The Great Wall Sign

Travel to the great wall in China

The Growth and history of Buddhism in China

Although Buddhism began in India with the enlightenment of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, the religion spread throughout Asia and then eventually most of the world. Wherever Buddhism went, however, it adapted to the beliefs and mindsets of the cultures it encountered, rather than demand converts to its own point of view. This fact separates it from other religions and explains its popularity as a growing philosophy that continues to spread even today.

When Buddhism arrived in China it was difficult fit at first. The Buddhist beliefs in India included a lot of esotericism that was difficult to translate into Chinese. The Chinese mindset, more adapted for down to earth practical concerns and already exposed to Taoist thought couldn’t easily work with the celestial realms and ideas of the more mystical Buddhism.

This didn’t stop the translation efforts, however. Texts and commentaries were written, temples built and the practitioners worked the rituals as Buddhism began to flourish. And it did grow steadily as it found patronage from rulers in many dynasties who converted to Buddhism.


The Rise of Buddhist Schools

By the seventh century, the time of the Tang Dynasty, Buddhism influenced the arts, literature, sculpture, even architecture as it took firm hold in the culture. The large number of translated texts, however, made it difficult to study and this gave rise to different schools of Buddhism, each emphasizing different aspects of the religion. The two most prominent even today are the Ch’an or Zen Buddhism School and the Pure Land School.

The Zen school emphasized a meditative approach to enlightenment, since it was during meditation that the Buddha achieved it. Rather than working rituals, or exhaustive study of all the teachings, Zen practitioners believe that meditation will help remove the inner barriers to self knowledge that everyone has built up over time. This self knowledge will lead to inner peace and enlightenment, the awareness of everything as it truly is as opposed to how we think it should be. This leads to nirvana.

The Pure Land school practices chanting the name of the Amitabha Buddha. Based on the teaching that Amitabha promises to lead all that have faith in him to the Pure Land, the belief is that once in this land, the Western Paradise, enlightenment will come much easier than in this world. For some, the practice of Pure Land and Zen meet in the concept of the Pure Land itself. Zen Buddhists see it as a state of mind that chanting can lead one to, thereby making it easier to practice meditation towards enlightenment.

Buddhism beliefs

Regardless of the Buddhist School followed, the core beliefs are the same, even if some are emphasized over others. These beliefs are the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths teach us that, first, life is suffering. This means that sickness, death, misfortune and all other kinds of problems we in the modern western world try to avoid are actually unavoidable. This leads us to the second truth; that our suffering is caused by our desire for things to be different than they actually are. We can all relate to wishing our circumstances were better.

The third noble truth teaches us that there is a way to put an end to suffering. It offers nirvana, the chance to break out of the cycle of desire, disappointment, and further suffering. The path to follow is the fourth noble truth, following the eightfold path which leads to being fully awake and aware in the world as it truly is.

It is the Buddhism core beliefs that state that by following right action, right speech, right livelihood, right thought, right view, right mindfulness, right concentration, and right effort, you will clear your mind of attachment to things and free yourself from the cycle of suffering. You’ll be able to live a purer life without needing to follow the herd. Buddhism is a path of the individual making him or herself the best they can possibly be for the benefit of all beings.