Buddhism and its Establishment in China


Having an extended period of adaptation in Chinese rich cultural traditions, Buddhism produced an enormous influence, which had been constituted as a totally new philosophical and religious outlook’s result. Gradually, this type of canon appeared to be the traditional Chinese culture’s inseparable part. This doctrine touches upon all the numerous and versatile aspects of human life. In addition to this, it applies the numerous concepts, positions, and theories with their goals. It represents the schools and directions’ multiplicity, which is a very meticulous attribute of Buddhism in general, as well. Buddhist teaching’s primary goal is to provide liberation from suffering. Also, the means, by which the goal is achieved, are not so important.

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Accordingly, Buddhism has a large number of the canonical literature, and it does not go to any comparison with other philosophical and religious teachings. Moreover, each school and direction of Buddhism is based on its specific canons, which serve as the basis for the philosophical and theological concepts developed. Famous Buddhist teachers have also their favorites and favorite principles, which are often quoted in the sermons and writings. All these aspects result into a very complex, multilayered and multifaceted structure of the philosophical and religious system which is named Chinese Buddhism. Therefore, this paper will focus on the introduction and development of Buddhism in China and key factors which contributed to this process.

Historical Overview of the Introduction of Buddhism in China

Regardless of the fact that there is much scholar literature devoted to the problem of penetration of Buddhism in China, it leaves a full field for the future and more detailed research. Certainly, the investigations have paid particular attention to the complexity and diversity of this issue due to the interplay of historical, philosophical, and religious factors. Thus, the first introduction of Buddhism in to China is mainly regarded by the scholars as a subject which is impossible to be come up with a consensus. They determine the essential reason for this such as the difference and, actually, the lack of the criteria to research (Keown 10). The most heated debates are caused, on the one hand, by the “first appearance,” and, on the other, by the date of introduction of Buddhism. By this, the scholars mainly mean that the China’s first encounter with Buddhism and the beginning of Buddhism spread in China are various terms. Consequently, these events have different dates.

The second concern of the scientists is the premises and means of introduction of Buddhism. According to Yu, the primary pushing tool for Buddhism development in China was active missionary work and Buddhist texts translation. Being inextricably linked to the first aspect, this type of missionary activity has covered the vast mass of the population, which included even the uneducated part of Chinese citizens.

Religious activity was the essential form of how Buddhism penetrated China. It was known to comprise the so-called votive objects’ veneration (which included statues of Buddhas, scrolls of sutras, and Bodhisattvas, stupas, power, and others) as well as charitable activities. This form covered all strata of Chinese society and was determined to a great extent by the Buddhist origin of the concept of karma. The necessity in improvement and fortifying people’s status in the society resulted in the need to establish a merit to stop a process of degeneration, particularly in the hardest times, All these facts performed a function of a necessary condition to stimulate the development and introduction of Buddhism in China. Furthermore, it served as an essential role which had to force the Chinese people to actively participate in religious activities.

The successful development of Buddhism in China had been called not only by the ethical, moral, and material state’s support, but by a wide range of objective bases as well. All the reasons known constituted the political, spiritual, socio-economic, and psychological circumstances why Buddhism was so successful in China. Therefore, the essential socio-economic rights consisted of the growing crisis of the Eastern Han Dynasty. The crisis had been caused by the land concentration in possession of the same owners. This phenomenon led to the impoverishment of the vast mass of peasants and resulted in personal dependence, hence slaves’ number increase. This was the cause of reducing government revenues.

The political circumstances which created favorable conditions for the spread of Buddhism were represented by the corruption of the state structure. Emperors were known to be simply removed from their direct responsibilities in questions of the public affairs. The very this emperors’ field of expertise had appeared to be owned by the so-called favorites and groups. These people referred to the eunuchs and relatives from the empress’s side. This sort of hostility had resulted in the political order’s degradation and fall and the laws’ ignorance. Along with social and economic instability, all this resulted in a huge national disaster. However, according to Yu, the spiritual and psychological aspects were believed to be the most noteworthy premises, which outlined the success of Buddhism in China.

The spiritual and psychological aspects played a major role due to several reasons. First, there was no monopolization of the spiritual life in China. China did not posses any doctrine which would be able to claim that it had been the only proper and correct ideology that Buddhism would be possible to battle with. The conventional Chinese tradition, comprising the time of Buddhism introduction in China, was undergone by the domination of Confucianism and Taoism. Second, the political disaster, which took place in China, ensured by the rules of political power, resulted in the numerous cases of discrimination against the Confucianism’s teachings as the philosophy of the ceremonial surroundings. Third, in 184, the peasant revolt named “Yellow Turban” was crushed in China, which served as the ideology of the Taoist teachings’ “Great Equality” concept. This overwhelm resulted in Taoism’s social and ideological positions’ weakening. Fourth, the majority of the philosophical aspects of Taoism had been extremely close to Buddhism. A special attention in this question is to be paid to Mahayana concept. It was known to have greatly made contribution to the implementation of Buddhism in Chinese background.

Thus, according to Dawson, “in the course of time, this process of adaptation gave rise to various highly characteristic and distinctively Chinese forms of Buddhism, some of which have flourished for several centuries, producing an incredible wealth of scholastic literature”. It means that the development of Buddhism was not homogeneous because of the impact of various factors.

These facts and conditions show how challenging and complicated was the way of Buddhism in China since its introduction. The extensive distances, dissimilar cultures, and outlooks, the various obstacles in translation of the texts – all of those factors appreciably contributed to the terms of infiltration and adaptation of Buddhism in Chinese outlook, lifestyle, and culture. The following factors such as war, turmoil, and predicament hampered the extend of Buddhism as well. At the moment, because loads of early periods’ translations of the Buddhism have been vanished, the monks had to move to a more tranquil place such as a shigao. Nevertheless, all of these crises and resulting unsteadiness of life created the favorable conditions to the Chinese Buddhists management in the necessary spiritual empire. They believed that since the conventional Chinese doctrines had been widely misused, it could have been possible to be appropriate to utilize the Buddhist practices in order to maintain or advance its position. People who were unable to find well-being in their lives had to seek solace and contentment and be eager to hope for a remuneration in the after-life period (as it is known, the Buddhist teachings promised this by provided the Buddhist code of conduct).

The Development of Buddhism in China

The foreign teachings’ penetration into China competed with traditional Chinese exercises on equal terms. Mainly, since the introduction of Buddhism, the China had been represented as the center of the universe for Chinese people, a stronghold of culture and desirable quality bounded by barbarians. Unsurprisingly, the manifestation of the unknown canon also exaggerated the basis of Chinese elite’s conventional outlook. In this association, the materialization of challenging refusal of Buddhism among definite layers of Chinese society was not unexpected.

When the teachings of Buddhism rooted into the Chinese society, the essential dimension of the philosophy development was translating original Buddhist texts. Since the first translations of Buddhist texts, the initial Buddhist penetration period in China had been widely using traditional Chinese philosophical categories and concepts. On the one hand, they were mainly the Taoist ones because of the complexity of the Buddhist conceptual apparatus. On the other hand, the specifics of the Chinese language played an important role: direct translation did not give the opportunity for an adequate understanding of the fundamental Buddhist concepts. Thus, the Buddhism and Taoism theoretical concepts had similar points in many aspects and were perceived as a single teaching. This raised the question of the similarity of the theoretical origins of both doctrines; and, finally, the Chinese traditionalism put forward the thesis of the secondary and derivative character of Buddhism from Taoism.

Thus, at the beginning of the 4th century, Buddhism had a strong position in the spiritual culture of China. It operated on an equal footing with traditional Chinese ideological systems of Confucianism and Taoism, which led to the emergence of the concept of “Three Teachings.” Regardless of the process of Sinicization, Buddhism remained a self-sustaining phenomenon with its ideological framework which inevitably led to the theoretical and ideological differences with traditional Chinese teachings. At the same time, having been established in China, Buddhism was attacked by both Confucians and Taoists. The theoretical and ideological disputes have led to the mutual ideological enrichment. They were focused not only on different but also on similar points. If the Chinese traditionalism paid more attention to the dissimilarity of Buddhism and Chinese traditional teachings, the Buddhists, on the contrary, tried to seek for common ground.

Despite the fact that Buddhism in China had already obtained a firm position, translational activity did not subside. In spite of this fact, it continued to behave in the same intense level as in the previous period. China continued to invite the translators from the Buddhist countries to conduct training for the local interpreters. This detail was another characteristic of the development of Buddhism after its introduction in China.

Regardless of these challenging twists and turns in the political and religious life of Buddhism, the translation activities continued to be carried out at a pretty intense and high level in northern China. Buddhists from the western principalities still came to China, and translators had actively transferred both new and already translated Buddhist texts. During that time, the majority of translators were foreigners who came to China with Buddhist texts and had a dominant position in the translation work.

At that point, China continues to develop such particular form of existence of the Buddhist teachings as different schools and directions. The lack of understanding of the Buddhist dogma had led to the emergence of many ‘orthodox’ Buddhist schools, which in no way denied the other schools’ teachings and had announced their lower level of Buddhism and, accordingly, their teaching. This ‘switch’ required serious theoretical arguments and practical evidence that contributed to the development of both theory and practice of Buddhism. The theoretical and empirical competition within Buddhism, along with the ideological struggle with traditional Chinese teachings, did not let the religion freeze in one position. These aspects demanded new approaches and solutions that would have made it flexible towards many issues and, ultimately, able to seek for new development opportunities.

Thus, there were similar processes which secured the approval of Buddhism in Chinese cultural environment in the south and the north. The characterization of these processes differed not only in the political arena but also in the theoretical and practical perspective. In this situation, the South had the most important aspect of the academic interaction of Buddhism and traditional Chinese culture with a relatively small number of monasteries and monks. The North had a practical aspect because of a great number of monasteries and monks, which exceeded these figures in southern China. It is not surprising that Buddhism appeared to be directly involved in the political processes that took place at that time in northern China.

With the development and consolidation of Buddhism in Chinese cultural environment, the Buddhist concepts and notions had been more subjected to reconsideration by the traditional Chinese mentality. In other words, Buddhism adapted its theory and practice to usual Chinese manner of thinking and practice improvement. This aspect was not only external in formal terms: it represented lush religious rituals and the development of Buddhist schools. It was also an internal factor regarding content which included Buddhist concepts and new ideas, specifically the Chinese environment. These two aspects are inextricably linked and mutually conditioned – the change and the development of one aspect of the modification inevitably led to the other issue’s development. Therefore, it is not surprising that because of the consolidation of Buddhism in China, more and more Chinese thinkers appeared. They put forward the original concept which allowed Buddhism to become more flexible and viable in Chinese culture.

In many ways, it was required to penetrate moral support of the Buddhist doctrine of political power. Consequently, the Emperor Ming-di who delivered the Buddhist missionaries and Buddhist sutras to China had been not eventually established in Buddhist surrounding as the preliminary point of incursion of the deputation. In the future, the emperors’ ethical and over and over again matter maintenance encouraged the Buddhist missionaries to visit and perform work in China. A vivid example here is the fact that almost all Buddhist translators worked initially in the capitals of the empire, and former or proceeding kingdoms. Only under these conditions, when the Buddhist sangha obtained a brawny place among the cream of the crop and common people, the Buddhist translators and missionaries’ actions extended to the provinces.

At the start, the main pushing mechanism of infiltration of Buddhism in China foodstuff served as missionaries, who came to China mostly from the numerous Western countries. This statement also gives explanation the Mahayana’s attractiveness. Progressively, the Chinese people had been turned into vigorous translators and missionaries. They began the search for ‘the pure doctrine’ which referred to the original Buddhist texts. These texts’ travel to the west had become a common phenomenon, which performed a huge responsibility in the cross-cultural exchange of ideas between China and adjacent countries.


To sum up, the Buddha’s teaching caused the Chinese people to take a fresh look at the common principles of their lives and to discover new-fangled responses to a set of the old questions on the subject of the spiritual enlightenment meaning. Buddhism brought not only definite ideas and metaphors but also an organic combination of devout life, in which the intangible understanding and burning love congregate. Thus it was able to infiltrate into the interior of the Chinese convention. For this reason, Buddhism was in a tough position depending on local social, political, historical, economic, and universal cultural realities becoming an indispensable part of Chinese culture.

In any case, it is proper not to discuss Buddhism as a teaching adapted to the culture of China and its signification, but to judge this convention as an autonomous and inventive incident of the Buddhist world. At the same time, Buddhism has brought a lot of primarily significant innovations into the life of the Chinese culture. It becomes possible to claim that the appearance of Chinese frugal organizations as a meticulous category of social establishment and the acquaintance with the thoughts of the Chinese sphere of reincarnation and karma as a remuneration for the life p things. In general, it is possible to claim that introduction of Buddhism was a versatile process. On the one hand, it struggled against traditional Chinese philosophy and religious schools; on the other, it had to establish its identity and origin in a new setting. Finally, the century long struggle led Chinese Buddhism to the position of one of the most spread and famous religions in the world which is worshiped by  a huge number of people in almost all countries.

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