Buddhism is based on the teachings of Prince Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), the main ideologies focus on compassion, karma, rebirth, and impermanence. It is thought, life’s suffering can be overcome by attaining enlightenment. Ultimately Nirvana, a state of perfect happiness, can be obtained by breaking away from material attachments and purifying the mind.
Buddhism was first introduced into China from north-eastern India, through Nepal and Tibet, around 100 AD, as a direct result of Han Dynasty expansion and the establishment of the Silk Road. These new trade routes not only facilitated exchange in goods, but also created an extensive religious and cultural interface along the route. During the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia, it divided into two main branches: Mahayana and Hinayana. The Mahayana, which is practised in China, particularly focusses on universal enlightenment and the salvation of mankind with assistance of Bodhisattvas.
On reaching China, Buddhism encountered the two indigenous ancient philosophies; Confucianism and Daoism. There was certainly an affinity with Daoism, even comparable ideas, allowing this new religion to be easily adopted into Chinese culture. Daoism particularly focussed on personal freedom and an intense harmony with nature. With Buddhism, there was a new additional notion, which promised eternal bliss and salvation after death. As complementary beliefs, they could also be easily be practised alongside one another. Consequently, a new Sinicized form of Buddhism emerged, incorporating new as well as established ideas, which were duly absorbed into existing religious and burial practice.
With the gradual increase of knowledge and familiarity with the Buddhist doctrines, its iconography was progressively integrated into the Chinese visual arts and culture. Buddhist temples, monasteries and elaborate cave temple complexes with sculpture and painting, were established in great numbers and gradually spread throughout China.