Chinese Buddhist Schools Essay

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Chinese Schools of Buddhism

Tomelene Gulbaek-Pearce
Religious Studies 100
Dr. Andrew Lawn
March 5th, 2012 Buddhism is a large part of China’s rich history, dating all the way back to the arrival of missionaries during the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BCE). However, it wasn’t until around 67 CE that Buddhism became officially recognized religion within the country (Buddhism(s): Oh, p38). Because of this dominant religion within their country, schools began to emerge in the 5th in 6th century with hopes of teaching the people of China the ways of the Buddha. Many different schools surfaced, but four flourished above all: The T’ien T’ai School, The Hua-Yen School, The Pureland School, and the Ch’an School. Between Chinese Buddhist schools there is a noncompetitive nature; students may choose which schools will best fit their needs without any influence from the schools themselves. There are many similarities, as well as differences, between all of the schools making the learning environment for Buddhist students within China rich and diverse. The T’ien T’ai School –directly translated to “Heavenly Terrace” in English - was founded by a Buddhist Monk named Chih’I (538-577). It was given its descriptive name based on the breathtaking mountain in southeastern China where the school was founded (John R. McRae, 2005). This school is also commonly referred to as the “Lotus School” as the Lotus sutra was upheld as this schools primary Buddhist text (Oh, p54). The T’ien T’ai School became very popular during the Song Dynasty (960–1279) and onward, due to its accepting ways (John R. McRae, 2005); this Mahayana Buddhist School taught many different paths to reach Nirvana, making all types of people welcome. This was a different concept to Chinese Buddhism for many other schools focused on only one way to reach salvation and escape the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Following Mahayana Buddhist traditions, teachers at this school recognize the three ways that the Buddha taught to achieve Nirvana: assistance of Bodhisattvas, following the Eight Fold Path as well as by oneself. By acknowledging these three paths to enlightenment, students could be taught the way in which was best suited to their personalities, knowledge and beliefs. The Hua-Yen school of Buddhism emerged during the Sui Dynasty (589–618) and was give its name based on their primary religious text, the Hua-Yen Sutra (Oh, p55). This school was said to be founded by Fa-tsang (643-712) and centered around the idea of the interrelatedness of our world and the people within it (Robert M. Gimello, 2005). Furthermore, the proposed the concept that all things neither exist in themselves while also not to existing (Robert M. Gimello). Because of these beliefs, this school taught that respect and compassion towards one another was an essential component to achieving Nirvana; suffering was to be avoided for when one suffers, society as a whole will also suffer. Like all Mahayana Buddhists, members of the Hua-Yen school believed that society would achieve nirvana together; this idea was stressed within the Hua-Yen school, however, due to its idea of the world’s interrelatedness. Furthermore, as followed by all Buddhists, The Eight Fold path is taught with extreme emphasis towards the ethics category and the concepts of right speech, right action, and right livelihood. During its prime, The Hua-Yen School was favored by many East Asians due to its “this worldly” focus as well as its conception of reality as a concrete order governed by principles of harmony (Robert M. Gimello, 2005). This school had many modern ideas of worldview including a sense of equality. Because it was taught that everything was to be understood in terms of its relationship with others, one-sided views could not exist and therefore prejudice was avoided (Oh, p56). It is because of the schools practices and ideas that make it a vital example of the East Asian influences on modern Buddhism.