Buddhism and Eastern religions

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"Gathering the Light" from the Taoist book The Secret of the Golden Flower, translated by C. G. Jung and Richard Wilhelm

Buddhism has interacted with several East Asian religions such as Taoism and Shintoism since it spread from India during the 2nd century AD.


The relationships between Taoism and Buddhism are complex, as they influenced each other in many ways while often competing for influence. Taoism in its early form was a mixture of early mythology, folk religion, and Taoist philosophy. The arrival of Buddhism forced Taoism 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 Taoism and its scriptures were often translated into Chinese with Taoist vocabulary. Chan Buddhism in particular holds many beliefs in common with philosophical Taoism.[1]

Daoist (Taoist) simplicity stimulated Chan's abandonment of Buddhist theory and was accompanied by another traditional Daoist feature—the emphasis on total absorption in practice of a highly cultivated skill.[2]

The coexistence of Chinese Buddhism and Taoism has also resulted in various Buddhist deities being adopted into the Taoist pantheon, and vice versa. For example, in Taoism, the Chinese Buddhist deva and Bodhisattva Marici is often syncretized with the Taoist goddess Doumu, who is regarded as the personification of the Big Dipper as well as the feminine aspect of the cosmic God of Heaven.[3] In another example, the Taoist god of war and fraternity, Guan Yu, has been adopted by Buddhism and he is widely venerated as Sangharama Bodhisattva (伽蓝菩萨; 伽藍菩薩; Qiélán Púsà), a Bodhisattva or deva who serves as a dharmapala of Buddhist monasteries. According to Buddhist legends, in 592, the spirit of Guan Yu manifested himself one night before the Chan master Zhiyi and requested the master to teach him about the dharma. After receiving Buddhist teachings from the master, Guan Yu took refuge in the triple gems and also requested the Five Precepts, making a vow to become a guardian of temples and the dharma. The syncretism between Chinese Esoteric Buddhism and Taoism was particularly extensive.[4] For instance, the nine-fold configuration of the Mandala of the Two Realms in Zhenyan and Shingon Buddhism was influenced and adopted from the Taoist Lo Shu Square and the I Ching.[5]


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 Neo-Confucianists had therefore to attack Buddhist cosmological views by affirming, in the firstplace, the reality and concreteness of the universe and of man."[6]


Before Prince Shotoku made Buddhism the national religion of Japan, many opposed the integration of Buddhism into Japan. Once this forced integration occurred, Japan synchronized Buddhism with its native religion Shinto, resulting in a unique sect of Buddhism existing only on the East Asian Island.[7]

In the Japanese religion of Shinto, the long coexistence of Buddhism and Shintoism resulted in the merging of Shintoism and Buddhism. Gods in Shintoism were given a position similar to that of Hindu gods in Buddhism. Moreover, because the Buddha Vairochana's symbol was the sun, many equated Amaterasu, the sun goddess, as his previous bodhisattva reincarnation. According to Helen Hardacre, by the Heian period, a theory named wakō dōjin (和光同塵) had emerged. The Buddha and Kami had taken on a new form as saviors of man, who "dim their light and mingle with the dust of the world". This not only relates the two religions, but demonstrates a marked difference in status between the two deities at this period in time.[8] The later Tokugawa Shogunate era saw a revival of Shinto, and some Shinto scholars began to argue that Buddhas were previous incarnations of Shinto gods, reversing the traditional positions of the two religions. Shinto and Buddhism were officially separated during the Meiji Restoration and the brief, but socially transformative rise of State Shinto followed. In post-war modern Japan, most families count themselves as being of both religions, despite the idea of "official separation".

As time went on, the Japanese became more and more accustomed to including both the kami and Buddhist ideas in their spiritual lives. Philosophers put forward the idea that the kami were "transformations of the Buddha manifested in Japan to save all sentient beings".[9]

In addition, Buddhism played an important part in the religious legitimation of Japanese emperors via Shintoism.

It is noteworthy that the Sui were the first Chinese dynasty with which the newly emergent centralising Japanese state came into contact, so the practice of using Buddhism as an officially sanctioned religion would have been demonstrated to the Japanese as a political reality.[10]

The interplay between Taoism, Buddhism, and Shinto in China and Japan stimulated the adoption of the Chinese practice of state-sanctioned religion and religious legitimation through association with divinity by the Japanese government. The official implementation of the term tennō (天皇) to refer to the Japanese emperor is also widely agreed to take place during the latter part of the 7th century, as a result of these interactions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Zürcher, Erik (1980). "Buddhist Influence on Early Taoism: A Survey of Scriptural Evidence". T'oung Pao. 66 (1/3): 84–147. doi:10.1163/156853280X00039. ISSN 0082-5433. JSTOR 4528195.
  2. ^ Taoism and Buddhism Archived 2012-05-22 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Heguanzi (2013). The Pheasant Cap Master and the end of history : linking religion to philosophy in early China. Marnix Wells (First ed.). St. Petersburg, FL. ISBN 978-1-387-08107-3. OCLC 1005481319.
  4. ^ Orzech, Charles D. (1989). "Seeing Chen-Yen Buddhism: Traditional Scholarship and the Vajrayāna in China". History of Religions. 29 (2): 87–114. doi:10.1086/463182. ISSN 0018-2710. JSTOR 1062679. S2CID 162235701.
  5. ^ Orzech, Charles D. (1989). "Seeing Chen-Yen Buddhism: Traditional Scholarship and the Vajrayāna in China". History of Religions. 29 (2): 87–114. doi:10.1086/463182. ISSN 0018-2710. JSTOR 1062679. S2CID 162235701.
  6. ^ Early Neo-Confucian View of Chinese Buddhism
  7. ^ The Synchronization of Shinto and Buddhism in Japan Archived May 16, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Hardacre, Helen, 1949- (2017). Shinto : a history. New York. ISBN 978-0-19-062171-1. OCLC 947145263.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Shinto history: BBC Religions
  10. ^ Shinto in history : ways of the kami. Breen, John, 1956-, Teeuwen, Mark. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press. 2000. ISBN 0-8248-2362-1. OCLC 43487317.CS1 maint: others (link)

Further reading[edit]

  • Arthur F. Wright, (1971) Buddhism in Chinese History, Stanford University Press, Stanford California.
  • Tang Yijie, (1991) Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, Christianity, and Chinese Culture, University of Peking, The Council for research in values and philosophy
  • Christine Mollier, (2008) Buddhism and Taoism Face to Face: Scripture, Ritual, and Iconographic exchange in Medieval China, University of Hawaii Press.
  • Fung Yu-Lan and Derk Bodde (1942),The Rise of Neo-Confucianism and Its Borrowings From Buddhism and Taoism, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies

External links[edit]