Often identified as one of the Worlds’ major religious Faiths, the history of Buddhism and its relationship to the cultures of Asia has followed a long and intricate road across Time and the Asian continent.


Following the death of the Gautama Buddha in 483 BC, Buddhism developed along two major lines – the Hinayana ("lesser vehicle") and the Mahayana ("greater vehicle"). It was this Mahayana that found its way along the trade roots of Central Asia into Tibet and finally into China. The first recorded personage in China was An Shih-kao (147 – 170 AD) who seems to have visited the Han capital of Loyang in 150 AD and, over the course of his career translated some 115 volumes of 95 scriptures of an undetermined nature. Tao-an (312-385), a scholar of the Prajna Paramita sutras and a follower of the Amitabha Buddha, and his student, Hui-yuan (334-416), founder of the Chinese Pure Land sect on Lushan Mountain established the first Buddhist community in China.

With the coming of Kumirajiva (343-413), an Indian monk, to Chang-an (the western capital), Buddhist scripture took a great step forward. Kumirajiva established a translation institute where Buddhist scripture could be translated and reproduced in large quantities. His students, Seng-chao and Tao-sheng are noted for their major advances in Buddhist thought.

Buddhabhadra (359-429) while not a scholar such as Kumirajiva came to China from India and provided an influence on Chinese Buddhism whose focus was less on sutras and more on reflection. The institution of Chinese Buddhism would then issue forth from the sutra-oriented followers of Kumirajiva and the meditation-orientation of Buddhabhadras’ followers.

And it was into this environment that the well-known figure, Bodhidarma (470-532) arrived in southern China from India in 520 AD Generally identified as the founder of Ch’an (J. Zen) Buddhism, Bodhidarma has been regularly identified with the later development of the Chinese Boxing arts. Though this connection is generally unfounded, tradition continues to support this as the first major intersect between Chinese Buddhist faith and martial valor. Buddhism would continue to enjoy almost 500 years of tolerance and development in the Chinese culture, producing Hui-neng (638-713), the 6th patriarch whose temple in Canton legitimized Ch’an Buddhism in its own right. Likewise there was Ma-tsu Tao-I (709-788) creator of what is known today as Rinzai Zen, and Pai-chang Huai-hai (720-814) who formulated a monastic system for the emerging Ch’an communities with rules of conduct and discipline for Zen monks.

In 845, a terrible persecution of Buddhism ended both the "golden age" as well the very nature of Buddhism in China. However, while the branch of Buddhism which had been founded on scripture and societal context was all but erased, Ch’an Buddhism with its tradition of rural locations and self-reliance survived to become the single remaining aspect of Chinese Buddhism when favor was regained under the Sung Dynasty. It would, however, be ever after split into two forms: the Lin-chi (J. Rinzai) and the Ts’ao-tung (J. Soto).

Buddhism is considered to have begun in Korea in 372 AD with the arrival in Koguryo of a mission from King Fu Chien of the eastern Ch’in dynasty and lead by a Buddhist priest named Shun-tao bearing Buddhist images and scriptures. Twelve years later Marantara, an Indian monk arrived by ship at the court of Paekche, which would, in turn, send statues and scriptures to Japan 200 years later, setting the foundation for Japanese Buddhism through Prince Shotoku (574-622).

Korea was fertile ground for Buddhist thought. The transition from a tribal society to that of the consolidated governments of the Three Kingdoms Period had taxed the old Shamanistic beliefs and found them lacking. Nor was the earlier Taoists beliefs from China adequate in addressing the peoples spiritual needs. As Buddhism was adopted as the state religion, first by Koguryo, then Paekche (384 AD), and finally by Shilla (527). The kingdoms benefited from a chief personality in the figure of the Buddha with which the king could be identified, and with the structured belief system that included the Law of Buddha which could easily become the Law of the State. To ensure the longevity of this belief system, each of the kingdoms established an institution whose cadre recruited and trained a corps of promising individuals who would provide the mainstay for that countries fighting forces. The best known of these were the HwaRang of the Shilla kingdom. Lead by individuals revered as incarnations of the Maitreya (Future) Buddha, these warriors were imbued with the Five Tenets of "Country," "Family," "Loyalty," "Courage" and "Benevolence" as preached by the monk, Won Hyo. The strength these able warriors drew from these beliefs compares easily with the Christian faith of the European knights, and the Zen Buddhist beliefs of the Japanese Samurai warriors.

The Korean peninsula (Unified Shilla, 668) was ultimately unified into a single kingdom and Korean Buddhism began a scholastic golden age of its own. The Koryo Dynasty (1000- 1272) was the era that saw the creation of the TRIPITAKA KOREANA, a complete library of Buddhist scriptures carved in 16,000 wood blocks for printing.

With the ascension of the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910) to the Korean throne, however, Neo-Confucianism was adopted as the guiding principles for Korean culture and Buddhism fell into a decline. Though Buddhism continued to be tolerated, and even during the Japanese Occupation (1910-1945) modifications such as the marriage of former celibate monks, end of temple slaves and forfeiture of extensive temple lands was enforced. To the present day, however, the influence of Buddhism on Korean culture in general and specifically on Korean martial arts is best summarized in three distinct ways.

Much like the Christian monasteries of Western Europe, the Buddhist monasteries of Asia have been repositories of learning and culture which have served to transmit literacy, technical ability, medical traditions as well as martial and spiritual traditions from one generation to the next.

Secondly, The Buddhist monasteries have also served as social agencies to their respective communities providing shelter and sanctuary to those members of society for whom Life had been less than benevolent. Many of the colorful anecdotes regarding life in the monastery and the benefits that the community enjoyed from the monastery relate directly to the wide range of experiences brought to monastic life by those seeking shelter. It has become almost a martial arts institution to hear of acts of valor performed by "monks" who may have been little more than social outcasts seeking to compensate their benefactors for their kindness’ in time of need.

Finally, there is the spiritual code of Buddhism itself, which allows for one to protect themselves, and that which they hold dear, when self-defense is conducted in a spirit of Justice and Compassion. As Buddhism seeks to transcend the Dualism that produces such judgements as "Good" and "Bad" and "Right" and "Wrong", behaviors done in the name of revenge, self-righteousness, anger, and self-promotion have no place. However, to act out of the best part of ones’ Self, without judgement, seeing what needs to be done, clearly, and doing it with resolution, and bringing balance to ones’ community is perhaps the greatest gift Buddhism has brought us.