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UNIT 7: The Spread of Religions

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VIDEO SEGMENT: Buddhism

In northern India in the late-sixth century BCE, the prince Siddhartha came to believe that humans could find release from the endless cycle of birth and death — samsara — through spiritual realization. He became known as the Buddha, or Enlightened One, and developed a devoted following.

This segment explores how and why Buddhism spread across Asia in the millennium after the Buddha's death. When the Buddha died, his followers began to spread his teachings beyond the confines of northern India by trade routes to the east and west. One of the reasons so many people accepted his teachings was the willingness of Buddhist monks to incorporate local beliefs and adapt them to Buddhist beliefs.

Buddhism also spread with the help of written texts. When these texts were translated into other languages, though, their meanings were often subtly changed to suit culturally specific concepts. The adaptability of Buddhism won many converts, who increasingly wanted to make pilgrimages to visit the land where the Buddha had lived. Some of these, like the Chinese monk Xuanzang, brought important texts and artifacts back from their pilgrimages and, once they returned home, were influential in spreading the religion among their own people.

Indeed, over time Buddhism became firmly rooted in China — so much so that China itself became an important center for the transmission of Buddhism to other parts of east and southeast Asia.

SELECTED IMAGES AND MAPS


Anonymous, ANCIENT BUDDHIST TEMPLE, SRI LANKA (n.d.). Copyright 2003 Oregon Public Broadcasting and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Anonymous, REINCARNATION OF THE BUDDHA (n.d.). Copyright 2003 Oregon Public Broadcasting and its licensors. All rights reserved.


Anonymous, BUDDHA PREACHING, SARNATH (ca. 400). Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Hot Pepper Studios, SPREAD OF BUDDHISM MAP (2004). Courtesy of Oregon Public Broadcasting.



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