Home BREAKING NEWS China Explores Ways to Stem Commercial Exploitation of Buddhism

China Explores Ways to Stem Commercial Exploitation of Buddhism

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Visitors to Buddhist temples in China can expect to pay up to several hundred yuan for incense sticks and other offerings. From pixabay.com

By Shyamal Sinha

Visitors to Buddhist temples in China can expect to pay up to several hundred yuan for incense sticks and other offerings. From pixabay.com

Buddhism first came to China in the Han Dynasty when the Buddhist monks (missionaries) from India made their way across the overland routes of Silk Road into China. Since Buddhism was introduced to China, Buddhist ideas and practices have shaped Chinese culture in many different ways, such as art, politics, literature, philosophy and even medicine.

White Horse Temple in China

When Buddhism was first introduced to China, China had a lot of small kingdoms, and there was not any organized opposition to the new religion.

The religion gained the interest of the Emperor Ming of Han, and he established the White Horse Temple (Baima Si, the first Buddhist temple in China) in 68 AD.

During the early Tang Dynasty, in the 600s AD, the monk Xuanzang journey to India and visited over one hundred kingdoms, and wrote extensive and detailed reports of his findings. Xuanzang also returned with relics, statues, and Buddhist paraphernalia. With the emperor’s support, he set up a large translation bureau in Chang An (present-day Xi An). Also, there were a number of schools that taught and promoted Buddhism.

In China, some Buddhist men and women left their jobs and their families in order to live in Buddhist monasteries as monks or nuns.

. In China, Buddhism gradually got stronger and stronger while it was losing ground in India.

China is seeking ways to halt the increased commercialization and financial exploitation of Buddhist places of worship throughout the country, a senior official noted during a meeting of the Buddhist Association of China last week in Changsha, Hunan Province. The meeting was attended by delegates from 14 municipalities and provinces.

Buddhism is big business in China. Since the 1980s, when the Communist Party of China began to ease restrictions on religion and on the construction and renovation temples, there has been renewed interest in religion in general and in Buddhism in particular. With the more recent boom in domestic tourism, many temples, regional officials, and businesspeople have recognized the accompanying opportunities to make a profit. In recent years, many new Buddhist sites targeting domestic tourists have sprung up throughout the country, and plans are afoot for dozens more. Examples include the 128-meter-high Spring Temple Buddha statue in Henan Province, the statue of Guan Yin of the South Sea of Sanya in the island province of Hainan, and plans in Gansu Province to connect the historic Mogao Caves in Dunhuang with the sand dunes of another nearby tourist attraction.

Many temples and religious sites are also choosing to commercialize some of their services to fund maintenance of the buildings and sites, since government support for religion has diminished and income from donations is often insufficient. Visitors to temples and holy sites can expect to pay entrance fees and sometimes hundreds of yuan for incense sticks and other offerings..During the Zhou dynasty, Chinese believed that smoke resulting from burning wood act as a bridge between the human world and the spirits When Buddhism reached China, this wood evolved into sandalwood incense which were originally burned by Indian Buddhists so they could concentrate better.

It can be seen that incense burning as we know today is a merger between Chinese culture and Buddhist culture.

The Spring Temple Buddha statue in China’s Henan Province. From cnn.com

In 2012, there were even plans to list some of China’s most sacred Buddhist mountains—Mount Jiuhua in Anhui Province, Mount Wutai in Shanxi Province, and Mount Putuo in Zhejiang Province—on the Shanghai stock exchange to finance expansion plans for holy sites. These plans were met with widespread criticism from Buddhists in China, who lamented that the mountains, once revered as the earthly homes of bodhisattvas, were becoming symbols of the country’s unrestrained culture of materialism and commercialization. The government subsequently banned temples and holy sites from pursuing stock market listings.

All these issues were addressed during the meeting of the Buddhist Association of China, where Jiang Jianyong, deputy head of China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs, stressed that such violations of religious rights and interests called for a renewed agenda to promote and protect Buddhism and the religious right of Buddhists in China.

Delegates at the meeting related further examples of individuals and corporations exploiting Buddhism for commercial gain, often under the guise of building Buddhist cultural (theme) parks. In addition, temples are regularly rented out for commercial use by religious figures, and there have been instances in which people have collected donations to back non-existent UNESCO World Heritage Site applications.

Mount Wutai. From chinadaily.com.cn

Huai Hui, secretary-general of the provincial Buddhist association recounted how a monk in the city of Hengyang, in Hunan Province, had authorized the acquisition of 18 pine trees from Japan for the formidable sum of 5 million yuan (US$735,000). He added that another monk in Loudi, also in Hunan, had fraudulently collected 8 million yuan (US$1.2 million) in funding for the construction of a temple, which he used for personal gain.

“Some ancient temples have been surrounded by so-called cultural parks, with non-religious buildings constructed for commercial use,” said BAC deputy director Sheng Hui.  In addition, “fake Buddhists” have been luring followers, extorting money, and performing illegal religious activities, giving Buddhism a bad name. (China Daily)

Some of the initiatives of the Chinese Buddhist Society and the State Administration for Religious Affairs include mandating information disclosure and lawmaking. Last year, a living-Buddha authentication database was introduced to register and confirm the identities of purported living Buddhas, an inheritance structure unique to Vajrayana Buddhism.

“To protect religious rights and uphold dignity, Buddhist associations across China have been asked to tighten their management of personnel and strictly prohibit any commercial activities,” said Sheng Hui. (China Daily)

Today, there are over 365 million people practicing Buddhism worldwide, and China has over 100 million practicing Buddhism, which is the number one country for Buddhism.

Bodhisattva Guanyin

One of the most popular figures in Chinese Buddhism in the Bodhisattva Guanyin (she is the one who perceives the laments of the world-Guanshiyin).

. Over its long history, Buddhism has different forms, ranging from an emphasis of religious rituals and the worship of deities, to a complete opposition of both rituals and deities in favor of merely meditation. Yet, all forms of Buddhism share respect for the teachings of the Buddha (the enlightened one).