Why Did Buddhism Fail to Take Hold in India?

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It comes as a phenomenon at how Buddhism was driven from the land of its birth place due to Hinduisms ultimate triumph. It is difficult to say what specifically led to Buddhist decline from India; however, it is clear that Hinduism corresponded more elaborately with human needs, and established more direct connections with deities. The philosophy that Buddhism denies the importance of gods and emphasizes on expectations that people find their own ascetic paths in life may have been too heavy a burden for the ordinary person. The traditional religion of India was Brahmanism, which offered little comfort to the common people. The Brahmins were the highest of a four level social caste system. They had become extremely powerful due to their crucial role in the execution of sacrifices and mystical potency. Nonetheless, few could afford to pay for these sacrifices. Brahmanism and its teachings were understood only by the uppermost elite, and had little appeal to the common person. Many were dissatisfied with Brahman society, and a number of philosophical sects began to arise. Buddhism arose in the sixth century B. C. E. and demanded no intense physical austerities; the teachings of the Buddha were successful because they were simple and empirical, and most importantly accessible to all. Unlike Brahmanism, which was essentially ritualistic and mythological, the Buddha’s teachings were based upon the eightfold path. The Buddha stated that each person could achieve Nirvana, the ultimate spiritual fulfillment. Buddhism effectively ignored the social strata and it stressed that all castes could follow the Middle Way and eventually gain enlightenment; no matter how low they were in society. The religion’s optimistic outlook on the potential of each individual to transcend suffering and its accessibility and democracy rendered it immensely appealing to the people. (Barnes 1:113) A system of nuns and monks was established; creating a pervading notion of social equality that gave the religion strength. The establishment of the Sangha, the community of monks and nuns which linked all Buddhist monasteries together; served as a spiritual example for the community which played an important role in the religion’s rise and success. The Sangha were determined about spreading the Buddha’s message, and some monks even risked their lives by travelling out of India to preach the way out of suffering. (Eliade 2: 283) The appeal of Buddhism also seems somewhat economical. Vedic sacrifices had taken its toll on many; monarchs had often taxed their subjects for funds and those in poorer circumstances had no means of assuring their personal prosperity by sacrifice. However, by Following the Eightfold Path of the Buddha, it cost virtually nothing for the common man to practice his religion. Furthermore, the royal patronage Buddhism gained from its very inception further strengthened the religion. The Buddha was a Kshatriya prince who had forsaken his former life to gain enlightenment;” these actions attracted the notice of many kings. Bimbisara and Ajatasatru of Magadha and Prasenajit of Kosala were only a few of the numerous rulers who converted to the new religion of Buddhism.

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