Home : China Facts: Religions and Beliefs: Buddhism

Han Buddhism

Buddhist Small Wild Goose Pagoda, Xian

Han Buddhism refers to the Buddha's religion spreading in Han area and mingling with Han culture. Buddhism formally spread into China, mainly Han area during the Han Dynasty (206 BC --- 220 AD), although there are historical records indicating Buddhist missionaries came China during the Qin Dynasty (221 --- 206 BC). In the Three Kingdoms Period (220-265), outstanding monks and Buddhist scholars launched large-scale project of sutra translation. During the Northern and Southern Dynasties (386 --- 589), since most emperors believed in it, Buddhism grew rapidly despite the demolition incidents. In the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), the famous Yungang Caves and Longmen Caves were hewn, and Buddhist population amounted up to 2 million. Until the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-557), official Buddhist registration was more than 4 million. Many famous foreign monks came China to promote and Chinese monks trekked to India to study Buddhism and bring back with them many sutras.

After the Sui Dynasty (581 --- 618) was established, Buddhism restored its flourish under the imperial protection and promotion. Sutra translation continued to boom. Buddhism met its golden time in the Tang Dynasty (618 --- 907). Many temples were set up and famous monks home and abroad were invited to translate sutras. The outstanding Tang monks made unprecedented achievement in Buddhism study and research. Then Buddhism began to split into different sects, some of which later spread into Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia. It was also the Tang Dynasty when Buddhism was introduced into Tibet with imperial marriage. By the Song dynasty, Han Buddhism slowed its pace due to lost of imperial support. In the Yuan Dynasty (1271 --- 1368) and the Qing Dynasty (1644 --- 1911), Tibetan Buddhism won imperial favor, while Han Buddhism made a comeback in Ming Dynasty (1368 --- 1644) and revived after the reign of Emperor Kangxi.

Palms Together Dagoba in Famen Temple

It belongs to the Mahayana school which, also named Big Vehicle, believes that the Buddha did not just point the way and float off into his own nirvana, but continues to offer spiritual help to others seeking nirvana and Buddhist individuals should bear altruism. The division has mainly 8 sects: Zen Sect, Tantra Sect, Pureland Sect, Tiantai Sect, Sanlun Sect, Faxiang Sect, Lu Sect and Huayan Sect, of which Zen and Pureland are the most famous.

Zen, Chan in Chinese and Dhyana in Sanskrit, is the most important and influential sect of the Han Buddhism. It means meditation. This sect of Mahayana Buddhism aims to transmit the essence of Buddhism. Zen advocates the ability to achieve enlightenment is inherent within everyone but lies dormant because of ignorance. It holds that a sudden breaking through of the boundaries of common, everyday, logical thought is the right way. Although Bodhidharma was respected as the founder of Zen Buddhism, it was actually established by Huineng, successor of Bodhidharma' lineage. Later, it split into 2 sects and 7 subsects, some of which soon were introduced to Japan and Korea. Now, Zen is still very popular among Buddhism followers.

Famous Buddhist Holy Mountains:Mt. Jiuhua; Mt. Emei; Mt. Putuo; Mt. Wutai.

There are so many famous Buddhism temples in China that it is difficult to list hundreds of temples here. Interested viewer can find those temples in the cities where they are located.