The major component in the 20th-century resurgence of Buddhism in India has, however, been the mass conversionof large numbers of people from the so-called scheduled castes (formerly called Untouchables). This conversion movement, originally led by Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, began in the 1950s. In October 1956 Ambedkar and severalhundred thousand of his followers converted to Buddhism, and—although accurate figures are difficult to determine—the group has continued to grow. Some estimates indicate that the number of converts is as high asfour million. This group, which in the past has tended to favour the Therav(da version of Buddhism, is developing itsown distinctive patterns of Buddhist teaching and practice.
Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia
The peoples of Southeast Asia have not been mere satellites of the more powerful Indian and Chinese civilizations. On the contrary, the cultures that arose in these three vast areas might better be thought of as alternative developments that occurred within a greater Austroasiatic civilization, sometimes called “Asia of the monsoons.” Therefore, the transmission of Buddhism and Hinduism to Southeast Asia can be regarded as the spreadof the religious symbols of the more “advanced” elements within this Austroasiatic cluster to peoples sharing some of the basic religious presuppositions and traditions.
In Southeast Asia the Buddhist impact has been made in very different ways in three different regions. In two of these(the region of Malaysia/Indonesia and the region on the mainland extending from Myanmar to southern Vietnam), the main connections have been via trade routes with India and Sri Lanka. In Vietnam the main connections have been with China.
Malaysia and Indonesia
Though some scholars locate the Suvarpabh¨mi (“Land of Gold”), to which Aˆokan missionaries were supposedly sent, somewhere on the Malay Peninsula or in Indonesia, this is probably not accurate. It is, however, quite certain that Buddhism reached these areas by the beginning centuries of the 1st millennium AD.
With the help of Indian missionaries such as the monk Gupavarman, Buddhism had gained a firm foothold on Java well before the 5th century AD. Buddhism was also introduced at about this time in Sumatra, and, by the 7th century, the king of ‰rYvijaya on the island of Sumatra was a Buddhist. When the Chinese traveler I-ching visited this kingdom in the 7th century, he noted that HYnay(na was dominant in the area but that there were also a few Mah(y(nists. It was also in the 7th century that the great scholar Dharmap(la from N(land( visited Indonesia.
The ‰ailendra dynasty, which ruled over the Malay Peninsula and a large section of Indonesia from the 7th to the 9th century, promoted the Mah(y(na and Tantric forms of Buddhism. During this period major Buddhist monuments were erected in Java, among them the marvelous Borobu;ur, which is perhaps the most magnificent of all Buddhist stupas. From the 7th century onward, Vajray(na Buddhism spread rapidly throughout the area. King Kertanagara of Java (reigned 1268–92) was especially devoted to Tantric practice.
In the Malay Peninsula and Indonesia, as in India, Buddhism gradually lost its hold during the first half of the 2nd millennium AD. In many areas Buddhism was assimilated to Hinduism, forming a Hindu-oriented amalgam that in some places (for example in Bali) has persisted to the present. In most of Malaysia and Indonesia,however, both Hinduism and Buddhism were replaced by Isl(m, which remains the dominant religion in the area. (In modern Indonesia and Malaysia, Buddhism exists as a living religion only among the Chinese minority, but there isa growing community of converts, with its greatest strength in the vicinity of Borobu;ur.)
Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia
From Myanmar to the Mekong delta
A second pattern of Buddhist expansion in Southeast Asia developed in the mainland area that extends from Myanmarin the north and west to the Mekong delta in the south and east. According to the local Mon/Burman traditions, this is the area of Suvarpabh¨mi that was visited by missionaries from the Aˆokan court. It is known that, by the early centuries of the 1st millennium AD, Buddhist kingdoms were beginning to appear in this region. In Myanmar and Thailand—despite the presence of Hindu, Mah(y(na, and Vajray(na elements—the more conservative HYnay(na forms of Buddhism were especially prominent throughout the 1st millennium AD. Farther to the east and south, in what is now Kampuchea (Cambodia) and southern Vietnam, various combinations of Hinduism, Mah(y(na Buddhism, and Vajray(na Buddhism became dominant. Throughout much of the history of Angkor, the great imperial centre that dominated Kampuchea and much of the surrounding areas for many centuries, Hinduism seemsto have been the preferred tradition, at least among the elite. In the late 12th and early 13th centuries, however, theBuddhist King Jayavarman VII built a new capital called Angkor Thom that was dominated by Mah(y(na/Vajray(na monuments; these monuments represent one of the high points of Buddhist architectural achievement.
In mainland Southeast Asia, as in Sri Lanka, a Therav(da reform movement began to develop in the 11th century. Drawing heavily on the Therav(da heritage that had been preserved among the Mon in southern Myanmar, as well ason the new reform tradition that was developing in Sri Lanka, this revival soon established the Therav(da traditionas the most dynamic tradition in Myanmar, where the Burmans had conquered the Mon. By the late 13th century the reform movement had spread to Thailand, where the Thai were gradually displacing the Mon as the dominant population. Within another two centuries the Therav(da reformers had spread their tradition to Kampuchea and Laos.
The Therav(da preeminence that was thus established remained basically intact throughout the area during the remainder of the premodern period. The arrival of the Western powers in the 19th century, however, brought important changes. In Thailand, which retained its independence, a process of gradual reform and modernization took place. During the 19th century leadership in the reform and modernization process was taken by a new Buddhist sect, the Thammayut Nik(ya, which was established and supported by the reigning Chakri dynasty. More recently, the reform and modernization process has become more diversified and has affected virtually all segments of the Thai Buddhist community.
Two Buddhist groups, Santi Asoke (founded 1975) and Dharmakaya, are especially interesting. Because of their hard-line demands for religious and moral reforms, both groups are at odds with the established ecclesiastical hierarchy. But, despite pressures from the government, they have acquired a large popular following.
In the other Therav(Pa countries in Southeast Asia, Buddhism has had a much more difficult time. In Myanmar,which endured an extended period of British rule, the sangha and the structures of Buddhist society have been seriously disrupted. Under the military regime of General Ne Win, established in 1962, reform and modernization were limited in all areas of national life, including religion. InLaos and Kampuchea, both of which suffered an extended period of French rule followed by the devastation of the Vietnam War and the violent imposition of communist rule, the Buddhist community has been severely crippled. During the late 20th century, however, many signs of a Buddhist revival began to appear.
There are some indications that Vietnam was involved in the early sea trade between India, Southeast Asia, and China and that Buddhism reached the country around the beginning of the 1st millennium AD, brought by missionaries traveling between India and the Chinese empire. The northern part of what is now Vietnam had beenconquered by the Chinese empire in 111 BC; it remained under Chinese rule until AD 939. In the south there were two Indianized states, Funan (founded during the 1st century AD) and Champa (founded AD 192). In these areas both HYnay(na and Mah(y(na traditions were represented. The traditions that most affected the long-termdevelopment of Buddhism in Vietnam, however, were Zen and Pure Land traditions introduced from China into the northern and central sections of the country beginning in the 6th century AD.
The first dhy(na (Zen; Vietnamese: thiên), or “meditation,” school was introduced by VinYtaruci, an Indian monk who had come to Vietnam from China in the 6th century. In the 9th century a school of “wall meditation” was introduced by the Chinese monk Vo Ngon Thong. A third major Zen school was established in the 11th century by the Chinese monk Thao Durong. From 1414 to 1428 Buddhism in Vietnam was persecuted by the Chinese, who had again conquered the country. Tantrism, Taoism, and Confucianism were also filtering into Vietnam at this time. Even after the Chinese had been driven back, a Chinese-like bureaucracy closely supervised the Vietnamese monasteries. The clergy was divided between the highborn and Sinicized (Chinese-influenced), on the one hand, and those in the lower ranks who often were active in peasant uprisings.
During the modern period these Mah(y(na traditions centred in northern and central Vietnam have coexisted with Therav(da traditions that have spilled over from Kampuchea in the south. Rather loosely joined together, the Vietnamese Buddhists managed to preserve their traditions through the period of French colonial rule in the 19th and 20th centuries. During the struggle between Northand South Vietnam in the 1960s and early '70s, many Buddhists worked to achieve peace and reconciliation, but they met with little success. Under the communist regime that completed its victory in Vietnam in the early 1970s, conditions have been difficult, but Buddhism has persisted.Reports in the late 1980s and early '90s indicated that new signs of vitality were beginning to appear.
Central Asia and China
The spread of Buddhism into Central Asia is still not completely understood by historians. But, however murky the details may be, it is clear that the trade routes that ran from northwestern India to northern China facilitated both the introduction of Buddhism and the maintenance, for many centuries, of a flourishing Buddhist culture.
By the beginning of the Common era, Buddhism had probably been introduced into eastern Turkistan. According to tradition, a son of Aˆoka founded the kingdomof Khotan around 240 BC. The grandson of this king supposedly introduced Buddhism to Khotan, where it became the state religion. On more secure historical grounds, it is clear that the support given by the Indo-Scythian king Kani—ka of the Kush(n (Ku—(pa) dynasty, which ruled in northern India, Afghanistan, and parts of Central Asia in the 1st to 2nd century AD, encouraged the spread of Buddhism into Central Asia. Kani—ka purportedly called an important Buddhist council; he patronized the Gandh(ra school of Buddhist art, which introduced Greek and Persian elements into Buddhist iconography; and he supported Buddhist expansion within a vast region that extended far into the Central Asian heartland. In the northern part of Chinese Turkistan, Buddhism spread from Kucha (K'u-ch'e) to the kingdoms ofAgnideˆa (Karashahr), Kao-ch'ang (Turfan), and Bharuka (Aksu). According to Chinese travelers who visited Central Asia, the HYnay(nists (at least at the time of their visits) were strongest in Turfan, Shanshan, Kashgar, and Kucha, while Mah(y(na strongholds were located in Yarkand and Khotan.
In Central Asia there was a confusing welter of languages, religions, and cultures, and, as Buddhism interacted with these various traditions, it changed and developed. Shamanism, Zoroastrianism, Nestorian Christianity, and Isl(m all penetrated these lands and coexisted with Buddhism. For example, some of the Mah(y(na bodhisattvas, such as Amit(bha, may have been inspired, in part, by Zoroastrian influence. There is also evidence of some degree of syncretism between Buddhism and Manichaeism, an Iranian dualistic religion that was founded in the 3rd century AD.
Buddhism continued to flourish in parts of Central Asia untilthe 11th century, particularly under the patronage of the Uighur Turks. With the increasingly successful incursions of Isl(m (beginning in the 7th century AD) and the decline of the T'ang dynasty (618–907) in China, however, Central Asia ceased to be the important crossroads of Indian and Chinese culture that it once had been. Buddhism in the area gradually became a thing of the past.
Although there are reports of Buddhists in China as early as the 3rd century BC, Buddhism was not actively propagated in that country until the early centuries of the Common era. Tradition has it that Buddhism was introduced after the Han emperor Ming Ti (reigned AD 57/58–75/76) had a dream of a flying golden deity that was interpreted as a vision of the Buddha. Accordingly, the emperor dispatched emissaries to India who subsequently returned to China with the Sutra in Forty-two Sections, which was deposited in a temple outside the capital of Lo-yang. In actuality, Buddhism entered China gradually, first primarily through Central Asia and, later, by way of the trade routes around and through Southeast Asia.
Central Asia and China
The early centuries
The Buddhism that first became popular in China during the Han dynasty was deeply coloured with magical practices, making it compatible with popular Chinese Taoism (a combination of folk beliefs and practices and philosophy). Instead of the doctrine of no-self, early Chinese Buddhists taught the indestructibility of the soul. Nirvana became a kind of immortality. They also taught thetheory of karma, the values of charity and compassion, andthe need to suppress the passions. Until the end of the Han dynasty, there was a virtual symbiosis between Taoismand Buddhism and a common propagation of the means for attaining immortality through various ascetic practices. Itwas widely believed that Lao-tzu, the founder of Taoism, had been reborn in India as the Buddha. Many Chinese emperors worshiped Lao-tzu and the Buddha on the same altar. The first translations of Buddhist sutras into Chinese—namely those dealing with such topics as breath control and mystical concentration—utilized a Taoist vocabulary to make the Buddhist faith intelligible to the Chinese.
After the Han period, in the north of China, Buddhist monkswere often used by non-Chinese emperors for their political-military counsel as well as for their skill in magic. Atthe same time, in the south, Buddhism began to penetrate the philosophical and literary circles of the gentry. One of the most important contributions to the growth of Buddhismin China during this period was the work of translation. The most important of the early translators was the learned monk Kum(rajYva, who, before he was brought to the Chinese court in AD 401, had studied the Hindu Vedas, the occult sciences, and astronomy, as well as the Hinay(na and Mah(y(na sutras.
During the 5th and 6th centuries AD Buddhist schools from India became established, and new, specifically Chinese schools began to form. Buddhism was becoming apowerful intellectual force in China, monastic establishments were proliferating, and Buddhism was becoming well-established among the peasantry. Thus, it isnot surprising that, when the Sui dynasty (581–618) established its rule over a reunified China, Buddhism flourished as a state religion.
Developments during the T'ang dynasty (618–907)
The golden age of Buddhism in China occurred during the T'ang dynasty. Though the T'ang emperors were usually Taoists themselves, they tended to favour Buddhism, whichhad become extremely popular. Under the T'ang the government extended its control over the monasteries and the ordination and legal status of monks. From this time forward, the Chinese monk styled himself simply ch'en, or “a subject.”
During this period several Chinese schools developed their own distinctive approaches. Some of them produced comprehensive systematizations of the vast body of Buddhist texts and teachings. There was a great expansionin the number of Buddhist monasteries and the amount of land they owned. It was also during this period that many scholars made pilgrimages to India, heroic journeys that greatly enriched Buddhism in China, both by the texts that were acquired and by the intellectual and spiritual inspiration that was brought from India. Buddhism was never able to replace its Taoist and Confucian rivals, however, and in 845 the emperor Wu-tsung began a majorpersecution. According to records, 4,600 Buddhist temples and 40,000 shrines were destroyed, and 260,500 monks and nuns were forced to return to lay life.
Central Asia and China
Buddhism after the T'ang
Buddhism in China never recovered completely from the great persecution of 845. It did maintain much of its heritage, however, and it continued to play a significant rolein the religious life of China. On the one hand, Buddhism retained its identity as Buddhism and generated new forms through which it was expressed. These included texts such as the yü lu, or “recorded sayings,” of famous teachers that were oriented primarily toward monks, as well as more literary creations such as the Journey to the West (written in the 16th century) and The Dream of the Red Chamber (18th century). On the other hand, Buddhism coalesced with the Confucian–Neo-Confucian and Taoist traditions to form a complex multi-religious ethos within which all three traditions were more or less comfortably encompassed.
Among the various schools the two that retained the greatest vitality were the Ch'an school (better known in the West by its Japanese name, Zen) which was noted for its emphasis on meditation, and the Pure Land tradition, which emphasized Buddhist devotion. The former school exerted the greatest influence among the cultured elite. It did so through various media, including the arts. For example, Ch'an artists during the Sung dynasty (960–1279) had a decisive impact on Chinese landscape painting. Artists used images of flowers, rivers, and trees, executed with sudden, deft strokes, to evoke an insight intothe flux and emptiness of all reality. The Pure Land tradition exerted a greater influence on the population as a whole and was sometimes associated with secret societies and peasant uprisings. But the two seemingly disparate traditions were often very closely linked. In addition, they were mixed with other Buddhist elements such as the so-called “masses for the dead” that had originally been popularized by the practitioners of Esoteric Buddhism.
During the early decades of the 20th century, China experienced a Buddhist reform movement aimed at revitalizing the Chinese Buddhist tradition and adapting Buddhist teachings and institutions to modern conditions. However, the disruptions caused by the Sino-Japanese War and the subsequent establishment of a communist government have not been helpful to the Buddhist cause. The Buddhist community was the victim of severe repression during the Cultural Revolution (1966–69). Since 1976 the Chinese government has pursued a more tolerant policy, but the extent of continuing Buddhist vitalityis difficult to determine.
Korea and Japan
Buddhism was first introduced into the Korean region whenit was divided into the three kingdoms of Paekche, Kogurys, and Silla. After Buddhism was brought to the northern kingdom of Kogurys from China in the 4th century, it gradually spread throughout the other Korean kingdoms. As often happened, the new faith was first accepted by the court and then extended to the people. After the unification of the country by the kingdom of Silla in the 660s, Buddhism began to flourish throughout Korea. The monk Wsnhyo (617–686) was one of the most impressive scholars and reformers of his day. He was married and taught an “ecumenical” version of Buddhism that included all branches and sects. He tried to use music,literature, and dance to express the meaning of Buddhism. Another scholar of the Silla era was ¤i-sang (625–702), who went to China and returned to spread the Hwasm (Hua-yen in Chinese) sect in Korea. The Chinese Ch'an sect (Zen) was introduced in the 8th century and, by absorbing the Korean versions of Hua-yen, T'ien-t'ai, and Pure Land, gradually became the dominant school of Buddhism in Korea, as it did in Vietnam.
Early Korean Buddhism was characterized by a this-worldlyattitude. It emphasized the pragmatic, nationalistic, and aristocratic aspects of the faith. Still, an indigenous traditionof shamanism influenced the development of popular Buddhism throughout the centuries. Buddhist monks danced, sang, and performed the rituals of shamans.
During the Korys period (935–1392), Korean Buddhism reached its zenith. During the first part of this period the Korean Buddhist community was active in the publication of the Tripitaka Koreana, one of the most inclusive editions of the Buddhist sutras up to that time. After 25 years of research, a monk by the name of ¤ich'sn (1055–1101) published an outstanding three-volume bibliography of Buddhist literature. ¤ich'sn also sponsored the growth of the T'ien-t'ai sect in Korea. He emphasized the need for cooperation between Ch'an and the other “Teaching” schools of Korean Buddhism.
Toward the end of the Korys period, Buddhism began to suffer from internal corruption and external persecution, especially that promoted by the Neo-Confucians. The government began to put limits on the privileges of the monks, and Confucianism replaced Buddhism as the religion of the state. Though the Yi dynasty (1392–1910) continued these restrictions, Buddhist monks and laymen fought bravely against the invasion of the Japanese armies under Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–98) in 1592 and 1597. In the decade before the annexation of Korea by Japan (1910), some effort was made to unify Korean Buddhism. These efforts, as well as the subsequent efforts of Buddhist“missionaries” from Japan, were largely in vain.
Since the end of World War II, Buddhism in Korea has been hampered by communist rule in North Korea and by the great vitality of Christianity in South Korea. Despite these challenges, Buddhists, particularly in South Korea, have preserved the old traditions and initiated new movements.
Korea and Japan
Introduction of Buddhism to Japan
While Buddhism in China sent its roots down into the subsoil of the family system, in Japan it found anchorage inthe nation itself. The Buddhism that was initially introduced into Japan in the 6th century from Korea was regarded as atalisman (charm) for the protection of the country. The new religion was accepted by the powerful Soga clan but was rejected by others, thus causing controversies that resembled the divisions caused by the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet. In both countries, some believed that the introduction of Buddhist statues had been an insult to the native deities, resulting in plagues and natural disasters. Only gradually were such feelings overcome. Though the Buddhism of the Soga clan was largely magical, under the influence of Prince Shxtoku, who became regent of the nation in 593, other aspects of Buddhism were emphasized. Shxtoku lectured on various scriptures that emphasized the ideals of the layman and monarch, and he composed a “Seventeen-Article Constitution” in which Buddhism was adroitly mixed with Confucianism as the spiritual foundation of the state. In later times he was widely regarded as an incarnation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteˆvara.
Nara and Heian periods
During the Nara period (710–784), Buddhism became the state religion of Japan. Emperor Shxmu actively propagated the faith, making the imperial capital, Nara—with its “Great Buddha” statue (Daibutsu)—the national cult centre. Buddhist schools imported from China became established in Nara, and state-subsidized provincial temples (kokubunji) made the system effective at the local level.