Early Buddhism: Buddha, Dharma, Samgha
1. Myanma, Myanmar, and Burma are names used by different individuals and groups to refer to the same country. Each of these names appears at specific points in the introduction and in the essays that follow.
This book brings together a carefully selected set of fifteen essays that provide a distinctive kind of introduction to the glife of Buddhism.h These essays deal not with the development of Buddhism through history but rather with the presence of Buddhism in a number of relatively contemporary contexts. They highlight not what Buddhist texts say and what Buddhist adherents believe but rather what Buddhist practitioners actually do.
Our choice of essays has been guided by two intentions. First, we have endeavored to provide a geoculturally diverse and balanced collection. Among the fifteen essays, two countries.Japan and Thailand.provide the locale for three essays each. Tibet, Myanma(r)/Burma, and Sri Lanka provide the locale for two essays each.1 The remaining three essays concern Buddhist practices in China, Korea, and the United States. Second, we have sought to bring together a group of essays that offer concise depictions and analyses of particular practices that are intrinsic to the structure and dynamics of Buddhist life. These include such diverse items as temple architecture and iconography, consecration of sacred objects, distinctive patterns of monastic and lay behavior, communal and more personalized rituals, meditative practices, devotional expressions, and pilgrimages. They also include the construction of religio-political and religio-social hierarchies, the differentiation of
2. The disagreement between scholars who prefer the early date and those who prefer the late date remains unresolved.
3. Among the similar religious groups that developed in northeastern India at about this time, the only one that had a degree of success that in any way paralleled the success achieved by Buddhism was the Jain tradition founded by Mahavira. Jainism has persisted up to the present time in India but has not become established in any significant way outside the Indian subcontinent.
gender roles, the management of asocial behavior within society, individual life stories, and confrontations with the harsh realities of dying and death.
To creatively engage this collage of essays, a certain amount of historical background and perspective is needed. To that end, this introduction will provide basic information about the history and structure of Buddhism not included in the essays themselves. We will discuss Buddhismfs early and later development in India and its expansion into other areas of Asia and beyond. In the process, we will offer brief characterizations of the three major variants of the tradition. These are the Hinayana/Theravada branch, which has become dominant in Sri Lanka and much of mainland Southeast Asia; the Mahayana branch, which has become dominant in the Buddhist communities of East Asia; and the Esoteric branch, which has become established in Tibet and has also retained a significant presence in Japan.We will also consider the possibility of a fourth but relatively recent variant of the Buddhist tradition, aNorth American branch.
Buddhism originated in northeastern India sometime between the late sixth and early fourth centuries b.c.e.2 Though we know very little about the details of the earliest tradition, it is clear that it coalesced into a pattern quite common in that area at that particular time. This pattern centered on a wandering mendicant who renounced the lay life and acted as a teacher or master. It involved a religious message and mode of practice that the mendicant-teacher transmitted to those who would listen. And it included a community that venerated the mendicant-teacher and sought to live in accordance with the message that he taught and the mode of practice that he advocated.
Buddhism was the most successful of the several new religions that emerged in this context.3 Its founder/teacher came to be known as
4. In the general introduction and in the introductions to the particular essays, we will generally use Sanskrit rather than Pali versions of Buddhist names and terms. Exceptions will be made in certain instances in which the Pali version is obviously more appropriate to the context.
5. In this introduction, and in the essays that follow, any reference to gthe Buddhah is a reference to Gautama. When other Buddhas are intended, this will be indicated in the text.
6. These forces are often symbolized in Buddhist art and myth by the god Mara and his seductive daughters.
Sakyamuni and as the Gautama Buddha.4 He was called Sakyamuni because he was considered to be the great sage (muni) of the Sakya people. He was called the Gautama Buddha because he was a member of the Gautama clan and because his followers recognized him as one who had attained the highest religious goal of enlightenment, or Buddhahood. Though the early Buddhists recognized a plurality of Buddhas (primarily several Buddhas of the past), their attention was focused on Gautama.5 As a Buddha he came to be perceived as a mahapurusa (great person) who combined in a very distinctive way the powers, virtues, and attractions of a fully perfected yogin (meditative saint) on the one hand and of a cakravartin (a universal and righteous monarch) on the other. Early Buddhists believed that Gautamafs supreme attainment as Buddha was associated with many previous lives of preparation and with the possession of marvelous, supranormal powers and abilities. Further, these early Buddhists also held that his attainment was associated with intense meditative practices, culminating in a personal and dramatic experience of enlightenment that took place under a great bodhi tree located at a sacred site that came to be known as Bodh Gaya.
They understood that Gautama had made a profound meditational effort and that he had, by this effort, conquered the forces, especially desire, that cause rebirth and suffering.6 For these early Buddhists, Gautama had attained a penetrating insight into the structure and dynamics of reality and achieved a clear view of how life ought to be lived.
The early Buddhist communityfs memories of the Buddhafs ministry often highlighted his ability to generate, simply by the evocative power of his preaching and presence, profound religious transformations among those he encountered. They attributed to him an ability and willingness to use his marvelous and miraculous powers to convince those with whom he came into contact. And they conveyed an appealing image of a mentor with an uncanny ability to adjust his message both to the needs and to the capacities of his interlocutors. These memories also included an important account that focused on
the events surrounding the Buddhafs passing away. The most famous version is contained in the Pali Mahaparinibbana Sutta in which the Buddha is depicted as a great person who took the initiative to extend his life and influence beyond the point of his earthly demise. In anticipation of his approaching death, he assigned to his renunciant followers the responsibility for the preservation and propagation of his teachings (sometimes referred to in the later tradition as his dharmakaya, or dharma body). He then assigned to his lay followers the responsibility for preserving and caring for his relics (sometimes referred to in the later tradition as his rupakaya, or form body).
The exact character of the dharma (teaching, truth) that the early Buddhists perceived and remembered in the Buddhafs words has been very much in dispute, both within later Buddhist communities and among modern scholars. There is, however, at least one formulation that most knowledgeable Buddhists and most modern interpreters have recognized as a viable summary. This formulation is that of the four noble truths, a series of teachings that is both doctrinally and practically oriented.
The four noble truths can be stated as follows: (1) All existence (including all sentient life) is constituted by composite entities that are impermanent and subject to dissolution. Further, this impermanence and dissolution is part and parcel of a virtually endless process of birth, death, and rebirth. This process is called samsara, and dissatisfaction and suffering are intrinsic to it. (2) Desire is the primary driving force of samsara and the dissatisfying experiences that are embedded in it. Desire. above all the desire for self-preservation and self-existence.engenders mental and physical activities that lead to karmic retribution. The law of karma ensures that all deeds produce appropriate fruits that condition onefs present life, onefs future lives, and/or both. (3) Release from samsara and the desire that fuels it can be achieved. Buddhists have come to designate this state of release as nirvana. (4) The method for achieving nirvana is practicing the noble eightfold path. This path consists of right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. It is also identified as the middle way, since each of its facets stresses a mode of grighth activity that avoids an overly self-indulgent or an overly ascetic quest for ultimate happiness.
As the noble eightfold path is understood in the context of the four noble truths, it is a form of practice that leads ultimately to the attainment of nirvana. However, early Buddhists also emphasized that ordinary individuals, by following the basic components of the noble eightGENERAL
7. As far as we know, the Buddhist samgha was the first fully formed monastic community that developed anywhere in the world.
fold path, could gain more pleasurable conditions in this life and in future lives, in this world and in the world of the gods. Much like the details of the early Buddhist understandings of the dharma, the details of the structure and dynamics of community life that characterized early Buddhism are shrouded in later sectarian controversies and scholarly debates. However, it is possible to affirm with confidence that the early Buddhist community included a group of wandering mendicant renouncers (both monks and nuns) and a network of lay supporters (both male and female) with whom the renouncers had varying degrees of contact and affiliation. It is also possible to identify two very distinctive and closely correlated developments that made a crucial contribution to the success that Buddhism ultimately achieved. The first of these developments began very early, probably within the lifetime of the Buddha himself. In a process that occurred gradually, the Buddhafs renunciant followers were organized into a truly monastic order that encouraged long-term residence in settled monastic communities. This order, which came to be known as the samgha, was regulated by rules and procedures attributed to the Buddha himself. There were, of course, many Buddhist renunciants who continued to pursue a life of wandering mendicancy. However, the majority.both male and female.soon acquired affiliations with local monastic establishments.
The second directly correlated development was the emergence of an increasingly close relationship between members of the samgha and members of the laity. This development was both a cause and an effect of the increasingly settled and localized character of samgha life, and it was maintained through a carefully formulated division of responsibilities. Though there were always areas, sometimes very large, of overlap between the activities of the renunciants and those of the laity, a general distinction can be highlighted. Monks took primary responsibility for exemplifying and embodying the virtues and powers of renunciatory practice. Their task was to provide the laity with access to such virtue and power by maintaining and communicating the values of dharmic insight and scholarship and by offering themselves as charismatic repositories of the Buddhafs presence. As their contribution, the members of the laity took primary responsibility for the material support of the religion (including but not limited to the support of the renunciants) as well as for the establishment and maintenance of dharmic order and well-being in secular society.
8. Though the name Hinayana is obviously a pejorative termcoined by the opposition, there is no viable substitute. Some scholars have used the term Sravakayana (the Vehicle of the Disciples), but this has never been widely accepted. Many others have employed the term Theravada, but this kind of usage invites serious confusion. As we shall see below, Indian Developments: Hinayana, Mahayana, Esoteric Within the first century or two after the Buddhafs death, the religion that he founded acquired a distinctive identity and spread well beyond the confines of its original homeland in northeastern India. In the middle years of the third century b.c.e., a major breakthrough occurred when King Asoka (ca. 270 .30) became a public supporter. Asoka ruled over the first truly pan-Indian empire, and his words and actions.inscribed and reported on stone pillars scattered throughout his empire.greatly aided the Buddhist cause. After his death, he became the protagonist in many widespread Buddhist legends. These legends provided images of Buddhist kingship that had a major impact on the complex and often very close relationship that persisted between Buddhist communities and royal authority.
Buddhism remained one of the major religions in India from the time of Asoka until about the thirteenth century c.e. During this period, Buddhism also spread out from the subcontinent and became a great pan-Asian religion that held sway in many royal and intellectual centers in many different regions. Yet despite the fact that Buddhism was expanding and becoming adapted to its many new geocultural environments, India retained a very important role. It was recognized as Buddhismfs place of origin, where the holy sites associated with the life of the Buddha could be visited. And it was also recognized as a primary locus of Buddhist creativity. In fact, it was in post-Asokan India that the three major branches of the Buddhist tradition originated and took on many of their most basic characteristics.
Tendencies that later developed into the first two major branches of Buddhism were present from very early on. However, these tendencies did not generate separate and distinctive traditions until well after Asokafs reign. It was sometime around the advent of the Common Era when a definite though still fluid division began to emerge. One group of renouncers and lay supporters retained a very strong continuity with the mainstream monastic schools that had developed during the first several centuries following the Buddhafs death. This group came to be known as the adherents of the Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle.8 A second Theravada is the self-designation that has been adopted by one particular school among the many that are encompassed within the broader Hinayana rubric. According to the ancient tradition, around the beginning of the Common Era eighteen different schools were considered to be within the Hinayana orbit.
group of renouncers and lay supporters adopted a more innovative approach to recapture what they took to be the true intention of the Buddha and his message. They identified themselves as the adherents of the Mahayana, or Great Vehicle. Variations within both groups, as well as changes that occurred over the course of time, make generalizations difficult. However, several important differences can be identified. The adherents of the Hinayana schools were characterized by a strong focus on the central significance of the Gautama Buddha. The most important stories that they told were about him, including stories about his previous lives and his relics.
Many of the most significant meditations that they practiced involved remembering his person and deeds. And a wide variety of rituals that they performed.especially the veneration of his relics and images.evoked a sense of his continuing power and presence. It is true that most Hinayana schools took serious account of Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future. In fact, various forms of Hinayana practice grew up around the expectation of the day when, far in the future, Maitreya would descend from his present abode in the Tusita heaven to reestablish the religion in all its purity. However, Maitreyafs significant role within the Hinayana community never seriously challenged the primacy of Gautama.
The adherents of the various Hinayana schools also continued to recognize the authority and the completeness of two collections of the Buddhafs teaching that had been passed down within the well-established monastic communities. One collection, the Sutra Pitaka, consisted primarily of sermons. The other collection, the Vinaya Pitaka, included the rules and procedures governing the samgha. In addition, most of the Hinayana schools developed their own collections of scholastic doctrinal formulations.formulations that characteristically made a clear ontological distinction between samsaric realities on the one hand and nirvana and Buddhahood on the other. These so-called Abhidharma collections came to serve as the third of the Three Baskets (the Tripitaka) that most Hinayana schools recognized as the full and authentic rendition of the Buddhafs teaching.With the passage of time, the Hinayanists developed commentaries and other textual genres that enabled them to extend and adapt their understandings and practices in light of changing conditions. However, adherents of the Hinayana traditions maintained
9. The context within which the Mahayana tradition emerged remains obscure. Some scholars have suggested that the place to look is the component of the renunciant community that maintained the practice of wandering rather than settled living (the so-called forest monks) and/or the communities of monks and laypeople that gathered around the early Buddhist stupas (funerary mounds that often housed relics of the Buddha). Others have focused on the mainstream monastic schools that had the closest affinity to the kind of orientation that became fully differentiated in the Mahayana context. their distinctively conservative ethos through their continued recognition of the ultimate authority of the words of the Gautama Buddha as they were remembered in the Tripitaka.
The Hinayana understanding of the ultimate goal of the religious life was also quite conservative. Though the possibility of attaining Buddhahood was never theoretically denied, the goal on which Hinayanists focused was the attainment of the status of an arhat. The arhat was a fully perfected renunciatory saint who achieved nirvana by practicing the path set forth by Gautama in the sutras and in the vinaya regulations. Non-Hinayanists often criticized the attainment of arhatship as a selfish and therefore inappropriate goal; but Hinayanists consistently maintained that the quest for arhatship transformed one into a rich gfield of merith that others could use to facilitate their own spiritual progress. For the most part, the adherents of the Mahayana branch of the Buddhist community did not reject the tradition of their Hinayana co-religionists. Rather, they incorporated the Hinayana heritage into a more diverse and encompassing orientation.
Though evaluations of the Hinayana approach (and particular versions of that approach) varied greatly among them, Mahayanists generally asserted that Hinayanists adhered to a lesser vehicle that had real but limited value.9 For Mahayana adherents, Gautama retained a key role as the founder of the Buddhist tradition. However, within the Mahayana perspective the immediate importance and relevance of many other Buddhas were recognized. These included many great celestial Buddhas who were accessible to Buddhist practitioners and thus played a significant role in the life of the Buddhist community. In addition, the Mahayanists recognized the existence and importance of a significant number of great celestial bodhisattvas who were given a status virtually equivalent to the status of fully realized Buddhas. These great bodhisattvas were beings who had.according to the Mahayana accounts.progressed virtually to the end of the path that leads to Buddhahood. Yet they had resisted entrance into nirvana so that they could continue their work for the salvation of all sentient beings.
The emergence of a clearly differentiated Mahayana branch of Buddhism was also marked by the appearance of a new kind of sutra attributed to Gautama. Unlike the sutras that made up the Sutra Pitaka recognized by the Hinayana schools, these new Mahayana sutras were purportedly preached at special times to special audiences that included only the most intimate and adept earthly disciples. These new Mahayana sutras were very diverse, not only in terms of the different Buddhas and bodhisattvas that they featured but also in terms of the various doctrinal positions that could be deduced from them.
Despite their great diversity, Mahayana sutras tended to assume or affirm that the characteristics of the great Buddhas and bodhisattvas were, in one way or another, congruent with the characteristics of the entire universe or the cosmos itself. This affirmation was closely correlated with the Mahayana doctrinal emphasis that samsara and nirvana were not ontologically separate realities. In fact, for the enlightened, samsara and nirvana were identical in that both were ultimately characterized by voidness or emptiness.
The emphasis on the immanence of the great Buddhas and bodhisattvas and the correlated emphasis on the absence of an ontological difference between samsara and nirvana both contributed to another distinctive aspect of the Mahayana tradition: Mahayana teachers tended to recognize many sources and methods of spiritual assistance for all people, but especially for persons of relatively low spiritual attainment.
The new Mahayana sutras, in addition to presenting significant Buddhological and doctrinal innovations, also set forth a new religious goal. While the Hinayanists considered this goal to be quite unrealistic and presumptuous, Mahayanists considered it to be much superior to the Hinayana goal of attaining arhatship. This new Mahayana goal was that of becoming a fully enlightened Buddha. Thus, all truly serious Mahayana adherents.renunciants and members of the laity alike. were expected to take up the practice of the bodhisattva path that focused on the attainment of Buddhahood. In some Mahayana contexts this was dramatized and ritualized through the taking of bodhisattva vows that involved a specific affirmation of the intention to work for the salvation of all sentient beings.
Many of the elements and tendencies that became primary characteristics of the third major branch of Indian Buddhism, the Esoteric tradition, were present from the early years of Buddhist history. These elements and tendencies were maintained within a variety of Buddhist contexts, especially among forest monks. But it was not until the fourth
10. Scholars continue to disagree about the extent to which sexual references in tantric texts should be interpreted metaphorically and the extent to which they were intended to be taken literally.
11. Though it is possible to distinguish between more spiritual goals and more mundane goals, it is important to recognize that in most Buddhist approaches the two are closely related. This is especially true in the Esoteric context, in which the acquisition of magical power is given special prominence.
to sixth centuries c.e. that a clearly differentiated Esoteric pattern began to emerge on the fringes of the Mahayana community. During the centuries that followed, the Esoteric branch became an important component in many forms of Buddhist monastic and social life, both inside and outside India. In India, the Esoteric tradition came to be known by several names including Vajrayana, Mantrayana, and Tantrayana. Within the Esoteric context, Mahayana Buddhology was both affirmed and extended by the inclusion of new Buddhas and other important figures, including some who were feminine and some who appeared in fierce or threatening guises.
Mahayana doctrine was basically accepted but was given a distinctive twist through the particular emphasis placed on the claim that samsaric reality consisted of illusions that were directly generated by various dichotomies and oppositions. Among the dichotomies and oppositions that Esoteric practitioners sought to overcome were those between male and female, good and evil, and samsara and nirvana.
However, the crucial innovation that marked the differentiation of the Esoteric tradition from the Mahayana tradition was the appearance of a new genre of Buddhist texts called tantras as well as the use of meditative techniques and ritual practices associated with these texts. These tantras and their associated techniques and practices were taken to constitute an essential component of the message of the Gautama Buddha that neither the Hinayana nor the Mahayana traditions had seen fit to properly maintain. Further, the tantric meditative techniques and ritual practices were believed to be especially effective in cultivating spiritual and magical power and often involved activities that required the violation of the traditional rules of Buddhist ethics including.in some cases.sexual ethics.10 Some were extremely sophisticated and complex and were intended to facilitate the rapid achievement of very advanced mystical goals and even Buddhahood itself. Others were aimed at the achievement of very mundane, this-worldly objectives.11
The Esoteric tantras and practices were closely associated with the extension and intensification of the relationship.significant in all Buddhist traditions.between a spiritually accomplished master and his dis
12. This new Buddhist movement was brought into being through the conversion, in 1956, of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who was an important leader of the so-called scheduled castes. Many of his followers converted with him, and during the last four to five decades, the group has grown to include well over a million adherents (some responsible estimates go as high as two million).
ciples. In the Esoteric context, those who were recognized as masters were considered to have reached extraordinary levels of spiritual attainment and to have at their disposal enormous resources of spiritual and magical power. These resources were seen as crucial because many if not most tantras were intentionally written so that they were very difficult to comprehend. In fact, many were written so that only a person who had reached a very high level of spiritual attainment and insight could uncover and transmit their meanings. Highly personalized guidance, often by a master who was viewed as a living Buddha,h was considered a necessary prerequisite for the effective understanding and practice of what could otherwise be quite dangerous studies and activities. This need for proper guidance by the spiritual master was thus believed to be applicable for all practitioners, regardless of the spiritual or mundane objective at hand.
From the scant information that is available, it seems that the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Esoteric branches of Buddhism continued to coexist in India right up to the early years of the thirteenth century. At that time, the last major strongholds of Indian Buddhism succumbed to the combined force of Hindu competition and Muslim invasion. After the thirteenth century a few pockets of Buddhist presence were left in various parts of the subcontinent; and in recent years there has been an interesting new Buddhist movement that has attracted a significant number of converts from the lowest echelons of Hindu society. 12 However, the major Buddhist communities that have persisted to the twentieth century have been Buddhist communities in other areas of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia
As Indian Buddhism spread throughout Asia, it took on distinctive forms in different geographical and cultural regions. The Sri Lanka/mainland Southeast Asia form persists in the areas now called Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. It is closely identified with a particular Hinayana tradition known as the Theravada, or Way of the Elders.h The East Asian form endures in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. It is
13. The reader should understand that the boundary between these religio-cultural forms of Buddhism are often blurred and do not correspond in any exact way with the boundaries of contemporary political units.
closely identified with Mahayana Buddhism and an East Asian version of the Esoteric tradition that continues to coexist with it in the Shingon and Tendai schools in Japan. The Tibetan form is currently practiced in the areas now identified as Tibet, Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan, and in pockets of India. This Tibetan form is closely identified with a rather different version of the Esoteric tradition often referred to as Vajrayana, or the Thunderbolt Vehicle.1
The expansion of Indian Buddhism into Sri Lanka and mainland Southeast Asia began very early. An inscription of King Asoka asserts that he commissioned Buddhist emissaries to travel to many areas of the Indian subcontinent as well as to areas of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. There is strong evidence that these emissaries did arrive in Sri Lanka and that a Buddhist community was established in the capital city of Anuradhapura. In Southeast Asia, the situation is less clear.However, there are long-standing local traditions claiming that Asokan emissaries did arrive in southern Myanmar and that they did succeed in establishing a Buddhist community among the local inhabitants.
In Sri Lanka there has been a more or less continuous development of the Buddhist community that was established at the time of the Asokan mission. In Southeast Asia the beginnings of a more or less continuous Buddhist history are associated with archaeological remains in southern Myanmar that date from the third to fourth centuries c.e. From the time that these Buddhist communities in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia were first established through the end of the first millennium c.e., they maintained close relations with one another and with their counterparts in India. They continued to use the classical Indian languages Sanskrit and Pali (related to Sanskrit) for religious purposes. And these communities came to include practitioners of Hinayana, Mahayana, and Esoteric traditions.
Despite close similarities with the Indian Buddhist community, the Buddhist communities that developed in Sri Lanka and mainland Southeast Asia produced their own particular characteristics and emphases. Perhaps the most distinctive development during the first millennium c.e. was the clear emergence within the Hinayana tradition of a Theravada school that used Pali as its sacred language. In Sri Lanka, the Theravadins had their major center at the great Mahavihara monastery originally founded in Anuradhapura at the time of Asoka. They created and
14. Many modern scholars have accepted as historically accurate not only the Theravada account that tells of the writing down of the Tripitaka in the first century b.c.e. but also the Theravada claim that this was the first time that the Tripitaka tradition (previously memorized and transmitted orally) had been committed to writing. preserved a written Pali version of the Tripitaka, and they produced an extensive tradition of commentaries on virtually all of the Tripitaka texts.14 In addition, they became engaged in an ongoing series of complicated interactions with Sinhalese kings fromwhomthey often (though not always) received royal support. Although our knowledge of the contemporaneous Buddhist developments in mainland Southeast Asia is much more fragmentary, it is clear that a parallel Theravada tradition was established, primarily among the Mon peoples who lived in southern Myanmar and central Thailand.
During the early centuries of the second millennium c.e..as Buddhism in India collapsed and virtually disappeared.Buddhists in Sri Lanka and mainland Southeast Asia set out on their own independent course, embarking on a process of transforming the received tradition and adapting it to its new situation. This process, spearheaded by reform- minded kings, resulted in the reconstitution of the Theravada tradition and in the eventual establishment of that tradition as the dominant religious force in both these areas. This newly reconstituted Theravada tradition included a number of strands that were often in tension with one another. It included an orthodox component that was conservative and tended to receive special support from kings who desired to exercise greater control over the religion. It included a new emphasis on the use of vernacular languages and on the closely correlated extension of Buddhism beyond the royal courts and great monasteries into the countryside and into the lives of ordinary villagers.
It also included many elements that it had inherited from the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Esoteric traditions that had previously coexisted with it. This new Theravada tradition achieved a dominant position in Sri Lanka and Myanmar in the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries, and it soon spread into other areas of mainland Southeast Asia. In the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, it became firmly established in the religious landscape of Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. In Thailand, it was adopted by the Thai people, who were in the process of imposing their control over an older Mon population that had been Buddhist for some time. In Cambodia, it gradually displaced the Hindu and Mahayana traditions that had prevailed in the previously great kingdom of Angkor. In Laos, it was entrenched in an area populated by a
15. The countries where this generalization is most problematic are Cambodia and Laos. The communist governments that took power in these countries in the mid 1970s instituted policies designed to downgrade or eliminate Buddhist influence. At first these communist governments (particularly the genocidal Pol Pot regime, which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979) seemed to be succeeding. However, Buddhism has persisted in both countries and in recent years seems to be regaining at least some of the ground that it lost. people closely related to the Thai. All these developments also affected the Theravada ethos itself by giving it a flavor associated with local histories and local cultural characteristics.
During the modern period, the Theravada tradition has been seriously challenged by colonialism, by modern modes of thought, and by postcolonial traumas such as violent ethnic conflict (Sri Lanka), military/ socialist rule (Myanmar), rapid capitalist development (Thailand), and radical communist revolution (Cambodia and Laos). But in each of these five countries where they constitute a majority of the population, the Theravadins have adapted more or less successfully to changing conditions. 15 Despite the differences in the challenges that have been faced and the kinds of adaptations that have been made, many of the basic characteristics of the Theravada ethos have not been compromised. All across the Theravada world the religious primacy of the Gautama Buddha is still affirmed, the authority of the Pali textual tradition is still widely recognized, and the use of Pali as a sacred and transcultural language is still retained.
Central and Eastern Asia
The transmission of Indian Buddhism to Central and Eastern Asia began in a serious way before the beginning of the Common Era. Already in Asokan times an important Buddhist community had been established in northwestern India in the area now called Pakistan. This area was at the Indian end of trade routes that extended northward into Central Asia and then eastward all the way to China. Many of the merchants who traveled along these long and arduous routes were Buddhists, and many Buddhist monks joined them on their journeys. Gradually Buddhist communities developed in the various kingdoms that had grown up at various points along the way. By the second half of the first century c.e., there is evidence that Buddhists had already established a presence as far east as China.
During the next eight centuries (roughly from 65 c.e. to 840 c.e.)
the development of Buddhism in China was both highly impressive and extremely complex. In the early years, Buddhism was closely associated with the indigenous Taoist tradition and in some contexts appears to have been viewed as a Taoist sect. However, with the collapse of the great Han empire (206 b.c.e. to 220 c.e.), Buddhism began to attract increasing interest. Vast arrays of Buddhist texts were translated from Sanskrit into Chinese.a task that was made extremely challenging by the radical difference between the two languages. By the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, as Buddhist ideas became more effectively interpreted in Chinese terms, Chinese Buddhists began to compose Buddhist texts of their own and to develop distinctively Chinese Mahayanist schools. These schools included some that were characterized by complex systems of Mahayana philosophy, such as the Tien-tai and the Hua-yen. They also included some that involved an emphasis on particular forms of Mahayana practice, such as the Pure Land school, which focused on devotion, and the Chfan school, which was especially concerned with meditation. In the late sixth century, when China was once again unified as it had been under the Han, Buddhism became a favored religion of the court. Two major developments took place in Chinese Buddhism during the period that stretched between the high-water mark of Buddhist creativity and influence (roughly 850 c.e.) and the serious intrusion of modernity (roughly 1850 c.e.).
The first development was a reconfiguration of the Chinese Buddhist community. During this reconfiguration, the more philosophically oriented schools tended to gradually disappear from the scene, while the more popular and practice-oriented Pure Land and Chfan schools emerged with the strongest sense of identity. The second development was the gradual intermingling of Buddhism with the traditions of the Confucians and the Taoists and with Chinese popular religion. This intermingling created both philosophical systems and religious practices that incorporated important Buddhist elements but could not be identified with Buddhism as such.
Chinese Buddhism, in addition to generating its own very distinctive Buddhist traditions, also passed on those traditions to other areas of East Asia. Though Buddhism reached Vietnam at about the same time that it became established in the Chinese heartland,Vietnamese Buddhists have been.throughout their long history.deeply influenced by Buddhist texts and practices that originated in China. Korean Buddhists, who received their traditions directly from China in the late fourth century and possibly earlier, also cultivated a creative interaction with their Chinese co-religionists that lasted throughout the entire premodern period.
16. The Tien-tai/Tendai school is generally considered to be a Mahayana school, but in Japan it has come to include a number of important Esoteric elements as well. At a somewhat later date (the middle centuries of the first millennium c.e.), Chinese Buddhism was transmitted to Japan, at first via Korea and soon thereafter through direct contacts. In Japan, Chinese Buddhism was gradually transformed into a tradition displaying many characteristics that were very distinctively Japanese. In the Nara (710 . 84) and Heian (794 .1185) periods, several of the schools that had already developed in China were established and adapted in Japan. In the case of the Esoteric Shingon (Chinese Chen-yen) and the primarily Mahayana Tendai (Chinese Tien-tai) schools, texts and practices were brought from China by two Japanese monks, Kukai and Saicho. These monks were subsequently venerated and in some contexts virtually deified by their Japanese followers.
Several of these Japanese schools, including Shingon and Tendai, have persisted up to the present time. The Buddhist schools that became the most popular in Japan emerged in the context of a major transformation that occurred in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. During this period several charismatic monks established new sects that attracted many adherents and deeply influenced subsequent developments in Japanese culture, society, and politics. These still-influential sects include two important Zen (Chinese Chfan) sects founded by Eisai (Rinzai) and Dogen (Soto); major Pure Land sects founded by Honen (the Jodoshu or Jodo sect) and Shinran (the Jodo Shinshu or Shin sect); and an often militantly nationalistic sect founded by and named after Nichiren.
During the modern period, Buddhism has fared quite differently in various parts of East Asia. In mainland China, Vietnam, and North Korea, local Buddhist communities remained basically intact through the colonial period; and in some areas.most notably China.they engaged in serious efforts to bring about modernist reforms. However, the last several decades in China, North Korea, and Vietnam have witnessed the rise of communist governments that have severely oppressed Buddhist practitioners and institutions. Local Buddhist communities have managed to survive in many of these areas; but they have been so severely weakened that their future remains very clouded indeed. In Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan the challenges that Buddhists have faced have been quite different both in kind and in severity.
Japanese Buddhist communities suffered serious repression during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At that time, the Meiji government sought to restore the power and rule of the emperor, to mobilize the nation, and to achieve rapid modernization. In the process, it promoted Shinto as the state religion. (Shinto is an indigenous religion of Japan predating the arrival of Buddhism.) With the passage of time the situation improved, and the established Buddhist sects were once again allowed to carry on with their activities. Then, after World War II, a number of Japanese-initiated, Buddhist-oriented gnew religionsh such as Reiyukai and Soka Gakkai gained large numbers of converts and became significant forces in many aspects of Japanese life. In Taiwan and South Korea, local Buddhists have encountered stiff challenges from Christian competitors, but they have managed to keep their traditions fairly well intact and to introduce significant innovations as well.