Buddhism in the Hun State

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The Hun state

Buddhism in Mongolia (3rd Century BC —2nd Century AD)

From: Buddhism in Mongolia (Historical Survey), Ulaanbaatar 1981
By: Section of Studies of Gandantegchenlin Monastery

The first Mongol state – the Hun state (Hsiung-nu or Xiongnu) was established in 209 BC on the present territory of Mongolia. Being one of the powerful states in Central Asia of that time, in 198 BC it concluded an agreement with the Chinese Han Dynasty. According to the agreement, the border-line between the two countries was drawn along the Great Wall and the Han Dynasty recognized the Hun state as its equal. The ruling elite of the Hun state headed by Shanyu-Khan believed in Shamanism. However, in remote parts of the country, Buddhism began to spread, which was closely connected with the development of Buddhism in the neighbouring countries.

The history of Buddhism in Central Asia can be traced to the time of Achaemenid Era (4th century BC-approximately 330 BC) and this is related to the fact that Central Asia had ancient traditional relations with India. King Asoka (274-237 BC) of the Mauri Dynasty, paid considerable attention to the propagation of Buddhism in his own country and in the neighbouring countries. From the second half of the 3rd cent., Buddhism began to spread over the territories of present Afghanistan, Iran, Western and Eastern Turkestan.

A bilingual edict of King Asoka was discovered in Jandhara (now South Afghanistan). The spread of Buddhism in Central Asia had naturally influenced the neighbouring countries. An Ancient Mongolian tribe – the Huns had direct relations with the peoples of Central Asia. As Modu Chanyu (or Shanyu Maodun) (209-174 BC), the King of Hun state conquered Lou-Lan (Kroraina) of Lob Lake, Usuni of Semirechye Huche of Altai. From the 2nd century BC the Huns had broad political and economic relations with the countries where Buddhism was well established.

Kucha, subjected to the Hun state, became a Buddhist country as early as 102 BC. According to Mongolian historical sources, the main object of worship of the South West Huns was a “Golden Portrait of the Lord Buddha”. Such is the brief history of the spread of Buddhism in the Hun state, Buddhism had an appreciable role to play among the Mongolian nomads after the Huns.

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