Buddhism History - Ancient Times to Now
Buddhism history is, like all history, just a story.
It tells about Gotama, a warrior of the Indian Shakya tribe, who in the 5th century BC became a muni, a sage.
His devotees regarded Gotama Shakyamuni as a reincarnated Buddha, an enlightened being. In the following centuries they spread his message all over Asia.
That's the whole story, isn't it? Let's see.
The Beginning in India
Buddhism history doesn't start with the story about a warrior who became the Buddha.
Gotama lived in 5th century BC India and belonged to an Indo-Aryan tribe.
History of Buddha
- Who were the people that lived in India long before Gotama was born?
Where did they come from?
- Who were the Indo-Aryan tribesmen, who invaded northern India only 700 years before Gotama lived in the region?
The longer that history reaches back, the more imagination is necessary to make a good story out of the few facts available.
- This is true for the very early history of ancient India from about 60,000 years onwards.
The story about the last 4000 years of ancient India history includes challenging findings about the Indo-Aryan roots of today's Indian elite and middle classes.
To make the oldest stories more reliable, references, sources and some discussions about the ancient history of India are gathered in a brief overview of all the Indian stories.
The history of Buddha doesn't suffer from a lack of sources but from too many contradictory legends, that each express the truth about their respective Buddhist faction.
Religion for the World
Historical storytelling is always risky for it needs the teller to sort out information and to limit his imagination.
Fortunately the outcome doesn't need to be consistent, it just needs to be a good story.
That's especially true for the brief history of Buddhism
It's all about the transformation of an obscure 4th century BC story from the foothills of the Himalayas into the blueprint of a world religion.
At the beginning of the Common Era (CE) Buddhism was the dominant intellectual and cultural focus of philosophy and religion in Asia.
Countless Indian missionaries went abroad and Buddhists from everywhere came to India to study.
But slowly the centre of Buddhist culture shifted to South Asia and China.
Dialogue of Civilisations
Buddhist monks in China transcribed and translated thousands of Indian scriptures.
They often used misleading Taoist and Confucianist terms and patterns.
Nevertheless, many of the ancient documents of Buddhism history survived only in their Chinese translations.
But government suppression in the 9th century nearly ended Buddhism China history
It was revived in the 10th century as "Chan" (Buddhism China)
, that focused on meditation.
When Japanese monks came to study Buddhism in China in the 13th century, they pronounced the characters for 'Chan' as 'Zen'.
Later Zen Buddhism was practised by Japan's ruling class, but it was soon forgotten.
In the early 18th century it was rediscovered in Japan, defined as its national heritage and it has survived as a sterile monastic cult until today.
From the mid-20th century Japanese masters introduced Zen in Western countries.
Organised Zen today is an imitation of Japanese culture, rituals and behaviour, the most rigid spirituality in Buddhism history.
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