Indian Buddhism and its Spread to China

Lecture Outline
Kyoko Tokuno
Comparative Religion Program, JSIS

I. Rise of Buddhism in India and Its Context (sixth-fifth century BCE)

  • Political and social change
  • Problem of ritualism of classical Hinduism (Vedic religion)
  • New trends in religious and philosophical thinking: Upanishads
  • The movement of the ascetics (sramanas or parivrajakas)
    Rejection of the authority of the Vedas
    Transmigration and unsatisfactoriness of mundane world (samsara)
    Actions (karma) have effects
    Search for actions that did not bind one to samsara
    Liberation (moksha) from rebirth (samsara) as goal of religious conduct
  • II. Buddhism

    III. Life and Legends of the Buddha (566-486 BCE/448-368 BCE)

  • Biography vs. hagiography (history vs. myth)
  • Consistency in the accounts in major textual sources: Lalitavistara, Mahavastu, Buddhavamsa, Vinaya-nidana (introduction to Vinaya); Jataka ("birth-stories")
  • Major themes in Buddhist art: Examples--Indian sites, Borobudur, Java; Yn-kang and Lun-meng in China
  • IV. Introduction of Buddhism to China: mid-first century, via Afghanistan and Central Asia ("silk roads")

    V. Problems and conditions Indian Buddhism encountered in China

  • China had well-established indigenous religious traditions
    Ancestor worship: importance of family lineage
    Affirmation of the mundane world
    Confucianism (600 BCE-): sociocentric ethical philosophy and religion
    Taoism (400 BCE-): Tao-centric philosophy and religion
  • Buddhist worldviews and concepts totally alien to the Chinese
  • Random transmission of all types of teachings/texts to China
  • VI. Buddhist Soteriology: Three Approaches to salvation

    A. Introduction.
  • Soteriology: the study ("science") of salvation; the process and method of salvation
  • The primacy of soteriology in Buddhism
  • Soteriology as 'the path' (marga) in Buddhism
  • Buddhist worldviews and soteriology
    *Causality and conditionality of all existents
    *The three characteristics of existence:
    non-self (cf. 5 aggregates)
    *The four noble truths:
    path (marga)
  • Relationship between soteriology and meditation
  • Goal of Buddhist practice: freedom from suffering (= nirvana)
  • B. Three distinct approaches/paths to salvation
    1. Introduction.
  • Chronological development
  • Different interpretations of human nature and mind
  • Principle of skillful means (upaya)
  • 2. Analytical approach: the path of purification (Theravada and Mahayana)
  • Formal path
  • Based on a negative assessment of human mind as defiled
  • Three major components: morality, meditation, wisdom
  • 3. Gnoseological approach: the path of "knowledge" (Mahayana)
  • Gnosis: intuitive, esoteric knowledge of spiritual truth
  • Positive assessment of human mind as inherently pure: Mahayana premise of universal Buddha nature (tathagatagarbha)
  • Model: Sakyamuni Buddha's enlightenment experience
  • Example 1: Meditation school in China/Korea/Japan (Ch'an/Son/Zen)
    a. Self-definition of Ch'an Buddhism: verses attributed to Bodhidharma
    Separate transmission outside the teachings [of scriptures]
    Without depending on letters and words
    Directly pointing to the human mind
    See its [original] nature and attain Buddhahood
    b. Chinese innovation of meditation techniques: kung-an/koan ("public test-case") and no-thought or mind
  • Example 2: One/Buddha vehicle of the Lotus Sutra
    Attainment of Buddhahood through simple, practical methods
    Cult of stupa and sutra
  • 4. Salvation through "other power": the path of faith (Mahayana)
  • The question of human nature and mind irrelevant
  • New logic of salvation; rebirth in the realm of Buddha Amitabha
  • Pure Land Buddhism in East Asia
  • Shinran (1173-1263) and his redefinition of faith
  • C. Comparison of the three paths
  • Assessment of human mind and its role in liberation from suffering
  • Self-power vs. other power
  • Analogy of reaching "the other shore"