Spread of Buddhism Globally


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.