Continuing: Part 2: That old time religion
By Henry C K Liu
The "white man's burden" is a world view for justifying imperialism. The term is the name of an 1899 poem by Kipling, the sentiments of which give insight into this world view.
The first verse of the Kipling poem reads:
Take up the White Man's burden –
Send forth the best ye breed –
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild –
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
In this view, non-European cultures are seen as childlike and devilish, with people of European descent having a sacred and selfless obligation to dominate them in perpetuity for their own good and salvation.
The poem was originally published in a popular
magazine (McClure's). It was written specifically to address US isolationist sentiments after the Spanish-American War in 1898, from which the US would emerge as a world power of consequence. Kipling wrote this poem specifically to help sway popular opinion in the United States , so that a "friendly" Western power would hold the strategically important US after the collapse of the Spanish empire in Philippines Southeast Asia.
The view and the term by now are widely regarded as racist. Nevertheless, it served the purpose of allowing colonization to proceed in the context of
anti-colonialism self-image and to legitimize historical racism in the US . United States
The colonial powers relied on the excuse of "civilizing" indigenous peoples to rationalize colonialism. Archeological findings in
were suppressed for fear that the existence of sophisticated urban culture in southern South Africa Africaprior to European colonization would pose a threat to the argument that white rule was necessary to "civilize" the region.
The term "white man's burden" is sometimes used in the present time to describe double standards toward those of European descent because of perceived responsibility or culpability for historical wrongs. It is the main moral argument for affirmative action in the
. Increasingly vocal demands are heard from the black community and the nations of indigenous people in the United States for an official apology and a program of restitution to address such historical wrongs perpetrated by one people on others. US
Cultural imperialism is the practice of promoting the culture and language of one national civilization in another for the purpose of political and social control. This can take the form of active, formal policy, such as in education and job opportunities, or a general attitude of superiority complex.
Empires throughout history have been established using war and physical compulsion. In the long term, the invading population tended to become absorbed into the dominant local culture, or acquire its attributes indirectly. Cultural imperialism reverses this trend by imposing an alien culture on the conquered. One of the early examples of cultural imperialism was the extinction of the Etruscan culture and language caused by the imperial policies of the Romans.
The Greek culture built gymnasiums, theaters and public baths in places that its adherents conquered, such as ancient
Judea, where Greek cultural imperialism sparked a popular revolt, with the effect that the subject populations became immersed in the conquering culture. The spread of the koine (common) Greek language was another large factor in this immersion.
The prayer-book rebellion of 1549, when the English state sought to suppress non-English languages with the English-language Book of Common Prayer, is another example. In replacing Latin with English, and under the guise of suppressing Catholicism, English was in effect imposed as the language of the Anglican Church as a dominant societal institution. Though people in many areas of
did not speak or understand English at the time, the Cornish language fell into disuse as a result. The Cornish people protested against the imposition of an English Cornwall
prayer book, resulting in large numbers of protesters being massacred by the king's army, their leaders executed and the people suffering harsh reprisals.
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries the dominant English establishment attempted to eliminate all non-English languages within the
British Isles(such as Welsh, Irish and Scottish Gaelic) by outlawing them or otherwise marginalizing their speakers. Many other languages had almost or totally been wiped out, including Cornish and Manx. "Cultural imperialism" is a term first applied to the British Empire, with its many measures to impose the conquering culture on the conquered. These ranged from pound-sterling hegemony, to the preferred social status given the game of cricket and English dress codes, to mandatory use and teaching of English, further to establish Britain's control on nations and territories within the empire. Language imperialism is the basic element in cultural imperialism. The discriminatory practice of proper elocution is a component of in-group cultural imperialism.
As exploration of the
increased, European nations including Americas , Britain , France , the Belgium , Netherlands and Spain all raced to claim territory in hopes of generating increased economic wealth for themselves. In these new colonies, the European conquerors imposed their languages and cultures on lands whose indigenous population was too large or too established to annihilate. The same took place in Portugal Africaand Asia. The record of policy and abuse of native Americans is atrocious, going beyond cultural imperialism to genocide. US
During the late 18th, the 19th and the early 20th centuries, the Swedish government continually repressed the Saami culture. Repression took numerous forms, such as banning the Saami language and by forceful removal of many cultural artifacts, such as the magic drums of the naajds (Saami shamans). Most of the drums have not to date been returned. Even as late as the 1960s the Sweden-Finnish people of the
had their native Finnish dialect banned from use in schools and public records. Torne Valley
Cultural imperialism since World War II has primarily been connected with the
. Most countries outside the US view the pervasive United States cultural export through business and popular culture as threatening to their traditional ways of life or moral values. Some countries, including US and France , have adopted official policies that actively oppose "Americanization". Representatives of al-Qaeda stated that their attacks on US interests were motivated in part by a reaction to perceived Canada cultural imperialism. US
Edward Said of
, one of the pioneers of post-colonial studies, has written extensively on the subject of cultural imperialism. His work highlights the misconceived assumptions about cultures and societies and is influenced by Michel Foucault's concepts of discourse and power. Foucault views the intellectual's role as no longer to place himself somewhat ahead and to the side in order to express the stifled truth of the collectivity. Rather, it is to struggle against the forms of power that transform him into its object and instrument in the sphere of knowledge, truth, consciousness, and discourse. In this sense theory does not express, translate, or serve to apply practice: it is practice. But it is local and regional and not totalizing. This is a struggle against power, a struggle aimed at revealing and undermining power where it is most invisible and insidious. It is not to awaken consciousness that we struggle but to sap power, to take power; it is an activity conducted alongside those who struggle for power, and not their illumination. Colonialism, the political theory governing imperialism, is based on a belief that the mores of the colonizer are superior to those of the colonized on the basis on power. This colonial mentality explains why former colonies such as Columbia University Hong Kongcling to the myth of the superiority of their colonial culture.
According to Said, the Orient signifies a system of representations framed by political forces that brought the Orient into Western learning, Western consciousness, and
Western Empire. The Orient exists for the West, and is constructed by and in relation to the West. Orientalism refers to the study of Near and Far Eastern societies and cultures, generally by Westerners. It is a mirror image of what are inferior and alien ("Other") to the West. Although this term had been abandoned as archaic by the late 20th century, Said argues that the term should be redefined to apply to any current study of such societies to correct current accounts of the Middle East, , India , and elsewhere that reflects long-held Western biases. The discourse and visual imagery of Orientalism are laced with notions of power and superiority, formulated initially to facilitate a colonizing mission on the part of the West and perpetuated through a wide variety of discourses and policies. China
Critical theorists regard Orientalism as part of an effort to justify colonialism through the concept of the "white man's burden", and to wield the sword of modernity against allegedly "backward" civilizations. A critical theory is an account of morality that is sensitive to the historically contingent nature of the culture that spawned it: by adopting a hypothetical stance toward their own traditions and on this basis grasping their own cultural relativity, participants in the formation of a critical theory take a questioning stance toward their own practices while nonetheless avoiding the paralysis of moral relativism. The current coercive application of the Western concept of democracy, rule of law, individual freedom and market fundamentalism as universal truth is a legitimate target of critical theory.
Promoters of this Western version of modernity see its birth in the West through a radical transformation of its past. The West of the Middle Ages, built around a world view of Christian Scholasticism, was a society of religious philosophy, feudal law, and an agricultural economy. Out of this past, the Renaissance and Enlightenment produced a substantially new mentality of science, individualism, industrial capitalism and imperialism. The cultural foundation of this new mentality is that reason, not revelation, is the instrument of knowledge and arbiter of truth; that science, not religion, leads to truth about nature and life; that the pursuit of happiness in this life, not the quest for spiritual fulfillment, or suffering in preparation for the next, is the cardinal purpose of existence; that reason can and should be used to increase human control through economic and technological progress; that the individual person is an end in him/herself with the capacity to direct his/her own life, not a communal member of society with a prescribed social role; that individuals should be encouraged to indulge in inalienable rights to freedom of thought, speech, and action; that religious belief should be a private affair rather than a collective awareness, that intolerance is a social disease, and that church and state should be kept separate.
As the West grows stronger, tolerance of other cultures and of those within the West itself who refuse to participate is viewed increasingly as a sign of weakness. Domination takes on sophisticated, less visible forms. National sovereignty is pushed aside in the name of replacing command economies with markets, warfare with trade, and rule by king or commissar with token democracy. To resist neo-imperialism is to resist modernity. This view justifies the new empire of the sole superpower, self-proclaimed inheritor of Western civilization.
Yet this view of modernity misreads history. Thomas Aquinas (1225-71) benefited intellectually from his exposure to translations of works of Aristotle from Greek into Latin by Arab scholars to whose world view he became much indebted. He also profited intellectually from the rise of universities in Europe during 12th and 13th centuries, notably the University of Bologna (1088), known for its studies in law, the University of Padua (founded by dissidents from Bologna), the University of Paris, and Oxford University, all founded as centers of learning in theology, not science. In this new intellectual milieu in
Europe, Aquinas applied Aristotelian syllogism as interpreted by Arab minds to medieval mysticism of revelation. His Summa Theologica (1267-73) was a systematic exposition of theology on rational philosophical principles worked out by the ancient Greeks as modified by Arab precision and algebra, which pioneered the use of variables in problem-solving in logic.
Up to that time, while Scholasticism, as advanced by
(354-430), would vindicate reason in theology, it would carefully differentiate between theology and philosophy. It would do so by confining theology, proceeding from faith, to investigations of revealed truths, while it would limit philosophy, based on reason, from concern with truths that transcended reason. Revealed truth would be proclaimed as discoverable only through faith. St Augustine
The 13th century was a critical point in Christian thought regarding the relationship between faith and reason. The intellectual community in Christendom at that time was torn between claims of followers of Averroes (1126-98), Arabian philosopher from
in Cordoba , and claims of followers of Spain , troubled youth turned zealous convert, founder of Christian theology and spokesman for Christian mysticism. St Augustine
Efforts of followers of Averroes in the 13th century to separate absolutely faith from truth clashed with the traditional claim of truth being exclusively a matter of faith. Such a claim had been made for the past nine centuries by followers of St Augustine, whose contribution to the evolution of Christianity was considered second only to that of St Paul, apostle to Gentiles and the greatest missionary apostle. Paul laid down the relentless approach of Western evangelism by applying to his missionary zeal the same vigor and intolerance he showed toward the persecution of Christians before his epiphany on the road to
Averroes, Latin name for Abu-al-Walid Ibn Rushd, whose commentaries on Aristotle would remain influential for four centuries until the Renaissance, attempted to circumscribe the separate limits of faith and reason. He asserted that both could process truths and that the two separate realms need not be reconciled because they are not in conflict. Siger de Brabant of the
, leader of the Averroists, claimed in 1260 that it should be possible, as a matter of veracity, and tolerable, as a license in intellectual soundness, for a concept to be true in reason but false in faith or visa versa. Universityof Paris
The doctrines of the Averroists, which include denying the immortality of the individual soul and upholding the eternity of matter, ended up being officially condemned by the Catholic Church.
St Thomas Aquinas, nicknamed Dumb Ox because of his slow and deliberate manner of speech, brilliant father of Neo-Scholasticism, aiming to resolve the dispute between Averroists and Augustinians, would hold that reason and faith constitute two harmonious realms in which the truth of faith complements that of reason, both being gifts of God, but reason having an autonomy of its own. The existence of God could therefore be discovered through reason, with the grace of God.
The theological significance of this momentous claim by Thomas Aquinas cannot be over-emphasized. It would save Christianity from falling into irrelevance in the Age of Reason, sometimes referred to as the Enlightenment, and preserve tolerance for faith among rational thinkers in the scientific world. The Thomist claim remained unchallenged for five centuries until David Hume (1711-86) pointed out in his Inquiry into Human Understanding that since the conclusion of a valid inference could contain no information not found in the premise, there could be no valid conclusion from observed to unobserved phenomena.
Hume let the logic air out of the Thomist natural-theology balloon, and in the process showed that even general laws of science could not be logically justified beyond their own limits, perhaps even including his own sweeping conclusion. Hume, the empiricist, would logically determine that logic is circular and goes nowhere: a classic position of Taoist skepticism.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) emancipated man's command of knowledge from Humean skepticism. In his Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Kant emphasized the contribution of the knower to knowledge. While acknowledging that the three great issues of metaphysics - God, freedom and immortality - could not be logically determined, he asserted that their essence is a necessary presupposition. In his subsequent publications, Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and Critique of Judgement (1790), Kant asserted as a moral law his famous categorical imperative requiring moral actions to be unconditionally and universally binding to absolute goodwill. Goodwill is singularly absent in imperialism, classic or neo.
Notwithstanding the enlightened breakthroughs of English Protestant empiricists such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and David Hume, and perhaps in reaction to them, Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Aeterni Patris in 1879. It declared Scholasticism, as modified by Thomas Aquinas, to be official Catholic philosophy. Unwittingly, Scholasticism legitimized the independence of secular politics from Church control. If reason and faith constitute two harmonious realms in which the truth of faith complements that of reason, both being gifts of God, but reason having an autonomy of its own, then politics and religion can also belong to separate realms in which morality of religion complements virtue in politics, but politics having an autonomy of its own. It provided the theological rationalization for the separation of church and state.
Thus when Sayyid Qutb (1906-66), leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in
and prolific author of great influence, wrote: "An all-out offensive, a jihad, should be waged against modernity so that ... moral rearmament could take place. The ultimate objective is to re-establish the Egypt upon earth," he was rejecting not modernity but the modernity of the West. Qutb was not preaching for suffering in preparation for the next life as Western scholars such as Bernard Lewis allege, he wanted his civilization back and he wanted it now. Kingdomof Allah
Qutb did not write out of ignorance of the West. His fundamentalism was formed during the two years he spent in the
, which seemed to him "a disastrous combination of avid materialism and egoistic individualism". Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59), while admiring the energy and versatility of Americans, also thought they were too intent on making money and would be condemned to a commercial culture. In Tocqueville's opinion, Americans' notion of equality was derived from their "general equality of condition" rather than from moral commitment and that their equality might eventually be endangered by the domination of a new industrial class. Mawlana Abu'l-A'la Mawdudi (1903-79), the founder of the fundamentalist Jama'at-i Islami in United States and India , was also militantly opposed to individualism. In an Islamic state, he wrote, "no one can regard any field of his affairs as personal and private". Pakistan
Asiacannot be fully understood without a thorough awareness of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. Western influence, from Christianity to liberalism to Marxism, has only been an ill-fitted costume over an ancient culture deeply rooted in Confucian values, Buddhist enlightenment mercy and Taoist paradox. Feudal culture in has aspects of what modern political science would label fascist, socialist, democratic and anarchist. As a socio-political system, feudalism is inherently authoritarian and totalitarian. However, since feudal cultural ideals have always been meticulously nurtured by Confucianism to be congruent with the political regime, social control, while pervasive, is seldom consciously felt as oppression by the general public. Or, more accurately, social oppression - both vertical, such as sovereign to subject, and horizontal, such as gender prejudice - is considered natural for lack of an accepted alternative vision. Concepts such as equality, individuality, privacy, personal freedom and democracy are deemed antisocial, and only longed for by the deranged-of-mind, such as radical Taoists. This was true in large measure up to modern times when radical Taoists were transformed into radical political and cultural dissidents. China
Buddhism (Fo Jiao) first appeared in
officially in AD 65. Some evidence suggests that it might have been imported to China from China as early as 2 BC. Since its introduction, Buddhism has permeated Chinese society and its economic life, despite periodic suppression by the state. It had affected the customs of all levels of society by the time of the Tang Dynasty some six centuries after its introduction. Buddhist temples, monasteries and shrines had been established in every part of the empire. The services of sengs (Buddhist monks) became indispensable for all social events, performing religious ceremonies for funerals and weddings, blessings for newborns, administering temples for the faithful and attending family shrines for the elite. Sengs functioned as preachers, teachers, scribes, artists and even doctors. Often they would become top advisors to the huangdi (emperor), and many sengs would even become powerful political figures both at court and at the local level. India
The name Buddha (Fo) is a Sanskrit word meaning Enlightened One. It is the appellation conferred by the faithful on Indian Prince Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 BC), who came from the southern foothills of the
Buddhism originated at the end of 5th century BC in the valley of the middle
Gangesin . The religious sect first rose as a plebeian reaction to claims of spiritual and social supremacy by Hindu Brahman priests who were the ruling elite of the Indian caste system. Since that time, Buddhism has spread across political, social and ethnic boundaries as one of the three great religions of the world, the other two being Christianity and Islam. India
Curiously, acceptance of Buddhism remained sporadic in
, its birthplace. The incorporation of Buddha by Hinduism as the ninth incarnation (avatar) of its god, Vishnu, seriously adulterated the autonomous uniqueness of Buddhism in India . The Muslim invasion of India from the 11th century gradually but effectively obliterated remaining Buddhist communities there. Similarly, Christianity remains a minority religion in the India Middle East, its holy place of origin.
Kanishka, an ardent patron of Buddhism, was king of the Kushan Empire, which dominated northern
during the 2nd century AD. He was also known in history as the sponsor of a Greco-Buddhist style of sculpture, labeled by art historians as the Gandhara school, typified by curly-haired seated Buddha statues, which became the dominant Buddhist art form in India East Asia. A gilded bronze Buddha of the Gandhara school is on display at the in Harvard Fogg Art Museum . More significant, Kanishka was instrumental in introducing Buddhism into Cambridge, Massachusetts Central Asia, whence it spread first to , then China and finally Korea . Japan
The branch of Buddhism that diffused into
East Asiawould take on different characteristics from the early sects of Buddha's own time. It would come to be known as Mahayana (Dasheng, meaning major vehicle), the scripture of which is written in classical Sanskrit, distinguishing itself from the older Hinayana (Xiaosheng, meaning minor vehicle), the scripture of which is written in a vernacular dialect (Prakrit) known as Pali. Hinayana Buddhism, remaining closer to ancient Buddhism, is practiced widely in Southeast Asiatoday.
The Sermon of the Turning of the Wheel of the Law, delivered by Buddha at Sarnath around 500 BC, elucidates the secret of a happy life by means of the Four Exalted Truths:
Truth I: Existence encompasses sorrow.
Truth II: Sorrow emanates from desire.
Truth III: Sorrow subsides when desire wanes.
Truth IV: Desire can be alleviated by following the Gracious Eight-Spectrum Path.
This Gracious Eight-Spectrum Path consists of:
Spectrum 1: Virtuous conviction.
Spectrum 2: Virtuous resolution: to renounce sensual pleasure, to harm no living creatures and ultimately to
Spectrum 3: Virtuous speech.
Spectrum 4: Virtuous conduct.
Spectrum 5: Virtuous involvement.
Spectrum 6: Virtuous effort: to keep the mind free from evil and devoted to good.
Spectrum 7: Virtuous contemplation.
Spectrum 8: Virtuous meditation: to achieve an awareness of internal selflessness and external detachment.
Buddhist concerns are more ethical than metaphysical, focusing on human suffering, which is considered as inherent in life itself. Suffering can be dispelled only by abandoning desires such as ambition, selfishness, envy and greed. This approach to life is the diametrical opposite of the Western concept of modernity.
Detachment is key. Buddhists take vows against killing, stealing, falsehood, unchasteness and intoxication. They practice self-confession and try to live austere, ascetic lives with the objective of achieving nirvana, a state of blissful detachment that, when attained permanently, known as pari-nirvana, brings an end to the otherwise never-ending cycle of earth-bound rebirths through transmigration of the soul. The Four Exalted Truths of Buddhism have helped devotees deal with the tribulations of life. The Third Exalted Truth, sorrow subsides when desire wanes, has application to modern market economy. A basic Buddhist tenet: the secret of happiness is not getting what you want, but wanting what you get. So much for the concept of the pursuit of happiness in Western modernity. For the Buddhist idea of happiness, if you have to pursue it, you have lost it.
The reasons for
's popular embrace of Buddhism are complex and have been subject to constant reassessment. One commonly acknowledged reason is that Buddhism, while of foreign origin, shares commonality with both Taoist and Confucian concepts that are indigenous to Chinese culture. The passive side of Buddhism is Taoism, which practices contemplation and promotes self-awareness. And the active side of Buddhism is Confucianism, which advocates respect for authority and submission to propriety. Furthermore, Buddhism has provided, as it has evolved in China , elaborate, colorful ceremonies welcomed by one aspect of the collective Chinese character, hitherto suppressed through centuries of Confucian social restraint and Taoist self-denial. China
Most of all, Buddhism fills a void left by traditional ancient Chinese religious concepts, which are centered rigidly around the trinity: 1) Heaven (Tian) - God. 2) Son of Heaven (Tianzi) - Emperor (sovereign). 3) The Hundred Surnames (Baixing) - People.
Heaven (Tian) is the abstract symbol of all things supernatural and authoritative, much like the manner in which the imperial court is referred to as the authoritative and decision-making body of the secular empire. God, a term that has no exact equivalent in the language of polytheistic Chinese culture, has its closest translation as Tiandi (King in Heaven), who is the highest god. Heaven as a realm is believed to be inhabited by a clan of gods and spirits (shen-gui), with hierarchical ranks, headed by Tiandi, similar to the Greek hierarchical community of gods headed by Zeus.
The secular huangdi (emperor) is the Son of Heaven (Tianzi), and the people, known as the Hundred Surnames (Baixing), are wards of huangdi. The people do not enjoy the privilege of directly communicating with Heaven, the domain of gods headed by Tiandi. The people's duty is to pay homage to the Son of Heaven, who alone possesses the privilege of communicating with and thanksgiving to Heaven. The most solemn ritual in Chinese feudal culture is the fengshan rites. It is a ritual that confers Heaven's abdication of authority on secular affairs in favor of huangdi.
Thus religion in
, before the arrival of Buddhism, had merely been a spiritual subsystem of the secular world. It was a spiritual extension of the rigid hierarchy of the ancient Chinese socio-political realm. Buddhism provided a previously unavailable outlet of direct religious expression for the common people. It introduced participatory religious experience into Chinese society. Whereas, in the context of the rigid Confucian social structure, Taoism (Dao Jia) provides the Chinese people with introverted individual spiritual freedom, Buddhism provides them with extroverted collective spiritual liberation, independent of communal hierarchy. Taoism allows the individual to contemplate privately, freeing him from the mental tyranny of an all-controlling culture, while Buddhism allows the people to worship independently, freeing them from the pervasive control of a rigid secular socio-political hierarchy. China
has a different meaning than in the West. The term "religion" in the Chinese language is composed of two characters: zong-jiao, literally meaning "ancestral teaching". Until the spread of Buddhism, religious experience for the Chinese people had been limited to reverence toward the spirits of their departed ancestors. Buddhism provided the average devotee with direct access to God without requiring a denial of reverence for ancestral spirits. Until the introduction of Christianity, the Chinese were not required by religion to deny the spirituality of their ancestors. This demand for the rejection of ancestor worship was a key obstacle preventing Christianity from becoming a major religion in China . Incidentally, even in Christian theology, "God" is translated in Chinese as Shangdi, meaning "The King Above". It is a celestial echo of the supreme ruler in the secular political system. China
From its beginning, Buddhism took on an anti-establishment posture, which it moderated as it developed in
but never totally abandoned. Traditionally, in the early part of an emperor's reign, as soon as his rule was firmly established, he would perform the elaborate and formal fengshan rites. These Confucian rites of theocratic feudalism involve the paying of tribute by Tianzi (Son of Heaven) as huangdi (emperor), on behalf of his baixing, namely the people, to Tian (Heaven) where the head god Tiandi (King in Heaven) reigns. Through the fengshan rites, the huangdi received tribute and accepted loyalty pledges from his vassal lords on behalf of their many minions and subjects throughout the empire. Anyone besides the huangdi performing religious rites directly to Heaven would be committing forbidden acts tantamount to treasonous usurpation. Buddhism broke the monopolistic hold of the huangdi on religious celebration and opened it to all for the taking. Little wonder Buddhism spread like wildflowers. China
By breaking down the hierarchical religious monopoly implied by Confucian fengshan rites, Buddhism in its early history in
unwittingly contributed to the crumbling of the foundation of a feudal hierarchy already in decline. Buddhism's populist theology bolstered the emergence of a secular structure in the form of a centrally managed empire, replacing autonomous local authority. In this new secular structure individuals could participate more freely in social functions, unrestricted by traditional local hierarchy. China
The Buddhist notion of nirvana runs parallel to the concept of the Mandate of Heaven (Tianming). Ironically, by claiming that a state of nirvana could be earned through religious devotion by any deserving member of society, it implies that the Mandate of Heaven can also be earned by any deserving hero. Thus Buddhism invited periodic and recurring suppression from paranoid emperors who felt obliged to adopt anti-subversive measures against Buddhism, in order to defend the imperial claim on the Mandate of Heaven from challenges by ambitious members of the aristocracy who were Buddhist devotees.
While Buddhism serves as the fountainhead of the idea of open access for all to spiritual salvation, such universal access is dependent on the grace of detachment as exemplified by Buddha. This idea is akin to the detached central authority in an empire structure with the grace of a distant emperor who is less involved with the details of daily living of his subjects. It is less akin to the archaic hierarchical feudalism of autonomous local lords who control every detail of the lives of his fief. Thus Buddhism facilitated its own growth at the same time that it provided the philosophical justification for the flowering of a distant centralized political order in a complex, multi-dimensional society. The development of such a benign centralized political structure, first budding in imperial
in the 5th century, gathered unstoppable momentum around the 7th century. China
The Buddhist concept of universal open access to nirvana had socio-political implications. It helped shift politics from being a contest among competing feudal lords refereed by an arbitrating huangdi to the beginning of an empirewide power struggle based on class interests. Since people were no longer dependent on their feudal lords for achieving the state of nirvana, they no longer felt inseparably bound to their lords in secular life. Gradually, merchants in the service of a particular feudal lord found stronger common interest with other merchants in the service of competing lords than their traditional commitment to clannish feudal loyalty. Before long, the same became true for farmers, scholars, artisans and other tradesmen. And with the tacit encouragement of expanding central power, people began to look to the huangdi as a higher authority to champion universal justice and to protect their separate class interests. They also looked to Buddhism to enhance the moral posture of class solidarity against the Confucian demand for absolute hierarchical loyalty toward their local lords. Thus the spread of Buddhism ushered in an age of strong central imperial authority on top of traditional feudalism with local autonomy. Through the spread of Buddhism, an empirewide standard now overshadowed fragmented local autonomy on basic issues of proper human relationship, justice and social order.
Simultaneously, however, Buddhist insistence on a clear separation of ecclesiastical authority from secular control caused constant conflict between the central authority of the dragon throne and independent-minded Buddhist fundamentalists. This conflict was exploited by freewheeling members of guizu (the aristocracy) for secular political purposes, particularly those in the south, where greater physical distance from the capital translated into greater local autonomy.
The intellectual role of Buddhist institutions grew increasingly significant and pervasive in Chinese culture. Sengs (Buddhist monks) of various sects, in addition to their religious undertakings, took to routinely writing philosophy, conducting schools and keeping libraries. The independence of Buddhist teaching from forbidding Confucian scholasticism was an important factor in Buddhism's popular flowering in
. Buddhist curricula were admittedly overburdened with time-consuming, mind-boggling theological studies, but the discipline acquired from such study methods more than compensated for the heavy investment in time and effort. Excellence in exegesis requires scholarship, research methodology, creative logic and secular evidential verification, qualities that learned sengs cultivated. Buddhist seng-scholars soon dominated the fields of mathematics, alchemy, medicine, astronomy and engineering. Buddhist impact on Chinese philosophy was fundamental, introducing new concepts, abstract terms and new words for the description and manipulation of previously unfathomable ideas. Buddhism's influence in Chinese art, architecture and literature was undeniably crucial. Such influence in Tang helped liberate Chinese culture from Confucianism's stultifying repression, particularly on new and creative ideas, much as Western scientific methods would 12 centuries later. China
In literature, Buddhist sutras (fojing), which were more widely circulated and popularly read than abstruse and elitist Confucian classics, paved the way for other new and lengthy secular literary works, and prepared the reading public for acceptance of mixing prose with verse, for handling of multi-dimensional themes and, ultimately, for the birth of new literary genres such as the novel and drama.
Buddhist understanding of history and of the art of statecraft challenged the staid monopoly of orthodox Confucianism on politics. And Buddhists were increasingly recognized for relative objectivity in their judgment of history and for innovative originality in their approach to secular problems. In both military strategy and political theory, Buddhist intellectual contributions played major roles in a fragmented
's quest for reunification. In return, Buddhism flourished under those rulers, such as those of the Sui Dynasty (581-618), who were wise enough to employ universally potent Buddhist ideas and apply them to political advantage, let alone exploiting ready-made, broad-based support of mushrooming Buddhist communities all over the fragmented political landscape. China
The development of
's culture, politics and spirit cannot be fully understood without taking into account the influence of Buddhism since its importation around 2 BC. From the 5th century AD on, Buddhists both contributed to, and in turn were affected by, the historic polarization in China during the era of North-South Dynasties (Nan-Bei Chao 420-589), a period spanning the late phase of Six Dynasties (Liu Chao 220-589) that emerged after the fall of the glorious Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) four centuries previously. Buddhism adapted itself during this period in the south to a society characterized by the independence of a transplanted guizu (aristocracy), with large estates of client groups. Its ecclesiastical structure developed into a network of loosely connected, but individually autonomous, monasteries. China
It was therefore not surprising that the great southern seng (Buddhist monk) Huiyun (334-416) wrote an anti-Confucian essay titled "Treatise on the Exemption of Religious Institutions from Monarchial Authority" (Shamen bujing Wangzhi Lun). Written in 404, the treatise asserted the independence of religion from secular control. It was among the earliest intellectual treatises on the principle of separation of church and state.
During the era of North-South Dynasties, traditional central political authority in the north forced Buddhism to seek support from the ruling sovereign, who tended to be the sole source of secular favors.
For example, with transparent motive and shrewd purpose, Seng Fakuo (died 420) of the Bei Wei Dynasty (Northern Wei 386-534), leader of the Buddhist clergy in the north, claimed Emperor Daowu (reigned 386-409) as the living reincarnation of Buddha. Seng Fakuo was bestowed high secular titles during his life, culminating with a hereditary rank of lord.
Buddhists of 7th-century
sought favoritism from the secular state at the same time they asserted their independence and separation from traditional imperial institutions by calling for Buddhist exemption from taxation, military service and the long arm of secular law. This inherently contradictory posture still would not have brought the wrath of the dragon throne on Buddhists if they had not been simultaneously engaged in secular factional intrigues and class politics. China
Furthermore, growing abuse of religious privileges and laxity in monastic discipline inevitably forced the dragon throne to adopt intrusive measures of control on theology, and secular supervision of ecclesiastic establishments. Also, proliferation of clerical ordination and monasterial founding, much of which was less than legitimate if not outright fraudulent, began to deprive the state of much-needed manpower and tax revenue. The removal from the economy of large tracts of prime land that would be donated outright, or under formulas of deferred giving, or sometimes through fraudulent, tax-evading schemes, caused serious economic imbalance in many areas. The sanctuary provided by Buddhist monasteries to the lawless, to tax evaders and conscript dodgers, as well as to political dissidents, also threatened the totalitarian authority of the dragon throne and security interests of the secular order.
The huge expense of Buddhist temple construction, the costly maintenance of an ever-expanding clergy population and its associated lay communities and the drain on the scarce supply of metal caused by the casting of ever larger and larger Buddhist statues and bells interfered with the secular state's own increasingly ambitious plans for domestic capital construction and for arms production needed by foreign conquest.
The growing economic power of Buddhist monasteries, often the main socio-economic institutions in many regions, also had destabilizing political implications. While Buddhism was repeatedly sponsored by secular authorities for political purposes, official anti-Buddhist pogroms, known as shatai (ecclesiastical cleansing), systematically recurred throughout the long history of
. This continued up to the Christian-supported 1911 Democratic Revolution that established the China , not to mention the subsequent Marxist-Leninist People's Republic, particularly during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. Nationalist Republic
The distressing phenomenon of shatai became even more complex when other issues, such as xenophobia, backlash from social reform, and preventive suppression of political revolts mingled with traditional socio-political pressure for curbing Buddhist expansion into the secular world. State persecution and state sponsorship of religion proved always to be two sides of the same evil coin.
Gunnar Myrdal (1898-1984), Swedish sociologist-economist, in his 1944 definitive study The American Dilemma, for which he received the 1974 Nobel Prize for Economics, having declared the "Negro" problem in the
to be inextricably entwined with the democratic functioning of American society, went on to produce a 1976 study of United States Southeast Asia: The Asian Dilemma. In it he identified Buddhist acceptance of suffering as the prime cause for economic underdevelopment in the region. Myrdal's conclusion would appear valid superficially, given the coincidence of an indisputable existence of conditions of poverty in the region at the time of his study and the pervasive influence of Buddhism in Southeast Asian culture, until the question is asked as to why, whereas Buddhism has dominated Southeast Asia for more than a millennium, pervasive poverty in the region only made its appearance after the arrival of Western imperialism in the 19th century.
Marxists and nationalists, many of both professing no love for Buddhism, suggested that Myrdal had been influenced in his convenient conclusion by his eagerness to deflect responsibility for the sorry state of affairs in the region from the legacy of Western imperialism. As theological apologists tried to rationalize social misery with an accommodating theology to capture the appreciation of the secular polity, Myrdal, social scientist, tried to blame indigenous religion for the sins of secular geopolitics.
That which Western scholars identify as the process of modernity appears to have occurred in
's history more than once. China
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