Buddhism Discussion Forum
Re: Buddhism in China
Posted by Y Chan on Sunday, 9 May 1999, at 9:19 p.m. in response to Chinese influence on Buddhism? , posted by Kim-Freddy Thomesen on Friday, 14 May 1999, at 5:23 a.m.
> I am currently studying Buddhism at a university in Norway. I find it very interesting, and I hope to get a chance to travel to a country in Asia to learn more. Buddhism has been influenced by the local culture it has arrived in. I just wonder if anyone can give me some ideas on how Buddhism has been changed/modified by China or Chinese culture and tradition?
> despoten
Response:
Buddhism has integrated with Chinses culture over the last 2,000 years. It affects China by combining with Confuciusm and Taoism to form the main Chinese thoughts that dominated Chinese Culture such as music, novels, literature, etc.
Examples are:
(a) the adoption of some but not all Buddhist deities such as King Yama (Lord of Death) as main religious characters in Chinese beliefs and literatures. Thus, in Chinese sayings, "reporting to King Yama" means "dying". Later, King Yama became the afterlife judge, who decided whether you go to hell or heaven based on your Karma. Thus effectively, in many Chinese novels, poems, dramas, etc., King Yama is doing the job of Jesus Christ!!
(b) about 25% of the Chinese proverbs or sayings are created because of the arrival of Buddhism. Some of these proverbs came directly from Buddhist Sutra (e.g., : "Put down your butcher's knife and became a Buddha"), others came from Chinese literatures with a heavy Buddhist favour (e.g, "Do you best as a human being by escorting the Buddha all the way to the West" - from the novel the Monkey King).
(c) affects the live styles of Chinese people form birth to death. I am talking about ceremonies in general. For instance, on Chinese New Year Eve, it is customary for Chinese to go to the Buddhist Temple to burn the "first incense stick" so that you will be blessed for the rest of the year - it affects Christianity also because many Churches in China are also opened on New Year Eve in order to be "competitive".
(d) I should also mention Chinese Food too, which had also been affected by Buddhism. A whole line of Chinese vegetarian dishes had been developed over the last 2,000 years. Many Chinese restaurants are specialized in Buddhist food, at a slight higher price than ordinary Chinese Food.
(e) Development of Martial Arts by Shaolin Temple Buddhist Monks.
NOTE: The arts known as Acupuncture, Fung Shiu (how to live harmoniously with nature), QiGong (use of Energy in the Universe) etc., are not originated from Buddhism.
On the other hand, Buddhism itself had been influenced by Chinese Culture. Examples are:
(a) Development of Zen Buddhism, and later was introduced into Japan and the West.
(b) Change the character of some Buddhism deities to suit Chinese needs. Most notably is Sakra Devendra, the King of Gods, who became the Emperor in Heaven (or Jade Emperor) to most Chinese people. Interestingly, when Christian missionaries came to China, they had difficulties translating the term "Yahweh" into Chinese, and so they also used the same term "Emperor in Heaven" in the Chinese Bible.
(c) Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (of Compassion, or Guan Yim) had undergone a sex change, from male to female, in China. Subsequently, when Buddhism was spread to other Asian countries from China, the Bodhisattva retained her motherly female form. If you observe her closely, she looked very similar to the image of Virgin Mary!!
(d) In some Sects of Buddhism, Prince Gautama had been elevated from the status of being a teacher to that of a deity.
(e) In many Chinese Buddhist temples, you can ask you future by drawing randomly a bamboo stick from a box after burning incense. The answer is inferred in the meaning of a poem attached to the bamboo stick. It is believed that the Bodhisattva of Compassion gives the most accurate forecasts, but one should note that this is originated from I-Ching and has nothing to do with Buddhism. Whilst Western Buddhists do not accept this alternative Crystal Ball, many Asian countries do take in this idea.
Note that many Buddhist life styles had never found the way into China. For example, Buddha and his people ate with bare hands, but Chinese eat with chopsticks. So is begging - Chinese Monks usually grow their own food in the Temple, cook and serve meals to lay followers for a donation and this is a very important fund-raising activity by many Buddhist Temples.
I will give you more examples if I can think of any.

Supplementary Questions
Buddhism Discussion Forum

Re: Chinese influence on Buddhism?
Posted by Y Chan on Saturday, 15 May 1999, at 9:10 p.m., in response to Chinese influence on Buddhism?, posted by Kim-Freddy Thomesen on Friday, 14 May 1999, at 5:23 a.m.
> First I like to thank Y.Chan for the response on my first query, and send my greetings to Kai Arne Olsen who seem to have found Buddhism too!!
> OK. In my recent study of the history of Buddhism in China, I have found some occasion were the rulers (like Empress Wu), embraces Buddhism as a way to legitimate her power. Are there more examples on this, or is my notion rubbish?
> I am also interested in ideas on how Buddhism spread from India to China (200-900 CE).
> Further I like some feedback on the syncretism between Taoism and Buddhism. There are some interesting tales on who influenced who, but if you look at i.e. Hua-Yen there must be some Taoist influence?
> Some people think it is in the best kungfutze tradition that Chinese Buddhist focus some much on single sutra!?
> I would like some responses on these questions.
> With the best of luck...
> Kim
>
Response:
Most Chinese rulers (even in Beijing today), are in fact using Confucism more than anything else to legitimate their powers. Historically, Chinese Emperors ruled over China from a mandate that came from Heaven rather than from the people. Thus Chinese Emperors always called themselves "Sons of Heaven" (which is why Christians, calling Jesus "Son of God", failed miserably in Chinese history).
Unfortunately, all major religions or philosophies, from Confucism. Taoism, Buddhism and most recently, Karl-Marxism, practiced by China over the last several thousand years failed to plant the seed of democracy. If you examine the political ideas of each religion closely, you will see that:
1) for Confucism, loyalty and obedience is heavily emphasized. In the ideal Confucius' world, sons must obey orders from fathers, youngsters from elders, students from teachers, soldiers from officers, officers from generals, generals from the Emperor. Thus, in traditional Chinese culture, you do not argue with your parents or the Ruler!
2) Taoism is the same. Lao Zi, in his Tao Te Ching, had always emphasized that the mandate to maintain the order of society came from the top, starting with the Tao, to the Ruler, to the bureaucrats and to the people. It said, "the best rulers appeared to be nonexistent to its people, and the worse rulers would provoke a revolution." Therefore, during the last 5,000 years, if a ruler is good, people are happy, but if things gone wrong, the ruler had to be toppled by revolution, and a new regime start. That is the reason why Beijing had to suppress any kind of unapproved protest.
3) Buddhism is not much better. In the Ksitigarbha Sutra, a good ruler is rewarded by his good karma, and will be reborn in heaven as a god, whereas a bad ruler is going to hell because of his bad karma. Such a good ruler is called a "Sacred Wheel Rolling King" which is a reincarnated Bodhisattva, and Tibetan Buddhism carries this idea to the extreme. If you have seen the movie "Kundun", you see that choosing a Tibet ruler (any Dalai Lama, from 1st to the present 14th) is not from a ballot box, but from a religious ceremony dictated by a few elite leaders.
Now you should understand why the seed of democracy (together with human rights, rule of law, etc.) had not been materialized in Chinese history. If people are lucky, a good ruler is born and Chinese people will live happily, but if anything goes wrong - too bad, you do not go to the ballot box, rather, you have to wait until Heaven sends another ruler, or until another ruler is reincarnated.

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