Buddhist Influence on Chinese Religions and Popular Beliefs
- Author: Xing Guang
- Publish: International Journal of Buddhist Thought and Culture Volume 18, Issue0, p135~157, Feb 2012
Chinese religions or Chinese traditional religions include Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism and popular beliefs derived from and related to these three. Liu Mi, a Chinese elite of the late Song and early Yuan dynasty, said in his essay Sanjiao Pingxin Lun “Buddhism is for the cultivation of mind, Daoism is for the training of the physical body and Confucianism is for the governance of the world.” This reflects the roles and functions of the three religions in China in the last two thousand years with Confucianism at the center supported by Buddhism and Daoism. Although there were conflicts and persecutions in Chinese history but harmony and integration were the mainstream as both Buddhism and Chinese thought uphold the open and tolerate attitude of mind. Thus, Ma Xisa, a specialist in Chinese popular religions said that Buddhism heavily influenced Chinese popular religions in their formations and developments.
Chinese Religions , Influence , Daoism , Buddhism , Popular Belief
Chinese religions or Chinese traditional religions include Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism and popular beliefs derived from and related to these three. But Chinese popular religion is quite a loose term and it needs some explanation. Let us see the descriptions given by the specialists in Chinese Popular Religion. Vincent Goossaert says in “Popular Religion” in China found in the
Encyclopedia of Religion,
So Liu Mi (劉謐), a Chinese elite of the late Song and early Yuan dynasty, quoted in his essay
Sanjiao Pingxin Lun(三敎平心論, A Discussion on the Three Religions) the words of the Emperor Xiaozhong of Southern Song dynasty who said in his essay Yuandao Bian(A Refutation of the Origin of the Way) “Buddhism is for the cultivation of mind, Daoism is for the training of the physical body and Confucianism is for the governance of the world.”1 This reflects the roles and functions of the three religions in China in the last two thousand years with Confucianism at the center supported by Buddhism and Daoism. Although there were conflicts and persecutions in Chinese history but harmony and integration were the mainstream as both Buddhism, the foreign religion and Chinese thought uphold the open and tolerate attitude of mind. Buddhism even encourages Chinese people to continue their ancestor worship and the respect of local gods.2 Thus, Ma Xisa, a specialist in Chinese popular religions said that Buddhism heavily influenced Chinese popular religions in their formations and developments (Ma 2004, 36).
1故孝宗皇帝製原道辯曰 (T. 24, no. 2117, 781); 以佛治心，以道治身，以儒治世. (T. 24, no. 2117, 28b–29). 2Both the Patakammasutta and Adiyasutta say, “Again, housefather, with the wealth acquired by energetic striving, lawfully gotten, the noble disciple is a maker of the fivefold offering, namely: to relatives, to guests, to departed ones, to the king and to the gods. This is the third opportunity seized by him, turned to merit and fittingly made use of” (Woodward 1927, Anguttaranikāya Ⅱ 67; Gradual Saying Ⅱ 76).
When Buddhism was first introduced into China in Han dynasty, religious Daoism was not formed yet, Chinese scholars called it the Philosophical Daoism. However, from second to seventh centuries, Daoism developed dramatically and many Daoist practices, even their texts and rituals initially took shape by absorbing from both Confucianism and Buddhism. It is also during this period of time that Buddhism gradually took roots in China through translation of large number of scriptures transmitted from both India and Central Asia. Buddhist ideas and practices and even the form of organizations were absorbed into Daoism. We will discuss the following four aspects that Buddhism influenced Daoism: (1) Daoist scripture and school, (2) ideas and theories, (3) monasticism and (4) Ritual.
(1) The entire Daoist scripture is called “Sandong” (三洞) which includes a) Dongzhengbu (洞真部): Shangqing Jing (上清經); b) Dongxuanbu (洞玄部): Longbao Jing (靈寶經); c) Dongshengbu (洞神部): including many texts for ritual.
According to Chinese scholars, the term “Sandong” first appeared in Eastern Jin Dynasty (317–420) when Buddhism started to spread in China. As the entire Buddhist collection of texts is called “Sanzang” (三藏), Tripitaka in Sanskrit, so Daoists named their collection as “Sandong.” Today people just call it Daozang (道藏).
Second, according to modern scholars such as Qing Xitai, a Chinese Daoist scholar, Daoists, particularly from the Lingbao school, created many of their scriptures by borrowing ideas and thought from the Buddhist scriptures (Qing 1990, 160, 166–68). For instance, the
Longbao Jing(靈寶經) has borrowed much from the Buddhist Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra(大般涅槃經) which was translated into Chinese by Dharmakṣema in Northern Liang dynasty (北涼) (414–21).
According to Qing Xitai, influenced by Mahāyāna prajñāpāramitā literature and Tiantai school, a Daoists school named Zhongxuan (重玄) which means emphasis on metaphysics appeared in early Tang dynasty and became an important school of thought in Daoism (Qing 1990, 171). The representative person is Chen Xuanying (陳玄英).
(2) The Buddhist theory of karma and rebirth influenced Daoism most together with the description of heavens and hells. Daoists borrowed many other concepts and terminologies from Buddhism and incorporated into their teachings. According to Qing Xitai, Daoism assimilated the Buddhist theory of karma and rebirth and mixed it with Daoist theory of
Chengfuwhich means future generations will suffer the consequences of their fore fathers’ bad deeds, to describe man’s fortune in the world (Qing 1990, 160–61). They also assimilated the Buddhist ideas of saṃsāra, the round of birth and death as there are no such theories in Chinese philosophy. Qing Xitai gives the following example from the Daoist scriptures,
We notice in this short passage that some of the Buddhist terms are also taken over without change such as Jie (劫), which is a transliteration from the Sanskrit word
kalpameaning an aeon found in Buddhist texts.
The Daoist Lingbao school even invented the central deity named Yuanshi Tianzun (元始天尊) by merging the creator Shangqing (上清) with Buddha who is known in Buddhism as shizun (世尊) “World-Honored One” (Kohn 2001, 95). The Daoists reformed their cosmology modeled after the Buddhist cosmology. Just as the Buddhists, the Daoists also have “a total of thirty-two heavens, placed in concentric circles around it. Like Buddhist heavens they were divided into three levels―the worlds of desire (six heavens), form (eighteen), and formlessness (four)―plus four Brahma-heavens for true believers” (Kohn 2001, 97). Just as the Buddhists, Daoists also describe their cosmology as evolving and devolving with Yuanshi Tianzun (元始天尊) as the creator. Each of the world-cycles was then called
jie. Livia Kohn says, “The creation...was also understood to depend on sacred sounds....Instead of thinking of these sounds as native Chinese spells, the Lingbao Daoist now linked them with the foreign sounds of Sanskrit and identified them as “Brahma-sounds” (fanyin 梵音).
We also find the description of heaven in the Daoist scripture
Yunji Qiqian(雲笈七簽) and the description of hell in the Daoist Lingbao Jing(靈寶經). The Daoist Lingbao Jing (靈寶經) describes twelve hells and the Daoist Sanshi liubu jing Yuqing jing(三十六部經玉清經) describes twenty hells, the names of these hells suggest that they are taken from Buddhist sources. The Daoist assimilation of Buddhist thought is more subtle and conscious in Song dynasty (960–1279).
(3) Buddhism also influenced Daoism in establishing their monasticism. According to Qing Xitai, Daoist Lu Xiujing 陸修靜 (406–77) reformed Tianshi Daoism by assimilating Buddhist ideas and other Daoists established Daoist precepts modelling on Buddhist monasticism (Qing 1990, 166). The well known Daoist Tao Hongjing 陶弘景 (456–536) even openly said that he had been prophesied by the Buddha to be born as a bodhisattva and made vows to observe the five precepts himself in front of the Buddhist Asoka Stupa (Qing 1990, 166) . Thus, Daoists openly established their monasticism by modeling on Buddhist monasticism. So Kohn says, “On the whole, medieval Daoist monasteries were quite similar to their Buddhist counterparts, but official celibacy among Daoists was only required in the early Song, when monks and nuns had to be properly registered” (Kohn 2001, 154).
(4) Buddhism also influenced Daoist ritual. In mid Tang dynasty, Tantric Buddhism was introduced into China by three great masters Śubhākarasiṃha (善無畏, 637–735), Vajrabodhi (金剛智, 671–741) and Amoghavajra (不空, 705–74). They translated a huge number of small tantric Buddhist texts and also introduced complicated tantric rituals together with mandalas and hand gestures. According to a Daoist specialist, Livia Kohn, Daoists absorbed the Buddhist tantric ritual and developed their own ones into sophisticated and standard rites (Kohn 2001, 140). Many of the Buddhist rituals were taken over as they were without modification so they appeared almost entirely as same as the Buddhist. They also created a number of new guardian gods and protectors based on the Buddhist ideas of bodhisattvas.
Thus, Daoism assimilated many elements from Buddhism such as ideas to theories, rituals and monastic regulations, but it does not mean that Daoism is inferior to Buddhism, it is just a mutual assimilation and borrowing as Buddhism also borrowed many ideas and thought from the former. On the contrary, Daoism became an institutionalized religion with all necessary religious elements during the Northern and Southern dynasties.
3The translation is mine.
After Buddhism gradually integrated into the Chinese culture and accepted by Chinese people, it inspired many popular religious movements in Chinese history. Here we will discuss a few influential ones, the White Lotus Society (白蓮教) and the White Cloud Society (白雲宗) which appeared during the Song dynasty and continued till Ming and even Qing dynasties.
The White Lotus Society was established in Song dynasty as a society practicing Pure Land and recitation of Amitabha with Mao Zhiyuan (茅子元) as the founder, but later it developed into a secret society. Mao Zhiyuan advocated vegetarian meal and recitation of Amitabha, both men and women practiced together. The teaching is that mind is the centre of practice, people are born in Pure Land according to the purity of their minds. Therefore, cultivation of mind and Pure Land practice should be practiced together.
The Society spread so fast that it caused the attention of the Song government and the founder was caught and banished for three years. Later, he was released and even conferred a title by emperor Gaozong of Song. Thus it spread again in the south.
In Yuan dynasty, the White Lotus Society was mixed with Chinese folk beliefs and spread fast so it again caused the attention of the government. According to the
Yuan Shi(元史–武宗本紀, History of Yuan), in 1308, the Society was banned, their monasteries were destroyed and the practitioners were forced to return to lay life.
However, later, a Buddhist monk from Lushan named Pudu (普度) wrote the
Lushan Lianzong Baojian(廬山蓮宗寶鑒) to explain the doctrine of the Society and some upper class people of the White Lotus Society supported it, so it was allowed to practice again.
But the Society spread fast amongst the ordinary people and its teaching also changed so it instigated and stirred up the feeling of people against the Yuan rule which finally led to the fall of the dynasty.
The White Cloud Society was originally a branch of the Huayan school, but towards the end of Song dynasty, Kong Qingjue (孔清覺, 1043–1121), a monk from the White Cloud monastery advocated vegetarian meal to attract lay people. Kong Qingjue considered that the doctrine of the
Huayanjingor Avatamsakawas the sudden teaching and the final stage in the ten stages of Bodhisattva practices hence it is the Buddhayana or Buddha vehicle. He also advocated the syncretism of three religions and considered that the Confucianism advocated loyalty and filial piety, Buddhism advocated compassion and Daoism advocated simple and quiet life without attachment. So the three religions are the same in teaching but each has its own characteristics.
The Society spread fast and attracted many people but since both men and women practiced together so it was treated by both the traditional Buddhism and the government as a heretic. Hence in 1116, Kong Qingjue was banished to far south but later was released. By the end of Southern Song, in 1202, it was reported that the White Cloud Society practiced in night with men and women together either in the name of building bridges or chanting sutras so people suggested abolishing it. In Yuan dynasty, the White Cloud Society spread in Hongzhou area. The abbot of Puning monastery in Hongzhou, Daoan organized to print another edition of the Tripitaka named
Puning Edition(普寧藏) in which the works of the White Cloud Society were added. However, it was banned from practice in Yuan in 1320.
The third one is the Wuwei (無為, Non-Action) Sect founded by Luo Qing (羅清, 1442–1527) who was a major figure in Buddhist-inspired sectarianism. According to Daniel L. Overmyer, originally a soldier by profession, Luo Qing set out on a quest for salvation, studied with various masters, and drew inspiration from a large number of texts, the majority of which were Buddhist in nature (Overmyer and Adler 2005, 1607). His teachings show a strong influence of Chan Buddhism, with an emphasis on the individual’s recovery of his or her innate buddha-nature, or Tathagatagarbha. But Lou Qing explained the profound teachings of the three religions in simple and clear language so that even the illiterate ordinary people could understand him. Thus he gained many people’s support and soon became an influential popular religion.
For Luo Qing, the concept of Śunyata (emptiness) collapsed all distinctions, including those between men and women, and clergy and laity, opening up release from Samsara for all living beings. His writings were gathered in a collection called the
Wubu liuce(五部六冊, Five Books in Six Volumes), which still enjoys the status of sacred scripture among present-day sects such as the Longhua Pai (龍華派, Dragon Flower Sect) of southeastern China.
After the death of Luo Qing, his school split into four sects and one of them developed into the popular religion of I-Guan Dao (一貫道) which is still active in Taiwan. The practice of vegetarian diet and worship of Guanyin have been influenced by Buddhism. The third sect developed from Wuwei is the Sanyi Jiao (三一教, Three-in-One Teaching) founded by Lin Zhao’en (林兆恩, 1517–98), who sought to combine the Three Teachings of Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism, but in doing so emphasized Confucianism and the internal alchemy of Quanzhen (Complete Realization) Daoism over Buddhism.
With the introduction and translation of Buddhist scriptures, many Buddhist images and iconographies of Buddhas, bodhisattvas and arahants are also introduced into China and some of these bodhisattvas became quite popular amongst ordinary Chinese people and have been completely transformed into Chinese gods and are incorporated into Chinese popular beliefs. For instance, Guanyin is a Chinese transformation of Avalokiteśvara and Mile from Maitreya and Dizang from Kṣitigarbha. The following are some of the most popular Buddhist bodhisattvas worshipped by Chinese people as gods or goddesses.
The most popular Buddhist bodhisattva is Avalokiteśvara and the Chinese name is Guanyin who is worshipped by most of Chinese people as the goddess of mercy. Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara is introduced from India but it became popular from the time of Southern and Northern dynasties and continues to be the most popular Buddhist deity not only in China but in all East Asia. Daoism also accepts Guanyin into their temples and named it as the True Man of Compassion (慈航真人), Great Person of Compassion (慈航大士). The Daoists of the Lingbao (靈寳) texts or school even created Jiuku Tianzun (救苦天尊, the Heavenly Venerable Savior from Suffering) by imitation of the Buddhist Guanyin.4
The second most popular Buddhist Bodhisattva is perhaps Maitreya, Chinese translation of which is Milefo (彌勒佛) or just Mile (彌勒) who became the Chinese Laughing Buddha (笑佛). He is also called Mile with a bag (布袋彌勒), Mile with big belly (大肚彌勒), Happy Buddha (歡喜佛), Peace Buddha (平安佛), Buddha for good fortune (幸運佛) and Buddha for wealth (發財佛) etc.
According to the Buddhist scriptures, Maitreya is now residing in Tusita heaven and will come to this world in the future and become a full enlightened Buddha. All the people will be benefitted from the future Buddha with long lifespan and beauty. There will not be any disease and famine. Maitreya will preach the dharma three times and enlighten billions of people. This new era’s image is so brilliant and attractive to Chinese people from the fourth century onwards. As a result, the belief on Maitreya’s coming has become very popular in China from that time. Even the eminent Buddhist monk Daoan also believed in Bodhisattva Maitreya and made vows to be born in his Tusita heaven. Thus since Northern and Southern dynasties it has inspired many people of political ambition and the leaders of various cults to take the image of Maitreya and his new world as an important ideology on propagating their ideas about their new world and promises people. Many rebellions were also in the name of Maitreya’s coming. Some Chinese popular sectarian religions thought that their masters were Maitreya’s incarnations too. Such as I-Guan Dao (一貫道), it’s members thought that Lu Zhongyi (路中一, 1849–1925), the seventeenth Patriarch, was the last Maitreya’s incarnation.
According to Zhanning’s (贊寧, 919–1001)
Biography of Eminent Monks(高僧傳), in the late Five dynasties (907–60), a Buddhist monk with a big belly named Qici 契此 travelled around the Zhejiang province, carried a bag all the time, and begged for a living. Hence people called him Budai 布袋和 尚, monk with a bag. Qici (契此) left a stanza after he died, it goes “Maitreya is a real Maitreya, who manifests uncountable transformed bodies. Constantly he manifests before living beings who are not able to recognize them”(T. 50, no. 2061, 848, 23b–8c). Thus, People identified him as the Maitreya, the future Buddha. According to a Song dynasty Zhuan Chuo (莊綽) who wrote Jileibian (雞肋編), people in his time already made statues of Qici (契此) and worshiped him as Maitreya (Zhuang 1983, 52).
This tradition is accepted by the mainstream Chinese Buddhism and the Laughing Buddha is usually found in the first Shrine Room when you enter a Chinese monastery. In 1098, Chinese Song emperor Zhezong (哲宗) gave him an official title Great Master Dingying (定應大師). Thus, Indian Maitreya has been completely transformed into Chinese Laughing Buddha Mile in Song dynasty.5
The Mile belief in Chinese society became much more popular after Song dynasty and there came up many
Baojuan, Treasure Scrolls, such as Mile sanhui ji(彌勒三會記, Record of Maitreya’s three meetings), Longhua huiji(龍華會記, Record of Longhua meeting), Mile sun(彌勒頌, Praises of Maitreya), Milefoshuo dizang shiwang baojuan(彌勒佛說地藏十王寶卷, Maitreya Buddha preached Treasure Scroll of Dizang and the Ten Kings), Dasheng Mile huadu baojuan(大聖彌勒化度寶卷, Treasure Scroll of the Great Saint Maitreya’s Conversion), Milefo chuxi baojuan(彌勒佛出西寶卷, Treasure Scroll of Maitreya’s appearance in the west), Budai jing(布袋經, Scripture of Budai), Mile gufojiao pian(彌勒古佛教篇, The Ancient Buddha Maitreya’s teaching) etc.
Today Maitreya or Milefo is usually depicted in art according to this Chinese monk with a big belly and laughing. This new image of Maitreya in Chinese culture symbolizes the spirit of open-mindedness and tolerance. So Milefo or Maitreya Buddha in China today represents humanistic, practical and happy attitude of life with a spirit to promote peace and prosperity in society. Some people even worship Mile as the god of wealth, Caishen (財神).
Amitofo is the central figure in Chinese Pure Land Buddhism. According to Buddhist tradition, he lives in Western Paradise and vows to save people whoever calls his name. According to the
Wuliangshou jing(無量壽經), the Larger Sukhāvatīvyuha Sūtrain Sanskrit, there was a king who met Guan Zizaiwang Rulai (觀自在王如來), Lokeśvararāja Tathāgata in Sanskrit, and renounced the world after learning the Buddha’s teaching. Then the king became a monk named Dharmakara (法藏) and made forty-eight vows to save suffering people by creating a Pure Land for them in front of the Buddha.
The important vow is the eighteenth that “If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, desire to be born in my land, and call my Name, even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment. Excluded, however, are those who commit the five gravest offences and abuse the right Dharma.”
After he got enlightenment, he was named Amita or Amitābha which means “infinite light and infinite lifespan” and the land he has created is called Western Paradise, Sukhāvatī in Sanskrit. It is according to the eighteenth vow that Pure Land School followers recite the name of Amitābha wishing to be born in his Pure Land which is believed to be far away on the western side of our Saha world.
Amitābha also has two bodhisattvas as his assistants, they are bodhisattva Dashizhi (大勢至菩薩, Mahāsthāmaprāpta) and bodhisattva Guanyin (觀音菩薩, Avalokiteśvara). Together with Amitabha they are called the three saints in the west (西方三聖). The popularity of Amitābha in Chinese society is tested by the popular saying that “there are Amitābha and Avalokiteśvara enshrined in each and every family” (家家阿彌陀，戶戶觀世音). The above mentioned White Lotus Society was connected with Amitabhā recitation.
The practice and idea of Amitābha are quite important in Chinese religion and culture. When a person is dying or dead, sometimes the family members and other volunteers will chant the name of Amitābha around the dying person wishing him or her to be born in Western Pure Land. The family members will also come to Buddhist monasteries asking Buddhist monks to perform rituals for the dead, which involves chanting of the name of Amitābha and the shorter version of the
Zhongtan Yuanshuai (中壇元帥), the marshal of Central altar, is the title for Nazha (哪吒) who is an Indian deity named Nalakūvala. Nazha is the third son of divine king Li Jin (李靖) in Chinese legend. Zhongtan Yuanshuai is Nazha’s divine official title in Chinese popular religion. Originally, Nazha was the third son or grandson of Vaisravana, the Heavenly king of the North (北方多聞天王). He was introduced to Chinese in Buddhist scripture of the four heavenly kings. After Tantra Buddhism was introduced into China, Nazha became more vivid. Still as the third son or grandson of Heavenly king, he held a tower or trident as his weapon. Nazha was a guardian deity of Buddhism.
In Ming dynasty, Nazha became a major character in popular novel. In the well known novel
Fengshen Yanyi(封神演義), he was a trouble maker of Heavenly king, Li Jin. Nazha killed the son of Dragon King, Long Wang (龍王), quarreled with Jade Emperor. Eventually, he committed suicide and returned his body to his parents. However, his kind-hearted mother and the master, Taiyi Zhen-ren (太乙真人) helped him to reborn in a lotus and enhanced his spiritual power. As a result, Nazha became a powerful general who assisted Jiang Ziya (羌子牙) to defeat Shang king in the mystical battle between Shang and Zhou kingdom. As a result, Nazha’s image spread in China with the Fengshen Yanyi’s popularity.
Nazha is the leader of five divine battalions which guard a temple of popular religion in Taiwan. The name of these five divine battalions in Taiwan is called Wu-ying (五營), the Five Camps. The Five Camps or battalions are named in directions, including the East (東營), the West (西營), the South (南營), the North (北營), and the Central (中營). Every temple of popular religion is quartered with the Five Camps. In other words, every temple enshrines Nazha as well.
Nazha’s image is a muscular teenager who steps on a
fenghuo lun(風火輪, wind and fire wheel). The wind and fire wheel is a powerful vehicle which can carry Nazha swiftly to any place wherever he wants to go. He holds a trident in his right hand and a large golden ring in left hand as his arms. This magical ring is called qian kun quan(乾坤圈), which can change its size freely as Nazha wishes. Nazha is an important cultural icon in Taiwan now.
According to Tang Yijian, a Chinese scholar, there is no idea of next life in ancient Chinese thought (Tang 1999, 164). Ancient Chinese people believed that man would go to hell when he dies, but their idea of hell is quite vague. People believed that hell is in Taishan 泰山 and Fengdu (豐都). According to the
Shanguo Zhi(History of Three Kingdoms), Taishan is a place for governing ghosts, not for governing human beings” (Chen 1964, 826) Again according to the ancient book Bowuzhi(博物志), Taishan is the grandson of the heaven and he is in charge of ghosts. The belief of Fengdu (豐都) as a place for ghosts is found in the Daoist books such as Ge Hong’s (葛洪, 284–363) Zhenzhongshu(枕中書) and Tao Hongjing’s (陶弘景, 456–536) Zhenlin weiye tu(真靈位業圖). These two are eminent Daoists in Chinese history. However, Chinese people believe that hells are same as the world of human beings, there are many departments in charge of different things and offices for different districts.
After the introduction of Buddhism, the description of hells is found in many Buddhist scriptures. For instance, the Dīrgāgama (長阿含30經, 世記經地獄品) translated into Chinese by Buddhayaśas and Zhu Fonian in 413 includes a full description of hells. But the popular belief of eighteen hells was introduced into China as early as the second century when An Shigao translated the Nirayasūtra (十八泥梨經)which describes eighteen hells called Niraya or Naraya. It already became popular in Northern and Southern dynasties as the term “Eighteen hells” (十八地獄) is already mentioned in the story of Liu Sahe (劉薩何) in the
Liang History book(梁書). Therefore, Daoshi (道世) describes eighteen hells together with Yama as the king who has eighteen ministers to govern the eighteen hells in his book Fayuan Zhulin(法苑珠林, Forest of Gems in the Garden of the Dharma) compiled in 668. Today Chinese people’s belief of eighteen hells is almost a combination of Buddhist and Daoist traditions.
According to the Chinese belief, the King of Eastern Mountain (東嶽大帝) is the chieftain to govern the hells. But in the Buddhist texts, Yama (閻羅) is described as the king of hells. The belief of Yama as the king of hell is found in the ancient Indian text
Yajurveda(梨俱吠陀) as Yamaraja and Buddhism absorbed it into its own system of belief. The belief of Yama as the king of hells was already widely spread in the Southern and Northern dynasties as the Biography of Han Qinhu in the Sui History (隋書-韓擒虎傳) informs us that Han Qinhu (韓擒虎) even made vows that he would become Yama the king of hell.
We find from a full description of the ten kings in hells in the two versions of the apocryphal
Scripture on the Ten Kings(十王經) which were written by a Buddhist monk named Zangchuan 藏川 the Dizang Pusa faxin yingyuan shiwang jing(地藏菩薩發心因緣十王經, Scripture of the Ten Kings about the Causes of Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva’s Making of Vows) and Yanlouwang shouji linsizhong niexiu sheng qizai gongde wangsheng jingdu jing閻羅王受記令四眾逆修生七齋功德往生淨土經) found in Dunhuang.
According to Stephen Teiser, the apocryphal
Scripture on the Ten Kingscame into being in late Tang or in the tenth century. After the Tang dynasty, the ten kings of hells became popular and they became the subjects of the King of Eastern Mountain. Daoism assimilated the Buddhist idea of Yama and hells and popularized it during the Tang dynasty. According to the popular belief that there are ten courts in hells and there is one king to each court. The names of the Kings of the ten courts in hells are a mixture of names from historical Chinese people and also Buddhist scriptures. They are (1) Qingguang (一殿秦廣王), (2) Chujiang (二殿初江王), (3) Songdi (三殿宋帝王), (4) Wuguan (四殿五官王), (5) Yanluo (五殿閻羅王), (6) Biancheng (六殿變成王), (7) Taishan (七殿太山王), (8) Pingzheng (八殿平正王), (9) Dushi (九殿都市王), (10) Zhuanlun (十殿五道轉輪王). There are some differences with regard to the names.
According to Zhiru, medieval sources indicate that by the end of the eighth century, Dizang (地藏) worship, a Buddhist Bodhisattva named Ksitigarbha in Sanskrit, melt with other death and afterlife cults, especially in Dunhuang and Sichuan, where the bodhisattva shows up frequently in portrayals of afterlife judgment (Zhiru 2007, 198).
Buddhist Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha or Dizang is well known for his great vows to save suffering people in hells as portrayed in the
Sutra on the Original Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva(地藏菩薩本願經) which is fundamentally a teaching concerning karmic retribution, graphically describing the consequences one creates for oneself by committing undesirable actions. Bodhisattva Dizang’s heroic vow: “Not until the hells are emptied will I become a Buddha.”
In motifs Dizang normally appear in hell as an intercessor, a ray of mercy and redemption in the afterlife judiciary process over which the Ten Kings presided as found in Shizhuan Shan in Dazu Sichuan. Later again, Dizang worship was mixed with Mulian’s descent to hell to save his mother as shown in Yuanjue Dong (圓覺洞) at Anyue. People believe that worshipping Dizang during the Ghost festival can save their suffering relatives because Dizang can open the door of hell.
In Daoist theology the role of Dizang as bodhisattva of the underworld was assumed by the Supreme Heavenly Worthy Who Delivers Sinners from Suffering (Taiyi jiuku tianzun). The cults of Dizang and Jiuku tianzun offered solace by holding out the possibility of escaping the net of karma through contrition, repentance, and faith in the power of a compassionate savior.
The fourth is the belief of the mother of child ghost (鬼子母). This is also from Buddhist tradition and according to which a female Hariti (ghost) who has five hundred children used to eat other people’s children. Upon hearing this Sakyamuni came and hid the youngest child so Hariti could not find it. Then she asked Sakyamuni to help and Sakyamuni taught her to compare herself with other women who also have children. So she realized her wrong deeds and became a protector woman who always protects children. So she is worshipped in China as the mother who delivers children for childless people (送子娘娘). She is depicted as a middle aged woman with many children around her and one child in her arms.
Jigong (濟公) is the honorable name for the Buddhist monk Jidian (濟顛) whose lay name is Li Xiuyuan (李修緣) live in the Song dynasty. Because of his good deeds of helping people so they named him the Living Buddha Jigong (濟公活佛) after he died. He is a descendant of a military marshal, Lee Wenhe (李文和), around Tiantai (天台) area. When he was eighteen, he became a monk at Lingyin monastery (靈隱寺) in Hangzhou (杭州) under master was Huiyuan (慧遠). It is said that Jigong was a monk who did not follow the disciplines of Buddhist monastery. He drank wine and ate meat, his talking was naughty and behavior was crazy. Other monks did not like him and always wanted to expel him from the temple. However, his kind master always kept him stay well until his master was dead. Then Jigong was expelled from the Lingyin monastery and moved to another temple, the Jingci monastery (淨慈寺) and stayed there till his death in 1209.
According to legend, he had some magical power, so he always helped people curing their illnesses or predicting their accidents etc. As a result, People loved him and thought that he was the incarnation of the Buddhist arhat who tamed a dragon. Thus the belief of Jigong became popular and there came up many folk literature about his life and legend. By the beginning of Ming dynasty, many storytellers propagated Jigong’s thaumaturgical stories. All the material enriched Jigong’s story. Today, Jigong’s story is rewritten as TV shows and they are very popular in Taiwan, Mainland China and Tibetan area.
Jigong is an important figure in the popular religion as many sects regard him as a deity. For example, when people call upon their gods 降神 or hold on the flying phoenix ritual (扶鸞), Jigong is one of the major deities who possesses on the medium. In I-guan Dao, the disciples call Jigong ‘Lao shi’ (老師), the master or the teacher, and they believe that I-guan Dao’s founder, Zhang Tianran (張天然, 1889–1947), was the incarnation of Jigong. Another famous sect, Ci Hui Tang (慈惠堂), is the one who familiar with Jigong’s mediumship. In popular religion, although Jigong is not the highest god, he is the benevolent messenger who helps people.
There are many festivals in China influenced by Buddhist teachings such as the Buddha’s birthday which falls on 8th of fourth month in Chinese lunar calendar. Of course it is mainly celebrated in Buddhist monasteries throughout China, but ordinary people who are not particularly Buddhists also come and attend the celebration.
The second is Yulanpen Festival or popularly known as the Ghost Festival which is celebrated on the fifteenth of seventh month in Chinese lunar calendar. The name Yulanpen is a Buddhist term from the
Yulanpen jingor Ullanbana Sūtrawhich tells a story of how Maudgalyayana, a disciple of the Buddha, saved his mother from hell. So it is a text that teaches filial piety. This festival became quite popular in the Tang dynasty (618–906) that Daoism also created their own festival called Zhongyuan (中元) celebrated on the same day with the same purpose to save all souls from hell. Today this festival is celebrated by all Chinese people no matter they are religious or not, because it is for ancestor worship.
The third is the Laba Festival (腊八) which falls on the eighth day of the twelfth month in Chinese lunar calendar. La means the end of the year and ancient Chinese people used to make offering to gods and ancestors at the end of the year for good fortune and blessings. So the twelfth month is La month among the common people and they made offerings to eight gods such as the harvest god and insect god so it is called Laba. After its introduction, Buddhism became widely spread and influential in Northern and Southern dynasties and Buddhists celebrated various birthdays for Buddhas and bodhisattvas. According to the Buddhist tradition, Sakyamuni attained enlightenment on the eighth day of the twelfth month by practicing meditation under a bodhi tree after he ate congee offered by a young lady. This took place after he realized the futility of practicing ascetic life for six long years. From the Song dynasty onwards, Chinese monasteries offer congee to people every year on this day and thus it became a tradition for people to enjoy congee for good luck and happiness. Thus, the Laba festival is celebrated with both Chinese and Buddhist characteristics.
The long lasting practice of Chinese people for the dead is to bury with a thick coffin because they generally believe that it is a filial act to their parents or grandparents as told in the Chinese Classic of
Xiaojing. But after Buddhism integrated into Chinese culture, the Buddhist practice of cremation has also been gradually accepted by Chinese people although Buddhism does not require its followers to cremate after death either as a way to heaven or good rebirth or as a crucial ritual act in treating the dead. Indeed Buddhist liberation has nothing to do with how the corpse is handled because the Buddhist attitude to the physical body is that it has only an instrumental value. However, as Buddhists practiced cremation in India and they also brought the tradition to China and it became widely spread in Song dynasty. According to Patricia Buckley Ebrey,
A Song dynasty Chinese elite Hong Mai 洪邁 (1123–1202) also said in his
Of course, cremation had not become the major way to dispose the dead for the Chinese people, but only an alternative way. Some performed it because of economic reasons as there was a shortage of land for the poor city dwellers to bury their parents or grandparents, but others followed the custom because they liked it. According to Ebrey’s study, Buddhism provided the institutions necessary for the spread of cremation as all the recorded crematoria were run by Buddhist temples, and some Buddhist temples provided storage for the burnt remnants, and others had pools of water where they could be scattered. However, the practice of cremation declined from Ming dynasty because of the Confucian criticism and government intervention.
The Confucians from Song dynasty argued that cremation was a foreign custom introduced along Buddhism and it was cruel, a desecration of the corpse, barbaric, and unfilial. The well known Neo-Confucian philosopher Cheng Yi (1033–1107) argued that cremation was a severe way to handle a corpse. “Today if a fool or drunkard accidentally hits a person’s ancestor’s coffin, he will take great offense and want revenge. Yet he may personally drag his parent and toss him into the flames, finding nothing odd in it” (二程集 Chapter 3: 85) (Ebrey 1990, 421). While the other Song Neo-Confucian Zhu Xi (1130–1200) just straight away rejected cremation as an unacceptable practice. It was perhaps motivated by the Confucians that the Song government issued codes to prohibit cremation but it was quite difficult to enforce it in society. But during Ming and Qing dynasties, the government code became severe and social control became more persuasive so cremation declined rapidly. However, the practice of cremation still continued but it was confined to special circumstances such as Buddhist monastic and dead lepers who were burnt in order to prevent disease.
The cremation becomes a major practice as people become more aware that the physical body is just a natural product of parents and cremation is more environmental friendly than other means of disposing the dead.
As the Buddhist influence on Confucianism is mainly in the philosophical area so it is not included in this paper. The Buddhist influence on Daoism and popular beliefs is strong and direct as demonstrated above and as a result, many Buddhist ideas and practices, images of Buddhas and bodhisattvas were incorporated in Daoism and Chinese popular religious practice. Today, Buddhist elements are seen in many aspects of Chinese religious practices, but few people recognize it as they have already been entirely integrated into the local religious systems and beliefs.
4For a detailed discussion on Guanyin belief in China, please refer to my paper (Guang Xing 2011). 5From Yuan dynasty Yuan Jue’s (元-袁桷) Yanyou Simin Zhi (延祐四明志), Cited from Ma and Han (2004, 53).