The ancient world is shrouded in mystery. This is especially true for ancient people’s religious beliefs, customs, traditions, and way of living. Eastern countries were always regarded as something exotic and, therefore, beckoned the explorers from all over the world. Moreover, Buddhism nowadays is considered to be one of the world’s most popular religions. Therefore, there is a need to reconsider the origin and evolution of Buddhism.
Buddhism is neither a matter of metaphysics nor theology. Basically, Buddhism is a matter of psychology (de Bary 415). The essence of Buddhism rests upon its four main doctrines, namely: – life is sorrow; – sorrow occurs because of passions; – the only way to deal with sorrow is to give up all passions; – discipline, code of conduct, and peace of mind, that one can only reach through meditation, is the only way to free oneself of passions (de Bary 416). The four main doctrines form ‘dharma’, one of the fundamental laws of the universe (de Bary 416). All entities, objects and phenomena of the universe can be classified as follows: form and matter, sensations, perceptions, psychic dispositions or constructions, and, finally, consciousness/conscious thought (de Bary 416). Chain of Causation or Dependent Origination, in its turn, is a phenomenon that regulates the correlations between objects and entities. At the same time, Chain of Causation/Dependent Origination shed light upon the conception of afterlife. It is believed that birth, death, and rebirth in Buddhism are caused by ignorance. Ignorance, in its turn, is caused by the fact “that individuality and permanence exist, when, in fact, they do not” (de Bary 416). The chain of rebirths can be broken by achieving nirvana. The three stages of achieving nirvana are as follows: reconsidering the essence of existence and “adopting the right views” about it; keeping the code of conduct; concentration and practicing meditation (de Bary 417).
Buddhist philosophy was presumably introduced around the fourth century C. E. (de Bary 435). “Six schools and seven branches” of Buddhism are claimed to be formed based on such principles as Daoan’s theory of Original Nonbering/Originally Undifferentiated and its modification by Fashen, Daolin’s theory of Matter-as-Such, and Fawen’s Theory of No Mind/Emptiness of Mind (de Bary 435). Moreover, Buddhism at its early stages was interpreted in terms of Daoism to a great extent. Evidently, these are individual/subjective interpretations developed by thinkers, none of them being referred to as a religious leader (de Bary 435). Appearance of schools in China and translation of the canonic Buddhist religious texts from Indian into Chinese have marked the process of separation of Chinese Buddhist tradition from its earlier Indian version (de Bary 435). Starting from this point it is possible to distinguish between the two main large categories of schools that existed within Chinese Buddhist tradition, namely, schools of Being and schools of Nonbeing (de Bary 435). Moreover, the notion of ‘dharmas’, meaning “the elements of existence”, has been introduced in this period as well (de Bary 435). The schools of Being and Nonbeing merely differed in their perception of ego and the self-nature of ‘dharmas’ (de Bary 435).
A famous Chinese saying claims that Tiantai and Huayan schools were founded for the doctrinal purposes, whilst Meditation and Pure Land schools were founded for the practical ones (de Bary 436). According to Esoteric/Mahayana (‘Zhenyan’) school the whole universe is based upon the three “mysteries”, namely, the mystery of action, the mystery of speech, and the mystery of thought (de Bary 436). In this regard, it is possible to assume that Buddhism was truly founded on the experience beyond words. Particularly, Esoteric/Mahayana school contributed to the development of Japanese and Tibetan Buddhist traditions (de Bary 436).
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As far as Chinese Buddhist tradition is concerned, it is important to admit the following. Confucianism and Daoism are typically considered the main philosophical trends (de Bary 77). Daoism is claimed to be introduced approximately in the second century C.E. during the reign of the Han dynasty (de Bary 77-78). Daoism is attributed to Laozi, and the concept of ‘Dao’/ a Way is one of its core aspects (de Bary 78). William Theodore de Bary (78) states the following: “In the human sphere the Laozi describes the perfect individual, the sage, who comprehends the Dao and whose life and actions are ordered in accordance with it”. Developing this idea further, Bary (78) admits: “It is clear that the sage is conceived of as the ideal ruler, for the Laozi gives definite instructions as to how the sage’s government is to be conducted”. The quote can be interpreted as follows. Laozi tends to be reflexive about the ideal of both, society and its ruler. The point is that in this particular case homage is being paid to common sense, reason, and justice.
As far as the issue of Chan is concerned, John R. McRae (125) claims the following: “… tendency to explain Ch’an by means of anecdotes involving aspirants and masters has long been part of the tradition itself”. The researcher explains the statement that Chan stands apart from words in his own way, assuming that the term ‘word’ here denotes a construct, a smallest meaningful unit of language placed out of context (McRae 125). Exploring the nature of Chan, John R. McRae (126-139) makes a reference to the Platform Sutra, exploring its context, characters, imagery, and meaning. The Platform Sutra addresses the issue of understanding the essence and purpose of Buddhism (McRae 126), as well as the concept of ‘Dharma’ (McRae 127).
At the same time, McRae (130) points that Chan has evolved approximately in the seventh century C.E. in some specific place in the mountains of south-central China. In this regard, the researcher admits that in 624 C.E. Tao-hsin, Chan`s Fourth Patriarch, settled in Huang-mei (in modern province Hupeh) (McRae 130). Tao-hsin and his successor Hung-jen, Chan`s Fifth Patriarch, taught the volunteers the art of meditation (McRae 130). Later a monastery was founded in this area. John R. McRae (131) emphasizes the importance of Hung-jen’s supervision in Huang-mei. Treaties on the Essentials of Cultivating the Mind is a text attributed to Huang-jen’s apprentices and associates. The work has to do with different meditation practices (McRae 131). Notable is the fact that ‘Chan’ as a term literary meant “East Mountain Teaching” (McRae 131). Thus, in regard to the problem of whether or not Chan was founded on the experience beyond words, it is important to admit the following. Evidently, some events of the Ancient World remain shrouded in secrecy until nowadays. At the same time, it is obvious that it had happened long before language was invented and people feared the unknown and attempted to share this experience.
As far as the issue of meditation is concerned, it is important to admit the following. ‘Tso-ch’an’, ‘zazen’ in Japanese, is a type of meditation, a set of physical exercises performed (Snehg-Yen 30). Zazen is called to concentrate, discipline oneself and one’s own mind (Sheng-Yen 31). Moreover, zazen is said to be aimed at attaining a unified mind by means of meditation (Sheng-Yen 30). Attaining a unified mind, in its turn, is by all means important for peaceful thinking, creation of a sense of at-oneness with the Universe, and perception of all things and their purpose.
Taking all the aforementioned facts into consideration, it is possible to resume as follows. People’s attempts to explain the unknown had taken place long before language was invented. Desire to share experience and obtain knowledge, to a certain extent, catalyzed the processes of language formation. On the other hand, a long period of time was required in order to accumulate knowledge and experiences that could be shared. The principle of accumulating knowledge applies to religious practices, as well as the attempt to comprehend and explain the sacred and unknown as such.
To conclude, it is important to admit that Buddhism as a philosophical and religious tradition originated in India approximately in the fourth century C.E. Latter Buddhism was introduced in Japan, Tibet and China. All of these religious traditions have much in common. Specifically Buddhists in India, Tibet, and China share a common vision of life, its purpose, death, and rebirth. These religious traditions differ from one another mostly in their vision of afterlife, understanding of human soul, and meditative practices as the means of attaining a unified mind. Throughout its history, Buddhism has revealed the link between philosophy, mental dimension of life, peace of mind, and physical exercises and succeeded in combining them. Taking the essence of Buddhism into consideration, it is possible to assume that Indian and Chinese Buddhism only differ in meditative techniques and the conception of afterlife.