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History of Buddhism

At first the Dharma spread extensively in India. It is said that during, shortly after the time of the Buddha, the Dharma also spread to China and Srilanka. From where it then spread to the other southern regions of Thailand and Burma and so forth. It flourished till about the tenth century AD. It is said that almost all of India was at one time Buddhist. It was greatly spread by the great emperor Ashoka about a hundred years after they Buddha’s demise. He established it as his imperial system. He was one of the few Indian monarchs who actually had held sway over this whole Indian subcontinent starting from regions beyond Afghanistan to regions beyond Burma from east and west and from the Hindu Kush Mountains in the north right down to the beaches of South India. All this area was at one time brought under the sway of Buddhism by the emperor Ashoka. This was said to be in about one hundred or two hundred years after the Buddha’s passing away.

Then the Mahayana spread extensively after that period. The Vajrayana is said to have been expounded by the Buddha while he was alive, not in his ordinary form as a monk form which is called Vajradhara.

The principle site for the exposition of the four noble truths and so forth was said to be Varanasi, where he first taught it to his companions. The principle sight for the instruction on the second turning of the wheel, that is on emptiness and the Mahayana, was said to be vulture peak. The principle site for the instruction on Vajrayana is said to be in South India at the stupa of Dhanyaratra, near what is today the state of Andhrapradesh.

This system spread extensively in India, particularly the Mahayana system. By about 600 AD- 700 AD, the Vajrayana was being extensively practiced in India. At that time the Muslim invaded India, in about 700 AD, 700, 800 AD. They continued over a period of 500 to 600 years. Starting with Turks, then the Afghans, then the moghuls. Finally the Moghuls gained control over most of India and established the mogul dynasty. BY that time, that is about the tenth, eleventh century AD, Buddha and begun to disappear under the impact of these invasions.

At that time, the Dharma was practiced in very large monastic establishments in India. There were huge monasteries in places like Nalanda and Takshila. Nalanda is here (Bihar, India) and Takshila was in North Western India, which is now a days in Afghanistan. There was also odantapuri, Ratnagiri, and Vishwavidyalaya in eastern India. These where very, very large monastic establishments where thousands of monks abided, lived and there was great deal of wealth concentrated in these monasteries. It was much like it was in Tibet, at that time in India. These monasteries and the monks who lived in them, because of their non-violent ways became very easy targets for the invaders, who were mainly looking for loot. They were considered extremely barbic, as people beyond the pale of reasoning. The term for them is people who lack restrain.

So when they encountered the highly civilized non-violent, perfectly peaceful Buddhist community, the Buddhist community was completely ravaged by the invaders. The monasteries were destroyed, the scriptures were burned and monks were killed. To the extent that the Dharma could be protected by some great tantric sages, it was procted but then they realized that onslaught of these invaders was too irresistible.

Buddhism would not militarily resist such invaders. This is still exactly the way it has happened with the Tibetans.

The great masters of India took the dharma from India to places like Tibet. It is said that Tibet is the only place which received the whole Dharma. Other places received portions or part of the Dharma. The Dharma that spread to the south was essentially the Hinayana Dharma. The Mahayana did not spread to the south. Then the Dharma that spread to china and Japan was the Hinayana and also the Mahayana Dharma. But the Vajrayana did not spread there. So the only place in the world which received the entire Dharma. That is the Hinayana, the Mahayana and the Vajrayana, is said to have been Tibet.

The propagation of Dharma into Tibet mainly began with the great Indian master Padmasambhava who is also called guru rimpoche. He is the chief lineal guru of the Nyimagpas. At that time he converted the king of the Tibet, Trisong detsen, who was said to be an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara. He coverted the king, the queen and all the major Nobels in the king’s retinue. From there Dharma slowly filtered down and spread amongst the poplace. Then, in Tibet itself, soon after padmasambhava is said to have left Tibet, the Dharma was persecuted there by a reactionary king of the Tibetans called King Langdharma, who mainly destroyed the monastic community. But it is said that the Dharma was preserved by Nyingmapa yogis and yoginis who were living in solitary places in the mountains as householders and so forth. The continuation of Dharma remained unbroken.

The in about the tenth or eleventh century the new wave of Dharma started from India to Tibet. That was about eleventh or twelfth centaury when the Dharma was completely being finished in India. In India, what happened was that there was an external threat and a threat from within, the external threat was from the invaders from outside and the internal threat and was from the Vedic traditions and so forth—they based themselves largely on the performance of certain rituals and duties, which are connected very deeply to what is called the caste system. This is still prevalent today in India. They believe that all beings are born into one of four caste, the highest being the priestly caste of Brahmins. Then being the caste of warriors or Chatriyas. Then being the caste of traders and artisans called Vaishas. Finally the lowest caste of what are called menials and servants who are called Shudras. Finally there is even one level below that which are untouchables; they are Untouchable people.

Now, this caste system was very rigidly adhered to in the past. It is still very rigidly adhered to today. It is one of main causes of the lack of progress, economic progress and so forth in India. It is one of the main causes of a great deal of trouble even today. Initially perhaps this caste system had some relevance and at that time I don’t think it was so fixed. One became a Brahmin, you had to be born a Brahmin. In order to become a warrior, you had to be born a Chatriya.If you were born a Chatriya, there was no way that you could become a Brahmin. Then demarcation were laid down. Rituals and certain levels of spirituals practice were allowed only for Brahmin and the higher castes, which are the Brahmins, the Chatriyas and the Vaishas. The Shudras and untouchable were omitted from spiritual practice as being incapable of spiritual progress. Untouchability it is kind of apartheid. Which is terrible thing where one is not allowed to touch water. If an untouchable touches the water, you don’t drink it. It is said, when an untouchable shadow fallson you, you should go and take a ritual purficatory bath.

Untouchables were not allowed inside villages. They were not allowed to touch foodstuffs and things of that sort. They were just carriers and removers of filth and so forth. In fact, I think it was because of the pervasion of this system that India became such easy prey to invaders. Some people believe that it was the pacifist Dharma of the Buddhist that made India so peaceful, that it was unable to resist the onslaught of the barbarians. They may be some truth in that, but I feel that it was this rigid kind of caste system, that made India too fossilized and rigid and unmovable. It was not fluid enough to be able to resist and accommodate these external invasions.

Buddhism was a system that directly challenged this caste system. In the sense that Buddha accepted that these are social norms, there are Brahmins, there are so. But Buddha made this statement that, ,, When you become a monk or a nun . When you come into my system, you leave behind the whole world, including your caste. That is why Buddhist monks and nuns have no hair at all. They shave their whole head. Whereas, the non-Buddhists, the Indians, they shave their heads, the priests, the Brahmins, but they keep a little, a little knot of hair at the back here. (Points to the back of his skull)

In fact, this is very significant. This signifies a kind of difference between the Vedantic philosophy of the Hindus and the Buddhist. (Shri Dharmakirti laughs) When we Buddhist talk about ultimate reality, we negate inherent existence without residue; nothing is left. It is all cleaned (Shri Dharmakirti laughs) They keep this little thing over here. (Shri Dharmakirti laughs) They still hang on to something there must be some self there. (Everybody laughs) So, infact now the ritual is that before you become a monk or a nun, you shave your whole head, but you keep this little thing there. Then when you are ordained, then that thing, that last vestige of clinging to a self is sort of cut off and there is nothing left (Shri Dharmakirti laughs).

This Buddha history is taught in a teaching by SHRI DHARMAKIRTI, December 31st 1999 and He is follower of Tibetan lineage which came to him from his master, His Holiness Dalailama of Tibet. His Holiness the Dalailama of Tibet is the fourteenth emanation of a person, Gwalwa Gedun Drup, who was the first Dalailama and a disciple of the master Lama Tsongkhopa.He was in bodhagaya in 1999 to give teachings for the Buddhist practioner.