By Venerable Piyadassi Thera
“The ages roll by and the Buddha seems not so far away after all; his voice whispers in our ears and tells us not to run away from the struggle but, calm-eyed, to face it, and to see in life ever greater opportunities for growth and advancement. Personality counts today as ever, and a person who has impressed himself on the thought of mankind as the Buddha has, so that even today there is something living and vibrant about the thought of him, he must have been a wonderful man, a man who was, as Barth says, ‘the finished model of calm and sweet majesty, of infinite tenderness for all that breathes and compassion for all that suffers, of perfect moral freedom and exemption from every prejudice.’n1 “His message old and yet very new and original for those immersed in metaphysical subtleties, captured the imagination of the intellectuals; it went deep down into the hearts of the people. n2
Buddhism had its birth at Sarnath near the city of Vârânasi (Benares), India. With only five followers at the beginning, it penetrated into many lands, and is today the religion of more than 600 million. Buddhism made such rapid strides chiefly due to its intrinsic worth and its appeal to the reasoning mind. But there were other factors that aided its progress: never did the dhammadûtas, the messengers of the Dhamma, the teaching, use any iniquitous methods in spreading the Dhamma. The only weapon they wielded was that of universal love and compassion.
Furthermore, Buddhism penetrated to these countries peaceably, without disturbing the creeds that were already there. Buddhist missions, to which the annals of religious history scarcely afford a parallel, were carried on neither by force of arms nor by the use of any coercive or reprehensible methods. Conversion by compulsion was unknown among the Buddhists, and repugnant to the Buddha and his disciples. No decrying of other creeds has ever existed in Buddhism. Buddhism was thus able to diffuse itself through a great variety of cultures throughout the civilized world.
“There is no record known to me,” wrote T.W. Rhys Davids, “in the whole of the long history of Buddhism throughout the many centuries where its followers have been for such lengthened periods supreme, of any persecution by the Buddhists of the followers of any other faith.”