Timeline Description: Buddhism is a nontheistic religion that originated in the 5th century BCE with Siddhartha Gautama, also known as "the Buddha." When Gautama, an Indian prince, attained enlightenment, he began traveling to teach others how to end their suffering by disentangling themselves from worldly attachments. The religion spread throughout Asia in the early centuries CE, and later spread to the west as European travelers came in contact with eastern rulers.
|490 BC||Siddhartha Gautama is born(c. 490 BCE).
While scholars debate the exact date, many agree that Siddhartha Gautama is probably born around 490 BCE in northern India (Indian chronology dates his birth to 448 BCE). His parents belong to the Shakya caste, and his father is a respected head of the community. Although he is relatively wealthy, Gautama is exposed to human suffering from an early age.
|461 BC||Gautama leaves home to search for a solution to suffering(c. 461 BCE).
Around age 29, Gautama has a personal crisis as he realizes he is not immune from the suffering of old age, disease, and death. He leaves home around 461 BCE to search for a solution to human suffering. For about six years he practices yoga and experiments with extreme asceticism as he tries to find answers.
|455 BC||Gautama becomes the Buddha(c. 455 BCE).
After realizing that extreme asceticism will not help him solve the problem of human suffering, Gautama sits under a ficus tree and becomes enlightened. He is known as "the Buddha," or "the enlightened one." He realizes that his thinking was the only obstacle to freeing himself from his cares, and that if he separates himself from his human desires, he will no longer suffer.
|455 BC||Gautama gains his first followers(c. 455 BCE).
After becoming the Buddha, Gautama gives his first sermon in a deer park called Sarnath, near the city of Varanasi. Known as the time when the Buddha "set in motion the wheel of the law," this sermon is the first time he explains the four noble truths, the eightfold path towards ending suffering, and the middle way between asceticism and luxury. Shortly afterwards, Gautama gains his first disciples, Sariputra and Mahamaudgalyayana, and the monastic community of Sangha is established.
|410 BC||Gautama dies(c. 410 BCE).
Sometime between 410 and 370 BCE, Gautama dies, after about 45 years of preaching around northern India. While traveling to deliver sermons, he accepts a meal from a smith, but the food makes him sick. Before he dies, he asks that his disciples continue spreading his teachings.
|386 BC||The Mahasanghika school emerges(c. 386 BCE).
Around 386 BCE, the Second Buddhist council is held at Vaishali. A dispute develops over monastic discipline, and some followers argue that the Buddha had the attributes of a god. As a result, Buddhism splinters into two schools, the traditional Sthaviravada line and the more controversial Mahasanghika school.
|261 BC||Emperor Ashoka adopts Buddhism as India's state religion(c. 261 BCE).
Emperor Ashoka, who rules India between 268 and 232 BCE, adopts Buddhism as India's state religion after regretting the carnage of war. Under his patronage, Buddhist missionaries travel around Asia, monks are given political influence, and Buddhist ideas are generally accepted. Ashoka's rule plays a crucial role in the spread of Buddhism.
|100||The Mahayana school emerges(1st century CE).
The two schools of Buddhism continue to transform over the centuries. In the 1st century CE the Mahayana school emerges in northern India. This line is more flexible and willing to change doctrine depending on local customs and beliefs, and it quickly spreads throughout Asia. Today Mahayana Buddhism is found in Nepal, Tibet, China, Japan, Mongolia, Korea, and Vietnam.
|148||A translation center is established in China.
In 148, An Shigao, a Buddhist translator, establishes a translation center in Luoyang, the imperial capital of China. Buddhism is most likely introduced to China thanks to the Silk Road during the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), as Mahayana Buddhist missionaries accompany merchant caravans along the network of trade routes.
|372||Buddhism is introduced in Korea.
Under the reign of King Sosurim of the Kingdom of Koguryo, Buddhism enters Korea in 372. While official court records note this date, archaeological evidence suggests that Buddhism entered Korea earlier.
|538||Buddhism is introduced in Japan(c. 538).
The ruler of the Korean kingdom Baekje presents an image of the Buddha, as well as scripture-scrolls, to the Japanese Emperor Kimmei in 538, thus officially introducing Buddhism to Japan. After some dispute, the Japanese emperor accepts the religion, and it is declared the official religion 40 years later. Buddhism quickly becomes the center of Japanese culture.
|617||Buddhism is introduced in Tibet(c. 617).
During the reign of the Tibetan emperor Songtsen gampo (617 - 649), Buddhism is officially introduced in Tibet, according to court records. However, Buddhist merchants and missionaries have been in contact with Tibetans much earlier. Buddhism absorbs elements of Tibetan religions and becomes a powerful belief system in the region, but both Chinese and Indian Buddhists attempt to influence its development.
|794||Tibet chooses to follow Indian Buddhism.
Between 792 and 794, the Tibetan Bsam yas monastery holds a series of debates between Chinese and Indian Buddhists, as each group vies for influence in the region. In 794 the debates are decided in favor of Indian Buddhism, and translations from Chinese sources are abandoned.
|1253||Buddhism is introduced to the west.
In 1253, the Flemish Franciscan monk William of Rubruck sets out on a three-year journey to the east, hoping to learn more about the Mongols. His subsequent account introduces westerners to Buddhism, the first since classical scholars wrote about Buddhism. During the colonial era, western interest in Buddhism increases.
|March 10, 1959||The Tibetan Uprising increases western interest in Tibetan Buddhism.
On March 10, 1959, Tibet rebels against control by China's Communist Party, thus launching the Tibetan Uprising. The Dalai Lama flees Tibet, which claims independence from China, and western interest in Tibetan Buddhism greatly increases.