Note: Dates for early, legendary events use traditional dating.
♦ The mythical emperor Fu Xi (r. 2952-2836 b.c.e.) creates writing, teaches cooking, fishing, and, most significantly, the ordering of the eight trigrams later recorded in the Yijing.Fu Xi, married to his sister, Nyu Gua, was responsible for the general ordering of society and such civilizing institutions as marriage.
♦ Siddhartha Gautama (563-483), the future Buddha, is born in Kapilavastu, in present-day Nepal, and lives for 80 years. According to legend his mother, Maya, dreamed of a white elephant and became pregnant with the bod-hisattva Buddha. The child was born from her right side. She died soon after, but the Buddha returns to heaven to teach her in the Dharma, thereby allowing her to attain enlightenment.
♦ Laozi and Confucius, China’s great philosopher-teachers, are active and meet in China. According to tradition Confucius (551-470 b.c.e.) taught a band of disciples for many years until he died in his 70th year. Laozi, the central figure in early Daoist thought, is a much vaguer figure than Confucius. Laozi may be a compilation of several legends, including those concerning one called Lao Dan. The story was more or less fixed by 100 b.c.e. According to Daoist and Confucian tradition Confucius sought a meeting with Laozi to ask his opinion concerning mourning rites.
♦ The Daodejing, the most widely translated Chinese classic, is compiled and attributed to Laozi, the pseudolegendary founder of Daoism.
♦ The First Council of Buddhism is held at Rajagraha soon after the Buddha’s parinirvana (death), to recite and check the complete Vinaya (rules of conduct for monks) and Sutras (the words of the Buddha). The council is presided over by Kasyapa.
♦ The early schools of Buddhism take shape in India. These sometimes developed as a result of doctrinal differences, sometimes of geographical differences. Some accounts cite the number of these schools at 18, although the actual number is difficult to pinpoint. The major schools include the Sthaviravadins, the Mahasanghi-kas, the Sarvastivadins, and the Sammatiyas. Although all of the schools are said to have recorded their own versions of the Tripitaka, only that of the Theravadins, an offshoot of the Sthaviravadins, survives in whole today, in the Pali language.
♦ The Second Council of Buddhism is held at Vesali (Vaisali), India. The first schism forms between two rival groups within the sangha, the Mahasanghikas and the Sthaviravadins.
♦ The great Confucian teacher Mencius is active during the Warring States period (c. 475-221 b.c.e.) of Chinese history. He emphasizes the teachings of righteousness and humanity, and the inherent equality of all people.
♦ The Daoist philosopher Zhuang Zhou teaches naturalness (ziran) and techniques of settling the mind, as found in the compiled classic Zhuangzi.
♦ Emperor Asoka reigns over the Maurya empire in northern India. He orders that edicts promoting the Buddha’s Dharma be carved in stone on pillars and rocks showing his devotion to Buddhism. Thirty-three such carved edicts survive. The Mau-ryan empire declines soon after his death.
♦ The Third Council of Buddhism is held at Pat-aliputra and in Pali accounts is presided over by Emperor Asoka. In this council disagreements are debated by the Sarvastivadins and the Vibhajyavadins.
♦ Mahinda, son of Emperor Asoka, introduces Buddhism to Sri Lanka.
♦ The Questions of King Milinda, a sutra in the Pali language, appears in northern India and Pakistan. Milinda (or Menander) was an ethnic Greek ruler in northern India. This work expresses the idea that there can be only one Buddha in existence at one time.
♦ The Mahayana text Lotus Sutra is written, most likely in northern India. It is translated into Chinese at least six times, between 255 and 601. It was highly esteemed by the Tian Tai founder Zhi Yi (538-597) and the Japanese innovator Nichiren (1222-82).
♦ The Analects, the collected sayings of Confucius (551-479 b.c.e.), appear in the final form that we know today. According to tradition the text was collected after the master’s death, but scholars believe it grew in several layers.
c. 25 b.c.e.
♦ Completion of the first writing of the Pali canon in written form in Sri Lanka.
♦ The Tripitaka, the Buddhist canon, is recorded in final form in the language called Pali. This was a dialect of Middle Indo-Aryan used at the time of recording and differed from the Maga-dhi language spoken by the Buddha. Some of the early schools that formed by this period also used Sanskrit to record their canons, notably the Sarvastivadins.
♦ The Fourth Council of Buddhism, whose historicity is doubtful, is held at Kaniska during the reign of Kaniska I. The council is overseen by Vasumitra.
♦ Mahayana (Great Vehicle) teachings begin to appear in northern India and eventually spread to Central Asia, Tibet, parts of Southeast Asia, China, and other areas of East Asia. This major branch or Buddhist practice puts emphasis on the figure of the bodhisattva, an individual who decides to remain in the world of samsara (birth and death) out of great compassion for those still trapped within it. Mahayana schools develop complex, competing elaborations on the Buddhist tradition.
♦ The first written reference to a Buddhist vegetarian feast and community in China.
♦ Asvaghosa publishes the first biography of the Buddha, the Buddhacarita (Deeds of the Buddha). This work becomes the first authoritative account of the Buddha’s life.
♦ Nagarjuna, one of Buddhism’s greatest philosophers, is active in southern India. In the Madhyamakasatra (Treatise on the Middle Way) and other works Nagarjuna propounds the idea of sunyata (emptiness), which contends that all phenomena in the universe lack essential existence. They are, instead, empty. The idea opposed another powerful concept then gaining ground, Buddha nature (tathagatagarbha).
♦ The legendary founder of Daoism, Laozi, appears in a vision to the Sichuan hermit Zhang Daoling. Laozi confers the mandate of heaven (Tian Ming) on Zhang, who founds the Wudoumi (five pecks of rice) sect. Zhang’s movement becomes a well-organized political institution, which briefly sets up its own state. Zhang is today recognized as the founder of religious Daoism.
♦ The popular Mahayana text Vimalakirti-nird-esa Sutra, which relates the teachings of a lay bodhisattva in dialog with the bodhisattva Manjusri, is first translated into Chinese. This version has been lost, and the current version is the translation by Kumarajiva (c. 406).
♦ Ge Hong (284-363) is born to a family of mystics and scholars. He writes the Baopuzi (He who embraces simplicity), a classic of early Daoist alchemy, and retires to Mt. Luofu in southern China to cultivate the techniques of immortality.
♦ Yang Xi (330-386?) begins to receive the Shang Qing revelations from the spirit of Lady Wei Huacun (251-334), a Daoist adept who had been a practitioner of Celestial Master Daoism. The revelations eventually total 31 volumes of materials and become the foundation for a new school, Shang Qing Daoism, which developed on Maoshan (Mt. Mao) under the leadership of Tao Hongjing (456-536). The school put great emphasis on visualizations and decreased emphasis on alchemical practices. Shang Qing Daoism was later absorbed into the Orthodox Unity (Zhenyi) school.
♦ The brother philosophers Asanga and Vasu-bandhu are active in northern India, in the region of Kashmir. They establish the principles of the Yogacara school. Vasubandhu in addition writes the massive Abhidharma-kosa, a summation of early Buddhist philosophy that is regarded as a monument by later generations.
♦ The Pali scholar Buddhaghosa is active in India and Sri Lanka. He eventually writes the Vasudimagga, a classic summary of meditation techniques.
♦ The great translator Kumarajiva (344-413) arrives in the Chinese capital of Chang’an, under imperial escort. The emperor supports the establishment of the first translation bureau. Kumarajiva goes on to oversee the nuanced translation of many major texts, including the Lotus Sutra.
♦ The Chinese monk Hui Yuan (344-416) establishes a cult of worship of Amitabha and his Pure Land on Mount Lu.
♦ The encyclopedic Mahayana text the Avatam-saka (Flower Garland) Sutra is first translated into Chinese by Buddhabhadra. It is translated two more times, by Siksananda in 699 and Prajna in 798, and into Tibetan by Jinamitra in the 700s.
♦ Emperor Wu (r. 424-451) of the Northern Wei dynasty orders the destruction of all Buddhist temples and images, and the execution of many monks, in the first persecution of Buddhism in Chinese history.
♦ The major Chinese schools of Buddhism form under the influence of the Sui dynasty (589-617) and Tang dynasty (618-907). These schools include Tian Tai, Hua Yan, Pure Land, and Chan, all of which constitute the major strands of Chinese Buddhist thought and practice, which remain influential today.
♦ The first Chan (Zen) patriarch, Bodhidharma, arrives in the southern Chinese port city of Canton (Guanzhou) and proceeds north to meet Emperor Wu (502-549) of the Liang dynasty (502-557). The emperor does not receive the iconoclastic monk warmly. Bod-hidharma eventually moves on to the Shao Lin Temple in northern China and meditates in a cave there for nine years. He dies at the age of 160, after passing the secret teachings to his disciple, Hui Ke. The tradition later called Chan Buddhism developed into a major movement highly critical of other schools of the time. The emphasis of this school was clearly on direct enlightenment. It later spread widely into Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
♦ Rulers of the Korean kingdom of Silla adopt Buddhism. The new faith received official support and spread throughout the Korean peninsula once Silla unified the other two states, Paekche and Koguryo, in the so-called Unified Silla state (?668-935).
♦ The Chinese monk Dao Cho, second patriarch of Pure Land Buddhism, introduces the term mofa (mappo in Japanese) to indicate the end of the Dharma. This is Mahayana Buddhism’s expression of an apocalyptic future in which the Buddha’s teachings are falsified, reviled, and ultimately lost. The larger framework sees an initial period in which the true Dharma (shobo) prevails, followed by the era of the false Dharma, and finally by the period of the end of Dharma, when the Buddha’s teachings are not passed on and each individual must practice spiritual cultivation independently.
♦ The Tian Tai school founder Zhi Yi settles at Xiuchan Monastery on Mount Tiantai in eastern China. He publishes a disciplinary code for the monks there, the Li Zhifa (Establishing monastic regulations), in 597. His follower Guan Ding later records Zhi Yi’s teachings in the Mohe Zhiguan (Great calming and contemplation). In this work Zhi Yi spells out the equal importance given to practice and study in the monk’s life of contemplation.
♦ The monk Pomnang (seventh century) introduces Son, the Korean form of Chan, into Korea.
♦ A Confucian constitution is adopted in Japan by Prince Shotoku (574-622). The prince had been named crown prince of the Japanese state in 593 and promoted Buddhism widely. The second clause of the constitution urges the ruler to value the three treasures of Buddhism.
♦ The great Korean syncretic thinker Wonhyo writes more than 80 works on Buddhism. Active during the Three Kingdoms Period (335-668) and, later, in the Unified Silla dynasty (668935), Wonhyo systematized the thinking of many Buddhist schools then active in Korea.
His commentary on the Awakening of Faith in particular is a classic still popular today.
♦ The Chinese monk Xuan Zang (596-664) sets out on his pilgrimage to India, a 16-year odyssey that has since been memorialized in countless stories in Chinese literature. The ostensible reason for the journey was to collect new texts, but Xuan Zang took home such a complete understanding of Indian Buddhism that he was immediately acknowledged as a great master. Although the Chinese emperor did not originally support the project, upon his return Xuan Zang’s scriptures were all housed in the newly donated pagoda Dayanci in the capital, Chang’an. Other famous Chinese travelers to India include Fa Xian (fourth-fifth centuries) and Yi Jing (635-713).
♦ Hui Neng (638-713), later the sixth patriarch of Chan Buddhism, hears a sutra recitation and decides to follow the path of the Buddha. He moves to the monastery in which the Chan master Hong Ren (602-675) resides. Hong Ren recognizes Hui Neng as his rightful successor and before his death passes him the two symbols of Chan authority—Bodhidharma’s robes and alms bowl.
♦ Empress Wu (Wu Zetian) (625-705), China’s only female emperor, founds the brief Zhou dynasty (690-705) and is formally declared emperor, after ruling China indirectly during the Tang dynasty reigns of her husband, Gao Zong (d. 683), and son (resigned 690). She provides major support for Buddhism, especially the Chan and Hua Yan schools.
♦ Empress Wu issues a decree giving Buddhism precedence over Daoism.
♦ Nara is designated Japan’s capital, during a relatively brief period that corresponded to the introduction of Buddhism into Japan. Six schools were established in Nara, the Ritsu, Kegon, Hosso, Kusha, Jujitsu, and Sanron, although these were primarily centers of sutra study rather than full-blown practicing schools of Buddhism.
♦ The Kojiki and Nihonshoki, Japan’s first national histories, appear. They contain original myths relating to the creation of Japan, as well as early political events. They later become symbols of "pure" Japanese culture in 20th-century nationalist polemics.
♦ After trying five times over 10 years, the Chinese Vinaya (rules of discipline) master Ganjin (Jin Jianzhen in Chinese) finally arrives in Japan. He and his companions then perform the first ordination ritual in Japan at Todai-ji in the capital of Nara. The Japanese sangha, the community of monks, can be said to date from Ganjin’s arrival.
♦ Samye, the first monastery in Tibet, is built following the intervention of the legendary Indian saint Padmasambhava. After being invited to Tibet by King Trison Detsen (c. 740-798), Padmasambhava does battle with local demons before prevailing in order to set the stage for Buddhism’s entry into Tibet.
♦ After returning from his study tour to China, the Japanese monk Saicho (767-822) establishes Enryaku-ji, the temple complex on Mount Hiei near Kyoto, as the headquarters of the Tendai school. The temple became involved in political struggles and even had its own army of "warriors," the sohei. Most major figures in Japanese Buddhism in the subsequent Heian (794-1185) and Kamakura (1192-1338) periods all studied first on Mount Hiei. The original temple was finally destroyed by the warlord Nobunaga in 1571 but was rebuilt and continues to serve as the Tendai main temple.
♦ The great stupa at Borobudur, in central Java, is built by the Sailendra and Sanjaya dynasties. The known stupa is a vast mandala built of five base layers. Seventy-two smaller stupas, each housing a seated Buddha figure, are scattered throughout the three upper platforms.
♦ The Japanese monk Kukai (774-835) sails for China, where he studies with various monks in temples throughout the empire, finally settling in the Tang dynasty (618-907) capital of Chang’an, at the Ching Long temple. Through his master there, Hui Guo, Kukai obtained instructions in esoteric Buddhism (mikkyo), which Kukai eventually established in Japan as the Shingon school. To this day Shingon remains an important if small sect of Japanese Buddhism. Its head temple is at Kongobu-ji on Mount Koya.
♦ The Tendai Japanese monk and disciple of Saicho Ennin (794-864) travels to China. He remains until 847 and keeps a detailed diary of his experience in China. His description of the Hui Chang Persecution is particularly valuable as an objective record of that key event in Chinese history. He later returns to Japan and incorporates Pure Land elements into Tendai practice.
♦ Hui Chang persecution takes place under the reign of Emperor Wu Zong (r. 841-846) in Tang dynasty (618-907) China. Although this persecution lasted only four years, it was the culmination of a tendency toward official control of Buddhism in China and marks the point at which Buddhism became subservient to official interests. Many scholars see 845 as the beginning of Buddhism’s decline in China.
♦ The Diamond Sutra is printed in Chinese, as confirmed by a copy of the sutra from this date.This text was probably first composed between 100 and 300 c.e. and is part of the family of texts known as the prajnaparamita (perfection of wisdom). The Diamond Sutra opens with the Buddha speaking before a vast crowd including 1,250 monks in the Jeta Grove. The bodhisattva Subhuti approaches with a question, and the Buddha explains the practice of a bodhisattva, a key concept in Mahayana Buddhism.
♦ The Five Dynasties (907-960)/Song-era (9601279) monks Bu Dai and Ji Gong, famous for their eccentric behavior while alive, become popular folk heroes and are quickly deified in popular Chinese religion. Bu Dai is depicted as a fat, laughing monk. His image merges with descriptions of Maitreya, the Buddha of the future, who is henceforth depicted as the laughing Buddha. Ji Gong, in contrast, is a thin, half-drunk beggarlike figure later known as "Crazy Ji." Both figures remain staples in the religious imagination of China and East Asia.
♦ The Korean monk Chegwan (d. 971) formulates the concept of five periods and eight teachings in his short work Tiantai Sijiaoyi (Outline of the Tian Tai fourfold teachings).
♦ In the Song dynasty Chinese Buddhism shifted gears and took on an increasingly popular bent, with, however, less intellectual vigor than shown previously. As an intellectual movement Buddhism had to deal with a reinvigorated Confucian spirit, Neo-Confucianism. Unlike in previous periods, few new Buddhist schools appeared, and such major individuals as the Tian Tai monk Zhi Li (960-1028) tended to focus on rhetorical debates within the existing lineages.
♦ The first Chinese Buddhist canon is printed in Sichuan, China.
♦ The Nyingma, or "Red Hat," school, the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism, is designated as a separate tradition of teachings following the second introduction of Buddhism into Tibet in the 11th century. Nyingma teachings focus on Dzogchen, or the great perfection, as the key doctrine in Buddhist teachings.
♦ Neo-Confucianism is established as the major ideology in China and, later, other East Asian cultures. The intellectual movement began with the philosopher Zhou Dunyi (1017-73 c.e.) of the Song (960-1279) and extended to the Ming (1368-1644) thinker Wang Yangming (1472-1529).
♦ The Tibetan meditation master Milarepa (10401123) begins nine years of solitary meditation, after which he attained full enlightenment. His collected songs, the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, is a testimony to his teaching techniques and popularity.
♦ The university monastic complex at Nalanda, India, originally established in the fifth century c.e., is destroyed by the Turkish-Afghan invader Mahmud Shabbudin Ghori. It had been a key structure for the maintenance of Buddhism, whose loss underlined the final decline from which Indian Buddhism never truly recovered.
♦ The Japanese monk Honen propounds the idea that recitation of the Buddha Amitabha’s name (nembutsu) is the most appropriate form of worship for the current age of degeneration. Through such recitation the believer would be ensured of rebirth in Amitabha’s western paradise. Honen’s ideas were fought against, and he was defrocked. After this he collected his followers and eventually established the Jodo Shu school of Japanese Buddhism.
♦ Chinul, a Chan monk in Korea, promotes Hua Yan (Avatamsaka) and Chan practice in Korea; the latter came to be known as Son. He advocated a path of cultivation in which sudden enlightenment was followed by gradual awakening, as seen in his work Susim kyol (Secrets on cultivating the mind).