Buddhism: Buddhism in China

views updated


First imported from India and Central Asia around the first century ce, Buddhism in China is an evolving hybrid of Chinese and foreign elements. As a social organization with significant implications for the proper ordering of the world, Buddhism has had a long, complicated relationship with the Chinese state, both the imperial dynastic system and the modern Republican and Communist states that began in the twentieth century. Buddhist conceptions of rebirth and salvation, mythologies of buddhas, bodhisattvas, and other figures as well as Buddhist art and temple life have attracted people from all social classes. Philosophers have wrestled with Buddhist understandings of emptiness, enlightenment, and sagehood. Buddhist rituals, formed partly in relation to Daoist traditions, are diffused throughout much of Chinese popular religion. Even during those eras when the institutional presence of Buddhism in the form of temples, monks, and nuns has been small, its influence on Chinese culture has remained strong.

A Hybrid of Chinese and Foreign

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 (206 bce220 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. The texts they memorized, or in some cases carried with them, were composed 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 garrison town in Chinese territory, and proceeded to the capital city of Luoyang (Henan province), they probably could not speak Chinese. Before they developed proficiency in the spoken language, they relied on translators. Thus to explain their beliefs to their Chinese hosts, foreign monks depended on local go-betweens, Chinese-born interpreters whose cultural presuppositions inevitably influenced how they articulated 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 differs significantly from the spoken language in both grammar and lexicon (comparable to the difference between Latin and the Romance vernacular languages). For the first several centuries, translation was usually a process conducted by a committee with numerous overseers, none of whom was capable of judging the result against the original.

The vocabulary developed by foreign monks and their local assistants advertises this mixture of cultural influences. Some foreign terms were translated by Chinese words that had a preestablished frame of meaning. Dharma, for instance, was rendered by the Chinese word for "law," "principle," or "method" (fa ). Another translation strategy was to use Chinese words that mimicked the sound of the foreign word but made no sense in Chinese. Buddha, for instance, was pronounced in Chinese as Fotuo (or abbreviated as Fo ), which attempts to reproduce the phonetics of the original Indic word. The significance of the second method of translation is that Chinese Buddhists chose to maintain an audible trace of the non-Chinese nature of their religion.

Chinese Buddhists often celebrate that theirs is a foreign faith, meaning that its founder and earliest patriarchs lived outside of China. These facts are both undeniable and misleading. Already in the Han dynasty, Buddhist monks were criticized for worshiping a foreign god, following doctrines unattested in the Chinese classics, dressing in barbarian fashion, and destroying the foundation of the Chinese kinship system. Rather than disavowing their foreign origins, Buddhists responded by claiming that even Chinese figures like Laozi (sixth century bce) had left China to gain enlightenment as a disciple of Śākyamuni Buddha. They explained that the meaning of the Buddha's golden speech could be accurately conveyed in Chinese translation, that monks followed the more noble among the barbarian habits, and that the ultimate devotion to one's parents was bringing Buddhist salvation to one's ancestors rather than begetting offspring. The controversy over the foreign nature of Chinese Buddhism was never fully settled. Native and foreign (or the various words authors used for Chinese and Indian ) were continually redefined in relation to each other; they were rhetorical claims rather than fixed identities.

The interdependence of the notions of India and China also casts doubt on the model of Sinification (making Chinese), often used to conceptualize the history of Chinese Buddhism. In general terms it might make sense to say that over a span of two thousand years, Buddhism in China was made more Chinese, or that the tradition was uprooted from Indian soil and transplanted in China. The problem is that the two parties engaged in this imagined process"India" and "China"were themselves undergoing constant change. One of the more interesting features of Chinese Buddhism is that it provides such a helpful lens for bringing this history of intercultural redefinition into better focus. The metaphor of transplantation is faulty because the two soils in which the plant grew were not inert media or simply defined cultures. Rather, they were city-states, kingdoms, and empires the definition of which was changing and often contested. Furthermore models of Sinification, transmission, and transplanting assume that the religion transmitted between cultures was sufficiently stable to be identified as an Indian tradition at one moment and a Chinese tradition at another point in time. Yet neither in India nor in the various oasis empires of Central Asia was Buddhism defined by a single canon or governing body. 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.

Buddhism and Political Authority

In both theory and practice, the Buddhist movement in China intersected frequently with political power. Even when Buddhists defined their ultimate purpose as the achieving of nirvāa (literally, "extinction") or enlightenment, they made strong claims about the social world in which that goal was pursued. Like Buddhists elsewhere, Chinese Buddhists considered morality to be the foundation of religious practice. Most Chinese authors appreciated that traditional Buddhist thought accepted the government and social order as givens. Chinese audiences were also receptive to some of the standard Buddhist models for political authority, especially the ideal of the cakravarti-rāja or "wheel-turning king," the monarch who achieves dominion over the entire world through his support of the dharma. King Aśoka, who ruled the Mauryan Empire in India from circa 270 bce to 230 bce and sent relics and monks abroad to disseminate Buddhism, was a living symbol for some Chinese emperors. Such ideals were a powerful supplement and at times an alternative to the Confucian symbolism of imperial rule. Buddhist models of divine kingship were especially attractive to groups, such as female emperors and rulers of non-Chinese origin, who were normally left out of traditional political theory.

Despite their differences, the paradigms of imperial sovereignty offered by Buddhists, Daoists, and Confucians all stipulated that the emperor should behave as the ritual master of the cosmos. As son of heaven (tianzi, ancient parlance for the emperor), the divine monarch was supposed to bring harmony to the world by ordaining the proper ceremonies, including sacrifices to heaven and earth, rites to guarantee good harvests, and observances to assure victory in war. Emperors drew ecumenically from the ritual repertoires offered by shamans and by specialists in Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. From the emperor's perspective, as ritual techniques for rainmaking or blessing the nation, any of these traditions served as well as the others.

Buddhism also played a significant role in the private 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, simultaneously or in succession, for this side of their religious lives. They followed the ceremony of becoming a lay Buddhist, ransomed themselves to Buddhist monasteries, practiced meditation, sought longevity, and built temples to honor their parents.

Buddhism had inescapable political implications in yet another sense by virtue of the large-scale social organization it proposed: a community of monks and nuns dependent on lay donors for support. In China the state vested in itself the right to encourage, limit, or destroy any social institution outside the family whose membership attracted significant numbers or whose organizers even hinted at rebellion. The successive dynasties placed Buddhist and Daoist monastic institutions under the control of various branches of the government. By licensing institutions and practices, the government could simultaneously offer support, exercise power, and take advantage of the religion's popularity. The state limited the number of monks and nuns, sold ordination certificates, established state-supported monasteries and nunneries, drafted statutes governing monastic behavior, defined the Buddhist canon, and distributed copies of the canon throughout the empire. At the other extreme, the government proscribed books, melted down statues, forcibly returned clerics to lay life, redistributed temple landholdings, banned religious organizations, and put their leaders to death.

Continuing Trends

Beginning around 400 ce the basic foundation of Buddhist belief and practice was well established and has remain recognizable as such into the twenty-first century. The fundamental characteristics of Chinese Buddhism described here apply to people from all walks of life, including thosethe vast majoritywho would never have identified themselves as exclusive followers of any single religious tradition. (Variations over time and the activities of monks, elite laypeople, and the state are discussed in the following sections.)

The basic worldview of premodern Buddhism proved difficult but not impossible to translate into Chinese terms. The cosmology of continual rebirth was depicted in paintings of the six paths in which sentient beings are reborn: gods in heaven, demigods or asuras, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and beings in hell. Preachers explained how people are reborn in accordance with their deeds (karma ). Many rituals aimed for rebirth in paradises overseen by buddhas or in the heavens of the gods. This proximate result was supposed to be followed by the ultimate goal: having a direct encounter with a buddha and achieving enlightenment or nirvāa. Chinese Buddhists were concerned with the question of what exactly carried over from one lifetime to the next. Answers included canonical explanations (one's deeds, one's consciousness, or the five "bundles" [skandha ] of psychophysical existence) as well as ideas about the yin and yang aspects of the person drawn from ancient Chinese cosmology. The basis of Buddhist practice was morality (śīla ), followed by the cultivation of concentrative states (samādhi ) and the development of wisdom (prajñā ). Specific ethical duties varied from one group to the next. Although everyone was supposed to follow the same guiding principles, there was an ascending series of disciplines. Laypeople adhered to the five precepts, which prohibited the taking of life, stealing, illicit sexual relations, lying, and consuming alcohol. Novices undertook 5 more, fully ordained monks usually observed 250 regulations (348 for nuns), and ascetic monks and hermits were even more severe. The critique of egocentric clinging, analysis of perception, discussion of the path, and philosophy of language in Chinese Buddhism brought the tradition into sustained dialogue with pre-Buddhist Chinese philosophy. Chinese Buddhist writings on emptiness, nonduality, two levels of truth, and buddha-nature are as rich and complex as those in any Buddhist culture.

Chinese Buddhism offers devotees a responsive pantheon of gods and spirits. In theory buddhas are the most majestic and powerful of all beings. Having spent many lifetimes perfecting themselves, they have become "enlightened ones" (buddhas). Each buddha exercises dominion over an entire world or buddha-country. Śākyamuni (the historical Buddha, fifth-century bce India) lived as a prince, renounced his birthright, achieved enlightenment, and spent fifty years teaching others. Beings who resided in India during his time were particularly fortunate, since hearing a buddha preach or simply being in his presence has a transformative effect on believers, more efficacious than trying to reach enlightenment on one's own. The next buddha who will be reincarnated in this world will be Maitreya, who now resides in Tuita Heaven. Amitābha (or Amitāyus) is a currently existing buddha who presides over a distant realm of bliss in the west, known as a "Pure Land" (Chinese, jingtu ; Japanese, jōdo ) in the Sino-Japanese tradition. Another important buddha is Mahāvairocana, a cosmic figure who functions as the ontological ground or essence for all manifestations of buddhahood. Just below buddhas are bodhisattvas, beings dedicated to becoming buddhas. They define themselves as bodhisattvas by taking a formal series of vows in the presence of a buddha. Often serving as saints to people in need, bodhisattvas have discrete functions or specializations. Avalokiteśvara (Chinese, Guanyin; Japanese, Kannon; Tibetan, Chenrezi), arguably the most popular bodhisattva in China, assures mothers of safe childbirth; Bhaiajyaguru (Chinese, Yaoshiwang) is especially invoked in curing rites; Kitigarbha (Chinese, Dizang; Japanese, Jizō) rescues beings reborn in hell. Bodhisattvas often reincarnate themselves in different guises to make their compassion more effective. Laypeople also modeled their own actions after those of the bodhisattva and committed themselves in ceremonies to lesser versions of the bodhisattva vows. Ranking significantly below bodhisattvas are gods who, in the Buddhist conceptual world, are only temporarily powerful and happy, since they will suffer demotion in their next life. Many gods reside in the heavens, like the gods living in Indra's palace atop Mount Sumeru. Less-powerful gods populate the terrestrial world, inhabiting trees, rocks, caverns, and lakes. All such beings can be converted to serve the Buddhist cause. Biographies, hagiographies, and miracle talesgenres that blend into each otherrecord the exemplary lives and unusual deeds performed by all these beings treading the path to enlightenment.

Because of its implications for the fate of the ancestors, the rebirth cosmology in which Buddhism was bundled has always been a prime concern for Chinese Buddhists. Religious rituals carried out in the home and a reverence for the ancestors were hallmarks of early Chinese social life. Buddhism preached the acceptance of impermanence and valorized the example of the Buddha, who approached his own special death (nirvāa rather than another lifetime of suffering) with equanimity. Buddhists accepted the traditional Chinese value of filial piety (xiao ) but redefined its practice. Priests argued that deathbed rituals, funerals, rites of commemoration, and other pious acts performed by descendants on behalf of their ancestors were more effective when carried out in a Buddhist context, with offerings made to buddhas and bodhisattvas and payments given to the sagha.

Buddhism had a tremendous influence on rituals aimed at increasing good fortune and reducing bad luck. At all levels of society, there were Buddhist versions of rituals, performed by monks as well as unlicensed practitioners, for curing illness, prolonging life, vanquishing spirits, and foretelling the future. Buddhist ideas and ritual structures permeated other forms of Chinese religion. The cross-fertilization between Buddhist and Daoist versions of important rituals was particularly strong.

One religious structure that set Buddhism apart from other Chinese religions was monasticism, a special community of ascetics clearly demarcated from normal social life. Monks and in lesser number nuns were supposed to leave their families, remain celibate, give up worldly conveniences, dedicate themselves full-time to spiritual cultivation, and serve as paragons of the highest Buddhist ideals. Such theories usually came into conflict with realities, political and otherwise. The sagha itself was organized into ranks and administered by officers, monks and nuns did not fully divorce themselves from their families, monasteries and temples were frequented by lay visitors, and the Buddhist Church possessed great wealth that required careful corporate management. Sometimes the Daoist Church developed a similar monastic structure.

Although one can assume that most Buddhists in China reflected on their beliefs and thought about their religious practice, the overwhelming weight of evidence about Chinese Buddhism was produced by and for a tiny but powerful minority, the literate elite. With that caveat in mind, what was the self-understanding of well-educated Chinese Buddhists as contained in traditional Buddhist canons? The core of the canon consisted of faithful translations of any words attributed to the Buddha or his Indian followers, organized into the traditional three baskets (tripiaka ; Chinese, sanzang ) of sūtra, Vinaya, and abhidharma. In addition it contained an astonishing variety of books written in China: apologetic literature defending Buddhism, biographies, text criticism and bibliographies, encyclopedias, commentaries, essays, miracle tales, genealogies, local histories, debates with Daoists, official documents submitted to the throne, and chronicles of the fate of Buddhist institutions under imperial governance. Buddhist authors wanted to prove that Buddhism, like other noble Chinese traditions, possessed a hallowed historical record and was led by models worthy of emulation, ranging from buddhas, bodhisattvas, and arhats to local patriarchs, pure monks, and sagacious emperors.

Owing to the decentralization of the welter of texts brought into their country from the West, Chinese thinkers devoted themselves to making sense of the history and diversity of Buddhism. The problem of doctrinal classification gave rise to various attempts to "divide the teachings" (panjiao ). Since all teachings were understood as the infallible word of the Buddha, each text and philosophical movement was assigned to a specific time-period and audience of Śākyamuni's preachings. Followers of the Tiantai School (named for its monastic home, Mount Tiantai, in Zhejiang) placed the Lotus Sūtra at the apex of Buddha's pronouncements, while proponents of Huayan ("Flower Adornment") Buddhism (named after the text, the Avatasaka [Chinese, Huayan ] Sūtra ) believed that their text was the most subtle and profound. In keeping with Buddhist ideas of inclusivity, these interpretations of religious pluralism tended to privilege one school over another by portraying it not as the sole truth but as best adapted to its audience's needs.

Another important paradigm invoked by Chinese Buddhists to make sense of Buddhist history was that of lineage. Like the lines of descent that define Chinese kinship groups, a Buddhist lineage consists of current male members who trace their spiritual authenticity through successive generations of patriarchs. Especially but not exclusively used by the Chan (Japanese, Zen) School, the idea of patriarchal succession solved several problems. It located the sacred origin of current Buddhist leaders in the legendary heroes of the past; it linked China to India; it wrapped male authority in the guise of ineffable religious experience; it answered critics who impugned Buddhism's antiquity; and it helped solidify the identity of various Chinese schools (not really "sects" in the Protestant or modern Japanese sense) in relation to each other.


Legends written long after the fact illuminate what later generations thought was important about the enculturation of Buddhism. According to some, Confucius (551479 bce) knew of the Buddha, and Laozi left China to study with him. Other accounts speak cryptically of a foreign magician carrying the implements of the Buddhist wanderer, a staff and begging bowl, when he visited China in 317 bce. Some stories claim that the first Buddhist missionaries had been sent by King Aśoka. Another late source explains the chance discovery of sixty scrolls of Sanskrit texts in China by hypothesizing that they had been hidden intentionally to escape the burning of books carried out under the first Qin emperor, Shihuangdi (r. 221210 bce). Military records of the defeat of a Xiongnu army (a nomadic group in ancient northern China) in 120 bce talk about the local people bowing and offering incense to a golden statue. Another legend states that in 2 bce a man named Jinglu received oral instruction in Buddhism from a royal visitor to China sent by the Yuezhi. The most famous and one of the oldest stories about the origin of Chinese Buddhism is that Emperor Ming (r. 5875 ce) dreamed of a golden deity and dispatched a mission to the Yuezhi; the embassy returned bearing the first Buddhist text to reach Chinese soil, perhaps accompanied by monks and statues.

It is most likely that Buddhist monks, texts, and images began to trickle into China sometime in the middle of the Han dynasty (206 bce220 ce), the dynasty that gives its name to the dominant ethnic group in China as well. During the stable years of that dynasty, China was run by a centralized bureaucracy. Emperor Wu (r. 14087 bce) in particular was responsible for extending Han influence into Central Asia, sending emissaries all the way to Bactria in 138 bce. The military ventures and trade missions of the first few centuries were responsible for securing the overland route between China and the West. It was via this Silk Road that Buddhism and other Western traditions first entered China. By the end of the Han dynasty, Buddhist communities composed of foreign monks, native monks, and local lay supporters had been established in at least three areas: the capital of Luoyang (Henan) in central China, Pengcheng (modern Datong, Shanxi) in the east, and the Tonkin region (now Vietnam, ruled by China 111 bce939 ce) in the far south. Monks followed a celibate lifestyle and practiced the semimonthly communal confession and recitation of the prātimoka rules, and laypeople observed periodic fasting. Buddhist statues were installed in public temples, sometimes alongside icons of Daoist deities. Han dynasty Buddhists also knew the rudiments of the biography of Śākyamuni. Buddhist philosophy of the time was already quite diverse, represented in early texts like the Sūtra in Forty-Two Sections and Mouzi's Essay Resolving Doubts. Scores of sūtras were translated by An Shigao (fl. 148170 ce), a Parthian interested in meditation techniques and numbered lists of doctrines, and by Lokakema (Chinese, Zhi Loujiaqian, fl. 167186 ce), a Yuezhi monk who propagated early Mahāyāna texts.

Northern and Southern Buddhism

Even after the dissolution of Han rule, Buddhism continued to grow in influence and numbers, as exemplified by the massive translation effort of Dharmaraka (Chinese, Zhu Faohu, fl. 265313), a Yuezhi who was raised in Dunhuang. Under increasing military pressure from strong nomadic groups to the north, the unified Chinese Empire broke apart decisively in the early fourth century. From 317 until 589 ce the north was governed by a succession of strong regimes of various non-Han groups, especially the Tabgatch (Chinese, Tuoba), whereas south China was ruled by numerous Han aristocratic families. The bifurcation of political authority had important consequences for Buddhism.

In the south the landowning gentry extended the philosophical and literary experimentation that had begun at the end of the Han in a movement known as "dark learning" (xuanxue ). The southern capital of Jiankang (modern Nanjing, in Jiangsu) was home to new reflections on texts by Laozi and Zhuangzi and on the Book of Changes. One of the most famous monks of the time, Zhi Dun (also known as Zhi Daolin, 314366 ce), was interested in Buddhist understandings of the perfection of wisdom (prajñāpāramitā ), wrote commentaries on Zhuangzi, and offered a new analysis of the Chinese notion of principle (li ). Another member of a southern aristocratic family, Huiyuan (334416 ce), wrote on Buddhist philosophy and the practice of seeking a good rebirth and championed the independence of the sagha from state authority. The fortunes of organized Buddhism in the south rose to their highest symbolic level under Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty (r. 501549 ce), who sponsored Buddhist ceremonies, promoted vegetarianism and social welfare, and oversaw the construction of lavish Buddhist temples.

In north China non-Han rulers frequently employed Buddhist resources to build a strong centralized government. The Central Asian monk Fotudeng (d. 349 ce) served the Later Zhao dynasty (328352) for nearly twenty years and was famous for performing ceremonies to bring rain during times of drought and to assist the empire in warfare. Dao'an (312385 ce) influenced many aspects of Buddhist philosophy. He wrote on meditation and emptiness, compiled a catalog of the translation of Buddhist texts into Chinese, led ceremonies for people seeking rebirth in Tuita Heaven, composed rules for monastic life, and suggested that the famous monk of Kucha, Kumārajīva (Chinese, Jiumoluoshi, 350409/413 ce), be invited to China. With state support, Kumārajīva assembled a translation team said to number one thousand in the capital of Chang'an, where he rendered many texts, including key treatises of the Mādhyamika school. Kumārajīva's translation idiom and literary style, as seen in his Lotus Sūtra and Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa, soon became the dominant form of Chinese Buddhist writing. His Chinese disciple, Sengzhao (373414 ce), wrote unparalleled essays on the meaning of emptiness (śūnyatā ; Chinese, kong ). In institutional terms one of the most important developments in the north was the monk Tanyao's (fl. 470 ce) creation of two social structures under the Northern Wei dynasty (493534 ce). After a period of state support for Daoism and the mass migration of families uprooted by warfare, Tanyao reasoned that the resources of Buddhism should be used to relieve poverty and encourage agricultural production. He proposed that families be grouped into units called sagha -households that would send grain to monasteries, which would in turn distribute food to the poor and the general populace in times of drought. He also founded buddha-households, work units of criminals and slaves attached to Buddhist monasteries who worked in the temple or farmed its land.

Centralized Cosmopolitan Dynasties

Traditional histories view the Sui (581618 ce) and Tang (618907 ce) dynasties as a golden age or high point of Buddhism in China. This interpretation puts too much emphasis on dynastic structures, underplays social history, and privileges certain kinds of doctrinal innovation in Buddhism. Nevertheless there are good reasons for considering these three centuries as China's Buddhist age.

The capital cities of Chang'an and Luoyang were home to a large national bureaucracy of officials recruited increasingly through a publicly administered examination, and they were also the destination of diplomats, armies, Buddhist monks, entertainers, and merchants from most of Eurasia. The Tang court maintained contacts with Arab rulers and sought Indian scholars knowledgeable in mathematics, medicine, and astronomy. To most people outside of IndiaUighurs and other Central Asian ethnicities, Tibetans, Koreans, and Japanesethe center of the Buddhist world was not India but China. The Japanese prelate Genbō (d. 746 ce) traveled to China and returned to Japan with over five thousand scrolls of Buddhist scripture, paving the way for later pilgrims like Kūkai (774835 ce), Ennin (794864 ce), and Dōgen (12001253). Buddhism dominated public religious life but did not blot out other traditions: Christianity in its Persian (Nestorian) form, Islam, and the Iranian religions of Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism were also known in some cities.

The ruling house of the Tang declared its descent from Laozi and officially claimed in 637 ce that the stability of the empire rested on the Daoist-inspired principle of effortless action (wuwei ). This ostensive affiliation, however, never outweighed the value, personal and political, that the government saw in Buddhist rituals. Buddhist symbolism also played a crucial role in the career of Wu Zhao (624705 ce), who had been empress (wife of Emperor Gaozong, r. 650684 ce) but who seized control of the government, instituted a new dynasty (Zhou), and assumed the title of emperor in the year 690 ce. As a female monarch, Empress Wu could not easily draw on Confucian ideology to justify her rule. Instead, she turned to a variety of Buddhist regalia: she was portrayed as a incarnation of Maitreya and as a cakravartin king.

The most famous translator of Sanskrit scripture into Chinese was the Chinese monk Xuanzang (c. 600664 ce). He was already considered a master of Buddhist philosophy when he embarked for India in 629 ce in search of authoritative texts and teachers. He traveled throughout Central Asia and India, studying intensively at the great center of Buddhist scholasticism, Nālandā (Bihar State, India), before returning to China in 645 ce. He carried back hundreds of texts and a knowledge of Sanskrit that few if any Chinese monks have ever matched. He translated seventy-three works into Chinese in a style known for its philological precision, and he composed a record of his journey detailing the geography, politics, and religious life of China's western neighbors. His exploits as an explorer also made him famous, and one thousand years later his legend was crystallized in the much-beloved vernacular novel Journey to the West (Xiyou ji, also known as Monkey ).

One of Xuanzang's most influential contemporaries was Daoxuan (596667 ce). Daoxuan was an expert on the Vinaya, and he set new standards in the compilation of biographies, miracle tales, apologetic literature, and catalogs of the Buddhist canon. Rather than following Xuanzang's overland route, the Chinese monk Yijing (635713 ce) traveled by sea to South and Southeast Asia. After more than twenty years abroad, he returned and translated fifty-six separate books, many of them devoted to monastic discipline. Amoghavajra (Bukongjingang, 705774 ce), who was probably born in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), came to China and translated nearly eighty texts, including a key scripture on the Vajradhātu Maala and many shorter Tantric ritual books.

The Sui and Tang were Buddhist dynasties also in the sense that literary, artistic, and philosophical production was dominated by explicitly Buddhist work in hitherto unprecedented ways. The poet Wang Wei (701761 ce) employed what could be considered a Buddhist poetics and inculcated an attitude toward nature that draws heavily from Buddhist ideas. Even the most famous anti-Buddhist writer, Han Yu (768824 ce), who wrote a memorial protesting Emperor Xianzong (r. 805820 ce) honoring the Buddha's finger relic, was influenced by the tradition he criticized. Han Yu believed the bone had dangerous powers, and his attempt to resuscitate Confucian ideas and revitalize classical prose depended on Buddhist versions of orthodox transmission. The writing of miracle tales, many of which concerned icons, assumed the validity of reincarnation. The popular practice of storytelling with pictures (evidenced in "transformation texts," bianwen ) was inspired by notions of the salvific intervention of buddhas and bodhisattvas. Paintings of paradise scenes and icons of Buddhist deities could be found everywhere. Wu Daozi (also known as Wu Daoxuan, fl. 710760 ce), a highly placed court painter, was famous for the Buddhist subject matter he chose. His contemporaries report that his renderings of hell struck terror into viewers and that he carried out the act of painting in an inspired, theatrical manner. Buddhist metaphors were so well known that they rarely required explanation: a bubble meant evanescence, a lotus flower symbolized purity amid filth, silence was a reference to Vimalakīrti's understanding of wisdom. The debates of the age were dominated by Buddhist problems like sudden versus gradual approaches to enlightenment, the mechanics of rebirth in paradise, and the effectiveness of spells (dhāraī and mantra ).

Written sources dating from the Tang dynasty also provide unambiguous evidence of the spread of Buddhist celebrations, especially in temples, that may have started earlier. Temples, which were not isolated enclaves of monastics in the first place, were especially busy during annual festivals. The yearly cycle included the emperor's birthday, the imperial ancestors' memorial days, the lantern celebration of the new year (around January 15), the Buddha's birthday (February 8 or April 8), and the ghost festival (July 15). Rituals involving the offering of a gift to the sagha and the participation of monks and nuns were carried out for life-cycle events (safe childbirth, weddings, building houses, curing illness, deathbed rites, funerals, memorial services) or at the behest of the individual practitioner (for commissioning statues or attending lectures). Tang dynasty manuscripts also supply the first detailed evidence of the formation of societies or loose congregations at the local level, groups that came together for semimonthly meetings, to hear monks preach, or to help members of the group with funeral expenses.

The Formation of Sectarian Identity

Like the early Tang emperors, the first emperors of the Song dynasty (Northern Song, 9601127; Southern Song 11271279) were lavish patrons of Buddhism. In many ways, however, the society they ruled and the religion they supported were quite different from those of earlier centuries. Wet rice cultivation became dominant, and the population of the south outnumbered that of the north. The gentry families who had controlled access to power declined at the same time that the use of paper money grew, a merchant class arose, and more and more people lived in cities. Wood-block printing, first used for the reproduction of Buddhist spells, led to the dissemination of all kinds of books. All of these changes meant that the general public to which Buddhism spoke and the wealthy classes whose support it sought were fundamentally different from its former clientele. The government virtually rescinded the tax-exempt status of the monkhood and made larger profits for the state through the sale of ordination certificates. The revival of Confucian thought among officials like Zhu Xi (11301200), although not yet constituting an official orthodoxy, began to offer comprehensive philosophical alternatives to Buddhist systems of thought.

Buddhist responses to this changing world resulted in a clearer definition of the relationship between elite Buddhism and other traditions as well as the drawing of clearer lines separating the various schools of Buddhism from each other. The very notion of a strong sectarian identity came into existence at this time through the writing of Chan histories, beginning with The Record of the Transmission of the Flame [or Lamp] Compiled in the Jingde Era (Jingde chuandeng lu, 1004). Earlier literature had portrayed connections between masters and disciples as contending lineages that could coexist simultaneously. Song sources, however, advance the claim that the orthodox tradition originated at a single point (Śākyamuni smiling or wordlessly passing a flower to Kāśyapā) and continued in a mind-to-mind transmission with only one patriarch per generation. The "records of discourse" (yulu ) detailing the words and deeds of masters were put together during the Song. Dahui Zonggao (10891163) emphasized sustained meditation on the phrase "No" (a response to the question of whether dogs possess buddha-nature), and full collections of past examples of "public cases" (gongan ; Japanese, kōan ) were rendered in classic form in anthologies like The Blue Cliff Record (Biyan lu, 1125).

The Chan myth of patriarchy assumed that the Song dynasty form of identifiable Chan monasteries had begun during the Tang. The vague notion of a Buddhist "school" (zong ) was forged into a more exclusive sense of identity also in response to the new institutional structures implemented under the Song. The government exercised formal control over a system of public monasteries divided into three classes, Vinaya (lü ), teachings (jiao ), and meditation (chan ), the greatest number of which was the latter. In this atmosphere even proponents of Tiantai ideas followed the dominance of Chan and portrayed their patriarchs as single pearls in an unbroken strand rather than as abbots of strong local monasteries. Such a conception underlies the new genre of Buddhist history writing in Zhipan's (fl. 12581269) Comprehensive Record of Buddhas and Patriarchs (Fozu tongji), which was also influenced by developments in secular historiography. Genealogical exclusivity was even extended to the Pure Land tradition, which received its first formal list of unbroken patriarch succession from Tiantai writers in the thirteenth century. It should not be forgotten, however, that although sectarian rigidity existed as both rhetoric and institution, it was not universal. Most of Buddhist practiceattending festivals, making offerings to buddhas and bodhisattvas, seeking assistance at the local temple, praying for the salvation of one's parentsremained generic. Even the liturgies collected by self-avowed followers of the Tiantai school like Zunshi (9641032) incorporated the practices of local cults. Buddhists of every persuasion continued to draw on Buddhist ideas that, though associated with one particular school or another, belonged to all: the one mind (Chan), Amitābha Buddha's vows (Pure Land), three thousand worlds in one moment of thought (Tiantai), and the realm of true reality (Huayan).

Dynasties of Non-Han Rule

Beginning in the tenth century three foreign, originally nomadic groups ruled as Chinese dynasties over portions of north China: the Khitan (Liao dynasty) from 946 to 1125, the Jurchen (Jin dynasty) from 1115 to 1234, and the Tangut (Western Xia dynasty) from 1038 to 1227. After that the Mongols, whose quadripartite dominance over Eurasia extended from Kiev and Bucharest in the west to Korea and Taiwan in the east, conquered all of China and established the Yuan dynasty (12061368). Whereas other dynasties could claim that China was a multiethnic and religiously plural empire, during the Yuan dynasty the already diverse Chinese polity was one portion of an even more diverse empire of global proportions. Europeans, the most famous of whom was Marco Polo (c. 12541324), traveled to and wrote about the Chinese part of the Mongol Empire, and Muslims from the Middle East and Central Asia directed financial administration for the Yuan government at the local level. Many traditions prospered in China under the Yuan. Despite the banning of all Daoist scriptures except the Dao de jing in 1281, four different Daoist movements flourished: Complete Perfection (Quanzhen), Grant Unity (Taiyi), Greatness of Perfection (Zhenda) in the north, and Correct Unity (Zhengyi) in the south. Mongol educators wittingly aided the institutionalization of Confucianism when they turned the Four Books (the Analects of Confucius, Mencius, The Great Learning, and The Doctrine of the Mean ) with Zhu Xi's commentaries into the basis for the civil service examination in 1313.

Qubilai (Chinese reign name Shizu, r. 12601294) was instrumental in placing Tibetan Buddhist clergy at the apex of the Yuan religious establishment. He received consecration (abhieka ) into the cult of Hevajra (Tibetan, Dges pa rdo rje) in 1253 and named the Tibetan prelate Blo gros rgyal mtshan (Lodro Gyaltsen, the 'Phags pa bla ma, 12351280) the imperial preceptor in 1260. Tibetan Buddhism became the new state religion, existing on top of Chinese Buddhist practices and those of other religious traditions. Buddhist symbolism proved amenable to many foreign groups who never forgot that Buddhism itself had begun outside of China. Buddhist mythology, in addition to offering models like the cakravartin monarch, easily accommodated the protector deities, shamanistic practices, and styles of ancestor veneration of the northern nomads. This complicated process of cultural mixing is apparent in the temple architecture, tomb building, and art that survives from these periods. Under the Xia dynasty the Chinese Buddhist canon was written in Tangut script, while the Yuan emperors sponsored both the printing of the Chinese canon and the translation of the Tibetan canon into Mongolian.

Buddhism in Late Imperial China

Although many events can be used to demarcate important breaks in the history of China between the fourteenth and twentieth centuries, long-term trends are also apparent during this period. One continuity is the threat to imperial sovereignty emanating from the millenarian mythology embedded in some forms of Buddhism and other religions. Daoism, Buddhism, and Manichaeism (and later Christianity) all contained subtraditions positing an imminent cataclysm of cosmic proportions and the replacement of the current regime with a new order ruled by a divine king. Buddhist versions of this eschatology, known since the fourth century, focused on the impending incarnation of Maitreya as a ruler. Already during the Yuan dynasty, Maitreya belief took new social and literary forms. This was a time of growth for sectarian groupsvoluntary organizations of laypeople not based on family ties or attendance at temples but rather defined by Buddhist belief and practice. Their members read and recited a relatively new form of vernacular sacred text, "precious scrolls" (baojuan ), which mixed mythology, moral guidance, and elements from a variety of religious traditions. Movements like the White Cloud (Baiyun) remained utterly conventional in insisting that members observe all forms of political authority. Other groups, such as the White Lotus (Bailian), frequently sought the immediate installation of new, purified regimes or were suppressed by the government for being suspected of rebellion. The man who became the first Ming emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang (13281398), was a local leader of one such movement in Anhui. His military success allowed him to wrest control from the Mongols and other adversaries and be enthroned as the Hongwu emperor (r. 13681398) of the Ming dynasty (13681644). The succeeding Qing dynasty (16441911) was founded by the Manchu people of the northeast, descendants of the Jurchens. Their leader was considered an incarnation of the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī, and all of the Qing emperors made significant visits to the temple complex on Mount Wutai (Sanxi province), where Mañjuśrī was believed to have manifested himself. With Qing imperial support, the Buddhist canon was translated into Manchu in 1790. Following the pattern of earlier dynasties, emperors regulated and manipulated Buddhist institutions, and the Ming and Qing ruling houses accorded political office to the highest ranking bla mas and other monastic authorities in Tibet and Mongolia.

Another important pattern of late imperial times is the seeming dissolution of distinctively Buddhist elements into Chinese society. During these centuries traces of Buddhism could be found almost everywhere yet not always recognized as such. Perhaps because it was so pervasive, the Buddhism of this period has received the least amount of scholarly research. The conceptual underpinnings of the ethical system of late imperial popular religion were heavily Buddhist. Although human centered, the worldview of Chinese religion had been englobed by a wider framework that included other species (animals) and forms of life (gods, hell beings). Every act, large or small, was thought to carry moral consequences, and ideas of karma were expressed in notions like "planting good roots" for future rebirths. Other myths, symbols, and rituals that derived from Buddhism had become a part of generic religious practice in annual festivals, rites of curing, exorcism, funerals, and pilgrimage. Buddhist monastic leaders like Yunqi Zhuhong (15351615) exhorted their elite followers to practice the releasing of life (freeing animals bound for the butcher), to adopt a vegetarian diet, and to refrain from wearing silk (the production of which kills silkworms) whenever possible. They promoted the joint practice of Chan-style meditation and the chanting of Amitābha Buddha's name, and they sought rapprochement among all schools of thought. Even outspoken proponents of Confucian learning launched ideas that had been heavily influenced by Buddhism. Wang Yangming (formally named Wang Shouren, 14721529) shifted the focus of Confucian discourse from principle (li) to the power of the mind and the process of moral thinking. Much as Buddhists predicated the achieving of enlightenment on the inborn capacity to become a buddha, Wang believed that ethical discernment was possible because of every person's "innate knowledge" (liangzhi ). One piece of common wisdom in late imperial times was the slogan that "the three teachings are one" (sanjiao heyi ). Different interpretations of the claim were offeredthat Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism seek a common goal, or stem from the same metaphysical ground, or form three distinct stages of cultivationbut the basic idea (often called syncretism ) was pervasive.

Increasingly during the Ming and Qing dynasties, Buddhism existed in a world that knew various forms of Christianity. Portuguese traders talked about their faith in the early 1500s, and a variety of European orders dispatched priests to China. Matteo Ricci (15521610), the most famous Jesuit in China, formulated a strategy for the propagation of Christianity after learning from the example of Buddhist missionizing. During his first years in China, Ricci adopted the dress of Buddhist monks; the two orders of monks did, after all, share a celibate lifestyle. Ricci soon felt the need, however, to distance himself from the role of ritual specialist and the suspicions cast on monks by the highest classes. He changed into the robes of the scholar, couched his message in terms derived from the Confucian classics, and drew on ancient Chinese precedents to castigate Buddhism, Daoism, and the practices of popular religion. A more pervasive Christian influence began in the early nineteenth century, when Protestant missionaries first arrived in China. They aimed at the lower strata of society and worked at the local level. They formed congregations by preaching about Jesus, translating the Bible into the spoken language, disputing Buddhist ideas of reincarnation, and railing against belief in spirits.

Buddhism in Modern China

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 (18931976) Communist Party and the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, continuing upheaval and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (19661976), the opening to foreign capital in 1978, and economic expansion and internationalization beginning in the 1990s. Propelled into the modern world so violently and in such a relatively short period of time (by comparison to Europe), China has offered many solutions to the problem of how to understand "modernity." Chinese from all walks of life debated what form government should take, what place in the world order China should occupy, and what roles science and religion should play in modern society. The answers have been complicated and varied. Intellectuals like Hu Shi (18911962) distinguished between unscientific, tradition-bound schools of thinking and rational, practical, Sinified forms of religious thoughtincluding some forms of Buddhismthat could be harnessed to modernity. Monks like Taixu (18901947), theorizing the proper social functions of Buddhism, advocated turning away from involvement in funerals and memorial services and focusing on more this-worldly concerns. Buddhist clerics in China debated the contradictions involved in armed resistance against the Japanese military, just as their Japanese brethren came to grips with and often contributed to the Japanese colonial enterprise.

Modern China provides an interesting testing ground for the interaction between Buddhism and Communism. Marxist thought in general treats religion as a superstructure of the pre-Communist state. From this perspective Buddhism is an ideology used to camouflage real suffering in the world, which is caused by ownership of the means of production (land) by the gentry and the consequent alienation of the masses. Following Mao's exhortation, Marxist philosophers viewed Buddhist monks as a nonproductive class and criticized Buddhist idealism for its opposition to a materialist concept of history. The earliest land reforms in the 1940s began to expropriate the economic basis of the monastic livelihood, and the Cultural Revolution targeted monks, nuns, teachers, doctors, and other counterrevolutionaries for harsh reeducation. Nevertheless freedom of religious belief is guaranteed in the Chinese constitution, adopted in 1954. Under new policies in the post-Mao era, private belief in any of five recognized religions (Daoism, Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism) is allowed. The Chinese Buddhist Association (Zhongguo fojiao xiehui), founded in 1953, is the government-supervised organization of clergy and laypeople. Under its auspices Buddha relics have been exchanged with other Buddhist countries, and intra-Asian missions have been sponsored. Having claimed political dominance over Tibet for centuries, the Chinese army took control of Tibet in 1959; the government formally recognized the authority of the Panchen Lama and derecognized the Dalai Lama, who escaped to India. For Tibetan Buddhists as well as Buddhist believers from other officially recognized minority groups (like those in Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai, and Xinjiang provinces), state entitlements are supposed to include the practice of traditional religion. How the government weighs this right against its perception of the overarching authority of the state to condone or extirpate any form of social action remains to be seen.

The future of Chinese Buddhism will depend increasingly on forms of Buddhism outside the Chinese mainland. Taiwan was ruled by the Japanese from 1895 to 1945, and the Nationalist Party (Guomindang or Kuomintang [KMT]) fled there in 1949. The Nationalists consciously distinguished their religious policies from those of their Communist foes and supported the practice of many forms of Chinese religion, including Buddhism. Many organized groups proliferated after the liberalization of laws regarding civic organizations in 1989, and religious revivals continued after the Nationalists lost the presidency in the 2000 elections. Taiwan in the late twentieth century saw the growth of many Buddhist organizations, including the Tzu Chi Foundation (or Buddhist Compassion Relief Merit Association [Fojiao ciji gongde hui]), founded by the nun Zhengyan (b. 1937), which emphasizes medical care, social welfare, and disaster relief; Buddha's Light International Association (Foguangshan), a broad-based, comprehensive organization of laypeople and clerics led by the monk Xingyun (b. 1927); and Dharma Drum Mountain (Fagushan), founded by the monk Shengyan (b. 1931), whose educational complex in northern Taiwan includes a Buddhist seminary, university, library, museum, and conference center. All three of these associations have branches active in other countries, Asian and Western, and they carry out exchanges with Buddhist groups in China.

Buddhist movements comprising laypeople and monastics continue to proliferate in the Chinese communities of Southeast Asia and the West. Just as Buddhism was originally carried into China from abroad, the undecided fate of Buddhism in China is now bound up with forms of Buddhism practiced elsewhere.

See Also

Amoghavajra; Aśoka; Avalokiteśvara; Bhaiajyaguru; Buddhism, Schools of, article on Chinese Buddhism; Chinese Religion, overview article; Huiyuan; Kitigarbha; Kumārajīva; Nirvāa; Politics and Religion, articles on Politics and Buddhism and Politics and Chinese Religion; Taixu; Xuanzang; Yijing; Zhu Xi.


Kenneth Ch'en, Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey (Princeton, N.J., 1964), remains a good comprehensive, one-volume survey of the field, despite its slim treatment of the period from 907 to the twenty-first century, titled "Decline." Erik Zürcher, "Perspectives in the Study of Chinese Buddhism," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 2 (1982): 161176, offers trenchant comments on the most important historiographical problems confronting the field. Bunyiu Nanjio, trans., A Catalogue of the Chinese Translation of the Buddhist Tripitaka, the Sacred Canon of the Buddhists in China and Japan (1883; reprint, San Francisco, 1975) is a translation of the table of contents of the official Ming dynasty canon. Paul Demiéville, "Les sources chinoises," in L'Inde classique, edited by Louis Renou and Jean Filliozat (Paris, 1953), vol. 2, pp. 398463, surveys the standard modern scholarly canon, Taishō shinshū daizōkyō. An overview of Chinese history that emphasizes Buddhism is Jacques Gernet, A History of Chinese Civilization, 2d ed., translated by J. R. Foster and Charles Hartman (Cambridge, U.K., 1996).

For the early centuries, the standard study is Erik Zürcher, The Buddhist Conquest of China: The Spread and Adaptation of Buddhism in Early Medieval China, 2 vols., rev. ed. (Leiden, 1972). See also Paul Demiéville, "Philosophy and Religion from Han to Sui," in The Cambridge History of China, vol. 1: The Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 bcad 220, edited by Denis Twitchett and Michael Loewe (Cambridge, U.K., 1986), pp. 808872; and Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer, Das Hung-ming chi und die Aufnahme des Buddhismus in China (Wiesbaden, Germany, 1976).

For Buddhist practice during the medieval period, see Edward L. Davis, Society and the Supernatural in Song China (Honolulu, 2001); Jacques Gernet, Buddhism in Chinese Society: An Economic History from the Fifth to the Tenth Centuries, translated by Franciscus Verellen (New York, 1995); Li-ying Kuo, Confession et contrition dans le bouddhisme chinois du Ve au Xe siècle (Paris, 1994); Stephen F. Teiser, The Ghost Festival in Medieval China (Princeton, N.J., 1988); and Stephen F. Teiser, "The Scripture on the Ten Kings" and the Making of Purgatory in Medieval Chinese Buddhism (Honolulu, 1994). The place of Buddhism in Chinese culture is discussed in Alan Cole, Mothers and Sons in Chinese Buddhism (Stanford, Calif., 1998); John Kieschnick, The Eminent Monk: Buddhist Ideals in Medieval Chinese Hagiography (Honolulu, 1997); and Peter N. Gregory, ed., Sudden and Gradual: Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought (Honolulu, 1987).

On the range of Buddhist philosophy, see Bernard Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Chan/Zen Buddhism (Princeton, N.J., 1991); Bernard Faure, The Will to Orthodoxy: A Critical Genealogy of Northern Chan Buddhism, translated by Phyllis Brooks (Stanford, Calif., 1997); Jamie Hubbard, Absolute Delusion, Perfect Buddhahood: The Rise and Fall of a Chinese Heresy (Honolulu, 2001); Ming-Wood Liu, Madhyamaka Thought in China, (Leiden, 1994); John R. McRae, Seeing through Zen: Encounter, Transformation, and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism (Berkeley, Calif., 2003); Julian Pas, Visions of Sukhāvatī: Shan-tao's Commentary on the Kuan Wu-Liang-Shou-Fo Ching (Albany, N.Y., 1995); Michel Strickmann, Mantras et mandarins: Le bouddhisme tantrique en Chine (Paris, 1996); and Brook Ziporyn, Evil and/or/as the Good: Omnicentrism, Intersubjectivity, and Value Paradox in Tiantai Buddhist Thought (Cambridge, Mass., 2000).

On Buddhism from the Song through the Ming dynasties, see Peter N. Gregory and Daniel A. Getz Jr., eds., Buddhism in the Sung (Honolulu, 1999); Yifa, The Origins of Buddhist Monastic Codes in China: An Annotated Translation and Study of the Chanyuan Qinggui (Honolulu, 2002); Ruth W. Dunnell, The Great State of White and High: Buddhism and State Formation in Eleventh-Century Xia (Honolulu, 1996); Chün-fang Yü, "Ming Buddhism," in The Cambridge History of China, vol. 8: The Ming Dynasty, 13681644, pt. 2, edited by Denis Twitchett and Frederick W. Mote (Cambridge, U.K., 1998), pp. 893952; Herbert Franke and Denis Twitchett, eds., The Cambridge History of China, vol. 6: Alien Regimes and Border States (Cambridge, U.K., 1995); Chün-fang Yü, The Renewal of Buddhism in China: Chu-hung and the Late Ming Synthesis (New York, 1981); and Timothy Brook, Praying for Power: Buddhism and the Formation of Gentry Society in Late-Ming China (Cambridge, Mass., 1993).

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries are discussed in Charles Brewer Jones, Buddhism in Taiwan: Religion and the State, 16601990 (Honolulu, 1999); Don A. Pitmann, Toward a Modern Chinese Buddhism: Taixu's Reforms (Honolulu, 2001); Holmes Welch, The Practice of Chinese Buddhism, 19001950 (Cambridge, Mass., 1967); Holmes Welch, The Buddhist Revival in China (Cambridge, Mass., 1968); Holmes Welch, Buddhism under Mao (Cambridge, Mass., 1972); Stuart Chandler, Establishing a Pure Land on Earth: The Foguang Buddhist Perspective on Modernization and Globalization (Honolulu, 2004); and Daniel L. Overmyer, ed., Religion in China Today, China Quarterly Special Issues, n.s. 3 (Cambridge, U.K., 2003).

For the interactions between Buddhism and Daoism, see Stephen R. Bokenkamp, "Sources of the Ling-pao Scriptures," in Tantric and Taoist Studies in Honour of R. A. Stein, edited by Michel Strickmann, vol. 2: Mélanges chinois et bouddhiques 21 (Brussels, 1983), pp. 434486; Stephen F. Bokenkamp, "Stages of Transcendence: The Bhūmi Concept in Taoist Scripture," in Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha, edited by Robert E. Buswell Jr. (Honolulu, 1990), pp. 119148; Livia Kohn, Monastic Life in Medieval Daoism: A Cross-Cultural Perspective (Honolulu, Hawaii, 2003); Robert H. Sharf, Coming to Terms with Chinese Buddhism: A Reading of the Treasure Store Treatise (Honolulu, 2002); Michel Strickmann, Chinese Magical Medicine, edited by Bernard Faure (Stanford, Calif., 2002); and Erik Zürcher, "Buddhist Influence on Early Taoism: A Survey of Scriptural Evidence," T'oung Pao 66, nos. 13 (1980): 84147.

Buddhism and sectarian religion are the subject of Daniel L. Overmyer, Folk Buddhist Religion: Dissenting Sects in Late Traditional China (Cambridge, Mass., 1976); and Barend ter Haar, The White Lotus Teachings in Chinese Religious History (Leiden, 1992). For relations between Buddhism and the state, see Charles D. Orzech, Politics and Transcendent Wisdom: "The Scripture for Humane Kings" in the Creation of Chinese Buddhism (University Park, Pa., 1998); Antonino Forte, Political Propaganda and Ideology in China at the End of the Seventh Century: Inquiry into the Nature, Authors and Function of the Tunhuang Document S. 6502 Followed by an Annotated Translation (Naples, Italy, 1976); Stanley Weinstein, Buddhism under the T'ang (Cambridge, U.K., 1987); and Patricia Berger: Empire of Emptiness: Buddhist Art and Political Authority in Qing China (Honolulu, 2003).

On important Buddhist deities, see Raoul Birnbaum, The Healing Buddha (Boulder, Colo., 1979); Françoise Wang-Toutain, Le bodhisattva Kitigarbha en Chine du V e au XIII e siècle (Paris, 1998); and Chün-fang Yü, Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokiteśvara (New York, 2001).

On Buddhist art, see Stanley K. Abe, Ordinary Images (Chicago, 2002); Sarah E. Fraser, Performing the Visual: The Practice of Wall Painting in China and Central Asia (Stanford, Calif., 2004); Angela Falco Howard, Summit of Treasures: Buddhist Cave Art of Dazu, China (Trumbull, Conn., 2001); and Marsha Weidner, Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism, 8501850 (Lawrence, Kans., and Honolulu, 1994).

English translations of important sūtras include Leon Hurvitz, trans., Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma (The Lotus Sūtra) (New York, 1976); Burton Watson, trans., The Lotus Sutra (New York, 1993); Luis O. Gómez, trans., The Land of Bliss: The Paradise of the Buddha of Measureless Light, Sanskrit and Chinese Versions of the Sukhāvatīvyūha Sutras (Honolulu, 1996); Red Pine, trans., The Diamond Sutra: The Perfection of Wisdom (Washington, D.C., 2001); Burton Watson, trans., The Vimalakirti Sutra (New York, 1996); and Thomas Cleary, trans., The Flower Ornament Scripture: A Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra, 3 vols. (Boulder, Colo., and Boston, 19841987). For works composed in China, see Robert E. Buswell Jr., ed., Chinese Buddhist Apocrypha (Honolulu, 1990); Neal Donner and Daniel B. Stevenson, The Great Calming and Contemplation: A Study and Annotated Translation of the First Chapter of Chih-i's "Mo-ho chih-kuan," (Honolulu, 1993); Philip B. Yampolsky, trans., The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (New York, 1967); Burton Watson, trans., The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi: A Translation of the Lin-chi lu (New York, 1999); and Thomas Cleary, trans., No Barrier: Unlocking the Zen Koan; A New Translation of the Zen Classic Wumenguan (Mumonkan) (New York, 1993). For popular literature influenced by Buddhism, see Victor H. Mair, trans., Tun-huang Popular Narratives (Cambridge, U.K., 1983); Anthony C. Yu, trans., The Journey to the West, 4 vols. (Chicago, 19771983); and Daniel L. Overmyer, Precious Volumes: An Introduction to Chinese Sectarian Scriptures from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Cambridge, Mass., 1999).

Stephen F. Teiser (2005)

About this article

Buddhism: Buddhism in China

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article


Buddhism: Buddhism in China