It became well established throughout the vast nation during the 300's A.D. It is surprising, then, to learn that at one time, most of the Chinese people viewed the religion with skepticism, considering it to be little more than a strange foreign cult. Many of the early Chinese converts to the Buddhist religion risked ostracism and persecution simply for practicing their beliefs.
Buddhism reached China from India around 100 A.D. For many years, almost all Chinese subscribed to either of two native religions. One was Confucianism, which was based on the ideas of Confucius, the revered philosopher. The tenets of this belief system included obedience to authority, the promotion of education, societal order, and a deep respect for one's ancestors and for the past. Confucius was born about 550 B.C. and the religion based on his teachings emerged shortly after his death in the 470's B.C.
The other traditional Chinese religion was Taoism. The basic teachings of this belief system included a reverence for nature and routine celebration of the faith's many protective gods. Taoism began during the 300's B.C. and is based on a book entitled the Tao Te Ching (The Classic of the Way and the Virtue). Taoism was also heavily influenced by elements of Chinese folk religion.
When Buddhists first began to appear in China, most Chinese deeply mistrusted them. Their mistrust was easy to understand. According to Sources of Chinese Tradition, written by Theodore Debary, Buddhism was a radically different religion from both Confucianism and Taoism.
Buddhism itself was founded about 500 B.C. in India by the teacher named Buddha. Buddha was born about 563 B.C. in southern Nepal. His actual name was Siddhartha Gautama. He was a member of a powerful royal family. Despite Gautama's wealth and high social standing, he was a deeply unhappy young man. At age 29, the future Buddha sank into a debilitating depression. He was convinced that life was full of misfortune and heartache. His feelings of melancholy caused him to leave his own family to seek spiritual enlightenment as an itinerant monk. After six years of nonstop traveling, Gautama finally experienced enlightenment. He was convinced that he had discovered why life was so full of woe. In addition, he was convinced that he had discovered how human beings could escape their feelings of misery. He soon had many followers. These followers called him Buddha, which means the Enlightened One.
According to Theodore Debary in his work, Sources of Chinese Tradition, much of the Chinese people's initial misgivings about Buddhism stemmed from simple xenophobia (p. 277). China possessed one of the world's earliest great civilizations; Chinese writing history goes back thousands of years ago. The Chinese people were greatly accomplished, and not surprisingly, this great culture tended to view other peoples as being inferior. The Chinese seemed to view India with contempt, and many Chinese felt that a religion that came from India would have a negative, corrupting influence on the population (p. 277).
Much mistrust was also triggered by simple and seemingly shallow cultural differences between the Indians and the Chinese. For example, many Chinese were originally dismayed upon learning that Buddhist clerics took vows of celibacy