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Buddhism in China
Learn Chinese - History and Culture

Early History of Buddhism in China
Buddhism (fó jiào 佛教) is the most important religion in China. Buddhism was introduced from India into China in 6th Century AD. One of the Hen Emperors sent a mission to the west of China and brought back the scriptures (jīng wén 经文), Indian monks and the images of Buddha. Since then Chinese translation was made available and the further exchange of scholars among altChina, India and other Asian countries brought about the rapid development of Buddhism in China. Buddhist monasteries (xiū dào yuàn 修道院) and temples were built to promote the Buddhism and some of the Emperors were also the followers of Buddhism. Buddhism, just like Confucianism (rú jiào 儒教) and Taoism (dào jiào 道教), guides people to behave, to be honest and responsible. It promotes harmony and peaceful mind, sharing and compassion. Buddhists never force people into their belief. Buddhism emphasizes in "awakening of mind". Through learning, one will develop intellectual capacity to the fullest so as to understand, to love and be kind to other beings.

Buddhism does not believe in God. It believes in People. In Buddhist teaching, there is no aggressive promotion of Buddhism or strong rejection of other religions. All these make Buddhism fall into the same scope of Confucianism and Taoist. Its ability to co-exist with any other religions makes it being developed into one of the largest religions in China.

Buddhist scriptures (fó jīng 佛经)
altDuring the early Tang dynasty the monk Xuanzang journeyed to Nalanda in India and other important sites to bring back scriptures. He sought to expand influence of Mahayana (dà chéng fó jiào 大乘佛教) over Theravada (xiǎo chéng fó jiào 小乘佛教), though the Yogacara school he preferred differs significantly from the later Chinese Mahayana schools that developed such as Pure Land (jí lè shì jiè 极乐世界).

Xuanzang (xuán zàng 玄奘) was a famous Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveler, and translator that brought up the interaction between China and India in the early Tang period. Born in Henan province of China in 603 CE, he displayed signs of intellectual and spiritual greatness even at an early age. From boyhood he took to reading sacred books, mainly the Chinese Classics and the writings of the ancient sages. While residing in the city of Luoyang, Xuanzang entered Buddhist monkhood at the age of thirteen. Due to the political and social unrest caused by the fall of the Sui dynasty, he went to Xingdu in Sichuan (sì chuān 四川), where he was ordained at the age of twenty. From Xingdu, he travelled throughout China in search of sacred books of Buddhism. At length, he came to Chang'an, then under the peaceful rule of Emperor Taizong of Tang. Here Xuanzang developed the desire to visit India. He knew about Faxian's (fǎ xiǎn 法显) visit to India and, like him, was concerned about the incomplete and misinterpreted nature of the Buddhist scriptures that reached China. He became famous for his seventeen year overland trip to India and back, which is recorded in detail in his autobiography and a biography, and provided the inspiration for the epic novel Journey to the West (xī yóu jì  西游记).

The basic Buddhist concepts base on Four Noble Truths:


-Life is suffering mentally and physically in the forms of sickness, injuries, aging, death, tiredness, anger, loneliness, frustration, fear and anxiety, etc.

alt-All these suffering are caused by craving (yù wàng 欲望). A self-centered person with continuous wanting from others will cause mental unhappiness. In turn, it will cause physical exhaust and fatigue in life.

-All sufferings can be overcome and avoided. When one gives up endless wanting and endures problems that life evolves without fear, hatred and anger, happiness and freedom will then be obtained. Overcome the mentality of self-center and selfishness, one will then spend time in meeting others needs and feels life more fulfilled.

-There is a Noble Eigthfold path leading to overcome the suffering. The Eightfold path (bā shèng dào 八圣道) includes Perfect Understanding, Perfect Thought, Perfect Speech, Perfect Action, Perfect Livelihood, Perfect Effort, Perfect Mindfulness and Perfect Concentration. Buddhist practice the above in developing spiritually into a perfect person. This is said to lead one into the ultimate happiness in life and even afterlife.

Buddhism also promotes code of conduct in life. That is what they call Five Precepts of avoiding killing, stealing, indulging, lying and alcohol drinking. Buddhist teaching introduces the way and concepts of meditation (míng xiǎng 冥想), rebirth, intellectual development and comparisons. It leads to self-understanding, instead of blind believing.

Modern Chinese Buddhism

Jing'an Temple (jìng ān sì 静安寺) in downtown Shanghai. Recently rebuilt, it was established in the Three Kingdoms era.Today the most popular form of Buddhism in both mainland China and Taiwan is a mix of the Pure Land and Chán schools. More recent surveys put the total number of Chinese Buddhists between 660 million (50%) and over 1 billion (80%), thus making China the country with the most Buddhist adherents in the world, followed by Japan.

However, it was difficult to estimate accurately the number of Buddhists because they did not have congregational memberships and often did not participate in public ceremonies. Many lay people practice Buddhism and Taoism at the same time.


Buddhism is tacitly supported by the government. The 108-metre-high statue is the world's tallest of Guanyin (guān yīn 观音) Statue of Hainan was enshrined on April 24, 2005 with the participation of 108 eminent monks from various Buddhist groups in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao and Mainland China, and tens of thousands of pilgrims. The delegation also included monks from the Theravada and Vajrayana (zàng chuán fò jiào 藏传佛教) traditions . China is one of the countries where owns many world's highest Buddhist statues.

In April 2006 China organized the World Buddhist Forum and in March 2007 the government banned mining on Buddhist sacred mountains. In May of the same year, in Changzhou, world's tallest pagoda (bǎo tǎ 宝塔) was built and opened. In March 2008 the Taiwan-based Tzu Chi (cí jì 慈济) Foundation was approved to open a branch in mainland China.


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