In the period of the 3rd century CE, China was going through major turmoil during the collapse of the Han Dynasty. Throughout and after this collapse, the population of Asian countries became increasingly Buddhist, creating tumult within the Chinese Confucian political philosophy system. In society at this time, Buddhism was viewed in many opposing ways. On one side of the spectrum, Buddhism was a way to find fulfillment, a guide to lead a good and meaningful life, and promised reward to its followers in the afterlife (or reincarnation) (Docs 1, 2, 3). In the opposing view, Buddhism was thought to be nothing more than a “cult of barbarians” (Doc 4) that was guilty of “wearing out peoples’ strength”, (Doc 6) and ”poisoning the customs of our nation”. Some went even so far to state that “there no longer remains the slightest doubt in our minds that this evil should be eradicated”. In a more neutral position regarding Buddhism’s role in society, a scholar believed that it should be viewed with respect along with Confucianism and Daoism for all being “perfect sages” (Doc 5).
Many scholars accepted the adoption of Buddhism in China. For example, Zhi Dun believed that whosoever followed the commandments of the Buddhist scriptures would enter Nirvana, achieving enlightenment (Doc 2). Zhi Dun was trying to convey hope for the people of China because this would have most likely gained more convert due to the sincerity and excitement in his speech. Along with enlightenment, Buddha promotes the four noble truths (Doc 1), which describe how everything is sorrow, and you must not crave or desire. This statement speaks volumes to citizens and the nobility of china because it shows that they are equal to each other, which is very good thing for peasants, but not so much for the nobility.
Moreover, According to Han Yu, a leading Confucian scholar and official at the Tang imperial court, Buddhism is “no more than a cult of the barbarian peoples spread to China”. Due to the fact that Siddhartha Gautama did not wear Chinese fashion or speak the Chinese language, Han Yu feels that he was a “foul and unlucky” leader (Doc 4). In Addition, Emperor Wu of the Tang Dynasty states that Buddhism “wears out the peoples’ strength… [And] pilfers their wealth” (Doc 6). Of course, it is more than plausible that Emperor Wu was motivated by the idea that he was to lose his job if Buddhism were to “outshine the imperial palace itself.”
On the middle-of-the-road standpoint, Zong Mi, a leading Buddhist scholar suggested that Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism were “perfect sages” (Doc 5). Of course, it is a reasonable conclusion that Zong Mi was motivated by all three philosophies instituting their traditions “according to the demands of the age and the needs of various beings”. He goes on to say that the three religions are different yet similar in the way they “encourage the perfection of good deeds, punish wicked ones, and reward good ones” and how they should all be observed with admiration because they lead to the establishment of an orderly civilization.
In conclusion, the different reactions of the spread of Buddhism after 220 CE greatly varied. Some scholars agreed that Buddhism was a positive thing for the Chinese society(Docs 1, 2, 3), others disagreed and thought that Buddhism was the bane of Chinese culture (Docs 4, 6), although a middleman thought that Buddhism along with Confucianism and Daoism were respectable (Doc 5)
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