Writing (lekhana) is the representing of words by a system of symbols called a script (lekhā).Nearly all the scripts of Asian countries – Sinhala, Burmese, Thai, Malay (until its replacement by Arabic script and then Roman script), Balinese, Tibetan, etc. evolved from scripts which had been brought from India by either Indian merchants or Buddhist monks. The same was true of many central Asian scripts until the coming of Islam. And the oldest examples of writing from all these regions pertain to Buddhism. The most ancient decipherable documents from India are the edicts of the Buddhist monarch Aśoka. The earliest example of writing from the Malay Peninsular is a small metal plate with the dependent origination formula inscribed on it.

Until the colonial era, most education in Buddhist lands was in the hands of monks. In Sri Lanka, many village monasteries had schools where boys were taught to read and write which meant that there was a high literacy rate amongst males of all classes. In other Buddhist lands, literacy was mainly confined to the upper class. After the Dhamma itself, writing and everything that follows from it – literacy, literature, calligraphy, education and the transmission of knowledge – has been Buddhism’s greatest gift to the world. See Alphabet.