East Asian Buddhist tradition

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The East Asian Buddhist tradition (aka. 'eastern Buddhism') is a broad category that refers to the Buddhist traditions of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. All these traditions follow the Chinese Buddhist canon, and are based in the Mahayana Buddhist philosophy. Contemporary scholar Rupert Gethin explains:

The Buddhism of China, Korea, and Japan constitutes a unity that can be referred to as East Asian or Eastern Buddhism because it shares a common basis in the scriptural resource of the Chinese Tripiṭaka and because Korean and Japanese forms and schools derive directly from Chinese forms and schools, although they subsequently developed distinctive local traditions. Buddhism began entering China during the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), probably in the first century BCE or CE, principally via the ancient silk routes through central Asia. From China Buddhism entered the Korean peninsula (fourth century) and thence Japan (sixth century).[1]

Early development

Gethen states:

When Buddhism began entering China the Mahāyāna was still in its early stages of development; the writings of Nāgārjuna, Asaṅga, and Vasubandhu were still to come.[2]

Traditions unique to China and East Asia

The following unique traditions originated in China:

  • Ch’an,
  • Pure Land
  • T’ien-t’ai
  • Hua-yen

Forms of these schools are also found in Korean and Japanese Buddhism.[3]

Chan

The Chan school recognizes the Indian monk Bodhidharma as its founder and “first patriarch.” Bodhidharma is said to have traveled from India to China in the fifth or sixth century CE. According to Rupert Gethin, “it is likely that the roots of Ch’an lie further back in Chinese Buddhist history.”[4]

Rubert Gethin describes the philosophical basis of Chan as follows:

Bodhidharma is said to have emphasized the teachings of the Lankāvatāra Sūtra, and the theoretical basis of Ch’an centres on the notions of the tathāgatagarbha and ‘emptiness’ as pointing beyond all conceptual forms of thought. Our innermost nature is simply the Buddha-nature (fo-hsing) which is to be realized in a direct and sudden experience of inner awakening (wu/satori).[5]

Around the ninth century in China, there were five schools of Chan. But following a government suppression of Buddhism in 842, only two schools emerged:[6]

  • Lin Chi (Japanese Rinzai)
  • Ts’ao Tung (Japanese Soto)

Pure Land

Contemporary translator Hisao Inagaki states:

The Pure Land school is a form of Mahayana Buddhism that centers around the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life, known in Sanskrit as Amitābha and Amitāyus, in Chinese as O-mi-tuo fo, and in Japanese as Amida. This buddha is said to dwell in the Land of Utmost Bliss (Sukhāvatī), far to the west of this world, beyond the realm of samsara.[7]

According to this school of Buddhism, if one prays to Amitabha with devotion and performs good deeds, then Amitabha will appear you at death and enable you to be reborn in the Purre Land of Amitabha (Sukhāvatī; Land of Utmost Bliss). Beings who are born in the Amitabha Pure Land will eventually reach buddhahood.

Key texts

Contemporary translator Hisao Inagaki states:

The most important scriptures of the Pure Land school are the three texts presented in this volume: 1) the Sutra on the Buddha of Infinite Life (also known as the Larger Sutra on Amitāyus, abbreviated to Larger Sutra; the Sanskrit text is popularly known as the Larger Sukhāvatīvyūha Sutra ); 2) the Sutra on Visualization of the Buddha of Infinite Life (abbreviated to Contemplation Sutra ); and 3) the Sutra on Amitāyus Buddha (also known as the Amida Sutra or the Smaller Sutra on Amitāyus, abbreviated to Smaller Sutra; the Sanskrit text is popularly known as the Smaller Sukhāvatīvyūha Sutra ).
These sutras were chosen by Hōnen of Japan (1133–1212) and called the three Pure Land sutras. Actually there are many other sutras and discourses that mention Amitābha and his Land of Bliss. According to Prof. Kōtatsu Fujita, the total number of such scriptures in the Chinese Buddhist canon is two hundred and ninety. The Chinese canon, which was collected and edited in Japan under the title of the Taishō Tripiṭaka, contains two thousand one hundred and eightyfour texts. Thus, more than 13 percent of all the scriptures held to be authentic in the Chinese tradition recognize this buddha and his land.[8]

Monastic traditions

East Asian Buddhist traditions generally follow the monastic tradition of the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya. The major exception is Japan, where monks (now called "priests" in English) received imperial permission to marry during the Meiji Restoration, and thus no longer follow any traditional monastic code.[citation needed]

See also

References

  1. Gethin, Rupert (1998-07-16). The Foundations of Buddhism (p. 257). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Gethin, Rupert (1998-07-16). The Foundations of Buddhism (p. 258). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Gethin, Rupert (1998-07-16). The Foundations of Buddhism (p. 258). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  4. Gethin, Rupert (1998-07-16). The Foundations of Buddhism (p. 262). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  5. Gethin, Rupert (1998-07-16). The Foundations of Buddhism (p. 262). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  6. Gethin, Rupert (1998-07-16). The Foundations of Buddhism (p. 263). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
  7. Hisao Inagaki, “Translator’s Introduction,” in Three Pure Land Sutras (Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2003), xiii
  8. Hisao Inagaki, “Translator’s Introduction,” in Three Pure Land Sutras (Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, 2003), xiii