Buddhist Studies timelines of buddhist history
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Timeline of Theravada Buddhism
Major Events in Theravada Buddhism
383 B.C.E. • The Second Council 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.
250 B.C.E. • Third Council 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 completed.
247 B.C.E.

King Asoka sends his son, Ven. Mahinda, on a mission to bring Buddhism to Sri Lanka. King Devanampiya Tissa of Sri Lanka is converted.

240 B.C.E.

• Ven. Mahinda establishes the Mahavihara (Great Monastery) of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. The Vibhajjavadin community living there becomes known as the Theravadins. • Mahinda's sister, Ven. Sanghamitta, arrives in Sri Lanka with a cutting from the original Bodhi tree, and establishes the bhikkhuni-sangha (nuns) in Sri Lanka.

100 C.E.

• 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 Fourth Council, in which 500 reciters and scribes from the Mahavihara write down the Pali Tipitaka for the first time, on palm leaves. Theravada Buddhism first appears in Burma and Central Thailand.

200 C.E. • Buddhist monastic university at Nalanda, India flourishes; remains a world centre of Buddhist study for over 1,000 years.
425 C.E.

Ven. Buddhaghosa collates the various Sinhalese commentaries on the Canon - drawing primarily on the Maha Atthakatha (Great Commentary) preserved at the Mahavihara, and translates his work into Pali. This makes Sinhalese Buddhist scholarship available to the entire Theravadin world. As a cornerstone to his work, Buddhaghosa composes the Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purity) which eventually becomes the classic Sri Lankan textbook on the Buddha's teachings.

• 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.

1050 • The bhikkhu and bhikkhuni communities at Anuradhapura die out following invasions from South India.

• Bhikkhus from Pagan arrive in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka to reinstate the Theravada ordination line in Sri Lanka.


• Polonnaruwa destroyed by foreign invasion. With the guidance of two monks from a forest branch of the Mahavihara sect - Ven. Mahakassapa and Ven. Sariputta. • King Parakramabahu reunites all bhikkhus in Sri Lanka into the Mahavihara sect.

1236 • Bhikkhus from Kañcipuram, India, arrive in Sri Lanka to revive the Theravada ordination line.
1279 • Last inscriptional evidence of a Theravada Bhikkhuni nunnery (in Burma).
1287 • Pagan (Burma) looted by Mongol invaders; its decline begins.
13th cen. • 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.
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 Siam Nikaya.
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.
1803 • Sri Lankans ordained in the Burmese city of Amarapura found the Amarapura Nikaya in Sri Lanka to supplement the Siam Nikaya, which admitted only brahmins from the Up Country highlands around Kandy.
1828 • Thailand's Prince Mongkut (later King Rama IV) founds the Dhammayut Sect.

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


• Fifth Council is held at Mandalay, Burma; Pali Canon is inscribed on 729 marble slabs.

1873 • Ven. Mohottivatte Gunananda defeats Christian missionaries in a public debate, sparking a nationwide revival of Sri Lankan pride in its Buddhist traditions.
1879 • Sir Edwin Arnold publishes his epic narrative poem Light of Asia, stimulating popular Western interest in Buddhism.
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.
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.
1891 • Maha Bodhi Society founded in India by the Sri Lankan lay follower Anagarika Dharmapala, in an effort to reintroduce Buddhism to India.
1899 • First Western Theravada monk (Gordon Douglas) ordains, in Burma.

Ven. Ajahn Mun and Ven. Ajahn Sao revive the forest meditation tradition in Thailand.


• 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.

1949 Mahasi Sayadaw becomes head teacher at a government sponsored Vipassana meditation centre in Rangoon, Burma.
1954 • Burmese government sponsors a Sixth Council in Rangoon.

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


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.

1970's • Refugees from war in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos settle in North America, Australia and Europe, establishing many Buddhist communities in the West. • Ven. Taungpulu Sayadaw and Dr. Rina Sircar, from Burma, establish the Taungpulu Kaba-Aye Monastery in Northern California, USA. • Ven. Ajahn Chah establishes Wat Pah Nanachat, a forest monastery in Thailand for training Western monks. • Insight Meditation Society, a lay meditation center, is founded in Massachusetts, USA. • Ven. Ajahn Chah travels to England to establish a small community of monks at the Hamsptead Vihara, which later moves to Sussex, England, now known as Chithurst Forest Monastery.
1980's • Lay meditation centers grow in popularity in North America, Australia and Europe. • First Theravada forest monastery in the USA (Bhavana Society) is established in West Virginia. • Amaravati Buddhist Monastery established in England by Ven. Ajahn Sumedho.

• 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. Ajahns Amaro and Pasanno). • Buddhism meets cyberspace: Buddhist computer networks (BuddhaNet) emerge. • Several editions of the Pali Tipitaka become available online.

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