The Great Buddhist Emperors of Asia

by Shibani Dutta | 2018 | 86,618 words

This study deals with the patronage of Buddhism in Asia by the ruling powers and nobility. It further discusses in detail the development of Buddhism under the patronage of the royal dynasties in the religious history of Asia right from the time of 3rd century B.C. (i.e., the reign of Ashoka) to the reign of Kublai Khan in 13th century A.C....

Chapter 4 - Chinese Emperor Yu Tee (502 A.C.–549 A.C.)

Emperor Yu Tee was the real founding emperor of the Liang Dynasty of Chinese history (502-549 A.C). The Liang Dynasty, also known as the Southern Liang Dynasty, was the third of the Southern Dynasties during the period of China’s Southern and Northern Dynasties. Yu Tee was a relative of the emperor of the Nan Qi Dynasty (479-502 A.C), one of six dynasties that existed in South China in the turbulent period between the Han and Tang Dynasties. He led a successful revolt against the Nan Qi after his elder brother was put to death by the emperor. He proclaimed himself the First emperor of the Liang Dynasty in 502 A.C. His reign proved to be longer and more stable than that of any other southern emperor in this period.

A devout believer in Buddhism, Yu Tee diligently promoted Buddhism. He was instrumental in preparing the first Chinese “Tripitaka” or collection[1] of all Buddhist scriptures. He renounced the world and entered the monastery in 527, in 529 and again in 547. He was persuaded to reassume office only with great difficulty. He played a vital role in spreading Buddhism in China during his reign. He may not be as powerful and prosperous as Emperor Ashoka in India, but so far as the work for the spread of Buddhism is concerned, he can be compared with the emperor Dharmashoka. Several times, Emperor Yu Tee relinquished his office as emperor and lived as a monk in Buddhist Monasteries. The Buddhist monks were to give obedience to their superiors at a monastery. This was a difficult situation because in China, obedience was to be given only to the emperor. To solve this problem, Emperor Yu Tee was given the title of Bodhisattva. He was known as the imperial Bodhisattva and Buddhist son of Heaven. Despite this fact, it is claimed that he did not accord royal patronage to Buddhism.

Buddhism is the oldest foreign religion of China. It had become five hundred years old there. The origin of the relation between India and China can be traced on the basis of ancient edicts and inscriptions. Buddhism in China merged with native Taoism and folk religion. When early Buddhist scriptures were translated into Chinese, Taoist terminology based on native religion was often used. People interpreted the scripture in their own native ways. During Yei and I-tsing period, the influence of Buddhism on the Chinese people and their culture was deep and lasting. Inscriptions to this effect have been found in plenty. But one thing should be borne in mind that, in the beginning the Chinese were opposed to Buddhism as an alien faith. The conditions were not so favourable to Buddhism initially, as they were in the then Sinhala (now Shrilanka) where it had no opposition or opponent faith. Still Buddhism has had a long history in China.

The introduction and spread of Buddhism were hastened by the decline of Confucianism and Taoism. There are many mythological stories regarding the entry of Buddhism in China. It is said in the book of “Liya Halje” that once Eawoo, a minister of Chinese king wood, asked Confucius, the great religious teacher in China, a question—“who is the noblest man in the world?” Lord Confucius replied to the minister thus. “I have heard of the noblest, divine and great person living in the West”. It was on the basis of this legend many Chinese Buddhists thought that Lord Confucius has known about the Supreme Enlightenment of Lord Buddha.

Ven. Tao Anan, a monk in his compiled and scrutinised list of Buddhist scriptures writes, “During the period of Emperor Ching Shih Rhanti, there were eighteen foreign novices residing in China” One of them named Shri Bandhu Shraman (novice) had given to the emperor some Buddhist sermons(suttas). But the emperor did not believe in him and instead imprisoned him. A strange incident followed thereafter. An eight-foot tall golden man appeared and released the Shraman (novice). Later on the emperor had to believe on the suttas.. Apart from this, it is accepted as a fact exemplified in the inscriptions about Buddhism and Taoism engraved during the period of Yei royal dynasty. It may, therefore, be presumed that Buddhism entered China at the times of Emperor[2] Yu Tee (148 to 80 B.C).

Historic edicts engraved in the same period also acquaint us that it was Chiang Ching who had made the mention of Hian Tu. All other historians are silent about Buddhism in China prior to the abovementioned time. We find proofs to this effect in the book “Later Han Dynasty” written by Fanvi during the period of Lian-Sung (420-473 A.C). When the first Buddhist scriptures came to China, the Han Empire existed. After it fell, there were separate kingdoms and other empires that had their own religions and different degrees of contact with Buddhists in Central Asia, South Asia and South East Asia. Different kind of Buddhism developed in these countries. Hence the religious history is complicated with many different sects. Still it is presumed that the Buddhist way of life reached China during the later part of earlier Han Dynastic regime. The first mention about entry of Buddhism in China is found in a book entitled “Yei Liao”, a historical treatise written by U. Huan (239-265 A.C).

The beginning of relations between India and China dates back to around 64 A.C. The silk route was meant for trade and commerce between India and China. But it was also a source of Buddhism in China. In fact, ancient India’s biggest export to ancient China was Buddhism which had so much influence on China that virtually the whole of China became Buddhist in course of time. Han Dynasty China was deeply Confucian. Confucianism is focused on ethics and aims at maintaining harmony and social order in society. Buddhism, on the other hand, emphasized entering the monastic life to seek a reality beyond reality. Though Confucian China was not always friendly to Buddhism, the new faith gradually spread. A few Buddhist monks began translating Buddhist sutras and commentaries from Sanskrit into Chinese.

The book “Buddha and the chronology of Mahasthavir inscriptions” composed by priest Chihayang during the Sung period (1127-1280) states that emperor Mingati of Eastern Han Race (Later period) in 7th year of his rule had visualized in dream a golden man around whose throat shining sunrays emitted and who came flying into his royal palace. The next day the emperor’s countries interpreted the meaning of the dream and said,.The golden man was Lord Buddha of the west, who was a contemporary of Chon royal dynasty.. The emperor was so much impressed by this dream that he deputed his Commander-General Tshie-Min, medicinal experts Ming-Ching, Wang Tsuan etc for the purpose of studying the Buddhist scriptures. He sent a diplomatic mission comprising eighteen persons to India to study the Buddhist scriptures and to bring two Indian monks. After a period of two years this mission came into contact with two Indian monks. Their Chinese names were Kia-Meh-Mon-Tan (Kashyapa Matanga) and Chu-Fa-Lan. They had brought with them many Buddhist scriptures in Sanskrit and the images of Lord Buddha. This diplomatic mission carried these two Indian monks on the back of white horse Lo Aang in the year 65 A.C. After the meeting with the emperor, these monks started living in Holu Vihara. The following year, the emperor built near the western gate of “Lo Aang” town, a new Swetaswa (white horse) Vihara. During his stay, Ven Kashyapa Matanga began to translate “Dwichatwarshat., i.e..A Sutra of Forty-two Chapters”. Translation of this sutra is considered to be the first Buddhist scripture to be translated into the Chinese language.

Eighty one years after Ven. Kashyapa Matanga, the age of translation began. The work of Kashyapa Matanga in China was not so much deep rooted but the credit for the consolidation of the foundation of Buddhism in China goes to a Parthian prince named Shikau. In fact, the first documented translation of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit and various other Indian languages into Chinese occurred with the arrival of this prince turned monk. We learn from his life that he had renounced his royal throne and had become a Buddhist monk. He came to China in 148 A.C and began residing in the Lo-Aang Sweatswa Vihara. He worked to establish Buddhist temples in Luoyang and organized the translation of Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. It may be described as the beginning of a wave of Central Asian Buddhist proselytism that was to last several centuries. Shikau translated Buddhist text o basic doctrines, meditation and abhidharma. He also translated an early Mahayana Buddhist text on the Bodhisattva path. During his twenty years stay in China, Ven. Shikau spent[3] his time and energy in spreading Buddhism there. He had translated five Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. But according to the Nengeo Catalogue only fifty five scriptures are surviving. Ven. Shikau left behind him a rich tradition of disciples and students. They did an excellent work in firmly establishing the Buddha sasana in China. Ven. Shikau had the same position of pride in the history of Buddhism in China as Ven. Mahamahinda had in the history of Buddhism in Sinhala Island.

Translation played a vital role in spreading Buddhism in China. But ancient translators faced some difficulties in carrying out their mission. The first major obstacle was the difference in philosophical and cultural background between India and China. It is difficult for them to find equivalent words or concepts in Chinese due to the difference in the language stock. The difference between the ways of thinking and expressing view also posed a problem to these translators. The great Master Tao-an actively furthered translation before Kumarjiva came to China. He mentioned some major problems of translating from Sanskrit to Chinese. Sanskrit and Chinese were in reverse word in sentence structure, so far as the grammar was concerned, Sanskrit preferred to be simple and straight forward while Chinese preferred to be complex and polished in writing. Sanskrit writing was repetitive in subsequent passage, while the repetitions were deleted in Chinese translations. After the death of Ven. Shikau, his mission was carried forward with the help of a Chinese monk Ven. Lokakshema (Chi-Lu-Kaya-Chung) and his companion. He translated twenty three Buddhist scriptures out of which only twelve are available.

Another translator-monk Chu-Fo-Cho (Indian Bodhisattva) reached China after Lokakshema. He worked with Ven. Shikau and Ven. Lokakshema, but none of his translation work is available. Most of the translators of the Han Dynasty had come from Tarim region, but like Ven. Shikau, they were also the residents of Parthian country. They were not monks, but the lay followers of Buddhist faith. They were appointed as the high-ranking officers as the four-fold Chinese forces. army, navy, cavalry and elephantry. They were keenly interested in spreading Buddhism in China. Ven. U. Chi Chiduhu (184-189 A.C) was a resident of some village in Central Asia. He translated several religious books of which now only five are available. Translations of two suttas by him is found in Samyutta Nikaya. Among the other important translators of this era are Ven. Chu-T-Li (Mahabal) and Tantru Kuo (Dharmapal) were Indians. They became the permanent residents of village Khang Kihu and Khang-Mong-Siang of Sogda-Jer- Phanshaw region. During the eastern Han Racial dynasty rule, altogether 434 Buddhist scriptures were translated out of which the names of the translators of 207 scriptures are not traceable. Translation of such a vast number of treatises is no small achievement. The Swetaswa Buddha Vihara was ornamented from inside with many pictures and it was famous as the residence of many scholarly monks[4] of the time.

After the decline of Han dynasty (206 B.C to 220 A.C) China became weak due to civil war and foreign aggression. The end of the Han dynasty marked the beginning of a chaotic era. In consequence of civil war and warlordism, the entire empire was divided into three divisions. Administrators of Shu (221 B.C -64 B.C), Waye (220 B.C - 65 B.C) and U (222 B.C -80 B.C) dynasties began claiming themselves as the kings of their respective provinces. They fought among themselves frequently. For nearly forty to fifty years China lagged behind and could not march ahead. The country became very weak and unstable. But despite this unfavourable political situation, propagation and progress of Buddhism continued. The Han dynasty ruled for ever two hundred years. Its rise and fall are all parts of what makes China the country that it is today. Chinese civilisation[5] and culture owes a lot to the mighty Han dynasty which was Buddhist in faith. It was during this period Buddhism had firmly rooted itself in the Chinese soil.

Buddhism, a cultural system of beliefs and practices based on principles of compassion and non-attachment originated in the sixth century B.C in India. It was brought to China by Buddhist monks from India during the later part of the Han dynasty and take over a century to become assimilated into Chinese culture. The process of translating Buddhist scriptures into Chinese continued in the subsequent period. The most important Chinese list of Buddhist scriptures was compiled during the period of Kayi Vaan (713-741 A.C). Here we come across the names of four superb Buddhist translators in the subject list regarding the Sakyamuni’s sermons complied in the times of Yi royal dynasty.

We may make a brief mention of the four translators serially.

1) Dharmada was an inhabitant[6] of Central Asia. He translated when he was staying at “Swetaswa Vihara”, a Bhikkhu Patimokkha treatise of the Mahasanghika School in the year 254 A.C.

2) Ven. Kang-Sheng-Kai was a contemporary of Ven. Dharmarakhshak. He reached Chin in 252 A.C. It transpired from his Chinese name that he was not an Indian. It is known that he was a Sogadian. He served the cause of Buddhism by his translation work during his stay at.Swetaswa Vihara..

3) Ven. Dharmasatya was a Parthian monk. He began lodging at “Swetaswa Vihara” in 252 A.C and translated into Chinese a treatise entitled.Dharmagupta Nikaya Karma..

4) Ven. Dharmabhadra was also a Parthian Buddhist monk. He spread the Dhamma in Yi province of China.

In the former Han rule, economic power became concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy landowners. These wealthy landowners maintained their own private armies and kept the peasants on their lands at or below subsistence level. They also managed to avoid paying taxes, so the onus fell on the shoulders of merchants and the poor, many of whom could not even support themselves. During later Han dynasty rule, when the empire was divided into three states, it was not only the Indian preachers who went to China but a large number of Chinese travellers also came to India in search of Buddhist scriptures. Chu-Shin- Hing was the first Chinese who came to Khotan in 260 A.C. There he composed and translated a proto script of “Pragnya Sutta” which contained ninety parts. In China this sutta is known as.Panchivansat Sahasprik Prajna Paramita..

Buddhism first came to China during the first and second centuries through silk route. The practitioners from India travelled along the silk route, spreading their faith in Buddhism. Kiyen-Chi (Lanking) was the capital of Yu province (222 A.C -280 A.C). By this time, the presence of Buddhism was felt up to the middle of China.Chih Chien came to Yu state and began propagating Dhamma (Buddhism) in south China. According to Chin Mingtu, Chih Chien was born in China. Memories of the chief monks were inscribed on stone. Ven. Chih Chien was appointed as a teacher and preacher for his crown prince by the provisional administrator of Yu state. He was later awarded a degree of “Po-Shih” (scholar).

Various legends tell of the presence of Buddhism in Chinese soil in very ancient times. Nonetheless the scholarly consensus is that Buddhism first came to China in the first century during the Han dynasty through missionaries from India. According to a very popular legend, Emperor Ming of Han dynasty precipitated the introduction of Buddhist teachings in China. The first Yu emperor Sue Chiynen shifted his capital from Kungan (221 A.C) to Woo Chang. Three years later an Indian monk named Ven. Vighna, while staying at Woo Chang, translated into Chinese the Dhammapada. In a preface to the Dhammapada translation treatise, it was, mentioned that Ven.Vighna was an Indian monk. He went to China in the year 224 A.C and started living in Woo Chang. There was one more monk named Chu-Chang Men who is said to have assisted Ven.Vighna in translating the Dhammapada. It played a very significant role in the then Chinese Buddhist circle. Every Chinese monk was expected to read and recite Dhammapada along with the study of other scriptures. There was for every Buddhist student an advice-cum-instruction in the translation of Dhammapada.

Buddhism could not make deep inroads in the Chinese life during the tenure of Tee royal dynasty. Despite this fact, the progress that the Dhamma achieved in China attracted the attention of the entire Buddhist world. After achieving success in Khotan, Sogda, India and Sinhala, the lovers and enthusiasts of Buddhism began moving towards China for spreading the Dhamma. At that time, the Chinese people were strife-stricken with violence and arson. They were not able to seek peace in the Confucian way of life. Confucianism was the cornerstone of the traditional Chinese way of life. It was a complete ideological system created by Confucius and it was based on the traditional culture of Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties. It dominate a feudal society for about 2000 years and for that reason its influence over the history, social structure and the people of China cannot be overlooked. In fact, Confucius has proved to be the greatest influence over the Chinese character. He pursued truth, kindness and perfection throughout his life. His success and failure were largely due to his Character which had an (143) everlasting impact on Chinese mindset. His teaching was able to establish peace, law and order, stability and discipline in the society. But even this powerful way of life was not able to provide the real spiritual values, place and moral well-being to the Chinese people in the turbulent situation in which the Chinese people were passing through. Confucian philosophy could not provide the answer to the serious problems of Chinese life. It must be admitted that the philosophy of Confucius fell short of giving strength in the struggle of life or providing consolation and contentment in their sorrows and sufferings.

Buddhism is the oldest foreign religion in China. It merged with native Taoism and folk religion. Ancient Buddhism as taught by Buddha himself involved reaching enlightenment through meditation. When early Buddhist scriptures were translated into Chinese, Taoist terminology based on native religion was often used. People interpreted the scriptures in their own ways. Buddhism has had a long history in China. Chinese people gradually began to accept the Dhamma in their day-to-day life. One of the western Buddhist scholars has written about the Dhamma, “Buddhism is for common people, devotion and for a devotee; a way for life and more civilised and sophisticated people, a more consoling and soothing philosophy”. Buddhism supported some of the Chinese native faiths. Some native faiths, customs and traditions were given up while some were amalgamated. Due to this process of acceptance and rejection, Buddhism could capture the heart of Chinese people. It presented to the people a law of Karma and a theory of mental continuum in place of ideas of sin, blessings fame and fortune. Presentation of Terracota and stone images as the replica of philosophical thoughts became symbols of religions venerations. These images were also the specimens of an extremely valuable sculpture. The scriptures of Buddhism presented before the Chinese people the high (144) ideals of Buddhahood, Arhanship and Bodhisattva. These valuable ideas came to China from India or other neighbouring Buddhist countries. Irrespective of their source or origin, these noble ideas embodies in Buddhism had, undoubtedly, enriched the social, cultural and spiritual life of the people of China.

After the downfall of three racial dynasties, there appeared western Tsinvans racial dynasty (265-317 A.C). He ruled for about half a century, as a result of which the flames of Buddhist culture was kept on burning in the viharas of Chang Ash. During this period wisdom (Prajna) literature became so popular that several of its translations were published. In this intellectual transformation many scholars made their contributions. In the period of western Sitsin dynasty, Buddhism spread to far off places and consequently several viharas were constructed. An inscription in Lo-Aang temple reveals that forty viharas were built in this period. There were ten Viharas in Lo-Aang itself. Incidentally, Lo-Aang was the capital of the western Sitsin dynasty.

The ten viharas in Lo-Aang were as follows:.

  1. Swetaswa Vihara;
  2. Bodhisattva Vihara;
  3. Purva Go Vihara;
  4. Prastar Pagoda Vihara;
  5. Pripurna Gal Vihara;
  6. Pan Tje Parvat Vihara;
  7. Mahabarar vihara;
  8. Vansopavan Vihara;
  9. Mutafatha Vihara;
  10. Ming Huai Rajkumar Buddha Vihara;

The fall of western Sitsin dynasty (260-371 A.C) in northern China gave birth to several Tarter states. No single ruler could be called the emperor of China. The Southern Chinese Sitsin dynasty (371 A.C) had its capital in Nanking. The rulers of this dynasty claimed the parental designation of the Chinese emperor. This dynasty continued to rule until 420 A.C. The emperors in the line in eastern Sitsin dynasty were, by and large, the staunch supporter of Buddha sasana. On the other hand, Nanking was a main centre of Buddhist movements during Yu dynasty (222-280 A.C). A great Chinese Buddhist monk Tao-Aan (312- 385 A.C) was born during the period of Huaitati dynasty emperor Yong- Chi’s 6th year of Coronation. He was a very prominent translator of Buddhist scriptures. He left home to join the monastic order at a very early age. He spent the last years of life translating and interpreting scriptures as well as compiling a catalogue of scriptures. He also advocated that all monks and nuns take “Sh” as a surname from the abbreviation of the Chinese version of Gautama Buddha’s title “Sakyamuni”. This great monk passed away in the 10th year of Tatai Aan period of Yu Tee Empire. Quite evidently, Tao-Aan was a great promoter and preacher of Buddhist way of life.

Buddhism was brought to China by Buddhist monks from India during the later part of the Han dynasty. It took over a century to become assimilated into Chinese culture. Hyan Yu Tee was perhaps the first Chinese emperor to have fully accepted Buddhism. Nanking had already become a centre of Buddhist activities. During the tenure of this emperor, seventeen translators rendered their services towards spreading Buddhism in the country. Ven. Srimitra was the first to translate the Tantric Buddhist scriptures. In the same period between 381-395 A.C, Ven. Dharmaratan translated 110 Sanskrit scriptures into Chinese. The names of many such translators of this period are not known. The Milind Panha is a very ancient Buddhist text in Pali. The book was considered so vital in Buddhist way of life that it was translated into various languages. But the name of the Chinese translator is unknown.

Pandit Kumar Bosadhi hailed from the Central Asia, and was a royal Chaplain (priest) of the Turphan kingdom. He came to China in the year 382 A.C. He began the Chinese translation of the ngamas, which were composed by Gautam Sanghabhuti. The greatest Buddhist scholar of this period was Ven. Dharmanandi Tukhari. He had an unusual authority on the ngamas of the Sutta Pitaka. He translated Madhyagama and Ekattoragama within a span of two years only. Ven. Dharmanandi’s one more translation in Chinese is a treatise “Ashokaraj[7] Putra Cakkhume Danidan” is available in China.

Ven. Kumarjiva played a vital role in the history of Chinese Buddhism. He was born in the Central Asiatic city of Kucha. He was the son of an Indian Brahmin and a Kuchean princess. When he was seven years old, his mother became a Buddhist nun, and he spent the next years following her and studying Buddhist doctrine in Kucha, Kashmir and Kashgar. He went to China in the year 401 A.C and engaged himself in translating Buddhist scriptures. Kumarjiva is recognised as one of the world’s greatest translators. As an Indian, he was second to none in the field of translation into Chinese language. His father was an Indian monk. After the birth of Kumarjiva, His mother brought the Child to Kashmir for high-quality education. Kumarjiva came back to Kucha along with his mother, as soon as he completed educating. He was only twenty years old at that time. He was already ordained as a monk, and worked for the spread of Mahayna Buddhism for thirty years. His name and fame reached far and wide. We learn from the description available that the Chinese emperor had even sent his forces to protect and bring him back to China. In the beginning Ven. Kumarjiva had been staying in Kuang, but on persistent requests from the emperor, he went to Chang Aan. The emperor immediately proclaimed him as his royal priest (Uo-Shi). Kumarjiva is mostly remembered for his prolific translation of Buddhist texts from Sanskrit to Chinese. Among the most important texts translated by Kumarjiva are the Diamond Sutra, Amitabha Sutra, Lotus Sutra, the Vimalakirti Nirdas Sutra, Mulamadhymakakarika, Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra, Mahaprajnaparamita upades etc.

By this time many Buddhist scriptures were rendered into Chinese language. But till then no one cared to prepare a Chinese version of Vinaya Pitaka. It is one of the three parts that make up the Tripitaka (literally.Three Baskets.). Its primary subject matters are the monastic rulers for monks and nuns. It was the direct and first hand collection and compilation of the Bikkhu Vinaya (rulers for monks). Fa-hien, a Chinese Buddhist monk travelled by foot from China to India. He visited many sacred Buddhist sites to acquire Buddhist texts. According to Chou Siang Kuang, even before Fa-hien’s coming to India, other Buddhist monks like Hui Ching Hing and Hui Pian[8] had come to India, but could not go back to their motherland. In his book, “Baudha Sanskriti”, Rahul Sankrityayana writes, if he could have got an equal opportunity to go to China, Central Asia, Khotan and Kucha and study the influence of Buddhist culture. But no Chinese had come to India prior to Fa-hien. Accompanied by a batch of Chinese, Fa-hien arrived in India, the centre of Buddhist culture and civilization in the year 368 A.C and came back to his country only after fifteen years.

A great disparity arose between North China and South China. Many castes and tribe were getting poorer and becoming downtrodden in North China, while in south China, subjects were getting richer and more prosperous. Reins of power moved from dynasty to dynasty, but the situation remained the same. In 420 A.C, General Ling U founded a new racial dynasty named Ling Sung. He ascended to the throne and proclaimed himself Yu tee. This king ruled for three years. Several members belonging to Indian and Sinhalese diplomatic mission went to China for meeting him. He held Buddhism in high esteem and respected those who stood for the ideals of Buddhism. It is interesting to note that Emperor Ming Te who was very cruel by nature was very kind to Buddhism. He patronized Buddhism in various ways. In spite of the oppositions of his ministers, Ming Te (456-473 A.C) built a big Vihara in China during his reign. Ultimately, Hiao Tao Cha a general of Ling Sung dynasty, assassinated the last two emperors of the dynasty. He himself become the emperor and initiated a new dynasty. This new royal dynasty is known as southern Chilei dynasty. Though it was an age of civil war and political chaos, it was also a period of flourishing arts and cultures. This era witnessed the spread of Buddhism in China. Increasing popularity of Buddhism was noticed both in northern and southern China.

The Buddhist religion and culture spread far and wide in south China during the regime of Ling Sung dynasty. It is known that 121 translator were involved with the Buddhist missionary work during this period. The return of Fa-hien from India triggered a sort of craze and competition among the Chinese for coming over to India. In 420 A.C, a party of 25 Buddhist monks came to India on the pilgrimage of Buddhist shrines. This band of pilgrims was led by Phayong who named himself in Indian style as Ven. Dharmakar. Pilgrimage to India is a distinct feature of the reign of Ling Sung Dynasty. It must be remembered that the original transmission of Buddhism to China was (149) made by Indian monks who travelled along the silk route. When Buddhism gained popularity in the soil of China, Chinese monks started travelling in the opposite direction in order to bring more reliable source texts for their new found religion.

These monks were prepared to undertake a perilous journey in search of the materials they needed. Most of them travelled on foot and often spent years to get to their destinations. They sincerely believed that India hold the key to the True Dharma. One of the most prominent pilgrims of the era was Tan Haju Eh. It is learnt that eight monks from the Ho-Hogi district came to India in search of Buddhist scriptures. They went via Khotan. In course of their journey they gathered materials from different reliable sources. They composed the collected materials in a systematic manner. Chu-Chu King Sheng was a younger brother of northern Liang racial king. He perhaps used to come to Khotan and studied in Gautam Vihara. He studied Buddhist Doctrine under ncharya Bauddha Sen, a renowned meditation master. That apart, a Chinese Buddhist enthusiast, along with eighteen officials came to India in search of a vital Buddhist scripture named Mahaparinibban Sutta.

It is observed that many Chinese pilgrims to India in search of genuine Buddhist scriptures. Some of them underwent spiritual training under renowned Buddhist monks in various monasteries. On the other hand, many Indian Buddhists went to China for spreading the Dhamma there. Ven. Buddhajiva went to Nanking in 423 A.C. He was engaged in teaching Vinaya Pitaka in Kashmir. When this renowned Buddhist preacher reached Nanking, Fa-hien was still alive. Buddhajiva translated the entire.Pancha Vaggiya Nikaya. (Five Nikaya) in collaboration with some other scholars. Apart from Buddhajiva, two more Buddhist monks went to South China. One of them named Ven. Gunaverma was very close to the King of Kashmir. When the king belonging to Kashmiri royal family died heirless, the council of ministers in Kashmir decided to enthrone Ven. Gunaverma as he was the person whom the deceased king loved and admired most. But the monk, dedicated to his religious activities, declined this offer of royal engagement. After travelling whole of India, he went to Sinhala Island in 400 A.C. Thereafter he reached Nanang via Gawa. In a later period he went to Khotan where he started living in a Vihara. Anothr Buddhist monk coming to China was Ven. Gunabhadra. He, too, hailed from Kashmir. In addition to these two monks, three more translators came to China for the purpose of rendering Buddhist texts into Chinese. Records reveal that their names were Ven. Sanghaverma, Ven. Dharma Mitra and Ven. Kalayass. Ven. Sanghaverma went to Nanking in 434 A.C. He succeeded Ven. Gunaverma as the head of the Bhikku vinaya department. Ven. Sanghamitra who was also born in Kashmir travelled to Nanking in 424 A.C. He reached there via Khotan and Tuyng Huang. This great monk translated a five-pronged Buddhist meditational treatise containing the issues of Impermanency, Sorrow, Sunyata (void), Soultessness (anatman) and Nibban (the enlightenment). Ven. Kalayass entered China 424 A.C. He translated[9] Amitayudhyana Sutta and Bhsajjyarajya Samudyagati Sutta.

During the 4th century, Kumarjiva, Buddhist from India organized the first translation bureau better than anything that had existed before in China. He and his team translated scriptures from many languages into Chinese. Some of these translations still survive and are included in the Buddhist canon. Marvelous monasteries and temples were built and the work of translating the scriptures into Chinese were undertaken during the following fifth century. During the period of Yung Ming’s 7th year (489 A.C) Tri Ji Liang convened a Buddhist conference in the month of July in the premises of a national level Buddha Vihara. More than 500 written and high-ranking Buddhist monks were invited. Ji Liang was an extra-ordinary and enthusiastic devotee of Buddhism. Apart from emperors O Tee and Yu Tee, other Chai emperors also rendered their services for the cause of Buddhism in China.

During a short spell of twenty five years of the Chai dynasty, five monks went to China to translate the Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. Ven. Sanghabhadra was prominent among them. He carried with him a copy of Ven. Buddhaghosha’s treatise “Samanta Passadika”. It transpires from what has been started above that he was a monk[10] of Theravadin tradition. According to the Chinese sources, Ven. sanghavdra took a copy of.Vinaya Vibhasa. to kanotan in the year 489 A.C and translated it into Chinese. Ven. Dharmakriyashas was a Central Asian monk. He went to China when Chai emperor Kao Te was ruling (481 A.C) Ven. Dharmati reached China via Khotan. Ven. Gunabuddhi was also a Central Asian monk who translated three Buddhist scriptures during the period from 493 to 495 A.C. Of these three translated[11] scriptures, two are available even today.

Direct contact between Central Asian and Chinese Buddhism continued throughout the period from 3rd to 7th century. From the 4th century onward, Chinese pilgrims started to travel by themselves to northern India, their source of Buddhism, in order to get improved access to original scriptures. Much of the land route connecting northern India with China at that time was ruled by the Buddhist Kushan Empire. Buddhism became popular in China and people built Buddhist temples in various places of the country. We may now refer to the prosperous Viang royal dynasty. The first ruler of this dynasty was Hissoye who became popular in the name of Yu Tee. He was an offshoot of the Eastern royal dynasty. He compelled the feeble Chai dynasty to give up throne in his favour. He ruled for nearly half a century at Nanking (502-550 A.C) during the rule of Yu Tee Buddhism gained excellent progress. At that time, there were more than seven hundred Buddha Viharas in Capital Nanking. Thousands of scholars and writers used to come to Nanking to discuss and debate on Buddhist doctrine. They would also deliver sermons on the Dhamma. No spacious and vast Viharas like Le Pingsaje and Mahaprajnaparamita existed before the tenure of the Liang dynasty, and prior to Eastern Tang Tai Suji. The religious discussion used to be held in Yu Tee's royal forest garden.

Emperor Yu Tee’s administration played a vital role in spreading and strengthening Buddhism in the soil of China. But he did not pay sufficient attention towards politics and diplomacy. He attempted to put down Waye, but could not succeed in his endeavour. Waye was able to tear off the Eastern and Western provinces. How Ching, the powerful general of king Waye, was not content with his position and power. He approached Yu Tee and promised him to help get a large chunk of Honan kingdom. But afterwards he did not keep his promise. But Emperor Yu Tee did not punish him for his breach of promise. Rather, he gave him the post of the governor of a province. Thus Yu Tee empowered him in such a manner so that Waye could pay sufficient attention towards his earlier proposal. Later on, general How Ching conspired against the emperor in collusion with Yu Tee’s adopted son. A battle ensued between the two sides over the capital Nanking. Ultimately, How Ching was able to capture the capital with the help of emperor’s adopted son. Emperor Yu Tee suffered defeat and died very (153) miserably. It is learnt that emperor Yu Tee was not a Buddhist by birth. He was a follower and protector of the faith of Lord Confucius until the age of 48 (510 A.C). A change of faith came over him due to some personal experience. We come across more or less similar story in connection with the change of faith of emperor Waye. After the death of Lord Confucius, a new wave[12] of Buddhism swept over entire China. The emperor’s wife named Hudo Vager was a devout Buddhist. In 518 A.C, the emperor sent Sung Yan and Hui Shang to Ujjain in search of Buddhist scriptures. These two Chinese scholars returned to their country with the collection of 175 scriptures. According to Dr. Siang[13] Kuang, a change of religious faith from Confucianism to Buddhism came over Emperor Yu Tee. It is presumed that this conversion of faith was due to the influence of Prince Sistin of Chai dynasty. This prince was related to the emperor in some way or other. Emperor Yu Tee got an opportunity of contacting famous Buddhist scholars because of this prince of Chai dynasty. Prof. Eliot says, “Emperor Yu Tee became a Buddhist under the influence of Tantric monk[14] Ven” Pao Chih..

In the sixth century, China, long divided into north and south was further subdivided into the north-western and the north-eastern regions, ruled by different factions of the once-powerful Northern Empire. The re-unification of China under the subsequent dynasties initiated a period of prosperity. Art and literature flourished, reflecting influences from the different culture with which China maintained diplomatic and trade relations. South China was peaceful and prosperous under the Liang dynasty. The court of emperor Yu Tee, a renowned scholar, was a centre for artists and patrons of Buddhism. Yu Tee, a devout Buddhist sent an emissary to India to collect authentic Buddhist texts.

Emperor Yu Tee built a huge Buddhist monastery and engraved rock edicts in Nanking town for which he is said to have spent large portion of his wealth. The emperor deplored all sorts of violence through these rock inscriptions. He prohibited even the display and depiction of the pictures of killings and slaughtering of living beings. He firmly believed that his subjects would draw inspiration from the emperor’s instructions and desist from acts of violence. Yu Tee himself used to compose commentaries on the suttas and present them to people. He is believed to have written a book on “The Buddhist Rituals”. The first Chinese version (hand written) of Tripitaka was published in 518 A.C.

The prohibition on slaughter of animals and living being through edicts and inscriptions caused a great stir and unrest among the Chinese people in general. But in spite of this public unrest, the emperor's campaign against the slaughter of living beings became popular not only in his palace but all over China. Famous authors like Liynsiyat and Yao-cha also participated in this movement of saving the living creatures.

Emperor Yu Tee published two impressions (editions) of those Buddhist scriptures. He sincerely desired that these scriptures should be edited and compiled for propagating the essence of Buddhist doctrine. The compiled and edited version of Tripitaka became popular among the masses. Ven. Sheng, a famous Chinese monk, urged in his preface to the translated version that a list of reference books on Buddhism should be brought out. Two years later, the emperor requested Ven. Pao Chang to do some research[15] on this line.

Prince Chao Ming, the son emperor Yu Tee was, like his illustrious father, was a great follower of Buddhism. He studied Buddhist scriptures very scrupulously. As a Buddhist enthusiast, he built a monastery named.Triratna Vihara. within the premises of his palace. Scholarly monks used to be invited there for discussions on different aspects of Buddhist scriptures. They could also take part in debates on the Dhamma. The emperor’s second son Chien Benet and the seventh son Yuan Tee were also followers of Buddhism. They were actively involved in the propagation of the Dhamma. These royal princes were highly educated and men of character like their father.

Yu Tee was a great patron of Buddhism and that religion spread in China at a very fast during his reign. Consequently, a number of foreign and neighbouring countries established and strengthened their relations with China. The king of Korea sent his diplomat and urged the emperor to spare some copies of the Buddhist Scriptures, especially the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. Likewise the Burmese king too sent his ambassador and a painter to the Chinese emperor for drawing a picture of the royal family. According to a book of Liang dynasty, Emperor Yu Tee established relations with Kamboj and rest of the Chinese provinces. Emperor Gayaverma had sent his ambassador in 503 A.C at the court of the Chinese emperor. As a token of respect the emperor gifted an image of Lord Buddha, made of a highly precious stone. In the same year, a Nepalese scholar Mudson went to China. It is learnt that this great scholar lived in eleven districts of China translated three Buddhist scriptures. Another Nepalese scholar Narendra became a monk. He went on a study tour in different places in India and Shrilanka. He was born at Udayan Swat. This scholar-cum-monk came to China in 556 A.C. He was popular with the common people and at the same time highly regarded by monks. He translated[16] seven scriptures in China.

A devout believer in Buddhism, Emperor Yu Tee diligently promoted Buddhism in various ways. He prepared the first Chinese Tripitaka or collection of all Buddhist dicta. He renounced the worldly life on three occasions and joined a monastery. He was persuaded to reassume office only with great difficulty. During his tenure, on Indian monk Ven. Bodhidhamma (Ta Mo) reached Khotan in 520 A.C. He was a royal prince from South India. His philosophy was “The virtues are neither due to meritorious deeds nor does enlightenment dawn by regarding scriptures. The very essence of peace and tranquility is within each of us, which can be achieved through meditation”. His philosophy gained success in the Far East. But it did not gain popularity in China prior to his attempt in this direction. One of the towering personalities in the field of literature was unable to understand the definitions of the philosophy of Ven. Bodhidhamma. He was not able to teach anything to Emperor Yu Tee, and went away in the north. He was believed to have crossed Yang Tee River by standing on a human skeleton. He is often found painted in the Chinese painting art. Then he went to Lo Yang, where he began staying at Shawong Ling Vihara. There he kept on gazing at a wall silently for long nine years. For this reason, he was named “Wall Onlooker”. As per one mythological story, he used to sit in meditation for such a long time that he became weakened and lame. He[17] wanted to return to India but died in China itself.

Due to his love for literature, and high esteem for Buddhism, Emperor Yu Tee gained[18] name and fame in the western world. He had great yearning from learning and scholarship. He blended the best of Confucian and Buddhist teachings for running his administrations. Unlike other emperors, Emperor Yu Tee wrote his own laws instead of having officials in government positions write them on behalf of him. To increase the knowledge of his people and of his government employees, he required sons of wealthy families attend school. To this end, he had built many new schools. He adopted several new customs and traditions which were quite unknown in the then Chinese society. He firmly believed in the principle of non-violence. He was a strict vegetarian in his personal life. The Buddhist philosophy influenced him so much that he had become a monk on three occasions for a short period. On first two occasions, he had to accept the emperor’s post on the insistence of his ministers. On the third occasion the emperor lived a monastic life at Turei Tai Suichi Monastery. As a devout Buddhist, Yu Tee had compassion for all beings. He made it a rule that no cloth could be woven with pictures of any living being-human or animal. He wanted to ensure that the being would not be killed in course of cutting the cloth for making garments.

The Funan King sent[19] the hair relic of Lord Buddha to Emperor Yu Tee in 538 A.C. He received the sacred relic amidst great festivity. The following year a diplomatic mission was sent to Magadha to obtain the Buddhist scriptures in Sanskrit. The mission returned to China with the desired scriptures in 546 A.C. They brought along with them a scholarly monk Ven. Parmartha who took twenty years to translate the scriptures into Chinese[20] language.

Emperor Yu Tee became a staunch Buddhist in his old age. He distributed all his luxury items among his court members. He wore very simple clothes and showed extreme courtesy to all. Yu Tee became a monk for the third time in 547 A.C. In 549, Nanking, the Liang Dynasty capital was attacked due to the conspiracy of How Ching. This untoward incident created troubles in the peaceful life-style of Yu Tee. During this turbulent period of Nanking aggression, the Emperor was urged to give up strict vegetarianism. He was asked to include in his diets the eggs at least.

The golden era of Emperor Yu Tee’s reign ended in 548 when rebels, including his adopted son, attacked the capital Nanking. During the four-month siege, the people of the city faced extreme hardship. When the news of his capital Nanking being captured reached, the emperor simply replied,.I had gained the empire with my own efforts, and it is being lost due to me. I have nothing to complain against anybody.. As How Ching moved towards the royal palace, he got frightened and knelt before Yu Tee. At that moment, the emperor just said, “I feel afraid for you had to struggle hard to destroy my empire”. On hearing these words, general How Ching became ashamed of him. He told his officers that he had never got so frightened. He could not dare to look at Emperor Yu Tee.

Aged Emperor Yu Tee died due to lack of proper diet. It is true that his last days were sorrowful. But compared to the death of How Ching, it was quite peaceful. After two years of widespread violence How Ching, somehow or other, captured the throne of the emperor. But soon after this he was defeated and put to death. It is said that the people of Nanking ate his flesh like wild birds and beasts. Even his wife ate a mouthful of his husband’s[21] meat.

Emperor Yu Tee of the Liang dynasty is credited in the Chinese history as a benefactor to the development of Buddhism in China. He is known for using Buddhist ideologies for social reformation during his reign. He abolished capital punishment and the sacrifice of living animals in religions ceremonies. Emperor Ye Tee is known to have supported Buddhist monasteries and helped Buddhist monks. The Emperor himself became a monk at one point of time, though only for a short period. He is probably best known for being one of the co-authors of a major scripture in Chinese Buddhism. His immense contribution to Chinese Buddhism earned him the nickname.the Bodhisattva Emperor..

Footnotes and references:


Hinduism and Buddhism, C. Eliot, Vol. III, p. 255.


Chin Me Bauddha Dhamma ka Itihas, Chou Hsiang Kuang, p. 20.


Bauddha sanskriti, Rahul sankrityayan, p. 280.


Bauddha sanskriti, Rahul sankrityayan, p. 282.


Ibid, p. 282.


Chin Me Bauddha Dharma ke Itihas, Chou Hsiang Kuang, p. 31.


Bauddha Sanskriti, Rahul Sankrityayan, p. 295.


Chin Me Bauddha Dharma ka Itihas, Chou Hsiang Kuang, p. 58.


Nanjio Tripitaka Catalogue.


Chin Me Bauddha Dharma ka Itihas, Chou Hsiang Kuang, p. 58.


List of Sakyamunis sermons compiled during the period of Kin Yan (713-741 A.C.).


Hinduism and Buddhism, C. Eliot, Vol. III, p. 254.


History of Chinese Buddhism, Chou Hsiang Kuang, p. 58.


Hinduism and Buddhism, C. Eliot, Vol. III, p. 254.


History of Chinese Buddhism, Chou Hsiang Kuang, p. 58.


Bauddha Sanskriti, Rahul Sankrityayan, p. 319.


Hinduism and Buddhism, C. Eliot, Vol. III, p. 256.


A History of China, Eber Hard, p. 172.


Inscriptions of Buddhist temples in South China and Reporter South China.


Takasuku, Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, p. 33.


Hinduism and Buddhism, C. Eliot, Vol. III, p. 257.

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