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Religions in China - Buddhism

The Historical Buddha - Teachings of the Buddha - Small and Great Vehicle - Buddhism in China - Eminent Monks - Buddhist Literature: Chinese Tripitaka - Excursion: Pali Canon - Important Schools - Lamaism in Tibet

The Historical Buddha

Buddhism was founded by Siddharta Gautama, a prince of the Shakya familiy that reigned over a small kingdom in modern Nepal. His epithet Shakyamuni (chin.: Shijiamouni 釋迦牟尼) means "Wise of the Shakya", other epitets are arhata "Thoroughly saint" and tathagata "Thus Come One" (chin.: Rulai 如來). He was born in the Lumbini grove during the 6th century BC and was kept free from knowledge of daily suffering in the palace. During a ride he first became aware of human suffering in shape of an sick person, an old man and a funeral. Very upset by these visions of true life, Siddharta left his family and for seven years lived as an ascetic, only to find out that the extreme ascetic life was not able to solve from suffering. He further relied upon meditation (dhyana, chin.: chan 禪) to arrive at the conclusions that made him a Buddha ("Enlightened Man", chin.: fo 佛 or Zhengjue 正覺), after being tempted by the evils of the world sent by the hell spirit Mara or Yama (chin.: mo 魔, yemo 夜摩), under a fig tree ("Bodhi tree", chin.: putishu 菩提樹). In Isipattna/Benares, the Enlightened began to teach his sermons, the "Wheel of Teaching" (dharmacakra, chin.: falun 法輪; a wheel is the symbol of Buddhism, sometimes stylized as svastika 卍, chin.: wan), in Kusinara Buddha died and entered the nirvana ("extinction", chin.: ji 寂), free from the misery of karma (intended deeds and their accumulated results, the eternal rebirth; chin.: yinguo 因果) and the rotation of the world (samsara, chin.: zhuanlun 轉輪). The stories of his life and enlightenment (chin.: wu 悟, jap.: satori) are accounted in the jataka tales (chin.: fo zhuan gushi 佛傳故事; especially birth stories, chin.: shousheng 受生). Among his close disciples was the famous Ananda (chin.: Anantuo 阿難陀).

Teachings (dharma) of the Buddha

Buddha found out the Four Noble Truths (chin.: sidi 四諦) that lead to rebirth, the form of which is a result of doings and behaviour accumulated during the past lifes of a person: life is suffering, and the cause for the suffering is craving for existence and sensual pleasures. This suffering can be suppressed by the Eightfold Path (chin.: bashengdao 八聖道): right views, right intentions, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfullness, and right concentration (yoga). To successfully walk on the eightfold path, it is necessary to observe a strict moral discipline, not to commit evil, but to do good, and to purify one's own mind by mental discipline, fixing it at the important part of doings. Lead by intuitive wisdom (prajna; chin.: zhihui 智慧), the meditating person is able to know that he has to give up imaginations of a permanent self or soul in favour of the non-self (anatman, chin.: wuwo 無我). During life, a person is only a conglomeration of the five aggregats or factors (skandha, chin.: wuyin 五陰: se 色, shou 受, xiang 想, xing 行, shi 識): body, sensation, perception, predisposition and consciousness. Another pattern of explanation is the chain of causation, ignorance being the base, leading to predisposition, consciousness, name and form, the six senses, sensation, contact, craving, grasping, becoming, leading to birth, and birth leading to age and death. A normal being that is not able to enter the nirvana at least tries to become a heavenly being (deva, chin.: tian 天 or Da Fan Tianwang 大梵天王). The Three Jewels (sanbao 三寶) of the Buddhist religion are Buddha, his teaching (dharma, chin.: fa 法) and the community (sangha, chin.: seng 僧).
Buddhist cosmology bases on the Hindu world image that is much more complex than the unsystematic chinese cosmic picture. Mount Sumeru (short: Meru) is the center of this world, which is only one of millions of worlds that will perish after millions of years only to be replaced by a new one. Every world has its own Buddha who acts as world master, therefore depicted by huge Buddha sculptures.

Small and Great Vehicle

The early history of Buddhism is less then clear. There have been a handfull of conciles to fix the teachings of the Buddha, the concile of Pataliputra in 245 BC tried to fix the teachings in book form, the so called "Three Baskets Canon" Tripitaka. It is fully preserved in Pali language and consists of the writings about discipline (vinaya, chin.: 律), teachings (sutras), and comments (abidharma 論). When Buddhist parishes divided into different sects, is not known. The more conservative form of Buddhism is the confession Theravada ("Way of the Elders"; also called "Small Vehicle", Hinayana, chin.: Xiaosheng 小乘 [not cheng!]), basing on the Pali canon. It is a discipline for personal salvation by the individual, possible only for those who join the monasteric order as monk or nun, at least for a short time, to accumulate enough meritorious karma for one's own salvation. In this way, Buddhism is only a caste-less Hinduism that makes it possible to escape rebirth. Theravada Buddhism spread over Sri Lanka, Myanmar and the Indochina Peninsula.
The confession of the Great Vehicle, Mahayana (chin.: Dasheng 大乘), instead spread from Kashmir, Gandhara, Soghdia and Inner Asia into China, and further to Korea and Japan. It teaches that salvation is possible to all sentient beings because they posses the Buddha nature in them and hence all have the potentiality of being enlightened. Enlightenment is simply achieved by faith and devotion to Buddha and the religious ideal, the Bodhisattva (chin.: Pusa 菩薩), Pratyekabuddha (chin.: Pizhifo 辟支佛) or Arhat (chin.: Aluohan 阿羅漢, short: Luohan). These beings, though qualified to enter nirvana, delay their final entry in order to bring every sentient being across the sea of misery to the calm shores of enlightenment. The most important Bodhisattvas are Manjushri (chin.: Wenshushili 文殊師利), the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Avalokiteshvara ("Observing the Sounds of the World", chin.: Guanshiyin 觀世音, short: Guanyin, or Guanzizai 觀自在), the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and Samantabhadra ("Universal Goodness", chin.: Puxian 普賢), the Meditation Teacher. Buddha appears in different shapes, according to the belief that Buddha appears in every age in a special appearance, like Amitabha (Amitayus, "Buddha of Endless Light", chin.: Namo Amituofo 南無阿彌陀佛, jap.: Amida Butsu) or Vairocana "Universal Illuminator" or Lokeshvaraja (chin.: Pilushena 毘盧舍那, short: Lushena), the Buddha of the Past; Maitreya (chin.: Milefo 彌勒佛), the Buddha of Future. The Light Buddhas are clearly an influence of Iranian religion with the god of light, Ahuramazda. Compare a text from the Large Amitabha Sutra. Popular Great Vehicle Buddhism is very fond of describing and depicting hells and heavens and the many Arhats, best seen in the wall paintings of Dunhuang.

Buddhism in China

The first Buddhist parishes are found in China in the 1st century AD and focused mainly on the suppression of passions by means of meditation, charity and compassion. The monastery claiming to have been the first in China is the White Horse Monastery (Baimasi 白馬寺) near Luoyang. Many similarities with Taoism made Buddhism look like another sect of Huang-Lao-Taoism; both religions have no sacrificial ritus, believe both in immortality and operate with concentration, meditation and abstinence. The early translations of Buddhist sutras all used Taoist terms to paraphrase the complicated construct of Buddhist metaphysical philosophy, like dao 道 for dharma, bodhi, yoga, or zhenren 真人 as arhat, wuwei 無為 as nirvana, and ming 命 as karma. Later translators were more cautious in translating Buddhist terms and sometimes did not even dare to translate it. Nirvana was simply transscribed as niepan 涅盤, abhidharma as apidamo 阿毘達摩. Experienced tranlators of Tang Dynasty finally were able to define exact terms of translation: ji 寂 and lun 論, in our example. The first great time of Buddhism in China was during the Eastern Jin Dynasty, when the new religion entered the gentry class. Disappointed and not more interested in governmental officials, the landowning class joined the Buddhist community. But also scholars, that were more interested in Taoism since the end of the Later Han Dynasty, became fond of the new religion, that gave both groups a stronghold in a time of ceaseless war. The Non-Chinese rulers of the Northern Wei Dynasty converted to Buddhism and saw themselves as personification of the Buddha. The maturity and great age of Buddhism in China was the Tang Dynasty when emperors spent their wealth to establish monasteries and sculptures in different Buddhist caves. But this age was not free of persecution, especially by Confucian oriented statesman that wanted to get rid of the foreign religion. Many people converted and entered a monastery to escape military service and tax paying. The revival of Confucianism under the Song Dynasty caused the decline of Buddhism as a state religion. But as popular belief, Buddhism is still very widespread, but highly mixed with Taoist belief.
The transition of the foreign religion into a Chinese one was made easy especially by the ideal of charity and compassion of Great Vehicle Buddhism. Both terms are quite similar to the Confucian idea of filial piety and the compassion of the ruler for his subjects. Other concepts of Buddhism are quite contrary to Confucianism (suffering - enjoying; celibacy - family; mendicant monks - productive farmers; monastic community - subordination under the state), but the missing of a central power during the 3rd and 4th centuries gave room for the Buddhist religion of salvation of the individual. The power of spells and charms had a great attraction not only to Chinese peasants, but also for the foreign rulers in the north. Finally, many people escaped military service and tax duty by entering a monastery. Looking at Confucianism, we see that this state doctrine is totally lacking the aspect of the spiritual world (except ancestor veneration), and it is quite understandable that people found a good way to meet their religious needs in Buddhism.
Buddhism and its representative objects became part of the Chinese culture like dragons and chopsticks. The Laughing Buddha ("Pot-Belly Buddha") is the transformation of an Indian askete into a deity objecting Chinese ideals. The Indian stupa, a small buildings that contains relics of the Buddha or his scholars, and at the same time symbolizing the center of the Indian universe, mount Meru, became the Ceylonese dagoba, the Thai chedi, the Tibetian cherten (the most beautiful being erected in Katmandu/Nepal), and finally the Chinese nine-floor pagoda (ta 塔).

Eminent monks: translators, teachers, and travellers

The first monks in China all were foreigners, the first Chinese clerics are found from the 4th century on. An Shigao 安世高 (mid 2nd cent.) was the first translator of Buddhist sutras (chin.: jing 經) from Sanskrit (chin.: Fan 梵) into Chinese. During the Jin Dynasty, the teaching of prajna ("sage wisdom") became prevalent, manifested in the sutra Prajnaparamita ("Perfection of wisdom"), translated by Dharmaraksha (chin.: Zhu Fahu 竺法護) in 291. Other representatives of this school were Zhi Dun 支盾 (d. 366) and Xi Chao 郗超 (d. 377). The 4th and 5th century brought up a number of famous monks of Chinese and Non-Chinese origin who tried to translate accurately Buddhist sutras into Chinese and to make the early translations free from Taoist tought and terms: Fotu Cheng 佛圖澄 (d. 349), Kumarajiva 鳩摩羅什 (413), Faxian 法顯 who travelled in 399 to India to bring back the whole corpus of Vinaya texts "Rules of Discipline" (chin.: 律) and translated them into Chinese, Daoan 道安 (d. 385) who compiled a catalogue of sutras and promoted the Maitreya cult, Huiyuan 慧遠 (d. 416) who promoted the Amitabha cult and together with Buddhabhadra 佛馱跋陀羅 (chin.: Juexian 覺賢) the practice of meditation and yoga, and Daosheng 道生 (d. 434) who focused on the Nirvana-sutra, like Dharmakshema (chin.: Tanwuchen 曇無讖, around 400). The Chinese monks did not only translate the sutras that Indian and Inner Asian missionaries had brought them, but many translators brought back the Buddhist writings from India themselves, like Dharmaraksha, Faxian, Huisheng 慧生, Xuanzhao 玄照, Buddhadharma, Yijing 義淨 and Zhihong. But the most famous pilgrim was the translator Xuanzang 玄奘 who even figures as the main person in the Ming time novel Journey to the West. With the closure of the trade routes by the Arabs and Tibetians, the decline of Tang central government and the proscriptions of Buddhism in the 840ies, pilgrim travels were ended.

Chinese Buddhist Literature

By the end of Tang Dynasty, almost all Buddhist scriptures were translated into Chinese, and many catalogues have been compiled to collect the different translations of all the sutras. The most important catalogues are:
Zongli zhongjing mulu 綜理眾經目錄 "Comprehensive catalogue of sutras" by Daoan 道安, unfortunately not preserved
Chu sanzang jiji
出三藏記集 "Collection of records concerning the Tripitaka" by Sengyou 僧祐
Zhongjing mulu
眾經目錄 "Catalgue of collected sutras" by Fajing 法經
Kaiyuan shijiao lu 開元釋教錄 "Catalogue of the Kaiyuan era on Buddhism" by Zhisheng 智昇
The whole corpus of Chinese Buddhist writings is compound in the so-called Tripitaka "Threefold basket" (Sanzang 三藏). The modern edition of that corpus was made in Japan under the Taishô Emperor from 1922-1933, therfore called Taisho Daizokyo 大正大藏經 "Great Sutra Storehouse of the Taisho era" (chin.: Dazheng Dazangjing). It is divided into 86 volumes, distributed into the sermons of the Buddha (Sutras; jing 經); the Vinaya writings (rules of discipline; 律); the Abhidharma writings ("Higher Subtleties"; chin.: lun 論 or apitan 阿毘曇); Madhyamika ("Middle path", i.e. Great Vehicle; chin.: zhongdao 中道) and Vijnanavada (Idealistic School; chin.: Weishizong 唯識宗) writings; shastra (treatises; chin.: lun 論); commentaries by Chinese monks; literature of the various Chinese schools; historical records; encyclopedias; catalogues.
  • 1.-2. Agama Sutras (Ahan 阿含 1-151)
  • 3.-4. Past Conditions Sutras (Benyuan 本緣 152-219)
    • Puyao jing 普曜經 (sankr.: Lalitavistara) T0186
    • Buddhacarita (chin.: Fo Suo Xing Zan 佛所行讚; by Ashvaghosha 馬鳴, translated by Dharmakshema 曇無讖; T0192)
    • Parable Sutra (chin. Piyu Jing 譬喻經; T0217)
  • 5.-8. Prajna Sutras (Banruo 般若 220-261)
    • Great Sutra of Perfection of Wisdom (Da Banruo Boluomi Jing 大般若波羅蜜經, short Da Banruo Jing 大般若經; sanskr.: Maha-Prajna-Paramita-Sutra; translated by Xuanzang 玄奘; T0220)
    • Guangzan Jing 光讚經 (sanskr.: Pancavimshatisahasrika-sutra; translated by Dharmaraksha 竺法護; T0222)
    • Damingdu Jing 大明度經 (T0225)
    • Diamond Cutter Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom (chin.: Jingang Banruo Boluomi Jing 金剛般若波羅蜜經, short Jingang Jing 金剛經 "Diamond Sutra"; sanskr.: Prajnaparamita-Vajracchedika-Sutra; translated by Kumarajiva 鳩摩羅什; T0235)
    • Heart Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom (chin.: Banruo Bolomiduo Xin Jing 般若波羅蜜多心經, short Xin Jing 心經 "Heart Sutra"; sanskr.: Prajnaparamita-Hrivaya-Sutra; T0251)
  • 9. Dharma Blossoms Sutras (Fahua 法華 262-277)
    • Lotus Sutra (chin.: Miaofa Lianhua Jing 妙法蓮華經, short Fahua Jing 法華經; sanskr.: Saddharmapundarika-Sutra; translated by Kumarajiva 鳩摩羅什; T0262)
      Zheng Fa Hua Jing 正法華經 T0263
    • Wuliangyi Jing 無量義經; translated by 曇摩伽陀耶舎; T0276)
    • How the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra Exerts the Law, Explained by the Buddha (chin. Fo Shuo Guan Puxian Pusa Xingfa Jing 佛説觀普賢菩薩行法經, short Puxian Guan Jing 普賢觀經; translated by Dharmamitra 曇無蜜多; T0277)
  • 9.-10. Flower Garland Sutras (Huayan 華嚴 278-309)
    • Garland Sutra of the Great Universal Buddha (chin.: Dafangguang Fo Huayan Jing 大方廣佛華嚴經; sanskr. Maha-Vaipulya-Avatamsaka-Sutra; translated by Buddhabhadra 佛駄跋陀; T0278)
  • 11.-12. Treasure Trove Sutras (Baoji 寶積 310-373)
    • Sutra of the Infinite Lifespan, explained by the Buddha (chin: Fo Shuo Wuliangshou Jing 佛說無量壽經, short: "Larger Amitabha Sutra"; translated by Samghavarman 康僧鎧; T0360)
    • Sutra on the Contemplation of the Buddha of Infinite Lifespan, explained by the Buddha (chin. Fo Shuo Guan Wuliangshou Fo Jing 佛說觀無量壽佛經, short "Contemplation Sutra"; translated by Kalayashas 畺良耶舎; T0365)
    • Amitabha Sutra, explained by the Buddha (chin. Fo Shuo Amituo Jing 佛說阿彌陀經; sanskr: ; translated by Kumarajiva 鳩摩羅什; 366)
  • 12. Nirvana Sutras (Niepan 涅槃 374-396)
    • Great Parinirvana Sutra (chin. Da Banniepan Jing 大般涅槃經, short: Niepan Jing 涅槃經 "Nirvana Sutra"; sanskr. Maha-Parinirvana-Sutra; translated by Jnanabhadra 慧嚴 and others; T0375)
  • 13. Great Collection Sutras (Daji 大集 397-424)
  • 14.-17. Miscellaneous Sutras (Jingji 經集 425-847)
    • Vimalakirti-Nirdesha-Sutra (chin. Weimojie Suo Shuo Jing 維摩詰所說經, short Weimo Jing 維摩經; translated by Kumarajiva 鳩摩羅什; T0475)
    • Lankavatara-Sutra (chin.: Lengqie Abaduoluo baojing 楞伽阿跋多羅寶經, short: Ru Lengqie Jing 入楞伽經; translated by Bodhiruci 菩提流支; T0671)
  • 18.-21. Secret Schools (Mijiao 密教 848-1420)
  • 22.-24. Vinayas ( 律 1421-1504)
  • 25. Indian Sutras and Shastras (Shijinglun 釋經論 1505-1535)
    • Da Zhidu lun 大智度論 (sanskr. Maha-Prajnaparamita-Shastra), a commentary to the Prajnaparamita-Sutra by Nagarjuna 龍樹, translated by Kumarajiva 鳩摩羅什; T1509
  • 26.-29. Abidharma Texts (Pitan 毘曇 1536-1563)
  • 30. Madhyamika Texts (Zhongguan 中觀 1564-1578)
    • Sanlun 三論 "Three treatises": Zhong Lun 中論 (sankr. Madhyamaka-Shastra; T1564), Shiermen Lun 十二門論 (sanskr.: Dvadashanikaya-Shastra; 1568), and Bai Lun 百論 (sanskr. Shata-Shastra; T1569); all translated by Kumarajiva 鳩摩羅什
  • 30.-31. Yogacarin Texts (Yuqie 瑜伽 1579-1627)
    • Yuqie Lun "Discourse on the Stages of Concentration Practice" (chin. Yuqie Shidi Lun 瑜伽師地論, short Yuqie Lun 瑜伽論; sanskr. Yogacara-Bhumi-Shastra; translated by Xuanzang 玄奘; T1579)
  • 32. Miscellaneous Shastras (Lunji 論集 1628-1692)
    • Satyasiddhi-Shastra (chin. Chengshi Lun 成實論; by Harivarman 訶梨跋摩, translated by Kumarajiva 鳩摩羅什; T1646)
  • 33.-44. Commentaries to Sutras, Vinayas and Shastras (Jingshu 經疏 1693-1803, Lüshu 律疏 1804-1815, Lunshu 論疏 1816-1850)
  • 44.-48. Writings of Different Schools (Zhuzong 諸宗 1851-2025)
    • Zhao Lun "Zhao's Discourses" 肇論, a discussion of problems of Buddhist philosophy in China, by Sengzhao 僧肇 T1858
    • Pure Land Treatise (Jingtu Lun 淨土論) by Jiecai 迦才 T1963
    • Green Cliff Records (Foguo Huanwu Chanshi Biyan Lu 佛果圜悟禪師碧巖錄, short Biyan Lu 碧巖錄, a collection of Chan riddles by Xuedu Zhongxian 雪竇重顯 and Huanwu T2003
  • 48.-52. Historical Writings (Shizhuan 史傳 2026-2120)
    • Gaoseng Zhuan 高僧傳 by Huijiao 慧皎, "Biographies of Eminent Monks" T2059
    • Hongmingji 弘明集, an apologetic text of Buddhism by Sengyou 僧祐 T2102
  • 53.-54. (Shihui 事彙 2121-2136)
  • 54. Outer Teachings (Waijiao 外教 2137-2144)
  • 55. Catalogues (Mulu 目錄 2145-2184)
  • 85. Fragments (Guyi 古逸 2732-2864)
  • 85. Apocryphal Text (Yisi 疑似 2865-2920)
Other writings that are not encluded in the Tripitaka comprise a vast diversity of biographical, philosophical, encyclopedical and even poetry writings, some freely translated from the Sanskrit original, but there exist also many Buddhist writings by Chinese Buddhists:
Mouzi lihuo lun 牟子理惑論, an essay about controversies between Buddhism and Chinese tradition (3rd cent.)
Foguo Ji 佛國記 "Record of Buddhist kingdoms", a report of the traveler Faxian (around 400)
Fayuan Zhulin 法苑珠林, an encyclopedia by Daoshi 道世
Many rulers and eminent persons wrote poems about Buddhism and Buddhist life, among them the Empress Wu Zetian.
Yaoshi Jing 藥師經 "Sutra of the Master of Medicine"
Dabei Chan 大悲懺 "Great Compassion Penance"

Excursion: While the Mahayana tradition ("Great Vehicle") of Buddhism in China, Korea and Japan is based on the Chinese Tripitaka Canon, the Theravada or Hinayana tradition ("Smaller Vehicle") is based on the Pali Canon (Pali is a Middle Age Indian language). The composition of the Pali Canon is older than that of the Sanskrit Mahayana tradition. The order of writings - and their content - is different to the Chinese Tripitaka. The main sections of the Pali Canon are:
  • Vinaya Pitaka ("Basket of Rules"): rules of the monastery community and the stories behind the different rules. 1. Suttavibhanga (basic rules for monks and nuns); 2. Khandhaka (sermons and etiquette); and 3. Parivara (recapitulation)
  • Sutta Pitaka ("Basket of Discourses"): the sermons of the Enlightened, divided into five collections: 1. Digha Nikaya ("long discourses", including the Pali Nirvana Sutra); 2. Majjhima Nikaya ("middle-length discourses"); 3. Samyutta Nikaya ("grouped discourses"); 4. Anguttara Nikaya ("further factored discourses"); and 5. Khuddaka Nikaya ("smaller discourses")
  • Abhidamma Pitaka ("Basket of Explanations"): Exegeses, Annotations, Researches and Explications to the sutra section, divided into seven books.

Important Schools of Chinese Buddhism

The Pure Land School (Jingtu Zong 淨土宗, jap.: Jodo Shu, kor.: Chòngt'o Jong) that focuses on the simple Amitabha (chin.: Namo Amituofo 南無阿彌陀佛; jap.: Amida, kor.: Amit'a) cult, was already founded by Huiyuan 慧遠 during Eastern Jin, but the monk Shandao 善導 (d. 681) was its forming patriarch. Its basic writing is the Wuliangshou Jing 無量壽經 in a short and a long version. Both decribe the Western Paradise, the access to which is possible by meritorious deeds as well as faith and devotion to the Amitabha Buddha. A central deity in Jingtu Buddhism is the Guanyin (jap.: Kan'on) Bodhisattva, the Chinese form of the Avalokiteshvara. Shandao wrote that five activities could lead to rebirth in the Western Paradise: uttering the name of the Buddha (nian Fo 念佛), chanting the sutras, meditating on the Buddha, worshipping and singing praises to the Buddha. The Pure Land School is one of the most popular of Buddhist schools and has still many believers today. See an example of the Larger Amitabha Sutra.
The Tiantai School 天台宗 (Tiantai Zong, jap.: Tendai Shu, kor.: Ch'ontae Jong) was founded by Zhiyi 智顗 (d. 597), basing on the Lotus Sutra. According to Zhiyi, the Buddha taught different Sutras during his lifetime. Because the early sermons, were too complicated for the mass, the Buddha relied on simplier "Scriptures" (agama, chin.: ahan 阿含) to preach. Later on, he preached the elementary vaipulya "broad and equal" (chin.: fangdeng 方等) sutras of the Great Vehicle, to end with the "Sutra of Perfection of Wisdom" (Prajnaparamita-sutra) and the Nirvana and Lotus Sutras. A central teaching of the Tiantai school is the Threefold Truth (santi 三諦): voidness of all things, temporariness of all phenomena, and the synthesis of emptiness and phenomenal existence as the truth of the mean or middle. The absolute mind embraces the universe in its entirety, small and huge things. To separate one's consciousness from worldy phenomena (dharma), spiritual concentration and insight consiousness help to become aware of the non-existence of all appearance and that all is a manifestation of the absolute mind. The Buddha nature can even be found in inanimate things.
Fazang 法藏 (d. 712) founded the Garland School (Huayan,, jap. Kegon, kor.: Hwaòm) 華嚴宗, basing on the Garland Sutra 華嚴經. The empty phenomena are thought to arose simultaneously by themselves. The static principle (li 理) and the dynamic phenomenon (shi 事; things and their appearance) of the emptiness are interfused and mutually identified. No phenomenon can exist independently and alone, all things depend on others and are combined to a whole. This system of totality finally points to the Buddha in the center.
A very special school that renounced dogma, asceticism, rites and the traditional monastery system, was the Chan School 禪宗 (Chan Zong, jap.: Zen Shu, kor.: Jòn Jong; a term deriving from the Sanskrit word dhyâna "meditation, yoga"), founded by Bodhidharma (chin.: Putidamo 菩提達摩; d. 524) and Huineng 慧能 (d. 713; see an excerpt from his writing "Altar Sutra" Tanjing). The believers of Chan relied on riddles (gongan 公案) and spontaneous actions to achieve enlightenment. Because of the emptiness (shunyata; chin.: kong 空) of reality, the Buddha nature can only be apprehended by intuition. Avoiding conscious thought, reality is expressed by silence or negation of the object in mind. It was the Chan School that also developed the worldwide known fighting techniques (gongfu 功夫, "Kung-fu") in the Shaolin Monastery 少林寺. The spontaneity thought of Chan Buddhism is familiar to Taoism and the nature-near spontaneous action of the free individual. Chan monks also composed writings like the "Green Cliff Records" Biyan Lu 碧巖録, and the "Gateless Pass" Wumenguan 無門關.
Important branches of the Chan School are the Caodong School 曹洞宗, Linji School 臨濟宗.
The Idealistic School (Faxiang Zong 法相宗) was founded by the great pilgrim Xuanzang 玄奘 (d. 664) and based on the Mahayana-samgraha "Compendium of the Great Vehicle" and the Yogacarin writings. According to the idealistic teachings, the external world is but a fabrication of our consciousness and does not really exist and is only an illusion. The five sensual consiousnesses like sight, hearing, and so on, are helped by the conscious mind, which forms conceptions out of the perceptions received from outside. A seventh consciousness is the thought center, and finally the storehouse consciousness, which stores and coordinates all the ideas reflected in the mind. This school did not survive the great persecutions of 845 AD.
Very little impact on the history of Chinese Buddhism had the Sattyasiddhi School (Chengshi Zong 成實宗) that was originally a Theravada school but was oriented to Mahayana by its explanation that Buddhahood can be attained by destroying the attachment to names, elements and emptiness. Its main writing is the Sattyasiddhi-Shastra.
The School of the Middle Path (Zhongdao Zong 中道宗 or Zhongguan Pai 中觀派), is the Chinese branch of the Indian Madhyamika School that seeks a middle way between two extremes like existence and non-existence, between emptiness and non-emptiness. The most important representatives of this school were Buddhapalita (chin. Fohuo佛護; d.540) and Candrakirti (chin. Yuecheng 月稱, d. 650).
A branch of the Madhyamika School is the Three Treatise School (Sanlun Zong 三論宗). The most important representative is Jizang 吉蔵 whose thought bases upon the three treatises Zhong Lun 中論, Shiermen Lun 十二門論, and Bai Lun 百論, all writings that deeply influenced the Chinese Tiantai and Huayan Schools.
Less important are the two vinaya schools Jielü Zong 戒律宗 and Nanshan Zong 南山宗, the Nirvana School (Niepan Zong 涅槃宗), and the School of Consciousness (Weishi Zong 唯識宗).

Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism (Lamaism)

The native religion of Tibet is the so-called Bon religion, a belief in spirits, demons and ghosts in nature, that can bring good and evil. Sorcery and magic were influential instruments of Tibetan religion. Buddhism was introduced into Tibet during the 7th century by a Tantric master named Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpotche), but it was only during the 11th century that Buddhism gained a real foothold in Tibet. The resulting religion was Lamaism (tibetan bla-ma means "Superior"), that is Tantric Buddhism mixed with a good portion of the Bon religion. A special feature of Lamaism is that abbotship of a monastery is inheritable, thus creating monastery dynasties. When the Tibetans submitted to the Mongols during the 13th century, the nomadic people was quite ready to replace their shamanism by the the more subtle and systematized magic of Tibetan Buddhism.
Tantric Buddhism, also called Tantrayana, Mantrayana or Vajrayana (vajra means "thunderbold" or "diamond", chin.: jingang 金剛), in the West sometimes called "Diamond Vehicle", is a third confession of Buddhism. According to Tantrism, freeing from ignorance is possible by esoteric consecration, diving into the cosmic relations. Magic spells are of great importance to defend oneself from evil and temptation. Tantra (chin.: mi 密 "secret", jap.-chin.: shingon 真言 "true words"), esoteric literature, borrows many items from Hindu mythology but gives them a new meaning. Gods and their females counterparts are symbols of function, energy and will of the universe. Four kinds of instruments help to transform knowledge into action: Mantras (chin.: zhou 咒) like the famous "om mani padme hum" (Oh, the jewel in the lotus!) are mystic syllables sometimes without real meaning, are seen as a shortcut to enlightenment (see an example of a mantra in the Heart Sutra). Mandalas (chin.: ti 體) are cosmograms, a picture of the universe with all its deities and beings, easily being destroyed to show the vanity of what the five senses feel. Mudras (chin.: yin 印) are gestures by a particular position of hand and fingers, showing words without sound. Abishekas (chin.: huanding 頂) are sacraments like baptization and yoga practices. A special yoga practice is the unio mystica or sexual unification of a priest symbolizing a deity and a virgin, showing his counterpart. Only known in Tibetan Buddhism are the prayer mill, prayer flag, while prayer rosaries are also known to Chinese Buddhism. Depictings of Tantrist deities show a god and his corresponding goddess, like the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (tibet.: Chenresi) and the female Tara-Dolma. Another kind of presentation in Tantrism is the emanation of a deity, that means that above the head of Buddha or the god of death appear heads of the deity itself, - the Buddha is multiplied, having eleven watching heads and thousand helping arms. The counterpart deity of Bodhisattva Manjushri is Yamantaka, the god of death. Tibetian Buddhist art makes use of rolled pictures, called thanka, that are rolled out during festivities and then cover a whole mountain slope. In proper China, Tantrism could only flourish for a short time during the 8th century, and was ostracized because of the obscenity of its secret cults.
The head of Tibetian Lamaism is the Dalai Lama, a title granted to the head of the Yellow Cap sect by the Mongols who helped the Tsong-ka-pa to reform Tibetian Buddhism and to fight against the old Red Cap sect. The second highest person is the Panchen Lama, the third is the Karmapa who belongs to another school.

2000ff. © Ulrich Theobald · Mail