Buddhism in China

Buddhism is believed to have been introduced in China in 67 A.D. by the immigrants from Central Asia, India, and Persia during the reign of the Han Dynasty from Hotang (Central China). It was introduced at a time when Confucianism and Taoism were predominant and equally rivaled the Indian religious and cultural pluralism.

With the collapse of the Han Dynasty around 220 A.D. and the confusion which followed, Buddhism was initially introduced and was confined to the members of the Chinese royalty and aristocracy. Some considered it as corrupt form of Taoism. During the Three Kingdom Period, Buddhism was studied as a subject as such Luoyang, in North China, became a major center in translation of the Buddhist scriptures.

Buddhism became popular

It was only after Kumarajiv, a famous Buddhist translator, translation of the Buddhist texts from Sanskrit and Pali into Chinese that Buddhism gained popularity in China during the reign of the Jin Dynasty. This laid the foundation in the acceptance of Buddhism by making the texts accessible to all. This era also witnessed the emergence of scholar-bureaucrats who brought together the popular metaphysics and Buddhist doctrines. Buddhism became peculiarly Chinese in characteristics during this era.

By the 4th century A.D., eminent Buddhist scholars with extraordinary vision like Seng-Chao, Tao-Sheng and Fa-hsien contributed a great deal to the growth of Buddhism China through their translations.

The decline of Buddhism

Though Buddhism reached its glorious height between the 6th Century AD and 10th Century AD which were subsequently ruled by the Sui and T’ang dynasties, the process of degeneration also began at the same time. Apart from the royal patronages, many Buddhist monasteries resorted to running serious business, indulged in profitable cultivation, involved in trade and money lending for profit thereby neglecting the spiritual aspects of their responsibilities. Buddhist monasteries also operated grinding mills and oil presses by using slave labor and low ranking monks, pawn brokering and money lending.

The decline of Buddhism was brought about by the Chinese Emperor Wu-Tsung who, probably after noticing the greed that characterized many monasteries, ordered for the destruction of all Buddhist establishments and the return of all Buddhist monks and nuns to lay life.

The seeds of decline sowed earlier aggravated further with the re-emergence of Confucianism in the 11th century and the revival of people’s interest in their traditional religions. Although Buddhism lost its dynamism and vibrancy, it continued to flourish in China till the advent of Communism. With the Communist government of China finally succeeding in officially putting an end to the practice of religion in any form, Buddhism experienced its final blow against the hope of its revival. Today Buddhism has become a relic of the past in China.