THE EARLY DAYS OF BUDDHISM

Buddhism Origins history and growth

Although there are reports of Buddhists in China as early as the 3rd century BC, Buddhism was not actively propagated in that country until the early centuries of the Common era. Tradition has it that Buddhism was introduced after the Han emperor Ming Ti (reigned AD 57/58-75/76) had a dream of a flying golden deity that was interpreted as a vision of the Buddha. Accordingly, the emperor dispatched emissaries to India who subsequently returned to China with the Sutra in Forty-two Sections, which was deposited in a temple outside the capital of Lo-yang. In actuality, Buddhism entered China gradually, first primarily through Central Asia and, later, by way of the trade routes around and through Southeast Asia.
The early centuries.
The Buddhism that first became popular in China during the Han dynasty was deeply coloured with magical practices, making it compatible with popular Chinese Taoism (a combination of folk beliefs and practices and philosophy). Instead of the doctrine of no-self, early Chinese Buddhists taught the indestructibility of the soul. Nirvana became a kind of immortality. They also taught the theory of karma, the values of charity and compassion, and the need to suppress the passions. Until the end of the Han dynasty, there was a virtual symbiosis between Taoism and Buddhism and a common propagation of the means for attaining immortality through various ascetic practices. It was widely believed that Lao-tzu, the founder of Taoism, had been reborn in India as the Buddha. Many Chinese emperors worshiped Lao-tzu and the Buddha on the same altar. The first translations of Buddhist sutras into Chinese-namely those dealing with such topics as breath control and mystical concentration-utilized a Taoist vocabulary to make the Buddhist faith intelligible to the Chinese.

After the Han period, in the north of China, Buddhist monks were often used by non-Chinese emperors for their political-military counsel as well as for their skill in magic. At the same time, in the south, Buddhism began to penetrate the philosophical and literary circles of the gentry. One of the most important contributions to the growth of Buddhism in China during this period was the work of translation. The most important of the early translators was the learned monk Kumarajiva, who, before he was brought to the Chinese court in AD 401, had studied the Hindu Vedas, the occult sciences, and astronomy, as well as the Hinayana and Mahayana sutras.

During the 5th and 6th centuries AD Buddhist schools from India became established, and new, specifically Chinese schools began to form. Buddhism was becoming a powerful intellectual force in China, monastic establishments were proliferating, and Buddhism was becoming well-established among the peasantry. Thus, it is not surprising that, when the Sui dynasty (581-618) established its rule over a reunified China, Buddhism flourished as a state religion.

Developments during the T'ang dynasty (618-907).

The golden age of Buddhism in China occurred during the T'ang dynasty. Though the T'ang emperors were usually Taoists themselves, they tended to favour Buddhism, which had become extremely popular. Under the T'ang the government extended its control over the monasteries and the ordination and legal status of monks. From this time forward, the Chinese monk styled himself simply ch'en, or "a subject."

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Michael Tkaczevski - Wasn't the whole point of escaping the communists' violence and oppression to preserve Tibetan Buddhism's history and teachings? Isn't letting the Dalai Lama end with the 14th effectively killing a part of the tradition? Glenys Day ..

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