East Asia has nurtured one of the three great Buddhist traditions. Buddhism entered China very early in the Common Era and later spread from there to Korea, Japan and Vietnam. The cultures and histories of these countries have been deeply influenced by Buddhism, and the number of Buddhist monks and nuns in China alone has far outweighed those in the rest of the world. Moreover, many Buddhist texts composed in ancient India have been preserved only in Chinese translation; indeed, the Chinese translation of Buddhist texts from India and central Asia was the largest translation project the world has known, at least until the 20th century. At the same time, Buddhism arrived in China to meet, mingle and contend with great indigenous intellectual and spiritual traditions, such as Confucianism and Taoism, and so developed many original doctrines and practices.
Like China itself, Chinese Buddhism went through an extremely difficult period in the latter two thirds of the twentieth century, and this helps to account for the fact that for most of that time there was no post in Chinese Buddhism at a British university. Recently, however, both the study and the practice of Buddhism have revived in China – though British academia has hardly responded. Meanwhile, although Buddhism did suffer some setbacks in Korea, Japan and Vietnam, they have not been nearly so severe. Japan, for example, has throughout remained, at least in terms of nominal affiliation, an almost totally Buddhist country. While Japanese Buddhism long ago developed its own distinctive character, until recently its sacred texts were studied almost exclusively in classical Chinese. Korea too has its own distinctive and productive Buddhist tradition, and about half of the South Korean population is still Buddhist.
In sum: a department of Buddhist Studies without a member who knows Chinese would be like a department of Christianity without a teacher who knows Latin.
|< Prev||Next >|