Mahayana: Chinese Buddhism and the Influences of Pre-Existing Chinese Culture.
As many of the Eastern countries of its kind, China has found itself introduced to Buddhism in approximately 1000 BC (Ikeda 1976: 6). This world religion has a variety of teachings and practices. Buddhism found itself syncretised by Chinese traditions, ideologies and already existing religions. Three of the main teachings of Buddhism include Theravada, Vajrayana, and Mahayana (Ikeda 1976: 3-4). In China we can observe the likes of Mahayana as the principle teaching of Buddhism. It can be understood the religious domain of china pre-Buddhist involvement, the sociocultural background, the primary rituals and practices, key functions of Mahayana and what makes it so well adapted; these factors will essentially help aid the understanding of the Buddhist movement and establishment in China. Indeed, Mahayana became the primary form of Buddhism in China because it permitted the incorporation of indigenous folk practices. Primary indigenous folk practices in China pre-Buddhism included ancestor veneration and nature worship. Various traditions make up the culture of China, and because of this, many little traditions constitute Chinese Buddhism and its Mahayana teachings. It is said to believe that “the religion in China has usually been described as the beginning in ancestor worship, but this is only particularly true” (Morton 2005: 29). This ancestor veneration shows an appeal to underlying anxieties of man as it relates to the fear of the unknown; the fear of death. This practice of ritual gives these people a sense of security; security that if they are to be remembered their spiritual/personal soul will go on, as their animal soul will decompose with the physical body (Mooney 2014). Before Buddhism permeated into China, the nation was saturated in the ideological and philosophical teachings of Confucianism and Taoism. Both these traditions developed in China at approximately the same time. Buddhism entered China within the first centuries of the Common Era (Mollier 2008: 1) and was subject to a variety of tradition and ritualistic aspects. Unlike many world religions, Buddhism permitted many of the practices and ideologies that were the foundations of Chinese sociocultural background. Buddhism has no God, rather an enlightened figure, being the Buddha (Mooney 2014). Although this figure is often considered a deity, it permits a leniency for a variety of other religious practices and rituals (Mooney 2014). Buddhism entered an already religiously occupied land, and when developed, constituted the “three teachings” with Confucianism and Taoism (Paracka 2012: 1). It should be noted that China holds a great honor for its cultural past and ancient values revolving around nature (Paracka 2012: 2) which provides constructive insight on the eased application of Buddhism within this nation’s community. This is also evidence that some of China’s values were incorporated within the scriptures during the translation period. “Buddhist missionaries brought Buddhism into the East (including China) and because of the numerous elements introduced to it, it differs so much from its original, Indian form. The philosophical core remained the same, various adaptations in matters of customs and procedure and various shifts of doctrinal emphasis took place in the new environments it was introduced. Therefore, China developed it’s on distinctive form” (Ikeda 1976: 4-5).
Many factors contributed to the establish Buddhism in history. During the time of the Kushana Dynasty, formed as early as the first century, one of their most famous rulers, Kanishka was an ardent follower of Buddhism and played a significant role in the spread of the sacred texts (Ikeda 1976: 15-16). The silk road connecting India and China also played a large role in the spread of Buddhism from India to China (Morton 2005: 4) What makes Mahayana a distinctive driving force of the Buddhist...
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