1/14/10 - buddhism in afghanistan

In today's encore excerpt - from modest beginnings in India in the sixth century BCE, Buddhism had spread through Asia, and along with it arose a vast chain of Buddhist monasteries that by the seventh century CE provided commercial and diplomatic links throughout the Asian world. This network of monasteries extended from Persia (Iran) and Afghanistan through the steppe country to India, China, Korea and Japan, and then south to Java (Indonesia). Some monasteries housed more than 10,000 monks. Yet within a century, most Indian kings were patronizing Hindu gods and temples and Buddhism began to disappear from the country of its origin, though it continued to flourish elsewhere:

"In Buddhism, the individual monk was responsible for his own progress toward enlightenment. It was up to him to seek knowledge, study, and find the correct path. In [the sixth century CE] the institutional structure for this search was the chain of monasteries across much of China. ...

'Buddhism spread steadily within India and out from India along both land and maritime trade routes. By the first centuries of the Common Era, Buddhism was the predominant religion in the sprawling Kushan Empire that stretched from Central Asia through Pakistan and Afghanistan to the plains of India. Monasteries were an important part of every oasis town on the caravan routes from Afghanistan to China. Some monasteries were built in isolated places to accommodate caravans whose traders in turn donated money for their upkeep. Along water routes, Buddhism spread from India to Sri Lanka, into Southeast Asia, and eventually reached coastal China. ...

"Buddhist monasteries provided practical benefits for both a king and his subjects. The chain of monasteries was an infrastructure that promoted trade. Wherever Buddhism flourished traders were prominent patrons of shrines and monasteries. One incarnation of the Buddha, the compassionate Avalokiteshvara, became a kind of patron saint of traders and travelers. In a world of disease and death, monasteries were also repositories of medical knowledge. ...

"Everywhere Buddhism flourished, it was supported by royal and noble patronage, supplemented by pious women and traders. Across the chain of Buddhist institutions moved teachers, ritual objects, texts, medicines, ideas, and trade. Curiosity and hospitality were hallmarks of the system. Although specific practices might differ, all Buddhist travelers, whether monk or layman, found similar settings and symbols in Buddhist monasteries and rest houses."


Stewart Gordon


When Asia Was the World: Traveling Merchants, Scholars, Warriors, and Monks Who Created the "Riches of the East"


Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Books Group


Copyright 2008 by Stewart Gordon


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