[Buddha-l] Spread of Buddhism

Michel Clasquin clasqm at mweb.co.za
Thu May 26 15:41:47 MDT 2005

Bradley Clough wrote:
> A student asked me a question and I did not have a good answer to it: 
> Why were there no Buddhist missionary endeavors via trade routes across 
> the Arabian Sea to Africa (or if there were any such attempts, why 
> didn't they succeed)?

Well, first of all, the whole idea that there ever were conscious 
"missionary" efforts in Buddhism before the 20th century was rather 
effectively refuted by Jonathan Walters in his PhD thesis "Rethinking 
Buddhist Mission" (U Chicago 1992). The man set my own doctoral work 
back by 2 years, but let bygones be bygones ... Buddhist expansion 
happened, but there was no real sense of "mission" behind it.

(Anybody know what happened to Walters?)

In my own thesis I explored possible points of contact between Buddhism 
and African religion. Now that the doctorate is safely behind my name 
(Hi, Lance) I can admit that it was, uhh, one of the less successful 
chapters. You really have to clutch at straws to find a possible point 
of entry, philosophically speaking, for Buddhist ideas into African 
society. They are that different. Now that did not stop Buddhism from 
moving into other areas with very different traditions of their own, but 
patronage, either royal (eg Tibet, Japan) or by a prosperous trading 
class (China) had a lot to do with that. No patronage, no spread of 

There *were* a few Buddhists in Africa, well, in Alexandria, anyway, 
which as we all know was "in Africa but not of it". Both Origen and 
Clement of Alexandria briefly mentioned them, as I recall.

"Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so."
-- Bertrand Russell

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