汉传佛教 / 漢傳佛教 Beginning of the Buddhism in China by- Myoma Myint Kywe ဦးျမင့္ၾကြယ္ ( ၿမိဳ ႔မ ျမင့္ၾကြယ္ )

Beginning of the Buddhism in China

汉传佛教 / 漢傳佛教
Myoma Myint Kywe

Gautama Buddha (623 BC- 543 BC) founded Buddhism in 588 BC. Buddha entered Parinibbana in 543 BC. The number of Buddhists around the world is grossly underestimated. The statistics found in nearly all encyclopedias and almanacs place the number of Buddhists at approximately 500 million. This figure completely ignores over one billion Chinese people who live in the People's Republic of China. China is officially communist (although many free market conditions are already in place) and does not keep records on religion statistics of adherents. Buddhism (Theravada Buddhism+ Mahayana Buddhism population) is a religion to about 1,600 million people around the world.

The great master Confucius (BC 551- BC 479) was a famous Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and greatest philosopher. Confucius's principles had a basis in common Chinese tradition and belief. He championed strong family loyalty, ancestor worship, respect of elders by their children and of husbands by their wives. He also recommended family as a basis for ideal government. He espoused the well-known principle "Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself", an early version of the Golden Rule.  Confucius wants to say sympathy each other mutually.

This is a thorough textual study of the Buddha’s teachings on pure love and sympathy recommended for Vipassana meditators since BC 588.
Sympathetic compassion (Karuṇa) is the aspiration to find a way to be truly helpful to oneself and others. In Theravada Buddhism, karuṇa is one of the four "divine abodes" (brahmavihara), along with loving kindness (metta). 
We believe that Confucius recommended to Buddha's doctrine of sympathetic compassion (karuna).

Buddhism first reached China from India roughly 2,200 years ago between 200 BC and 300 BC, during the Han Dynasty. Han Dynasty China was deeply Confucian, and Confucianism is focused on maintaining harmony and social order in the here-and-now world. Buddhism, on the other hand, emphasized entering the monastic life to seek a reality beyond reality. Confucian China was not terribly friendly to Buddhism.

Although there are records of Buddhism in China as early as the 3rd century BC, Buddhism was not actively propagated in that country until the early centuries of the Common Era.

However, Buddhism found an ally in China's other indigenous religion, Taoism. Taoist and Buddhist meditation practices and philosophies were similar in many respects, and some Chinese took an interest in Buddhism from a Taoist perspective. Early translations of Buddhist texts from Sanskrit into Chinese borrowed Taoist terminology. Still, during the Han Dynasty very few Chinese practiced Buddhism. Taoism (or Daoism) is a philosophical, ethical, political and religious tradition of Chinese origin that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (also known as Dao).  The term Tao means "way", "path" or "principle", and can also be found in Chinese philosophies and religions other than Taoism. Master Laozi (born 571 BC) is traditionally regarded as the founder of Taoism.

The Buddhism that first became popular in China during the Han dynasty was deeply coloured with magical practices, making it compatible with popular Chinese Taoism (a combination of folk beliefs and practices and philosophy). Instead of the doctrine of no-self, early Chinese Buddhists taught the indestructibility of the soul. Nirvana became a kind of immortality. They also taught the theory of karma/Kamma, the values of charity and compassion, and the need to suppress the passions. Until the end of the Han dynasty, there was a virtual symbiosis between Taoism and Buddhism and a common propagation of the means for attaining immortality through various ascetic practices. It was widely believed that Lao-tzu, the founder of Taoism, had been reborn in India as the Buddha. Many Chinese emperors worshiped Lao-tzu and the Buddha on the same altar. 

In terms of power and prestige, the Han Dynasty in the East rivaled its almost contemporary Roman Empire in the West. With only minor interruptions it lasted a span of over four centuries and was considered a golden age in Chinese history especially in arts, politics and technology.

The Han dynasty (汉朝 (漢朝) , 206 BC – 220 AD) was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin dynasty (221–207 BC) and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms period (220–280 AD).

But some document say that Buddhism first entered China during the Eastern Han and was first mentioned in 65 AD.  Prince Liu Ying (died 71 AD), a half-brother to Emperor Ming of Han (28 AD–75 AD), was one of its earliest Chinese adherents, although Chinese Buddhism at this point was heavily associated with Huang-Lao Daoism. Liu Ying 刘英;(劉英); was a son of Emperor Guangwu of Han, and half-brother of Emperor Ming of Han. After becoming Prince of Chu, he was a known supporter of many religions. In particular, his sponsorship of Buddhism in 65 CE is the first documented case of Buddhist practices in China.

In 588 BC, Siddhartha Gautama, Prince of Nepal, the Buddha, founded a religion in India called Buddhism. Buddhism revolves around the teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path. The Buddha preaches that if these doctrines are followed, Buddhists will reach a state of enlightenment called nirvana, and thus freed from the al worries and suffering.

Buddhist population in China

In July 2010, the total Buddhist population of the world was estimated at 1.6 billion (1,595,485,458), amounting to about 22% of the total global population. This has been reported as a liberal estimate. China with a current Buddhist population of over one billion (a liberal estimate is 1,070,893,447) accounts for a greater part of the world’s Buddhist population. This has been confirmed by the references cited above, besides references to China’s Buddhist population in U.S. State Department Report on China, Global Center for the Study of Contemporary China, China Daily, and a report by Christian missionaries in China. These sources report that about 80% to 90% of Chinese identify with Buddhism as one of the several faith traditions they observe. Some recent studies indicate that as much as 98% of Chinese consider themselves as Buddhists, but indicate that they also subscribe to several other Chinese spiritual traditions.

The number of Buddhists around the world is grossly underestimated. The statistics found in nearly all encyclopedias and almanacs place the number of Buddhists at approximately 500 million. This figure completely ignores over one billion Chinese people who live in the People's Republic of China. China is officially communist (although many free market conditions are already in place) and does not keep records on religion statistics of adherents. Also, many western reference sources refuse to accept that a person can belong to more than one religion. In Asia it is quite common for one person to have two, three, or more religions. In China, it is common for a family to have a shrine in their home with statues and icons from Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.

Currently there are about 1.3 billion Chinese living in the People's Republic. Surveys (Gach-Alpha Books, U.S. State Dept. report on China, Global Center for the Study of Contemporary China, BBC News, China Daily, and a report by Christian missionaries in China) have found that about 8% to 91% identify with Buddhism as one of their religions. If we use a percent near the upper end of this estimate, of about 80% it works out to about 1.1 billion Chinese Buddhists. To ignore over one billion people as if they do not count is a terrible mis-count and very misleading in the reporting of adherents. A Chinese Buddhist forum ( currently has over 150,000 registered members and over 4 million posts, which is more than ten times the amount of the largest English language Buddhist forum (which also has Chinese Buddhists participating in the discussions). But to be fair, a more conservative estimate is also shown (see below).

Here are some studies that have analyzed or counted the number of Buddhists in China and the percentage found in the study:

U.S. State Dept. report Approx. 8% to 40% (the report lists 8% but then states that there are "hundreds of millions" of Chinese who practice various religions together, which includes Buddhism).
BBC News, 2007 Approx. 16% to 23%, 2007 Approx. 16% to 21% article by Dr. A. Smith, 2004 Approx. 50% to 80%
Global Center for the Study of Contemporary China Approx. 23% to 98% (the report lists 23% but states that as many as 98% follow more than one religion, which includes Buddhism).
Buddhist Channel article, July 7, 2009 Buddhism thrives in China
Gach, Alpha Books, 2001 Approx. 91%

The counting of Buddhists in America is also a little problematic since the U.S. Census Bureau does not ask religious affiliation. There are studies that suggest the percentage of Buddhists in America is as low as 0.5% and others that suggest over 3%. Some of the lower estimates claimed that about half of all Buddhists in America are white, European ancestry, which shows that the study was flawed. Any personal observation survey of Buddhism in America by attending meditation groups and temples will demonstrate that the vast majority of Buddhists in the U.S. are still predominantly Asian or Asian ancestry. Immigration to the U.S. from Asia has been very high due to favorable economic opportunities and more open immigration for those with technical skills, such as in the medical fields. Immigration from Asia ranges from about 0.5 million to 7 million per year and certainly a sizeable percentage of these immigrants are Buddhist.
See Asian immigration to the US

Some other reports at the low end are going by official statistics from Buddhist organizations that count and in many of these estimates it is based on counting only one group, The Buddhist Churches of America (which is one of the few that counts their members). The BCA is just one sect inside the Pure Land school of Buddhism, which is a further sub-set of Mahayana, which is a sub-set of Buddhism in general. As far back as 1995 a study showed that 1.6% of the U.S. is Buddhist. Only a few years later the number of Buddhist centers doubled, which suggests that the actual percent of Americans who are Buddhist is from 2% to 4%.
See: R. Baumann, Univ. of Hannover Professor C. Prebish, Ph.D. has stated that 2% of the U.S. population is Buddhist and that most, about 80% of American Buddhists are of Asian descent (about 4.8 million out of 6 million American Buddhists), See: Utah State Univ., 2007
A conservative estimate of 2% is used for the number of Buddhists in America in the table below.

March 2007 update: Due to the debates and discussions that have occured, some reference books and encyclopedias are finally recognizing that there are Buddhists in China. Some have stated that the survey suggesting that 91% are Buddhist is exaggerated, but at least some are now showing a sizeable percentage, such as over 60% over at wikipedia. Therefore, included below is a liberal estimate using 80% and a more conservative estimate using a 50% figure.

Here is the Wikipedia estimate, which is compatible to the numbers shown here:
Wikipedia List of religious populations

July 2009 update: The percentage and numbers for Buddhists in India has increased dramatically over recent years because there have many recent mass conversions of the dalit (untouchables) from Hinduism to Buddhism.
See one of several mass conversions of over 50,000 and also this report: Newsweek 2008 India has 3.25% Buddhist

See also this article at The Dhamma encyclopedia for more statistics, links and sources:
The appeal of Buddhism

The following is the more accurate listing of Buddhists around the world with the inclusion of the above-mentioned people (percentage of the total population who are Buddhist is shown in parentheses):

China, liberal estimate (80.00%) 1,070,893,447
China, conservative estimate (50.00%) 669,308,405
Japan (96.00%) 122,022,837
Thailand (95.00%) 62,626,649
India (3.25%) 37,913,134
Sri Lanka (70.00%) 14,933,050
Burma (90.00%) 43,323,967
Cambodia (95.00%) 13,769,578
Laos (75.00%) 5,126,207
Other Asian countries (16.00%) 213,492,875
Total Buddhists in Asia, liberal estimate 1,584,101,744
Total Buddhists in Asia, conservative estimate 1,182,516,701

USA (2.00%) 6,135,071
Canada and N. Amer. islands (1.10%) 368,447
Total Buddhists in N. America 6,503,518

Germany (1.10%) 905,657
France (1.20%) 773,215
United Kingdom (1.20%) 733,395
Other European countries (0.15%) 785,700
Total Buddhists in Europe 3,197,966

Total Buddhists in Latin America and S. America (0.15%) 868,929

Total Buddhists in Australia and Oceania (1.80%) 618,752

Total Buddhists in Africa (0.02%) 194,550
Total Buddhists in the world, liberal estimate 1,595,485,458
(about 1.6 billion)
Total Buddhists in the world, conservative estimate 1,193,900,416
(about 1.2 billion

The current number of Buddhists is therefore, about 1.2 to 1.6 billion which places it nearly equal with each of the two largest religions of Christianity and Islam. Even with the conservative estimate, it is still much higher than the 300 to 500 million still being placed in many references. It is important to know the true number to provide an accurate history and to know that we are not “alone” in our thinking and our practice.

There are 25 countries in the world where Buddhist population exceeds one million. Five of these countries - China, Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam have exceptionally large Buddhist populations (I billion, 122 million, 64 million, 50 million, 69 million respectively). In these five countries Buddhists account for more than 75% of their total populations. In three of them, namely Japan, Thailand and Myanmar, the percentage of Buddhists amounts to more than 90% of their total populations. It is noteworthy that among the five most populous Buddhist countries in the world mentioned above, three are predominantly followers of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition (China, Japan and Vietnam) and account for about 75% of the world’s Buddhist population. The other two – Thailand and Myanmar are followers of are Theravada tradition.
It is significant note that the first three of these countries alone with a combined population of 1.19 billion, predominantly follow the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and account for about 75% of the total Buddhist population of the world.