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Religions of Ancient China
Herbert A. Giles
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Chapter 5. Buddhism And Other Religions
So early as the third century B.C., Buddhism seems to have appeared in China,
though it was not until the latter part of the first century A.D. that a regular
propaganda was established, and not until a century or two later still that this
religion began to take a firm hold of the Chinese people. It was bitterly opposed
by the Taoists, and only after the lapse of many centuries were the two doctrines
able to exist side by side in peace. Each religion began early to borrow from the
other. In the words of the philosopher Chu Hsi, of the twelfth century, "Buddhism
stole the best features of Taoism; Taoism stole the worst features of Buddhism. It
is as though one took a jewel from the other, and the loser recouped the loss with
From Buddhism the Taoists borrowed their whole scheme of temples, priests,
nuns, and ritual. They drew up liturgies to resemble the Buddhist /Sutras/, and
also prayers for the dead. They adopted the idea of a Trinity, consisting of Lao
Tzu, P'an Ku, and the Ruler of the Universe; and they further appropriated the
Buddhist Purgatory with all its frightful terrors and tortures after death.
Nowadays it takes an expert to distinguish between the temples and priests of
the two religions, and members of both hierarchies are often simultaneously
summoned by persons needing religious consolation or ceremonial of any kind.
Doubts.--In a chapter on "Doubts," by the Taoist philosopher Mou Tzu, we read,
"Some one said to Mou, The Buddhist doctrine teaches that when men die they
are born again. I cannot believe this.
"When a man is at the point of death, replied Mou, his family mount upon the
house-top and call to him to stay. If he is already dead, to whom do they call?
"They call his soul, said the other.
"If the soul comes back, the man lives, answered Mou; but if it does not, whither
does it go?
"It becomes a disembodied spirit, was the reply.
"Precisely so, said Mou. The soul is imperishable; only the body decays, just as
the stalks of corn perish, while the grain continues for ever and ever. Did not Lao
Tzu say, 'The reason why I suffer so much is because I have a body'?
"But all men die whether they have found the truth or not, urged the questioner;
what then is the difference between them?