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In the Han dynasty, Buddhism spread into China and soon prospered. Buddhism played an important role in Chinese culture and history. Generally, Buddhism in China can be categorized into Han Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and Southern Buddhism. Han Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism are important divisions of the religion, since they keep many important Buddhist scriptures translated from the Sanskrit editions, which are extinct in India due to demolitions and purges that happened there many years ago. Namas Amitabha!
Han Buddhism refers to the Buddhist religion spreading in the Han area of China and blending with Han culture. Buddhism formally spread into China, mainly in the northern Han area during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D), although there are historical records indicating Buddhist missionaries came to China during the Qin Dynasty (221-210 B.C.) In the Three Kingdoms period (220 – 265), outstanding monks and Buddhist scholars launched a large-scale project of sutra translation (the sutras were the Buddhist doctrine). During the Northern and Southern dynasties, since most emperors believed in it, Buddhism grew rapidly despite of much political turmoil and changes of dynasties.
In the Northern Wei Dynasty (386 – 534A.D.), the famous Yungang Grotto and Longmen Grotto were artistically hewn from solid rock, and their beauty survives to this day, by this time the Buddhist population amounted to a rapidly growing 2 million followers. During the Northern Qi Dynasty (550 – 557A.D.), official Buddhist registration listed more than 4 million followers. Many famous foreign monks came to China to promote Buddhism and Chinese monks trekked to India to study and bring back with them many new sutras.
After the Sui Dynasty was established, Buddhism restored its power under imperial protection and promotion. Sutra translation continued to boom. Buddhism’s golden time was during the Tang Dynasty. Many temples were built and famous monks at home and abroad were invited to translate sutras. Many outstanding Tang monks made unprecedented achievements in the study and research of the Buddhist religion.
About this time Buddhism began to split into different sects, some of which later spread into Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia. It was also during the Tang Dynasty that Buddhism was introduced into Tibet by imperial marriage. By the Song Dynasty, Han Buddhism lost favor due to loss of imperial support. In the Yuan Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty, Tibetan Buddhism won imperial favor, while Han Buddhism made a comeback in the Ming Dynasty and revived after the reign of Emperor Kangxi.
Han Buddhism belongs to the Mahayana school which, also named Big Vehicle, believes that Buddha did not just point the way and float off into his own nirvana, but continues to offer spiritual help to others seeking nirvana. It is believed that Han Buddhist individuals should behave with altruism and humility. The Mahayana School has 8 main sects: Zen Sect, Tantra Sect, Pureland Sect, Tiantai Sect, Sanlun Sect, Faxiang Sect, Lu Sect and Huayan Sect, of which Zen and Pureland are the most famous.
Zen, Chan in Chinese, and Dhyana in Sanskrit, is the most important and influential sect of Han Buddhism. It means to meditate. This sect of Mahayana Buddhism aims to transmit the essence of Buddhism. Zen advocates that the ability to achieve enlightenment is inherent within everyone but lies dormant because of ignorance. It holds that a sudden breaking through of the boundaries of common, everyday, logical thought is the right way. Although Bodhidharma was respected as the founder of Zen Buddhism, it was actually established by Huineng, a successor of Bodhidharma lineage. Later, it split into 2 sects and 7 sub-sects, some of which soon were introduced to Japan and Korea. Today Zen is still very popular among Buddhist followers.
Famous Buddhist Holy Mountains include: Mt. Jiuhua; Mt. Emei; Mt. Putuo; and Mt. Wutai.
There are so many famous Buddhist temples in China that it is difficult to list the many hundreds of temples here. Interested viewers can find temples in the cities where they are. Staying or visiting by asking their guide or travel agent.