BUDDHISM was born on the banks of the Ganges; and it was on the banks of the Ganges that it was most rapidly forgotten.
This doctrine, preached by its founder, the Buddha Ṣākyamuni ( 563-483 B.C.?), spread rapidly through Northern India, thanks to the conquests of King Aṣoka ( 274- 237 B.C.), one of the Maurya dynasty, a fervent adherent of the new religion. The same potentate sent missionaries to spread the gospel in Kashmir and Gandhāra in the west, in the Himalayan regions, in Southern India, and as far as Ceylon. He raised pillars and monuments bearing inscriptions that have enabled us to identify the holy places of Buddhism, and to recognize the site of vanished townships whose names, associated with that of the Master, are venerated in Buddhist countries.
The Emperor Kanishka, of the Indo-Scythian dynasty of the Kushāns, continued Aṣoka's work in the second century of our era ( A.D. 120-162, according to V. A. Smith). His sway extended over Bactria, a part of Central Asia, the Panjab, Gandhāra, and the western part of Northern India. The Buddhist texts ascribe to him the part of Protector of the Faith; he convened a council to put an end to heresies that had newly sprung up. The monuments in the region of Gandhāra bear witness to the prosperity of Buddhism during his reign. It was there that under the sway of the Greek satraps there arose a school of Hellenistic art, the influence of which extended as far as the Far East.
Thereafter Buddhism endured the vicissitudes due to changing dynasties. Vanished, or nearly so, in Gandhāra after the invasion of the Ephthalite Huns, led by Toramāna and the ferocious Mihiragula, it was maintained by King Harsha Ṣīlāditya of Kanauj ( 606-647). The advent of the Pāla dynasty in Bengal ( eighth to eleventh centuries) retarded its decline.