Confucius (Kongzi, Kongfuzi, K’ung Fu-tzu) To Daibutsu (Buddhism)

Confucius (Kongzi, Kongfuzi, K’ung Fu-tzu)

(551-479 b.c.e.) founder of Confucianism

One of the world’s greatest philosophers, Confucius may have been the most influential person in China’s long history.

He was a wandering teacher who worked on assignment for various rulers and gentry families during China’s early history. During his wanderings he lectured his hosts and soon attracted a small band of followers. These included the beloved Yan Hui as well as others. Because of his desire to surround himself with scholar-gentlemen, he can be said to have started the Chinese literati tradition. He was originally from Lu, roughly equivalent to modern Shandong province in eastern China. His family was noble but fairly impoverished. From his youth he decided to devote his time to teaching. However, he also acted as an administrator in the state of Lu. At 51 he became a magistrate and, subsequently, a minister of justice. He resigned and, at the age of 56, began to travel. At 68 he returned to Lu. He died at 73, having taught, according to some sources, 3,000 pupils.

Many works are attributed to Confucius, but not all are accepted by modern scholars as his own work. The one we can most reliably conclude contains his thoughts is the Analects, a collection of short vignettes and exchanges between the "master"—Confucius—and his pupils and others. other works attributed to Confucius include the Chun Qiu (Spring and Autumn Annals) and the Zuo Zhuan, a commentary on the Chun Qiu.


(1904-1979) early British Mahayan Buddhist scholar

Conze, the author and translator of numerous Buddhist books, was born in London and as a youth moved to Germany, where he attended high school and college. He studied at Tubingen, Heidelberg, Kiel, and Cologne. He received his Ph.D. from the latter school in 1928. He pursued further postdoctoral studies in Germany and England and gradually moved to his life work, the translation of the many works of Indian (Sanskrit) and Tibetan Buddhist literature.

The culmination of his years of study and work began to appear in the 1950s; his first books were a basic text, Buddhism: Its Essence and Development (1951), and Buddhist Texts through the Ages (1954), a coedited volume. These would be followed over the next 20 years with a prodigious output of translations and papers and books on Buddhism. Much time was spent on translating the prajnaparamita sutras.

In 1963, Conze became the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Indian Studies at the university of Wisconsin. This appointment was the first of a number of short-term posts as visiting professor at different schools in the united States, England, and Germany. His last years were spent at the university of Lancaster and the university of California Santa Barbara.

Councils of Buddhism

There were four major councils held in ancient times. In the modern period, a major fifth council was held in Myanmar (then called Burma) in 1871, and a sixth in 1954-56.

In Buddhist literature the first three councils are the most often mentioned. There are in fact two competing traditions regarding the fourth— one from Sri Lanka and one from Kashmir. Just as the early Christian councils guided the new faith in certain directions, the early Buddhist councils reflected many critical issues.

Several of these councils were presided over or sponsored by a secular authority, usually the king or emperor, or, today, a modern secular government. In fact the councils were often called by the ruler, often because of concerns about the direction of development in the sangha. We can make various readings concerning the true reasons a secular power would want to be involved in such councils, but at the very least it confirms the close connection throughout Buddhism’s history between sangha and state.

Another theme in many councils is concern for accuracy and the imperative to retain traditional knowledge. In a period when civilization moved from oral recitation to written records there was understandable anxiety to record all material that existed in oral forms. In fact, Buddhism’s long history reflects the impact of this major transition in the form of knowledge management. Not surprisingly, as we today face another transition to digital knowledge, there are new concerns about the fragility of transferring the teachings into digital formats.

Finally we should note that the major councils were primarily held in South and Southeast Asian cultures. The major councils were not held in East Asia. They may thus represent a cultural expression and method of dealing with overriding concerns in the south. Practitioners in the north faced different conditions: often fragmented into competing schools, hampered by mountains and oceans, and not always supported by the state, Buddhist leaders in China, Korea, Japan, and Tibet found other ways to deal with concerns for accuracy, knowledge retention, and institutional reform.


The First Buddhist Council, at Rajagrha, took place in 486 b.c.e., a mere three months after the Buddha’s death, his parinirvana. In that meeting, his disciple Ananda is said to have recited the Buddha’s sermons, which later became the sutras. upali, another of the major disciples, recited the monastic rules, which became the Vinaya. And Purna began the collection of commentaries, the Abhidharma, although the early recitals were probably limited to matrkas, lists of key concepts. To this day, these three areas together form the body of the Buddhist canon, the Tripitaka.

While some scholars doubt that the first council ever truly took place, in Buddhist literature and legend it remains an important event. The meeting is said to have been held in a splendid hall built by the local king, Ajatasatru. The council was presided over by Mahakasyapa, the Buddha’s successor. one account indicates that Mahakasy-apa decided to convene the council with 500 selected monks in order to counter the effects of one blasphemous monk (a Subhadra or, in some accounts, Balanda). Mahakasyapa may also have felt it important to clarify the Dharma (teachings) so that the Buddha’s impact would not fade with the passing of his person. With this council the outlines of the Buddha’s teachings, the Buddhava-cana, was now formalized.


This Second Buddhist Council was held after around 100 years, in 386 b.c.e. (some traditions say 326 b.c.e.). Some monks from Vaisali, in the east, were criticized for following the 10 tenets, which did not match the Pratimoksa, the rules for monks. The 10 tenets related to carrying or keeping salt, to eating after noon, to going to a village intending to eat but not practicing the ceremony of dealing with leftover food, and to various other practices that to us may perhaps seem minor. But the 10th tenet, that a monk could accept gold or silver from the hands of lay people, was seen as a serious issue.

The situation was debated by the full body present, with monks from the west disapproving. Finally a committee of eight was appointed to decide, and they ruled to reprimand the monks who followed the 10 tenets. in response the monks from the east simply held their own congress. They later became known as the Maha-sanghika, the "large majority." The remaining members were known as the Sthaviravadins, the "elders." Thus while the council of Vaisali resulted in the broad separation into the Mahasanghika and the Sthaviravatins camps, this outcome probably also reflected tensions between east and west as well as doctrinal issues.


The Pali canon states that the Third Buddhist Council was held during the time of King Dhar-masoka, 236 years after the Buddha’s parinirvana, in 250 b.c.e. Pataliputra was the capital city of the time. This council expelled monks who had been attracted to the sangha by the comfortable lifestyle in monasteries. it also aired out doctrinal disagreements. The Vibhajyavadins argued that elements (dharmas) were impermanent by nature, while the Sarvastivadins argued that elements were incorruptible. Although Emperor Asoka was said to have presided over this council, many scholars doubt the likelihood of this.


One famous council—in some traditions called the Fourth Buddhist Council—was called by King Kaniska (r. c. 79-101 c.e.). Kaniska was ruler of the Kusanas in Central Asia, a region that included modern Kashmir. He decided to call the council in Kashmir because of confusion he felt about Buddhist teachings. Monks and scholars gathered at Gandhara for seven days. From this group the king selected 499 arhats to attend, and he later added one Vasumitra, who although not an arhat was urged forward by divine influence and agreed to preside over the council. The actual council was held somewhere in Kashmir—some accounts say Kundalavana; some say the Kuvana monastery at Jalandhara. Once gathered, the participants focused on preparing commentaries on the Tripitaka. The resulting commentaries were written on copper plates and stored in stone boxes. It is most likely, although not known definitely, that the commentaries were written in Sanskrit, perhaps used for this function for the first time.

The historical truth of this synod is in doubt; it was not mentioned by Southern school records or by the Tibetan historian Buston. It may be a reconstruction that reflects the rise of Mahayana at this time.


Several other synods were held in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Thailand, and Burma (Myanmar). The first in Ceylon occurred when King Devanamapi-yatissa erected a monastery and attended the council with thousands of participants. This was the council in Thuparama monastery, with 1,000 monks led by Thera (elder) Arittha and featuring Thera Mahinda, the great missionary. The meeting was held 238 years after the death of the Buddha, therefore around the time of the third council at Pataliputra, mentioned earlier.

A second synod was held in Ceylon during the rule of King Vatthagamini Abhaya, 57 years later, in the Aloka Lena cave near present-day Matale. The council was convened because of the fear that the contents of the Tripitaka could not be reliably retained in memory and had to be written. Five hundred monks recited the Buddha’s words and wrote the contents on palm leaves. Today it is called the Council of Tambapanni, and in many Theravada accounts is called the Fourth Buddhist Council.

Another council in Ceylon was held in 1865 at Ratnapura under the Venerable. Hiddaduve Siri Suamhala. It lasted five months.

In Thailand the Sangitivamsa (History of the recitals), written in 1789, records councils held in Sri Lanka and one at Chiangmai, northern Thailand, the so-called eighth council. It was held under the King Sridharmacakravarti Tilakarajad-hipati. This eighth council is recognized in the Thai tradition only.

Unlike many of the smaller councils in Sri Lanka and Thailand, two in Myanmar are recognized as major councils. The Fifth Buddhist Council was held in 1871 in Mandalay, the old imperial capital in the north of Myanmar. It was sponsored by the reigning king, Mindon. The Dharma was recited jointly by 2,400 monks in an effort to find alterations and distortions. As a result of this council the entire Pali Tripitaka was inscribed on stone slabs; this massive library can still be viewed today at Kuthodaw Pagoda.

And the Sixth Buddhist Council was held in Rangoon in May 1954, to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of Buddhism; 2,423 monks from Burma and 144 from other countries attended. During the council, which lasted for two years, leading Theravada monks edited and restored an "original" version of the Pali Tripitaka. This meeting was sponsored by the Burmese government.

Additional recent international meetings include a World Buddhist Summit held at Lum-bini, Nepal, in 1998 and, in 2000 and 2002, the Second and Third World Buddhist Propagation Conferences held in Thailand and Cambodia, respectively. A World Buddhist Summit was held at the Mahapasana Cave in Yangon (Rangoon) in December 2004. Finally, a first major effort in modern China, the World Buddhist Forum, was held in the Chinese cities of Hangzhou and Zhoushan in April 2006.


Broadly conceived, cultivation means following a program that will result in spiritual attainment. The term is used in Christian contexts for following the path of Christ. In Buddhism it refers to the path of Buddhism, following the Dharma taught by the Buddha. In the Daoist context it means consciously working to achieve unity with the Dao. And in Confucianism it refers to the efforts to lead the life of a true gentleman, the Confucian ideal who embodies Confucian concepts of humanity. other Chinese religious traditions such as Tian Dao (Yiguandao) constantly speak of cultivating the way (xiu dao) as the goal of religious participation. one may thus speak of cultivating a path in any tradition; the main assumption is that as a patient gardener one exerts effort to follow a fixed program.

In Buddhism there are various interpretations, with each school and period perhaps providing a different perspective on the Buddhist path. The Buddha’s original emphasis was on the Eightfold Path, a scheme that remains at the core of Buddhist practice. However, even in the earliest stages certain individuals were said to have attained special states upon hearing the Buddha teach the Four Noble Truths. These individuals are separated into the three groups of Voice Hearers, who include many of his 10 major disciples. There quickly developed a scheme of progress on the path of Buddhism. The individual would pass through three stages, the three paths. In the path of insight the individual perceives the Four Noble Truths and discards all illusions in thought. in the stage of practice the individual cuts off all desire. And in the final stage, that of the arhat, all illusions of all sorts are discarded and the individual is fully enlightened.

A slightly more elaborate scheme breaks out four stages of enlightenment: the stream-winner, the once-returner, the nonreturner, and the arhat. The stream-winner is one who has entered the stream leading to nirvana and has conquered illusion of thought. The once-returner is one who has passed through six of the illusions of desire. Having attained this level the person will be reborn once in the realm of the gods and one more final time as a human. Therefore, the individual will return to the world of samsara only once more. The non-returner is just that person who has been reborn after seeing through the six illusions of desire and so will not need to return. Having eliminated the final three illusions of desire, the individual achieves the status of arhat. The arhat, by definition, has passed beyond all illusions of thought and desire and is henceforth free from being reborn in the world of samsara.

This schema sums up the situation for early Buddhist thought. The Mahayana writers accepted this but built on it, adding many stages on the bodhisattva path. There are in bodhisattva practice 52 stages. These are spelled out in the Jeweled Necklace Sutra, a work probably first produced in China in the fourth century c.e. The text describes 10 stages in each of the areas of faith, security, practice, devotion, and development, followed by the 51st stage of near-perfect enlightenment and the final stage of perfect enlightenment. This scheme had a wide-ranging influence on Mahayana thought, for instance, on the teachings of the Tian Tai school, which developed in China from the seventh century c.e.

A common saying in Buddhism is that there are 84,000 different famen, or Dharma gates. This means the Buddha’s Dharma is approached from many angles and methods. There are thus multiple methods of cultivation, and each individual must find the most appropriate after investigation and consideration.

Cultural Revolution (China)

The Cultural Revolution is a period of Chinese history still only partially understood, mainly because it is too near to our own period. it began in 1967 and lasted through 1976, basically ending with the death of Mao Zedong (1893-1976) and the loss of power experienced by his key lieutenants. it began as a political movement and power struggle within the ruling elite but ended by affecting every corner of Chinese society and culture. It is fair to say there is not a Chinese alive today whose family has not been directly affected by the Cultural Revolution in some way. As such it is not always an easy topic to discuss. While the official line on this period is that it was one of excess and mistakes, many who actually lived through that period prefer not to dwell on the suffering it caused.

The effects of the Great Proletarian Revolution on Buddhism were widespread and devastating. Signs of its approach were evident as far back as 1964, when fewer and fewer accounts of Buddhism appeared in news reports. Holmes Welch, one of the first commentators on Buddhism in this period, speaks of the virtual "disappearance" of the religions. Buddhism was, in fact, as close to extinction in China during this period as it has ever been.

The Cultural Revolution buildup started in 1964 with a concerted campaign against the Four olds—Ideas, Customs, Habits, and Culture. By September 1966, every monastery and temple had closed in the cities. This was the first time monasteries had been ordered closed since the Hui Chang persecution of 845 c.e. Some were covered with political slogans, some were stripped bare, and most were converted to other uses such as offices. The headquarters of the Chinese Buddhist Association were closed and the monks expelled. Monks and nuns were ordered to revert to lay life and marry. Red Guards forced people to destroy sacred images. Many leaders were subjected to criticism, abuse, and torture or prison. The Religious Affairs Bureau itself ceased to function.

The Cultural Revolution affected not only Buddhism, but all religions. qigong research, for instance, which in the 1950s and 1960s had built up an aura of scientific validity, was attacked. Qigong clinics were often vandalized, and as a result qigong masters sometimes redefined their practices to emphasize bodily movement. And the Red Guards often took aim at archaeological sites of some value; an early site of a "parish" arranged around an earthen altar, established by the first Daoist Celestial Master patriarch Zhao Daoling, was destroyed near Mt. Longhu, for instance.

With regard to religious issues, the policies of the Cultural Revolution were formally repudiated at the 11th general assembly of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, held in December 1978. The Cultural Revolution was then officially recognized as a "mistake."


Daibutsu is the popular name of the Great Buddha located at Kamakura, Japan. It is a large bronze statue of Amitabha (Amida) Buddha, the primary object of worship in Pure Land Buddhism, standing some 27.4 feet high. The statue is located in an open courtyard west of the city of Kamakura, its location chosen to symbolize the belief that the paradise to which Amitabha welcomes believers is in the West.

The idea for building the Daibutsu originated in 1195 when Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-99), the shogun who ruled from Kamakura, attended a ceremony in Nara at which the statue of Buddha at Todai-ji, which had been reconstructed, was rededicated. He decided that Kamakura needed such a Buddha but was unable to act upon the idea during the four years of life remaining to him.

After his death, some Pure Land followers close to Yoritomo followed through with the idea, a project delayed by some years of political unrest and the final consolidation of power in the hands of the family of his widow, Hojo Masako. The Hojo family favored the Rinzai Zen Buddhists and did not financially support the building of the Daibutsu, though they did not oppose it.

A Pure Land priest named Joko began raising money for the project in 1238, and the original statue, carved in wood, was completed in 1243, along with a hall to house it. In 1247, one of the many storms that afflicted Kamakura in the mid-13th century destroyed the statue and its hall. Devotees again raised money and this time replaced the wooden statue with a bronze one; its casting began in 1252. it was finished in the mid-1260s. The hall in which it then rested was again attacked in a storm in 1335 and destroyed. By this time, the Kamakura shogunate had been defeated and national leadership moved to Kyoto. A new hall was built, but it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1495. Afterward, the hall was not rebuilt and the statue has since been located outdoors.

Over the years, at times, the statue was totally neglected as Kamakura’s role in the national life receded into obscurity. Then, early in the 18th century a Jodo-Shu priest named Zojoji (16371718) launched an effort to restore the statue. He raised enough money to restore the statue, but not enough to construct a new hall.

In the 20th century, especially since the end of World War II, the Daibutsu has become one of Japan’s most visited tourist and pilgrimage sites. it currently rests in the open within a courtyard.

The Great Buddha, or Daibutsu, bronze statue at Kamakura, Japan

The Great Buddha, or Daibutsu, bronze statue at Kamakura, Japan

Immediately to the east of the courtyard is the Kotoku-in temple, which is not accessible to the casual visitor. The statue on view today is the same statue cast in the 13th century. Since its restoration in the 18th century, it has undergone repairs twice, in 1923 and 1960.

The statue shows Amida Buddha sitting in a meditative position. The hands rest on his lap, palms up and the tips of the thumbs touching each other, positioned in what is termed the Samadhi Mudra.

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