Buddhism flourished in India after the passing away of the Buddha and spread peacefully southward as far as Sri Lanka, northward to the Himalayas, westward to what is now Iran and Afghanistan and eastward to China, Sumatra and Java. After 500 years a new sect called Mahayana emerged, distinguishing itself from the lineage presently known as Theravada. Mahayana tended to be more liberal, freely adapting to new cultures, while Theravada was more conservative, attempting to maintain continuity from the time of the Buddha. With the arrival of new scriptures, some Mahayana schools depicted the Buddha as a god and replaced the goal of attaining Arahantship with the Ideal of the Bodhisattva, a person striving to become a Buddha in order to help as many beings as possible. The Theravada school preserved and looked to the original teachings and lifestyle of the Buddha as its guide.
With the Muslim invasions of the Indian sub-continent in the 11th and 12th centuries, Buddhism was violently suppressed and eventually eradicated in its native country. By that time however, Mahayana had taken root in China and from there spread to Japan, Korea and Vietnam. The most popular of the many different sects of those countries is Zen Buddhism. Mahayana also spread to Tibet, incorporated the local animist religion of Bon, and then spread further to Mongolia and Bhutan. The most well-known Tibetan monk and Nobel Peace Prize laureate is the Dalai Lama. Theravada established itself mainly in Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Its scriptures are known as the Pali Canon, the oldest complete Indic record of what the Buddha taught.
(to be continued.....)