History of Buddhism in India

History of Buddhism in India

Buddhism is a world religion, which arose in Bihar, India and is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who is known as the Buddha (literally the "Enlightened One" or "Awakened One"). It flourished during the reign of Maurya Empire. Buddhism has spread through two main traditions; Theravada which extended south and east and now has widespread following in Southeast Asia, and Mahayana, which diffused first west, then north and later east throughout East Asia. Both traditions have since spread throughout the world.

Buddhism declined and disappeared from the land of it origin in around 13th century, but not without leaving a significant impact. Buddha is regarded as the 9th incarnation of Hindu god Vishnu by Hindus. Buddhist practice still continue in Himalayan areas like Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. It has reemerged as a major faith in India in the past century.

iddhartha Gautama

Siddhārtha Gautama was the historical founder of Buddhism. Siddhartha Gautama was born as a Kshatriya prince in ancient India. India by Stanley Wolpert (Page 32)] His particular family of Sakya Kshatiryas were of Brahmin lineage as per their family name "Gautama". XIX c. scholars like Dr. Eitel connected it to the Brahmin Rishi Gautama. [ P. 95 "A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms" By James Legge ] Lord Buddha is said to be a descendant of Brahmin Sage Angirasa in many Buddhist texts. [ "The Life of Buddha as Legend and History", by Edward Joseph Thomas, first published in 1927] For example, "In the Pali Mahavagga "Angirasa" (in Pali Angirasa} occurs as a name of Buddha Gautama who evidently belonged to the Angirasa tribe..." [ P. 19 "A history of Indian logic" By Satis Chandra Vidyabhusana] . Scholar Edward J. Thomas too connected Buddha with sages Gautama and Angirasa. [ P. 22 "The Life of Buddha" By Edward J. Thomas ]

After asceticism and meditation, Siddhartha Gautama discovered the Buddhist Middle Way—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment sitting under a pipal tree, now known as the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya. Gautama, from then on, was known as "The Perfectly Self-Awakened One," the Samyaksambuddha.

Buddha found patronage in the ruler of Magadha, emperor Bimbisara. The emperor accepted Buddhism as personal faith and allowed the establishment of many Buddhist "Viharas." This eventually led to the renaming of the entire reigon as Bihar.

At the Deer Park near IAST|Vārāṇasī in northern India, Buddha set in motion the Wheel of Dharma by delivering his first sermon to the group of five companions with whom he had previously sought enlightenment. They, together with the Buddha, formed the first IAST|Saṅgha, the company of Buddhist monks, and hence, the first formation of Triple Gem (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) was completed.

For the remaining years of his life, the Buddha is said to have traveled in the Gangetic Plain of Northeastern India and other reigons.

Buddha attained Parinirvana in the abandoned jungles of Kuśināra.

Buddhist movements

The Buddha did not appoint a successor, and asked his followers to work for personal salvation. The teachings of the Buddha existed only in oral traditions. The Sangha held a number of Buddhist councils in order to reach consenseus on matters of Buddhist doctrine and practice.

According to the scriptures, a monk by the name of Mahakasyapa presided over the first Buddhist council held at Rajgir. Its purpose was to recite and agree on the Buddha's actual teachings and on monastic discipline. Some scholars consider this council fictitious. [Williams, "Mahayana Buddhism", Routledge, 1989, page 6]

The Second Buddhist Council is said to have taken place at Vaishāli. Its purpose was to deal with questionable monastic practices like the use of money, the drinking of palm wine, and other irregularities; the council declared these practices unlawful.

What is commonly called the Third Buddhist Council was held at Pātaliputra, and was allegedly called by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. Organized by the monk Moggaliputta Tissa, it was held in order to rid the sangha of the large number of monks who had joined the order because of its royal patronage. Most scholars now believe this council was exclusively Theravada, and that the dispatch of missionaries to various countries at about this time was nothing to do with it.

What is often called the Fourth Buddhist council is generally believed to have been held under the patronage of emperor Kanishka at Jālandhar, though the late Monseigneur Professor Lamotte considered it fictitious. ["the Teaching of Vimalakirti", Pali Text Society, page XCIII] It is generally believed to have been a council of the Sarvastivada school.

Following the Buddha's passing, many philosophical movements emerged within Buddhism. The first of these were the various Early Buddhist Schools (including Theravada). Later Mahayana Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism arose.

Early Buddhist Schools

The Early Buddhist Schools were the various schools in which pre-sectarian Buddhism split in the first few centuries after the passing away of the Buddha (in about the fifth century BC). These schools have in common an attitude to the scriptures, that doesn't accept the inclusion of the Mahayana Sutras as valid teachings of Gautama Buddha. It accepts the Tipitaka as the final recension of the teachings of the Buddha.

*Theravada is the single remaining representative of the Early Buddhist Schools of Indian Buddhism. Theravada is now practiced mainly in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.
*Another prominent Nikaya school was the Sarvastivada, and much of its doctrine was incorporated into Tibetan Buddhism. It included one of the main branches of Indian "Abhidharma" that was instrumental in the creation of the Yogacara doctrine. Its system of monastic rules "Vinaya" is still used in Tibetan Buddhism and has also been influential in monastic Chinese Buddhism.


The Mahayana branch of Buddhism popularized the concept of a "Bodhisattva" (literally "enlightened being" or "a Buddha-to-be") and the worship of the bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas like Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, Maitreya became the focus of popular devotional worship in the Mahayana sect. According to the Mahayana tradition, the key attributes of the bodhisattvas are compassion and kindness.

Mahayana Buddhism includes the following Indian schools:
*Madhyamaka ("Middle Way"), a Mahayāna tradition popularized by Nāgārjuna and Aśvaghoṣa.
*Yogacara ("Consciousness Only"), founded by Asanga and Vasubandhu.


A form of Indian Buddhism that emerged in the 4th century AD and later became widespread in Tibet, and Japan.

This school emerged from forest meditation traditions in northern India, in which the entire emphasis of teachings was on practice, using skillful means to attain the goal of enlightenment in one's present lifetime. This form is also known as Vajrayana ("the Diamond Vehicle"). Tantrism is an esoteric tradition. Its initiation ceremonies involve entry into a mandala, a mystic circle or symbolic map of the spiritual universe. Also central to Tantrism is the use of mudras and mantras. Vajrayana became the dominant form of Buddhism in Tibet and was also transmitted through China to Japan, where it continues to be practiced by the Shingon sect.It is generally accepted that the spread of Buddhism from India to Tibet and then to the wider regions of Central and East Asia took place mainly via the trade (and religious) route that went through the valley of Kathmandu, situated in present-day Nepal. The valley, forms the cradle of the Nepali state, and since the farthest point in historical time, has found itself under the cultural influence of the South Asian Hindu (and also Buddhist) civilization. However, being a distant outpost of Hinduism (and Buddhism), it was spared from the ravages of later conquests and social upheavals. Even after Buddhism died in the heartland, it survived in Kathmandu valley. Monastic records in the numerous monasteries show that till the mid-medieval period in Nepali history, Tibetan students regularly came there for learning Buddhism from the local spiritual masters. The Tibetan religious scripts Lantsha and Vartu are variants of the Ranjana system used by the Newars of Kathmandu. However, due to numerous social, economic and political factors prominent among which was declining patronage from the Hindu rulers, Buddhist monasticism in the valley died. By then Tibetan Buddhism had already gained prominence in the region.

Today, in the urban centres of Kathmandu valley, we still find Indian Mahayana Buddhism, modified through mixing with Vajrayana, practiced by the local Buddhist Newar population.

trengthening of Buddhism in India

"National Geographic" reads, "The flow between faiths was such that for hundreds of years, almost all Buddhist temples, including the ones at Ajanta, were built under the rule and patronage of Hindu kings." [ (January 2008, VOL. 213, #1) ]

Ashoka and the Mauryan Empire

The Maurya empire reached its peak at the time of emperor Ashoka, who himself converted to Buddhism after the Battle of Kalinga. This heralded a long period of stability under the Buddhist emperor. The power of the empire was vast—ambassadors were sent to other countries to propagate Buddhism. Greek envoy Megasthenes describes the wealth of the Mauryan capital. Stupas, pillars and edicts on stone remain at Sanchi, Sarnath and Mathura, indicating the extent of the empire.

Emperor Ashoka the Great (304 BC–232 BC) was the ruler of the Maurya Empire from 273 BC to 232 BC.

proselytism at the time of king Ashoka (260-218 BCE), according to his Edicts.]

Ashoka reigned over most of India after a series of military campaigns. Emperor Ashoka's kingdom stretched from South Asia and beyond, from present-day Afghanistan and parts of Persia in the west, to Bengal and Assam in the east, and as far south as Mysore.

According to legend, emperor Ashoka was overwhelmed by guilt after the conquest of Kalinga, following which he accepted Buddhism as personal faith with the help of his Brahmin mentors Radhasvami and Manjushri. Ashoka established monuments marking several significant sites in the life of Shakyamuni Buddha, and according to Buddhist tradition was closely involved in the preservation and transmission of Buddhism. [ [http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/f/fa-hien/f15l/chapter27.html Fa-hsien: A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms: Chapter XXVII: Patalipttra or Patna, in Magadha. King Ashoka's Spirit Built Palace and Halls. The Buddhist Brahman, Radha-Sami. Dispensaries and Hospitals.] ] He used his position to propagate the relatively new philosophy to new heights, as far as ancient Rome and Egypt.

Graeco-Bactrians, Sakas and Indo-Parthians

Menander was the most famous king. He ruled from Taxila and later from Sagala (Sialkot). He rebuilt Taxila (Sirkap) and Pushkalavati. He became Buddhist and remembered in Buddhists records due to his discussions with a great Buddhist philosopher in the book "Milinda Panha".

By 90 BCE Parthians took control of eastern Iran and around 50 BCE put an end to last remnants of Greek rule in Afghanistan. By around 7 CE an Indo-Parthian dynasty succeeded in taking control of Gandhara. Parthians continued to support Greek artistic traditions in Gandhara. The start of the Gandharan Greco-Buddhist art is dated to the period between 50 BCE and 75 CE.

Kushan Empire

Kushan Empire under emperor Kanishka was known as the Kingdom of Gandhara. The Buddhist art spread outward from Gandhara to other parts of Asia. He greatly encouraged Buddhism. Before Kanishka Buddha was not represented in human form. In Gandhara Mahayana Buddhism flourished and Buddha was represented in human form.

This tower was reported by Fa-Hsien, Sun-Yun and Hsuan-Tsang. This structure was destroyed and rebuilt many times and remained in semi ruins until it was finally destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazni in 11th century.

Dharma masters

Indian shramanas propagated Buddhism in various reigons, including East Asia and Central Asia.

in the Edicts of Ashoka, Ashoka mentions the Hellenistic kings of the period as a recipient of his Buddhist proselytism. ["The conquest by Dharma has been won here, on the borders, and even six hundred yojanas (5,400-9,600 km) away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni." (Edicts of Ashoka, 13th Rock Edict, S. Dhammika)] Emissaries of Ashoka, such as Dharmaraksita, are described in Pali sources as leading Greek ("Yona") Buddhist monks, active in Buddhist proselytism (the Mahavamsa, XII [ Full text of the Mahavamsa [http://lakdiva.org/mahavamsa/chapters.html Click chapter XII] ] ).

Roman Historical accounts describe an embassy sent by the "Indian king Pandion (Pandya?), also named Porus," to Caesar Augustus around the 1st century. The embassy was travelling with a diplomatic letter in Greek, and one of its members was a sramana who burned himself alive in Athens to demonstrate his faith. The event made a sensation and was described by Nicolaus of Damascus, who met the embassy at Antioch, and related by Strabo (XV,1,73) [ [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0239&layout=&loc=15.1.73 Strabo on the immolation of the Sramana in Athens, Paragraph 73] ] and Dio Cassius (liv, 9). A tomb was made to the sramana, still visible in the time of Plutarch, which bore the mention:

:"ΖΑΡΜΑΝΟΧΗΓΑΣ ΙΝΔΟΣ ΑΠΟ ΒΑΡΓΟΣΗΣ":("The sramana master from Barygaza in India")

Lokaksema is the earliest known Buddhist monk to have translated Mahayana Buddhist scriptures into the Chinese language. Gandharan monks Jnanagupta and Prajna contributed through several important translations of Sanskrit sutras into Chinese language.

The Indian dhyana master Buddhabhadra was the founding abbot and patriarch [Faure, Bernard. [http://books.google.com/books?id=DWbFajDicgYC&dq=%22Faure%22+%22Chan+Insights+and+Oversights:+An+Epistemological+...%22+&psp=9 "Chan Insights and Oversights: an epistemological critique of the Chan tradition"] , Princeton University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-691029-02-4 ] of the Shaolin Temple. [ [http://www.shaolin.cn.com/site/list/C7/ The Founder Of Shaolinsi (Official Shaolin Monastery Portal in English)] ] Buddhist monk and esoteric master from North India (6th Century CE), Bodhiruci is regarded as the patriarch of the Ti-Lun school. Bodhidharma (c. 6th century) was the Buddhist Bhikkhu traditionally credited as the founder of Zen Buddhism in China. [ [http://www.britannica.com/ebc/article-9080361 Concise Encyclopedia Britannica Article on Bodhidharma] ]

In 580, Indian monk Vinitaruci travelled to Vietnam. This, then, would be the first appearance of Vietnamese Zen, or Thien Buddhism.
Padmasambhava, in Sanskrit meaning "lotus-born", is said to have brought Tantric Buddhism to Tibet in the 8th century. In Bhutan and Tibet he is better known as "Guru Rinpoche" ("Precious Master") where followers of the Nyingma school regard him as the second Buddha.
Shantarakshita, abbot of Nalanda and founder of the Yogachara-Madhyamika is said to have helped Padmasambhava establish Buddhism in Tibet.

Indian monk Atisha, holder of the "mind training" (Tib. lojong) teachings, is considered an indirect founder of the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism. Indian monks, such as Vajrabodhi, also travelled to Indonesia to propagate Buddhism.

Decline of Buddhism in India

The decline of Buddhism has been variously attributed to varying reasons. One of the reasons cited for the early strength of Buddhism in early Indian history was the support of the local Buddhist kings such as the kings of Magadha, Kosala and the Kushan and Pala Empires. and the weakening of Buddhism was thus also related to the absence of royal patronage after the fall of these sympathetic rulers. Some Hindu rulers resorted to military means in an effort to suppress Buddhism.

A continuing decline occurred after the fall of the last Empire supportive of Buddhism: the Pala dynasty in the 12th century CE. This continued with the later destruction of monasteries by the new Muslim conquerors and their attempts to spread Islam in the region.

Influence of Hinduism

Hinduism became a more "intelligible and satisfying road to faith for many ordinary worshippers" because it now included not only an appeal to a personal god, but had also seen the development of an emotional facet with the composition of devotional hymns.

The period between the 400 CE and 1000 CE saw gains by Hinduism at the expense of Buddhism. [http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/history/history_2.shtml Online BBC News Article: Religion & Ethics - Hinduism, last accessed 2 January 2007] ]

The White Hun invasions

Chinese scholars traveling through the region between the 5th and 8th centuries CE, such as Faxian, Xuanzang, I-ching, Hui-sheng, and Sung-Yun, began to speak of a decline of the Buddhist "Sangha", especially in the wake of the White Hun invasion. Merriam-Webster, pg. 155–157]

Turkish Muslim Conquerors

The Muslim conquest of the Indian subcontinent was the first great iconoclastic invasion into South Asia. [Levy, Robert I. Mesocosm: Hinduism and the Organization of a Traditional Newar City in Nepal. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1990 1990.] The resulting occasional and sporadic destruction of temples did not affect Hinduism, but for Buddhism the destruction of the stupas has been attributed with a rapid and almost total disappearance from North India. Additionally purer forms of Indian Buddhism relied on patronage by kings and merchants and this change in rulership coupled with the economic integration with the Islamic world and thus the growing domination of long-distance trade by the Muslim merchant class eroded these sources of patronage resulting in an absorption into either Hinduism or Islam.

Causes within the Buddhist Tradition of the time

By the time the Muslims began conquering India in the twelfth century under the Ghurids, the number of monasteries had severely declined. [http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/BUDDHISM/DECLINE.HTM World Civilizations: Decline of Buddhism] ] "McLeod, John, "The History of India", Greenwood Press (2002), ISBN 0313314594, pg. 41-42.] Buddhism, which once had spread across the face of India, was a vital force confined to an ever-shrinking number of monasteries in the areas of its origins. Scholars believe that the monasteries at the time became detached from everyday life in India and that Indian Buddhism had no rituals or priests with the laymen relying on Brahmin priests for marriages and funerals.

Revival of Buddhism in India

Anagarika Dharmapala and the Maha Bodhi Society

Buddhist revival began in India in 1891, when the Sri Lankan Buddhist leader Anagarika Dharmapala founded the Maha Bodhi Society. [cite book
title=Buddhism in Modern India
id=ISBN 81-7030-254-4
] Its activities expanded to involve the promotion of Buddhism in India. In June 1892, a meeting of Buddhists was organized at Darjeeling. Dharmapala spoke to the Tibetian Buddhists and presented a relic of the Buddha to be sent to the Dalai Lama.

Dharmapala built many viharas and temples in India, including the one at Sarnath, the place of Buddha's first sermon. He died in 1933, the same year he was ordained a bhikkhu. [cite book
title=Buddhism in Modern India
id=ISBN 81-7030-254-4

Bengal Buddhist Association

In 1892, Kripasaran Mahasthavir founded the Bengal Buddhist Association (Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha) in Calcutta. [ [http://www.seek2know.net/kripasaran.html A short biography of Kripasaran Mahathera by Hemendu Bikash Chowdhury. Editor of Jagajjyoti and General Secretary of Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha (Bengal Buddhist Association)] ] Kripasaran (1865–1926) was instrumental in uniting the Buddhist community of Bengal and North East India. He built other branches of the Bengal Buddhist Association at Shimla (1907), Lucknow (1907), Dibrugarh (1908), Ranchi (1915), Shillong (1918), Darjeeling (1919), Tatanagar Jamshedpur (1922), as well as in Sakpura, Satbaria, Noapara, Uninepura, Chittagong Region in present day Bangladesh.

Tibetan Buddhism

Following Dalai Lama's departure from Tibet, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru offered to permit him and his followers to establish a "government-in-exile" in Dharamsala.

Tibetan exiles have settled in the town, numbering several thousand. Most of these exiles live in Upper Dharamsala, or McLeod Ganj, where they established monasteries, temples and schools. The town is sometimes known as "Little Lhasa", after the Tibetan capital city, and has become one of the centres of Buddhism in the world.

Dalit Buddhist movement

A Buddhist revivalist movement among Dalit Indians was initiated in 1890s by Dalit leaders such as Iyothee Thass, Brahmananda Reddy, and Dharmananda Kosambi. In, 1956 B. R. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism along with followers, giving a major impetus to the Dalit Buddhist movement in India.

Vipassana movement

The Buddhist meditation tradition of Vipassana meditation is growing in popularity in India. Many institutions—both government and private sector—now offer courses for their employees. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/6322237.stm "India's youth hit the web to worship" By Sanjoy Majumder. BBC News, Madras] ] This form is mainly practiced by middle class Indians. This movement has spread to many other countries in Europe, America and Asia.



*cite book
last =Doniger
first =Wendy
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of World Religions
publisher =Encyclopedia Britanica
location =
pages =1378
url =
doi =
id =ISBN 0877790442

External links

* [http://ignca.nic.in/ks_41.htm Across the Himalayan G
* [http://www.wsu.edu/~dee/BUDDHISM/DECLINE.HTM World Civilizations: The Decline of Buddhism in India. Publisher: Washington State University. Last accessed on April 10, 2007 ]

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