Buddhism is more than a religion it is a tradition that is focused on one’s own spiritual development and deep insight into the true nature of life. Buddhism originated over 2,500 years ago in 624 B.C by an Indian prince named Siddhartha Gautama. When he was 29 years old he left his palace in search of a spiritual understanding. For years he sat in meditation until he found enlightenment, or a complete awakening of his body and mind. After his profound realization of becoming enlightened, he became known as the Buddha or the awakened one.
This process of meditation helps to develop ones mindfulness and awareness and it would become a tradition that would be passed down from generation to generation. Buddhism originated in India where it thrived and over the centuries it began to spread through most of Asia (Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea, Nepal and Tibet). Buddhism slowly started coming westward when Asian Buddhist immigrants began to travel west to countries like the United States and Canada bringing their Buddhist traditions along with them.
Buddhism has spread slowly but effectively over the years through various methods and is still around to this day. Trade routes, merchants and localized support were the major factors that assisted in the spread of Buddhism across political borders to become a world religion. We as people have dealt with trading in one way or another since the beginning of time by trading with neighbors or exchanging goods with one another. The Silk Road was established around the 2nd century B.C and it was a combination of roads (or routes) on both land and sea that were used for intercultural exchanges. From the name it would seem as though this network was only a means for trading silk, but it was a vital route for more than just goods. This trading network brought about the spread of knowledge, ideas, culture, beliefs and religion. . Religion was transported along the Silk Road by the traders from different continents who participated in trade along the Silk Road. 1 Travelers became attracted to the Silk Road, not because of trade alone but also because of different forms of exchange that were taking place in the cities along the routes and many of these cities developed into hubs of culture and learning. Now people couldn’t just trade between cultures and countries without learning the language and customs of those they would be trading with so that they could negotiate appropriately with one another. Religion and the hunger for more knowledge was inspiration for people to travel along the Silk Road. Buddhist monks from China would make pilgrimages to India and would bring back sacred texts along with their travel diaries as a way to spread the word of Buddhism across different areas of the world. As the religion began to grow across the Silk Road, you would start to see Buddhist shrines, sculptures, paintings murals, monuments and temples along the routes as well. The cave temples were vital in the spread of Buddhism because the wall paintings that covered these cave temples gave us sight into an enormous amount of historical information and a chance to see the lives and cultures of a fascinating group of ancient people that lived before we did.2 With the collapse of the Tau Dynasty and the invasion of the Arabs in the western part of Asia, Buddhism began to decline. People in Central Asia began converting to Islam around the 8th century. Once people were converted, they would damage or destroy the Buddhist wall paintings or statues and abandon the Buddhist temples. 3 As stated previously, Buddhism originated with Siddhartha Gautama once he found enlightenment. He was born as a prince and was able to be kept from the sufferings of the world that others may have had to endure like sickness, hunger, aging and death. It is said that one day he left the comfort of his sheltered life as a prince and ventured out into the world around him. When he went out into the world he came in contact with a sick man, an old man and a corpse. He had never known of this before so it was very disturbing to him and it led him to believe that what he saw was a human beings undeniable fate. As he continued on this journey into the world he came across a monk and he thought this made him think of the possibilities that could be when you live a spiritual life free from the present and materialistic life that he was currently living. After that sight he decided to leave his comfortable life altogether and find a way to relieve people of their inevitable fate. For six years he tried different methods in hopes of finding the answers or enlightenment that he yearned for but nothing came to him and he began to question if he was following the right path. It is said that one day a young girl gave him some milk rice once he was out of his unconscious state and this helped remind him of his purpose and he remained committed to his path of enlightenment. One day he just woke up and found himself with the answers that he needed reaching enlightenment and from that was able to establish the basis of his teachings known to us as the Four Noble Truths. He wanted to spread his findings with the world because he believed that the journey to enlightenment is one that is personal so everyone has to find their way to the path of enlightenment on their own. With the journey being one of so much uniqueness, Buddha only shared his experiences with his followers and taught them how to meditate. The way that he was teaching was one in which people were drawn to and in turn the followers would further spread the teachings of Buddhism. Ashoka was the third emperor of the Mauryan that took over after his father, Bindusara, died and he led with an iron fist just like his predecessors. He expanded his dynasty through the use of fear and military conquests of other kingdoms.