Buddhist Illuminated Scripts of Ancient Korea

Buddhist Illuminated Scripts of Ancient Korea

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The Goryeo (Koryo) kingdom ruled ancient Korea from 918 CE to 1392 CE, and it oversaw a flourishing of the arts, literature, and architecture. One of these developments was the production of finely crafted illuminated Buddhist texts. Painted laboriously by Buddhist monks, they spread the sacred texts of Buddhism and their production aided the monk's meditation and progression towards enlightenment.

Buddhism made significant contributions to the arts in ancient Korea from sculpture to poetry, but one of the most time-consuming and meritorious was the hand-copying of sutras or sermons attributed to the Buddha. The two most popular choices of sutra were the Hwaomgyong or Avatamsaka sutra and the Pophwagyong or Lotus sutra. Such was the popularity of these scripts that a Royal Sutra Scriptorium (Sagyongwon) was established to meet demand in the 12th century CE. Here not only monks but professional calligraphers worked to produce these popular religious texts. Production was still going strong in the early 14th century CE when king Chungnyeol (r. 1274-1308 CE) split the workload into two branches: the Kumjawon and Unjawon, Scriptoriums of Gold and Silver Letters, respectively.

Bright dyes were used & often even silver & gold, especially on the spectacular frontispiece, where there was a large panoramic image.

These illuminated manuscripts or sagyong formed scrolls and folded books. The art form was also present in China and Japan, but those produced in the Goryeo dynasty are particularly intricate and splendid such was the level of state endorsement of Buddhism. The scripts were written by monk-scribes expert in calligraphy, who gained great merit for their work in helping the spread of Buddha's teachings, as did the person who commissioned it. Both could expect a more promising future life because of their spiritual endeavour. They were written on hanji, the especially fine paper produced from the inner bark of the mulberry tree, which was considered the highest quality paper in Asia. The paper was usually dyed a deep indigo, but sometimes white or pale yellow hanji was used.

The text was written in Chinese characters (haeso), with 15-17 characters on each vertical line. Bright dyes were used and often even silver and gold, especially on the spectacular frontispiece, where there was a large panoramic image, typically of Buddha preaching alongside his followers in paradise. The scene is picked out in gold set along fine iron wiring and bordered by Buddhist symbols such as the cakra wheel (symbol of Buddhist Law) and the vajra thunderbolt (symbol of the power of Buddha's words).

The front and back covers were decorated with posang tangcho, large flowers known as 'precious visages.' The title of the text was written within a rectangular box down one edge of the front cover, usually written in gold lettering. As Buddha's words were contained within, the title was enclosed in a mantra corresponding to the siddham seed character om, meaning the 'lion's roar', ie: Buddha's own voice. The first page of the book indicated who had originally translated the Sanskrit or Pali text, and there is sometimes a royal inscription too. The last page indicates the date of writing and who commissioned the text and why. The motivation for composition ranged from such lofty and desperate aims as saving Korea from invasion to personal salvation, well-being, or even just to make money. Only rarely was the name of the monk who actually created the text noted.

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Many illuminated sutras were carefully stored in specially-made boxes of decorated wood or bronze, and some were even placed in tombs or buried at the foot or within stone pagodas at temple sites. One example of the latter is the stone pagoda at Kuhwangni, Gyeongju, built in 692 CE by the Silla king Hyoso. An illuminated sutra was placed within the pagoda in 706 CE by King Seongdeok in memory of his predecessor and the Queen mother Sinmok.

A great many of the Goryeo illuminated scripts ended up abroad, for they were highly prized by the Chinese, Japanese, and Mongols. When the kingdom was obliged to pay tribute to China, illuminated scripts were often a part of it. The monks themselves were sometimes sent to work abroad too, as one passage in the 15th-century CE official Goryeo history Goryeosa (Koryo sa) indicates:

In March of the 16th year of King Chungnyeol (1290), the Chinese emperor ordered the writing of gold and silver sutras, and selected excellent monk scribes, therefore 35 Korean monks were dispatched to the Yuan court...In April of the same year, 65 Koryo monks, sutra-writers, were dispatched to Yuan... (Portal, 88)

In Japan many illuminated sutras were kept in their own Buddhist temples, indeed the oldest surviving example, dating to 1006 CE, resides in the Bunkacho in Tokyo. Besides those remaining in Korea, the British Museum in London has a particularly fine example of the Amitabha sutra. The frontispiece shows a panoramic scene where Buddha and bodhisattvas welcome new souls to paradise. It is painted in silver and gold and dates to 1341 CE, as indicated on its inscription. The text also notes that it was written by a monk called Chonggo for his mother.

This content was made possible with generous support from the British Korean Society.


Buddhism is one of the world&rsquos largest religions and originated 2,500 years ago in India. Buddhists believe that the human life is one of suffering, and that meditation, spiritual and physical labor, and good behavior are the ways to achieve enlightenment, or nirvana.

Religion, Social Studies, Storytelling

Buddhist Prayer Candles

Incense are lit inside of Kun Yam Temple in Macao. Incense and meditation play an important role in Buddhism.

Photograph by Joe Scherschel

Buddhism is one of the world&rsquos major religions. It originated in India in 563&ndash483 B.C.E. with Siddhartha Gautama, and over the next millennia it spread across Asia and the rest of the world. Buddhists believe that human life is a cycle of suffering and rebirth, but that if one achieves a state of enlightenment (nirvana), it is possible to escape this cycle forever. Siddhartha Gautama was the first person to reach this state of enlightenment and was, and is still today, known as the Buddha. Buddhists do not believe in any kind of deity or god, although there are supernatural figures who can help or hinder people on the path towards enlightenment.

Siddhartha Gautama was an Indian prince in the fifth century B.C.E. who, upon seeing people poor and dying, realized that human life is suffering. He renounced his wealth and spent time as a poor beggar, meditating and travelling but ultimately, remaining unsatisfied, settling on something called &ldquothe Middle Way.&rdquo This idea meant that neither extreme asceticism or extreme wealth were the path to enlightenment, but rather, a way of life between the two extremes. Eventually, in a state of deep meditation, he achieved enlightenment, or nirvana underneath the Bodhi tree (the tree of awakening). The Mahabodhi Temple in Bihar, India&mdashthe site of his enlightenment&mdashis now a major Buddhist pilgrimage site.

The Buddha taught about Four Noble Truths. The first truth is called &ldquoSuffering (dukkha),&rdquo which teaches that everyone in life is suffering in some way. The second truth is &ldquoOrigin of suffering (samudāya).&rdquo This states that all suffering comes from desire (tanhā). The third truth is &ldquoCessation of suffering (nirodha),&rdquo and it says that it is possible to stop suffering and achieve enlightenment. The fourth truth, &ldquoPath to the cessation of suffering (magga)&rdquo is about the Middle Way, which are the steps to achieve enlightenment.

Buddhists believe in a wheel of rebirth, where souls are born again into different bodies depending on how they conducted themselves in their previous lives. This is connected to &ldquokarma,&rdquo which refers to how a person&rsquos good or bad actions in the past or in their past lives can impact them in the future.

There are two main groups of Buddhism: Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism is common in Tibet, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia. It emphasizes the role models of bodhisattvas (beings that have achieved enlightenment but return to teach humans). Theravada Buddhism is common in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Burma (Myanmar). It emphasizes a monastic lifestyle and meditation as the way to enlightenment.

Buddhism has been a controversial religion. The head of the Tibetan school of Buddhism and traditional leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, fled from China-controlled Tibet in 1959 to India in fear of his life. Many Tibetan Buddhists actively resist Chinese control of the region. Recently, the current Dalai Lama, who is understood to be the fourteenth reincarnation of the first Dalai Lama, has raised questions over whether and where he will choose to reincarnate.

Incense are lit inside of Kun Yam Temple in Macao. Incense and meditation play an important role in Buddhism.


Siddhārtha Gautama was the historical founder of Buddhism. The early sources state he was born in the small Shakya (Pali: Sakka) Republic, which was part of the Kosala realm of ancient India, now in modern-day Nepal. [2] He is thus also known as the Shakyamuni (literally: "The sage of the Shakya clan"). The republic was ruled by a council of household heads, and Gautama was born to one of these elites so that he described himself as a Kshatriya when talking to Brahmins. [2] The Early Buddhist Texts contain no continuous life of the Buddha, only later after 200 BCE were various "biographies" with much mythological embellishment written. [3] All texts agree however that Gautama renounced the householder life and lived as a sramana ascetic for some time studying under various teachers, before attaining nirvana (extinguishment) and bodhi (awakening) through meditation.

For the remaining 45 years of his life, he traveled the Gangetic Plain of north-central India (the region of the Ganges/Ganga river and its tributaries), teaching his doctrine to a diverse range of people from different castes and initiating monks into his order. The Buddha sent his disciples to spread the teaching across India. He also initiated an order of nuns. [4] He urged his disciples to teach in the local language or dialects. [5] He spent a lot of his time near the cities of Sāvatthī, Rājagaha and Vesālī (Skt. Śrāvastī, Rājagrha, Vāiśalī). [4] By the time of his death at 80, he had thousands of followers.

The years following the death of the Buddha saw the emergence of many movements during the next 400 years: first the schools of Nikaya Buddhism, of which only Theravada remains today, and then the formation of Mahayana and Vajrayana, pan-Buddhist sects based on the acceptance of new scriptures and the revision of older techniques.

Followers of Buddhism, called Buddhists in English, referred to themselves as Sakyan-s or Sakyabhiksu in ancient India. [6] [7] Buddhist scholar Donald S. Lopez asserts they also used the term Bauddha, [8] although scholar Richard Cohen asserts that that term was used only by outsiders to describe Buddhists. [9]

Buddhism Early Ages Edit

After the death of the Buddha, the Buddhist sangha (monastic community) remained centered on the Ganges valley, spreading gradually from its ancient heartland. The canonical sources record various councils, where the monastic Sangha recited and organized the orally transmitted collections of the Buddha's teachings and settled certain disciplinary problems within the community. Modern scholarship has questioned the accuracy and historicity of these traditional accounts. [10]

The first Buddhist council is traditionally said to have been held just after Buddha's Parinirvana, and presided over by Mahākāśyapa, one of His most senior disciples, at Rājagṛha (today's Rajgir) with the support of king Ajāthaśatru. According to Charles Prebish, almost all scholars have questioned the historicity of this first council. [11]

After an initial period of unity, divisions in the sangha or monastic community led to the first schism of the sangha into two groups: the Sthavira (Elders) and Mahasamghika (Great Sangha). Most scholars agree that the schism was caused by disagreements over points of vinaya (monastic discipline). [12] Over time, these two monastic fraternities would further divide into various Early Buddhist Schools.

The Sthaviras gave birth to a large number of influential schools including the Sarvāstivāda, the Pudgalavāda (also known as Vatsīputrīya), the Dharmaguptakas and the Vibhajyavāda (the Theravādins being descended from these).

The Mahasamghikas meanwhile also developed their own schools and doctrines early on, which can be seen in texts like the Mahavastu, associated with the Lokottaravāda, or ‘Transcendentalist’ school, who might be the same as the Ekavyāvahārikas or "One-utterancers". [13] This school has been seen as foreshadowing certain Mahayana ideas, especially due to their view that all of Gautama Buddha's acts were "transcendental" or "supramundane", even those performed before his Buddhahood. [13]

In the third century BCE, some Buddhists began introducing new systematized teachings called Abhidharma, based on previous lists or tables (Matrka) of main doctrinal topics. [14] Unlike the Nikayas, which were prose sutras or discourses, the Abhidharma literature consisted of systematic doctrinal exposition and often differed across the Buddhist schools who disagreed on points of doctrine. [14] Abhidharma sought to analyze all experience into its ultimate constituents, phenomenal events or processes called dharmas.

The Maurya Empire under Emperor Aśoka was the world's first major Buddhist state. It established free hospitals and free education and promoted human rights.

Fragment of the 6th Pillar Edict of Aśoka (238 BCE), in Brāhmī, sandstone. British Museum.

Approximate reconstitution of the Great Stupa with Ashoka Pillar, Sanchi, India.

During the reign of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (273–232 BCE), Buddhism gained royal support and began to spread more widely, reaching most of the Indian subcontinent. [16] After his invasion of Kalinga, Ashoka seems to have experienced remorse and began working to improve the lives of his subjects. Ashoka also built wells, rest-houses and hospitals for humans and animals. He also abolished torture, royal hunting trips and perhaps even the death penalty. [17] Ashoka also supported non-Buddhist faiths like Jainism and Brahmanism. [18] Ashoka propagated religion by building stupas and pillars urging, among other things, respect of all animal life and enjoining people to follow the Dharma. He has been hailed by Buddhist sources as the model for the compassionate chakravartin (wheel turning monarch). [16]

Another feature of Mauryan Buddhism was the worship and veneration of stupas, large mounds which contained relics (Pali: sarīra) of the Buddha or other saints within. [19] It was believed that the practice of devotion to these relics and stupas could bring blessings. [19] Perhaps the best-preserved example of a Mauryan Buddhist site is the Great Stupa of Sanchi (dating from the 3rd century BCE). [19]

According to the plates and pillars left by Aśoka (known as the Edicts of Ashoka), emissaries were sent to various countries in order to spread Buddhism, as far south as Sri Lanka and as far west as the Greek kingdoms, in particular the neighboring Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, and possibly even farther to the Mediterranean.

Theravadin sources state that Ashoka convened the third Buddhist council around 250 BCE at Pataliputra (today's Patna) with the elder Moggaliputtatissa. [18] The objective of the council was to purify the Saṅgha, particularly from non-Buddhist ascetics who had been attracted by the royal patronage. [20] Following the council, Buddhist missionaries were dispatched throughout the known world, as is recorded in some of the edicts of Ashoka.

Proselytism in the Hellenistic world Edit

Some of the Edicts of Ashoka describe the efforts made by him to propagate the Buddhist faith throughout the Hellenistic world, which at that time formed an uninterrupted cultural continuum from the borders of India to Greece. The edicts indicate a clear understanding of the political organization in Hellenistic territories: the names and locations of the main Greek monarchs of the time are identified, and they are claimed as recipients of Buddhist proselytism: Antiochus II Theos of the Seleucid Kingdom (261–246 BCE), Ptolemy II Philadelphos of Egypt (285–247 BCE), Antigonus Gonatas of Macedonia (276–239 BCE), Magas (288–258 BCE) in Cyrenaica (modern Libya), and Alexander II (272–255 BCE) in Epirus (modern Northwestern Greece). One of the edicts states:

"The conquest by Dharma has been won here, on the borders, and even six hundred yojanas (5,400–9,600 km) away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni (Sri Lanka)." (Edicts of Aśoka, 13th Rock Edict, S. Dhammika).

Furthermore, according to the Mahavamsa (XII) some of Ashoka's emissaries were Greek (Yona), particularly one named Dhammarakkhita. He also issued edicts in the Greek language as well as in Aramaic. One of them, found in Kandahar, advocates the adoption of "piety" (using the Greek term eusebeia for Dharma) to the Greek community. [21]

It is not clear how much these interactions may have been influential, but authors like Robert Linssen have commented that Buddhism may have influenced Western thought and religion at that time. Linssen points to the presence of Buddhist communities in the Hellenistic world around that period, in particular in Alexandria (mentioned by Clement of Alexandria), and to the pre-Christian monastic order of the Therapeutae (possibly a deformation of the Pāli word "Theravāda" [22] ), who may have "almost entirely drawn (its) inspiration from the teaching and practices of Buddhist asceticism" [23] and may even have been descendants of Aśoka's emissaries to the West. [24] Philosophers like Hegesias of Cyrene and Pyrrho are sometimes thought to have been influenced by Buddhist teachings. [25] [26]

Buddhist gravestones from the Ptolemaic period have also been found in Alexandria, decorated with depictions of the Dharma wheel. [27] The presence of Buddhists in Alexandria has even drawn the conclusion that they influenced monastic Christianity. [28] In the 2nd century CE, the Christian dogmatist, Clement of Alexandria recognized Bactrian śramanas and Indian gymnosophists for their influence on Greek thought. [29]

Establishment of Sri Lanka Buddhism Edit

Sri Lankan chronicles like the Dipavamsa state that Ashoka's son Mahinda brought Buddhism to the island during the 2nd century BCE. In addition, Ashoka's daughter, Saṅghamitta also established the bhikkhunī (order for nuns) in Sri Lanka, also bringing with her a sapling of the sacred bodhi tree that was subsequently planted in Anuradhapura. These two figures are seen as the mythical founders of the Sri Lankan Theravada. [31] They are said to have converted the King Devanampiya Tissa (307–267 BCE) and many of the nobility.

The first architectural records of Buddha images, however, actually come from the reign of King Vasabha (65–109 BCE). [32] The major Buddhist monasteries and schools in Ancient Sri Lanka were Mahāvihāra, Abhayagiri and Jetavana. [33] The Pāli canon was written down during the 1st century BCE to preserve the teaching in a time of war and famine. [34] It is the only complete collection of Buddhist texts to survive in a Middle Indo-Aryan language. [35] It reflects the tradition of the Mahavihara school. Later Pali Mahavihara commentators of the Theravada such as Buddhaghoṣa (4th–5th century) and Dhammapāla (5th–6th century), systematized the traditional Sri Lankan commentary literature (Atthakatha).

Although Mahāyāna Buddhism gained some influence in Sri Lanka as it was studied in Abhayagiri and Jetavana, the Mahavihara (“Great Monastery”) school became dominant in Sri Lanka following the reign of Parakramabahu I (1153–1186), who abolished the Abhayagiri and Jetavanin traditions. [36]

The Buddhist movement that became known as Mahayana (Great Vehicle) and also the Bodhisattvayana, began sometime between 150 BCE and 100 CE, drawing on both Mahasamghika and Sarvastivada trends. [37] The earliest inscription which is recognizably Mahayana dates from 180 CE and is found in Mathura. [38]

The Mahayana emphasized the Bodhisattva path to full Buddhahood (in contrast to the spiritual goal of arhatship). It emerged as a set of loose groups associated with new texts named the Mahayana sutras. [39] The Mahayana sutras promoted new doctrines, such as the idea that "there exist other Buddhas who are simultaneously preaching in countless other world-systems". [40] In time Mahayana Bodhisattvas and also multiple Buddhas came to be seen as transcendental beneficent beings who were subjects of devotion. [41]

Mahayana remained a minority among Indian Buddhists for some time, growing slowly until about half of all monks encountered by Xuanzang in 7th-century India were Mahayanists. [42] Early Mahayana schools of thought included the Mādhyamaka, Yogācāra, and Buddha-nature (Tathāgatagarbha) teachings. Mahayana is today the dominant form of Buddhism in East Asia and Tibet.

Several scholars have suggested that the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras, which are among the earliest Mahāyāna sūtras, [43] [44] developed among the Mahāsāṃghika along the Kṛṣṇa River in the Āndhra region of South India. [45] The earliest Mahāyāna sūtras to include the very first versions of the Prajñāpāramitā genre, along with texts concerning Akṣobhya Buddha, which were probably written down in the 1st century BCE in the south of India. [46] [47] [48] [49] A.K. Warder believes that "the Mahāyāna originated in the south of India and almost certainly in the Āndhra country." [50] Anthony Barber and Sree Padma also trace Mahayana Buddhism to ancient Buddhist sites in the lower Kṛṣṇa Valley, including Amaravati, Nāgārjunakoṇḍā and Jaggayyapeṭa. [51]

The Shunga dynasty (185–73 BCE) was established about 50 years after Ashoka's death. After assassinating King Brhadrata (last of the Mauryan rulers), military commander-in-chief Pushyamitra Shunga took the throne. Buddhist religious scriptures such as the Aśokāvadāna allege that Pushyamitra (an orthodox Brahmin) was hostile towards Buddhists and persecuted the Buddhist faith. Buddhists wrote that he "destroyed hundreds of monasteries and killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Monks": [53] 840,000 Buddhist stupas which had been built by Ashoka were destroyed, and 100 gold coins were offered for the head of each Buddhist monk. [54] [ better source needed ]

Modern historians, however, dispute this view in the light of literary and archaeological evidence. They opine that following Ashoka's sponsorship of Buddhism, it is possible that Buddhist institutions fell on harder times under the Shungas, but no evidence of active persecution has been noted. Etienne Lamotte observes: "To judge from the documents, Pushyamitra must be acquitted through lack of proof." [55]

Another eminent historian, Romila Thapar points to archaeological evidence that "suggests the contrary" to the claim that "Pushyamitra was a fanatical anti-Buddhist" and that he "never actually destroyed 840,000 stupas as claimed by Buddhist works, if any". Thapar stresses that Buddhist accounts are probably hyperbolic renditions of Pushyamitra's attack of the Mauryas, and merely reflect the desperate frustration of the Buddhist religious figures in the face of the possibly irreversible decline in the importance of their religion under the Shungas. [56]

During the period, Buddhist monks deserted the Ganges valley, following either the northern road (uttarapatha) or the southern road (dakṣinapatha). [57] Conversely, Buddhist artistic creation stopped in the old Magadha area, to reposition itself either in the northwest area of Gandhāra and Mathura or in the southeast around Amaravati. Some artistic activity also occurred in central India, as in Bhārhut, to which the Shungas may or may not have contributed.

The Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius I (reigned c. 200–180 BCE) invaded the Indian Subcontinent, establishing an Indo-Greek kingdom that was to last in parts of Northwest South Asia until the end of the 1st century CE.

Buddhism flourished under the Indo-Greek and Greco-Bactrian kings. One of the most famous Indo-Greek kings is Menander (reigned c. 160–135 BCE). He may have converted to Buddhism [58] and is presented in the Mahāyāna tradition as one of the great benefactors of the faith, on a par with king Aśoka or the later Kushan king Kaniśka. Menander's coins bear designs of the eight-spoked dharma wheel, a classic Buddhist symbol.

Direct cultural exchange is also suggested by a dialogue called the Debate of King Milinda (Milinda Pañha) which recounts a discussion between Menander and the Buddhist monk Nāgasena, who was himself a student of the Greek Buddhist monk Mahadharmaraksita. Upon Menander's death, the honor of sharing his remains was claimed by the cities under his rule, and they were enshrined in stupas, in a parallel with the historic Buddha. [59] Several of Menander's Indo-Greek successors inscribed "Follower of the Dharma," in the Kharoṣṭhī script, on their coins. [60]

During the first century BCE the first anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha are found in the lands ruled by the Indo-Greeks, in a realistic style known as Greco-Buddhist. [61] Many of the stylistic elements in the representations of the Buddha point to Greek influence: the Greco-Roman toga-like wavy robe covering both shoulders (more exactly, its lighter version, the Greek himation), the contrapposto stance of the upright figures (see: 1st–2nd century Gandhara standing Buddhas [62] ), the stylicized Mediterranean curly hair and topknot (ushnisha) apparently derived from the style of the Belvedere Apollo (330 BCE), [63] and the measured quality of the faces, all rendered with strong artistic realism (See: Greek art). A large quantity of sculptures combining Buddhist and purely Hellenistic styles and iconography were excavated at the Gandharan site of Hadda.

Several influential Greek Buddhist monks are recorded. Mahadharmaraksita (literally translated as 'Great Teacher/Preserver of the Dharma'), was "a Greek ("Yona") Buddhist head monk", according to the Mahavamsa (Chap. XXIX [64] ), who led 30,000 Buddhist monks from "the Greek city of Alasandra" (Alexandria of the Caucasus, around 150 km north of today's Kabul in Afghanistan), to Sri Lanka for the dedication of the Great Stupa in Anuradhapura during the rule (165–135 BCE) of King Menander I. Dhammarakkhita (meaning: Protected by the Dharma), was one of the missionaries sent by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka to proselytize the Buddhist faith. He is described as being a Greek (Pali: "Yona", lit. "Ionian") in the Sri lankan Mahavamsa.

The Kushan empire (30–375 CE) was formed by the invading Yuezhi nomads in the 1st century BCE. It eventually encompassed much of northern India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Kushans adopted elements of the Hellenistic culture of Bactria and the Indo-Greeks. [65] During Kushan rule, Gandharan Buddhism was at the height of its influence and a significant number of Buddhist centers were built or renovated. [66]

The Buddhist art of Kushan Gandhara was a synthesis of Greco-Roman, Iranian and Indian elements. [67] The Gandhāran Buddhist texts also date from this period. Written in Gāndhārī Prakrit, they are the oldest Buddhist manuscripts yet discovered (c. 1st century CE). [68] According to Richard Salomon, most of them belong to the Dharmaguptaka school. [69]

Emperor Kanishka (128–151 CE) is particularly known for his support of Buddhism. During his reign, stupas and monasteries were built in the Gandhāran city of Peshawar (Skt. Purusapura), which he used as a capital. [70] Kushan royal support and the opening of trade routes allowed Gandharan Buddhism to spread along the Silk Road to Central Asia, the Tarim Basin and thus to China. [70]

Kanishka is also said to have convened a major Buddhist council for the Sarvastivada tradition, either in Gandhara or Kashmir. [71] Kanishka gathered 500 learned monks partly to compile extensive commentaries on the Abhidharma, although it is possible that some editorial work was carried out upon the existing Sarvastivada canon itself. Allegedly during the council there were altogether three hundred thousand verses and over nine million statements compiled, and it took twelve years to complete. The main fruit of this council was the compilation of the vast commentary known as the Mahā-Vibhāshā ("Great Exegesis"), an extensive compendium and reference work on a portion of the Sarvāstivādin Abhidharma. [72] Modern scholars such as Etienne Lamotte and David Snellgrove have questioned the veracity of this traditional account. [73] [74]

Scholars believe that it was also around this time that a significant change was made in the language of the Sarvāstivādin canon, by converting an earlier Prakrit version into Sanskrit. Although this change was probably effected without significant loss of integrity to the canon, this event was of particular significance since Sanskrit was the sacred language of Brahmanism in India, and was also being used by other thinkers, regardless of their specific religious or philosophical allegiance, thus enabling a far wider audience to gain access to Buddhist ideas and practices.

After the fall of the Kushans, small kingdoms ruled the Gandharan region, and later the Hephthalite White Huns conquered the area (circa 440s–670). Under the Hephthalites, Gandharan Buddhism continued to thrive in cities like Balkh (Bactria), as remarked by Xuanzang who visited the region in the 7th century. [75] Xuanzang notes that there were over a hundred Buddhist monasteries in the city, including the Nava Vihara as well many stupas and monks. [76] After the end of the Hephthalite empire, Gandharan Buddhism declined in Gandhara proper (in the Peshawar basin). [77] However it continued to thrive in adjacent areas like the Swat Valley of Pakistan, Gilgit, Kashmir and in Afghanistan (in sites such as Bamiyan). [78]

Central Asia was home to the international trade route known as the Silk Road, which carried goods between China, India, the Middle East and the Mediterranean world. Buddhism was present in this region from about the second-century BCE. [79] Initially, the Dharmaguptaka school was the most successful in their efforts to spread Buddhism in Central Asia. [80] The Kingdom of Khotan was one of the earliest Buddhist kingdoms in the area and helped transmit Buddhism from India to China. [81]

The Kushan empire's unification of most of this area and their support of Buddhism allowed it to easily spread along the trade routes of the region throughout Central Asia. [70] During the first century CE under the Kushans, the Sarvastivada school flourished in this region, some of the monks also bringing Mahayana teachings with them. [79] Buddhism would eventually reach modern-day Pakistan, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. As Buddhism reached many of these lands, Buddhists began to translate and produce texts in the local languages, such as Khotanese (a Middle Iranian language), Sogdian (also Iranian), Uighur (Turkish), Tangut, Tibetan, and Chinese. [82]

Central Asians played a key role in the transmission of Buddhism to China The first translators of Buddhists scriptures into Chinese were Iranians, including the Parthian An Shigao (c. 148 CE), the Yuezhi Zhi Qian and Kang Sengkai (from Samarkand). [83] Thirty-seven early translators of Buddhist texts are known, and the majority of them have been identified as hailing from the Iranian cultural sphere. [83] The Zoroastrian Sassanian empire (226–651 CE) would eventually rule over many of these regions (such as Parthia and Sogdia), but they tolerated the Buddhist religion. [83]

However, during the mid-seventh century, the Arab conquest of the Iranian Plateau followed by the Muslim conquests of Afghanistan and the later establishment of the Ghaznavid kingdom in Central Asia (c. 977–1186) led to the decline and eventual disappearance of Buddhism from most of these regions. [83]

Buddhism also flourished in the eastern part of central Asia (Chinese Turkestan, Tarim Basin). Indians and Iranians lived in major cities of this region like Kashgar and Khotan. [83] The region has revealed extremely rich Buddhist works of art as well as Buddhist texts such as those found in Dunhuang. Serindian art is highly reminiscent of the Gandhāran style, and scriptures in the Gandhāri script Kharoṣṭhī have been found. The Uyghurs conquered the area in the 8th century and blended with the local Iranian peoples, absorbing the Buddhist culture of the region. [83] They were later absorbed by the Mongol Yuan dynasty.

Many printed Buddhist texts from the region date to the Yuan, and they were printed in the Uyghur, Xixia and Sanskrit languages. [83] The Uyghurs also restored cave temples and repainted Buddhist wall paintings such as at Bezeklik. [83] Uyghur Buddhism was the last major Buddhist culture in East Turkestan and it lasted until the mid 14th century. [83] After the Islamicisation of Xinjiang, Buddhism ceased to be a major religion there.

Ruins of the Buddhist Nālandā complex, a major center of learning in India from the 5th century CE to c. 1200 CE.

The current structure of the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya dates to the Gupta era, 5th century CE.

"King Harsha pays homage to Buddha", a 20th-century artist's imagination.

Landscape of Vikramashila university ruins, the seating, and meditation area. It was one of the most important centers of learning, during the Pala Empire, established by Emperor Dharmapala. Atiśa, the renowned pandita, is sometimes listed as a notable abbot. [84]

Buddhism continued to flourish in India during the Gupta Empire (4th–6th centuries) which brought order to much of north India. Gupta rulers such as Kumaragupta I (c. 414–455 CE) supported Buddhism. He enlarged Nālandā university, which became the largest and most influential Buddhist university in India for many centuries. [85] Great Buddhist philosophers like Dignaga, and Dharmakirti taught philosophy there. Nalanda remained a central place for the study of epistemology (pramana). [86]

Another major Buddhist university was Valabhi, in western India, which was second only to Nalanda in the 5th century. [86] This influential university was founded and supported by the Maitraka Dynasty. [87] It was mainly a center of sravakayana Buddhism (that is, non-Mahayana), but was also a place for the study of numerous subjects including secular topics of higher education (such as medicine, logic and grammar). [88]

The influence of the Gupta style of Buddhist art spread along with the faith from south-east Asia to China. During this period, Chinese pilgrims also visited India to study Buddhism.

One of these pilgrims was Faxian, who visited India during the reign of the Gupta emperor Chandragupta II in 405, and commented on the prosperity and mild administration of the Gupta empire. Another Chinese traveler who reached India after the end of the Guptas in the 7th century was Xuanzang. He reported in his travels across India that Buddhism was popular in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. [89] While reporting many deserted stupas in the area around modern day Nepal and the persecution of Buddhists by Shashanka in the Kingdom of Gauda in modern-day West Bengal, Xuanzang complimented the patronage of emperor Harṣavardana (c. 590–647 CE). Xuanzang also noted that in various regions Buddhism was giving way to Jainism and Hinduism. [90]

After the fall of Harsha's empire, the Gangetic plain saw the rise of many small feuding kingdoms. This was to last until the rise of the Pāla Empire (8th–12th centuries) in the Bengal region. The Pālas were stanch supporters of Buddhism, and built several important Buddhist centers, such as Vikramashila, Somapura and Odantapuri. [91] They also supported older centers like Nalanda and Bodh Gaya. It was at these great Buddhist centers that scholars developed the philosophies of Vajrayana, Abhidharma, Madhyamaka, Yogacara and Pramana, as well as the study of linguistics, medicine, astronomy, music, painting, and sculpture. [92] Great Buddhist scholars such as Atisha and Santaraksita date from this period. Under the Pālas, Vajrayana Buddhism thus flourished and spread to Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim.

A milestone in the decline of Indian Buddhism in the North occurred in 1193 when Turkic Islamic raiders under Muhammad Khilji burnt Nālandā. By the end of the 12th century, following the Islamic conquest of the Buddhist strongholds in Bihar and Bengal by Delhi Sultanate's Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji, and the loss of political support coupled with social 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, and the rise of the bhakti movement.

Vajrayāna Edit

Under the Gupta and Pala empires, a Tantric Buddhist movement arose, variously named Vajrayāna, Mantrayāna, Tantric Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism. It promoted new practices such as the use of mantras, dharanis, mudras, mandalas and the visualization of deities and Buddhas and developed a new class of literature, the Buddhist Tantras. The movement can be traced back to groups of wandering yogis called mahasiddhas. [93]

Various classes of Vajrayana literature developed as a result of royal courts sponsoring both Buddhism and Saivism, especially the Buddhist Yogini tantras. [94] [95] The Mañjusrimulakalpa, which later came to classified under Kriyatantra, states that mantras taught in the Shaiva, Garuda and Vaishnava tantras will be effective if applied by Buddhists since they were all taught originally by Manjushri. [96] The Guhyasiddhi of Padmavajra, a work associated with the Guhyasamaja tradition, prescribes acting as a Shaiva guru and initiating members into Saiva Siddhanta scriptures and mandalas. [97] The Samvara tantra texts adopted the pitha list from the Shaiva text Tantrasadbhava, introducing a copying error where a deity was mistaken for a place. [98]

Tibetan Buddhism Edit

Buddhism arrived late in Tibet, during the 7th century. The form that predominated, via the south of Tibet, was a blend of mahāyāna and vajrayāna from the universities of the Pāla empire of the Bengal region in eastern India. [99] Sarvāstivādin influence came from the south west (Kashmir) [100] and the north west (Khotan). [101] Their texts found their way into the Tibetan Buddhist canon, providing the Tibetans with almost all of their primary sources about the Foundation Vehicle. A subsect of this school, Mūlasarvāstivāda was the source of the Tibetan Vinaya. [102] Chan Buddhism was introduced via east Tibet from China and left its impression, but was rendered of lesser importance by early political events. [103]

From the outset, Buddhism was opposed by the native shamanistic Bon religion, which had the support of the aristocracy, but with royal patronage, it thrived to a peak under King Rälpachän(817–836). Terminology in translation was standardised around 825, enabling a translation methodology that was highly literal. Despite a reversal in Buddhist influence which began under King Langdarma (836–842), the following centuries saw a colossal effort in collecting available Indian sources, many of which are now extant only in Tibetan translation. Tibetan Buddhism was favored above other religions by the rulers of imperial Chinese and Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368).

China Edit

Manjusri Bodhisattva debates Vimalakirti. Scene from the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra. Dunhuang, Mogao Caves, China, Tang Dynasty.

Buddhism was introduced in China during the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) and was present by around 50 CE. [104] Although the archaeological record confirms that Buddhism was introduced sometime during the Han dynasty, it did not flourish in China until the Six Dynasties period (220–589 CE). [105] The first documented Buddhist texts translated into Chinese are those of the Parthian An Shigao (148–180 CE). [106] The first known Mahāyāna scriptural texts are translations into Chinese by the Kushan monk Lokakṣema in Luoyang, between 178 and 189 CE. [107] Early translators faced the difficulty of communicating foreign Buddhist concepts to the Chinese, and often used Taoist terminology to explain them. This has been called "concept-matching". [108] Later translators such as Kumārajīva (334–413 CE) improved the translation methods of Chinese Buddhism considerably. [109]

Some of the earliest known Buddhist artifacts found in China are small statues on "money trees", dated c. 200 CE, in typical Gandhāran drawing style. [110] In the period between 460–525 CE during the Northern Wei dynasty, the Chinese constructed Yungang Grottoes, and the Longmen Grottoes which include some impressive monumental sculptures. In the fifth century, Chinese Buddhists also developed new schools and traditions, such as the Tiantai school, the Huayen school, the Pure Land school and Chan Buddhism. [111]

Buddhism continued to grow during the early Tang Dynasty (618–907). It was during this dynasty that the Chinese monk Xuanzang traveled to India, bringing back 657 Buddhist texts along with relics and statues. [112] He established a famed translation school in the Tang capital of Chang'an (today's Xi'an), focusing on Yogacara school texts. Also during the Tang, Chinese Esoteric Buddhism was introduced from India. [113] The Tang dynasty also saw the growth of Chan Buddhism (Zen), with the great Zen masters such as Mazu Daoyi and Linji Yixuan. [114] In the later Tang, Chinese Buddhism suffered a setback during the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution of 845.

Buddhism recovered during the Song Dynasty (960–1279), which is known as the "golden age" of Chan. [115] During this period Chinese Chan influenced Korean and Japanese Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhism also became popular during this period and was often practiced together with Chan. [116] It was also during the Song that the entire Chinese Buddhist canon was printed using over 130,000 wooden printing blocks. [117]

During the Yuan Dynasty, Tibetan Buddhism became the state religion. [118] During the Ming (1368–1644), the Chan school became the dominant tradition in China and all monks were affiliated with Chan. [119] In the 17th century, Buddhism was spread to Taiwan by Chinese immigrants. [120]

Vietnam Edit

There is disagreement on when exactly Buddhism arrived in Vietnam. Buddhism may have arrived as early as the 3rd or 2nd century BCE via India, or alternatively during the 1st or 2nd century from China. [121] Whatever the case, Mahayana Buddhism had been established by the second century CE in Vietnam. By the 9th century, both Pure Land and Thien (Zen) were major Vietnamese Buddhist schools. [120] In the southern Kingdom of Champa, Hinduism, Theravada, and Mahayana were all practiced until the 15th century, when an invasion from the north led to the dominance of Chinese-based forms of Buddhism. However Theravada Buddhism continues to exist in the south of Vietnam. [120] Vietnamese Buddhism is thus very similar to Chinese Buddhism and to some extent reflects the structure of Chinese Buddhism after the Song Dynasty. [122] Vietnamese Buddhism also has a symbiotic relationship with Taoism, Chinese spirituality and the native Vietnamese religion.

Korea Edit

Buddhism was introduced to the Three Kingdoms of Korea beginning around 372 CE. [123] During the 6th century, many Korean monks traveled to China and India to study Buddhism and various Korean Buddhist schools developed. Buddhism prospered in Korea during the North–South States Period (688–926) when it became a dominant force in society. [120] Buddhism continued to be popular in the Goryeo period (918–1392), in particular Seon (Zen) Buddhism. [124] However, during the Confucian Yi Dynasty of the Joseon period, Buddhism faced a reversal of fortunes beginning with the confiscation of monastery lands, the closing of monasteries and the ban on ordination by aristocrats in the 15th century. [125]

Japan Edit

Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th century by Korean monks bearing sutras and an image of the Buddha. [126] During the Nara Period (710–794), emperor Shōmu ordered the building of temples throughout his realm. [127] Numerous temples and monasteries were built in the capital city of Nara, such as the five-story pagoda and Golden Hall of the Hōryū-ji, or the Kōfuku-ji temple. There was also a proliferation of Buddhist sects in the capital city of Nara, known as the Nanto Rokushū (the Six Nara Sects). [128] The most influential of these being the Kegon school (from the Chinese Huayan). [127]

During the late Nara, the key figures of Kūkai (774–835) and Saichō (767–822) founded the influential Japanese schools of Shingon and Tendai, respectively. [129] An important doctrine for these schools was hongaku (innate awakening or original enlightenment), a doctrine which was influential for all subsequent Japanese Buddhism. [130] Buddhism also influenced the Japanese religion of Shinto, which incorporated Buddhist elements. [130]

During the later Kamakura period (1185–1333), there were six new Buddhist schools founded which competed with the older Nara schools and are known as "New Buddhism" (Shin Bukkyō) or Kamakura Buddhism. They include the influential Pure Land schools of Hōnen (1133–1212) and Shinran (1173–1263), the Rinzai and Soto schools of Zen founded by Eisai (1141–1215) and Dōgen (1200–1253) as well as the Lotus Sutra school of Nichiren (1222–1282). [131]

Japanese Buddhist art was especially productive between the 8th and 13th centuries during Nara period (710–794), Heian period (794–1185) and Kamakura period (1185–1333). Buddhism, especially Zen, remained culturally influential during the Ashikaga period (1333–1573) and the Tokugawa era (1603–1867).

Since around 500 BCE, the culture of India has exerted influence on Southeast Asian countries. Land and maritime trade routes linked India with the region and both Hindu and Buddhist beliefs became influential there during the period of the Indianization of Southeast Asia. [132] For more than a thousand years, Indian influence was, therefore, the major factor that brought a certain level of cultural unity to the various countries of the region. The Pāli and Sanskrit languages and Indian scripts, together with Theravāda and Mahāyāna Buddhism, Brahmanism, and Hinduism, were transmitted from direct contact and through sacred texts and Indian literature such as the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata. [133]

From the 5th to the 13th centuries, South-East Asia saw a series of powerful states which were extremely active in the promotion of Buddhism and Buddhist art alongside Hinduism. The main Buddhist influence now came directly by sea from the Indian subcontinent, so that these empires essentially followed the Mahāyāna faith. Examples include mainland kingdoms like Funan, the Khmer Empire and the Thai kingdom of Sukhothai as well as Island kingdoms like the Kalingga Kingdom, the Srivijaya Empire, Medang Kingdom and Majapahit.

Buddhist monks traveled to China from the kingdom of Funan in the 5th century CE, bringing Mahayana texts, a sign that the religion was already established in the region by this point. [134] Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism were the main religions of the Khmer Empire (802–1431), a state that dominated most of the South-East Asian peninsula during its time. Under the Khmer, numerous temples, both Hindu and Buddhist, were built in Cambodia and in neighboring Thailand. One of the greatest Khmer kings, Jayavarman VII (1181–1219), built large Mahāyāna Buddhist structures at Bayon and Angkor Thom. [135]

In the Indonesian island of Java, Indianized kingdoms like the Kalingga Kingdom (6–7th centuries) were destinations for Chinese monks seeking out Buddhist texts. [136] The Malay Srivijaya (650–1377), a maritime empire centered on the island of Sumatra, adopted Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism and spread Buddhism to Java, Malaya and other regions they conquered. [137]

The Chinese Buddhist Yijing described their capital at Palembang as a great center of Buddhist learning where the emperor supported over a thousand monks at his court. [138] Yijing also testified to the importance of Buddhism as early as the year 671 and advised future Chinese pilgrims to spend a year or two in Palembang. [137] Atiśa studied there before travelling to Tibet as a missionary. As Srivijaya expanded, Buddhism thrived and also became part of a local syncretism that incorporated several different religions such as Hinduism and other indigenous traditions. [139]

In the island of Java, another kingdom also promoted Mahayana Buddhist culture, the Medang Kingdom (732–1006), a major rival of Srivijaya. They are known for their monumental temple construction, especially the massive Borobudur, as well as Kalasan, Sewu, and Prambanan. [140] Indonesian Buddhism, alongside Hinduism, continued to thrive under the Majapahit Empire (1293–1527), but was completely replaced by Islam afterward.

Reconstruction of the Prasat Bayon Temple, at the center of Angkor Thom.

A painting by G.B. Hooijer (c. 1916–1919) reconstructing the scene of Borobudur, during its heyday.

Buddhist temple of Wat Arun in Bangkok, Thailand.

Theravāda Renaissance Edit

The lands of the Mon and Pyu peoples in Myanmar show extensive evidence of Theravada presence in the Irrawaddy and Chao Phraya basins from the 5th century CE onwards. [141] Theravada Buddhism in Burma initially coexisted with other forms of Buddhism and other religions. [141] After the decline of Buddhism in the Indian mainland, Theravada Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka mounted missionary efforts in Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, and they were successful in converting all these regions to Theravada Buddhism. [142]

King Anawrahta (1044–1078) the founder of the Pagan Empire, adopted the Theravādin Buddhist faith from Sri Lanka, building numerous Buddhist temples at his capital of Pagan. [143] Invasions from the Burmese and the Mongols weakened Theravada in this region and it had to be reintroduced from Sri Lanka. During the Mon Hanthawaddy Kingdom (1287–1552), Theravada Buddhism was the dominant religion in Burma, with strong ties to Sri Lankan Buddhism. [144] One of their kings, Dhammazedi, is particularly known for his reformation of Burmese Buddhism from the Sri Lankan Mahavihara tradition between 1476 and 1479. [145] Theravada remained the official religion of the subsequent Burmese Taungoo Dynasty (1510–1752).

During the reign of the Khmer King Jayavarman VII (r. c. 1181–1218), Theravada Buddhism was promoted by the royal family and Sri Lankan monks, including his son Tamalinda who himself had traveled to Sri Lanka. During the 13th and 14th centuries, Theravada became the dominant religion of Cambodia, and monasteries replaced the local priestly classes. [146] The Theravāda faith was also adopted by the Thai kingdom of Sukhothai as the state religion during the reign of Ram Khamhaeng (1237/1247–1298). [147] Theravāda Buddhism was further reinforced during the Ayutthaya period (14th–18th century), becoming an integral part of Thai society.

The modern era brought new challenges to the Buddhist religion such as the colonization of traditionally Buddhist Asian countries by Western states, which weakened the traditional political structures which supported the religion, as well as criticism and competition from Christianity. [148] Modern wars, communist anti-religious pressure, the growth of capitalism, modern science and regional political instability are also influential pressures on modern Buddhism.

South and Southeast Asia Edit

Henry Olcott and Buddhists (Colombo, 1883).

The Sixth Buddhist council. Mahasi Sayadaw was appointed to ask the required questions about the Dhamma to Mingun Sayadaw, who answered them.

Deekshabhoomi monument, located in Nagpur, Maharashtra where B. R. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in 1956 is the largest stupa in Asia. [149]

In British Ceylon, Christian missionaries ran all the state-approved schools and commonly criticized Buddhist beliefs. [150] By 1865, Buddhist monks began a counter movement against Christian attacks, printing pamphlets and debating Christians in public, such as at the famous Panadura debate in 1873, which saw the monk Gunananda win a debate in front of a crowd of 10,000. [151]

During this period a new form of Buddhism began to take shape, termed Buddhist modernism (or sometimes "Protestant Buddhism"), which tended to see the Buddha from a humanist point of view and claimed that Buddhism was a rational and scientific religion. [151] Important figures in this new movement include the American convert Henry Olcott (1832–1907) and Anagarika Dharmapala (1864–1933), who promoted Buddhist schools, lay organizations and the printing of newspapers. [151] Dharmapala also founded the Mahā Bodhi Society to restore the dilapidated Indian site of Bodh Gaya. [152] Dharmapala also traveled to the UK and the US to teach Buddhism.

This society helped usher in a revival of Buddhism in India, where Buddhism became popular among some Indian intellectuals. [153] One of these was the lawyer B. R. Ambedkar (1891–1956), leader of the Dalit Buddhist movement, who urged low caste Indian Dalits to convert to Buddhism. Other Indian figures include Rahul Sankrityayan (1893-1963), Dharmanand Kosambi (1876-1941) and Bhadant Anand Kausalyayan. [154]

In Burma, a central modern figure is King Mindon (r. 1853–1878), who convened the 5th Buddhist council (1868–71), where different editions of the Pali Canon were cross-checked and a final version was inscribed on 729 stone slabs, currently still the world's largest book. [155] A new meditation movement arose in Burma, called the Vipassana movement, beginning with figures such as Medawi (1728–1816), who was instrumental in the promotion of Buddhist meditation practices. [156] In 1956, Burmese politician U Nu presided over a sixth council, which saw monks from various Theravada countries produce another new edition of the Pali Canon. [157] Recently, Buddhist monks have become involved in political protest movements such as the Saffron Revolution of 2007.

Thailand, which was the only country to avoid colonization, had two important Buddhist kings, who pushed for modernization and reformation of the Buddhist sangha. They were King Mongkut (r. 1851–68), and his son King Chulalongkorn (r. 1868–1910), who were responsible for several key modern reforms of Thai Buddhism. [158] Two recent Thai modernist movements are the monastic revival of the Thai forest tradition and the Wat Phra Dhammakāya movement.

From 1893, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were all French colonies. The Communists came to power in Laos in 1975. There was no widespread repression of the Buddhist sangha, but the communist government has sought to control the Sangha and use it as a tool to spread its ideology. [159] In Cambodia however, the communist terror of the Khmer Rouge during 1975–79 caused much damage to the Buddhist sangha. [159]

East Asia Edit

The opening of Japan in 1853 by Admiral Perry and the Meiji Restoration of 1868 led to the end of feudal Japan and rapid modernization. [160] A new form of State Shinto arose as a strong competitor to Buddhism when it was adopted by the Japanese government. In 1872, the Japanese government decreed that Buddhist clerics could marry. These changes led to modernization efforts by Japanese Buddhism which saw the setting up of publishing houses and the study of Western philosophy and scholarship. [160] In the post-war period, Japanese new religions arose, many of them influenced by Buddhism.

Chinese Buddhism meanwhile, suffered much destruction during the Christian-inspired Taiping rebellion (1850–64), but saw a modest revival during the Republican period (1912–49). [161] A key figure was Taixu (T’ai-hsü, 1899–1947), who is associated with the modernist Humanistic Buddhism trend of Chinese Buddhism. The Communist Cultural Revolution (1966–76) led to the closing of all Buddhist monasteries and widespread destruction of Buddhist institutions. However, since 1977, there has been a general shift in the policy of the communist government, and Buddhist activity, both monastic and lay, has once again been renewed. [162]

Korean Buddhism suffered a series of setbacks during the Japanese invasions, occupation, and also during the Korean war. North Korea's harsh government nevertheless offers some limited support to the sangha, but it closely controls all activity. In South Korea, Buddhism underwent a revival, with youth groups being influential and temples being rebuilt with government aid. [163] [164] An example of a recent modern form of Korean Buddhism is Won Buddhism.

Central Asia Edit

Tibet (which had been a client state of the Qing dynasty) remained a traditional theocratic state (the Ganden Phodrang polity) with the Dalai Lamas as heads of state, from 1912 until the Chinese communist invasion in 1950. The 14th Dalai Lama fled the country in 1959. [165] A Tibetan exile community was established in India, with its center at Dharamsala, which today contains various Buddhist monasteries and is a center for the study of Tibetan Buddhism. The 14th Dalai Lama has become one of the most popular Buddhist leaders in the world today.

During the Red Guard period (1966–67), Chinese communists destroyed around 6,000 monasteries in Tibet along with their art and books, an attempt to wipe out the Tibetan Buddhist culture. [165] After 1980, Chinese repression of Tibetan Buddhism has decreased and the situation has improved with the reprinting of the Tibetan Canon and some artistic restoration. [165] In the nearby countries of Bhutan, and Nepal, Vajrayana Buddhism continues to flourish as a major religion.

In Mongolia, which also has Tibetan Buddhism as its main religion, communist rule (between 1924–1990) saw much repression of Buddhism. However, Buddhism is now undergoing a revival in post-communist Mongolia, with more ordained monks and nuns, and with 284 monasteries since 2009. [166] More recent liberal attitudes towards religion has also benefited the Buddhists of Tuva and Buryatia, as well as the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia. [166]

Another modern development was the founding of the Kalmyk Khanate in the 17th century with Tibetan Buddhism as its main religion. During the course of the 18th century, they were absorbed by the Russian Empire as Kalmykia, which remains a federal subject of Russia with a majority Buddhist religion. [167]

Western world Edit

During the 19th century, Western intellectuals became more aware of Buddhism through various contacts such as colonial servants, administrators, and Christian missionaries. Sir Edwin Arnold's book-length poem The Light of Asia (1879), a life of the Buddha, was a successful early publication on Buddhism that led to much interest among English speaking middle classes. [169] The work of western Buddhist scholars like Hermann Oldenberg (1854–1920), T. W. Rhys Davids (1843–1922) and F. Max Müller was also influential in introducing Buddhism to western audiences. [170]

The late 19th century also saw the first-known modern western conversions to Buddhism, including leading Theosophists Henry Steel Olcott and Helena Blavatsky in 1880 in Sri Lanka. The Theosophical Society was very influential in popularizing Indian religions in the west. [171] The 19th century also saw the first western monastics such as U Dhammaloka, Ananda Metteyya and the German Nyānatiloka Thera (1878–1956).

Another important element leading to the growth of Buddhism in the west was the large scale immigration of Chinese and Japanese to the United States and Canada in the late 19th century. [172] Refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia have also immigrated to west, beginning in 1975. [173] Asian Buddhists such as DT Suzuki, Hsüan Hua, Hakuun Yasutani and Thích Nhất Hạnh were influential in teaching Zen Buddhism in the West in the 20th century. Shunryu Suzuki opened the Soto San Francisco Zen Center (1961) and the Tassajara Monastery (1967). [174]

The Tibetan diaspora has also been active in promoting Tibetan Buddhism in the West. All of the four major Tibetan Buddhist schools have a presence in the West and have attracted Western converts. [175] The number of its adherents is estimated to be between ten and twenty million. [176]

The Theravada tradition has established various temples in the West, especially among immigrant communities in the US. Theravada vipassana meditation was also established in the West, through the founding of institutions like the Insight Meditation Society in 1975 and the vipassana centers of S. N. Goenka. [177] The Thai forest tradition has also established communities in the US and in the UK. In the UK, the Triratna Buddhist Community arose as a new modern Buddhist movement. [178]

In Continental Europe, interest in Buddhism also increased during the late 20th century, with an exponential increase in Buddhist groups in countries like Germany. [179] In France and Spain, Tibetan Buddhism has the largest following. [180] Tibetan, East Asian and Theravada traditions are now also present and active in Australia and New Zealand. [181] Tibetan and Zen Buddhism also have established a small presence in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela. [182]

The expansion of Buddhism to the west in the 20th century has made the religion a worldwide phenomenon.

Parchment (the good, the bad, and the ugly)

For much of the Middle Ages dead cows were the main ingredient for books. What was frolicking in the meadow one month, may have been a page in a Bible the next. The skin of animals (calves, goats, sheep) was turned into parchment, which was subsequently cut into sheets. Parchment was introduced in late antiquity, when the codex (a book made of double leaves), was born and started to replace the papyrus scroll.

There is a lot you can tell from medieval skin. Like a physician today, the book historian can make a diagnosis by observing it carefully. The quality of parchment sheets varied considerably. Like people today, not all medieval creatures had perfect skin. Some cows loved to rub against trees while others were particularly prone to insect bites. We can still see these defects today, which appear as tiny holes, gaps or dark patches as we read Saint Jerome or Chaucer.

Perfect skin

An example of high-quality parchment. Paris Bible, The Hague, Royal Library, MS 132 F 21, mid 13th century

The quality of the page also had a lot to do with preparation. A scribe producing a book for his own library may be less attentive than one that worked in a monastic community. The best sheets have a deep-white color, with a hint of yellow. They feel like velvet and make a slight rustling sound when you turn the page—suspenseful whispers that teased the reader (image above). Bad skin, by contrast, crackles. It is of uneven thickness, and shows staining and a variety of colors (image below). Unlike what you may have thought, looking at imperfect skin is far more interesting than studying its perfect counterpart. This is because a defect tells a powerful story, shedding light on the book’s production and providing clues about its use and storage post-production.

Detail showing hair follicles, the uneven edge of the animal skin and uneven coloring on the parchment from a book likely used in monastic education: Boethius, De institutione arithmetica, The Hague, Royal Library, MS 78 E 59, c. 1100

Damaged goods: holes and rips

A cut, accidentally left there by the medieval parchment maker when he scraped the hairs off the processed skin. The hole contains some white hairs from the cow who “donated” his skin for the production of this book. Leiden, University Library, BUR MS Q 1, c. 1100 (photo: Erik Kwakkel)

“Through-view” of an animal head initial. Eastern France, the first third of the ninth century (Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, Msc.Nat. MS 1, fol. 25v and 26v).

Medieval craftsmen were well aware of the varying quality of animal skins, which they used as the basis for their books. However, calves, sheep or goats that had given up their livelihood and skin for the sake of medieval readers were not always to blame—and neither were the scribes. The most common imperfections are holes produced by the knife of the parchment maker.

Preparing parchment was a delicate business. In order to clear the skin of flesh and hair, it was attached to a wooden frame, tight like a drum. If the round knife of the parchment maker (the lunellum) cut too deep during this scraping process, elongated rips or holes would appear. A small puncture easily became a gaping hole. The art of preparing animal skin was to apply just the right amount of pressure.

However, readers did not seem to mind the holes too much and scribes usually just wrote around them, or they repaired them. Sometimes the reader is given an unexpected sneak peek onto the next page—where a dragon may just be introduced into the story (as in the image above).

A tear repaired through sewing, leaving a “snake” pattern across the page. Leiden, University Library, BPL MS 25, 11th century

The jabs of parchment makers—and the resulting holes—were sometimes stitched together. The image above shows a former rip (a long one) snaking across the page: the scribe has stitched it up like a patient in post-op.

A hole in the page is filled with embroidery by the nuns who owned the manuscript. Uppsala, University Library, Shelfmark unknown (14th century)—source

Repairing holes was sometimes done more eloquently. In the manuscript above, the hole is not made to disappear, but it is highlighted by colored threads. In some monastic communities this must have been common practice, given that they repaired a lot of books with such “embroidery.” The practice turned defect into art: good-looking bad skin.

Hair follicles

A follicle pattern with such pronounced “dots” that the scribe felt compelled to write around them. Leiden, University Library, BPL MS 191 A, 12th century (photo: Erik Kwakkel)

Another skin problem encountered by scribes during a book’s production was the animal’s hair follicle—the skin organ that produces hair (seen above). These follicles show as pronounced black dots on the white page. Often parchment makers or scribes were able to sand them away, producing the desired smooth and cream-colored surface. However, if the follicles had been too deep in a calf or sheep, no dermatologist could have removed the imperfection, let alone the blunt instruments of the scribe. The only thing to do was to write around the patch. The follicles are helpful because they allow us to determine— from the distance between them—whether the animal was a calf, a sheep or a goat. This, in turn, may shed light on where the manuscript was produced: the use of goat, for example, often points to Italy.

The transition to paper

In the 12th century another material appeared in Europe: paper. Imported from Arabic culture, it was first exclusively used for documentary purposes, such as account books and letters. In a remarkable shift of scribal practices, in the fourteenth century scribes all over Europe started to use paper for manuscripts. Conservative scribes, such as monks, ignored the new material for some time, while others—especially those who wanted to economize—embraced it. Paper and parchment were used for all sorts of manuscripts, from chunky volumes to small portable books.


Origins Edit

The name Theravāda comes from "Sthāvirīya" (Elders), one of the early Buddhist schools from which Theravādins trace their school's descent. [a] The Sthāvira nikāya emerged from the first schism in the Buddhist sangha (literally "Community"). At issue was its adherents' desire to add new Vinaya rules tightening monastic discipline, against the wishes of the majority Mahāsāṃghika. [1]

According to its adherents' accounts, the Theravāda school derives from the Vibhajjavāda ("doctrine of analysis") group, which was a division of the Sthāvira tradition that arose during the putative Third Buddhist council held around 250 BCE under the patronage of Indian Emperor Ashoka. [2] [3] However, Damien Keown denies that there is historical evidence of the Theravāda school's existence before around two centuries after the first schism. [4]

Emperor Ashoka is supposed to have assisted in purifying the sangha by expelling monks who declined to agree to the terms of Third Council. [5] According to Theravāda sources, the elder monk Moggaliputta-Tissa chaired the Third council and compiled the Kathavatthu ("Points of Controversy"), an important work on Theravada doctrine which focuses on refuting various views of other sects. [6] According to the Theravada account, the third council also led to the split between the Sarvastivada and the Vibhajjavāda schools on the issue of the existence of the three times. [7] [8]

Fueled by Mauryan patronage, the Vibhajjavādins spread out throughout India. Over time, the Vibhajjavādin community is said to have further split into four groups: the Mahīśāsaka, Kāśyapīya, Dharmaguptaka in the north, and the Tāmraparṇīya in South India. The Tambapaṇṇiya (later known as Mahāvihāravāsins), was established in Sri Lanka (at Anuradhapura) but active also in Andhra and other parts of South India (like Vanavasa in modern Karnataka). Inscriptional evidence of this school has been found in Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. [2] According to Buddhist scholar A. K. Warder, the early Theravāda school spread "from Avanti into Maharashtra and Andhra and down to the Chola country." Over time, their main centers became the Great Vihara (Mahavihara) in Anuradhapura (the ancient Sri Lankan capital), and (Kanchi (in Tamil Nadu). [9]

Transmission to Sri Lanka Edit

Theravāda is descended from the ancient Tāmraparṇīya sect, which means "the Sri Lankan lineage". According to Theravāda chronicles, the missionaries sent abroad from India included Ashoka's son Mahinda (who studied under Moggaliputta-Tissa) and his daughter Sanghamitta. They are seen as the mythical founders of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, a story which scholars suggest helps to legitimize Theravāda's claims of being the oldest and most authentic school. [5]

According to the Mahavamsa chronicle, they arrived in Sri Lanka during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura (307–267 BCE), who converted to Buddhism and helped build the first Buddhist stupas. According to S. D. Bandaranayake:

The rapid spread of Buddhism and the emergence of an extensive organization of the sangha are closely linked with the secular authority of the central state . There are no known artistic or architectural remains from this epoch except for the cave dwellings of the monks, reflecting the growth and spread of the new religion. The most distinctive features of this phase and virtually the only contemporary historical material, are the numerous Brahmi inscriptions associated with these caves. They record gifts to the sangha, significantly by householders and chiefs rather than by kings. The Buddhist religion itself does not seem to have established undisputed authority until the reigns of Dutthagamani and Vattagamani (c. mid-2nd century BCE to mid-1st century BCE) . [10]

Anuradhapura Period Edit

According to K. M. de Silva, Buddhism was well established in the main settlements of the Kingdom of Anuradhapura by the first century BCE. Over time, Anuradhapura Theravada adopted and assimilated various pre-Buddhism elements. [11] The first records of Sri Lankan Buddha images come from the reign of the King Vasabha (65–109 CE), and after the 3rd century CE the historical record shows a growth of the worship of Buddha images as well as of bodhisattvas. [10]

From the 5th century to the eleventh century, the island of Sri Lanka saw continuous warfare between Sinhala kings and south Indian invaders (mainly the Cholas, Pallavas and Pandyas). Buddhist institutions suffered terribly during these various invasions and conflicts. [12] However, in spite of the instability, this era also saw the expansion of Buddhist culture, arts and architecture. [13] By the 9th century, Buddhist monasteries were powerful institutions who owned property, land, estates, and irrigation works. They were basically self sufficient economic units under the protection of the Sinahala monarchs. [14]

Between the reigns of Sena I (833–853) and Mahinda IV (956–972), the city of Anuradhapura saw a "colossal building effort" by various kings during a long period of peace and prosperity, the great part of the present architectural remains in this city date from this period. [15] However, this was followed by the conquest of Anuradhapura by the Chola empire (between 993 and 1077). [16] By the time that the island was reconquered by Vijayabahu I (1055-1110), the monastic sangha had mostly ceased to exist and had to be reintroduced by inviting Burmese monks to the island to re-start monastic ordinations. [17]

Development of the Pāli textual tradition Edit

The Sri Lankan Buddhist Sangha initially preserved the Buddhist scriptures (the Tipitaka) orally as it had been traditionally done in India. However, according to the Mahavamsa, during the first century BCE, famine and wars led to the writing down of these scriptures in order to preserve the teachings. [18] Richard Gombrich remarks that this is "the earliest record we have of Buddhist scriptures being committed to writing anywhere". [18] With few exceptions, surviving Theravādin Pāli texts derive from the tradition of the Mahāvihāra at Anuradhapura. [19]

Later developments included the formation and recording of the Theravāda commentary literature (Atthakatha). According to Theravāda sources, there was a tradition of Indian commentaries on the scriptures which existed during the time of Mahinda. [20] There were also various commentaries in Sinhala, such as the "Great commentary" of the Mahavihara school, which is now lost. [21]

As a result of the work of later South Indian scholars who were associated with the Mahāvihāra, mainly Buddhaghosa (4th–5th century CE), Dhammapala and Buddhadatta, Sri Lankan Buddhists adopted Pali as their main scholastic language. [22] [23] These figures wrote new commentaries in Pali (basing themselves on the old Sinhala works). This adoption of a lingua franca allowed the Sri Lankan tradition to become more international, allowing easier links with the community in South India and Southeast Asia.

Theravāda monks also produced other Pāli works such as historical chronicles (e.g. Mahavamsa), hagiographies, practice manuals, textbooks, poetry, and doctrinal summaries of Theravada Abhidhamma, such as the Abhidhammavatara. Buddhaghosa's works, especially the Visuddhimagga, are the most influential texts (apart from the Pāli Canon) in the Theravāda tradition.

Sri Lankan Theravāda sects Edit

Over much of the early history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, there were three subdivisions of Theravāda, consisting of the monks of the Mahāvihāra, Abhayagiri vihāra and Jetavana, all based in Anuradhapura. [24] The Mahāvihāra was the first tradition to be established, while Abhayagiri and Jetavana developed out of it. [24]

When the Chinese monk Faxian visited the island in the early 5th century, he noted 5000 monks at Abhayagiri, 3000 at the Mahāvihāra, and 2000 at the Cetiyapabbatavihāra. [25]

Abhayagiri Theravādins maintained close relations with Indian Buddhists over the centuries, adopting many of the latter's teachings, [26] including many Mahāyāna elements, whereas Jetavana Theravādins adopted Mahāyāna to a lesser extent. [25] [27] The Mahāvihāra tradition meanwhile considered many of the Mahāyāna doctrines, such as Lokottaravāda ("transcendentalism"), as heretical and considered the Mahāyāna sutras as being counterfeit scriptures. [17]

Religious conflict among these sects was also not unusual. During the reign of Voharika Tissa (209-31 CE), the Mahāvihāra tradition tradition convinced the king to repress the Mahāyān teachings, which they saw as incompatible with the true doctrine. [28] The reign of king Mahasena (277 to 304 CE) for example, was marked by his support of Mahāyāna Buddhism and his repression of the Mahāvihāra tradition (and destruction of their monastery) which refused to convert to Mahāyāna. The Mahāvihāra tradition would not regain its dominant position until the Polonnaruwa period in 1055. [29]

Abhayagiri was an influential university and center for the study of Mahāyāna and Vajrayana from the reign of Gajabahu I until the 12th century. [30] Throughout its history, Abhayagiri was an influential center of scholarship, with numerous scholars working in Sanskrit and Pāli. [31] Akira Hirakawa and David Kalupahana have argued that Mahāyāna influence can even be found in the Pāli commentaries of the Mahāvihāra school. [32] [33]

Medieval Sri Lanka Edit

The next influential figure in Sinhala Buddhism was Parākramabāhu I (1153–1186) who unified the island and promoted extensive reform of what he saw as a divided and corrupt sangha. [34] Sinhala chronicles state that the Buddhist sangha was in conflict at this time, while many monks had even married and had children. [35] [36] According to some sources, some monks were defrocked and given the choice of either returning to the laity, or attempting re-ordination under the new unified Theravāda tradition as "novices" (sāmaṇera). [37] [38] [39]

De Silva notes that this reform was traditionally seen as the triumph of the Mahāvihāra and the repression of the other schools, but that "recent research has shown this to be quite inaccurate." [37] All Buddhist institutions had been severely damaged by the war with the Cholas, and the three main traditions had fragmented into eight sects. Parākramabāhu united all of these into a common community, which seems to have been dominated by the Mahāvihāra. However, this did not bring an end to sectarian competition completely. [37] [40] [38]

Parākramabāhu I is also known for rebuilding the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, restoring Buddhist stupas and Viharas (monasteries). [17] He appointed a Sangharaja, or "King of the Sangha", a monk who would preside over the Sangha and maintain discipline. [39]

The Polonnaruva era also saw a flowering of Pali language Theravāda scholasticism with the work of prominent Sri Lankan scholars such as Anuruddha, Sāriputta Thera, Mahākassapa of Dimbulagala and Moggallana Thera. [17] They worked on compiling subcommentaries to the Tipitaka, grammars, summaries and textbooks on Abhidhamma and Vinaya such as the influential Abhidhammattha-sangaha of Anuruddha. [41]

After the reign of Parākramabāhu I, the island saw further waves of Indian invaders, forcing the Sinhala monarchs to retreat to the south again. The island's political instability also led to the decline of monastic discipline. Sinhala kings attempted to stem this decline through directly purging the sangha of undisciplined monks and also by appointing sangharajas (chief of the sangha). [42]

Sri Lanka remained politically divided from its late medieval period to the colonial period, and it was only unified when the island was absorbed into the British Empire in 1815. During this period of division, the Kingdom of Kandy (1469–1815) remained the main state patron of Theravada. The Kandyan Theravāda sangha grew increasingly weak during this era and monastic ordination lineages disappeared numerous times. Because of this, Kandyan kings had to reintroduce higher ordination from Southeast Asia. For example, in 1592, Vimaladharmasuriya I invited Burmese monks to reintroduce the Theravada ordination. [17] Meanwhile, the elder monk Weliwita Sri Saranankara (1698–1778) also had to restore higher ordination on the island by inviting monks from Thailand (thus founding the modern Siam Nikaya). [43]

Southeast Asia Edit

According to Theravāda sources, one of the Ashokan missions was sent to Suvaṇṇabhūmi ("The Golden Land"), and was led by two monks, Sona and Uttara. [44] Scholarly opinions differ as to where exactly this was located, but it is generally believed to have been somewhere in Southeast Asia. [45]

Epigraphical evidence has established that Theravāda became a dominant religion in the Pyu Kingdom of Sriksetra and the Mon kingdom of Dvaravati, from about the 5th century CE onwards. [46] The oldest surviving Buddhist texts in the Pāli language are 5th to 6th century gold plates found at Sri Ksetra. [web 1]

From the 8th to the 12th centuries, Indian religions (including Mahāyāna, Vajrayana and Theravāda as well as Hinduism) continued to influence Southeast Asia via the Bay of Bengal. [47] [48] Starting at around the 11th century, Sinhalese Theravada monks and Southeast Asian elites led a widespread conversion of most of mainland Southeast Asia to the Theravāda Mahavihara school. [49]

During the pre-modern era, Southeast Asian Buddhism included numerous elements which could be called esoteric. The French scholar François Bizot has called this trend "Tantric Theravāda", and his textual studies show that it was a major tradition in Cambodia and Thailand. [50] [51] Forms of Esoteric Theravāda include what has been called the "Yogāvacara tradition" associated with the Sri Lankan Yogāvacara's manual (c. 16th to 17th centuries). These esoteric traditions included new practices and ideas which are not included in orthodox Theravāda, such as the use of mantras (such as Araham), magic, complex rituals and visualization exercises. [50] [51] These practices were particularly prominent in Thailand before the modernist reforms of King Rama IV (1851–1868) as well as in pre-modern Sri Lanka. Some of these practices are still prevalent in Cambodia and Laos today.

Myanmar Edit

The Burmese people adopted Theravāda as they came into contact with and conquered the Pyu and Mon civilizations. During the reign of king Anawrahta (Pali: Aniruddha, 1044–1077), Theravāda became the main religion of the Burmese Bagan kingdom (849–1297). [52]

Anawrahta invited numerous Mon, Indian and Sinhalese Theravāda monks to Bagan to propagate and reform Theravāda in his kingdom. [53] Furthermore, various priests of the esoteric Ari Buddhism who refused to conform to the reforms were banished. [54] Anawrahta also patronized the construction of the Shwezigon Pagoda and the Shwesandaw Pagoda. [52] After his reign, Theravāda Buddhism remained the dominant form of Buddhism among the Burmese elites. However, the worship of animist spirits called Nats as well as various Mahayana figures such as Lokanat continued to be practiced alongside Theravāda. [55] [56]

Later Burmese kings of the Taungoo dynasty (1510–1752) and the Konbaung dynasty (1752–1885) continued to promote Theravāda Buddhism in the traditional manner of a Dharma King (Dhammaraja). This included patronizing monastic ordinations, missionaries, scholarship and the copying of scripture as well as establishing new temples, monasteries and animal sanctuaries. [57] [58] This sustained state support allowed Theravāda Buddhism to penetrate into the rural regions of the country. By the 18th, village monasteries were a common feature of every Burmese village and they became a main center of education. [59]

Burmese kings like Bayinnaung (r.1551–1581) and Bodawpaya (1745–1819) also attempted to stamp out certain non-Buddhist religious practices, particularly those related to animal sacrifice and alcohol consumption. [60] [61] Bodawpaya also established a system of monastic examinations, which allowed them to weed out monks who were not knowledgeable (and who therefore presumably had only ordained to escape taxes or military service). [62]

Cambodia Edit

The Khmer Empire (802–1431) centered in Cambodia was initially dominated by Brahmanical Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism. [63] The Late Angkorian period saw beginning of the rise of Theravāda Buddhism, though details are scarce. [64] During the 13th and 14th centuries, the work of missionary monks from Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand continued to spread Theravāda in Cambodia. According to Ian Harris, by the time Jayavarmadiparamesvara took the throne in 1327, Theravāda was well established in the kingdom, as is attested by statuary which survives from this era. [65]

After the fall of Angkor in 1431, Mahayana mostly disappeared from the region and Theravāda became the dominant religion. [65] During the reign of king Sattha (Paramaraja IV, 1576-1594), the central sanctuary at Angkor Wat was remodeled in Theravāda style. New Buddha images and a giant Thai-influenced Buddha-foot was added. Theravāda monasteries also grew around the temple complex at this time, such as Wat Preah Indr-Kosiy. Numerous Theravāda monastic communities grew up around this time, and most were established in converted Brahmanical and Mahayana temples. Examples include Wat Sithor, Wat Prampil Lvaeng at Angkor Thom and Wat Nokor. [66] After this period, most Khmer monarchs supported Theravāda Buddhism in the traditional manner of a Southasian Dharma King.

Thailand Edit

In the Sukhothai Kingdom (13th-15th century), Theravāda, Mahāyāna, as well as Khmer Brahmanism were all practiced at first. [67] [68] King Ram Khamhaeng (flourit. late 13th century) was the first Thai king to give his full royal support to the Sinhalese Theravāda school. [69] [70] He patronized Buddhism in the traditional way, by providing material support for the sangha and building temples such as Wat Chang Lom. [71]

Later Thai kings would continue his policy of focusing their patronage on Sinhalese Theravāda. [web 3] The monarchs of the later Thai Kingdom of Ayudhya (1351–1767) remained strong supporters of Theravāda as well. Some Sukhothai and Ayudhya monarchs even chose to ordain as Theravāda monks for a brief period of time, a tradition which continued to be practiced by Thai kings in the modern era. [72] [73] Ayudhya kings also invaded Cambodia and Cambodian Theravāda was a major influence on Thai Buddhist architecture and scholarship. Part of this legacy is the fact that most Pali manuscripts in Thailand before the modern era used the Khmer script. [74] By the late 17th century, an examination system for Buddhist monks had also been established by the Thai monarchy. [75]

Laos Edit

Like in other Southeast Asian countries, medieval Buddhism in Laos included Mahāyāna Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism and Theravāda Buddhism. [76] The political influence of Southeast Asian Theravāda helped make it the main religion of the Laotian kingdom of Lan Xang (1353–1707), which had close ties to the Thai and Khmer realms. [77] Like in other regions, Laotian Theravāda also retained numerous "animistic" elements like the veneration of local spirits (lak muang) and magical objects (sing saksit). These practices were often part of Buddhist temples. [78] Lao kings like Vixun (r. 1500 - 1520) adopted the Dharma king model of Theravāda Buddhism, promoted the establishment of temples (such as Vat Simuang and Pha That Luang) and palladiums (sacred protectors) such as Phra Bang. [79]

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Theravāda Buddhists came into direct contact with western ideologies, religions and modern science. The various responses to this encounter have been called "Buddhist Modernism". [80] Part of the Buddhist modernist project was a reaction to the challenge and threat posed by Western colonialism and Christian missionaries. [81]

In the British colonies of Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) and Burma (Myanmar), Buddhist institutions lost their traditional role as the prime providers of education (a role that was often filled by Christian schools). [82] In response to this, Buddhist organizations were founded which sought to preserve Buddhist scholarship and provide a Buddhist education. [83] Meanwhile, in Thailand (the only Theravāda nation to retain its independence throughout the colonial era), the religion became much more centralized, bureaucratized and controlled by the state after a series of reforms promoted by Thai kings.

There are several major trends and movements in the Theravāda "Buddhist Modernism", some of the most important are: [84]

  • Radical return to the roots of Theravāda Buddhism (especially the Pali Canon). This has been influenced by the work of western Buddhist Studies scholars and by the reforms of modern Buddhist leaders like Mongkut. [85][86]
  • Revival of forest monasticism (see: Thai forest tradition, Sri Lankan forest tradition)
  • Revival of meditation by monks and laypersons (see: vipassana movement).
  • Reassertion of women's rights. This includes the revival of the Theravāda bhikkhuni (female monastic) lineage.
    , which includes the establishment of Western monastic orders (especially the Thai forest tradition) and meditation centers like Insight Meditation Society as well as the development of Buddhist scholarship in Western languages.
  • Social and political action, which includes movements related to engaged Buddhism, Buddhist socialism and Buddhist nationalism. This may include protesting and participating in election politics by both lay and monastic Buddhists. [87]
  • A skepticism towards or outright rejection of traditional Buddhist folk practices (like the veneration of spirits or ghosts) which are often seen as unscientific. [88]
  • Buddhist forms of environmentalism.

Modern Sri Lankan Theravāda Edit

In the 19th century, Sri Lanka Theravādins became active in spreading Buddhism through publishing newspapers and setting up schools and colleges. [89] They also debated Christians missionaries (either in print or in public). [90] Anagarika Dharmapala was one of the main Theravāda leaders of the Sri Lankan Buddhist revival. Dharmapala appealed to laypersons, providing them with a national identity and a modern religious practice. [91]

Sinhalese Buddhists were aided by the Theosophical Society. The theosophist Henry Steel Olcott helped Sinhala Buddhists in the founding of schools and developing Buddhist popular literature such as his ‘Buddhist Catechism’ (1881). He was one of the first western Buddhist converts. [17]

Two new monastic orders were formed in the 19th century, the Amarapura Nikaya and the Ramanna Nikaya. [89] From the 1950s onwards, the Sri Lankan Forest Tradition developed into an influential modern tradition, focused on strict monastic discipline, meditation and forest living. [92]

Modern Theravāda in Myanmar Edit

An influential modernist figure in Myanmar was king Mindon Min (1808–1878), known for his patronage of the Fifth Buddhist council (1871) and the Tripiṭaka tablets at Kuthodaw Pagoda (still the world's largest book). During his reign, various reformist sects came into being such as the Dwaya and the Shwegyin, who advocated a stricter monastic conduct. [93] Ngettwin Sayadaw was a popular reformer during the 19th century. He was known for requiring his monks to practice vipassana meditation and for teaching meditation to laypersons. [94] [95]

During the period of British Burma (from 1824 to 1948), there were constant tensions between Christian missionaries and Buddhist monks (which included one of the first Western convert monks, U Dhammaloka). The perceived decline of Buddhism among the Burmese people led to a revival movement which took many forms including the foundation of lay Buddhist organizations and the founding of new Buddhist schools. [96] [97] Another part of this revival, which is known as the "vipassana movement", focused on meditation and doctrinal learning. Ledi Sayadaw (1846–1923) was one of the key figures in this movement. [web 4] At the same time, the unorthodox Buddhist tradition known as weikza-lam ("Path of esoteric knowledge", or "Path of the wizards") was also developing. [95]

Buddhist monks and lay organizations also became involved in the struggle for Burmese independence. After independence, Myanmar held the Sixth Buddhist council (Vesak 1954 to Vesak 1956), which was attended by monks from eight Theravāda nations. The Council created a new redaction of the Pāli Canon, the Chaṭṭha Saṅgīti Piṭaka (Sixth council Pitaka) which was then published by the government in 40 volumes.

In the 20th century, the vipassana movement grew into an international movement. The "New Burmese method" was developed by U Nārada and popularized by his student Mahasi Sayadaw, Sayadaw U Pandita and Nyanaponika Thera. Other teachers developed alternative meditation systems, including Webu Sayadaw, U Ba Khin and his student S.N. Goenka, Mogok Sayadaw, Sunlun Sayadaw, and Pa Auk Sayadaw. In the 20th century, numerous western students traveled to Asia, studied Burmese Buddhist meditation and then brought it to western countries.

Recently, Buddhists in Myanmar have become involved in political activism, either as part of pro-democracy movements protesting military rule (such as the All Burma Monks’ Alliance) or as part of Buddhist nationalist organizations (like Ma Ba Tha). [98] [99]

Modern Thai Theravāda Edit

Throughout the 19th and 20th century, Thai Rattanakosin kings passed various laws which re-organized the sangha into a more hierarchical and centrally controlled institution. This included the introduction of the modern office of sangha leader (sangharaja) as well as the establishment of a national monastic examination system. [100] [101]

One of the most influential kings was Mongkut (r. 1851–1868), who had been a monk himself for twenty-seven years and was learned in Pāli as well as western literature (he knew Latin and English). [102] [86] Mongkut led a reform movement and founded a new monastic order called the Dhammayuttika Nikaya. This movement advocated a stricter adherence to monastic discipline, emphasized the study of the Pali Canon and rejected folk beliefs which were seen as not in line with the scriptures. [103] [88] Mongkut's heir, Chulalongkorn (1868–1910) continued the centralizing reforms by passing the Sangha Law of 1902, which organized the sangha into a hierarchical bureaucracy headed by a Sangha Council of Elders (Pali: Mahāthera Samāgama). [104]

Another key figure of the reforms was Prince Wachirayan Warorot (1860–1921), who wrote most of the textbooks which were used in the new monastic examination system. [105] He was the leading intellectual of the era and his doctrinal interpretations remain the orthodox Thai Buddhist doctrine. [106]

In the early 1900s, Thailand's Ajahn Sao Kantasīlo and his student, Mun Bhuridatta, led the Thai Forest Tradition revival movement which focused on forest monasticism, and strict adherence to the vinaya. Notable 20th century forest Ajahns included Ajahn Thate, Ajahn Maha Bua and Ajahn Chah. [107]

The reign of Rama VIII (1935–1946) saw the translation of the entire Pali Canon into the Thai language. [108] The vipassana movement arrived in Thailand in the 1950s. Since then there has been an increase in the practice of meditation by laypersons and monastics. [109] The late 20th century also saw the rise of new religious movements like Wat Phra Dhammakaya and Santi Asoke.

Modern Theravāda in Cambodia and Laos Edit

Theravāda Buddhism in Cambodia and Laos went through similar experiences in the modern era. Both had to endure french colonialism, civil wars and communist governments. During the modern period, Cambodian and Laotian Theravāda sanghas were both influenced by modern Thai Buddhism as well as by French Indology. The Thai Dhammayuttika Nikaya was introduced into Cambodia during the reign of King Norodom (1834–1904) and benefited from royal patronage. [110] The Dhammayuttika Nikaya was also introduced into Laos. Under French Rule, French indologists of the École française d'Extrême-Orient became involved the reform of Cambodian and Laotian Buddhism. The French set up institutions for the training of Cambodian and Lao monks, such as the Ecole de Pali which was founded in Phnom Penh in 1914. [111]

Theravāda remained a dominant cultural force in Cambodia until the rule of the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge sought to wipe out Buddhism, and their efforts effectively destroyed Cambodia's Buddhist institutions. Many monks were killed, forced to disrobe or flee while numerous temples were destroyed. [112] After the end of the communist regime a new unified Cambodian Sangha was re-established by monks who had returned from exile. [110] According to Ian Harris, contemporary Cambodian Theravāda includes both "modernists" and "traditionalists". While the Modernists focus on meditation and Buddhist philosophy and are open to modern secular knowledge, the traditionalists focus on traditional merit making practices, such as reciting Pali texts. [110] An important figure of modern Cambodian Theravāda is Maha Ghosananda who promoted a form of engaged Buddhism to effect social change. [110]

In contrast, communist rule in Laos was less destructive than in Cambodia and the communist Pathet Lao party sought to make use of the sangha for political ends. [113] After the establishment of the People's Democratic Republic in 1975, some Lao monks worked with the party to promote the official Buddhist ideology which combined Buddhism with Marxism (and rejected traditional teachings like karma, as well as heaven and hell realms). [114] The sangha was re-organized as the Lao United Buddhists Association, which was controlled directly by the communist party. Monks were forced to attend indoctrination sessions and political classes and faced criticism from straying from the party line. This led to many dessertions. [115] During the late 1980s and 1990s, the official attitudes towards Buddhism began to liberalise and there was a resurgence of traditional Buddhist activity such as merit making and doctrinal study. [116]

South Asia Edit

The modern era also saw the spread of Theravāda Buddhism around the world and the revival of the religion in places where it remains a minority faith.

Initially, the revival of Buddhism in India was tied to modernist movements in Sri Lanka and Burma as well as to Theosophy and included organizations such as the Maha Bodhi Society (founded in 1891 by Anagarika Dharmapala), and the Sakya Buddhist Society of Iyothee Thass (1898). [117] [118] The Maha Bodhi Society became known for their conservation and restoration of important Buddhist sites, such as Bodh Gaya and Sarnath. [117] [118] In the 20th century, the vipassana movement was brought to India from Burma by S. N. Goenka. [web 5]

A Bengali Theravāda movement began in the 19th century with ethnic Baruas like Cainga Thaur and Burmese monks like Saramedha Mahathera who began to introduce Burmese Theravāda in the Chittagong region in 1856. He encouraged the people to give up non-Buddhist practices like animal sacrifice and the worship of Hindu deities. [web 6] [119] Their efforts saw the establishment of a new Bengali monastic tradition, new temples, and schools as well as organizations devoted to Theravāda Buddhism, such as the Chittagong Buddhist Association. [web 6] This period also saw the establishment of the Bengal Buddhist Association (in 1892) and the Dharmankur Vihar (1900) in Calcutta by Kripasaran Mahasthavir. Kripasaran was also an avid promoter of Pali language studies. [web 7] Due to these efforts, most Buddhists in Bangladesh today (about 1% of the population) favor Theravāda Buddhism. [120]

20th century Nepal also saw a modern Theravāda movement which was mostly led by Newars. The first Nepalese monks of this movement were ordained in 1930 by a Burmese bhikkhu called Chandramani (1876-1972) who had established a monastery in Kushinagar. [121] Important figures of the Nepalese Theravāda movement include Dharmaditya Dharmacharya, Mahapragya, Pragyananda and Dhammalok Mahasthavir. [122] Nepalese Theravādins often traveled abroad to India, Burma and Sri Lanka to pursue their studies. [123] The Ananda Kuti, which became the center of the movement, was founded in 1947, with Bhiksu Amritananda as abbot. He would also become the president of the All-Nepal Bhikshu Mahasangha. [124] Throughout the 20th century, many Newars, who traditionally practice a form of Vajrayana, have enthusiastically adopted Theravāda. However, it has recently also begun to spread to other ethnic groups as well. 25-26 In 2009, there were 98 Theravāda monasteries, including 17 nunneries, mostly located in the Kathmandu Valley. [125]

China and other Southeast Asian nations Edit

During the pre-modern period, Theravāda spread from Thailand into the Chinese province of Yunnan, becoming a major religion among various ethnic groups. [126] Like all Chinese religions, Theravāda suffered from persecution during the Cultural Revolution, but since the 1980s it experienced a revival, with new temples and educational institutions being founded (such as the Buddhist Institute of Yunnan). [126] [127]

In the pre-modern era, Theravāda was practiced in Southern Vietnam by the Khmer and Cham ethnic groups. [128] Under the Nguyễn dynasty (1802–1883), many Khmer and Cham Theravādins were persecuted and sometimes forced to abandon their customs and convert to Mahayana. [129] Under French Colonial rule, Vietnamese Khmers could now practice freely and receive a Theravāda education in government schools. [129] During this time, there was also a movement to introduce a Vietnamese form of Theravāda. One of the major figures in this movement was Ven. Hộ-Tông (Vansarakkhita), who had been educated in Cambodia and later helped establish the first ethnic Vietnamese Theravāda temple in Hồ Chí Minh City, Bửu Quang (Ratana Ramsyarama, ets. 1939). Despite numerous setbacks during the Vietnam war and after, Vietnamese Theravāda grew considerably throughout the 20th century and there are now 529 Theravāda temples in Vietnam. [130]

Other Southeast Asian nations, like Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, saw the introduction of Theravāda as a minority religion in the 20th century. Part of this was due to the immigration from Theravāda majority countries, but there were also missionary attempts to establish the religion among locals, such as the Buddhist Missionary Society Malaysia founded by Ven K. Sri Dhammananda. The oldest Theravāda temple in Singapore is the Thai Buddhist Wat Ananda Metyarama founded in 1918 by Venerable Luang Phor Hong Dhammaratano. The temple started a youth group named the Wat Ananda Youth (WAY) in 1966, which is the first registered Buddhist youth circle in Singapore. [web 8]

Indonesian Theravāda owes much to the early efforts of the Indonesian bhikkhu Ashin Jinarakkhita, who established the Fellowship of Laymen and Laywomen Indonesia and invited Thai monks of the Dhammayuttika Nikaya to the island in the 1960s. [131] Narada Mahathera was also an influential figure in the Indonesian Buddhist revival. He visited Indonesia 15 times from 1934 to 1983 and brought Bodhi trees to be planted at Borobudur and Watu Gong Vihara (central Java). [132] The first Theravāda organization was founded in 1976, it was called the Theravāda Sangha of Indonesia. They rejected the concept of "Sanghyang Adi Buddha" that was promoted by Jinarakkhita in order to bring Buddhism into line with the government policy of Pancasila (the first plank of this was belief in one god). Various Theravāda learning institutions have been founded since then. [133]

Siddhaṃ : the perfect script

Siddhaṃ means 'perfected' or 'accomplished' and is believed by some Buddhists to be the perfect script intended for writing the perfect language: Sanskrit.

Ancient Indians did not use writing for spiritual purposes. Scripture was heard at the foot of the master, and committed to memory. Writing was introduced, probably from Persia, by merchants who used it for commerce. King Aśoka (273-36 BCE) chose writing to communicate his message by having it carved on large pillars. He wrote in a vernacular Prākrit and mainly used the Brahmi script, although Kharoṣṭhī and even Aramaic and Greek scripts were also used. However around the 1st century BCE Buddhists began to write down their scriptures, and writing became an increasingly important medium for Buddhists.

Siddhaṃ is descended from the Brāhmī script, which also gave rise to the Devanāgarī scripts as well as a number of non-Indian scripts such as the various Tibetan scripts, and most of the scripts of Southeast Asia. It was an influence on the developement of the Japanese kana script and on the Korean Hangul script.

The story goes that when a student was learning to write during the Gupta era (ca. 3rd - 6th centuries CE), that the teacher would write siddhāṃ or siddhāṃrastu (may their be perfection) for the student to copy out. Gradually the writing became known as Siddhāṃ, and by the 7th century it was a distinct script. However Siddhaṃ continued to change and develop. As well the forms of siddhaṃ in stone inscriptions is often slightly different to written Siddhaṃ because of the demands of the medium. The calligraphy on Visble Mantra is in a form of Siddhaṃ that owes a lot to refined Medieval Japanese aesthetics.

John Stevens suggests that siddhaṃ (with a short a) is more grammatically correct Sanskrit, but that tradition has preserved the long ā. Also Buddhist Sanskrit frequently, and irregularly diverges from Classical Sanskrit because it's origins are in a prakrit (or vernacular) which has been modified to be more like Sanskrit.

The Buddhist scriptures that were taken east by Indian missionaries and Chinese pilgrims were written in a number of languages and scripts. Siddhaṃ is really only remembered because the Japanese monks Kūkai and Saicho, studied it in China and transplanted it into Japan in the early 9th century. Kūkai and Saicho founded, respectively, the Shingon and Tendai schools of Buddhism. Shingon is a purely esoteric, or Mantrayana school, whereas the Tendai school is primarily an exoteric school focused on the White Lotus Sutra, but incorporating esoteric elements. Both still use Siddaṃ for writing mantras.

An important change occurred in China. In India, even though they did begin to write scripture down, it was always as an aid to memory - writing was secondary. The Indians had solved the problem of a large number of dialects and languages by using a lingua franca - Sanskrit, and to a lesser extent Pāli. In China however, which also boasts a large number of dialects, the problem was solved by a common writing system which could be pronounced according to dialect, but read the same everywhere. By the time the Buddhist scriptures arrived in China, nothing was worth anything unless it was written down. So Siddhaṃ came to be more important in it's own right.

Not long after Kūkai and Saicho's visits, the T'ang dynasty collapsed and Buddhism almost died out in China - certainly esoteric Buddhism, in which the Siddhaṃ script was particularly used for writing mantras, did die out in China. However esoteric Buddhism, along with the study of Siddhaṃ, still survives in Japan. Siddhaṃ also survives in Korea, although books on Siddha do not record this fact, a photography turned up recently on Flickr.com which shows a Korean Bīja mantra which clearly originates from the Siddhaṃ script. Jayarava corresponded with the author of the photo and discovered that they are relatively common - no more information has surfaced since.

Another place where Siddhaṃ survives is in the Taisho version of the Chinese Tripitaka. In the days when it was compiled it was still considered essential to preserve the correct Sanskrit pronunciation and so rather than transliterating mantras with Chinese characters, as was done with names for instance, the Siddhamṃ was preserved alongside the Chinese translation. The example shown (right) is from Taisho No.859 which is a pūja manual. It shows a mantra and the mudra which should accompany it. The mantra is na maḥ sa ma nta bu ddhā nāṃ ha - namaḥ samanta buddhānāṃ ha. With a Chinese transliteration below. Most mantras in the Mahāvairocana Sūtra start with "namaḥ samanta buddhānāṃ" rather than oṃ

Attitudes to pronunciation have shifted over time, and now both the Tibetans and Japanese (not to menton English speakers!) regularly pronounce mantras with no regard for the Sanskrit. It is sometimes said that the mantras "still work" but I've never been very sure what that means and prefer to learn to attempt to accurately render the Sanskrit rather than accept the cop-out.

The copying of sutras, mantras and seed syllables, known as "shakyo" is still an important spiritual practice in Shingon Buddhism. Although Siddhaṃ is primarily intended for writing Sanskrit it can be used to write any Indic language - see the Pāli phrase sabbe sattā sukhi hontu for instance.

The book of the
Visible Mantra Website
now on sale

Siddhaṃ is formed from the originally pure, untained principle. It's use by non-believers does not affect this inherent quality - Kūkai

Siddur, Jewish Prayer Book

Discovered in 2013, the third major discovery this year, was a ‘siddur’ – a Jewish prayer book dated back to around 840 AD.

The complete parchment, still in its original binding, is so old that it contains Babylonian vowel pointing – akin to the Old or Middle English for the English language.

This allowed experts to date the book to the times of Geonim – Babylonian & Talmudic leaders during the Middle ages.

Estimated age: 1,173 years old.

In the Buddha&rsquos lifetime a number of languages were spoken in the India through which he journeyed, besides the Sanskrit language that carried the highest prestige. These were closely related both to that ancient tongue and to each other, roughly in the same way that early versions of Spanish and Italian related to Latin, perhaps more as dialects than distinct languages. Whatever his mother tongue was, he was probably proficient in more than one of these, and there is no sign that he considered any one language superior to any other. Pāli, the language in which the teachings of the Buddha were preserved in Sri Lanka, seems to have been one of the languages from this broader environment. However there are signs here and there of words and word forms more consistent with some other dialect rather than with Pāli itself, suggesting that at some point a, not entirely successful, effort had been made to impose some consistency on what had been a more complex picture.

How did Buddhism spread from India?

By the time of the reign of Ashoka in India in the middle of the 3rd century BCE it is clear that Buddhist ideas were no longer limited to those closely related languages. We know this because ancient inscriptions of his edicts found in also contain terms in Greek and Aramaic. Buddhism also spread eastwards along the trade routes overland to China that skirted the vast Central Asian Taklamakan Desert to its north and south through chains of small oasis kingdoms, such as Kucha on the northern side and Khotan on the south.

A Buddhist scroll with illustrated cover

With the spread of Buddhism eastwards through Central Asia, a whole corpus of Buddhist works was translated and produced in multiple languages, including local vernaculars. This Buddhist manuscript item contains six different texts, which are in Sanskrit and Khotanese.

Alternatively China could be reached by sea from India via Southeast Asia, with ships reaching the present-day Hanoi area, which two thousand years ago was under Chinese control.

When were Buddhists texts translated in South East Asia?

Meanwhile, the Pāli language Buddhism of Sri Lanka had started to spread throughout much of South East Asia, in many cases displacing forms of Buddhism that had used Sanskrit as a sacred language. In these countries Pāli sacred texts were transcribed into locally used scripts like Mon, Khmer, Burmese, Thai and Lao Dhamma script. New compositions in that language and commentaries in Pāli language were added. In more recent times the stories contained in the Pāli scriptures were also retold in vernacular languages which again in some cases gave rise to further translations into minority languages like Shan, Tai Lue and Tai Khoen for example.


Sinhalese manuscript containing bi-lingual Aṭṭhakathā (commentaries), which also includes a translation in Sinhalese language of the commentaries in Pāli language to the Tipitaka of Theravāda Buddhism.

When did Buddhism reach China?

The area spanning the present-day borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan, known as Gandhāra, became a base for Buddhist culture. From there, in the 2nd century CE, texts using the local Indian language (that modern linguistics have called Gandhari) began to have an impact in China, where Buddhist texts were translated into Chinese. This may have been only a part of the wider dissemination of Buddhism, but it marked the beginning of one of the most extensive and protracted translation enterprises in world history that lasted over a thousand years and rendered well over one and a half thousand works out of Indian languages into Chinese, including many that have not survived in their South Asian forms.

Such was the influence of these Chinese translations, moreover, that they frequently formed the basis for further translations into the languages of the interior of Asia during this period: Tibetan, Tangut, Sogdian and Uighur sources all include translations from Chinese as well as from Sanskrit, and only Khotanese seems so far to be an exception in adhering exclusively to Indic originals.

Perfection of Wisdom Sutra

Leaf from an early West-Tibetan &lsquoPerfection of Wisdom&rsquo manuscript.

Further east, literacy was more or less synonymous with a knowledge of Chinese writing, so all Buddhist literature circulating in what is now Korea, Japan and Vietnam was based on these Chinese translations, and for a long time locally produced Buddhist works used the same language.

Sutra for the Illiterate

This small, Japanese folding book contains the text of the Heart Sūtra represented in pictures and was intended to allow illiterate people to recite this popular Buddhist sūtra.

The feat of copying out by hand the totality of canonical texts as a group was repeated frequently in East Asia. As time went by and even more translations and other texts were added, copying out the whole thing became more and more of a task. In medieval Japan it was found that provided the task was portioned out to ten thousand people or so the entire undertaking could be accomplished in a single day. Hand copying gains the copyist karmic merit, and in some places became a form of Buddhist practice.

Printed copy of the Diamond Sutra

This copy of the Diamond Sūtra in Chinese language, complete with a beautifully illustrated frontispiece, is the world&rsquos earliest dated, printed book. It was produced on the 11 May 868, according to the Western calendar.

Usage terms Public Domain
Held by© British Library

How did printing help the spread of Buddhism?

In due course an alternative solution to hand-copying also become available. By the 8th century printing was well established China, with very early examples also being available from Korea and Japan. Sponsoring printing also generated good karma, through spreading the word and image of the Buddha. In the late 10th century the entire text of the canon was carved into woodblocks in Szechuan, China, so that it could be printed off any number of times without the need for scribal copyists. The government moved these blocks to the capital so that they could create new sets whenever they wanted, and add new blocks as more were translated. Now it was the feat of carving all the woodblocks that came to be repeated, no less than seventeen times over the centuries, if we include also editions created in Korea and Japan. These canons in Chinese were not the only ones produced this way, for civilisations bordering on China that had translated Buddhist materials into their own languages had also turned to woodblock as well as manuscript copying.

How were the Buddhist texts translated in China?

It is difficult to generalise about all this translation activity, but in the best documented case of translation into Chinese it is clear that translation approaches were refined over time. The earliest Chinese translations from the language of Gandhāra, in which different translators adopted different solutions in rendering the terminology of Buddhism, were added to from the end of the 4th century by new translations from Sanskrit. These employed a more systematic vocabulary, thanks largely to the popularity of the translations of Kumārajīva (344&ndash413), a Kuchean whose command of Chinese allowed him to achieve unprecedented levels of accuracy and readable style. After the Chinese monk Xuanzang (c. 602&ndash664) was able to study for over a decade in India and return with many more texts to translate, he established a new terminology on the basis of a new set of translations, even if in some cases his versions did not replace those that had already become familiar.

Decorative copy of the Heart Sutra in Chinese

The Heart Sūtra is considered one of the best-known and most popular Mahāyāna scriptures. There are several versions of this sūtra in Chinese, this one was edited and completed in 649 CE by the Buddhist monk Xuanzang (c. 602-664).

In the 10th century a government translation bureau was even established, though it eventually ran out of Chinese monks with a good knowledge of Sanskrit. Over time Chinese translators and their counterparts working with other languages were able to build up extensive bilingual glossaries or other aids, and these provided some foundation for the study of Indian languages well before the return once more of regular travel from East Asia to India in the 19th century.

Dharanis transcribed in Manchu, Chinese, Mongolian, and Tibetan

A multi-volume anthology of dhāraṇīs, transliterated in Manchu, Chinese, Mongolian and Tibetan, created by order of Emperor Qianlong (r. 1735&ndash1796).

Local Buddhist texts

Based on the original teachings of the Buddha, there was a whole corpus of Buddhist texts that reflected local indigenous adaptations. Some writing in Japanese became important from the 12th century onward, as Japanese Buddhist leaders addressed their followers in their own language, while from the 15th century Korean began to be used in Buddhist works also. Tibetans, on the other hand, were able to draw directly on contacts with late Indian Buddhism, and so created a body of canonical literature quite distinct from that further east that became the model for further translations into Mongol from the beginning of the 14th century onward, though many Mongols also wrote on Buddhist topics in Tibetan itself. In mainland South East Asia, collections of Paññāsa Jātakas were composed based on the structure of the Jātakas, or the Buddha&rsquos Birth Tales, to convey the message of rebirth and the Buddha&rsquos long path to enlightenment in local settings.

Phra Malai and Abhidhamma extracts

Thai folding book containing mainly the legend of the monk Phra Malai in Khmer (Khom) script, with illustrations of scenes from the story of the monk-saint Phra Malai which is popular in mainland Southeast Asia. Central Thailand, 1849 CE.

How did Buddhism spread beyond Asia?

The widespread availability of Buddhist works in translation had an impact far beyond the monasteries in which learned monks studied the scriptures. Storytelling in a number of Asian languages, outside of India, took up Buddhist themes and spread Buddhist ideas. The lives of the Buddha in his earlier existences, the Jātakas, which also encompassed stories in which the Buddha had been an animal, proved immensely popular in Central, South East and East Asia in any number of retellings. In South East Asia these stories were collected together as an ensemble that circulated in different versions in Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. In this way Buddhism became diffused through storytelling to a very wide audience that was, in many countries, predominantly illiterate. The legend of Saints Barlaam and Josaphat is one such example of how the story of the Buddha&rsquos life travelled, in this case modified so that it came to tell the life of a Christian saint. Initially found in Persian and Arabic, it eventually turned up in medieval Europe in vernacular languages such as Italian, Provençal, Spanish, German, Middle English, Irish and Old Norse, via Georgian then Greek and Latin. An early Latin version dates back to the 12th century. It is the only Buddhist text found in Africa in form of the Ethiopic version Baralam and Yewasef dating back to at least the 16th century.

Ethiopic Version of a Christianised story of the Buddha

Bärälam Wäyəwasəf is a Christianised, Ethiopic version of the Barlaam and Josaphat narrative, comprising the parables and the collections of teachings attributed to Gautama Buddha.

Usage terms The Ethiopian manuscripts published in digitised format by the British Library are to the best of our knowledge not in copyright under Ethiopian law. However the British Library recognises broader interests in the cultural heritage which the Ethiopian manuscripts represent. The manuscripts included are often of a religious nature, and the Library has taken considerable care not to distort or alter the underlying material. We ask users also to show appropriate respect in reusing the digital images of the Ethiopian manuscripts, which should not be altered or reused in ways that might be derogatory or offensive to the Ethiopian communities for whom they are of special cultural importance.

How has Buddhism interacted other religions?

The availability of so much Buddhist material also had an impact even beyond the world of Buddhist believers themselves. The religious traditions of Bon in Tibet, Daoism in China and Shinto in Japan, while remaining distinctive, were all influenced by the format of Buddhist texts in translation, and often by the content as well. In the Chinese and Tibetan cases, the way in which these religious traditions organised their scriptures into larger collections was also informed by Buddhist examples as well. In a sense these influences can be seen as the outcome of a form of &lsquotranslation&rsquo of an Indian tradition into the new cultural setting.

A Chinese-Tibetan manuscript of the Lankavatara Sutra

This concertina manuscript contains a Chinese commentary on the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, with the text of the sūtra also written in Tibetan between the lines of Chinese.
It is likely is that this manuscript was used as a translation aid.

How does translation change language?

Translation also affected many of the languages of the areas that came into contact with Buddhism. It radically affected, for example, the Tibetan language at an early stage in its development. It even added to the Chinese language, which had accumulated a considerable linguistic inheritance even before the arrival of Buddhism new words for new concepts such as &lsquoperfection&rsquo or &lsquoabsoluteness&rsquo were created. Small wonder, therefore, that Confucians throughout East Asia have for the past thousand years fretted over the extent to which the ancient teachings might have been compromised by shifts of meaning due to Buddhist influence. The word for &lsquopagoda&rsquo, says one early 19th century Chinese scholar, readily betrays its foreign, Buddhist origin since it cannot be found in the Chinese Classics.

What are the challenges to translating Buddhist texts?

Though some Buddhist fragments have been transferred to European languages for four centuries or more, we are still at the stage China was seventeen centuries ago. How can we come up with a consistent terminology for many sources that have reached us in a number of Buddhist languages, and which have been rendered into English by translators coming from a range of different cultures? As yet there are not that many large bodies of translated texts that can serve as sources for standardisation. The Pali Text Society has been translating Buddhist materials in some quantity for well over a century, confining its efforts primarily to one element within the larger Buddhist heritage. The Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai (BDK) or Society for the Promotion of Buddhism, founded by Yehan Numata (1897&ndash1994), has produced dozens of English translations of Buddhist works from the Chinese since 1982. Scholars such as Jeffrey Hopkins (b. 1940) and Robert Thurman (b. 1941) have also undertaken many translations from Tibetan. But if all this activity has taken place in a piecemeal way without any overall translation planning, that is probably very much the way that the Buddha himself disseminated his message from the start.

Professor T. H. Barrett is Professor Emeritus of East Asian History at SOAS, University of London. He works primarily on the religious history of East Asia, and also on British perceptions of East Asia, in both cases dealing mainly with China. Though he has written on may topics from the history of cats in China and Daoism in Japan to the transmission of the &lsquoSecret History of the Mongols&rsquo, he has a particular interest in the history of the book in East Asia, on which he has published The Woman Who Discovered Printing and other studies. He is now working on a survey of Buddhist attitudes to other forms of Chinese religion.

The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License.

Cleveland Museum of Art Presents “Interpretation of Materiality: Gold” In the Korea Foundation Gallery Beginning Friday, April 30th

The Cleveland Museum Art will present, in the Korea Foundation Gallery, the exhibition “Interpretation of Materiality: Gold" beginning Friday, April 30th and running through October 24th. The collection spotlights how gold and the precious metals' distinctive materiality has enriched Korean Art since the fifth millennium BC through today.

“This exhibit illuminates how Korean artists from ancient times to the present day creatively used and interpreted gold and its distinctive materiality” explains Sooa McCormick, CMA’s Curator of Korean Art. “One highlight is the 13th-century Buddhist text titled Flower Garland Sutra No. 78. Mixed with ink and glue, refined gold powder was applied on the smooth surface of the dark blue, indigo-dyed mulberry paper. In the practice of copying a Buddhist sutra, gold served as the perfect medium to visualize the splendid world of Buddhas and their awakening teachings. In June, a stunning sculpture titled Translated
Vase (2013) by a South-Korean artist Yee Sookyung, will join this exhibit from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, adding a compelling narrative about the contemporary interpretation of gold. Translated Vase consists of discarded ceramic fragments that the artist gathered from contemporary ceramic artists’ studios. Yee used 24-karat gold leaf to connect them and to fill in the cracks.”

Gold in Korean art can represent the brightest rays of sunlight. High-ranking officials and members of the Korean Monarchies, like in many other cultures, adorned themselves with gold in the form of jewelry, regalia and in diadems (crowns) to indicate their status or rank. As evident in royal tombs in Gyeongju, the capital of the Silla Kingdom, the elite deceased also were lavishly decorated with objects made of gold to represent their continuing high social status in the afterlife.

Koreans adopted the burial customs of the Chinese by burying their elite with luxurious goods. Many of the luxuries found in Silla tombs were introduced via the Silk Road which connected a vast terrain of ancient cultures and was where trade routes established during the Han Dynasty of China (202 BC-AD 220). The Silk Road was a cultural ‘viaduct’ bringing materials, techniques, and ideas from as far away as Rome. It was called ‘Silk Road’ because it is where silk went westward, and wools, gold, and silver went east.

“A small object in the shape of a dog-lion hybrid, which is believed to have been used as a paperweight, for example, was produced in the Three Kingdoms period (57 BC−668),” continues McCormick. ”The artist employed mercury amalgam gilding, a technique that involves mixing pure gold powder with liquid mercury to form a paste-like mixture. It was intended not only to embellish metal objects but also to make their surface resistant to acids. Other examples to highlight the creative usage of gold can be found in Goryeo-period celadon works. Some of the examples on view in this exhibit were repaired with gold lacquer called kintsugi (literally meaning “gold joinery”) in Japanese. This restoration method highlights broken parts with gold mixed with lacquer. Initiated in 15th-century Japan, the technique follows a popular aesthetic concept, which finds beauty in imperfect things.”

One work in particular is part of a manuscript which includes a panel of five figures in the foreground of what looks like a courtyard. The work is incredibly ornate and includes vertical, Korean text. It looks to be rendered in mostly gold on a dark background. The work is titled called, “Avatamsaka Sutra No. 78,”is included in the exhibition and is by an unknown creator. The people of Gorye-period medieval Korea were predominantly Buddhist and this portion of an illuminated manuscript, which are hand-written books with painted ornamentation that commonly including precious metals such as gold or silver, is a precious, luminescent example of works in the show representing an expansive lineage of artistic achievement in Korean culture.

From The Cleveland Museum of description:

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The concept of buddhavacana (word of the Buddha) is important in understanding how Buddhists classify and see their texts. Buddhavacana texts have special status as sacred scripture and are generally seen as in accord with the teachings of the Buddha, which is termed "the Dharma". According to Donald Lopez, the criteria for determining what should be considered buddhavacana were developed at an early stage, and that the early formulations do not suggest that Dharma is limited to what was spoken by the historical Buddha. [5]

The Mahāsāṃghika and the Mūlasarvāstivāda considered both the Buddha's discourses, and of his disciples, to be buddhavacana. [5] A number of different beings such as buddhas, disciples of the buddha, ṛṣis, and devas were considered capable to transmitting buddhavacana. [5] The content of such a discourse was then to be collated with the sūtras, compared with the Vinaya, and evaluated against the nature of the Dharma. [6] [7] These texts may then be certified as true buddhavacana by a buddha, a saṃgha, a small group of elders, or one knowledgeable elder. [6] [7]

In Theravāda Buddhism, the standard collection of buddhavacana is the Pāli Canon, also known as the Tipiṭaka ("three baskets"). Generally speaking, the Theravāda school rejects the Mahayana sutras as buddhavacana (word of the Buddha), and do not study or see these texts as reliable sources. [8]

In East Asian Buddhism, what is considered buddhavacana is collected in the Chinese Buddhist canon. The most common edition of this is the Taishō Tripiṭaka, itself based on the Tripitaka Koreana. This collection, unlike the Pāli Tipiṭaka, contains Mahayana sutras, Śāstras (scholastic treatises) and Esoteric literature.

According to Venerable Hsuan Hua from the tradition of Chinese Buddhism, there are five types of beings who may speak the sutras of Buddhism: a buddha, a disciple of a buddha, a deva, a ṛṣi, or an emanation of one of these beings however, they must first receive certification from a buddha that its contents are true Dharma. [9] Then these sutras may be properly regarded as buddhavacana. [9] Sometimes texts that are considered commentaries by some are regarded by others as buddhavacana. [10]

In Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, what is considered buddhavacana is collected in the Kangyur ('The Translation of the Word'). The East Asian and Tibetan Buddhist canons always combined buddhavacana with other literature in their standard collected editions. However, the general view of what is and is not buddhavacana is broadly similar between East Asian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. The Tibetan Kangyur, which belongs to the various schools of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, in addition to containing sutras and Vinaya, also contains buddhist tantras and other related tantric literature.

Early Buddhist texts Edit

The earliest Buddhist texts were passed down orally in Middle Indo-Aryan languages called Prakrits, including Gāndhārī language, the early Magadhan language and Pali through the use of repetition, communal recitation and mnemonic devices. [11] These texts were later compiled into canons and written down in manuscripts. For example, the Pali canon was preserved in Sri Lanka where it was first written down in the first century BCE. [12]

There are early texts from various Buddhist schools, the largest collections are from the Theravada and Sarvāstivāda schools, but there are also full texts and fragments from the Dharmaguptaka, Mahāsāṅghika, Mahīśāsaka, Mūlasarvāstivāda, and others. [13] The most widely studied early Buddhist material are the first four Pali Nikayas, as well as the corresponding Chinese Āgamas. [14] The modern study of early pre-sectarian Buddhism often relies on comparative scholarship using these various early Buddhist sources. [15]

Various scholars of Buddhist studies such as Richard Gombrich, Akira Hirakawa, Alexander Wynne and A. K. Warder hold that early Buddhist texts contain material that could possibly be traced to the historical Buddha himself or at least to the early years of pre-sectarian Buddhism. [16] [17] [18] In Mahayana Buddhism, these texts are sometimes referred to as "Hinayana" or "Śrāvakayāna".

Although many versions of the texts of the early Buddhist schools exist, the only complete collection of texts to survive in a Middle Indo-Aryan language is the Tipiṭaka (triple basket) of the Theravada school. [19] The other (parts of) extant versions of the Tripitakas of early schools include the Chinese Āgamas, which includes collections by the Sarvastivada and the Dharmaguptaka. The Chinese Buddhist canon contains a complete collection of early sutras in Chinese translation, their content is very similar to the Pali, differing in detail but not in the core doctrinal content. [20] The Tibetan canon contains some of these early texts as well, but not as complete collections. The earliest known Buddhist manuscripts containing early Buddhist texts are the Gandharan Buddhist Texts, dated to the 1st century BCE and constitute the Buddhist textual tradition of Gandharan Buddhism which was an important link between Indian and East Asian Buddhism. [21] Parts of what is likely to be the canon of the Dharmaguptaka can be found among these Gandharan Buddhist Texts.

There are different genres of Early Buddhist texts, including prose "suttas" (Skt: sūtra, discourses), disciplinary works (Vinaya), various forms of verse compositions (such as gāthā and udāna), mixed prose and verse works (geya), and also lists (matika) of monastic rules or doctrinal topics. A large portion of Early Buddhist literature is part of the "sutta" or "sutra" genre. The Sūtras (Sanskrit Pali Sutta) are mostly discourses attributed to the Buddha or one of his close disciples. They are considered to be buddhavacana by all schools. The Buddha's discourses were perhaps originally organised according to the style in which they were delivered. They were later organized into collections called Nikāyas ('volumes') or Āgamas ('scriptures'), which were further collected into the Sūtra Piṭaka ("Basket of Discourses") of the canons of the early schools.

Most of the early sutras that have survived are from Sthavira nikaya schools, no complete collection has survived from the other early branch of Buddhism, the Mahāsāṃghika. However, some individual texts have survived, such as the Śālistamba Sūtra (rice stalk sūtra). This sūtra contains many parallel passages to the Pali suttas. As noted by N. Ross Reat, this text is in general agreement with the basic doctrines of the early sutras of the Sthavira schools such as dependent origination, the "middle way" between eternalism and annihilationism, the "five aggregates", the "three unwholesome roots", the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path. [22] Another important source for Mahāsāṃghika sutras is the Mahāvastu ("Great Event"), which is a collection of various texts compiled into a biography of the Buddha. Within it can be found quotations and whole sutras, such as the Mahāsāṃghika version of the Dharmacakrapravartana. [23] [24]

The other major type of text aside from the sutras are the Vinayas. Vinaya literature is primarily concerned with aspects of the monastic discipline and the rules and procedures that govern the Buddhist monastic community (sangha). However, Vinaya as a term is also contrasted with Dharma, where the pair (Dhamma-Vinaya) mean something like 'doctrine and discipline'. The Vinaya literature in fact contains a considerable range of texts. There are, of course, those that discuss the monastic rules, how they came about, how they developed, and how they were applied. But the vinaya also contains some doctrinal expositions, ritual and liturgical texts, biographical stories, and some elements of the "Jatakas", or birth stories. Various Vinaya collections survive in full, including those of the following schools: Theravāda (in Pali), Mula-Sarvāstivāda (in Tibetan translation) and the Mahāsānghika, Sarvāstivāda, Mahīshāsika, and Dharmaguptaka (in Chinese translations). In addition, portions survive of a number of Vinayas in various languages.

Aside from the Sutras and the Vinayas, some schools also had collections of "minor" or miscellaneous texts. The Theravāda Khuddaka Nikāya (‘Minor Collection’) is one example of such a collection, while there is evidence that the Dharmaguptaka school had a similar collection, known as the Kṣudraka Āgama. Fragments of the Dharmaguptaka minor collection have been found in Gandhari. [25] The Sarvāstivāda school also seems to have had a Kṣudraka collection of texts, but they did not see it as an "Āgama". [26] These "minor" collections seem to have been a category for miscellaneous texts, and was perhaps never definitively established among many early schools.

Early Buddhist texts which appear in such "minor" collections include:

  • The Dharmapadas. These texts are collections of sayings and aphorisms, the most well known of which is the Pali Dhammapada, but there are various versions in different languages, such as the Patna Dharmapada and the Gāndhārī Dharmapada.
  • The Pali Udana and the Sarvāstivāda Udānavarga. These are other collections of "inspired sayings."
  • The Pali Itivuttaka ("as it was said") and the Chinese translation of the Itivṛttaka (本事經) by Xuanzang. [27]
  • The Pali Sutta Nipata, including texts such as the Aṭṭhakavagga and Pārāyanavagga. There is also a parallel in the Chinese translation of the Arthavargīya. and Therīgāthā two collections of verses related to the elder disciples of the Buddha. A Sanskrit Sthaviragāthā is also known to have existed. [27]

Abhidharma texts Edit

Abhidharma (in Pali, Abhidhamma) texts which contain "an abstract and highly technical systematization" of doctrinal material appearing in the Buddhist sutras. [28] It is an attempt to best express the Buddhist view of "ultimate reality" (paramartha-satya) without using the conventional language and narrative stories found in the sutras. [29] The prominent modern scholar of Abhidharma, Erich Frauwallner has said that these Buddhist systems are "among the major achievements of the classical period of Indian philosophy." Modern scholars generally believe that the canonical Abhidharma texts emerged after the time of the Buddha, in around the 3rd century BCE. Therefore, the canonical Abhidharma works are generally claimed by scholars not to represent the words of the Buddha himself, but those of later Buddhists. [30]

There are different types and historical layers of Abhidharma literature. The early canonical Abhidharma works (like the Abhidhamma Pitaka) are not philosophical treatises, but mainly summaries and expositions of early doctrinal lists with their accompanying explanations. [30] [31] These texts developed out of early Buddhist lists or matrices (mātṛkās) of key teachings, such as the 37 factors leading to Awakening. [32] Scholars like Erich Frauwallner have argued that there is an "ancient core" of early pre-sectarian material in the earliest Abhidharma works, such as in the Theravada Vibhanga, the Dharmaskandha of the Sarvastivada, and the Śāriputrābhidharma of the Dharmaguptaka school. [33]

Only two full canonical Abhidharma collections have survived both containing seven texts, the Theravāda Abhidhamma and the Sarvastivada Abhidharma, which survives in Chinese translation. However, texts of other tradition have survived, such as the Śāriputrābhidharma of the Dharmaguptaka school, the Tattvasiddhi Śāstra (Chéngshílun) and various Abhidharma type works from the Pudgalavada school.

Later post-canonical Abhidharma works were written as either large treatises (śāstra), as commentaries (aṭṭhakathā) or as smaller introductory manuals. They are more developed philosophical works which include many innovations and doctrines not found in the canonical Abhidharma.

Other texts Edit

The early Buddhist schools also preserved other types of texts which developed in later periods, which were variously seen as canonical or not, depending on the tradition.

One of the largest category of texts that were neither Sutra, Vinaya nor Abhidharma includes various collections of stories such as the Jātaka tales and the Avadānas (Pali: Apadāna). These are moral fables and legends dealing with the previous births of Gautama Buddha in both human and animal form. [34] The different Buddhist schools had their own collections of these tales and often disagreed on which stories were canonical. [35]

Another genre that developed over time in the various early schools were biographies of the Buddha. Buddha biographies include the Mahāvastu of the Lokottaravadin school, the northern tradition's Lalitavistara Sūtra, the Theravada Nidānakathā and the Dharmaguptaka Abhiniṣkramaṇa Sūtra. [36] [37]

One of the most famous of biographies is the Buddhacarita, an epic poem in Classical Sanskrit by Aśvaghoṣa. Aśvaghoṣa also wrote other poems, as well as Sanskrit dramas. Another Sanskrit Buddhist poet was Mātṛceṭa, who composed various pious hymns in slokas. [38]

Other later hagiographical texts include the Buddhavaṃsa, the Cariyāpiṭaka and the Vimanavatthu (as well as its Chinese parallel, the Vimānāvadāna). [39]

There are also some unique individual texts like the Milinda pañha (literally The Questions of Milinda) and its parallel in Chinese, the Nāgasena Bhikśu Sūtra (那先比丘經). [40] These texts depict a dialogue between the monk Nagasena, and the Indo-Greek King Menander (Pali: Milinda). It is a compendium of doctrine, and covers a range of subjects.

The Theravāda tradition has an extensive commentarial literature, much of which is still untranslated. These are attributed to scholars working in Sri Lanka such as Buddhaghosa (5th century CE) and Dhammapala. There are also sub-commentaries (ṭīkā) or commentaries on the commentaries. Buddhaghosa was also the author of the Visuddhimagga, or Path of Purification, which is a manual of doctrine and practice according to the Mahavihara tradition of Sri Lanka. According to Nanamoli Bhikkhu, this text is regarded as "the principal non-canonical authority of the Theravada." [41] A similar albeit shorter work is the Vimuttimagga. Another highly influential Pali Theravada work is the Abhidhammattha-sangaha (11th or 12th century), a short 50 page introductory summary to the Abhidhamma, which is widely used to teach Abhidhamma.

Buddhaghosa is known to have worked from Buddhist commentaries in the Sri Lankan Sinhala language, which are now lost. Sri Lankan literature in the vernacular contains many Buddhist works, including as classical Sinhala poems such as the Muvadevāvata (The Story of the Bodhisattva's Birth as King Mukhadeva, 12th century) and the Sasadāvata (The Story of the Bodhisattva's Birth as a Hare, 12th century) as well as prose works like the Dhampiyātuvā gätapadaya (Commentary on the Blessed Doctrine), a commentary on words and phrases in the Pāli Dhammapada.

The Theravāda textual tradition spread into Burma and Thailand where Pali scholarship continued to flourish with such works as the Aggavamsa of Saddaniti and the Jinakalamali of Ratanapañña. [42] Pali literature continued to be composed into the modern era, especially in Burma, and writers such as Mahasi Sayadaw translated some of their texts into Pali.

There are also numerous Esoteric Theravada texts, mostly from Southeast Asia. [43] This tradition flourished in Cambodia and Thailand before the 19th century reformist movement of Rama IV. One of these texts has been published in English by the Pali Text Society as "Manual of a Mystic". [44]

Burmese Buddhist literature developed unique poetic forms form the 1450s onwards, a major type of poetry is the pyui' which are long and embellished translations of Pali Buddhist works, mainly jatakas. A famous example of pyui' poetry is the Kui khan pyui' (the pyui' in nine sections, 1523). There is also a genre of Burmese commentaries or nissayas which were used to teach Pali. [45] The nineteenth century saw a flowering of Burmese Buddhist literature in various genres including religious biography, Abhidharma, legal literature and meditation literature.

An influential text of Thai literature is the "Three Worlds According to King Ruang" (1345) by Phya Lithai, which is an extensive Cosmological and visionary survey of the Thai Buddhist universe.

Mahāyāna sūtras Edit

See Mahāyāna sūtras for historical background and a list of some sutras categorised by source.

Around the beginning of the common era, a new genre of sutra literature began to be written with a focus on the Bodhisattva ideal, commonly known as Mahāyāna ("Great Vehicle") or Bodhisattvayāna ("Bodhisattva Vehicle"). [46] The earliest of these sutras do not call themselves ‘Mahāyāna,’ but use the terms Vaipulya (extensive, expansive) sutras, or Gambhira (deep, profound) sutras. [47]

There are various theories of how Mahāyāna emerged. According to David Drewes, it seems to have been "primarily a textual movement, focused on the revelation, preaching, and dissemination of Mahāyāna sutras, that developed within, and never really departed from, traditional Buddhist social and institutional structures." [47] Early dharmabhanakas (preachers, reciters of these sutras) were influential figures, and promoted these new texts throughout the Buddhist communities. [47]

Many of these Mahāyāna sūtras were written in Sanskrit (in hybrid forms and in classical Sanskrit) and then later translated into the Tibetan and Chinese Buddhist canons (the Kangyur and the Taishō Tripiṭaka respectively) which then developed their own textual histories. Sanskrit had been adopted by Buddhists in north India during the Kushan era and Sanskrit Buddhist literature became the dominant tradition in Buddhist India until the decline of Buddhism there. [48]

Mahāyāna sūtras are also generally regarded by the Mahāyāna tradition as being more profound than the śrāvaka texts as well as generating more spiritual merit and benefit. Thus, they are seen as superior and more virtuous to non-Mahāyāna sutras. [49] [50] The Mahāyāna sūtras are traditionally considered by Mahāyāna Buddhists to be the word of the Buddha. Mahāyāna Buddhists explained the emergence of these new texts by arguing that they had been transmitted in secret, via lineages of supernatural beings (such as the nagas) until people were ready to hear them, or by stating that they had been revealed directly through visions and meditative experiences to a select few. [51]

According to David McMahan, the literary style of the Mahāyāna sūtras reveals how these texts were mainly composed as written works and how they also needed to legitimate themselves to other Buddhists. They used different literary and narrative ways to defend the legitimacy of these texts as Buddha word. [52] Mahāyāna sūtras such as the Gaṇḍavyūha also often criticize early Buddhist figures, such as Sariputra for lacking knowledge and goodness, and thus, these elders or śrāvaka are seen as not intelligent enough to receive the Mahāyāna teachings, while more the advanced elite, the bodhisattvas, are depicted as those who can see the highest teachings. [53]

These sūtras were not recognized as being Buddha word by various early Buddhist schools and there was lively debate over their authenticity throughout the Buddhist world. Various Mahāyāna sūtras warn against the charge that they are not word of the Buddha, showing that they are aware of this claim. [51] Buddhist communities such as the Mahāsāṃghika school were divided along these doctrinal lines into sub-schools which accepted or did not accept these texts. [54] The Theravāda school of Sri Lanka also was split on the issue during the medieval period. The Mahavihara sub-sect rejected these texts and the (now extinct) Abhayagiri sect accepted them. Theravāda commentaries mention these texts (which they call Vedalla/Vetulla) as not being the Buddha word and being counterfeit scriptures. [55] Modern Theravāda generally does not accept these texts as buddhavacana (word of the Buddha). [8]

The Mahāyāna movement remained quite small until the fifth century, with very few manuscripts having been found before then (the exceptions are from Bamiyan). However, according to Walser, the fifth and sixth centuries saw a great increase in the production of these texts. [56] By this time, Chinese pilgrims, such as Faxian, Yijing, and Xuanzang were traveling to India, and their writings do describe monasteries which they label 'Mahāyāna' as well as monasteries where both Mahāyāna monks and non-Mahāyāna monks lived together. [57]

Mahāyāna sūtras contain several elements besides the promotion of the bodhisattva ideal, including "expanded cosmologies and mythical histories, ideas of purelands and great, ‘celestial’ Buddhas and bodhisattvas, descriptions of powerful new religious practices, new ideas on the nature of the Buddha, and a range of new philosophical perspectives." [47] These texts present stories of revelation in which the Buddha teaches Mahāyāna sutras to certain bodhisattvas who vow to teach and spread these sutras. [47] These texts also promoted new religious practices that were supposed to make Buddhahood easy to achieve, such as "hearing the names of certain Buddhas or bodhisattvas, maintaining Buddhist precepts, and listening to, memorizing, and copying sutras." Some Mahāyāna sūtras claim that these practices lead to rebirth in Pure lands such as Abhirati and Sukhavati, where becoming a Buddha is much easier to achieve. [47]

Several Mahāyāna sūtras also depict important Buddhas or Bodhisattvas not found in earlier texts, such as the Buddhas Amitabha, Akshobhya and Vairocana, and the bodhisattvas Maitreya, Mañjusri, Ksitigarbha, and Avalokiteshvara. An important feature of Mahāyāna is the way that it understands the nature of Buddhahood. Mahāyāna texts see Buddhas (and to a lesser extent, certain bodhisattvas as well) as transcendental or supramundane (lokuttara) beings, who live for eons constantly helping others through their activity. [58]

According to Paul Williams, in Mahāyāna, a Buddha is often seen as "a spiritual king, relating to and caring for the world", rather than simply a teacher who after his death "has completely ‘gone beyond’ the world and its cares". [59] Buddha Sakyamuni's life and death on earth is then usually understood as a "mere appearance", his death is an unreal show, in reality he continues to live in a transcendent reality. [59] Thus the Buddha in the Lotus sutra says that he is "the father of the world", "the self existent (svayambhu). protector of all creatures", who has "never ceased to exist" and only "pretends to have passed away." [60]

Hundreds of Mahāyāna sūtras have survived in Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan translation. There many different genres or classes of Mahāyāna sutras, such as the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras, the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras and the Pure Land sūtras. The different Mahāyāna schools have many varied classification schemas for organizing them and they see different texts as having higher authority than others.

Some Mahāyāna sūtras are also thought to display a distinctly tantric character, like some of the shorter Perfection of Wisdom sutras and the Mahavairocana Sutra. At least some editions of the Kangyur include the Heart Sutra in the tantra division. [61] Such overlap is not confined to "neighbouring" yanas: at least nine "Sravakayana" texts can be found in the tantra divisions of some editions of the Kangyur. [62] One of them, the Atanatiya Sutra, is also included in the Mikkyo (esoteric) division of the standard modern collected edition of Sino-Japanese Buddhist literature. [63] Some Mahāyāna texts also contain dhāraṇī, which are chants that are believed to have magical and spiritual power.

The following is a list of some well known Mahāyāna sutras which have been studied by modern scholarship:

  • Ajitasena Sutra - a "proto-Mahāyāna" text, possibly one of the earliest texts with Mahāyāna elements
  • Ugraparipṛcchā Sūtra - An early Mahāyāna text focused on bodhisattva monasticism
  • Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra - Possibly the earliest Prajñāpāramitā text.
  • Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā - Another possibly early Prajñāpāramitā text, very popular. - An influential text in Pure Land Buddhism.
  • Amitabha Sutra - Another Pure land text
  • Contemplation Sutra - Another Pure land text
  • Pratyutpanna Sutra
  • Shurangama Samadhi Sutra
  • Saddharmapundarīka-sūtra (Lotus Sutra) - One of the most influential texts in East Asian Buddhism.
  • Mahāratnakūta Sūtra - Actually a collection of various sūtras
  • Suvarnaprabhasa Sutra (or Golden Light Sutra)
  • Avataṃsaka Sūtra - A compilation of numerous texts, such as the Gaṇḍavyūha Sutra and the Daśabhūmika Sūtra
  • Sandhinirmocana Sutra (c 2nd Century CE), the main sutra of Yogacara Buddhism, introduces the doctrine of the "three turnings".
  • Tathāgatagarbha Sūtra- One of the key "Buddha nature" (Tathāgatagarbha) sūtras
  • Shrīmālādevi-simhanāda Sūtra - A "Buddha nature" text
  • Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra - A "Buddha nature" text, very influential in East Asian Buddhism
  • Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra - Includes Yogacara and Tathāgatagarbha elements, influential in Zen Buddhism
  • Samādhirāja Sūtra (or Candrapradīpa Sūtra), influential in the Madhyamaka scholasticism of Tibet.
  • Vimalakīrti Sūtra - A sutra which depicts the teachings of a layman on non-dualism.
  • Brahmajāla Sūtra - A text which contains an influential listing of bodhisattva precepts.
  • Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra, which introduces the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra.
  • Uṣṇīṣa Vijaya Dhāraṇī Sūtra

Indian treatises Edit

The Mahāyāna commentarial and exegetical literature is vast. Many of these exegetical and scholastic works are called Śāstras, which can refer to a scholastic treatise, exposition or commentary.

Central to much of Mahāyāna philosophy are the works of the Indian scholar Nagarjuna. Especially important is his magnum opus, the Mūlamadhyamika-karikā, or Root Verses on the Middle Way, a seminal text on the Madhyamika philosophy. Various other authors of the Madhyamaka school followed him and wrote commentaries to his texts or their own treatises.

Another very influential work which traditionally attributed to Nagarjuna In East Asia is the Dà zhìdù lùn (*Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa, The Great Discourse on Prajñāpāramitā). This is a massive Mahayana Buddhist treatise and commentary on the Prajñāpāramitā sutra in Twenty-five Thousand Lines, and it has been extremely important in the development of the major Chinese Buddhist traditions. [64] Its authorship to Nagarjuna however has been questioned by modern scholars and it only survives in the Chinese translation by Kumārajīva (344–413 CE) . [65]

The Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra (fourth century CE) is another very large treatise which focuses on yogic praxis and the doctrines of the Indian Yogacara school. Unlike the Dà zhìdù lùn, it was studied and transmitted in both the East Asian Buddhist and the Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

The works of Asanga, a great scholar and systematizer of the Yogacara, are also very influential in both traditions, including his magnum opus, the Mahāyāna-samgraha, and the Abhidharma-samuccaya (a compendium of Abhidharma thought that became the standard text for many Mahayana schools especially in Tibet). Various texts are also said to have received by Asanga from the Bodhisattva Maitreya in the Tushita god realm, including works such as Madhyāntavibhāga, the Mahāyāna-sūtrālamkāra, and the Abhisamayālamkara. Their authorship remains disputed by modern scholars however. [66] Asanga's brother Vasubandhu wrote a large number of texts associated with the Yogacara including: Trisvabhāva-nirdesa, Vimsatika, Trimsika, and the Abhidharmakośa-bhāsya. Numerous commentaries were written by later Yogacara exegetes on the works of these two brothers.

The 9th Century Indian Buddhist Shantideva produced two texts: the Bodhicaryāvatāra has been a strong influence in many schools of the Mahayana. It is notably a favorite text of the 14th Dalai Lama.

Dignāga is associated with a school of Buddhist logic that tried to establish which texts were valid sources of knowledge (see also Epistemology). He produced the Pramāna-samuccaya, and later Dharmakirti wrote the Pramāna-vārttikā, which was a commentary and reworking of the Dignaga text.

East Asian works Edit

The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana (Dàshéng Qǐxìn Lùn) is an influential text in East Asian Buddhism, especially in the Hua-yen school of China, and its Japanese equivalent, Kegon. While it is traditionally attributed to Ashvaghosha, most scholars now hold it is a Chinese composition. [67]

The Dhyāna sutras (Chan-jing) are a group of early Buddhist meditation texts which contain meditation teachings from the Sarvastivada school along with some early proto-Mahayana meditations. They were mostly the work of Buddhist Yoga teachers from Kashmir and were translated into Chinese early on.

The early period of the development of Chinese Buddhism was concerned with the collection and translation of texts into Chinese and the creation of the Chinese Buddhist canon. This was often done by traveling overland to India, as recorded in the Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, by the monk Xuanzang (c. 602–664), who also wrote a commentary on Yogacara which remained influential, the Discourse on the Perfection of Consciousness-only.

East Asian Buddhism began to develop its own unique doctrinal literature with the rise of the Tiantai School and its major representative, Zhiyi (538–597 CE) who wrote important commentaries on the Lotus sutra as well as the first major comprehensive work on meditation composed in China, the Mohe Zhiguan (摩訶止観). Another important school of Chinese Buddhism is Huayan, which focused on developing their philosophical texts from the Avatamsaka. An important patriarch of this school is Fazang who wrote many commentaries and treatises.

The Tripitaka Koreana, which was crafted in two versions (the first one was destroyed by fire during the Mongol invasions of Korea), is a Korean collection of the Tripitaka carved onto 81,258 wooden printing blocks during the 13th century. Still intact in good condition after some 750 years, it has been described by the UNESCO committee as "one of the most important and most complete corpus of Buddhist doctrinal texts in the world". [68]

Zen Buddhism developed a large literary tradition based on the teachings and sayings of Chinese Zen masters. One of the key texts in this genre is the Platform Sutra attributed to Zen patriarch Huineng, it gives an autobiographical account of his succession as Ch'an Patriarch, as well as teachings about Ch'an theory and practice. Other texts are Koan collections, which are compilations of the sayings of Chinese masters such as the Blue Cliff Record and The Gateless Gate. Another key genre is that of compilations of Zen master biographies, such as the Transmission of the Lamp. Buddhist poetry was also an important contribution to the literature of the tradition.

After the arrival of Chinese Buddhism in Japan, Korea and Vietnam they developed their own traditions and literature in the local language.