Theravāda is the most ancient branch of extant Buddhism today and the one that preserved their version of the teachings of Gautama Buddha in the Pāli Canon. The Pāli Canon is the only complete Buddhist canon which survives in a classical Indian language, Pāli, which serves as both sacred language and lingua franca of Theravāda Buddhism. For more than a millennium, Theravāda has focused on preserving the dhamma as preserved in its texts and it tends to be conservative with regard to matters of doctrine and monastic discipline. Since the 19th century, meditation practice has been re-introduced and has become popular with a lay audience, both in traditional Theravada countries and in the west; as a distinct school of early Buddhism, Theravāda Buddhism developed in Sri Lanka and subsequently spread to the rest of Southeast Asia. It is the dominant form of religion in Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand and is practiced by minority groups in India, China and Vietnam. In addition, the diaspora of all of these groups as well as converts around the world practice Theravāda Buddhism.
Contemporary expressions include Buddhist modernism, the Vipassana movement and the Thai Forest Tradition. The name Theravāda comes from the ancestral Sthāvirīya, one of the early Buddhist schools, from which the Theravadins claim descent; the Sthavira nikāya arose during the first schism in the Buddhist sangha, due to their desire to tighten monastic discipline by adding new Vinaya rules, against the wishes of the majority Mahāsāṃghika group who disagreed with this. According to its own accounts, the Theravāda school is fundamentally derived from the Vibhajjavāda "doctrine of analysis" grouping, a division of the Sthāvirīya. According to Damien Keown, there is no historical evidence that the Theravāda school arose until around two centuries after the Great Schism which occurred at the Third Council. Theravadin accounts of its own origins mention that it received the teachings that were agreed upon during the putative Third Buddhist council under the patronage of the Indian Emperor Ashoka around 250 BCE.
These teachings were known as the Vibhajjavāda. Emperor Ashoka is supposed to have assisted in purifying the sangha by expelling monks who failed to agree to the terms of Third Council; the elder monk Moggaliputta-Tissa was at the head of the Third council and compiled the Kathavatthu, a refutation of various opposing views, an important work in the Theravada Abhidhamma. The Vibhajjavādins in turn is said to have split into four groups: the Mahīśāsaka, Kāśyapīya, Dharmaguptaka in the north, the Tāmraparṇīya in South India; the Tambapaṇṇiya, were established in Sri Lanka but active in Andhra and other parts of South India and across South-East Asia. Inscriptional evidence of this school has been found in Nagarjunakonda. According to Buddhist scholar A. K. Warder, the Theravāda. Spread south from Avanti into Maharashtra and Andhra and down to the Chola country, as well as Sri Lanka. For some time they maintained themselves in Avanti as well as in their new territories, but they tended to regroup themselves in the south, the Great Vihara in Anuradhapura, the ancient capital of Sri Lanka, becoming the main centre of their tradition, Kanchi a secondary center and the northern regions relinquished to other schools.
The Theravāda is said to be descended from the Tāmraparṇīya sect, which means "the Sri Lankan lineage". Missionaries sent abroad from India are said to have included Ashoka's son Mahinda and his daughter Sanghamitta, they were the mythical founders of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, a story which scholars suggest helps to legitimize Theravāda's claims of being the oldest and most authentic school. According to the Mahavamsa chronicle their arrival in Sri Lanka is said to have been during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura who converted to Buddhism and helped build the first Buddhist stupas. According to S. D. Bandaranayake: The rapid spread of Buddhism and the emergence of an extensive organization of the sangha are linked with the secular authority of the central state... There are no known artistic or architectural remains from this epoch except for the cave dwellings of the monks, reflecting the growth and spread of the new religion; the most distinctive features of this phase and the only contemporary historical material, are the numerous Brahmi inscriptions associated with these caves.
They record gifts to the sangha by householders and chiefs rather than by kings. The Buddhist religion itself does not seem to have established undisputed authority until the reigns of Dutthagamani and Vattagamani... The first records of Buddha images come from the reign of king Vasabha, after the 3rd century AD the historical record shows a growth of the worship of Buddha images as well as Bodhisattvas. In the 7th century, the Chinese pilgrim monks Xuanzang and Yijing refer to the Buddhist schools in Sri Lanka as Shàngzuòbù, corresponding to the Sanskrit Sthavira nikāya and Pali Thera Nikāya. Yijing writes, "In Sri Lanka the Sthavira school alone flourishes; the school has been using the name Theravāda for itself in a written form since at least the 4th century, about one thousand years after the Buddha's death, when the term appears in the Dīpavaṁsa. Between the reigns of Sena I and Mahinda IV, the city of Anuradhapura saw a "colossal building effort" by various kings during a long period of peace and prosperity, the great part o
Buddhism in Nepal
Buddhism in Nepal started spreading since the reign of Ashoka through Indian and Tibetan missionaries. The Kiratas were the first people in Nepal who embraced Gautama Buddha’s teachings, followed by the Licchavis and Newars. Buddha was born in Lumbini in the Shakya Kingdom. Lumbini is considered to lie in Lumbini zone of Nepal. Buddhism is the second-largest religion in Nepal. According to 2011 census, the Buddhist population in Nepal is 9% of the country population, it has not been possible to assign with certainty the year in which Prince Siddhartha, the birth name of the Buddha, was born, it is placed at around 563 BCE. According to 2001 census, 10.74% of Nepal's population practice Buddhism, consisting of Tibeto-Burman-speaking ethnicities, the Newar. In Nepal's hill and mountain regions Hinduism has absorbed Buddhist tenets to such an extent that in many cases they have shared deities as well as temples. For instance, the Muktinath Temple is sacred and a common house of worship for both Hindus and Buddhists.
In Nepal the majority of people identify as Hindu, Buddhist influences are pervasive in most aspects of Nepali culture to an extent that Buddhist and Hindu temples are shared places of worship for peoples of both faith so that, unlike, in other countries, the distinction between Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal is not always clear. During the reign of King Aṃśuvarman, the Nepalese princess Bhrikuti played a significant role in spreading and developing Buddhism in Tibet. Tibetan Buddhist architecture has long been influenced by Nepalese artists and sculptors like Araniko; the sacred Buddhist texts in Mahayana Buddhism are written in the Ranjana alphabet, the script of the Newars, or scripts like Lantsa, which are derived from Ranjana. In traditional Nepalese Buddhism, there are nine special texts which are called the "Nine Dharma Jewels", these are considered the nine books of Buddhism par excellence: Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra Ten Stages Sutra Samādhirāja Sūtra Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra Lotus Sutra Tathāgataguhya Sūtra Lalitavistara Sūtra Golden Light SutraAmong the Tibeto-Burman-speaking peoples, Tibetan Buddhism is the most practised form.
Newar Buddhism is a form of Vajrayana influenced by Theravada Buddhism. Many Buddhist groups are influenced by Hinduism. Buddhism is the dominant religion of the thinly populated northern areas, which are inhabited by Tibetan-related peoples, namely the Sherpa, Manangi, Lhomi and Nyimba, they constitute a small minority of the country's population. Ethnic groups that live in central Nepal such as the Gurungs, Tamang, Newars, Thami and Chepang are Buddhist; these ethnic groups have larger populations compared to their northern neighbours. They came under the influence of Hinduism due to their close contacts with the Hindu castes. In turn, many of them adopted Hinduism and have been integrated into the caste system; the Kirati people the Limbu and the Rai people, have adopted Tibetan Buddhist practises from their Buddhist neighbours. The Jirel people, who are considered a Kirati, have adopted Tibetan Buddhism. Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha in Nepal, he attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya, in present-day Bihar, India.
He there preached his teachings and thus Buddhism came into existence. Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Empire put up a pillar at Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, in the second century BCE. After the Third Buddhist council, Ashoka missionaries to Nepal, it is believed that Ashoka went to Patan and had four stupas built there. It is believed that his daughter Charumati established the village of Chabahil, located between Kathmandu and Boudha.. The Licchavi period saw the flourishing of both Buddhism in Nepal. Excellent examples of Buddhist art of the period are the half-sunken Buddha in Pashupatinath, the sleeping Vishnu in Budhanilkantha, the statue of Buddha and the various representations of Vishnu in Changu Narayan. Another Buddhist text, the Manjushrimula Kalpa, mentioned Manadeva as the King of Nepal Mandala. Researchers believe the Mulasarvastivadavinaya was written in the 2nd century CE, that the Manjushriulakalpa was written during Manadeva's reign; the Swayambhu Purana, the ancient Buddhist Purana text, a Licchavi inscription all mentioned Nepal Mandala.
Buddhist inscriptions and chronicles and Tibetan sources record a few tantric Buddhist deities, namely Akshobhya, Vajrayogini, Vajrabhairava and Samantabhadra. Strong influence from Animism resulted in belief in Buddhist deities such as the Pancaraksas. Religious tolerance and syncretism were stressed during the Licchavi period. King Manadeva paid homage at both Buddhist sites, his family subsequently found expression for their beliefs in various religions. The worship of the Caitya and the Rath Jatra cart festival of Avalokitesvara were introduced around this period. Many ancient sites in the Kathmandu Valley were identified with major Buddhist Caityas, such as Swayambhu, Boudhanath and the four "Ashoka" stupas of Patan, another two hundred stone dating from the Licchavi Period, were testified to the widespread antiquity of worship, it is possible that this practice, in its earliest incarnation, was related to the worship of stones, which may have originated in the early, rival Kirata inhabitants of the Valley, prior to the Licchavis.
According to one of the earliest Licchavi inscriptions, Caitya worship ordinarily consisted of ritual circumambulation of the caitya and offering standard items such as incense, colored powder, oil lamps and ablutions. At times, the inscriptions indicate, it could involve res
The Huayan or Flower Garland school of Buddhism is a tradition of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy that first flourished in China during the Tang dynasty. The Huayen worldview is based on the Avatamsaka Sutra; the name Flower Garland is meant to suggest the crowning glory of a Buddha's profound understanding of ultimate reality. The Huayan School is known as Hwaeom in Kegon in Japan; this tradition had a strong influence on Chan Buddhism. The earliest texts associated with the Avatamsaka sutra are the Dousha jing, produced by Lokaksema in the latter part of the second century CE and the Pusa benye jing, translated by Zhi Qian in the early to mid third century. There is evidence that these small Buddhavatamsaka sutras circulated on their own as individual scriptures; the translation of the large Avatamsaka sutra is dated to the Southern Dynasties when a translation team led by Gandharan master, Buddhabhadra worked on the sutra. There is evidence of this sutra tradition in the Northern Dynasties where a certain Xuangao taught the Huayan samadhi.
The founding of the school is traditionally attributed to a series of five "patriarchs" who were instrumental in developing the schools' doctrines. These five are: Dushun, responsible for the establishment of Huayan studies as a distinct field; the five monks honored as Huayan patriarchs were erudite scholar-practitioners who connected Buddhism with Chinese traditional culture creating a Buddhist historical trend in developing multiple facets while the tradition’s essence remained the same. Based on their writings and oral teachings, these men each played a significant and distinct role in the development of the school, although there are certain aspects of this patriarchal scheme which are contrived. For example, Chengguan was born 26 years after Fazang's death. According to Robert Gimello's dissertation on Chih-Yen, "most if not all of the major themes of Huayen thought" can be found in the works of the second patriarch Chih-yen the classification of scriptures and theories on the Dharmadhatu.
Thus he names the patriarch Chih-yen as the crucial figure in the foundation of Huayan. The tradition reached the height of its influence under Fazang, the Buddhist teacher of the Empress Wu Zetian. Another important figure in the development and popularization of Huayan thought was the lay scholar Li Tongxuan, the author of the Huáyán lùn, a popular and lengthy commentary on the Avatamsaka sutra. Fazang's disciple Huiyuan wrote a commentary on the Avatamsaka; some accounts of the school like to extend its patriarch-ship earlier to Aśvaghoṣa and Nāgārjuna. After the time of Zongmi and Li Tongxuan the Chinese school of Huayan stagnated in terms of new development, eventually began to decline; the school, dependent upon the support it received from the government, suffered during the Buddhist purge of 841-845, initiated by Emperor Wuzong of Tang, never to recover its former strength. Nonetheless, its profound metaphysics, such as that of the Four Dharmadhātu of interpenetration, had a deep impact on surviving East Asian schools.
The Huayan school's worldview was inspired on the content of what it considered to be the supreme Buddhist revelation, the Avataṃsaka Sūtra. The Avataṃsaka Sūtra is a compilation of sutras of various length, which circulated as their own sutras before being combined; the earliest of these texts, the Ten Stages Sutra, maybe dates from the first century CE. The Daśabhūmika Sūtra describes the ten stages on the Bodhisattva-path; the various sutras were joined together shortly before its translation into Chinese, at the beginning of the 5th century CE. According to Williams, the Avataṃsaka Sūtra is not a systematic philosophical work, but mentions various Mahayana teachings, including Madhyamaka śūnyatā teachings, Yogacara ideas, as well as mentioning a pure untainted awareness or consciousness, it is filled with mystical and visionary imagery, focusing on the Buddha Vairocana, said to pervade every atom of the entire universe with his magical creations and emanations as a way to help all beings:In each dust-mote of these worldsAre countless worlds and Buddhas...
From the tip of each hair of Buddha's body Are revealed the indescribable Pure Lands... The indescribable infinite Lands All ensemble in a hair's tip. An important doctrine that the Huayan school drew from this sutra is the idea that all levels of reality are interrelated and interpenetrated, the idea that "inside everything is everything else"; the sutra states:They... perceive that the fields full of assemblies, the beings and aeons which are as many as all the dust particles, are all present in every particle of dust. They perceive that the many fields and assemblies and the beings and the aeons are all reflected in each particle of dust. In the Huayan school, this is depicted in the image of Indra's net; this "unity in
Mahāyāna is one of two main existing branches of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. This movement added a further set of discourses, although it was small in India, it had long-term historical significance; the Buddhist tradition of Vajrayana is sometimes classified as a part of Mahāyāna Buddhism, but some scholars consider it to be a different branch altogether. According to the teachings of Mahāyāna traditions, "Mahāyāna" refers to the path of the Bodhisattva seeking complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings called "Bodhisattvayāna", or the "Bodhisattva Vehicle". A bodhisattva who has accomplished this goal is called a samyaksaṃbuddha, or "fully enlightened Buddha". A samyaksaṃbuddha can establish the Dharma and lead disciples to enlightenment. Mahāyāna Buddhists teach that enlightenment can be attained in a single lifetime, this can be accomplished by a layperson; the Mahāyāna tradition is the largest major tradition of Buddhism existing today, with 53% of practitioners, compared to 36% for Theravada and 6% for Vajrayana in 2010.
In the course of its history, Mahāyāna Buddhism spread from India to various other South and Southeast Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore. Mahayana Buddhism spread to other South and Southeast Asian countries, such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Burma and other Central Asian countries before being replaced by Theravada Buddhism or other religions. Large Mahāyāna scholastic centers such as Nalanda thrived during the latter period of Buddhism in India, between the seventh and twelfth centuries. Major traditions of Mahāyāna Buddhism today include Chan Buddhism, Korean Seon, Japanese Zen, Pure Land Buddhism, Nichiren Buddhism and Vietnamese Buddhism, it may include the Vajrayana traditions of Tiantai, Shingon Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, which add esoteric teachings to the Mahāyāna tradition. According to Jan Nattier, the term Mahāyāna was an honorary synonym for Bodhisattvayāna – the vehicle of a bodhisattva seeking buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.
The term Mahāyāna was therefore adopted at an early date as a synonym for the path and the teachings of the bodhisattvas. Since it was an honorary term for Bodhisattvayāna, the adoption of the term Mahāyāna and its application to Bodhisattvayāna did not represent a significant turning point in the development of a Mahāyāna tradition; the earliest Mahāyāna texts use the term Mahāyāna as a synonym for Bodhisattvayāna, but the term Hīnayāna is comparatively rare in the earliest sources. The presumed dichotomy between Mahāyāna and Hīnayāna can be deceptive, as the two terms were not formed in relation to one another in the same era. Among the earliest and most important references to Mahāyāna are those that occur in the Lotus Sūtra dating between the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE. Seishi Karashima has suggested that the term first used in an earlier Gandhāri Prakrit version of the Lotus Sūtra was not the term mahāyāna but the Prakrit word mahājāna in the sense of mahājñāna. At a stage when the early Prakrit word was converted into Sanskrit, this mahājāna, being phonetically ambivalent, was mistakenly converted into mahāyāna because of what may have been a double meaning in the famous Parable of the Burning House, which talks of three vehicles or carts.
The origins of Mahāyāna are still not understood and there are numerous competing theories. The earliest Western views of Mahāyāna assumed that it existed as a separate school in competition with the so-called "Hīnayāna" schools. According to David Drewes, for most of the 20th century, the leading theories about the origins of Mahāyāna were that it was either a lay movement or that it developed among the Mahāsāṃghika Nikaya; these theories have been overturned or shown to be problematic. The earliest textual evidence of "Mahāyāna" comes from sūtras originating around the beginning of the common era. Jan Nattier has noted that some of the earliest Mahāyāna texts, such as the Ugraparipṛccha Sūtra use the term "Mahāyāna", yet there is no doctrinal difference between Mahāyāna in this context and the early schools, that "Mahāyāna" referred rather to the rigorous emulation of Gautama Buddha in the path of a bodhisattva seeking to become a enlightened buddha. Nattier writes that in the Ugra, Mahāyāna is not a school, but a rigorous and demanding "spiritual vocation, to be pursued within the existing Buddhist community."Several scholars such as Hendrik Kern and A.
K. Warder suggested that Mahāyāna and its sutras developed among the Mahāsāṃghika Nikaya, some pointing to the area along the Kṛṣṇa River in the Āndhra region of southern India as a geographical origin. Paul Williams thinks that "there can be no doubt that at least some early Mahāyāna sutras originated in Mahāsāṃghika circles", pointing to the Mahāsāṃghika doctrine of the supramundane nature of the Buddha, close to the Mahāyāna view of the Buddha. Anthony Barber and Sree Padma note that "historians of Buddhist thought have been aware for quite some time that such pivotally important Mahayana Buddhist thinkers as Nāgārjuna, Candrakīrti, Āryadeva, Bhavaviveka, among many others, formulated their theories
Silk Road transmission of Buddhism
Buddhism entered Han China via the Silk Road, beginning in the 1st or 2nd century CE. The first documented translation efforts by Buddhist monks in China were in the 2nd century CE under the influence of the expansion of the Kushan Empire into the Chinese territory of the Tarim Basin under Kanishka; these contacts brought Gandharan Buddhist culture into territories adjacent to China proper. Direct contact between Central Asian and Chinese Buddhism continued throughout the 3rd to 7th century, well into the Tang period. From the 4th century onward, with Faxian's pilgrimage to India, Xuanzang, Chinese pilgrims started to travel by themselves to northern India, their source of Buddhism, in order to get improved access to original scriptures. Much of the land route connecting northern India with China at that time was ruled by the Kushan Empire, the Hephthalite Empire; the Indian form of Buddhist tantra reached China in the 7th century. Tibetan Buddhism was established as a branch of Vajrayana, in the 8th century.
But from about this time, the Silk Road transmission of Buddhism began to decline with the Muslim conquest of Transoxiana, resulting in the Uyghur Khaganate by the 740s. By this time, Indian Buddhism itself was in decline, due to the resurgence of Hinduism on one hand and due to the Muslim expansion on the other, while Tang-era Chinese Buddhism was repressed in the 9th century, but not before in its turn giving rise to Korean and Japanese traditions. Buddhism was brought to China via the Silk Road. Buddhist monks travelled with merchant caravans on the Silk Road; the lucrative Chinese silk trade along this trade route began during the Han Dynasty with the establishment by Alexander the Great of a system of Hellenistic kingdoms and trade networks extending from the Mediterranean to modern Afghanistan and Tajikistan on the borders of China. The powerful Greco-Bactrian Kingdoms in Afghanistan and the Indo-Greek Kingdoms practiced Greco-Buddhism and formed the first stop on the Silk Road, after China, for nearly 300 years.
See Dayuan. The transmission of Buddhism to China via the Silk Road started in the 1st century CE with a semi-legendary account of an embassy sent to the West by the Chinese Emperor Ming: It may be assumed that travelers or pilgrims brought Buddhism along the Silk Roads, but whether this first occurred from the earliest period when those roads were open, ca. 100 BC, must remain open to question. The earliest direct references to Buddhism concern the 1st century AD, but they include hagiographical elements and are not reliable or accurate. Extensive contacts however started in the 2nd century CE as a consequence of the expansion of the Greco-Buddhist Kushan Empire into the Chinese territory of the Tarim Basin, with the missionary efforts of a great number of Central Asian Buddhist monks to Chinese lands; the first missionaries and translators of Buddhists scriptures into Chinese were either Parthian, Sogdian or Kuchean. In the middle of the 2nd century, the Kushan Empire under king Kaniṣka from its capital at Purushapura, India expanded into Central Asia and went beyond the regions of Kashgar and Yarkand, in the Tarim Basin, modern Xinjiang.
As a consequence, cultural exchanges increased, Central Asian Buddhist missionaries became active shortly after in the Chinese capital cities of Loyang and sometimes Nanjing, where they distinguished themselves by their translation work. They promoted both Mahāyāna scriptures. Thirty-seven of these early translators of Buddhist texts are known. An Shigao, a Parthian prince who made the first known translations of Hīnayāna Buddhist texts into Chinese Lokakṣema, a Kushan and the first to translate Mahāyāna scriptures into Chinese An Xuan, a Parthian merchant who became a monk in China in 181 Zhi Yao, a Kushan monk in the second generation of translators after Lokakṣema. Kang Meng-hsiang, the first translator from Kangju Zhi Qian, a Kushan monk whose grandfather had settled in China during 168–190 Zhi Yueh, a Kushan monk who worked at Nanjing Kang Senghui, born in Jiaozhi close to modern Hanoi in what was the extreme south of the Chinese empire, a son of a Sogdian merchant Tan-ti, a Parthian monk Po Yen, a Kuchean prince Dharmarakṣa, a Kushan whose family had lived for generations at Dunhuang An Fachiin, a monk of Parthian origins Po Srimitra, a Kuchean prince Kumārajīva, a Kuchean monk and one of the most important translators Dharmakṣema, scholar who brought Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra to China Fotudeng, a Central Asian monk who became a counselor to the Chinese court Bodhidharma, the founder of the Chan school of Buddhism, the legendary originator of the physical training of the Shaolin monks that led to the creation of Shaolin kung fu.
According to the earliest reference to him, by Yang Xuanzhi, he was a monk of Central Asian origin whom Yang Xuanshi met around 520 at Loyang. Throughout Buddhist art, Bodhidharma is depicted as a rather ill-tempered, profusely bearded and wide-eyed barbarian, he is referred to as "The Blue-Eyed Barbarian" in Chinese Chan texts. Five monks from Gandhāra who traveled in 485 CE to the country of Fusang, where they introduced Buddhism. Jñānagupta, a monk and translator from Gandhāra Śikṣānanda, a monk and translator from Udyāna, Gandhāra Prajñā (c. 81
Dunhuang is a county-level city in northwestern Gansu Province, Western China. The 2000 Chinese census reported a population of 187,578 in this city. Dunhuang is best known for the nearby Mogao Caves, it has been known at times as Shazhou and, in Uyghur, Dukhan. Dunhuang is situated in a oasis containing Crescent Lake and Mingsha Shan, named after the sound of the wind whipping off the dunes, the singing sand phenomenon. Dunhuang commands a strategic position at the crossroads of the ancient Southern Silk Route and the main road leading from India via Lhasa to Mongolia and Southern Siberia, as well as controlling the entrance to the narrow Hexi Corridor, which led straight to the heart of the north Chinese plains and the ancient capitals of Chang'an and Luoyang. Administratively, the county-level city of Dunhuang is part of the prefecture-level city of Jiuquan. There is evidence of habitation in the area as early as 2,000 BC by people recorded as the Qiang in Chinese history, its name was mentioned in relation to the homeland of the Yuezhi in the Records of the Grand Historian.
Some have argued that this may refer to the unrelated toponym Dunhong – the archaeologist Lin Meicun has suggested that Dunhuan may be a Chinese name for the Tukhara, a people believed to be a Central Asian offshoot of the Yuezhi. By the third century BC, the area became dominated by the Xiongnu, but came under Chinese rule during the Han dynasty after Emperor Wu defeated the Xiongnu in 121 BC. Dunhuang was one of the four frontier garrison towns established by the Emperor Wu after the defeat of the Xiongnu, the Chinese built fortifications at Dunhuang and sent settlers there; the name Dunhuang, meaning "Blazing Beacon", refers to the beacons lit to warn of attacks by marauding nomadic tribes. Dunhuang Commandery was established shortly after 104 BC. Located in the western end of the Hexi Corridor near the historic junction of the Northern and Southern Silk Roads, Dunhuang was a town of military importance."The Great Wall was extended to Dunhuang, a line of fortified beacon towers stretched westwards into the desert.
By the second century AD Dunhuang had a population of more than 76,000 and was a key supply base for caravans that passed through the city: those setting out for the arduous trek across the desert loaded up with water and food supplies, others arriving from the west gratefully looked upon the mirage-like sight of Dunhuang's walls, which signified safety and comfort. Dunhuang prospered on the heavy flow of traffic; the first Buddhist caves in the Dunhuang area were hewn in 353." During the Sui and Tang dynasties, it was the main stop of communication between ancient China and the rest of the world and a major hub of commerce of the Silk Road. Dunhuang was the intersection city of all three main silk routes during this time. From the West came early Buddhist monks who had arrived in China by the first century AD, a sizable Buddhist community developed in Dunhuang; the caves carved out by the monks used for meditation, developed into a place of worship and pilgrimage called the Mogao Caves or "Caves of a Thousand Buddhas."
A number of Christian and Manichaean artifacts have been found in the caves, testimony to the wide variety of people who made their way along the Silk Road. During the time of the Sixteen Kingdoms, Li Gao established the Western Liang here in 400 AD. In 405 the capital of the Western Liang was moved from Dunhuang to Jiuquan. In 421 the Western Liang was conquered by the Northern Liang; as a frontier town, Dunhuang occupied at various times by non-Han people. After the fall of Han Dynasty it came under the rule of various nomadic tribes, such as the Xiongnu during Northern Liang and the Turkic Tuoba during Northern Wei; the Tibetans occupied Dunhuang when the Tang empire became weakened after the An Lushan Rebellion. After the fall of Tang, Zhang's family formed the Kingdom of Golden Mountain in 910, but in 911 it came under the influence of the Uighurs; the Zhangs were succeeded by the Cao family who formed alliances with the Uighurs and the Kingdom of Khotan. During the Song dynasty, Dunhuang fell outside the Chinese borders.
In 1036 the Tanguts who founded the Western Xia dynasty captured Dunhuang. From the reconquest of 848 to about 1036, Dunhuang was a multicultural entrepot that contained one of the largest ethnic Sogdian communities in China following the An Lushan Rebellion; the Sogdians were Sinified to some extent and were bilingual in Chinese and Sogdian, wrote their documents in Chinese characters but written horizontally from left to right instead of the right to left vertical lines that Chinese was written at the time. Dunhuang was conquered in 1227 by the Mongols who sacked and destroyed the town, the rebuilt town became part of the Mongol Empire in the wake of Kublai Khan' s conquest of China under the Yuan dynasty. Dunhuang went into a steep decline after the Chinese trade with the outside world became dominated by Southern sea-routes, the Silk Road was abandoned during the Ming dynasty, it was occupied again by the Tibetans c. 1516, came under the influence of the Chagatai Khanate in the early sixteenth century.
It was retaken by China two centuries c. 1715 during the Qing dynasty, the present-day city of Dunhuang was established east of the ruined old city in 1725. In
Vajrayāna, Mantrayāna, Tantrayāna, Tantric Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism are terms referring to the various Buddhist traditions of Tantra and "Secret Mantra", which developed in medieval India and spread to Tibet and East Asia. In Tibet, Buddhist Tantra is termed Vajrayāna, while in China it is known as Tángmì Hanmi 漢密 or Mìzōng, in Pali it is known as Pyitsayãna, in Japan it is known as Mikkyō. Vajrayāna is translated as Diamond Vehicle or Thunderbolt Vehicle, referring to the Vajra, a mythical weapon, used as a ritual implement. Founded by medieval Indian Mahāsiddhas, Vajrayāna subscribes to the literature known as the Buddhist Tantras, it includes practices that make use of mantras, mudras and the visualization of deities and Buddhas. According to Vajrayāna scriptures, the term Vajrayāna refers to one of three vehicles or routes to enlightenment, the other two being the Śrāvakayāna and Mahāyāna. Tantric Buddhism can be traced back to groups of wandering yogis called Mahasiddhas. According to Reynolds, the mahasiddhas date to the medieval period in the Northern Indian Subcontinent, used methods that were radically different than those used in Buddhist monasteries including living in forests and caves and practiced meditation in charnel grounds similar to those practiced by Shaiva Kapalika ascetics.
These yogic circles came together in tantric feasts in sacred sites and places which included dancing, sex rites and the ingestion of taboo substances like alcohol, meat, etc. At least two of the Mahasiddhas given in the Buddhist literature are names for Shaiva Nath saints who practiced Hatha Yoga. According to Schumann, a movement called, it was dominated by long-haired, wandering Mahasiddhas who challenged and ridiculed the Buddhist establishment. The Mahasiddhas pursued siddhis, magical powers such as flight and extrasensory perception as well as liberation. Ronald M. Davidson states that, "Buddhist siddhas demonstrated the appropriation of an older sociological form—the independent sage/magician, who lived in a liminal zone on the borders between fields and forests, their rites involved the conjunction of sexual practices and Buddhist mandala visualization with ritual accouterments made from parts of the human body, so that control may be exercised over the forces hindering the natural abilities of the siddha to manipulate the cosmos at will.
At their most extreme, siddhas represented a defensive position within the Buddhist tradition and sustained for the purpose of aggressive engagement with the medieval culture of public violence. They reinforced their reputations for personal sanctity with rumors of the magical manipulation of various flavors of demonic females, cemetery ghouls, other things that go bump in the night. Operating on the margins of both monasteries and polite society, some adopted the behaviors associated with ghosts, not only as a religious praxis but as an extension of their implied threats." Many of the elements found in Buddhist tantric literature are not wholly new. Earlier Mahayana sutras contained some elements which are emphasized in the Tantras, such as mantras and dharani; the use of protective verses or phrases dates back to the Vedic period and can be seen in the early Buddhist texts, where they are termed paritta. Mahayana texts like the Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra expound the use of mantras such as Om mani padme hum, associated with vastly powerful beings like Avalokiteshvara.
The practice of visualization of Buddhas such as Amitābha is seen in pre-tantric texts like the Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra. There are other Mahayana sutras which contain "proto-tantric" material such as the Gandavyuha sutra and the Dasabhumika which might have served as a central source of visual imagery for Tantric texts. Vajrayana developed a large corpus of texts called the Buddhist Tantras, some of which can be traced to at least the 7th century CE but might be older; the dating of the tantras is "a difficult, indeed an impossible task" according to David Snellgrove. Some of the earliest of these texts, Kriya tantras such as the Mañjuśrī-mūla-kalpa, teach the use of mantras and dharanis for worldly ends including curing illness, controlling the weather and generating wealth; the Tattvasaṃgraha Tantra, classed as a "Yoga tantra", is one of the first Buddhist tantras which focuses on liberation as opposed to worldly goals. In another early tantra, the Vajrasekhara Tantra, the influential schema of the five Buddha families is developed.
Other early tantras include the Guhyasamāja Tantra. The Guhyasamāja is a Mahayoga class of Tantra, which features new forms of ritual practice considered "left-hand" such as the use of taboo substances like alcohol, sexual yoga, charnel ground practices which evoke wrathful deities. Indeed, Ryujun Tajima divides the tantras into those which were "a development of Mahayanist thought" and those "formed in a rather popular mould toward the end of the eighth century and declining into the esoterism of the left", this "left esoterism" refers to the Yogini tantras and works associated with wandering antinomian yogis. Monastic Vajrayana Buddhists reinterpreted and internalized these radically transgressive and taboo practices as metaphors and visualization exercises; these tantras such as the Hevajra Tantra and the Chakrasamvara are classed as "Yogini tantras" and represent the final form of development of