Chinese Buddhism, by Joseph Edkins, , at sacred-texts.com
p. xvi p. xvii
WHEN the first Hindoo missionaries arrived at the capital of China and were admitted to see the emperor, it was, the Buddhists tell us, in the last month of the year A.D. 68, and the 30th day of that month. By imperial command they were entertained in a building called Pe-ma sï, "Office of the white horses;" so named because they had ridden on white horses on their way from Cabul. The two Brahmans enjoyed the imperial favour, and one of the books they translated has remained popular to the present time.
Thirteen years before these men reached China, the first missionaries of Christianity crossed the Ægean Sea and entered Europe. Instead of being received, however, with the smiles of those in power and enjoying imperial hospitality, they were publicly whipped and imprisoned by the magistrates of a Roman colony, and ignominiously dismissed.
Buddhism covered China with monasteries and images; Christianity covered Europe with churches and charitable institutions. A hundred authors have written on the history of the spread of Christianity in the various countries of Europe. Very few have ever studied the history of Buddhism as it has spread through China, and taught its
doctrines in every part of that empire. There is room for new information on the entrance, progress, and characteristics of Chinese belief in the religion founded by Shakyamuni.
Especially is there a need for facts on the history of Buddhism, because it is that one among the world's religions which has acquired the greatest multitude of adherents, and has also above any other carried out most systematically the monastic institute.
Isaac Taylor drew attention in his Ancient Christianity to the knowledge of Hindoo monasticism possessed by Clement of Alexandria, and traced the origin of the monasticism of Christianity to that of India.
Buddhism never became the State religion of China. It has grown side by side with the State religion, and obtained only the partial faith of the people. In this it differed from Christianity, which in Europe took the place of the old State religions of the various countries, after first vanquishing them all.
One of the titles of Buddha is "the Lion;" another is "the Great hero;" another is "Honoured one of the world;" another is "King of the Law." His followers love to represent him as completely victorious over metaphysical opponents by argument, and as gaining a thorough and final conquest over temptation impersonated by demons. He is also spoken of as victorious in saving from their unbelief all sorts of heretics, of men sunk in pleasure, and every class of adversaries. He has infinite pity, as well as infinite wisdom.
Such is the ideal of Buddha. Let it be compared with that of the Christian Saviour. Let the result of the teaching of Shakyamuni on the Chinese be compared with that of the teaching of Christ on Europe. Is China as
much better for Buddhism as Europe is for Christianity? If the beginnings of the world's religions are very interesting and important subjects of inquiry, their progress and development are not less so. The various causes which operated to aid the spread of Buddhism, if carefully investigated, will be a valuable contribution to the history of humanity. Koeppen has said that, at the time of Alexander's conquests, while there was a tendency imparted by him to the races he conquered, which led to the breaking up of a restrictive nationalism, and to the welding of various peoples, formerly separated by blood, customs, religions, and culture, into a higher unity in the consciousness of a common humanity, so also India was, by the propagators of Buddhism, putting forth vigorous efforts in the same cause. Alexander sought to make all mankind one. So did Buddhism. The Greek spirit and the spirit of Buddhism sympathised with each other and helped each other. In this way he finds an explanation of the rapid spread of the Buddhist religion in the Punjab, Afghanistan, Bactria, and the countries near. He then proceeds to compare Buddhism with Christianity, which he speaks of as cosmopolitan Judaism to which had been added Alexandrian and Essene elements. Just as Christianity conquered the Western world, so Buddhism the Eastern; and this it was able to do because it rejected caste and taught the brotherhood of humanity.
It must ever be regarded as a noble instinct of the Hindoo race, which prompted them to throw off the yoke of caste. But it should not be supposed that the yoke of caste was so strong then as it now is. It was easier then than now for a Hindoo to visit foreign countries. The social tyranny of caste was then less powerful.
What gave the first Buddhists their popularity? In
part, doubtless, the doctrine of the common brotherhood of men; but there were several other principles in their teaching which rapidly won adherents, and must also be taken into account.
They taught the universal misery of man, and offered a remedy. They met the yearning of humanity for a redemption by giving instruction, which they said came from the Buddhas and Bodhisattwas, each of whom was a powerful saviour to the devotee.
These saviours, instead of being members of the Hindoo hierarchy of popular gods, like those of Olympus, were either human beings or incarnations of ideas, and combining wisdom with mercy in their acts and teaching.
The early Buddhists surrounded death with a halo of lofty spiritual glory, and called it the Nirvâna. Death became synonymous with absolute peace, and so was looked on with less dread and dislike.
When the Buddhists began to teach races to whom the subtle Hindoo metaphysics were a riddle beyond their comprehension, they taught, for the Nirvâna, a Western Heaven ruled by a newly-invented Buddha, and additional to the paradises of the Devas. This is a new doctrine of a future life which is commonly accepted by the Northern Buddhists, from the Himalayas to the Altai mountains, and from Thibet to Japan.
Another popular element was communism joined with the monastic institute. The monastery is a refuge for the unhappy, for those who have not succeeded in trade, for sickly children, for all who feel a call to enter on a monastic life. In the monastery they subsist on the common fund supplied by the gifts of the charitable. A home, a quiet life, and very little to do, was the prospect held out to those whom society can very well spare, and is not unwilling to part with.
Another popular element was the charm of nobleness attached to the monastic life. Self-denial becomes attractive, and not at all difficult to those who are sensible of this charm. The renunciation of the world, and the absorbing occupation of a religious life, seem to many who enter the gates of the monastery a pleasant dream, and very desirable.
Another attractive element in Buddhism has been the social character of the worship. The monks meet for morning and evening prayers in the presence of the images. To this should be added the agreeableness to the eye of dressed altars, lofty gilt images, and the encouraged belief that they are representative of powerful beings, who will afford substantial protection to the devotee who faithfully discharges his duty as a disciple.
Then there is the doctrine of the Karma. Every act of worship, every Buddhist ceremony, every book of devotion read, every gift to a monastery or a begging priest, every mass for the dead, every invocation of a Buddha or Bodhisattwa, every wish for the good of others, infallibly causes great good, through the necessary operation of the law of cause and effect in the moral sphere.
How far these and other causes have helped to spread Buddhism through the many countries where it now prevails deserves the careful thought of the European student of the history of religions. Next to India itself, China has done more for the development of Buddhist thought than any other Buddhist country. This is a remarkable fact and very useful; showing, as it does, that, judging from the past, the Chinese are susceptible to a very considerable degree of a foreign religion. They will also use intellectual energy in teaching and expanding it. Let any one who doubts this look over Kæmpfer's account of
[paragraph continues] Japanese Buddhism. He will there find nearly all the Chinese sects described in this volume occurring again. They have been transplanted entire with their books and discipline into that island empire,—a striking proof of the vigour of Chinese Buddhism.
Why should they not accept Christianity with the same zeal, and apply to the task of teaching it as much mental force?
Dr. Draper says, 1 "From this we may also infer how unphilosophical and vain is the expectation of those who would attempt to restore the aged populations of Asia to our state. Their intellectual condition has passed onward never more to return."
My own conviction is, that so far as this theory of despair affects China, it is not warranted. The eras of intellectual expansion in that country may be briefly enumerated in the following way:—After the Chow period, the most famous of all, came that of Han, when classical studies, history, and Tauist philosophy flourished together. Then followed a Buddhist age. Then came an age of poetry and elegant literature, that of the T‘ang dynasty. After this came the time of the Sung philosophers, who were most prolific in moral and critical writings tinctured with a peculiarly bad philosophy of nature. The present is an age of classical criticism, a reaction from that of the Sung writers.
We have six distinct periods of intellectual vigour, covering nearly three thousand years, and what do we now see? The intellectual vigour connected with Buddhism and Tauism dead, past any hope of a resurrection. Confucianism is still living, but it is not very strong. The people have an excellent physique, adapting them for
various climates. They emigrate extensively. They have at home an autonomous empire of immense dimensions, administered by printed codes of laws, and such a mode of governing as to enable them to keep that empire from falling to pieces in a time of foreign wars and rebellions.
They are not then to be despaired of intellectually. What they need is to be educated in the mass, to be elevated by the diffusion of a living Christianity, to have improvements in the physical condition of the poor, with a system of scientific instruction in every province, and a development of the mineral and manufacturing resources of the country.
No one need despair of the intellectual progress of the people, or of their susceptibility of spiritual development. Christianity fosters mental growth, and the science of the West is eminently stimulating to thought. The descendants of the men whose mariners sailed with the compass seven hundred years ago, and whose schoolmasters were at the same time making use of printed books in education, will not fail to respond to these powerful influences.
That Buddhism has affected Chinese literature and thought to a considerable extent, is shown in the following pages. It taught them charity, but it did not impart a healthy stimulus to the national mind. It made them indeed more sceptical and materialistic than they were before, and weakened their morality.
But since Buddhism has had among the Chinese its age of faith, prompting them to metaphysical authorship, and the formation of schools of religious thought, and also impelling them to undertake distant and perilous journeys, to visit the spots where Shakyamuni passed his life, it must be admitted that there is a very promising prospect for Christianity, and that the beneficial effect on
the people must be in proportion to the excellence of the Christian religion.
Perhaps Dr. Draper, in view of the facts contained in this book, would not be unwilling to modify his theory of the necessary decline of nations so far as it appertains to China, or at least allow the people of that country a further tenure of national life, till Christianity and education have had a trial.
The present volume is the fruit of many years’ studies. Some parts of it were written nearly twenty-five years ago; nearly all is the fruit of Chinese reading.
Dr. Eitel of Hongkong and Mr. Thomas Watters have since written ably and extensively on the same subject. But my mode of treatment differs from theirs, and in my revision it has been an advantage to have the results of their researches before me. My own collection of native books on Buddhism has increased, while my acquaintance with the actual form of this religion in its popular development at the present time has been considerably enlarged.
The facts here collected on the esoteric sects are adapted to throw light on the history of Buddhism in India, and will help, it may be, to define the position of the Jains.
In the section on Feng-shui, I ask attention to the view there given on the influence of Buddhism in producing the modern Chinese doctrine of the physical influences of nature, and the part that, through the Buddhists, India and Greece have both had in producing the superstitious materialism of the Chinese in its modern shape.
PEKING, October 1879.
xxii:1 Draper's Intellectual Development of Europe, vol. i. p. 57.