Birth of the Siddhattha Gotama in Lubini
At the age of 29 Siddhattha Gotama leaves his luxurious lifestyle, including a wife and child and goes in search of Enlightenment. He tries the other extreme of ascetic practices, but finds they also do not provide ultimate happiness.
Enlightenment of Siddhattha Gotama under the Bodhi Tree at Bodhgaya at the age of 35, thence called Buddha Gotama or Shakyamuni Buddha. Buddha means “The Enlightened One”, “The Awake One”, or “The One Who Knows”. “Shakyamuni” means “Sage of the Shakyan’s.” He discovered The Middle Way, which avoids both extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.
After 45 years of teaching in the region of the Ganges, Buddha Gotama enters Parinibbaana. The first Council of the Community of Monks [Bhikkhu Sangha] occurs shortly after this at Rajagriha [Rajgir]. It is directed by Mahakassapa Bhikkhu. Ananda Bhikkhu recites the Sutta and Upali Bhikkhu recites the Vinaya. These become the basis of the Tipitaka, the orthodox text of Buddhism. The Tipitaka is preserved in fully in Pali and Chinese, but only partly in Tibetan.
The Second Council of the Community of Monks [Bhikkhu Sangha] at Vaisali.
King Asoka the Great of India built stupas and pillars urging amongst other things, respect of all animal life, and enjoining people to follow the Dhamma. Perhaps the finest example of these is the Great Stupa in Sanchi, India (near Bhopal). It was constructed in the third century BCE and later enlarged. Its carved gates are considered among the finest examples of Buddhist art in India. He also built roads, hospitals, rest-houses, universities and irrigation systems around the country. He treated his subjects as equals regardless of their religion, politics or caste.
The Third Council of the Community of Monks [Bhikkhu Sangha] at Pataliputta (Patna) was convened by King Asoka. After the council the King send Buddhist missionaries north, through the Himalayas, to Khotan in the Tarim Basin, south to Sri Lanka [Asoka’s son Mahinda and six companions went to Sri Lanka], west to the Greek kingdoms including Bactria (today's northern Afghanistan) and east to Suwannabhumi and the Mon people.
Rise of the Sunga Empire in India about 50 years after Asoka’s death. Buddhist records say the new king, Pushyamitra, persecuted the Buddhists, but there are no other records of this. Buddhist Monks deserted the Ganges valley during this time.
1st to 2nd Cent.
The first Buddhist statues were made due to influence from the Greeks.
One of the most famous Indo-Greek kings is Menander (reigned c. 160–135 BCE). He apparently converted to Buddhism. Direct cultural exchange is also suggested by the dialogue of the Milinda Panha between Menander and the monk Nagasena around 160 BCE.
The interaction between Greek and Buddhist cultures may have had some influence on the evolution of Mahayana, as the faith developed its sophisticated philosophical approach and a man-god treatment of the Buddha somewhat reminiscent of Hellenic gods.
A Buddhist gold coin from India was found in northern Afghanistan at the archaeological site of Tillia Tepe, Tomb IV, and dated to the 1st century CE. On the reverse, it depicts a lion with the words "Sih[o] vigatabhay[o]" ("The lion who dispelled fear"). On the obverse, a man rolls a Buddhist wheel. The words in Kharoshthi read "Dharmacakrapravata[ko]" ("The one who turned the Wheel of the Law").
The Fourth [Theravadin] Council of the Community of Monks [Bhikkhu Sangha] in Sri Lanka, concluding with the Pali Canon being written down. Later some great commentators worked in Sri Lanka, such as Buddhaghosa (4th–5th century) and Dhammapala (5th–6th century).
1st Cent. To 2nd Cent.
A coin of the Kushan emperor Kanishka had the Buddha on the reverse, and his name "BODDO" in Greek script, minted circa 120 CE.
The Kushans were supportive of Buddhism, and a fourth Buddhist council [for Mahayana Buddhism - Sarvastivadin] was convened by the Kushan emperor Kanishka, around 100 CE at Jalandhar or in Kashmir, and is usually associated with the formal rise of Mahayana Buddhism and its secession from Theravada Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism does not recognize the authenticity of this council, and it is sometimes called the "council of heretical monks".
The new form of Buddhism was characterized by an almost God-like treatment of the Buddha, by the idea that all beings have a Buddha-nature and should aspire to Buddhahood. Scholars believe that it was also around this time that a sig
gnificant change w made in the language of the Sarvāstivādin canon, by converting an earlier Prakrit version into Sanskrit. Many of the earrly schools, however, such as Theravada, never switched to Sanskrit, partly because Buddha explicitly forbade translation of his discourses into Sanskrit because it was an elitist religious language (like Latin was in Europe in earlier times). He wanted his monks to use a local language instead; a language which could be understood by all. Over time however, the language of the Theravadin scriptures (Pali) became a scholarly or elitist language as well.
1st – 10th Cent.
In the space of a few centuries, Mahayana was to flourish and spread in the East from India to South-East Asia, and towards the north to Central Asia, and finally to Japan in 538 CE. By the 6th Cent. CE Mahayana Buddhism had moved into Northern SE Asia.
After the end of the Kushans, Buddhism flourished in India during the dynasty of the Guptas (4th-6th century). Mahayana centers of learning were established, especially at Nalanda in north-eastern India, which was to become the largest and most influential Buddhist university for many centuries, with famous teachers such as Nagarjuna.
Indian Buddhism had weakened in the 6th century following the White Hun invasions and Mihirkulas persecution. Xuanzang reports in his travels across India during the 7th century of Buddhism being popular in Andhra, Dhanyakataka, and Dravida, which today roughly correspond to the modern day Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
By the 10th century Buddhism had experienced a sharp decline under a resurgent Hinduism and the incorporation in Vaishnavite Hinduism of Buddha as the 9th incarnation of Vishnu.
Various Nikaya schools persisted in Central Asia and China until around the 7th century CE. Mahayana started to become dominant during the period, but since the faith had not developed a Nikaya approach, Sarvastivadin Dharmaguptakas remained the Vinayas of choice in Central Asian monasteries.
Buddhism in Central Asia started to decline with the expansion of and the destruction of many stupas in war from the 7th century. The Muslims accorded them the status of dhimmis as "people of the Book", such as Christianity, Judaism.
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 either Parthian (Ch: Anxi) like An Shigao (c. 148 CE) or An Hsuan, Kushan, Yuezhi ethnicity like Lokaksema (c. 178 CE), Zhi Qian, Zhi Yao, Sogdians (Ch: SuTe) like Kang Sengkai. Thirty-seven early translators of Buddhist texts are known, and the majority of them have been identified as Central Asians. These influences were rapidly absorbed however by the vigorous Chinese culture and a strongly Chinese particularism develops from the 10th Century.
Emergence of the Vajrayana
Vajrayāna Buddhism, also called Tantric Buddhism, first emerged in eastern India between the 5th and 7th centuries CE. It is sometimes considered a sub-school of Mahayana and sometimes a third major "vehicle" (Yana) of Buddhism in its own right.
The Vajrayana is an extension of Mahayana Buddhism in that it does not offer new philosophical perspectives, but rather introduces additional techniques (upaya, or 'skilful means'), including the use of visualizations and other yogic practices. Many of the practices of Tantric Buddhism are common with tantricism (the usage of mantras, Yoga or the burning of sacrificial offerings). This school of thought was founded by Padmasambhava.
Early Vajrayana practitioners were forest-dwelling mahasiddhas, who lived on the margins of society, but by the 9th century Vajrayana had won acceptance at major Mahayana monastic universities such as Nalanda, Vikramashila. It has persisted in Tibet, where it was wholly transplanted from the 7th to 12th centuries and became the dominant form of Buddhism to the present day, and on a limited basis in Japan as well where it evolved into Shingon Buddhism.
During the 1st century CE, the trade on the overland Silk Road tended to be restricted by the rise in the Middle-East of the Parthian empire, an unvanquished enemy of Rome. From that time, through trade connection by sea, commercial settlements, and even political interventions, India started to strongly influence Southeast Asian countries. Trade routes linked India with southern Burma, central and southern Siam, lower Cambodia and southern Vietnam, and numerous urbanized coastal settlements were established there.
Expansion of Theravada Buddhism from the 11th century CE.
From the 11th century, the destruction of Buddhism in the Indian mainland by Islamic invasions led to the decline of the Mahayana faith in South-East Asia. Continental routes through the Indian subcontinent being compromised, direct sea routes between the Middle-East through Sri Lanka and to developed, leading to the adoption of the Theravada Buddhism of the Pali canon, introduced to the region around the 11th century CE from Sri Lanka.
King Anawrahta (1044-1077); the historical founder of the Burmese empire, unified the country and adopted the Theravada Buddhist faith. This initiated the creation of thousands of Buddhist temples at Bagan, the capital, between the 11th and 13th century. Around 2,000 of them are still standing. The power of the Burmese waned with the rise of the Thai (ethnic group), and with the seizure of the capital Pagan by the Mongols in 1287, but Theravada Buddhism remained the main Burmese faith to this day.
The Theravada faith was also adopted by the newly founded ethnic Thai kingdom of Sukhothai around 1260. Theravada Buddhism was further reinforced during the Ayutthaya period (14th–18th century), becoming an integral part of the Thai society.
From the 5th to the 13th century, 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, so that these empires essentially followed the Mahayana faith. In the continental areas, Theravada Buddhism continued to expand into Laos and Cambodia in the 13th century.
12th and 13th Cent.
A milestone in the decline of Indian Buddhism in the North occurred in 1193 when Turkic Islamic raiders under Muhammad Khilji burnt Nalanda. 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 and caste 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 Sufi.
Buddhism saw a surge during the reign of 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 a 100 years the Mongols who remained in that region would convert to and spread Islam across all the regions across central Asia. Only the eastern Mongols and the Mongols of the Yuan dynasty would keep Vajrayana Buddhism.
For more than a thousand years, Indian influence was the major factor that brought a certain level of cultural unity to the various countries of South-East Asia. The Sanskrit languages and the Indian script, together with Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, Brahmanism, and Hinduism, were transmitted from direct contact and through sacred texts and Indian literature such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
Expansion of Buddhism to the West
Major interest for Buddhism emerged during colonial times, when Western powers were in a position to witness the faith and its artistic manifestations in detail. European philosophy was strongly influenced by the study of oriental religions during that period.
The opening of Japan in 1853 also created a considerable interest for 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.
Buddhism has been displaying a strong power of attraction, due to its tolerance, its lack of deist authority and determinism, and its focus on understanding reality through self inquiry.
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