How Did Buddhism Spread

“This is why I am continuing my travels—not to seek other, better teachings, for I know there are none, but to depart from all teachings and all teachers and to reach my goal by myself or to die” – Hermann Hesse. The teachings of Buddhism have been continuingly traveling all across the world and spreading. Buddhism originated from India during the 5th century BCE, and the spread began. By the 1st century Buddhism began to split within the religion, the new evolving Buddhist branch of the Mahayana led to that split.

The Mahayana created a huge spread across the eastern hemisphere of China, Japan, and Korea, where that branch of Buddhism still remains dominant. Buddhism eventually from this path makes it way across the Pacific ocean and into America. Where many events such as laws and movements have happened to promote the spread of Buddhism across America. After the Buddha’s lifetime in India his teachings were very well preserved and spread into many countries in the eastern hemisphere. However during the first 500 years after his death, none of teachings were written down and only recited by monks (Buddha Dharma 2008).

Councils were held regularly to make sure that Buddha’s teaching remained the same. It was not until the 2nd council of where a split between monks occurred. A group known as the “Great Community” led to a new evolution of two major forms of Buddhist tradition, the Theravada and the Mahayana. Why they differed is because the Theravada taught that the highest point people can reach is Arhat (Buddha Dharma 2008). The Mahayana tradition teaches that the only goal that is the attainment of buddhahood. This was a major turning point and contribution to the spread of Buddhism, with the evolution of two branches of Buddhism.

Another event or person that helped in the cause to spread Buddhism was Ashoka. Ashoka was known as ruthless leader, making many military conquest were thousand were killed, wounded, and captured (Source). After, the realization of the loss of people, Ashoka turned to Buddhism and became very devoted to the religion, by participating in many meritable acts. He later went on to send Buddhist missionaries to all over the world, even to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka greeted the religion well and later became a the dominant religion in Sri Lanka in the 2nd century.

It came into dominance when Ashoka sent his son, Mahinda, to Sri Lanka on the head of a missionary trip. When Maldina was there he converted the king of Sri Lanka to Buddhism (Buddha Dharma 2008). This was a huge turning point in the spread of Buddhism as it allowed them to spread the teachings of the Buddha. Ashoka’s daughter, Sanghamitra, later went on to establish an order of nuns in Sri Lanka (Buddha Dharma 2008). Buddhism had some setback over time as Hinduism was of the greatest influence. Efforts were made to revive Buddhism, it began by a name of monk named Gunananda.

He did many lectures and it caught the attention of a young American by the name H. S Olcott. Olcott was aided by a man by the name of Dharmapala. They would both go on traveling together, giving lectures and distributing literature about Buddhism (Buddha Dharma 2008). These two helped spread Buddhism across Sri Lanka again and made it more popular than it was before. China’s introduction came at the extent of learning it through trade. This happened when the Han Dynasty extend its power over Central Asia. A demand grew among the Chinese as they took interest in the religion.

A demand for text to be translated from the Indian languages into Chinese greaten. This led to one of the first and most notable translators of Anshigao (Hadley 2011). He arrived in the middle part of the 2nd century, right before the fall of the Han dynasty. During the fall of the Han Dynasty, China faced many political and and war problems. The translation of the Buddhist text did not stop, it continued and the popularity of the religion grew among the people. Monks were establishing many monasteries during this time and were actively preaching of the teachings of the Buddha to society.

Things took a turn at the beginning of the fifth century when China came into separate rulers between the north and south. However right before then a Chinese monk by the name of Dao-an wrote, lectured, collected, and copied many Buddhist scriptures (Buddha Dharma 2008). He then went on to create a catalogue of all the Buddhist texts. The divide allowed under the rule of the south for Buddhist text to continually be translated. The rulers of the southern part of China were devoted Buddhist who encourage to built more monasteries, they even joined and participated in talks on Buddhism (Buddha Dharma 2008).

Northern China experienced a couple of persecutions over the time of the split. Buddhism spread over the northern part when persecution was not taking place. In 6th century monks were even becoming employed in government post (Hadley 2011). This allowed the religion to spread even more in China and into Korea. During the later part of the 6th century, Korean monks traveled to China to learn of the Buddhist teachings of the Chinese schools and brought them back to Korea. At the end of the 7th century all three kingdoms were united under the rulers of Sillia (Buddha Dharma 2008).

Under the royal rule, they created many monasteries, paintings, and relics. The Koreans created wooden printing blocks, this is when Buddhism really hit it’s height in the 13th century. In the 14th century, Buddhism went under suppression in Korea under the new rule of the Yi Dynasty (Kitinov 2010). It also lost major support when Confucianism became the state religion. Under the suppression monks were not allowed to enter the capital, land was taken away from them, and they closed and abolished monasteries. The collapse of the Yi Dynasty eventually came and Korea came under the rule of Japanese control in the 20th century (Kitinov 2010).

The Japanese installed their own form of Buddhism into Korea. It has been very successful in restoring the Buddhist community in Korea. Buddhism began in Japan in the 6th century. This began when the king of Packche want to establish relations with Japan. He sent images of the Buddha and texts as well to Japan (Buddha Dharma 2008). The Japanese soon started mixing it in with their Shinto beliefs. Real credit to the establishment of growth of the religion in Japan belongs to Prince Shotoku. In the 7th century, Prince Shotoku wrote the first constitution which promote social values in the Buddhist religion (Kitinov 2010).

During his time, many monasteries and pictures were created. The Nara period, the 8th century, was a time when more temples were being built, scriptures being translated, and chinese school being instituted into Japan. One school in particular was the school of Tian-tai, due to the vast amount of building ranging near 3,000 and the number of monks that were estimated to be around 30,000 (Buddha Dharma 2008). This really helped Buddhism flourish during this time period. Buddhist monks were even taking political roles on during this time.

The Kamakura period was a time of political shift as a group of warriors known as Samurai had taken over in the 12th century. Different sections of Buddhism arose from the new power. Jodo Shinshu, Nichiren, and Zen were the main sects that arose. Jodo Shinshu was not favored by the warriors as monks objected this sect. Honen, who taught Jodo Shinshu was forced into exile (Buddha Dharma 2008). As was the same for Nichiren, who founded Nichiren, was sent into exile and after his death his religion gained popularity among the people. Zen, however, was very popular with the warriors. Zen is actually Japanese version of Chan Buddhism.

Reasons why it was so popular with warriors is because it has strict discipline on the body and the mind. However, in the 16th century Buddhism fell out of favor with the military. Many temples were destroyed and strict rules were placed among the Buddhist over the next three centuries (Kitinov 2010). During this time many Buddhist fled this area and went on to spread Buddhism in other parts of the world. The sects still remain and Buddhism did prevail during this time period. The main spread of Buddhism from Japan though took place in the 20th century, when US soldiers took their new wife home from Japan (Hadley 2011).

In 1853, the first Buddhist temple was constructed in San Francisco California, in what is now know as present day Chinatown. This occurred at the end of the California Gold Rush, which began in 1848 and ended in 1855. Eight temples were built in the “Gold Mountain” region by 1875, the most in any region of the US during this time. However in 1875, the spread of Buddhism had reached the state of New York, but not of the Mahayana branch that was in California but of the Hinayana (Pluralism Project 2016). Henry Olcott and Helena Blavatsky created the Theosophical Society.

They both took the five precepts in Sri Lanka were the Hinayana still is popular. In 1881, Olcott went on to create the Buddhist Catechism, which became very popular throughout the world, however it did somewhat come with a consequence even though it was not directly related (Pluralism Project 2016). In 1882, with immigration of Chinese very high at this time into the United States, the Chinese Exclusion Act was created to ban Chinese immigration into the United States for the purpose of concern that “racial purity” was decreasing in America. Even though the population of chinese America was only . 02 percent of the population at that time (Pluralism Project 2016).

It wasn’t until 1943 until the Act was finally repealed. The Act did prove effective as the Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, and other Easterner populations declined sharply. This did not stop the spread of Buddhism across America. It was until the 1900’s when Buddhism started to spread in America again mainly dominated by the Japanese. Starting back in 1869, the first Japanese immigrants arrived in America. They came to California in an effort to cultivate silkworms, but their efforts failed (Hadley 2011).

By 1900 there were over 24,000 Japanese immigrants living in the United States However with Chinese Exclusion Act taking place until the 1943, it wasn’t until after the World War II with Japan that the immigration of the Japanese took place (Hadley 2011). Mainly because American troops were coming back to their new Japanese bride. The first major Japanese event that took place in the 1900’s was actually just a couple years earlier 1898. During this year the first Japanese Buddhist organization was created in the United States.

This branch of Buddhism called Jodo Shinshu spread very fast along west coast, as many as 6 new temples popped up in a 3 year span, going all the the way up the coast to Washington (Pluralism Project 2016). This is now known as the Buddhist Churches of America, the largest Buddhist organization serving Japanese Americans. A euro-american group took interest in the Jodo Shinshu branch of the Buddhist religion, but went off and created their own version with similar ideas known as the Dharma Shinshu (Pluralism Project 2016).

This was the first non-asian Buddhist association known in America. In 1912, Shingon Koyasan was established in Los Angeles by a group of Japanese Buddhist. This is one of the rarest branches of Buddhism in America as only 5 temples are found throughout the United States. The theory people have to why this the Shingon did not advance very far in the America is due to Vajrayana was the last and final text to come out of India allowing other eastern hemisphere countries like Japan to adopt earlier branches of Buddhism.

In 1927, the beginning of the Zen Buddhism started in America. It started by the Soto Zen Missions group establishing their headquarters in Los Angeles, a dominant place for Buddhism during this time (Pluralism Project 2016). A few years later in 1931 the Zen Buddhist society built their first Zen Institute in New York, New York. They also went on to built a temple in San Francisco where they would go on to teach Euro-Americans about Zen Buddhism in the 1960’s. However, the growth of Zen Buddhism came to a halt in the 1942 (Pluralism Project 2016).

Two months after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order that removed 120,000 Japanese Americans, into camps where they remained until the end of World War II (Hadley 2011). This was for their own protection against angry Americans. Buddhist priests, Zen teachers and other community leaders were among the first evacuated. It wasn’t until 1950 that Zen began to gain popularity again and that is all thanks to a man named D. T. Suzuki. Suzuki did 14 years of translating Taoist and Buddhist writings into introductory text into the Mahayana (Pluralism Project 2016).

His writings and seminars were also very popular and his mediation in Beats Zen. Five years later the first public reading of Beats Zen poem was read in San Francisco. This was said to be the beginning of the Beats Zen Movement (Pluralism Project 2016). Around this period of time many books, came out about Beats Zen, and Zen in general. One of the books was Alan Watt’s bestseller The Way of Zen and Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, he also wrote many other books about Zen (Bielefeldt 2016).

Many Zen temples began to spring up in California at this time, not til about 10 years later when Zen temples began to pop up along the east coast (Bielefeldt 2016). Modern day Buddhism in America is fifth largest religion in America behind those of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism. It is estimated that 1. 2 million people and 40 percent of those people living in Southern California make up the Buddhist population in America. Saying that, California also has the most temples out of any state in America with 435 . Recently, many Zen Buddhist Centers have been related to scandals across the United States.

There has been over 9 sex scandals that have happened in over the last 30 years (Eck 2001). However, there has been good things that have happened recent years as well. In 2006, history was made in America as the first female monk became ordained and took vows from an American monk. Experts often ponder on why Buddhism did not advance or grown on people as much. Some believe that, the religion is too passive to public life (Eck 2001). Also believed that most people that are part of the Buddhist religion were not people that converted to it, but rather people that came into the religion was extended family.

Many new attempts to become engaged in society and make it more appealing to the public. Buddhism has traveled a long way over time from India to America, taking almost 2,000 years to do so. The religion taking on military conquest, new rulers, and restriction trying to slow it down. Buddhism continued to spread no matter what obstacle was. The religion kept prevailing and still very common today among Asia. “This is why I am continuing my travels—not to seek other, better teachings, for I know there are none, but to depart from all teachings and all teachers and to reach my goal by myself or to die” – Hermann Hesse.