Missions: Buddhist Missions

views updated


The term Buddhist mission was invented in the 1830s to explain the religion's diffusion throughout Asia, and "missionary spirit" has been treated as an essential dimension of Buddhist spirituality in virtually all English-language works about Buddhism composed since. By the 1870s "Buddhist mission" had been theorized further by early historians of religions as a key plank in the subsequently ubiquitous disciplinary distinction between "missionary" or "world" religions (Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity) and "national" or "indigenous" religions (all the rest) which did not expand far beyond traditional geographical borders. Two proof-texts were singled out for citation in Western writings on Buddhist mission, namely, the Buddha's so-called great commission, and stories about the transmission of his religion associated with the age of King Aśoka (third century bce).

The "great commission" is an ancient passage found already reworked in three canonical Buddha biographies, the Mahāvagga of the Vinaya, the Mārasayutta of the Samyutta Nikāya and the Mahāpadānasutta of the Dīgha-nikāya. According to these accounts, after attaining enlightenment and gathering together his first followers (later reckoned to be sixty in number), the Buddha, realizing that all of them were already saints (arhats ) who required no further guidance, gave them leave to depart, saying:

Wander about on wanderings, monks. For the good of many folk, for the happiness of many folk, out of compassion for the world, for the good and happiness of gods and men, don't two of you go by one [road]. Preach the dharma, monks, which is lovely at the beginning, lovely in the middle, lovely at the end, in meaning and sound. Demonstrate the purified celibate life which is fully complete. There are beings with little dust in their eyes; they are falling away from the dharma for not hearing it. There will be people who understand, monks.

According to later reckonings this occurred just after the concluding ceremony (Pali, pavāraa ) of the first-ever Buddhist rains retreat (Pali, vassa ), which for subsequent monastic and lay Buddhists became an annual time of renewal and recommitment.

The Buddha's actions in this moment were important to later Buddhists as a watershed in the history of the monastic community (sagha ), especially in the emergence of monastic discipline (Vinaya ). At that time none of the monastic rules had yet been promulgatedas perfected saints, the first sixty monks did not require rules. According to the Mahāvagga account, however, permitting them to preach to others while wandering about ultimately required the Buddha to promulgate the rules one after another because the people who heard them preach, and sometimes then joined the order, were not yet themselves enlightened. The passage in question was not portrayed as a commission to all Buddhists; the point was that only the first sixty (and presumably subsequent) saints were free to wander forth unguided by the monastic discipline. But removed from such literary contexts, constructed grammatically to make the wandering dependent upon the preaching rather than the other way around (which is possible, though against the grain of the commentarial tradition), and translated into biblical English, this passage was easily read as a much-remarked parallel to Jesus' great (or apostolic) commission (Mt. 28:1820).

All versions of the legend of King Aśoka agree that some favored patriarch of his, directly connected through pupillary succession to the Buddha himself, convened a great council at the conclusion of which monks were sent to "establish the Buddha's dispensation" (Skt., śāsana ; Pali, sāsana ) in various regions. The patriarch himself (or some special disciple) is said to have taken it to a region that the Buddha or the patriarch had foreseen would be a future Buddhist center. These legends, which emerged in oral traditions shortly after Aśoka and were composed in their surviving written forms beginning around the first century ce, include colorful stories about these monks' encounters in various regions, emphasizing their supernormal attainments. Though the oft-repeated claim that Aśoka himself sponsored this event is ungroundedin the texts the patriarch, not the king, always provides the impetus to hold the council and send the dispensation to some far-off region(s)the portrayal of these texts as "missionary" is understandable, for the basic themes also constituted important dimensions of nineteenth-century Christian missionary discourse.

But the wide divergence among various versions of this narrativeespecially as regards the identity of the patriarch, his lineage, his sectarian affiliation, and the future Buddhist centersuggests that they are better viewed as specific, even polemical, claims about their own times than as windows into actual Aśokan history (there is no mention of Buddhist councils, nor of the dispensation-transmission, in the known Aśokan epigraphs; scholars now agree that the legendary "missions" cannot be read into the diplomatic embassies Aśoka does mention). As elaborated below, these stories enjoyed wide significance among later Buddhists, but in precolonial times these did not include the claim of nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers that Aśoka, the patriarch, or the "missionaries" (often said to be trying to fulfill the Buddha's great commission) were manifesting "missionary spirit," nor is there warrant for assuming that these legends were read as paradigms and guides for missionary service in the same way that the apostolic missions were significant to Christian missionaries.

Little else is cited in writings about "Buddhist mission," not only because these problematic examples were considered sufficient proof, but also because apart from them premodern Buddhists demonstrated no concern with "mission" in its nineteenth-century trappings. Aspects of what Christians consider "mission"preaching, modeling, and advocating proper behavior; reproducing and disseminating texts; confronting religious others; travelingcertainly did concern Buddhists from ancient times, but the premodern tradition lacked specialized vocabulary for discussing them as "mission" (nor were there words for conversion, missionary spirit, or mission field), and the premodern tradition never produced missiological literature as such. "Mission" never figured in the systematic lists of practices, virtues, or spiritual attainments so carefully articulated by Buddhists around the world.

Indeed, until the late nineteenth century it was notoriously the case for Christian missionaries serving in Buddhist countries that then-contemporary Buddhists lacked any glimmer of "missionary spirit." During the early nineteenth century, Buddhist monks allowed Christian missionaries to use their temples for rallies and politely refused challenges and taunts that they debate comparative doctrine or salvation; missionaries regularly complained that Buddhists would listen to sermons and even enact approbation without undergoing the existential "conversion" that was a hallmark of Christian missionary discourse and expectations. Rather than catalyze revision of the (Western, Christian) presuppositions that made "mission" an essential dimension of Buddhist religiosity, however, this actual lack of it was treated as a failure of Buddhists to live up to their own essence.

Nineteenth- and twentieth-century writings on Buddhist (and Muslim) mission made available for study an "other" mission to juxtapose with Christian mission. This comparative framework originally contributed to Christian missionary self-confidence, portraying their approach as a middle-ground between overly forceful (Muslim) mission and overly tolerant (Buddhist) mission. Beginning in the 1870s, however, a growing number of Western Buddhist sympathizers turned this discourse upside-down, using the "tolerance" of Buddhist mission to chastise Christian evangelism, a comparison that, eventually internalized by missionaries themselves, played an important role in the general abandonment of evangelical missions by mainstream Protestant churches since World War II. At the same time, as mentioned above, Buddhist mission was central to the classification of religions into "world" and "national" types, a classification whose persistence (sometimes in modified language) belies its foundation in fact, despite the problematically "missionary" framework through which the global reach strongly characteristic only of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam has been theorized.

But "Buddhist mission" was an inadequate tool for understanding pre-nineteenth-century Buddhist history, sometimes misconstruing the spread of the dispensation and the functioning of the pan-Buddhist world on the basis of Christian presuppositions about how religions expand. Increasingly employing the context-appropriate language of traditional Buddhist historianswho discussed the "spreading out" or "establishment" of (some particular sectarian version of) the dispensationrecent scholars have been able to better understand the various important phenomena hitherto lumped together as "Buddhist mission."

The Spread of the Dispensation

Scholars agree on the basic chronology of this spread of the dispensation because its formal establishment regularly resulted in Buddhist construction projects that survive as archaeological evidence, the creation of monastic lineages and schools, and textual accounts of the event(s), preserved and embellished in the different regions. Even during the Buddha's lifetime his community certainly had grown into a sizeable institution spread throughout the kingdoms of northeastern India; traditional accounts claim that thousands of people ordained or participated in the early community as laypeople. The Buddhist presence there and beyond was bolstered by Aśokan stupa building and other Buddhist projects that he and his successors undertook from the third century bce to the third century ce. The earliest archaeological evidence of Buddhist practice in the northwest (Kashmir) and far south (Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka) dates from about Aśoka's time, while Buddhist texts agree in narrating the establishment of the dispensation in these secondary centers (Kashmir and Sri Lanka) as part of the Aśoka legend itself. The texts chronicle the northern transmission from Kashmir to modern Iran and Central Asia from the first century ce onwards in various kingdoms (the last was Tibet, during the seventh to eighth centuries) and China (first century), and from the latter to Korea (fifth century) and thence to Japan (sixth century); and the southern transmission from northeast and central India to Sri Lanka, and from there (or India directly) to kingdoms in modern Burma (fifth century), the Maldives (seventh century), the Malay Peninsula and Indonesian archipelago (fifth century), Thailand (seventh century), Cambodia (fifth century), southern Vietnam (fifth century), and Laos (twelfth century). Later Buddhists as far afield as China and southeast Asia sometimes directly extended the Aśoka legendor even the Buddha's own preaching careerto include their own kingdoms.

Like any schematization, however convenient, this one is deceptively neat. Archaeological and textual evidence suggests that Buddhists were present in various regions prior to the formal establishment of the dispensation there, and the sources leave no doubt that transregional transmissions continued to occur long after. Such efforts included numerous organized Chinese endeavors to bring additional texts and practices from India and Sri Lanka (especially from the fourth to seventh centuries) and corresponding Indian, Central Asian, and Sri Lankan embassies to China (during the first to ninth centuries); imperial exchanges of texts and dharma -masters through which Chinese Buddhist schools were transplanted in Korea, Japan, and northern Vietnam (especially during the seventh to the ninth and twelfth centuries); formal diplomatic embassies to reestablish monastic higher ordination (upasampada ) and transmit texts that traded the dispensation back and forth among the Theravāda Buddhist traditions of Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos (from the tenth to twenty-first centuries); and discussion and comparison of pan-Buddhist philosophies and practices at multicultural Buddhist universities (such as Nālandā in modern Bihar, which flourished in the last centuries of the first millennium ce) and pilgrimage sites (most importantly Bodh Gayā, also in modern Bihar, which continued to function as a transregional Buddhist center from the time of Aśoka until about the thirteenth century, and has regained that significance from the nineteenth century to the present). Chinese translation of Sanskrit and Pali texts obtained in India and Sri Lanka (which was often compared with the voluminous output of Christian mission presses) lasted at least until the eighth century, while Tibetan translations of Indian and Chinese texts only began in the eighth century and Mongolia only received the dispensation, from Tibet, in the sixteenth century. Many vernacular translation projects around the globe are still on-going. In addition to these formal transmissions, groups of Buddhists periodically, from the Buddha's time to the present, have moved into new regions, establishing at the grass roots their own versions of the dispensation, at least through their presence, and often with much more lasting effect.

Further complicating the picture, these transmissions did not occur according to modern geographical and sectarian boundaries. Thus there were Buddhists in the Burmese kingdoms of Thaton, Pyu, and Arakan by the fifth century, but the (Theravāda) dispensation was formally established in Bagan in the eleventh century, while the continuing presence of northern Buddhist cults and texts in this subsequently officially Theravāda Buddhist region make certain that transmissions there were more multiple still. Moreover, in all regions the fortunes of a variety of different Buddhist schools (with different transmission histories) waxed and waned vis-à-vis each other as well as non-Buddhist religious orders. And throughout the Buddhist world, especially after it was dislocated by the rise of Asian Islam and virulent "national" religions such as Hinduism in India and Confucianism in China (tenth to twelfth centuries) there occurred a process of popularizing Buddhist teachings and practices through vernacular literatures and preaching, which effectively involved transmissions to people who ostensibly had already been Buddhist for centuries. These medieval popularizersranging from the authors of Sinhala devotional writings to charismatic Japanese figures like Ippen, Shinran, and Nichirenexpressed motivations to increase universal access to the dharma, which represents the closest Buddhist approximation of missionary spirit (mostly confined to what Christians called home mission ). Clearly, the dispensation did not become established fully formed in a single moment anywhere in the Buddhist world.

No single reason accounts for all these transmissions; scholars have suggested various factors that contributed to the spread of the dispensation. One was certainly a willingness to share the dharma, which has characterized the whole tradition. In the earliest Buddha biographies the Brahmanical God implores a Buddha who is not inclined to preach that he nevertheless do so "for the good of many folk," echoing the precise language the Buddha uses later in these same texts to dismiss the first sixty saints. The underlying virtue that motivates the Buddha to assent to preach is compassion (karuā ), one of the four "godly states" (brahmavihāra ) that constitutes buddhahood. Compassion is also singled out in the "great commission" passage as the reason monks should bother to preach while wandering about, and in the Aśoka legends compassion motivates the patriarch and his associates who established the dispensation abroad. Unlike missionary spirit or the desire to convert others, such compassion for others' suffering figures prominently in lists of virtues and accomplishments across the Buddhist tradition. In texts about the establishment of the dispensation, the corresponding emotion, on the part of the recipient, is pleasure (pasāda ); in Buddhist hagiography such feelings of pleasure in Buddhist contexts prove ultimately salvific, whether in this or future lives. One of the few technical terms developed by early Buddhists that could correspond to missionary was pasādaka, or "pleaser," signaling the importance of generating this emotion on the part of those who would transmit the dharma.

The exercise of such compassion was facilitated by the fact thatunlike contemporary Jains and ĀjīvikasBuddhists suffered virtually no restrictions on travel; un-like contemporary Brahmans they did not have to adhere to inhibiting dietary or purificatory regimens. Coupled with the consistent attraction to Buddhist teachings and practicesperhaps in part for these reasonsevinced by an urban middle class that from the time of Aśoka onward was increasingly involved in transregional trade, these factors simply allowed Buddhists to be more mobile than their would-be competitors. Because there were also few restrictions on public preaching and no secret doctrines to be guarded, explications of the dharma must have occurred quite often and naturally wherever Buddhists went. The public, and no doubt publicized, support that Aśoka and subsequent Indian emperors gave the Buddhists would have increased their presence and prestige in various extra-Indic courts and cities.

In the process, what we might think of as Buddhist technologies quickly circulated across the northern (land-based) and southern (sea-based) Silk Routes. These technologies included magical and medical practices and texts (which overwhelmingly dominate the manuscript finds at archaeological sites along the northern Silk Route); meditative strategies; sociopolitical principles and organizational forms; banking and even the minting of coins; funerary rites; stone architecture and sculpture; literature and manuscript preparation; and a vernacular (prakrit ) language that with minor modifications served as a lingua franca throughout South, Southeast, and Central Asia and through systematic translation intersected the east Asian lingua franca (Chinese). Such technologies could be adopted or participated in without any further claim upon the participant because there was no formal "conversion" requiring the renunciation of previous religious ideas and practices. The line between Buddhist and non-Buddhist was left gray, it being unproblematic (as far as Buddhists were concerned) to continue practicing previous religions, save perhaps in terms of their unproductiveness in the Buddhist context. Those whose interest became more serious were always free to adopt the five, eight, or ten precepts of a layperson, or even to take robes. Another beneficial absence among Buddhists was exclusion based on wealth, class, caste, gender, age, or educational/professional background. These higher levels of participation involved increasingly strict disciplinary codes but still nothing approximating the nineteenth-century idea of "conversion."

As the Buddhist presence in various kingdoms grew, and sectarian identities crystallized, Buddhist historianslike their nineteenth- and twentieth-century Western counterpartstidied up this messy history by composing the regional accounts of the establishment of the dispensation (usually attached to Aśoka legends) mentioned above. These narratives hierarchically ordered various regional Buddhists within a single sectarian framework by making the entire regional dispensation derivative of (or preparatory for) a single original transmission portrayed in the sectarian garb of the monks and nuns who composed any particular account. These accounts always involve the approbation of a paradigmatic regional king (and archaeological evidence leaves no doubt that the support of royal families and other wealthy elites did contribute to the religion's success wherever it went), thereby entailing sectarian appeals to royal power and patronage as well. On the other hand, these narratives located such regional Buddhist kingdoms and sectarian groups within the larger pan-Buddhist imperial situation and the larger universal sagha of a given period. These larger organizational structures involved their own hierarchical orderings based on highly contested interpretations of the Buddha's teachings and practices and early Buddhist history; the different accounts of the establishment of the dispensation were therefore consequential in terms of transregional political and religious diplomacy, alliance and enmity, and prestige. As late as the fifteenth century, Burmese ambassador-monks greeted Sri Lankan hosts by invoking their shared version of the Aśokan transmission legend, and even in the nineteenth-century Burmese chronicle Sāsanavasa, new claims associating this transmission with the kingdoms of peninsular southeast Asia were advanced.

This simultaneously local and transregional significance helps explain the widespread literary and sometimes liturgical veneration of the different enlightened monks and nuns who established any particular instance of the dispensation, like Mahinda and Sanghamittā in Sri Lanka, Sona and Uttara in Burma, Madhyantika in Kashmir, Padmasambhava in Tibet, Bodhidharma in China, and Upagupta throughout the northern Buddhist world. It also helps explain why the details are so contested across the different versions. But because they were deeply connected with Buddhist identity and portrayals of exemplary saints, these stories certainly also had more specifically religious significance through the ages. Beyond the polemics and politics they also effected feelings of gratitude for the efforts made by the "pleasers" who brought the dispensation to their kingdoms, renewed commitment to practice and, at least in the case of Upagupta, hope for worldly and spiritual assistance, and would have helped cultivate that compassion for others that lies at the heart of the tradition.

Modern Buddhist Missions

If the term Buddhist mission shows up the danger in cross-cultural application of categories derived from particular religions, it also exemplifies the powerful impact that scholarly discourses can have upon the actual practice of the religions they analyze. Reared on accounts that read mission into their sacred texts and history, beleaguered by criticisms that nonmissionary Buddhism is moribund, provoked to respond to Christian missionaries, and befriended by Westerners (including Christian and Jewish converts to Buddhism, among the first Buddhist missionaries proper) who though sympathizers with the Buddhists remained deeply immersed in missionary thinking, Buddhists throughout the twentieth century (especially in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, and Japan) created actual Buddhist missionary societies in the very image of what Western writers said they ought to possess.

Beginning with the founding of the Maha Bodhi Society in Sri Lanka in 1891, these organizationsnow numbering in the thousands and spread throughout the worldincorporated "missionary spirit" as such into their explications of Buddhist religiosity (often based on the "great commission" passage) and declared (first at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893) a world Buddhist mission that has witnessed considerable success in the last century, especially in the West. Simultaneously, they adopted and transformed into particularly Buddhist enterprises numerous Christian missionary strategies, such as scripture and tract publication and distribution; "Sunday school" and other youth movements like the Young Men's Buddhist Association (YMBA); revival rallies, temperance, and other social-reform movements; transregional ecumenical organization (most notably the World Fellowship of Buddhists, founded in 1956); study of foreign religions (and other schools of Buddhism) and interfaith dialogue; and the sponsorship of foreign Buddhist missions (ranging from Sri Lankan missionaries in India, Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Singapore to Japanese missionaries in Hawai'i and California).

Branch offices and full-fledged temple-monastery complexes representing a variety of Buddhist traditions have been established to serve immigrant Buddhist communities in major cities throughout the world, while simultaneously reaching out to non-Buddhists there. The twentieth century produced a vast discourse in English (and many other European and Asian languages) that is properly missiological: biographies of famous Buddhist missionaries and eulogistic histories of various Buddhist missions, treatises on Buddhist missionary strategies and calls for expansion of Buddhism based on global conversion statistics, discourse about competitor religions, missionary annuals and keepsake volumes, and missionary newspapers and websites. In addition, vernacular vocabularies have been developed; the term for Buddhist missionary used in southern Buddhist countries, dharmadūta (Skt., "emissary of the teachings," sometimes wrongly conflated with the dhamamahāmātas or "righteous ministers" of the Aśokan inscriptions) was first coined as a Sinhala translation of the English word in a Christian missionary dictionary, published the same year the world Buddhist mission was declared. And in the late twentieth century, Buddhist missionaries in the West even developed formal conversion ceremonies to match the expectations of converts there.

This transformation of the religion (especially in elite, Westernized Buddhist circles) as appropriate to the nineteenth- and twentieth-century missionary-dominated global context for understanding and participating in human multireligiosity reflects its unique adaptability to changing local circumstances (what has been called its "missionary tolerance"), perhaps the most important factor underlying all these instances of dharma -transmission. The creation of modern Buddhist missions was continuous with a long history of taking up and "Buddhicizing" non-Buddhist religious forms, ideas, and practices that truly does stretch back to the time of the Buddha himself; it has been nurtured in this case by an ability to find new meanings in the ancient Buddhist texts about preaching and hagiographies of the various "pleasers" of significance to different traditions, and by relaxing monastic discipline in contexts where specific minor rules prove unfeasible. Its results represent a modern transmission of the dispensation broader in scope even than the legendary accounts of the time of Aśoka.

See Also

Aśoka; Sagha.


For all its ubiquity in Buddhological scholarship, "Buddhist mission" has actually received little direct scholarly attention. Though the details of the spread of the dispensation and later exchanges of it, in specific situations, have become increasingly well known, the idea itself has remained virtually unexamined since the 1830s. Probably the earliest use of the English term Buddhist mission was in George Turnour's "Examination of the Pali Buddhistical Annals," Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal 7, no. 2 (1838): 687, 716717, 1050. Prior to Jonathan S. Walters's "Rethinking Buddhist Missions," Ph.D. diss. (University of Chicago, 1992), only in one instance (C. A. F. Rhys Davids, Outlines of Buddhism: A Historical Sketch [London, 1938], pp. 9096) was the construct "Buddhist mission" even questioned (Rhys Davids pointed out its inapplicability to the texts about Aśoka and its inconsistency with the utter lack of missiological literature in the premodern tradition, though she did not totally abandon the concept). But it was subsequently mentionedand often made the underlying historical forcein virtually every English-language work on Buddhism, world religions, and especially Buddhist history published from Turnour's day up to and including the present; in this sense the bibliography on Buddhist mission nearly overlaps with the entire bibliography on Buddhism or, for that matter, "world religions."

For an important theoretical statement of the idea of Buddhist mission and the configuration of the history of religions according to the distinction of "missionary" and "non-missionary" religions, see F. Max Müller, On Missions: A Lecture Delivered in Westminster Abbey, on December 3, 1873 (New York, 1874). Walters's dissertation (cited above) explores the sociohistorical context in which "Buddhist mission" was invented, reviews the whole genre of nineteenth- and twentieth-century writings on the topic, and contains extended emic analyses of the "great commission" and legends of the Aśokan establishment of the dispensation. The role of Buddhist mission in the big picture of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Buddhology, and alternatives to it, are explored further in Walters's Finding Buddhists in Global History (Washington, D.C., 1998).

The most comprehensive and scholarly treatment of the global spread of the religion as a whole, which treats it in a specifically "missionary" framework, remains Erik Zürcher, Buddhism: Its Origin and Spread in Words, Maps, and Pictures (New York, 1962); on China in particular see Zürcher's The Buddhist Conquest of China (Leiden, 1959; reprint, 1972). There have been many similar accounts of the rise and spread of Buddhism in India and abroad, more or less consciously reproducing this framework; a classic, much-read, and still readable example of the larger genre is James Bissett Pratt, The Pilgrimage of Buddhism and a Buddhist Pilgrimage (New York, 1928). For a reliable scholarly review of the rise and spread of the early tradition within India, also explained as Buddhist mission, the standard source remains Étienne Lamotte, History of Indian Buddhism, from the Origins to the Śaka Era, translated by Sara Webb-Boin (Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, 1988). Egil Lothe, "Mission in Theravada Buddhism," Ph.D. diss. (University of Oslo, 1986), is an innovative attempt to read Pali scriptures about preaching for missiological insight. For more recent scholarship on the spread of the dispensation to the different Buddhist regions and their mutual exchanges (in much of which this "missionary" explanation has been abandoned or at least displaced), see the separate entries on those regional traditions and their bibliographies. Readers seeking a general introduction to the rise and extent of the pan-Buddhist world would also do well to consult Heinz Bechert and Richard Gombrich, eds., The World of Buddhism: Buddhist Monks and Nuns in Society and Culture (New York, 1984), a richly illustrated collection of essays on the different regions composed by eminent scholars.

For translations of early texts containing the great commission passage in its original literary frames, see C. A. F. Rhys Davids, trans., The Book of Kindred Sayings (Sayutta-nikāya ), vol. 1, pp. 128159 (London, 1917) (S i.10327=Mārasayutta ); T. W. and C. A. F. Rhys Davids, trans., Dialogues of the Buddha (Dīgha-nikāya ), vol. 2, pp. 141 (London, 1959) (Mahāpadānasutta =D. ii. 154); and I. B. Horner, trans., The Book of the Discipline (Vinaya-piaka ), vol. 4: Mahāvagga, pp. 2829 (Oxford, 1993). For texts of the legends of Aśoka and Chinese pilgrims' accounts see the separate entry on Aśoka and its bibliography. An engaging primary source for memories of Indian and central Asian dharma -transmitters in China is Kathryn Ann Tsai, trans., Lives of the Nuns: Biographies of Chinese Buddhist Nuns from the Fourth to Sixth Centuries (Honolulu, 1994). For the original text of a legend of a famous monk revered tradition-wide for success (and adventure) preaching to others, see Joel Tatelman, trans., The Glorious Deeds of Pūra: A Translation and Study of the Pūrāvadāna (Surrey, U.K., 2000).

An enormous amount of primary ephemera related to modern Buddhist missions exists, but there is not yet a comprehensive scholarly account of them. The fieldwork presented in Lothe's dissertation (cited above) provides a useful entry point. A valuable collection of essays by Sri Lankan Anagārika Dharmapāla (18641933), the world's first Buddhist missionary proper, is Ananda Guruge, ed., Return to Righteousness: A Collection of Speeches, Essays, and Letters of the Anagarika Dharmapala (Colombo, Ceylon, 1965). The best documented modern Buddhist mission is to the United States; for important accounts of the establishment of the dispensation there (and in the West more generally), see Rick Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America (Boulder, Colo., 1981); Thomas A. Tweed, The American Encounter with Buddhism, 18441912: Victorian Culture and the Limits of Dissent (Bloomington, Ind., 1992); Stephen Batchelor, The Awakening of the West: The Encounter of Buddhism and Western Culture (Berkeley, 1994); Richard Hughes Seager, Buddhism in America (New York, 2000); and Charles S. Prebish and Martin Baumann, Westward Dharma: Buddhism beyond Asia (Berkeley, 2002). Paul David Numrich's Old Wisdom in the New World: Americanization in Two Immigrant Theravada Buddhist Temples (Knoxville, Tenn., 1996) analyzes fascinating field data on the sociology of Buddhist mission in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Jonathan S. Walters (2005)

About this article

Missions: Buddhist Missions

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article


Missions: Buddhist Missions