Buddhism is a combination of a religion and a way of life made up of a range of thinking, practices, and customs. Even though Buddhism was initially adopted from India, the East Asians are more associated with the religion. Buddhism is more prevalent in China and Korea than it is in India today. However, the Buddhism practice in Korea and China are different. This is mainly because each country accepted Buddhism into their culture under different circumstances and in variant ways.
This paper explores an argument whether Buddhism was a change for better or worse for the East Asian societies and concludes that even though Buddhism created a lot of discomfort during the period of introduction, it eventually made significant moral contributions to the current East Asian cultures and immensely influenced the way of thinking in these countries enforcing analytical approach to the causes and reasons of human sufferings.
The adoption of Buddhism
Definitely, the introduction of the new religious views in the East Asian countries resulted in a new dispensation in their cultural beliefs. The adoption of Buddhism was the main factor that led to the social interaction between China and Korea. Of course, through these religious interactions, many other changes happened. Each side adopted cultural practices from the opposite side. Negative sides of this adoption were the oppression the previous beliefs and the pervasive new practices forced on the societies.
To oppose with this fact, Buddhism may be viewed as a progressive practice that resulted in some positive changes. The argument against this opinion is that this change was held in a revolutionary way, instead of evolutionary one. It is true that all East Asian societies fought against Buddhism in the beginning as it was a completely new set of rules for them. Yet, gradually, China and Korea accepted Buddhism through blending it with their local spiritual faiths and moral beliefs.
The adoption of Buddhism brought a lot of progress to the lands of China and Korea (De Bary and Lufrano 145). Stimulating profound self-searching and focus on one’s own inner world Buddhism brought out a completely new dimension to the life of the East Asian societies. Buddhist teachings focused on the development of inner self, working out a stable set of moral behaviors introduced East Asian people to the new system of values and priorities.
Obstacles Buddhism Faced in China
Buddhism was derived from India before it spread to the Eastern countries. It first stretched to China, and then to Korea (De Bary and Lufrano 140). Buddhism is supposed to have arrived in China by 100 C.E. (De Bary and Lufrano 142). As a result, it can be deduced that the faith was first brought in when Buddhist adherents from India visited China (De Bary and Lufrano 142). From China, Buddhism spread further across Korea.
In China, Buddhism was not effortlessly acknowledged for it met resistance with rigid supporters of Confucianism and Daoism (De Bary and Lufrano 120). The ages of violence, torture and fear exhausted the East Asians, they needed someone who “was not fond of killing people” (De Bary and Lufrano 120). Buddhism as an ultimately peaceful religion brought the ideas of love towards all living beings, so one of the main obstacles it faced was the violent lifestyle East Asians were accustomed to at that time.
Besides, when the public attention is too focused on gaining material goods, it is rather complicated to make the society focus on inner happiness that does not derive from any physical or material pleasures. This way, even though the East Asian societies were starving for moral principles and rules, they were not used to following any and this is what served as an obstacle for Buddhism (De Bary and Lufrano 121).
One may argue that this all-loving religion exploited rather oppressive ways to enter the societies. This is true, but compromising also took place during that period. New religion was eventually approved after having established a communal principle, and was well thought-out as one of the 3 Religions amid Confucianism and Daoism (De Bary and Lufrano 123). Yet, it was still not painless for Buddhism to struggle in opposition to the established faiths.
For example, for the conventional and orthodox Chinese, it was hard to comprehend why they had to cut off their hair and obey the rules of these unfamiliar habits. This was one of the necessities for all affiliates of the Buddhist clergy to trim their heads. Nevertheless, it was met with repugnance from the Chinese for they believed that they ought not to damage any parts of their body (De Bary and Lufrano 116). The positive effect was that hair trimming practice helped improve hygiene in the society.
Opposition in Korea
In Korea, Buddhism was initiated by a Chinese monk to each of the three Kingdoms. The first kingdom to adopt Buddhism was Koguryu, followed by Paekche and lastly Silla (De Bary and Lufrano 123). Nonetheless, just like in China, the religion was quickly received even though there was a certain resistance. In Korea, the new religion was first adopted by the rulers and then enforced into the masses.
For example, the king of Silla was a monk, and he started to spread Buddhism in his kingdom, the first Buddhist monastery was recognized during his reign (De Bary and Lufrano 121). This can be seen as forcing religion on the population. To oppose this opinion, I view this phenomenon as the revolution of values, which does not deny the old ones, but suggests treating them in new progressive ways. Koreans, practicing Shamanism fought the enforcement of the religion without any Gods as it clashed with their traditional views.
One helping factor to establish the new religions was the timely earthquake, which people of that era viewed as a sign showing that they must accept Buddhism (De Bary and Lufrano 120).
Over time the religion won its popularity and the number of its followers grew creating a number of benefits for the society, among them there was a significant reduction of violence, growth of creativity, development of material culture such as architecture, sculpture and pottery. Willing to demonstrate their love towards the new religion and its teachings the societies engaged into creative artistic practices.
A Religion without a God
It is a well known fact that Buddhism is the religion that does not have any gods. Its main figure Buddha was a human being, who eventually became enlightened through meditation. Giving up the worship of gods was another serious obstacle that East Asians societies had to overcome to adopt Buddhism. In a way, this may be seen as an immoral practice, because many people believe that gods are the source of inspiration. I argue that Buddhism provides an alternative source of inspiration included within people.
This religion offers inner peace, wisdom and higher immaterial values. Buddhist practices penetrated every aspect of Asian life ever since. Control of emotions, rational thinking, and having a clear mind became the most valuable behaviors. Of course, Buddhism did not defeat violence completely, but it taught its followers to love the world around, see the beauty is small things, find connections between the self and the nature, think about energies in the Universe.
All of these aspects added to the development of Asian philosophies, art, science and manners. The practice of meditation, observation of nature and self-searching created some of the most powerful thinkers.
Buddhism requires its followers to believe that no human emotions lead to happiness, and that happiness itself is an emotion. Getting attached, wishing, and desiring causes sufferings. Struggling to accept such beliefs the societies of East Asia worked out their own special lifestyles and ways of thinking that helped them build advanced states that even now are some of the most powerful forces in the world.
Buddhism was quite a drastic change for the old East Asian societies drowning in violence, torture and sufferings. This religion took time to become properly adopted by the people of East Asian countries and definitely caused conflicts of beliefs, yet it certainly brought a number of benefits. Buddhism has changed the people’s approach towards their ways of thinking and behaviors, it also made the societies re-evaluate their priorities. Such a major change caused some resistance.
Buddhism required its followers to alter every single aspect of their lives, of course human minds rebelled against the new rules and restrictions initially. Buddhism was hard to accept because it required that its followers change the goal they aim at (De Bary and Lufrano 419). Yet, the religion gradually gained respect and followers, whose devotion and loyalty helped Buddhism to survive till today and spread to the West.
De Bary, William, and Richard Lufrano. Sources of Chinese Tradition, From 1600 through the Twentieth Century (Introduction to Asian Civilizations), New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1999. Print.