China can be compared to India in terms of its size and population, but our neighbors have made enormous progress in economic terms. The Chinese economy is five times bigger than India. It is growing exponentially and China is making unimaginable progress in the technological area. Particularly in the area of new technology, China is surging ahead of the western countries as well. Therefore, it is important for the Indians to know their neighbors directly as India had played, through Buddhism, an important role in developing its philosophy and culture to some extent.
However, it should be born in mind that the India that influenced China is not the nation-state of India that was born in 1950. It is not the United China that was influenced. India was divided into many kingdoms in the past and so was China. Different kingdoms were maintaining their relationships with different kingdoms in China. This fact must be borne in mind when we study the historical interaction between “China” and “India”. The modern political systems will not be able to show us the real significance of the past interaction between the kingdoms of both the landmasses. It is not only true about the Indian subcontinent but also people from Sinhala country have played an important role in China.
The present-day Pakistan with its important Buddhist area in the past, Gandhara, was similarly influential in developing this cultural exchanges. The exchanges were not one way, but in return, the kingdoms in China also influenced Indian kingdoms. P.L. Narasu cites one historical incidence where the Chinese friend of Harsha came to help him when Harsha’s kingdom was attacked by the Brahmins. Harsha was a great Buddhist emperor and his Chinese friend was visiting him for a Buddhist conclave and while on his way back to his kingdom in China he heard the news that his friend was attacked by the Brahmins, he rushed back from Nepal to help him.
The present-day political China is divided into 31 states and they are very big. Some of them have the long-established kingdoms, which were united later. It was the first time in the history of China was Greater China created after the communist revolution of 1949. One of such provinces/states of China is Yunan province with the capital Kunming as a growing city in the region. The Yunan province is strikingly close to South Asia and South East Asia. In the Yunan province, there is another city, the Dali city, which is an interesting city from the Buddhist point of view. The city of Dali represents the seat of universal Buddhism. because, not only geographically, the city is at the crossroads of Chinese vast landmass and Myanmar, but it is also at the crossing of Chinese vast landmass and Tibet.
In Dali, all the forms of Buddhism still exist today. It has the population of Theravada Buddhists, Mahayana Buddhists, and Tibetan Buddhists. It was the burgeoning centre of Buddhist interaction in the past to the extent that 9 out of 22 kings of the Dali kingdom renounced their throne and became Buddhist monks. One of the mysteries of Dali kingdoms is that they are not included in the mass of terracotta that housed the prototypes of the kings in China. The Dali kingdom was also interesting as it was an important part of the southern silk route and hence an important center. The city of Dali is less than 1800 km away from India, the distance that could have been easily covered by the traveling monks. So much of the history of Buddhism remains undiscovered, but the scholars have been able to find out important linkages as to how the Dali kings tried to create their kingdoms based on their Buddhist counterparts in India. Nagarjuna’s Ratnavali played an important role in founding Buddhist based countries then.
I have been visiting Dali for last three years and have been inspired by the resurgence of Buddhism in China. The city of Dali hosts a Buddhist conclave which brings Buddhists scholars from not only all over China but also all over the world. The gathering is important from the Buddhist point of view because it also brings in people from different geographical areas contiguous with the state of Yunan in China. The paper presentations are not only interesting but are modern in outlook and indicative of the trends in the Buddhist world. In a few days, one can be exposed to the rich Buddhist tradition of China and its diverse form. The Buddhism in Dali is an indication of Buddhist resurgence in the vast China. In the ancient times, the Dali Buddhism also offered an important platform for the Buddhists all over the great landmass of China to link up with Buddhism in the South East and South Asia.
The remarkable restoration undertaken by the Chinese Government of the ancient Buddhist sites is praiseworthy. The Government restored the old three pagodas in the past in their ancient glory and the scholars are being supported to study more and more about the Buddhist heritage. The great monk, Venerable master Chuang Hua, who is a graduate of Beijing University is spearheading the great movement. There is so much to learn from the resurgence of Buddhism taking place in China. Like China’s rise in other areas, the rise of Buddhism can help China to deal with many problems.
Author – Mangesh Dahiwale