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Kwan-yin as a sea Goddess [Public Domain Image]
Kwan-yin as a sea Goddess [Public Domain Image]

Chinese Buddhism

by Joseph Edkins


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I first visited a Chinese Buddhist temple in Shanghai. As a Californian, I was much more familiar with Zen Buddhism, so this was something entirely new to me. Instead of an aesthetics of austerity and clean lines, this was Baroque and mysterious. The temple was filled with statues of Buddhas, gods, goddesses and demons. I was reminded of the Hindu temples of India, or the cathedrals of Mexico.

As I transcribed this book, that first collision with Chinese Buddhism came back to me. Edkins' book is a comprehensive survey of Chinese Buddhism. He gives the historical background of the introduction of Buddhism into China, and its subsequent evolution, including biographies of the Buddhist Patriarchs. There are extensive descriptions of Chinese Buddhist geography and cosmology, the calendar of festivals, temple architecture, and the vast array of entities which are represented in sacred spaces. Of interest is his discussion of Kwan-yin, the Chinese Madonna, who began as a male Buddha and evolved into a goddess figure. There is a critical essay on Feng-shui, with details of this form of Chinese geomancy and how it developed. He enumerates dozens of Chinese Buddhist sacred texts, and provides translations of some excerpts. Edkins was a skilled linguist and explains how Sanskrit terms were transferred into Chinese. He also discusses Confucian, Taoist and other Chinese belief systems.

Edkins was a Christian missionary, and his primary concern at times appears to be how to convert Chinese Buddhists. But the sheer amount of facts which he includes here far outweigh the occasional polemic sidebar. This volume, which is still in print over a century later, is a valuable reference work for anyone studying Chinese Buddhism, as well as a snapshot of China in the late 19th century.

—J.B. Hare, February 27, 2007

Title Page and Front Matter
Preface to Second Edition
Chapter I: Life of Shakyamuni Till His Appearance at Benares as a Teacher
Chapter II: Life of Buddha From His Appearance as a Teacher at Benares to the Conversion of Rahula
Chapter III. From the Commencement of Rahula's Religious Life Till the Near Approach of the Nirvana
Chapter IV. Last Discourses and Death of Buddha


Chapter V. The Patriarchs of the Northern Buddhists
Chapter VI. Sketch of the History of Buddhism in China
Chapter VII. The Schools of Chinese Buddhism
Chapter VIII. On Chi-K‘ai and the T‘ien-T‘ai School of Buddhism
Chapter IX. The Buddhist Moral System
Chapter X. The Buddhist Calendar
Chapter XI. Relation of Buddhism to the Older Hindoo Mythology
Chapter XII. The Buddhist Universe
Chapter XIII. The Extended Universe of the Northern Buddhists
Chapter XIV. Buddhist Images and Image Worship
Chapter XV. Monasteries At P‘u-To
Chapter XVI. Buddhist Processions, Associations, Pilgrimages, and Ceremonies for the Dead
Chapter XVII. Buddhist Literature
Chapter XVIII. The Leng-Yen-King.—First Chapter
Chapter XIX. The Ekashloka Shastra
Chapter XX. Effect of Buddhism on the Philosophy of the Sung Dynasty
Chapter XXI. Feng-Shui; or, the Wind and Water Superstition of the Chinese
Chapter XXII. Buddhist Phraseology in Relation to Christian Teaching
Chapter XXIII. Notice of the Wu-Wei-Kiau, a Reformed Buddhist Sect
Chapter XXIV. Buddhism and Tauism in their Popular Aspects
Chapter XXV. On the Use of Sanscrit by the Chinese Buddhists
Chapter XXVI. Books and Papers That May be Consulted for the Study of Chinese Buddhism

Alphabetical Index of Proper Names and Subjects



Alphabetical Index of Titles of Books Mentioned in this Work