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Chinese Buddhism - Introduction

Buddhism in China is usually traced back to Confucius (551–479 BC), who is one of the Country's most renowned philosophers. The name Confucius is actually a corruption of Master Kong, and correctly rendered as 'Kung fu zi'. Image: Statue of Confucius
Statue of Confucius
Having spelt his name correctly you will immediately be struck by the similarity to another world famous Chinese art: Kung Fu. This is no mistake, as Confucius was The Kung Fu Grand Master that his name implies
Kung Fu has many forms and disciplines, and the well known martial art is but one aspect of this interesting subject. Kung Fu is also about medicine - essentially Chinese Medicine, (Healthy body, soul and mind); peace and harmony with body, mind and environment; and self-discipline. It also embodies 'The Ancient Arts' such as Calligraphy - where wielding pen and sword are regarded as requiring the same skills. You may not appreciate the similarities until you witness a Master writing Chinese characters in a bed of sand using a sword
The basic teachings of Confucianism stress the importance of education for moral development of the individual so that the state can be governed by moral virtue rather than by the use of coercive laws. It focuses on human morality and wrong action. It is a complex system of moral, social, political, philosophical, and quasi-religious thought that has had tremendous influence on the culture and history of East Asia.

Other related topics include Daoism (Taoism = same thing, different 'Anglicisation') meaning "path" or "way", although in Chinese folk religion and philosophy it has taken on more abstract meanings. Daoist propriety and ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Dao: compassion, moderation, and humility. Mohism is best known for the concept of "impartial care" or "universal love", whilst Legalism (A pragmatic political philosophy that does not address higher questions like the nature and purpose of life). However, this section is not about Kung Fu or Confucius, it is about Buddhism. So let us end this introduction here and focus on our main topic.

Buddhism - A Short Historical Introduction

According to the Buddhist tradition, the historical Buddha Siddhartha Gautama was born to the Shakya clan in Mithila Kingdom, (563 BC to 483 BC). He is also known as the Shakyamuni (literally "The sage of the Shakya clan").
After an early life of luxury, Siddhartha encounters the realities of the real world and concluded that life was inescapably bound up with suffering and sorrow. He renounced his meaningless life of luxury to become an ascetic. He ultimately decided that asceticism couldn't end suffering, and instead chose a middle way, a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

Under a fig tree, now known as the Bodhi tree, he vowed never to leave the position until he found Truth. At the age of 35, he attained Enlightenment. He was then known as Gautama Buddha, or simply "The Buddha", which means "the enlightened one", or "the awakened one".

For the remaining 45 years of his life, he traveled the Gangetic Plain of central India (the region of the Ganges/Ganga river and its tributaries), teaching his doctrine and discipline to a diverse range of people. By the time of his death, he had thousands of followers.
What is called Buddhism in the west has been referred to in India as buddha-dharma meaning: "Path of Awakening" and thus conforms to a universal understanding of dharma.

"Dharma" usually refers to the sayings of the Buddha and to the later traditions of interpretation and addition that form the various schools of Buddhist teachings. Alternately, "dharma" may be seen as an ultimate and transcendental truth

The Dharma is one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism of which practitioners of Buddhism seek refuge in. The three jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha (mind's perfection of enlightenment), the Dharma (teachings and methods), and the Sangha (awakened beings who provide guidance and support). Image: The Dharma Wheel
The Dharma Wheel
Main Teachings include:
The Buddha's Dharma Body
Six supreme qualities
Some of the fundamental teachings of Gautama Buddha are:
The Four Noble Truths
The Noble Eightfold Path
All Buddhists agree that the original turning of the of the Dharmacakra wheel occurred when the Buddha taught the five ascetics who became his first disciples at the Deer Park in Sarnath. In memory of this, the Dharmacakra is sometimes represented with a deer on each side.

Karma: Cause and Effect Image: The Sam Taeguk
The Sam Taeguk
Karma is the energy which drives Samsara, the cycle of suffering and rebirth for each being. Good, skillful (Pali: kusala) and bad, unskillful (Pali: akusala) actions produce "seeds" in the mind which come to fruition either in this life or in a subsequent rebirth. The avoidance of unwholesome actions and the cultivation of positive actions is called Sila
In Buddhism, Karma specifically refers to those actions (of body, speech, and mind) that spring from mental intent (Pali: cetana), and which bring about a consequence (or fruit, Sanskrit: phala) or result (Pali: vipaka). Every time a person acts there is some quality of intention at the base of the mind and it is that quality rather than the outward appearance of the action that determines its effect.

Buddhism in China
I am not sure how this began. You see, my problem lies with the 'Timeline'. At best, Confucius and the First Buddha were contemporaries; yet recent research confirms Confucius dates, but puts the First Buddha as being born shortly after Confucius's death. Yet the two remain interlinked through Western eyes - or are we looking in the wrong place?

According to European historians, Mauryan emperor Ashoka the Great sent royal monk Massim Sthavira to Nepal , Bhutan and China to spread Buddhism around 265 BCE. This is regarded as the beginnings of Buddhist beliefs in China - yet the fact remains this is more than 200 years after Confucius' death.

Buddhism is derived from early aspects of the Hindu beliefs of Northern India, as influenced by the Bon culture of Tibet ... and we already know that another ancient Tibetan culture preceded these, dating back to Circa 20, 000 BC

Old Light Through New Windows

One of the Four Great Chinese Epics is entitled 'Journey to the West'; which you will know simply as 'Monkey'. The novel is a fictionalised account of the legends around the Buddhist monk Xuánzàng's pilgrimage to India during the Táng dynasty in order to obtain Buddhist religious texts called sutras. Journey to the West has a strong background in Chinese folk religion, Chinese mythology and value systems; plus the pantheon of Taoist immortals and Buddhist bodhisattvas is still reflective of some Chinese folk religious beliefs today.

What if...
... this was a real journey that occurred some 1000 years earlier?

I am inclined to favour the year 771 BC as a good place to start looking, especially if we were to favour the view that Buddhism spread to India from China; as related in Journey to the West; or directly from Tibet

We look forward to taking this discourse further, so see posts in our Forum for the latest comments, views and information

Image: Buddha Twang
Buddha Twang

Buddhism in Modern China

Ordinary Chinese people today follow Buddhism and Confucianism, and treat both as a religion that has its place in their lives. They embrace qualities we know in the West as 'Chi' or inner power, and will meditate thus. They are tolerant of Muslims, and find Christianity 'Interesting'. They are open to theosophical discussions, but will revert to their traditional family values and Buddhist beliefs as a norm

In Canton, Buddhism is the religion of virtually all Chinese. They observe religious holidays and traditions. They generally accept 3 leading Buddha figures as being powerful:
• Top Buddha is the guy from India and Hindu extraction called Amitabha
• Next, and the one worshipped by most in daily life, is the very great female called Great Mother Buddha, and akin to the concept of 'Gaia' or Mother Earth
• Common people identify with The Fat Buddha, known as 'Fa Fa'

Related Pages
Bon Culture
• Buddhism - This Page
Taoism / Daoism
The Swastika
Buddhist Breaks in China
Kung Fu Breaks in China

This information is as supplied by Wikipedia, as dated March 2009 or later, and/or other reliable sources.

Maps (Unless stated otherwise) are provided in association with Thomas Lessman

Please check this information yourself as it may alter without notice, and whilst we try our best to ensure it is correct, please do not hold us responsible for any errors - this is intended as a simple guide only
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