Buddhism, as a religion, has been a source of heated debates on whether it emerged from China and the Chinese people. Many in those who hold the view that it emerged from the country and its people, use the correlations between Buddhism and the practices, beliefs and gods emphasized in the other popular Chinese religions such as Daoism and Confucianism. They hold that these two have a pure Chinese origin and, thus, will identify a pure Chinese connectivity. This group also taps into Chinese’s popular religions. These refer to the common practice across all religions in the country. Such common practices are analyzed as support to connectivity with the Chinese people.
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The opposing side also presents a number of points that counter the proponents’ views. One area refuted in this thinking is the connectivity between Buddhism and common religions of Daoism and Confucianism. The view here holds that there is no strong connection between Buddhism and these regions. It also holds that these are alien references to the Chinese people’s culture but not really religions in the country. Views are also elicited here indicating that Buddhism is alien because its original construction was in alien languages and its practices are also strong in other countries where it possibly emerged from. According to this group who disagree with Buddhism’s Chinese roots, the religion is alien because the first (original scriptures) shows a foreign connotation.
View of Buddhism to Be from China
One basis for analyzing the relationships of religions is identified in Poceski (2009) as “syncretism” (p.160). As Poceski (2009) defines, this “refers to processes of borrowing, combining, or adapting elements derived from diverse sources” (p.160). According to Poceski’s point of view (2009), a higher degree of syncretism indicates a potential singular history for the religions. Daoism is, according to Poceski (2009), a religion which has existed in China since many centuries ago. This religion, Poceski (2009) holds, has a number of beliefs which are also held in Buddhism. As an example, Daoism’s beliefs relating to hell and life after death also form the core beliefs in Buddhism. In Buddhism, hell is described in different forms. There is the “Black-pebble-Hell”, the “Sanghata-Hell”, the “Raurava Hell”, “Kala-autra-Hell”, and the “Cold Hell” among others (Beal, 2004, p. 161). All the hells in Buddhism serve the purpose of punishing those who have sinned or thought sinful things. As Beal (2004) identifies, this is the same way in which Daoism views hell. They exist in the construction which makes the two religion’s representation of the ideas almost the same. This is an indication of syncretism (Poceski, 2009). The two religions show a historical connection. As Poceski (2009) expounds, because Daoism is connected to the Chinese people, it can be said that Buddhism also arose from the Chinese people, hence, why it shares in these beliefs with Daoism. Besides the beliefs on hell and life after, the two religions also share beliefs on deities. This is also an indication to their roots being the same. It reaffirms the point that Buddhism, as Daoism, may also have come from the Chinese people (Poceski, 2009).
Religions which tend to share in practices are those, which have the same cultural roots. As Poceski (2009) identifies, this is because it is the same people who are similar but think differently. These are people who share roots in their beliefs and culture because they have these things from a common reference. In China these different sects are united in many practices. One of the uniting forces, according to Poceski (2009), is the way these people perform their rituals as well as the deities they worship. As Poceski (2009) holds, in the Chinese society, Buddhist deities are very popular across the popular religions. They are even worshiped alongside the deities in these other religions. As Poceski (2009) holds, these deities including Guanyin and Bodhidharma are a commonality in the temples of all the popular religions in the country. As Poceski (2009) holds, there are many more bodhisattvas and Budhas arising from the Budhaism religion which are seen displayed in temples of popular religions in the country. According to Poceski (2009), this connection of the country to Buddhism deities is a clear indication of the centrality of these deities in the culture of the Chinese people. As Poceski (2009) holds, it means Buddhism is about and was from the Chinese people’s culture.
The examples to the above are clear in practice across the country. It is evident in worshiping as it occurs in popular temples in the country. Thian Hock Keng Temple is one of such (Poceski, 2009, p. 162). As Poceski (2009) describes, in this temple, which is Singapore, people have the choice of either offering their prayers to deities like Mazu or taking to worship any other deities from either Buddhism, Daoism or Confucius. As Poceski (2009) holds, in this temple as well as in Tau Hau Temple which is located in Hongkong, people are seen worshiping Guanyin, as Buddhists do. As Poceski (2009) identifies, this connectivity of worship is a clear indication that the Chinese people even from other religions identify Buddhism as their own. They see it as strongly interwoven with the culture and beliefs which are the basis for their own religions. This in essence identifies Buddhism as a Chinese religion.
Religions which have their roots in a country will, according to Poceski (2009), tend to influence the construction of morality and behavior among the populations. Such a religion will form the core resource in the beliefs which are held by society in its ideals on governance and socialization of society. In the view of Poceski (2009), this is the case for Buddhism and the leadership over China. As Poceski (2009) holds, Buddhism, together with Confucianism and Daoism were the religions from which the “Yuan Huang’s (1533-1606) articles of merit and demerit” were constructed (p. 161). These articles according to Poceski (2009), came out in "late imperial china” and were the basis for governance of the society at the time (p.161). According to Poceski (2009), the fact that these articles heavily borrowed from Buddhism is a clear indication of an early connection with and interest in the Buddhism religion by the Chinese people in this historical time. In essence such shows that Buddhism’s beliefs are rooted in the history of the people of China.
View of Buddhism as Foreign to China
Sommer disagrees with Confucianism and Taoism as the basis for relating Buddhism and Chinese cultures and, thus, Chinese people. Sommer believes they are terms which are not from China. As Sommer holds, the two are simply artificial concepts about the Chinese culture but have never been religions in the country’s history. As Sommer suggests, the two are from alien forces. The view of Sommer is that these concepts are simply analogies which are created in the mindset of the Western World as they try to use their own worlds to understand the Chinese culture. Here, Sommer holds that religions arising from a society should have language from that culture. As Sommer postulates, the two should not be used as strong Chinese religions because they make not direct correlations with any term in Chinese.
The point advanced by Sommer here is that the terminology of these words appeals to no Chinese meaning or connotation. The meaning of this, according to Sommer, is that these religions have no roots in China. As Sommer holds, because these terms are not original to China, it is true to hold that the Chinese people did not use them in the past. The point by Sommer is that the analogies between these religions and Buddhism which are highly used as basis for identifying Buddhism’s connection and emergence from China are wrong. They are wrong because they use a wrong assumption that these religions (Daoism and Confucianism) are Chinese and represent strong Chinese connections.
Sommer continues in the use of the connectivity between Confucianism and Daoism to Buddhism in discounting its Chinese origin. According to Sommer, Taoism and Confucianism are religions which are related to a history of only six (Chinese) dynasties. The meaning of this, according to Sommer, is that they are religions which cannot explain the religious practices dating back to the period beyond the six dynasties. As Sommer highlights, the overall meaning of this is that Buddhism which depends on the two to explain its Chinese origin is also a religion in the near history of the Chinese people, thus, a potential indicator to it being foreign.
That Buddhism is not related to the Chinese people is also in the Buddhism scriptures. As Sommer holds, the original texts of this religion generally show its foreign origin. As recounted by Sommer, in the construction of Buddhism in China, evidence exits which shows that Chinese people engaged in translation work on texts of Buddhism. As Sommer identifies, these original texts were basically in other Asia languages which were not Chinese, thus, why the Chinese people could not understand them and had to interpret them. Tibetan is one such language which is identified by Sommer. The view of Sommer is that these foreign texts show a foreign origin of religion in China.
The indication to the religion having its origins in another country is clear in the Buddhism festivals. Zhongyuan is one of the popular festivals in Buddhism in China (Poceski, 2009). This is a festival that is held in the 7th month (lunar). It is held on the day of a full moon. It is a festival connected to ghosts. In the festival, these ghosts are presented with offerings to alleviate the pain they go through (Poceski, 2009). According to Poceski (2009), this festival, its practice, and the beliefs around it, are not specific to China. As Poceski (2009) identifies, the festival, its beliefs, timings in the year, and the way it is practiced have also existed in Japan as well as in Korea for a long time. This is basically an area which indicates a foreign origin. That the beliefs also exist in other countries is an indication that Buddhism may first have been practiced in such countries as Japan before China. This is evidence to a foreign origin.
The above discussion identifies Buddhism as Chinese because of many reasons. First is because the deities observed in the religion, which are also popular in the religious practices across the country. It is identified that these deities are seen displayed and worshiped in many of the leading temples in the country. This is identified as a strong indication that religion is rooted in the culture of the Chinese people, thus, the worship of these deities. In the discussion, it is also identified that Buddhism’s strong connection with Chinese religions such as Daoism and Confucianism is an indication of a shared Chinese origin. According to the discussion, historical texts on the morality which guided Chinese society before also depict the influence of Buddhism, thus, its strong root in the country.
The views discounting the regions origin from China are also exposed in this discussion. According to the discussion, the use of the two religions of Daoism and Confucianism to trace the connectivity between Buddhism and China should not be the case since these are not strongly Chinese. The discussion also identifies that texts of Buddhism originally existed in foreign languages thus as an indication of its foreign origin. As the discussion identifies, some of the festivals of Buddhism have been popular in other countries for a long time, indicating that these countries could be the source of Buddhism.