Buddhism Q&A (8)
By Householder Fo'en
Q24 : When was Buddhism officially introduced into China?
A: According to historical records, in 64 C.E. Emperor Ming of the (Eastern) Han Dynasty (25-220) sent twelve emissaries to the Western Regions in search of Buddhist teachings. Three years later they returned to Luoyang with two Indian monks, Kasyapa Matanga and Dharmaratna. They brought with them Buddhist scriptures and images. The monks translated the Sutra of Forty-Two Chapters (an abridged version of the Agama scriptures). At the same time, the first Buddhist monastery, White Horse Temple, was built. It was named after the horse carrying the scriptures and images to China.
Q25 : Were the Buddhist sutras written by Shakyamuni Buddha himself?
A: No, they were not. They were recited and recorded by his disciples after the Buddha entered nirvana. The year he did so, his 500 disciples, headed by Ven. Kasyapa, assembled at Saptaparna Cave near Rajgir to compile and edit the Buddha's teachings for posterity. At the assembly Ven. Ananda recited the Sutras spoken by the Buddha, Ven. Upali recited the Vinaya (monastic regulations) established by the Buddha, and Ven. Kasyapa recited the Abhidharma, or commentaries on the Buddha's teachings. The Sutras, Vinaya and Abhidharma comprise the Tripitaka.
"Pitaka" originally meant a bamboo basket for containing things. The compilation of the Sutras, Vinaya and Abhidharma into the Tripitaka is comparable to the designation of treasured Chinese texts into jing (classics), shi (histories), zi (philosophical thought) and ji (collections) －the "Four Depositories."
Q26 : Why do Buddhist sutras start with "Thus I have heard"?
A: When the Buddha's disciples held assemblies to compile and edit the Tripitaka, the sutras were recited by Ananda. So they all begin with "Thus I have heard." It means: "The following true teachings were proclaimed by the Buddha as I, Ananda, heard them. They are authentic and trustworthy."
Q27 : Which language was used to record the early Buddhist sutras?
A: The dissemination of Buddhism can be divided into the Southern and the Northern transmissions. The southern canon was recorded in Pali (a popular dialect used in Magadha at the time of the Buddha; "pali" means "texts") and comprises the scriptures of the Smaller Vehicle. Those of the Northern tradition were in Sanskrit, mostly being Mahayana texts, with a few Theravada ones. Pali was a vernacular tongue of ancient India, while Sanskrit was a refined literary language. The Buddhism that was introduced into China was the Northern tradition. Therefore most of the scriptures in Chinese were translated from Sanskrit, though with a few were rendered from Pali.
Most of the Mahayana scriptures of the Northern transmission are preserved in the Chinese and Tibetan Tripitakas. Today Buddhism can be categorized under three major language systems: Southern Buddhism — practiced in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, India, Pakistan and Thailand as well as among ethnic minorities of China's Yunnan Province such as Dai, De'ang and Bulang, which falls under the Pali system; the Buddhism of the Hans in China, as well as of Korea, Japan and Vietnam belongs to the Chinese system; the Buddhism of Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Tujia, Qiang and Yugu and other nationalities of China, as well as that of Mongolia, Siberia and northern India, is within the Tibetan system.
- Recitation of Amitabha’s name, relying on his Fundamental Vow (the 18th)
- Rebirth of ordinary beings in the Pure Land’s Realm of Rewards
- Rebirth assured in the present lifetime
- Non-retrogression achieved in this lifetime
The 18th Vow of Amitabha Buddha
If, when I achieve Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, wish to be reborn in my land and recite my name, even ten times, should fail to be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excepted are those who commit the five gravest transgressions or slander the correct Dharma.
Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings