Around the 5th century, the spiritually awakened son of a Pallava king, reached China and introduced the people to the way of the Buddha. He shared the process of Dhyaan, which was received and popularized in China as the Chan way of meditation. It was later shared in the rest of the South East Asia – in Vietnam as Thiền and north to Korea as Seon, and, in the 13th century, east to Japan as Zen.
China and India’s history has not been of adversaries. But of spiritual co-travelers.
Of all the cultures and geographies that India’s spiritual ways and knowledge were shared, it was only in China that the spiritual way really flourished and became a living tradition of its own. In most other places, it degenerated very quickly into belief systems and ideologies that became cannibalistic of the very basis of their existence – the Dharmic spirituality. China, was therefore, unique. It not just accepted the spiritual seed from India. It allowed it to blossom and take on its own fragrance of that land and people.
I have often wondered as to why is it that despite Swami Vivekananda having set his foot in the West around 150 years, the geography has nothing to show in terms of spiritually enlightened beings? Leave aside a vibrant Spiritual Guru, not “feel good and nice people” like Eckhart Tolle etc; why has the West not produced a single enlightened being of note despite the injection of spirituality by none other than the disciple of Ramakrishna Paramhansa?
And why is it that China over so many centuries has produced countless Buddhas?
Mimicking Its own Villains
However, when you look at today’s China, its response to the world is largely shaped by its history and NOT its Spiritual ethos. And, the country’s establishment over the years has decided to re-establish its supremacy of the nation in the world sans its spiritual core. Maybe a worthy goal economically for a nation of the size and history of China, but it leaves it vulnerable to its own success.
One wonder, therefore, that is that why the leadership of China has taken the approach that its own historical tormentors took against its people? How it has used North Korea and Pakistan as vassal states to counter Japan and India is well known. What is not that well known is how it has tried to colonize Sri Lanka via the backdoor. Its exploitation of Africa is also making people sit up now. Read here – Harvard Political Review and Fletcher Forum.
China has now, just over a 100 years ago from when it was treated shabbily become a sad caricature of those who colonialized it in the first place!
What is sad is that people in China are very gentle, nice and beautiful! The Government and the establishment, which just some decades back – during Mao’s time – had no qualms in orchestrating the deaths of millions, is doing something that is inherently un-Chinese. Get and use power to cheat and torture others.
Historical Humiliation of China
Japanese attitudes and treatment of the Chinese as late as the 20th century is well known. Here is a scene from Ip Man, which in many ways underscores how the Japanese treated the Chinese.
The British were no better. They treated Chinese the same way as any colonial power does.
The Chinese bore the brunt of not just the cruelty of British Colonialism but also the pushing of Opium. Until 1793, China was one of the richest country in the world. It had great inventions and amazing products that could be exported from the country. Although the Europeans wanted to trade with China, Chinese did not want anything to do with the Europeans. In that year 1793, a Briton was sucessful in getting to the Chinese Emperor court and tried to impress upon him about the many things that the Chinese could get from Britain. In response, the Chinese Emperor wrote to King George:
. . . As your Ambassador can see for himself, we possess all things. I set no value on objects strange or ingenious, and have no use for your country’s manufactures. . . Our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its own borders. There was therefore no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians in exchange for our own produce. But as the tea, silk and porcelain which the Celestial Empire produces, are absolute necessities to European nations and to yourselves, we have permitted, as a signal mark of favour, that foreign hongs [merchant firms] should be established at Canton, so that your wants might be supplied and your country thus participate in our beneficence.
Basically rebuffing and dressing the Brits down.
The Brits, however, coveted the Chinese products like silk, tea and porcelain. So they were paying a lot to the Chinese for their goods, but the Chinese were buying anything from them. In 1825, the Brits introduced Opium to China for recreational purpose. And, despite the Emperor’s edict, an illegal trade developed.
Soon an opium epidemic sweeped the country! The balance of trade reversed. By 1839, Emperor asked Commissioner Lin Tse-Hsu to stop the trade, who tried to first plead to the Brits and then he tried to destroy the opium supplies on the Chinese soil. This started the Opium wars, which ended in Chinese defeat!
As a result of those wars, many ports were given to the British and the island of Hong Kong was surrendered to Britain. After the 2nd Opium war, the Chinese were humiliated further. The Europeans could no longer be charged until the Chinese laws for any crime committed in China – basically it was a complete colonial rule.
This is the legacy that China has experienced at the hands of Japan and Europeans. And, Chinese do not forget their history in a hurry. Unlike Indians.
What you see in South China Sea, in North Korea and the trade war with US – are all a response to the legacy of that past. The best way to stop the past from repeating is to keep those who can beat you down, under your control! Thus the whole play to bind the powers – who the Chinese feel have in past and can in future trouble them.
Why Hostility towards India?
Hu Shih, former Ambassador of China to USA had once said “India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border.” That was very true from spiritual standpoint. Whatever the Chinese achieved in terms of Spiritual work had its basis in all that was explored and worked out in India. The Chinese spiritual teachers built on that legacy and took into a different dimension, but there was probably an apprehension in the Communist leadership of India’s soft power over China. It instead tried to turn it on its head by using Communism and Socialism to slowly infiltrate India with ideas to destroy our spiritual foundations. If the “Mother-ship” is destroyed, it will be easy to shake off any history of India’s contribution to the Chinese Spiritual past.
Not only did the establishment try to destroy Spiritual foundation of Buddhism in its own country by pushing for atheism – as part of Communism, but it also tried to mess up TIbet by conquering and messing up their spiritual structures. By this, it sought to destroy Buddhism within and in its vicinity! In fact, the Communists have constantly tried to infiltrate and control the Buddhist institutions of Tibet!
By constantly seeking inspiration for its action from its historical inferiority – whether from the British and Japanese legacy of colonial humiliation OR against India’ Spiritual soft power; China has chosen to function from its weakness as opposed to its strength! Chinese Buddhism had as much to give to the world as Tibetan Buddhism had. Yet, the soft power on Buddhism is the preserve of Tibetans and NOT Chinese! Isn’t that strange? The society that took Buddhist ways from Bodhidharma and helped it live and grow in a whole new way – while sharing with the rest of Far East – has no voice on Buddhism or Zen!
This way of the Communists – of destroying whatever any society has of lasting value in spiritual terms – has been their bane in India as well. In India too, for example, after decades of compromising the establishment and buying over many establishments nationally, Communism is now firmly headed for complete annihilation! As it should be!
For, the dichotomy of how the people are and how the establishment behaves and looks at the world underscores the reason why Democracy is the only way to bring forth public opinion into a collective national voice. In democracies, national bodies do not make decisions unilaterally. Those who make decisions are answerable to the people and manifest their collective consciousness. Something that doesn’t seem to be the case in China.
Losing Its Soul
While hostility towards the West and Japan comes from China’s evaluation of its past in “power struggle” perspective, and damning in its own way; its hostility towards India (1961 war, proliferation to Pakistan and infiltration in politics) is an admission of its fear of spiritual osmosis that defined China for centuries! While colonial powers killed and humiliated China via conquest, Spiritual Osmosis transformed China via embrace. They both were NOT the same. Yet, the Chinese establishment perhaps equated the both!
When you confuse between violence and well-being, between conquest and embrace, between warriors and monks – then you are setting up your future for chaos. From first-hand experience, I have seen that the Chinese people have immense spiritual foundations in their behavior and ways of doing things. Perhaps that is what which is carrying the nation ahead relatively safely. But when exploitation and colonialism becomes your way to interact as a state (as in Sri Lanka and Africa), then things start to go wrong very soon.
It is now time for China to look for its soul!
Featured Image: Pixabay