Theosophical Encyclopedia

Chinese Buddhism


TE Chinese Buddhism 2

Tradition dates the entry of Buddhism into China to the reign of the Han Emperor Ming (58-75 CE). According to the legend, as a result of a dream, the Emperor sent to India and received the Forty-two-Chapter Scripture, thus introducing Buddhism into China. In fact, the Indian faith had arrived much earlier with merchants and missionaries, but it had remained, for all intents and purposes, a religion for foreigners until the Han dynasty collapsed in 222 CE and China underwent a period of disunification and political weakness until it was unified by the T’ang (Tang in Pinyin) dynasty in 618 CE. During this period, the Chinese lost confidence in the Confucian tradition which had been the basis of government political philosophy and the means to attain a position in the bureaucracy. They turned instead to Taoism and Buddhism for religious support. The latter, especially, was attractive because it identified life as dukkha (Sk. duhkha), usually translated “sorrow” or “insecurity,” something with which the average peasant was intimately aware during the period of political turmoil. Also, Central Asian invaders of north China during this period brought popular forms of Buddhism with them. Buddhist missionaries assisted the process by bringing texts with them on the routes which had opened between Indian and China during the period of Han expansion.

The earliest texts were “translated” into Chinese by a process of attempting to imitate in that language the sounds of the Pali or Sanskrit terms — which made them largely unintelligible. Later, Chinese translations were done by such notables as Kumarajiva (334-413). Since Chinese and Sanskrit are very different both in grammar and vocabulary, the early translators adopted a technique called ko-i (or ko-yi), “matching the meaning,” in order to make the sutras intelligible. That is, they adopted Confucian and Taoist terminology to express Buddhist concepts. In the process, Buddhism took on a very Chinese coloration.

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TE 10 Crucifixion

A form of punishment in which a person’s hands are nailed to the extremities of the horizontal part of a cross, while the feet are nailed to the lower part of the vertical part. Some authorities suggest that the nails were inserted through the wrists. The cross, from the time of remote antiquity, has been regarded as a sacred symbol, but the ancient Romans and a few other cultures used the cross to inflict cruel and unnatural torture. Flavius Josephus reported its use by the Romans in his chronicles of the Jewish wars.

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Brotherhood, Universal

TE 8 Universal Brotherhood - the Table of

In 1881 the Theosophical Society (TS) adopted a simplified version of the objects of the Society the first of which was: “To form the nucleus of a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity.” Although minor modifications to the wording have taken place over the intervening years, the central theme has remained unchanged for more than a century.

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TE 6 Anthroposophy
Rudolf Steiner

The Anthroposophical Society is among the most important and influential movements in the Theosophical tradition. It was founded in Germany by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) in 1913 and was refounded in Switzerland in 1924. Steiner was General Secretary of the Theosophical Society in Germany 1902-1912 but left that movement in 1912. Wishing to stress Western and Christian mysticism, he was troubled by the orientalizing direction he perceived Theosophy to be taking under the leadership of Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater, in the propounding of Krishnamurti enthusiasm.

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TE 4 Vedas

A large body of hymns, liturgical texts, forest treatises, and philosophic speculations compiled in four collections: Rg (often written Rig), Sama, Yajus, and Atharva. To each of the collections of hymns (samhita), each with its own particular style of chanting, is appended Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads. Scholars believe the hymns were composed between 1500 and 900 BC, although Hindus and Helena P. Blavatsky (Collected Writings 14:361) claim they are very much older, dating back to as much as 30,000 BC. The word veda is derived from the Sanskrit root vid, “know,” “understand,” or “be wise.” This large body of literature is called sruti (“heard”) and is claimed to have been revealed to sages (rsis) by the gods; until relatively recent times it was considered so sacred that it was not written down. Another body of sacred literature, termed smti (“remembered”) and including several Puranas and the two long epic poems, Mahabharata and Ramayana, was written and forms the basis of what is usually called popular Hinduism. Some time during the Common Era, the portion of the Mahabharata known as the Bhagavad Gita gained such popularity that it is now treated almost on a par with sruti.

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TE 2 Witchcraft

The word witchcraft is derived from the Old English word “wicca,” which in turn was derived from Old High German “wīt, meaning “holy.” Witchcraft was originally associated with spiritual practices but got a bad reputation at the hands of European and American orthodox Christians. Hence its present dictionary definition attributes to it “the exercise of supernatural powers” or “the use of sorcery or magic.” It is assumed that witches are in league with evil spirits or the Devil. However, the practice originally referred to priests (usually called wizards or warlocks) and priestesses (witches) of the old religion in Europe who discharged many functions in the community, such as farmers, doctors, or lawyers.

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Free Will

[From Theosophical Encyclopedia, here slightly revised in content and adapted to Theosophy Forward style.]

TE 2  Free Will
Free Will

The question of whether human beings have or do not have free will has been a perennial problem in Western philosophy, starting with the Greeks and continuing down to the present time. Early Chinese philosophy did not address the question, and it took an Indian approach when Buddhism entered China in the first century CE. Indian philosophy, however, has considered the question of central importance, most systems arguing that human beings do not exercise real free will until they have attained Self-realization. Theosophy has generally adopted the Indian point of view when it treats the issue at all.

Two different approaches have been taken to the problem in the West, usually stated as “freedom from” and “freedom to.” The former claims that causal determinism (“Every event has a cause”) implies lack of real free will since one’s actions are always the result of prior causal conditions. If one knew all those prior causal conditions, so the argument goes, one could predict unerringly what a person would do under any specific circumstances. But, as some philosophers have pointed out, if one did not have such causal conditions, one would never be able to do anything at all. From this it follows logically that causality is both necessary for free will and incompatible with it! Obviously something has gone wrong somewhere.

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