Throughout human history, our beliefs have influenced our actions. This is why we have studies like the humanities. During the Tang Dynasty, different religions developing during the time had enormous influence on what was being produced during the era. When it comes to literature, poets like Wang Wei, Li Bai, Du Fu, and Bo Juyi expressed their religions through their poetry during the Tang era. While it was not always directly mentioned in their poetry, there are connections between the Tang Dynasty poets’ works and their respective religions.
Wang Wei (699-761CE), was a Buddhist poet that was born in to the upper class in Shanxi. He passed the Chin-Shi system – a system that was designed to challenge government and bureaucratic officials in all realms of knowledge from poetry and art to academia. However, Wei was exiled due to a loss of popularity during his career. This is when he really took on the role of a poet and became phenomenal with his craft. His exile was caused by a misunderstanding during the An Lushan Rebellion in 775CE (Davis et al. 1169). Wei was imprisoned by the state because they thought that he was a part of the rebellion. Amazingly, the way he got out of this imprisonment was through his poetry. He wrote two poems during his imprisonment proclaiming his faith to the emperor which restored faith in the court. You have to be pretty outstanding to get out of prison by means of poetics! Wei really enjoyed his time during the aforementioned exile because it gave him time to grow fond of nature and his serene estate along the Wang River. He found peace in nature, where in the city of Chang’an he had to deal with all of the business associated with the functioning of the government and bureaucracies. His poetry reflects his Buddhist views as described by Pauline Yu, “His contemplative, dispassionate observations of the sensory world affirm its beauty at the same time as they call its ultimate reality into question, by emphasizing its vagueness, relativity, and ‘emptiness’ (Davis et al. 1170).” His poetry really appeals to the senses.
One of the ways that Buddhism was introduced to the Tang Dynasty was by means of a legendary monk: Xuanzang. He traveled to India, while the city of Chang’an suffered from chaos, to study the original Buddhist scripts and later returned to China to translate all of them and interpret the ideas for the people through his Weishi School (Wen, 77). The concept of emptiness is very prominent in Buddhism – emptiness is neither reality nor total nothingness. “Thus, being and nothingness only differ in name; the ontological statuses of both are emptiness (76).”
In Wei’s poem, Hermitage at Chung-nan Mountain he writes: “…and go there on a whim to wander alone. But even in all this splendor, things remain empty. I climb to the headwaters where clouds rise up from emptiness (Davis et al. 1170).” The emptiness to which he is referring is not literal emptiness, but to the underlying...