- Published: Monday, 20 June 2016 13:46
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.