'Go forth, O Bhikkhus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit, and happiness of gods andmen.' (TheBuddha)
When we turn the pages of the history of Buddhism, we learn that Buddhist missionaries gave the noble message of the Buddha in a peaceful and respectable way. Such a peaceful mission should put to shame those who have practised violent methods in propagating their religions.
Buddhist missionaries do not compete with other religionists in converting people in the market place. No Buddhist missionary or monk would ever think of preaching ill-will against the so-called 'unbelievers'. Religious, cultural and national intolerance are unbuddhistic in attitude, to people who are imbued with the real Buddhist spirit. Aggression never finds approval in the teachings of the Buddha. The world has bled and suffered enough from the disease of dogmatism, religious fanaticism and intolerance. Whether in religion or politics, people make conscious efforts to bring humanity to accept their own way of life. In doing so, they sometimes show their hostility towards the followers of other religions.
Buddhism had no quarrel with the national traditions and customs, art and culture of the people who accepted it as a way of life but allowed them to exist with refinement. The Buddha's message of love and compassion opened the hearts of men and they willingly accepted the Teachings, thereby helping Buddhism to become a world religion. Buddhist missionaries were invited by the independent countries which welcomed them with due respect. Buddhism was never introduced to any country through the influence of colonial or any other political power.
Buddhism was the first spiritual force known to us in history which drew closely together large numbers of races which were separated by the most difficult barriers of distance, language, culture and morals. Its motive was not the acquisition of international commerce, empire-building or migratory impulse to occupy fresh territory. Its aim was to show how people could gain more peace and happiness through the practice of Dhamma.
A sparkling example of the qualities and approach of a Buddhist missionary was Emperor Asoka. It was during Emperor Asoka's time that Buddhism spread to many Asian and western countries. Emperor Asoka sent Buddhist missionaries to many parts of the world to introduce the Buddha's message of peace. Asoka respected and supported every religion at that time. His tolerance towards other religions was remarkable. One of his scripts engraved in stone on Asoka Pillars, and still standing today in India, says:
'One should not honour only one's own religion and condemn the religion of others, but one should honor others' religions for this or that reason. In so doing, one helps one's own religion to grow and renders service to the religions of others too. In acting otherwise one digs the grave of one's own religion and also does harm to other religions. Whosoever honors his own religion and condemns other religions, does so indeed through devotion to his own religion, thinking, 'I will glorify my own religion.' But on the contrary, in so doing he injures his own religion more gravely, so concord is good. Let all listen, and be willing to listen to the doctrines professed by others.'
In 268 B.C., he made the doctrines of the Buddha a living force in India. Hospitals, social service institutions, universities for men and women, public wells and recreation centers sprang up with this new movement, and the people thereby realized the cruelty of senseless wars.
The golden era in the history of India and the other countries of Asia -- the period when art, culture, education and civilization reached their zenith -- occurred at the time when Buddhist influence was strongest in these countries. Holy wars, crusades, inquisitions and religious discrimination do not mar the annals of Buddhist countries. This is a noble history mankind can rightly be proud of. The Great Nalanda University of India which flourished from the second to the ninth century was a product of Buddhism. It was the first university that we know of and which was opened to international students.
In the past, Buddhism was able to make itself felt in many parts of the East, although communication and transport were difficult and people had to cross hills and deserts. Despite these difficult barriers Buddhism spread far and wide. Today, this peace message is spreading in the West. Westerners are attracted to Buddhism and believe that Buddhism is the only religion that is in harmony with modern science.
Buddhist missionaries have no need or desire to convert those who already have a proper religion to practise. If people are satisfied with their own religion, then, there is no need for Buddhist missionaries to convert them. They give their full support to missionaries of other faiths if their idea is to convert the wicked, evil, and uncultured people to a religious way of life. Buddhists are happy to see the progress of other religions so long as they truly help people to lead a religious way of life according to their faith and enjoy peace, harmony and understanding. On the other hand, Buddhist missionaries deplore the attitude of certain missionaries who disturb the followers of other religions, since there is no reason for them to create an unhealthy atmosphere of competition for converts if their aim is only to teach people to lead a religious way of life.
In introducing Dhamma to others, Buddhist missionaries have never tried to use imaginary exaggerations depicting a heavenly life in order to attract human desire and arouse their craving. Instead, they have tried to explain the real nature of human and heavenly life as taught by the Buddha.
by Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda