Hinduism and Buddhism, An Historical Sketch, Vol. 3 (of 3)
by Charles Eliot
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Conspicuous among these superstitions is Feng Shui or Geomancy,[570] a pseudo-science which is treated as seriously as law or surveying. It is based on the idea that localities have a sort of spiritual climate which brings prosperity or the reverse and depends on the influences of stars and nature spirits, such as the azure dragon and white tiger. But since these agencies find expression in the contours of a locality, they can be affected if its features are modified by artificial means, for instance, the construction of walls and towers. Buddhism did not disdain to patronize these notions. The principal hall of a monastery is usually erected on a specially auspicious site and the appeals issued for the repair of sacred buildings often point out the danger impending if edifices essential to the good Feng Shui of a district are allowed to decay. The scepticism and laughter of the educated does not clear the air, for superstition can flourish when neither respected nor believed. The worst feature of religion in China is that the decently educated public ridicules its external observances, but continues to practise them, because they are connected with occasions of good fellowship or because their omission might be a sign of disrespect to departed relatives or simply because in dealing with uncanny things it is better to be on the safe side. This is the sum of China's composite religion as visible in public and private rites. Its ethical value is far higher than might be supposed, for its most absurd superstitions also recommend love and respect in family life and a high standard of civic duty. But China has never admitted that public or private morality requires the support of a religious creed.

As might be expected, life and animation are more apparent in sects than in conventional religion. Since the recent revolution it is no longer necessary to confute the idea that the Chinese are a stationary and unemotional race, but its inaccuracy was demonstrated by many previous movements especially the T'ai-p'ing rebellion, which had at first a religious tinge. Yet in China such movements, though they may kindle enthusiasm and provoke persecution, rarely have the religious value attaching to a sect in Christian, Hindu and Mohammedan countries. Viewed as an ecclesiastical or spiritual movement, the T'ai-p'ing is insignificant: it was a secret society permitted by circumstances to become a formidable rising and in its important phases the political element was paramount. The same is true of many sects which have not achieved such notoriety. They are secret societies which adopt a creed, but it is not in the creed that their real vitality lies.

If it is difficult to say how far the Buddhism of China is a religion, it is equally difficult to define its relation to the State. Students well acquainted with the literature as well as with the actual condition of China have expressed diametrically opposite views as to the religious attitude of the Imperial Government,[571] one stating roundly that it was "the most intolerant, the most persecuting of all earthly Governments," and another that it "at no period refused hospitality and consideration to any religion recommended as such."[572]

In considering such questions I would again emphasize the fact that Chinese terms have often not the same extension as their apparent synonyms in European languages, which, of course, means that the provinces of human life and thought have also different boundaries. For most countries the word clergy has a definite meaning and, in spite of great diversities, may be applied to Christian clerics, Mollahs and Brahmans without serious error. It means a class of men who are the superintendents of religion, but also more. On the one side, though they may have serious political differences with the Government, they are usually in touch with it: on the other, though they may dislike reformers and movements from below, they patronize and minister to popular sentiment. They are closely connected with education and learning and sometimes with the law. But in China there is no class which unites all these features. Learning, law and education are represented by the Confucian scholars or literati. Though no one would think of calling them priests, yet they may offer official sacrifices, like Roman magistrates. Though they are contemptuous of popular superstition, yet they embody the popular ideal. It is the pride of a village to produce a scholar. But the scholarship of the literati is purely Confucian: Buddhist and Taoist learning have no part in it.

The priest, whether Buddhist or Taoist, is not in the mind of the people the repository of learning and law. He is not in religious matters the counterpart of the secular arm, but rather a private practitioner, duly licensed but of no particular standing. But he is skilful in his own profession: he has access to the powers who help, pity and console, and even the sceptic seeks his assistance when confronted with the dangers of this world and the next.

The student of Chinese history may object that at many periods, notably under the Yuan dynasty, the Buddhist clergy were officially recognized as an educational body and even received the title of Kuo-shih or teacher of the people. This is true. Such recognition by no means annihilated the literati, but it illustrates the decisive influence exercised by the Emperor and the court. We have, on the one side, a learned official class, custodians of the best national ideals but inclined to reject emotion and speculation as well as superstition: on the other, two priesthoods, prone to superstition but legitimately strong in so far as they satisfied the emotional and speculative instincts. The literati held persistently, though respectfully, to the view that the Emperor should be a Confucianist pure and simple, but Buddhism and Taoism had such strong popular support that it was always safe and often politic for an Emperor to patronize them. Hence an Emperor of personal convictions was able to turn the balance, and it must be added that Buddhism often flourished in the courts of weak and dissolute Emperors who were in the hands of women and eunuchs. Some of these latter were among its most distinguished devotees.

All Chinese religions agreed in accepting the Emperor as head of the Church, not merely titular but active. He exercised a strange prerogative of creating, promoting and degrading deities. Even within the Buddhist sphere he regulated the incarnations of Bodhisattvas in the persons of Lamas and from time to time re-edited the canon[573] or added new works to it. This extreme Erastianism had its roots in Indian as well as Chinese ideas. The Confucianist, while reminding the Emperor that he should imitate the sages and rulers of antiquity, gladly admitted his right to control the worship of all spirits[574] and the popular conscience, while probably unable to define what was meant by the title Son of Heaven,[575] felt that it gave him a viceregal right to keep the gods in order, so long as he did not provoke famine or other national calamities by mismanagement. The Buddhists, though tenacious of freedom in the spiritual life, had no objection to the patronage of princes. Asoka permitted himself to regulate the affairs of the Church and the success of Buddhists as missionaries was due in no small measure to their tact in allowing other sovereigns to follow his example.

That Buddhism should have obtained in China a favourable reception and a permanent status is indeed remarkable, for in two ways it was repugnant to the sentiments of the governing classes to say nothing of the differences in temper and outlook which divide Hindus and Chinese. Firstly, its ideal was asceticism and celibacy; it gave family life the lower place and ignored the popular Chinese view that to have a son is not only a duty, but also essential for those sacrifices without which the departed spirit cannot have peace. Secondly, it was not merely a doctrine but an ecclesiastical organization, a congregation of persons who were neither citizens nor subjects, not exactly an imperium in imperio nor a secret society, but dangerously capable of becoming either. Such bodies have always incurred the suspicion and persecution of the Chinese Government. Even in the fifth century Buddhist monasteries were accused of organizing armed conspiracies and many later sects suffered from the panic which they inspired in official bosoms. But both difficulties were overcome by the suppleness of the clergy. If they outraged family sentiment they managed to make themselves indispensable at funeral ceremonies.[576] If they had a dangerous resemblance to an imperium in imperio, they minimized it by their obvious desire to exercise influence through the Emperor. Though it is true that the majority of anti-dynastic political sects had a Buddhist colour, the most prominent and influential Buddhists never failed in loyalty. To this adroitness must be added a solid psychological advantage. The success of Buddhism in China was due to the fact that it presented religious emotion and speculation in the best form known there, and when it began to spread the intellectual soil was not unpropitious. The higher Taoist philosophy had made familiar the ideas of quietism and the contemplative life: the age was unsettled, harassed alike by foreign invasion and civil strife. In such times when even active natures tire of unsuccessful struggles, the asylum of a monastery has attractions for many.

We have now some idea of the double position of Buddhism in China and can understand how it sometimes appears as almost the established church and sometimes as a persecuted sect. The reader will do well to remember that in Europe the relations of politics to religion have not always been simple: many Catholic sovereigns have quarrelled with Popes and monks. The French Government supports the claims of Catholic missions in China but does not favour the Church in France. The fact that Huxley was made a Privy Councillor does not imply that Queen Victoria approved of his religious views. In China the repeated restrictive edicts concerning monasteries should not be regarded as acts of persecution. Every politician can see the loss to the state if able-bodied men become monks by the thousand. In periods of literary and missionary zeal, large congregations of such monks may have a sufficient sphere of activity but in sleepy, decadent periods they are apt to become a moral or political danger. A devout Buddhist or Catholic may reasonably hold that though the monastic life is the best for the elect, yet for the unworthy it is more dangerous than the temptations of the world. Thus the founder of the Ming dynasty had himself been a bonze, yet he limited the number and age of those who might become monks.[577] On the other hand, he attended Buddhist services and published an edition of the Tripitaka. In this and in the conduct of most Emperors there is little that is inconsistent or mysterious: they regarded religion not in our fashion as a system deserving either allegiance or rejection, but as a modern Colonial Governor might regard education. Some Governors are enthusiastic for education: others mistrust it as a stimulus of disquieting ideas: most accept it as worthy of occasional patronage, like hospitals and races. In the same way some Emperors, like Wu-Ti,[578] were enthusiasts for Buddhism and made it practically the state religion: a few others were definitely hostile either from conviction or political circumstances, but probably most sovereigns regarded it as the average British official regards education, as something that one can't help having, that one must belaud on certain public occasions, that may now and then be useful, but still emphatically something to be kept within limits.

Outbursts against Buddhism are easy to understand. I have pointed out its un-Chinese features and the persistent opposition of the literati. These were sufficient reasons for repressive measures whenever the Emperor was unbuddhist in his sympathies, especially if the monasteries had enjoyed a period of prosperity and become crowded and wealthy. What is harder to understand is the occasional favour shown by apparently anti-Buddhist Emperors.

The Sacred Edict of the great K'ang Hsi forbids heterodoxy (i tuan) in which the official explanation clearly includes Buddhism.[579] It was published in his extreme youth, but had his mature approval, and until recently was read in every prefecture twice a month. But the same Emperor gave many gifts to monasteries, and in 1705 he issued a decree to the monks of P'uto in which he said, "we since our boyhood have been earnest students of Confucian lore and have had no time to become minutely acquainted with the sacred books of Buddhism, but we are satisfied that Virtue is the one word which indicates what is essential in both systems. Let us pray to the compassionate Kuan-yin that she may of her grace send down upon our people the spiritual rain and sweet dew of the good Law: that she may grant them bounteous harvests, seasonable winds and the blessings of peace, harmony and long life and finally that she may lead them to the salvation which she offers to all beings in the Universe."[580] The two edicts are not consistent but such inconsistency is no reproach to a statesman nor wholly illogical. The Emperor reprimands extravagance in doctrine and ceremonial and commends Confucianism to his subjects as all that is necessary for good life and good government, but when he finds that Buddhism conduces to the same end he accords his patronage and politely admits the existence and power of Kuan-yin.

But I must pass on to another question, the relation of Chinese to Indian Buddhism. Chinese Buddhism is often spoken of as a strange and corrupt degeneration, a commixture of Indian and foreign ideas. Now if such phrases mean that the pulse of life is feeble and the old lights dim, we must regretfully admit their truth, but still little is to be found in Chinese Buddhism except the successive phases of later Indian Buddhism, introduced into China from the first century A.D. onwards. In Japan there arose new sects, but in China, when importation ceased, no period of invention supervened. The T'ien-t'ai school has some originality, and native and foreign ideas were combined by the followers of Bodhidharma. But the remaining schools were all founded by members of Indian sects or by Chinese who aimed at scrupulous imitation of Indian models. Until the eighth century, when the formative period came to an end, we have an alternation of Indian or Central Asian teachers arriving in China to meet with respect and acceptance, and of Chinese enquirers who visited India in order to discover the true doctrine and practice and were honoured on their return in proportion as they were believed to have found it. There is this distinction between China and such countries as Java, Camboja and Champa, that whereas in them we find a mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism, in China the traces of Hinduism are slight. The imported ideas, however corrupt, were those of Indian Buddhist scholars, not the mixed ideas of the Indian layman.[581]

Of course Buddhist theory and practice felt the influence of their new surroundings. The ornaments and embroidery of the faith are Chinese and sometimes hide the original material. Thus Kuan-yin, considered historically, has grown out of the Indian deity Avalokita, but the goddess worshipped by the populace is the heroine of the Chinese romance mentioned above. And, since many Chinese are only half Buddhists, tales about gods and saints are taken only half-seriously; the Buddha periodically invites the immortals to dine with him in Heaven and the Eighteen Lohan are described as converted brigands.

In every monastery the buildings, images and monks obviously bear the stamp of the country. Yet nearly all the doctrines and most of the usages have Indian parallels. The ritual has its counterpart in what I-Ching describes as seen by himself in his Indian travels. China has added the idea of feng-shui, and has modified architectural forms. For instance the many-storeyed pagoda is an elongation of the stupa.[582] So, too, in ceremonial, the great prominence given to funeral rites and many superstitious details are Chinese, yet, as I have often mentioned in this work, rites on behalf of the dead were tolerated by early Buddhism. The curious mingling of religious services with theatrical pagents which Hsuan Chuang witnessed at Allahabad in the reign of Harsha, has its modest parallel to-day in many popular festivals.

The numerous images which crowd a Chinese temple, the four kings, Arhats and Bodhisattvas, though of unfamiliar appearance to the Indian student, are Indian in origin. A few Taoist deities may have side chapels, but they are not among the principal objects of worship. The greater part of the Chinese Tripitaka is a translation from the Sanskrit and the Chinese works (only 194 against 1467 translations) are chiefly exegetical. Thus, though Chinese bonzes countenance native superstitions and gladly undertake to deal with all the gods and devils of the land, yet in its doctrine, literature, and even in many externals their Buddhism remains an Indian importation. If we seek in it for anything truly Chinese, it is to be found not in the constituents, but in the atmosphere, which, like a breeze from a mountain monastery sometimes freshens the gilded shrines and libraries of verbose sutras. It is the native spirit of the Far East which finds expression in the hill-side hermit's sense of freedom and in dark sayings such as Buddhism is the oak-tree in my garden. Every free and pure heart can become a Buddha, but also is one with the life of birds and flowers. Both the love of nature[583] and the belief that men can become divine can easily be paralleled in Indian texts, but they were not, I think, imported into China, and joy in natural beauty and sympathy with wild life are much more prominent in Chinese than in Indian art.

Is then Buddhist doctrine, as opposed to the superstitions tolerated by Buddhism, something exotic and without influence on the national life? That also is not true. The reader will perceive from what has gone before that if he asks for statistics of Buddhism in China, the answer must be, in the Buddha's own phrase, that the question is not properly put. It is incorrect to describe China as a Buddhist country. We may say that it contains so many million Mohammedans or Christians, because these creeds are definite and exclusive. We cannot quote similar figures for Buddhism or Confucianism. Yet assuredly Buddhism has been a great power in China, as great perhaps as Christianity in Europe, if we remember how much is owed by European art, literature, law and science to non-Christian sources. The Chinese language is full of Buddhist phraseology,[584] not only in literature but in popular songs and proverbs and an inspection of such entries in a Chinese dictionary as Fo (Buddha), Kuan Yin, Ho Shang (monk)[585] will show how large and not altogether flattering a part they play in popular speech.

Popular literature bears the same testimony. It is true that in what are esteemed the higher walks of letters Buddhism has little place. The quotations and allusions which play there so prominent a part are taken from the classics and Confucianism can claim as its own the historical, lexicographical and critical[586] works which are the solid and somewhat heavy glory of Chinese literature. But its lighter and less cultivated blossoms, such as novels, fairy stories and poetry, are predominantly Buddhist or Taoist in inspiration. This may be easily verified by a perusal of such works as the Dream of the Red Chamber, Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, and Wieger's Folk Lore Chinois Moderne. The same is true in general of the great Chinese poets, many of whom did not conceal that (in a poetic and unascetic fashion) they were attached to Buddhism.

It may be asked if the inspiration is not Taoist in the main rather than Buddhist. Side by side with ethics and ceremony, a native stream of bold and weird imagination has never ceased to flow in China and there was no need to import tales of the Genii, immortal saints and vampire beauties. But when any coherency unites these ideas of the supernatural, that I think is the work of Buddhism and so far as Taoism itself has any coherency it is an imitation of Buddhism. Thus the idea of metempsychosis as one of many passing fancies may be indigenous to China but its prevalence in popular thought and language is undoubtedly due to Buddhism, for Taoism and Confucianism have nothing definite to say as to the state of the dead.

Much the same story of Buddhist influence is told by Chinese art, especially painting and sculpture. Here too Taoism is by no means excluded: it may be said to represent the artistic side of the Chinese mind, as Confucianism represents the political. But it is impossible to mistake the significance of chronology. As soon as Buddhism was well established in China, art entered on a new phase which culminated in the masterpieces of the T'ang and Sung.[587] Buddhism did not introduce painting into China or even perfect a rudimentary art. The celebrated roll of Ku K'ai-chih[588] shows no trace of Indian influence and presupposes a long artistic tradition. But Mahayanist Buddhism brought across Central Asia new shapes and motives. Some of its imports were of doubtful artistic value, such as figures with many limbs and eyes, but with them came ideas which enriched Chinese art with new dramatic power, passion and solemnity. Taoism dealt with other worlds but they were gardens of the Hesperides, inhabited by immortal wizards and fairy queens, not those disquieting regions where the soul receives the reward of its deeds. But now the art of Central Asia showed Chinese painters something new; saints preaching the law with a gesture of authority and deities of infinite compassion inviting suppliants to approach their thrones. And with them came the dramatic story of Gotama's life and all the legends of the Jatakas.

This clearly is not Taoism, but when the era of great art and literature begins, any distinction between the two creeds, except for theological purposes, becomes artificial, for Taoism borrowed many externals of Buddhism, and Buddhism, while not abandoning its austere and emaciated saints, also accepted the Taoist ideal of the careless wandering hermit, friend of mountain pines and deer. Wei Hsieh[589] who lived under the Chin dynasty, when the strength of Buddhism was beginning to be felt, is considered by Chinese critics as the earliest of the great painters and is said to have excelled in both Buddhist and Taoist subjects. The same may be said of the most eminent names, such as Ku K'ai-chih and Wu Tao-tzu,[590] and we may also remember that Italian artists painted the birth of Venus and the origin of the milky way as well as Annunciations and Assumptions, without any hint that one incident was less true than another. Buddhism not only provided subjects like the death of the Buddha and Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, which hold in Chinese art the same place as the Crucifixion and the Madonna in Europe, and generation after generation have stimulated the noblest efforts of the best painters. It also offered a creed and ideals suited to the artistic temperament: peace and beauty reigned in its monasteries: its doctrine that life is one and continuous is reflected in that love of nature, that sympathetic understanding of plants and animals, that intimate union of sentiment with landscape which marks the best Chinese pictures.


[Footnote 557: For Chinese Buddhism see especially Johnston, Chinese Buddhism, 1913 (cited as Johnston). Much information about the popular side of Buddhism and Taoism nay be found in Recherches sur les superstitions en Chine par le Pere Henri Dore, 10 vols. 1911-1916, Shanghai (cited as Dore).]

[Footnote 558: A curious instance of deification is mentioned in Museon, 1914, p. 61. It appears that several deceased Jesuits have been deified. For a recent instance of deification in 1913 see Dore, X. p. 753.]

[Footnote 559: The spirits called San Kuan [Chinese: ] or San Yuan [Chinese: ] are a good instance of Chinese deities. The words mean Three Agents or Principles who strictly speaking have no names: (a) Originally they appear to represent Heaven, Earth and Water. (b) Then they stand for three periods of the year and the astrological influences which rule each, (c) As Agents, and more or less analogous to human personalities, Heaven gives happiness, Earth pardons sins and Water delivers from misfortune. (d)They are identified with the ancient Emperors Yao, Shun, Yu. (e) They are also identified with three Censors under the Emperor Li-Wang, B.C. 878-841.]

[Footnote 560: [Chinese: ] Hsuan Chuang's own account of his travels bears the slightly different title of Hsi-Yu-Chi. [Chinese: ] The work noticed here is attributed to Chiu Ch'ang Ch'un, a Taoist priest of the thirteenth century. It is said to be the Buddhist book most widely read in Korea where it is printed in the popular script. An abridged English translation has been published by T. Richard under the title of A Mission to Heaven.]

[Footnote 561: I am writing immediately after the abolition of the Imperial Government (1912), and what I say naturally refers to a state of things which is passing away. But it is too soon to say how the new regime will affect religion. There is an old saying that China is supported by the three religions as a tripod by three legs.]

[Footnote 562: [Chinese: ] strictly speaking the title of his reign 1573-1620.]

[Footnote 563: Compare Anal. IX. 1 and xiv. 38. 2. See also Doctrine of the Mean, chap, xvi, for more positive views about spirits.]

[Footnote 564: [Chinese: ] and [Chinese: ] See De Groot, "Origins of the Taoist Church" in Trans. Third Congress Hist. Relig. 1908.]

[Footnote 565: Chang Yuan-hsu, who held office in 1912, was deprived of his titles by the Republican Government. In 1914 petitions were presented for their restoration, but I do not know with what result. See Peking Daily News, September 5th, 1914.]

[Footnote 566: Something similar may be seen in Mormonism where angels and legends have been invented by individual fancy without any background of tradition.]

[Footnote 567: [Chinese: ]]

[Footnote 568: [Chinese: ]]

[Footnote 569: The sixth Aeneid would seem to a Chinese quite a natural description of the next world. In it we have Elysium, Tartarus, transmigration of souls, souls who can find no resting place because their bodies are unburied, and phantoms showing still the wounds which their bodies received in life. Nor is there any attempt to harmonize these discordant ideas.]

[Footnote 570: [Chinese: ] A somewhat similar pseudo-science called vatthu-vijja is condemned in the Pali scriptures. E.g. Digha N. I. 21. Astrology also has been a great force in Chinese politics. See Bland and Backhouse, Ann. and Memoirs, passim. The favour shown at different times to Buddhist, Manichaean and Catholic priests was often due to their supposed knowledge of astrology.]

[Footnote 571: I may again remind the reader that I am not speaking of the Chinese Republic but of the Empire. The long history of its relations to Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, though it concerns the past, is of great interest.]

[Footnote 572: De Groot and Parker. For an elaboration of the first thesis see especially De Groot's Sectarianism and Religious Persecution in China.]

[Footnote 573: But it must be remembered that the Chinese canon is not entirely analogous to the collections of the scriptures current in India, Ceylon or Europe.]

[Footnote 574: The Emperor is the Lord of all spirits and has the right to sacrifice to all spirits, whereas others should sacrifice only to such spirits as concern them. For the Emperor's title "Lord of Spirits," see Shu Ching IV., VI. 2-3, and Shih Ching, III., II. 8, 3.]

[Footnote 575: The title is undoubtedly very ancient and means Son of Heaven or Son of God. See Hirth, Ancient History of China, pp. 95-96. But the precise force of Son is not clear. The Emperor was Viceregent of Heaven, high priest and responsible for natural phenomena, but he could not in historical times be regarded as sprung (like the Emperor of Japan) from a family of divine descent, because the dynasties, and with them the imperial family, were subject to frequent change.]

[Footnote 576: Similarly it is a popular tenet that if a man becomes a monk all his ancestors go to Heaven. See Paraphrase of sacred Edict, VII.]

[Footnote 577: Japanese Emperors did the same, e.g. Kwammu Tenno in 793.]

[Footnote 578: [Chinese: ]]

[Footnote 579: K'ang Hsi is responsible only for the text of the Edict which merely forbids heterodoxy. But his son Yung Cheng who published the explanation and paraphrase repaired the Buddhist temples at P'uto and the Taoist temple at Lung-hu-shan.]

[Footnote 580: See Johnston, p. 352. I have not seen the Chinese text of this edict. In Laufer and Francke's Epigraphische Denkmaler aus China is a long inscription of Kang Hsi's giving the history both legendary and recent of the celebrated sandal-wood image of the Buddha.]

[Footnote 581: This indicates that the fusion of Buddhism and Hinduism was less complete than some scholars suppose. Where there was a general immigration of Hindus, the mixture is found, but the Indian visitors to China were mostly professional teachers and their teaching was definitely Buddhist. There are, however, two non-Buddhist books in the Chinese Tripitaka. Nanjio Cat. Nos. 1295 and 1300.]

[Footnote 582: It has been pointed out by Fergusson and others that there were high towers in China before the Buddhist period. Still, the numerous specimens extant date from Buddhist times, many were built over relics, and the accounts of both Fa-hsien and Hsuan Chuang show that the Stupa built by Kanishka at Peshawar had attracted the attention of the Chinese.

I regret that de Groot's interesting work Der Thupa: das heiligste Heiligtum des Buddhismus in China, 1919, reached me too late for me to make use of it.]

[Footnote 583: The love of nature shown in the Pali Pitakas (particularly the Thera and Theri Gatha) has often been noticed, but it is also strong in Mahayanist literature. E.g. Bodhicaryavatara VIII. 26-39 and 86-88.]

[Footnote 584: See especially Watters, Essays on the Chinese Language, chaps, VIII and IX, and Clementi, Cantonese Love Songs in English, pp. 9 to 12]

[Footnote 585: [Chinese: ]]

[Footnote 586: I cannot refrain from calling attention to the difference between the Chinese and most other Asiatic peoples (especially the Hindus) as exhibited in their literature. Quite apart from European influence the Chinese produced several centuries ago catalogues of museums and descriptive lists of inscriptions, works which have no parallel in Hindu India.]

[Footnote 587: There are said to have been four great schools of Buddhist painting under the T'ang. See Kokka 294 and 295.]

[Footnote 588: Preserved in the British Museum and published.]

[Footnote 589: [Chinese: ] of the [Chinese: ] dynasty.]

[Footnote 590: [Chinese: ]


CHINA (continued)


The traditional date for the introduction of Buddhism is 62 A.D., when the chronicles tell how the Emperor Ming-Ti of the Later Han Dynasty dreamt that he saw a golden man fly into his palace[591] and how his courtiers suggested that the figure was Fo-t'o[592] or Buddha, an Indian God. Ming-Ti did not let the matter drop and in 65 sent an embassy to a destination variously described as the kingdom of the Ta Yueh Chih[593] or India with instructions to bring back Buddhist scriptures and priests. On its return it was accompanied by a monk called Kasyapa Matanga,[594] a native of Central India. A second called Chu Fa-Lan,[595] who came from Central Asia and found some difficulty in obtaining permission to leave his country, followed shortly afterwards. Both were installed at Loyang, the capital of the dynasty, in the White Horse Monastery,[596] so called because the foreign monks rode on white horses or used them for carrying books.

The story has been criticized as an obvious legend, but I see no reason why it should not be true to this extent that Ming-Ti sent an embassy to Central Asia (not India in our sense) with the result that a monastery was for the first time established under imperial patronage. The gravest objection is that before the campaigns of Pan Ch'ao,[597] which began about 73 A.D., Central Asia was in rebellion against China. But those campaigns show that the Chinese Court was occupied with Central Asian questions and to send envoys to enquire about religion may have been politically advantageous, for they could obtain information without asserting or abandoning China's claims to sovereignty. The story does not state that there was no Buddhism in China before 62 A.D. On the contrary it implies that though it was not sufficiently conspicuous to be known to the Emperor, yet there was no difficulty in obtaining information about it and other facts support the idea that it began to enter China at least half a century earlier. The negotiations of Chang Ch'ien[598] with the Yueh Chih (129-119 B.C.) and the documents discovered by Stein in the ancient military posts on the western frontier of Kansu[599] prove that China had communication with Central Asia, but neither the accounts of Chang Ch'ien's journeys nor the documents contain any allusion to Buddhism. In 121 B.C. the Annals relate that "a golden man" was captured from the Hsiung-nu but, even if it was an image of Buddha, the incident had no consequences. More important is a notice in the Wei-lueh which gives a brief account of the Buddha's birth and states that in the year 2 B.C. an ambassador sent by the Emperor Ai to the court of the Yueh Chih was instructed in Buddhism by order of their king.[600] Also the Later Han Annals intimate that in 65 A.D. the Prince of Ch'u[601] was a Buddhist and that there were Sramanas and Upasakas in his territory.

The author of the Wei-lueh comments on the resemblance of Buddhist writings to the work of Lao-tzu, and suggests that the latter left China in order to teach in India. This theory found many advocates among the Taoists, but is not likely to commend itself to European scholars. Less improbable is a view held by many Chinese critics[602] and apparently first mentioned in the Sui annals, namely, that Buddhism was introduced into China at an early date but was exterminated by the Emperor Shih Huang Ti (221-206) in the course of his crusade against literature. But this view is not supported by any details and is open to the general objection that intercourse between China and India via Central Asia before 200 B.C. is not only unproved but improbable.

Still the mystical, quietist philosophy of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu has an undoubted resemblance to Indian thought. No one who is familiar with the Upanishads can read the Tao-Te-Ching without feeling that if Brahman is substituted for Tao the whole would be intelligible to a Hindu. Its doctrine is not specifically Buddhist, yet it contains passages which sound like echoes of the Pitakas. Compare Tao-Te-Ching, 33. 1, "He who overcomes others is strong: he who overcomes himself is mighty," with Dhammapada, 103, "If one man overcome a thousand thousand in battle and another overcome himself, this last is the greatest of conquerors"; and 46. 2, "There is no greater sin that to look on what moves desire: there is no greater evil than discontent: there is no greater disaster than covetousness," with Dhammapada, 251, "There is no fire like desire, there is no monster like hatred, there is no snare like folly, there is no torrent like covetousness." And if it be objected that these are the coincidences of obvious ethics, I would call attention to 39. 1, "Hence if we enumerate separately each part that goes to form a cart, we have no cart at all." Here the thought and its illustration cannot be called obvious and the resemblance to well-known passages in the Samyutta Nikaya and Questions of Milinda[603] is striking.

Any discussion of the indebtedness of the Tao-Te-Ching to India is too complicated for insertion here since it involves the question of its date or the date of particular passages, if we reject the hypothesis that the work as we have it was composed by Lao-tzu in the sixth century B.C.[604] But there is less reason to doubt the genuineness of the essays of Chuang-tzu who lived in the fourth century B.C. In them we find mention of trances which give superhuman wisdom and lead to union with the all-pervading spirit, and of magical powers enjoyed by sages, similar to the Indian iddhi. He approves the practice of abandoning the world and enunciates the doctrines of evolution and reincarnation. He knows, as does also the Tao-Te-Ching, methods of regulating the breathing which are conducive to mental culture and long life. He speaks of the six faculties of perception, which recall the Shadayatana, and of name and real existence (namarupam) as being the conditions of a thing.[605] He has also a remarkable comparison of death to the extinction of a fire: "what we can point to are the faggots that have been consumed: but the fire is transmitted and we know not that it is over and ended." Several Buddhist parallels to this might be cited.[606]

The list of such resemblances might be made longer and the explanation that Indian ideas reached China sporadically, at least as early as the fourth century B.C., seems natural. I should accept it, if there were any historical evidence besides these literary parallels. But there seems to be none and it may be justly urged that the roots of this quietism lie so deep in the Chinese character, that the plant cannot have sprung from some chance wind-wafted seed. That character has two sides, one seen in the Chinese Empire and the classical philosophy, excellent as ethics but somewhat stiff and formal: the other in revolutions and rebellions, in the free life of hermits and wanderers, in poetry and painting. This second side is very like the temper of Indian Buddhism and easily amalgamated with it,[607] but it has a special note of its own.

The curiosity of Ming-Ti did not lead to any immediate triumph of Buddhism. We read that he was zealous in honouring Confucius but not that he showed devotion to the new faith. Indeed it is possible that his interest was political rather than religious. Buddhism was also discredited by its first convert, the Emperor's brother Chu-Ying, who rebelled unsuccessfully and committed suicide. Still it flourished in a quiet way and the two foreign monks in the White Horse Monastery began that long series of translations which assumed gigantic proportions in the following centuries. To Kasyapa is ascribed a collection of extracts known as the Sutra of forty-two sections which is still popular.[608] This little work adheres closely to the teaching of the Pali Tripitaka and shows hardly any traces of the Mahayana. According to the Chinese annals the chief doctrines preached by the first Buddhist missionaries were the sanctity of all animal life, metempsychosis, meditation, asceticism and Karma.

It is not until the third century[609] that we hear much of Buddhism as a force at Court or among the people, but meanwhile the task of translation progressed at Lo-yang. The Chinese are a literary race and these quiet labours prepared the soil for the subsequent efflorescence. Twelve[610] translators are named as having worked before the downfall of the Han Dynasty and about 350 books are attributed to them. None of them were Chinese. About half came from India and the rest from Central Asia, the most celebrated of the latter being An Shih-kao, a prince of An-hsi or Parthia.[611] The Later Han Dynasty was followed by the animated and romantic epoch known as the Three Kingdoms (221-265) when China was divided between the States of Wei, Wu and Shu. Loyang became the capital of Wei and the activity of the White Horse Monastery continued. We have the names of five translators who worked there. One of them was the first to translate the Patimokkha,[612] which argues that previously few followed the monastic life. At Nanking, the capital of Wu, we also hear of five translators and one was tutor of the Crown Prince. This implies that Buddhism was spreading in the south and that monks inspired confidence at Court.

The Three Kingdoms gave place to the Dynasty known as Western Tsin[613] which, for a short time (A.D. 265-316), claimed to unite the Empire, and we now reach the period when Buddhism begins to become prominent. It is also a period of political confusion, of contest between the north and south, of struggles between Chinese and Tartars. Chinese histories, with their long lists of legitimate sovereigns, exaggerate the solidity and continuity of the Empire, for the territory ruled by those sovereigns was often but a small fraction of what we call China. Yet the Tartar states were not an alien and destructive force to the same extent as the conquests made by Mohammedan Turks at the expense of Byzantium. The Tartars were neither fanatical, nor prejudiced against Chinese ideals in politics and religion. On the contrary, they respected the language, literature and institutions of the Empire: they assumed Chinese names and sometimes based their claim to the Imperial title on the marriage of their ancestors with Chinese princesses.

During the fourth century and the first half of the fifth some twenty ephemeral states, governed by Tartar chieftains and perpetually involved in mutual war, rose and fell in northern China. The most permanent of them was Northern Wei which lasted till 535 A.D. But the Later Chao and both the Earlier and Later Ts'in are important for our purpose.[614] Some writers make it a reproach to Buddhism that its progress, which had been slow among the civilized Chinese, became rapid in the provinces which passed into the hands of these ruder tribes. But the phenomenon is natural and is illustrated by the fact that even now the advance of Christianity is more rapid in Africa than in India. The civilization of China was already old and self-complacent: not devoid of intellectual curiosity and not intolerant, but sceptical of foreign importations and of dealings with the next world. But the Tartars had little of their own in the way of literature and institutions: it was their custom to assimilate the arts and ideas of the civilized nations whom they conquered: the more western tribes had already made the acquaintance of Buddhism in Central Asia and such native notions of religion as they possessed disposed them to treat priests, monks and magicians with respect.

Of the states mentioned, the Later Chao was founded by Shih-Lo[615] (273-332), whose territories extended from the Great Wall to the Han and Huai in the South. He showed favour to an Indian monk and diviner called Fo-t'u-ch'eng[616] who lived at his court and he appears to have been himself a Buddhist. At any rate the most eminent of his successors, Shih Chi-lung,[617] was an ardent devotee and gave general permission to the population to enter monasteries, which had not been granted previously. This permission is noticeable, for it implies, even at this early date, the theory that a subject of the Emperor has no right to become a monk without his master's leave.

In 381 we are told that in north-western China nine-tenths of the inhabitants were Buddhists. In 372 Buddhism was introduced into Korea and accepted as the flower of Chinese civilization.

The state known as the Former Ts'in[618] had its nucleus in Shensi, but expanded considerably between 351 and 394 A.D. under the leadership of Fu-Chien,[619] who established in it large colonies of Tartars. At first he favoured Confucianism but in 381 became a Buddhist. He was evidently in close touch with the western regions and probably through them with India, for we hear that sixty-two states of Central Asia sent him tribute.

The Later Ts'in dynasty (384-417) had its headquarters in Kansu and was founded by vassals of the Former Ts'in. When the power of Fu-Chien collapsed, they succeeded to his possessions and established themselves in Ch'ang-an. Yao-hsing,[620] the second monarch of this line was a devout Buddhist, and deserves mention as the patron of Kumarajiva,[621] the most eminent of the earlier translators.

Kumarajiva was born of Indian parents in Kucha and, after following the school of the Sarvastivadins for some time, became a Mahayanist. When Kucha was captured in 383 by the General of Fu-Chien, he was carried off to China and from 401 onwards he laboured at Ch'ang-an for about ten years. He was appointed Kuo Shih,[622] or Director of Public Instruction, and lectured in a hall specially built for him. He is said to have had 3000 disciples and fifty extant translations are ascribed to him. Probably all the Tartar kingdoms were well disposed towards Buddhism, though their unsettled condition made them precarious residences for monks and scholars. This was doubtless true of Northern Wei, which had been growing during the period described, but appears as a prominent home of Buddhism somewhat later.

Meanwhile in the south the Eastern Tsin Dynasty, which represented the legitimate Empire and ruled at Nanking from 317 to 420, was also favourable to Buddhism and Hsiao Wu-Ti, the ninth sovereign of this line, was the first Emperor of China to become a Buddhist.

The times were troubled, but order was gradually being restored. The Eastern Tsin Dynasty had been much disturbed by the struggles of rival princes. These were brought to an end in 420 by a new dynasty known as Liu Sung which reigned in the south some sixty years. The north was divided among six Tartar kingdoms, which all perished before 440 except Wei. Wei then split into an Eastern and a Western kingdom which lasted about a hundred years. In the south, the Liu Sung gave place to three short dynasties, Ch'i, Liang and Ch'en, until at last the Sui (589-605) united China.

The Liu Sung Emperor Wen-Ti (424-454) was a patron of Confucian learning, but does not appear to have discouraged Buddhism. The Sung annals record that several embassies were sent from India and Ceylon to offer congratulations on the flourishing condition of religion in his dominions, but they also preserve memorials from Chinese officials asking for imperial interference to prevent the multiplication of monasteries and the growing expenditure on superstitious ceremonies. This marks the beginning of the desire to curb Buddhism by restrictive legislation which the official class displayed so prominently and persistently in subsequent centuries. A similar reaction seems to have been felt in Wei, where the influential statesman Ts'ui Hao,[623] a votary of Taoism, conducted an anti-Buddhist campaign. He was helped in this crusade by the discovery of arms in a monastery at Ch'ang-an. The monks were accused of treason and debauchery and in 446 Toba Tao,[624] the sovereign of Wei, issued an edict ordering the destruction of Buddhist temples and sacred books as well as the execution of all priests. The Crown Prince, who was a Buddhist, was able to save many lives, but no monasteries or temples were left standing. The persecution, however, was of short duration. Toba Tao was assassinated and almost the first act of his successor was to re-establish Buddhism and allow his subjects to become monks. From this period date the sculptured grottoes of Yun-Kang in northern Shan-si which are probably the oldest specimens of Buddhist art in China. In 471 another ruler of Wei, Toba Hung, had a gigantic image of Buddha constructed and subsequently abdicated in order to devote himself to Buddhist studies. His successor marks a reaction, for he was an ardent Confucianist who changed the family name to Yuan and tried to introduce the Chinese language and dress. But the tide of Buddhism was too strong. It secured the favour of the next Emperor in whose time there are said to have been 13,000 temples in Wei.

In the Sung dominions a conspiracy was discovered in 458 in which a monk was implicated, and restrictive, though not prohibitive, regulations were issued respecting monasteries. The Emperor Ming-Ti, though a cruel ruler was a devout Buddhist and erected a monastery in Hu-nan, at the cost of such heavy taxation that his ministers remonstrated. The fifty-nine years of Liu Sung rule must have been on the whole favourable to Buddhism, for twenty translators flourished, partly natives and partly foreigners from Central Asia, India and Ceylon. In 420 a band of twenty-five Chinese started on a pilgrimage to India. They had been preceded by the celebrated pilgrim Fa-Hsien[625] who travelled in India from 399 to 414.

In the reign of Wu-Ti, the first Emperor of the Ch'i dynasty, one of the imperial princes, named Tzu Liang,[626] cultivated the society of eminent monks and enjoyed theological discussions. From the specimens of these arguments which have been preserved we see that the explanation of the inequalities of life as the result of Karma had a great attraction for the popular mind and also that it provoked the hostile criticism of the Confucian literati.

The accession of the Liang dynasty and the long reign of its first emperor Wu-Ti (502-549) were important events in the history of Buddhism, for this monarch rivalled Asoka in pious enthusiasm if not in power and prosperity. He obviously set the Church above the state and it was while he was on the throne that Bodhidharma came to China and the first edition of the Tripitaka was prepared.

His reign, though primarily of importance for religion, was not wanting in political interest, and witnessed a long conflict with Wei. Wu-Ti was aided by the dissensions which distracted Wei but failed to achieve his object, probably as a result of his religious preoccupations, for he seemed unable to estimate the power of the various adventurers who from time to time rose to pre-eminence in the north and, holding war to be wrong, he was too ready to accept insincere overtures for peace. Wei split into two states, the Eastern and Western, and Hou-Ching,[627] a powerful general who was not satisfied with his position in either, offered his services to Wu-Ti, promising to add a large part of Ho-nan to his dominions. He failed in his promise but Wu-Ti, instead of punishing him, first gave him a post as governor and then listened to the proposals made by the ruler of Eastern Wei for his surrender. On this Hou-Ching conspired with an adopted son of Wu-Ti, who had been set aside as heir to the throne and invested Nanking. The city was captured after the horrors of a prolonged siege and Wu-Ti died miserably.

Wu-Ti was not originally a Buddhist. In fact until about 510, when he was well over forty, he was conspicuous as a patron of Confucianism. The change might be ascribed to personal reasons, but it is noticeable that the same thing occurred in Wei, where a period of Confucianism was succeeded by a strong wave of Buddhism which evidently swept over all China. Hu,[628] the Dowager Empress of Wei, was a fervent devotee, though of indifferent morality in both public and private life since she is said to have poisoned her own son. In 518 she sent Sung Yun and Hui Sheng[629] to Udyana in search of Buddhist books of which they brought back 175.

Wu-Ti's conversion is connected with a wandering monk and magician called Pao-Chih,[630] who received the privilege of approaching him at all hours. A monastery was erected in Nanking at great expense and edicts were issued forbidding not only the sacrifice of animals but even the representation of living things in embroidery, on the ground that people might cut up such figures and thus become callous to the sanctity of life. The emperor expounded sutras in public and wrote a work on Buddhist ritual.[631] The first Chinese edition of the Tripitaka, in manuscript and not printed, was collected in 518. Although Wu-Ti's edicts, particularly that against animal sacrifices, gave great dissatisfaction, yet the Buddhist movement seems to have been popular and not merely an imperial whim, for many distinguished persons, for instance the authors Liu Hsieh and Yao Ch'a,[632] took part in it.

In 520 (or according to others, in 525) Bodhidharma (generally called Ta-mo in Chinese) landed in Canton from India. He is described as the son of a king of a country called Hsiang-chih in southern India, and the twenty-eighth Patriarch.[633] He taught that merit does not lie in good works and that knowledge is not gained by reading the scriptures. The one essential is insight, which comes as illumination after meditation. Though this doctrine had subsequently much success in the Far East, it was not at first appreciated and Bodhidharma's introduction to the devout but literary Emperor in Nanking was a fiasco. He offended his Majesty by curtly saying that he had acquired no merit by causing temples to be built and books to be transcribed. Then, in answer to the question, what is the most important of the holy doctrines, he replied "where all is emptiness, nothing can be called holy." "Who," asked the astonished Emperor, "is he who thus replies to me?" "I do not know," said Bodhidharma.

Not being able to come to any understanding with Wu-Ti, Bodhidharma went northwards, and is said to have crossed the Yang-tse standing on a reed, a subject frequently represented in Chinese art.[634] He retired to Lo-yang where he spent nine years in the Shao-Lin[635] temple gazing silently at a wall, whence he was popularly known as the wall-gazer. One legend says that he sat so long in contemplation that his legs fell off, and a kind of legless doll which is a favourite plaything in Japan is still called by his name. But according to another tale he preserved his legs. He wished to return to India but died in China. When Sung Yun, the traveller mentioned above, was returning from India, he met him in a mountain pass bare-footed and carrying one sandal in his hand.[636] When this was reported, his coffin was opened and was found to contain nothing but the other sandal which was long preserved as a precious relic in the Shao-Lin temple.

Wu-Ti adopted many of the habits of a bonze. He was a strict vegetarian, expounded the scriptures in public and wrote a work on ritual. He thrice retired into a monastery and wore the dress of a Bhikkhu. These retirements were apparently of short duration and his ministers twice redeemed him by heavy payments.

In 538 a hair of the Buddha was sent by the king of Fu-nan and received with great ceremony. In the next year a mission was despatched to Magadha to obtain Sanskrit texts. It returned in 546 with a large collection of manuscripts and accompanied by the learned Paramartha who spent twenty years in translating them.[637] Wu-Ti, in his old age, became stricter. All luxury was suppressed at Court, but he himself always wore full dress and showed the utmost politeness, even to the lowest officials. He was so reluctant to inflict the punishment of death that crime increased. In 547 he became a monk for the third time and immediately afterwards the events connected with Hou-Ching (briefly sketched above) began to trouble the peace of his old age. During the siege of Nanking he was obliged to depart from his vegetarian diet and eat eggs. When he was told that his capital was taken he merely said, "I obtained the kingdom through my own efforts and through me it has been lost. So I need not complain."

Hou-Ching proceeded to the palace, but,[638] overcome with awe, knelt down before Wu-Ti who merely said, "I am afraid you must be fatigued by the trouble it has cost you to destroy my kingdom." Hou-Ching was ashamed and told his officers that he had never felt such fear before and would never dare to see Wu-Ti again. Nevertheless, the aged Emperor was treated with indignity and soon died of starvation. His end, though melancholy, was peaceful compared with that in store for Hou-Ching who, after two years of fighting and murdering, assumed the imperial title, but immediately afterwards was defeated and slain. The people ate his body in the streets of Nanking and his own wife is said to have swallowed mouthfuls of his flesh.

One of Wu-Ti's sons, Yuan-Ti, who reigned from 552 to 555, inherited his father's temper and fate with this difference that he was a Taoist, not a Buddhist. He frequently resided in the temples of that religion, studied its scriptures and expounded them to his people. A great scholar, he had accumulated 140,000 volumes, but when it was announced to him in his library that the troops of Wei were marching on his capital, he yielded without resistance and burnt his books, saying that they had proved of no use in this extremity.

This alternation of imperial patronage in the south may have been the reason why Wen Hsuan Ti, the ruler of Northern Ch'i,[639] and for the moment perhaps the most important personage in China, summoned Buddhist and Taoist priests to a discussion in 555. Both religions could not be true, he said, and one must be superfluous. After hearing the arguments of both he decided in favour of Buddhism and ordered the Taoists to become bonzes on pain of death. Only four refused and were executed.

Under the short Ch'en dynasty (557-589) the position of Buddhism continued favourable. The first Emperor, a mild and intelligent sovereign, though circumstances obliged him to put a great many people out of the way, retired to a monastery after reigning for two years. But in the north there was a temporary reaction. Wu-Ti, of the Northern Chou dynasty,[640] first of all defined the precedence of the three religions as Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and then, in 575, prohibited the two latter, ordering temples to be destroyed and priests to return to the world. But as usual the persecution was not of long duration. Five years later Wu-Ti's son withdrew his father's edict and in 582, the founder of the Sui dynasty, gave the population permission to become monks. He may be said to have used Buddhism as his basis for restoring the unity of the Empire and in his old age he became devout. The Sui annals observe that Buddhist books had become more numerous under this dynasty than those of the Confucianists, and no less than three collections of the Tripitaka were made between 594 and 616.

With the seventh century began the great T'ang dynasty (620-907). Buddhism had now been known to the rulers of China for about 550 years. It began as a religion tolerated but still regarded as exotic and not quite natural for the sons of Han. It had succeeded in establishing itself as the faith of the majority among both Tartars and Chinese. The rivalry of Taoism was only an instance of that imitation which is the sincerest flattery. Though the opposition of the mandarins assumed serious proportions whenever they could induce an Emperor to share their views, yet the hostile attitude of the Government never lasted long and was not shared by the mass of the people. It is clear that the permissions to practise Buddhism which invariably followed close on the prohibitions were a national relief. Though Buddhism tended to mingle with Taoism and other indigenous ideas, the many translations of Indian works and the increasing intercourse between Chinese and Hindus had diffused a knowledge of its true tenets and practice.

The T'ang dynasty witnessed a triangular war between Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. As a rule Confucianism attacked the other two as base superstitions but sometimes, as in the reign of Wu Tsung, Taoism seized a chance of being able to annihilate Buddhism. This war continued under the Northern Sung, though the character of Chinese Buddhism changed, for the Contemplative School, which had considerable affinities to Taoism, became popular at the expense of the T'ien T'ai. After the Northern Sung (except under the foreign Mongol dynasty) we feel that, though Buddhism was by no means dead and from time to time flourished exceedingly, yet Confucianism had established its claim to be the natural code and creed of the scholar and statesman. The Chinese Court remained a strange place to the end but scholarship and good sense had a large measure of success in banishing extravagance from art and literature. Yet, alas, the intellectual life of China lost more in fire and brilliancy than it gained in sanity. Probably the most critical times for literature and indeed for thought were those brief periods under the Sui and T'ang[641] when Buddhist and Taoist books were accepted as texts for the public examinations and the last half century of the Northern Sung, when the educational reforms of Wang An Shih were intermittently in force. The innovations were cancelled in all cases. Had they lasted, Chinese style and mentality might have been different.

The T'ang dynasty, though on the whole favourable to Buddhism, and indeed the period of its greatest prosperity, opened with a period of reaction. To the founder, Kao Tsu, is attributed the saying that Confucianism is as necessary to the Chinese as wings to a bird or water to a fish. The imperial historiographer Fu I[642] presented to his master a memorial blaming Buddhism because it undervalued natural relationships and urging that monks and nuns should be compelled to marry. He was opposed by Hsiao Yu,[643] who declared that hell was made for such people as his opponent—an argument common to many religions. The Emperor followed on the whole advice of Fu I. Magistrates were ordered to inquire into the lives of monks and nuns. Those found pure and sincere were collected in the large establishments. The rest were ordered to return to the world and the smaller religious houses were closed. Kao Tsu abdicated in 627 but his son Tai Tsung continued his religious policy, and the new Empress was strongly anti-Buddhist, for when mortally ill she forbade her son to pray for her recovery in Buddhist shrines. Yet the Emperor cannot have shared these sentiments at any rate towards the end of his reign.[644] He issued an edict allowing every monastery to receive five new monks and the celebrated journey of Hsuan Chuang[645] was made in his reign. When the pilgrim returned from India, he was received with public honours and a title was conferred on him. Learned monks were appointed to assist him in translating the library he had brought back and the account of his travels was presented to the Emperor who also wrote a laudatory preface to his version of the Prajnaparamita. It was in this reign also that Nestorian missionaries first appeared in China and were allowed to settle in the capital. Diplomatic relations were maintained with India. The Indian Emperor Harsha sent an envoy in 641 and two Chinese missions were despatched in return. The second, led by Wang Hsuan-Ts'e,[646] did not arrive until after the death of Harsha when a usurper had seized the throne. Wang Hsuan-Ts'e collected a small army in Tibet, dethroned the usurper and brought him as a prisoner to China.

The latter half of the seventh century is dominated by the figure of the Dowager Empress Wu, the prototype of the celebrated lady who took charge of China's fate in our own day and, like her, superhuman in decision and unscrupulousness, yet capable of inspiring loyalty. She was a concubine of the Emperor Tai Tsung and when he died in 649 lived for a short time as a Buddhist nun. The eventful life of Wu Hou, who was at least successful in maintaining order at home and on the frontiers, belongs to the history of China rather than of Buddhism. She was not an ornament of the faith nor an example of its principles, but, mindful of the protection it had once afforded her, she gave it her patronage even to the extent of making a bonze named Huai I[647] the minister of her mature passions when she was nearly seventy years old. A magnificent temple, at which 10,000 men worked daily, was built for him, but the Empress was warned that he was collecting a body of vigorous monks nominally for its service, but really for political objects. She ordered these persons to be banished. Huai I was angry and burnt the temple. The Empress at first merely ordered it to be rebuilt, but finding that Huai I was growing disrespectful, she had him assassinated.

We hear that the Mahamegha-sutra[648] was presented to her and circulated among the people with her approval. About 690 she assumed divine honours and accommodated these pretensions to Buddhism by allowing herself to be styled Maitreya or Kuan-yin. After her death at the age of 80, there does not appear to have been any religious change, for two monks were appointed to high office and orders were issued that Buddhist and Taoist temples should be built in every Department. But the earlier part of the reign of Hsuan Tsung[649] marks a temporary reaction. It was represented to him that rich families wasted their substance on religious edifices and that the inmates were well-to-do persons desirous of escaping the burdens of public service. He accordingly forbade the building of monasteries, making of images and copying of sutras, and 12,000 monks were ordered to return to the world. In 725 he ordered a building known as "Hall of the Assembled Spirits" to be renamed "Hall of Assembled Worthies," because spirits were mere fables.

In the latter part of his life he became devout though addicted to Taoism rather than Buddhism. But he must have outgrown his anti-Buddhist prejudices, for in 730 the seventh collection of the Tripitaka was made under his auspices. Many poets of this period such as Su Chin and the somewhat later Liu Tsung Yuan[650] were Buddhists and the paintings of the great Wu Tao-tzu and Wang-wei (painter as well as poet) glowed with the inspiration of the T'ien-t'ai teaching. In 740 there were in the city of Ch'ang-An alone sixty-four monasteries and twenty-seven nunneries. A curious light is thrown on the inconsistent and composite character of Chinese religious sentiment—as noticeable to-day as it was twelve hundred years ago—by the will of Yao Ch'ung[651] a statesman who presented a celebrated anti-Buddhist memorial to this Emperor. In his will he warns his children solemnly against the creed which he hated and yet adds the following direction. "When I am dead, on no account perform for me the ceremonies of that mean religion. But if you feel unable to follow orthodoxy in every respect, then yield to popular custom and from the first seventh day after my death until the last (i.e. seventh) seventh day, let mass be celebrated by the Buddhist clergy seven times: and when, as these masses require, you must offer gifts to me, use the clothes which I wore in life and do not use other valuable things."

In 751 a mission was sent to the king of Ki-pin.[652] The staff included Wu-K'ung,[653] also known as Dharmadhatu, who remained some time in India, took the vows and ultimately returned to China with many books and relics. It is probable that in this and the following centuries Hindu influence reached the outlying province of Yunnan directly through Burma.[654]

Letters, art and pageantry made the Court of Hsuan Tsung brilliant, but the splendour faded and his reign ended tragically in disaster and rebellion. The T'ang dynasty seemed in danger of collapse. But it emerged successfully from these troubles and continued for a century and a half. During the whole of this period the Emperors with one exception[655] were favourable to Buddhism, and the latter half of the eighth century marks in Buddhist history an epoch of increased popularity among the masses but also the spread of ritual and doctrinal corruption, for it is in these years that its connection with ceremonies for the repose and honour of the dead became more intimate.

These middle and later T'ang Emperors were not exclusive Buddhists. According to the severe judgment of their own officials, they were inclined to unworthy and outlandish superstitions. Many of them were under the influence of eunuchs, magicians and soothsayers, and many of those who were not assassinated died from taking the Taoist medicine called Elixir of Immortality. Yet it was not a period of decadence and dementia. It was for China the age of Augustus, not of Heliogabalus. Art and literature flourished and against Han-Yu, the brilliant adversary of Buddhism, may be set Liu Tsung Yuan,[656] a writer of at least equal genius who found in it his inspiration. A noble school of painting grew up in the Buddhist monasteries and in a long line of artists may be mentioned the great name of Wu Tao-tzu, whose religious pictures such as Kuan-yin, Purgatory and the death of the Buddha obtained for him a fame which is still living. Among the streams which watered this paradise of art and letters should doubtless be counted the growing importance of Central and Western Asia in Chinese policy and the consequent influx of their ideas. In the mid T'ang period Manichaeism, Nestorianism and Zoroastrianism all were prevalent in China. The first was the religion of the Uigurs. So long as the Chinese had to keep on good terms with this tribe Manichaeism was respected, but when they were defeated by the Kirghiz and became unimportant, it was abruptly suppressed (843). In this period, too, Tibet became of great importance for the Chinese. Their object was to keep open the passes leading to Ferghana and India. But the Tibetans sometimes combined with the Arabs, who had conquered Turkestan, to close them and in 763 they actually sacked Chang An. China endeavoured to defend herself by making treaties with the Indian border states, but in 175 the Arabs inflicted a disastrous defeat on her troops. A treaty of peace was subsequently made with Tibet.[657]

When Su-Tsung (756-762), the son of Hsuan-Tsung, was safely established on the throne, he began to show his devotion to Buddhism. He installed a chapel in the Palace which was served by several hundred monks and caused his eunuchs and guards to dress up as Bodhisattvas and Genii. His ministers, who were required to worship these maskers, vainly remonstrated as also when he accepted a sort of Sibylline book from a nun who alleged that she had ascended to heaven and received it there.

The next Emperor, Tai-Tsung, was converted to Buddhism by his Minister Wang Chin,[658] a man of great abilities who was subsequently sentenced to death for corruption, though the Emperor commuted the sentence to banishment. Tai-Tsung expounded the scriptures in public himself and the sacred books were carried from one temple to another in state carriages with the same pomp as the sovereign. In 768 the eunuch Yu Chao-En[659] built a great Buddhist temple dedicated to the memory of the Emperor's deceased mother. In spite of his minister's remonstrances, His Majesty attended the opening and appointed 1000 monks and nuns to perform masses for the dead annually on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. This anniversary became generally observed as an All Souls' Day, and is still one of the most popular festivals in China. Priests both Buddhist and Taoist recite prayers for the departed, rice is scattered abroad to feed hungry ghosts and clothes are burnt to be used by them in the land of shadows. Large sheds are constructed in which are figures representing scenes from the next world and the evening is enlivened by theatricals, music and fire-works.[660]

The establishment of this festival was due to the celebrated teacher Amogha (Pu-k'ung), and marks the official recognition by Chinese Buddhism of those services for the dead which have rendered it popular at the cost of forgetting its better aspects. Amogha was a native of Ceylon (or, according to others, of Northern India), who arrived in China in 719 with his teacher Vajrabodhi. After the latter's death he revisited India and Ceylon in search of books and came back in 746. He wished to return to his own country, but permission was refused and until his death in 774 he was a considerable personage at Court, receiving high rank and titles. The Chinese Tripitaka contains 108 translations[661] ascribed to him, mostly of a tantric character, though to the honour of China it must be said that the erotic mysticism of some Indian tantras never found favour there. Amogha is a considerable, though not auspicious, figure in the history of Chinese Buddhism, and, so far as such changes can be the work of one man, on him rests the responsibility of making it become in popular estimation a religion specially concerned with funeral rites.[662]

Some authors[663] try to prove that the influx of Nestorianism under the T'ang dynasty had an important influence on the later development of Buddhism in China and Japan and in particular that it popularized these services for the dead. But this hypothesis seems to me unproved and unnecessary. Such ceremonies were an essential part of Chinese religion and no faith could hope to spread, if it did not countenance them: they are prominent in Hinduism and not unknown to Pali Buddhism.[664] Further the ritual used in China and Japan has often only a superficial resemblance to Christian masses for the departed. Part of it is magical and part of it consists in acquiring merit by the recitation of scriptures which have no special reference to the dead. This merit is then formally transferred to them. Doubtless Nestorianism, in so far as it was associated with Buddhism, tended to promote the worship of Bodhisattvas and prayers addressed directly to them, but this tendency existed independently and the Nestorian monument indicates not that Nestorianism influenced Buddhism but that it abandoned the doctrine of the atonement.

In 819 a celebrated incident occurred. The Emperor Hsien-Tsung had been informed that at the Fa-men monastery in Shen-si a bone of the Buddha was preserved which every thirty years exhibited miraculous powers. As this was the auspicious year, he ordered the relic to be brought in state to the capital and lodged in the Imperial Palace, after which it was to make the round of the monasteries in the city. This proceeding called forth an animated protest from Han-Yu,[665] one of the best known authors and statesmen then living, who presented a memorial, still celebrated as a masterpiece. The following extract will give an idea of its style. "Your Servant is well aware that your Majesty does not do this (give the bone such a reception) in the vain hope of deriving advantage therefrom but that in the fulness of our present plenty there is a desire to comply with the wishes of the people in the celebration at the capital of this delusive mummery.... For Buddha was a barbarian. His language was not the language of China. His clothes were of an alien cut. He did not utter the maxims of our ancient rulers nor conform to the customs which they have handed down. He did not appreciate the bond between prince and minister, the tie between father and son. Had this Buddha come to our capital in the flesh, your Majesty might have received him with a few words of admonition, giving him a banquet and a suit of clothes, before sending him out of the country with an escort of soldiers.

"But what are the facts? The bone of a man long since dead and decomposed is to be admitted within the precincts of the Imperial Palace. Confucius said, 'respect spiritual beings but keep them at a distance.' And so when princes of old paid visits of condolence, it was customary to send a magician in advance with a peach-rod in his hand, to expel all noxious influences before the arrival of his master. Yet now your Majesty is about to introduce without reason a disgusting object, personally taking part in the proceedings without the intervention of the magician or his wand. Of the officials not one has raised his voice against it: of the Censors[666] not one has pointed out the enormity of such an act. Therefore your servant, overwhelmed with shame for the Censors, implores your Majesty that these bones may be handed over for destruction by fire or water, whereby the root of this great evil may be exterminated for all time and the people may know how much the wisdom of your Majesty surpasses that of ordinary men."[667]

The Emperor became furious when he read the memorial and wished to execute its author on the spot. But Han-Yu's many friends saved him and the sentence was commuted to honourable banishment as governor of a distant town. Shortly afterwards the Emperor died, not of Buddhism, but of the elixir of immortality which made him so irritable that his eunuchs put him out of the way. Han-Yu was recalled but died the next year. Among his numerous works was one called Yuan Tao, much of which was directed against non-Confucian forms of religion. It is still a thesaurus of arguments for the opponents of Buddhism and, let it be added, of Christianity.

It is not surprising that the prosperity of the Buddhist church should have led to another reaction, but it came not so much from the literary and sceptical class as from Taoism which continued to enjoy the favour of the T'ang Emperors, although they died one after another of drinking the elixir. The Emperor Wu-Tsung was more definitely Taoist than his predecessors. In 843 he suppressed Manichaeism and in 845, at the instigation of his Taoist advisers, he dealt Buddhism the severest blow which it had yet received. In a trenchant edict[668] he repeated the now familiar arguments that it is an alien and maleficent superstition, unknown under the ancient and glorious dynasties and injurious to the customs and morality of the nation. Incidentally he testifies to its influence and popularity for he complains of the crowds thronging the temples which eclipse the imperial palaces in splendour and the innumerable monks and nuns supported by the contributions of the people. Then, giving figures, he commands that 4600 great temples and 40,000 smaller rural temples be demolished, that their enormous[669] landed property be confiscated, that 260,500 monks and nuns be secularized and 150,000 temple slaves[670] set free. These statistics are probably exaggerated and in any case the Emperor had barely time to execute his drastic orders, though all despatch was used on account of the private fortunes which could be amassed incidentally by the executive.

As the Confucian chronicler of his doings observes, he suppressed Buddhism on the ground that it is a superstition but encouraged Taoism which is no better. Indeed the impartial critic must admit that it is much worse, at any rate for Emperors. Undeterred by the fate of his predecessors Wu-Tsung began to take the elixir of immortality. He suffered first from nervous irritability, then from internal pains, which were explained as due to the gradual transformation of his bones, and at the beginning of 846 he became dumb. No further explanation of his symptoms was then given him and his uncle Hsuan Tsung was raised to the throne. His first act was to revoke the anti-Buddhist edict, the Taoist priests who had instigated it were put to death, the Emperor and his ministers vied in the work of reconstruction and very soon things became again much as they were before this great but brief tribulation. Nevertheless, in 852 the Emperor received favourably a memorial complaining of the Buddhist reaction and ordered that all monks and nuns must obtain special permission before taking orders. He was beginning to fall under Taoist influence and it is hard to repress a smile on reading that seven years later he died of the elixir. His successor I-Tsung (860-874), who died at the age of 30, was an ostentatious and dissipated Buddhist. In spite of the remonstrances of his ministers he again sent for the sacred bone from Fa-men and received it with even more respect than his predecessor had shown, for he met it at the Palace gate and bowed before it.

During the remainder of the T'ang dynasty there is little of importance to recount about Buddhism. It apparently suffered no reverses, but history is occupied with the struggle against the Tartars. The later T'ang Emperors entered into alliance with various frontier tribes, but found it hard to keep them in the position of vassals. The history of China from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries is briefly as follows. The T'ang dynasty collapsed chiefly owing to the incapacity of the later Emperors and was succeeded by a troubled period in which five short dynasties founded by military adventurers, three of whom were of Turkish race, rose and fell in 53 years.[671] In 960 the Sung dynasty united the Chinese elements in the Empire, but had to struggle against the Khitan Tartars in the north-east and against the kingdom of Hsia in the north-west. With the twelfth century appeared the Kins or Golden Tartars, who demolished the power of the Khitans in alliance with the Chinese but turned against their allies and conquered all China north of the Yang-tze and continually harassed, though they did not capture, the provinces to the south of it which constituted the reduced empire of the Sungs. But their power waned in its turn before the Mongols, who, under Chinggiz Khan and Ogotai, conquered the greater part of northern Asia and eastern Europe. In 1232 the Sung Emperor entered into alliance with the Mongols against the Kins, with the ultimate result that though the Kins were swept away, Khubilai, the Khan of the Mongols, became Emperor of all China in 1280.

The dynasties of T'ang and Sung mark two great epochs in the history of Chinese art, literature and thought, but whereas the virtues and vices of the T'ang may be summed up as genius and extravagance, those of the Sung are culture and tameness. But this summary judgment does not do justice to the painters, particularly the landscape painters, of the Sung and it is noticeable that many of the greatest masters, including Li Lung-Mien,[672] were obviously inspired by Buddhism. The school which had the greatest influence on art and literature was the Ch'an[673] or contemplative sect better known by its Japanese name Zen. Though founded by Bodhidharma it did not win the sympathy and esteem of the cultivated classes until the Sung period. About this time the method of block-printing was popularized and there began a steady output of comprehensive histories, collected works, encyclopaedias and biographies which excelled anything then published in Europe. Antiquarian research and accessible editions of classical writers were favourable to Confucianism, which had always been the religion of the literati.

It is not surprising that the Emperors of this literary dynasty were mostly temperate in expressing their religious emotions. T'ai-Tsu, the founder, forbade cremation and remonstrated with the Prince of T'ang, who was a fervent Buddhist. Yet he cannot have objected to religion in moderation, for the first printed edition of the Tripitaka was published in his reign (972) and with a preface of his own. The early and thorough application of printing to this gigantic Canon is a proof—if any were needed—of the popular esteem for Buddhism.

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