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Introduction of Buddhism and Birth of Taoism

Indian prince Siddhartha Gautama founded Buddhism in 556 BC and by AD 2 it had spread to China amongst the imperial family, nobles and scholars. Emperor Mingdi of the Han dynasty was a devout Buddhist and dispatched an embassy to India in a quest for eminent Buddhist teachers. Before arriving in India, his envoys met two distinguished Indian Buddhist missionaries who were invited to meet the emperor. Buddhism quickly spread to the common people once the sutras that the two priests were carrying were translated into Chinese. Buddhism influenced Confucianism and Taoism and vice versa, therefore from this Buddhism became increasingly sinicised.

Buddhism increased in popularity from the 3rd to 6th century and many temples were built across China. In the middle of the 3rd century, the first Han Chinese men were initiated into the Buddhist priesthood and the first Han women became nuns in the 4th century. Monk Dao'an established a doctrine that prohibited monks and nuns from eating fish and meat. It was during the Sui and Tang dynasties that Buddhism in China reached its height of influence and splendor.

In 629, Xuan Zang, a famous Chinese monk, undertook an epic pilgrimage to India that lasted 17 years. He brought back to China a wealth of sutras and translated them into Chinese, greatly contributing to the development of Buddhism in China. Eventually eight schools of Buddhism developed in China, the Three-Treatises, Dharmalaksana , Avatamsaka, Vinaya, Tiantai, Tantra, Pure Land and Chan, which is also known by its Japanese name, Zen. After Xuan Zang's pilgrimage, Buddhism had become thoroughly sinicised thereofore it no longer relied on Indian sources as well as becoming a huge influence on China's politics, economy, culture and society.

Before Buddhism spread into Tibet at about the time of the 7th or 8th centuries from central China and Nepal, the Tibetans practiced Bon, a multitheistic religion. Princess Wenchang became an important figure in spreading Buddhism to Tibet when Tang dynasty Emperor Taizong gave her away to be married to Songtsen Gampo, king of the Tibetan Tubo Kingdom. She brought to Lhasa many Buddhist artifacts and helped convert the Tibetans. Padmasambhava, an ancient Indian monk, combined Tantra with the local Bön religion. His Buddhist preaching was popular among Tibetans because he adapted many native Bon rituals and ideas. This developed into Tibetan Buddhism, which is also known as Lamaism because the monks are called Lamas.

Ethnic minority groups living in southwest China later adopted Buddhism and from ancient India, Buddhism spread to Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries.