The Spread Of Buddhism And Daoism In China Cultural Studies Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

This paper is about the spread of Buddhism and Daoism in China. Before going to the spread of Buddhism and Daoism in China, we should know their origins or how they came about. Buddhism and Daoism came around in different places. People think that just because they are both common in China that they are the same religion. This is not at all true, there are many differences between Buddhism and Daoism. Buddhism originated in India, while Daoism originated in China. They both have different founders. Some Chinese people thought that they have the same founders. This information is false. This will be discussed later on in the paper. Buddhism and Daoism are very alike, but extremely different.

The concept of Buddhism came about the fourth or fifth century BCE, beginning as a small community. Buddhism remained a small religion until the time of King Asoka. Asoka was the third ruler in line of Mauryan emperors who ruled the whole Indian empire through military conquest. Asoka had many inscriptions made about his attitude and policies. In one of the inscriptions, Asoka stopped further violent conquest and made a commitment to dharma. In other inscriptions Asoka informs his subjects about the basic principles that form his vision of the dharma; he mentions related meditational practices that he endorses to his subjects as well as festivals of dharma that he sponsored. He also tells of special representatives to make sure that dharma was practiced properly and taught in many religious communities within his realm. It would seem from Asoka's inscriptions that the dharma he practiced was not the same as Buddhist dharma. However, the inscriptions give clear evidence that if Asoka was not personally a Buddhist when he made his first commitment to the dharma, he became soon after that. He sponsored Buddhist missions to many areas not only within his own empire, but in the Greek-ruled areas of the northwest and in Sri Lanka to the south. During the Asokan and immediately post-Asokan era, there are at least three specific developments that aided the transformation of Buddhism into a more civilized religion. The first, realignment in the structure of religious community, involved an addition in the relationship and the balance between the monastic order and its lay supporters. The transformation of Buddhism into a more civilized religion also involved doctrinal and scholastic factors. During the Asokan and pre-Asokan periods, groups within the monastic community began to develop the teachings into philosophies. Developments in the areas of symbolism, architecture, and ritual were also significant parts in the transformation of Buddhism into a more civilized religion.

When Buddhism was first imported from India to Central Asia, Buddhism was a mixture of Chinese and foreign elements. "Both in its origin and later development, Buddhism in China constituted a mixture of foreign and native elements. The first Buddhists in China were immigrants. Before entering the Chinese Empire ruled by the Han dynasty (206BCE-220 CE), they grew up in lands to the west: parts of India ruled by the Kushan dynasty (an Indo-Scythian ethnic group, called Yuezhi in Chinese, that ruled from 128 BCE to 450 CE), and smaller Central Asian kingdoms like Parthia and Sogdiana." (Jones 1160). The texts they memorized or carried with them were in Sanskrit, forms of prakrit, or other Indo-Iranian languages of the Silk Road. When these travelers first arrived in Dunhuang (modern Gansu province, China), the westernmost base town in Chinese territory, and proceeded to the capital city of Luoyang, they probably could not speak Chinese. Before they learned how to speak Chinese proficiently they used translators. To explain their beliefs to their Chinese hosts, foreign monks depended on local go-betweens, Chinese born interpreters whose cultural assumptions inevitably influenced how they thought what their guests were trying to say. The first Buddhists in China had even less control over how their message was conveyed in written form. Most of them never mastered Classical Chinese, which is different from the spoken language in grammar. For the first several centuries translation was usually a process done by a committee with numerous overseers, none of whom was able to judge the result against the original. Some foreign terms were translated by Chinese words that had a reestablished frame of meaning. Dharma, for example, was rendered for the Chinese word for "law", "principle", or "method". Another translation strategy was to use Chinese words that immitated the sound of the foreign word but made no sense in Chinese. Buddha, for instance, was pronounced in Chinese as Fotuo which sounds like the original Indic word. The significance of the second method of translation is that Chinese Buddhists chose to maintain a clear mark of non-Chinese nature of their religion. Chinese Buddhists often celebrate that theirs is a foreign faith, meaning that founder and earliest patriarchs lived outside of China. These facts are both true and false. Already in the Han dynasty, the Buddhist monks were looked down upon because they worshipped a foreign god, followed doctrines unattested to Chinese classics, dressed in barbarian fashion, and destroyed the foundation of the Chinese kinship system. Rather than letting go of Buddhism, the Buddhists responded by claiming that even Chinese figures of Laozi had left China to get enlightenment as a disciple of Sakyamuni Buddha. They explained that the meaning of Buddha's golden speech could be accurately conveyed in Chinese translation, that the monks followed the more noble among the barbarian habits, and the ultimate devotion to one's parents was bringing Buddhist salvation to one's ancestors rather than the next generation. Buddhism went though many changes in China. "In China too Buddhism might best be considered plural rather than singular. The hybrid nature of Chinese Buddhism thus means that the model of Buddhism being made more Chinese is simplistic at best and misleading at worst." (Jones 1160)

In both theory and practice, the Buddhist movement in China crossed frequently with political power. Even when Buddhists defined their ultimate purpose as the accomplishment of nirvana or enlightenment, they made strong claims about the social world in which that goal was pursued. Buddhism also played a major role in the private and religious life of the ruler. In their personal as opposed to political lives, emperors behaved like other people: they got sick and needed curing, they were concerned with the afterlife and the fate of their ancestors, and they made donations to religious establishments. Many emperors turned to both Buddhism and Daoism, at the same time or one after the other, for this side of their religious lives. They followed the ceremony of becoming a lay Buddhist, donated money to Buddhist monasteries, practiced medicine, sought longevity, and built temple to honor their parents.

Buddhism remained standing strong even after all the disasters and the long time period to modern times. "Buddhism was never insulated from the cataclysms shaking Chinese society from the 1850s to the twenty-first century: Western military incursions, imposition of treaties and reparations, unprecedented natural disasters, the overthrow of the imperial system of governance in 1911, the founding of the Republic of China in 1912, civil war and rule by warlords, warfare and eventually occupation of most of China by Japan between 1937 and 1945, the victory of Mao Zedong's (1893-1976) Communist Party and the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, continuing upheaval and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the opening to foreign capital in 1978, and economic expansion and internationalization beginning in the 1990s." (Jones 1167).

The term Daoism is not actually a Chinese word. It has many meanings. Before the religion was called Daoism, it was called Taoism. In the Encyclopedia of Religion (2nd Edition) by Lindsay Jones it is written, "The English word Daoism, with its nominalizing suffix, has no counterpart in the Chinese language. The term has been used in Western writings on China to refer to a wide range of phenomena." (Jones 2176). First, scholars use the term Daoism to entitle early philosophical texts classified as representing daojia (schools of the Dao) in early Chinese bibliographic works. Some of these, such as the Dao de jing (The classic of the way and its power), also known as the Laozi after its supposed author, supported methods of governance based on mystical knowledge, inaction on the part of the ruler, and a philosophy centered on the concept of the Dao. Others, such as the Zhuangzi, indicated mystical union with the Dao and levelheadedness in the face of death and other natural processes. Second, the term Daoism has been employed in modern scholarship to mark a wide range of anti-Confusion, utopian, and escapist strains of thought. Third, Daoism has been used in works on China to express a sort of free-flowing effortlessness informing individual endeavors, especially the arts of calligraphy, painting, and music. Fourth, Daoism has been used to refer to any Chinese religious practice that is not Confusion or Buddhist. Fifth, and more strictly, the term Daoism is used by scholars to translate the Chinese term daojiao, meaning "teachings of Dao", the closest compared to the term Daoism. The Chinese, like the Japanese, had no formal name for their native religion until the occurence of Buddhism. The term daojiao was widely adopted to distinguish Daoist religious practice from fojiao, "the teachings of the Buddha," or Buddhism. The present entry deals entirely with these religious movements. Even with our narrower focus, problems of definition remain. Most Daoist organizations lacked or failed to emphasize elements deemed essential in other religions. "With some exceptions, most Daoists throughout history would agree that their religion did not have a single founder, a closed canon of scriptures, a unified creed, exclusive criteria of lay membership, or a stable pantheon. Historically speaking, the most important structuring force was not internal, but external to the religion. In its efforts to impose order on the realm, the state from time to time sought to control Daoism through overseeing the initiation of clerics, the number of temples, the approved canon, and the like. While none of these attempts were ultimately successful, they did provide impetus for stricter organizational cohesion than would otherwise have been the case." (Jones 2177).

Daoism or Taoism was one of the three main religious traditions in China, along with Confucianism and Buddhism. Confucianism and Daoism are native Chinese traditions, whereas Buddhism was introduced into China from India. The defining concept of the Daoist religion is the Dao itself, understood in a particular way. The term dao, originally denoting a "way" or "path," came to be used in pre-Han philosophical discourse to refer to the proper course of human conduct and, by extension, to the teachings of any philosophical school, especially insofar as these were based on the venerated ways of the sages of antiquity. "In the Laozi, the Zhuangzi, and other early writings, the Dao came to be seen not as human order, but as the metaphysical basis of natural order itself, inchoate yet capable of being comprehended by the sage, primordial yet eternally present." (Jones 2177). This Dao of the early thinkers informs religious Daoist texts as well, but with an added dimension of great significance. For Daoists, the Dao underwent further transformations, alike to those it underwent at the beginnings of time, to incarnate itself in human history. The Dao itself is seen as humanlike, possessed of likes and dislikes, desires, sentiments, and motivations-the full range of human emotions. At the same time, the Dao might act in history through avatars, such as Laozi, who were fully human in appearance. Finally, a number of deities, including those resident in the human body, are regarded as divine foundation of the Dao. Daoism's ability to absorb the beliefs and practices of other religions could elicit a negative response from proponents from the targeted religion. One idea that came about several times in Chinese history was that Buddhism was a foreign version of Daoism, created by Laozi himself when he disappeared through the western gates of the Chinese kingdom. This story was related to show that Daoism was fit for Han people, while Buddhism was fit for "foreign barbarians", it was seen by Buddhists as a way to take over their religion.

This research paper is basically about Buddhism and Daoism in China. When people think about Buddhism and Daoism they think that they are very similar of that they are the same thing. That is completely false. Daoism is originally from China, whereas Buddhism came from India. When Buddhist monks first came to China, they did not know how to speak Chinese. They hired translators to translate Buddhist doctrines for them. One of the main concepts of Buddhism is "suffering". Buddhists believe that life itself is suffering. Daoists on the other hand, believe that life is good. In order to overcome suffering, Buddhist strive to reach "Nirvana", or enlightenment. Enlightenment is obtained through non-selfish behavior, following the 8 fold noble paths of Buddha and stopping the process of rebirth. When one ceases to be reborn, they lose all form, self and conscience. They return to the nothingness out of which everything is made. The Daoist concept of Ultimate Transformation is the equivalent of Buddhist enlightenment. Ultimate Transformation implies that the soul survives after death, and that it can travel throughout space and the world of the Immortals.