Edward Harper Parker.

China and religion online

. (page 7 of 23)
Online LibraryEdward Harper ParkerChina and religion → online text (page 7 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of his head had floated through the air into the
Palace. A courtier who heard the story remarked
that " it must be Buddha, a divinity in Western
parts." This observation led the Emperor to
despatch a special mission to India ; and, after two
or three years' absence, this mission returned safely
with a huge standing image of Buddha, and forty-
two books, or chapters, of siltras. Two Hindoos,
one of whom was named Kas'yapa Matanga,
accompanied the mission back, apparently by way
of the Cabul Valley, Yarkand, Khoten, and Lop
Nor : these men, on arrival in China, at once began
the study of the language, and the translation of
the sUtras thus brought.

The fact that a courtier was able to suggest the
solution " Buddha " is of itself strong- evidence in
favour of the supposition that "people had been
talking " about the new religion for some time,
just as a few English students have for a generation
back been discussing Shinto and Bushido, though
the London press have only mentioned them
seriously since the Japanese displayed their great
patriotic qualities before the world. But there is
more specific evidence than that. Fragments of
an extinct Chinese history published about a.d. 220,
and surviving in a second work compiled about
A.D. 425, make it quite clear that, so early as the
year B.C. 2, the King of the Indo-Scythians com-
municated to a Chinese scholar some prophetic

ye BUDDHISM [chap.

words from a Buddhist sMra. Nor is this all ; it
is explained that Buddha's father was called
S'uddho-dana, and his mother Maya; the country
in which they dwelt seems to be intended for K'ap'i
— manifestly Kapilavastu. The Indo- Scythian
king in question would, if we judge by the date,
be Kadphises the First ; and although that name is
unrecognisable as given in Chinese dress, the two
next kings, Kuzula- Kadphises and Oemo-Kadphises,
will fit the Chinese names fairly well so far as the
sounds Kuzulu and Oemo are concerned ; and there
is a distinct statement in the a.d. 425 compilation
that in a.d. 229 the Indo-Scythian King Vadeva
(manifestly one of the Vasudevas) accepted a title
from China. Thus we are enabled to say with
certainty that Buddhism was introduced into China
by the land route which was followed 1200 years
later by Marco Polo and his uncles. During the
process of "turning the Tartars' western flank"
in B.C. 121, the victorious Chinese armies had
captured a golden man from one of the Scythian
princes then ruling over a state corresponding to
Marco Polo's Erguiul. This " gold man " had
been used for purposes of worship by the nomads,
and for that reason the Emperor had directed it
to be placed in his palace amongst the effigies of
other notables ; incense was burnt before it, and
obeisance made ; but it was not worshipped with
sacrifice. These facts have led many Europeans
to accept a suggestion, retrospectively made 1200
years ago by later Chinese, to the effect that


Buddhism had long made its way to the frontiers
of China, by way of the Scythians or Tartars,
before the Chinese themselves admitted it towards
the beginning of our Christian era. But there is
evidence in a.d. 550 that there had long been a
Tartar custom of casting golden images of
empresses and heirs-apparent, who were acclaimed
only if the casting operation turned out success-
fully. The Indo-Scythians whom the Chinese first
discovered in the Jaxartes region in B.C. 130 had
been driven from their original habitat near
Erguiul (Liang Chou) seventy years earlier by
the very Scythians (Hiung-nu) whom the Chinese
partly conquered in B.C. 121. By the time the
Indo-Scythians (who only became such after being
Chino-Scythians) had gradually worked their way
over the Oxus, displaced the Sacae,^ and come
into contact with Parthia, Cophene, and India, all
remnants of Greek rule had disappeared from
Bactriana, and the rude Indo-Scythians had to
choose between two rival civilisations, — between the
fire religion of Persia and the Buddhism (mixed
perhaps with Brahmanism or Sivaism) of India ;
there were no other relig-ious influences at hand.
The evidence of coins found shows that the Indo-
Scythian kings — though many or most of them
were converted to, or partial to, Buddhism by the

1 The Chinese call the indigenous race displaced by the Indo-
Scyths, by the name Sdk, and everything available in the way of
evidence points to these being the Greek writers' Sacae of the
Sacasthene region, now called Seistan. There is not the faintest
trace in Chinese history of any white, or Greek, race of rulers.

78 BUDDHISM [chap.

time they had conquered Cophene and reached
the Indus — still tolerated the Persian religions, for
they are represented on those coins as sacrificing
upon the fire altar, with an effigy, however, of
Siva and his cow on the other side. It is there-
fore unreasonable to suppose that the current of
migration which sped from China towards the
West could have borne eastwards in B.C. 121 a
religion which the said westward current had itself
yet to hear of by crossing the Oxus, and could
therefore not have become sufficiently setded to
consider, not to say propagate, until close upon the
commencement of the Christian era.

No sooner had Buddhism officially reached
China in a.d. 67 than the Emperor's brother
became a " pervert " ; in his younger days the
prince had been a viveur, but now he gave himself
up to Taoist and Buddhist exercises. It was in
A.D. I that the Chinese Emperor had first erected
a temple for sacrifice to the joint manes of Confucius
and the Duke of Chou — the founder of the dynasty
and ethical system which Confucius delighted to
honour. This perversion of a later emperor's brother
from orthodoxy would not have mattered much had
not the prince combined his heterodoxy with treason.
The ultimate result was the suicide of the prince,
and the consequent discrediting of Buddhism at
the very outset : and nothing more was heard of
it for nearly a century. In the year 147 an
emperor came to the throne who was very fond
of music, and had also a great liking for the


mysteries of Taoism and Buddhism. In order to
compete with Buddhism, Taoism (which from a
Chinese point of view resembled Buddhism in
many points, such as its democratic spirit, its
humility, contempt of riches, its tranquillity, and
self-sacrifice) had gradually degenerated more and
more from the severe old model, and had had to
reconstitute itself in popular form under the first
of the Taoist " Popes," who have continued in
an unbroken line down to this day. During the
second part of the second century, more Buddhist
missionaries came from Parthia, Indo - Scythia,
and India; but there could not have been very
many of them, for we find a Chinese statesman
explaining to the Emperor that the principles of
Buddha, like those of Laocius, inculcated the
sparing of life, the extinction of passion and
extravagance. If there had been many, such
explanations would have been quite unnecessary.
More sUtras were translated ; that of the Nirvana
being particularly good, A magnificent Buddhist
monastery was constructed at the (modern) Yang-
chou Fu (where Marco Polo was Governor, opposite
the present treaty port of Chinkiang) ; services were
regularly held there, and over 5000 families were

The arrival in China of a new intellectual system
from abroad, and the suggestion of transmigration
of souls in accordance with the principle of retribu-
tion, of course awakened new activities in the
Chinese mind ; and these activities extended to

8o BUDDHISM [chap.

the field of etymology ; for until the advent of
the Hindoo alphabet no native scholar had been
able to classify sounds, initials, and finals on a
system intelligible from our Western point of
view. The meagre story of Buddha's life, no fuller
than that of Laocius, and infinitely less inform-
ing than that of Confucius, was not particularly
impressive. Like their own philosophers, he was
represented to the Chinese as being a reformer and
transmitter ; being of the royal house of Kapilavastu,
and a repentant man of pleasure, he would be a
congenial and respectable model for the Emperor's
brother, who eagerly took up the new ideas, and
had already endeavoured to find peace for his mind
in Taoist austerity. Laocius and Confucius took
over, transmitted, and reformed from the " Book of
Changes " ; from the notion of the Trinity of
Heaven, Earth, and Man ; and from the yin and
yang (male and female, light and shade) theory.
Buddha did the same with Brahmanism, in which
Brahma was the first of a Trinity, and (as the
translated Saddharma Pundarika siltra expresses
it in clear and simple Chinese) "the father of all
living things." The body was divided into the
visible, material, and perishable, and the invisible,
spiritual, and immortal, which, of course, tallies
almost exactly with the division of all Nature into
yin and yang. Buddha had shaken himself free
of all sectarian doctrines and caste distinctions ;
proclaimed the insignificance and vanity of wealth
and pleasure ; and deified humanity by absorbing


it into Nirvana. All this is the purest of Taoism,
as will easily be seen by glancing- over the
original classic given in the Appendix. No wonder
the story began to find favour which related that
Laocius, after disappearing from China, had con-
verted the Hu ( = Tartars, Persians, Hindoos), and
had worked his way through Khoten into India,
there engendering Buddhism. Absurd though we
may think this story, the dates, so far as they are
known, do not at all stand in the way of our believing
it ; the Chinese early in the seventh century made
their first acquaintance with India via Nepaul and
Tibet, and it is only within the past few years
that Nepaul has been absolutely proved to have
been the birthplace of Buddha. Those who with-
out any evidence are eager to derive Laocius'
inspira;;ion from the West, must therefore admit
that there is some possibility, though perhaps no
relevant evidence, of Laocius having taken his
own original ideas to the West. But, to return to
Buddha, celibacy and the transmigration of souls,
according to good or evil works, were prominent
among the new ideas preached. Continence had
never been so much as mentioned as a Chinese
virtue ; still less abstinence. Transmigration rather
impinged upon the accepted doctrine of ancestral
continuity, and at once roused orthodox hostility.
On the other hand, Buddha's doctrine that woman's
highest ambition should be for her soul to reappear
in a man, quite accorded with the old Chinese view
that woman was a mere function, and must belong

82 BUDDHISM [chap.

to, or " follow," either father, husband, or son ;
her only independent chance of salvation being,
according to the Buddhists, to become a nun, or
at least a sister of charity. Even Buddha's
"miracles," which are the least respectable portion
of his teaching, and were apparently designed to
prove that natural laws will yield to strong spiritual
force, were not quite new to pure Taoism, which
in a way may be said to have taught that mind
is independent of matter. Later Taoism was even
more sympathetic towards miracles.

From the outset the Chinese have not made
much use of the word Gautama in speaking of
the founder of Buddhism ; they have preferred the
name S'akyamuni, often contracted to S'akya ;
whence an erroneous idea grew up towards the
seventh century that the Kapilavastu royal family-
name of S'akya was connected with the name Sak,
applied to the Sacae princes of the Cabul Valley.
The sandal- wood statue brought to China in a.d.
67 not unnaturally received the same honour that
had already been bestowed in B.C. 121 upon the
captured Scythian image, and which for ages the
Chinese had paid to the images of their own
ancestors ; the step onwards to more general
" idolatry " was not far, in China as had been the
case in India. In addition to this, Buddha, like
Laocius, having evolved a new cult out of already
existing beliefs, had barely time to lay the firm
foundation of his craft before zealous disciples
introduced changes never at all contemplated by


the founder, who strained every effort to substitute
atheism (in its harmless and natural meaning), and
virtue, for the Brahmanic pantheism and S'ivaic
immorality, excluding metaphysics in favour of
ethics. The three " means of salvation," or of " con-
veyance across the river of life to Nirvana" were
soon corrupted to mean the three phases through
which the Buddhist teaching passed. The more
primitive Hinayana, or " Lesser Conveyance," with
its asceticism, atheism, and transmigration of souls,
never found more than local favour in active
China, being more suited to the temperaments of
Ceylon and Burma. Besides, its stitras were in-
consecutively translated, and thus to a consider-
able degree incomprehensible. The Mahayana, or
" Greater Conveyance," founded by Nagardjuna,
took firm root in the Cophene region, and more
especially in Tchakuka (Yarkand), whence its
passage via Khoten and the Tarim Valley to
Lop Nor and China. The transcendental specula-
tions of this system are often almost indistinguishable
from the abstractions of Laocius, whilst the quietism
and meditation which it substitutes for the physical
asceticism of the southern school, renders it more
acceptable to the practical Chinese, who are by no
means minded to starve on their road to salvation.
Finally, there was the Yoga school, otherwise called
the Tantra school, founded by Asamgha of Gandhara
in the fourth century, a mixture of Nepaulese Dhyana,
or contemplation philosophy, mixed up with hetero-
geneous S'ivaic ideas, and chiefly acceptable to

84 BUDDHISM [chap.

the bucolic mental capacity of the Tibetans,
Mongols, and early Siamese, — i.e. the Tai or Shan
race, before they left Yiin Nan for the Menam
Valley, and imbibed the higher Burmese notions
of Buddhistic religion.

It is impossible here to define all the multifarious
forms of Buddhism which obtained vogue in China.
We must draw a distinction between the elevated
abstractions congenial to the cultured classes, and
the gross animalism and imagery alone capable of
captivating the masses. The distinction between
"Butler's Analogy" with the criticisms thereof
made by Gladstone's massive intellect on the one
hand, and the various forms of noisy revivalism on
the other, is not greater than the distinction between
deep - thinking Chinese Buddhism, and the vulgar
clap-trap which often came locally into vogue, not
unnaturally exciting the contempt and indignation
of the Confucianists. In fact, side by side with
the ancient spiritual cult Taoism, and even in a
measure side by side with Confucianism, there has
always existed a backwash of popular superstition.
The history of this belongs, as already suggested,
rather to the domain of folk-lore than to that of
serious thought ; it is therefore unnecessary to do
no more than barely allude to it.

Roman and Indian trade with Canton and the
Irrawaddy Valley is recorded during the second
century ; the Hindoo trading colonies of Indo-
China brought their religions with them, and a
second stream of priests thus reached China by


sea. The ruins of Angkor and Ciampa still attest
the Buddhist zeal of the Indo-China of those days.
In the year 221 the second Han dynasty collapsed,
and three rival Chinese empires ruled for half a
century. The founder of the southern (capital
at modern Nanking) was personally a strong
Buddhist ; the founder of the northern was the
first to allow Chinese to shave the head and
become " Buddhas " (the earliest native word for
"priests"); the old White Horse Office in which
the first load of sfitras had been deposited in a.d.
67 was now a permanent monastery, but rebuilt
in Hindoo style, and the word " office " had become
the adopted word for samgha, or " monastic
assemblies," in general. The western empire was
in immediate contact with Burma and the Shan
kingdom of Yiin Nan, whose history shows close
but ill-defined religious connection with Magadha
(Patna). Towards the end of the third century
China was reunited under the Tsin dynasty ; but
meanwhile these internal wars and changes of
dynasty had given the various Tartar nomads a
good chance, and for the next hundred years the
whole of the north, from Tibet to Corea, was in
the hands of competing foreign adventurers, all
of them more or less deeply under the spell of
Buddhism. Besides the White Horse, there were
over forty "Buddhas" (pagodas or monasteries)
in the older capital of reunited China ; and priests,
(some of them sent back from China more than
once) kept arriving with s'CUras for translation at

86 BUDDHISM [chap.

the new metropolis (modern Chang-teh Fu). They
came from Khoten, Samarcand, India, Cophene,
Indo-Scythia ; and now we notice a curious
custom of taking the names (or part) of those
countries as family names for the new arrivals :
on the other hand, as Chinese priests had to leave
the family on taking orders, the word sdnigha
(Seng) was adopted as a patronymic for all native
bonzes, and remains so to this day. Towards
the end of the fourth century the Chinese or Tsin
emperors had to cross the Yangtsze ; several of
them were strong Buddhists, and a prominent
statesman felt bound to remonstrate when a
vihdra, or private chapel, with a staff of priests,
was erected inside the palace. The last of the
dynasty (a.d. 419) escorted on foot a golden image
of Buddha, constructed under his own supervision,
three miles to its resting-place in a monastery.
A statesman, relative of the empress, incurred
great unpopularity by constructing gorgeous
monasteries with forced labour ; this led to his
execution, and it is recorded that he chanted
siilras up to the foot of the scaffold. The first
Buddhist nuns came to China from Ceylon in
A.D. 425.

An enthusiastic Chinese priest from (modern)
Cheh Kiang province had obtained a very warm
welcome during the first half of the fourth century
at the court of one of the Hiuncr-nu adventurer
"emperors" ruling in North China, and did his
best to elucidate the true meaning of the Vimala


and Saddharma stttras, which the western bonzes
had as yet only imperfectly translated ; this dis-
tinguished Chinese Buddhist, whose name was
Wei Tao-an, sent disciples to Yang-chou Fu, and
also into far-off Sz Ch'wan ; he himself ultimately
found his way to the court of the Tibetan
"emperor" reigning at (modern) Si-an Fu. In
his earlier days he had formed a friendship with
the Indian sramana Buddhochinga, who had taken
orders in Udjana (Swat), and been in the service
of an earlier Hiung-nu "emperor" of North
China ; Buddhochinga now passed into the later
adventurer's service. One of the barbarian
monarch's Chinese advisers said : " Buddha is a
foreign god, and not of the kind to be worshipped
by the Son of Heaven ; it is proposed that all
high officers of state be forbidden to burn incense
and worship at the temples ; moreover, it is
suggested that all subjects of your Majesty's
dominions who may have become sramana be
ordered to unfrock." The Tartar issued the
following decree : —

" I am myself of outlandish origin, and having
now become autocrat of all the Chinas, may well
be permitted to follow my own customs in matters
of religion. I hereby authorise all persons, be
they barbarians or born on the spot, to worship
Buddha if they choose."

Another celebrated Hindoo Buddhist was
Kumaradjiva, whose father hailed from Taxila,
but who was himself born of a Tartar mother at

88 BUDDHISM [chap.

Kuche, and had spent his youth in Kashgar. His
" Chinese " service was chiefly among the Tibetan
'* emperors " of the Si-an Fu and Liang Chou
regions. He was a correspondent of Wei Tao-an,
but never himself visited Si-an Fu until the year 401.
The world-famed pilgrim, Fah Hien, whose travels
Dr Legge has translated for us, set out from the
court of this Tibetan ruler in the year 399, and
made a complete round of the Buddhist countries
of High Asia. After visiting " Erguiul," Lop
Nor, Khoten, Tashkurgan, Kashmir, Cophene,
Udjana, the Indo-Scythian capital of Gandhara,
Taxila, Peshawur, Canouge, S'ravasti, Buddha's
birthplace in Kapilavastu, Patna, Ciampa (which
doubtless gives the name to the Indo - Chinese
Ciampa), and Tamalipti (Tamlook), he took ship
for Ceylon, whence by sea to Java — failing to
make Canton — direct to the modern German settle-
ment of Kiao Chou in Shan Tung. Thus the
whole Buddhist and Indian mystery was cleared
up, and, apart from China, where Taoism and
Confucianism still held the intellectual fort, all
High Asia was found to be Buddhist. Moreover,
the faith had now been carried to Corea, and
thence to Japan.

Up to this time there had been little trace of
religious persecution in any part of China. The
claims of the rival cults had usually been weighed
in a philosophic spirit. Take, for instance, the
views of the distinguished southern statesman, Ku
Hwan, who, in the second half of the fifth century.


served the Sung and Ts'i dynasties (Nanking) just
when the Toba Tartars (a kind of Mongol), having
destroyed or subdued the conflicting Tibetan and
normal elements, had firmly settled themselves on
the throne of North China. His biography says that
he was fond of the Hwang Ti and Laocius doctrines,
and also versed in the yin-yang philosophy. He
wrote a work entitled " The Question of Barbarian
or Chinese," in which is repeated, but not very
seriously, the tradition of Laocius finding his way
to India, and himself suggesting Buddhism. He
says : " whilst Taoism is simple, concise, obscure,
and repellent to all but the highly cultured,
Buddhism is ornate, prolix, gushing, and seductive
to the ignorant classes. Whilst Taoism and Con-
fucianism concern themselves with social conditions,
in Buddhism one leaves aside the natural social
ties altogether, and shaves the head. Taoism is
purely Chinese, and not at all suited to the
barbarian mind ; Buddhism is foreign, and runs
counter to many Chinese principles."

Here he makes a further remark of importance,
considering that it was written before the end
of the fifth century, and in view of foreign
attempts to shift dates further back :

"Taoism we have had with us over 800 years,
for it developed when the Chou dynasty split up
into East and West (b.c. 425), whereas Buddhism
began with the Eastern Han dynasty (a.d. 25-220).

Just at this time the Toba Emperor in the
north (the dynasty had now abandoned Tartar

90 BUDDHISM [chap.

ways and become quite Chinese) was encouraging
Taoism, which now underwent its first serious
revival under its modified or religious form. One
K'ou K'ien-chi (of the south) professed to have
received the Taoist commandments from the Spirit
Above through an angel or supernatural descendant
of Laocius ; moreover, he was an ardent hater of
Buddhism, and even claimed for himself the
spiritual succession as Taoist " Pope." A dis-
tinguished Chinese statesman and antiquarian
named Ts'ui Hao, who expressed his contempt
even for the " mischievous unnatural twaddle "
of the comparatively pure Sancius form of Taoism,
endeavoured to dissuade the monarch from erecting
a "worshipping area" suitable for the later and
more corrupt ceremonies ; he still more strongly
objected to Buddhism, asking : " Why should we
worship this Tartar god ? " The very name of
the reign of this emperor (corresponding to 440-
451) was taken from the new "commandments."
Later on, however, he was induced to encourage
Confucianism, and he issued an edict forbidding
the wealthy, under pain of death, from keep-
ing either private sramana or private Taoist
"wizards" on their premises. In 446, his active
minister having proved to him that Buddhist
temples had become houses of debauchery,
the Emperor ordered a massacre of all sramana
in his dominions, and the burning of all Hu
or "Tartar" (here meaning Sanskrit, Pali, and
Kharoshthi) books and Buddhist images. The


heir-apparent, however, was still a believer, and
with his connivance most of the priests, books,
and images evaded destruction. Ts'ui Hao was
himself executed in 450 for having disclosed in a
history (at once destroyed) too much of the
barbarous origin of the Tobas. Another Toba
emperor, great-grandson of the above, abdicated
in 471 in order to give his mind to the studies

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryEdward Harper ParkerChina and religion → online text (page 7 of 23)