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Religions in China - Buddhist Schools

Consciousness Only School (Weishi) -
Vinaya School (Lüzong) -
Garland School (Huayan) -
Faxiang School -
Pure Land School (Jingtu) -
Tiantai School -
Chan/Zen School -
Tantric School (Mizong)



Satyasiddhi School (Chengshizong 成實宗)

Very little impact on the history of Chinese Buddhism had the Satyasiddhi 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 (Chin. Chengshilun 成實論).

Nirvana School (Niepanshi 涅槃師)

The Nirvana School (Niepanshi 涅槃師) concentrates on the propagation of the nirvana theory via the Nirvana Sutra in various translations and editions (the oldest translation was made by Faxian 法顯 and Buddhabadra "Fotuobatuoluo 佛陀跋陀羅": Daban nihuan jing 大般泥洹經, T 376). The larger edition is the Da niepan jing 大般涅槃經 by Dharmakśema ("Tanwuchen 曇無讖"; T 374). The corpus of the Nirvana School sutras is relatively small compared with the other schools. According to original Buddhist teaching, every being (dharma) has the Buddha-nature in itself (zhengyin foxing 政因佛性) and therewith has the potential to salvation, except so-called incorrigibles (Sanskr. icchantika; yichanti 一闡提). Adherents of the Nirvana school believed that even icchantikas are able to become a Buddha. Daosheng 道生 and Huiguan 慧觀 propagated this idea in southern China. In northern China, Huisong 慧嵩 and Daolang 道朗 wrote comments and exegeses of Dharmakśema larger Nirvana Sutra. Nirvana School monks also taught the Fahua Sutra 法華 that also belongs to the final stage of the Buddha's sermons. There are different methods to show that the Buddha-nature is inherent in all sentient beings. Abhidharma School (Pitanzong 毘曇宗)

The term Pitanzong is used as a common designation of the Chinese form of the Sarvāstivāda School (Youbu 有部). The different treatises of this Indian school of "higher teaching" was unified in the treatise Fazhilun 發智論 (T 1544), written by "Qieduoyannizi迦多衍尼子" and translated by the great Xuanzang 玄奘. A treatise contrasting with the Fazhilun is Da pi posha lun 大毘婆沙論 (T 1545). Various interpretations were harmonized in the sutra Za apitan xin lun 雜阿毘曇心論 (T 1552). The Abhidharma School was one of the first Buddhist Schools founding monasteries and Buddhist communities in China, and missionaries used the translations made by the Parthian An Shigao 安世高. It was only during the reign of the "barbarian" Fu Jian 苻建 in the 4th century that Abhidharma Buddhism was thought in a systematic way under the guidance of Dao'an 道安. After the collapse of this Former Qin empire, Abhidharma monks moved to the south where they spread their teachings among the Buddhist sanghas on Mt. Lushan 廬山 and at the court of the Southern Dynasties. After the begin of the Tang period, monks payed little attention to the Abhidharma writings that became gradually replaced by other influential schools, a fact that can be deducted from the non-patriarchal organization of the Abhidharma teachers who were never unified by a founding monastery. According to Abdhidharma teaching, the four truths (sidi 四諦) – being the only absolute principle in a void world – constitute all different dharmas (fa 法; appearings of the sentient beings). The self is void, there is no self, and every dharma or variable (Sanskr. skandha; yun 蘊) of the self is the causation of former lifes. Within a world where all determinants like shape, color, character etc. are purely virtual and not absolute, there is only one steady and non-relative principle that will never change, i.e. the teaching of the Buddha, and the fact that there is a past and a future for every being ("three worlds" sanshi 三世). Because the treatises of the Abhidharma School were fundamental for the metaphysical explanation of life, they constitute an own department in the Pali Canon (Abhidammapittaka). The greatest Indian teacher of the "higher subtleties" was Vasubandhu (Chin. Shiqin 世親) who wrote the treatise Abhidharmakośa-bhāsya (Chin. Jushelun 倶舍論; T 1558). Consciousness-only School (Weishizong 唯識宗)

Together with the School of the Middle Path, the Consciousness-Only School (Weishizong 唯識宗), also called Dharma Character School (Faxiangzong 法相宗) or Idealistic School, is one of the two great Indian Mahāyāna schools. The Vijñānavāda or Yogācāra School (Chin. Yuqie 瑜伽) were founded by Asanga and Vasubandhu (both 4th cent. AD) and transformed into the Shelun 攝論 or Weiyi School by the great translator Xuanzang 玄奘 (d. 664) who compiled a systematic treatise about the Indian idealists (Cheng weishi lun 成唯識論; T 1585) Vinaya School (Lüzong 律宗)

Flower Garland School (Huayanzong 華嚴宗)

Fazang 法藏 (d. 712) founded the Garland School (Huayan, Jap. Kegon, Kor.: Hwaŏm) 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.

Idealistic School

The Idealistic School (Faxiangzong 法相宗 "Dharma Character School") was founded by the great pilgrim Xuanzang 玄奘 (d. 664) and based on the Mahāyāna-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.

Pure Land School (Jingtuzong 淨土宗)

The Pure Land School (Jingtuzong 淨土宗, Jap. Jōdo shū, Kor. Chŏngt'o jong) that focuses on the simple Amitābha (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 writings are the (Fo shuo) Wuliangshou jing (佛說)無量壽經 "Sutra on Infinite Lifespan (as preached by the Buddha)" (T 360) and (Fo shuo) Amituo jing (佛說)阿彌陀經 "Amitabha Sutra" (T 366; both usually called the Larger and Smaller Amitabha Sutra), and the (Fo shuo) Guan wuliangshou Fo jing "Sutra on Contemplating the Buddha of Infinite Lifespan" (Contemplation Sutra, T 365). 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.

Tiantai School (Tiantaizong 天台宗)

The Tiantai School 天台宗 (Tiantaizong, Jap. Tendai shū, Kor. Ch'ontae jong) was founded by Zhiyi 智顗 (538-597), 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" (āgama, chin.: ahan 阿含) to preach. Later on, he preached the elementary vāipulya "broad and equal" (chin.: fangdeng 方等) sutras of the Great Vehicle, to end with the "Sutra of Perfection of Wisdom" (Prajñāparāmitā-sūtra) and the Nirvāna 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, Chin. fa 法), spiritual concentration and insight consiousness help to become aware of the non-existance of all appearance and that all is a manifestation of the absolute mind. The Buddha nature can even be found in inanimate things.
The Tiantai School was founded by Zhiyi 智顗 and is named after the home monastery of Zhiyi on Mt. Tiantai 天台山/Zhejiang. The original name of this school is Fahua 法華宗 "Flower of the Dharma" because its basic writing is the Fahuajing 法華經 sutra (T 263). The genealogy of its patrichars (zu 祖) reches from Nagarjuna (Longshu) to Huiwen 慧文, Huisi 慧思, Guanding 灌頂, Zhiwei 智威, Huiwei 慧威, Xuanlang 玄朗 to Master Zhanran 湛然. A central theory of the Tiantai masters is the concept of the Three Truths of the Complete Interception (yuanrong sandi 圓融三諦). In this theoretical system (written down in the book Mohe zhiguan 摩訶止觀; T 1911), every being (dharma 法) is characterized as void, empty or a "noumenon" (kong 空) by nature, although it is conceived as having a particular character. In fact, this character is only the consequence of causations (yinyuan 因緣), so that each empirical or phenomenal appearance is purely lend (jia 假; Sakr. prajñapti). The mean principle that unifies the void and the phenomenal character is the "way of the mean" (zhongdao 中道; Sanskr. madhya). The truth of voidness is also called "truth of the realiy" (zhendi 真諦), the truth of the phenomenal is also called the truth of the ordinary ideas of things (shidi 實諦). Every being or dharma is always tending to both sides, the side of emptiness and the side of ordinary virtual appearance, and thus can always be found in a state of golden mean. For the enlightened it is possible to perceive these ZUSAMMENWIRKEN of these factors (also called "three wisdoms" sanzhi 三智) through the mind (yixin sanguan 一心三觀). The mind is able to perceive all dharmas (beings) within the three thousand possible worlds and existances (yixin sanqian 一心三千). All dharmas equally share the same potential (a Buddha, mean people, the mind: sanfa wucha 三法無差), all dharmas can be good or bad (xing ju shan e 性具善惡), and each single dharma has the potential to become a Buddha, there is no individuality in everything but instead a common potential to buddhaship (wu qing, you xing 無情有性). To obtain enlightenment, the adept has to practice twenty-five well-defined observations and renouncements, like the five basics (wu yuanju 五緣具), the renouncement of the five GIER (he wu yu 訶五欲; or wu yu skandhas, shape, noise, smell, taste, touch), the abolishment of the five covers (qi wu gai 棄五蓋: ), the balance of the five things (diao wu shi 調五事: ), and the exertion of the five dharmas (xing wu fa 行五法: will, pureness, recitation, wisdom, unity of the mind). Master Huisi was one of the most influential teachers of the 6th century. His meditative practice should eventually influence the Buddhist schools of the north, like the Chan School, while his theoretical discussions should be transmitted to the southern schools, especially through his disciple Zhiyi who commented numerous sutras and treatises (e.g. Dazhidu lun 大智度論). In the 9th century the Tiantai School was transmitted to Korea and Japan where branches and sub-sects like the Nichiren 日蓮宗 were founded. During the Song period the disciples of Master Zhili 知禮 founded a "Mountain School" (Shanjia 山家), while disciples of Wu'en 悟恩 were members of a "Non-Mountain School" (山外家). Both contended about the interpretation of the "true mind" (zhenxin 真心) and the "false imaginative mind" (wangxin 妄心). An important VERDIENTST of Zhiyi is the classification of sutras into five different groups of subsequent teachings (in chronological order) by eight different methods (wushi bajiao 五時八教): flower garlands (huayan 華嚴; Sanskr. avatamsaka), Deer Park (luyuan 鹿苑) or agama sutras (Ahan 阿含), "universal doctrines" (fangdeng 方等, Sanskr. vaipulya), wisdom (bore ! 般若; Sanskr. prajna), flower of the dharma and nirvana (fahua niepan 法華涅槃). The eight teachings are divided into four methods (huayi 化儀): like 頓,漸,秘密,不定, and the four intensities (huafa 化法): hiding (cang 藏), opening (tong 通), differentiating (bie 別), and connecting to a whole (yuan 圓).
Chan/Zen School (Chanzong 禪宗)

A very special school that renounced dogma, asceticism, rites and the traditional monastery system, even sometimes to an iconoclastic extent (refusing or even destroying images of the Buddha and bodhisattvas), was the Chan School 禪宗 (Chanzong, Jap. Zen shū, Kor. Jŏn jong; a term deriving from the Sanskrit word dhyāna "meditation, yoga"), founded by Bodhidharma (Putidamo 菩提達摩; d. 524) and Huineng 慧能 (d. 713; see an excerpt from his writing Tanjing 壇經 "Platform Sutra" or "Altar Sutra"). The believers of Chan relied on riddles (gongan 公案) and spontaneous actions to achieve enlightenment. Because of the emptiness (Sanskr. śūnyatā; 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 and the Linji School 臨濟宗.

Tantric School (Mizong 密宗)

Vijnanavada School ( )

School of the Middle Path (Zhongdaozong 中道宗)

The School of the Middle Path (Zhongdaozong 中道宗 or Zhongguanpai 中觀派), also called Three Treatise School (Sanlunzong 三論宗), is the Chinese form of the Indian Mādhyamika School , founded by Nāgārjuna (Longshu 龍樹, 2nd cent.) that seeks a middle way between two extremes like existence and non-existence, affirmation and negation, pleasure and pain, between emptiness and non-emptiness. The principle of emptiness (śūnyatā) or unreality of phenomeny was explained via the eightfold negation, stating that nothing comes into existence nor is dissolving into nonexistence etc. by itself, but that every phenomenon had a dependant origin of causes and conditions (Chin. yuan 緣). Nothing has thus an independant reality nor can worldly phenomana satisfactorily be explained by such relationships and dependencies. The comprehension of this voidness leads to intuitive wisdom (Sanskr. prajñā, Chin. zhi 智) - although this wisdom (on an absolute level) can only be acheived by reflecting about phenoma in a substanceless world of dreams (a relative level) what the normal person perceives as reality.
The first great Chinese representant of this school was Sengzhao 僧肇 (d. 414), scholar of the great translator Kumārajīva (d. 413). In his treatises (The Immutability of Things, The Emptiness of the Unreal, Prajna is not Knowledge) he saw the middle path in the identification of substance (ti 體) and function (yong 用) as one and the same.
Later representants of the Three Treatise School were Falang (d. 581) and his disciple, the Half-Partian Jizang 吉蔵 (d. 623) whose thought (Sanlun xuanyi 三論玄義 "The Obscure Meaning of the Three Treatieses; T 1852) bases upon the Three Treatises (Sanlun 三論): Zhonglun 中論 (T 1564) "On the Middle", Shiermen lun 十二門論 (T 1568) "On the Twelve Gates", and Bailun 百論 (T 1569) "Treatise in One Hundred Verses", together with Jizang's commentary Zhongguanlun shu 中觀論疏 (Sanskr. Mādyamikaśāstra; T 1824) all writings that deeply influenced the Chinese Tiantai and Huayan Schools and freed Buddhism from the Daoist interpretations that had been prevalent in southern Buddhism through the 6th century. Jizang stressed the existance of a twofold truth, namely the world truth and the absolute truth that both help to acheive enlightenment by a three layer system of affirmations and negations of being and nonbeing.
Indian representants of the Mādhyamika School were Buddhapalita (Chin. Fohuo佛護; d.540) and Candrakīrti (Chin. Yuecheng 月稱, d. 650).



A branch of the Mādhyamika School is the Three Treatise School (Sanlunzong 三論宗). The most important representant is









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).

Tibetian 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 Tibetian 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 (tibetian 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 Tibetians 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 Tibetian 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 femals 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 Tibetian 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.



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