederacies into Chinese-style monarchs, as the efforts to achieve the rise of the state was part of reaction to the resurgence of the Chinese empire under the Sui and Tang Dynasties. “ Suiko and Prince Shotoku(574-622), her nephew and adviser, opened relations with the Sui Dynasty in China, paving the way for later study missions and the immersion of elite Japanese men in Chinese culture. They promoted Buddhism as much for its magical efficacy as for its religious teachings.” In the seventeen Injunctions promulgated in 604, Prince Shotoku announced a new ideology of rule based on Buddhist thought.

By the eighth centry, Buddhism had become so naturalized in Japan that it had started to blend with natives beliefs. Mountain ascetics joined the ancient belief in the sacrality of mountains with esoteric forms of Buddhism that emphasized occult practices. They promised to heal the sick and performed rituals to eliminate pollution and evil. The Mahayana Buddhism that entered Japan offered numerous paths to salvation through the pantheon of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Because the Buddha appeared in so many guises, perhaps he had also appeared as local deities. In what would later be known as Ryobu Shinto, the deities received Buddhist names. Although an edict from 764 placed Buddhism names.

In the countryside, the style of worshiping the Buddha reflected beliefs associated with Shinto regarding the importance of fertility and worldly attachments to achieve enlightenment. In place of large tombs surrounded by haniwa, provincial chieftains built Buddhist temples to hold memorial services for the dead and replicate the benefits they hoped to acquire when propitiating the deities: good harvests, health, prosperity , and progeny. People learned that deities and Buddhas supported each other, and both needed festivals and ceremonies. Important Shinto shrines acquired Buddhist temples so that the deities might hear sutra recitations, and deities protected Buddhist temples. In this way, particular deities and the universal Buddha entered into an enduring symbiotic relationship.

“ Buddhist eclecticism co-existed with other teachings and beliefs.” Aristocrats chanted Buddha’s name, invoked the gods, and followed Daoist teachings regarding auspicious days, directions, and omens. Some doctrines preached that deity and Buddha existed as one body, others that deities manifested the essence of the Buddha. In the tenth century, a doctrine developed that whereas the Buddhas truly existed, deities did not; what appeared to be a deity was in reality the manifestation of a Buddha in deity form. This is a combination of a Buddha in deity form. This combination of Buddhism and native belief infused the edifying and didactic tales told to commoners, who learned that personal responsibility for their actions had to take into account the desires of the gods and the compassion of the Buddha. The search for salvation and help in coping with the tribulations of disease and famine demanded pilgrimages to numerous temples and shrines in the hope that one might prove efficacious.

Male enjoyed a more diverse range of religious practices than did female. The Enryakuji monastery and the rituals it performed on behalf of the court were closed to women. Monks ordained women and supervised the nunneries to endure that nuns obeyed the precepts. Being prone to sine and to arousing sinful thoughts in men, women suffered greater obstacles and hindrances to achieving Buddhahood.

An important characteristic of Japan’s Middle Ages was the power of the Buddhist establishment. Although Ashikaga shoguns dominated the court, they had to conciliate the temples that largely controlled the urban economy and had their own police forces as well as deep roots in the lives of Japanese people. The major temples that had received support from the Heian court continued to flourish; the popular sects that originated in Kamakura period attracted sometimes vehement converts. Zen Buddhism made major contributions to Japanese aesthetics and played an important political role. Rather than patronize the temples already entrenched in the Kyoto court, Ashikaga shoguns preferred the Rinzai Zen sect. At the suggustion of a Zen monk, Takauji and his son set up official temples named Ankokuji(temples for national peace) in each province to console Go-Daige’s spirit and raise the shogun’s prestige. They also had pagodas built in the precincts of temples belonging to other sects for the same purpose.

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