Holy men and women
While Gautama Buddha was still alive, about 500 BC, he had many followers. Some of these men and women in India wanted to be extra good Buddhists. So they decided to try to live as purely as they could. They did not want to get bad karma.
Buddhist monks and monasteries
But during the monsoon season, it was too wet to live outside in the woods. Even while the Buddha was still alive, some rich Buddhist people began to build houses. These begging monks could live in the houses during the rains every year.
Gradually most of the monks began to live in these houses, or monasteries, all year round in communities of monks. Each monk usually had his own cell inside the monastery, and all around the monastery there were orchards or gardens.
As these Indian Buddhist monasteries got bigger and richer, they started to support teachers and students and expert scholars. Some of them turned into universities. The biggest Buddhist universities were the ones at Taxila and Nalanda.
Buddhist math and medicine
Buddhist monasteries in China
About 400 AD, some Indian Buddhist monks came to China and started Buddhist monasteries in China. In the beginning, Chinese emperors welcomed them. These Chinese Buddhist monasteries were very successful and soon thousands of men wanted to join them and to give them money.
As with Christian monasteries about the same time, the Buddhist monasteries got more and more involved in businesses like farming, trade, and banking. The leaders treated a lot of poorer monks pretty much like slaves, and the monasteries also owned slaves.
Buddhist persecution in China
Poetry and printing
Even so, Buddhist monasteries continued to be rich centers of learning and philosophy. Poets like Bai Juyi chose to live in Buddhist monasteries with the monks. Many children went to school there.
Buddhist monasteries in Japan
But in the last years of the T’ang Dynasty, about 840 AD, Emperor Wu-Tsung really closed a lot of the Buddhist monasteries and took their money away. He ordered all the Buddhist monks and nuns to go back to ordinary life.
After that, although many people in China were still Buddhists, the monasteries were not as rich or as big anymore.
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