Our East Asian Collection is comprised mainly of the various philosophical schools of Mahayana Buddhism, which had extensive influence on East Asian civilizations, including China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
Inextricably linked with indigenous cultures and philosophies such as Confucianism, Daoism, and popular religions, East Asian Buddhism is a unique and complex tradition that emphasizes the study and translation of Buddhist sutras, as well as the interpretation of Buddhist texts.
Occupying the vast majority of the East Asian landmass, China – one of the world’s oldest civilizations – has long been admired as a font of wisdom. Historically, East Asian societies have come under the influence of the Sinitic tradition, which has been often regarded by its neighbors in the region as a model of political, cultural, and religious inspiration.
Buddhism was first transmitted to China during the 1st century CE from Central Asia via the historic Silk Road, and then to the rest of the countries in East Asia. In China, Buddhism survived periods of institutional support and repression and is regarded as one of the “Three Teachings” alongside the indigenous religions of Confucianism and Daoism. The various forms of East Asian Buddhism are reflective of distinct local traditions and can trace their origins to Chinese Buddhist traditions. The Asian Legacy Library preserves and digitalizes Buddhist texts of the most influential Buddhist traditions found in China, Japan, the Korean Peninsula, and Vietnam.
Buddhism in East Asia–as is the case with many other world religions–underwent numerous transformations throughout its history and shows great variation in its social, religious, and philosophical expressions.
The most influential Buddhist traditions in East Asia include Chan (Zen, Sôn, Thiền), Pure Land, Huayan (Kegon, Hwaŏm, Hoa nghiêm), Tiantai (Tendai, Ch’ŏnt’ae, Thiên Thai), and Esoteric Buddhism. Among these, it was Chan Buddhism that came to hold the dominant place starting in the 6th century CE. These traditions either focused on the study of Mahayana sutras and fashioned innovative interpretations of Buddhist scriptures, or created their own unique textual traditions.
Our growing East Asian collection embodies scriptures and treatises included of the Chinese Buddhist Canon – the scriptural tradition that is revered throughout East Asia – as well as other indigenous Buddhist writings and compilations.
As the Buddhist cultural sphere includes such a varied collection of cultures and languages, this rich diversity is reflected in the vast range of Buddhist primary texts and indigenous productions.
Buddhism arrived in China in the 1st century CE and Buddhist texts in Indian languages were introduced, and then translated into Chinese during the 2nd century. The increasing corpus of Buddhist translations reached significant proportions towards the end of the 5th century. The abundance of translated works generated an urgent need for systematic organization of the texts. Bibliographic catalogs of scriptures then emerged, which gradually led to the compilation of the Buddhist Canon that is found throughout East Asia.
The adaptation of woodblock printing technology expediated the production of the Canon during the 10th century and contributed to the further spread of Buddhist texts across East Asia. Since the first printed Buddhist Canon was completed in 983, other versions have been published in China, Japan, and Korea, each with small differences in content and layout. The Chinese Buddhist Canon typically includes the translated Mahayana sutras, early Āgamas, Vinaya, and Abhidharma texts, as well as scriptures from Esoteric Buddhism and texts composed in classical Chinese.
East Asia represents over half of the world’s Buddhist population. Over time, Buddhism has become a major force in the lives of people in East Asia with an emphasis on personal cultivation and introspection in the hope of obtaining enlightenment, a characteristic of lived Buddhism.
In contemporary East Asia, Chan and Pure Land remain the most prominent forms of Buddhism. The Chan tradition has traditionally stressed personal enlightenment as the ultimate goal of practice. Meditation is central to Chan practice, which can include other teaching methods such as koan practice, most prominently found in the Linji (Rinzai) tradition. The Pure Land practitioners, however, believe in salvation through the redeeming power of Amitabha Buddha. The main practice in this school is the recitation of the name of Amitabha. By doing this, it is believed that at the moment of death, Amitabha Buddha will usher the devotee to Western Pure Land where they will go on to eventually attain enlightenment.