Indian religious, cultural and spiritual influences on China

Last updated on Jan 29, 2009

Posted on Jan 29, 2009

China and India today may not be seen as friends and have fought a war in 1961, while China uses Pakistan to hit India.. the relationship goes back a long time.  And it is amazing how the two cultures – oldest in the world – have affected and been affected by each other.

China finds several mentions in the Hindu Epic Mahabharat – a war in which Bhagwad Gita’s message was given to Arjun.  Here are some examples:[1]

  1. Book 6, chapter 9(MBh.6.9) (mentioned as one of the Northern Kingdoms): Among the tribes of the north are the Mlecchas, and the Kruras, the Yavanas, the Chinas, the Kamvojas, the Darunas, and many Mleccha tribes; the Sukritvahas, the Kulatthas, the Hunas, and the Parasikas; the Ramanas, and the Dasamalikas.
  2. Pahlavas and the Daradas and the various tribes of the Kiratas and Yavanas and Sakas and the Harahunas and Chinas and Tukharas and the Sindhavas and the Jagudas and the Ramathas and the Mundas and the inhabitants of the kingdom of women and the Tanganas and the Kekayas and the Malavas and the inhabitants of Kasmira were mentioned at (3,51) as bringing tribute to Pandava king Yudhisthira.
  3. The Yavanas, the Kiratas, the Gandharvas (from Afghanistan), the Chinas, the Savaras, the Barbaras, the Sakas, the Tusharas, the Kankas, the Pathavas, the Andhras, the Madrakas, the Paundras, the Pulindas, the Ramathas, the Kamvojas were mentioned together as tribes beyond the kigdoms of Aryavarta. The Aryavarta kings had doubts on dealing with them. (12,64)
  4. Mahabharata book 3, chapter 176 (MBh 3.176): Leaving the place called Badari (Badrinath in Uttar Pradesh) and crossing the difficult Himalayan regions, and leaving behind them, the countries of China, Tukhara, Darada and all the climes of Kulinda, rich in heaps of jewels, those warlike men viz the Pandavas, reached the capital of Suvahu, the king of Pulindas (Kiratas). [Chinas was ostensibly located in the higher reaches of Himalayas as per the epic]
  5. Bhima mentiones about a China king Dhautamulaka, who caused the destruction of his own race (5,74)

China’s Name – from Sanskrit?[2]

According to French art historian, Réné Grousset, the name China probably comes from its Sanskrit name for the regions to the North in the higher reaches of Himalayas.  It is not according to him, as is said now from the name of the state of Ch’in, the first dynasty established by Shih Huang Ti in 221 BC.   There was a small state in northwest Chiina – Chan-si – which may have been derived to form the Sanskrit word.  According to him, the word for lion in Chinese – shih – is perhaps a derivative of Simha, the Sanskrit word (In Hindi it again become Sinh!).

Mountain Men (sheng-hsien) – Indian Rishis?[3] Arthur Waley, in his book “The Way and its Power” also points out that the Mountain men or Sheng-Hsein which Lieh Tzu talked about were actually Indian Rishis.  He cites another work in support of this – Maspero (lo. cit. 608-609 and Lionel Giles, Two Parallel Anecdotes in Greek and Chinese Sources (i.e.; Lieh tzu).

“All scholars are, I think, now agreed that the literature of the 3rd century is full of geographic and mythological elements derived from India.  I see no reason to doubt,” comments Arthur Waley in his book, The Way and its Power, “that the ‘holy mountain-men’ (sheng-hsien) described by Lieh Tzu are Indian rishi; and when we read in Chuang Tzu of certain Taoists who practiced movements very similar to the asanas of Hindu yoga, it is at least a possibility that some knowledge of the yoga technique which these rishi used had also drifted into China.”

And he goes on to talk about how the Taoist practices of meditation were actually practising Dhyana in Yoga.  “That these passages describe some for of self-induced trance is beyond dispute; and that this trance was closely akin to the dhyana of Buddhist is shown by the fact that the Chinese term for practising dhyana (tso-ch’an, literally “sitting dhyana”) is modelled on the term by which old Taoists describe the practice referred to in the above extracts” (ancient Chiinese for dhyana was approximately “dian”)

Reference Links:
1. China in Mahabharat
2. India and China
3. The Way and its Power

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