History of Buddhism in India
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 Siddhārtha Gautama[note 1] who was deemed a "Buddha" ("Awakened One"). Buddhism spread outside of Magadha starting in the Buddha's lifetime.
With the reign of the Buddhist Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, the Buddhist community split into two branches: the Mahāsāṃghika and the Sthaviravāda, each of which spread throughout India and split into numerous sub-sects.
The practice of Buddhism as a distinct and organized religion lost influence after the Gupta reign (c.7th century CE), and declined from the land of its origin in around 13th century, but not without leaving a significant impact.
Buddhist practice is most common and Buddhism remains a major presence 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.
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 Hindu Dalits.
Buddha was born in Lumbini in the central Ganges-plain, now in present-day Nepal, to a Vedic chieftain of Kapilvastu-Suddhodana. After asceticism and meditation which was a Samana practice, the Buddha discovered the Buddhist Middle Way—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.
At the Deer Park Water Reservation near 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.
Followers of Buddhism, called Buddhists in English, referred to themselves as Saugata. Other terms were Sakyans or Sakyabhiksu in ancient India. Sakyaputto was another term used by Buddhists, as well as Ariyasavako and Jinaputto.
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 consenseus on matters of Buddhist doctrine and practice.
Mahākāśyapa, a disciple of the Buddha, presided over the first Buddhist council held at Rājagṛha. Its purpose was to recite and agree on the Buddha's actual teachings and on monastic discipline. Some scholars consider this council fictitious.
The Second Buddhist Council is said to have taken place at Vaiśālī. 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 Pāṭaliputra, and was allegedly called by Emperor Aśoka in the 3rd century BCE. 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.
What is often called the Fourth Buddhist council is generally believed to have been held under the patronage of Emperor Kaniṣka at Jālandhar in Kashmir, though the late Monseigneur Professor Lamotte considered it fictitious. It is generally believed to have been a council of the Sarvastivāda school.
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 Mahāsāṃghika and the minority Sthaviravāda. Some existing Buddhist traditions follow the vinayas of early Buddhist schools.
During the early period of Chinese Buddhism, the Indian Buddhist sects recognized as important, and whose texts were studied, were the Dharmaguptakas, Mahīśāsakas, Kāśyapīyas, Sarvāstivādins, and the Mahāsāṃghikas.
Complete vinayas preserved in the Chinese Buddhist canon include the Mahīśāsaka Vinaya (T. 1421), Mahāsāṃghika Vinaya (T. 1425), Dharmaguptaka Vinaya (T. 1428), Sarvāstivāda Vinaya (T. 1435), and the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya (T. 1442).
Early Buddhist schools in India often divided modes of Buddhist practice into several "vehicles" (yāna). For example, the Vaibhāṣika Sarvāstivādins are known to have employed the outlook of Buddhist practice as consisting of the Three Vehicles:
The Mahāyāna tradition of Buddhism, developed in India, popularized the concept of a bodhisattva ("enlightenment being") and the worship of the bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas such as Mañjuśrī, Avalokiteśvara, and Maitreya were highly esteemed in Indian Mahāyāna practice.
Paul Williams has also noted that the Mahāyāna never had nor ever attempted to have a separate Vinaya or ordination lineage from the early Buddhist schools, and therefore each bhikṣu or bhikṣuṇī adhering to the Mahāyāna formally belonged to one of the early Buddhist schools.
Paul Harrison clarifies that while monastic Mahāyānists belonged to a nikāya, not all members of a nikāya were Mahāyānists. From Chinese monks visiting India, we now know that both Mahāyāna and non-Mahāyāna monks in India often lived in the same monasteries side by side.
Both adopt one and the same Vinaya, and they have in common the prohibitions of the five offences, and also the practice of the Four Noble Truths. Those who venerate the bodhisattvas and read the Mahāyāna sūtras are called the Mahāyānists, while those who do not perform these are called the Hīnayānists.
A form of Indian Buddhism that emerged in the 4th century and later spread to China (Tangmi), Japan (Shingon), Tibet, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and other countries. It remains widespread in Tibetan Buddhism, and in Nepal, Bhutan, and Mongolia.
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 Vajrayāna (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.
The valley, forms the cradle of the Nepali state today, 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 Muslim conquests and social upheavals. Even after Buddhism died in the heartland, it survived in the Kathmandu valley.
The Tibetan religious scripts Lantsha and Vartu are variants of the Rañjanā system used by the Newars of Kathmandu. However, due to numerous social, economic and political factors, Buddhist monasticism in the valley died.
By then Tibetan Buddhism had already gained prominence in the region.
"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."
"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."
Aśoka reigned over most of India after a series of military campaigns. Emperor Aśoka'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 Aśoka was overwhelmed by guilt after the conquest of Kaliṅga, following which he accepted Buddhism as personal faith with the help of his Brahmin mentors Rādhāsvāmī and Mañjūśrī.
Aśoka established monuments marking several significant sites in the life of Śakyamuni Buddha, and according to Buddhist tradition was closely involved in the preservation and transmission of Buddhism.
Menander was the most famous Bactrian king. He ruled from Taxila and later from Sagala (Sialkot). He rebuilt Taxila (Sirkap) and Puṣkalavatī. He became Buddhist and is remembered in Buddhists records due to his discussions with a great Buddhist philosopher in the book Milinda Pañha.
Under the rule of the Pāla and Sena[disambiguation needed] kings, large mahāvihāras flourished in what is now Bihar and Bengal. According to Tibetan sources, five great Mahāvihāras stood out: Vikramashila, the premier university of the era; Nālanda, past its prime but still illustrious, Somapura, Odantapurā, and Jaggadala.
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 Pāla 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.
In the Edicts of Ashoka, Ashoka mentions the Hellenistic kings of the period as a recipient of his Buddhist proselytism. Emissaries of Ashoka, such as Dharmaraksita, are described in Pali sources as leading Greek ("Yona") Buddhist monks, active in Buddhist proselytism (the Mahavamsa, XII).
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 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.
In 580, Indian monk Vinītaruci travelled to Vietnam. This, then, would be the first appearance of Vietnamese Zen, or Thien Buddhism. Guru Rinpoche, the patron saint of Sikkim. The 118 foot statue in Namchi, South Sikkim, is the tallest statue of the saint in the world.
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.
Indian monk Atiśa, 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.
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 massive propertied foundations.
The gradual expansion of caste regulations shifted political and economic power to localities, reversing a trend toward centralization. The caste system began to dominate secular life as a code for social and economic transactions.
A key transition was the downfall of the Guptas. Indian society developed in a manner opposite to that of China or Rome, which were dominated by government officials. Instead, Brahmins became hereditary authorities in a series of weak, ephemeral states.
Caste law, administered by Brahmins, was built up to control all local economic production and much of its distribution, transforming the property system. Hinduism's displacement of Buddhism came by this indirect route.
It has been asserted, simplistically and without much historical evidence, that Hinduism became a more "intelligible and satisfying road to faith for many ordinary worshippers" than it had been 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.
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 White Hun invasion. The Huns were a nomadic Central Asian people. Xuanzang, the most famous of Chinese travelers, found “millions of monasteries” in north-western India reduced to ruins by the Huns.
The Muslim conquest of the Indian subcontinent was the first great iconoclastic invasion into South Asia. By the end of 10th century CE, Buddhism had almost completely disappeared from Northern and Deccan regions of India, as apparent from Xuanzang and Al-Biruni's accounts. However, the occasional destruction of monasteries and stupas has been attributed with a final effacement.
Additionally, more academic forms of Indian Buddhism relied on patronage by kings and merchants and this change in rulership coupled with the economic integration with the Muslim 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.
By the time the Muslims began conquering northern India in the 12th century under the Ghurids, the number of monasteries had severely declined. 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.
A revival of Buddhism began in India in 1891, when the Sri Lankan Buddhist leader Anagarika Dharmapala founded the Maha Bodhi Society. 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.
In 1892, Kripasaran Mahasthavir founded the Bengal Buddhist Association (Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha) in Calcutta. 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.
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 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.
While dedicating a new Buddhist vihara near Pune, Dr. B. R. 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 Buddhism.
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.