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  • The Spread of Buddhisms, Part 1

    From South Asia to China

    Tansen Sen

    Baruch College, The City University of New York

  • Key Issues

    Many Buddhisms and piecemeal transmissions

    The economics of Buddhisms State formation and Buddhisms The hopping and circulatory itineraries The Buddhist cosmopolis: multiple centers

    and peripheries

  • Basic Timeline

    c.1500-1000 BCE: Formation of Brahmanism

    c.1000-500 BCE: Migration towards Ganges, followed by urbanization around River

    Ganges, and the formation of jatis.

    c. 400 BCE: Buddha and other critics of Brahmanism

    c. 3rd century BCE: Reign of King Ashoka and the spread of Buddhism in southern Asia

    1st century BCE-1st century CE: spread of Buddhism to Han China

    c. 1st-3rd centuries CE: Kushans and the creation of Buddhist networks; spread to Burma

    c.280-550: The Gupta Empire, deurbanization, revival of Brahmanism; spread to Korea

    5th century: The establishment of the Nalanda University

    c. 7th century: The emergence of vajrayana (esoteric Buddhism); spread to Japan and Tibet

    12th century: Destruction of Buddhist institutions in parts of India

    13th century: Localization in all part of Buddhist world; spread to Iran

  • The Early Spread of Buddhisms

    Missionary work

    State patronage

    Links to merchant communities

    The urban-monastic connections: A Parasitic relationship?

  • Caratha bhikkhave carikam bahujanahitaya bahujanasukhaya lokanukampaya ... Ma ekena dve agamittha. Desetha bhikkhave dhammam ... Aham pi bhikkhave yena Uruvela yena Sananigamo

    Go ye now, O Bhikkhus, and wander, for the gain of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, for the gain, and for the welfare of gods and men, Let not two of you go the same way, Preach, O Bhikkhus, the doctrine which is glorious in the beginning, glorious in the middle, glorious at the end, in the spirit and in the letter; proclaim a consummate, perfect, and pure life of holiness. There are beings whose mental eyes are covered by scarcely any dust, but if the doctrine is not preached to them, they cannot attain salvation. They will understand the doctrine. And I will go also, O Bhikkhus, to Uruvel, to Senninigama, in order to preach the doctrine.

    Mahavagga 1.11.1

  • A hundred years after my nirvana, there will be a king by the name of Aoka in the city of Paaliputra. He will be a cakravartin king and rule over one of the four continents, and he will construct eighty-four thousand stupas for the enshrinement of my relics.

    Ayuwang jing (T. 2043) c. 184BCE/Tr.506-524CE

  • Buddhisms and Trade Routes

  • Buddhisms and Trade

    Urbanization in the Gangetic region, c. 600 BCE

    The Buddhas association with traders and wealthy individuals

    Interdepended relationship: donations, spiritual support, transportation, commercial enterprise, trade routes and monastic institutions

    The development of Avalokitesvara (later, Guanyin) cult, popular among the merchant communities/travelers

  • Place of Birth

    Place of Enlightenment

    Site of First Teaching

    Site of Nirvana

  • Buddhisms in Foreign Lands

    Royal/ Official Transmissions to Sri Lanka and China King Devanampiya Tissa in Sri Lanka

    Emperor Wu of Han China

    The Contribution of Itinerant Traders

    The Role of Images and Misperceptions

    Missionary and Translation Work

  • The Children of Ashoka and the Conversion of Tissa (c. 250 BCE)

  • The Mahavamsa

    THE great thera Mahinda, of lofty wisdom, who at that time had been twelve years (a monk), charged by his teacher and by the brotherhood to convert the island of Lak, pondered on the fitting time (for this) and thought: `Old is the king Mutasiva; his son must become king.

    The great Indra sought out the excellent thera Mahinda and said to him: `Set forth to

    convert Lanka; by the Sam buddha also hast thou been foretold (for this) and we will be those who aid thee there.

    So truly as the great Bodhi-tree shall go hence to the isle of Lak, and so truly as I shall stand unalterably firm in the doctrine of the Buddha, shall this fair south branch of the great Bodhi-tree, severed of itself, take its place here in this golden vase.'

    Then the great Bodhi-tree severed, of itself, at the place where the line was, floating above the vase filled with fragrant earth. Above the line first (drawn) the ruler of men drew, at (a distance of) three finger-breadths, round about ten (further) pencil-strokes. And ten strong roots springing from the first and ten slender from each of the other (lines) dropped down, forming a net.

    Thus with a hundred roots the great Bodhi-tree set itself there in the fragrant earth, converting the people to the faith. Ten cubits long was the stem; five lovely branches (were thereon), each four cubits long and (each) adorned with five fruits, and on these branches were a thousand twigs. Such was the ravishing and auspicious great Bodhi-tree.

  • Not only Theravadin Sri Lanka

  • Issue Two: Diffusion or Long-Distance Transmission?

  • Problems with Contact Expansion

    Evidence for Buddhist practices in China predates the evidence from Central Asia

    Evidence for Buddhist practices in China predates the evidence from Southeast Asia

    Evidence of transmission from China to Central and Southeast Asia

  • Networks and

    Segmented and/or long-distance (trading, migratory, financial, etc.)

    Circulatory, never unidirectional or one-off

    Depended on modes of transportation, geographical terrains, navigational knowhow, political patronage, economic feasibility, social or cultural relationship, and other factors

    Often overlapping with other networks, connected to feeder and auxiliary routes, local and overseas markets, etc.

    Must be seen as having multiple identities, with regard to people involved, commodities traded, and ideas transmitted

  • Buddhist Networking

    Use of existing networks, both segmented and long-distance, by monks

    Facilitated the creation of new networks

    through pilgrimage, monastic-building, and political/diplomatic activities

    Supported networks of learning and

    knowledge May not have received universal support from

    every network operator



    The dream of Emperor Ming of the Han Dynasty, leading to the arrival of the first Indian monks, and the establishment of the first Buddhist monastery in East Asia (the White Horse/Baima Monastery)

    The Role of Central Asia as the staging point of Buddhist transmission to China

    The use of Daoist terminology in early

    Buddhist translations

    The decline of Buddhism in China after 845

  • Emperor Wudi Worshiping Buddha

    White Horse Monastery


  • Linking India and China through Buddhisms

    The early connections between urbanization, trade, and

    the spread of Buddhisms (artifacts as well as ideas)

    Translation, compilation, reinterpretation activities

    Pilgrimages and missionary work Networks facilitating long-distance transmission of

    Buddhism Creating a Buddhist identity for Asia

  • Buddhisms in Han China

    1st Century BCE?: Transmission of images directly from southern Asia to China (long-distance rather than contact expansion), in disorganized instead of in an organized way, and perhaps before the chaos marking the end of the Eastern Han dynasty in late-2nd-early 3rd century or dissatisfaction with Confucian teachings.

    65 CE: Buddhist terms known to the Han court

    c. 65 CE: Possible presence of Buddhist monks and laypeople in Pengcheng/Luoyang

    Han China (by the third century CE): Early amalgamation of indigenous and Buddhist ideas, especially at the folk level (Mount Kongwang, Han Tombs)

  • Interior of Cave IX, Ma Hao, Sichuan Province

  • Seated Buddha in Cave IX, Ma Hao, Sichuan Province. Dated to the late 2nd-first half of 3rd century

  • Seated Buddha and two attendants, Late Han Tomb at Pengshan, Sichuan Province

  • Buddhist engravings on Mount Kongwang

  • Donor figures, Mount Kongwang

    The parinirvana of the Buddha,

    Mount Kongwang

  • Early Buddhist Sites in China

  • The Maritime Buddhist Network: The Land-Sea Connections

    Mount Kongwang evidence (2nd-3rd century CE)

    Kang Senghui (d. 280), grew up and became a monk in Jiaozhi, and travelled to the court of Sun Quan (222-52). Father a Sogdian seafaring trader who migrated to the Jiaozhi region from India.

    Travels of South Asian, including Kashmiri, monks to China (Guangzhou and Nanjing): Jivaka and Kumara in the 3rd century, Buddhajiva, Gunavarman, Gunabhadra and others in the 4th-5th century.

    The pilgrimage of Faxian to India in the 5th century (and the role of Southeast Asia in the Buddhist interactions between India and China)

  • Factors Contributing to the Successful

    Spread of Buddhist ideas to China

    Misconceived notion of the Buddha and Buddhism

    Early amalgamation with folk beliefs and art

    Political support by rulers such as Liang Wudi

    Flexibility with which Buddhism could be practiced and the doctrines modified

    The multiethnic nature of transmission and ama


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