Phases of Transmission

Three Phases of Transmission of Dharma to the West

Three Phases of Transmission of Dharma to the West

Buddhism began in the in 6th century BCE in northeast India with the historic Shakyamuni Buddha teaching for around 45 years in that area. Buddhism lasted in India as a major movement for over a thousand years, starting a gradual decline in influence in the seventh century CE, although the great Buddhist universities and monastic centers continued to flourish for many centuries. The Muslim invasion of India began in the 11th century, destroying vast Buddhist libraries and universities in the process. By the 13th century Buddhism had disappeared from Northern India where it had originated, not returning until the 19th century.

First Phase: In the 3rd century BCE, King Ashoka, who ruled India from 272 to 231 BCE, sent missionaries throughout India and South-east Asia to transmit what became known as the Theravada teachings. These teachings were transmitted first to Sri Lanka and Myanmar (Burma) and later to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and southern Vietnam where Buddhism still holds a dominant influence on the culture, although recent political events have curtailed the role of the sangha in the governments of the communist and military dominated regimes. Over the years, the Mahayana was also transmitted and there is even some evidence of the tantric practices of the Vajrayana in some of these countries, but the monastic dominated Theravada prevailed.

Second Phase: The flowering of the mahayana tradition began around the 1st century of the Current Era (CE). The great university at Nalanda was founded in the 2nd century CE. However, the evolution of mahayana Buddhist thinking and study was already well established before the start of the current era. The great Dharma King and Mahasiddha Nagarjuna (150-250) founded the Madhyamaka School in the 2nd century. In the 4th century Dharma King Asanga, founded the Yogachara School. These two lineages were the basis for the mahayana teachings which then spread into Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and along the Silk Road into China and Northern Viet Nam and on into Korea (4th century) and Japan (6th century). Bodhidharma went to China in 526 and began what became the Ch’an or Zen School. The Pure Land, T’ian T’ai, Hua-Yen and Fa-Hsiang schools all evolved in China by the late seventh century. Many of these schools took root and flourished in Korea and Japan as Buddhism waned in China. Buddhist influence in China peaked during the 10th century, but remained an essential component of Chinese culture, although the Communists have tried systematically to repress its influence. Afghanistan and Indonesia became Muslim dominated countries and completely eradicated the practice of Buddhism. Some of the great monuments of mahayana Buddhism from this phase still remain in these countries, howbeit mainly as tourist attractions. The gigantic Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 and by other Islamic groups in Pakistan in 2007 were from this phase.

Third Phase: The esoteric mahayana or tantra practice was well established in India by the 7th century. The esoteric or vajrayana teachings were transmitted to Tibet, Bhutan, and China in the 8th century and went on to Japan (early 9th century), Mongolia (13th century), and with the Tibetan diaspora back into India and Nepal (20th century). There is also some evidence of transmission of these teachings into southeast Asia, especially Myanmar and Sri Lanka. The Indian Dharma King and Mahasiddha Padmasambhava went to Tibet in the 8th century. Vikramasila University was founded around the same time in India.

Dharma King Atisha, a leading teacher from Vikramasila, went to Tibet in 1042. Marpa and Drokmi went to India from Tibet to seek the Dharma in the 11th century. Much of the Buddha-dharma of India from this phase was transmitted to Tibet before it was destroyed by Muslim invasions during the 11th and 12th centuries. The conquering Muslims sacked the great Nalanda Monastic University in 1197 and Vikramasila in 1203.

For about 500 years after the arrival of Padmasambhava, many obtained liberation in Tibet. The highest Dharmas were freely taught, but sometimes to those who were not qualified to receive them. In the fourteenth century, Dharma King Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), an emanation of Manjushri, restored monastic discipline in Tibet and corrected the false teachings that had evolved through the many false rinpoches in Tibet and from those fleeing India. The Buddha-dharma that evolved in Tibet represented the highest and most powerful of all the Buddha-dharmas to date. In 1950 the Chinese communists invaded Tibet suppressing Buddhism, destroying monasteries and temples, and persecuting monks and nuns whom they considered to be parasites of the working people. Many of the surviving rinpoches and lamas fled to India, Bhutan, Nepal, and the West, while most of those remaining in what had been Tibet were imprisoned or forced to return to other professions, usually hard labor. After the Cultural Revolution some were allowed to return and rebuild their monasteries, but with only a handful of monks, and mostly to maintain them as tourist attractions.

Fourth Phase: 18th-19th century CE. Buddhism began to be transmitted to the West as Buddhists from various Asian countries started migrating to the West in the mid 19th century and as Westerners going to Japan, Korea, China, and south-east Asia to seek the Dharma returned to teach what they had learned. Like in Tibet after the massive out migration from India in the Middle Ages, the West has seen a proliferation of false teachers who primarily teach as a means of livelihood and who do not have an authentic lineage or know the correct Buddha-dharma.

His Holiness Dorje Chang Buddha  came to this world to show living beings that the power and wisdom of the true Buddha-dharma that Shakyamuni Buddha possessed can still be learned in this age. His Holiness also came to correct the mistakes that have appeared in the various transmissions over time; and to teach the highest Dharmas of Shakyamuni Buddha, some of which have not yet been transmitted. His Holiness has said that only 30% of the Buddha-dharma that Shakyamuni had received was taught during His lifetime. The Nagas received and kept around 70% of the dharma of Shakyamuni in their palace beneath the sea. It is important to remember that Shakyamuni Buddha learned this dharma from His master, Dipkankara Buddha, another manifestation of Dorje Chang Buddha.

Dharma King Padmasambhava prophesied in the 8th century that “When the iron eagle flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered over the earth, and the Dharma will go to the land of the red man.” Earlier Shakyamuni Buddha stated in The Sutra Requested by the Goddess of Flawless Light that 2,500 years after His passing, the Dharma will spread to the “land of those with red faces.” Native Americans have always been thought of as the “red” race, although some think this refers to the “pinko-grey” color of some Caucasians. Either way it would appear that these prophecies were correct.

One can see from the map shown above and the lineage chart of the various sects and schools how Buddhism has evolved and been transmitted over time.

What isn’t obvious from these graphics are the so called “Golden Ages” that existed in these countries when Buddhism was at its peak of influence. The art and poetic expression from these ages still amaze us, whether it be from the grotto caves of India, Sri Lanka, and China, the amazing ancient stupas of Sri Lanka and Burma, the Angkor Wat of Cambodia, the famous temple ruins in Indonesia, or the magnificent sacred art and architecture throughout China and Japan.

As Buddhism waned in one location, it appeared in another culture, only to evolve into yet another form that was appropriate to teach those living in that time and place. At each point in history, great beings incarnated to make this possible. America now has transmissions from all of these great phases in the evolution of Buddhism transmitted from many different cultures. America also has H. H. Dorje Chang Buddha III.