Buddhism is one of the oldest foreign religions in China . There is strong, prominent and dynamic influence of Chinese Buddhism in the Buddhist history of China . Mahayana Buddhism is one of the widely used Buddhism aspects in China . It is believed that the history of Buddhist tradition in China goes back to thousand to two thousand years. Over this long time course, China experienced wide range of culture, art, politics, and material culture. Chinese Buddhism is believed as the combination of Taoism and Buddhism . There may be millions or more people who believed in the Chinese Buddhism .
It is believed that Buddhism arrived in China nearly 2000 years ago although various legends existed about the presence of Buddhism in very ancient times. But Buddhism is believed to be arrived in China during the ruling of Han Dynasty . During Han Dynasty , most of the people deeply followed Confucian religion but there existed those who followed Taoist religion. Before the rule of Han dynasty , Buddhism had already spread through major countries of Central Asia with campaign set up by Emperor Asoka the Great in 3rd Century B.C. Asoka sent missionaries throughout the central Asia to spread Buddhism and the worthiness of Lord Buddha . Due to this campaign, Buddhism became the main religion of Pakistan and Afghanistan and became the center of Buddhist teachings , learning and practices.
When Han Dynasty expanded its empire to Central Asia, trade and cultural tradition flourished between China and Central Asia. Due to this involvement, Chinese people came to know about Buddhism from the missionaries in 1st Century B.C. When Buddhism arrived in China , there was no friendly relation between Confucian and Buddhism because Confucian was all about maintaining focus harmony and social order whereas Buddhism was all about entering the monastic life and seeks the reality beyond the reality. But Taoism principles were lot similar to Buddhism in many respects that’s why some Chinese followed Buddhism from the perspective of Taoist. Early Sanskrit Buddhist text that was translated into Chinese, use Taoists terminology. From that period, Buddhism played an important role in Chinese history to the present times.
Four main schools emerged in China when Mahayana Buddhism was in peak in the Buddhist history of China. In 402 CE, the monk and teacher Hui-yuan established one of the popular Buddhist societies in China. This particular society was known as White Lotus Society and was established in Mount Lushan in southeast China . The establishment of White Lotus Society became the foundation for the beginning of Pure Land School of Buddhism . It is one of the oldest and most popular schools throughout China . In the present time, Pure Land School of Buddhism is the dominant form of Buddhism in Japan .
Another school that emerged in China was Ch’an School of Buddhism and is also one of the dominant forms of Buddhism in China and Japan . In 500 CE, an Indian Sage Bodhidharma arrived in China . The arrival of Bodhidharma became the foundation for the development of Ch’an School of Buddhism . Bodhidharma established Ch’an School at the Shaolin Monastery. It is also believed that Bodhidharma fused Shaolin that was practiced in China and Buddhism to establish this school. In present time, Ch’an School of Buddhism is also known by Japanese name Zen in the West.
Shortly after the establishment of Ch’an School of Buddhism by an Indian Sage Bodhidharma , another distinctive Buddhist school emerged in mid-fifth century. Zhiyi was a monk and under the influence of his teachings; Tiantai School of Buddhism was established. Tiantai School of Buddhism was based on the primary principle of Lotus Sutra and Tiantai’s emphasis on Lotus Sutra influenced many other Buddhist schools to emerge. Another school of Buddhism emerged and this school was called Huayan and popularly also known as Kegon in Japan . Huayan School of Buddhism was established under the guidance of three patriarchs. The three patriarchs were Tu-shun, Chih-yen and Fa-Tsang or Fazang . During the rule of Tang Dynasty , the large part of teachings of Huayan School of Buddhism was absorbed in Ch’an School of Buddhism.
During the rule of Tang Dynasty , the influence of Buddhism reached the peak especially the era between 618 to 907 CE. The dominance of Buddhism was most in Tang Dynasty than any other dynasty or era. During Tang Dynasty , suppression of Buddhism began at the end of Tang Dynasty. According to Buddhist history in China , around 4000 monasteries and 40,000 temples and shrines and buddha statues got destroyed in 845 CE. Only Pure Land of School of Buddhism , and Ch’an School of Buddhism survived this huge suppression. Tiantai School of Buddhism got flourished in Japan instead and the teachings of Huayan got flourished in Japan instead and the teachings of Huayan visible in Ch’an School due to this suppression.
Budai – Laughing Buddha
The beginning of 10th century marked the end of thousand years of typical Buddhism in China . The legend of Budai or popularly known as Laughing Buddha emerges in the Chinese Culture. Budai is depicted as the incarnation of Maitreya or future Buddha . In the present time, Budai is one of the iconic figure of Chinese Buddhism and quite popular in East Asia.