Buddhism prospered because it offered salvation through belief in the Buddha, the enlightened one. It was more representative of the Melchizedek truths than any other religious system to be found throughout eastern Asia. But Buddhism did not become widespread as a religion until it was espoused in self-protection by the low-caste monarch Asoka, who, next to Ikhnaton in Egypt, was one of the most remarkable civil rulers between Melchizedek and Michael. Asoka built a great Indian empire through the propaganda of his Buddhist missionaries. During a period of twenty-five years he trained and sent forth more than seventeen thousand missionaries to the farthest frontiers of all the known world. In one generation he made Buddhism the dominant religion of one half the world. It soon became established in Tibet, Kashmir, Ceylon, Burma, Java, Siam, Korea, China, and Japan. And generally speaking, it was a religion vastly superior to those which it supplanted or upstepped.
The spread of Buddhism from its homeland in India to all of Asia is one of the thrilling stories of the spiritual devotion and missionary persistence of sincere religionists. The teachers of Gautama’s gospel not only braved the perils of the overland caravan routes but faced the dangers of the China Seas as they pursued their mission over the Asiatic continent, bringing to all peoples the message of their faith. But this Buddhism was no longer the simple doctrine of Gautama; it was the miraculized gospel which made him a god. And the farther Buddhism spread from its highland home in India, the more unlike the teachings of Gautama it became, and the more like the religions it supplanted, it grew to be.
Buddhism, later on, was much affected by Taoism in China, Shinto in Japan, and Christianity in Tibet. After a thousand years, in India Buddhism simply withered and expired. It became Brahmanized and later abjectly surrendered to Islam, while throughout much of the rest of the Orient it degenerated into a ritual which Gautama Siddhartha would never have recognized.
In the south the fundamentalist stereotype of the teachings of Siddhartha persisted in Ceylon, Burma, and the Indo-China peninsula. This is the Hinayana division of Buddhism which clings to the early or asocial doctrine.
But even before the collapse in India, the Chinese and north Indian groups of Gautama’s followers had begun the development of the Mahayana teaching of the “Great Road” to salvation in contrast with the purists of the south who held to the Hinayana, or “Lesser Road.” And these Mahayanists cast loose from the social limitations inherent in the Buddhist doctrine, and ever since has this northern division of Buddhism continued to evolve in China and Japan.
Buddhism is a living, growing religion today because it succeeds in conserving many of the highest moral values of its adherents. It promotes calmness and self-control, augments serenity and happiness, and does much to prevent sorrow and mourning. Those who believe this philosophy live better lives than many who do not.