Buddhism

The history of Buddhism spans from the 5th century BCE to the present. Buddhism 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 Siddhārtha Gautama. This makes it one of the oldest religions practiced today. The religion evolved as it spread from the northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent through Central, East, and Southeast Asia. At one time or another, it influenced most of the Asian continent. The history of Buddhism is also characterized by the development of numerous movements, schisms, and schools, among them the Theravāda, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna traditions, with contrasting periods of expansion and retreat.


Gautama Buddha


Buddha Statue "Gandhara Style"


Gautama Buddha (c. 563/480 – c. 483/400 BCE), also known as Siddhārtha Gautama, Shakyamuni (i.e. "Sage of the Shakyas") or simply the Buddha, after the title of Buddha, was a monk (śramaṇa), mendicant, and sage, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. He is believed to have lived and taught mostly in the northeastern part of ancient India sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE.

Gautama taught a Middle Way between sensual indulgence and the severe asceticism found in the śramaṇa movement common in his region. He later taught throughout other regions of eastern India such as Magadha and Kosala.

Gautama is the primary figure in Buddhism. He is believed by Buddhists to be an enlightened teacher who attained full Buddhahood and shared his insights to help sentient beings end rebirth and suffering. Accounts of his life, discourses and monastic rules are believed by Buddhists to have been summarised after his death and memorized by his followers. Various collections of teachings attributed to him were passed down by oral tradition and first committed to writing about 400 years later.

In Vaishnava Hinduism, the historic Buddha is considered to be an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu. Of the ten major avatars of Vishnu, Vaishnavites believe Gautama Buddha to be the ninth and most recent incarnation.
Scholars are hesitant to make unqualified claims about the historical facts of the Buddha's life. Most people accept that the Buddha lived, taught, and founded a monastic order during the Mahajanapada era during the reign of Bimbisara (c. 558 – c. 491 BCE, or c. 400 BCE), the ruler of the Magadha empire, and died during the early years of the reign of Ajatasatru, who was the successor of Bimbisara, thus making him a younger contemporary of Mahavira, the Jain tirthankara.While the general sequence of "birth, maturity, renunciation, search, awakening and liberation, teaching, death" is widely accepted, there is less consensus on the veracity of many details contained in traditional biographies.

The times of Gautama's birth and death are uncertain. Most historians in the early 20th century dated his lifetime as c. 563 BCE to 483 BCE. More recently his death is dated later, between 411 and 400 BCE, while at a symposium on this question held in 1988, the majority of those who presented definite opinions gave dates within 20 years either side of 400 BCE for the Buddha's death. These alternative chronologies, however, have not been accepted by all historians.

Spread of Buddhism

Spread of Buddhism all over the World


Central Asia was home to the international trade route known as the Silk Road, which carried goods between China, India, the Middle east and the Mediterranean world. Buddhism was present in this region from about the second century BCE. Initially, the Dharmaguptaka school was the most successful in their efforts to spread Buddhism in Central Asia. The Kingdom of Khotan was one of the earliest Buddhist kindgoms in the area and helped transmit Buddhism from India to China.

The Kushan empire's unification of most of this area and their support of Buddhism allowed it to easily spread along the trade routes of the region throughout Central Asia. During the first century CE under the Kushans, the Sarvastivada school flourished in this region, some of the monks also bringing Mahayana teachings with them. Buddhism would eventually reach modern-day Pakistan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. As Buddhism reached many of these lands, Buddhists began to translate and produce texts in the local languages, such as Khotanese (a Middle Iranian language), Sogdian (also Iranian), Uigur (Turkish), Tangut, Tibetan, and Chinese.


Central Asian Buddhist Monks


Central Asians played a key role in the transmission of Buddhism to China The first translators of Buddhists scriptures into Chinese were Iranians, including the Parthian An Shigao (c. 148 CE), the Yuezhi Zhi Qian and Kang Sengkai (from Samarkand). Thirty-seven early translators of Buddhist texts are known, and the majority of them have been identified as hailing from the Iranian cultural sphere. The Zoroastrian Sassanian empire (226–651 CE) would eventually rule over many of these regions (such as Parthia and Sogdia), but they tolerated the Buddhist religion. During the mid-seventh century, the Islamic conquest of the Iranian Plateau followed by the Muslim conquests of Afghanistan and the later establishment of the Ghaznavid kingdom in Central Asia (ca. 977–1186) led to the decline and eventual disappearance of Buddhism from most of these regions.

Buddhism also flourished in the eastern part of central Asia (Chinese Turkestan, Tarim Basin). Indians and Iranians lived in major cities of this region like Kashgar and Khotan. The region has revealed extremely rich Buddhist works of art as well as Buddhist texts such as those found in Dunhuang. Serindian art is highly reminiscent of the Gandhāran style, and scriptures in the Gandhāri script Kharoṣṭhī have been found. The Uyghurs conquered the area in the 8th century and blended with the local Iranian peoples, absorbing the Buddhist culture of the region.[91] They were later absorbed by the mongol Yuan dynasty. Many printed Buddhist texts from the region date to the Yuan, and they were printed in the Uyghur, Xixia and Sanskrit languages. The Uyghurs also restored cave temples and repainted Buddhist wall paintings such as at Bezeklik. Uyghur Buddhism was the last major Buddhist culture in East Turkestan and it lasted until the mid 14th century. After the Islamicisation of Xinjiang, Buddhism ceased to be a major religion there.


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