Buddhism was originally a branch of Hinduism.
Among the academics, Buddhism is considered a “theistic religion”. Its Deity is Sakyamuni; its doctrine is based on transmignation. Buddha in tantamount to awareness. i.e., to save himself from the sufferings of transmigration through practicing Buddhism. Its essential principle is: I do not exist in all the natural laws and all things in the universe are not constant. It is able to set a foothold in China, for its ideology has much in common with, or is the same as, the Chinese ideology.
In the first century A.D.Little Vehicle Buddhism spread to China, which was convinced that man could save himself through his own efforts, not dependent upon deities or other external forces. Monk is the
ideal image of a disciple of Little Vehicle Buddhism. The monk would shave his head, wear a yellow gown, and hold a bowl and wander about to beg for alms, as efforts to save him. He needs neither family nor property. When he finds his spiritual sustenance, he becomes Buddha.
The Great Vehicle Buddhism set its foothold in China in the Wei-Jin-Southern and Northern Dynasties. The special circumstances in
this period led to the diversified mentality of the different social strata,
which means a fertile soil for absorbing Buddhism.
That Buddhism was able to gain a footing in China was to a great extent due to the Huan-Lao Doctrine and to the search for immortality in Han Dynasties. Because of this background, the early, well-known monks coming to China, such as Fu Tucheng, Tan Wuchen, etc., were experts in sorcery also. The sorcery practices in Buddhism marked an important transition toward Great Vehicle Buddhism, which evolved into polytheism.
At first, Buddhism spread in China only in the upper strata of the society, among the royal family, nobles and landlords. There were only a
scanty number of Buddhist temples in the large cities for the use of
monks and merchants coming to China from the Western Region, whereas legally, the Chinese were not permitted to renounce the family and be monks. In the Three-Kingdom period the study of Prajna began to become an independent academic discipline in the Wei Kingdom and Wu Kingdom. In the Wei kingdom the spread of Buddhism only concentrated on the translation and introduction of Buddhist commandments and precepts, because worship of deities and dead ancestors were considered “licentious worship” and prohibited, and because large-scale worshipping
ceremonies for deities held among the folk were prohibited in the pretext of “licentious sacrifice”. On the other hand, in the eastern Wu Kingdom ruled by Sun Quan, an indulgent, even favorable policy toward Buddhism was adopted, so that Buddhism developed more in the south of the Yangtze River. Thus Buddhism in the South rivaled with Buddhism in the North, which was centered at Luoyang (in modern Henan Province). Basically the attitude of the royal family of Wu Kingdom was in support of Buddhism, which set a precedent for the attitudes toward Buddhism taken by the royal families of the forthcoming Six-Dynasties.
In 290 A.D. the “Turbulence of Eight Princes” broke out among the royal kinsmen. The northern minorities then squeezed their way down to the Central Plains. North China bogged in serious split and disruption. In the larger new kingdoms, such as the Later-Zhao, the Early-Qin, the Later-Qin and the Northern Liang, Buddhism developed quickly. In the Later-Zhao, while the traditional Chinese Classics were promoted, the Han literati were used as officials, and the Han culture was used to educate all the minority nationalities. The saintly monk Fu Tucheng was revered and his “miracles” were advertised among the populace, thus contributing to the fast development of Buddhism. The Early-Qin Kingdom “gathered thousands of monks to propagate
Buddhism”. The Later-Qin Kingdom gathered 5,000 monks, thus
inaugurating a dynasty with the most thriving culture among the Sixteen Kingdoms. The Northern Liang Kingdom opened up communication with countries in the Western Region , built many Buddhist statues and invited Tan Wuchen to translate Buddhist canons , thus promoting Buddhism and spreading its influence as far as Chang’an
( modern Xi’an )
and Jianye ( modern Nanjing ).
The Eastern – Jin Dynasty succeeded the Western-Jin Dynasty and exercised its sovereignty over the South of the Yangtze River. The study of Prajna pertaining to Buddhism that prevailed earlier in the Wei-Wu- Western Jin period now infiltrated the scholar-officialdom. An increasing number of renowned monks emerged and more literati were interested in discussing Buddhist doctrines. All emperors of the Eastern Jin Dynasty believed in Buddhism and made friends with monks and nuns, giving them special favorable treatment and even allowing them to enter the imperial palace and intervene in the state affairs. The scholar-officials did no less. They got interested in Buddhist scriptures and built Buddhist
temples. They provided food and clothes for hundreds of monks but would not succor their poverty-stricken relatives and friends. The building of imposing temples in a large scale by the royal families and nobles formed a special feature of Buddhist religion in the Eastern Jin nobles formed a special feature of Buddhist religion is the Eastern Jin Dynasty . That means a new social stratum, the monks had come into being and Buddhism had got a firm foot in China.
The development and dissemination of Buddhism in the Eastern-Jin and the Sixteen-Kingdoms made it a common belief of all the nationalities, which promoted the mutual understanding and communication of the nationalities in the North and South of China. In
the split situation at that time, the development of Buddhism played a very significant role in breaking the bounds between the Han nationality and the other nationalities and in maintaining mentally their identification with each other. Also, to a certain extend, Buddhism played a role in stopping killings and stabilizing the society.