Spread of Jainism and Buddhism (Part 2)
Buddhism and Gautama Buddha:
- Among the notable contemporaries of Mahavira was Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. His name was Siddhartha and he belonged to the Gautama gotra. He was born in 563 B.C. in Lumbini (now in Nepal) in the Shakya Kshatriya clan of Kapilvastu.
- The site of his nativity is marked by the celebrated Rumnindei Pillar of Asoka Maurya. He was the son of Suddhodana, who seems to have been the elected ruler of Kapilvastu, and headed the republican clan of the Shakyas. His mother, Maya was a princes of Devadaha, a small town in the Shakya territory. Maya died in child-birth and the little Siddhartha was brought up by his aunt and stepmother Prajapati Gautami. At the age of sixteen the prince was married to a lady known to tradition as Bhadda Kachchana, Yasodhara, Subhadraka.
- Since his early childhood Gautama showed a meditative bent of mind. The sight of an old man, a sick man, a dead body and an ascetic (the Four Great signs) intensified Gautama’s deep hatred for the world and made him realise the holowness of worldly pleasure.
- At the birth of his son Rahula, he left home at the age of twenty-nine in search of the Truth. This departure is known as ‘The Great Renunciation’ (mahabhinshkramana). For six years he lived as a homeless ascetic, seeking instruction under two religious teachers Alara Kalama (at Vaishali) and Uddaka or Ramaputta (at Rajagriha) and visiting many places. At Uruvela, he practised the most rigid austerities only to find that they were of no help to him in reaching his goal.
- He then took a bath in the stream of the river Niranjana, modern Lilajan, and sat under a pipal tree at modern Bodh Gaya. Here, at last at the age of 35 he attained unto supreme knowledge and became known as the Buddha or the enlightened one, ‘Tathagata’ (he who had attained the truth) and Sakya-Muni or the sage of Sakya clan.
- He gave his first sermon at Isipatana, the deer park at Sarnath. This sermon was called the “Dharma Chakra Pravartana” or “turning of the wheel of law”.
- For forty-five years he roamed about as a wandering teacher and proclaimed his gospel to the princes and people and laid the foundation of the Buddhist Order of monks (Sangha).
- Gautama Buddha passed away at the age of 80 in 483 B.C. at a place called Kusinagar, identical with the village called Kasia in the district of Deoria in eastern Uttar Pradesh. (Mahaparinirvana)
Doctrines of Buddhism:
- Buddha proved to be a practical reformer who took note of the realities of the day. He did not involve himself in fruitless controversies regarding the soul (atman) and the Brahma which raged strongly in his time; he addressed himself to the worldly problems.
- Within Buddhism, samsara is defined as the continual repetitive cycle of birth and death. Karma is the force that drives saṃsara.
Buddha taught his followers the Four “Noble Truths” (Arya Satya):
- The World is full of sorrows (dukkha),
- The cause of sorrow in desire (trishna)
- If desires are conquered, all sorrows can be removed and
- The only way this can be done is by following the “Middle-Path” (ashtangika marga or Noble Eightfold Path). It comprised:
- Right view: Viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be
- Right intention: Intention of renunciation, freedom and harmlessness
- Right speech: Speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way
- Right action: Acting in a non-harmful way
- Right livelihood: A non-harmful livelihood
- Right effort: Making an effort to improve
- Right mindfulness: Making an effort to improve
- Right meditation: Correct meditation or concentration
- According to Buddha’s teachings, anyone who follows this path, considered as the ‘middle path’, (madhyama pratipad), would attain salvation irrespective of his social position.( Middle Path: The practice of non-extremism: a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification)
- The striving for salvation requires in the first place the observance of the Silas or moralities, the next requisite is Samadhi or concentration and finally Prajna or insight. These ultimately lead to Sambodhi (enlightenment) and Nirvana. (perfect enlightenment, a state wherein it becomes clear that all dualities apparent in the world are delusory;)
- Another doctrine on which Buddha laid great emphasis is the law of Karma, its working and the transmigration of soul. Like the Jainas, he rejected the authority of the Vedas.
- The Buddha may be called an agnostic, because he neither accepts nor rejects the existence of God. According to Buddha, all things are composite, and as a corollary, all things are transient, for the composition of all aggregates is liable to change.
- The concept of liberation (nirvana)—the goal of the Buddhist path—is closely related to overcoming ignorance, a fundamental misunderstanding or mis-perception of the nature of reality. In awakening to the true nature of the self and all phenomena one develops dispassion for the objects of clinging, and is liberated from suffering (dukkha) and the cycle of incessant rebirths (saṃsara). To this end, the Buddha recommended viewing things as characterized by the three marks of existence : anicca (transiency), dukka (sorrow), and anatta (soullessness).
- Whatever is transient is painful, and where change and sorrow prevail, the question of a permanent immortal soul does not arise. This three-fold characterisation of the nature of the world and all that it contains – anicca (transiency), dukka (sorrow), and anatta (soullessness).
- There is nothing like an enduring self in a man, who is composed of five groups (Skandha) of physical and mental factors called Rupa (form), Samjna (Name), Vedana (sentations), Vijnana (consciousness) and Samskara (Disposition). Thus the individual is made up of a combination of these five components, which are never the same from one moment to the next, and therefore his whole being is in a state of constant flux.
- According to Buddha, every effect is caused and every cause has an effect. The Buddha discovered the twelve-linked chain of causation (Patichchha-Samuppada) which is Ignorance (Avidya), Impressions of past actions (Samaskaras), Consciousness (Vijnana), Psychophysical organism (Nama- rapa), Sense-organs with objects (Sparsa), Sensations (Vedana), Thirst for sense-enjoyments (trisna), Clinging to the enjoyments (Upadana), Will to be born (Bhava), Birth or Rebirth (Jatli) and Old age and Death (Jara-marana).
The Buddhist Sangha or Church:
- The Buddha had two kinds of disciples- monks (bhikshus or shramanas) and lay worshippers (upasakas). The former were organised into the Sangha or congregation. The membership of the Sangha was open to all persons, male or female above fifteen years of age and who were free from leprosy, consumption and other infectious diseases.
- Persons who were in the service of the king or an individual, or who were in debt, or had been branded as robbers or criminals were refused admission into the Sangha. There were no caste restrictions.
- Monasteries were constructed for the accommodation of monks and nuns for carrying on their studies and meditation, which gradually developed into academic centers.
- Every Buddhist monk has to be a Sramana before being ordained as a full-fledged member of the Sangha. The higher ordination or Bhikshus is called upasampada. Whenever a new person, desired to join the Sangha, he or she had to shave his or her head, put on a yellow robe and take the oaths of fidelity to the triratna, viz. the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.
- The Sangha was governed on democratic lines and was empowered ‘to enforce discipline among its member. The monks of a monastery were to hold a fortnight assembly, were to elect their president (Sanghaparinayaka), and to select two speakers, one on dhamma and the other on Vinaya.
- In the assembly meetings, there were the systems of formal moving of resolution (Jnapati) and ballot voting by means of wodden sticks (salaka). No assembly was valid unless at least ten monks were present, novices and women were not entitled to vote or to constitute the quorum.
- Shortly after the Buddha’s death (483 B.C.), it was held at Sattapanni cave near Rajagriha under the auspices of king Ajatasatru and was presided by Mahakassapa. Its purpose was to compile the dhamma (religious doctrines) and the Vinaya (monastic code). It resulted in the settlement of the Sutta Pitaka (Buddhas sermons on matters of doctrine and ethics) and the Vinaya Pitaka (monastic code or rules of the order) by Ananda and Upali respectively.
- Held at Vaishali, one hundred years after the Buddha’s death in the reign of Kalasoka of the Sisunaga dynasty, it was probably presided over by Sabakami. Over small points of monastic discipline, the Buddhist order broke into the orthodox Sthaviravadins or “Believers in the Teachings of the Elders”, and the unorthodox Mahasanghikas or “members of the Great Community”.
- The Sthaviras gave rise to several schools, one of which was the Theravada school.
- The third council was held at Pataliputra in the reign of Asoka (around 250 B.C.) and was presided over by Moggaliputta Tissa. It resulted in the expulsion of many many heretics and the establishment of the Sthaviravada School as orthodox.
- The council made a new classification of the Buddhist canonical texts by the addition of a third Pitaka called the Abhidhamma Pitka which contained the philosophical interpretations of the doctrines of the two already existing Pitakas. As a result of this, the sayings and discourses of the Buddha now came to be known as the Tripitaka.
- The teaching approved and accepted by this Council became known as Sthaviras or Theravada, “Teaching of the Elders”. The Abhidhamma Pitaka was included at this Council.
- After the Third Council, King Asoka sent missions to Sri Lanka, Kanara, Karnataka, Kashmir, Himalaya region, Burma, Afghanistan. Asoka’s son, Mahinda, brought the Tripitaka to Sri Lanka, along with the commentaries that were recited at the Third Council. These teachings later became known as the “Pali-canon”.
- The Fourth and the last Buddhist Council was held in Kashmir under the leadership of Vasumitra who was helped by Asvaghosha during the reign of Kanishka. Its purpose was to settle the differences among all the 18 sects of Buddhism and to compose the commentaries.
Its results were:
- Division of all the Buddhists into two major sects, with Sarvastivadins (Popular in Kashmir and Mathura regions) and Mahasanghikas together forming the Mahayanists (followers of the Greater Vehicle), and the rest, including Sthaviravadins forming the Hinayanists (followers of the lesser Vehicle)
- Codification of the Sarvastivadin doctrines as Mahavibhasa and
- Conduct of the deliberations of the Council is Sanskrit instead of Pali.
Spread of Theravada:
- Theravada tradition is based on the set of teachings decided by the Third Council to contain the teachings of the Buddha.
- Shri Lanka has played a central role in preserving the Theravada scriptures and practices. After the Third Council, the Tripitaka collection of sutras were taken to Shri Lanka. Most of these were originally in the Pali language, but some were compiled in other languages. Through the centuries however, all teachings were translated into Pali (around 35 BCE). Initially, most ordained Sangha were known as parivrajahas (wanderers). They would assemble during the rainy season when travelling became problematic.
- Gradually, buildings were donated and the Sangha became more static. Just a century after the Buddha passed away, monasteries became the main mechanism for preservation of the teachings. Also extra monastic rules were introduced. Only during one short period in history Buddhism was banned in Shri Lanka, but it was later restored with teachings from Thailand which in turn had originated in Shri Lanka. The main countries where the Theravada tradition is currently alive and well in Shri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Laos.
- The teachings on the Four Noble Truths and meditation form the basis of Theravada practice.
- In India, non-Mahayana or Hinayana sects developed independent from the form of Buddhism existing in Sri Lanka. Today, there is no Hinayana tradition in existence anywhere, although Theravada could be called the tradition most like Hinayana. The ultimate goal of the Theravadin and other non-Mahayana practice is to attain the state of an Arhat, as Buddhahood is considered practically unachievable for nearly everyone within this aeon. Although helping other sentient beings is accepted as an important Buddhist practice, the main motivation for following the spiritual path is to achieve liberation for oneself – Nirvana.
Spread of Mahayana:
- Nagarjuna developed the Mahayana philosophy of Sunyata (emptiness) and proved that everything is ‘Void’ (not only the self) in a small text called Madhyamika-karika.
- About the 4th Century CE, the Masters Asanga and Vasubandhu wrote enormous amount of works on Mahayana. The Mahayana teachings were mainly written down in Sanskrit.
- The Mahayana philosophy is based on the older tradition and fully accepts these teachings, but not all traditional interpretations. One of the most important aspects is for example the traditional interpretation that Buddhahood can be achieved only by very few people. The Mahayana teaches instead that every sentient being (being with a mind) can become a Buddha, the only thing preventing our full enlightenment is the failure to improve one’s own actions and state of mind. This motivation is reflected in taking an additional set of vows, known as Bodhisattva vows. The main vow is to free all sentient beings from suffering. These vows are not taken for this life only, but for all future lives as well, until this goal is achieved.
- The Mahayana tradition mainly developed in North India, and spread further North into China and Tibet. In China, Buddhist philosophy and practice was often mixed with Taoist and Confucian aspects. Via China, Mahayana Buddhism also spread to other countries like Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Japan. Also, in China the Ch’an tradition evolved, which was introduced into Japan.
- Around the 6th. century AD, within the Mahayana tradition the tantras or tantric texts emerged. Tantric practices are psychologically very profound techniques to quickly achieve Buddhahood. This is considered important, not for oneself, but because as a Buddha one has the best achievable qualities to help others. The motivation is: ‘the faster I can achieve Buddhahood, the sooner I can be of maximum benefit to others’. Depending on the class of tantra, extra vows may need to be taken on top of the Refuge and Bodhisattva vows. Also, specific commitments may be required like doing a specific retreat, daily recitation of mantras or a daily meditation practice.
- In the 8th. century, the Mahayana and Tantrayana (or Vajrayana) traditions of (North) Indian Buddhism were introduced into Tibet. In fact, only in Tibet, Bhutan and Mongolia a virtually complete set of tantric teachings was preserved. The Tibetan tradition can also be found in the Himalayan range of Ladakh (Northwest India), Sikkhim (Northeast India) and Nepal, and in Mongolia (which is virtually identical to the Tibetan tradition). In China and countries like Korea and Japan, remnants of Vajrayana can be found.
Comparison between Mahayana and Hinayana:
- Mahayana means “great vehicle” and Hinayana means “lesser vehicle.” A great vehicle is like a large ship that can carry many people over the ocean. A lesser vehicle is like a little boat that can carry only a few people across a river. The word vehicle is used to describe the Buddha’s teachings, since the ultimate purpose of the teachings is to carry people from the shore of this impure world to the other shore of enlightenment.
The Buddhist Scriptures:
- The sacred scriptures of the Buddhists are in Pali. The word Pali means simply ‘text’ or ‘sacred text’. As a language, Pali is an archaic Prakrit and in the days of Buddha was the spoken language of the Magadha and adjoining territories. The Buddhist scriptures in Pali are commonly referred to as Tripitaka, i.e. Threefold Basket’, which consists of:
- Vinay Pitaka
- Sutta Pitaka
- Abhidhamma Pitaka
I. The Vinaya Pitaka:
- It contains pronouncements attributed to the Buddha, laying down numerous rules for the conduct of the Order.
- Supplementing this, the Mahavagga, ‘Great Section’, lays down rules for admission to the monastic order, regulations on dress, etc.
- The Chullavagga, ‘Smaller Section’, contains duties for monks and nuns, edifying Buddhist stories, methods of settling disputes among monks, etc.
II. The Sutta Pitaka:
- The largest and most important of the ‘Three Baskets” is the Sutta Pitaka which consists chiefly of discourses both small and long as delivered by the Buddha himself. It is divided into five groups called Nikaya. They are:
- Digha (Long) Nikaya – a collection of long sermons ascribed to the Buddha including the Buddha’s last speeches and an account of his death and the funeral ceremonies.
- Majjhima (Medium) Nikaya – a collection of medium sized sermons
- Samyutta (connected) Nikaya – discusses Buddhist doctrines.
- Anguttara (Graduated) Nikaya – a collection of over 2,000 brief statements, arranged artificially in eleven sections, enumerating doctrines and principles;
- Khuddaka (minor) Nikaya – miscellaneous works in prose and verse added later to the canon than the four other Nikayas. It comprises fifteen books of miscellanea which are essential for an understanding of Buddhism. The principal texts of the Khuddaka-Nikaya are often taken to include a few of the most extensive of the Pali canonical writings. The important ones are given:
(a) The Khuddaka Patha – It is a book for youngsters when they join the Sangha.
(b) The Dhammapada (“Verses on Virtue”) – The best known of the canonical texts, it is a collection of aphoristic verses garnered from the sayings of Buddha. It is regarded as one of the great religious texts of the world.
(c) The Suttanipata – It preserves many fragments of the oldest Buddhist poetry and gives valuable information on the social and religious conditions of Buddha’s time.
(d) The Jataka – It is a collection of over 500 poems, briefly outlining folk-tales and other stories.
(e) The Bhuddhavamsa – It records legends in verse about the twenty-four Buddhas who preceded Gautama in earlier times.
(f) The Theragatha – Literally meaning “Hymns of the elder Monks” it contains some of the India’s greatest religious poetry, and
(g) The Therigatha – The Hymns of the Nuns.
III. The Abhidhamma Pitaka
- It consists of a number of works on Buddhist psychology and metaphysics. Of its seven books, the Dhammasangani provides a good exposition of Buddhist philosophy, psychology and ethics; and the Kathavatthu, ascribed to Moggaliputta Tissa, is valuable for the light it throws on the evolution of Buddhist dogmas.
Non-Canonical Pali Texts:
- These were composed during the Kushana periods. Prominent works are “Milindapanho” (Questions of Menander) which gives on account of the discussions of the Greek King, Menander and the monk Nagasena; ‘Mahavastu, Great Subject, – it presents some Hinayana doctrines along with additional metaphysics of the Mahasanghika sects; the Lalitavistara (30 B.C.) an anonymous biography of Buddha written in the Gatha (Sanskritized Prakrit) form of language, it contains some Hinayana material, but is largely Mahayanist and the verse chronicles Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa which tell the history of Buddhism in Ceylon; and give valuable information on political and social history also.
- Of these the earliest, Dipavamsa (the “Island Chronicle”) dates from the 4th century A.D; and has no literary merit, but the Mahavamsa (“Great Chronicle”) of the following century, composed by the monk Mahanama contains passages of beauty and vigour. It was continued as the Culvamsa (“Lesser Chronicle”) by a succession of monks down to the fall of the kingdom of Kandy to the British.
- The bulk of the Buddhist literature in Pali belongs to the Hinayana school and hence the Pali canon are spoken as the Hinayana Canon.
- With the rise of Mahayanism, Sanskrit was adopted by the Mahayanist School. There are a few Sanskrit texts belonging to the Hinayana School. The bulk of Buddhist literature in Sanskrit belongs to the Mahayana School.
- Among the Mahayana Sutras, the following texts or dharmas, also called the Vaipulya Sutras (“Expanded Sermons”) are regarded as the most important.
- It is the most important philosophical work of the Mahayana school which deals especially with the notion of Sunya or nothingness. According to it, beyond this impermanent and illusory world is a new world of freedom, which one can attain with the aid of Prajna or intuitive and transcendental wisdom.
2. Sadharma-Pundarika (250 A.D.):
- The Lotus of the Good Law’, also called the Lotus Sutra, has been described as the Bible of half-Asia. It is of unknown authorship and is the most important of all the Sutras. It contains all the characteristic features of Mahayana school and has the sermon delivered by a transfigured and glorified Buddha on the Gridharkuta mountain to an august assembly.
- Supposed to be the teaching given by Buddha three weeks after his enlightenment, it contains the doctrine of ‘interpenetration’. The twenty-fifth chapter expounds the doctrine of Parinamana, the ‘transference’ of merit, whereby one’s merit can be turned over for the Salvation of others.
- It is actually a part of the above Avatamsaka Sutra, but is often called a Sutra in its own right.
- Deals with the subject of salvation through faith in Amitabha.
6. Vajrachhedika or the Diamond Sutra
- It expounds the doctrine of Sunyata and clarifies several other concepts central to Mahayana.
8. Lankavatara – (400 A.D.):
- Supposedly wrtitten by Vasubandhu, it teaches ultimate reality of mind alone.
- lt outlines the means of attaining enlightenment by concentration and meditation.
Expansion and Development of Buddhism:
- The emergence of Asoka, The Great, (273-232 B.C.) was an important turning point in the history of Buddhism, who embraced Buddhism and made the Buddha dhamma the basis of all his actions in the spiritual as well as temporal fields.
- According to tradition, the Third Buddhist Council was held by Asoka and missionaries were sent not only to South India but also to Sri Lanka, Burma and other countries to propagate Buddhism there. It is popularity further increased when the Greeks and the Kushans, who established their hold over North-West India in the second century B.C. and first century B.C. respectively, embraced Buddhism and did their utmost to popularize it. Of them, the names of the Greek king Menander and the Kushana ruier, Kanishka are the most prominent.
- Harsha (606-647 A.D.) was the last illustrious Buddhist ruler, and after his death Buddhism declined rapidly. In the early medieval period, Buddhism was prasctised by the Palas.
- The period (200 B.C. to 700 A.D) saw the emergence of a number of Buddhist saint-scholars who made an immense contribution to the Buddhist phisosophy and religion. Asvaghosha, who was a contemporary of Kanishka wrote Buddhacharita, a poetic biography of Buddha, and probably was the author of the Sraddhotpada.
- Nagarjuna, who was a friend and contemporary of the Satavahana King Yagnasri Gautampiputra (166 to 196 A.D.), propounded the Madhyamika school of Buddhist philosophy popularly known as Sunyavada.
- Asanga was the most important teacher of the Yogacara or Vijnanavada school founded by his guru, Maitreyanatha, in the fourth century A.D.
- Vasubandhu, brother of Asanga wrote the Abhidhammakosa, an important encyclopaedia of Buddhism.
- Buddhaghosa (5th century A.D.) wrote Visuddhimanga which is considered as key to the Tripitaka.
- Buddhapalita and Bhavaviveka were important exponents of the Sunyavada doctrine in the fifth century A.D.
- Dinnaga is well known as the founder of the Buddhist logic and wrote about 100 treatises on logic in the fifth century A.D.
- The Sunyavada doctrine was further interpreted by distinguished thinkers like Aryadeva, Santideva, Santaraksita and Kamalasila.
- Dharmakirti, who lived in the seventh century A.D. was another great Buddhist logician. Acknowledging his unsurpassed genius some call him the Kant of India.
Factors for the Rise of Buddhism:
1. Influence of Time:
- 6th Century B.C. was an ideal time for the spread of Buddhism. It was a time when people were fed up with the superstitions, complex rituals and rites and blind beliefs. The message of the Buddha came as a welcome relief to people already groaning under the oppressive weight of Brahmanism. They were easily drawn to Buddhism by the simplicity of its faith and its religious tolerance.
2. Simple Doctrines:
- As compared with Jainism, Buddhism was essentially simple. It did not confuse the people. Rather its ‘Arya Satya’ ‘Eight-fold Path and ‘concept of non-violence’ were so simple that people could easily understand and follow these. Buddhism also lacked the severity of Jainism, as well as the complexity of Vedic rituals. The people, already fed up with Brahminical manipulations of Vedic religion, came to accept Buddhism as a soothing and refreshing change.
3. Simple Language:
- The Buddha spread his message in the simple language of the masses of people. The Prakrit language which Buddha used was the spoken language of India. The Vedic religion was understood only with the help of Sanskrit language which was the monopoly of the Brahmins. Buddhism was easily understood and people accepted it after being convinced about its simple philosophy and pleasing message.
4. Personality of Buddha:
- The personality of the Buddha endeared him and his religion to the masses. The Buddha was kind and ego-less. His calm composure, sweet words of simple philosophy and his life of renunciation drew the masses to him. He had ready moral solutions for problems of the people.
- His example of a prince renouncing the world to save humanity from sins and rebirth and wandering from place to place to convince the people with his messages and sermons came to naturally evoke awe, admiration and acceptance of the people for him and his religion. The spread of Buddhism was thus rapid.
- Buddhism was inexpensive, without the expensive rituals that characterized the Vedic religion. Practical morality, not rites and expensive rituals, came as its beacon feature and helped to set up a healthy tradition in society. It advocated a spiritual path without any material obligations of satisfying gods and Brahmins through rituals and gifts. People competed to embrace Buddhism.
6. No Caste Harried:
- Buddhism did not believe in cast-distinctions. It opposed that caste system and regarded people of all castes equally. Its followers sat together, forgetting their caste and discussed ethics and morality. The non-Brahmins in particular were drawn to its fold. Its popularity spread by leaps and bounds.
- Buddhism made a special appeal to the people of the non-Vedic areas where it found a virgin soul for conversion, especially the people of Magadha responded readily to the Buddhism because they were looked down upon by the orthodox brahmanas.
- Women were also admitted to the Sangha and thus brought on par with men. In comparison with Brahmanism, Buddhism was liberal and democratic.
7. Royal Patronage:
- Royal patronage of Buddhism also accounted for its rapid rise. The Buddha himself was a Kshatriya prince. Kings like Prasenjit, Bimbisara, Ajatasatru, Asoka, Kanishka and Harshavardhan patronised Buddhism and helped its spread throughout India and outside, as well. Asoka deputed his children, Mahendra and Sanghamitra, to Sri Lanka for the spread of Buddhism. Kanishka and Harshavardhan worked untiringly for the spread of Buddhism throughout India.
8. Role of the Universities:
- Prominent was also the role of the Universities at Nalanda, Taxila, Puspagiri and Vikramsila in the spread of Buddhism. Students from various parts of India and from outside India, reading in these universities, were attracted to Buddhism and embraced it. They also dedicated themselves to the spread of Buddhism.
- The famous Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang was a student of the Nalanda University. Its teachers like Shilavadra, Dharmapala, Chandrapala and Divakamitra were renowned scholars. Others who followed it were Dignnaga, Dharmakirti, Vasubandhu etc.
9. Buddhist Monks and Sangha:
- The Buddhist monks and the Buddhist ‘Order’ (Sangha) did incomparable service for the spread of Buddhism. Prominent among Buddha’s disciples were Ananda, Sariputta, Maudgalayana, Sudatta and Upali etc. They were singularly determined and dedicated to spread Buddhism throughout India. The Buddhist sanga came to establish its branches throughout India. Soon local people were drawn to these branches of the Buddhist ‘Order’. They either became monks (bhikshu) or Upasakas (lay-worshippers) and led lives of austere serenity. Their example influenced more and more people to follow it. As a result. Buddhism spread rapidly.
10. Buddhist Councils:
- The Buddhist Councils played an important role for the teaching and spread of Buddhism in India. Following the death (Mahaparinirvana) of Lord Buddha, the First-Buddhist Council was held in 486 B.C. in the Magadhan capital at Rajagriha, under the leadership of Ajatasatru and the presidency of Mahakashyap. Nearly 500 Buddhists attended this council. It was in this council that the teachings of the Buddha were compiled and codified into scriptures called ‘Tripitaka’. The Tripitaka’ consisted of Sutra Pitaka, Vmaya Pitaka and Abhidharma Pitaka. Sutra Pitaka consisted of the advices of the Buddha, Vinaya Pitaka prescribed the norms and rules of the sangha. Abhidharma Pitaka contained the Buddhist philosophy. This council went a long way in making Buddhism popular.
- Exactly hundred years later, in 386 B.C. the Second Buddhist Council was convened at Vaisali under the supervision of Kalasoka Kakavarni. This council relaxed some of the principles of Buddhism like preserving salt, tacking lunch after mid-day, receiving gold and silver and the like. Conflict of opinion split the Buddhist order into two groups or factions. One was ‘Sthavira’ and the other, ‘Mahasanghika’.
- In 251 B.C. and during the illustrious reign of Emperor Asoka, the Third Buddhist Council came to be held in Pataliputra, the coital of Magadha The renowned Buddhist monk Mogaliputta Tissa presided over this council. An attempt was made in the council to discuss the issues of conflicting ideas and arrive at a solution based on consensus. Many reforms were also carried out in the Sangha. The prime objective was to restore purity by cleansing the sangha of all perversions.
- The Kushana Emperor Kaniska held the Fourth Buddhist Council at Kundalabana Vihar in Kashmir during 1st century A.D. Vasumitra was its president and Ashvaghosha, its vice-president. This council discussed extensively about the many latent problems confronting Buddhism. This council was unique because all discussions here were carried out in Sanskrit and an analysis of Buddhism was made into the form of an encyclopedia of Buddhism called ‘Mahabivasha’. Kaniska ordered the gist of all discussions to be engraved on copper-plates to be preserved in stone-chambers of a stupa.
- A new branch under the leadership of Ashvaghosha came up. This faction was known as ‘Mahayana’. Followers of this group came to practise worship of the Buddha’s image. Thus, the Fourth Buddhist Council split the Buddhists into two groups, namely, ‘Hinayana’ and ‘Mahayana’, The ‘Mahayana’ sect was declared as the state-religion.
- These Buddhist councils were being held with regular intervals. So the popular liking could be kept sustained towards Buddhism. The people were closely following the deliberations of these councils and were increasingly drawn into its fold. This accounted for the continuous popularity of Buddhism.
11. Absence of Strong Rivals:
- Right from its beginning in the 6th Century B.C., Buddhism had no rivals to reckon or contend with. Though Jainism became popular, the severity of its laws made people far away from it. The missionary zeal of Buddhism was conspicuously absent in contemporary Hinduism. There was no reformer to cleanse the Brahminical faith and spread it among the people in its pure form. Islam and Christianity were yet to be born. As a result. Buddhism came to hold an unrivalled sway throughout India.
Causes for the Decline of Buddhism:
1. Corruptions in Buddhist Sanghas:
- In course of time, the Buddhist ‘Sangha’ became corrupt. The monks and followers came to be drawn towards luxury and enjoyment. Receiving and saving valuable gifts like gold and silver made them greedy and materialistic. They came to lead a life of indiscipline. Their example and perverted life-style could not but bring popular hatred. No more the people were inclined towards Buddhism.
2. Reform in Hinduism:
- Buddhism had dealt a heavy blow to Brahminical faith. Threatened with extinction, Hinduism started to re-organize itself. Attempts were now made to give up the complex system of rites and rituals and make Hinduism simple and attractive. The Hindus even came to accept the Buddha as a Hindu incarnation and accepted the principle of non-violence. This helped revive Hinduism and made it popular again. This took away the fragrance out of the flower of Buddhism. The decline of Buddhism became inevitable.
3. Division among the Buddhists:
- Buddhism faced divisions from time to time. Division into various splinter groups like ‘Hinayana’, ‘Mahayana’, ‘Vajrayana’, ‘Tantrayana’ and ‘Sahajayana’ led Buddhism to lose its originality. Also the influence of tantricism made people hate it. The simplicity of Buddhism was lost and it was becoming complex. This was enough for the people to keep away from it. The decline of Buddhism became a matter of time.
4. Use of Sanskrit Language:
- Pali and Prakrit, the spoken language of most people of India, was the medium for the spread of the message of Buddhism. But Sanskrit replaced these at the Fourth Buddhist Council during the reign period of Kaniska. Sanskrit was a complex language, hardly understood by common people. It was the unintelligible Sanskrit language that had accounted for the decline of Hinduism, earlier. Now, when Buddhism adopted that language, few people were able to understand it. People rejected what they could not understand.
5. Patronage of Brahmanism:
- In course of time there was the rise of the Brahminical faith once again. Pushyamitra Sunga, the Brahmin commander of the last Maurya ruler Vrihadratha, assassinated the king and founded the Sunga dynasty replacing the Maurya dynasty. The Asvamedha sacrifice was done by him. It gave an impetus to the Brahminical faith. Non-violence, the basic principle of Buddhism, was given up. He destroyed many stupas and monasteries. Many Buddhist monks were put to sword. This stemmed the growth of Buddhism. Again, patronage of the imperial Guptas for Brahminical faith came to open the path of decline for Buddhism.
6. Role of Hindu Preachers:
- Harsavardhan drove away the Brahmins from the religious council held at Kanauj. These Brahmins, under Kumarila Bhatta, fled to the Deccan. Under Bhatta’s leadership, Brahmanism staged a come-back.
- Adi Sankaracharya also revived and strengthened Hinduism. He defeated Buddhist scholars in religious discourses which were held in many places in course of his tour of the whole of India. Thus, the superiority of Hinduism over Buddhism was established. This trend continued through the efforts of Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Ramananda etc. Hinduism regained its lost glory, position and popularity. It came to be at the expense of Buddhism.
7. Rifts in Buddhist Order:
- The internal rifts and divisions in Buddhist order made the rise of any new apostle impossible. The earlier examples of Ananda, Sariputta and Maudgalayana became very rare. The spirit and missionary zeal of Buddhism was lost for ever. Thus, the decline of Buddhism came in the absence of dynamic preachers and reformers.
8. Buddha Worship:
- Image worship was started in Buddhism by the Mahayana Buddhists. They started worshipping the image of the Buddha. This mode of worship was a violation of the Buddhist principles of opposing complex rites and rituals of Brahminical worship. This paradox led the people to believe that Buddhism is tending towards the fold of Hinduism. Buddhism’s importance decreased thereby.
9. Lose of Royal Patronage:
- In course of time Buddhism came to lose royal patronage. No king, worthy of note, came forward to sponsor Buddhism after Asoka, Kaniska and Harsavardhan. Royal patronage works magically for the spread of any faith. Absence of any such patronage for Buddhism came to pave the way for its decline in the end.
10. Huna Invasion:
- The ‘Huna’ invasion jolted Buddhism. Huna leaders like Toamana and Mihirakula opposed non-violence completely. They killed the Buddhists residing in the north-western part of India. This frightened the Buddhists of the region either to give up Buddhism or go into hiding. None dared to spread the message of the Buddha during those times. As a result, Buddhism became weak and depleted.
11. Emergence of Rajputs:
- Emergence of the Rajputs became an important reason for the decline of Buddhism. Kings of such dynasties as Bundela, Chahamana, Chauhan, Rathore etc. loved warfare. They could not tolerate the Buddhists for their message of non-violence. The Buddhists feared persecution from these Rajput rulers and fled from India. Buddhism became weaker and faced decline.
12. Muslim Invasion:
- The Muslim invasion of India almost wiped out Buddhism. Their invasions of India became regular and repeated from 712 A.D. onwards. Such invasions forced the Buddhist monks to seek asylum and shelter in Nepal and Tibet. In the end. Buddhism died away in India, the land of its birth.
- Thus, many causes were responsible for the gradual decline and fall of Buddhism in the land of her birth although it continued to flourish in countries beyond India for centuries. Even today, it has a large number of followers all over the world.
Contribution of Buddhism:
- With its emphasis on non-violence and the sanctity of animal life, Buddhism boosted the cattle wealth of the country. The earliest Buddhist text, Suttanipata, declares the cattle to be givers of food, beauty and happiness, and thus pleads for their protection. The brahmanical insistence on the sacredness of the cow and non-violence was apparently derived from Buddhist teachings.
- Buddhism created and developed a new awareness in the field of intellect and culture. The place of superstition was taken by logic and it promoted rationalism among people.
- Promotion of Pali and many local languages, such as Kannada, Gujarati, etc.
- The Buddhist monasteries developed as great centers of learning, and began to be called residential universities like those of Nalanda and Vikramshila in Bihar, Valabhi in Gujarat, Taxila, and Nagarjuna Konda. In the field of architecture and art, Buddhism takes the credit for: the first human statues to be worshipped; stone panels depicting the life of the Buddha at Gaya in Bihar and at Sanchi and Bharhut in Madhya Pradesh; cave architecture in the Barabar hills at Gaya and in western India around Nasik; art pieces of Amravati and Nagarjunakonda.
- With Buddhist architecture was particularly associated the Stupa, a domical structure of brick or stone masonry. Shrines known as Chaityas with the votive Chaityas installed for worship and prayer, as also monasteries (Viharas, Sangharamas), were essential features of Buddhist religious establishments.
- The Stupa was a conventional representation of a funeral tumulus, evolved out of earthern funerary mound in which the relics of the Buddha or some prominent Buddhist monk are preserved. The Stupa at Sanchi comprises of an almost hemispherical dome (anda) flattened at the top, supported on a low circular base (Medhi). Over the dome is a square pavilion called harmika (box) enclosed by a balustrade surrounding the sacred parasol (chatra). Pradaksinapatha was the path for clockwise circumbulation surrounded by a fence built encircling the stupa. The whole structure is surrounded by a massive rail with four imposing gateways on the four sides.
- The chaitya shrine in its typical form was a long rectangular hall, apsidal at the rear end and divided into three sections by two rows of pillars along the length of the hall meeting at the back end. Rock cut chitya shrines are at Bhaja near Poona (2nd century B.C) Kondane Pitalkhora, Bedsa, Nasik, Kanheri, Ajanta, Karle and other places in Western India.
- Fragmentary remains of many monasteries (vihara) have been excavated in the north as well as in the south. The monastery at Nalanda belongs to the fifth century A.D. and one at Paharpur (Somapura Mahavihara) was established towards the close of the 8th or the beginning of the 9th century.