Lay Practitioners in Chinese Buddhism
In Chinese Buddhism, lay practitioners have traditionally played an important role, and lay practice of Buddhism has had similar tendencies to those of monastic Buddhism in China. Many historical biographies of lay Buddhists are available, which give a clear picture of their practices and role in Chinese Buddhism. In addition to these numerous biographies, there are accounts from Jesuit missionaries such as Matteo Ricci which provide extensive and revealing accounts to the degree Buddhism penetrated elite and popular culture in China. Traditional practices such as meditation, mantra recitation, mindfulness of Amitābha Buddha, asceticism, and vegetarianism were all integrated into the belief systems of ordinary people. It is known from accounts in the Ming Dynasty that lay practitioners often engaged in practices from both the Pure Land and Chán traditions, as well as the study of the Buddhist sūtras. The Heart Sūtra and the Diamond Sūtra were the most popular, followed by the Lotus Sūtra and the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. Laypeople were also commonly devoted to the practice of mantras, and the Mahā Karuṇā Dhāraṇī and the Cundī Dhāraṇī were very popular. Robert Gimello has also observed that in Chinese Buddhist communities, the esoteric practices of Cundī enjoyed popularity among both the populace and the elite. Mahāyāna figures such as Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva, Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva, Amitābha Buddha, and the Medicine Buddha, were all widely known and revered. Beliefs in karma and rebirth were held at all levels of Chinese society, and pilgrimages to well-known monasteries and the four holy mountains of China were undertaken by monastics and lay practitioners alike.
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... In Chinese Buddhism, lay practitioners have traditionally played an important role, and lay practice of Buddhism has had similar tendencies to those of ... Many historical biographies of lay Buddhists are available, which give a clear picture of their practices and role in Chinese Buddhism ... extensive and revealing accounts to the degree Buddhism penetrated elite and popular culture in China ...
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