In this newest installment of A.D. History, Paul and Patrick dig into the all import arrival of Buddhism in China, noted in official Han Dynasty record’s as occurring in 65AD. They also explore the unique role of Halley’s Comet in the First Jewish-Roman War occurring in Jerusalem during 66AD.
Buddhism & Han Chinese Culture
Buddhism’s arrival in China circa 65AD is a seminal historic landmark in the development of Han Chinese culture over the last 2,000 years. Buddhism’s role in fusing with Confucianism and Taoism creates a uniquely Han Chinese belief system that exists to this day. Yet, what exactly is Buddhism?
What is Buddhism?
Buddhism since it’s inception in circa 500BC, has taken many distinct forms of which there are numerous sects – Zen Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism, for example. Yet every sect of Buddhism derives initially from the experiences and teachings of the first Buddha, Gotama Sidhartha.
Gotama Sidhartha was in all likelihood the son of elected ruling oligarchs, and born into the Shakya clan. Gotama’s exact place of birth is believed by historians to be located in small city-state in the northeast portion of the Indian subcontinent. Likely in close proximity to either modern Nepal or Tibet.
Gotama’s story – as taught in Buddhism – begins with him born into a very sheltered court life, in which he wanted for nothing. As Gotama began reaching adulthood, he sought out answers to many question he knew were not possible to answer in that setting.
Gotama departed his place of origins during what Buddhists call “the four sights.” The four sights in question include seeing the effects of old age, destitution, dearth, and ultimately coming into contact with an ascetic monk to begin Gotama‘a great journey.
Once reaching the enlightenment he sought, Gotama laid down the major Buddhist tenants of the “Four Noble Truths” and the “Eightfold Path.” These tenants, as understood by Buddhists, layed the foundation for other Buddhists to themselves reach enlightenment.
How did Buddhism Arrive in China: The Legend
The traditional story for how Buddhism ultimately took root in China directly involves the Han Chinese emperor, Ming of Han. As an extreme curious and learned monarch, Ming is said to have experienced a dream that he saw as a vision, where an unknown man composed entirely of gold with an aura around his head, went and sat down in the middle of Ming’s imperial court.
When Ming went to question this figure, the unknown man levitated directly upwards in the sky, and flew off in a flash.
Ming concurred with his imperial cohorts, where one mentioned in this west of China – there was a figure enshrined completely in gold – who was called the Buddha, was gaining in popularity. Ming acting upon this information, sent official emissaries to find teachers of this following, and bring them back to the imperial court.
How did Buddhism Really Arrive in China?
Most scholars today, looking beyond the aforementioned long taught story, believe Buddhism first started diffusing into China’s then western regions by way of the Silk Road. Some scholars reckon that the origin of Buddhism in this case was directly emanating from the Kushan Empire, which contained the major arteries of Silk Road trading routes at the time. In doing so, it slowly began a major two millennia long cultural fusion in China.
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The First Jewish-Roman War & Halley’s Comet in 66AD
The beginning of the Jewish Jerusalem revolts leading to the First Jewish-Roman War in Roman ruled Judea in 66AD, is a major turning point in the history of Western civilization in particular. It was a series of events that eventually saw the destruction of the all-important Second Temple, and effectively begins the near 2,000 years long Jewish diaspora. Yet a midst these world altering events was a celestial visitor passing near Earth, the well known Halley’s Comet.
Where does Halley’s Comet fit into the Picture?
In an age where celestial objects were often perceived as potential prophecy, or even portending future events, they naturally carried much weight. For the Romans in particular, the appearance of Halley’s Comet at this time was very important. According to the hellenized Jewish historian Flavious Josephus, the comet was understood by Roman forces throughout the extended rebellion in Jerusalem as favoring their ultimate victory over the Jews.
Why were the Jews Revolting in Jerusalem leading to the First Jewish-Roman War?
With the rise of the highly noted Jewish zealots, and long time discontent with Roman rules, it was apparently a long time coming. Ever since the Romans effectively incorporated Palestine into the empire, the relationship between the ruling Romans and subject Jews was at best tenuous. There are many elements that factor into Jewish discontent of the time, having much to do with Roman taxation of the subject Jews. As well as the Romans violating local Jewish autonomy, going so far as the Romans officially signing off regarding appointments for the High Priest of the aforementioned temple.
Despite the Jew’s initial success in sacking the initial small Roman garrison stationed in Roman Palestine when the revolt began, their fortunes would ultimately sour. Thus leading to the Jew’s most dreaded outcome, exile from their long standing homeland and Jerusalem in particular.
Patrick in this episode’s second segment goes into greater detail of this considerable chapter of Western history, and Halley’s Comet’s role in these events.
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