18 October 2012
As Buddhism spread throughout China during the first century CE, people had a variety of responses, both positive and negative. Many Chinese accepted Buddhism and its beliefs, yet some criticized the religion and how foreign it was, having been originated in India. Documents 1, 2, 3, and 5 are supportive of Buddhism and documents 4 and 6 discourage it.
Documents 1, 2, 3, and 5 all support Buddhism’s beliefs and encourage the practice of this religion. Document 1 is excerpted from Buddha’s first sermon in which he speaks of Buddhism’s most basic beliefs, the four noble truths. The four noble truths describe how to achieve enlightenment and salvation. This appealed to the Chinese lower class, specifically after the collapse of the Han. In document 2, Zhi Dun speaks of more religious practices of Buddhism, such as serving the Buddha and obeying the commandments. He also promotes the faith by speaking about its promise of enlightenment after death. Zhi Dun, who happens to be a scholar and confidant of Chinese aristocrats and officials, is bias in favor of Buddhism. This document was written around 350 CE, a time of distress and invasion in China. The Han Empire had fallen, thus putting China in a time of vulnerability. During this time in China, political leaders, such as Zhi Dun, had to win over all the members of society to restore the Han system of government, even the lower class. Zhi Dun, being a member of the upper class, promoted Buddhism in hope to gain the support of the lower class. Document 3 is trying to explain Buddhism in this question-and-answer formatted document. This anonymous Chinese scholar is also bias in favor of Buddhism because in 500 CE, when this document was written, Buddhism was still gaining political favor in China, as the empire was still in turmoil. Document 5 explains that Buddhism, as well as Daoism and Confucianism, lead to a harmonious society and the Buddha, along with Confucius and Lao zi, brought forward their teaching with excellent timing, in tune with the needs of the government. Although document 5 defends three belief systems, it is still supportive of Buddhism.
Documents 4 and 6 discourage the practice of Buddhism in China. Document 4 is written by Han Yu who focuses on the fact that Buddhism originated in India and has nothing to do with Chinese history and culture. He also states in the document that it is not proper to worship relics, and that they belong “at a distance.” This document was written after the Tang Empire restored China, making Han Yu biased against Buddhism. Now that political stability has been restored, political officials and people of the upper class do not have to gain the favor of the middle and lower classes. These officials went back to promoting Confucianism and discouraging Buddhism. They had only favored Buddhism to gain supporters when China’s government had broken down. They favored Confucianism because the social hierarchy gives them more power and elitism. Document 6 is written by Emperor Wu of the Tang dynasty. Obviously, the Emperor would take the same opinion as Han Yu when it comes to favoring Confucianism after the Tang Empire’s restoration of China. Emperor Wu claims that Buddhism’s monastic life ruins “people’s strength” because it forces monks to abandon the emperor, his family, and his work. Basically, Emperor Wu claims that monks are not playing their part in society, because they focus on practicing Buddhism, which promotes social equality and enlightenment.
All in all, in the proof of these documents, there was a more positive reaction than negative to Buddhism’s arrival in China. To able to better analyze the situation, a document showing the amount of converts in this time period and a document from the point of view of a lower class member or a woman would help.