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Spread of Buddhism Globally

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By Pragya Jha

Buddhism grew very rapidly during during the lifetime of lord Buddha and after his death. Mahatma (Lord) Buddha was a prince , born in Lumbini (in present-day Nepal). He was named Siddhartha by his parents. He was deeply anguished  when he saw an old man, a sick man and a corpse. At the age of 29 he left the royal palace and went to forest to follow spiritual life of meditation. Siddhartha sought enlightenment through concentration. He sat under a pipal tree and practiced intense meditation. After 40 days, he reached the ultimate goal — nirvana.

What was the religion all about?

According to Buddha desire was the cause of all suffering. If desire is conquered one could attain Nirvana and to conquer desire one must follow the eight fold path-

  1. Right Speech

2) Right means of livelihood

3) Right observation

4) Right Action

5) Right Determination

6) Right Exertion

7) Right memory

8)Right meditation

He believed in the middle path and rejected the path of luxury and extreme ascetism. He stressed on non violence and laid down the following code of conduct for his followers-

  1. Not to covet property of others.

2) Not to tell a lie.

3) Not to commit violence

4) Not to drink

5) Not to indulge in corrupt practices.

An emperor converts to Buddhism:

Ashoka was the most powerful king of Mauryan Empire. Ashoka attacked Kalinga in 261 BCE. However, the tremendous loss of human lives and suffering that occurred in the war completely changed Ashoka. After this, he began to follow the path of Buddhism. He gave up the policy of Dig-Vijay(conquest of territories) and adopted the policy of dhamma (path of righteous living).He employed his unlimited power and resources in the teaching of an ethical system which he called Dhamma. Ashoka appointed Dhamma Mahamatras (Dhamma: derived from Dharma, a Sanskrit word). They were special officers who were expected to spread the message of Dhamma.

Spread of Buddhism Outside India

King Ashoka ,in order to spread the principles and message of Dhamma, got proclamation inscribed on stone pillars and placed them throughout his kingdom. Ashoka , not only spread the religion within India but outside India as well. Teams of missionaries were sent all over the Indian Subcontinent i.e. Sri Lanka,Myanmar and other neighboring countries to spread the message of Buddhism.

Spread of  Buddhism in Sri Lanka

Ashoka’s most successful mission was headed by his son Mahindra and daughter Sanghamitra who traveled to Sri Lanka along with four other monks and a novice. The mission turned out to be so successful that the ruler of Sri Lanka Devaanampiya Tissa himself became a Buddhist . He established numerous monasteries and several Buddhist monuments.

Spread of Buddhism in China

China witnessed the contact with Buddhism with the arrival of  Buddhist scholar Bodhi Dharma, who introduced the teachings of the Buddha to the Chinese. The effect in due course of time was intermingling of Buddhism and Chinese Taoism which resulted in the in the Ch’an school of Buddhism in China.

Spread of Buddhism in Korea

After China , Buddhism further traveled to Korea. Korean states have been familiar with Chinese religions in the form of Taoism and Confucianism, but the influence of these religions were limited. Buddhism, on the other hand, was adopted as the state religion by rulers as early as the fourth century, in spite of considerable local oppositions. Before the advent Buddhism Koreans predominantly practiced animism. Buddhism served as a foundation for Korean ethics. Buddhism became popular among the common people in the 5th century when it entered the kingdom of Silla .Many Korean Buddhist monks traveled to China to study the Buddha dharma in the sixth century. Buddhism achieved great success  in Korea,  Cities/places were even renamed after famous places during the time of Buddha.

Spread of Buddhism in Japan

After China and Korea,Buddhism spread to Japan in 6th century. Buddhism came to Japan during the reign of Emperor Yomei and spread faster under the patronage of his son Shotoku. Traditional beliefs says that Emperor Yomei once experienced serious illness,his young son impressed by Buddhist faith ,prayed day and night for his father.Emperor Yomei recovered and converted to Buddhism.After Yomei ,his son Shotoku claimed to the throne and devoted his life to public duty. He constructed seven temples.The prince never became a monk (some sources say he did).

Spread of Buddhism in Western Countries

Buddhist philosophy, which was spread by some of the Indian emperors to different parts of the Indian sub continent and subsequently the world, is still in pace of its rhythm.

 

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Buddhist Monk Losang Samten Uses Colors to Spread Message of Peace

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

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Samten
Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten uses colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. VOA

According to one estimate, there are a 5 quintillion, 5 hundred quadrillion grains of sand on earth, a number so large it must be approaching infinity. This makes sand an appropriate medium for the construction of spiritual images of the universe.

Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten does just that, using colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. VOA

Decades of mandalas

Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama.

“When I was a teenager, age of 17,” he told VOA, “I had a privilege to enter His Holiness Dalai Lama’s monastery … in India. I have been studying sand mandalas ever since then. So it’s a long time.”

VOA found Samten painstakingly layering grains of colored sand at the gallery of the Philadelphia Folklore Project. The particular mandala he was working on was the mandala of compassion, or unconditional love.

Far from random designs, mandalas have been perfected over centuries.

“These are uniquely designed many, many, many, many, many years passing to an artist to another artist to another artist to another artist,” Samten said. “The color has a meaning, the shape has different meanings. Not my design; it didn’t come out of my own idea.”

When Samten created a sand mandala at the American Museum of History in New York in 1988 at the request of the Dalai Lama, it was the first time the 2,600-years-old ancient ritual art was seen outside of monasteries. Since then, Samten has made sand mandalas in museums, galleries and universities across the U.S. and many parts of the world.

“They are used to enhance the spiritual practice through image and meditation, to overcome suffering. Mandalas represent enlightened qualities and methods which explain this path, making them very important for the spiritual journey,” Samten wrote on his web site.

Nothing is permanent

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama. VOA

“In the winter of 1959, [we] crossed Mount Everest, it took us two months to cross,” he told VOA. “You cannot travel during the day and so scared and not enough food not enough clothes. I was age of 5. I saw, I mean unbelievable dead bodies, people dying without food. I became a monk at age 11 when I was in school, refugee school.”

Samten left monastic life in 1995 and became the spiritual director at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. He says the patience of the creative process, can lead observers to find calm determination within themselves.

“When I am doing this mandala at universities and schools, many kids came to me, (saying) ‘when I saw you doing the sand mandala, that help me so much to finish my education, patience …’ I have a lot of stories,” he said.

Monk Samten
Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. VOA

Beauty comes and goes

After a sand mandala is completed, it is dismantled ceremoniously.

“Dismantle has many different reasons,” Samten said. “… One thing is, dismantle is a beauty, whatever we see as a beauty on the earth, never be everlasting as a beauty and impermanent, impermanent, comes and goes. It’s like a season.”

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Or like sand, ever changing in the wind.

Samten often invites children to participate in the ceremony.

To gallery visitor Traci Chiodress that was part of the charm of the event.

“I think it’s powerful to see something so beautiful created, and then taken apart, and to be done in a community with a group of people of different ages,” she said. “I just think it’s an important type of practice.” (VOA)