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Buddhism after the Buddha – The role of Ashoka

It was after the Buddha’s death that the school of Buddhism spread slowly in India and then subsequently, throughout the world.

However, it was at the time of the Indian emperor Ashoka that Buddhism took a pace to reach its height.

After the tragic Kalinga war, Ashoka decided to follow the path of non-violence or ‘ahimsa’ and converted to Buddhism. He promoted the doctrines of Buddhism not only in his empire as Dhamma but in other regions as well. It was his promotional campaign that led to the construction of the Buddhist religious monasteries and stupas, which further facilitated the spread of Buddhism in countries like Sri Lanka, Tibet, China and Japan.

Other Schools 

It was due to the patronage provided by the rulers to Buddhism, that it was gaining popularity not only in India, but in the other places as well. The merchants, monks and pilgrims further took the wave of Buddhism as far as Arabia to the west and eastward to South East Asia.

Mahayana Buddhism, which was spreading its root in other regions after the Indian subcontinent, established a major regional centre in Gandhar(Modern Afghanistan), from where it further spread to Japan, China, Korea and Mongolia.

Bodhidharma, a Mahayana Buddhist, travelled to China from India in 475 CE and established the Chan school of Buddhism in China, which when further went to Japan, came to be known as Zen.

Another school of Buddhism, Tantaryana or Vajrayana developed in Eastern India (present Bengal and Orissa) and flourished during the period of Buddhism’s decline in India from 8th to 13th century CE. This new school though was considered to be a sub sect of the Mahayana school, but believed in different way and practices. The Tantrayana Buddhism even today facilitates an accelerated path to enlightenment to be achieved through the use of tantra techniques, which are practical aids to spiritual development and esoteric transmission.

The new thought first got spread in Tibet, Bhutan, southwest China and Mongolia by the Indian teachers, then later moved further towards Japan (Known as Shingon Buddhism) and Kalmykia, the only Buddhist state of Europe.

Buddhist Scriptures

The first disciple of Buddha, Ananda wrote down the Buddha’s thoughts and sermons after his death. These texts, known as Tripitaka or the Three baskets became the main Buddhist scriptures.

Later the Mahayanas added the ‘Lotus Sutra’ and the ‘Perfection of wisdom’, ‘Lankavatara’ and many others to the Buddhist scriptures. Similarly, the Tantrayanas also compiled the holy scriptures of the ‘Kanjur'(108 volumes), and the ‘Tanjur'(225 volumes).

Besides, the writings of the 6 Buddhist Councils are also considered as the Buddhist holy scriptures, which consists of 400 volumes.

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