Thomas A. Tweed
Buddhism arose during the fifth century BCE in what is today Nepal and northeastern India to become one of the world's first transregional religions. In crossing from one region to another, hybrid practices emerged as it made contact with other spiritual and cultural traditions. That sort of transculturation, in which both itinerant religious practices and shifting local cultures were transformed, has characterized the history of Buddhism as it moved throughout Asia and the rest of the world. By the time Buddhism died out in India during the thirteenth century, it had spread throughout almost all of southeastern, central, and eastern Asia. Buddhism was transnational and transcultural—with new hybrid rituals, institutions, artifacts, and beliefs emerging as it crossed borders and interacted with local cultures and vernacular religions. This article deals with Buddhism outside Asia, including the United States.
Richard K. Payne
This essay examines a variety of dysfunctional consequences of employing modern nation-states as the default organizing category for Buddhist studies regardless of the period being studied. Two of these consequences are directly related to one another: conflating contemporary nation-states with religious cultures, and equating religious and ethnic identities. Additionally, the organizing category tends to privilege some particular tradition as representative of or the essence of Buddhism in a specific nation-state, marking that tradition as uniquely authoritative. More broadly, research is constrained within the boundaries of nation-states, and the continuity of Buddhist traditions that cross nation-state boundaries is obscured. At the same time artificial continuities are retrospectively imposed, and the tradition comes to be defined by forms located at the center of political power. The work of four contemporary scholars is discussed as exemplifying the arguments for and value of moving away from nation-state categories. Consideration is given to the formative role of the training of missionaries and other agents of empire in the institutionalization of nation-state categories.
Donald K. Swearer
The school of Buddhism known as Theravada (Teachings of the Elders) traces its origins to the Buddha himself whose traditional birth date is 543 BCE. Classified as one of the eighteen original sects of Indian Hinayana Buddhism, Theravadins believe that the orthodoxy of their tradition was upheld by the monastic ruling council at an assembly convened at Pataliputra by the great Indian monarch, Asoka, in 247 BCE. Although Theravadins believe that their canonical scriptures in the Pali language were codified at the council of Pataliputra, the definitive Theravada commentaries were written in the fifth century CE by monks associated with the Mahavihara. Of special importance was the South Indian pandit, Buddhaghosacariya. The most widely used ritual manual throughout the Theravada tradition, the Parittapotthaka, was also compiled by monks of the Mahavihara in Anuradhapura. In the late nineteenth century, new movements within the sangha promoted various reforms in Buddhist practice. They included the Dhammayuttika sect in Thailand, the Schwegyin sect in Myanmar, and the Ramanya sect in Sri Lanka.
Buddhism, like other religions of salvation, has had two forms of global outreach. First, through its long history in South, Southeast, East, and Central Asia, Buddhism has incorporated village and perhaps even local tribal communities into its fold. This process was aided when kings became Buddhists, following the example of the model king Asoka who, at least in the self-conceptions of Buddhists, initiated a Buddhist state in India. Wherever Buddhism was established, either with royal patronage or without it, Buddhism was visibly present through its monks, monasteries, temples, and symbols of the Buddha's presence, such as the bodhi tree, stupas where relics were enshrined, and pilgrimage centers where Buddhists from different parts of the larger state or nation could congregate and give expression to a larger translocal sense of communal consciousness. This article examines the globalization of Buddhism, Buddhism during the European Enlightenment, theosophy and Mahayana, diasporas and the institution of meditative disciplines, and Buddhist meditation and rationality in a global economy.
José Ignacio Cabezón
Prior to the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet, it was already well established in neighboring regions such as India, the land of its origin, and China, where it was introduced during the Han dynasty. Up to the seventh century CE, the religion of Tibet consisted of astrological, divinatory, propitiatory, healing, exorcistic, funerary, and other rites. This amalgam of practices, especially under the pressure exercised by the introduction of Buddhism, came to be systematized into the religion known as Bon. Although there has always existed a tension in Tibet between the imported religion of Buddhism and the indigenous religion of Bon, it is also the case that each has influenced the other. In particular a good deal of the this-worldly, magical character of Tibetan Buddhism is a result of Bon influence. Tantra, the esoteric tradition of Buddhism, also had a strong magical element, and to that extent was compatible with Bon. This article discusses the transmission of Buddhism to Tibet, Mongolia, and the West, as well as the factors in the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism.