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Chinese and Japanese Buddhism East and West

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(Written for the AQA syllabus by Robert Ellis, formerly a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order and a former Head of RS in a 6th-form college.)
Buddhism in China

In contrast to the Vajrayana Buddhism of Tibetan, the Mahayana Buddhism of China was imported at an earlier stage of Buddhist history, after the development of the Mahayana but largely before the development of Vajrayana (though Tantrism does form one small school in the Chinese and Japanese tradition). The Buddhism of China thus started off with a selection of Mahayana schools imported from India, but then also developed its own schools, giving a distinctively Chinese slant on Buddhism, which proved more popular in the long run. It was these Chinese schools which then went on to spread to Korea, Vietnam, and most importantly Japan.

Buddhism in China had a whole new set of conditions to adapt to. Chinese culture was perhaps almost as different from Indian as European culture is to Indian, and there were already two well-established Chinese religions, Confucianism and Taoism. These had a big influence on the way Chinese Buddhism developed. The emphasis on accepting an enlightenment that is already present in oneself in the Ch’an tradition, for example, could be seen as due to Taoist influence. The changes in attitudes to monasticism in China, such as the fact that monks started to work (the Chinese were less sympathetic to the value of monastic idleness as a sign of renunciation), may also be seen as due to Confucian influence.

The most important home-grown Chinese schools are the TienT’ai School, which stresses the Lotus Sutra, the Ch’an School, which emphasises meditation, and the Pure Land School, which emphasises devotion to Amitabha (the Red Buddha) in order to be reborn in his Pure Land, whence it is much easier to gain enlightenment. The following shows the main Chinese schools in relation to their Indian forbears and Japanese descendants:

INDIA: Madhyamika: Purely philosophical school. Name means "Middle Way". Founded by Nagarjuna in C2nd CE. Developed Prajnaparamita teachings about emptiness...> CHINA: San Lun: Introduced by Kumarajiva in C5th, called '3 Treatise School'. Straight Indian import with no Chinese modifications. Soon absorbed into other schools...>JAPAN: Sanron: A minor school in Japan

INDIA: Yogachara/ Cittamatra: Purely philosophical school. Founded by Asanga and Vasubandhu in C4th CE. Psychological explanation of the dharmas. Trikaya doctrine: the Buddha's 3 bodies...>CHINA: Fa Hsiang: Introduced by Paramartha and Hsuan-Tsang in C7th, called "Characteristics of dharmas" school. Soon absorbed into other schools...>JAPAN: Hosso: A minor school in Japan

INDIA: Avatamsaka: Based on the Indian Avatamsaka Sutra which describes Indra's Net - the interpenetration of all dharmas...>CHINA: Hua Yen: First systematised by the Chinese master Fa-tsang in C7th. Used Yogachara ideas and put them in a wider framework.Also Tien Tai Named after mountain (Heavenly Terrace) of its HQ. Founded by Chih-I in C6th. Based around Lotus Sutra: stressed meditation and study....>JAPAN: Kegon: Kegon Among earliest Japanese schools. Stresses Buddha-nature based on interpenetration. Never gained wide following in Japan. Also Tendai Brought to Japan by Saicho in C9th. HQ at Mt. Hiei. Found favour at court and developed elaborate ritual and philosophy. Highly influential.

INDIA: Tantra/ Vajrayana: Began around 500 CE (also in Hinduism) Based on Tantras describing meditations. Complex magic, ritual and symbolism. Non-rejection of things in world...>CHINA: Chen Yen: Introduced in C8th but died out quickly. Passed on to Japan and Korea. Dominant form in Tibet and Mongolia...>JAPAN: Shingon: Brought to Japan by Kukai in C9th. Developed elaborate magical rituals invoking spiritual beings. Favoured by court and highly influential.

INDIA: Pure Land Sutras...>CHINA: Ching T'u: Started by Tan-Luan in C6th. Faith-based school where Amitabha is invoked to bring one to the Pure Land. Wide lay following...>JAPAN: Jodo/Jodo Shin: (Pure Land) Started by Honen and Shinran in C12th, splitting from Tendai. Gives up all faith in own efforts and relies on Amitabha completely. Extremely popular among laity.

CHINA: Ch'an: Founded by Bodhidharma in C6th. Name means "dhyana": back to meditation. Stresses return to simplicity and strict practice...>JAPAN: Zen: Introduced in C12th by Eisai. Strictness andpracticality appealed to Samurai. Minority following. 2 types: Rinzai and Soto.

Read Cush p.123-128 and take notes on Chinese Buddhism
Buddhism in Japan

Buddhism was imported into Japan either directly from China or via Korea. So, although most Japanese Buddhism reveres the historical Buddha and shares basic Buddhist doctrines like the Four Noble Truths with every other form of Buddhism, it is only indirectly related to the Indian roots of Buddhism, and most of the schools that were successful in Japan were ones that had developed in China.

Buddhism shares the Japanese religious landscape with Shinto, the native Japanese religion that involves reverence for a variety of gods, ancestors, and the Emperor. Often it is difficult to tell where Buddhism ends and Shinto begins, and many Japanese combine the two in some way. The history of religion in Japan is one of a struggle for influence between the two religions, with each being dominant during different periods in relation to the political situation.

Today, Buddhism in Japan really falls into four types: the traditional schools like Tendai and Shingon, which maintain a strong monastic tradition; the Zen schools, which have monasteries but also influence a minority of lay people; the Pure Land schools, which have no monks but have a popular lay following and have non-celibate priests; and the Nichiren Shoshu (Soka Gakkai) tradition, which developed in Japan itself, and like the Pure Land is a non-monastic and devotional form of Buddhism.

A Brief History of Japanese Buddhism: dates, historical events in [ ], followed by developments in Buddhism:

538: [Epidemic]: First Buddhist delegation arrives from Korea. Buddhist temple burned and Buddhism expelled.
C7th & C8th: [Strong Chinese cultural influence] : Six Chinese schools imported. Buddhism supported by elite. Shinto-Buddhist conflict.
794-1185: [Power shifts to Kyoto] : Distinctive Japanese schools emerge. Tendai and Shingon ascendancy: elaborate ritual and philosophy. Monasteries gain political power. Shinto-Buddhist harmony begins.
1185-1336: [Power in hands of samurai (warriors) and the shogun (military dictator)] : Decline of Tendai and Shingon. Down-to-earth religion, especially Zen, favoured by the samurai. Rinzai Zen imported by Eisai (1141-1215). Soto Zen imported by Dogen (1200-1253). Pure Land founded by Honen (1133-1212).Nichiren (1222-82) founds Nichiren Shoshu.
1336-1573: [[[Wikipedia:Samurai|Samurai]] dominance continues. Increasing prosperity and urbanisation.] : Zen flourishes among the samurai. Devotional forms of Buddhism achieve greater popular followings.
1573-82: [Nubunaga breaks samurai power and reunites Japan.] : Power of established Buddhist schools broken. Tendai temple complex on Mt.Hiei destroyed.
1582-1868: [Long period of international isolation and authoritarian rule.] : No new developments in Buddhism. Time of some great Zen figures like haiku poet Basho (1644-94) and Zen master Hakuin (1685-1768).
1868: [[[Wikipedia:Imperial|Imperial]] power restored. International isolation ended.] : Shinto becomes the state religion and emperor divinised. Buddhism considered foreign and persecuted for a while.
Late C19th: [Rapid industrialisation.] : Contact with other Buddhist countries stimulates scholarship.
Early C20th: [Rise of militant nationalism.] : Nichiren Shoshu heavily involved in nationalism. Other Buddhist groups remain passive.
1941-45: (Japan in World War 2. Invades large section of Eastern Asia, then driven back by Allies. Defeated by use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.] : According to Brian Victoria’s controversial book Zen at War, Zen Buddhists were closely implicated with the Japanese imperialism and war effort.
1945-present: [Rapid recovery and continued economic development.] : 'New Religions' such as Soka Gakkai (based on Nichiren but stressing peace) emerge. Zen, Pure Land and Soka Gakkai spread to the West.
Chinese and Japanese Buddhism in the West

It is the above three schools which have found their way to the West, rather than the more traditional Japanese schools of Buddhism, and nearly always in the Japanese form rather than Chinese, with the exception of communities of ethnic Chinese Pure Land Buddhists and a few practitioners of Chinese or Korean Zen among the Western population.

It is Zen Buddhism which has become the most common and widespread of these three forms of Buddhism. Perhaps it began in the UK in 1953, when Alan Watts, a Zen teacher from the US, leapt onto a platform, stood still for a few moments, and then cried 'Wake Up!'. Western Zen has been divided between the serious traditional practitioners and the wacky spontaneous radicals.

The leading teachers who have gone through traditional Zen training include some Japanese monks who have come to the UK, and also Western teachers have gone to Japan for training and returned to start new organisations: perhaps the most famous of the latter is Peggy Kennett, who, as Roshi Jiyu Kennett, founded the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, including Throssel Hole Priory in Northumberland. Throssel Hole makes considerable (and controversial) use of Christian ideas and language to try to create a form of Zen adapted to the West.

The wacky spontaneous radicals include mystic Alan Watts, poet Alan Ginsberg and eccentric figures like Douglas Harding, author of On Having No Head, and Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. On a very loose definition of the term the 'Dharma Bums' like Jack Kerouac in the United States were also advocates of 'Beat Zen'.

Zen also has close links to martial arts in the West, and many people have developed an interest in Zen through the martial arts. A leading practitioner of both who has taught in Britain for many years is Trevor Leggett.

Some of the major questions Zen practitioners have had to face concern how to treat the Japanese and Chinese Zen heritage and how far to try to create a new radical form of Western Zen. Some teachers have argued that a basis in rigorous traditional training is essential to stop Zen becoming very superficial in the West, whilst others have argued that the essence of Zen has often been betrayed by the Japanese tradition, which claims access to a wordless truth beyond traditions and yet closely adheres to traditions and rituals. Western Zen practitioners visiting Japan have often been shocked by how authoritarian and ceremonial Japanese Zen is. Other Zen teachers have tried to recreate this tradition using elements of the Christian tradition in the West.

Look at at least four of the following websites, taking notes on any evidence you find of how forms of Chinese or Japanese Buddhism in the UK have maintained Chinese or Japanese practices, and how far they have adapted Western ones.