When the Han Dynasty of China fell in 220 AD, the country fell into turmoil and was ripped apart by power hungry warlords, looking to seize control of the tattered nation. During this time, Buddhism spread quickly throughout China, gathering many followers. It wasn’t until 570 AD that the Kingdom was restored to , with the Sui Dynasty soon taking over. Around this time, Buddhism saw a drastic halting in its spread. During the time it spread throughout China, Buddhism was met with pious adoration, censure and tolerance. While feudal warlords fought over land, the people of China suffered.
Even in the midst of this semi-civil war, they had to deal with the nomadic Mongolians attacking their northern border. The people needed something to put their faith in, and that is where they found Buddhism. In a time of so much death, destruction, and despair, Buddhism alleviated people’s sorrows by explaining how to stop the miseries of their lives through the Four Noble Truths. (Document # 1) People like the scholar Zhi Dun promised that those who followed the Buddhist Scriptures and lived the Buddhist lifestyle would be rewarded with Nirvana, the extinction of desires, and the in the afterlife. Document # 2) Zhi Dun would have followed Buddhism because the invading nomads were driven by greed to pillage and plunder, that having no desire for material things would lead to peace. Those who converted to Buddhism gave up the Confucian way of life, which put importance on family, property, and having a place in society. In the work, “The Disposition of Error”, a Chinese scholar defends Buddhism by saying these things were decadent luxuries of the bourgeoisies, which only provide a desire for more of the luxurious items/activities.
He argued that failure to fulfill desires only leads to sorrow, and that wisdom and the Buddhist way of life could replace those desires, therefore replacing the sorrow. (Document # 3) Due to of all said wondrous promises, and the fact that the country was in ruin, it is clear that the people placed religious faith in Buddhism in order to find salvation from the turmoil that China faced. While Buddhism became an important religion among a large portion of the population of China, there were still many who were extremely opposed to the Buddhist religion.
The main reason for people being so hostile towards Buddhism was that they felt it went against the ideals of Confucianism which had been the mainstream philosophy in China during the Han Dynasty. In “The Disposition of Error”, an anonymous Chinese Buddhist is being questioned as to why Buddhism is correct, even if it goes against what Confucius had said, specifically how Buddhist monks will not marry nor have children, which is considered to be ridiculous and shameful from the Confucian point of view. Document # 3) Long after the spread of Buddhism declined, the Buddhists were ostracized not only because it differed from Confucianism, but it was not native to China, and from the “barbarian peoples” outside of China. (Document # 4) Han Yu, a scholar and official at the imperial court during the Tang Dynasty, was angered when one of Buddha’s relics, specifically his finger bone, was being brought to China. He considered it to be a barbarian’s religion and could not understand why it had become so mainstream in China.
He said that they should destroy the Buddhist relics to spare future generations. (Document # 4) The Tang Emperor Wu was also strongly opposed to Buddhism in China. He felt that it not only spoiled their Confucian customs, but that it made the empire weaker. He believed that it convinced people to not have families and disobey their lords. He viewed Buddhism as a leech, leeching off the country’s wealth, and mind, while giving nothing back. Document # 6) Being an emperor, Wu, as any sane citizen, would have wanted his country to be as strong as possible. He saw Buddhists as people who contributed nothing and had no place in a Confucian China. That is why he was so prejudiced against Buddhism. Despite the hostility that many felt towards Buddhism, Zong Mi, a leading Buddhist scholar and favored by the imperial household, was a man of reason and understanding. He preached tolerance of all religions in China, saying that they each promote good will and an orderly society. Document # 5) Since he was a well respected Buddhist, Zong Mi used his position to promote tolerance which is a tenet to the Buddhist beliefs. Since it’s conception in India, Buddhists have faced persecution/intolerance at at any one point. In China, it was met with open arms from those in need of religious and national peace, and with closed fists from those who kept their beliefs with the philosophy of Confucianism, and tolerance/acceptance from those who saw the benefits in both.