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Buddhism originated from India, and not from China, although it is one of the main Chinese religions. Traders and monks who traveled from India over the Silk Road only introduced it to China at the beginning of the first century. There are two kinds of Buddhism: the Mahayana (Great Wheel) and the Hinayana (Small Wheel), with the foremost being prevalent in China. The Mahayana promises all creatures salvation through the redemption deities or 'bodhisattva'.

Buddhism was not always a popular religion. There was considerable opposition to Buddhism, which conflicted with Confucian ethics and the tradition of ancestor worship. During the Three Kingdoms Period (AD220-280), Confucianism spread in each of the three states. When Buddhism came forth as a new religion, Confucians treated it with hostility during the rule of Emperor Wudi. The religion even saw a stage of interdiction from 574-577 during the ruling of the northern Zhou Dynasty.

The revival and triumphant of Buddhism occurred during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), whereby several of its officers were in support of the religion. The Empress Wu Zetian herself was an ardent Buddhist. Nevertheless, from 842 to 845, Chinese Buddhists encountered the most acerb persecution in their entire history. A total of 40,000 temples and monasteries were ravaged, and Buddhism was condemned for the economic decline and moral decay of the dynasty.

Time has since passed and schools for Buddhism have been built to pass on philosophical knowledge and Buddhist teachings. Two main influential schools are the Chan (school of meditation or Zen Buddhism) and Amitabha Buddhism (Pure Land).

In Mahayana Buddhism, worship focused on the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. In China, the most popular bodhisattva is the female goddess of mercy and compassion, Kuanyin, who represents a central deity for the ordinary people. However, the center of religious attention is the Sakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism who was forced into the background by the Maitreya Buddha (called Milofo in China). In monasteries, Sakyamuni greets the faithful as a laughing Buddha in the entrance hall. The Amitabha school has dominated the life and culture of the Chinese people since the 14th Century.

The Chan school was the most influential school. Known as the School of Meditation, it preached redemption through Buddhahood, which is available to anyone. Meditation is used to lead disciples toward enlightenment. Other methods are long hikes and physical labor. The most significant method is having a conversation with the master who asks subtle and paradoxical questions and expects equally paradoxical answers.

In the 17th Century, another type of Buddhism that made its debut in Tibet is called Tantric Buddhism or Lamaism. Originating from India, Lamaism replaced the indigenous Bon religion, while simultaneously taking over some of the elements of this naturalist religion. Two of the founder's disciples are said to be reborn as heads of the order: the Dalai Lama, representing the incarnated bodhisattva of mercy, was worshiped as the patron god of Tibet, and Panchen Lama who is higher in the hierarchy of gods. Besides these Buddhist deities, there are other figures from the Brahman and Hindu world of gods, as well as the old Bon religion. Redemption is achieved through magic, repetitive prayers, movements, formulae, symbols, and sacrificial rituals.

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