China and its culture is quite enigmatic .
It is very difficult to know much about China and its Religion than what is allowed to be spread by the PRC, with the result many of us have a vague idea about Buddhism is practiced in China and we have heard Lao Tse.
But prior to the advent of Gautama the Buddha what Religion was practiced in China?
“For the residents of Chedian, a few thousand-year-old village of muddy by-lanes and old stone courtyard houses, she is just another form of Guanyin, the female Bodhisattva who is venerated in many parts of China.
But the goddess that the residents of this village pray to every morning, as they light incense sticks and chant prayers, is quite unlike any deity one might find elsewhere in China. Sitting cross-legged, the four-armed goddess smiles benignly, flanked by two attendants, with an apparently vanquished demon lying at her feet.)The Hindu)
One gets the idea that the culture of China must be of a very high order and date quite some time back in History.
The Mahabharata refers to China.
Mahabharata, Book 6, chapter 9 (MBh.6.9) mentions like this:-
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. Chinas were mentioned along with Chivukas and Pulindas and Khasas, Hunas, Pahlavas, Sakas, Yavanas, Savaras, Paundras, Kiratas, Kanchis, Dravidas, Sinhalasand Keralas.
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.
The Yavanas, the Kiratas, the Gandharvas, the Chinas, the Savaras, the Barbaras, the Sakas, the Tusharas, the Kankas, the Pathavas, the Andhras, the Madrakas, thePaundras, the Pulindas, the Ramathas, the Kamvojas were mentioned together as tribes beyond the kingdoms of Aryavarta. The Aryavarta kings had doubts on dealing with them. (12,64)
China is mentioned in the travel-descriptions of the Pandavas.
The passage below, describes these Chinas, to be located somewhere in the high Himalayas: Mahabharata book 3, chapter 176 (MBh 3.176):-
Leaving the place called Badari (Badrinath in Uttarakhand) and crossing the difficult Himalayan regions, and leaving behind them, the countries ofChina, 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).
Bhima mentions a China king Dhautamulaka, who caused the destruction of his own race (5,74). The name “Dhautamulaka” translates to “clean root”, and might be a reference to the last Xia emperor Jie (1728–1675 BC), whose name means “clean” in Chinese.
Deer skins from China is mentioned at (5,86). King Dhritarashtra, wanted to give as present, a thousand deer-skins from China, to Vasudeva Krishna:- I will give him a thousand deer-skins brought from China and other things of the kind that may be worthy of his praise. During the Han Dynasty (between the 2nd century BC and 2nd century AD), deer skins were used to make token money notes representing 400,000 coins.
It is well known that in the Mahabharata the Cinas appear with the Kiratas among the armies of king Bhagadatta of Pragjyotisa or Assam.
In the Sabhaparvan this king is described as surrounded by the Kiratas and the Cinas. In the Bhismaparvan, the corps of Bhagadatta, consisting of the Kirtas and the Cinas of yellow color, appeared like a forest of Karnikaras.
It is significant that the Kiratas represented all the people living to the east of India in the estimation of the geographers of the Puranas.
Even the dwellers of the islands of the Eastern Archipelago were treated as Kiratas in the Epics.
The reference to their wealth of gold, silver, gems, sandal, aloewood, textiles and fabrics clearly demonstrates their association with the regions included in Suvarnadvipa.
Thus, the connection of the Kiratas and Cinas is a sure indication of the fact that the Indians came to know of the Chinese through the eastern routes and considered them as an eastern people, having affinities to the Kiras, who were the Indo-Mongoloids, inhabiting the Tibeto-Burman regions and the Himalayan and East Indian territories, the word Kirata being a derivation from kiranti or kirati, the name of a group of people in eastern Nepal.
“The story of Sun Hou Tzu, the Monkey King, and Hsuan Tsang.
It is a vicarious and humorous tale, an adventure story akin to the Hindu epic of Ramayana, and like Ramayana, a moral tale of the finer aspects of human endeavor which come to prevail over those of a less worthy nature.
The book ends with a dedication to India: I dedicate this work to Buddha’s pure land. May it repay the kindness of patron and preceptor, may it mitigate the sufferings of the lost and damned….’ ..
In early Indian literature China is invariably shown to be connected with India by a land-route across the country of the Kiratas in the mountainous regions of the north.
In the Vanaparvan of the Mahabharata the Pandava brothers are said to have crossed the country of the Cinas in course of their trek through the Himalayan territory north of Badri and reached the realm of the Kirata king Subahu.
The Cinas are brought into intimate relationship with the Himalayan people (Haimavatas) in the Sabhaparvan also.
The land of the Haimavatas is undoubtedly the Himavantappadesa of the Pali texts, which has been identified with Tibet or Nepal.
In the Sasanavamsa this region is stated to be Cinarattha. Thus, it is clear that China was known to the Indians as lying across the Himalayas and was accordingly included in the Himalayan territories
. In the Nagarjunikonda inscription of Virapurusdatta, China (Cina) is said to be lying in the Himalayas beyond Cilata or Kirata.
These references to the proximity of China to the Himalayan regions, inhabited by the Kiratas, show that there were regular routes through the Tibeto-Burman territories, along which the Indians could reach China.
Some such land-route is implied in the remark of the Harsacarita of Banabhatta that Arjuna conquered the Hemakuta region after passing through Cina.
Of course, the route across Central Asia is perhaps alluded to in the itinerary of Carudatta from the Indus Delta to China across the country of the Hunas and the Khasas, described in the Vasudevakindi, and there is probably a reference to the sea-route, passing through Vanga, Takkola and Suvarnadvipa, in the Milindapanho.
But there is no doubt that in a large number of ancient Indian texts China is mentioned near the eastern Himalayan regions, through which regular routes, connecting this country with India, passed from fairly early times.
It was along these routes that India came into contact with China for the first time and developed commercial relations with her, that are referred to by Chan K’ien in the second century B.C.
In Yunnan there is a large number of old pagodas. Some of them are the oldest and most beautiful in China.
Their cornices and corner decoration, showing rows of pitchers (mangala ghata), betray unmistakable Indian influence
Many bricks of these pagodas bear Sanskrit inscriptions, containing Buddhist mantras and formulae in a script, which is identical with that current in Nalanda and Kamarupa in the 9th century.
The beautiful bronze statue of Avalokitesvara from the pagoda of Ch’ung Sheng Ssu near Ta-li is an index to the high standard of culture and craftsmanship attained by the Buddhists of Yunan.