A Very Brief History of Buddhism

Two Buddhist monks, one Western, one Asian
An ancient wall mural in the Tarim Basin in China, featuring a Central Asian monk and a Chinese one.

That Buddhism is bound to perish in its encounter with Western civilization and Christianity seems a forgone conclusion. (pg. 130)

The gist of Japan: The Islands, Their People, And Missions (published 1897), Rev. B. Perry, Ph.D.

In the year 2008, the Pew Forum’s U.S Religious Landscape Survey was published with great fanfare. The results showed surprising shifts in American religious life over the past decade. One important development is that Buddhism climbed to be the 3rd most practiced religion in America below that of Christianity and Judaism. The results showed that .7%, surveyed as Buddhists, which would mean that there about 2,000,000 Buddhists in the USA.

Buddhist Faith Fellowship of Conneticut

According to the 2001 census there are 151,816 Buddhists in Britain.

BBC, 2005

It occurred to me recently, while walking to work, that Buddhism has come a long way. Buddhism began in northern India under the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, but it soon spread to Northern India, then India overall. It spread to the Greek kingdom of Bactria in modern-day Pakistan/Afghanistan, then to the Parthians, the Sogdians, the Tocharians, the Turks, to China. From China, it spread again to Korea, Vietnam and Japan. From Japan, it came to Okinawa and in modern-times to West, including the US, Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Poland, Romania and so on.1

What amazes me is how many different people from so many different regions, generations and cultures have found inspiration in the Buddha’s teachings, and how this continues today. It’s amazing how so many man and women from so many backgrounds worked so hard in ancient times to preserve and maintain the Buddha’s teachings for the next generation, so that we could benefit from them today.

Namu Shaka Nyorai

P.S. I really meant it when I said this would be a “brief” history of Buddhism. 😉

P.P.S. There are Buddhist communities in Africa too now! The world is getting a smaller and smaller.

1 I realize that I left out the entire history of both Theravada Buddhism (south-east Asia) and Tibetan/Mongol Buddhism. I simply wanted to demonstrate a single line of transmission, and did not intend to diminish the role of other branches of Buddhism.

About Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.