Although Buddhism first entered China from India during the Later Han, in the time of Han Ming Ti (AD 58-76), it did not become popular until the end of the 3rd century.
The prevailing disorders, aggravated by barbarian invasions and the flight of northern Chinese to the south, heightened the attraction of Buddhism with its promise of personal salvation, despite its lack of affinity with the society-oriented thought of the Chinese.
Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, a prince of the Sakya kingdom on the borders of what are now India and Nepal and a contemporary of Confucius.
Intent on finding relief for human suffering, he received a moment of enlightenment while meditating under a Bo tree.
The Buddha taught that desires are the source of pain and that by overcoming desires, pain can be eliminated.
To this end, he advocated meditation and pursuing the Eight fold Path, similar to the Ten Commandments of Judaism and Christianity.
The objective was to reach Nirvana, the condition of serenity of spirit, where all cravings, strife and pain have been overcome, giving way to a merging of the spirit with eternal harmony.
At an early stage of its development, Buddhism split into two major trends, Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) and Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle).
Hinayana remained closer to the original Buddhism and is still the religion of Southeast Asian countries.
The Buddhism of China, Korea, Japan, Nepal, Tibet and Vietnam, however, stems largely from Mahayana.
Mahayana Buddhism contained more popular elements, such as belief in repetitive prayers, heaven and deities--bodhisattvas--who would help people gain salvation. It also readily adapted to the land and people it converted.
In China, it split into several schools, including Chan (Zen in Japan), Tian-tai (Tendai in Japan), and Pure Land.