India contribution to China

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Hieun Tsang Memorial, Nalanda

How did India contribute to China? I found answers on reading ‘The Culture and History of Indian People’ published by the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan. This article was compiled in 2001 and edited in 2017. All credits to the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan authors.

This article covers the following -

1. Introduction of Buddhism into China.
2. 320 to 750 A.D. includes India’s relations with Tibet and the Far East.
3. 750 to 1000 A.D.
4. Personal experiences of Indians with Chinese.

1. Introduction of Buddhism in China

There were regular trade relations between India and China around 140 B.C. The official account of introduction of Buddhism into China places the event in 65 A.D. In that year Han emperor Ming-ti ambassadors brought two Indian monks Dharmaratna and Kasyapa Matanga to China. The monks brought a number of sacred texts and relics. They spent the rest of their lives translating Buddhist texts into Chinese and preaching Buddhism amongst the people. It is also possible that Buddhism entered China through Burma around 50 A.D.

A number of Central Asia missionaries like Lokottama, Sanghabhadra, Dharmaraksha settled in various parts of China, converted people to Buddhism, translated Sanskrit texts into Chinese. We must remember that the Chinese were highly civilized and followed the Confucian faith. With time, Buddhism spread within China and became popular. This created, in the people of China, a desire for pilgrimage to the Holy Land i.e. India.

2. 320 A.D. to 750 A.D.

The monks of Kuchi took a leading part in the propagation of Buddhism in China from 4th A.D. The greatest of them was Kumarajiva. He went to Kashmir, studied Buddhist literature and philosophy. After Kuchi lost the war to China, the Chinese took him as a prisoner in 383 A.D. From then on till 412 A.D. he translated more than 100 Sanskrit texts and was the first to interpret the Mahayana philosophy in China . Buddhist monks from Kashmir went in large numbers to China in the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries A.D. e.g. Buddhayasa, Gunavarman. Visits by monks from India aroused great interest amongst the Chinese about Buddhism and Indian culture and got some of them to visit India.

Tao-ngan, a Chinese monk urged other monks to visit the holy land i.e. India. One of the more known names is Fa-hien who entered India in 399 A.D. through Kashmir. He visited modern day Patna, read and learnt Sanskrit books, copied the Vinaya rules and introduced them in China. During the rule of the Tsin dynasty (317 to 420 A.D.) 263 Buddhist text were translated into Chinese.

The Tang dynasty ruled China from 618 to 907 A.D. It constitutes the most glorious chapter in Chinese history, when China came under one political authority. Intercourse with India and Buddhist influence peaked during this period. The Nalanda University attracted Chinese in large numbers. They learnt Buddhism, Brahmanical philosophy, maths, astronomy and medicine.

The most well known monk to visit India during this period was Hiuen Tsang. He came to India in 630 A.D. and left in 645 A.D. On his return he received a royal ovation. In India such an honor was usually given to the kings on their return from a successful military expedition. That Tsang was thought worthy of such a treatment speaks volumes of the veneration the Chinese had for Buddhism and Indian culture. His book SI-YU-KI gave a strong impetus to the love of Indian culture in China.

Another famous monk was I-tsing. He spent ten years in Nalanda and returned to China with 4,000 Sanskrit manuscripts containing more than 50,000 slokhas. He compiled a Sanskrit-Chinese dictionary.

Another Indian who went to China in 627 A.D. was a Nalanda scholar, Prabhakaramitra. scholar. He translated a number of Buddhists text into Chinese. Buddhists Tantras are known to have been translated into Chinese in the 8th century.

It is a sad reality that a lot of the Sanskrit Buddhists literature is almost lost in India but is available in the Chinese translation.

Art

This period saw the development of the Sino-Indian school of art. A number of rock cut caves at Tunhwang, Long-men, colossal images of Buddha, fresco paintings on the walls of caves illustrate this art. It was inspired by images taken from India and Indian artistes who visited China. We know of atleast three Indian painters who worked during this period. Their names are Sakyabuddha, Buddhakirti and Kumarabodhi.

Indian music too seemed to exert a great influence on China. A musical party went from India to China in 581 A.D. According to traditions in Japan, two principle types of music, called Bodhisatva and Bhairo, were taken from China to Japan by an Indian called Bodhi.

Indian astronomy, maths and medicine were also popular in China. Indian astronomers were appointed on the official boards set up to prepare calendars. There were three Indian astronomical schools i.e. Gautama, Kasyapa and Kumara. The Indian system of nine planets was adopted by the Chinese.

Indian medical treatises were also in great demand in China. One of the Chinese work composed in 545 A.D., is a translation of one or more Sanskrit texts. The period also witnessed a great development of sea trade.

The testimony of Fa-hien and Hiuen Tsang leaves one in no doubt that a considerable portion of Afghanistan was still regarded as a part of India. Fa-hien said “ It is indeed a part of North India. The people all use the language of Central India. The Law of Buddha is very flourishing.” Inspite of the influence of the Turks, Buddhism continued to flourish. Many caves, monasteries were found then. 

Kapisa ( Kafiristan ) was a large and powerful kingdom. Its king was a Kshatriya and a devout Buddhist. There were about 100 monasteries with 6,000 priests. Indian influence is to have extended beyond Hindu Kush.

Tibet

Contacts between India and Tibet must have gotten established around the 6th century A.D. The important king Sron-btsansgam-po, who ruled during the first half of the 7th century A.D., also ruled over Nepal and parts of Assam. A devout Buddhist, he introduced in Tibet the Sanskrit language and the system of writing from India. He sent Sambhota to India to acquire a thorough knowledge of Indian scripts, Sanskrit language and Buddhists scriptures. After returning from India they framed a system of Tibetan characters and composed a grammatical work.

There is no doubt that the Tibetan alphabet is derived from the Indian Gupta script current from 5th-7th century A.D. The grammar thus composed is used in Tibetan schools even today.

When I went to Kailash Mansrovar our Tibetan guide said that for them India was the holy land. On the second day of the 52 kms trek around the Kailash, Tibetan owner of a guest house gave me a coke- can free because I was an Indian.

Other countries in the Far East

Buddhism and Indian culture spread from China, Tibet to Mongolia, Korea and Japan.

From I-tsing we know that five Korean monks visited India in the seventh century A.D. The most famous monk in Japan was Bodhisena, a Brahmin from South India. It appears that Buddhism and Sanskrit were well known in Japan. In 750 A.D. he was appointed head of the Buddhists order in Japan.

The arrangement of Japanese syllabify in fifty phonetic sounds following the Sanskrit alphabet and therefore is undoubtedly based on Sanskrit; this view is attributed by some Japanese scholars to Bodhisena. Fragments of palm leaf manuscripts written in Indian alphabets of the 4th century A.D. have been found in some Japanese monasteries.

Buttetsu, an Indian scholar spent a number of years in Nara, the famous university of Japan giving lessons of Indian dance and music. The Indian system of seven musical notes was highly admired and in great demand.

3. 750 A.D. to 1000 A.D.

There was a lull in the relations between India and China in the ninth century. Things changed with the advent of the Song dynasty. In 972 A.D. forty-four Indian monks went to China. According to Chinese chronicles there were never as many Indian monks in China as there were at the close of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th centuries. A large number of Sanskrit manuscripts were brought from India.

In 982 A.D. the Chinese Emperor appointed a Board of Translators with three Indians as their head. In 966 A.D. 157 Buddhists monks came to India to pay imperial homage to the Holy Land. The number of Buddhist monks and nuns in China in 1021 A.D. were 397,615 and 61,240.

The intense cultural relations between India and China came to an end around 1036 A.D. It probably had to do with the decline of Buddhism in India, destruction of monasteries in Bengal and Bihar by Muslim invaders.

Tibet

The period 750 to 850 A.D. is when Buddhism reached its supremacy in Tibet. The king invited Santarakshita, the high priest of Nalanda and appointed him the High Priest of Tibet. Santarak introduced the system of Buddhism Monarchism that is known as Lamaism in Tibet. Another scholar Padmasambhava introduced Tantrik rituals and taught mysticism based on Buddhists Tantrism.

Another king introduced the system of Indian weight and measures in Tibet. He invited Panditas from India to China for their scriptures and their translation into Tibetan.

A Bengali scholar Dipankara or Atisa stayed in Tibet to reform Buddhism by eliminating Tantrik elements and preaching pure doctrines.

4. Personal experiences of Indians with Chinese

1. " Chinese get a complex where Indians put in their efforts because we hold a better command on the English language and we are able to grasp a broader view of the assignments given to us. We can foresee the implications of a particular task/activity which they can't see. In HK, we had a cross section of the people viz., British being a British bank, Malaysians, Chinese and Indians. We were the un-appointed leaders. I was on a Y2K Project in HK and the processes and approaches which we used were applied by the Chinese (from Taiwan, Hongkong, Singapore and Philippines).

There was a hidden fear that we would outdo them. But I must admit once they mastered the requirements for the task, they did it thoroughly, like robots who were programmed to do "

2. " I am a Malaysian of Indian extraction. Growing up in Malaysia allowed me to witness glimpses of Indian culture, temple worship etc. Growing up in a multi racial society with not much knowledge about my origin and culture sometimes made me feel embarrassed about being of Indian origin. Being in the top 2 % of the school in studies did not endear me too much to my Malaysian Chinese classmates. Assistance given to others in their weak subjects was always one way. I guess I did not realize it because it is easy to get carried away when one is showing off. This sort of behavior towards Indians still persists. These are just some of my experiences and observations.

Summary

The essay gives us an insight into India’s spiritual and cultural influence on China and the Far East. An earlier essay on India’s relations with South-East Asia indicated similar Indian influence on the modern day Indonesia, Malayasia, Burma, Thailand and the whole of Indo-China.

Read in conjunction, these two essays describe the extent and depth of Indian influence over the whole of South-East Asia and the Far East. Buddhism is the pre-dominant religion in the Far East and Indo-China today. Although Indonesia and Malayasia are Muslim countries they have substantial Indian populations with the Indian influence very much visible. In fact Indonesia has a Vice President in Megawati Sukhornoputri, with a Sanskrit name.

Also read
1. India and China - The beyond and the within 
2. Chinese Pagodas - Were they influenced by Hindu Temple architecture 
3. Pictures of Indian influence on S.E. Asia 
4. Pictures of Hieun Tsang Memorial