Buddhism Capital Shaanxi

2017-04-28 11:23:14 , Source : The Government Website of Shaanxi Province

Gold coffin and silver outer coffin—used by Buddhist monks to place Buddhist relics

Since it was introduced to Chang’an in the late Western Han Period, Buddhism became increasingly prosperous because of the following advantages: Shaanxi was the capital of more than ten dynasties in ancient China and ancient China’s political, economic and cultural center and its transportation hub. In the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern dynasties, Shaanxi was the only Buddhist center in the northern China. In the Sui and Tang dynasties, as the unification of the country proceeded along with the vigorous promotion by the ruler and the development of cultural exchanges between China and the world, people from the imperial royal family or from the bureaucracy and the general public, all accepted that building temples and tonsure were an honor. For a time, numerous towers and temples dotted in the Guanzhong Plain, and people could see incense smoke everywhere in the capital Chang’an. In the Tang Dynasty, Buddhism reached its peak in China, Shaanxi had thus become a veritable center of Buddhist culture in China, and to some extent it became the world center of the Buddhist culture. Buddhism in Japan, Korea and other countries was also introduced from Chang’an during the Sui and Tang dynasties.

DaCi’en Temple

Shaanxi is taken as China’s Buddhist cultural center, not only because of many temples are located in Shaanxi Province, but also mainly due to the ages of tireless efforts by monks who made the Buddhism flourished in the extreme with its own theory and fully localized in China in the Sui and Tang period. The Tiantai School, the School of the Three Sastras, Hua-yan School, Faxiang School, Vinaya School, Pure-land School, Esoteric Buddhism and the Zen School were created according to the highest classics. Except for the Tiantai School and the Zen School, all other six schools originated in Shaanxi or were established in Shaanxi. Their birthplaces are still in Shaanxi, and they have had a broad impact at home and abroad.

Faxiang School: Discusses the relationship between essence and phenomenon, it is thus named the Faxiang School; the school also takes “Consciousness Methodology” as its aim and is also called “Consciousness-only School”. The most important feature of this school is that it has a classification and description of a large number of Buddhist terminologies, an approach that was invented by the famous monk Xuan Zang. Its birthplace, Da Ci’en Temple, was originally the Seamless Temple in the Sui Dynasty. In 648AD, Crown Prince Li Zhi rebuilt the temple on the basis of the Seamless Temple for the commemoration of his mother, Empress Wende, and named the temple as “Da Ci’en Temple.” In 652AD, Tang Emperor Li Zhi built the famous Ci’en Temple Pagoda in the temple in order to worship the Buddha relics and the Buddhist classics brought by Xuan Zang from India and to show the prestige of the Tang Empire. Due to its imitation of the Indian Wild Goose Pagoda style, this pagoda was called the Wild Goose Pagoda. Later, within the Jianfu Temple in Chang’an, a smaller Wild Goose Pagoda was built; in order to distinguish them, people called Ci’en Temple Pagoda as Big Wild Goose Pagoda and called Jianfu Temple Pagoda as Small Wild Goose Pagoda. In the Ci’en Temple, Xuan Zang translated 1,335 volumes of Buddhist scriptures, an amount that exceeded the work done by Kumarajiva, Zhen Di and Bu Kong, who were also known as the four master translators of Chinese Buddhist scriptures. While holding the spirit of the original classics, Xuan Zang carried forward the Consciousness-only method and created the Consciousness-only School, which became one of China’s eight Buddhist schools. Da Ci’en Temple enjoyed a high status and occupied a large area, and countless Chinese and foreign monks thus gathered there. At that time, Da Ci’en Temple was a world-renowned Buddhist temple, comparable to Nalanda Temple in India. Da Ci’en Temple currently has a collection of many ancient cultural relics, of which two of the most famous monuments are Tang Sanzang Religion Preface and Tang Sanzang Religion Preface Note, which are, respectively, the preface made by Empirs Taizong of Tang (named Li Shimin) for the Buddhist scriptures translated by Xuan Zang, and the note made by Empire Gaozong of Tang (named Li Zhi) for the preface, all written by Chu Suiliang, a famous calligrapher at that time. These two monuments can be called the art treasures of Chinese religious culture and calligraphy.

School of The Three Sastras: Zhong Sastra, Bai Sastra and Dvadashamukha Shastra (collectively as Three Sastras) are taken as the basic classic works and therefore the name is the School of the Three Sastras. The essential “the middle way reality theory” of this school considers that every law has the nature of emptiness. Its founder was the monk Ji Zang in the Sui Dynasty, who regarded Kumarajiva as the ancestor. The birthplace of Caotang Temple is located at Caotang Town of Huxian County, located 50 kilometers southwest of Xi’an City, which was once the rite place of Kumarajiva, one of China’s four master translators. In the 13th century, Nichiren created Nichiren Buddhism in Japan based on the Lotus Sutras which translated by Kumarajiva. As a result, Caotang Temple became the birthplace of the Japanese Nichiren in China.

Xiangji Temple

Hua-yen School: This school earned its name by taking Avatamsaka Sutra as the classic. It is one of the three major Chinese Buddhism schools (Pure Land, Zen, Hua-yen) that are still popular today. Fa Tsang is regarded as the actual founder. In his youth, Fa Tsang had participated in the scripture translating task hosted by Xuan Zang, but later quit their partnership since he held different Buddhist insights from those of Xuan Zang. He founded the Hua-yen School that received trust and support from Empress Wu Zetian, which made this school not only widely popular at the time, but also widely known in North Korea and Japan. Fa Tsang’s disciple, Cheng Guan, was once the national monk protecting the country for the Emperor Dezong of Tang, and was regarded as a professor monk. Today, in the southern suburbs of Xi’an, at the original site of the birthplace of Hua-yen School, the dagoba of Cheng Guan is still well preserved. The doctrine of Hua-yen School reflects the high level of cultural and psychological characteristics of Chinese Buddhism, and it is very suitable for most of the faithful scholar bureaucrats. Those bold, imaginative and romantic writers and most of the thoughtful leaders were also interested in the Hua-yen School.

Pure-land School: Specialized in Reborn Amitabha Pure Land Dharma, hence earned the name. The actual founder was monk Dao Chuo in the Sui and Tang period. The Pure-land School states that as long as one concentrates on reading Amitabha’s name, Amitabha would help to ensure that one’s next life will be free of evil, worries, dirt, and desire so that he or she can live a carefree life in the country of Buddha. In various schools of Buddhism, the Pure Land School has the most simple teachings and theories, which is very attractive for the lower level people and the majority of the working people. The Pure-land School is currently China’s most influential Buddhist Dharma having the most solid foundation of followers. Its birthplace, Xiangji Temple, is located at Guodu Town, Chang’an District, which was built by disciples to commemorate the representative of Pure-land School, Shan Dao. The temple was named as the Xiangji Temple because the Buddhist scripture says “There is the country of a hundred flowers in India, whose Buddhist name is Xiangji”. Rumor has it that Emperor Gaozong bestowed 1,000 beads on the temple when it was under construction, and that Empress Wu Zetian also paid a visit to the temple. The ancient architecture of the temple has been destroyed, today we can see only Shan Dao Pagoda, Jing Ye Pagoda and Shang Ling Pagoda.

Xiangji Temple is the common birthplace of the Pure-land School in China and Japan. During the Tang Dynasty, Japanese monks came to China to bring back The Amitayurbhavana-sutra described by Shan Dao, so the influence of Pure-land School was thus gradually expanded in Japan. In the 12th century, Japanese monk Honen Shonin founded the Japanese Pure-land School according to the theory of Shan Dao. The Japanese Pure-land School has 14 sects, 8,190 temples, three universities and more than 5 million believers, indicating that they take its birthplace, Xiangji Temple, very seriously. They often send missions to Xiangji Temple to worship ancestors, fi nd roots and conduct cultural exchanges. In 1980, 1,300 years since Shan Dao passed away, the Japanese Pure-land School sent more than 2,000 monks to Xiangji Temple to hold a ceremony and build a Grand Hall in the east of the Shan Dao Pagoda. Within the hall, the Amitabha statue and the wooden statue of Shan Dao, both donated by the Japanese Pure-land School, were worshipped. Xiangji Temple has now become an important tourist attraction, and Shan Dao stupa has also become a national relic of key cultural heritage.

Vajrayana Statues unearthed from Famen Temple underground palace—Gilt Bodhisattva

Vinaya School: The school studying Buddhist precepts and commandments, Vinaya School was actually founded by Dao Xuan in the Tang Dynasty. The school was founded according to Dharmaguptavinaya in Five Laws, so the school is also known as Dharmaguptavinaya School. Since Dao Xuan lived at the Zhongnanshan Mountain, the school also had the name Nanshan Vinaya School or Nanshan School. The “precept” in Buddhism is just like the “etiquette” in Confucianism, all are used to control human behavior and mediate interpersonal relations. Dao Xuan had been following precepts in his lifetime, so he made specific interpretations of the traditional Dharmaguptavinaya and made specific provisions for initiation and ordaining and other legal systems. He was also the author of Taisho Tripitaka, Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks, Tang Dynasty Internal Code Record and many other books, and he preached the precepts he created at his own altar. Since then, various schools of Buddhism began to take the laws he preached as their example and regarded Dao Xuan as the Nanshan precept master. Dao Xuan had more than 1,000 disciples, of which, the most famous was the monk Jian Zhen. Jian Zhen went to Japan to preach but failed five times in his attempts to cross the sea due to numerous storms. In the 13th year of Tian Bao (754AD), in his 67th year, his sixth eastward crossing turned out to be the ultimate success. He brought the precept theory and Tang culture to Japan, which had a positive effect on Japan’s social development. Its birthplace, Jingye Temple, is located at the northern foot of Zhongnanshan Mountains in the Chang’an District of Xi’an. Located about 35 kilometers away from Xi’an it is one of the national key Buddhist temples designated by the State Council for the Han areas.

Esoteric Buddhism: Also known as Vajrayana Religion, Esoteric Religion, Bright Holding Religion, Vajrayana, it is the final phase of Indian Buddhism. The name of this secret religion is relative to the “exoteric religion”, which is the religion referred to by the Buddha Sakyamuni’s, including the “Theravada Buddhism” and “Mahayana Buddhism”, all of which take “scripture, precept and theory” as the content of preaching. The esoteric religion claimed that they inherited the profound secrets from the “Samantabhadra”, which is the most “real” preaching. Compared with the “realization” of the exoteric religion, the esoteric religion pays more attention to practice. When learning Vajrayana, one must have a teacher and abide by strict rituals; a certain sequence shall be followed from the early abhisheka to Buddha’s warrior attendant, skipping a grade is not allowed. Its birthplace, the Da Xingshan Temple, is located at Xiaozhai, which is south of Xi’an.

Qinglong Temple

The unparalleled supreme sacred Buddhist Halidome—

Buddha’s Finger Bone Relic

Esoteric Buddhism is the school of Buddhism directly disseminated by the Indian monks. Early in the Emperor Wendi of Sui, the Indian monks Naliantiliyeshe, Shanajueduo and Damojiduo, known as the “Three Masters in the Year of Kaihuang,” came to the Da Xingshan Temple in Chang’an to translate Buddhist scriptures while teaching Vajrayana Buddhism. In the fourth year of Kaiyuan in the Tang Dynasty, the Indian monk Shan Wuwei came to China. In the period of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, the Indian monks Shan Wuwei, Jin Gangzhi and Bu Kong came to China to preach Vajrayana in the Da Xingshan Temple; they were then known as “Three Outstanding Persons in the Year of Kaiyuan”.

Palms-together Relic Dagoba in Famen Scenic Area

The monk Bu Kong translated more than 500 Buddhist classics, so the Da Xingshan Temple became the birthplace of Vajrayana and one of the three translation sites for Buddhist scripture in Chang’an. Shan Wuwei once prayed for rain for Emperor Xuanzong of Tang who feared hot weather;his disciple, monk Yi Xing, was a famous ancient Chinese scientist and the fi rst person to measure the length of a meridian line. Jin Gangzhi and Bu Kong were also closely related to Tang emperors; their disciple, Hui Guo, was the president of the Qinglong Temple at Chang’an Leyouyuan terrace from the year of Dali in the Emperor Daizong of Tang and promoted esoteric doctrine. In 804AD, the Japanese monk Kukai came to Chang’an to learn the Tantric “Mantra and Righteous Cause” from Hui Guo in the Qinglong Temple. In 806AD, Kukai returned to Japan, disseminated the learned doctrine in Japan, and established Japan’s largest Buddhist school—Shingon. In addition to the monk Kukai, of the famous Japanese “Eight Envoys to Tang”, six envoys had also studied in the Qinglong Temple. While studying in China, on the basis of the Katakana created by Kibi Makibito, Kukai integrated Chinese characters and Brahma and completed the Japanese hiragana and katakana letters, thus becoming the founder of the Japanese text. Japanese called him Kobo Master and the ancestor of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism. The Qinglong Temple thus became the birthplace of Shingon Buddhism in Japan and enjoyed a high reputation in that country. In the early 1980s, various Japanese Buddhist schools came to China to find their roots; the Japanese Shingon School also asked a favor from the Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone to negotiate with our government to allow the construction of the “Hui Guo and Kukai Memorial Hall” in the east Qinglong Pagoda yard, after which the Kukai Monument and Garden were built.

From the perspective of the Triple Gem of Buddhism, we can proudly call Shaanxi the world’s Buddhism Capital. The Triple Gem of Buddhism is the abbreviation for Budda, Dharma and Sangha. Buddha relics are the highest representative of the Buddha treasure. After Sakyamuni Buddha died, a cremation was performed to form a relic. In the third century AD, Ashoka unified India. In order to promote Buddhism, he divided the Buddha’s relics into 84,000 copies and distributed them all over the world to be worshipped in towers. China has 19 of them, Famen Temple in Fufeng County, Shaanxi, known as “the Ancestor of Pagoda in Guanzhong Plain” is the fifth. The heritage of Buddha’s finger bone relic at Famen Temple follows a special order, it is the true relic of Sakyamuni Buddha, and has been worshipped in the highest level in China. Especially in the Tang Dynasty, the Famen Temple was regarded as a royal temple with a supreme position in the national religious life. Every thirty years the underground palace would be opened for Buddhist relics, which was a great festival of national religious life that had a profound impact on Buddhism and politics in the Tang Dynasty. Since 1987, when Buddhist relic was unearthed from the underground palace, it has been widely recognized and worshipped by Buddhists around the world. The Famen Temple cultural attraction, planned and built with Triple Gem as its core, is not only one of the world’s Buddhist pilgrimage shrines, but it is also the tourism and cultural center for Buddhism.

Buddhist scripture is the carrier of Buddhism and it is also representative of a talisman. How can Buddhism be introduced into China and followed for a long time? It is because of Chinese people understanding the Buddhist scripture; this fully shows the importance of translating the Buddhist scriptures. Shaanxi is recognized as the major place for China’s Buddhist scriptures translation work. The translation of Buddhist scriptures in Shaanxi has a long history and a wide range; a large number of classics were thus produced which have a very profound impact on the history of Chinese scripture translation and the development of Buddhism. From the “five do-not-lose” of Dao An, the “eight preparations and ten principles” of Yan Cong to the “five do-not-translate” of Xuan Zang, Shaanxi’s Buddhist translation theory and translation system is the most complete one in the history of China. This not only laid a theoretical foundation for the translation of the ancient Buddhist scriptures, but also provided a very important reference for all translation activities of future generations. Moreover, besides Yi Jing, four of the five master translators worked in Shaanxi who translated more than half of the Buddhist scriptures including those important classics that remain popular today, such as Vajracchedika-sutra, Heart Sutra, Amitabha Sutra, Lotus Sutra, etc. What particularly important is that the translation of Buddhist scriptures in Shaanxi is not just a translation work, but also a large-scale academic research process involving theoretical discussion and innovative thought. Therefore, the Chinese Buddhist Schools, especially those with a strong sectarian theory, were mostly founded in Shaanxi. Among the eight schools of Buddhism in China, six of them have their birthplaces here. This proves that Shaanxi is well deserved to hold the key position of the “talisman” of Chinese Buddhism.

Zhongshan Grottoes interior view

It is the people who carry forward the teachings, not the teachings that promote people. The promotion of Buddhist teachings must depend on the monks. It is because of the tireless efforts of countless Buddhist monks that the Buddhist culture flourished in China. In Chinese history, Shaanxi has gathered the largest number of eminent monks. According to incomplete statistics, since the introduction of Buddhism during the Song Dynasty, 461 monks lived in Chang’an for quite a long period, accounting for 36% of the total number listed in the Biographies of Eminent Monks. Of the one hundred monks listed in Chinese Buddhism compiled by the Buddhist Association of China, Chinese Buddhist monks who had their major activities in Shaanxi also accounted for nearly half. Those earthshaking senior monks who had their names on the annals were mostly from Shaanxi. “The backbone of China”, Xuan Zang, who best represented the spirit of the monk, was also from Shaanxi. Additionally, in the past, when foreign monks from Korea, Japan and Vietnam came to China to worship, Chang’an in Shaanxi was generally on the list of destinations. They came here to learn from the senior monks of various schools and then returned to their countries to open up their schools and become masters, leaving brilliant pages in the history and civilization of their countries. These examples fully illustrate that the central position of Shaanxi as the Sangha of China is irreplaceable.

Shaanxi has the world’s Buddhist Triple Gem; as there are no other places in the world that have such conditions except the Indian Buddha site. Therefore, Shaanxi is well-deserving of the title as the world’s Buddhism Capital.

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