Spread of Buddhism
Buddhism is a Western term, which became popular in the 19th century to refer to the teaching of the Buddha. There is no direct equivalent for this term in the Buddhist sources where terms like “the Teaching of the Buddha”, “the Word of the Buddha” and “the Doctrine of the Buddha” are used instead.
Indian Buddhism developed in three main stages, each of them containing a great diversity of schools and practices:
In the first 400 years after the Buddha’s death, a diversity of early Buddhist schools developed in India. The only one to have survived down to modern times is Theravada (the Teaching of the Elders). It is characterized by its Pali Canon, the earliest complete set of Buddhist scriptures.
A major movement in Buddhist tradition called Mahayana (The Great Vehicle) began c.2nd century CE and reinterpreted fundamental doctrines of earlier schools. It placed great emphasis on the twin values of wisdom (Prajna) and compassion (Karuna) and included the Bodhisattva (Enlightenment being) who sacrifices the attainment of their own Nirvana to devote themselves to the services and liberation of others.
Around the 7th century CE, a special path called Tantric Buddhism (also Vajrayana, – Diamond Vehicle or Mantrayana – Mantra Vehicle) arose within Mahayana Buddhism. It claimed to provide a quicker, alternative path to Enlightenment through lay practitioners, rather than monks and nuns. Buddhism mostly disappeared from India c.12th century CE, but remains the most important Indian influence on the rest of Asia and can be found in the following areas:
The Theravada school (with elements of Mahayana) is present in Burma, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and partly in India, Nepal, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Bangladesh. It has the oldest Buddhist Canon composed in Pali language.
The Chinese version of Mahayana school (with elements of Tantric Buddhism) is found in China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam. It has a Buddhist Canon in the Chinese language.
Tantric Buddhism (the late version of the Mahayana), is present in Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan, Northern Nepal and some provinces of the Russian Federation. It has a Buddhist Canon in Tibetan and Mongolian languages.
Buddhism had very early contacts with western cultures from individuals such as Alexander the Great (4th century BCE) and the Greek King Menander (1st century CE), but its study by western academics did not begin until c.1800. It now flourishes around the world, as a religion/philosophy/way of life. Since the 1960s, western Buddhism has grown enormously becoming one of the fastest growing religions in Australia.