THE ENTRY OF INDIAN BUDDHISM INTO CHINA: THE MERGER OF TWO CULTURES
In China's history there have been three occasions when foreign cultures were introduced into China.* The first was a little after the first century A.D. when Indian Buddhism spread into China. The second was in the middle of the 17th century when missionaries brought along with them the civilization of the West. The third was at the time of China's Fourth of May Movement in 1919 when various trends of thought of the West, especially Marxism, were brought into China. By analyzing some social phenomena that appeared after Indian Buddhism entered China, we shall discuss the question of how the two cultures merged. The entry of Indian Buddhism into China went through the following process.
A. Indian Buddhism, after its entry into China, was first attached to China's existing culture and, from this base, began to develop and exert its influence.
When Buddhism spread into China during the Han Dynasty, it was first attached to Daoshu or Fangshu (Daoist practices or techniques). When metaphysics became popular in the Wei and Jin dynasties, Buddhism was also attached to metaphysics. In the Han Dynasty, both Futu and Huang-Lao were treated equally, even the Buddhism was Daoshu. At that time the content Buddhism preached was similar to such ideas as "souls are immortal" and "preordained fate" which already existed in China, but the concept of Wu Wo (without myself) was unknown to people at that time.
Two branches of Buddhism were popular in the last Han and early Wei dynasties. One was the An Shiguo Theravedic school (known in Chinese as Xiaocheng) which emphasized Zen practices. An Ban Shou Yi Jing (Sutra on the Maintenance of Thought by the Practice of Anapana) was a book on a breathing method to "keep one's thought in place"; this was similar to the breathing and respiration exercises and techniques espoused by the Daoists, and especially by the School of Immortals. Yin Shi Ru Jing, based on the concept of Yuanqi (Original Breath), explained the theory of Wu Yin (Five Negatives), which was later translated into Buddhist terminology as Wu Yun (Five Inward Contents, namely, color, feeling, thinking, practice and knowledge.
Another branch was Zhi Lou Jia Gan School, which belonged to the Mahayana (known in Chinese as Dacheng). This school emphasized that the fundamental principle of life was to make spirit revert to its virginal truth or reality and that life would then conform to the dao (tao) (the way of nature). From this we can see the apparent influence of the ideas of Laozi (Lao Tzu) and Zhuangzi. In the early East Jin Dynasty, the Ban Ru School was prosperous and encompassed the so-called Six Schools and Seven Sects. The issues they discussed were fundamentally those of "Source and Outcome" and "Existence and Non-Existence" which had been discussed by the Metaphysical schools in the Wei and Jin Dynasties.
B. The wide spread of Buddhism after the East Jin Dynasty brought about a clash and conflict between traditional Chinese culture and thought and those of India, a foreign culture,which gave an impetus to the further development of Chinese culture and thought.
In the period of the South and North Dynasties, the conflict between Buddhism and China's pre-existing culture occurred in all areas. There were questions concerning both political and economic interests, as well as questions concerning interests, as well as questions concerning philosophical thought and religious ethics. In the area of thought, there were controversies on "whether or not immortals were perishable," "whether or not there was preordained fate," "whether or not the Buddhist monks should worship royalty," and the relationship between human beings and other living creatures, between the Chinese nationality and other minority nationalities. The laws to abolish Buddhism, which came into effect during the period of Prince Tai Wu Di in the North Wei Dynasty, had political causes.
Meanwhile, the clash between Buddhism and Daoism (Taoism), the pre-existing national religion of China, became sharper and sharper. All these controversies were but an expression of the clashes and conflicts between two different cultures. Some of these conflicts lasted until the Sui and Tang dynasties.
C. After the Sui and Tang dynasties, Indian Buddhism was assimilated by Chinese culture and a Buddhist sect with a typically Chinese spirit came into being. By the Song Dynasty, Buddhism had completely merged with traditional Chinese culture and had become a part of Chinese culture. It was the time when the Lixue School in the Song and Ming dynasties was formed. This was called also the New Confucian School.
During the Sui and Teng dynasties, there appeared in China a number of Buddhist sects. Among them were Tian Tai, Hua Yan and Chan Zong--actually Buddhist sects with a typically Chinese spirit. The most important issues these three sects discussed concerned theory and practice and the nature of the mind. The issue of the nature of the mind was originally an important one in traditional Chinese philosophy. It could be traced back to Confucius and, especially, to Mencius. As for the relation between theory and practice, Hua Yan Zong said "theory and practice are mutually independent" and "practices are individually independent"--notions which were related to the idea of "theory and practice are one" elaborated by the Metaphysical School in the Wei and Jin dynasties. Later in China Hua Yan Zong and Chan Zong exerted the greatest influence, just because they were forms of Buddhism in the Chinese spirit. In contrast, Wei Shi Xue, though advocated by the famous monk Xuan Zang, was popular for only thirty years or so and then declined, since it was pure Indian Buddhism.
Lixue School or the New Confucian School in the Song and Ming dynasties criticized Buddhism and at the same time, assimilated and merged with it, thus bringing to Chinese philosophy an even more comprehensive system encompassing the original system, the theory of values and the philosophy of life. From the West and East Han to the Song and Ming dynasties, Chinese philosophy, in the midst of clashes and conflicts with foreign cultures, went through a process of "positive-negative-convergence" that advanced Chinese philosophy.
Any individual culture has its own unique characteristics which set it apart from other cultures. For the culture to remain unique, its distinctive characteristics must remain intact. Otherwise, this culture would only exist in history and have no function as a real culture in present reality. In comparison with Indian culture, the unique feature of traditional Chinese culture is to teach people how to "conduct oneself" so as to realize the ideal of "running the country in a peaceful state" in reality.
This spirit of "living in the real world" runs absolutely counter to the idea of "living beyond the real world" espoused by Indian Buddhism. After Indian Buddhism was introduced into China, though it did exercise some profound influence on the Chinese way of life and changed Chinese social life in many areas, the fundamental spirit of "living in the real world" in Chinese culture was never modified by the alien Indian culture. Chinese culture, as a unique cultural system, remained and continued to develop. The trend of development among China's Buddhist religious sects has never been to adapt China's social life to the needs of Indian culture. On the contrary, Indian Buddhism has been developing in the direction of Chinese culture. This became especially so when Chan Zong (the Zen) appeared and destroyed important features of Buddhism as a religion. Chan Zong advocated that the Buddha and reading Buddhist classics were not necessary and that reproaching Buddhas and cursing ancestors were permitted. Chan Zong holds that "Fetching water and cutting wood are both good ways of life," so that men can realize the ideal of immortality in real life. Therefore, to go one step further, once men are good at serving their fathers and kings, they can eventually be perfect sages. In this way, traditional Chinese culture was able to take the place of Buddhism.
*Translated by Hou Mingjun
- Written by: doc
THE ENTRY OF INDIAN BUDDHISM INTO CHINA: THE MERGER OF TWO CULTURES