History and Sources

How was Buddhism spread through Southeast Asia?

Buddhists call the spread of the tradition through lineages of teachers and students “dharma transmission.” Sri Lanka was one of the first regions outside of India to form a link in the “southern transmission.” A lineage known as the Theravada (“Wisdom of the Elders”) was introduced to Sri Lanka as early as the third century B.C.E. It spread into Burma and was well rooted there by about the fifth or sixth century C.E. There Buddhism benefitted from the patronage of King Anawratha (1044-77), under whose dynasty Burma became almost entirely Buddhist. According to tradition, Ashoka’s own missionaries brought the faith to Thailand as early as the third century B.C.E. The earliest solid evidence of Buddhism in Thailand is indigenous Buddhist art from eight or nine centuries later. In Kampuchea (formerly called Cambodia) a blend of Mahayana and Hindu beliefs were dominant around the royal complexes of Angkor toward the end of the first millennium. Theravada teaching came to the fore after about 1200, but its institutions have just barely survived disastrous political upheavals of the late twentieth century. Vietnam seems to have participated in the Theravada transmission early on, but missionaries from China succeeded in establishing Mahayana teaching there between about 1000 and 1400.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Religion Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App