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(13 pages total)

Page 13 - From India to China: Transformations in Buddhist Philosophy

Conclusion and Summation:

Over nearly a thousand years, 10 schools of Buddhism developed in China: three schools of Theravada (these did not last long for reasons discussed); three schools of Mahayana (yogachara, mystical and Ch'an/Zen); and three Chinese schools (Hua-yen, T'ien-tai and Pure Land).22 Where Buddhism was successful in China, it adapted by becoming:

  • less esoteric, in part because of a different set of verbal tools to communicate ideas (according to Nakamura, the Chinese language is less metaphysical than Sanskrit);
  • more practical, either providing a definite "Pure Land" for people looking for a final reward during periods of upheaval, or an accessible, secular expression which conformed nicely to existing Confucian and Taoist elements in society;
  • more sympathetic to the concept of Nature (as opposed to the Divine or the One) and in tune with natural rhythms and harmonies, especially in the arts;
  • less dependent on group activity and more open to individualism and eccentricity; this latter trait is especially obvious in Ch'an/Zen;
  • less focused on prolonged contemplation and eventual rebirth in a more enlightened state; more directed toward increased awareness and understanding in the here and now; in Ch'an/Zen, this is sometimes achieved (Rinzai Zen) through shock techniques (koans, being struck with a stick, shouted at, etc.);
  • more reliant on documentation, even if specious; more dependent on historic sources, personalities and "authorities"--this is a carry-over from Confucianism and Taoism, which attribute their validity to reliance on teachings of ancient sages or founders who were superior to "modern" men;
  • more focused on the particular than the universal, again as a result of language and cultural differences;
  • more syncretic and harmonized, fitting in with other coexisting philosophies, unlike its disputatious Indian form;
  • less logical;
  • less absolute, more flexible.

  • The Buddhism which was introduced to China in the first or second century C.E. was refined in the fire of centuries-old Chinese culture and linguistic differences which shaped the way people thought and viewed the universe. After a thousand years of evolution, Buddhist thought in China was vastly different from its original expression in India. As such, it has remained a matrix during the past millennium for the thoughts of individual thinkers, not only in China, Brushstroke but in other parts of the world where Buddhist ideas are valued. In our time, these ideas have entered the mainstream of Western philosophy, where they are being filtered through the conventions of Western culture and our various languages. Perhaps in the next millennium of Buddhist evolution, we will come full circle as the thought processes of Western philosophers, which can be traced back to India, take the sinologized form of Buddhism back to a form not unlike its Indian roots.

    I am sure the Chinese would respond with a diagram--a briskly brush-stroked circle--to represent this trend and with a down-to-earth belly laugh at the long-term cyclical harmoniousness of "the 10,000 things."


    By Linda Holt, Bordentown, NJ. ©1995 - "Qi: The Journal of Traditional Eastern Health & Fitness" (Qi Journal).


    1. Nakamura, Hajime, "Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India, China, Tibet, Japan", University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1971, p. 226.
    2. Nakamura, Hajime, ibid., p. 179.
    3. Nakamura, ibid., p. 233.
    4. Nakamura, ibid., p. 233.
    5. Nakamura, ibid., p. 211. (I am very interested in finding out exactly what "inference" means in this context, but have been unable to ferret out any further details.)
    6. Nakamura, ibid., p. 181.
    7. Saddhatissa, H., "The Buddha's Way", George Braziller, Inc., New York, 1971, p. 22,; cited is the Tattvasangraha, Vol. II, Gaekward Oriental Series, No. xxxi, 1926, v. 3588.
    8. Suzuki, D.T., "Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism", Schocken Books, New York, 1963, p. 340.
    9. "Ethical" according to either prevailing social standards or the individual's own assessment of his or her moral obligations.
    10. Saddhatissa, ibid., p. 32
    11. Nakamura, ibid., pp. 209, 210, 226
    12. Mather, Richard, "The Conflict of Buddhism with Native Chinese Ideologies", which appeared in the "Review of Religion", XX, (1955-56), pp. 25-37. Excerpted in "The Chinese Way in Religion", Laurence G. Thompson, Wadsworth Publishing Co., Belmont. CA, 1973.
    13. Though he insists Mahayana is a religion and not a philosophy and then goes on to explain the Mahayana perspective on every philosophical concept. (ibid., the entire book)
    14. Mather/Thompson, ibid., p. 78.
    15. In dealing with Chinese ideas before modern times, I think it would be misleading to use the politically correct "his or her".
    16. Nakamura, ibid., p. 248.
    17. Nakamura ibid., p. 250
    18. Linssen, Robert, Living Zen, Grove Press, New York, 1958, p. 47.
    19. By "maieutic," Linssen means that which tries to unite the psychological elements favorable to the delivery of the mind. Webster defines "maieutic" as "designating or of the Socratic method of helping a person to bring forth and become aware of his latent ideas or memories.
    20. Linnsen, ibid., p. 66.
    21. Nakamura, ibid., p. 279. Once again, I disagree with the author. It has long been my understanding that these answers were given as spontaneous, nonlogical responses to demonstrate the disciple's rejection of a limiting, verbal word-game with nothing whatsoever to do with knowing; not, as Nakamura implies, a logical reply which suggests that absolute existence can be found in nature!
    22. Nakamura, ibid., p. 284
    23. Wood, Ernest, "Zen Dictionary", Charles E. Tuttle Company, Vermont and Japan, 1973, p. 27.


    Linssen, Robert, "Living Zen", Grove Press, New York, 1958.
    Nakamura, Hajime, "Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India, China, Tibet, Japan", University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1971.
    Saddhatissa, H., "The Buddha's Way", George Braziller, Inc., New York, 1971.
    Suzuki, D.T., "Manual of Zen Buddhism", Grove Press, York, 1960.
    Suzuki, D.T., "Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism", Schocken Books, New York, 1963.
    Thompson, Laurance G., "The Chinese Way in Religion", Wadsworth Publishing Co., Belmont, California, 1973.
    Wood, Ernest, "Zen Dictionary", Charles E. Tuttle Company, Vrmont and apan, 1973

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