East Asian Buddhism

East Asian Buddhism or East Asian Mahayana is a collective term for the schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism that developed in East Asia, and follow the Chinese Buddhist canon. These include the various forms of Chinese Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism, Vietnamese Buddhism and Korean Buddhism.[1][2] Besides being a major religion in these four cultural regions, it is also a significant religion in Singapore and Malaysia. East Asian Buddhists constitute the numerically largest body of Buddhist traditions in the world, numbering over half of the world's Buddhists.[3][4]

East Asian forms of Buddhism all derive from sinicized Buddhist schools that developed between the Han dynasty (when Buddhism was first introduced from Central Asia) and the Song dynasty, and therefore they are influenced by Chinese culture and philosophy.[5] Some of the most influential traditions include Chan or Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, Huayan, Tiantai and Chinese Esoteric Buddhism. These schools developed new, uniquely Asian interpretations of Buddhist texts and focused on the study of Mahayana sutras. According to Paul Williams, this emphasis on the study of the sutras contrasts with the Tibetan Buddhist attitude which sees the sutras as too difficult unless approached through the study of philosophical treatises (shastras).[6]

The texts of the Chinese Canon began to be translated in the second century and the collection continued to evolve over a period of a thousand years, the first woodblock printed edition being published in 983. The modern standard edition is the Taishō Tripiṭaka, produced in Japan between 1924 and 1932.[7]

Besides sharing a canon of scripture, the various forms of East Asian Buddhism have also adapted East Asian values and practices which were not prominent in Indian Buddhism, such as Chinese ancestor veneration and the Confucian view of filial piety.[8]

East Asian Buddhist monastics generally follow the monastic rule known as the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya.[9] One major exception is some schools of Japanese Buddhism where Buddhist clergy sometimes marry, without following the traditional monastic code or Vinaya. This developed during the Meiji Restoration, when a nationwide campaign against Buddhism forced certain Japanese Buddhist sects to change their practices.[10]

Buddhist sects
Distribution of major Buddhist traditions, East Asian Mahayana in yellow.
Tripitaka Koreana, Haeinsa, South Korea
Tablets of the Tripiṭaka Koreana, an early edition of the Chinese Buddhist canon, in Haeinsa Temple, South Korea.

See also


  1. ^ The Buddhist World, The Buddhist World: Buddhism in East Asia - China, Japan, and Korea.
  2. ^ Charles Orzech (2004), Esoteric Buddhism and the Tantras in East Asia. Brill Academic Publishers, pp. 3-4.
  3. ^ Pew Research Center, Global Religious Landscape: Buddhists.
  4. ^ Johnson, Todd M.; Grim, Brian J. (2013). The World's Religions in Figures: An Introduction to International Religious Demography (PDF). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 34. Archived from the original on 20 October 2013. Retrieved 2 September 2013.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  5. ^ Gethin, Rupert, The Foundations of Buddhism, OUP Oxford, 1998, p. 257.
  6. ^ Williams, pAUL, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, Taylor & Francis, 2008, P. 129.
  7. ^ Gethin, Rupert, The Foundations of Buddhism, OUP Oxford, 1998, p. 258.
  8. ^ Harvey, Peter, An Introduction to Buddhism, Second Edition: Teachings, History and Practices (Introduction to Religion) 2nd Edition, p. 212.
  9. ^ Gethin, Rupert, The Foundations of Buddhism, OUP Oxford, 1998, p. 260
  10. ^ Jaffe, Richard (1998). "Meiji Religious Policy, Soto Zen and the Clerical Marriage Problem". Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 24 (1–2): 46. Archived from the original on November 19, 2014.

Amitābha (Sanskrit pronunciation: [ɐmɪˈtaːbʱɐ]), also known as Amida or Amitāyus, is a celestial buddha according to the scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism. Amitābha is the principal buddha in Pure Land Buddhism, a branch of East Asian Buddhism. In Vajrayana Buddhism, Amitābha is known for his longevity attribute, magnetising red fire element, the aggregate of discernment, pure perception and the deep awareness of emptiness of phenomena. According to these scriptures, Amitābha possesses infinite merit resulting from good deeds over countless past lives as a bodhisattva named Dharmakāra. Amitābha means "Infinite Light", and Amitāyus means "Infinite Life" so Amitābha is also called "The Buddha of Immeasurable Light and Life".

Avatamsaka Sutra

The Avataṃsaka Sūtra (Sanskrit; alternatively, the Mahāvaipulya Buddhāvataṃsaka Sūtra) is one of the most influential Mahayana sutras of East Asian Buddhism. The title is rendered in English as Flower Garland Sutra, Flower Adornment Sutra, or Flower Ornament Scripture. It has been called by the translator Thomas Cleary "the most grandiose, the most comprehensive, and the most beautifully arrayed of the Buddhist scriptures."The Avataṃsaka Sūtra describes a cosmos of infinite realms upon realms, mutually containing one another. This sutra was especially influential in East Asian Buddhism. The vision expressed in this work was the foundation for the creation of the Huayan school of Chinese Buddhism, which was characterized by a philosophy of interpenetration. The Huayan school is known as Hwaeom in Korea and Kegon in Japan. The sutra is also influential in Chan Buddhism.


Buddhavacana in Pali and Sanskrit literally means "the Word of the Buddha". This term generally refers to literary works accepted within a particular Buddhist tradition as being the authentic teaching of the historical Buddha. Many Buddhist traditions recognize certain texts as buddhavacana which are not regarded necessarily as actual words of the historical Buddha but which are nonetheless regarded as doctrinally authentic such as the Theragāthā and Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra.

Buddhism in Libya

Libya's 2007 census has over 13,000 workers from Sri Lanka and some other Buddhist countries (about 12,000 Koreans and more than 2,000 citizens from China) which made up about 0.3% of total population of Libya. This makes Libya the country with the one of highest proportion of Buddhists in North Africa. Although Libya does not have any Buddhist pagodas or temples.

Theravada Buddhists make up two-thirds and are primarily Sinhalese while the remaining third follow East Asian Buddhism are Korean or Chinese nationals.

Buddhist texts

Buddhist texts were initially passed on orally by monks, but were later written down and composed as manuscripts in various Indo-Aryan languages which were then translated into other local languages as Buddhism spread. They can be categorized in a number of ways. The Western terms "scripture" and "canonical" are applied to Buddhism in inconsistent ways by Western scholars: for example, one authority refers to "scriptures and other canonical texts", while another says that scriptures can be categorized into canonical, commentarial, and pseudo-canonical. Buddhist traditions have generally divided these texts with their own categories and divisions, such as that between buddhavacana "word of the Buddha," many of which are known as "sutras," and other texts, such as shastras (treatises) or Abhidharma.

These religious texts were written in many different languages and scripts but memorizing, reciting and copying the texts were of high value. Even after the development of printing, Buddhists preferred to keep to their original practices with these texts.

Digital Dictionary of Buddhism

The project of the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism (usually referred to by the acronym DDB) was initiated by Charles Muller, a specialist in East Asian Buddhism, during his first year of graduate school when he realized the dearth of lexicographical works available for both East Asian Buddhism and classical Chinese. Since that time, he has continued to compile the terminology from the texts that he has studied and translated, extending for almost twenty years.

In 1995, with the advent of the Internet, Muller converted his data set from the word processor files in which they were originally stored, into HTML format, and placed them on his web site, to make his work-in-progress available to a broad audience, and see if it would be possible to take advantage of the WWW to encourage collaboration in the project.

Numerous scholars came forth to offer assistance in the form of both technical implementation and content contributions. Additionally, the project was able to secure a series of JSPS grants from 1997–2003, which greatly hastened the expansion of the coverage of both works. During this period, the storage format of the dictionaries was changed to SGML, and then XML. In 2001, with the help of Humanities Computing XML specialist Michael Beddow, the dictionaries were placed on the web in XML format with a search engine.

The DDB, as of July 2019, contains over 73,000 entries, including Buddhist terms, texts, schools, temples, and persons. Entries range from short glossary type, to full-length encyclopedic articles. Supported by dozens of collaborators with specialist expertise in many areas of Buddhist studies, the expansion rate of the DDB has been exponential in recent years.

A special dimension of the dictionaries is their usage of XML attributes to accredit contributors for their work at the level entry segments (XML "nodes") rather than only at the level of full entries. Being an ongoing digital project, entries and nodes of the work can be revised and expanded by their original authors, and supplemented by the contributions of others. Also, being a digital compilation, it is full-text searchable, and entries are hyperlinked. Editorial privileges are limited to accredited specialists in the field of Buddhist Studies, in order to avoid inaccuracies and various sectarian distortions.

East Asian religions

In the study of comparative religion, the East Asian religions or Taoic religions form a subset of the Eastern religions. This group includes Chinese religion overall, which further includes Ancestral Worship, Chinese folk religion, Confucianism, Taoism and so-called popular salvationist organisations (such as Yiguandao and Weixinism), as well as elements drawn from Mahayana Buddhism that form the core of Chinese Buddhism and East Asian Buddhism at large. The group also includes Japanese Shintoism and Korean Sindoism (both meaning "Ways of Gods" and identifying the indigenous shamanic religion and ancestor worship of such peoples), which have received influences from Chinese religions throughout the centuries. Chinese salvationist religions have influenced the rise of Korean and Japanese new religions—for instance, respectively, Jeungsanism, and Tenriism; these movements draw upon indigenous traditions but are heavily influenced by Chinese philosophy and theology.

All these religious traditions, more or less, share core Chinese concepts of spirituality, divinity and world order, including Tao 道 ("Way"; pinyin dào, Japanese tō or dō, and Korean do) and Tian 天 ("Heaven"; Japanese ten, and Korean cheon).

Early Chinese philosophies defined the Tao and advocated cultivating the de, "virtue", which arises from the knowledge of such Tao. Some ancient schools merged into traditions with different names or became extinct, such as Mohism (and many others of the Hundred Schools of Thought), which was largely absorbed into Taoism. East Asian religions include many theological stances, including polytheism, nontheism, henotheism, monotheism, pantheism, panentheism and agnosticism. East Asian religions have many Western adherents, though their interpretations may differ significantly from traditional East Asian religious thought and culture.

The place of Taoic religions among major religious groups is comparable to the Abrahamic religions found in Europe and the Western World as well as across the Middle East and the Muslim World and Dharmic religions across South Asia.

Eastern religions

The Eastern religions are the religions that originated in East, South and Southeast Asia and thus have dissimilarities with Western religions. This includes the East Asian religions (Shintoism, Sindoism, Taoism and Confucianism), Indian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism) as well as animistic indigenous religions.This East-West religious distinction, just as with the East-West culture distinction, and the implications that arise from it, is broad and not precise. Furthermore, the geographical distinction has less meaning in the current context of global transculturation.

While many Western observers attempt to distinguish between Eastern philosophies and religions, this is a distinction that does not exist in some Eastern traditions.

Eternal Buddha

In East Asian Buddhism the Buddha of the Lotus Sutra is regarded as the eternal Buddha. It is a popular notion, which may have contributed to the tathagatagarbha doctrine, although the notion of an eternal Buddha is not explicitly stated in the Lotus Sutra.

The belief in the Eternal Buddha transcends through time and is commonly associated with Shakyamuni Buddha, but can also refer to both his past and future incarnations. However, no exact definition of the Eternal Buddha is defined in the Lotus Sutra, which was also revealed by Siddhartha Gautama; thereby making open interpretations to various religious groups.

List of bodhisattvas

In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist thought, a bodhisattva (Chinese: 菩薩; pinyin: púsà; Japanese pronunciation: bosatsu; Korean pronunciation: bosal) is a being who is dedicated to achieving complete Buddhahood. Conventionally, the term is applied to beings with a high degree of enlightenment. Bodhisattva literally means a "bodhi (enlightenment) being" in Sanskrit. Mahayana practitioners have historically lived in many other countries that are now predominantly Hindu, Muslim or Theravada Buddhist; remnants of reverence for bodhisattvas has continued in some of these regions.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of bodhisattvas primarily respected in Indian, Tibetan Buddhism and East Asian Buddhism.


Niō (仁王) or Kongōrikishi (金剛力士) are two wrathful and muscular guardians of the Buddha standing today at the entrance of many Buddhist temples in East Asian Buddhism in the form of frightening wrestler-like statues. They are dharmapala manifestations of the bodhisattva Vajrapāṇi, the oldest and most powerful of the Mahayana Buddhist pantheon. According to Japanese tradition, they travelled with Gautama Buddha to protect him and there are references to this in the Pāli Canon as well as the Ambaṭṭha Sutta. Within the generally pacifist tradition of Buddhism, stories of dharmapalas justified the use of physical force to protect cherished values and beliefs against evil. The Niō are also seen as a manifestation of Mahasthamaprapta, the bodhisattva of power that flanks Amitābha in Pure Land Buddhism and as Vajrasattva in Tibetan Buddhism.


The Pratimokṣa (Sanskrit prātimokṣa) is a list of rules (contained within the vinaya) governing the behaviour of Buddhist monastics (monks or bhikṣus and nuns or bhikṣuṇīs). Prati means "towards" and mokṣa means "liberation" from cyclic existence (saṃsāra).

It became customary to recite these rules once a fortnight at a meeting of the sangha during which confession would traditionally take place. A number of prātimokṣa codes are extant, including those contained in the Theravāda, Mahāsāṃghika, Mahīśāsaka, Dharmaguptaka, Sarvāstivāda and Mūlasarvāstivāda vinayas. Pratimokṣa texts may also circulate in separate pratimokṣa sūtras, which are extracts from their respective vinayas.

Schools of Buddhism

The schools of Buddhism are the various institutional and doctrinal divisions of Buddhism that have existed from ancient times up to the present. The classification and nature of various doctrinal, philosophical or cultural facets of the schools of Buddhism is vague and has been interpreted in many different ways, often due to the sheer number (perhaps thousands) of different sects, subsects, movements, etc. that have made up or currently make up the whole of Buddhist traditions. The sectarian and conceptual divisions of Buddhist thought are part of the modern framework of Buddhist studies, as well as comparative religion in Asia.

From a largely English-language standpoint, and to some extent in most of Western academia, Buddhism is separated into two groups at its foundation: Theravāda, literally "the Teaching of the Elders" or "the Ancient Teaching," and Mahāyāna, literally the "Great Vehicle." The most common classification among scholars is threefold, with Mahāyāna itself split between the traditional Mahāyāna teachings, and the Vajrayāna teachings which emphasize esotericism.

Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra

The Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra is one of the two Indian Mahayana sutras that describe Sukhavati, the pure land of Amitābha. This text is highly influential in East Asian Buddhism, including China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. This text is revered by the Jōdo Shinshū, one of Japan's largest Buddhist congregations.

The original Sanskrit versions of the Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra and Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra were translated into English by Luis Gomez in The Land of Bliss.

Shurangama Mantra

The Shurangama or Śūraṅgama mantra is a dhāraṇī or long mantra of Buddhist practice in China, Japan and Korea. Although relatively unknown in modern Tibet, there are several Śūraṅgama Mantra texts in the Tibetan Buddhist canon. It is associated with Chinese Esoteric Buddhism and Shingon Buddhism.

The Mantra was, according to the opening chapter of the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, historically transmitted by Gautama Buddha to Manjushri to protect Ananda before he had become an arhat. It was again spoken by the Buddha before an assembly of monastic and lay adherents.

Like the popular six-syllable mantra "om mani padme hum" and the Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī, the Śūraṅgama mantra is synonymous with practices of Avalokiteśvara, an important bodhisattva in both East Asian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. The Śūraṅgama Mantra also extensively references Buddhist deities such as the bodhisattvas Manjushri, Mahākāla, Sitatapatra Vajrapani and the Five Tathagatas, especially Bhaisajyaguru. It is often used for protection or purification for meditators and is considered to be part of Shingon Buddhism in Japan.Within the Śūraṅgama Sūtra , the Sanskrit incantation (variously referred to as dhāraṇī or mantra) contained therein, is known as the Sitātapatroṣṇīṣa dhāraṇī, The "Śūraṅgama mantra" (Chinese: 楞嚴咒) is well-known and popularly chanted in East Asian Buddhism, where it is very much related to the practice of the "White Parasol Dhāraṇī" (Chinese: 大白傘蓋陀羅尼). In Tibetan Buddhism, it is the "White Umbrella" (Wylie: gdugs dkar)..

Tathāgatagarbha sūtras

The Tathāgatagarbha sūtras are a group of Mahayana sutras that present the concept of the "womb" or "embryo" (garbha) of the tathāgata, the buddha. Every sentient being has the possibility to attain Buddhahood because of the tathāgatagarbha.

This concept originated in India but was a major influence in the development of East Asian Buddhism, where it was equated with the concept of Buddhadhātu, "buddha-element" or "buddha-nature".

The Tathāgatagarbha sūtras include the Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra, Śrīmālādevī Siṃhanāda Sūtra, Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra and the Aṅgulimālīya Sūtra. Related ideas are in found in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra and Avataṃsaka Sūtra. Another major text, the Awakening of Faith, was originally composed in China, while the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra was considerably extended in China.


Vasubandhu (Gandhari: 𐨬𐨀𐨯𐨂𐨦𐨀𐨞𐨡𐨂; traditional Chinese: 世親; ; pinyin: Shìqīn; Wylie: dbyig gnyen) (fl. 4th to 5th century CE) was an influential Buddhist monk and scholar from Gandhara. He was a philosopher who wrote commentary on the Abhidharma, from the perspectives of the Sarvastivada and Sautrāntika schools. After his conversion to Mahayana Buddhism, along with his half-brother, Asanga, he was also one of the main founders of the Yogacara school.

Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakośakārikā ("Commentary on the Treasury of the Abhidharma") is widely used in Tibetan and East Asian Buddhism, as the major source for non-Mahayana Abhidharma philosophy. His philosophical verse works set forth the standard for the Indian Yogacara metaphysics of "appearance only" (vijñapti-mātra), which has been described as a form of "epistemological idealism", phenomenology and close to Immanuel Kant's transcendental idealism. Apart from this, he wrote several commentaries, works on logic, argumentation and devotional poetry.

Vasubandhu is one of the most influential thinkers in the Indian Buddhist philosophical tradition. In Jōdo Shinshū, he is considered the Second Patriarch; in Chan Buddhism, he is the 21st Patriarch.


The Vinaya (Pali and Sanskrit, literally meaning "leading out", "education", "discipline") is the regulatory framework for the sangha or monastic community of Buddhism based on the canonical texts called the Vinaya Pitaka. The teachings of the Gautama Buddha can be divided into two broad categories: Dharma "doctrine" and Vinaya "discipline".

Extant vinaya texts include those of the Theravada (the only one in Pali), the Kāśyapīya, the Mahāsāṃghika, the Mahīśāsaka, the Dharmaguptaka, the Sarvāstivāda and the Mūlasarvāstivāda.


Yidam is a type of deity associated with tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism said to be manifestations of Buddhahood or enlightened mind. During personal meditation (sādhana) practice, the yogi identifies their own form, attributes and mind with those of a yidam for the purpose of transformation. Yidam is sometimes translated by the terms "meditational deity" or "tutelary deity". Examples of yidams include the meditation deities Chakrasamvara, Kalachakra, Hevajra, Yamantaka, and Vajrayogini, all of whom have a distinctive iconography, mandala, mantra, rites of invocation and practice.

In Vajrayana, the yidam is one of the three roots of the "inner" refuge formula and is also the key element of Deity yoga since the 'deity' in the yoga is the yidam.

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