Chinese Buddhism

Chinese Buddhism or Han Buddhism (simplified Chinese: 汉传佛教; traditional Chinese: 漢傳佛教; pinyin: Hànchuán Fójiào; Jyutping: Hon3 Cyun4 Fat6 Gaau3; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Hàn-thoân Hu̍t-kàu) is a Chinese form of Mahayana Buddhism which has shaped Chinese culture in a wide variety of areas including art, politics, literature, philosophy, medicine and material culture. Chinese Buddhism is the largest institutionalized religion in Mainland China.[1] Currently, there are an estimated 185 to 250 million Chinese Buddhists in the People's Republic of China.[1] It is also a major religion in Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia, as well as among the Chinese Diaspora.[2]

Institutions of Chinese Buddhism
Monasticism: Buddhist monks at Jintai Temple in Zhuhai, Guangdong, mainland China.
❷ Public temples: Inner view of the Ling Shan Brahma Palace (simplified Chinese: 梵宮; traditional Chinese: 梵宫; pinyin: fàn gōng) in Wuxi, Jiangsu, mainland China.
❸ Lay congregations: A Buddhist house assembly (居士林 jūshìlín).
Chinese Buddhism
Traditional Chinese漢傳佛教

Buddhism was first introduced to China during the Han Dynasty (202 BCE–220 CE). The translation of a large body of Indian Buddhist scriptures into Chinese and the inclusion of these translations (along with Taoist and Confucian works) into a Chinese Buddhist canon had far-reaching implications for the dissemination of Buddhism throughout the East Asian cultural sphere, including Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Chinese Buddhism also developed various unique traditions of Buddhist thought and practice, including Tiantai, Huayan, Chan Buddhism and Pure Land Buddhism.

From its inception, Chinese Buddhism has been influenced by native Chinese religions and philosophy, especially Confucianism and Taoism, but also Chinese folk religion.


Buddhist expansion in Asia: Mahayana Buddhism first entered the Chinese Empire (Han dynasty) through the Silk Road during the Kushan Era. The overland and maritime "Silk Roads" were interlinked and complementary, forming what scholars have called the "great circle of Buddhism".[3]
White Horse Temple in Luoyang, one of the earliest Chinese Buddhist temples
Buddhist temple at Wutaishan
Buddhist art from the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang (Gansu province), Dunhuang was a thriving center of Buddhism between 500 and 1000 CE.

The establishment of Buddhism in China

Buddhist missionaries began bringing Buddhism to China during the Han dynasty (202 BCE - 220 CE) and the religion was present in China at the beginning of the common era.[4][2][5] Buddhist missionaries made use of both the overland Central Asian Silk Road and the Maritime routes.[6] Initially Buddhism was poorly understood and often confused with and mixed with Daoism.[7] The Chinese saw many similarities between the two religions.[8] There was also much criticism leveled at the new foreign religion by the Confucian elites.[2]

One of the central tasks of the initial missionaries was the translation of Buddhist texts. The first surviving translations of Buddhist texts into Chinese were those of the 2nd century Parthian An Shigao (Ch. 安世高), who worked in the capital of Luoyang. His work was followed by the extensive Mahāyāna translations of the Kushan monk Lokakṣema (Ch. 支婁迦讖, active c. 164–186 CE) as well as the work of Dharmaraksa (3rd century).[9][10]

During this early period the Dharmaguptaka school was very influential in establishing Buddhism in China.[11] This resulted in the widespread adoption of the Dharmaguptaka school's Vinaya (monastic rule) by all Chinese Buddhist schools.

The arrival of the Kuchan scholar Kumārajīva (334–413 CE) was a key event. Unlike the previous translators, Kumārajīva was supported by the state and given the title of national preceptor.[12] The numerous high quality translations of his translation team had a great impact on Chinese Buddhism. He is also known for introducing the Madhyamaka school of Buddhist philosophy, which would later be called Sanlun (the "Three Treatise school").[13] His work also established a thoroughly Indic foundation for Chinese Buddhist philosophy, which previously had been heavily influenced by Daoist philosophy.[14]

Another important translator of this period was Paramārtha (Zhēndì, 499-569 CE). Paramārtha along with his team of Chinese disciples translated numerous works on Abhidharma, Yogacara philosophy and other Mahayana texts.[15][16]

The Dunhuang and Yungang cave complexes are a great example of early Chinese Buddhist art.[17]

The development of a Chinese Buddhism

The 6th and 7th centuries saw a flowering of new and unique Chinese Buddhist traditions, including:

During the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE), the monk Xuanzang (602-664) journeyed to India and back, and wrote extensive and detailed reports of his findings, which have subsequently become important for the study of India during this period. Xuanzang also brought back many Buddhist texts and led a translation team which is responsible for many influential Chinese translations of classic Buddhist works.[18] His efforts led to the establishment of the idealistic Yogacara (Consciousness-only) tradition in East Asia.

The Tang era was one of the golden ages of Buddhism in China.[19] During this time, a sinicized Buddhism was widely accepted and practiced throughout the empire at this time, with many monasteries and temples. Buddhism was popular with all social classes and was very influential on Chinese culture.[2] Buddhist themes can be found in much of the literature of this period, such as in the works of famous poets like Wang Wei (701 – 761) and Bo Juyi (772 – 846). The various artistic complexes from this period, such as the Longmen Grottoes also attest to the artistic vibrancy of Chinese Buddhism at this time.[2]

A famous proponent of Buddhism during the Tang era was empress Wu Zetian (r. 690–705) and she is known for her promotion of the Longmen cave complex.[20][21] She also depicted herself as a bodhisattva.[22]

The next important event in the history of Chinese Buddhism was the arrival of Śubhakarasiṃha, Vajrabodhi, and Amoghavajra, and their establishment of Esoteric Buddhism in China from CE 716 to 720 during the reign of emperor Xuanzong. This Chinese form of Vajrayana Buddhism now became popular with the elites and by the time of emperor Tang Daizong (r. 762–779) its influence among the upper classes was significant.

The Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution (841–845) under Emperor Tang Wuzong greatly impacted and weakened the Buddhist institutions in China. Perhaps the main reason for this persecution was the Chinese state's need for tax and wealth.[23]

The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907–960/979), an era of great political upheaval and civil war also negatively impacted Chinese Buddhism. Various Chinese Buddhist traditions contracted or died out during this period.

The Song Dynasty (960–1279) saw the flourishing of Chinese Buddhist culture.[2] During the Song, Chan Buddhism grew to become the most influential school with close ties to the imperial government and a highly organized system of temple rank and administration system developed.[24] It was during this time that the classic Five Houses of Chan developed. Many classic Chan texts were written during this era, such as the famed koan collections of the Linji school, like the Blue Cliff Record (1125) and The Gateless Gate (1228).[25]

Likewise, during this time, the works of Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091-1157) developed the silent sitting method of "silent illumination".[26] Both of these traditions of Chan practice were very influential (and remain so) on East Asian Zen Buddhism (including on Japanese Zen, Korean Seon and Vietnamese Thien).

The Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) patronized Tibetan Buddhism and thus during this period there was a steady growth of this tradition in China.[27] A common perception was that this patronage of lamas caused corrupt forms of tantra to become widespread.[27] When the Yuan dynasty was overthrown and the Ming dynasty was established, the Tibetan lamas were expelled from the court, and this form of Buddhism was denounced as not being an orthodox path.[27]

During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) there was a revival of the study of native Chinese traditions like Tiantai, Huayan, Yogacara and most monks belonged to the two dominant Chan schools: Linji and Caodong.[28][29][30] At this point in its history Chinese Buddhism had also become quite eclectic, drawing from all the main Chinese traditions. An example of this is the figure of Hanshan Deqing, one of the great reformers of Chinese Buddhism.[31] Like many of his contemporaries, he advocated the dual practice of the Chan and Pure Land methods.[32] He also directed practitioners in the use of mantras as well as scripture reading. He was also renowned as a lecturer and commentator and admired for his strict adherence to the precepts.[32]


An aerial view of Fo Guang Shan Monastery, in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

During the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), the imperial court shifted its support to the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.[33] Chinese Buddhism suffered much during the various imperial and internal conflicts of the Qing dynasty, especially the devastating Taiping rebellion (December 1850 – August 1864), which saw many temples destroyed and scriptures burned by rebels.[34] This era also saw the arrival of Christian missionaries to China, a right which had been granted to Western powers after the Opium Wars.[33]

During the Republican Period (1912-1949), there were various attempts to reform and modernize Chinese Buddhism and to respond to the various challenges of modernity.[35][2] The most notable of these reformers were the Humanistic Buddhists like Taixu and Yin Shun. Humanistic Buddhism sought to move away from ritualistic and otherworldly obsessions to embrace more this worldly pursuits like education and charitable work.[2] There was also a revival of Chinese Chan by Hsu Yun and Sheng Yen,[35] as well as a revival of Tiantai Buddhism by Dixian and Tanxu (1875 – 1963).[36]

After the communist takeover of Mainland China, many Buddhists and monastics followed the Republican exodus to Taiwan. In the latter half of the twentieth century, many new Buddhist temples and organizations were set up by the exiles in Taiwan, including Fo Guang Shan, Dharma Drum Mountain and Tzu Chi.[2] These organizations also became influential back in Mainland China after the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Chinese Buddhism suffered extensive repression, persecution and destruction during the Cultural Revolution (from 1966 until Mao Zedong's death in 1976). Maoist propaganda depicted Buddhism as one of the four olds, as a superstitious instrument of the ruling class and as counter-revolutionary.[37] Buddhist Clergy were attacked, disrobed, arrested and sent to camps. Buddhist writings were burned. Buddhist temples, monasteries and art were systematically destroyed and Buddhist lay believers ceased any public displays of their religion.[37][38]

During the normalization period (Boluan Fanzheng, 1977 to early 80s) led by Deng Xiaoping, a new revival of Chinese Buddhism began to take place.[39][40][41] This was a period which saw the restoration of damaged Buddhist temples like Guoqing Temple and Guanghua Temple as well as the return of monastic ordination and Buddhist institutions. Monks like Zhenchan (真禪) and Mengcan (夢參), who were trained in the Chan and Huayan traditions, traveled widely throughout China as well as other countries such as the United States and lectured on both Chan and Huayan teachings.[42] Monks who had fled overseas were also allowed back into the mainland.

During the late 20th century, Chinese Buddhism also became established in some Western countries, especially in the USA. The first Chinese master to teach Westerners in North America was Hsuan Hua, who went on to found the City Of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Chuang Yen Monastery (New York) and Hsi Lai Temple (Los Angeles) are other large Chinese Buddhist temples in the USA.

Teaching and Practice

Buddhist monastics and laypeople chanting sutras in the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Singapore
Buddha statues at the Mahavira Hall of Baoning Temple, Hunan, China.
Volunteers of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation at a health screening event for foreign workers in Taipei.

Doctrine and texts

Chinese Buddhism is a sinicized form of Mahāyāna Buddhism which draws on the Chinese Buddhist Canon (大藏經, Dàzàngjīng, "Great Storage of Scriptures")[43] as well as numerous Chinese traditions. Chinese Buddhism focuses on studying Mahayana sutras and Mahāyāna treatises and draws its main doctrines from these sources. Some of the most important scriptures in Chinese Buddhism include: the Lotus Sutra, the Flower Ornament Sutra, the Vimalakirtī Sutra, the Nirvana Sutra, and the Amitābha Sutra.[2][44]

As such, Chinese Buddhism follows the classic Mahāyāna Buddhist worldview, which includes belief in many realms of existence, the existence of many Buddhas and bodhisattvas (菩薩) as well as many other kinds of divine beings, ghosts and so on.[2] Chinese Buddhism also upholds classic Mahāyāna Buddhist doctrines like karma (報應) and rebirth (超生), the bodhisattva path, and the doctrines of emptiness (空, kōng), buddha-nature (佛性, fóxìng) and the one vehicle (一乘, yīchéng).[2]

When it comes to Buddhist philosophy, Chinese Buddhism contains various doctrinal traditions, the most important being the Tiantai, Huayan, Sanlun and Weishi schools of thought.[2] These different doctrinal traditions developed their own scriptural commentaries and treatises and also various doctrinal classifications (panjiao) which hierarchically ordered the mass of Buddhist scriptures in order to advance their school's hermeneutical worldview.[2] For example, according to master Zhiyi's "eight teachings and five periods" classification, the final and supreme teaching of the Buddha is found in the Lotus Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra.[2] According to the Huayan masters like Fazang, the Huayan sutra contains the supreme teaching, while the Weishi school held that the Yogacara texts where the "third turning" of the Dharma, and thus the final and ultimate teaching of the Buddha.


Chanting the Buddhist Scriptures, by Taiwanese painter Li Mei-shu

Chinese Buddhism contains a wide array of religious practices and observances. Ritual and devotional practices are commonly seen as generating karmic merit, which can bring about positive results in this life or the next.[2]

According to Mario Poceski, for the vast majority of ordinary Chinese Buddhists "prevalent expressions of Buddhist piety were (and still are) channeled via a variety of popular modes of worship and ritual observance."[2] Worship services can include Buddhist devotional practices like offerings to an altar (of items like incense, flowers, food, and candles), ceremonial bowing, and extensive liturgies (including repentance ceremonies, rites for good health, and memorials for dead).[2] According to Chün-fang Yü, the most popular Chinese Buddhist ritual that is most widely performed today is the Great Compassion Repentance associated with Guanyin and the Great Compassion Dharani.[45]

Keeping sets of ethical rules, like the classic Buddhist five precepts, are another key part of Buddhist practice. Taking up the ethical precepts in a ceremony, along with taking refuge in the three jewels (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) is a common way of entering the Buddhist path.[2] Another important set of ethical precepts is the “bodhisattva precepts” of the Brahmā’s Net Sutra, which are often practiced by both laity and monastics.[2] Acts of charity or social service (結緣) are also an important of part of Chinese Buddhist ethics.

Another key part of Chinese Buddhism is engaging in Buddhist meditations such as chanting the Buddhas name (念佛, niànfó) which is the core practice of Pure Land Buddhism and seated meditation (坐禪, zuò chán), which is the focus of the Chan tradition. The practice of recitation of the Buddhas name is commonly done in a group setting, sometimes as part of an intensive nianfo recitation retreat, which can last for several days. These retreats might also include chanting sutras, taking of the eight precepts, silent meditation and Dharma lectures.[46]

Textual practices are also commonly practiced by monks and laypersons. These include printing, copying, propagating and reciting Buddhist scriptures, studying Buddhist texts, and attending lectures.[47][48] Buddhist temples may also have special elements associated with sacred texts, such as lecture halls or dharma halls ( 法堂), libraries and scripture platforms (施法壇), a kind of sacred podium.[47][48]

Other important Buddhist rituals are those related to death, which is seen as a key moment for Buddhists who want to attain a good rebirth in the pure land of a Buddha (the most popular being Amitabha's pure land).[46] The focus of these rituals is to keep the dying person free of distractions and offer spiritual support (so they can focus their minds on Amitabha Buddha through the repetition of the Buddha's name).[46] It is commonly believed that during these rituals one can experiences auspicious signs like visions of Amitabha and bright lights.[46]

Pilgrimages to well-known monasteries and sites, like the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains (Wǔtái Shān, Éméi Shān, Jǐuhuá Shān, Pǔtuó Shān) are also undertaken by monastics and lay practitioners alike.[49]

Another popular practice is the use of mantras and dhāraṇīs, such as the popular Mahā Karuṇā Dhāraṇī and the Cundī Dhāraṇī.[49] Robert Gimello has also observed that in Chinese Buddhist communities, the esoteric practices of Cundī enjoyed popularity among both the common people and the elite.[50]

Deities and temples

The Spring Temple Buddha, a colossal statue of Vairocana in Henan, China.
Shrine to Cintāmaṇicakra (如意輪觀音; Rúyìlún Guānyīn) within the Universal Wisdom Hall of Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, Singapore.

Various Mahāyāna Buddhist deities are venerated in Chinese Buddhism, most of which are Buddhas (佛 fó) and bodhisattvas (菩薩 púsà). Some of the key figures include:[51][2]

Chinese Buddhist temples usually include numerous images and statues of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. They are often ritually carved and installed as part of a consecration ritual that may include chanting and scripture reading.[52] Devotion towards these are a major part of Chinese Buddhism. As Chün-fang Yü writes "people in China worship buddhas and bodhisattvas in rituals, write poems and novels about them, praise them in songs and hymns, and tell stories and stage plays about them. And above all else, they worship the images of these holy beings."[53]

According to Mario Poceski, Chinese Buddhist temples generally follow a traditional Chinese palace layout. They "consist of a series of halls and courtyards that are arranged symmetrically around a central axis, which usually runs from north to south. The main hall is typically a large building that is centrally located along the main axis. In larger monasteries or temples, a number of ancillary halls also house the images of lesser Buddhist divinities, giving residents and visitors alike a wide choice of objects of worship and supplication."[2]

Another common structure is a pagoda which may contain Buddhist relics and statues or images of Buddhas and bodhisattvas.[54]


Buddhist Monks at Kunming Yuantong Temple

Buddhist monasticism is an important part of Chinese Buddhism. Chinese Buddhist monastics (both male and female) follow the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya, which is known as the Four Part Vinaya (Sifen lü) in China and has 250 rules for monks and 348 for nuns.[2]

Buddhist monks and nuns perform numerous religious practices and services, including offerings to altars, liturgical services, circumambulating the Buddha hall, preaching the scriptures, Dharma lectures, rituals meals and chanting at mealtime, as well as confession and repentance rituals.[48]

There have been many different types of monasteries throughout Chinese Buddhist history. There are city monasteries, country monasteries and monasteries deep in the mountains. Some monasteries may be large and rich, with thousands of monastics while others are small with just a few monastics. The most prestigious monasteries have support from rich elites, and the smallest are usually in small villages.[55]


The vegetarian restaurant of South Putuo Temple is well-known throughout China.

Vegetarianism is widely promoted and practiced in Chinese Buddhism, though not all Chinese Buddhists are necessarily vegetarians.[2] The monastic Vinaya does not require vegetarianism, but the practice is promoted in various Mahayana sutras, like the Lankavatara Sutra.[2]

Monastics are often required to be vegetarian and meat is often banned in Buddhist temples and monasteries.[2] Other dietary restrictions may include avoiding eggs, dairy, and certain types of leeks.[2]

Devout laity are also often vegetarian. Some laypersons may practice vegetarian on certain sacred days, during religious retreats or on certain festivals.

Temples and monasteries often have vegetarian dining halls and vegetarian feasts are a common feature of popular celebrations.[2]

Laypeople in Chinese Buddhism

Lay Buddhists at the recitation hall (诵经堂 sòngjīngtáng) of the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees in Guangzhou, Guangdong.

In Chinese Buddhism, lay Buddhist practitioners have traditionally played an important role, and lay practice of Buddhism has had similar tendencies to those of monastic Buddhism in China.[49] Many historical biographies of lay Buddhists are available, which give a clear picture of their practices and role in Chinese Buddhism. In addition to these numerous biographies, there are accounts from Jesuit missionaries such as Matteo Ricci which provide extensive and revealing accounts to the degree Buddhism penetrated elite and popular culture in China.[49]

Traditional practices such as meditation, mantra recitation, mindfulness of Amitābha Buddha, asceticism, and vegetarianism were all integrated into the belief systems of ordinary people.[49] It is known from accounts in the Ming Dynasty that lay practitioners often engaged in practices from both the Pure Land and Chan traditions, as well as the study of the Buddhist sūtras. The Heart Sūtra and the Diamond Sūtra were the most popular, followed by the Lotus Sūtra and the Avataṃsaka Sūtra.[49]

Syncretism and multiple religious belonging

A statue of Guan Yu at Daxiangguo Temple

Chinese Buddhism may also include influences from Native Chinese Religions, including Confucianism, Taoism and Chinese Folk Religion.[2] This ecumenical attitude and embrace of religious pluralism has been a common feature of Chinese culture since ancient times.[2] For example, Chinese Buddhists may practice qigong, tai chi and gongfu, venerate native Chinese deities (like Guan Yu, Mazu and Monkey King), engage in ancestor veneration, practice traditional Chinese medicine and make use of Feng shui and Chinese talismans. Chinese religions like Taoism and Confucianism were also in turn influenced by Chinese Buddhism.[2]

The ancient idea of the compatibility of the Three Teachings (Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism) is common in China and is expressed in the phrase the three teachings harmonious as one (; Sānjiào Héyī).[56][57] Chinese Buddhism developed Chinese mythologies and philosophies which incorporated and accommodated Chinese religions. For example, Chinese Buddhist apocryphal texts tell of how Laozi was actually a disciple of the Buddha and also how Confucius was a bodhisattva.[58] Chinese Buddhist thinkers like Guifeng Zongmi argued that all three teachings should be followed and practiced since they all contain important truths (though he also considered Buddhism to reveal the highest truth).[59]

One such important element of Chinese Buddhism are religious practices focused on one's ancestors, something that is shared in common with other traditional Chinese religions. This can include paying respect to them at various sites and at festivals like the Qingming and Zhong Yuan Festival as well as participating in services to pray for one's deceased ancestors.

The ritual burning of incense (shaoxiang, jingxiang) is another common religious practice in Buddhist spaces derived from traditional Chinese religion. During the Zhou dynasty, the Chinese believed that smoke resulting from burning of sandalwood would act as a bridge between the human world and the spirits.[60] The practice remains a common offering in Chinese Buddhism, which it shared with other Chinese religions.

Another common feature of Chinese religion is multiple religious belonging. As such, Chinese adherents may also practice Buddhism alongside other Chinese religious practices without seeing this as conflicting. According to Mario Poceski:

many or even most people who actually come to worship at Buddhist temples are not hardcore believers. A good number of them assume the kinds of fuzzy or hybrid religious identities that are typical of Chinese religiosity; among other things, that can mean that many of them also worship at Daoist temples or shrines associated with popular religion. This is one of the reasons why it is very difficult to arrive at reliable data about the number of “ Buddhists ” in China.[2]


Donglin Temple at Mountain Lu, considered the birthplace of East Asian Pure Land Buddhism
Bailin Temple (Hebei), a Chinese Chan temple
A model of Guoqing Temple, a center of the Tiantai school
The Jing'an Temple in Shanghai, a modern Chinese Esoteric tradition temple.

Major Chinese Buddhist traditions

Traditional Chinese Buddhist scholars like Sheng-yen enumerate thirteen Buddhist traditions or schools (Chinese: zōng).[61] This list is also found in traditional Japanese Buddhist histories, particularly that of Gyōnen (1240–1321).[62]

Over time, some of these schools survived or were revived as living traditions, while others are now defunct historical traditions or were absorbed into other schools. These "traditions" are not rigid designations and there has always been much intermixing and many temples and communities are influenced by many of these traditions (and also by local Chinese custom and traditional Chinese religions like Daoism). Some traditions may also have numerous sub-schools or sects.[63]

The various Chinese Buddhist traditions are not exclusivist, and are better seen as trends, emphases, schools of thought or "dharma-gates" (法門, fǎmén), instead of as separate sects.[19][64] Chün-fang Yü quotes a famous saying which describes the harmonious situation in Chinese Buddhism, "Tiantai and Huayan for doctrine, Chan and Pure Land for practice."[65]

As Mario Poceski notes, Chinese Buddhism "lacks clear sectarian divisions of the kind we find in other Buddhist traditions".[2] All Chinese monastics follow the same ordination procedures and monastic precepts, and as such there is no rigid separation between "schools" or "sects". While traditions like Chan and Tiantai are understood as distinctive teachings, they are all part of the single Chinese Buddhist tradition which is "characterized by broad - minded acceptance of a variety of styles of discourse, modes of worship, and approaches to spiritual cultivation."[2] Due to Chinese Buddhism's acceptance of diversity, ecumenism and difference, most Chinese Buddhists would not identify themselves as being part of a specific "school".[2] That being said, there are still disagreements and doctrinal debates within the community.[2]

The "thirteen schools" are:[61][66][67]

Many of these traditions were also later exported to other East Asian nations, like Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

According to Sheng-yen, the Chan school is the most popular school in China today, though this is often combined with Pure Land practice as well.[69] Sheng-yen also notes that the Tiāntāi, Huáyán, Three Treatises, Consciousness Only, Vinaya and Esoteric traditions are also present in modern Chinese Buddhism, though to a lesser extent.[69]

There is also modernist movement called Humanistic Buddhism (人間佛教; rénjiān fójiào) which emphasizes humanism, charity and other humanitarian practices that help improve social conditions.

New religious movements

There are many sects and organisations proclaiming a Buddhist identity and pursuit (fo or fu: "awakening", "enlightenment") that are not recognised as legitimate Buddhism by the Chinese Buddhist Association and the government of the People's Republic of China. This group includes:

  • Guanyin Buddhism [Awakening Teaching] (观音佛教 Guānyīn Fójiào) or Guanyin Church (观音会 Guānyīn Huì)[70]
  • True Buddha School (真佛宗 Zhēnfó Zōng)
  • Buddhism [Awakening Teaching] of the Lord of Heaven of Infinite Thriving of the Mountain of Longevity (寿山万隆天主佛教 Shòushān Wànlóng Tiānzhǔ Fójiào)
  • Wulian Jingang Dadao ("Great Way of the Innumerable Attendants of Awakening")
  • Hanmi Chinese esoteric buddhism, Living Buddha Dechan Jueren

Holidays and festivals

Traditional Buddhist ceremony in Hangzhou, Zhejiang
Ghost festival floating lanterns, Hong Kong
Buddha's Birthday (佛誕 Fódàn) celebration of bathing baby Buddha statues.

Chinese Buddhists celebrate numerous religious festivals and holidays and these are the most widely attended and popular Chinese Buddhist events.[71]

During religious festivals, Chinese people visit temples to take part in rituals, chanting, food, celebrations, parades and to make offerings of prayers, incense, fruits, flowers and donations. On such days they may observe the moral precepts very strictly as well as a full day's vegetarian diet. Some of the most important holidays celebrated by Chinese Buddhists include: Buddha's Birthday (on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month), Chinese New Year and the Lantern Festival (on the first and fifteenth days of the first lunar month), and the Ghost Festival (fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month).[72]

List of Holidays

The following holiday dates given are based on the Chinese calendar system so that 8.4 means the Eighth day of the fourth month in Chinese calendar and so on.[73]

  • 8.12 — Enlightenment Day of Śākyamuni Buddha
  • 1.1 — Birthday of Maitreya Buddha
  • 9.1 — Birthday of Śakra, Lord of the Devas
  • 8.2 — Renunciation Day of Śākyamuni Buddha
  • 15.2 — Mahāparinirvāṇa Day of Śākyamuni Buddha
  • 19.2 — Birthday of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Guan Yin)
  • 21.2 — Birthday of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra
  • 4.4 — Birthday of Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī
  • 8.4 — Birthday of Śākyamuni Buddha
  • 15.4 — Vesak Day
  • 13.5 — Birthday of Bodhisattva Sangharama (Qie Lan)
  • 3.6 — Birthday of Skanda (Wei Tuo)
  • 19.6 — Enlightenment Day of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara
  • 13.7 — Birthday of Bodhisattva Mahāsthāmaprāpta
  • 15.7 — Ullambana Festival Ghost Festival
  • 24.7 — Birthday of Bodhisattva Nagarjuna
  • 30.7 — Birthday of Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha
  • 22.8 — Birthday of Dīpaṃkara Buddha (an ancient buddha)
  • 19.9 — Renunciation Day of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara
  • 30.9 — Birthday of Bhaiṣajyaguru Buddha (Medicine Buddha)
  • 5.10 — Anniversary of the death of Bodhidharma
  • 17.11 — Birthday of Amitābha Buddha

See also




    1. Cook, Sarah (2017). The Battle for China's Spirit: Religious Revival, Repression, and Resistance under Xi Jinping. Archived 2021-08-08 at the Wayback Machine Freedom House Report. Rowman & Littlefield.
    2. Poceski, Mario. "Chinese Buddhism" in The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Chinese Religions (pp. 197-218) edited Randall L. Nadeau. John Wiley & Sons, 2012.
    3. Acri, Andrea (20 December 2018). "Maritime Buddhism". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.638. ISBN 9780199340378. Archived from the original on 19 February 2019. Retrieved 30 May 2021.
    4. 中国文化科目认证指南. 华语教学出版社. Sinolingua. 2010. p. 64. ISBN 978-7-80200-985-1. 公元1世纪———传入中国内地,与汉文化交融,形成汉传佛教。
    5. Chün-fang Yü (2020). Chinese Buddhism: A Thematic History, p. 14. University of Hawaii Press
    6. Maspero 1981, pp. 401-405.
    7. Chün-fang Yü (2020). Chinese Buddhism: A Thematic History, p. 15. University of Hawaii Press
    8. Maspero 1981, p. 409
    9. Williams, Paul. Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. 2008. p. 30
    10. Chün-fang Yü (2020). Chinese Buddhism: A Thematic History, p. 18. University of Hawaii Press
    11. Warder, A.K. Indian Buddhism. 2000. pp. 280–281
    12. Chün-fang Yü (2020). Chinese Buddhism: A Thematic History, p. 22. University of Hawaii Press
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    Further reading


    • Nan Huai-Chin (1998), Basic Buddhism: Exploring Buddhism and Zen, Translated by J.C. Cleary, Red Wheel Weiser
    • Nan Huai-Chin (1995), The Story of Chinese Zen, Translated by Thomas Cleary, Charles E. Tuttle Company
    • Tansen Sen (2003), Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Trade: The realignment of Sino-Indian Relations, 600–1400, Association for Asian Studies & University of Hawai'i Press
    • Shinko Mochizuki, Leo M. Pruden, Trans. (1999). Pure Land Buddhism in China: A Doctrinal History, Chapter 1: A General Survey. In: Pacific World Journal, Third Series, Number 1, 91–103. Archived from the original
    • Shinko Mochizuki, Leo M. Pruden, Trans. (2001). Pure Land Buddhism in China: A Doctrinal History, Chapter 2: The Earliest Period; Chapter 3: Hui-yuan of Mt.Lu; and Chapter 4: The Translation of Texts-Spurious Scriptures. In: Pacific World Journal, Third Series, Number 3, 241–275. Archived from the original
    • Shinko Mochizuki, Leo M. Pruden, Trans. (2002). Pure Land Buddhism in China: A Doctrinal History, Chapter Five: The Early Pure Land Faith: Southern China, and Chapter Six: The Early Pure Land Faith: Northern China. In: Pacific World Journal, Third Series, Number 4, 259–279. Archived from the original
    • Shinko Mochizuki, Leo M. Pruden, Trans. (2000). Pure Land Buddhism in China: A Doctrinal History, Chapter 7: T'an-luan. In: Pacific World Journal, Third Series, Number 2, 149–165. Archived from the original

    First Buddhist revival

    Contemporary Chinese Buddhism

    • Chau, Adam Yuet (2010), Religion in Contemporary China: Revitalization and Innovation, Taylor & Francis
    • Miller, James (2006), Chinese Religions in Contemporary Societies, ABC-CLIO
    • Baumer, Christoph (2011), China's Holy Mountain: An Illustrated Journey into the Heart of Buddhism, London: I.B.Tauris, ISBN 978-1-84885-700-1
    • Master Sheng Yen (2007), Orthodox Chinese Buddhism, Translated by Douglas Gildow and Otto Chang, North Atlantic Books
    • Munro, Robin; Mickey Spiegel (1994). Detained in China and Tibet: A Directory of Political and Religious Prisoners. Human Rights Watch. ISBN 978-1564321053.
      • List first published in: "Appendix: Sects and Societies Recently or Currently Active in the PRC". Chinese Sociology & Anthropology. 21 (4): 103–104. 1989. doi:10.2753/CSA0009-46252104102.
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