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Many Buddhists have experienced persecution from non-Buddhists during the history of Buddhism. Persecution may refer to unwarranted arrest, imprisonment, beating, torture, or execution. It also may refer to the confiscation or destruction of property, or the incitement of hatred toward Buddhists.

Pre-modern persecutions of Buddhism


In 224 CE Zoroastrianism was made the official religion of the Persia, and other religions were not tolerated, thus halting the spread of Buddhism westwards.[1] In the 3rd century the Sassanids overran the Bactrian region, overthrowing Kushan rule,[2] were persecutedTemplate:Clarifyme with many of their stupas fired.[1] Although strong supporters of Zoroastrianism, the Sassanids tolerated Buddhism and allowed the construction of more Buddhist monasteries. It was during their rule that the Lokottaravada followers erected the two colossal Buddha statues at Bamiyan.[2]

During the second half of the third century, when the Zoroastrian high priest Kirder dominated the religious policy of the state.[2] He ordered the destruction of several Buddhist monasteries in Afghanistan, since the amalgam of Buddhism and Zoroastrianism manifested in the form of a "Buddha-Mazda" deity appeared to him as heresy.[2] Buddhism quickly recovered, however, after his death.[2]

Persecution under the Sunga Pusyamitra

Pusyamitra Sunga (reigned 185 to 151 BCE) assassinated the last Mauryan emperor Brhadrata in 185 BCE, and subsequently founded the Sunga dynasty. From the mid 3rd century BC, under Ashoka, Buddhist proselytization had begun to spread beyond the subcontinent. Buddhist texts such as the Ashokavadana and Divyavadana, written about four centuries after his reign, they contain accounts of the persecution of Buddhists during his reign. They ascribe to him the razing of stupas and viharas built by Ashoka, the placement of a bounty of 100 dinaras on the heads of Buddhist monks and describe him as one who wanted to undo the work of Ashoka.[3] However, some historians have rejected Pushyamitra' s persecution of Buddhists and the traditional accounts are often described as exaggerated. The Asokavadana legend has been likened to a Buddhist version of Pusyamitra's attack of the Mauryas, reflecting the declining influence of Buddhism in the Sunga Imperial court. Later Sunga kings were seen as amenable to Buddhism and as having contributed to the building of the stupa at Bharhut.[4]. The decline of Buddhism in India did not set in until the Gupta dynasty.


Central Asian and North Western Indian Buddhism weakened in the 6th century following the White Hun invasion who followed their own religions such as Tengri and Manichean.[2] Around 440 CE they conquered Sogdiana then conquered Gandhara and pushed on into the gangetic plains.[1][2] Their King Mihirkula who ruled from 515 CE suppressed Buddhism destroying monasteries as far as modern-day Allahabad before his son reversed the policy.[2]

Emperor Wuzong of Tang

Emperor Wuzong of Tang (814-846) indulged in indiscriminate religious persecution, solving a financial crisis by seizing the property of Buddhist monasteries. Buddhism had flourished into a major religious force in China during the Tang period, and its monasteries enjoyed tax-exempt status. Wuzong closed many Buddhist shrines, confiscated their property, and sent the monks and nuns home to lay life. Apart from economic reasons, Wuzong's motivation was also philosophical or ideological. As a zealous Taoist, he considered Buddhism a foreign religion that was harmful to Chinese society. He went after other foreign religions as well, all but eradicating Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism in China, and his persecution of the growing Nestorian Christian churches sent Chinese Christianity into a decline from which it never recovered.

King Langdarma of Tibet

Langdarma was a Tibetan King, who reigned from 838-841 CE. He is believed to have been anti-Buddhist and a follower of the Bön religion.

Oirat Mongols

The Oirats (Western Mongols) converted to Tibetan Buddhism around 1615. The Dzungars were a confederation of several Oirat tribes that emerged suddenly in the early 17th century. The Dzungar Khanate was the last great nomadic empire in Asia. In 18th century, the Dzungars were annihilated by Qianlong Emperor in several campaigns. About 80% of the Dzungar population, or around 500,000 to 800,000 people, were killed during or after the Manchu conquest in 1755-1757.[5]

The Kalmyk Khanate was founded in the 17th century with Tibetan Buddhism as its main religion, following the earlier migration of the Oirats from Dzungaria through Central Asia to the steppe around the mouth of the Volga River. During the course of the 18th century, they were absorbed by the Russian Empire, which was then expanding to the south and east. The Russian Orthodox church pressured many Kalmyks to adopt Orthodoxy. In the winter of 1770-1771, about 300,000 Kalmyks set out to return to China. Their goal was to retake control of Dzungaria from the Qing Dynasty of China.[6] Along the way many were attacked and killed by Kazakhs and Kyrgyz, their historical enemies based on inter-tribal competition for land, and many more died of starvation and disease. After several grueling months of travel, only one-third of the original group reached Dzungaria and had no choice but to surrender to the Qing upon arrival.[7]

Persecution by militaristic regimes

Imperial Japan

Buddhist monks were forced to return to the laity, Buddhist property confiscated, Buddhist institutions closed, and Buddhist schools reorganized under state control in the name of modernizing Japan during the early Meiji Period.[8] The state-control of Buddhism was part of Imperial Japanese policy both at home and abroad in Korea and other conquered territories.[9]

Persecution in Myanmar

The Government of Myanmar has attempted to control Buddhist institutions through coercive means, including the intimidation, torture, and murder of monks [10], After monks played an active role in the protest movements against the military dictatorship in 2007, the state cracked down on Buddhist monks and monasteries[11].

Persecution by Nationalist Political Parties

Persecution in the Republic of China under Kuomintang

During the Northern Expedition, in 1926 in Guangxi, Kuomintang Muslim General Bai Chongxi led his troops in destroying Buddhist temples and smashing idols, turning the temples into schools and Kuomintang party headquarters.[12] It was reported that almost all of Buddhist monasteries in Guangxi were destroyed by Bai in this manner. The monks were removed.[13] Bai led a wave of anti foreignism in Guangxi, attacking American, European, and other foreigners and missionaries, and generally making the province unsafe for foreigners. Westerners fled from the province, and some Chinese Christians were also attacked as imperialist agents.[14] The three goals of his movement were anti-foreigism, anti-imperialism, and anti-religion. Bai led the anti-religious movement, against superstition. Muslims do not believe in superstition (see Shirk (Islam)) and his religion may have influenced Bai to take action against the Idols in the temples and the superstitious practices rampant in China. Huang Shaoxiong, also a Kuomintang member of the New Guangxi Clique, supported Bai's campaign, and Huang was not a Muslim, the anti religious campaign was agreed upon by all Guangxi Kuomintang members.[15]

During the Kuomintang Pacification of Qinghai the Muslim General Ma Bufang destroyed Tibetan Buddhist monasteries with support from the Kuomintang government.[16] Ma served as a general in the National Revolutionary Army, and sought to expand the Republic of China's control over all of Qinghai, as well as the possibility of bringing Tibet back into the Republic by force. When Ma Bufang launched seven expeditions into Golog, killing thousands of Tibetans, the Republic of China government, known as the Kuomintang, supported Ma Bufang.[17] Ma was highly anti-communist, and he and his army wiped out many Tibetans in the northeast and eastern Qinghai, and also destroyed Tibetan Buddhist temples.[18]

Persecution by Christians

South Korea

Some South Korean Buddhists have denounced what they view as discriminatory measures against them and their religion by the administration of President Lee Myung-bak, which they attribute to Lee being a Methodist Christian as well as an elder of the Somang Presbyterian Church in Seoul.[19] The Buddhist Jogye Order has accused the Lee government of discriminating against Buddhism and favoring Christianity by ignoring certain Buddhist temples but including Christian churches in certain public documents.[19] In 2006, according to the Asia Times, "Lee also sent a video prayer message to a Christian rally held in the southern city of Busan in which the worship leader prayed feverishly: 'Lord, let the Buddhist temples in this country crumble down!'"[20] Further, according to an article in Buddhist-Christian Studies: "Over the course of the last decade a fairly large number of Buddhist temples in South Korea have been destroyed or damaged by fire by misguided Christian fundamentalists. More recently, Buddhist statues have been identified as idols, and attacked and decapitated in the name of Jesus. Arrests are hard to effect, as the arsonists and vandals work by stealth of night."[21] A 2008 incident in which police investigated protesters who had been given sanctuary in the Jogye temple in Seoul and searched a car driven by Jigwan, executive chief of the Jogye order, led to protests by Buddhists who claimed police had treated Jigwan as a criminal.[19]

In March 2009, in an effort to reach out to Buddhists affected by recent events, the President and First Lady participated in a Korean Buddhist conference where he and his wife were seen joining palms in prayer during chanting along with participants.[22] The discomfort among the Buddhists has gradually appeased since then.[23][24]

Sri Lanka

Under British rule, Christians were openly favoured for jobs and promotions.[25] Robert Inglis, a prominent 19th century British Conservative, likened Buddhism to "idolatry" during a parliamentary debate over the relationship of "Buddhist priests" to the British colonial government, in 1852.[26].


Buddhists were discriminated against under the government of President Ngô Đình Diệm.

As early as 1953 rumoured allegations had surfaced of discrimination against Buddhists in Vietnam. These allegations stated that Catholic Vietnamese armed by the French had been raiding villages. By 1961, the shelling of pagodas in Vietnam was being reported in the Australian and American media[27]

After the Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem came to power in South Vietnam, backed by the United States, he favoured his relatives and co-religionists over Buddhists. Though Buddhists made up 80% of Vietnam's population, Catholics were favoured for high positions in the army and civil service. Half of the 123 members National Assembly were Catholic. Buddhists were also forced to get special government permits to hold large meetings, a stipulation generally made for meetings of trade unions.[28] In May 1963, the government forbade the flying of Buddhist flags on Vesak. After Buddhist protesters clashed with government troops, nine people were killed.[28] In protest, the Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức burned himself to death in Saigon.[29]. On August 21, the Xa Loi Pagoda raids led to a death toll estimated in the hundreds.

Persecution by Muslims


The giant Bamiyan Buddhas were destroyed by the fundamentalist Taliban regime in 2001 in defiance of worldwide condemnation.


The Buddhist communities of Bangladesh are under pressure from the military and police not to practice Buddhism, and Buddhists have suffered abuse, arrest, and even rapes. The government encourages Muslim settlement in Buddhist areas, as part of its campaign to promote Islam.[30] According to Jumma exiles, torture and murder of Buddhists is a frequent occurrence.[31]


Various personages involved in the revival of Buddhism in India such as Anagarika Dharmapala and the The Mahabodhi Movement of 1890s as well as Dr. B. R. Ambedkar hold the Muslim Rule in India responsible for the decay of Buddhism in India[32][33][34][35][36]

In 1193, Qutb-ud-din Aybak, a Turkish commander, seized control of Delhi, leaving defenseless the northeastern territories that were the heart of Buddhist India. The Mahabodhi Temple was almost completely destroyed by the invading Muslim forces.[33] One of Qutb-ud-Din's generals, Ikhtiar Uddin Muhammad Bin Bakhtiyar Khilji, invaded Magadha and destroyed the great Buddhist shrines at Nalanda.[37] The Buddhism of Magadha suffered a tremendous decline under Khilji.[33]

In 1200 Muhammad Khilji, one of Qutb-ud-Din's generals destroyed monasteries fortified by the Sena armies, such as the one at Vikramshila. Many monuments of ancient Indian civilization were destroyed by the invading armies, including Buddhist sanctuaries[38] near Benares. Buddhist monks who escaped the massacre fled to Nepal, Tibet and South India.[39]

According to the Isdhoo (Laamu Atoll), monks from monasteries of the southern atoll of Haddhunmathi were brought to Malé and beheaded.

Timur destroyed Buddhist establishments and raided areas in which Buddhism had flourished.[40][41]

Mughal rule also contributed to the decline of Buddhism. They are reported to have destroyed many Hindu temples and Buddhist shrines alike or converted many sacred Hindu places into Muslim shrines and mosques.[42] Mughal rulers like Aurangzeb destroyed Buddhist temples and monasteries and replaced them with Islamic mosques.[43][verification needed]

The Ladakh Buddhist Association has said: "There is a deliberate and organised design to convert Kargil's Buddhists to Islam. In the last four years, about 50 girls and married women with children were taken and converted from village Wakha alone. If this continues unchecked, we fear that Buddhists will be wiped out from Kargil in the next two decades or so. Anyone objecting to such allurement and conversions is harassed."[44][45]


Primarily Buddhist Thailand has been involved in a fight with Muslim insurgents in the South. Buddhists have been beheaded[46] and clergy and teachers are frequently threatened with their lives.[47] Shootings of Buddhists are quite frequent in the South,[48][49] as are bombings,[50] and attacking religious establishments.[51]

Persecution under Communism

Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge actively persecuted Buddhists during their reign from 1975 to 1979[52]. Buddhist institutions and temples were wantonly destroyed and Buddhist monks and teachers were killed in large numbers[53]. A third of the nations monasteries were destroyed along with numerous holy texts and items of high artistic quality. 25,000 Buddhist monks were massacred by the regime.[54] The persecution was undertaken because Pol Pot believed Buddhism to be "a decadent affectation". He sought to eliminate Buddhism's 1,500 year old mark on Cambodia.[54].


Since the Communist takeover, Buddhism was at times severely restricted and brought under state-control. During the cultural revolution, Buddhists were actively persecuted and sent for re-education, and temples, statues, and sutras were vandalized and destroyed. In recent years, Buddhism has been enjoying a revival but most Buddhist institutions are within the confines of the state.


Although many temples and monastories have been rebuilt after the cultural revolution, Tibetan Buddhists have largely been confined by the Government of the People's Republic of China[55]. Buddhist monks and nuns have been reported tortured and killed by the Chinese military, according to human rights groups[56]. There were over 6,000 monasteries in Tibet, and nearly all were ransacked and destroyed by the Chinese communists, mainly during the Cultural Revolution.[57]


Buddhist monks were persecuted in Mongolia during communist rule up until democratization in 1990.[58] Khorloogiin Choibalsan complied with the orders of Joseph Stalin, destroying almost all of Mongolia's over 700 Buddhist monasteries and killing thousands of monks.[59]

North Korea

Religious practices are severely restricted in North Korea, as many religious denomination are persecuted by the communist regime. Nevertheless, Buddhists in North Korea reportedly fared better than other religious groups—particularly Christians. The only cult that is encouraged by the government is that of 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong-II and his late father Kim Il-Sung.

Soviet Union

Buddhism was persecuted and looked down upon by the Soviet authorities. Adherents were brutally attacked by the authorities.[60]


Despite the communist regime's hostility, Buddhism is still widely practiced in Vietnam. According to Human Rights News, "Vietnam continues to systematically imprison and persecute independent Buddhists as well as followers of other religions."[61] The leaders of the Unified Buddhist Congregation of Vietnam, Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do were imprisoned for decades.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ehsan Yar-Shater, The Cambridge History of Iran, Cambridge University, 1983, ISBN 0521246938 pg. 860-861
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Alexander Berzin, Historical Sketch of Buddhism and Islam in Afghanistan and Buddhists, November 2001, Online Article from the Berzin Archives. Last accessed 3 January 2007
  3. Ashok Kumar Anand, "Buddhism in India", 1996, Gyan Books, ISBN 8121205069, pg 91-93
  4. Akira Hirakawa, Paul Groner, "A History of Indian Buddhism: From Sakyamuni to Early Mahayana", Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1996, ISBN 8120809556 pg 223
  5. Michael Edmund Clarke, In the Eye of Power (doctoral thesis), Brisbane 2004, p37
  6. The Kalmyk People: A Celebration of History and Culture
  7. History of Kalmykia
  8. James Edward Ketelaar, Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan; ISBN 0691024812
  9. Brian Victoria, Zen War Stories, ISBN 0700715819
  10. Burma: A Land Where Buddhist Monks Are Disrobed and Detained in Dungeons
  11. Burma's Buddhist monks take to the streets
  12. Diana Lary (1974). Region and nation: the Kwangsi clique in Chinese politics, 1925-1937. Cambridge University Press. p. 98. ISBN 0521202043. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  13. Don Alvin Pittman (2001). Toward a modern Chinese Buddhism: Taixu's reforms. University of Hawaii Press. p. 146. ISBN 00824822315. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  14. Diana Lary (1974). Region and nation: the Kwangsi clique in Chinese politics, 1925-1937. Cambridge University Press. p. 99. ISBN 0521202043. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  15. Diana Lary (1974). Region and nation: the Kwangsi clique in Chinese politics, 1925-1937. Cambridge University Press. p. 99. ISBN 0521202043.'s%20as%20a%20moslem%20other%20religions&f=false. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  16. Uradyn Erden Bulag (2002). Dilemmas The Mongols at China's edge: history and the politics of national unity. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 273. ISBN 0742511448.'s%20seven%20genocidal%20golog&f=false. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  17. Uradyn Erden Bulag (2002). Dilemmas The Mongols at China's edge: history and the politics of national unity. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 54. ISBN 0742511448.'s%20seven%20genocidal%20golog&f=false. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  18. David S. G. Goodman (2004). China's campaign to "Open up the West": national, provincial, and local perspectives. Cambridge University Press. p. 72. ISBN 0521613493. Retrieved 2010-06-28.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Rahn, Kim (July 30, 2008). "President Embarrassed Over Angry Buddhists". The Korea Times. Retrieved October 7, 2008.
  20. A 'God-given' president-elect
  21. Harry L. Wells, Korean Temple Burnings and Vandalism: The Response of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies. Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 20, 2000, pp. 239-240;
  22. President reaches out to Buddhist leaders, 19 March 2009
  23. "대구·경북 범불교도대회 '정부규탄' 대신 '호법결의'로 – 1등 인터넷뉴스 조선닷컴". Retrieved 2010-06-15.
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  26. Hansard, 3rd Series, cxxiii, 713–714.
  27. Errors Escalated Too NY Times Books - May 16, 1965.
  28. 28.0 28.1 The Religious Crisis (Page 1) TIME - June 14, 1963
  29. Vietnam at 25 - CNN
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  32. A Close View of Encounter between British Burma and British Bengal
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 The Maha-Bodhi By Maha Bodhi Society, Calcutta (page 205)
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  41. Ethnicity & Family Therapy edited by Nydia Garcia-Preto, Joe Giordano, Monica McGoldrick
  42. War at the Top of the World: The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet by Eric S. Margolis page 165
  43. India by Sarina Singh
  44. Tundup Tsering and Tsewang Nurboo, in: Ladakh visited, Pioneer, 4/12/1995.
  45. The Tribune, Chandigarh, India - Jammu & Kashmir
  46. Insurgents Behead Buddhist in Thailand Fox News - January 14, 2007
  47. In Muslim Thailand, teachers face rising threat International Herald Tribune - July 4, 2005
  48. South Thailand: 'They're getting fiercer' Asia Times - December 7, 2006
  49. Boonthanom, Surapan (2007-03-19). "Three Buddhist women dead in south Thailand attack". Reuters. Retrieved 2007-09-22.
  50. Two killed in south Thailand Al-Jazeera - November 20, 2006
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  54. 54.0 54.1 Phnom Penh Journal; Lord Buddha Returns, With Artists His Soldiers New York Times - January 2, 1992
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  56. Area Tibetans mourn their nation's lost independence Star Tribune - March 10, 2001
  57. Tibetan monks: A controlled life. BBC News. March 20, 2008.
  58. Mongolia's monks make a comeback TVNZ - July 18, 2006
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  60. Buddhist revival tangles with politics Asia Times Online - August 26, 1999
  61. Vietnam: Religious Freedom Denied

Further reading

  • Al-Biladhuri: Kitãb Futûh Al-Buldãn, translated into English by F.C. Murgotte, New York, 1924.
  • Elliot and Dowson: The History of India as told by its own Historians, New Delhi reprint, 1990.
  • Majumdar, R. C. (ed.), The History and Culture of the Indian People, Volume VI, The Delhi Sultanate, Bombay, 1960; Volume VII, The Mughal Empire, Bombay, 1973.

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