Beliefs and Practices of Buddhism

Communication and comfortability among individuals in a community are two crucial traits that are needed in order to successfully be a contributing member of society in the first couple of centuries. Cities along with different cultures have varying beliefs and ideals but the collection of materials and information that is required to live are found similarly among cities from the western edge of Europe all the way to Africa and extending to the borders of China. Religious values are a center point for the diverse set of societies and cultures in these time periods. The spread of Buddhism, Christianity, and later Islam was integral in order for these to become some of the most popular religions back then and even today. The culture of society’s are greatly intertwined to the foundation and beliefs of the religion, which help set up the laws and systems in place. Trade was an essential item throughout the Silk Road, however the cultural transformations that took place formed societies and establishments that had never been seen before. The Silk Road which vastly expanded trade, communication, and religion among other cultural transformations is believed to have been started around 130 BCE, connected the world in a way that had never been seen before. The continued expansion of the Silk Road enhanced trade networks globally, but more importantly it allowed various religions to reach all ends of the eastern hemisphere. Through hellenism helping to advance cultures in the world in the late centuries of BCE, specifically due to the Silk Road it is prevalent that religion was the biggest beneficiary of it rather than trade or other cultural advancements that were made.

The formation of the Silk Road triggered trade and communication to prosper but it also allowed for the first expansion of religion to other cultures as Buddhist monks expanded the words and teachings of the Buddha. Buddhism began on the Four Truths of; one, life from birth to death is full of suffering, two, all sufferings are caused by desires, three the only way to rise above suffering is to renounce desires, and four only through adherence to the Rightful Eightfold Path can individuals rid themselves of desires and thus reach a state of contentment or nirvana. The points of the Rightful Eightfold Path are represent wisdom, ethical behavior, and mental discipline. One of the key differences between the beginning teachings of Buddhism and other popular religions at the time is how Buddhism had no space for deities to dictate human lives. The Buddha was notoriously known to walk place to place in order to gain followers and spread the word of his beliefs. This was then carried on through monks who enriched the culture by developing new forms of Buddhism allowing the religion to skyrocket in popularity along the Silk Road. One of the main reasons Buddhism was so successful was how appealing it was to the people of other cultures or those who weren’t accustomed to the ways of the Buddha yet: Buddhist monks were the primary missionary agents, the bearers of a universal message who traveled across the roads of Central Asia, caring holy books, offering salvation of commoners, and establishing themselves more securely and host communities then did armies, diplomats, or merchants (296).

The combination of the traveling monks kind words and messages along with the multiple cave monasteries and massive carved Buddhas in the cliffs helped people feel welcomed and a sense of salvation. Trade and other technological advances were helpful to people of various societies, however material items don’t equate to the spirituality and sense of belonging that Buddhism brought to these people. The Buddhists were so spiritual and devote to their beliefs that they made 2 gigantic statues of the Buddha that stood 121 and 180 feet in height. They also constructed over 50,000 statues representing Buddhist deities and patrons that surrounded the statues and were welcoming signs for travelers to rest and redefine their beliefs. It was such a popular religion among China and southeast Asia because of its appeal along with its simplicity due to the ability of monks translating the Buddhist text into other languages. This allowed a vast population of China to comprehend the religion, in turn creating a mass acceptance of it. It also was translated into sanskrit which enabled the majority of Asia’s population, to at the minimum be able to read and understand the religious values. The distribution of Buddhism was incredibly evident in multiple historical texts, but it not only helped spark the rise or religion it helped trading along the Silk Road that much easier. Buddhism strived to create a new and understandable world for the members living in it, but it also helped expand and encourage others to follow what they believed in such as Christianity.

Christianity was an important aspect for the spread of religions among the world and on the Silk Road. Christianity’s emergence and stronghold in Europe happened later than Buddhism’s but it was still instrumental in advancing the Catholic church and helping enlighten points on the Silk Road. Christians felt that they could be one universal religion and develop all other groups into one single catholic church. The catholic church introduced a sacred text, the bible, which was written exclusively in latin thus enabling only a few holy individuals to decipher and interpret the text. The people who produced these bibles were inexplicably different than your average man or women as they were considered monks or nuns that were part of the Christian monasticism which meant that a man or women chooses to live alone, without the support of marriage or family. Christian monasteries were best suited to communicate between believers and God because they had little in common with normal people. Unlike Buddhism, Christianity’s goal was to become the universal religion that strived to engulf each and every person alive with catholic beliefs. The advancement of Christianity was not as instant as it’s counterpart Buddhism but eventually became the most popular religion in the world. A massive contribution towards the advancement was martyrs who sacrificed everything they believed in for the greater good.

They were executed by Roman authorities due to their failure to submit to traditional rituals and beliefs and persisting to Christian beliefs. There were many cases of martyrs going to remarkable feats just to express their values: Vibia Perpetua faced a horrible punishment for refusing to sacrifice to the Roman gods. Denied the benefit of a human executioner she and her companions were condemned to face wild beast in the amphitheater of Carthage(279). Eventually a mediterranean wide debate on religion was started around obedience to a god rather than a direct human ruler. A key contributor to the advancement of Christianity was the emperor Constantine who helped enhance the power of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Constantine gave bishops and clergymen tax empetions along with favours that the rest of society failed to get. He also summoned every bishop to a council at Nicaea which produced the Christian creed in which believers were asked to balance three separate gods into one, the father, the son, and the holy spirit. The sacrifices that were made for the values of Christianity did not go unseen, along with how they showed the power and strength of their beliefs which helped inspire others to take the same course. Christianity blossomed into one of the most prolific religions in the world but it was not without the help of the people who sacrificed their lives for it. Religion itself had the greatest impact on societies in the world during the beginning centuries of CE, because of its well rounded and understandable values that encouraged people to seek the truth and goodness in others.

The spread of religion was much less complicated than other endeavors on the Silk Road, due to the simplicity of it and the connection that was made between fellow believers. Trade was a complicated and intricate process that began as a simple exchange for goods, and expanded into a diverse marketplace that was shared through the road and sea. The thousands of people who traveled on the Silk Road were more engaged in the values of their religion and how to spread their beliefs rather than what items were being exchanged. This was because, although achieving life success was important, entertaining the idea that being a true and valuable member of society was integral to obtaining happiness along with ensuring a valid place in the after life. Hellenism advanced cultures in unprecedented ways, which sped up the process of people questioning their beliefs and sparking ideas that countered the beliefs of empires that had existed for centuries before. Caravan cities, or popular trading centers, were essential in providing trading hubs that helped groups of people from all over collectively trade their goods in an easier format, were centers of the hellenistic culture. These urban centers were located towards the end of each major trade route, supplied separate but equally valuable items that were necessary in each cultures livelihood. The various items that were traded on the Silk Road stemmed from the obvious silk, to wine, lumber, and remarkably popular incense. The roads that were traveled were not simple voyages anyone could make, but required skill, wit and ability to navigate as they were long arduous journeys which took weeks and months to gather items and return home.

Along the way many of these men and women who were devout Buddhist, Christians or Muslims developed tendencies to pay homage to their gods or beliefs. It was often seen that throughout places in the Silk Road people regularly built shrines or temples so they could worship when they were far away from home. Religious beliefs were incredibly more impactful to a humans soul or mental state rather than obtaining goods from the marketplace due to the spiritual impact it had. Although trading was the main point of the Silk Road the sheer presence of monks and nuns brought forth values and beliefs that people could relate to, which allowed spiritual enlightening to thousands of others. This system of introducing and expanding new religions across the globe advanced Buddhism and Christianity rapidly, enabling them to become the most common religions in existence. In looking back on these times the significance of what items were traded, or where the biggest trading hubs were are interesting but irrelevant in the sense that the supporting values and beliefs which were created then were the stepping stones to what is still being used today in millions and billions of homes across the world. The expansion of these religions from the Mediterranean Sea to China encouraged trade not only amongst themselves but others of different backgrounds and faiths. The connections that were made between believers of the same faith created a greater likelihood of distribution of goods from one source to another. The various religions that existed at these times helped trade to prosper that was unpredictable due to the various needs each religion required.

For example, in order to make shrines or other ceremonial items that were dedicated to the Buddha, Buddhists needed material that could not be found locally and required travel to other places to acquire it, as seen in Steve Gosh’s Journal Article titles Cross-Cultural Trade as a Framework for Teaching World History: Concepts and Applications: Buddhists in India sought silk banners from China for the decoration of stupas and for ceremonial use. Chinese Buddhists looked to India as the source of the “”seven jewels”” (precious stones) used in worship. Monasteries in India and China were often located on key trade routes and benefited from the patronage of merchants. Sometimes the monks engaged in trade and banking themselves. Not only were traders from other various cultures the beneficiaries of trade, but religiously devout individuals were presented items that were essential to expanding and showing their patronage to their beliefs. The trading markets that were created along the vast stretch of land called the Silk Road enabled humans from all different kinds of backgrounds to barter in trade along with spread the ideas of each religion. Trade is commonly assumed as the most important item on the agenda but religion was the main benefactor of this beautiful creation. Trade was one of the main advantages of creating this road, however the cultural advancements that were made in the centuries to follow formed a world that started societies and law systems based solely on the beliefs and values of these religions. The impact Christianity and Buddhism not only had on the Silk Road, but on the people of Europe and Asia created an open thinking society that prospered into an advanced and savy world that we know of today.

Beliefs and values differ from each person to the next, however there are still things that bring people together that no one could have predicted. The start of Buddhism created a mass following stemming from the values of the Four Truths, which enlightened each Buddhist to seek their full potential and strive to live and seek happiness even through hard times. The end goal is to reach a state of content and help others find similar meaning in their lives, by spreading the values. Christianity also falls in the category of religious excellence, as the sacrifices people have made in order to show the world their beliefs, showed immense strength and courage. Beginning with a few believers and developing into the world’s most popular religion doesn’t come easily. However, having devout followers helping to share the word of Jesus Christ, by explaining the beliefs of the father, the son, and the holy spirit, allowed for the world to see the commitment to excellence that was bestowed upon by bishops and clergy men. None of these religious expansions would be possible without the help of the Silk Road creating a funnel of hellenistic approaches that pushed cultures to barriers which had never been seen before. The foundation that was laid down by some of the early followers enabled the present day world to learn from past mistakes, while seeing the importance of dedication and devotion to pristine and remarkable faiths. The Silk Road, ranging from China to the Mediterranean Sea helped form a global society and network that was years beyond the communication and transparency that had existed at the time. The cultural wave of hellenism helped advance cultures to new heights, but the main beneficiary of the Silk Road was the prosperity of new religions rather than the bustling trade markets.

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