Buddhism Expands into Asia


The Southern Transmission

Today Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand may still be called Buddhist countries. What is locally regarded as pure form of Theravâda Buddhism has established itself strongly in all of them on a firm monastic basis with Pali as the canonical and liturgical language.

Sri Lanka

Buddhism is spread to Sri Lanka by the Indean Emperor Ashoka's Bikkhu son Mahinda: Singhalese Devanampiyatissa donated land for a Buddhist monastery near the capital Anurâdhapura: Mahâvihara. Mahinda's sister, Sanghamitta, founded an order of nuns.

During the reign of King Vattagâmani (89-77-BC) the Pali scriptures were committed to writing on palm leaves. The scholar Buddhaghosa produced the important work Visuddhimagga (Path of Purification).

Sri Lanka didn't escape the schism in the next centuries. Some of its schools were influenced by Mahâyâna and tantric developments. Finally, a council held at Anurâdhapura in 1160 finally settled the matter by surpressing all non-Theravâda schools. Claiming to the current day to be the guardians of the longest surviving continuous tradition of Buddhism, the Theravâda Buddhists of Sri Lanka are conscious of preserving the original teachings of the Buddha.

another: In the 2nd century BCE, Asoka's emissaries (perhaps including Asoka's son Mahinda) went to Sri Lanka, an island southeast of the Indian subcontinent. They were well-received by the local ruler, King Devanampiva Tissa, and Theravada Buddhism took hold there.

This is when the Mahavihara monastery, a center of Sinhalese orthodoxy, was built. It was at the Sri Lankan royal city of Anuradhapura, in about 90 BCE, that the Tripitaka was put in written form in the Pali language. Although there are other versions of the Tripitaka available, the Pali Canon is the earliest written version.

Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhism continued to flourish over the centuries, producing notable Buddhist commentators such as Buddhaghosa (4th–5th century). Although Mahayana Buddhism gained some influence at that time, Theravada ultimately prevailed, and Sri Lanka turned out to be the last stronghold of Theravada Buddhism, from where it would expand again to southeast Asia from the 11th century. http://www.religionfacts.com/buddhism/history/se_asia.htm


Buddhism started to settle in Burma - both Hînayâna and Mahâyâna - not before the 5th and 6th century AD. Tantrism also filtered down from the North and created one particularly scandulous sect, the Aris (arya: noble). An important event for the Theravâda cause was the conversion of King Anawrahta of Pagan (1044-77).

Later, both Mahâyâna and Hînayâna flourished. The most famous Burmese pagoda is the gilded Shwedagon in Rangoon (14th century). Under the rule of King Dhammaceti of Pegu (1472-92) Theravâda Buddhism became again the predominant form of Buddhism in Burma.

another:In the areas east of the Indian subcontinent (today's Burma), Indian culture strongly influenced the Mons. The Mons are said to have been converted to Buddhism around 200 BCE under the proselytizing of the Indian king Ashoka, before the scission between Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism. Early Mon Buddhist temples, such as Peikthano in central Burma, have been dated between the 1st and the 5th century CE.

The Buddhist art of the Mons was especially influenced by the Indian art of the Gupta and post-Gupta periods, and their mannerist style spread widely in Southeast Asia following the expansion of the Mon kingdom between the 5th and 8th centuries. The Theravada faith expanded in the northern parts of Southeast Asia under Mon influence, until it was progressively displaced by Mahayana Buddhism from around the 6th century CE.


Buddhism appeared first among the Mon people in the 3rd century BC by missionaries sent by Indian Emperor Ashoka. Later the Mon kingdom came under the sway of the Khmer of Kampuchea. There are traces of Mahâyâna and Hînayâna and Hinduism from this time.

The Thai people from Chinese origin firstly encountered Buddhism from Chinese origin. By the 14th century Thailand as well as neighbouring Laos promoted the Sri Lankan brand of Theravâda Buddhism. About 1361, Bikkhus including Mahâsami Sangharâja brought from Sri Lanka the "purified" form of Buddhism. Today Buddhism is still the state religion in Thailand (92% Buddhists).


During the early period Laos fell under the Khmer who probably introduced Buddhism and Brahminism. Later it became a province of Thailand and in consequence the Thai form of Sri Lankan Theravâda Buddhism came into being.


The Khmer people came under Indian cultural and religious influence and both Brahminism and Mahâyâna Buddhism were introduced. Around 9th century the Angkor culture (Angkor Wat) came into existence with Mahâyâna- Brahminical rituals. Around 13th century Theravâda Buddhism develped under Thai influence.


Buddhism is pictured by the big largest Buddhist monument in Asia: Borobodur on Java island. Buddhism came with other Indean influences to the archipelago around the 5th century AD. The Theravâda may have been favoured by the King of Stivijaya on Sumatra. But, Tantra became popular later on Java.



Based on the Buddhist Handbook, John Snelling.