Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution

Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution

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The Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution initiated by Tang
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 Emperor Wuzong reached its height in the year 845
845
Year 845 was a common year starting on Thursday of the Julian calendar.- Europe :* March 28 – Paris is sacked by Viking raiders, probably under Ragnar Lodbrok, who collect a huge ransom in exchange for leaving.* The Vikings also sack Hamburg and Melun.* November 22 – Count of Vannes,...

 CE
Common Era
Common Era ,abbreviated as CE, is an alternative designation for the calendar era originally introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, traditionally identified with Anno Domini .Dates before the year 1 CE are indicated by the usage of BCE, short for Before the Common Era Common Era...

. Among its purposes were to appropriate war funds and to cleanse China of foreign influences. As such, the persecution was directed not only towards Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 but also towards other foreign religions such as Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and was formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil...

, Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 etc. Only the native Chinese ideologies of Confucianism
Confucianism
Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius . Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period, but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han...

 and Taoism
Taoism
Taoism refers to a philosophical or religious tradition in which the basic concept is to establish harmony with the Tao , which is the mechanism of everything that exists...

 survived the upheaval in one piece.

Reasons for the Persecution


Emperor Wuzong's reasons for persecuting the Buddhist organisations and temples throughout China were economic, social, and religious.
  • Economic reasons: In 843
    843
    Year 843 was a common year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar.- Europe :* The Treaty of Verdun divides the Carolingian Empire between the 3 sons of Louis the Pious .* Kenneth I , King of the Scots, also becomes King of the Picts, thus becoming the first...

     the emperor's armies won a decisive battle against the Uyghur
    Uyghur people
    The Uyghur are a Turkic ethnic group living in Eastern and Central Asia. Today, Uyghurs live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China...

     tribes at the cost of almost bankrupting the country. Wuzong's solution to the financial crisis was to go after the wealth that had been accumulated in the Buddhist monasteries. Buddhism had flourished greatly during the Tang period, and its monasteries enjoyed tax-exempt status. In 845
    845
    Year 845 was a common year starting on Thursday of the Julian calendar.- Europe :* March 28 – Paris is sacked by Viking raiders, probably under Ragnar Lodbrok, who collect a huge ransom in exchange for leaving.* The Vikings also sack Hamburg and Melun.* November 22 – Count of Vannes,...

    , Wuzong closed many Buddhist shrines, confiscated their property, and sent the monks and nuns home to lay
    Laity
    In religious organizations, the laity comprises all people who are not in the clergy. A person who is a member of a religious order who is not ordained legitimate clergy is considered as a member of the laity, even though they are members of a religious order .In the past in Christian cultures, the...

     life.
  • Social reasons: Confucian intellectuals such as Han Yu
    Han Yu
    Han Yu , born in Nanyang, Henan, China, was a precursor of Neo-Confucianism as well as an essayist and poet, during the Tang dynasty. The Indiana Companion calls him "comparable in stature to Dante, Shakespeare or Goethe" for his influence on the Chinese literary tradition . He stood for strong...

     railed against Buddhism for undermining the social structure of China. It eroded the loyalty of son to father, and subject to ruler, by encouraging people to leave their families and to become monks and nuns. Once they had been ordained, they stopped engaging in useful economic activity such as agriculture and weaving, and became a burden that had to be supported by the work of others. The persecution sought to return monks and nuns to the ranks of tax-paying commoners engaged in useful economic activity.
  • Religious reasons: While Wuzong saw Buddhism as a foreign religion that was harmful to Chinese society, he became a zealous follower of Taoism
    Taoism
    Taoism refers to a philosophical or religious tradition in which the basic concept is to establish harmony with the Tao , which is the mechanism of everything that exists...

    , a faith which he regarded as native to China. Buddhism preached the attainment of non-birth or nirvana, which its critics equated with death, while Taoism promised immortality, a notion that increasingly captured the attention of the emperor as he grew older and less rational.


An imperial edict of 845 stated the case against Buddhism as follows:

Events of the Persecution


The first phase of the persecution was one aimed at purifying or reforming the Buddhist church rather than exterminating it. Thus, the persecution began in 842 with an imperial edict providing that undesirables such as sorcerers or convicts were to be weeded out from the ranks of the Buddhist monks and nuns and were to be returned to lay life. In addition, monks and nuns were to turn their wealth over to the government; those who wished to keep their wealth would be returned to lay life and forced to pay taxes. During this first phase, Confucian arguments for the reform of Buddhist institutions and the protection of society from Buddhist influence and practices were predominant.

Gradually, however, the Emperor Wuzong became more and more impressed with the claims of Taoism, and came to develop a severe dislike for Buddhism. The Japanese monk Ennin
Ennin
Ennin , who is better known in Japan by his posthumous name, Jikaku Daishi , was a priest of the Tendai school.- Birth and origin :...

, who lived in China during the persecution, even suggested that the emperor had been influenced by his illicit love of a beautiful Taoist priestess. In addition, as time went by the emperor became more irascible and less sane in his judgments. One of his edicts banned the use of single-wheeled wheelbarrows, since they break up "the middle of the road," an important concept of Taoism. As a result, in 844 the persecution moved into a second phase the objective of which was the extermination rather than the reformation of Buddhism. According to the report prepared by the Board of Worship, there were 4,600 monasteries, 40,000 hermitages (places of retreat), 260,500 monks and nuns. The emperor issued edicts that Buddhist temples and shrines be destroyed, that all monks (desirables as well as undesirables) be defrocked, that the property of the monasteries be confiscated, and that Buddhist paraphernalia be destroyed. An edict providing that foreign monks be defrocked and returned to their homelands resulted in Ennin
Ennin
Ennin , who is better known in Japan by his posthumous name, Jikaku Daishi , was a priest of the Tendai school.- Birth and origin :...

's expulsion from China. By the edict of AD 845
845
Year 845 was a common year starting on Thursday of the Julian calendar.- Europe :* March 28 – Paris is sacked by Viking raiders, probably under Ragnar Lodbrok, who collect a huge ransom in exchange for leaving.* The Vikings also sack Hamburg and Melun.* November 22 – Count of Vannes,...

 all the monasteries were abolished with very few exceptions. When the monasteries were broken up the images of bronze, silver or gold were to be handed over to the government.

In 846
846
Year 846 was a common year starting on Friday of the Julian calendar.- Europe :* Nominoe occupies Nantes and Rennes, he makes raids in Anjou and threatens Bayeux...

, the Emperor Wuzong died, perhaps on account of the Taoist elixirs of life he had been consuming. Shortly thereafter, his successor proclaimed a general amnesty. The persecution was over.

Effects on Buddhism


The suppression of monasteries and persecution of foreign religions was part of a reformation undertaken. The persecution lasted for twenty months—not long, but long enough to have permanent effects. Buddhism, for all its strength, never completely recovered. For centuries afterwards, it was merely a tolerated religion. The days of its greatest building, sculpture, and painting, and its most vital creative thought, were past.

In some aspects while much of traditional Buddhist teachings were later arduously restored following Emperor Wuzong's reign, some traditional schools of thought were wiped out. This included the ancient Esoteric school
Vajrayana
Vajrayāna Buddhism is also known as Tantric Buddhism, Tantrayāna, Mantrayāna, Secret Mantra, Esoteric Buddhism and the Diamond Vehicle...

, which only survived through transmission of the teachings to the Japanese monk Kūkai
Kukai
Kūkai , also known posthumously as , 774–835, was a Japanese monk, civil servant, scholar, poet, and artist, founder of the Shingon or "True Word" school of Buddhism. Shingon followers usually refer to him by the honorific titles of and ....

, later the founder of the Shingon sect
Shingon Buddhism
is one of the mainstream major schools of Japanese Buddhism and one of the few surviving Esoteric Buddhist lineages that started in the 3rd to 4th century CE that originally spread from India to China through traveling monks such as Vajrabodhi and Amoghavajra...

.

Effects on other religions


In addition to Buddhism, Wuzong persecuted other foreign religions as well. He all but destroyed Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and was formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil...

 and Manichaeanism in China, and his persecution of the growing Nestorian Christian
Church of the East in China
The Church of the East in China had a long but not continuous history between the 7th and 14th centuries. The Church of the East, or Nestorian Church, was the first church to spread Christianity to China. Chinese sources describe a mission under the Persian cleric Alopen as arriving at Chang'an in...

 churches sent Chinese Christianity
Christianity in China
Christianity in China is a growing minority religion that comprises Protestants , Catholics , and a small number of Orthodox Christians. Although its lineage in China is not as ancient as the institutional religions of Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism, and the social system and ideology of...

 into a decline from which it never recovered.

Chinese records state Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and was formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil...

 and Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 were regarded as heretical
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

 forms of Buddhism, and were included within the scope of the edicts. Below is from an edict concerning the two religions:

Sources

  • Reischauer, Edwin O. Ennin's Travels in Tang China. New York: Ronald Press, 1955.
  • Philip, T. V. East of the Euphrates: Early Christianity in Asia. India: CSS & ISPCK, India, 1998 (See here)

See also

  • Emperor Wuzong
  • Buddhism gains political traction in the north
  • Three Disasters of Wu
    Three Disasters of Wu
    The Three Disasters of Wu were three major persecutions against Buddhism in Chinese history. They were named as such because the posthumous names or temple names of all three emperors who carried out the persecutions had the character Wu in them.- First Disaster :The first Disaster of Wu started...

  • Four Buddhist Persecutions in China
    Four Buddhist Persecutions in China
    The Four Buddhist Persecutions in China was the wholesale suppression of Buddhism carried out on four occasions from the fifth through the tenth century by four Chinese emperors.-First and Second:...

  • Persecution of Buddhists
    Persecution of Buddhists
    Many Buddhists have experienced persecution from non-Buddhists and other Buddhists during the history of Buddhism. Persecution may refer to unwarranted arrest, imprisonment, beating, torture, or execution...

  • Ennin
    Ennin
    Ennin , who is better known in Japan by his posthumous name, Jikaku Daishi , was a priest of the Tendai school.- Birth and origin :...