Buddha is Born

500 BCE Jan 1
, Lumbini

The Buddha (also known as Siddhattha Gotama or Siddhārtha Gautama or Buddha Shakyamuni) was a philosopher, mendicant, meditator, spiritual teacher, and religious leader who lived in Ancient India (c. 5th to 4th century BCE). He is revered as the founder of the world religion of Buddhism, and worshipped by most Buddhist schools as the Enlightened One who has transcended Karma and escaped the cycle of birth and rebirth. He taught for around 45 years and built a large following, both monastic and lay. His teaching is based on his insight into duḥkha (typically translated as "suffering") and the end of dukkha – the state called Nibbāna or Nirvana.

Codification of Buddhist teaching

Codification of Buddhist teaching

400 BCE Jan 1
, Bihar

First Buddhist Council at Rajgir, Bihar, India; teachings and monastic discipline agreed to and codified. The first Buddhist council is traditionally said to have been held just after Buddha's Parinirvana, and presided over by Mahākāśyapa, one of his most senior disciples, at Rājagṛha (today's Rajgir) with the support of king Ajātasattu. According to Charles Prebish, almost all scholars have questioned the historicity of this first council.

First Schism

First Schism

383 BCE Jan 1
, India

After an initial period of unity, divisions in the sangha or monastic community led to the first schism of the sangha into two groups: the Sthavira (Elders) and Mahasamghika (Great Sangha). Most scholars agree that the schism was caused by disagreements over points of vinaya (monastic discipline). Over time, these two monastic fraternities would further divide into various Early Buddhist Schools.

Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty

Buddhism spreads

269 BCE Jan 1
, Sri Lanka

During the reign of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka (273–232 BCE), Buddhism gained royal support and began to spread more widely, reaching most of the Indian subcontinent. After his invasion of Kalinga, Ashoka seems to have experienced remorse and began working to improve the lives of his subjects. Ashoka also built wells, rest-houses and hospitals for humans and animals. He also abolished torture, royal hunting trips and perhaps even the death penalty. Ashoka also supported non-Buddhist faiths like Jainism and Brahmanism. Ashoka propagated religion by building stupas and pillars urging, among other things, respect of all animal life and enjoining people to follow the Dharma. He has been hailed by Buddhist sources as the model for the compassionate chakravartin (wheel turning monarch). King Ashoka sends first Buddhists to Sri Lanka in the third century.

Another feature of Mauryan Buddhism was the worship and veneration of stupas, large mounds which contained relics (Pali: sarīra) of the Buddha or other saints within. It was believed that the practice of devotion to these relics and stupas could bring blessings. Perhaps the best-preserved example of a Mauryan Buddhist site is the Great Stupa of Sanchi (dating from the 3rd century BCE).

Buddhism in Vietnam

Buddhism in Vietnam

250 BCE Jan 1
, Vietnam

There is disagreement on when exactly Buddhism arrived in Vietnam. Buddhism may have arrived as early as the 3rd or 2nd century BCE via India, or alternatively during the 1st or 2nd century from China. Whatever the case, Mahayana Buddhism had been established by the second century CE in Vietnam. By the 9th century, both Pure Land and Thien (Zen) were major Vietnamese Buddhist schools. In the southern Kingdom of Champa, Hinduism, Theravada, and Mahayana were all practiced until the 15th century, when an invasion from the north led to the dominance of Chinese-based forms of Buddhism. However Theravada Buddhism continues to exist in the south of Vietnam. Vietnamese Buddhism is thus very similar to Chinese Buddhism and to some extent reflects the structure of Chinese Buddhism after the Song Dynasty. Vietnamese Buddhism also has a symbiotic relationship with Taoism, Chinese spirituality and the native Vietnamese religion.

Kanishka inaugurates Mahayana Buddhism

Mahayana Buddhism spreads to Central Asia

150 BCE Jan 1
, Central Asia

The Buddhist movement that became known as Mahayana (Great Vehicle) and also the Bodhisattvayana, began sometime between 150 BCE and 100 CE, drawing on both Mahasamghika and Sarvastivada trends. The earliest inscription which is recognizably Mahayana dates from 180 CE and is found in Mathura.

The Mahayana emphasized the Bodhisattva path to full Buddhahood (in contrast to the spiritual goal of arhatship). It emerged as a set of loose groups associated with new texts named the Mahayana sutras. The Mahayana sutras promoted new doctrines, such as the idea that "there exist other Buddhas who are simultaneously preaching in countless other world-systems". In time Mahayana Bodhisattvas and also multiple Buddhas came to be seen as transcendental beneficent beings who were subjects of devotion. Mahayana remained a minority among Indian Buddhists for some time, growing slowly until about half of all monks encountered by Xuanzang in 7th-century India were Mahayanists. Early Mahayana schools of thought included the Mādhyamaka, Yogācāra, and Buddha-nature (Tathāgatagarbha) teachings. Mahayana is today the dominant form of Buddhism in East Asia and Tibet.

Central Asia was home to the international trade route known as the Silk Road, which carried goods between China, India, the Middle East and the Mediterranean world. Buddhism was present in this region from about the second-century BCE. Initially, the Dharmaguptaka school was the most successful in their efforts to spread Buddhism in Central Asia. The Kingdom of Khotan was one of the earliest Buddhist kingdoms in the area and helped transmit Buddhism from India to China. King Kanishka's conquests and patronage of Buddhism played an important role in the development of the Silk Road, and in the transmission of Mahayana Buddhism from Gandhara across the Karakoram range to China. Mahayana Buddhism spreads to Central Asia.

An illustration in a manuscript of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, depicting the bodhisattva Maitreya, an important figure in Mahāyāna.

Rise of Mahayana Buddhism

100 BCE Jan 1
, India

Mahāyāna is a term for a broad group of Buddhist traditions, texts, philosophies, and practices. Mahāyāna is considered one of the two main existing branches of Buddhism (the other being Theravada). Mahāyāna Buddhism developed in India (c. 1st century BCE onwards). It accepts the main scriptures and teachings of early Buddhism, but also adds various new doctrines and texts such as the Mahāyāna Sūtras.

Blue-eyed Central Asian monk teaching East-Asian monk, Bezeklik, Turpan, eastern Tarim Basin, China, 9th century

Buddhism first enters China

50 BCE Jan 1
, China

Chinese Buddhism or Han Buddhism has shaped Chinese culture in a wide variety of areas including art, politics, literature, philosophy, medicine and material culture.

Buddhism was first introduced to China during the Han Dynasty (202 BCE–220 CE). The translation of a large body of Indian Buddhist scriptures into Chinese and the inclusion of these translations (along with Taoist and Confucian works) into a Chinese Buddhist canon had far-reaching implications for the dissemination of Buddhism throughout the East Asian cultural sphere, including Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Chinese Buddhism also developed various unique traditions of Buddhist thought and practice, including Tiantai, Huayan, Chan Buddhism and Pure Land Buddhism.

Portrait of the Great Master Seosan

Buddhism introduced in Korea

372 Jan 1
, Korea

When Buddhism was originally introduced to Korea from Former Qin in 372, about 800 years after the death of the historical Buddha, shamanism was the indigenous religion. The Samguk yusa and Samguk sagi record the following 3 monks who were among the first to bring Buddhist teaching, or Dharma, to Korea in the 4th century during the Three Kingdoms period: Malananta - an Indian Buddhist monk who came from Serindian area of southern China's Eastern Jin Dynasty and brought Buddhism to the King Chimnyu of Baekje in the southern Korean peninsula in 384 CE, Sundo - a monk from northern Chinese state Former Qin brought Buddhism to Goguryeo in northern Korea in 372 CE, and Ado - a monk who brought Buddhism to Silla in central Korea. As Buddhism was not seen to conflict with the rites of nature worship, it was allowed by adherents of Shamanism to be blended into their religion. Thus, the mountains that were believed by shamanists to be the residence of spirits in pre-Buddhist times later became the sites of Buddhist temples.

Though it initially enjoyed wide acceptance, even being supported as the state ideology during the Goryeo (918-1392 CE) period, Buddhism in Korea suffered extreme repression during the Joseon (1392-1897 CE) era, which lasted over five hundred years. During this period, Neo-Confucianism overcame the prior dominance of Buddhism.

Vajrayana adopted deities such as Bhairava, known as Yamantaka in Tibetan Buddhism.


400 Jan 1
, India

Vajrayān, along with Mantrayāna, Guhyamantrayāna, Tantrayāna, Secret Mantra, Tantric Buddhism, and Esoteric Buddhism, are names referring to Buddhist traditions associated with Tantra and "Secret Mantra", which developed in the medieval Indian subcontinent and spread to Tibet, Nepal, other Himalayan states, East Asia, and Mongolia.

Vajrayāna practices are connected to specific lineages in Buddhism, through the teachings of lineage holders. Others might generally refer to texts as the Buddhist Tantras. It includes practices that make use of mantras, dharanis, mudras, mandalas and the visualization of deities and Buddhas. Traditional Vajrayāna sources say that the tantras and the lineage of Vajrayāna were taught by Śākyamuni Buddha and other figures such as the bodhisattva Vajrapani and Padmasambhava. Contemporary historians of Buddhist studies meanwhile argue that this movement dates to the tantric era of medieval India (c. 5th century CE onwards).

According to Vajrayāna scriptures, the term Vajrayāna refers to one of three vehicles or routes to enlightenment, the other two being the Śrāvakayāna (also known pejoratively as the Hīnayāna) and Mahāyāna (a.k.a Pāramitāyāna). There are several Buddhist tantric traditions that are currently practiced, including Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Esoteric Buddhism, Shingon Buddhism and Newar Buddhism.

A painting by G.B. Hooijer (c. 1916–1919) reconstructing the scene of Borobudur, during its heyday.

Southeast Asian Buddhism

400 Jan 1
, South East Asia

From the 5th to the 13th centuries, South-East Asia saw a series of powerful states which were extremely active in the promotion of Buddhism and Buddhist art alongside Hinduism. The main Buddhist influence now came directly by sea from the Indian subcontinent, so that these empires essentially followed the Mahāyāna faith. Examples include mainland kingdoms like Funan, the Khmer Empire and the Thai kingdom of Sukhothai as well as Island kingdoms like the Kalingga Kingdom, the Srivijaya Empire, Medang Kingdom and Majapahit.

Buddhist monks traveled to China from the kingdom of Funan in the 5th century CE, bringing Mahayana texts, a sign that the religion was already established in the region by this point. Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism were the main religions of the Khmer Empire (802–1431), a state that dominated most of the South-East Asian peninsula during its time. Under the Khmer, numerous temples, both Hindu and Buddhist, were built in Cambodia and in neighboring Thailand. One of the greatest Khmer kings, Jayavarman VII (1181–1219), built large Mahāyāna Buddhist structures at Bayon and Angkor Thom.

In the Indonesian island of Java, Indianized kingdoms like the Kalingga Kingdom (6–7th centuries) were destinations for Chinese monks seeking out Buddhist texts. The Malay Srivijaya (650–1377), a maritime empire centered on the island of Sumatra, adopted Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism and spread Buddhism to Java, Malaya and other regions they conquered.

First Zen patriarch Bodhidharma arrives in China

First Zen patriarch Bodhidharma arrives in China

520 Jan 1
, China

In the 5th century, the Chán (Zen) teachings began in China, traditionally attributed to the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, a legendary figure.The school heavily utilized the principles found in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, a sūtra utilizing the teachings of Yogācāra and those of Tathāgatagarbha, and which teaches the One Vehicle to buddhahood. In the early years, the teachings of Chán were therefore referred to as the "One Vehicle School." The earliest masters of the Chán school were called "Laṅkāvatāra Masters", for their mastery of practice according to the principles of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. The principal teachings of Chán were later often known for the use of so-called encounter stories and koans, and the teaching methods used in them. Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty, known as the Chan School, and later developed into various schools.

Ippen Shōnin Engi-e

Buddhism enters Japan from Korea

538 Jan 1
, Nara

Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th century by Korean monks bearing sutras and an image of the Buddha and then traveling by sea to the Japanese archipelago. As such, Japanese Buddhism is strongly influenced by Chinese Buddhism and Korean Buddhism.

During the Nara Period (710–794), emperor Shōmu ordered the building of temples throughout his realm. Numerous temples and monasteries were built in the capital city of Nara, such as the five-story pagoda and Golden Hall of the Hōryū-ji, or the Kōfuku-ji temple. There was also a proliferation of Buddhist sects in the capital city of Nara, known as the Nanto Rokushū (the Six Nara Sects). The most influential of these being the Kegon school (from the Chinese Huayan).

During the late Nara, the key figures of Kūkai (774–835) and Saichō (767–822) founded the influential Japanese schools of Shingon and Tendai, respectively. An important doctrine for these schools was hongaku (innate awakening or original enlightenment), a doctrine which was influential for all subsequent Japanese Buddhism. Buddhism also influenced the Japanese religion of Shinto, which incorporated Buddhist elements.

During the later Kamakura period (1185–1333), there were six new Buddhist schools founded which competed with the older Nara schools and are known as "New Buddhism" (Shin Bukkyō) or Kamakura Buddhism. They include the influential Pure Land schools of Hōnen (1133–1212) and Shinran (1173–1263), the Rinzai and Soto schools of Zen founded by Eisai (1141–1215) and Dōgen (1200–1253) as well as the Lotus Sutra school of Nichiren (1222–1282).

The central deity of the Cakrasaṃvara Tantra, which according to scholars like David B. Gray and Alexis Sanderson, appropriated numerous elements from nondual Shaiva Tantra

Tibetan Buddhism: First Dissemination

600 Jan 1
, Tibet

Buddhism arrived late in Tibet, during the 7th century. The form that predominated, via the south of Tibet, was a blend of mahāyāna and vajrayāna from the universities of the Pāla empire of the Bengal region in eastern India. Sarvāstivādin influence came from the south west (Kashmir) and the north west (Khotan). Their texts found their way into the Tibetan Buddhist canon, providing the Tibetans with almost all of their primary sources about the Foundation Vehicle. A subsect of this school, Mūlasarvāstivāda was the source of the Tibetan Vinaya. Chan Buddhism was introduced via east Tibet from China and left its impression, but was rendered of lesser importance by early political events.

Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures from India were first translated into Tibetan under the reign of the Tibetan king Songtsän Gampo (618-649 CE). This period also saw the development of the Tibetan writing system and classical Tibetan.

In the 8th century, King Trisong Detsen (755-797 CE) established it as the official religion of the state, and commanded his army to wear robes and study Buddhism. Trisong Detsen invited Indian Buddhist scholars to his court, including Padmasambhāva (8th century CE) and Śāntarakṣita (725–788), which are considered the founders of Nyingma (The Ancient Ones), the oldest tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Padmasambhava who is considered by the Tibetans as Guru Rinpoche ("Precious Master") who is also credied with building the first monastery building named Samye, around late 8th century. According to some legend, it is noted that, he pacified the Bon demons and made them the core protectors of Dharma Modern historians also argue that, Trisong Detsen and his followers adopted Buddhism as an act of international diplomacy, especially with the major power of those times such as China, India and states in Central Asia - who had strong Buddhist influence in their culture.

Painting of Xuanzang. Japan, Kamakura Period (14th century)

Xuanzang Pilgrimage

629 Jan 1 - 645
, India

Xuanzang, also known as Hiuen Tsang, was a 7th-century Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveler, and translator. He is known for the epoch-making contributions to Chinese Buddhism, the travelogue of his journey to India in 629–645 CE, his efforts to bring over 657 Indian texts to China, and his translations of some of these texts.

Theravada Buddhism established in Southeast Asia

Theravada Buddhism established in Southeast Asia

1000 Jan 1
, Southeast Asia

Starting at around the 11th century, Sinhalese Theravāda monks and Southeast Asian elites led a widespread conversion of most of mainland Southeast Asia to the Sinhalese Theravāda Mahavihara school. The patronage of monarchs such as the Burmese king Anawrahta (Pali: Aniruddha, 1044–1077) and the Thai king Ram Khamhaeng (flourit. late 13th century) was instrumental in the rise of Theravāda Buddhism as the primary religion of Burma and Thailand.

Tibetan Buddhism: Second Dissemination

Tibetan Buddhism: Second Dissemination

1042 Jan 1
, Tibet

The late 10th and 11th centuries saw a revival of Buddhism in Tibet with the founding of "New Translation" (Sarma) lineages as well as the appearance of "hidden treasures" (terma) literature which reshaped the Nyingma tradition.

In 1042, the Bengali master Atiśa (982-1054) arrived in Tibet at the invitation of a west Tibetan king. His chief disciple, Dromton founded the Kadam school of Tibetan Buddhism, one of the first Sarma schools.. Atiśa, helped in the translation of major Buddhist texts such as Bka'-'gyur (Translation of the Buddha Word) and Bstan-'gyur (Translation of Teachings) helped in disseminating the values of Buddhism in powerful state affairs as well as in the Tibetan culture. The Bka'-'gyur has six main categories in the book:

  1. Tantra
  2. Prajñāpāramitā
  3. Ratnakūṭa Sūtra
  4. Avatamsaka Sutra
  5. Other sutras
  6. Vinaya.

The Bstan-'gyur is a compilation work of 3,626 texts and 224 volumes which basically encompass texts of hymns, commentaries and tantras.

The end of Buddhist Monks, A.D. 1193

Demise of Buddhism in India

1199 Jan 1
, India

The decline of Buddhism has been attributed to various factors. Regardless of the religious beliefs of their kings, states usually treated all the important sects relatively even-handedly. According to Hazra, Buddhism declined in part because of the rise of the Brahmins and their influence in socio-political process. According to some scholars such as Lars Fogelin, the decline of Buddhism may be related to economic reasons, wherein the Buddhist monasteries with large land grants focussed on non-material pursuits, self-isolation of the monasteries, loss in internal discipline in the sangha, and a failure to efficiently operate the land they owned. Monasteries and institutions such as Nalanda were abandoned by Buddhist monks around 1200 CE, who flee to escape the invading Muslim army, after which the site decayed over the Islamic rule in India that followed.

Zen in Japan

Zen in Japan

1200 Jan 1
, Japan

Zen, Pure Land, and Nichiren Buddhism established in Japan. Another set of new Kamakura schools include the two major Zen schools of Japan (Rinzai and Sōtō), promulgated by monks such as Eisai and Dōgen, which emphasize liberation through the insight of meditation (zazen). Dōgen (1200–1253) began a prominent meditation teacher and abbot. He introduced the Chan lineage of Caodong, which would grow into the Sōtō school. He criticized ideas like the final age of the Dharma (mappō), and the practice of apotropaic prayer.

1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago

Resurgence of Buddhism

1900 Jan 1
, United States

The resurgence of Buddhism can be attributed to several factors, including:

  • Immigration: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was an influx of Asian immigrants to Western countries, many of whom were Buddhist. This brought Buddhism to the attention of Westerners and led to the establishment of Buddhist communities in the West.
  • Scholarly Interest: Western scholars began to take an interest in Buddhism in the early 20th century, leading to the translation of Buddhist texts and the study of Buddhist philosophy and history. This increased understanding of Buddhism among Westerners.
  • Counterculture: In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a counterculture movement in the West characterized by anti-establishment sentiment, a focus on spirituality and personal growth, and an interest in Eastern religions. Buddhism was seen as an alternative to traditional Western religions and attracted many young people.
  • Social Media: With the advent of the internet and social media, Buddhism has become more accessible to people around the world. Online communities, websites, and apps have provided a platform for people to learn about Buddhism and connect with other practitioners.

Overall, the resurgence of Buddhism in the 20th century has led to the establishment of Buddhist communities and institutions in the West, and has made Buddhism a more visible and accepted religion in Western societies.


References for History of Buddhism.

  • Beal, Samuel (1884). Si-Yu-Ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World, by Hiuen Tsiang. 2 vols. Translated by Samuel Beal. London. 1884. Reprint: Delhi. Oriental Books Reprint Corporation. 1969
  • Beal, Samuel (1884). Si-Yu-Ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World, by Hiuen Tsiang. 2 vols. Translated by Samuel Beal. London. 1884. Reprint: Delhi. Oriental Books Reprint Corporation. 1969
  • Eliot, Charles, "Hinduism and Buddhism: An Historical Sketch" (vol. 1–3), Routledge, London 1921, ISBN 81-215-1093-7
  • Keown, Damien, "Dictionary of Buddhism", Oxford University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-19-860560-9
  • Takakusu, J., I-Tsing, A Record of the Buddhist Religion : As Practised in India and the Malay Archipelago (A.D. 671–695), Clarendon press 1896. Reprint. New Delhi, AES, 2005, lxiv, 240 p., ISBN 81-206-1622-7.