It might seem that Buddhism and internationalism is a new topic in Buddhist studies scholarship; however, Buddhism has always been an international religion. From Buddhism’s emergence in India it spread in one direction to Sri Lanka and then to Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. In another trajectory it crossed into Central Asia, China, Tibet, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan. These journeys took place within diverse political, economic, religious, philosophical, and linguistic environments, which conditioned the reception and manifestations of Buddhism in each region. Buddhism continues to be an international religion, spreading globally through people, objects, art, film, books, and ideas. During the modern period, when Buddhism began to be studied and became known beyond Asia, other populations became interested in the religion. Through travel by Asian teachers to non-Buddhist locations as well as by non-Buddhist travelers to Asian countries, Buddhism gained a presence in populations where it had previously been absent. In addition, the migration of Asian populations to Europe, North America, and South America has spread the visibility of Buddhist identities. This article deals with issues that include the manner in which Buddhism spread, the means by which it did so, the reasons for its appeal, the ways Buddhism has adjusted to its various cultures, and the manner in which it both transforms and is transformed by cultures. Internationalism, by definition, stands in contrast to nationalism. Internationalism focuses on relationships between nations rather than the interests of a particular nation. Thus, the subject of Buddhism and internationalism must treat the process by which the religion has become international. For the purposes of this article, works on Buddhism and internationalism are cited that deal with the movement of Buddhism from one location to another. This scholarship includes the history of Buddhism’s spread from India to other parts of Asia as well as work on the more recent migrations and institutional links of Asian Buddhists to non-Buddhist countries. Recently, scholars have begun to look at the context of travelers from non-Buddhist countries practicing in Asian Buddhist locations. Therefore Buddhism and internationalism includes travel, short or long term, that serves to spread Buddhism’s teachings and practices. In addition to travel, internationalism includes the ways Buddhists envision themselves as part of broader communities and how they attempt to practice their core values on a global scale. No overarching international hierarchy of Buddhists exists as each nation and sect follows its own internal procedures. However, through organizations and charismatic leaders, some prominent individual Buddhists and groups have emerged who are well known worldwide.
Several useful introductions to Buddhism and internationalism are available. No textbook on the topic of Buddhism and internationalism exists, but some introductory works on Buddhism, most notably Mitchell 2002, discuss the tradition’s movement and transnational connections in significant detail. Obeyesekere 2003 is part of a general religious studies textbook that provides an overview of Buddhism as a global religion. Topics of missionary work in Learman 2005 and Walters 2005 and the spread of Buddhism in Braarvig 2012, Heirman and Bumbacher 2007, Abenayake and Tilakaratne 2011, and Zürcher 1962 provide excellent guides to the global scope of Buddhism.
Abenayake, Oliver, and Asanga Tilakaratne, eds. 2600 Years of Sambuddhatva: Global Journey of Awakening. Colombo: Ministry of Buddhasasana and Religious Affairs, Government of Sri Lanka, 2011.
This edited volume surveys Buddhism in all the countries where it has spread. Scholars address disparate areas in Asia and the West.
Braarvig, Jens. “The Spread of Buddhism as Globalization of Knowledge.” In The Globalization of Knowledge in History. Edited by Jürgen Renn, 245–267. Berlin: Edition Open Access, 2012.
This chapter deals with the geographical spread of Buddhism and the ways the tradition maintained continuity of its knowledge and lineages. Braarvig discusses monastic institutions, texts, images of the Buddha, and narratives as some of the Buddhist modes of diffusion.
Heirman, Ann, and Stephan Peter Bumbacher. The Spread of Buddhism. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007.
This edited volume treats the early dissemination of Buddhism from India to China, Tibet, Mongolia, and the Middle East.
Learman, Linda, ed. Buddhist Missionaries in the Era of Globalization. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005.
An important edited volume that discusses the spread of Buddhism through the efforts of missionaries. The introduction illustrates the significance of mission for the Buddhist religion and its spread outside of India. The rest of the chapters focus on missionary case studies mostly from the modern period in Sri Lanka, Nepal, North America, Brazil, and Taiwan.
McMahan, David L., ed. Buddhism in the Modern World. New York: Routledge, 2012.
This edited volume concerns the modern experiences of Buddhism in Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, Japan, China, North America, and Europe.
Mitchell, Donald. Introducing the Buddhist Experience. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
This introductory textbook on Buddhism takes a global approach to understanding the tradition. It focuses on the Indian, Tibetan, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese experiences of Buddhism. Modern forms of Buddhism in Asia and the West are also covered.
Obeyesekere, Gananath. “Buddhism.” In Global Religions. Edited by Mark Juergensmeyer, 63–77. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Within this edited volume focusing on the transnational character of religions, Obeyesekere’s chapter on Buddhism concisely highlights the early dissemination of Buddhism. He then explores Buddhism’s contact with European scholars and practitioners, Buddhist diasporas, and meditation institutions outside of Asia.
Walters, Jonathan. “Missions: Buddhist Missions.” In Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 1. Edited by Lindsay Jones, 6077–6082. Detroit: Macmillan, 2005.
In this encyclopedic entry, Walters explains the impetus for mission in Buddhism discussing the early spread of the faith and ending with modern Buddhist missions. This work also compares ideas of mission among Christians and Buddhists.
Zürcher, Erik. Buddhism: Its Origin and Spread in Words, Maps, and Pictures. New York: St. Martin’s, 1962.
Zürcher’s short volume concisely discusses Buddhism’s spread throughout Asia from India.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email email@example.com to express your interest.
- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Bodh Gaya
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Marxism
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- China, Pilgrimage in
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Dizang (Jizō, Ksitigarbha)
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Kyōgyōshinshō (Shinran)
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Mahāvairocana Sūtra/Tantra
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Mārga (Path)
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Preaching/Teaching in Buddhism Studies
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Sexuality and Buddhsim
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Verse Literature, Tibetan Buddhist
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Visuddhimagga (Buddhaghosa)
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese