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Timeline of Buddhism in World History

Timeline of Buddhism

It isn’t always easy to get a grasp the circumstances surrounding the Buddha’s teachings. What events —spiritual, philosophic and political— where unfolding at the birth and spread of the Dharma?

Here is a timeline that may help you see a better picture of that environment.

It also sketches out the highlights of the spread of Buddhism and the timing of its reach across Asia — mostly carried by traders and travelling monks.

Details have been taken from various sources and you should be aware that many historians disagree on the specifics of dates, especially those based on poems and legends. So this is not an historical document; it only aims to build a context that shows you where and when events roughly unfolded.

YEAR Significant Events During Relevant Half-Century
-800 Composition of earliest Upanishads
Vedic Period
c 800-500 BCE Nubians conquer Egypt
Rise of Greek city-states
Greece, archaic period (800 – 480 BCE)
-750 Rome “founded” by Romulus (753 BCE) First recorded Olympic games 776 BCE
-700 The caste system emerges, with the Brahman priests at the top Acropolis built in Athens
-650 Thales (636-546 BCE)
Pythagoras (570-495 BCE)
-600 Life of Confucius 552-479 BCE Upanishads composed in Sanskrit
-550 Lao-tze reputed author of the Tao Te Ching, founder of Taoism – dates uncertain 6th/5th cent BCE Mahavira, ascetic prince, reforms Jainism in northern India
-500 Birth of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, in Kapilavastu c 480 BCE Socrates (469-399 BCE)
Plato (427-347 BCE)
-450 Death of the Buddha c 405 BCE Afghani merchant broth­ers receive lay vows from the Buddha, return to Bac­tria establish teachings in Afghanistan
-400 First Buddhist Council —Rajagriha c 405 BCE Aristotle (384-322 BCE)
Euclid (c 325-265 BCE)
-350 Second Buddhist Council —Vaisali c 350 BCE Alexander the Great in India 327-325 BCE
-300 Buddhism arrives in SE Asia c 300 BCE Ramayana said to be composed
-250 Third Buddhist Council —Pataliputra, Bihar.
Great Schism- Theravada | Mahasanghika
250 BCE Emperor Ashoka adopts and promotes Buddhism as India’s state religion c 261 BCE
Ashoka sends monks to 9 places including Kashmir, Greece, Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), Egypt, and Thailand
-200 Mahinda introduces Buddhism to Sri Lanka 250 BCE The reign of Sri Lankan King Devaanampiya Tissa (250-210 BCE)
-150 “Questions of Milinda” Indo-Greek King (165?-130 BCE) and Nagasena | Buddhism flourishes c 100 BCE 1st Han Emperor, Kao Tsu, who established Silk Road to Syria, dies 195 BCE
-100 Julius Ceasar assassinated 44 BCE Mount Vesuvius erupts, buries Pompeii
Rome city on fire —Nero “fiddles”
79 BCE
64 BCE
-50 Pali canon is written down in Sri Lanka 29 BCE …during the reign of King Vattagamini (Theravada Buddhist Canon)
2 important monasteries founded in Sri Lanka: Mahaviranhara (Theravadin) | Abhayagiri (Mahayana) c 24 BCE
0 Indo-Greek rule of north-west India ends 1 BCE Herod The Great dies 3 BCE
50 Buddhism reaches China 67 Temple of the White Horse established by Emperor Ming 58-75 CE
100 Buddhism takes root in China …during the Han Dynasty 206 BCE – 220
150 Life of Nagarjuna 150-250 Marcus Aurelius 121-180
200 Buddhism begins to reach Tibet Buddhism begins to reach Indonesia
250 Sri Lankan King Sirisangabo (251-253) follower of the bodhisattva path gifts his own head to peasant King Mahasena ignites sectarianism
Romans re-invade Britain
300 Constantine establishes his capital at Byzantium 330 Buddhist scriptures reach North Tibet – during King Lhatotori Nyentsen’s reign
350 Chinese monks bring Buddhism to Korea 372 Gupta Empire rules India: Hinduism becomes the major religion 350-650
400 Rise of Vajrayana Buddhism 4th cent Fa-hsien travels to India and Sri Lanka, collects texts (Mahaparinirvana-sutra) 399-414
450 Constantine withdraws Roman troops from Britain 407 Attila The Hun defeated
Vandals Sack Rome
500 Bodhidharma arrives in China 520 Sri Lankan King Silakala (518-531) studies at Bodh Gaya monastery and becomes a Mahayana follower
550 Viniaya school founded in Korea Buddhism enters Japan from Korea 552
600 Burma adopts Theravada Buddhism 6th cent Chinese T’ang Dynasty; golden age of Buddhism in China 618-907
650 Life of Songtsen Gampo; Buddhism established in Tibet 618-50 Mohammed flees Mecca (the Hegira) year one: Muslim calendar 622
700 Chandrakirti active in India / Mahayana Buddhism adopted in Indonesia 7th cent Dharmakirti, Sumatran prince/monk, moves to India to teach at Nalanda University
750 King Trisong Detsen invites Padmasambhava to Tibet 744 The Great Samye Debate decides on Indian Mahayana Buddhism as the form for Tibet c 792-94
800 Buddhism becomes state religion of Japan 8th cent Al Khwarizmi invents Algebra 820
850 King Langdharma persecutes Tibetan Buddhists 836-842 Taoist Chinese emperor Wu-Tsung suppresses Buddhism 845
900 Tibetan Dynasties destroyed — Buddhism practically wiped out in Tibet 877 Vikings discover Greenland c 900
950 Second Buddhist period starts in Tibet 978 Sung Dynasty founded 960
1000 Atisha comes to Tibet founds Kadampa school (later becomes Gelugpa order). 1038 Korea institutes a Buddhist constitution early
10th cent
1050 Birth of Milarepa, 2nd hierarch of Kagyu order and renowned yogi poet 1040 Battle of Hastings 1066
1100 King of Burma restores Theravadin monasticism — Mahayana declines 11th cent First Crusades 1096 – 1099
1150 Paris: first streets paved 1184 Richard The Lionheart killed by arrow 1199
1200 Buddhism is virtually extinct in India mid
12th cent
1250 Mongols invade Korea, destroy Buddhist scriptures 1231-59 Kublai Khan accepts Tibetan Buddhism
Marco Polo lands in Sri Lanka
late 13th cent
1300 Hundred Year War (1337 – 1453)
The Black Death/Plague (1347 – 1353)
The Ottoman Empire founded 1326
1350 Theravada Buddhism becomes state religion of Thailand 1360 Portugal wins freedom from Spain 1385
1400 Theravada Buddhism introduced in Laos 14th cent Joan of Arc- burned alive 1431
1450 Ganden, first Gelug monastery, built by Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) 1409 Guttenberg invents the printing press 1450
1500 Theravada Buddhism dominant in Cambodia 15th cent Mogul Empire begins: unifies much of south India with north 1526
1550 Sonam Gyatso is titled the Dalai Lama by the Mongolian leader Altan Khan 1578 Queen Mary succeeded by Elizabeth 1558
1600 Life of the fifth Dalai Lama and beginning of rule of Tibet by Dalai Lamas 1617-82 Holland, Great Britain and France establish trading posts in India