Buddhist History Timeline

by Ven. Wayne Hughes (Ren Cheng)

The philosophy of Buddhism as set forth by the Awakened One, the Buddha, has been part of the causal process of the Universe for over 2500 years. The history of Buddhism is also a history of the world it encompasses. While what we may seem to experience is a linear march of time and the events that take place we are mindful of the cyclic nature of existence that at times is invisible to us.

Throughout my studies (that whole dedication to life-long learning thing) and research I have been putting together a timeline of events and people that have had impacts on Buddhist history. It is far from complete, but it is a beginning and a work in progress.

Most notable is the scarcity of dated events and people since 1900.  Let me know what you think is missing and give me dates/events/people. Be sure to include the attribution, where the information comes from.

Note that dating in bold (1100S) signify the century that events took place until definitive dates can be found.

For example the bibliography for this timeline includes: The Shape of Ancient Thought, thomas McEvilley, 2002, Allworth Press . . . Art of Gandhara in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kurt Behrendt, 2007 . . . Timeline of Early Buddhism, John J Holder, Hackett Publishing . . . and many more.

I bow with respect for any help you can give.




1989             Dalai Lama receives Nobel Peace Prize

1980              First Peace Pagoda (Japanese Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist order) erected in the Western hemisphere (Nichiren)

1974               Chogyam Trungpa establishes urban Buddhist centers (Dharmadhatus) and the Naropa Institute

1971                 First Tibetan (Sakya) center founded USA

1966                First Theravadan monastery in USA

1959                Dalai Lama flees Tibet

1956                 Revival of Buddhism in India by Dr. B R Ambedkar

1955                 Kangyur Rinpoche leaves Tibet for India taking hundreds of volumes to later be used by Tibetan refuge monks for study and recitation

1954 – 56             6th Buddhist Council, Rangoon, Myanmar

1952               Founding of the World Fellowship of Buddhists

1924 – 29        Daizokyo edition of Chinese Buddhist Canon printed in Tokyo

1907                Buddhist Society of Great Britain founded

1893                 Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Chicago, IL – Buddhist preacher Anagarika Dharmapala was invited there as a representative of Therevadan, “Southern Buddhism”

1881              Pali Text Society founded in England by T W Rhys Davids, most of the Pali Canon is published in Pali and over the following 100 years into English.

1868- 71         5th Buddhist Council in Mandalay, Burma where text of the Pali Canon  revised and inscribed on 729 marble slabs.

1853               First Chinese temple in San Francisco

1862                First Western (German) translation of the Dhammapada


New sects of Japanese Buddhism emerge


Hakuin (monk, scholar, and writer) revitalizes Rinzai Zen Sect in Japanese Buddhism


5th Dalai Lama unites Tibet under Geluk school

Tibetan lamas establish Buddhism monarchies in Bhutan and Sikkim

1642                 5th Dalai Lama (Geluk order) enthroned by Gushri Khan


Altan Khan founds independent Buddhist kingdom in Mongolia

Burmese kings reunite Burman and forge Buddhist empire

Geluk, Tibetan school founded by Tsongkhapa

1549                   Jesuits make port at Kagoshima, Japan

1578                   Geluk leader receives the title of Dalai from Altan Khan, Mongol leader

1409                   Tsongkhapa founds Ganden monastery outside Lhasa, Tibet


First edition of the Tibetan Buddhist canon is compiled

Buddhism in Vietnam begins to decline under Le dynasty


Buddhist Shan people found kingdoms of Ava in Burma, Lanna and Ayutthaya in Thailand- Lan Xang in Laos.


Kublai Khan makes Buddhism court religion of Tibet, now part of the Mongol empire

Shiran (1173 – 1263) founds True Pure Land School of Japanese Buddhism.

1295                Marco Polo returns to Venice

1254, May 31,           Mongke Khan holds the first Interspiritual Dialogue between Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Saracen and Nestorian

1244                   Soto Zen introduced in Japan by Dogen

1223                   Eihei Dogen leaves Japan for China

1222                    Nichiren born in Kominato, Japan


Muslim armies invade and conquer N India

Sakya and Kagyu traditions emerged in Tibet (2nd wave of teaching from India)

119                            Rinza1  Zen introduced in Japan by Eisai

1185 – 1333              Kamakura period, Japan

1118 – 1219               Angkor Wat – Succeeded by Jayagvarman VII a Buddhist

1113 – 1150               Angkor Wat style – colossal mountain temple by Suryavarman II – dedicated to Visnu


Atisha, monk from Nalanda, translates Sanskrit texts to Tibetan. Tibetan schools of Buddhism emerge.

Ly dynasty establishes Buddhist state in Vietnam, Chan Buddhism prevails


Vikramashila in NE India becomes center for Tantric Buddhism

Ladakh becomes a sanctuary for Tibetan Buddhist fleeing persecution

983            First Chinese Buddhist canon

800 – 900           End of Buddhist tradition in Greater Gandharan region


Zen Buddhism emerges in Japan

Burmese found the kingdom of Bagan and becomes center of Thervada study.

King Indravarman II founds Mahayana Buddhist dynasty in kingdom of Champa in Vietnam.

700 – 1200            TIBETAN – Pala era

770               Padmasambhava enters Tibet (Indian tantric adept)


Vajrayana tradition develops at Nalanda (Tantric)

Buddhism becomes official religion of Tibet

Srivijaya and Mataram in Malaysia and Indonesia become centers of Mahayana learning

Borobudur is built on island of Java.

Shantideva (Indian poet) composes A guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (Bodhicaryavatara)

650                       Buddhism introduced to Tibet

618 – 907               increased contact with Central Asian Kingdoms and Buddhist India via the Silk Road

Chinese Tang persecution and destruction of Buddhist art and texts

600 – 900         Buddhism at his height in China


Chan meditative school is founded.

Buddhist monasteries founded in Bhutan.

Arab armies invade Bactira and Gandhara.

Tantric Buddhism emerges from the Mahayana school.

520                   China, arrival of Bodhidharma

550 – 600         Monumental Buddhist sculptures (Bamiyan)

500 – 1500              Hindu/Javanese period


Chinese monks are appointed to political positions in China and Buddhism defuses throughout country.

Mahayana monks establish Buddhism in Japan.

Buddhist kingdoms of Dvaravati and Haripunchai founded by the Mon in SE Asia.

400 – 1100            Buddhist caves near Dunhuang (Buddhist center)

400 – 800             Afghanistan (Nagapahara and Bactria) prosperity, trade routes favor Afghan areas, Buddhism thrives again

400 – 600             Huns take control of Gandhara, loss of patronage, Buddhist sites decline and older sculptures reused (little new produced)

400 – 500             Period of ideological change is evidenced by icons becoming monumental, Buddhist iconography more complex

Chinese Buddhist pilgrims such as “Xuanzang” coming along the Silk Road

Dhammapala composes commentaries on parts of the Canon missed by Buddhaghosa and does sub-commentaries on Buddhaghosa’s work.

440            White Huns invade norther India

425             Buddhaghosa collates the Sinhalese commentaries on the Canon and translates the work into Pali. Composes the Visuddhimagga (Path of Purity) which becomes the classic Sri Lankan textbook on Buddha’s teachings.


Pure Land Buddhism becomes prominent in China

Theravadan tradition reaches mature form in Ceylon

366                    Chinese – approximate date of first cave-temple at Dunhuang

300, late           Buddhist monks come across Hindu Kush to Gandhara and Taxila (Silk Road)

300 – 600          Time of the Guptas in India

300 – 500          New Buddhist sites and older ones expanded – most Gandharan Buddhist sculpture created in this  period

326         Alexander conquered Gandhara and Swat

300        Devotional icons of Buddha and Bodhisattvas sculpted (schist, clay, stucco, terracotta)

300 – 200        Buddhist monastic university, Nalanda, India flourishes, center of world Buddhist study for over a millennium.


Emergence of Yogacara school.

Chinese Mahayana monks reach Korea.

First Chinese Buddhist schools are founded.

200          Many Buddhist sites founded, most Gandharan narrative sculptures produced

200, early         First datable Buddhist site Butkara I, Swat Valley


Buddhist monasteries founded in TaxilaEmperor Kanishka convenes the 4th Buddhist Council in Gandhara

190 – 199            No distinctive Greek communities left in NW India

150           Indian and classical Greco-Roman influences were evident

100           Mathuran and Grandharan artists create Buddha as human figure

100           First sculptures at Buddhist sites

100 – 200          Rule of Kanishka – Chinese Buddhism takes hold

100 – 300          Kushan Dynasty


Nagarjuna writes the Mulamadhyamakakarika and emergence of Madhyamaka school.

57 – 75        Chinese — 2 Indian monks arrive in China (Han Dynasty)

Chinese Emperor Han Mingdi (Golden Apparition) sends envoys to India to bring back a “sacred image”.

65         First example of Buddhist community in China – Han

50         Kushans (from Kansu Province, China [Yueh-Chi])


100 – 1          Gandharan Buddhist art comes into being

Theravada Buddhist Canon Tipitaka written on palm leaves in Sri Lanka at Aluvihara.

Composition of Milinda-panha or Questions of King Milinda (Menander) to Ven. Nagasena

After 190 Foreign rulers in Gandhara

182        Demetrius occupied Taxila and Gandhara (sent forth Gen. Menander)

200 – 100       Stupa at Bharhut, earliest monuments with narrative carvings

Composition of the early Mahayana texts, the Prajnaparamita literature

200        First Buddhist sites in Gandhara, no religious imagery known from this period

200 – 100       Gandhara – Carved stone dishes and secular luxury objects

272 – 237       King Chandragupa, Mauryan Dynasty, grandson of Asoka, Gandhara converts to Buddhism

247       Bhikkhu Mahinad brings Buddhism to Sri Lanka, establishes Mhavihara (Great Monastery) of Anuradhapura – Ven. Sanghamitta, Mahinda’s sister arrives with cutting fromt he original Bodhi tree and establishes the nuns in Sri Lanka.

250        3rd Buddhist Council called by Asoka at Patalipura – the Abhidhamma PItaka is recited and additional sections of the Khuddaka Nikaya, Pali Canon reaches present form.

267 – 231       Asoka Rule.

322 – 185       Maurya period


Asoka — opened 8 original stupas — divided Buddha’s remains and enshrined them in 84,000 stupas making Buddha’s presence infinite

Asoka engraved Greek and Aramaic text on rocks near Kandahar

327 – 306       Greek rule

303           2nd Buddhist Council at Vesali – discuss controversial points of the Vinaya, some scholars believe the first schism took place which marks the beginning of the Mahayana school.

331 – 327        Alexander in Gandhara, conquers Taxila, arrives in the Indus River valley

327 – 324       Alexander’s Indian expedition

403        First Council at Rajagaha – tradition has it that the full Canon was recited but this is not likely, thought a version of Vinaya (monk rules) was codified.

404        Death of Buddha

449         First Sermon and enlightenment

484         Birth of Siddhartha Guatama (20th C scholars 566-486, Theravadan tradition place it in 7th C, best evidence points to  484-404 as most likely life span of the Buddha)

1000       Contemporary discovery of silk in the hair of an Egyptian mummy points to possibility of much earlier trade from China than previously thought.

3000      Prehistoric Gandhara (Sarai Khola)

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