Buddhism was introduced into the areas, now included in Pakistan, by Buddhist missionaries like Madhyantiak, during the reign of the Mauriyan Emperor Ashoka who had converted to the new Dharma. However, when Buddhists faced persecution in the Ganges Valley, during the period of Sunga Dynasty (185-73 BCE), 50 years after the death of Ashoka, they migrated in the larger numbers to safer havens, including the Punjab, Ghandhara and Sindh. Ghandhara fully assimilated the new dharma which flourish and bloomed into vibrant civilization.
The seeds of Buddhism sown by Ashoka (called Dhar Raja, the Righteous One), sprouted under conducive environment during the reign of Indus-Greek ruler Menandar-I (endeared as Dharmamitra, the friend of the Dharma), blossomed under the patronage of Kanishka and spread to the regions beyond the lofty mountains as far as Japan and Korea. It expanded into the adjoining areas, such as the Kabul Valley, Potohar, Gilgit Baltistan and Kashmir. Its signs are writ large in the form of rocks paintings, inscriptions, stupas, sangharmas and viharas.
The Takshasila (Taxila) and Swat Valley, Uddiyana of those times, were its centers, Padmasambhava, the legendary Buddhist mystic, also known as Buddhism to Tibet, in the 8th century CE, was born in Swat. Buddhism reach the peak of its glory under the Kushan rulers, especially Kanishka-I. However, it suffered a mortal blow at the hand of White Huns who swept the region during the second half of the 5th century. They ruthlessly destroyed monasteries and icons of Buddhist faith.
A Chinese traveler who visited Gandhara during the first quarter of the 6th century wrote about the ruination of Buddhist sanctuaries about “two generations ago”. Its influence weakened even further during Kabul Shahi and Hindu Shahi dynasties for the lack of patronage. It had almost lost its vitality by the time of advent of Muslims into the region. Although it declined in Gandhara, yet it was Gandhara from where it spread northwards and reached as far as China, Japan and Korea.
The earlier followers of Buddhism believed in individual salvation, following the path of the Enlightened One, by crossing the stream of life to reach the shores of arhathood or nirvana. It draws inspiration from a saying of Lord Buddha ” Dharma may be compared to a raft”. This orthodox doctrine was later called Hinayana or the ” Small Ferry Boat” as against the new liberal doctrine called Mahayana of the ” Big Ferry Boat “. In fact, there emerged a split on the matters of interpretation after the Great Council convened by Kanishka in the 1st century CE. Those who adhered to the orthodox views were called elders or thera. Their school came to be know as Theravada ( the teachings of the elders). The liberals professed that one’s spiritual goal should not be restricted to individual salvation on nirvana rather it should aim at helping the humanity in seeking salvation following the example of the Lord Buddah himself. They believe that ” Big Ferry Boat ” can carry the entire humanity to Buddhahood. Moreover as against the orthodox belief in 24 Buddhas, they believe in numerous Buddhas or Bodhisattva, in the past and future, to help the believers achieve Buddhahood. They also believe in Buddha as a divine being, worthy of reverence, which led to elaborate iconography and sculptures of Buddha. Apart from compassion and care for the fellow beings, Mahayana Buddhism popularized the belief in Bodhisattva, who postpones his nirvana to help others.
Vajrayana ( Diamond Vehicle), also called Tantric Buddhism, lays emphasis on esoteric practices. It originated in Uddiyana, the present days Swat in Pakistan. The sage Padmasambhava, from Uddiyana, introduced it to Tibet, where he is revered as Guru Rinpoche.
(Research contents dedicated to Dr. Safdar Ali Shah & Syed Javaid A. Kazi)
The Wheel of Law, set into motion by Buddha at the Hindu holy city of Benares, blazed a glowing traol across the Subcontinent to Sri Lanka, onto the Far East, and along the Silk Road, over the Hindukush and the mighty Himalayas into Afghanistan, CHina and regions fat beyond. The road to Buddhism carries enduring imprints of Buddha,from Nepal where he was born, to India where he established the first sangha, to Sri Lanka, where his footprints are enshrined, to Gandhara, which emerged as a center of Buddhist learning and civilization, and distant lands in the form of Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, which transformed the lives of countless millions over more then twenty-five centuries. The story of spread of Buddhism is interesting and instructive. The message of the Enlightened One was carried over the mountain trails and the trade routes by his followers, traders and travelers.
The Road to Buddhism passes through many splendid places, from fabulous valleys to lofty hilltops, strewn with majestic monuments and monasteries. There are rich collections of sacred relics and superb specimens of art and architecture which are the integral part of human heritage.
This tour is an attempt to showcase some of these wonderful places, artifacts and icons in Pakistan, which are the priceless treasures of national heritage and of immense interest to Buddhists and researchers around the world.
In addition to the Buddhist Heritage in Pakistan, we will also show you the cultural and architecture heritage of Mughal & British Era.