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Northern Buddhism in Its Good and Hard Times by Arjanyai
In summary, the Buddhist history as told above can be roughly divided into periods of five hundred years. In the first five hundred years, the original Theravada tradition was strong, and the further development of Buddhism in Theravada countries is the product of this period. The second period saw the prosperity of Mahayana, the rise of its major schools of Madhyamika and Yogacara, and their spread to Central Asia and China where Mahayana flourished and spread further to other northeastern countries. During the third period, the Mahayana degenerated into an unhealthy form of Tantra and lost ground in most parts of India until Buddhism was brought to an end in its homeland by the Turkish invaders in a short time following this period.
However, during the same period as the degenerate form of Tantra became influential in India, there developed in China another school of Mahayana called Chan which later spread to Korea and Japan. In Japan it became known as Zen which remains today a main sect of Japanese Buddhism and plays an important role in modern international Buddhism.
Thus, while Buddhism had disappeared from India early in the eighteenth Buddhist century, elsewhere it grew in influence, in southern countries as Theravada and in northern countries as Mahayana. Much has been told of the history of the Theravada, but some more account is needed to form a continuous history of the Mahayana.
THE EMERGENCE OF CHINESE AND KOREAN BUDDHISM
As stated earlier, Buddhism came to China around BE. 600 (57 C.E.). Three hundred years later, when Buddhism had been firmly established in China, Chinese monks and missionaries carried the message into Korea. In those days Korea was divided into three kingdoms: Silla, Paekche and Koguryu, Buddhism was first introduced into Koguryu in BE. 915 (372 C.E.), then to Paekche, and lastly to Silla thirty years later. In B.E. 1211 (668 C.E.) Silla gained control over the other two kingdoms and ruled the whole Korean peninsula until B.E. 1478 (935 C.E.).
In China the period of unity under the Sui and Tang dynasties (B.E. 1132-1449/589-906 C.E.) saw the rise and development of most of the Chinese Buddhist sects: Tien-Tai (known in Japan as Tendai), San-Lun (Madhyamika), Yui-Shih (Yogacara Vijnanฺavada as spread by Hsuan-Tsang), Hua-Yen (Avatamsaka, known in Japan as Kegon), Chan (Dhyana, known in Japan as Zen), Ching-tu (Pure Land or Sukhavativyuha), Nan-shan (Vinaya sect) and King-kang-chi (Tantra). Many of these sects spread further to Korea, especially the Hua-Yen, Tien-Tai, Pure Land, Chan and Yogacara sects. In Tang China the Chan school spread widely and became very influential.
Under the Silla dynasty, the Buddhism of Tang China entered Korea. There the Yogacara school spread among scholars. But it was the Chan Buddhism that gained popularity. The Silla dynasty was replaced by the Koryo dynasty in B.E. 1478 (935 C.E.). The rulers of the new dynasty were deeply devoted to Buddhism, and under them Korean Buddhism attained the height of its prosperity in the sixteenth Buddhist century. Then Chan Buddhism became most popular in Korea as in China. The other sects were in the course of time gradually blended into it. And it is this Chan school that remains to this day as Korean Buddhism.
When Buddhism was destroyed in India in B.E. 1742 (1199 C.E.), Chinese Buddhism was left alone and companionless in the continuation of a living tradition. Moreover, within a short time after that, in B.E. 1823 (1280 C.E.), Kublai Khan established Mongol rule both in China and in Korea. As the Mongolian rulers favoured Tibetan Buddhism, Lamaism became influential in both countries and was a factor in the weakening of Buddhism there. When the local dynasties established themselves in Korea in B.E. 1907 (1364 C.E.) and in China in B.E. 1911 (1368 C.E.), they turned to Confucianism for their nationalistic principles and adopted the policy of suppressing Buddhism. Buddhism, regarded as the barbarian faith, was forbidden to officials and declared undesirable for the common people. Then it declined and decayed both in China and in Korea.
In Korea, Buddhist monasteries and temples were banished from the cities and the monks were forced to dwell in mountain and forest retreats. About five centuries later, Buddhism began to gain some strength again when Korea came under Japanese influence and then oc-cupation during the period of nearly 60 years from B.E. 2428 to 2486 (1885 - 1943 C.E.). To spread their doctrine and activities to Korea, the Japanese Buddhist sects built temples and conducted social and educational programmes there. Though their efforts did not meet with much success, they had some effects on the Korean Buddhists. The Korean Buddhist institutions began to feel the need of a revival. They, therefore, united in the task of reforming their community, especially in education and administration.
The major Buddhist sect of modern China is Chan. The other sects which also survive are Tien-Tai and Pure Land. But, as the doctrines of these sects have blended together in the Chinese belief and practice, no clear distinction can be made between them. Followers of Chan and Tien-Tai also call upon the name of Amitabha and believe in the Pure Land. The calling-Nan-wu Amito-fo (Namo Amitabhaya Buddhaya, Homage to Amitabha Buddha) - is a common practice in every temple and every home of the Chinese Buddhists today.