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Buddhism In China Essay

1043 words - 4 pages

Buddhism in China


Between the third and ninth centuries C.E. China underwent a number of changes
in its cultural makeup. Foremost amongst them was the adoption of Buddhist religious
practices. I must stress that this was not a formal or universal change in religion but a
slow integration of a system that permitted adaptation of its own form to promote
acceptance as long as the fundamental theories and practices remained the same, unlike
most religions. Buddhism worked its way into the court and decision makers of the
Chinese state and that was the major sticking point for the religion in China. For
Buddhism to be accepted the Emperor would have to condone it and at least offer his
acceptance of it. Without imperial approval the religion was doomed to failure in such a
regimented and centrally controlled state, of course some would practice it under threat of
legal action because of faith but as a whole it would not prosper. To understand the level
of acceptance of Buddhism within China, one must look at each class individually and see
how widely practised it was by each class. This is due to the emphasis there was on class
and how any single act, religion included, could be restricted to a single class as its base
of power. This was the case with Buddhism to start as it came into China by way of the
merchant traffic that continued to increase in the first half of the first millennium C.E.
These merchants being of a middle class on average were well situated by class and
occupation to promote the spread of Buddhism rapidly to a large and diverse collection of
individuals. As such, after its initial entrance into China Buddhism was not a single class
phenomenon, it was widespread and hierarchically diverse. It makes sense then, to
defend the claim that China was a Buddhist country, we must prove that the religion had
the support or at least acceptance of the emperor, a significant number of the court and
government officials, the wealthy landholders and the peasantry.
The emperor of China was, throughout the course of Buddhism’s introduction to
China, reluctant to accept it as an officially sanctioned religion as the tenants of the
religion have the ability to be taken as believing in the reducing of the power of the head
of state to a subservient position to the religion. This was a major problem as the
pre-existing religion, Confucism, had as one of its tenants strict loyalty to the emperor.
This loyalty aspect of Confucism granted the emperor a divine claim of authorization for
his power and use of it. The main sticking point that Buddhism had to get past to be
openly accepted in China was the emperor. He controlled the flow of information from
outside sources into the areas where people would be willing to accept new thoughts and
beliefs.
The court officials were similar in position towards Buddhism as the emperor was
due to the close relationship between his power and theirs. ...

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