By then, Indian Buddhism was already over 500 years old, but the faith didn't begin to flourish in China until the decline of the Han Dynasty and an end to its strict Confucian beliefs.
Within the Buddhist philosophy grew two main divisions. There were those that followed the traditional Theravada Buddhism, which involves strict meditation and a closer reading of the original teachings of Buddha. Theravada Buddhism is prominent in Sri Lanka and most of Southeast Asia.
The Buddhism that took hold in China was Mahayana Buddhism, which includes various forms such as Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism - also known as Lamaism.
Mahayana Buddhists believe in the broader appeal to Buddha's teachings compared to the more abstract philosophical questions posed in Theravada Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhists also accept contemporary buddhas like Amitabha, which Theravada Buddhists don't.
Buddhism was able to directly address the concept of human suffering -- which had wide appeal for the Chinese who were dealing with the chaos and disunity of warring states vying for control after the fall of the Han.
Many ethnic minorities in China also adopted Buddhism. (see chart)
Competition with Daoism
When first introduced, Buddhism faced competition from followers of Daoism. While Daoism (also called Taoism) is as old as Buddhism, Daoism was indigenous to China.
Daoists do not view life as suffering. They believe in an ordered society and strict morality, but they also hold strong mystical beliefs such as ultimate transformation, where the soul lives after death and travels to the world of the immortals.
Because the two beliefs were so competitive, many teachers from both sides borrowed from the other. Today many Chinese believe in elements from both schools of thought.
Buddhism as a State Religion:
Buddhism's popularity, led to the quick conversion to Buddhism by later Chinese rulers. The subsequent Sui and Tang Dynasties all adopted Buddhism as their religion.
The religion was also used by foreign rulers of China, such as the Yuan Dynasty and the Manchus, to connect with the Chinese and justify their rule. The Machus strived to draw a parallel between Buddhism. a foreign religion, and their own reign as foreign leaders.
Despite China's shift to atheism after the Communists took control of China in 1949, Buddhism continued to grow in China, especially after the economic reforms in the 1980s.
Today there are an estimated 100 million followers of Buddhism in China and over 20,000 Buddhist temples. It is the largest religion in China.
More about Buddhism in China:
|Ethnic Minority Groups that Practice Buddhism in China|
|Mulam (also practice Taoism)||207,352||Guangxi||About the Mulam|
|Jingpo||132,143||Yunnan||About the Jingpo|
|Maonan (also practice Polytheism)||107,166||Guangxi||About the Maonan|
|Blang||92,000||Yunnan||About the Blang|
|Achang||33,936||Yunnan||About the Achang|
|Jing or Gin (also practice Taoism)||22,517||Guangxi||About the Jing|
|De'ang or Derung||17,935||Yunnan||About the De'ang|