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Basics Of Chinese Buddhism Essay, Research Paper

Who was the Buddha ?

1.1. Early Life of Luxury

Siddharta Gautama, better known as the Buddha, was a prince of India who was born in Nepal and was heir to the thrown of the Sakya tribe of the Gautama clan. He was born, not for the first time, in 566BC. His first name means goal reached and was commonly known as Gautama or Sakyamuni, the wise man of the Sakya . His father was told be a sage at Sakyamuni s birth the If he remains at home, the child will become a great King. If he leaves, he will become a great teacher . At 16 he was married to Yasodhana with whom he had Rahula, his son. At the age of 29 he had been tormented by the mysteries of existence, after being shaded form the pain and suffering of life, Siddharta ran away form his palace one day to pursue his quest, his search for true inner peace with the world, to find enlightenment.

1.2. Miraculous Birth

The Buddha’s birth was miraculous. On the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, Queen Maya was walking in the Lumbini Garden in Suddhodana’s palace grounds, south of the Himalayas. As she stood under a sala (ashoka) tree and raised her right arm to pick a blossom, the infant Buddha sprang from her side without causing his mother pain or bloodshed. He immediately took seven steps towards the north, and announced in a loud voice that this was his final incarnation.

1.3. The Middle Way

On his quest for truth he deprived himself of food and basic necessities for six entire years. After realising that neither entire luxury nor entire depravation seamed to answer the questions of life, he devised the middle way. In doing so he created a system that has been looked upon by thousands of generations after him. The middle way demonstrates that the soul is not truly happy if it has all the necessary things in life as well as more than on needs or wants, or that your are truly happier when you have none of you necessities or extra wants or needs. After the six years of starvation of all necessities, Siddharta came close to death and renounced his mortification of the flesh. This scandalised his companions, who in turn abandoned him. Siddharta Gautama was not the only Buddha to exist. If fact, there were and possibly still are many other Buddha s that have existed, Siddharta was just on of the more well known Buddha s for he invented Buddhism, by discovering the meanings of life and death and teaching the world of his finds.

1.4 Reaching enlightenment.

With no one beside him, Siddharta sat in the lotus position, under a sacred fig tree at Bodh-Caya in around 531BC. As time passed, the secrets of life and death were revealed to his spirit, in knowing this he became certain that riding himself of all passions and desires he was freed from the cycle of birth and rebirth. Siddharta had reached the state of enlightenment, thereby becoming a buddha. At 80 years of age Siddharta Gautama, announced that his time was at an end. He ate a meal that was an offered to him from one of his followers. In eating this meal it brought on a final illness. He walked a little further, and then lay down on his right side between two trees. His final words were Decay is inherited in all compound phenomena! Work for your liberation with diligence!

2. What IS Buddhism ?

The name Buddhism comes from the word ‘budhi’ which means ‘to wake up’ and Buddhism is the philosophy of awakening . This philosophy has its origins in the experience of the man Siddharta Gautama.

Buddhism is both a religion and a philosophy, while at the same time it is neither. Specifically it is a non-theistic religion, meaning it has no god but uses religious practices. Seen through this, it shows that you cannot pray to Buddha, you can only try to achieve enlightenment and try to be like Buddha.

The word philosophy comes from two words, ‘philo’ which means ‘love’ and ’sophia’ which means ‘wisdom’. Buddhism teaches that we should try to develop our intellectual capacity to the fullest so that we can understand clearly. It also teaches us to develop love and kindness so that we can be like a true friend to all people.

Buddhism is also a system of spiritual practices (chanting, meditation) that allows a person to overcome their own personality a live their life more in tune with the universe. The goal of Buddhism is to achieve enlightenment. This involves identifying completely with the universe (Buddha nature) and seeing your own personal problems as much less important than you previously thought.

If you can achieve this, your problems will become no more important than leaves floating on the wind . Buddhism is extremely hard to describe and those who have managed to describe it properly have taken many years and many books to do so. To attempt to explain Buddhism at a small level takes many years to gather the proper information, for Siddharta Gautama never wrote down his teachings.

When someone worships a god, they praise him or her, making offerings and ask for favours, believing that the god will hear their praise, receive their offerings and answer their prayers. Buddhists do not indulge in this kind of worship.

The other kind of worship is when we show respect to someone or something we admire. When a teacher walks into a room, or when the national anthem is played we stand up. These gestures of show respect for persons and things. This is the type of worship Buddhist practice.

A statue of the Buddha with its hands resting gently in its lap and its compassionate smile reminds people to develop peace and love within ourselves. The perfume of incense is to remind people of the influence of virtue, a lamp is a reminder of light of knowledge and flowers which fade and die, reminds us of the briefness of life.

Buddhists beliefs

Buddha – the teacher

Dharma – the teachings

Sangha – the followers, those being taught.

Buddha is not a god you can pray to, or devote your life to making him happy. Buddha was a man. The only thing possible is to be like him, worshiping him like a god will do nothing.


Karma means, “to do”. It is intentional, deliberate, wilful action. Every action must have a reaction and an effect. Karma explains the differences between people. It explains why some people are fortunate while others are less fortunate, some are happy while others are less happy. The Law of Karma teaches that similar actions will lead to similar results. If we do a good action, eventually we will get a good result, and if we do some bad action eventually we will get a painful result.

Bad acts mean rebirth in the lower realms, in the realms of suffering – hell, hungry ghosts and animals. If these bad actions were not bad enough to result in rebirth as an animal or a ghost, they will result in unhappiness in the next life as a human being. Good acts actions result in happiness, and rebirth in a higher life. For example, generosity results in wealth in the next life.

The Five Precepts

The five precepts are the basis of Buddhism.

1. Avoid killing or harming living beings

2. Avoid stealing

3. Avoid sexual misconduct

4. Avoid lying

5. Avoid alcohol and other intoxicating drugs.

The Four Noble Truths

1.) There is suffering.

2.) All suffering is caused by human desire

3.) Ending human desire can end suffering

Eightfold Noble Path can end desire:

1. Right understanding

2. Right thought

3. Right speech

4. Right action

5. Right livelihood

6. Right effort

7. Right mindfulness

8. Right concentration.


Many people think that Buddhists believe in reincarnation. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Reincarnation is a Hindu belief. Buddhists do not believe that people have souls, so reincarnation in impossible. However, they do believe in ‘rebirth’. Buddhism teaches that when a person dies they are reborn and that this process of death and rebirth will continue until they reach Nirvana.

Most religions believe that the core of the person is the soul that is eternally and survives in the afterlife. Buddhism says that the person is made up of thoughts, feelings and perceptions interacting with the body in a constantly changing way. At death this mental energy is re-established in a new body. Buddhism explains how individuals survive without the belief in a “soul. Some critics say rebirth was not a part of the Buddha’s original teachings or that the Buddha copied the idea of rebirth from the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation.


Nirvana comes from the word meaning, ‘to blow out’ and refers to blowing out the fires of greed, hatred and delusion. It is not heaven , but a release from the wheel of death and rebirth. When all a person s imperfections are destroyed by wisdom they become free, and joyful and no longer subject to rebirth.

Some people are afraid that it means a complete end and nothingness . But Buddha’s saying that “Nirvana is the ultimate happiness” makes it clear that it is a worthwhile goal. A criticism some people have is that Nirvana takes so long to and so few can do it. But Buddha said that if his instructions are followed sincerely and carefully you could reach Nirvana within your present life.

What is a Stupa?

When the person who has died is a Buddha (enlightened one) or an Arhant (saint) or an especially great teacher, their bones and ashes are collected after cremation. These may be placed in a stupa or pagoda (burial mound) or in a Buddha-rupa (image of the Buddha). Whenever the Buddhist sees a stupa in the countryside or a Buddha-rupa in a shrine room it is a reminder of the teaching and it is honoured because of that.

4 What Buddhists do

Chanting and mantras – Om Mani Padme Hum

‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ (Hail the jewel in the lotus) is a six syllable chant(mantra) used as the protector from danger. It is claimed that anyone who says this mantra will be saved from all dangers. This mantra inscribed on rocks, prayer wheels, stupa walls, loose stones heaped as Mani (jewels) on roads, paths, mountain passes, the approaches and exits of villages. It is inscribed in prayer wheels with millions of these mantras inscribed on paper inside the prayer wheels. Turning one round of the prayer wheel means this mantra can be recited millions of times.

Beads (mala)

Beads are mainly used to count mantras, which are recited for four different purposes:

+ To appease (to make peace)

+ To increase (to gain wealth)

+ To overcome (to solve problems)

+ To tame (to use force)

Beads made of Bodhi seeds or wood can be used for many purposes, for counting all kinds of mantras.

Buddhist prayer

Buddhists don’t pray to a God, but they do have meditation practices which can be compared to praying. Radiating love and kindness to all living things is an important practice which benefits both yourself and the people and things you show love to. In Tibetan Buddhism prayer is going on most of the time. Tibetans pray in a special way. They believe that when certain sounds and words, called mantras, are said many times, they arouse good vibrations within the person. If a mantra is repeated often enough it can open up the mind to a consciousness that is beyond words and thoughts. Chinese Buddhism does not use words at all – it used meditation to try to achieve enlightenment. However, they will chant using nonsense words, to help in meditation.

Buddhist shrines

A shrine is found in Buddhist homes and temples. At the centre is usually an image of the Buddha. It may also have such objects as a volume of Buddhist scriptures or pictures or photographs of Buddhist monks and masters.

Buddhists gestures

In Buddhism, the traditional gesture is to place the palms of both hands together and raise them high in front, usually up to the level of the forehead. In order to express deep respect a Buddhist may bow or lie face down in front of an image of the Buddha. This helps the Buddhist to overcome their ego and become more ready to listen to the Teaching of the Buddha.

Buddhist festivals

Every May, on the night of the full moon, Buddhists all over the world celebrate Vesak for the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. Major ritual activities include offering incense, chanting texts from the Sutras or singing hymns, and quiet meditation. People clean their houses and hang up garlands of flowers. Statues of the Buddha are brought out of the temple to be washed and polished and all the books come out to be dusted. When it is dark, people gather with candles or small oil lamps. The biggest Buddha statue is put on a platform outside the temple and lights shine all round it. Scented water is thrown onto it. Holding their lights, everyone starts to move round the Buddha statue so that in the end it is encircled with light.

New Year

In Chinese Buddhism the New Year starts in late January or early February according to the lunar calendar.

Ploughing Festival

In May, when the moon is half-full, two white oxen pull a gold painted plough, followed by four girls dressed in white who scatter rice seeds from gold and silver baskets. This is to celebrate the Buddha’s first moment of enlightenment, which is said to have happened when the Buddha was seven years old, when he had gone with his father to watch the ploughing.

Ancestor Day

Celebrated from the first to the fifteenth days of the eighth lunar month. It is believed that the gates of Hell are opened on the first day and the ghosts may visit the world for fifteen days. Food offerings are made during this time to relieve the sufferings of these ghosts. On the fifteenth day, Ancestor Day, people visit cemeteries to make offerings to the departed.

Kuan Yin Birthday

This festival which celebrates the Bodhisattva in Tibet and China. It occurs on the full moon day in March.

Buddhist weddings

Monks cannot be marriage celebrants but they can “bless” the couple by chanting after the ceremony.

Buddhist funerals

These are simple ceremonies where the good deeds of the departed are remembered, and a Loving-kindness meditation can be done.

5 How and when Buddhism came to China.

Following his Enlightenment, the Buddha instructed his disciples to spread his teaching in all directions of the world. It was not until the early years in the Christian era that his teaching eventually reached China. Around 520 A.D. an Indian monk named Bodhi Dharma arrived in Canton by sea. He eventually settled in the north of China where he founded the Shaolin monastery.

Bodhidharma was also born as a prince between 440 and 470 CE. Although born a Brahmin (a high-caste Hindu), he was converted to Buddhism. His teacher was a monk called Prajnatara who came from Magadha, the birthplace of Buddhism. His teacher told him to go on a mission to China.

The actual date of his arrival in China is somewhat confused. The recorded dates vary from 475 to 520. On arrival he was summoned to the capital Emperor Wu-ti who was already a Buddhist who prided himself on his generous support of the religion. Legend has it that, on their meeting the following conversation took place. Emperor: I have richly endowed the Buddhist religion so how much merit would you say I have gained. Bodhidharma: “No merit whatsoever.”

The Emperor was taken aback, having heard that good brings good and evil brings evil – the Law of Karma. What Bodhidharma was trying to show was that the Emperor’s intention was wrong and it is the intention that determines the Karmic effect. The Emperor’s intention was not free giving but for his own gain and to boost his own ego.

The Emperor then asked Bodhidharma, “What then is the essence of Buddhism? Bodhidharma replied, “No essence whatsoever” The Emperor, somewhat confused, said, ” Since you say that in Buddhism, all things have no essence, who then is speaking before me now?” Bodhidharma replied, “I don’t know”. So, China had its first Cha’an teaching, and the thoroughly confused Emperor Wu-ti sent the monk away.

Bodhidharma made his way to the north of China where he eventually settled in the Shaolin Temple on Mount Sung in Honan Province. It is said that it was here in a cave on Mount Sung that Bodhidharma spent nine years in meditation. Legend says that Bodhidharma cut off his eyelids to prevent himself from falling asleep. The Shaolin temple has become famous as the first training centre for Kung-Fu.

6 How Chinese Buddhism is different

Chinese Buddhism is a mix of Taoism and Buddhism fusing into one, Indian concern with liberation of the self + Chinese focus with nature. As Buddhism entered Chinese life it picked up some of the beliefs of the other main religions (Taoism and Confucianism).

Cha’an is the Chinese form of the Sanskrit word “Dhyana”, which means meditation. It spread to be the main Buddhist tradition in Korea where it is called Son , and later spread to Japan where it was known as Zen.

Mahayana (The Great Vehicle) Buddhism is the teaching which is the basis of Ch an Buddhism. Mahayana is an umbrella for a great many Buddhist schools , from the Tantra school (the secret teaching of Yoga) of Tibet and Nepal to the Pure Land sect, found in China, Korea and Japan. Ch an and Zen Buddhism, of China and Japan, are meditation schools. According to these schools, to look inward and not to look outwards is the only way to achieve enlightenment, which is the same as Buddhahood . Cha an emphasises intuition , its peculiarly Chinese element being that it has no words in which to express itself at all, so it does this in symbols and images.

Cha’an comes from an important sermon on meditation made the Buddha himself, which emphasised finding enlightenment from personal effort instead of relying on study of the or the experiences of others. Ch an uses unconventional or unusual ways to wake up the disciple to a sudden and ‘wordless’ experience of Enlightenment, including: puzzling meditation themes; Paradoxes; baffling answers; or even yelling and beating to let ‘the bottom of the tub fall out’ and to throw the student into a state of ‘no-mind’.

For example, Chinese Buddhism invented the famous Koan s. These are puzzling questions which seem to have no answers or nonsense answered. The two most famous Koans are, If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it fall, does it make a sound? and What is the sound of one hand clapping? There are many answers to these questions and some are as puzzling as the questions themselves, but they are meant to be mind exercises to help the student Buddhist think beyond rational, everyday things, and try to reach bigger truths.

The Chinese Laughing Buddha

Bodhisattva Martreya is the most common Buddha in China. Martreya means the Loving or Friendly One and ancient artists show him as a fat, round, cheerfully smiling character. Statues of Martreya are usually found at the entrance of Chinese temples and among more superstitious Chinese Buddhists are sometimes worshipped as a god of good luck and prosperity.

7 How Buddhism works in China today

China banned almost all religions and religious practices after the Revolution in 1949. For several years people continued to practice their old beliefs, but restrictions became tighter as time went on.

When the Chinese government invaded Buddhist Tibet in 1959 they tore down many of the monasteries and ruined the paintings and statues in them. Today, the Chinese government forbids Tibetans to own or put up any pictures of the Dalai or Panchen Lama. To get a job in Tibet now you have to speak Chinese and not many Tibetans have enough money to go to schools that teaches Chinese.

It is estimated that 1.2 million Buddhists died between 1951 and 1979, in China and Tibet, as a result of persecution, and that 80,000 Buddhists fled to India, mostly from Tibet. There were 6,259 Ch an temples and monasteries in Tibet prior to the 1959 invasion. In the year 2000 there are only eight left.

In 1962 The 10th Panchen Lama wrote a long letter to Chinese president Mao Tse Tung, protesting that the Chinese soldiers were destroying buildings and killing Tibetans. He was arrested and put in prison for over 10 years. In 1987 he again protested that the Chinese government were not treating the Tibetans fairly. In1989 he told the world that the Chinese were destroying the Tibetan people. He died soon after. Some Tibetans think the Chinese poisoned him but no one knows for sure.

During the 1960 s Chairman Mao instituted the Cultural Revolution , which was aimed at creating a second Chinese revolution amongst students and young people. During this time all religious and Buddhist practices were banned, many monks and thousands of believers were tortured, jailed or killed, and many of the 2000 year old temples, monasteries and art works were completely destroyed.

In the 1990 s the new Panchen Lama (the 11th) was 6 years old when he and his parents were kidnapped from their home in Tibet by the Chinese government. He is the world’s youngest political prisoner and he has been missing for over 4 years.

Panchen Lama is Vice-President or Prime Minister – Tibetans call him the second greatest leader of Tibet. Buddhists believe that the Panchen Lama is the protector of all the world’s living beings. China kidnapped the Panchen Lama, his parents and brother from their home in Tibet and are holding them under house arrest somewhere in China.

Today there is practically no Cha an Buddhism practiced anywhere in China. However, wherever a Chinese community exists in Asia, from Korea, to Singapore, to Indonesia to Australia, Cha an Buddhism survives and is practiced my millions.

The Eight Auspicious Symbols

Right-coiled white conch The white conch which coils to the right symbolises the deep, far-reaching sound of the Dharma teachings, which awakens disciples, awakens them from the deep sleep of ignorance.

Precious umbrella The precious umbrella symbolises the good work of protecting others from illness, harmful forces & temporary sufferings, and offers enjoyment of a feast under its shade.

Victory banner This symbolises the victory your own body, speech and mind, over obstacles and negativitities. It also stands for the complete victory of Buddhism over all harmful forces.

Golden fish This symbolises the perfect state of all living beings in a state of fearlessness, without danger of drowning in the ocean of sufferings, free to move from place to place as freely just as fish swim without fear through water.

Dharma Wheel The golden wheel symbolises the turning of the wheel of Buddha’s teaching, enabling people to experience joy and liberation.

Auspicious drawing The drawing symbolises how Buddhist teaching is intertwined with ordinary life. At enlightenment, students will feel the uniting of wisdom and compassion.

Lotus flower The lotus flower symbolises purification of the body, speech and mind, and the full blossoming of an enlightened life.

Vase of treasure The treasure vase symbolises an endless rain of long life, wealth and all the benefits of enlightenment to the world.

Some Cha an Koans

Koans, or in Chinese Buddhism, kung-an, means public case . They are a form of discussion and public teaching of wisdom. Koans are meant to break down ordinary, rational thought. They are often nonsensical and puzzling questions into which the student was expected to put every effort to solve the puzzle. Students carried the questions with them every day, worrying and working on them, until the solution (often framed as oddly as the question) was delivered to him/her straight from Buddha-state. In other words, the answer offered a glimpse of enlightenment . Usually the solution to the koan involved a lesson on the senselessness of words, logic and attachment to the ordinary world.

One monk said to the other, “The fish has flopped out of the net! How will it live?” The other said, “When you have gotten out of the net, I’ll tell you.”

Some professors asked a monk to lecture to them on spiritual matters. The monk ascended a podium, struck it once with his stick, and descended. The academics were dumb- founded. The monk asked them, “Do you understand what I have told you?” One professor said, “I do not understand.” The monk said, “I have concluded my lecture.”


A student said to the chief monk, “Help me to pacify my mind!” The chief monk said, “Bring your mind over here and I will pacify it.”

The student said, “But I don’t know where my mind is!”

The monk replied, “Then I have already pacified it.”


If you meet a person on the path, do not greet him with words or silence.

How will you greet him?


A monk, taking a bamboo stick, said to the people, “If you call this a stick, you fall into the trap of words, but if you do not call it a stick, you contradict facts.

So what do you call it?”

At that time a monk in the assembly came forth. He snatched the stick, broke it in two, and threw the pieces across the room.


A monk sat with his three students. He took out his fan and placed it in front of him, saying, “Without calling it a fan, tell me what this is.”

The first said, “You couldn’t call it a slop-bucket.” The master poked him with his stick.

The second picked up the fan and fanned himself. He too was rewarded with the stick.

The third opened the fan, laid a piece of cake on it, and served it to his teacher. The teacher said, “Eat your cake.”


Has a dog a Buddha-nature?

This is the most serious question of all.

If you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’

You lose your own Buddha-nature.


I will have compassion

for all sentient beings;

and will not cause needless hurt

or unnecessary harm.

Through my training,

I will seek enlightenment,

the distinction between right and wrong,

liberation from delusion

and the malevolent influences of

greed, jealousy and rage.

I will seek

to transcend unnecessary dichotomy,

and learn to accept that differences

are often an attitude of mind.

I accept

that of greater value

than the accumulation of goods,

are justice and creativity,

right motive and action, and essentiality,

love and peace, and the freedom to grow.

I will act

with honour,

without contriving for self-advantage

or egotistical effort,

false pride or humility.

I will try to live my life

so as not to give cause

for later regrets.

I will help

those who are suffering,

or disadvantaged,

and those who seek liberation

or enlightenment.

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