Describe the origin, principles and decline of Buddhism.
The sixth century B.C. is considered a wonderful century in history. Great thinkers like Buddha, Mahavira, Heraclitus, Zoroaster, Confucius and Lao Tse lived and preached their ideas in this century. In India, the republican institutions were strong in the 6th centuryB.C. This enabled rise of heterodox sects against the orthodox religion dominated by rites and rituals. Among them the most successful were Jainism and Buddhism whose impact on the Indian society was remarkable.
Causes for the Rise of Jainism and Buddhism
The primary cause for the rise of Jainism and Buddhism was the religious unrest in India in the 6th century B.C. The complex rituals and sacrifices advocated in the Later Vedic period were not acceptable to the common people. The sacrificial ceremonies were also found to be too expensive. The superstitious beliefs and mantras confused the people. The teachings of Upanishads, an alternative to the system of sacrifices, were highly philosophical in nature and therefore not easily understood by all. Therefore, what was needed in the larger interests of the people was a simple, short and intelligible way to salvation for all people. Such religious teaching should also be in a language known to them. This need was fulfilled by the teachings of Buddha and Mahavira. Other than the religious factor, social and economic factors also contributed to the rise of these two religions. The rigid caste system prevalent in India generated tensions in the society. Higher classes enjoyed certain privileges which were denied to the lower classes. Also, the Kshatriyas had resented the domination of the priestly class. It should also to be noted that both Buddha and Mahavira belonged to Kshatriya origin. The growth of trade led to the improvement in the economic conditions of the Vaisyas. As a result, they wanted to enhance their social status but the orthodox Varna system did not allow this. Therefore, they began to extend support to Buddhism and Jainism. It was this merchant class that extended the chief support to these new religions.
Teachings of Buddha
The Four Noble Truths of Buddha are:
- The world is full of suffering.
- The cause of suffering is desire.
- If desires are get rid off, suffering can be removed.
- This can be done by following the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path consists of right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. Buddha neither accepts god nor rejects the existence of god. He laid great emphasis on the law of karma. He argued that the condition of man in this life depends upon his own deeds. He taught that the soul does not exist. However, he emphasized Ahimsa. By his love for human beings and all living creatures, he endeared himself to all. Even under the gravest provocation he did not show the least anger or hatred and instead conquered everyone by his love and compassion. His religion was identical with morality and it emphasized purity of thought, word and deed. He was a rationalist who tried to explain things in the light of reason and not on the basis of blind faith. Though he did not make a direct attack on the caste system, he was against any social distinctions and threw open his order to all. Therefore, Buddhism was more a social than religious revolution. It taught the code of practical ethics and laid down the principle of social equality.
Decline of Buddhism
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. were militant rulers and 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.
- 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.