Buddhism has had a long history in China and has been instrumental in shaping Chinese culture and tradition. Throughout the millennia, Buddhists in China have faced support and even persecution under the various leaders, but the religion has remained strong, and today China hosts the world’s largest Buddhist population.
What is Chinese Buddhism and what do Chinese Buddhists believe?
Chinese Buddhism is one of the oldest forms of Buddhism in history and China’s oldest foreign religion. Chinese Buddhists believe in a combination of Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism, the latter of which teaches that enlightenment can be achieved in a single lifetime. Mahayana Buddhism was originally founded during the Kushan Empire and spread to China where various school sects were developed; before spreading farther and becoming popular in other Asian countries like Japan.
How Chinese Buddhism Differs The “Laughing Buddha”, the most popular depiction of the Buddha in China One significant difference between Chinese Buddhism and original Buddhist teachings is the belief that Buddha is not just a teacher who taught followers what to do, but a god to be prayed to for help and salvation. Chinese Buddhists believe in a combination of Taoism and Buddhism, meaning they pray to both Buddha and Taoist gods. Just like Taoists, Chinese Buddhists also pay homage to their ancestors, with the belief that they need and want their help.
A prime example of this combination of religious beliefs is the burning of joss paper by Buddhists during religious ceremonies and festivals, like the annual Qingming Festival. Another way in which Chinese Buddhism differs is in the depiction of Buddha. Original Buddhist teachings taught that Buddha reached Enlightenment after fasting, and it was said that he was extremely skinny and gaunt. In fact, in many Buddhist countries, Buddha is depicted as being very skinny and meditating under a tree.
In Central Asian Mahayana Buddhism, Buddha is depicted as being strong and healthy, like a Greek god and evidence of this has been found in statues of Buddha carved along the Silk Road before the end of the Tang Dynasty. In stark contrast to the former, the Budai, or the “Laughing Buddha” has been the most common and most popular depiction of Buddha in China for centuries. Chinese Buddhists’ main goal in life is to “be happy”, and it’s for this reason that depictions of Buddha in China show him as being fat and laughing, or smiling.