Why Did Buddhism Fail to Take Hold in India?


Tags: BrahmanismBuddhaBuddhismreligion of Indiasocial caste

Essay type: argumentative essay

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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. ” (Shean, Vincent) Political support of the ruling class proved to be very significant to the rise of Buddhism. It is evident that by the 7th century C. E. that a decline in Buddhism is seen. For instance, Theravada Buddhism was on the verge of non-existence in most of the Indian subcontinent and Buddhism as a whole was on a steady decline. The religion was becoming tainted in many ways because “during the Gupta period onwards, Indian religion became more and more permeated with primitive ideas of sympathetic magic and sexual mysticism” (Shean, Vincent) affecting Buddhism because to these developments in its native land. The direct result of this was the birth of a new sect known as the third vehicle which misinterpreted religious tenets and allowed the use of intoxicants; it was also lenient in the upholding of celibacy. Furthermore the fall of Buddhism continued with the corruption of the Sangha. From the many donations they received, they became rich, and monks began to ignore the tenth rule of the Vinaya and accepted silver and gold. The Mahayana school introduced expensive rituals and ceremonies into the religion, causing it to cease to be economical. Much of the decline of Buddhism was caused by its own failings; it could not meet the popularity of the re-emerged Hinduism. As an essentially non-theistic religion, it could not achieve the same success with the masses as Hinduism, which possessed a pantheon of gods that could intervene in the affairs of men if appeased. The moral corruption of Buddhism also caused degeneration in its intellectual standards; the Hindus, on the other hand, had a strong scholarly foundation. After the renowned Buddhist king Ashoka, the majority of Indian rulers supported the new Hinduism. It had the patronage of the Gupta rulers and most of the Rajput rulers, ensuring it prosperity and success among the people. To make things even more appealing, Hinduism also incorporated many Buddhist elements, such as preaching monks and religious processions; it further claimed the Mahatma Buddha as one of the incarnations of the lord Vishnu. ” (Parrinder 1:319) Therefore the common man did not make any great distinction between Hinduism and Buddhism; the new Hinduism embraced some of Buddhism and allowed for the belief of gods. Lastly, persecution of Buddhists played a final part in the downfall of the religion. Muslim invasions left India damaged; the invaders destroyed Buddhist monasteries and universities. A large number of Buddhist priests and monks fled retreating to the mountains of Tibet. “This left the Buddhist remnants of India with no priesthood to direct them, making it easy for Brahmins of the new Hinduism to pick up the pieces and reform Hinduism with Brahmins at top of the caste. ” (Shean, Vincent) Though Hinduism was able to sustain itself through these times, Buddhism had been increasingly weak and these raids dealt a final blow. Buddhism captured the enthusiasm of the rich and poor alike. It was a religion that preached a way out of suffering, in a simple and direct fashion that could be understood by the common man. Unlike the Brahmanism that had become too recondite and scholarly for the masses, Buddhism fulfilled the spiritual needs of the people; every person could work their way towards enlightenment. Its notions of social equality earned it much success and the establishment of the Sangha gave it strength. It flourished for centuries, but eventually, the corruption of the Sangha, the rivalries between sects, and the lack of protection from the ruling class weakened Buddhism and made it unable to compete with the reformed Hinduism. The anti-Buddhist campaigns led by the Muslims caused its final downfall, and Buddhism eventually entirely disappeared from India between 1000 and 1200 C. E. It left India with a rich legacy that was partially incorporated into Hinduism. Works Cited Barnes, Trevor. The Kingfisher Book of Religions: Festivals, Ceremonies, and Beliefs from around the World. New York: Kingfisher, 1999. Print. I found this book useful because it creates parallels between the origins, developments, beliefs, festivals, and ceremonies of Hinduism and Buddhism. Eliade, Mircea, ed. The Encyclopedia of Religion. Complete and Unabridged ed. Vol. 1-2. New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan, 1995. Print. ENC. I found the encyclopedia to be very useful in providing facts to supporting my own path or thesis to understanding why Buddhism diverged from India and why Hinduism took its place? Parrinder, Geoffrey, ed. World Religions : from Ancient History to the Present. New York, 1983. Print. I found this to be a useful and reliable source that went into depth on the religions of Buddhism and Hinduism. Comparing the two religions I was able to draw tangible conclusions on the emergence of both theologies. Sheean, Vincent. "THE BUDDHISM THAT WAS INDIA. " Foreign Affairs. 1 Jan. 1951. Web. 2 Mar. 2010. The article focuses on the spread of Buddhism in India while discussing its clash with Hindusim. It describes the decisive struggles of which took place between Buddhism and Hinduism for control of India, and it goes into the results that are still being seen in the evolution of the Asian peoples. I found this source to be very useful because it focuses directly on my topic.
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