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Buddhism: From Lumbini To Russia
By Kedar Shakya, The Rising Nepal, Nov 18, 2005
Kathmandu, Nepal -- Since the first century, there was heavy influence and progress of Buddhism and cultural methods in Central Asia, which later extended to the Russian Union. As the popular Silk Road – the trade route between China and Western Asia - passed through Central Asia, travelling businessmen contributed to the spread of Buddhism.
Liberty of thoughts
Buddhism first entered the ancient city of Khorejm. A Buddhist cultural centre was established in the territory around the Arabian Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The religion had already spread itself to other areas of Asia. Respect for the personal liberty of thoughts was the main reason for the great psychological impact of the religion on mankind.
It was special because it prioritised the power of the mind and thought, and was, thus, approved and adopted, despite its novel ideas and different nature of accepting things. In fact, Buddhism has strong practical applicability in addition to its theoretical principles. People had the opportunity to purify their capacity of thinking and power of imagination in freedom and on a scientific basis. No wonder, Buddhism had and has deep influence in the communities.
The construction of many splendid monasteries, especially in the metropolitan cities, was becoming a normal event then. According to an old manuscript, a Buddhist monastery was constructed in Samarkanda. World famous Buddhist cultural centres are situated in Kucha and Khotan. People began to come here in search of ancient Indian manuscripts not found in India.
Until some decades back, those who wished to gather information and knowledge had to depend on the stories of ancient travellers and sculptures found in and around the area. A methodical archaeological survey was done during the Soviet era. During the excavation, remains of ancient monasteries, schools and idols were found.
Near Temiz city, many Buddha statues made of stone in Gandhar fashion were found. After sometime, an idol of a lion made of bronze was found along with remains of monasteries. Lots of ancient monuments were found along the bank of the Northern Kirdiziya River. Near the old city of Dajhal, archaeologists also dug up a monastery with many rooms to house monks. Nearby, remains of a stupa, broken pieces of idols and pictures related to the Buddha were also sighted.
Art and architecture also flourished in Central Asia along with the spiritual influence. Many people became followers of Buddhism. Architects who came along with the Buddhist scholars constructed numerous temples and stupas at different places. Skilled artists made statues of the Buddha in ancient Indian style. They also demonstrated Buddhist caves and temples in their wall paintings. Archaeological research conducted to the north of Beram in Turkmenistan revealed an old Buddhist temple and pots of clay in a variety of designs. These pots, found with old Iranian coins belonging to the fifth century and bhojpatra (manuscripts carved on leaves), had small pictures of the Buddha inside. These bhojpatras are manuscripts dating from the fifth century. Written in the Brahmi script, they were based on the Binaya Pitak, or the rules and regulations of monks. These bhojpatras have been most important findings for doing research on Buddhism.
In Central Asia, with the efforts of archaeologists, more than twenty different books were recovered in Kharoshthi written in the Bramhi script.
From the seventh to the ninth century, Buddhism was suppressed by Islam. But it managed to survive in the western territories and certain areas of Tarim from the eleventh to the fourteenth century.
In central Asia, after the Mongols invaded down to the Volga River, Buddhism regained its popularity in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Many Mongolian Khans became Buddhists. From 1628 to 1630 A.D., The Mongols came near Boga, and brought the religion with them. Colmic monastery can be seen in Khanabadosh. The Turani Khanabadosh were a tribe of people who spread Buddha’s teachings along the shores of the Black Sea. At about the same time, Buddhism spread in the Bankok territories in eastern Siberia. In 1712, a hundred and fifty Tibetan monks entered eastern Siberia, and this religion became popular among the Khanabadosh. Indian monks also came here and went to Mongolia. According to a Russian writer, Alexei Eugene, the first monastery of Buryatiya was constructed in Selegon in 1741. The first European Buddhist temple came up in 1714 in St. Petersburg.
Historical, religious and cultural ties have directly influenced the friendly relations between Nepal and Russia. In harmony with the pre-existing local culture and religion, Buddhism has been able to spread its scientific teachings in all the countries. For example, Buddhism co-exists with the Bon religion in China and Tibet and with Shinto religion in Japan.
The inscription on the Ashoka Pillar in Lumbini is the most credible evidence of the existence of Lord Buddha. Before this, Buddha was believed to be a spiritual being much like Shree Ram or Shree Krishna. The belief of western scientists and scholars were enhanced because King Ashoka, who erected the pillar, was the emperor of Pataliputra in India. Based on this, UNESCO has recognised Lumbini in Rupandehi district of Nepal as a ‘World Heritage Site’.
Mankind, whether it is yesterday, today or tomorrow, is in great need of love, peace and compassion of Lord Buddha. With the objective of giving continuity to the Lord’s great principles, Lumbini Bauddha University is being established in Lumbini for all those who wish to study the teachings of the Buddha, and do research on Buddhism. ‘Bahujana Hitaya, Bahujana Sukhaya’ (For the betterment and happiness of the people) - This was Buddha’s teachings, and this university will exemplify the practical aspects of the Buddha’s teachings.
(Shakya is Registrar of Lumbini Bauddha University)