Timeline of Buddhism

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  • 563 BCE: Siddhattha Gotama, Buddha-to-be, is born in Lumbini into a leading family in the republic of the Sakyas, which is now part of Nepal.
  • 534 BCE: Prince Siddhattha goes outside the palace for the first time and sees The Four Sights: an old man, an ill man, a dead man, and a holy man. He is shocked by the first three; he did not know what age, disease, and death were; but is inspired by the holy man to give up his wealth. He leaves his house and lives with three ascetics. However, he wants more than to starve himself, so he becomes a religious teacher.
  • 528 BCE: Siddhattha attains Enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, then travels to a deer park in Sarnath, India, and begins expounding the Dhamma.
  • 528 BCE Trapusha and Bhallika, two trader-brothers from Okkala, offer the Buddha's first meal as the enlightened Buddha. The Buddha gives eight strands of his hair to the two brothers; the strands are brought back to Burma and enshrined in the Shwedagon Pagoda.
  • 483 BCE: Buddha dies ('attains parinibbana') at Kushinagar, India. Three months following his death, the First Buddhist council is convened at Rajagaha, India.
  • 383 BCE: The Second Buddhist council is convened by King Kalasoka and held at Vaisali.
  • 250 BCE: Third Buddhist council, convened by King Ashoka and chaired by Moggaliputta Tissa, compiles the Kathavatthu to refute the heretical views and theories held by some Buddhist sects. Ashoka issues a number of edicts (Edicts of Ashoka) about the kingdom in support of Buddhism.
  • 250 BCE: Emperor Ashoka the Great sends various missions to faraway countries, as far as China and the Mon people and Malay kingdoms in the east and the Hellenistic kingdoms in the west, in order to make Buddhism known to them.
  • 250 BCE: First fully developed examples of Kharosthi script date from this period, the Ashoka inscriptions at Shabazgarhi and Mansehra District, a northwestern Indian subcontinent.
  • 250 BCE: Emperor Ashoka builds the Maha Bodhi Temple. In later centuries it will be destroyed from invading armies, but rebuilt and renovated throughout to its current state.
  • 247 BCE: King Ashoka sends his son, Ven. Mahinda, on a mission to bring Buddhism to Sri Lanka. King Devanampiya Tissa of Sri Lanka is converted.
  • 240 BCE: Ven. Mahinda establishes the Mahavihara (Great Monastery) of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. The Vibhajjavadin community living there becomes known as the Theravadins. Mahinda compiles the first of the Tipitaka commentaries, in the Sinhala language. Mahinda's sister, Ven. Sanghamitta, arrives in Sri Lanka with a cutting from the original Bo tree, and establishes the bhikkhuni sangha in Sri Lanka.
  • 200s BCE: Indian traders regularly visit ports in Arabia, explaining the prevalence of place names in the region with Indian or Buddhist origin; e.g., bahar (vihara, a Buddhist monastery). Ashokan emissary monks bring Buddhism to Suwannaphum, the location of which is disputed. The Dipavamsa and the Mon people believe it was a Mon seafaring settlement in present-day Burma.
  • 185 BCE: Brahman general Pusyamitra Sunga overthrows the Mauryan dynasty and establishes the Sunga dynasty, apparently starting a wave of persecution against Buddhism.
  • 180 BCE: Greco-Bactrian King Demetrius I of Bactria invades India as far as Pataliputra and establishes the Indo-Greek kingdom, under which Buddhism flourishes.
  • 150 BCE: Indo-Greek king Milinda converts to Buddhism under the sage Nagasena, according to the account of the Milindapanha.
  • 120 BCE: The Chinese Emperor Han Wudi (87 BCE) receives two golden statues of the Buddha, according to inscriptions in the Mogao Caves, Dunhuang.
  • 1st century BCE: The Indo-Greek governor Theodorus enshrines relics of the Buddha, dedicating them to the deified "Lord Shakyamuni."
  • 100 BCE: According to the Sinhalese chronicles, the Pali Canon is written down in the reign of King Vaṭṭagamiṇi during the Fourth Buddhist council.
  • 2 BCE: The Hou Hanshu records the visit in 2 BCE of Yuezhi envoys to the Chinese capital, who give oral teachings on Buddhist sutras.

Common Era

  • 65: Liu Ying's sponsorship of Buddhism is the first documented case of Buddhist practices in China.
  • 67: Buddhism comes to China with the two monks Moton and Chufarlan.
  • 68: Buddhism is officially established in China with the founding of the White Horse Temple.
  • 100: Theravada Buddhism first appears in Burma and Central Thailand.
  • 148: An Shigao, a Parthian prince and Buddhist monk, arrives in China and proceeds to make the first translations of Theravada texts into Chinese.
  • 300s: Two Chinese monks take scriptures to the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo and establish papermaking in Korea.
  • 320-467: The University at Nalanda grows to support 3,000 to 10,000 monks.
  • 399-414: Fa Xian travels from China to India, then returns to translate Buddhist works into Chinese.
  • 400s: The kingdom of Funan (centered in modern Cambodia) begins to advocate Buddhism in a departure from Hinduism. Earliest evidence of Buddhism in Burma (Pali inscriptions). Earliest evidence of Buddhism in Indonesian (statues). The stupa at Dambulla (Sri Lanka) is constructed.
  • 450: Ven. Buddhaghosa collates the various Sinhala commentaries on the Canon; drawing primarily on the Maha Atthakatha (Great Commentary) preserved at the Mahavihara; and translates them into Pali. This makes Sinhala Buddhist scholarship available for the first time to the entire Theravadin world and marks the beginning of what will become, in the centuries to follow, a vast body of post-canonical Pali literature. Buddhaghosa also composes his encyclopedic, though controversial, meditation manual Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification). Vens. Buddhadatta and Dhammapala write additional commentaries and sub-commentaries.
  • 415: The Buddhist university, Nalanda flourishes in India and is one of the oldest universities of any type.
  • 425: Buddhism reaches Sumatra.
  • 495: The Shaolin Monastery and temple is built in the name of Buddhabhadra, by edict of emperor Wei Xiao Wen.
  • 485: Five monks from Gandhara travel to the country of Fusang (Japan, or possibly the American continent), where they introduce Buddhism.
  • 500s: Zen adherents enter Vietnam from China. Jataka stories are translated into Persian by order of the Zoroastrian king, Khosrau I of Persia.
  • 527: Bodhidharma settles into the Shaolin monastery in Henan province of China.
  • 552: Buddhism is introduced to Japan.
  • 600: Buddhism begins declining in India to being virtually non-existent by the 17th century.
  • 700s: Buddhist Jataka stories are translated in to Syriac and Arabic as Kalilag and Damnag. An account of Buddha's life is translated into Greek by John of Damascus and widely circulated to Christians as the story of Barlaam and Josaphat. By the 1300s, this story of Josaphat becomes so popular that he is made a Catholic saint.
  • 700s: Under the reign of King Trisong Deutsen, Padmasambhava travels from Afghanistan to establish tantric Buddhism in Tibet, replacing Bön as the kingdom's main religion. Buddhism quickly spreads to Sikkim and Bhutan.
  • 760: Construction is begun on Borobodur, the famous Indonesian Buddhist structure, probably as a non-Buddhist shrine. It is completed as a Buddhist monument in 830, after about 50 years of work.
  • 800: Dhammapala composes commentaries on parts of the Canon missed by Buddhaghosa (such as the Udana, Itivuttaka, Theragatha, and Therigatha), along with extensive sub-commentaries on Buddhaghosa's work.
  • 804: Under the reign of Emperor Kammu of Japan, a fleet of four ships sets sail for mainland China. Of the two ships that arrive, one carries the monk Kūkai ordained by the Japanese government as a Bhikkhu who absorbs Vajrayana teachings in Chang'an and returns to Japan to found the Japanese Shingon school. The other ship carries the monk Saichō, who returns to Japan to found the Japanese Tendai school, partly based upon the Chinese Tiantai tradition.
  • 9th-century Tibet: Decline of Buddhism; persecution by King Langdarma.
  • 971: Chinese Song Dynasty commissions Chengdu woodcarvers to carve the entire Buddhist canon for printing. Work is completed in 983; 130,000 blocks are produced, in total.
  • 991: A printed copy of the Song Dynasty Buddhist canon arrives in Korea, impressing the government.
  • 1000s: Marpa, Konchog Gyalpo, Atisha, and others introduce the Sarma lineages into Tibet.
  • 1017: In Southeast Asia, and especially in Sri Lanka, the Bhikkhuni (Buddhist nuns) Order dies out due to invasions. The bhikkhu line in Sri Lanka is later revived with bhikkhus from Burma.
  • 1025: Srivijaya, a Buddhist kingdom based in Sumatra, is raided by the Chola dynasty empire of southern India; it survives, but declines in importance. Shortly after the raid, the centre of the kingdom moves northward from Palembang to Jambi-Melayu.
  • 1077: In Burma, Pagan's first king Anoratha reigns. He converts the country to Theravada Buddhism with the aid of monks and books from Sri Lanka. He is said to have been converted to Theravada Buddhism by a Mon monk, though other beliefs persist.
  • 1057: Anawrahta of Burma captures Thaton in northern Thailand, strengthening Theravada Buddhism in the country.
  • 1113: In Burma, Pagan's second king, Kyanzittha (son of Anawrahta, reigns. He completes the building of the Shwedgon pagoda, a shrine for relics of the Buddha, including a tooth brought from Sri Lanka.
  • 1133 to 1212: Hōnen establishes Pure Land Buddhism as an independent sect in Japan.
  • Late 1100s: The great Buddhist educational centre at Nalanda is sacked. Nalanda is supported by kings of several dynasties and serves as a great international centre of learning.
  • 1153: A Fifth Buddhist Council is held in Sri Lanka, but is not recognized by the Burmese.
  • 1164: Polonnaruwa destroyed by foreign invasion. With the guidance of two monks from a forest branch of the Mahavihara sect; Vens. Mahakassapa and Sariputta — King Parakramabahu reunites all bhikkhus in Sri Lanka into the Mahavihara sect.
  • 1200s: Theravada overtakes Mahayana, previously practised alongside Hinduism, as the dominant form of Buddhism in Cambodia; Sri Lanka is an influence in this change. *1222: Birth of Nichiren Daishonin (1222 to 1282), the Japanese founder of Nichiren Buddhism.
  • 1238: The Thai Kingdom of Sukhothai is established, with Theravada Buddhism as the state religion.
  • 1227: Dogen Zenji takes the Caodong school of Zen from China to Japan as the Soto sect.
  • 1236: Bhikkhus from Kañcipuram, India arrive in Sri Lanka to revive the Theravada ordination line.
  • 1250: A forest-based Sri Lankan ordination line arrives in Burma and Thailand. Theravada spreads to Laos. Thai Theravada monasteries first appear in Cambodia shortly before the Thais win their independence from the Khmers.
  • 1279: Last inscriptional evidence of a Theravada Bhikkhuni nunnery (in Burma).
  • 1287: The Theravada kingdom at Burma falls to the Mongols and is overshadowed by the Shan capital at Ava.
  • 1450: Another forest lineage is imported from Sri Lanka to Ayudhaya, the Thai capital. A new ordination line is also imported into Burma.
  • 1578: Altan Khan of the Tümed gives the title of Dalai Lama to Sonam Gyatso (later known as the third Dalai Lama).
  • 1753: King Kirti Sri Rajasinha obtains bhikkhus from the Thai court to reinstate the bhikkhu ordination line, which had died out in Sri Lanka. This is the origin of the Siyam Nikaya.
  • 1777: King Rama I, founder of the current dynasty in Thailand, obtains copies of the Tipitaka from Sri Lanka and sponsors a Council to standardize the Thai version of the Tipitaka, copies of which are then donated to temples throughout the country.

Modern Times

  • 1800s: In Thailand, King Mongkut himself a former monk, conducts a campaign to reform and modernize the monkhood, a movement that has continued in the present century under the inspiration of several great ascetic monks from the northeast part of the country.
  • 1800s: Sri Lankan Sangha deteriorates under pressure from two centuries of European colonial rule (Portuguese, Dutch, British).
  • 1803: Sri Lankans ordained in the Burmese city of Amarapura found the Amarapura Nikaya in Sri Lanka to supplement the Siyam Nikaya, which admitted only brahmans from the Up Country highlands around Kandy.
  • 1828: Thailand's Prince Mongkut (later King Rama IV) founds the Dhammayut movement, which would later become the Dhammayut Sect.
  • 1860: In Sri Lanka, against all expectations, the monastic and lay communities bring about a major revival in Buddhism, a movement that goes hand in hand with growing nationalism; the revival follows a period of persecution by foreign powers. Since then, Buddhism has flourished, and Sri Lankan monks and expatriate lay people have been prominent in spreading Theravada Buddhism in Asia, the West, and even in Africa.
  • 1862: Forest monks headed by Ven. Paññananda go to Burma for reordination, returning to Sri Lanka the following year to found the Ramañña Nikaya. First translation of the Dhammapada into a Western language (German).
  • 1871: A Fifth Buddhist council is convened under the patronage of King Mindon Min of Burma to re-edit the Pali canon. The king has the texts engraved on 729 stones, which are then set upright on the grounds of a monastery near Mandalay.
  • 1873: Ven. Mohottivatte Gunananda defeats Christian missionaries in a public debate, sparking a nationwide revival of Sri Lankan pride in its Buddhist traditions.
  • 1879: Sir Edwin Arnold publishes his epic poem Light of Asia, which becomes a best-seller in England and the USA, stimulating popular Western interest in Buddhism.
  • 1880: Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott, founders of the Theosophical Society, arrive in Sri Lanka from the USA, embrace Buddhism, and begin a campaign to restore Buddhism on the island by encouraging the establishment of Buddhist schools.
  • 1881: Pali Text Society is founded in England by T.W. Rhys Davids; most of the Tipitaka is published in roman script and, over the next 100 years, in English translation.
  • 1891: Maha Bodhi Society founded in India by the Sri Lankan lay follower Anagarika Dharmapala, in an effort to reintroduce Buddhism to India and for the renovation of the Maha Bodhi Temple.
  • 1893: The World Parliament of Religions meets in Chicago, Illinois; Anagarika Dharmapala and Soyen Shaku attend.
  • 1896: Using Fa Xian's records, Nepalese archaeologists rediscover the great stone pillar of Ashoka at Lumbini.
  • 1899: Gordon Douglas is ordained in Burma; he is the first Westerner to be ordained in the Theravada tradition.
  • 1900: Ven. Ajaan Mun and Ven. Ajaan Sao revive the forest meditation tradition in Thailand.
  • 1902: King Rama V of Thailand institutes a Sangha Act that formally marks the beginnings of the Mahanikaya and Dhammayut sects. Sangha government, which up to that time had been in the hands of a lay official appointed by the king, is handed over to the bhikkhus themselves.
  • 1922: Zenshuji Soto Mission is founded as the first Soto Zen temple in North America.
  • 1930: Soka Gakkai is founded in Japan.
  • 1949: Maha Bodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya is returned to partial Buddhist control.
  • 1949: Mahasi Sayadaw becomes head teacher at a government-sponsored meditation center in Rangoon, Burma.
  • 1950: World Fellowship of Buddhists is founded in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
  • 1954: The Sixth Buddhist council is held in Yangon, Myanmar, organized by U Nu. It ends in time for the 2500th anniversary of the passing of the Buddha.
  • 1956: Indian untocuhable leader Dr. B.R. Ambedkar converts to Buddhism, with more than 350,000 followers.
  • 1956: The Zen Studies Society is founded in New York to support the work of D.T. Suzuki.
  • 1957: Caves near the summit of Pai-tai mountain, Fangshan district, 75km southwest of Beijing, are reopened, revealing thousands of Buddhist sutras that had been carved onto stone since the 7th century. Seven sets of rubbings are made, and the stones are numbered, in work that continues until 1959.
  • 1958: Ven. Nyanaponika Thera establishes the Buddhist Publication Society in Sri Lanka to publish English language books on Theravada Buddhism. Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is founded in Sri Lanka to bring Buddhist ideals to bear in solving pressing social problems. Two Germans ordain at the Royal Thai Embassy in London, becoming the first to take full Theravada ordination in the West.
  • 1959: Together with some 100,000 Tibetans, the 14th Dalai Lama flees the Chinese occupation of Tibet and establishes an exile community in India. The Chinese invaders completely destroy all but a handful of monasteries and severely persecute Buddhist practitioners.
  • 1962: The San Francisco Zen Center is founded by Shunryu Suzuki.
  • 1963: Thích Quảng Đức immolates himself to protest the oppression of the Buddhist religion by Ngo Dinh Diem.
  • 1964: Washington (D.C.) Buddhist Vihara founded; first Theravada monastic community in the USA.
  • 1965: The Burmese government arrests over 700 monks in Hmawbi, near Yangon, for refusing to accept government rule.
  • 1966: The World Buddhist Sangha Council is convened by Theravadins in Sri Lanka with the hope of bridging differences and working together. The first convention is attended by leading monks from many countries and sects, Mahayana as well as Theravada. Nine Basic Points Unifying the Theravada and Mahayana are written by Ven. Walpola Rahula are approved unanimously.
  • 1970s: Refugees from war in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos settle in USA and Europe, establishing many tight-knit Buddhist communities in the West. Ven. Taungpulu Sayadaw and Dr. Rina Sircar, from Burma, establish the Taungpulu Kaba-Aye Monastery in Northern California, USA. Ven. Ajaan Chah establishes Wat Pah Nanachat, a forest monastery in Thailand for training Western monks. Insight Meditation Society, a lay meditation center, is founded in Massachusetts, USA. Ven. Ajaan Chah travels to England to establish a small community of monks at the Hamsptead Vihara, which later moves to Sussex, England, to become Wat Pah Cittaviveka (Chithurst Forest Monastery).
  • 1973: The first Vajrayana Buddhism centers are established in Europe by Lama Ole Nydahl.
  • 1974: Wat Pah Nanachat, the first monastery dedicated to providing training and support for western Buddhist monks, is founded in Thailand by Venerable Ajahn Chah. The monks trained here would later establish branch monasteries throughout the world.
  • 1974: The Naropa Institute (now Naropa University) is founded in Boulder, Colorado.
  • 1974: In Burma, during demonstrations at U Thant's funeral, 600 monks are arrested and several are bayoneted by government forces.
  • 1975: Laos Communist rulers attempt to change attitudes to religion, in particular, calling on monks to work, not beg. This causes many to return to lay life, but Buddhism remains popular.
  • 1975: The Insight Meditation Society is established in Barre, Massachusetts.
  • 1979: Cambodian communists under Pol Pot try to completely destroy Buddhism, and very nearly succeed. By 1978, nearly every monk and religious intellectual has been either murdered or driven into exile, and nearly every temple and Buddhist library has been destroyed.
  • 1980s: Lay meditation centers grow in popularity in USA and Europe. First Theravada forest monastery in the USA (Bhavana Society) is established in West Virginia. Amaravati Buddhist Monastery established in England by Ven. Ajaan Sumedho (student of Ven. Ajahn Chah).
  • 1990s: Continued western expansion of the Theravada Sangha: monasteries from the Thai forest traditions established in California, USA (Metta Forest Monastery, founded by Ven. Ajaan Suwat; Abhayagiri Monastery, founded by Ven. Ajaans Amaro and Pasanno). Buddhism meets cyberspace: online Buddhist information networks emerge; several editions of the Pali Tipitaka become available online.
  • 1996, India: The Bhikkhuni (Buddhist nuns) Order and lineage is revived in Sarnath, India through the efforts of Sakyadhita, an International Buddhist Women Association. The revival is done with some resistance from some of the more literal interpreters of the Buddhist Vinaya (monastic code) and lauded by others in the community.
  • 1998: Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam terrorists commit a deadly suicide attack on Sri Lanka's most sacred Buddhist site and a UNESCO World Heritage centre: the Temple of the Tooth, where Buddha's tooth relic is enshrined. Eight civilians are killed and 25 others are injured and significant damage is done to the temple structure, which was first constructed in 1592 AD.

21st Century

  • 2001, May: Two of the world's tallest ancient Buddha statues, the Buddhas of Bamyan, are completely destroyed by the Taliban in Bamyan, Afghanistan.
  • 2006, November: In the United States, two Buddhists are elected for the first time to the 110th Congress.
  • 2007 (September) Thousands of Burmese Buddhist monks and nuns protest against the military regime; the military regime responds with a bloody crackdown. Thousands are arrested, and hundreds flee to Thailand and India; the death toll is in the hundreds.
  • 2007, October 17: The U.S. Congress presents the 14th Dalai Lama with the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal and meets in public with President Bush.
  • 2007 In Hamburg, Germany a conference is held, the International Congress on Buddhist Women's Role in the Sangha, which includes Bhikkhu Bodhi and the Dalai Lama. Vinaya masters and elders from traditional Buddhist countries and Western-trained Buddhologists attended. The Summary Report from the Congress states that All delegates "were in unanimous agreement that Mulasarvastivada bhikkhuni ordination should be re-established."
  • 2008 (March): Tibetan monks protest in Lhasa, and many Tibetans join in calling for the end of Chinese rule. Many Chinese businesses are attacked and burned. The Chinese respond by sending in troops and ordering a strict lockdown of the capital city of Lhasa. Many Tibetans are killed, with the death toll maybe over a hundred. Outraged, thousands of exiled Tibetans around the world protest.
  • 2009: Many strictly Theravada online forums and information websites become successful, reaching web rankings in the Top 1% of all websites; including Dhamma Wheel, Dhamma Wiki, Access to Insight, TheDhamma.com, Just be good, and others.
  • 2009 (October) In Australia, 4 novice nuns are given the full ordination with Ayya Tathaaloka as preceptor and included the double ordination ceremony with monks included in the ceremonies. Also in attendance were numerous lay people. Ajahn Brahm is later removed from his association with the Thai forest tradition in Thailand due to their disapproval of his presiding over this ordination and allowing the ordination to occur.
  • 2010 In Northern California, 4 novice nuns are given the full ordination, which included the double ordination ceremony. Bhante Gunaratana and other distinguished monks and nuns were in attendance. The following month, more full ordinations are completed in Southern California, led by Walpola Piyananda and other distinguished monks and nuns. Regular ordinations of women to the Sangha now appear to be the norm as debates about "reinstatement" begin to fade.