Influence of Buddhism on Chinese Culture


Influence of Buddhism on ChineseCulture

Influence of Buddhism on ChineseCulture

The importance of religioncannot be understated as far as the growth, development andsustainability of any society is concerned. Indeed, religion plays acrucial role not only in the spiritual enrichment of its members, butalso in enhancing social cohesion in countries, among other roles.Needless to say, quite a large number of religions have cropped up inthe history of humanity, each of which has varying magnitudes ofinfluence. Buddhism comes as one of the most popular religions in thehistory of human society. It comes off as a proper and effective wayof dealing with or enhancing the spiritual growth of a person.Buddhism has its roots in Asian continent particularly parts ofIndia. However, with its expansion to China, the religionincorporates its special and distinctive values, while occupying animportant position in the cultural system of ancient China to theextent of having an equal position with conventional Taoism andConfucianism (Kieschnick,2003). The only differencebetween Buddhism and the other two may rest in the fact that itsdevelopment in the country has been never stopped rather it persistsin making integration into the Chinese conventional thinking. Thishas resulted in its wide acceptance by the Chinese public as a resultof its capacity to meet the different belief needs of the Chinesepeople.

The development of Buddhism inthe Chinese population can be traced back to the years of EastHandynasty to the South and North Dynasties, and lastly to the Sui andTang dynasties. Historians note that during its introduction, a largeproportion of Buddhist texts were still in Hindu. This necessitatedtheir translation into varied Chinese dialects to allow for their usein China. It is also noteworthy that there was a fundamentaldifference between the dominant religion or philosophy in China,Confucianism, and the new entrant, Buddhism. Confucianism primarilyconcentrated on the maintenance of social order and harmony, whileBuddhism lay emphasis on getting into the monastic life and seeing areality that goes beyond reality (Prabodhaet al, 2011).While Confucianism was not particularly friendly to Buddhism, thelatter found an ally in Taoism, with which it shared philosophies andmeditation practices. Buddhism comes with an immensely diverse andlarge style and theme, which had a dominant impact on the literaturesand cultures of, not only China, but also Korea and Japan. Indeed,scholars have acknowledged that the philosophy or religion has becomean inseparable component of the Chinese traditional culture.

One of the most fundamentalinfluences of Buddhism in the Chinese culture was on the Chineseliterature. Scholars have acknowledged that Buddhism came withnumerous ideas that were bound to become dominant factors in theattitude of the Chinese to varied aspects such as cosmos, society,death and life among others (Prabodhaet al, 2011).These ideas such as suffering and impermanence, rebirth and karma,reality and emptiness, liberation and bondage, as well as hell andparadise have been crucial to the growth of the literary thought ofthe Chinese. Indeed, numerous poets from China drew immense influencefrom Buddhist thoughts. Buddhism imbued new styles of literature intoChinese literature. It was in the course of the Tang dynasty that theBuddhist literature was being introduced. Of particular note is thefact that the Chinese poems at this time primarily incorporated linesthat had rigid rhythms and a fixed number of syllables (Kieschnick,2003). It was, therefore,impossible for such syllables to deal with the immensely diversifiedIndian Buddhism literature considering the variations in style andwealth of content. In essence, the translation of Buddhist works camewith new writing styles, which were more interconnected and elegant,as well as freer and longer. Initially, the new styles would only beused in translation. However, it eventually spread to other Chinesecompositions to the extent of influencing the Chinese writings. Anexample of the new styles that the Buddhist translators would be theinterfusion of the verse and prose narratives, which grew to become apredominant stylistic aspect of the Chinese novels and short stories.On the same note, it took the Chinese literature to entirely newintellectual boundaries. Scholars note that the freedom of writingpertaining to entirely new ways of life as become gradually embeddedinto the Chinese consciousness (Prabodhaet al, 2011).Buddhism lay emphasis on systematic individual cultivation of themind, which gave Chinese writers a subjective and new world thatfused with the Chinese traditional poetry’s love for nature beyondthe life and society, thereby enriching the Chinese literature’simaginative limits (Wright,2014). Of particular noteis the fact that the influence was not limited to literature thatBuddhist writers created but also other styles including poetry andhistoriography, whose existence predated the Buddhism spread inChina. This means that Buddhism restructured the traditional literaryforms.

In addition, Buddhism had animmense influence on the languages, which should not be surprisingconsidering that language comes off as the most direct and widespreadculture. The main source of influence was primarily the translationof the Buddhist scriptures to the Chinese languages. The limitationsof the Chinese language in terms of the rigidity and number ofsyllables resulted in the use of some Buddhist or Indian letters andsyllables. This, essentially, accelerated the modification of theChinese grammatical systems (Kieschnick,2003). On the same note,the Buddhism brought in varied new phrases and terms to the Chinesevocabulary, a large number of which are still present in thecontemporary Chinese language. Of course, some have dropped out ofuse and are not connected to Buddhism any more but have essentiallybecome phrases and expressions in literary compositions. These may,for instance, include, phrases such as “relatively”, “equality”,“actuality” among others, which have continued to be used by theChinese in their daily lives. All of these expressions have theirorigin as the Buddhism expression_rs (Wright,2014).

On the same note, Buddhism hadan immense influence on the Chinese science and art. It is noted thatthe spread of Buddhism into China also resulted in the introductionof science and technology such as medicine and astronomy. Indeed,there exists more than a dozen books and prescriptions pertaining tomedicine, which have been translated from India (Kieschnick,2003). On the same note,the Buddhism script printings in a way enhanced the engravingtopography technology in China, with scholars noting that the oldestengravings that currently exist in China are versions of Buddhism.With regard to traditional art, Buddhism made fundamentalcontributions to the ancient architecture of the Chinese. Some of themost ancient buildings that currently exist are Buddhist towersincluding the Brick Tower of Songyue Temple located in SongshanMountain in Henan province (Prabodhaet al, 2011).This tower comes as a treasure for study in Chinese ancientarchitecture history. Scholars note that the vivid recollections thatare well illustrated in Buddhism have inspired artists (Kieschnick,2003). Further, theinfluence of Buddhism has been felt in the Chinese music. This isparticularly seen in the case of the many dancing figures in grottoesin areas that Buddhism reached. It is worth noting that the grottoart grew immensely after the advent of Buddhism from India inSouthern and Northern Dynasties Period (386-581). The art initiallyappeared at the west end of the Silk Road before moving from the westend to the east, Western regions to Central Plains, with numerousgrottoes being left on the road. On the same note, it is wellacknowledged that nirvana, like the earthly world cannot existwithout dance and music (Wright,2014). In the nirvana,never does holy music cease even for a moment. Bodhisarrvas andBuddha have to be presented with fragrant flowers and dance, in whichcase dance scenes are always shown in grotto fresco and sculpturesthat attempt to show nirvana pertaining to the Buddhist land(Prabodhaet al, 2011).

Further, Buddhism influenced theeating habits of the Chinese. Indeed, scholars credit the spread ofthe tea drinking custom to Buddhist monks. In the course of the TangDynasty, the popularity of Buddhism increased particularly the ChanSchool of Buddhism, which was prevailing at that time. A large numberof the Chan masters highly regarded tea drinking. This continuedduring to Song Dynasty, where monks took up the tradition of takingthree cups of tea after every meal. Indeed, making tea was consideredthe second most crucial activity for lay Buddhists after incensemeditation during the Ming Dynasty (Prabodhaet al, 2011).On the same note, the Buddhist monks developed tea cultivation andproduction techniques, all in an effort to come up with the highestquality tea. It is noted that the Chinese Buddhism took up teacharacteristics such as common, serene and bitter, which connected tothe Buddhist ideals such as wisdom, equipoise and suffering, therebydeveloping spiritual tea culture that involved viewing Buddhism andtea as one taste (Wright,2014).

In conclusion, the entry ofBuddhism in China may have been one of the most fundamental aspectsin the history of the country. There have been pretty contradictoryaccounts pertaining to the manner in which the religion or philosophygot into the country. However, what is not in doubt is the continuingimpact that the philosophy had and continues to have on the peopleand their cultures. Indeed, there was a considerably widespread orfundamental effect on the cultures and even civilization of theChinese people. This is particularly in the case of language andliterature. It is noteworthy that the Chinese had considerably fewsyllables and pretty rigid structures, which made it difficult forthe language to be used in interpreting the voluminous and richBuddhist literature. In essence, the Chinese had to borrow some ofthese and incorporate them in their literature so as to allow for thetranslation of the texts. However, one of the most unacknowledgedinfluences of Buddhism on Chinese culture is the upsetting of thebalance of the philosophies. Indeed, it is credited with breaking thecultural domination pertaining to Confucianism and made an immensecontribution to a completely new pattern that was dominated byTaoism, Buddhism and Confucianism (Prabodhaet al, 2011).On the same note, the translation of the Buddhist scriptures wasconsiderably enriching to the Chinese grammar and vocabulary andenhanced the writing technique and writing style.


Kieschnick,J (2003). TheImpact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture.New York: Princeton University Press

Prabodha, C. V., Wang, ., &ampSen, T. (2011).&nbspIndiaand China: Interactions through Buddhism and diplomacy : a collectionof essays by Professor Prabodh Chandra Bagchi.India: Anthem Press.

Wright, A. F. (2014). Buddhismin Chinese History.New York: Stanford University Press