How did Buddhist thought influence China according to Traditions & Encounters by Bentley and Ziegler?

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Buddhism is believed to have entered China when it came along with traders along the silk roads.  It reached China as early as the second century BCE.  The main way that Buddhist thought influenced China was by causing Buddhism to become a very popular religion.

Bentley and Ziegler argue (on p. 235 in the brief second edition of Traditions & Encounters) that Buddhism was popular in China because it was an intellectually sophisticated religion, because it set high standards of morality, and because it promised people salvation in a way that Confucianism really did not emphasize.  For these reasons, many Chinese became Buddhist.

Their embrace of Buddhism led that faith to become a very important part of Chinese life.  Monasteries appeared in all the major cities of China.  Monasteries (like those in Western Europe in the Middle Ages) accumulated large estates that were donated to them.  This meant that the monasteries were wealthy and important parts of the Chinese economy.  They often helped peasants get by in hard economic times.  Finally, Bentley and Ziegler say that Buddhism affected China by causing many Chinese to go on pilgrimages to India.  This deepened the importance of the faith in China.

Thus, Buddhist thought affected China by leading to the conversion of many people.  This, in turn, made Buddhism and Buddhist religious organizations a central part of Chinese society.

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According to Traditions & Encounters by Bentley and Ziegler, how did China influence Buddhism?

Buddhism was, of course, founded in India.  It then spread across Asia and was very influential in many different countries of East Asia.  As Buddhism spread, it was influenced by the countries into which it entered.  One of these countries (the largest of them) was China.  Buddhism entered China with merchants travelling on the silk roads.  It may have entered China as early as the second century BCE.

The major effect that China had on Buddhism was to create what Bentley and Ziegler call (on p. 235 of the brief second edition of Traditions & Encounters)”a syncretic faith, a Buddhism with Chinese characteristics.”  (This is a play on Deng Xiaoping’s later saying that China should build “socialism with Chinese characteristics.)  Bentley and Ziegler point out that Chan Buddhism (called Zen in Japan) was very popular in China.  This was in part because many Chinese had been Daoists with little interest in written texts and Chan Buddhism did not emphasize written texts.  Instead, it emphasized “sudden flashes of insight.”  The Buddhists tailored many of their teachings to seem more familiar to Chinese who had grown up in the Daoist tradition.

In these ways, China affected Buddhism by causing it to adapt and become more familiar and congenial to Chinese culture.

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