Development of Buddhism in East Asia

Geographically, the regions which are included in East Asia are China and Japan. In this region, the influence of Hinduism was not as great as the influence of Buddhism. This was because the philosophy of life of the Chinese and Japanese is similar to Buddhism.

Buddhism in China

Buddhism came to China in the middle of the 1 st century AD when China was ruled by Emperor Ming-Ti (58-76 AD). In the 6th century AD, Buddhism developed even better because it was protected by the government of Emperor Liang. Besides, under the region of the Tang Dynasty (518-907 AD), many Buddhist travelers went to India.

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In 845 AD, a sad incident happened to Buddist people. They were tortured by the followers of Taoism and Kunfu-tse. The Buddhist monks were forced to abandon Buddhism. Because of that, Buddhism never became people’s religion in China, only the monks were required to obey Buddist rules.

They were two schools of Buddhism that developed in China, were Ch’an School and Amida School. Ch’an was meditative by developing Madhyamika metaphysics that was combined with Prajnaparamita and Yogacara teachings.

The three teachings were adapted to the condition of China. The world Ch’an means meditation, which is the same in meaning as the Sanskrit word dhyana. Ch’an was founded by Bodhidharma in 527 AD. The three teachings say that Buddha cannot be obtained from a statue or a book because Buddha exists in people’s hearts.

Buddhism can be achieved outside the book whereas the book is used to guide people toward Buddhism. Accordingly, the school stresses meditation as a way of obtaining direct enlightenment.

In 650 AD, the Amida School appeared and it concentrated on worshipping Amithabha (o-mi-to-fo). Kuan-Yin, a goddess adored by ancient people, was closely associated with the worshipping of Amitabha. Kuan-Yin was regarded as Bodhisattva Buddha. The praising of Devi Kuan Yin was conducted to ask for help in times of hardship or to ask for a baby.

Buddhism in Japan

Buddhism came to Japan from China via Korea. Geographically, Korea is close to Japan, so Chinese culture came into Japan through this country.

In 552 AD, the king of Korea sent an envoy to Japan. The envoy brought a gift of a Buddha statue made of gold and several Buddhist manuscripts. Besides, some Buddhist priests were also sent to teach the Japanese the religion coming from India. The propagation of Buddhism in Japan was protected by Prince Shotoku Taishi (600 AD). He was a very faithful Buddhist.

Prince Shotoku sent many messengers to China in order to learn Chinese culture. It was during the life of Prince Shotoku that Buddhism flourished and was very influential in Japan. Prince Shotoku was even unwilling to rule by force.

He advised his people to behave well and be faithful to their religious duties. Prince Shotoku died in 612 AD but Buddhism kept developing and stayed alongside Shintoism. Many Japanese aristocrats professed Buddhism, but most of the people kept professing Shintoism.

Later on, in the 8th century AD, many pagodas, temples, and Buddha statues appeared especially in the area of Nara. In line with the development of Buddhism, science, and arts also developed in Japan.

Chinese arts became models of Japanese arts. Chinese literature also had a lot of influence on Japanese literature. Due to the close relationship between Japan and China a school of thought developed in Japan that tried to change the structure of the Japanese government modeling on the Chinese system.

Next article: Development of Buddhism in Southeast Asia

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