Buddhism Q&A (6)
By Householder Fo'en
Q21 : Please describe briefly the history of the development of Buddhism in India?
A: The Buddha taught the Dharma differently to sentient beings, according to their disparate natures and inclinations. Their capabilities, preferences and practice methods were also different. Their understanding of the same teaching also varies. Therefore, during the long process of Buddhism's dissemination, various groups that propagated the Dharma evolved their own lineages.
About a hundred years after the Buddha's nirvana, the Buddhist community became divided into two major sects: Theravada and Mahasamghika. The Theravada focused on the practice of mediation, with comprehensive and stringent disciplines. The Mahasamghika stressed extensive learning and hearing the Dharma. It sought to convert more sentient beings with simpler and more accommodating disciplines.
In the next 300 years, Buddhism spread ever more widely. In order to integrate with local conditions and customs, the Theravada and Mahasamghika progressively divided into about 20 subgroups.
In the 3rd century B.C.E., Ashoka, the third king of Magadha's Maurya Dynasty (322-185 B.C.E.), became the first monarch to unify India. Witnessing the devastation caused by his war to conquer the southern kingdom of Kalinga, Asoka felt deep remorse. He held a number of long conversations with an eminent Buddhist monk. Afterwards, he decided to convert to Buddhism. He sent missionaries, including his son and daughter, to propagate Buddhism in various places. Due to Ashoka's efforts, Buddhism spread from the Ganges River region not only all over India, but also to many foreign countries. At that time, Buddhism reached as far as Myanmar to the east, Sri Lanka to the south, and Syria, Egypt and Greece to the west.
It is said that during the time of First Emperor of Qin, 18 monks from India, headed by Shilifang, visited China to propagate Buddhism. There is no record of this in official history, but First Emperor and Ashoka were contemporaries. It is possible that Ashoka sent missionaries to China.
n the 300 years after Ashoka's dedicated dissemination, Buddhism spread widely in Central Asia and to China in the east. The areas it covered continued to expand. But in India itself, Buddhism met with great misfortune. Less than 50 years after Ashoka passed away, his Peacock Dynasty was replaced by the Shunga Dynasty (187-78 B.C.E.). King Pusyamitra, who usurped the throne with the help of a Brahmin state preceptor, embraced Brahmanism and rigorously suppressed Buddhism. He destroyed stupas and viharas, slaughtered Buddhist monks and plunged Indian Buddhism into a dark age. Fortunately, the jurisdiction of the Shunga Dynasty was restricted to central India.
- Recitation of Amitabha’s name, relying on his Fundamental Vow (the 18th)
- Rebirth of ordinary beings in the Pure Land’s Realm of Rewards
- Rebirth assured in the present lifetime
- Non-retrogression achieved in this lifetime
The 18th Vow of Amitabha Buddha
If, when I achieve Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, wish to be reborn in my land and recite my name, even ten times, should fail to be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excepted are those who commit the five gravest transgressions or slander the correct Dharma.
Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings