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He issued an edict allowing every monastery to receive five new monks and the celebrated journey of Hsan Chuang was made in his reign. When the pilgrim returned from India, he was received with public honours and a t.i.tle was conferred on him. Learned monks were appointed to a.s.sist him in translating the library he had brought back and the account of his travels was presented to the Emperor who also wrote a laudatory preface to his version of the Prajnpramit. It was in this reign also that Nestorian missionaries first appeared in China and were allowed to settle in the capital. Diplomatic relations were maintained with India. The Indian Emperor Harsha sent an envoy in 641 and two Chinese missions were despatched in return. The second, led by w.a.n.g Hsan-Ts', did not arrive until after the death of Harsha when a usurper had seized the throne. w.a.n.g Hsan-Ts’ collected a small army in Tibet, dethroned the usurper and brought him as a prisoner to China.
The latter half of the seventh century is dominated by the figure of the Dowager Empress Wu, the prototype of the celebrated lady who took charge of China’s fate in our own day and, like her, superhuman in decision and unscrupulousness, yet capable of inspiring loyalty. She was a concubine of the Emperor Tai Tsung and when he died in 649 lived for a short time as a Buddhist nun. The eventful life of Wu Hou, who was at least successful in maintaining order at home and on the frontiers, belongs to the history of China rather than of Buddhism.
She was not an ornament of the faith nor an example of its principles, but, mindful of the protection it had once afforded her, she gave it her patronage even to the extent of making a bonze named Huai I
the minister of her mature pa.s.sions when she was nearly seventy years old. A magnificent temple, at which 10,000 men worked daily, was built for him, but the Empress was warned that he was collecting a body of vigorous monks nominally for its service, but really for political objects. She ordered these persons to be banished. Huai I was angry and burnt the temple. The Empress at first merely ordered it to be rebuilt, but finding that Huai I was growing disrespectful, she had him a.s.sa.s.sinated.
We hear that the Mahmegha-stra was presented to her and circulated among the people with her approval. About 690 she a.s.sumed divine honours and accommodated these pretensions to Buddhism by allowing herself to be styled Maitreya or Kuan-yin. After her death at the age of 80, there does not appear to have been any religious change, for two monks were appointed to high office and orders were issued that Buddhist and Taoist temples should be built in every Department. But the earlier part of the reign of Hsan Tsung
marks a temporary reaction. It was represented to him that rich families wasted their substance on religious edifices and that the inmates were well-to-do persons desirous of escaping the burdens of public service. He accordingly forbade the building of monasteries, making of images and copying of sutras, and 12,000 monks were ordered to return to the world. In 725 he ordered a building known as “Hall of the a.s.sembled Spirits” to be renamed “Hall of a.s.sembled Worthies,”
because spirits were mere fables.
In the latter part of his life he became devout though addicted to Taoism rather than Buddhism. But he must have outgrown his anti-Buddhist prejudices, for in 730 the seventh collection of the Tripitaka was made under his auspices. Many poets of this period such as Su Chin and the somewhat later Liu Tsung Yan were Buddhists and the paintings of the great Wu Tao-tzu and w.a.n.g-wei (painter as well as poet) glowed with the inspiration of the T’ien-t’ai teaching.
In 740 there were in the city of Ch’ang-An alone sixty-four monasteries and twenty-seven nunneries. A curious light is thrown on the inconsistent and composite character of Chinese religious sentiment–as noticeable to-day as it was twelve hundred years ago–by the will of Yao Ch’ung a statesman who presented a celebrated anti-Buddhist memorial to this Emperor. In his will he warns his children solemnly against the creed which he hated and yet adds the following direction. “When I am dead, on no account perform for me the ceremonies of that mean religion. But if you feel unable to follow orthodoxy in every respect, then yield to popular custom and from the first seventh day after my death until the last (_i.e._ seventh) seventh day, let ma.s.s be celebrated by the Buddhist clergy seven times: and when, as these ma.s.ses require, you must offer gifts to me, use the clothes which I wore in life and do not use other valuable things.”
In 751 a mission was sent to the king of Ki-pin. The staff included Wu-K’ung, also known as Dharmadhtu, who remained some time in India, took the vows and ultimately returned to China with many books and relics. It is probable that in this and the following centuries Hindu influence reached the outlying province of Ynnan directly through Burma.
Letters, art and pageantry made the Court of Hsan Tsung brilliant, but the splendour faded and his reign ended tragically in disaster and rebellion. The T’ang dynasty seemed in danger of collapse. But it emerged successfully from these troubles and continued for a century and a half. During the whole of this period the Emperors with one exception were favourable to Buddhism, and the latter half of the eighth century marks in Buddhist history an epoch of increased popularity among the ma.s.ses but also the spread of ritual and doctrinal corruption, for it is in these years that its connection with ceremonies for the repose and honour of the dead became more intimate.
These middle and later T’ang Emperors were not exclusive Buddhists. According to the severe judgment of their own officials, they were inclined to unworthy and outlandish superst.i.tions. Many of them were under the influence of eunuchs, magicians and soothsayers, and many of those who were not a.s.sa.s.sinated died from taking the Taoist medicine called Elixir of Immortality. Yet it was not a period of decadence and dementia. It was for China the age of Augustus, not of Heliogabalus. Art and literature flourished and against Han-Y, the brilliant adversary of Buddhism, may be set Liu Tsung Yan, a writer of at least equal genius who found in it his inspiration. A n.o.ble school of painting grew up in the Buddhist monasteries and in a long line of artists may be mentioned the great name of Wu Tao-tzu, whose religious pictures such as Kuan-yin, Purgatory and the death of the Buddha obtained for him a fame which is still living. Among the streams which watered this paradise of art and letters should doubtless be counted the growing importance of Central and Western Asia in Chinese policy and the consequent influx of their ideas. In the mid T’ang period Manichism, Nestorianism and Zoroastrianism all were prevalent in China. The first was the religion of the Uigurs. So long as the Chinese had to keep on good terms with this tribe Manichism was respected, but when they were defeated by the Kirghiz and became unimportant, it was abruptly suppressed (843). In this period, too, Tibet became of great importance for the Chinese. Their object was to keep open the pa.s.ses leading to Ferghana and India. But the Tibetans sometimes combined with the Arabs, who had conquered Turkestan, to close them and in 763 they actually sacked Chang An.
China endeavoured to defend herself by making treaties with the Indian border states, but in 175 the Arabs inflicted a disastrous defeat on her troops. A treaty of peace was subsequently made with Tibet.
When Su-Tsung (756-762), the son of Hsan-Tsung, was safely established on the throne, he began to show his devotion to Buddhism.
He installed a chapel in the Palace which was served by several hundred monks and caused his eunuchs and guards to dress up as Bodhisattvas and Genii. His ministers, who were required to worship these maskers, vainly remonstrated as also when he accepted a sort of Sibylline book from a nun who alleged that she had ascended to heaven and received it there.
The next Emperor, Tai-Tsung, was converted to Buddhism by his Minister w.a.n.g Chin, a man of great abilities who was subsequently sentenced to death for corruption, though the Emperor commuted the sentence to banishment. Tai-Tsung expounded the scriptures in public himself and the sacred books were carried from one temple to another in state carriages with the same pomp as the sovereign. In 768 the eunuch Y Chao-En built a great Buddhist temple dedicated to the memory of the Emperor’s deceased mother. In spite of his minister’s remonstrances, His Majesty attended the opening and appointed 1000 monks and nuns to perform ma.s.ses for the dead annually on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. This anniversary became generally observed as an All Souls’ Day, and is still one of the most popular festivals in China. Priests both Buddhist and Taoist recite prayers for the departed, rice is scattered abroad to feed hungry ghosts and clothes are burnt to be used by them in the land of shadows. Large sheds are constructed in which are figures representing scenes from the next world and the evening is enlivened by theatricals, music and fire-works.
The establishment of this festival was due to the celebrated teacher Amogha (Pu-k’ung), and marks the official recognition by Chinese Buddhism of those services for the dead which have rendered it popular at the cost of forgetting its better aspects. Amogha was a native of Ceylon (or, according to others, of Northern India), who arrived in China in 719 with his teacher Vajrabodhi. After the latter’s death he revisited India and Ceylon in search of books and came back in 746. He wished to return to his own country, but permission was refused and until his death in 774 he was a considerable personage at Court, receiving high rank and t.i.tles. The Chinese Tripitaka contains 108 translations ascribed to him, mostly of a tantric character, though to the honour of China it must be said that the erotic mysticism of some Indian tantras never found favour there. Amogha is a considerable, though not auspicious, figure in the history of Chinese Buddhism, and, so far as such changes can be the work of one man, on him rests the responsibility of making it become in popular estimation a religion specially concerned with funeral rites.
Some authors try to prove that the influx of Nestorianism under the T’ang dynasty had an important influence on the later development of Buddhism in China and j.a.pan and in particular that it popularized these services for the dead. But this hypothesis seems to me unproved and unnecessary. Such ceremonies were an essential part of Chinese religion and no faith could hope to spread, if it did not countenance them: they are prominent in Hinduism and not unknown to Pali Buddhism. Further the ritual used in China and j.a.pan has often only a superficial resemblance to Christian ma.s.ses for the departed.
Part of it is magical and part of it consists in acquiring merit by the recitation of scriptures which have no special reference to the dead. This merit is then formally transferred to them. Doubtless Nestorianism, in so far as it was a.s.sociated with Buddhism, tended to promote the worship of Bodhisattvas and prayers addressed directly to them, but this tendency existed independently and the Nestorian monument indicates not that Nestorianism influenced Buddhism but that it abandoned the doctrine of the atonement.
In 819 a celebrated incident occurred. The Emperor Hsien-Tsung had been informed that at the Fa-mn monastery in Shen-si a bone of the Buddha was preserved which every thirty years exhibited miraculous powers. As this was the auspicious year, he ordered the relic to be brought in state to the capital and lodged in the Imperial Palace, after which it was to make the round of the monasteries in the city.
This proceeding called forth an animated protest from Han-Y, one of the best known authors and statesmen then living, who presented a memorial, still celebrated as a masterpiece. The following extract will give an idea of its style. “Your Servant is well aware that your Majesty does not do this (give the bone such a reception) in the vain hope of deriving advantage therefrom but that in the fulness of our present plenty there is a desire to comply with the wishes of the people in the celebration at the capital of this delusive mummery….
For Buddha was a barbarian. His language was not the language of China. His clothes were of an alien cut. He did not utter the maxims of our ancient rulers nor conform to the customs which they have handed down. He did not appreciate the bond between prince and minister, the tie between father and son. Had this Buddha come to our capital in the flesh, your Majesty might have received him with a few words of admonition, giving him a banquet and a suit of clothes, before sending him out of the country with an escort of soldiers.
“But what are the facts? The bone of a man long since dead and decomposed is to be admitted within the precincts of the Imperial Palace. Confucius said, ‘respect spiritual beings but keep them at a distance.’ And so when princes of old paid visits of condolence, it was customary to send a magician in advance with a peach-rod in his hand, to expel all noxious influences before the arrival of his master. Yet now your Majesty is about to introduce without reason a disgusting object, personally taking part in the proceedings without the intervention of the magician or his wand. Of the officials not one has raised his voice against it: of the Censors not one has pointed out the enormity of such an act. Therefore your servant, overwhelmed with shame for the Censors, implores your Majesty that these bones may be handed over for destruction by fire or water, whereby the root of this great evil may be exterminated for all time and the people may know how much the wisdom of your Majesty surpa.s.ses that of ordinary men.”
The Emperor became furious when he read the memorial and wished to execute its author on the spot. But Han-Y’s many friends saved him and the sentence was commuted to honourable banishment as governor of a distant town. Shortly afterwards the Emperor died, not of Buddhism, but of the elixir of immortality which made him so irritable that his eunuchs put him out of the way. Han-Y was recalled but died the next year. Among his numerous works was one called Yan Tao, much of which was directed against non-Confucian forms of religion. It is still a thesaurus of arguments for the opponents of Buddhism and, let it be added, of Christianity.
It is not surprising that the prosperity of the Buddhist church should have led to another reaction, but it came not so much from the literary and sceptical cla.s.s as from Taoism which continued to enjoy the favour of the T’ang Emperors, although they died one after another of drinking the elixir. The Emperor Wu-Tsung was more definitely Taoist than his predecessors. In 843 he suppressed Manichism and in 845, at the instigation of his Taoist advisers, he dealt Buddhism the severest blow which it had yet received. In a trenchant edict he repeated the now familiar arguments that it is an alien and maleficent superst.i.tion, unknown under the ancient and glorious dynasties and injurious to the customs and morality of the nation. Incidentally he testifies to its influence and popularity for he complains of the crowds thronging the temples which eclipse the imperial palaces in splendour and the innumerable monks and nuns supported by the contributions of the people. Then, giving figures, he commands that 4600 great temples and 40,000 smaller rural temples be demolished, that their enormous landed property be confiscated, that 260,500 monks and nuns be secularized and 150,000 temple slaves set free.
These statistics are probably exaggerated and in any case the Emperor had barely time to execute his drastic orders, though all despatch was used on account of the private fortunes which could be ama.s.sed incidentally by the executive.
As the Confucian chronicler of his doings observes, he suppressed Buddhism on the ground that it is a superst.i.tion but encouraged Taoism which is no better. Indeed the impartial critic must admit that it is much worse, at any rate for Emperors. Undeterred by the fate of his predecessors Wu-Tsung began to take the elixir of immortality. He suffered first from nervous irritability, then from internal pains, which were explained as due to the gradual transformation of his bones, and at the beginning of 846 he became dumb. No further explanation of his symptoms was then given him and his uncle Hsan Tsung was raised to the throne. His first act was to revoke the anti-Buddhist edict, the Taoist priests who had instigated it were put to death, the Emperor and his ministers vied in the work of reconstruction and very soon things became again much as they were before this great but brief tribulation. Nevertheless, in 852 the Emperor received favourably a memorial complaining of the Buddhist reaction and ordered that all monks and nuns must obtain special permission before taking orders. He was beginning to fall under Taoist influence and it is hard to repress a smile on reading that seven years later he died of the elixir. His successor I-Tsung (860-874), who died at the age of 30, was an ostentatious and dissipated Buddhist. In spite of the remonstrances of his ministers he again sent for the sacred bone from Fa-mn and received it with even more respect than his predecessor had shown, for he met it at the Palace gate and bowed before it.
During the remainder of the T’ang dynasty there is little of importance to recount about Buddhism. It apparently suffered no reverses, but history is occupied with the struggle against the Tartars. The later T’ang Emperors entered into alliance with various frontier tribes, but found it hard to keep them in the position of va.s.sals. The history of China from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries is briefly as follows. The T’ang dynasty collapsed chiefly owing to the incapacity of the later Emperors and was succeeded by a troubled period in which five short dynasties founded by military adventurers, three of whom were of Turkish race, rose and fell in 53 years. In 960 the Sung dynasty united the Chinese elements in the Empire, but had to struggle against the Khitan Tartars in the north-east and against the kingdom of Hsia in the north-west. With the twelfth century appeared the Kins or Golden Tartars, who demolished the power of the Khitans in alliance with the Chinese but turned against their allies and conquered all China north of the Yang-tze and continually hara.s.sed, though they did not capture, the provinces to the south of it which const.i.tuted the reduced empire of the Sungs. But their power waned in its turn before the Mongols, who, under Chinggiz Khan and Ogotai, conquered the greater part of northern Asia and eastern Europe. In 1232 the Sung Emperor entered into alliance with the Mongols against the Kins, with the ultimate result that though the Kins were swept away, Khubilai, the Khan of the Mongols, became Emperor of all China in 1280.
The dynasties of T’ang and Sung mark two great epochs in the history of Chinese art, literature and thought, but whereas the virtues and vices of the T’ang may be summed up as genius and extravagance, those of the Sung are culture and tameness. But this summary judgment does not do justice to the painters, particularly the landscape painters, of the Sung and it is noticeable that many of the greatest masters, including Li Lung-Mien, were obviously inspired by Buddhism. The school which had the greatest influence on art and literature was the Ch’an or contemplative sect better known by its j.a.panese name Zen. Though founded by Bodhidharma it did not win the sympathy and esteem of the cultivated cla.s.ses until the Sung period. About this time the method of block-printing was popularized and there began a steady output of comprehensive histories, collected works, encyclopdias and biographies which excelled anything then published in Europe. Antiquarian research and accessible editions of cla.s.sical writers were favourable to Confucianism, which had always been the religion of the literati.
It is not surprising that the Emperors of this literary dynasty were mostly temperate in expressing their religious emotions. T’ai-Tsu, the founder, forbade cremation and remonstrated with the Prince of T’ang, who was a fervent Buddhist. Yet he cannot have objected to religion in moderation, for the first printed edition of the Tripitaka was published in his reign (972) and with a preface of his own. The early and thorough application of printing to this gigantic Canon is a proof–if any were needed–of the popular esteem for Buddhism.
Nor did this edition close the work of translation: 275 later translations, made under the Northern Sung, are still extant and religious intercourse with India continued. The names and writings of many Hindu monks who settled in China are preserved and Chinese continued to go to India. Still on the whole there was a decrease in the volume of religious literature after 900 A.D. In the twelfth century the change was still more remarkable. Nanjio does not record a single translation made under the Southern Sung and it is the only great dynasty which did not revise the Tripitaka.
The second Sung Emperor also, T’ai Tsung, was not hostile, for he erected in the capital, at enormous expense, a stupa 360 feet high to contain relics of the Buddha. The fourth Emperor, Jn-tsung, a distinguished patron of literature, whose reign was ornamented by a galaxy of scholars, is said to have appointed 50 youths to study Sanskrit but showed no particular inclination towards Buddhism.
Neither does it appear to have been the motive power in the projects of the celebrated social reformer, w.a.n.g An-Shih. But the dynastic history says that he wrote a book full of Buddhist and Taoist fancies and, though there is nothing specifically Buddhist in his political and economic theories, it is clear from the denunciations against him that his system of education introduced Buddhist and Taoist subjects into the public examinations. It is also clear that this system was favoured by those Emperors of the Northern Sung dynasty who were able to think for themselves. In 1087 it was abolished by the Empress Dowager acting as regent for the young Ch Tsung, but as soon as he began to reign in his own right he restored it, and it apparently remained in force until the collapse of the dynasty in 1127.
The Emperor Hui-Tsung (1101-1126) fell under the influence of a Taoist priest named Lin Ling-Su. This young man had been a Buddhist novice in boyhood but, being expelled for misconduct, conceived a hatred for his old religion. Under his influence the Emperor not only reorganized Taoism, sanctioning many innovations and granting many new privileges, but also endeavoured to suppress Buddhism, not by persecution, but by amalgamation. By imperial decree the Buddha and his Arhats were enrolled in the Taoist pantheon: temples and monasteries were allowed to exist only on condition of describing themselves as Taoist and their inmates had the choice of accepting that name or of returning to the world.
But there was hardly time to execute these measures, so rapid was the reaction. In less than a year the insolence of Lin Ling-Su brought about his downfall: the Emperor reversed his edict and, having begun by suppressing Buddhism, ended by oppressing Taoism. He was a painter of merit and perhaps the most remarkable artist who ever filled a throne. In art he probably drew no distinction between creeds and among the pictures ascribed to him and preserved in j.a.pan are some of Buddhist subjects. But like Hsan Tsung he came to a tragic end, and in 1126 was carried into captivity by the Kin Tartars among whom he died.
Fear of the Tartars now caused the Chinese to retire south of the Yang-tse and Hang-chow was made the seat of Government. The century during which this beautiful city was the capital did not produce the greatest names in Chinese history, but it witnessed the perfection of Chinese culture, and the background of impending doom heightens the brilliancy of this literary and aesthetic life. Such a society was naturally eclectic in religion but Buddhism of the Ch’an school enjoyed consideration and contributed many landscape painters to the roll of fame. But the most eminent and perhaps the most characteristic thinker of the period was Chu-Hsi (1130-1200), the celebrated commentator on Confucius who reinterpreted the master’s writings to the satisfaction of succeeding ages though in his own life he aroused opposition as well as enthusiasm. Chu-Hsi studied Buddhism in his youth and some have detected its influence in his works, although on most important points he expressly condemned it. I do not see that there is much definite Buddhism in his philosophy, but if Mahayanism had never entered China this new Confucianism would probably never have arisen or would have taken another shape. Though the final result may be anti-Buddhist yet the topics chosen and the method of treatment suggest that the author felt it necessary to show that the Cla.s.sics could satisfy intellectual curiosity and supply spiritual ideals just as well as this Indian religion. Much of his expositions is occupied with cosmology, and he accepts the doctrine of world periods, recurring in an eternal series of growth and decline: also he teaches not exactly transmigration but the transformation of matter into various living forms. His accounts of sages and saints point to ideals which have much in common with Arhats and Buddhas and, in dealing with the retribution of evil, he seems to admit that when the universe is working properly there is a natural _Karma_ by which good or bad actions receive even in this life rewards in kind, but that in the present period of decline nature has become vitiated so that vice and virtue no longer produce appropriate results.
Chu-Hsi had a celebrated controversy with Lu Chiu-Yan, a thinker of some importance who, like himself, is commemorated in the tablets of Confucian temples, although he was accused of Buddhist tendencies.
He held that learning was not indispensable and that the mind could in meditation rise above the senses and attain to a perception of the truth. Although he strenuously denied the charge of Buddhist leanings, it is clear that his doctrine is near in spirit to the mysticism of Bodhidharma and sets no store on the practical ethics and studious habits which are the essence of Confucianism.
The att.i.tude of the Yan or Mongol dynasty (1280-1368) towards Buddhism was something new. Hitherto, whatever may have been the religious proclivities of individual Emperors, the Empire had been a Confucian inst.i.tution. A body of official and literary opinion always strong and often overwhelmingly strong regarded imperial patronage of Buddhism or Taoism as a concession to the whims of the people, as an excrescence on the Son of Heaven’s proper faith or even a perversion of it. But the Mongol Court had not this prejudice and Khubilai, like other members of his house and like Akbar in India, was the patron of all the religions professed by his subjects.
His real object was to encourage any faith which would humanize his rude Mongols. Buddhism was more congenial to them than Confucianism and besides, they had made its acquaintance earlier. Even before Khubilai became Emperor, one of his most trusted advisers was a Tibetan lama known as Pagspa, Bashpa or Pa-ssu-pa. He received the t.i.tle of Kuo-Shih, and after his death his brother succeeded to the same honours.
Khubilai also showed favour to Mohammedans, Christians, Jews and Confucianists, but little to Taoists. This prejudice was doubtless due to the suggestions of his Buddhist advisers, for, as we have seen, there was often rivalry between the two religions and on two occasions at least (in the reigns of Hui Tsung and Wu Tsung) the Taoists made determined, if unsuccessful, attempts to destroy or a.s.similate Buddhism. Khubilai received complaints that the Taoists represented Buddhism as an offshoot of Taoism and that this objectionable perversion of truth and history was found in many of their books, particularly the Hua-Hu-Ching. An edict was issued ordering all Taoist books to be burnt with the sole exception of the Tao-T-Ching but it does not appear that the sect was otherwise persecuted.
The Yan dynasty was consistently favourable to Buddhism. Enormous sums were expended on subventions to monasteries, printing books and performing public ceremonies. Old restrictions were removed and no new ones were imposed. But the sect which was the special recipient of the imperial favour was not one of the Chinese schools but Lamaism, the form of Buddhism developed in Tibet, which spread about this time to northern China, and still exists there. It does not appear that in the Yan period Lamaism and other forms of Buddhism were regarded as different sects. A lamaist ecclesiastic was the hierarchical head of all Buddhists, all other religions being placed under the supervision of a special board.
The Mongol Emperors paid attention to religious literature. Khubilai saw to it that the monasteries in Peking were well supplied with books and ordered the bonzes to recite them on stated days. A new collection of the Tripitaka (the ninth) was published 1285-87. In 1312, the Emperor Jn-tsung ordered further translations to be made into Mongol and later had the whole Tripitaka copied in letters of gold. It is noticeable that another Emperor, Chng Tsung, had the Book of Filial Piety translated into Mongol and circulated together with a brief preface by himself.
It is possible that the Buddhism of the Yan dynasty was tainted with Sktism from which the Lama monasteries of Peking (in contrast to all other Buddhist sects in China) are not wholly free. The last Emperor, Shun-ti, is said to have witnessed indecent plays and dances in the company of Lamas and created a scandal which contributed to the downfall of the dynasty. In its last years we hear of some opposition to Buddhism and of a reaction in favour of Confucianism, in consequence of the growing numbers and pretensions of the Lamas.
Whole provinces were under their control and Chinese historians dwell bitterly on their lawlessness. It was a common abuse for wealthy persons to induce a Lama to let their property be registered in his name and thus avoid all payment of taxes on the ground that priests were exempt from taxation by law.
The Mongols were driven out by the native Chinese dynasty known as Ming, which reigned from 1368 to 1644. It is not easy to point out any salient features in religious activity or thought during this period, but since the Ming claimed to restore Chinese civilization interrupted by a foreign invasion, it was natural that they should encourage Confucianism as interpreted by Chu-Hsi. Yet Buddhism, especially Lamaism, acquired a new political importance. Both for the Mings and for the earlier Manchu Emperors the Mongols were a serious and perpetual danger, and it was not until the eighteenth century that the Chinese Court ceased to be preoccupied by the fear that the tribes might unite and again overrun the Empire. But the Tibetan and Mongolian hierarchy had an extraordinary power over these wild hors.e.m.e.n and the Government of Peking won and used their goodwill by skilful diplomacy, the favours shown being generally commensurate to the gravity of the situation. Thus when the Grand Lama visited Peking in 1652 he was treated as an independent prince: in 1908 he was made to kneel.
Few Ming Emperors showed much personal interest in religion and most of them were obviously guided by political considerations. They wished on the one hand to conciliate the Church and on the other to prevent the clergy from becoming too numerous or influential. Hence very different pictures may be drawn according as we dwell on the favourable or restrictive edicts which were published from time to time. Thus T’ai-Tsu, the founder of the dynasty, is described by one authority as always sympathetic to Buddhists and by another as a crowned persecutor. He had been a bonze himself in his youth but left the cloister for the adventurous career which conducted him to the throne. It is probable that he had an affectionate recollection of the Church which once sheltered him, but also a knowledge of its weaknesses and this knowledge moved him to publish restrictive edicts as to the numbers and qualifications of monks. On the other hand he attended sermons, received monks in audience and appointed them as tutors to his sons. He revised the hierarchy and gave appropriate t.i.tles to its various grades. He also published a decree ordering that all monks should study three sutras (Lankvatra, Prajnpramit and Vajracchedik), and that three brief commentaries on these works should be compiled (see Nanjio’s Catalogue, 1613-15).
It is in this reign that we first hear of the secular clergy, that is to say, persons who acted as priests but married and did not live in monasteries. Decrees against them were issued in 1394 and 1412, but they continued to increase. It is not clear whether their origin should be sought in a desire to combine the profits of the priesthood with the comforts of the world or in an attempt to evade restrictions as to the number of monks. In later times this second motive was certainly prevalent, but the celibacy of the clergy is not strictly insisted on by Lamaists and a lax observance of monastic rules
was common under the Mongol dynasty.
The third Ming Emperor, Ch’ng-tsu, was educated by a Buddhist priest of literary tastes named Yao Kuang-Hsiao, whom he greatly respected and promoted to high office. Nevertheless he enacted restrictions respecting ordination and on one occasion commanded that 1800 young men who presented themselves to take the vows should be enrolled in the army instead. His prefaces and laudatory verses were collected in a small volume and included in the eleventh collection of the Tripitaka, called the Northern collection, because it was printed at Peking. It was published with a preface of his own composition and he wrote another to the work called the Liturgy of Kuan-yin, and a third introducing selected memoirs of various remarkable monks. His Empress had a vision in which she imagined a stra was revealed to her and published the same with an introduction. He was also conspicuously favourable to the Tibetan clergy. In 1403 he sent his head eunuch to Tibet to invite the presence of Tson?-kha-pa, who refused to come himself but sent a celebrated Lama called Halima. On arriving at the capital Halima was ordered to say ma.s.ses for the Emperor’s relatives. These ceremonies were attended by supernatural manifestations and he received as a recognition of his powers the t.i.tles of Prince of the Great Precious Law and Buddha of the Western Paradise. His three princ.i.p.al disciples were styled Kuo Shih, and, agreeably to the precedent established under the Yan dynasty, were made the chief prelates of the whole Buddhist Church. Since this time the Red or Tibetan Clergy have been recognized as having precedence over the Grey or Chinese.
In this reign the Chinese made a remarkable attempt to a.s.sert their authority in Ceylon. In 1405 a mission was sent with offerings to the Sacred Tooth and when it was ill received a second mission despatched in 1407 captured the king of Ceylon and carried him off as a prisoner to China. Ceylon paid tribute for fifty years, but it does not appear that these proceedings had much importance for religion.
In the reigns of Ying Tsung and Ching-Ti (1436-64) large numbers of monks were ordained, but, as on previous occasions, the great increase of candidates led to the imposition of restrictions and in 1458 an edict was issued ordering that ordinations should be held only once a year. The influence of the Chief Eunuchs during this period was great, and two successive holders of this post, w.a.n.g-Chn and Hsing-An, were both devoted Buddhists and induced the Emperors whom they served to expend enormous sums on building monasteries and performing ceremonies at which the Imperial Court were present.
The end of the fifteenth century is filled by two reigns, Hsien Tsung and Hsiao Tsung. The former fell under the influence of his favourite concubine Wan and his eunuchs to such an extent that, in the latter part of his life, he ceased to see his ministers and the chief eunuch became the real ruler of China. It is also mentioned both in 1468 and 1483 that he was in the hands of Buddhist priests who instructed him in secret doctrines and received the t.i.tle of Kuo-Shih and other distinctions. His son Hsiao Tsung reformed these abuses: the Palace was cleansed: the eunuchs and priests were driven out and some were executed: Taoist books were collected and burnt. The celebrated writer w.a.n.g Yang Ming lived in this reign. He defended and ill.u.s.trated the doctrine of Lu Chin-Yan, namely that truth can be obtained by meditation. To express intuitive knowledge, he used the expression _Liang Chih_ (taken from Mencius). _Liang Chih_ is inherent in all human minds, but in different degrees, and can be developed or allowed to atrophy. To develop it should be man’s constant object, and in its light when pure all things are understood and peace is obtained. The phrases of the Great Learning “to complete knowledge,” “investigate things,” and “rest in the highest excellence,” are explained as referring to the _Liang Chih_ and the contemplation of the mind by itself. We cannot here shut our eyes to the influence of Bodhidharma and his school, however fervently w.a.n.g Yang Ming may have appealed to the Chinese Cla.s.sics.
The reign of Wu-tsung (1506-21) was favourable to Buddhism. In 1507 40,000 men became monks, either Buddhist or Taoist. The Emperor is said to have been learned in Buddhist literature and to have known Sanskrit as well as Mongol and Arabic, but he was in the hands of a band of eunuchs, who were known as the eight tigers. In 1515 he sent an emba.s.sy to Tibet with the object of inducing the Grand Lama to visit Peking, but the invitation was refused and the Tibetans expelled the mission with force. The next Emperor, Shih-T’sung (1522-66), inclined to Taoism rather than Buddhism. He ordered the images of Buddha in the Forbidden City to be destroyed, but still appears to have taken part in Buddhist ceremonies at different periods of his reign. Wan Li (1573-1620), celebrated in the annals of porcelain manufacture, showed some favour to Buddhism. He repaired many buildings at P’u-t’o and distributed copies of the Tripitaka to the monasteries of his Empire. In his edicts occurs the saying that Confucianism and Buddhism are like the two wings of a bird: each requires the co-operation of the other.
European missionaries first arrived during the sixteenth century, and, had the Catholic Church been more flexible, China might perhaps have recognized Christianity, not as the only true religion but as standing on the same footing as Buddhism and Taoism. The polemics of the early missionaries imply that they regarded Buddhism as their chief rival.
Thus Ricci had a public controversy with a bonze at Hang-Chou, and his princ.i.p.al pupil Hs Kuang-Ch’i wrote a tract ent.i.tled “The errors of the Buddhists exposed.” Replies to these attacks are preserved in the writings of the distinguished Buddhist priest Shen Chu-Hung.
In 1644 the Ming dynasty collapsed before the Manchus and China was again under foreign rule. Unlike the Mongols, the Manchus had little inclination to Buddhism. Even before they had conquered China, their prince, T’ai Tsung, ordered an inspection of monasteries and limited the number of monks. But in this edict he inveighs only against the abuse of religion and admits that “Buddha’s teaching is at bottom pure and chaste, true and sincere: by serving him with purity and piety, one can obtain happiness.” Shun-Chih, the first Manchu Emperor, wrote some prefaces to Buddhist works and entertained the Dalai Lama at Peking in 1652. His son and successor, commonly known as K’ang-Hsi (1662-1723), dallied for a while with Christianity, but the net result of his religious policy was to secure to Confucianism all that imperial favour can give. I have mentioned above his Sacred Edict and the partial favour which he showed to Buddhism. He gave donations to the monasteries of P’u-t’o, Hang-chou and elsewhere: he published the Kanjur with a preface of his own and the twelfth and last collection of the Tripitaka was issued under the auspices of his son and grandson. The latter, the Emperor Ch’ien Lung, also received the Teshu Lama not only with honour, but with interest and sympathy, as is clear from the inscription preserved at Peking, in which he extols the Lama as a teacher of spiritual religion. He also wrote a preface to a sutra for producing rain in which he says that he has ordered the old editions to be carefully corrected and prayer and worship to be offered, “so that the old forms which have been so beneficial during former ages might still be blessed to the desired end.” Even the late Empress Dowager accepted the ministrations of the present Dalai Lama when he visited Peking in 1908, although, to his great indignation she obliged him to kneel at Court. Her former colleague, the Empress Tzu-An was a devout Buddhist. The statutes of the Manchu dynasty (printed in 1818) contain regulations for the celebration of Buddhist festivals at Court, for the periodical reading of sutras to promote the imperial welfare, and for the performance of funeral rites.
Still on the whole the Manchu dynasty showed less favour to Buddhism than any which preceded it and its restrictive edicts limiting the number of monks and prescribing conditions for ordination were followed by no periods of reaction. But the vitality of Buddhism is shown by the fact that these restrictions merely led to an increase of the secular clergy, not legally ordained, who in their turn claimed the imperial attention. Ch’ien Lung began in 1735 by giving them the alternative of becoming ordinary laymen or of entering a monastery but this drastic measure was considerably modified in the next few years.
Ultimately the secular clergy were allowed to continue as such, if they could show good reason, and to have one disciple each.
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