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Roles of Lay and Monastic Individuals in Gandhara after the Decline of Buddhism in Jambudvipa

September 22, 2023


I studied the Gandharan Buddhist civilization between the second and tenth centuries following the Buddha’s death at the ancient rains retreat in Taxila, Pakistan, in 2022. As was previously mentioned, Buddhist culture was most prosperous in both the pre- and post-industrial periods, one of which was when Ashoka the Great reigned. During the Maurya dynasty, he was the third ruler. He took over the throne between 269 and 311 BCE. He expanded the empire under his rule, making it the largest in history. 

The Third Buddhist Council and Ashoka’s Missionaries

The People’s Republic of Bangladesh and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. As suggested, he changed his direction and became a Buddhist in about 237 BCE.

By Nigrodha, a young monk who was his nephew. King Ashoka constructed viharas and stupas around his realm in Jambudvipa between 237 and 289 B.E as a sign of respect for the Triple Gem.

Ven. Moggaliputta Tissa presided over the Third Buddhist Council, which King Ashoka sponsored in 290 B.E. Buddhist missionaries were dispatched by Ashoka to Jambudvipa over nine distinct routes to spread Buddhism. As follows:

• The first group, led by Majjhantika Thera, was established to spread Buddhism northwest of the Republic of India (Maghada) in places like Gandhara and Kashmir.

• The second group, led by Mahadeva Thera, was established to spread Buddhism in Mahismandala and Mysore in the southern region of the Republic of India (Maghada).

• The third group, led by Rakkhita Thera, sought to advance Buddhism in the Maghada and Vanavasi regions of the then-Republic of India (modern-day Bombay and Mumbai).

• The fourth group, led by Yona Dhammarakkhita Thera, works to spread Buddhism in the western coastal region of Aparantakajanaka (by the Arab Sea, north of Mumbai).

• Fifth group: led by Maha Dhammarakkhita Thera, they work to spread Buddhism in Maharattha, a region of Maharashtra to the northeast of Mumbai.

• The sixth group, led by Maharakkhita Thera, works to spread Buddhism in Yona, Persia. (At the time, it was ruled by Persia and Greece; it is currently the Islamic Republic of Iran.)

• Majjhima Thera led the seventh group, which was formed to advance Buddhism in the Himavanta/Himalayan Region (now Nepal).

• Sona Thera and Uttara Thera are in charge of the eighth group working to spread Buddhism in Suvarnabhumi.

• Ninth group: Mahindra Thera and Sanghamitra Thera are in charge of advancing Buddhism in Lankadvipa (Sri Lanka).

The Influence of Greek Culture on Gandhara Buddhist Civilization

After that, the spread of Buddhism in Jambudvipa’s north (northwest) continued to expand. For our study of Buddhist civilization in Gandhara, we need to write down the names of Majjhantika Thera and Maharakkhita Thera, who oversaw the first and sixth groups.

At the same time, we must write down the name of a Greek monk from Yona (or Yonok), Dhammarakkhita Thera, also known as Yona Dhammarakkhita Thera. He was the primary proponent of Buddhism in Jambudvipa’s northern region. This demonstrates how Buddhism had long since flourished in Jambudvipa’s north.

Four hundred years following the Buddha’s death, during the reign of King Ashoka to that of King Menander2, Buddhism flourished.

According to “The Questions of King Milinda” in the Pali Cannon, Menander or Milinda was the ruler of Yonok (Greece). Just over 200 years after the Buddha’s death, Dhammarakkhita Thera, who lived during King Ashoka’s time, also originated from Yonok.

This indicates that the Gandhara Buddhist civilization had already influenced Greek character and spirit long before Menander’s time and that this influence persisted after Menander’s conversion to Buddhism due to his conversation with Ven. Nagasena.

King Milinda was said to have been born in Kalasi in Alexandria, now known as Kandahar in Afghanistan, according to Milindapaha, or “The Questions of King Milinda,” a well-known Buddhist literature in the Theravada circle for roughly 400 years following the Buddha’s nirvana.

He governed a kingdom with Sagala, Euthymedia, or Ptolemaic Euthydemia as its capital. In Punjab, it is presently known as Sialkot. His domain included Peshawar, the upper Kabul River (Kathiawar), and the western part of Uttar Pradesh. Around this time, Buddhist viharas and monasteries were constructed. It was created and presented to Nagasena Thera as Milinda Vihara. As a result, Nagasena Thera should be added to the list of Buddhist civilizations that existed during the reign of King Milinda.

Nagasena Thera and His Journey to Enlightenment

Nagasena was born in the Himalayan village of Kajangala. Sonuttara, his father, was a Brahman. Nagasena was incredibly sage and clever. He began studying the Three Vedas at the age of seven and finished them at the age of ten.

As a novice monk, Nagasena studied Dhamma Vinaya at the Rakkhita Cave under Ven. Rohana. He received his monk ordination at the age of 20 from Ven. Rohana.

Then, he was transferred to the Vattaniya Monastery in Sagala to study under Ven. Assagutta. Soon after, he traveled to Pataliputta to study the Dhamma for six months with Ven. Dhammarakkhita. He moved to Rakkhita Guha to continue practicing and eventually became an arahant. In celebration of his success, the monastic groups invited him to Sagala to debate King Milinda. After converting to Buddhism, the king pledged to live out his days, seeking refuge in the Triple Gem. King Milinda was committed entirely to advancing and extending Buddhism. Thus, the Kushan dynasty’s Kanishka the Great, who controlled Gandhara in the sixth Buddhist century, carried on Buddhist civilization.

Like his predecessor, ruler Ashoka the Great, Kanishka was a well-known ruler who converted to Buddhism and committed to spreading the religion. As a result, he earned the moniker Second Ashoka the Great of Jambudvipa. Kanishka identified as a Buddhist yet was tolerant of and respected various faiths. He gave people the right to practice their religions freely. As a result, different regions of his empire, such as Yona, Sumeria, Elam, and India, practiced worshiping deities.

In Kasmira3, Kanishka hosted the Fourth Buddhist Council, according to a Chinese monk named Hiuen Tsang. The event was attended by 500 upright and learned monks under the leadership of Parsva Thera and Vasumitra Thera as his assistant.

The Sanskrit language used by this Council was entirely different from that of the first. 

They chanted the three principal atthakathas listed below:

• The Vinaya Pitaka

• The Sutta Pitaka

• The Abhidhamma Pitaka.


All were written down and confirmed by Sarvastivadin University. King Kanishka then dispatched Buddhist missionaries to spread the religion throughout East and Central Asia. During the archaeological dig, a coffin belonging to the Kanishka era bearing the following inscription.

Questions and Answers

Q1. What role did Ashoka the Great play in spreading Buddhism, and how did he demonstrate his commitment to the faith?

Ans. Ashoka sponsored the Third Buddhist Council and dispatched Buddhist missionaries to spread Buddhism across various regions, showing his dedication through the construction of viharas and stupas.

Q2. Who were the key figures among Ashoka’s missionaries, and where were they sent to spread Buddhism?

Ans. Notable missionaries included Majjhantika Thera, Mahadeva Thera, Rakkhita Thera, Yona Dhammarakkhita Thera, and others. They were sent to regions like Gandhara, Mahismandala, Maghada, and more.

Q3. How did Greek culture influence Gandhara Buddhist civilization?

Ans. Greek influence is evident in Gandhara Buddhist art, with realistic Buddha statues and artistic details on clothing. The conversion of King Menander and his conversations with Buddhist monks further solidified this influence.

Q4. Who was King Milinda, and what contributions did he make to Buddhism?

Ans. King Milinda was a ruler of Yonok (Greece) who converted to Buddhism. He constructed monasteries, including Milinda Vihara, and was crucial in promoting and extending Buddhism.

Q5. Can you provide insights into the life and journey to enlightenment of Ven? Nagasena Thera?

Ans. Ven. Nagasena was born into a Brahman family, ordained as a novice monk, and trained under various teachers. He eventually attained arahantship and engaged in debates, including with King Milinda.

Q6. What was the significance of the Fourth Buddhist Council hosted by Kanishka the Great?

Ans. The Fourth Buddhist Council, hosted by Kanishka, played a pivotal role in the evolution of Buddhism. It resulted in the standardization of Buddhist scriptures and teachings.

Q7. How have inscriptions from the Kanishka era contributed to our understanding of Buddhist history?

Ans. The inscriptions provide historical context and evidence of Kanishka’s reign, the Fourth Buddhist Council, and the enduring legacy of Buddhism in Gandhara.

Q8. Why is it important to preserve and study ancient Buddhist sites in Gandhara?

Ans. Preserving these sites helps us understand the history and cultural exchanges that shaped Buddhism in the region, ensuring its heritage endures for future generations.

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