While the Buddha was alive
After he found the truth, Siddhartha Gautama travelled around India to teach about the truth. The Buddha became a religious teacher. He visited many places in India. Buddhism began to spread while the Buddha was alive. Some people became Buddhist monks. They lived a very simple life. They worked in monasteries and often sat for long hours to think about and meditate on life. The monks went out begging for food. They helped the poor and sick people. By doing this, they spread the teachings of the Buddha throughout Central India.
After the death of the Buddha
After the death of the Buddha, Buddhism continued to spread. Gradually two main sects of Buddhism developed. One sect is called Theravada Buddhism. This spread southward to Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. The other sect is called Mahayana Buddhism and it spread northward into China, Japan and Korea. The old school Theravada Buddhism believed that wisdom was a way to nirvana. The new school Mahayana Buddhism thought kindness was more important. The new school was less concerned than the old school with the rules that governed the behaviour of the monks. It is concerned more with the spirit behind these rules. The new school is more popular with the common people.
Spread under the rule of Emperor Asoka
Emperor Asoka ruled most of India from about 273 to 232 BC. Asoka became a Buddhist in about 250 BC. He followed Buddhist ideas when he ruled his large kingdom. He helped people by building new roads, hospitals and monasteries. He also sent men to put up stone pillars in many parts of his empire with Buddhist ideas carved on them. He sent Buddhist teachers to other countries. He sent his son to teach Buddhism to the people of Sri Lanka. Buddhist monks visited many parts of Asia to teach Buddhism. He visited holy Buddhist places himself. He arranged meetings for the Buddhists to share their ideas.
When Asoka died, his empire broke up into several smaller kingdoms. The rulers of these kingdoms were Hindus. From that time, Buddhism began to decline in India. But before the decline of Buddhist influence in India, it had already spread throughout Asia.
Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Monks were sent out on missions during Asoka' s reign. The most important of these missions was to Sri Lanka. Asoka' s son, Mahinda, converted the king and nobles to Buddhism. The teachings of Buddha were first written down in Sri Lanka during the first century AD. When Buddhism became less important in India, Sri Lanka became a strong centre of Buddhism. Sri Lanka sent Buddhist monks to some countries on missionary work.
Nowadays, three-quarters of the people in Sri Lanka are Buddhists. There are many Buddhist festivals and holidays. Every year, the Buddhists in Sri Lanka celebrate the visit of Asoka' s son. They also celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha.
Buddhism in China
Buddhism came to China during the Eastern Han Dynasty in about 25 AD. Buddhist monks travelled to Tibet and other parts of China to spread their religion. Later, some Chinese scholars travelled to India to learn more about Buddhism.
The monk Faxian studied Buddhism in India and Sri Lanka early in the 5th century. When he returned to China, he wrote a book called "Records of Buddhist Countries" .
The Tang Dynasty was the golden age of Buddhism in China. Before this time, Buddhism was popular only among the nobles and the educated people. Many of the Tang emperors followed the Buddhist faith. They built many great monasteries and helped people to study Buddhist ideas. Buddhism became very popular. Many pilgrims went to holy Buddhism places in India by land and sea. The most famous of these people was Xuan Zhuang.
Xuan Zhuang was a Chinese scholar and monk. In 629, he left China to go to India to study there. He made a long journey westward and reached Kashmir in northwest India. He studied Buddhism and traveled widely in India. Xuan Zhuang became a famous scholar in India. He returned to China in 645. The Tang emperor received him and listened to his description of life in foreign countries. The emperor offered Xuan Zhuang a job as a government official, but Xuan Zhuang did not accept it. He wanted to translate Buddhist writings from Sanskrit into Chinese. These Chinese translations helped Buddhism to spread more easily in China. Xuan Zhuang also wrote a long description of his travels. He called this "Records of the Western Regions". Historians still study this book today.
Later in the 9th century, Emperor Wu Zong preferred Daoism to Buddhism. He thought that there were too many Buddhist monks and monasteries. In 845, many religious buildings were destroyed. Many monks and nuns had to leave their monasteries. After the death of Wu Zong, Buddhism became very popular again, but never a s popular as before. Today, there are still some Buddhists in China. Sometimes Buddhist ideas are mixed with those of Daoism.
Buddhism in Japan
Buddhism came to Japan from China and Korea in the 6th century. Prince Shotoku thought that Buddhism would help to develop Japan. He sent Japanese monks to China to study Buddhism. He also built many temples to spread Buddhism.
In the 8th century, Buddhism became the national religion of Japan. Emperor Shomu, a good Buddhist ruler, sent monks to China to study Buddhism. When they returned to Japan, these monks started many new Buddhist groups. Later on, Shomu became a Buddhist monk himself.
Kukai was a Japanese monk who lived from 774 to 835. He went to China to study Buddhism. Returning to Japan in 806, he helped to improve education, art and literature. Kukai wrote many important Buddhist texts. He compared Buddhism with Confucianism and Daoism and said that Buddhism was the superior of the three. He founded a new sect of Buddhism in Japan called Shingon.
Shingon Buddhism is a mixture of Vajrayana Buddhism and the ancient Japanese religion, Shinto. Therefore, this form of Buddhism was easily accepted by the Japanese people. The aim of Shingon is spreading love for others. It emphasizes the reciting of mantras (a kind of verse), rituals and the practice of meditation.
There are many forms of Buddhism in Japan. One form is called Zen. Zen Buddhism was founded in China in 520 and it spread to Japan in the 1100s and 1200s. Zen Buddhists practise meditation to become enlightened,. Meditation involves long hours of concentration, so that s person can understand the problems of the world. Through meditation a person can improve himself morally. Many samurai warriors studied Zen. It helped them to strengthen their minds and bodies so that they were not afraid to die.
Buddhism in Thailand
The Thais' original home was in China. They brought with them Buddhism when they went to live in Thailand in the 11th century. King Rama Khamheng was a Buddhist. He ruled from 1283 to 1317 and made Buddhism the official religion of Thailand. Buddhism is still very important in Thailand today.
Buddhism is taught in all schools. Every young man is expected to become a monk for a short period in his life. There are more than 20,000 monasteries in Thailand.
Buddhism in Cambodia
Indian merchants brought Buddhism to Cambodia in the 9th century Ad. The Khmer people had a large empire then. Its capital was at Angkor. The early rulers were Hindus, but later the kings became Buddhists. In Cambodia there are many old and beautiful carvings and temples. They show a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist religions. The most outstanding example is the Angkor Wat Temple.
Back to Buddhism>