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This paper aims at studying and analyzing the effect of Buddhism to the East Asian culture. It is worth noting that Buddhism has had a tremendous civilizing impact towards the socio-religious life of the Asians since that period of the Asoka the Great. It was the time when the missionaries were sent to publicize the Buddhist faith to the remote areas (Armstrong 187). Up until the eighth century, Buddhism remained deeply rooted within the most of the Asian countries, but then was spread to other regions of the world. However, this paper will mainly consider the impact of Buddhism to the East Asian countries, which consist of five countries, Japan, China, Taiwan, North Korea and South Korea. The concept of the Buddhism religion will be analyzed first, then its spread to the East Asian region, and finally, its effect to the East Asian culture.
Buddhism can be considered as a philosophy and religion encompassing various practices, beliefs, traditions that are attributed to the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Buddha (Armstrong 187). The Buddhists recognize him as an enlightened teacher who used his insights to stop ignorance among the sentient beings, hence helping them to escape what is considered as the cycle of rebirth and suffering. Buddhism is basically divided into two broad branches, Theravada and Mahayana (Gyatso 4). Theravada has an extensive following around the Southeast Asian region and Sri Lanka, while Mahayana is popular within the East Asian region.
However, some of the Buddhist practices such as meditation are considered as methods of transforming individuals in order to adopt qualities of wisdom, kindness and awareness. It is important to note that the main goal of leading a spiritual life, according to the Buddhism belief, is to represent the ending of suffering. Considering the fact that Buddhism does not incorporate the worship of a creator god, a number of people do not consider it as a religion. The doctrines of Buddhism are practical and straightforward, subject to change and all actions possess consequences. Thus it addresses itself to all individuals regardless of nationality, race, caste, gender or sexuality. It offers practical approaches that its followers can use to transform their experiences and be responsible for the lives they lead. It is postulated that there are approximately 376 million followers of Buddhism around the world, and thus considered as the fourth largest religion in the world, after Christianity, Islam and Hinduism (Gyatso 30).
Spread of Buddhism to East Asia
The spread of Buddhism throughout Asia was very peaceful, unlike other religions that encountered various kinds of conflicts, and it took place in various ways. Shakyamuni Buddha, the teacher took the initial step and travelled around to share his teachings with those who were interested and receptive. He also instructed his preachers to move around the world to spread and give further details about his teachings. However, it is worth noting that he did not ask his followers to abandon and denounce their original religion as he was not intending to establish his won religion, but wanted to help people to conquer suffering and unhappiness they often created as a result of lack of understanding. Buddhism was spread to the parts of the East Asian region as follows. In China, it was introduced in the first century CE; in Korea, it came in the fourth century CE and in Japan in the eighth century CE (Gyatso 30). Buddhism soon after its introduction became the leading spiritual tradition within these countries for a period of time considering the fact that it was a religion that was primarily accepted by the royal classes (Mitchell, 2002, p. 3). In China, the extension of power to Central Asia by the Han Dynasty strengthened the cultural and trade ties, which provided a means through which the Chinese people could learn Buddhism. As the interest to learn Buddhism grew among the Chinese people, a demand for the Buddhist texts increased, which then led to the coming of the translators from India and Central Asia.
However, Buddhism encountered some resistance in Korea as studies illustrate that the monk that was sent to spread Buddhism to Korea was killed, but this religion gained momentum after some time. Most of the Korean monks studying in China during the sixth and seventh centuries brought back the teachings of Buddhism that were being offered in various Chinese schools. Initially, historical records show that three kingdoms, Koguryo, Packche and Silla, existed in Korea. The unification of these kingdoms in the seventh century under the powerful Silla leader led to the flourishing of Buddhism. The king of Packche sought to institute peaceful relationships with Japan in the sixth century and, thus sent gifts that contained images of Buddha along with copies of Buddhist texts to the imperial courts within Japan. This therefore led to the recommendation of Buddhism within the country as it was considered to be a means of conveying a great benefit to Japan. In addition, Buddhism was incorporated into the indigenous Shinto beliefs (Mitchell 3). Considered as a religion of general appeal, Buddhism enhanced harmony within Japan.
Basically, the spread of Buddhism within the East Asian region was considered to be a peaceful practice considering the fact that it was considered to be a religion with a universal appeal. Most of its teachings were widely accepted as they aimed to foster harmony and were less contradicting with the existing religions. Some of the cultures, such as the Japanese even had to incorporate some of these teachings within their own indigenous beliefs (Gyatso 40). It is worth noting that the teachings of Buddhism were not aimed at making individuals denounce their own religions, but were directed at stopping sufferings among people. This could be attained by encouraging people to change their experiences and making them fully responsible for the type of the lives they choose to lead. In essence, Buddhism represents an ending to the sufferings for those who choose to follow its teachings.
The Effect of Buddhism to East Asian Culture
Buddhism has had a major influence to various countries around the globe with regard to different aspects of the people’s lives, especially the cultural aspect. However, it is important to note that when talking of the cultural aspect of a certain society, various factors are analyzed. These include aspects such as art and literature, music, indigenous beliefs and traditions, and the religious beliefs. The aspects that have been largely affected by Buddhism will be analyzed in this paper. It is worth noting that, in essence, Buddhism is considered to be saddharma, encompassing the cultural aspect, also known as dharma, morality or acara and practice or sadhana. As a religion, it advocates for love, tolerance, peace, philanthropy, compassion, sympathy and universal fraternity. Buddhism is, indeed, considered as the Light of Asia as it founders’ teachings were used to enlighten the whole human race, especially in the entire Asia region (Randall 196).
Basically, Buddhism has had a major influence on the socio-religious life of the people within the East Asian region. Some of its basic teachings have been incorporated within some of the religious teachings in these countries (Robinson and Willard 122). Buddhism as a religion preaches about brotherhood, peace, tolerance, compassion and friendliness. It does not incorporate caste and creed. However, during this era, the East Asian region was experiencing conflict arising from the aspect of Christianity intolerance as different religious movements were preaching differing messages. These people, therefore, found a refuge within Buddhism as it was considered as a consolatory and soothing movement that ensured justice and equality among all. It provided a cultural bond in which all Asians got united during the early Christian era.
Nevertheless, Buddhism is still a living faith in the modern eras when most countries within the East Asian region are still upholding its teachings. Buddhism provided a sublime culture, together with spiritual wisdom to the whole of China hence resulting into an entire facelift (Robinson and Willard 123). Furthermore, Buddhism became the most accepted religion of Japan and Korea as temples were erected to provide a place where people could be taught about Buddha’s teachings. In essence, Buddhism has contributed to the shaping of the socio-religious life of the people within the East Asian region during the course of some centuries. Despite the fact that there are many similarities between the people found in the Asian region, the most outstanding is the religio-cultural similarity (Robinson and Willard 123). This is because Buddhism instituted a common cultural bond that has united most of the Asian countries. It is a practiced philosophy and living faith within these countries. In addition, some of the Buddhist practices such as devotion have been adopted by various religious groups. The devotional practices include chanting, pilgrimage, offerings and bowing. Indeed, most of the contemporary religious groups in the East Asian region have adopted some of these devotional practices and incorporated in the worship practices.
Buddhism has also had a great influence on the artistic work, within the East Asian region and in the whole of the Asian continent. The arts of Japan, Korea and China have incorporated the Greco-Buddhists artistic aspects, along with the some local elements. Some of the initial Buddhist work of art in China includes small statues lying on the money trees. In Japan, Buddhism was incorporated into the works of art when the country was converted into Buddhism around 548 CE (Robinson and Willard 126). The country’s initial artifacts exhibit a classical style, along with an ample Hellenistic dress and a rendered body shape, which is a feature of the Greco-Buddhist art. However, some of these works of art are still present today, for instance the Hercules inspiration displayed in the Nio guardian deities located in front of the Buddhist temples in Japan, as well as other representations such as the Buddha found in Kamakura. It has also been replicated in Korea as some of the artistic works have incorporated the aspect of Buddhism.
It is apparent that every country has its own indigenous cultural beliefs and traditions. This often acts as a distinguishing feature for which its people can be identified from the rest of the societies around the globe. In most cases, historical analysts postulate that it is difficult to introduce other doctrines into such beliefs though changes can be allowed. However, Buddhism has disqualified this belief, since it has had a strong influence on some of the indigenous cultural beliefs. For instance, in Japan Buddhism was incorporated into the indigenous Shinto beliefs upheld by the Japanese. This is because this religion was seen as one with a universal appeal and helped to promote peace within the country (Randall 197).
Basically, Buddhism aimed at providing teachings to people in order to stop them from suffering. It did not have an aim of establishing its religion and persuading people to follow it. This is in consideration with the teachings the people were offered as they basically aimed at promoting peace and morality among people. The interested individuals were encouraged to maintain their own religious groups (Randall 198). However, with time, masses were drawn into these teachings, one of the key reasons that led to the establishment of Buddhism as a religion. In addition, during this period most Asian countries were facing Christian intolerances due to the conflicting teachings and thus, Buddhism offered a consolatory and soothing teaching that guaranteed justice for all people. After some period of time, the Buddhist teachings were adopted throughout the East Asian region, with some countries making it the official religion of the country, for instance, in Japan and Korea. This is basically due to the factor that this religion advocated for peace, morality as well as equality. Some of the temples that were built to be worship places are still existent up to present.
According to Buddha’s teachings , celebration is considered as an essential part of life as it helps its followers to thrive (Randall 199). It encourages its followers to meet together in large numbers and to celebrate regularly. However, this has become an important part of life today as it is apparent that people living in the East Asian region often come together in large numbers to celebrate. It is worth noting that the basic aim of people meeting in large numbers to celebrate is to help them to thrive. To this day, the Buddha day is still commemorated among its followers and is considered as a celebration of Buddha’s Enlightenment (Harvey 72). This day is dedicated to the expression of gratitude and devotion to the founder of Buddhism along with his teachings. Apart from the Buddha day, there are other numerous celebrations and festivals conducted by people in accordance with the teachings provided by Buddha as they are considered to enhance prosperity within the people. It is therefore worth noting that Buddhism has fostered the spirit of celebration and festivity among the people of the East Asian region as it is considered as the gateway to prosperity. The Japanese syncretism shows that a majority of the Japanese celebrate their Buddhism O-bon during the midsummer period, in which they commemorate on the teachings offered by Buddha. According to Buddha, meeting together in large numbers and regularly is the key to their prosperity.
Furthermore some of the Buddhist teachings such as Dharmaguptaka Vinaya that discourages its priests, are still practiced. However, this is not so in Japan as its priests having received the regal permission to get married after the Meiji Restoration (Harvey, 1990, p. 67). In addition, most of the East Asian cultures have shown some inclination towards Confucianism. Besides, various syncretic religions that claim to harmonize the Buddhist teachings amid other religions have come up in East Asia, for instance, Oomoto in Japan, Chondogyo in Korea and I-Kuan Ta in Taiwan. Buddhism also affected the East Asian type of cuisine as it basically promoted vegetarianism. According to the teachings of Buddha, its followers are encouraged to maintain vegetarian type of diet, which indeed was adopted by many of its followers (Randall 199).
Buddhism is a religion encompassing various practices, beliefs, and traditions that are believed to have been formulated by its founder Buddha. It does not incorporate the worship of a super human being or god, but rather offers teachings that are aimed at fostering peace, morality, brotherhood, and friendliness among its followers. Basically, Buddhism has a major goal of ending suffering to anyone who accepts its teaching. However, after its introduction to the East Asia countries, Buddhism became the dominant religion and has had profound effects to the East Asian culture. It has influenced the religious beliefs, social beliefs, cuisine, cultural celebrations and festivals as well as the art.