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Theravada Buddhism


Title: Theravada Buddhism: A Chronology


Theravada Buddhism

A Chronology


<p>This timeline chronicles some of the significant events and personalities in the evolution of Theravada Buddhism that, in one way or another, figure prominently in the readings found elsewhere on this website. This is not meant to be a comprehensive chronology.

Because the sources I used in constructing this timeline (indicated by braces {} and listed at the end of this document) often assumed different dates for the Buddha's nativity, I have occasionally had to interpolate in order to fit events (particularly the early ones) onto a reasonably consistent timeline. Nevertheless, this chronology should provide a fairly clear picture of the relative sequence of events, if not the absolute dates on which they occurred.

For a general introduction to Theravada Buddhism, please see "What is Theravada Buddhism?".</p>

<dl> <dt>BE(1) &nbsp; CE(2)</dt>

-80 &nbsp; -624/-560

The Bodhisatta (Sanskrit: Bodhisattva), or Buddha-to-be, is born in Lumbini (in present-day Nepal) as Siddhattha (Skt: Siddhartha) Gotama, a prince of the Sakya clan. {1,2}

-51 &nbsp; -595/-531

The Bodhisatta renounces the householder life (age 29).

-45 &nbsp; -589/-525

While meditating under the Bo tree in the forest at Gaya (now Bodhgaya, India) during the full-moon night of May, the Bodhisatta becomes the Buddha (age 36).

<p>During the full-moon night of July, the Buddha delivers his first discourse near Varanasi, introducing the world to the Four Noble Truths and commencing a 45-year career of teaching the religion he called “Dhamma-vinaya.”</p> </dd>

<dt>1 <a id=“parinibbana” name='parinibbana'></a> <a id=“council1” name='council1'></a> &nbsp; -544/-480</dt> <dd>Parinibbana (Skt: Parinirvana; death and final release) of the Buddha, at Kusinara (now Kusinagar, India) (age 80). {1,3} <p>During the rains retreat following the Buddha's Parinibbana, the <b>First Council <i>(sangayana)</i></b> convenes at Rajagaha, India, during which 500 arahant bhikkhus, led by Ven. Mahakassapa, gather to recite the entire body of the Buddha's teachings. The recitation of the Vinaya by Ven. Upali becomes accepted as the Vinaya Pitaka; the recitation of the Dhamma by Ven. Ananda becomes established as the Sutta Pitaka. {1,4}</p>

100 &nbsp; -444/-380

100 years after the Buddha's Parinibbana the <b>Second Council</b> convenes in Vesali to discuss controversial points of Vinaya. The first schism of the Sangha occurs, in which the Mahasanghika school parts ways with the traditionalist Sthaviravadins. At issue is the Mahasanghika's reluctance to accept the Suttas and the Vinaya as the final authority on the Buddha's teachings. This schism marks the first beginnings of what would later evolve into Mahayana Buddhism, which would come to dominate Buddhism in northern Asia (China, Tibet, Japan, Korea). {1}

294 &nbsp; -250

<b>Third Council</b> is convened by King Asoka at Pataliputra (India). Disputes on points of doctrine lead to further schisms, spawning the Sarvastivadin and Vibhajjavadin sects. The Abhidhamma Pitaka is recited at the Council, along with additional sections of the Khuddaka Nikaya. The modern Pali Tipitaka is now essentially complete, although some scholars have suggested that at least two parts of the extant Canon — the Parivara in the Vinaya, and the Apadana in the Sutta — may date from a later period. {1, 4}

297 &nbsp; -247

King Asoka sends his son, Ven. Mahinda, on a mission to bring Buddhism to Sri Lanka; King Devanampiya Tissa of Sri Lanka is converted {5}. Asoka also sends envoys to Lower Burma and Central Thailand {1}.

304 &nbsp; -240

Ven. Mahinda establishes the Mahavihara (Great Monastery) of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. The Vibhajjavadin community living there becomes known as the Theravadins. Mahinda compiles the first of the Tipitaka commentaries, in the Sinhala language. Mahinda's sister, Ven. Sanghamitta, arrives in Sri Lanka with a cutting from the original Bo tree, and establishes the bhikkhuni-sangha in Sri Lanka.{1, 5}

444 &nbsp; -100

Famine and schisms in Sri Lanka point out the need for a written record of the Tipitaka to preserve the Buddhist religion. King Vattagamani convenes a <b>Fourth Council</b>, in which 500 reciters and scribes from the Mahavihara write down the Pali Tipitaka for the first time, on palm leaves. {4, 5, 6}

544 &nbsp; 1

Common Era (CE) begins; Year 1 AD.<br />

744 &nbsp; 200

Buddhist monastic university at Nalanda, India flourishes; remains a world center of Buddhist study for over 1,000 years. {1}

ca. 1000 &nbsp; <a name=“date_5th-c” id=“date_5th-c”>5th c.</a>

Ven. Buddhaghosa collates the various Sinhala commentaries on the Canon — drawing primarily on the Maha Atthakatha (Great Commentary) preserved at the Mahavihara — and translates them into Pali. This makes Sinhala Buddhist scholarship available for the first time to the entire Theravadan world and marks the beginning of what will become, in the centuries to follow, a vast body of post-canonical Pali literature. Buddhaghosa also composes his encyclopedic, though controversial, meditation manual <i>Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification).</i> Vens. Buddhadatta and Dhammapala write additional commentaries and sub-commentaries. {7}

ca. 1100 &nbsp; 600's

Buddhism in India begins a long, slow decline from which it would never fully recover. {1}

ca. 1100? 1400? &nbsp; 6th c.? 9th c.?

Dhammapala composes commentaries on parts of the Canon missed by Buddhaghosa (such as the Udana, Itivuttaka, Theragatha, and Therigatha), along with extensive sub-commentaries on Buddhaghosa's work. {7}

1594 &nbsp; 1050

The bhikkhu and bhikkhuni communities at Anuradhapura die out following invasions from South India.{1, 5}

1614 &nbsp; 1070

Bhikkhus from Pagan arrive in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka to reinstate the obliterated Theravada ordination line on the island. {5}

1697 &nbsp; 1153

<b>Buddhist Council</b> (the 5th by Sri Lankan reckoning; the 7th by Thai reckoning) in Sri Lanka. {12}

1708 &nbsp; 1164

Polonnaruwa destroyed by foreign invasion. With the guidance of two monks from a forest branch of the Mahavihara sect — Vens. Mahakassapa and Sariputta — King Parakramabahu reunites all bhikkhus in Sri Lanka into the Mahavihara sect. {1, 8}

1780 &nbsp; 1236

Bhikkhus from Kañcipuram, India arrive in Sri Lanka to revive the Theravada ordination line. {1}

1823 &nbsp; 1279

Last inscriptional evidence of a Theravada Bhikkhuni nunnery (in Burma). {8}

1831 &nbsp; 1287

Pagan looted by Mongol invaders; its decline begins. {1}

ca. 1900 &nbsp; <a name=“date_1200ce” id=“date_1200ce”>13th c.</a>

A forest-based Sri Lankan ordination line arrives in Burma and Thailand. Theravada spreads to Laos. Thai Theravada monasteries first appear in Cambodia shortly before the Thais win their independence from the Khmers. {1}

ca. 2000 &nbsp; 1400's

Another forest lineage is imported from Sri Lanka to Ayudhaya, the Thai capital. A new ordination line is also imported into Burma. {1}

2297 &nbsp; 1753

King Kirti Sri Rajasinha obtains bhikkhus from the Thai court to reinstate the bhikkhu ordination line, which had died out in Sri Lanka. This is the origin of the Siyam Nikaya. {8}

2312 &nbsp; 1768

Burmese destroy Ayudhaya (Thai capital).

2321 &nbsp; 1777

King Rama I, founder of the current dynasty in Thailand, obtains copies of the Tipitaka from Sri Lanka and sponsors a Council to standardize the Thai version of the Tipitaka, copies of which are then donated to temples throughout the country. {1}

2347 &nbsp; 1803

Sri Lankans ordained in the Burmese city of Amarapura found the Amarapura Nikaya in Sri Lanka to supplement the Siyam Nikaya, which admitted only brahmans from the Up Country highlands around Kandy. {9}

2372 &nbsp; 1828

Thailand's Prince Mongkut (later King Rama IV) founds the Dhammayut movement, which would later become the Dhammayut Sect. {1}

ca. 2400 &nbsp; 1800's

Sri Lankan Sangha deteriorates under pressure from two centuries of European colonial rule (Portuguese, Dutch, British). {5}

2406 &nbsp; 1862

Forest monks headed by Ven. Paññananda go to Burma for reordination, returning to Sri Lanka the following year to found the Ramañña Nikaya. {9} First translation of the Dhammapada into a Western language (German). {2}

2412 &nbsp; 1868

<b>Buddhist Council</b> (the 5th by Burmese reckoning) is held at Mandalay, Burma; Pali Canon is inscribed on 729 marble slabs. {2}

2417 &nbsp; 1873

Ven. Mohottivatte Gunananda defeats Christian missionaries in a public debate, sparking a nationwide revival of Sri Lankan pride in its Buddhist traditions. {8}

2423 &nbsp; 1879

Sir Edwin Arnold publishes his epic poem <i>Light of Asia,</i> which becomes a best-seller in England and the USA, stimulating popular Western interest in Buddhism.

2424 &nbsp; 1880

Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott, founders of the Theosophical Society, arrive in Sri Lanka from the USA, embrace Buddhism, and begin a campaign to restore Buddhism on the island by encouraging the establishment of Buddhist schools. {1}

2425 &nbsp; 1881

Pali Text Society is founded in England by T.W. Rhys Davids; most of the Tipitaka is published in roman script and, over the next 100 years, in English translation.

2435 &nbsp; 1891

Maha Bodhi Society founded in India by the Sri Lankan lay follower Anagarika Dharmapala, in an effort to reintroduce Buddhism to India. {1}

2443 &nbsp; 1899

First Western Theravada monk (Gordon Douglas) ordains, in Burma. {2}

ca. 2444 &nbsp; ca. 1900

Ven. Ajaan Mun and Ven. Ajaan Sao revive the forest meditation tradition in Thailand. {1}

2445 &nbsp; 1902

King Rama V of Thailand institutes a Sangha Act that formally marks the beginnings of the Mahanikaya and Dhammayut sects. Sangha government, which up to that time had been in the hands of a lay official appointed by the king, is handed over to the bhikkhus themselves.

2493 &nbsp; 1949

Mahasi Sayadaw becomes head teacher at a government-sponsored meditation center in Rangoon, Burma. {10}

2498 &nbsp; 1954

Burmese government sponsors a <b>Buddhist Council</b> (the 6th by Burmese and Sri Lankan reckoning) in Rangoon.

2500 &nbsp; 1956

Buddha Jayanti Year, commemorating 2,500 years of Buddhism.

2502 &nbsp; 1958

Ven. Nyanaponika Thera establishes the Buddhist Publication Society in Sri Lanka to publish English-language books on Theravada Buddhism. Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is founded in Sri Lanka to bring Buddhist ideals to bear in solving pressing social problems. Two Germans ordain at the Royal Thai Embassy in London, becoming the first to take full Theravada ordination in the West. {1, 2}

ca. 2504 &nbsp; 1960's(3)


Washington (D.C.) Buddhist Vihara founded — first Theravada monastic community in the USA. {11; and Bhavana Society Brochure}

ca. 2514 &nbsp; 1970's

Refugees from war in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos settle in USA and Europe, establishing many tight-knit Buddhist communities in the West. Ven. Taungpulu Sayadaw and Dr. Rina Sircar, from Burma, establish the Taungpulu Kaba-Aye Monastery in Northern California, USA. <!–1975–>

Ven. Ajaan Chah establishes Wat Pah Nanachat, a forest monastery in Thailand for training Western monks. <!–1975–> Insight Meditation Society, a lay meditation center, is founded in Massachusetts, USA. <!–1977–> Ven. Ajaan Chah travels to England to establish a small community of monks at the Hamsptead Vihara, which later moves to Sussex, England, to become Wat Pah Cittaviveka (Chithurst Forest Monastery).

ca. 2524 &nbsp; 1980's

Lay meditation centers grow in popularity in USA and Europe. First Theravada forest monastery in the USA (Bhavana Society) is established in West Virginia. Amaravati Buddhist Monastery established in England by Ven. Ajaan Sumedho (student of Ven. Ajaan Chah).

ca. 2534 &nbsp; 1990's - present

Continued western expansion of the Theravada Sangha: monasteries from the Thai forest traditions established in California, USA (Metta Forest Monastery, founded by Ven. Ajaan Suwat; Abhayagiri Monastery, founded by Ven. Ajaans Amaro and Pasanno). Buddhism meets cyberspace: online Buddhist information networks emerge; several editions of the Pali Tipitaka become available online.



<dl class='indexInline'>


<p>BE = Buddhist Era. Year 1 of the Buddhist Era calendar is the year of the Buddha's Parinibbana (death and final release), which occurred in the Buddha's eightieth year (480&nbsp;BCE according to the “historical” timeline; 544&nbsp;BCE by tradition).

The actual date of the Buddha's birth is unknown. According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha's birth took place in 624&nbsp;BCE, although some recent estimates place the Buddha's birth much later — perhaps as late as 448&nbsp;BCE {1}. 560&nbsp;BCE is one commonly accepted date for the Buddha's birth, and the “historical” date for that event that I adopt here.

Events in the timeline prior to -250&nbsp;CE are shown with two CE dates: the date based on the “traditional” nativity of 624&nbsp;BCE, followed by the date based on the “historical” date of 560&nbsp;BCE. After -250&nbsp;CE the “historical” date is dropped, since these dates are more appropriate only in discussions of earlier events.

To calculate the CE date corresponding to an event in the Buddhist traditional calendar, <i>subtract</i> 544 years from the BE date. The BE dates of well-documented historical events (particularly those in the twentieth century) may be off by one year, since the CE and BE calendars start their years on different months (January and May, respectively).</p>


CE = Common Era. Year 1 of the Common Era corresponds with the year 1 AD <i>(Anno Domini)</i> in the Christian calendar. -1&nbsp;CE (or 1 BCE — “Before the Common Era”) corresponds with the year 1 BC (“Before Christ”). By convention there is no year zero; the day after 31 December 1&nbsp;BCE is 1 January 1&nbsp;CE.


Events of the last few decades are still too recent to claim any historical significance.



<dl class='indexInline'>


<i>The Buddhist Religion: A Historical Introduction (fourth edition)</i> by R.H. Robinson & W.L. Johnson (Belmont, California: Wadsworth, 1996)


<i>The Buddha's Way</i> by H. Saddhatissa (London: Allen & Unwin, 1971)


<i>Pali Literature and Language</i> by Wilhelm Geiger (New Delhi: Oriental Books, 1978)


<i>Beginnings: the Pali Suttas</i> by Samanera Bodhesako (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1984)


<i>Buddhism in Sri Lanka</i> by H.R. Perera (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1966)


<i>The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga)</i> (Introduction) by Ven. Bhikkhu Ñanamoli (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1975)


<i>Indian Buddhism (second edition)</i> by A.K. Warder (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980)


<i>Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo</i> by Richard Gombrich (London and New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988)


<i>The Forest Monks of Sri Lanka: An Anthropological and Historical Study</i> by Michael Carrithers (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983)


<i>The Progress of Insight</i> by Mahasi Sayadaw (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1994)


<i>World Buddhist Directory</i> by The Buddhist Information Centre (Colombo, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Information Centre, 1984)


<i>Buddhism in Thailand: Its Past and Its Present</i> by Karuna Kusalasaya (Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 2005), note 3.


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