Buddhism in China: An Enduring Legacy on View at the Freer

The Smithsonian, August 29, 2012

Washington, DC, USA -- Though Buddhism was not native to China, curator Stephen Allee says it wasn’t a hard sell. “It’s a religion of salvation, and so it had great popularity and appeal,” he says.

<< Known as the transmitter of Chan, or Zen Buddhism, the Chinese monk, Bodhidharma, was said to have a volatile temperament. Portrait of Bodhidharma. Fourteenth century, ink on silk. Courtesy the Freer Gallery of Art.

As curator of the Freer Gallery‘s new exhibit, “Enlightened Beings: Buddhism in Chinese Painting,” Allee points out that missionaries and traders traveled across the Silk Road in the first century BCE, and over the centuries, they gained a court audience, making Buddhism an integral part of Chinese culture.

The exhibit’s 27 works, ranging from the 11th century to the 19th century, tell the story of both Buddhist thought and its adoption in a new land. The lens may seem wide-angle but historical memory holds an important place in a religion that records the transmission of its dogma from person to person. Within a single painting in the exhibit, for example, are representations of 53 generations beginning with Buddha and continuing all the way into the 16th century. The work is meant to record the unbroken transmission of Buddha’s teachings across time.

“Buddha in Sanskrit means to be awakened or enlightened,” says Allee. Born Siddartha Guatama, Buddha began life as a prince in what is now southern Nepal. Gautama left home and lived without luxury. After learning to meditate, he was able to be awakened to the truth: “that all existence is empty and all beings are trapped by their desires,” writes Allee in the introductory text for the exhibit. “Only by recognizing the emptiness of things and severing one’s attachment to them is it possible to end suffering and enter the state of spiritual bliss known as nirvana.”

Allee explains that though China had many native philosophies and religions at the time, few of them dealt with the idea of the afterlife satisfactorily. Thus, the promise of reincarnation, salvation and nirvana appealed to many when Buddhism reached them from northern India.

Though salvation was the name of the game, there were other paths practitioners could take. One group, the Bodhisattvas, for example, achieve enlightenment but stay on Earth to aid in the salvation of others. Another, the Luohan, meanwhile, also choose to remain on Earth to protect the teachings of Buddhism. The exhibit also features depictions of lineage masters and Zen monks.

Describing Zen, or Chan, monks as eccentric, Allee explains that Zen Buddhism relied on a wordless transmission rather than strict understanding of dogma. “Buddha gave a sermon and one of his followers asked a question,” says Allee. “Instead of answering, he simply held up a flower and the follower instantly achieved enlightenment.” A native product of China in the fifth century, Zen Buddhism became associated with its own style of expressive brushwork.

While monks sometimes produced the artworks, patrons could also commission works for temples or for their own homes. Common in both were representations of the four directional gods. Vaisravana, guardian king of the North, served to protect temples and practitioners. He also became associated with wealth, making him all the more popular, says Allee. In one 14th-century ink and color silk painting from China, the artist has included Central Asian dancers and Chinese scholars, thus depicting the religion’s broad geographic and historical reach.

“Enlightened Beings: Buddhism in Chinese Painting” opens September 1 and runs through February 24, 2013.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Omniscient Robotic-Being for Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv