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Buddhist Journalism: Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism Intermingle to Produce Basic Elements of a non-Western News Paradigm

By Shelton A. Gunaratne

Professor of mass communications emeritus at  Minnesota State University Moorhead

I begin this essay with an attempt to document how Buddhism itself experienced the three features of existence—anicca (impermanence), anatta (no self/interdependence) and dukkha(unsatisfactoriness)—over the last 20 centuries from the time of its introduction to China in the 1st century. To do so, I examine Buddhism as a force that became interdependent, interconnected and interactive with Confucianism and Daoism, the two major thought patterns, as well as the minor ones like Mohism and Legalism, prevalent in China.

Confucianism v Buddhism

Confucianism was based on the teachings of Kongzi (551-479 BCE), a contemporary of Buddha.  It propagated social justice within the framework of the feudal bureaucratic social order. It emphasized ren (benevolence/ love) and li (rites) to maintain the social hierarchy. Three additional virtues made up its Five Constants: yi (righteousness), zhi (wisdom) and xin(fidelity/ sincerity). It also emphasized education and pioneered the advocacy of private schools. Confucius is particularly famous for teaching students according to their intellectual inclinations. The Analects, compiled by Confucius’ students a half-century after the master’s death, had a tremendous impact on Chinese society ever since. Subsequently, Mencius (389-305 BCE) made an important contribution to Confucianism by advocating a policy of benign paternalistic government and a philosophy that human beings are good by nature. Confucianism  became the orthodox ideology in feudal China; and, in the long course of history, it drew on Daoism and Buddhism. By the 12th century, Confucianism had evolved into a rigid philosophy that called for preserving heavenly laws and (as in Buddhism) repressing human desires.

 Confucianism in particular raised fierce opposition to Buddhism in early history, principally because it perceived Buddhism to be a nihilistic worldview, with a negative impact on society at large. The prominence of Confucianism in the Chinese society forced Buddhism to endorse certain uniquely Confucian values. Over time as Buddhism became increasingly accepted by the Chinese intellectual class, relations between these two philosophies became more symbiotic. For example, Buddhism shares many commonalities with Neo-Confucianism, which is Confucianism with more religious elements. (Wikipedia)

Daoism v Buddhism

Lao Zi (circa sixth century BCE), who was Confucius’ teacher, is considered the originator of Daoism. The Daodejing (The Classic of the Virtue of the Dao), the masterpiece controversially attributed to him, is the sourcebook of Daoism. Lao Zi believed in the dialectical philosophy of “action by inaction” (wu wei). Daoism emphasized the unity of Nature. Its Three Jewels are: compassion/ pity, moderation/frugality and humility (illustrated by “abstention from aggressive war and capital punishment,” “absolute simplicity of living” and “refusal to assert active authority.” Daoists considered the social knowledge valued by Confucians and Legalists to be rational but false. What Daoists sought was knowledge of the way of Nature/ Dao, which encompassed everything (comparable to Brahman in Hinduism).  Zhuang Zhou (369-286 BCE), the main advocate of Daoism during the Warring States period, founded a relativism calling for the absolute freedom of the subjective mind. In contrast to Confucianism, Daoism advocated liberation from all social bonds; and it yearned for “some kind of primitive collectivism.” Later Daoism incorporated the Dhammic concept of rebirth: “There is birth, there is death, there is issuing forth, there is entering in. That through which one passes in and out without seeing its form, that is the Portal of God (Zhuang Zhou 23). Daoism has greatly influenced Chinese thinkers, writers and artists.

Daoism and Buddhism influenced each other in many ways while often competing for influence. Daoism in its early form was a mixture of early mythology, folk religion and Daoist philosophy. The arrival of Buddhism forced Daoism to renew and restructure itself into a more organized religion, while addressing similar existential questions raised by Buddhism. Early Buddhism was sometimes seen as a kind of foreign relative of Daoism and its scriptures were often translated into Chinese with Daoist vocabulary. Ch’an Buddhism in particular holds many beliefs in common with philosophical Daoism. (Wikipedia)

Buddhism in China

Buddhism originated in the Indian subcontinent in the 6th century BCE. Buddha concluded that life in the bhavacakra reflected dukkha (suffering/ unsatisfactoriness) engendered by tanha(desire) and other conditional factors. Thus, Buddhists believed that life was suffering; therefore, spiritual emancipation was their highest goal. After a few centuries of assimilation with the Chinese belief systems, Buddhism itself evolved into many sects during the Sui and Tang Dynasties and became localized. In that process, Buddhism demonstrated the truth of its own doctrine of dependent co-arising (paticcasamuppada). Mutual causality placed it between the yang extreme of conservative Confucianism and the yin extreme of libertarian Daoism. Chinese Buddhism played a very important role on traditional ideology and art.

Indian missionaries did not thrust Buddhism upon an unwilling Chinese. Buddhism came on the invitation of the Eastern Han Emperor Ming (58–75 CE), who sent an envoy to Tianzhu (Southern India) expressing his desire to learn more about Buddhism. Two Indian monks—Dharmarakṣa and Kaśyapa Mātaṅga—arrived in China with Sanskrit Buddhist sutras mounted on the backs of two white horses.

The White Horse Temple in Luoyang (Henan Province), the Eastern Han capital, was established in 68 CE to commemorate the event. Luoyang became the “cradle of Chinese Buddhism,” where Buddhist missionaries from Central Asia—two Parthians named An Shigao and An Xuan—translated a corpus of Sarvāstivāda and Mahayana texts less than a century later; and two Kushan monks from Gandhara named Lokaksema and Zhi Yao completed more translations later in the second century. Lokaksema’s works include the translation of the Pratyutpanna Sutra, containing the first known mentions of the Buddha Amitabha; his Pure Land, said to be at the origin of Pure Land practice in China; and the first known translations of  the Prajñāpāramitā Sutra, a founding text of Mahayana Buddhism.

In the late 4th century, a Kuchean monk named Kumārajīva elevated the status of Buddhism in China with his superior translations of Mahayana texts such as the Diamond Sutra, the Amitabha Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra, the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra. Different Indian monks translated the four major Sanskrit āgamas also at this time.

Before Buddhism got established, it suffered a high degree of dukkha because of adversarial criticism of its monasticism; its aversion to social affairs and to the authority of the state; and its barbarism. However, these criticisms failed to withstand the truth of anicca.

However, the proliferation of Buddhist texts by the 5th century stimulated Buddhism itself to branch off in new directions. Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism, associated with the legendary Indian monk Bodhidharma, (a Tamil born in Kanchipuram) was highly influenced by Daoism. Based on the principles found in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, and which teaches the One Vehicle (Ekayāna) to Buddhahood. It reflected the Daoist distrust of scripture, text and even language. Ch’an Buddhism expanded to become the largest sect in Chinese Buddhism. Its followers in Japan adjusted name to Zen.

In turn, during the Tang period, Daoism incorporated Buddhist elements such as monasteries, vegetarianism, prohibition of alcohol, the doctrine of emptiness and collecting scripture in tripartite organization. Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism deeply influenced one another.  Together, they embraced a humanist philosophy emphasizing moral behavior and human perfection. Eventually, most Chinese identified to some extent with all three traditions simultaneously. This became institutionalized when aspects of the three schools were synthesized in the Neo-Confucian school.

Also, during this period, Hui Yuan established the practice of Pure Land Buddhism, which focused on Amitābha Buddha and his western pure land. Another major early branch of Mahayana Buddhism was the Tiantai (Tendai in Japan) School that Zhiyi established on the primacy of the Lotus Sutra.

A Chinese monk named Xuanzang spent 16 years in the Indian subcontinent from 629 to 645 exploring the holy sites and studying under Buddhist masters, particularly at the renowned Nalanda University, which the marauding Muslims destroyed in the late12th century thereby extinguishing Buddhism itself from India.  Xuanzang returned to China with 657 Sanskrit texts and other Buddhist paraphernalia mounted on 22 horses. He set up a translation bureau in Xi’an, where he initiated the development of the Faxiang School in East Asia.

The Kaiyuan’s Three Great Enlightened Masters—Subhakarasimha, Vajrabodhi and Amoghavajra—established Esoteric Buddhism in China from 716 to 720 during the reign of emperor Xuanzong. They brought to the Chinese a mysterious, dynamic and magical teaching. However, it was around this time that three Chinese emperors almost expunged Buddhism from China.

Between the 6th century and 10th century, three emperors made four attempts to kill Buddhism: when Wu Di of the Northern Zhou Dynasty made two attempts in 574 and 577 to abolish Buddhism by confiscating land owned by the clergy and passing the property on to his own soldiers; third, in 845, when Wuzong of the Tang Dynasty forced all Buddhist clergy into lay life or into hiding and confiscated their property; and fourth, in 955, when Shizong of the Later Zhou Dynasty destroyed 3,336 of China’s 6,030 Buddhist temples to extract the copper from the Buddhist statues to mint more coins. But no emperor was able to prevent the rebirth of Buddhism, not even the Communist emperors of the last century.
Conclusion

I skip the history of Chinese Buddhism from 10th  century to 21st century—from Song Dynasty through Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties to the ruling Communist “dynasty”—because my outline of its history of the first 10 centuries is sufficient to attest the validity of the Principle of Dependent Co-arising (paticcasamuppada). The intermingling of the Dhammic faiths in India with the Daoic faiths in China through the bridge of (Mahayana) Buddhism (over a bhavacakra time span of 20 centuries) allows us to construct a distinct Eastern cosmology as a complement to Western cosmology that dominates the contemporary news paradigm.   

I have outlined the essence of Western cosmology in Part 3 of this series and the essence of Eastern cosmology derived from Buddhism (both Hinayana and Mahayana) in Part 4 of this series).  Scholars and practitioners must now determine the news values pertinent to the Eastern News Paradigm keeping in mind that the overall goal of Buddhist philosophy is the reduction of “suffering.”

Namarupa labeled BS should cease to whine about the Nalanda Massacre of Buddhists in 1193 because it has no relevance to developing an alternative/optional news paradigm reflecting the philosophy of the East. Moreover, Buddhism in India is not dead. It is waiting in the womb of the ever-changing Godhead Shakti going through the process of re-becoming  awaiting its  rebirth.

Evidently, the Theravadins who boast of practicing and preserving the pristine form of Buddhism fail to comprehend that nothing can withstand the truth of anicca (impermanence). While the Mahayanists from India and Central Asia did the hard work to propagate Buddhism in China, the Theravadins made no attempt to translate the Pali Canon to Chinese at the time when the Chinese were open to understand the wisdom of Buddha.

It is surprising that Theravada Buddhism is still practiced by some Chinese at all. But they are confined to minority communities like the Shan and the Dai, in parts of southwest China. They are mainly found in the Yunnan Province, especially in prefectures such as Xishuanbanna, Dehong, Simao, Lincang and Baoshan. Nationalities such as the Blang, De’ang and Achang are  Theravada Buddhists.

Source: LankaWeb Posted on July 10th, 2011

Professor Shelton Gunaratne is the author of the book The Dao of the Press: A Humanocentric Theory (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press. 2005)

Setting up of this website was sponsored by SJ Mets Consultants PTY Ltd of Perth, Australia in memory of J.H.A. Gunadasa & S.T. Jayasinghe, beloved fathers of Sunil and Aruni.
May they attain Nibbana