BRIEF HISTORY OF BUDDHISM
The History of Buddhism spans from the 6th century BCE to the present; it arose in the eastern part of Ancient India, in and around the ancient Kingdom of Magadha (now in Bihar, India), and is based on the teachings of the unsurpassed supremely enlightened Shakyamuni Buddha (also Gautama Buddha), (Born as Prince Siddhārtha Gautama). Th
Siddhārtha Gautama was the historical founder of Buddhism. He was born a Kshatriya warrior prince in Lumbini, Shakya Republic, India. The dates of his birth and death are still a point of controversy but most scholars suggest that the Buddha passed away during the 6th century BCE. However, the most common dates given for the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death are: Birth 624 BCE; Enlightenment 589 BCE, at the age of 35; and Death 544 BCE, at the age of 80.
His particular family of Sakya Kshatriyas may have made claims of belonging to a Brahmin lineage (Sanskrit: gotra), as indicated by the family name "Gautama" and the epithet "Angirasa". 19th-century scholars, such as Eitel, connected it to the Brahmin Rishi Gautama. while some Buddhist texts, use the epithet, Angirasa, which refers to the Brahmin Sage Angirasa.
According to Buddhist tradition, after practising austere asceticism and meditation, Siddhartha Gautama discovered the Buddhist Middle Way—a path of moderation which transcends the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.
Siddhartha Gautama attained unsurpassed supreme enlightenment sitting under a peepal tree, now known as the Bodhi Tree (Tree of Enlightenment) in Bodh Gaya, India. Gautama, from then on, was known as "The Enlightened One", the Samyaksa
Buddha found patronage in the ruler of Magadha, emperor Bimbisāra. The emperor accepted Buddhism as his personal faith and allowed the establishment of many Buddhist vihāras (monasteries)
At the Deer Park near Vārāṇasī in northern India, the Buddha set in motion the Wheel of Dharma by delivering his first sermon to a group of five companions with whom he had previously sought enlightenment. Together with the Buddha they formed the first Saṅgha (the supportive and harmonious community of Buddhist practitioners, consisting of ordained monks (bhikkhu's) and nuns (bhikkhunis), as well as lay males and females). According to the scriptures, the order of nuns was established sometime later. MahapajapatiGo
For the remaining 45 years of his life, the Buddha is said to have traveled in the Gangetic Plain of Northeastern India, as well as many other regions, to share his Dharma for the benefit of all. The Buddha attained parinirvāṇa in the abandoned jungles of Kuśināra.
Just before the Buddha died, he reportedly told his followers that, thereafter, the Dharma (doctrine, teaching) would be their guide. The early arhants considered The Buddha's words the primary source of Dharma and Vinaya (rules of conduct and community living), and took great pains to formulate and transmit his teachings accurately. Nonetheless, it is believed that no ungarnished collection of his teachings have survived. The versions of the canon (accepted scriptures) (the Tripitaka or Three Collections) preserved in Pāli, Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan, as well as other languages, while maintaining accuracy, are said to be cultural variants of a corpus that grew and crystallised during three centuries of oral transmission.
Early Buddhism remained centered in and around the Ganges valley region, spreading gradually from its ancient heartland. The canonical sources record two councils, where the monastic Sangha established the textual collections based on the Buddha's teachings, as well as settling certain disciplinary problems within the community.
1st Buddhist council (6th century BCE)
The first Buddhist council was held just after the Buddha's Parinirvana, and was presided over by Gupta Mahākāśyapa, one of the Buddha's most senior disciples, at Rājagṛha (modern day Rajgir) during the 6th century under the noble support of king Ajāthaśatru. The objective of the council was to record all of Buddha's teachings into the doctrinal teachings (Sutra's) and the Abhidhamma (higher knowledge teachings on Buddhist philosophy and psychology), and to codify the monastic rules of conduct (vinaya).
Ānanda, one of the Buddha's main disciples, and his younger cousin and long time attendant, was called upon to recite the discourses and the Abhidhamma of the Buddha, and Upali, another disciple, recited the rules of conduct of the vinaya. These became the basis of the Tripiṭaka (Three Collections), which was preserved in Pāli.
2nd Buddhist council (4th century BCE)
The second Buddhist council was held at Vaisali following a dispute that had arisen in the Saṅgha over a relaxation by some monks of various points of discipline. At this second council the original Vinaya texts that had been preserved at the first Council were cited to show that these relaxations went against the recorded teachings of the Buddha.
Aśokan proselytism (c. 261 BCE)
The Mauryan Emperor Aśoka (
He propagated Buddhism by building stupas and pillars, urging, amongst other things, respect for all animal life and enjoined people to follow the Buddha Dharma. Perhaps the finest example of these is the Great Stupa of Sanchi, (near Bhopal, India), which was constructed in the 3rd century BCE and later enlarged. Its carved gates, called toranas, are considered among the finest examples of Buddhist art in India. He also built roads, hospitals, resthouses, universities and irrigation systems around the country. He treated his subjects as equals regardless of their religion, politics or caste.
This period marks the first spread of Buddhism beyond India to other countries. According to the plates and pillars left by Aśoka (the edicts of Aśoka), emissaries were sent to various countries in order to spread Buddhism, as far south as Sri Lanka and as far west as the Greek kingdoms, in particular the neighboring Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, and possibly even farther to the Mediterranean.
3rd Buddhist council (c. 250 BCE)
King Aśoka convened the third Buddhist council around 250 BCE at Pataliputra (modern day Patna). It was held by the monk Moggaliputtatissa. The objective of the council was to purify the Saṅgha, particularly from non-Buddhist ascetics who had been attracted by the royal patronage. Following the council, Buddhist missionaries were dispatched throughout the known world.
Some of the edicts of Aśoka describe the efforts made by him to propagate Buddhism throughout the Hellenistic world, which at that time formed an uninterrupted continuum from the borders of India to Greece. The edicts indicate a clear understanding of the political organisation in Hellenistic territories. The names and locations of the main Greek monarchs of the time are identified, and they are claimed as recipients of Buddhist proselytism: Antiochu
"The conquest by the Dharma has been won here, on the borders, and even six hundred yojanas (5,400–9,600 km) away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni (Sri Lanka)." (Edicts of Aśoka, 13th Rock Edict).
Furthermore, according to Pāli sources, some of Aśoka's emissaries were Greek Buddhist monks, indicating close religious exchanges between the two cultures.
"When the thera (elder) Moggaliputta, the illuminator of the religion of the Conqueror (Aśoka), had brought the third council to an end, he sent forth theras, one here and one there: and to Aparantaka (the Western countries corresponding to Gujarat and Sindh) he sent the Greek (Yona) named Dhammarakkhita". (Mahavamsa XII).
Aśoka also issued edicts in the Greek language as well as in Aramaic. One of them, found in Kandahar, advocates the adoption of piety (using the Greek term eusebeia for Dharma) to the Greek community.
"Ten years of reign having been completed, King Piodasses (Aśoka) made known the doctrine of piety to men; and from this moment he has made men more pious, and everything thrives throughout the whole world."
It is not clear how much these interactions may have been influential, but some scholars have commented that some level of syncretism between Hellenist thought and Buddhism may have started in Hellenic lands at that time. They have pointed to the presence of Buddhist communities in the Hellenistic world around that period, in particular in Alexandria, and to the pre-Christian monastic order of the Therapeutae (possibly a deformation of the Pāli word Theravada), who may have almost entirely drawn its inspiration from the teaching and practices of Buddhism, and may even have been descendants of Aśoka's emissaries to the West. The philosopher Hegesias of Cyrene, from the city of Cyrene where Magas of Cyrene ruled, appears to have been influenced by the teachings of Aśoka's Buddhist missionaries.
Buddhist gravestones from the Ptolemaic period have also been found in Alexandria, decorated with depictions of the Dharma wheel. The presence of Buddhists in Alexandria has even drawn the conclusion that it was later in this very place that some of the most active centres of Christianity were established.
In the 2nd century CE, the Christian dogmatist, Clement of Alexandria recognized Bactrian Buddhists and Indian gymnosophists for their influence on Greek thought:
"Thus philosophy, a thing of the highest utility, flourished in antiquity among the foreigners, shedding its light over the nations. And afterwards it came to Greece. First in its ranks were the prophets of the Egyptians; and the Chaldeans among the Assyrians; and the Druids among the Gauls; and the śramanas among the Bactrians; and the philosophers of the Celts; and the Magi of the Persians. The Indian gymnosophists are also in the number, and other foreign philosophers. And of these there are two classes, some of them called śramanas and others Brahmins."
Expansion to Sri Lanka and Myanmar
Sri Lanka was proselytized by Aśoka's son Mahinda and six companions during the 3rd century BCE. They converted the King Devanampiya Tissa and many of the nobility. In addition, Aśoka's daughter, Saṅghamitta also established the bhikkhunī order (order for nuns) in Sri Lanka, she also brought with her a sapling of the sacred bodhi tree that was subsequently planted in Anuradhapura, leading to the construction of the Mahāvihāra monastery.
The Pāli canon was written down in Sri Lanka during the reign of king Vattagamani, and the Theravāda tradition flourished there. Later on some great commentators worked there, such as Buddhaghoṣa (4th–5th century) and Dhammapāla (5th–6th century), and they systemised the traditional commentaries that had been handed down.
Although the Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition gained some influence in Sri Lanka at that time, the Theravāda Buddhist tradition ultimately prevailed and Sri Lanka turned out to be a Theravada stronghold. From there it would expand again to South-East Asia from the 11th century.
In the areas east of the Indian subcontinent (modern day Myanmar and Thailand), Indian culture strongly influenced the Mons. The Mons are said to have been converted to Buddhism from the 3rd century BCE under the proselytizing of King Aśoka.
Early Mon Buddhist temples, such as Peikthano in central Burma, have been dated to between the 1st and the 5th century CE. The Buddhist art of the Mons was strongly influenced by the Indian art of the Gupta and post-Gupta periods, and their mannerist style spread widely in South-East Asia following the expansion of the Mon kingdom between the 5th and 8th centuries.
Theravada Buddhism expanded in the northern parts of Southeast Asia under Mon influence, until it was progressively replaced by Mahāyāna Buddhism from around the 6th century CE.
It is also interesting to note that according to the Aśokāvadāna, at this time, King Aśoka sent a missionary to the north, through the Himalayas, to Khotan in the Tarim Basin, then the land of the Tocharians, speakers of an Indo-European language.
Rise of the Shunga (2nd–1st century BCE)
The Shunga dynasty (185–73 BCE) was established in 185 BCE about 50 years after Aśoka's death. After assassinating King Brhadrata (the last of the Mauryan rulers), military commander-in-chief Pushyamitra Shunga took the throne. Buddhist religious scriptures such as the Aśokāvadāna allege that Pushyamitra, who was an orthodox Brahmin, was hostile towards and persecuted Buddhists. It is also alleged that he destroyed hundreds of monasteries and killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Monks. 840,000 Buddhist stupas, which had been built by Aśoka are said to have been destroyed, and a reward of 100 gold coins was offered for the head of any Buddhist monk. In addition, it is alleged that a large number of Buddhist monasteries were converted to Hindu temples, in places such as, Nalanda, Bodhgaya, Sarnath
Modern historians, however, dispute this view. They opine that following Aśoka's sponsorship of Buddhism, it is likely that Buddhist institutions merely fell on harder times under the Shungas.
But what can't be disputed is that the importance of Buddhism drastically declined in the region during this time. It is recorded that many Buddhist monks deserted the Ganges valley, following either the northern road (uttarapatha) or the southern road (dakṣinapatha). Buddhist artistic creation stopped in the old Magadha area, to reposition itself either in the northwest area of Gandhāra and Mathura or in the southeast around Amaravati. Some Buddhist artistic activity also occurred in central India.
(3rd century BCE-1st century CE)
At the beginning of the Silk Road, at the crossroads between India and China (modern day Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, and Tajikistan), Greek kingdoms had been in place since the time of the conquests of Alexander the Great around 326 BCE and continued for over 300 years: first the Seleucids from around 323 BCE, then the Greco-Bactrian kingdom from around 250 BCE and finally the Indo-Greek Kingdom, lasting until 10 CE.
The Greco-Bactrian king Demetr
Buddhism flourished under the Indo-Greek and Greco-Bactrian kings, and it has been suggested that their invasion of India was intended to show their support for the Mauryan empire and to protect the Buddhist faith from the alleged religious persecutions of the Shungas (185–73 BCE).
One of the most famous Indo-Greek kings was Menander, who reigned from 160 BCE to 135 BCE. He converted to Buddhism and is presented in the Mahāyāna tradition as one of the great benefactors of the Dharma, on a par with king Aśoka or the later Kushan king Kaniśka. Menander's coins bear the mention of the "saviour king" in Greek, with some bearing designs of the eight-spoked Dharma wheel.
Direct cultural exchange is also suggested by the dialogue in the 'Milindapanha' (Recorded Questions of King Milinda), around 160 BCE, between Menander and the Buddhist monk Nāgasena, who was himself a student of the Greek Buddhist monk Mahadharmaraksita.
Upon Menander's death, the honour of sharing his remains was claimed by the cities under his rule, and they were enshrined in stupas, in a parallel with the historic Buddha. Several of Menander's Indo-Greek successo
It is also around the time of initial Greek and Buddhist interaction that the first anthropomorphic (human-
In many parts of the Ancient World, the Greeks developed syncretic divinities
Many of the stylistic elements in the representations of the Buddha point to Greek influence: the Greco-Roman toga-like wavy robe covering both shoulders (more exactly, its lighter version, the Greek himation), the contrapposto stance of the upright figures such as the 1st–2nd century Gandhara standing Buddhas, the stylicized Mediterranean curly hair and topknot (ushnisha) apparently derived from the style of the Belvedere Apollo (330 BCE), and the measured quality of the faces, all rendered with strong artistic realism. A large quantity of sculptures combining Buddhist and purely Hellenistic styles and iconography were excavated at the Gandharan site of Hadda.
Several influential Greek Buddhist monks are recorded. Mahadharmaraksita (
Central Asian expansion
A Buddhist gold coin from India was found in northern Afghanistan at the archaeological site of Tillia Tepe, and dated to the 1st century CE. On the reverse, it depicts a lion in the moving position with a nandipada (literally: foot of Nandi) (an ancient Indian symbol) in front of it, with the legend in Kharoṣṭhī script reading "Sih[o] vigatabhay[o]" ("The lion who dispelled fear").
The Mahayana Buddhists symbolised Buddha with animals such as a lion, an elephant, a horse or a bull. A pair of feet was also used. The symbol called by the archaeologists and historians as "nandipada" is actually a composite symbol. The symbol at the top symbolises the Middle Path, the Buddha Dharma. The circle with a centre symbolises a chakra (wheel). Thus, the composite symbol symbolises a Dharma Chakra (Dharma wheel). Thus, the symbols on the reverse of the coin jointly symbolise the Buddha turning the wheel of Dharma.
In the 'Lion Capital' of Saranath, India, the Buddha turning the wheel of Dharma is depicted on the wall of a cylinder with a lion, an elephant, a horse and a bull turning the Dharma wheel. On the obverse, an almost naked man only wearing a Hellenistic chlamys (cloak) an
It has been suggested that this may be an early representation of the Buddha. The head dress symbolises the Middle Path. Thus, the man with the head dress is a person who adheres to the Middle Path. Thus, on both sides of the coin, we find Buddha turning the wheel of Dharma.
As no scientific study on the literary and physical symbolisation of the Buddha and Buddhism was conducted by the archaeologists and historians, unfortunately only uneducated interpretations were given on the coins, seals, inscriptions and other archaeological finds.
Rise of Mahāyāna (1st century BCE-2nd century CE)
Although the Mahayana Sutra's were existent from the time of the Buddha, they were not openly revealed to the general public until a later date.
Several scholars have suggested that the Prajñāpāramitā (Perfection of Wisdom) Sutra's, which are among the earliest Mahāyāna Sutra's, were revealed among the Mahāsāṃghika lineage along the Kṛṣṇa River in the Āndhra region of South India.
The earliest Mahāyāna Sutra's discovered include the very first versions of the Prajñāpāramitā, along with texts concerning Akṣobhya Buddha, and appear to have been written down in the 1st century BCE in the south of India.
Guang Xing states that several scholars have suggested that the Prajñāpāramitā probably developed among the Mahāsāṃghikas in southern India, in the Āndhra country, on the Kṛṣṇa River. A.K. Warder believes that the Mahāyāna originated in the south of India and almost certainly in the Āndhra country.
Anthony Barber and Sree Padma note that historians of Buddhist thought have been aware for quite some time that such pivotally important Mahayana Buddhist thinkers as Nāgārjuna, Dignaga, Candrak
The Two Fourth Councils
The Fourth Council is said to have been convened during the reign of the Kashmir emperor Kaniṣka ar
It is said that for the Fourth Council of Kashmir, Kaniṣka gathered 500 monks headed by Vasumitra, partly, it seems, to compile extensive commentaries on the Abhidharma (Higher Knowledge), although it is possible that some editorial work was carried out upon the existing canon itself. During the council there were altogether three hundred thousand verses and over nine million statements compiled, taking twelve years to complete. The main fruit of this council was the compilation of the vast commentary known as the Mahā-Vibhāshā (Great Explanation), an extensive compendium and reference work on a portion of the Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma.
Scholars believe that it was also around this time that a significant change was made in the language of the Sarvāstivādin canon, by converting an earlier Prakrit version into Sanskrit. Although this change was effected without loss of integrity to the canon, this event was of particular significance since Sanskrit was the sacred language of Brahmanism in India, and was also being used by other thinkers, regardless of their specific religious or philosophical allegiance, thus enabling a far wider audience to gain access to Buddhist ideas and practices. For this reason there was a growing tendency among Buddhist scholars in India thereafter to write their commentaries and treatises in Sanskrit.
Many of the early schools, however, such as Theravāda, never switched to Sanskrit, partly because they believed the Buddha explicitly forbade translation of his discourses into what was regarded as an elitist religious language. They believe that he wanted his monks to use the local language of Pali instead, a language which could be understood by all.
MAHAYANA EXPANSION (CE 1ST-10TH CENTURY)
From that time on, and in the space of a few centuries, the Mahāyāna tradition flourished and spread in the East, from India to South-East Asia, and towards the north to Central Asia, China, Korea, and finally to Japan in 538 CE and Tibet in the 7th century.
After the end of the Kushan Empire, Buddhism flourished in India during the dynasty of the Gupta Empire (4th-6th century). Mahāyāna centers of learning were established, especially at Nālandā in north-eastern India, which was to become the largest and most influential Buddhist university for many centuries, with renowned teachers such as the great master Nāgārjuna. The influence of the Gupta style of Buddhist art also spread along with Buddhism from south-east Asia to China.
Indian Buddhism had weakened in the 6th century following the White Hun (or Hephthalite) invasions and the persecution led by Mihirkula.
Xuanzang reported in his travels across India during the 7th century, of Buddhism being popular in Andhra, Dhanyakataka and Dr
While reporting on the many deserted stupas in the area around modern day Nepal and the persecution of Buddhists by Shashanka in the Kingdom of Gauda in modern-day West Bengal, Xuanzang complimented the patronage of Harṣavardana during the same period.
After the Harṣavardana kingdom, the rise of many small kingdoms led to the rise of the Rajputs across the gangetic plains, marking the end of Buddhist ruling clans, along with a sharp decline in royal patronage until a revival under the Pāla Empire in the Bengal region.
Here Mahāyāna Buddhism flourished and spread to Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim be
Xuanzang noted in his travels that in various regions, Buddhism was giving way to Jainism and Hinduism. By the 10th century Buddhism had experienced a sharp decline beyond the Pāla realms in Bengal under a resurgent Hinduism and the incorporation in Vaishnavite Hinduism of Buddha as the 9th incarnation of the god Vishnu.
A milestone in the decline of Indian Buddhism in the North occurred in 1193 when Turkic Islamic raiders under Muhammad Khilji burnt Nālandā University. By the end of the 12th century, following the Islamic conquest of the Buddhist strongholds in Bihar and the loss of political support coupled with social pressures, the practice of Buddhism retreated to the Himalayan foothills in the North and Sri Lanka in the south. Additionally, the influence of Buddhism also waned due to Hinduism's revival movements such as Advaita, the rise of the bhakti movement and the missionary work of the Sufis.
Central and Northern Asia
Central Asia had most likely been influenced by Buddhism since the time of the Buddha. According to a legend preserved in Pāli, the language of the Theravādin canon, two merchant brothers from Bactria named Tapassu and Bhallika visited the Buddha and became his disciples. They then returned to Bactria and built Buddhist temples.
Central Asia long played the role of a meeting place between China, India
and Persia. During the 2nd century BCE, the expansion of the Former Han dynasty to the west brought them into contact with the Hellenistic civilizations of Asia, especially the Greco-Bactrian Kingdoms. Thereafter, the expansion of Buddhism to the north led to the formation of Buddhist communities and even Buddhist kingdoms in the oases of Central Asia. Some Silk Road cities consisted almost entirely of Buddhist stupas and monasteries, and it seems that one of their main objectives was to welcome and service travelers between east and west.
The Theravādin traditions first spread among the Iranian tribes before combining with the Mahāyāna traditions during the 2nd and 3rd centuries BCE to cover modern-day Pakistan, Kashmir,
Various Theravadin schools persisted in Central Asia and China until around the 7th century CE, and although the Mahāyāna had begun to become dominant during this period, the Sarvāstivādins and Dharmag
Various Buddhist kingdoms arose and prospered in both the Central Asian region and downwards into the Indian sub-continent, such as the Kushan Empire, prior to the White Hun invasion in the 5th century where under the King Mihirkula buddhists were heavily persecuted.
Buddhism in Central Asia started to decline with the expansion of Islam and the destruction of many stupas and monasteries in the wars from the 7th century. The Muslims accorded them the status of people of the book, many referring to the Buddha as a prophet.
Buddhism saw a surge during the reign of the Mongols, following the invasion of Genghis Khan and the establishment of the Il Khanate and the Chagatai Khanate, who brought their Buddhist influence with them during the 13th century; however, within 100 years the Mongols who remained in that region would convert to Islam and spread Islam across all the regions of central Asia. Only the eastern Mongols and the Mongols of the Yuan dynasty would keep to the practise of Vajrayāna Buddhism.
Buddhism expanded westward into the easternmost fringes of Arsacid Parthia, to the area of Merv, in ancient Margiana, (modern day Turkmenistan). Soviet archeological teams have excavated a Buddhist chapel, a gigantic Buddha statue and a monastery in Giaur Kala near Merv.
Parthians were directly involved in the propagation of Buddhism: An Shigao (c. 148 CE), a Parthian prince, went to China, and is the first known translator of Buddhist scriptures into Chinese.
The eastern part of central Asia (Chinese Turkestan, Tarim Basin, Xinjiang) has revealed extremely rich Buddhist works of art, such as wall paintings and reliefs in numerous caves, portable paintings on canvas, sculpture and ritual objects, which display multiple influences from Indian and Hellenistic cultures. Serindian art is highly reminiscent of the Gandhāran style, and scriptures in the Gandhāri script Kharoṣṭhī have been found.
Central Asians seem to have played a key role in the transmission of Buddhism to the East. The first translators of Buddhists scriptures into Chinese were Parthian, like An Shigao (148 CE), or AnHsuan, Kushan of Yuezhi ethnicity, like Lokaksema (178 CE), Zhi Qian and Zhi Yao or Sogdians, like Kang Sengkai. Thirty-seven early translators of Buddhist texts are known, and the majority of them have been identified as Central Asians.
Central Asian and East Asian Buddhist monks appear to have maintained strong exchanges until around the 10th century, as shown by frescoes from the Tarim Basin.
These influences were rapidly absorbed, however, by the vigorous Chinese culture, and a strongly Chinese flavour develops from that point.
According to traditional accounts, Buddhism was introduced into China during the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), after, an emperor dreamed of a flying golden man thought to be the Buddha. Although archaeological records confirm that Buddhism was introduced sometime during the Han dynasty, it did not flourish in China until the Six Dynasties period (220-589 CE).
The year 67 CE saw Buddhism's official introduction to China with the coming of the two monks Moton and Chufarlan. In 68 CE, under imperial patronage, they established the White Horse Temple, which still exists today, close to the imperial capital at Luoyang. By the end of the 2nd century, a prosperous Buddhist community had settled at Pengcheng (modern day Xuzhou, Jiangsu).
The first known Mahāyāna scriptural texts are translations into Chinese by the Kushan monk Lokakṣema in Luoyang, between 178 and 189 CE. Some of the earliest known Buddhist artifacts found in China are small statues on 'money trees', dated 200 CE, in typical Gandhāran drawing style. That the imported images accompanying the newly arrived doctrine came from Gandhāra is strongly suggested by the early Gandhāran characteristics on this 'money tree', such as the Buddha with an uṣhnisha vertical arrangement of the hair, moustache, symmetrically looped robe and parallel incisions for the folds of the arms.
In the period between 460-525 CE, during the Northern Wei dynasty, the Chinese constructed the Yungang Grottoes, which are outstanding examples of Chinese stone carvings from the 5th and 6th centuries. All together the site is composed of 252 grottoes with more than 51,000 Buddha statues and statuettes.
Another famous example of Buddhist Grottoes is the Longmen Grottoes which started with the Northern Wei Dynasty in 493 CE. There are as many as 100,000 statues within the 1,400 caves, ranging from 25 mm to 17 metres in height. The area also contains nearly 2,500 stelae and inscriptions, as well as over sixty Buddhist pagodas.
Buddhism flourished during the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE). The dynasty was initially characterized by a strong openness to foreign influences and renewed exchanges with Indian culture due to the numerous travels of Chinese Buddhist monks to India from the 4th to the 11th centuries. The Tang capital of Chang'an (modern day Xi'an) became an important center for Buddhist thought. From there Buddhism spread to Korea, and the Japanese embassies of Kentoshi helped gain footholds in Japan.
However, foreign influences came to be negatively perceived towards the end of the Tang Dynasty. In the year 845 CE, the Tang emperor Wuzong outlawed all foreign religions, including Buddhism, in order to support the indigenous Taoism. Throughout his territory, he confiscated Buddhist possessions, destroyed monasteries and temples, and executed Buddhist monks, ending Buddhism's cultural and intellectual dominance.
However, about a hundred years after the Anti-Buddhist Persecution, Buddhism revived during the Song Dynasty (1127–1279 CE).
Pure Land and Chan Buddhism continued to prosper for some centuries, the latter giving rise to Korean Seon and Japanese Zen. In China, Chan flourished particularly under the Song dynasty (1127–1279 CE) when its monasteries were great centers of culture and learning.
In the last two thousand years, Chinese Buddhists have established what are known as The Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism. Mount Wutai, Mount Emei, Mount Jiuhua and Mount Putuo.
Today, China boasts one of the richest collections of Buddhist arts and heritages in the world. UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang in Gansu p
Buddhism was introduced to Korea around 372 CE, when Chinese ambassadors visited the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo, bringing with them scriptures and images. Buddhism prospered in Korea, in particular Seon (Zen) Buddhism, from the 7th century onward. However, with the beginning of the Confucian Yi Dynasty of the Joseon period in 1392 CE, a strong discrimination took place against Buddhism until it was almost completely eradicated, except for a remaining Seon movement. Buddhism has continued to be practised in Korea since it's introduction, with ebbs and flows in it's popularity and freedom to practise. It is believed that again Buddhism is making a strong comeback in recent times.
The Buddhism of Japan was introduced via the Three Kingdoms of Korea in the 6th century. The Chinese priest Ganjin offered the system of Vinaya (rules of conduct) to the Buddhism of Japan in 754 CE. As a result, the Buddhism of Japan developed rapidly. The Buddhist masters Saichō and Kūkai succe
Being geographically at the end of the Silk Road, Japan was able to preserve many aspects of Buddhism at the very time it was disappearing in India, and being suppressed in Central Asia and China.
Buddhism quickly became the national religion and thrived, particularly under Shotoku Taishi (Prince Shotoku) during the Asuka period (538-794 CE). From 710 CE, numerous temples and monasteries were built in the capital city of Nara, such as the five-story pagoda and Golden Hall of the Hōryū-ji, and the Kōfuku-ji temple. Countless paintings and sculptures were made, often under governmental sponsorship. The creations of Japanese Buddhist art were especially rich between the 8th and 13th centuries during the Nara period (710-794 CE), Heian period(794-1185 CE) and Kamaku
During Kamakura period, major reformation activities started, namely changing from 'Buddhism for the imperial court' to 'Buddhism for the common people'. It appears that up to that time Buddhism mostly focused on the protection of the country, imperial house or noble families from evil, and the liberation of the imperial families, nobles and monks themselves (self-liberation). On the other hand, new schools such as Jodo shu (pure land sect) founded by Honen and Jodo Shinshu (true pure land sect) founded by Shinran, Honen's disciple, emphasised the liberation of sinners, common men and women, and even criminals such as murderers. Shinran taught the commoners that reciting nembutsu (the recitation of Amitabha Buddha's name) is a declaration of faith in Amitabha's ability to liberate them. Also for the first time in the history of Buddhism, Shinran started a new sect allowing the marriage of monks, by initiating his own marriage, which at the time was deemed as taboo from the conservative traditional Buddhist point of view.
Another development in the Kamakura period was Zen, after it's introduction by Dogen and Eisai upon their return from China. Zen is highly philosophical with simplified words reflecting deep thought. Zen's art history, is mainly characterised by so-called zen art, original paintings such as ink wash and the Enso, and poetry, especially haikus and koans, which strive to express the true essence of the world through impressionistic and unadorned non-dualistic representations. The search for enlightenment in this very moment also led to the development of other important derivative arts such as the Chanoyu tea ceremony and the Ikebana art of flower arrangement. This evolution went as far as considering almost any human activity as an art-form with a strong spiritual and aesthetic content, including activities that related to the martial arts.
Buddhism remains active in Japan to this day. Around 80,000 Buddhist temples are preserved and regularly restored.
Buddhism arrived late in Tibet, during the 7th century. The form that predominated, via the south of Tibet, was a blend of mahāyāna and vajrayāna from the universities of the Pāla empire of the Bengal region in eastern India. Sarvāstivādin influence came from the south west (Kashmir) and the north west (Khotan). Although these practitioners did not succeed in maintaining a presence in Tibet, their texts found their way into the Tibetan Buddhist canon, providing the Tibetans with almost all of their primary sources about the Foundation Vehicle. A subsect of this school, Mūlasarvāstivāda was the source of the Tibetan Vinaya (rules of conduct). Chan Buddhism was introduced via east Tibet from China and left its impression, but was rendered of lesser importance by early political events.
From the outset Buddhism was opposed by the native shamanistic Bon religion, which had the support of the aristocracy, but with royal patronage it thrived to a peak under King Rälpachän (817-836 CE). Terminology in translation was standardised around 825 CE, enabling a translation methodology that was highly literal. Despite a reversal in Buddhist influence which began under King Langdarma (836-842 CE), the following centuries saw a colossal effort in collecting available Indian sources, many of which are now extant only in the Tibetan translation. Tibetan Buddhism was favored above other religions by the rulers of the imperial Chinese and the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368 CE).
Buddhism has continued to be practised in Tibet since it's introduction, with ebbs and flows in it's popularity and freedom to practise.
During the 1st century CE, the trade on the overland Silk Road became somewhat restricted due to the rise in the Middle-East of the Parthian empire, an unvanquished enemy of Rome, just as Romans were becoming extremely wealthy and their demand for Asian luxury was rising.
This demand revived the sea connections between the Mediterranean and China, with India as the intermediary of choice. From that time, through trade connection, commercial settlements, and even political interventions, India started to strongly influence most Southeast Asian countries. Trade routes linked India with southern Burma, central and southern Siam (Thailand), the islands of Sumatra and Java, lower Cambodia and Champa, and numerous urbanised coastal settlements were established there.
For more than a thousand years, Indian influence was therefore the major factor that brought a certain level of cultural unity to the various countries of the region. The Pāli and Sanskrit language
From the 5th to the 13th centuries, South-East Asia had very powerful empires and became extremely active in Buddhist architectural and artistic creation. The main Buddhist influence now came directly by sea from the Indian subcontinent, with these empires essentially following the Mahāyāna tradition. The Sri Vijaya Empire to the south and the Khmer Empire to the north competed for influence, and their art expressed the rich Mahāyāna pantheon of the Bodhisattva's.
Srivijayan Empire (7th–13th century)
As Srivijaya expanded their maritime empire, Buddhism thrived amongst its people. Srivijaya spread Buddhist art during its expansion in Southeast Asia. Numerous statues of bodhisattvas from this period are characterised by a very strong refinement and technical sophistication, and are found throughout the region. Extremely rich architectural remains are visible at the temple of Borobudur the largest Buddhist structure in the world, built from around 780 CE in Java, which has 505 images of the seated Buddha. Srivijaya declined due to conflicts with the Hindu Chola rulers of India, before being destabilized by the Islamic expansion from the 13th century.
Khmer Empire (9th–13th centuries)
Later, from the 9th to the 13th centuries, the predominantly Mahāyāna Buddhist Khmer Empire dominated much of the South-East Asian peninsula. Under the Khmer, more than 900 temples were built in Cambodia and in neighboring Thailand. Angkor was at the center of this development, with a temple complex and urban organization able to support around one million urban dwellers. One of the greatest Khmer kings, Jayavarman VII (1181–1219 CE), built large Mahāyāna Buddhist structures at Bayon and Angkor Thom.
Buddhism in Vietnam , as practiced by the Vietnamese people, is mainly of the Mahāyāna tradition. Although both the Theravada and Vajrayana traditions are also practised there. It is believed that Buddhism first came to Vietnam as early as the 3rd century BCE from South Asia and India, with later influence from China from the 1st century CE onwards. Vietnamese Buddhism is very similar to Chinese Buddhism and to some extent reflects the structure of Chinese Buddhism after the Song Dynasty.
Emergence of the Vajrayāna (5th century)
Various classes of Vajrayana literature developed as a result of various royal courts sponsoring Buddhism. Vajrayana Buddhism utilises mantra (mind protection) & visualisation methods, as well as other ritual practises, as taught in the Tantra (continuum) texts, as part of the mind training process on the path to enlightenment. Generally, the Tibetan tradition speaks of four classes of Tantra: Kriya(action)-tantra; Charya(elaboration)-tantra; Yoga-tantra; and Anuttara(supreme)-yoga-tantra.
Theravāda Renaissance (starting in the 11th century)
From the 11th century, the destruction of Buddhism in India due to the Islamic invasions led to the decline of the Mahāyāna faith in South-East Asia. Continental routes through the Indian subcontinent being compromised, direct sea routes developed from the Middle-East through Sri Lanka to China, leading to the adoption of Theravāda Buddhism and the Pāli canon, introduced to the region around the 11th century from Sri Lanka.
King Anawrahta (1044–1078), the founder of the Pagan Empire, unified the country and adopted Theravāda Buddhism. This initiated the creation of thousands of Buddhist temples at Pagan, the capital, between the 11th and 13th centuries. Around 2,200 of them are still standing. The power of the Burmese decreased with the rise of the Thai, and with the seizure of the capital by the Mongols in 1287, but Theravāda Buddhism has remained the main Buddhist school in Burma to this day.
The Theravāda tradition was also adopted by the newly founded ethnic Thai kingdom of Sukhothai around 1260. Theravāda Buddhism was further reinforced during the Ayutthaya period (14th–18th century), becoming an integral part of Thai society.
In the continental areas, Theravāda Buddhism continued to expand into Laos and Cambodia in the 13th century. From the 14th century, however, on the coastal fringes and on the islands of south-east Asia, the influence of Islam expanded into Malaysia, Indonesia, and most of the islands as far as the southern Philippines.
Nevertheless, since president Suharto's rise to power in Indonesia in 1966, there has been a remarkable renaissance of Buddhism in Indonesia. Due in part to the requirements of Suharto's New Order for the people of Indonesia to adopt one of the five official religions, which included Buddhism. Today it is estimated there are some 10 million Buddhists in Indonesia. A large part of them are people of Chinese ancestry.
Expansion of Buddhism to the West
After the previously mentioned classical encounters between Buddhism and the West recorded in Greco-Buddhist art, information and legends about Buddhism seem to have reached the West sporadically. An account of Buddha's life was translated into Greek by John of Damascus, and then widely circulated to Christians as the story of Josaphat. Interestingly, in the 14th century this story of Josaphat had become so popular that he was made a Catholic saint.
Quang Duc Monastery
A Vietnamese temple in Melbourne, Australia
Nan Tien Temple
A Taiwanese temple in NSW, Australia
The next recorded direct encounter between Europeans and Buddhism happened in Medieval times when the Franciscan friar William of Rubruck was sent on a trip to the Mongol court of Mongke by the French king Saint Louis in 1253. The contact happened at Cailac (in modern day Kazakhstan).
In the period after Hulagu Khan, the Mongol Ilkhans increasingly adopted Buddhism. Numerous Buddhist temples dotted the landscape of Persia and Iraq, none of which survived the 14th century. The Buddhist element of the Il-Khanate died out after the death ofArghun Khan.
The Kalmyk Khanate was founded in the 17th century with Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism as its main religion, following the earlier migration of the Oirats from Dzungaria through Central Asia to the steppe around the mouth of the Volga River. During the course of the 18th century, they were absorbed by the Russian Empire.
Interest in Buddhism increased during the colonial era, when Western powers were in a position to directly witness Buddhism and its artistic manifestations in detail. The opening of Japan in 1853 created a considerable interest in the arts and culture of Japan, and provided access to one of the most thriving Buddhist cultures in the world.
Buddhism started to enjoy a strong interest from the general population in the West following the turbulence of the 20th century. In the wake of the 1959 Tibetan uprising, a Tibetan diaspora has made Tibetan Buddhism in particular more widely accessible to the rest of the world. It has since spread to many Western countries, where the tradition has gained popularity. Among its prominent exponents is His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. The number of its adherents is estimated to be between ten and twenty million.
In the last few decades Buddhism has taken firm roots throughout many countries in the West, due in part to people and their families migrating to Western countries from various Buddhist cultures. It is also due to the genuine interest in Buddhism shown by Westerners of all backgrounds. Some of whom have deep virtuous roots from practising Buddhism in previous lives, and others who are totally new to Buddhism, having a strong attraction to the peace, harmony and understanding that results from the Buddhist practises of morality, meditation and wisdom.
Generally, in Western countries, Buddhism is held in high regard as a way of peace. A blameless religion with a history that has caused peace, harmony and understanding wherever it has travelled. The number of temples and Dharma centres, as well as the number of practitioners from all backgrounds, is constantly and consistently increasing in the West.
Melbourne, March 21, 2018
Andrew Williams (Bat Nha)