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Buddhism in Central Asia: History and the Heritage of the Past

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Zhejiang University School of Public


International Affairs and Global


Submitted by: Akhmetova Anel

Student ID: LX17067 

Buddhism in Central Asia: history and the heritage of the past


At all times, Central Asia was the scene of the spread of various religions and cults. The special place of Central Asia in the history of Buddhism is determined not only by the gigantic territory, but first of all by the fact that in the process of spreading the Buddha's teachings it connected two great civilizations — India, the homeland of Buddhism, where the doctrine reached its greatness in ancient times, and China — a country where Buddhism flourished in the early middle ages. It is known that among the missionaries who contributed to the spread of Buddhism in China, there were many representatives of the peoples of Central Asia; in particular, Parthians, Sogdians, hotants were among the first translators of Buddhist texts into Chinese[1].

In Central Asia, there were large Buddhist complexes, from which we take a variety of materials known for archaeological works: written documents, remains of architecture, the works of art. They clearly show that Buddhism was very important, but not the only component in the complex picture of the confessional history of this region, which intertwined Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Manichaeism, various Turkic religious views and, finally, Islam. It is not by accident that Buddhism in Central Asia has been the subject of research since the late XIX century, and it is devoted to extensive literature[2]. But, in addition to the impact on religious beliefs, political history and culture of Central Asia, inter-state and inter-ethnic relations, Buddhism, which had a stable religious iconography, had a huge impact on the formation of the art of the region[3].

Despite available yielded, results of excavation and materials, a Buddhism research in Central Asia are represented by a set of problems in dating definition. Therefore results of a research of all scientists are very important aspect in this sphere.

Buddhism history research level

Pre-revolutionary Russian science has been studying Buddhism and Buddhist culture a lot and successfully. Already at the end of XIX — the beginning of XX century thanks to researches of such luminaries as V. Vasilyev, I. Minaev, S. Oldenburg, F. Shcherbatskoi, O. Rosenberg and other Russian scientists, Buddhist Studies takes the most advanced positions in the world science.

The history of Buddhism in Central Asia and the role of this region in promoting this religion in China are very closely linked. Consideration of this issue is to start first of all you need with missions sent Asoka (mid-III century BC) in Arachosia and Gandhara[4], and materials about the early stages of Buddhism in Afghanistan. Buddhist missionary activity appears to have been unfolding in the North, towards Bactria, and in the Northwest, towards the borders of Parthia.

Central Asia, including Bactria and Parthia, served as a springboard for preaching Buddhism in China. Natives of Central Asia made a significant contribution to the spread of Buddhism in China. In the first generation of translators consisted of two Parthians — An Shi-Gao[5] and his student An Xuan, three of the Yue-Zhi — Zhi Laojia Cjan, Zhi Liao and Zhi Liang, the two Sogdian- Kang Mengxiang and Kang Juyuai. An Shi Gao was the first historical apostle of Central Asian and Chinese Buddhism. He was the man who began the systematic translation of Buddhist texts into Chinese and organized a translation group. According to various sources, he is credited with 34 to 176 works and translations.

Translators of the second generation, who worked in the second half of the II — III century, also transferred to the Chinese a significant number of Buddhist works.

The prominent researcher of the Chinese Buddhism E. Zurcher has come to conclusion that originally the Buddhism in China had character of "a hybrid cult" and distribution and concentrated in court circles. But then there was also the Chinese monastic Buddhism — not hybrid, and replaced to the Chinese soil. Zurcher considers it has arisen among monks-translators and their Chinese assistants and also Buddhist laymen. It has occurred about the middle of the 2nd century BC. At the same time, he proves that contrary to earlier expressing, including him, to statements, in East Turkestan from I to the beginning of the 3rd century AD the Buddhism didn't extend, and the edge was "a Buddhist vacuum". However Zurcher thinks that East Turkestan in this early time was "a neutral zone of transit of the Buddhism to China" too, i.e. even in case of acceptance of his hypothesis[6], East Turkestan remains the region through which carried out "transit" of the Buddhism to China. This distribution came from Central Asia (it is documented, except written sources, and archaeological materials)[7], and also (in the southern oases of East Turkestan) directly from India.

According to the famous historian E.V. Rtveladze, the Buddhism has come to Central Asia during existence of the Greek-Bactrian empire. At that time Buddhism has already taken strong positions in Bactria and West India (Yandkhar). Rtveladze's theory is confirmed by numerous archeological finds in the territory of the ancient Greek-Bactrian kingdom. In particular, coins of the Greek-Bactrian tsar Agathokle (a comment 185-170 BC) with the image on them the Buddhist of "stupa" have been found here.

The famous researcher of Central Asia B. Litvinsky considers that influence of the Buddhism in Bactria can be tracked with before kushan and the beginnings of the kushan period. His point of view is based on the historical sources relating to the period since the first century B.C. to the first century AD.

On the basis of archaeological data from excavation of Buddhist monuments of Northern Bactria, other authoritative historian B. Staviski assumes that the Buddhism meets in Bactria during government of the famous kushan master Kanishki (迦腻色伽).

B. Mukerzhi has carried out the critical analyses of all materials on this problem, including the evidence of Buddhism penetration into China. He has drawn a conclusion that the Buddhism has begun to extend in Central Asia, in particular in Bactria from the middle of the 1st century BC. His conclusion is confirmed by coins of the kushan emperor Vima Kadphises, the predecessor of Kanishki. These coins have been found in reliable the strategic layers in a number of the locations of Buddhist monuments in Northern Bactria – to Aytrama, Fayaz-Tepe, Kara- Tepe.



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