The story of the human race is a weird one. According to the study of genetics, all people alive on the planet today descended from the same ancestors somewhere in what is now Africa. While this was a very long time ago, it is somewhat easy to see the path that people took when leaving the “homeland.” People were able to spread to every corner of the planet, including islands, because the water levels around the world were far different than they are now. Changing temperatures and tectonic shifts stranded many people where they wound up.
Modern history also does a fascinating job of showing how the ideas of human beings were spread around the world before the age of technology. Long before the Industrial Revolution, people found interesting ways of connecting with one another. Taking a moment to explore Buddhism and how it spread across the world’s largest continent via the Silk Road can be an interesting and curious exploration of what humans are capable of.
The Silk Road
The history of China as a nation is a complicated one. China has one of the oldest civilizations on the planet, but constant fighting and warring between clans led to the nation coming together and falling apart with great frequency over the centuries. During the Han Dynasty of 200 BCE, the people of China were able to make a lucrative career selling silk to the various civilizations they had come in contact with to the west. Silk, it turns out, was a huge export that many people were willing to pay top dollar for.
Termed “the Silk Road” by later historians, this path began in China and went everywhere from Arabia to Eastern Europe to India to the nations of the South Pacific. This vast network allowed the people of China to make a decent amount of money as they traveled from one country to another selling goods that people seemed to find incredibly appealing. The trade routes persisted through many changes in China and did not go out of existence until somewhere in the 1400s CE. Throughout the long history of these roads, some interesting accidents emerged.
Accidentally Spreading Buddhism
By this point in history, Buddhism had become a pretty big deal in parts of Asia. When the Silk Road first emerged, it led to practicing Buddhists traveling along it. This led to Buddhism becoming one of the more popular religions throughout China. As more and more Chinese merchants became Buddhists and traveled further away, it caught the attention of foreigners. The many different people encountered during the travels of merchants found the “strange customs” and religious practices of the travelers to be incredibly appealing.
As the people of China continued to learn more about Buddhism, even going as far as to send pilgrims to India to learn more about the religion, the traveling merchants continued to spread the word to new people met along the Silk Road. This practice continued on for centuries until the rise of the Islam in around 700 CE. By this point, other religions had become equally as popular to the various peoples of Asia and Europe, and Buddhism stopped spreading at the pace that it once had.
Buddhism is a popular religion that has existed for thousands of years and persists to this day. While some religions have been spread through violent conquests and endless wars, those who followed Buddhism back in the days of the Silk Road were able to get their messages to others simply by walking and selling silk. Times may have changed dramatically since those ancient days, but there is a lot to be understood from the past and the interesting ways that cultures have shared information throughout history.