Sinified Buddhism in Chinese Culture
As an ancient religion with clear and powerful theological ideas, Buddhism gained its influence on many territories throughout its long history. Having originated in India, it spread to other countries by means of pilgrimage and trade. Since China of the 4-7th centuries was a trading state actively involved in commercial relations with different countries, including India, the emergence of Buddhism in it was inevitable. However, the introduction of the new religion in China was not a strict repetition of the same ideas found in the original texts. Similar to any other kind of borrowings, Chinese Buddhism was transformed under the influence of the standard Chinese beliefs and language to meet the requirements of the local culture. Such a process gained the title of Sinification of Buddhism.
The Buddhist teaching that appeared in India began to spread to bordering territories soon after its first emergence. The religion first entered the land of China during the Han dynasty during the 1st century “via the ancient silk routes through central Asia.” When it reached East Asian territory, different visions of the scripts were introduced. The Chinese variants were very influential because they became the basis for Buddhism in Korea and Japan. During the following centuries, there was a significant development of the ideas of Buddhism spread in China where Confucianism and Taoism had been the main religions. However, the new religion gained more popularity because it appealed to the common ideas of meditation that existed in China and had general similarities in the attitude to the world with the ones the Chinese accepted.
During the later centuries in Chinese history, many emperors invited renowned Buddhist masters to come to China and share their teachings. The scripts were also brought to the country not only from India but also from other territories which practiced their interpretations of Buddhism. Therefore, because China was situated on the crossroads of silk ways and was a major trade center where different nationalities came, the religious interpretations of Buddhism here reflect the views of many countries. However, the period between the 3rd and 5th centuries in Chinese history was marked by the active involvement of Indian monks who preached Buddhism. Despite such a complicated origin, the Chinese variant of Buddhism established its power and uniqueness due to its compliance with the Chinese culture.
Multiple translations of the original texts brought to China provoked some interpretations and transformations of the ideas. Indeed, the difference between China and India was evident on many levels, including daily routines, cultural background, language, and overall mentality. The same transformations were relevant for other countries and territories that provided an opportunity for the emergence of separate Buddhist streams or schools. For centuries, the original texts brought by monks to China were translated from Indian. The first Mahayana sutras that the translators worked on were “’Discourse on mindfulness of breathing” and “Discourse on the Samadhi of direct encounter with the Buddhas of the present.” These and other translations of primary texts became the basis for the emergence of a “sinified” version of Buddhism that reflected the particularities of the Chinese cultural life.