lecture 4 intellectual exchange between buddhism and chinese culture

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Intellectual Exchange Between Buddhism and Chinese Culture


  • Intellectual Exchange


    Buddhism and Chinese Culture

    Professor Guang Xing

    CCCH 9018 Lecture 4

  • When Buddhism was introduced into China in the former or Western

    Han dynasty (206BCE25 CE), China had already developed a highly

    civilized culture centered with Confucianism which chiefly focuses on

    family and society.



  • But the Buddhist way of life primarily focuses on individual liberation

    through moral perfection. In particular, the life of Buddhist monks, who

    were required to be celibate, shave their heads, and leave their homes and

    families, was incompatible to Confucian practice of filial pity as found in

    the Xiao Jing.

    Thus Buddhism faced challenges and criticisms from Chinese scholars.

    This is reflected in the Mouzi Lihoulun, book written in

    the 2nd century CE to refute such criticisms.

    From 6th century, Indian Buddhism became sinicized. Divergent Chinese

    Buddhist philosophies and practices were assimilated and fitted into the

    Chinese tradition, and exercised a lasting influence on almost every aspect

    of Chinese life.


  • Pure Land


    By the 8th century, Chinese Buddhism became firmly established and

    triumphantly spread throughout China. Chinese culture became

    an aggregation and synthesis of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism.

    However, this syncretism did not go easily and smoothly. There were four

    persecutions of Buddhists in Chinese history. The most devastating one

    occurred in 845. After this, most Buddhist schools declined in China.

    Only Chan and Pure Land schools became predominant

    over other Buddhist schools and practices.


  • From Song dynasty (9601279) onward, chanting "Amituofo" has been the

    major religious practice among devout Buddhists. Chan philosophy was

    attractive to and popular among Chinese intellectuals, and was a vital cultural

    force, especially in literature and arts.

    In fact, Chan led Confucian scholars to re-examing classical Confucian

    philosophy and develop neo-Confucianism, even neo-Confucian scholars

    frequently attacked Buddhism when defending their orthodox teachings.

    Like Tiantai and Huayan Buddhists, many Confucianists

    adopted the round approach to develop an all-in-one

    and one-in-all worldview. In many ways

    what was new in neo-Confucianism

    was quite Buddhist in spirit.





  • Influence of Buddhism in 20th century new Confucianism:

    Feng Youlans (18951988) wrote famous book Xin lixue ( A new study of principle).

    Like metaphysically minded Buddhists, Feng (Page 170) investigated the principles in and behind things with the aim of reaching the highest sphere of

    life, namely forming one body with all things.

    Xiong Shili (18851968), founder of 20th century new Confucianism, was obviously a Buddhist Confucian.

    He promoted the Mahayana philosophy of consciousness only (weishi ) and reinterpreted the Confucian metaphysics found in the Yijing (Book of

    changes) in the light of this doctrine.

    His eminent disciples, among them Tang Junyi (19091978) and Mou Zongsan (19091995), examined the round approach (yuanjiao ),

    and they debated whether Tiantai or Huayan philosophy represented the

    highest teaching.


  • The intellectual exchange between

    Buddhism and Chinese culture can be

    understood in four periods.


    Confucia- nism



    4. Appropriation

    3. Acceptance

    & Independent


    2. Domestication 1. Preparation

  • The intellectual exchange between Buddhism and Chinese philosophies

    started from the 2nd phase of Buddhist development in China, the period of

    domestication during from Eastern Jin to Southern and Northern Dynasties.

    The best evidence is recorded in the Houhanshu (), a history book

    of latter Han written by Fanye (398445).

    We hear that shrines for Huang-Lao () and for Buddha

    have been erected in the palace. These teachings exhort people

    to purity of mind and tranquility of the soul; they place inaction and

    quietude at the top of their list of values; they emphasize the value of life

    and abhor killing; they exhort people to restrain their desires and purge

    themselves of extravagant ways.

    1. Preparation (65-317, Han to Three Kingdoms)

  • It is quite clear that even the emperor at that time regarded the Buddha as

    a god like Laozi and Huangdi who were considered as sages.

    The second example is from Sichuan that a Buddha statue

    is found and it is probably made in Latter Han to

    Shanguo . So there might be Buddhist practices,

    but it is mixed with folk religious beliefs. The Buddha

    was considered as a god as Xiwangmu by

    Chinese people.

    = =

    1. Preparation (65-317, Han to Three Kingdoms)

  • Furthermore, the Buddhist methods of meditation which were

    preached at that time also generally were quite similar to the

    breathing exercises taught by the Huang-Lao School of Daoism

    and the Immortality [shen xian jia ] school.

    Daoist influence in Buddhist translations and many Daoist terms

    were used in Chinese Buddhist translations.


    terms influence



    1. Preparation (65-317, Han to Three Kingdoms)

  • These first translations are full of Daoist expressions to which the Chinese

    collaborators had recourse in order to translate technical Buddhist terms:

    In this way Buddhist gnosis was assimilated to Daoist gnosis, which

    was called the study of the mysteries (Xuan-xue ). This resulted in

    a clumsy and obscure jargon that could only repel the men of letters,

    especially since those who wrote down the Chinese versions came from

    a mediocre cultural background.

    Buddhist Daoist meaning

    yoga, bodhi tao the Way

    nirva wu-wei quiescence, or "no-ado"

    tathat, "suchness" ben-wu nonbeing

    Arhat (Buddhist saint ) zhen-ren Taoist immortal

    1. Preparation (65-317, Han to Three Kingdoms)

  • Anciently, under the Han emperor Ai , in the first year of Yuanshou era (2 BC), the student at the imperial academy Jinglu

    received from the envoy of the king of great Scythia, the oral

    transmission of Buddhist scripture. (


    The Mouzi Lihoulunquotes many Confucian sayings from

    the Classics such as the Xiaojing ( Classic of Filial Piety) and the

    Lunyu ( Analects), etc., Mouzi even used Confucian ideas and thought

    to refute the charges.

    Kang Shenghui of the Three Kingdoms was learned in Confucian

    teaching as he was born in Southern China, he said, Confucian sayings

    are also Buddhist teachings.6.

    1. Preparation (65-317, Han to Three Kingdoms)

  • He used many ideas and thought, particularly the idea of Ren

    [benevolence] from the Mengzi to explain Buddhist thought of

    compassion in his Liudu Jijing.

    all Buddhas have ren [benevolence] as the highest treasure in the world

    4, so a king should use the way of

    ren to rule the people. 8.

    The Buddhist monk Huiyuan was a great Confucian scholar and

    he clearly said that the Buddhist followers were divided into two groups,

    the lay Buddhists followed the Confucian way of filial to their parents

    and loyal to the rulers as all Chinese people did, while the Buddhist

    monks reverenced the kings and followed the ways in their hearts

    although they did not do it openly.

    Kang Shenghui

    1. Preparation (65-317, Han to Three Kingdoms)

  • First Conflict and Harmony

    Buddhist interaction with Chinese culture is both conflict and

    absorption from its very beginning.

    When Buddhism was first introduced into China, it faced a huge challenge

    from Chinese culture as the two are different ways of life. The Mouzi

    Lihoulun contains 37 questions and answers, these questions

    inform us what challenges Buddhism faced at that time. However, we know

    that some Chinese intellectuals accepted Buddhism as their faith such

    as Mouzi, author of the book.

    According to the Mouzi Lihoulun, Mouzi was a well

    learned person () in both Confucianism and Daoist teachings.

    His learning is also evidenced in his answers to all the questions with

    extensive quotations from ancient Chinese texts and cultural tradition. Mouzi

    1. Preparation (65-317, Han to Three Kingdoms)

  • The first challenge is on filial piety as Buddhists, particularly the monks, lead

    a different way of life such as shaving their heads, leading a bachelors life.

    A critic asked: in the words of the Classic of Filial Piety, since body, limbs,

    hair, and skin are received from ones parents, do not dare to harm them.

    Zengzi, when about to die, said, Uncover my hands and my feet.

    But the monks shave their heads! Why do they go against the sages

    words and fail to follow the way of the filial son? How can you, sir,

    who love to discuss right and wrong, to weigh the crooked and the

    straight, reverse yourself and approve [such a practice]?


    1. Preparation (65-317, Han to Thre


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