Thursday, January 14, 2010 1/14/10 - buddhism in afghanistan

In today's encore excerpt - from modest
beginnings in India in the sixth century BCE,
Buddhism 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

"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, Da
Capo, Copyright 2008 by Stewart Gordon, pp. 4-17.