Chinese and Buddhist Beliefs in the Medieval Chinese Netherworld
It was during the late Han dynasty during the first and second centuries A.D. that Buddhism first arrived in China. As the Han dynasty began to wane so too did the peopleâ€™s faith in the associated Confucian beliefs. Many turned to the relatively new Buddhist principles. As Buddhism continued to develop in China, it influenced and was influenced by indigenous Chinese culture and beliefs. This interaction plays itself out and can be easily noted in the development of the netherworld, which we gain insight from through Buddhist miracle tales that speak of this netherworld. In ...view middle of the document...
It can be thought of as being related to the collective familial burden as mentioned before. With retribution, there comes the idea of the netherworld as a hell where one is punished for her sins. The five paths also act as a sort of retribution because oneâ€™s karma determines which path she is reborn to: heaven, human, animal, ghost, or hell, some paths more desirable than others. Buddhism also includes samsara, the cyclic existence of birth, death, and rebirth, introducing a continuation of the individual. Lastly, there is transfer of merit meaning one can do good works such as commission the recitation of sutras in someone elseâ€™s name, typically the dead, in order to help others gain merit.
Notice the key differences between the aforementioned traits in Buddhism and Pre-Buddhist China. Karma and retribution in Buddhism are different from the familial burden and retribution in Pre-Buddhist China. In Buddhism, aside from being more defined, retribution is personal, not shared collectively with the family. Also bringing good and evil actions closer is the idea of samsara. Each person is held personally accountable in one life or the next. In this manner, doing good and evil reflects less on responsibility and burden, and more on morality (Gjertson 125). Finally, with Buddhism the underworld is transformed into a hell where beings are punished for their sins. Now we can begin to sort the Buddhist principles and the indigenous Chinese beliefs in the miracle tales associated with the netherworld.
First, we look at the miracle tale about Kung Ko and his experience with the netherworld. The tale started with him dying of a sudden illness and then said â€œhe was arrested and taken to a government officeâ€, where he was questioned by an official (Gjertson 300). This shows the presence of the indigenous Chinese bureaucratic structure in the netherworld. Later, when Kung Ko is questioned his sins are killing two oxen, two ducks, and 6 hen eggs. This demonstrates the Buddhist belief that every living being is to be respected; because of samsara and the five paths any one of those beings may be a deceased friend or family come back in another form. Next, Kung Ko complains that none of his good works have been mentioned, even though they were few, which prompts the official to punish the chief secretary in charge of naming his sins and good works. Kung Ko is calling attention to the balance of good works against sins and gives evidence to the idea of karma, the stores of good and evil merit gained from performing the respective actions, an idea which is distinctly Buddhist. Also, the actions of the official handling the justice of his office and punishing the chief secretary further support the role of the Chinese bureaucratic structure in the netherworld. Subsequently, for the omission of his good works, the official allows Kung Ko to return to life for seven days before he must return to face punishment. Here shows the Buddhist thought was...