Buddhism as a religion occupies a very central place in the very history of the Chinese society and thought.As a system, Buddhism had attracted some of the greatest minds between the Song and Han (2nd and 3rd centuries) periods (Lai 7).Buddhism is arguably the most influential religion in China .It is worth noting that at Buddhism was never an indigenous religion in the region. In this paper, we present an analysis of the history of Buddhism in China and its influence on the Chinese culture. We focus on how political, cultural and social forces shaped Buddhism in China.
Buddhism in China
As noted earlier, Buddhism was never an indigenous religion in the Chinese society. Buddhism was founded by Gautama in India in the 6th century B.C. After some centuries, the religion found its way into China via Central Asia.. According to the accounts of Chinese Historians, Buddhism was recognized, officially in China in 67 a.D (Hodous 4). Buddhism is basically an Indian thought system that got transmitted to the Chinese region by the Buddhist monks and Central Asian traders as early as the 1st century a.D. The system was later passed into the Korean region in the 4th century and to Japan by the 6th century. The influence of Buddhism on the culture of these three regions is great. Records exist to indicate that Buddhism was already active in the Chinese region as early as 50 a.D. Its influence however, was never felt in the region until the leadership as well as patronage of the very early Six . This is when they brought it into the limelight and attention of the literate Chinese elite. From that time onwards, Buddhism as a religion and system of thought has had a sweeping force in the Chinese society.
Chinese tradition or that as early as the periods of 142 B.C, a Chinese dynasty ambassador named Chang Ch’ien named Wu Ti regularly visited the Central Asian countries. During his visits, he learnt of a new religion which was so popular and making headways and promptly reported his discovery to his master. After a more few years, his generals captured a golden image of Buddha which was later set up by the emperor in his palace and then worshipped.
How political forces shaped Buddhism in China
Buddhism has for along time been a source of great political influence in China and other regions. In China for instance, the Buddhist clergy are noted to have fought for all sorts of favor in the Chinese royal court. Buddhist sects are also noted to be involved in a tag-of-war among them for the very control of bureaucratic power (Campion 1).
Buddhism has no doubt had a positive impact on the political as well as governmental system in China. For instance, during the Tang dynasty, the Chinese benefitted from the good political administration that allowed people to enjoy a lot of religious freedom due to the widespread adoption of Buddhism. This led the common people to live in so much peace, harmony and safety.This led the neighboring countries to come and pay tribute to the Chinese imperial courts.
During the Song dynasty, different Buddhist sects and specifically Zen saw a great evolution on a local basis. In the practice of Buddhism became assimilated into the operations of the imperial courts. It became a common practice for the common people and the common courts to respects, effectively respect as well as believe in the teachings of Buddhism. The practice of Buddhism had a profound influence on the Chinese officials and governance structures.zen permiated their thoughts. The prime ministers in the feudal China as well as and assistant administrators in the then powerful Song Dynasty like Mengzheng, Zhaott, Fubi Fanzhongyan, Zhangfanoping, Wangsui Wanganshi and Ligang were heavily influenced by the Zen teachings.All these officials had a very strong connection with Zen and Buddhism. Traditionally, the main role of Buddhist clergy and monastics was very limited to just advising the rules on the appropriate and proper application of the Buddhist teachings to the society and government (Hwa 8). However, the last few years have seen an increase in the level of political stability as well as oppression in Asia, a phenomenon that has seen the relationship between politics and Buddhism being redefined. An examination of the many issues like the left-right divisions in the monastic order, Buddhist social activism, the rise of as well as the Buddhist founded and inspired forms of political activity indicates that indeed politics has a great influence on Buddhism (Harris 1).
How cultural and social forces shaped Buddhism in China
A review of literature indicates that cultural and social forces shaped Buddhism in China. The vice versa is also true. The adoption of Buddhism in China is noted to have been accelerated the social and political duress that was affecting China. Buddhism was initially an alien concept in China with its origin being traced to India. By the time the concept was taking root among the Chinese population during the Tang dynasty, the concept was quickly losing its appeal in India.It is correct to say that the concept of Buddhism was at the right place at the exact right time since it entered China which at that time was under so much social and political duress.The Chineses people were constantly looking for new and improved ways of fixing as well as distracting themselves from the situation at hand. The ability of Buddhism to mold its environment coupled with its skilful ways (upaya) of working in order to gain followers as well as support at the very expense of interpration meant that it was the perfect fit for the hugely tumultuous and fractured era.
Buddhism then shifted continuously from being unrecognized totally by the state to being recognized to be part of the state. The state even ruled with it and then effectively subjugated and then persecuted by it.
The concept of Buddhism was the n adopted by the few elites, steppe rules as well as everyday workers. This is attributed to Buddhism’s appeal to completely end all sorts of sufferings and create salvation. The fact that Buddhism had a general lack of discrimination in class as well as practice as opposed to Confucianism which has discrimination. The fact that Buddhism was practiced by everyone at that it transcended social and political boundaries and can therefore be seen as a unifying factor among the people of China.
An examination of the many issues like the left-right divisions in the monastic order, Buddhist social activism, the rise of organized lay movements as well as the Buddhist founded and inspired forms of political activity indicates that indeed political, cultural and social forces have greatly shaped Buddhism in China (Harris 1).
The nature of things: a reflection
A review of the nature of our universe indicates that one can only gain utmost knowledge by following the Path through meditation .Our sufferings is therefore noted by Buddha to be due to our lack of understanding of the true nature of things. It is therefore important that each and evry living person acknowledge the true nature of things by embracing peace and harmony and by being in sync with their environment. This then allows one to effectively gain an understanding of our world. According to Buddha, our very existence and that of our universe both inanimate and animate, is very much ins dynamic state of flux. This is what he referred to as the “Wheel of Life.” This is one of the fundamental teachings that Buddha came up with. As part of the very changing cosmos, all elements of the sentient beings with human included are trapped in an infinite cycle of reincarnation. The main reason for this birth, growth, decay as well as death cycle lies in our utmost lack of understanding of the very true nature of things.Acording to the Buddhist sense, the right understanding is never an intellectual one, but is via an intuitive experirnce that we gain via long periods of spiritual and mental growth.This is what helps us in the long run to relinquish all our desires.It is our lack of understanding the true nature of things that allows our desires (referred to as tanha) to take over our minds.