Free «Buddhist Doctrines and Practices» Essay
Religion has always played a very important role in the life of any society. It has a strong impact on the formation of values and principles that serve as the basis for human behavior. Buddhism significantly influenced the Chinese civilization as it was one of the most popular religions since the time when it first appeared on these territories. This essay will analyze several documents that describe Buddhist doctrines and practices as people understood them during the Age of Division and the Tang and Song dynasties. The paper will also explore how these texts reflect the values and ideas that were dominating in the Chinese society of those periods.
The first document available in the section about Buddhist doctrines and practices is a brief description of the traditions and values of this religion. Its author is a Chinese historian Wei Shou who lived in the sixth century. He tried to give a selection of the most important Buddhist values and compose a general picture of Buddhist teachings. Wei Shou drew attention to the fact that Buddhists believed that “everything in this and all other lives is a result of karma” (Ebrey 98). Wei Shou also added, “The conscious spirit is never destroyed” (Ebrey 98). The historian paid much attention to the spiritual aspects of Buddhism, but he also focused on the everyday practices common to the believers. For example, he described the life of monks and nuns and gave short biographical information about Buddha whom he often called by name – Shakyamuni.
Very interesting information about the Buddhist sacred texts and commentaries upon these texts allows the readers to understand better the basis of this religion. The author of this document tried to be neutral and objective. He did not express any opinion about the Buddhist teachings, and simply informed readers about the facts. This approach gives the possibility to make conclusions about the high level of reliability of this text and its usefulness for the analysis of the sixth century Buddhism.
The second document is of more biographic nature and presents the life account of two monks. These abstracts are taken from the text titled Lives of Eminent Monks written in the sixth century. These biographies describe the lives of Zhu Seng Du and Seng Baozhi. Zhu Seng Du had a family, but when many of his relatives died, he “realized the transience of this world” and decided to join the Buddhist order (Ebrey 99). However, his wife wrote him a letter. This letter and Seng Du’s reply to it occupy the most part of his biographic account. This part not only offers many details about the way people become monks and nuns, but also explains the nature of interactions between Buddhism and Confucianism as in the letter of Seng Du’s wife there are many references to the Confucian teachings. The biography of Seng Baozhi is larger than the previous one, and this monk seems to be more widely-known than Seng Du. The texts describe many different episodes from Seng Baozhi’s life and his relations with other eminent monks and country rulers. It is interesting that, in contrast to the biography of Seng Du, the information about Seng Baozhi contains some mystical details. For example, the author mentioned that once Seng Baozhi asked to slice him a fish and ate it; but when he left, “the fish was still alive and swimming in the bowl as before” (Ebrey 101). Both biographies are crucial for understanding the life and daily routines of Buddhist monks.
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The third text is an example of Buddhist colophons that present several sutras probably copied by nobles or clergy as a means of achieving religious harmony. These colophons were in Dunhuang in one of the Buddhist caves located in this area. This document consists of five abstracts that tell about different people, historic events or Buddhist disciples. All of these parts have the date, and some have the name of the person who copied or recorded it. It allows the researchers to create a proper timeline and coordinate these texts with other events happening during this period. The second abstract is of particular interest as it offers Buddhist views on the role of genders in the society. It said, “This explain how… nun Daorong – because her conduct in the previous life was not correct – came to be born in her present form, a woman, vile and unclean” (Ebrey 102). The text also throws light on how such colophons emerge and what people usually commissioned them and for what reasons. The third part of this section also presents a typical Buddhist prayer that explains what areas of life were of particular importance for the people of that period. For example, it proves that the society was mainly agricultural because the prayer contained such words “the wind and rain may obey the proper seasons” (Ebrey 103).
The forth document, also from Dunhuang, is slightly different from the first three texts as it is a folk song that tells about a woman growing older. This text does not have any direct references to Buddhist principles, but it shows how deeply these ideas integrated into the people’s lives as the song has a strong Buddhist motif of transience that constitutes one of the main rules of this religion. It proves how Buddhism “changed the religious landscape” of China (Hansen 153).The song includes ten stanzas, each of them describing the ten-year period in the woman’s life. The song gives very realistic details about the role of women and their duties in the Chinese society, but at the same time, it clearly shows, especially closer to the end of the song, that the Buddhist ideas about the transience of the being significantly influenced how the people understood their daily routines. At every stage of the woman’s life, the song compares her to some natural object or phenomena. For instance, at the tenth, she was “like a flowering branch in the rain” and at twenty she was “a spring bud” (Ebrey 104).