History of Buddhism
The history of Buddhism religion dates back to the year 580 BC,
which started with the birth of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama. Born in the Lumbini, Southern Nepal, Siddhartha left his home at a young age of 29 years, in search of enlightenment. After going through a life of
self-denial, discipline and meditation, he attained enlightenment,
which resulted in the alleviation of all his pain and suffering. He
then set on a journey of teaching people the path to enlightenment
that would liberate them from the cycle of life and death.
Gradually, Buddhism spread to numerous countries of the world, which
resulted in development of the religion. The original Indian
foundation was expanded by the inclusion of Hellenistic as well as
Central Asian, East Asian, and Southeast Asian cultural elements. The
history of Buddhism also witnessed the development of numerous
movements and divisions, such as Theravada, Mahayana, etc.
The First Council
The first council of Buddhism Sangha was organized a few months
after Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana. It was held in Rajagaha, with
the aim of developing an agreement on his teachings. However, the
teachings of Buddha were not written down even then.
The Second Council
The second council took place around 100 years after the
Mahaparinirvana of Lord Buddha. The aim of the council, held at
Vesali, was to settle a conflict over the nature of the arahant (or
Buddhist saint) and monastic discipline, which had arisen between
Mahasanghika majority (Great Assembly) of eastern India and Sthavira
minority (the Elders) of the west.
The Era of Asoka the Great
Asoka, the first Buddhist Emperor, was the ruler of the Magadhan
empire. Initially a ruler obsessed with the aim of expanding his
empire, he changed after witnessing the brutal carnage at the battle
of Kalinga. This event led him towards Buddhism and he built his
empire into a Buddhist state, a first of its kind. He laid the
foundation of numerous stupas and spread the teachings of Lord Buddha
throughout the world.
The Third Council
The third council of Buddhism Sangha was held under Emperor Asoka,
in Pataliputra. The reason for the council was deterioration in the
standards of the monks. The consequence of the council was exclusion
of numerous bogus monks from the Sangha.
Spread of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
Emperor Asoka sent his son, Mahindra, to Sri Lanka to spread
Buddhism in the state. He succeeded in converting the King of Sri
Lanka to Buddhism and soon, Buddhism became the state religion of the
The Fourth Council
The Fourth Council took place in Sri Lanka, in the Aloka Cave near
the village of Matale. It was in this council that decision was taken
to write the teachings of Lord Buddha for the first time. The entire
writing was collected in three baskets and given the name of Tipitaka
or the Pali Canon. It comprises of three Pitakas, namely Vinaya Pitaka
(the rules for the monks and nuns), the Sutta Pitaka (Buddha's
discourses) and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (philosophical and psychological
systemization of the Buddha's teachings). Another Fourth Buddhist
Council (Sarvastivada tradition) was held around 100 CE at Jalandhar
or in Kashmir. It is said to have been convened by the Kushana king,
Mahayana Buddhism and New Scriptures
Mahayana Buddhism emerged and grew between 150 BCE and 100 CE. With
the rise of this sect, new sutras emerged. The most significant ones
are the Lotus Sutra, the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra.
The period between third and seventh century CE saw the
establishment of a new form of Buddhism, which emerged out of the
Mahayana sect. This form came to be known as Tantra, Mantrayana and
Vajrayana. Tantras emphasized on the bodhisattva ideal and empathy for
all beings. At the same time, it also laid stress on drawing of
mandalas or 'magic' circles, symbolic hand gestures known as mudras,
the recitation of phrases known as mantras and visualizations. It was
also believed that one needs an experienced teacher or guru to learn
the teachings of Lord Buddha.
Decline of Buddhism in India
From the seventh century, Buddhism went on a downward spiral in
India, because of growth of Hinduism, decline of Buddhist universities
and Muslim Turk invasions of northwest India.
Spread of Buddhism in China
Buddhism started gaining entry into China around 1st
Spread of Buddhism in Japan
Fourth century CE saw Buddhism gaining ground in Korea and from
there, religion spread to Japan in 538 CE. By the end of the century,
Buddhism had become the state religion of the country. In 8th
century CE, the religion further spread under the patronage of Emperor
Shomu. Six schools of Chinese Buddhism, namely Sanron, Jojitsu, Hosso,
Kusha, Kegon and Ritsu, were also introduced during this period.
Later, Tendai and Shingon schools developed in Japan.
Spread of Zen Buddhism
Zen Buddhism, based on Chinese Ch'an Buddhism, started evolving in
Japan around the 12th century. Founded by Esai Zenji, it
came to be known as Rinzai School in the country. Soto School of Zen
also developed there in the 13th century, with its base in
Chinese Ts'ao-tung School.
Spread of Buddhism in Tibet
The arrival of an Indian tantric master, known as Padmasambhava, was
instrumental in the spread of Buddhism in Tibet.
Spread of Buddhism in the West
The efforts towards spread of Buddhism in the western countries were
made in the 19th and early-20th century. T W
Rhys Davies laid the foundation of the Pali Text Society there,
towards the end of the 19th century. Other names worth
mentioning in this context are those of Edward Arnold, a poet;
Christmas Humphreys, an English barrister; Alan Watts and Dennis
Lockwood; founder of the Friends of Western Buddhism Order (FWBO).
Buddhism started spreading amongst the native population of America in
the 1950s. Presently, one can find all schools of Buddhism in the USA.
Current Status of Buddhism
Today, Buddhism has spread to almost all the countries of the world,
with the population of Buddhists estimated to be around 350 million.
Out of these, almost half the number practice Mahayana tradition. The
largest population of Buddhist is in China, while, Thailand, Cambodia
and Myanmar have the highest proportion of Buddhists in their
population. The religion is also becoming quite widespread in America,
Australia and United Kingdom.