The world’s diversity is not only because of the differencein race and color of humanity and the wild nature but also the variation oncultural and religious practices among the communities. The western populationtakes pride in a more liberal society which allows one to exercise theirpersonal beliefs and opinions in almost everything as guided by theconstitution.
In the African setup, much emphasis is on the ancestraltraditions which govern relationships within and without the communities, aswell as moral values across all ages. However, the Asian life is entirelydifferent from the other continents since the trends we see today is an outcomeof the foundational pillar laid centuries ago through Buddhism. Buddhism hashad a considerable influence on Asian countries and its people mainly regardingsocial and cultural values, trade, education, politics, the judiciary, andarts. This essay shall, therefore, endeavor to examine the meaning of Buddhism,its history and spread in Asia, and finally the various influence on Asia as acontinent.Whatis Buddhism?Buddhism is a universal religion which majorly practiced inAsian countries. In the world, Buddhism ranks fourth after Christianity, Islam,and Hinduism. According to Peter Harvey, Buddhism religion comprises severalbeliefs, traditions and spiritual practices based on the ancient teachings andphilosophies endorsed by Buddha (8).
The fundamentals of Buddhist educationbases on four noble truths which include the reality of suffering, the reasonof affliction, the end of suffering, and the path leading to the end of pain.Usually, the devotees consisting of monks and nuns stay in the temples insecluded places like mountains or outskirts of major towns to meditate andlearn more while the ordinary believers visit the temples at specific times tooffer rituals and meditate. As explained by Harvey, some of the guiding moralsof Buddhism rests on three essential divisions of wisdom, moral virtues, andmeditation (21).
Other subdivisions encourage people to be enlightened,practice selflessness, and abstain from theft, lying, intemperance, sexualmalpractice, and intoxicants. Historyand Spread in Asia.There is no accurate date in which Buddhism began. However,as stated by Swearer, many historians agree that it started as early as in thethird century from the ancient India (4). From India, teachings of Buddha spread to South East Asia, Central Asia,China, Tibet and other remote parts of Asia. The two sub-categories of Buddhismnamely Hinayana and Mahayana which exist today various countries like China,Korea, Japan, and Thailand amongst others, is a result of the diverse teachingsthat the monks gave to the people. Contrary to the history of other religions,Buddhism spread peacefully throughout Asia between the third to seventhcenturies. In most cases, the doctrine spread organically as the merchantsmoved from one region to another (Harvey 305).
For example, in Central Asia, tradealong the silk routes saw the business people of Buddhist belief settle indifferent lands. As they traded, the merchants exercised their beliefs andcultural practices which drew the curiosity of the native settlers. As aresult, the natives got inspired and unknowingly began practicing the faith.The advanced spread in Asia was due to the monarchs who showed significantsupport for the Buddhist religion.
According to Zhao, the kings believed thatthe moral and social values taught in Buddhism would make it easy for them tolead their subjects and hence solidify their dynasties (388). A good example isin China, Korea, and Japan. In China, Zhao notedthat the Han Dynasty supported the Monks and teachers who came from India andcentral Asia to establish Temples in all parts of their territories (391). Inas much as there was an obstacle due to the language barrier, the monarchicalsystem which perceived the Buddhist religion as one of the high in the society,allowed the pioneers to use Taoist terms to translate teachings from Indianlanguage to Chinese. In Korea, the Silla rulers comprising of the Koguryo,Packche, and Silla kingdoms in the seventh century helped the Chinese monks tospread Buddhism. Also, the Koryo dynasty in the tenth century gave Buddhismutmost importance in its leadership. In Japan, Prince Shotoku gets credit forhis relentless support towards the increase and expansion of Buddhism.Throughout the evolution and spread of Buddha faith, nobody faced coercion toaccept the teachings.
Influenceon AsiaModernization and technology advancement has blurred theimpact of Buddhism in most if not all Asian countries. However, in thebackground, we see the significant influence of the Buddhist faith in someAsian activities from politics, to education, to moral values in trade andeconomy, social engagements, and arts.PoliticalInfluenceFrom the time when Indians introduced Buddhism in variousparts of Asia, the governments and political structures never remained the sameagain. The earlier dynasties in countries like China, Korea, Japan, andSri-Lanka played a central role in ensuring that the respective communitiesadopted the spiritual beliefs and traditions taught by the monks and nuns. Inthe standard setup, the kings and rulers used the Buddhist faith as a politicaltool to advance their strength, lengthen the period of leadership as well ascement the support gained from the people (Harvey 201). Some of the privilegesthe rulers gave the monks like tax exemption in China helped them to focus onteaching and not be anxious about what to eat or where to stay.
On the otherhand, the Buddhists had a say in the Japanese courts and leadership. Underprince Shotoku, the first constitution of Japan promoted the moral and socialvalues of Buddhism (Zhao et al., 393). Even though the law has undergoneamendments and changes taking the form of bill of rights from the westerncountries, the moral values taught in the earlier centuries by Buddhistdevotees remain.EducationOther than political influence, Buddhism has had asignificant impact on the education system in Asia. Among the first goals ofthe monks who visited countries like Japan and China from India was toestablish schools.
Zhao et al. state that the initial purpose of the schoolswas to teach those interested in serving as monks on the beliefs and practicesexpected of them (394). Also, the ordinary people could bring their children tothe learning centers where they could learn how to read and write alongside theBuddha faith since no schools existed in these ages. The government and rulersoften assisted by providing the necessary resources needed to erect thestructures and support the daily needs of food for both the children andfacilitators. In the seventh century, China had Buddhist schools like Tian-Tai,Pure Land, and Chan which focused on particular texts for practice and study(Zhao et al. 394). Today, Buddhist schools exist in the countries where Buddhareligion has a big following such as India, Thailand, China, Cambodia, andMyanmar.
The students and believers havedivided themselves between the two leading schools Theravada and Mahayana. Insome areas where military regime abolished Buddhism, the monks establisheduniversities. The education system is also the foundation of Easternphilosophies on the reality of life, cosmology, meditation, and liberation.Tradeand Economic InfluenceThe influence of trade is both positive and negative.
Duringthe period in which the pioneers introduced Buddhism from India, many dynastiesspent a lot of money in building monasteries and temples. As Harvey states, theTang China spent a lot concerning the setting up of statutes, conductingrituals, and taking care of the monks (218). The large spending on promotingBuddhism worked to the disadvantage of the ordinary person as the extra cashcould be used to improve the livelihood of the people.
However, Buddhism alsoimpacted the economy positively in the long run. In the ancient Asia, Buddhismacted as a critical promoter of trade among communities (Swearer 186). In theprocess of trading with others, the natives adopted Buddhism. Therefore,dynasties gained through trade. Today, the Asian community is famous for honestbusiness dealings with some of the thriving companies like Alibaba and Sinopecgetting listed among the Fortune 500. Some of the practices in business is aproduct of the Buddhist beliefs taught from the ancient times and passed fromone generation to another.
Artsand Social ValuesAsian culture is full of Buddhism. The social and moralvalues in all countries show allegiance to the beliefs and pillars of Buddha.As stated by Harvey, some of the ethical ideas like honesty and hard workoriginated from the Buddhist community and later evolved to other religions(139). Love and selflessness have encouraged the communist life in China andother Asian states. The relationship between families and the different agegroups is centrally guided by the eight sub-groups of Buddhist traditions (Zhaoet al. 427).
Also, the rituals and festive activities in most countries whichalso form the culture in Asia resulted from the foundations laid in the earlystages. The artistic monuments and architectural designs even came from theBuddha traditions. Some of the familiar landmarks like the temple of thereconciling Buddha have benefited Asia by making it a tourist destinationchoice for many around the globe.In general, Buddhism is the center of Asian history, and it’spresent.
Buddhism continues to play a big role in the education, political,economic, artistic, and social values in Asia.