Leo Rivers wrote:
Iranica Online - a delightful reference. THANKS!
This shows that Buddhism appeared in Afghanistan as early as the mid-3rd century BCE.
The amount of Buddhist Culture lost and varieties of Buddhism unsuspected or unknown to have existed in Central Asia [and the Earth] may be large.
This kind of peek into the past reminds me of the replicant Roy Batty's last words before releasing the dove in "Blade Runner"
Buddhism was huge across Central Asia, modern Xinjiang and even existed to some extent amongst Parthians. They had whole caves as monasteries in what is now modern Afghanistan. In earlier Chinese Buddhism they adopted the custom of dwelling in caves for the purposes of deep meditation, which was clearly taken from Central Asia.
The extant literature from many extinct Central Asian languages relates to Buddhism. For over a thousand years many kingdoms and cities invested heavily in the sangha, religious artwork and Buddhist scholarship.
We have no extant Parthian Buddhist literature, but there are loanwords from Buddhism in Zoroastrian theological texts, which indicates a degree of positive influence there. The advanced scholarship and well-developed religious thought of Buddhists might have been emulated.
Unfortunately Buddhism in a number of places like Afghanistan faded into irrelevance. By the time Xuanzang visited in the 7th century he couldn't help but remark on all the abandoned monasteries scattered across the country. However, some places like Khotan and elsewhere in Central Asia still maintained strong Buddhist communities until Islam finally crushed whatever remained of Buddhism in that part of the world.
Ladakh might be next incidentally. The Buddhist families don't have as many children as the Muslims, and many Kashmiri migrants are permanently relocating there. Some Ladakhis told me that in recent years the demographic in Leh alone has noticeably changed. It is now 50/50 by their estimation. In a few decades Ladakh will probably be largely Muslim with a small Buddhist minority.