History of Buddhism in India – Wikipedia

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Buddhism is a world religion, which arose in and around the ancient Kingdom of Magadha (now in Bihar, India), and is based on the teachings of Siddhrtha Gautama[note 1] who was deemed a "Buddha" ("Awakened One"[4]). Buddhism spread outside Magadha starting in the Buddha's lifetime.

With the reign of the Buddhist Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, the Buddhist community split into two branches: the Mahsghika and the Sthaviravda, each of which spread throughout India and split into numerous sub-sects.[5] In modern times, two major branches of Buddhism exist: the Theravada in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, and the Mahayana throughout the Himalayas and East Asia.

After peaking after Ashoka in ancient India, the practice of Buddhism and Buddhist monasteries received laity and royal support through the 12th century, but generally declined in the 1st millennium CE, with many of its practices and ideas absorbed into Hinduism. Except for the Himalayan region and south India, Buddhism almost became extinct in India after the arrival of Islam in late 12th century.[6][7][8]

Buddhism remains the primary or a major religion in the Himalayan areas such as Sikkim, Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, the Darjeeling hills in West Bengal, and the Lahaul and Spiti areas of upper Himachal Pradesh. Remains have also been found in Andhra Pradesh, the probable origin of Mahayana Buddhism.[9] Buddhism has been reemerging in India since the past century, due to its adoption by many Indian intellectuals, the migration of Buddhist Tibetan exiles, and the mass conversion of hundreds of thousands of Dalits to Buddhism.[10] According to the 2011 census, Buddhists make up 0.7% of India's population, or 8.4 million individuals.[11][12]Maharashtra state, which account for 77.36% (6.5 million) of all Buddhists in the country.[13]Navayana Buddhists (Converted or Neo-Buddhists) comprise more than 87% of Indian Buddhist community according to 2011 Census of India.[13]

Buddha was born in Lumbini, in Nepal, to a Kapilvastu King of the Shakya Kingdom named Suddhodana. After asceticism and meditation which was a Samana practice, the Buddha discovered the Buddhist Middle Waya path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

Siddhrtha Gautama attained enlightenment sitting under a pipal tree, now known as the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India. Gautama, from then on, was known as "The Perfectly Self-Awakened One," the Samyaksambuddha. Buddha found patronage in the ruler of Magadha, emperor Bimbisra. The emperor accepted Buddhism as personal faith and allowed the establishment of many Buddhist "Vihras." This eventually led to the renaming of the entire region as Bihar.[14]

At the Deer Park Water Reservation near Vras 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 Sagha, 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 Northern India and other regions.

Buddha died in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh.[15][16]

Followers of Buddhism, called Buddhists in English, referred to themselves as Saugata.[17] Other terms were Sakyans or Sakyabhiksu in ancient India.[18][19]Sakyaputto was another term used by Buddhists, as well as Ariyasavako[20] and Jinaputto.[21] Buddhist scholar Donald S. Lopez states they also used the term Bauddha.[22] The scholar Richard Cohen in his discussion about the 5th-century Ajanta Caves, states that Bauddha is not attested therein, and was used by outsiders to describe Buddhists, except for occasional use as an adjective.[23]

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

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 5th century BCE). The earliest division was between the majority Mahsghika and the minority Sthaviravda. Some existing Buddhist traditions follow the vinayas of early Buddhist schools.

The Dharmaguptakas made more efforts than any other sect to spread Buddhism outside India, to areas such as Afghanistan, Central Asia, and China, and they had great success in doing so.[26] Therefore, most countries which adopted Buddhism from China, also adopted the Dharmaguptaka vinaya and ordination lineage for bhikus and bhikus.

During the early period of Chinese Buddhism, the Indian Buddhist sects recognized as important, and whose texts were studied, were the Dharmaguptakas, Mahsakas, Kyapyas, Sarvstivdins, and the Mahsghikas.[27] Complete vinayas preserved in the Chinese Buddhist canon include the Mahsaka Vinaya (T. 1421), Mahsghika Vinaya (T. 1425), Dharmaguptaka Vinaya (T. 1428), Sarvstivda Vinaya (T. 1435), and the Mlasarvstivda Vinaya (T. 1442). Also preserved are a set of gamas (Stra Piaka), a complete Sarvstivda Abhidharma Piaka, and many other texts of the early Buddhist schools.

Early Buddhist schools in India often divided modes of Buddhist practice into several "vehicles" (yna). For example, the Vaibhika Sarvstivdins are known to have employed the outlook of Buddhist practice as consisting of the Three Vehicles:[28]

Several scholars have suggested that the Prajpramit stras, which are among the earliest Mahyna stras,[29][30] developed among the Mahsghika along the Ka River in the ndhra region of South India.[31]

The earliest Mahyna stras to include the very first versions of the Prajpramit genre, along with texts concerning Akobhya Buddha, which were probably written down in the 1st century BCE in the south of India.[32][33] Guang Xing states, "Several scholars have suggested that the Prajpramit probably developed among the Mahsghikas in southern India, in the ndhra country, on the Ka River."[34]A.K. Warder believes that "the Mahyna originated in the south of India and almost certainly in the ndhra country."[35]

Anthony Barber and Sree Padma note that "historians of Buddhist thought have been aware for quite some time that such pivotally important Mahayana Buddhist thinkers as Ngrjuna, Dignaga, Candrakrti, ryadeva, and Bhavaviveka, among many others, formulated their theories while living in Buddhist communities in ndhra."[36] They note that the ancient Buddhist sites in the lower Ka Valley, including Amaravati, Ngrjunako and Jaggayyapea "can be traced to at least the third century BCE, if not earlier."[37] Akira Hirakawa notes the "evidence suggests that many Early Mahayana scriptures originated in South India."[38]

Various classes of Vajrayana literature developed as a result of royal courts sponsoring both Buddhism and Saivism.[39] The Majusrimulakalpa, which later came to classified under Kriyatantra, states that mantras taught in the Shaiva, Garuda and Vaishnava tantras will be effective if applied by Buddhists since they were all taught originally by Manjushri.[40] The Guhyasiddhi of Padmavajra, a work associated with the Guhyasamaja tradition, prescribes acting as a Shaiva guru and initiating members into Saiva Siddhanta scriptures and mandalas.[41] The Samvara tantra texts adopted the pitha list from the Shaiva text Tantrasadbhava, introducing a copying error where a deity was mistaken for a place.[42]

"During the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E. (Before Common Era), commerce and cash became increasingly important in an economy previously dominated by self-sufficient production and bartered exchange. Merchants found Buddhist moral and ethical teachings an attractive alternative to the esoteric rituals of the traditional Brahmin priesthood, which seemed to cater exclusively to Brahmin interests while ignoring those of the new and emerging social classes." [43]

"Furthermore, Buddhism was prominent in communities of merchants, who found it well suited to their needs and who increasingly established commercial links throughout the Mauryan empire."[44]

"Merchants proved to be an efficient vector of the Buddhist faith, as they established diaspora communities in the string of oasis towns-Merv, Bukhara, Samarkand, Kashgar, Khotan, Kuqa, Turpan, Dunhuang - that served as lifeline of the silk roads through central Asia."[45]

The Maurya empire reached its peak at the time of emperor Aoka, who converted to Buddhism after the Battle of Kaliga. This heralded a long period of stability under the Buddhist emperor. The power of the empire was vastambassadors 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 Aoka the Great (304 BCE232 BCE) was the ruler of the Maurya Empire from 273 BCE to 232 BCE.

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

According to legend, emperor Aoka was overwhelmed by guilt after the conquest of Kaliga, following which he accepted Buddhism as personal faith with the help of his Brahmin mentors Rdhsvm and Majr. Aoka established monuments marking several significant sites in the life of akyamuni Buddha, and according to Buddhist tradition was closely involved in the preservation and transmission of Buddhism.[46]

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

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

Kuna under emperor Kanika was known as the Kingdom of Gandhra. The Buddhist art spread outward from Gandhra to other parts of Asia. He greatly encouraged Buddhism. Before Kanika, Buddha was not represented in human form. In Gandhra Mahyna Buddhism flourished and Buddha was represented in human form.

Under the rule of the Pla and Sena kings, large mahvihras flourished in what is now Bihar and Bengal. According to Tibetan sources, five great Mahvihras stood out: Vikramashila, the premier university of the era; Nlanda, past its prime but still illustrious, Somapura, Odantapur, and Jaggadala.[48] The five monasteries formed a network; "all of them were under state supervision" and their existed "a system of co-ordination among them . . it seems from the evidence that the different seats of Buddhist learning that functioned in eastern India under the Pla were regarded together as forming a network, an interlinked group of institutions," and it was common for great scholars to move easily from position to position among them.[49]

According to Damien Keown, the kings of the Pala dynasty (8th to 12th century, Gangetic plains region) were a major supporter of Buddhism, various Buddhist and Hindu arts, and the flow of ideas between India, Tibet and China:[50][51]

During this period [Pala dynasty] Mahayana Buddhism reached its zenith of sophistication, while tantric Buddhism flourished throughout India and surrounding lands. This was also a key period for the consolidation of the epistemological-logical (pramana) school of Buddhist philosophy. Apart from the many foreign pilgrims who came to India at this time, especially from China and Tibet, there was a smaller but important flow of Indian pandits who made their way to Tibet...

Indian ascetics (Skt. ramaa) propagated Buddhism in various regions, 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.[52] The Mahavamsa describes emissaries of Ashoka, such as Dharmaraksita, as leading Greek ("Yona") Buddhist monks, active in Buddhist proselytism.[53]).

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)[54] and Dio Cassius (liv, 9). A tomb was made to the sramana, still visible in the time of Plutarch, which bore the mention:

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[55] of the Shaolin Temple. Buddhist monk and esoteric master from South India (6th century), Kanchipuram 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.[56]

In 580, Indian monk Vintaruci 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 "GuruRinpoche" ("Precious Master") where followers of the Nyingma school regard him as the second Buddha. ntarakita, abbot of Nlanda and founder of the Yogacara-Madhyamaka is said to have helped Padmasambhava establish Buddhism in Tibet.

Indian monk Atia, 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.

The decline of Buddhism has been attributed to various factors. Regardless of the religious beliefs of their kings, states usually treated all the important sects relatively even-handedly.[58] This consisted of building monasteries and religious monuments, donating property such as the income of villages for the support of monks, and exempting donated property from taxation. Donations were most often made by private persons such as wealthy merchants and female relatives of the royal family, but there were periods when the state also gave its support and protection. In the case of Buddhism, this support was particularly important because of its high level of organization and the reliance of monks on donations from the laity. State patronage of Buddhism took the form of land grant foundations.[59]

Numerous copper plate inscriptions from India as well as Tibetan and Chinese texts suggest that the patronage of Buddhism and Buddhist monasteries in medieval India was interrupted in periods of war and political change, but broadly continued in Hindu kingdoms from the start of the common era through early 2nd millennium CE.[60][61][62] Modern scholarship and recent translations of Tibetan and Sanskrit Buddhist text archives, preserved in Tibetan monasteries, suggest that through much of 1st millennium CE in medieval India (and Tibet as well as other parts of China), Buddhist monks owned property and were actively involved in trade and other economic activity, after joining a Buddhist monastery.[63][64]

With the Gupta dynasty (~4th to 6th century), the growth in ritualistic Mahayana Buddhism, and the adoption of Buddhist ideas into Hindu schools, the differences between Buddhism and Hinduism blurred, and Vaishnavism, Shaivism and other Hindu traditions became increasingly popular, and Brahmins developed a new relationship with the state.[65] As the system grew, Buddhist monasteries gradually lost control of land revenue. In parallel, the Gupta kings built Buddhist temples such as the one at Kushinagara,[66][67] and monastic universities such as those at Nalanda, as evidenced by records left by three Chinese visitors to India.[68][69][70]

According to Hazra, Buddhism declined in part because of the rise of the Brahmins and their influence in socio-political process.[71] According to Randall Collins, Richard Gombrich and other scholars, Buddhism's rise or decline is not linked to Brahmins or the caste system, since Buddhism was "not a reaction to the caste system", but aimed at the salvation of those who joined its monastic order.[72][73][74]

The 11th century Persian traveller Al-Biruni writes that there was 'cordial hatred' between the Brahmins and Sramana Buddhists.[75] Buddhism was also weakened by rival Hindu philosophies such as Advaita Vedanta, growth in temples and an innovation of the bhakti movement. Advaita Vedanta proponent Adi Shankara is believed to have "defeated Buddhism" and established Hindu supremacy. This rivalry undercut Buddhist patronage and popular support.[76] The period between 400 CE and 1000 CE thus saw gains by the Vedanta school of Hinduism over Buddhism[77] and Buddhism had vanished from Afghanistan and north India by early 11th century. India was now Brahmanic, not Buddhistic; Al-Biruni could never find a Buddhistic book or a Buddhist person in India from whom he could learn.[78]

According to some scholars such as Lars Fogelin, the decline of Buddhism may be related to economic reasons, wherein the Buddhist monasteries with large land grants focussed on non-material pursuits, self-isolation of the monasteries, loss in internal discipline in the sangha, and a failure to efficiently operate the land they owned.[62][79]

Chinese scholars traveling through the region between the 5th and 8th centuries, 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 Hun invasion from central Asia.[6] Xuanzang, the most famous of Chinese travellers, found millions of monasteries in north-western India reduced to ruins by the Huns.[6][80]

The Muslim conquest of the Indian subcontinent was the first great iconoclastic invasion into South Asia.[81] By the end of twelfth century, Buddhism had mostly disappeared,[6][82] with the destruction of monasteries and stupas in medieval northwest and western India (now Pakistan and north India).[83]

In the northwestern parts of medieval India, the Himalayan regions, as well regions bordering central Asia, Buddhism once facilitated trade relations, states Lars Fogelin. With the Islamic invasion and expansion, and central Asians adopting Islam, the trade route-derived financial support sources and the economic foundations of Buddhist monasteries declined, on which the survival and growth of Buddhism was based.[79][84] The arrival of Islam removed the royal patronage to the monastic tradition of Buddhism, and the replacement of Buddhists in long-distance trade by the Muslims eroded the related sources of patronage.[83][84]

In the Gangetic plains, Orissa, northeast and the southern regions of India, Buddhism survived through the early centuries of the 2nd millennium CE.[79] The Islamic invasion plundered wealth and destroyed Buddhist images,[85] and consequent take over of land holdings of Buddhist monasteries removed one source of necessary support for the Buddhists, while the economic upheaval and new taxes on laity sapped the laity support of Buddhist monks.[79]

Monasteries and institutions such as Nalanda were abandoned by Buddhist monks around 1200 CE, who flee to escape the invading Muslim army, after which the site decayed over the Islamic rule in India that followed.[86][87]

The last empire to support Buddhism, the Pala dynasty, fell in the 12th century, and Muslim invaders destroyed monasteries and monuments.[6] According to Randall Collins, Buddhism was already declining in India before the 12th century, but with the pillage by Muslim invaders it nearly became extinct in India in the 1200s.[7] In the 13th century, states Craig Lockard, Buddhist monks in India escaped to Tibet to escape Islamic persecution;[88] while the monks in western India, states Peter Harvey, escaped persecution by moving to south Indian Hindu kingdoms that were able to resist the Muslim power.[8]

Many Indian Buddhists fled south. It is known that Buddhists continued to exist in India even after the 14th century from texts such as the Chaitanya Charitamrita. This text outlines an episode in the life of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (14861533), a Vaisnava saint, who was said to have entered into a debate with Buddhists in Tamil Nadu.[89]

The Tibetan Taranatha (15751634) wrote a history of Indian Buddhism, which mentions Buddhism as having survived in some pockets of India during his time.[90]

Buddhism also survived to the modern era in the Himalayan regions such as Ladakh, with close ties to Tibet.[91] A unique tradition survives in Nepal's Newar Buddhism.

Some scholars suggest that a part of the decline of Buddhist monasteries was because it was detached from everyday life in India and did not participate in the ritual social aspects such as the rites of passage (marriage, funeral, birth of child) like other religions.[83]

A revival of Buddhism began in India in 1891, when the Sri Lankan Buddhist leader Anagarika Dharmapala founded the Maha Bodhi Society.[92] Its activities expanded to involve the promotion of Buddhism in India. In June 1892, a meeting of Buddhists took place at Darjeeling. Dharmapala spoke to Tibetan Buddhists and presented a relic of the Buddha to be sent to the Dalai Lama.

Dharmapla built many vihras 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.[93]

The 14th Dalai Lama departed Tibet in 1959, when 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. Many 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 centers of Buddhism in the world. Many settlements for Tibetan refugee communities came up across many parts of India on the lands offered by the Government of India. Some of the biggest Tibetan settlements in exile are in the state of Karnataka. The Dalai Lama's brother, Gyalo Thondup, himself lives in Kalimpong and his wife established the Tibetan Refugee Centre in Darjeeling [1]. The 17th Karmapa also arrived in India in 2000 and continues education and has taken traditional role to head Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism and every year leads the Kagyu Monlam in Bodh Gaya attended by thousands of monks and followers. Palpung Sherabling monastery seat of the 12th Tai Situpa located in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh is the largest Kagyu monastery in India and has become an important centre of Tibetan Buddhism. Penor Rinpoche, the head of Nyingma, the ancient school of Tibetan Buddhism re-established a Nyingma monastery in Bylakuppe, Mysore. This is the largest Nyingma monastery today. Monks from Himalayan regions of India, Nepal, Bhutan and from Tibet join this monastery for their higher education. Penor Rinpoche also founded Thubten Lekshey Ling, a dharma center for lay practitioners in Bangalore. Vajrayana Buddhism and Dzogchen (maha-sandhi) meditation again became accessible to aspirants in India after that.

A Buddhist revivalist movement among Dalit Indians was initiated in 1890s by socialist leaders such as Iyothee Thass, Bhagya Reddy Varma, and Damodar Dharmananda Kosambi.[citation needed] In the 1950s, B. R. Ambedkar turned his attention to Buddhism and travelled to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to attend a convention of Buddhist scholars and monks. While dedicating a new Buddhist vihara near Pune, Ambedkar announced that he was writing a book on Buddhism, and that as soon as it was finished, he planned to make a formal conversion to the religion. He twice visited Burma in 1954; the second time in order to attend the third conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Rangoon. In 1955, he founded the Bharatiya Bauddha Mahasabha, or the Buddhist Society of India. He completed his final work, The Buddha and His Dhamma, in 1956. It was published posthumously.[citation needed]

After meetings with the Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Hammalawa Saddhatissa, Ambedkar organised a formal public ceremony for himself and his supporters in Nagpur on 14 October 1956. Accepting the Three Refuges and Five Precepts from a Buddhist monk in the traditional manner, Ambedkar completed his own conversion. He then proceeded to convert an estimated 500,000 of his supporters who were gathered around him. Taking the 22 Vows, Ambedkar and his supporters explicitly condemned and rejected Hinduism and Hindu philosophy. This was the world's biggest mass religious conversion; it is celebrated by Buddhists every year at Nagpur, when 1-1.5million Buddhists gather every year for the ceremony. He then travelled to Kathmandu in Nepal to attend the Fourth World Buddhist Conference. Ambedkar died soon after conversion on 6 December 1956.

Most of the Ambedkarite Buddhists belong his own former Mahar caste. The new converts treat Ambedkar himself as a deity. Although they have renounced Hinduism in practice, a community survey showed adherence to many practices of the old faith including endogamy, worshipping the traditional family deity etc.[94]

The Buddhist meditation tradition of Vipassana meditation is growing in popularity in India. Many institutionsboth government and private sectornow offer courses for their employees.[95] This form is mainly practiced by the elite and middle class Indians. This movement has spread to many other countries in Europe, America and Asia.

According to the 2011 Census of India there are 8.4 million Buddhists in India but Buddhist leaders claim there are about 50 to 60 million Buddhists in India.[96] Maharashtra has the highest number of Buddhists in India, with 77.36% of the total population. Almost 90 per cent of Navayana or Neo-Buddhists live in the state.

In the 1951 census of India, 1.81 lakh (0.05%) respondents said they were Buddhist. The 1961 census, taken after Ambedkar adopted Buddhism with his millions of followers in 1956, showed an increased to 3.2 million (0.74%).

Living Religions, seventh edition, by Mary Pat Fisher

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History of Buddhism in India - Wikipedia

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