When Buddhism first began to spread into china, reactions were mixed. While many people supported the idea, others were neutral, and a large number opposed Buddhism’s growing popularity. The opinions on the spread were not always cultural; many had underlying political origins. Those that supported this idea were typically those left without rights by the old Confucian ideals or people who were looking for an alternate for Confucianism. Some reacted neutrally so as to gain the favor of both sides.
On the flip side as Buddhism began to change Confucian values, the people in power turned strictly against the new belief system in an effort to keep ancient tradition. As Buddhism spread into China, it was highly accepted into an empire looking to have a fresh start and establish a new or different belief system(other than Confucianism) to govern the state through, and many peasants and women supported this because they found welcome in this religion, while many others supported it merely for political gain.
Buddha preached of four noble truths, all of which took people and their sorrows and helped them reach enlightenment; he applied his preachings to any person, which lead to popularity and the spread of religion (Doc 1). Zhi Dun, a Buddhist scholar, promoted the practice of Buddhism, referring to enlightenment and Nirvana as examples of Buddhism’s power. Zhi Dun, being a follower of Buddha, his statement was meant to strengthen Buddhism’s following (Doc 2).
Around 500 CE, an anonymous Chinese scholar said in “The Disposition of Error” that Confucianism could not provide the same things that Buddhism could, but also recognized that both belief systems had value; his reason behind this was to say that Confucianism had not worked and that it needed to be replaced (Doc 3). Zong Mi, another Buddhist scholar, implied that Buddhism, Confucianism and even Daoism were all related (that they were all belief systems) and all had value; because he was part of the Tang house hold he took this side to advance his position in the imperial household (Doc 5).
To further examine positive reactions to the spread of Buddhism, it would be helpful to have a diary entry or letter written by a merchant along the Silk Road that witnessed Buddhism’s rise firsthand. After Buddhism gained popularity in China, elites strongly opposed its further spread; they began to urge the general population to return to more traditional values that would give power to the state. Around 819 CE, Han Yu, a Confucian scholar, petitioned to the current empower of China to decline Buddhist teachings, because they were weakening the state and discouraging Confucian values (Doc 4).
In 845 CE, the emperor of China (Tang Emperor Wu) publically announced that Buddhism was an evil that needed to be eliminated, because it was creating economic instability and moving citizens away from Confucian traditions. Of course, as a ruler, he would rather have the population live under Confucian values, than Buddhist teachings, which promoted equality (Doc 6). To further examine negative responses to the spread of Buddhism into China, it would be helpful to have a document from a Daoist elite, just to detail the role of Daoism in this situation.
Just as many opposed and supported Buddhism, there was a group that was indifferent and neutral that tried to please each opinion for political or social reasons. The anonymous Chinese scholars statements could be interpreted as being neutral rather than positive, the main message expressed is, the scholar believed that Confucian were unfairly over looking Buddhism, as it hadn’t been part of the Confucian tradition, writing anonymously allowed the scholar to criticize Confucians without punishment (Doc 3).
Zong Mi seemed to support Buddhism; yet, he also supported Confucianism and Daoism, he was neutral in loyalty, by having a place in the Tang household, he wanted to influence the emperor and persuade him to allow the three main belief systems at the time (Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism) to coexist (Doc 5). To further analyze neutral opinions on Buddhims spread into China, it would be helpful to examine an elite womans diary; as an elite she would most likely support Confucianism, but as a woman, she would most likely support Buddhism, so it would be interesting to see what kind of compromises she would make.
Buddhism’s crossing into China was met with different reactions; supporters were eager to either establish equality or gain political advantage over Confucians. Disbelievers mainly were elites distrustful of the belief systems, which went again Confucian teachings, weakened the state’s presence and power. While others were still neutral in an attempt to calm down the conflicting sides.