Buddhism’s Disappearance from India Vinay Lal --------------------------------One of the supreme ironies of the history of Buddhism in India is the

question of how Buddhism came to disappear from the land of its birth. Many scholars of Buddhism, Hinduism, Indian history, and of reli ion more enerally ha!e been de!oted to unra!elin this pu""le. #here is no absolute consensus on this matter, and a few scholars ha!e e!en contended that Buddhism ne!er disappeared as such from India. On this !iew, Buddhism simply chan ed form, or was absorbed into Hindu practices. $uch an ar ument is, in fact, a !ariation of the !iew, which perhaps has more adherents than any other, that Buddhism disappeared, not on account of persecution by Hindus, but because of the ascendancy of reformed Hinduism. Howe!er, the !iew that Buddhists were persecuted by Brahmins, who were %een to assert their caste supremacy, still has some adherents, and in recent years has been championed not only by some &alit writers and their sympathi"ers but by at least a handful of scholars of pre-modern Indian history. '() *hat is not disputed is the radual decline of Buddhism in India, as the testimony of the +hinese tra!eler, Hsuan #san , amply demonstrates. #hou h Buddhism had been the dominant reli ion in much of the ,an etic plains in the early part of the +hristian era, Hsuan #san , tra!elin in India in the early years of the -th century, witnessed somethin quite different. In .raya , or /llahabad as it is %nown to many, Hsuan #san encountered mainly heretics, or non-Buddhists, but that is not surprisin i!en the importance of .raya as a pil rima e site for Brahmins. But, e!en in $ra!asti, the capital city of the Lichha!is, a north Indian clan that came to power around 011 /&, established their capital in .asupathinath, and in a lon and lorious period of rei n e2tendin throu h the early part of the ninth century endowed a lar e number of both Hindu and Buddhist monuments and monasteries, Hsuan #san witnessed a much reater number of 3Hindus4 5ie, non-Buddhists, such as 6ains and $ai!ites7 than Buddhists. 8usina ar, the small !illa e some 90 %ilometres from ,ora%hpur where the Buddha had one into mahaparinir!ana, was in a rather dilapidated state and Hsuan #san found few Buddhists. In Varanasi, to be sure, Hsuan #san found some :111 Bhi%%us or Buddhist mon%s, but they were outshadowed by more than (1,111 non-Buddhists. #here is scarcely any question that Hsuan #san arri!ed in India at a time when Buddhism was enterin into a state of precipitous decline, and by the (:th century Buddhism, as a formal reli ion, had alto ether disappeared from India. '0) But e!en as Buddhism went into decline, it is remar%able that the reat seat of Buddhist learnin , ;alanda, continued to flourish, retainin its importance until the Muslim in!asions of the second millennium. Moreo!er, it is from ;alanda that .admasambha!a carried Buddhism to #ibet in the ei hth century. +onsequently, e!en the story of Buddhism in India cannot be unequi!ocally written in a sin le re ister of decline. #o consider the question somewhat more systematically, we mi ht wish to consider in serial order the !arious reasons ad!anced for Buddhism<s decline and disappearance from India. #he !arious ar uments can be rouped under the followin headin s= sectarian and internal histories, focusin on schisms within the Buddhist faith, the widenin

so to spea%. It was uncared for orphan and it withered in the cold blast of the nati!e rulers and was consumed in the fire lit up by the conquerors. Buddhism found competition in Islam for con!erts amon low-caste Hindus. #he Buddhist monasteries are sometimes described as repositories of reat wealth. the Muslim in!asions which had the effect of dri!in into e2tinction an already debilitated faith. indeed e!en under the . or rather Brahmanism. whose animosity towards Hinduism is palpable. both Buddhists and adherents of Brahmanism recei!ed royal patrona e.4 *e thus find /mbe%dar embracin .alas of Ben al. particularly in the early part of the second millennium /&. #hou h Buddhism had already entered into somethin of a decline by the time of Hsuan #san <s !isit to India durin the rei n of Harsha of 8anauB in the early se!enth century. $ome scholars ha!e also emphasi"ed the narrati!e of decay and corruption within a faith where the mon%s had come to embrace a rather easy. 3brahmanism beaten and battered by the Muslim in!aders could loo% to the rulers for support and sustenance and et it. finally. when Ben al came under the rule of the $enas 5(1A--(00:7. the defeat of the Buddhists by the reat theolo ian $han%ara in public debates. secular and political histories. as well as on the supposedly characteristic tendency of Hinduism. Buddhism be an to suffer a decline. Bhi%%us. #he secular and political histories adopt rather different ar uments. #he contrast. and re ional %in doms de!eloped into the maBor sites of power. was hastened by the arri!al of Islam. thou h they had been hospitable to Vaishna!ism and $ai!ism.uptas 5:09-@A. but as Brahmanism !eered off. /s he was to put it. which emphasi"e the withdrawal of royal patrona e from Buddhism and. in this respect. it has also been ar ued that its further demise. the laity mi ht ha!e felt distanced from the faith. $ai!ism was promul ated and Buddhism was pushed out -towards #ibet. quite mindless of the Buddha<s insistence on aparigraha. #he . and as scholars of Buddhism ha!e noted. into Vaishna!ism and $ai!ism. were nonetheless maBor supporters of Buddhism. with 6ainism is mar%ed. and as the !enues where the mendicants and non-mendicants intersected radually disappeared. #urnin our attention to what I ha!e described as sectarian histories. dwellin on the alle ed persecution of Buddhists by Brahmins./&7. was nonetheless firmly of the !iew that Islam dealt Buddhism a death blow. Buddhist mendicants %ept their distance from non-mendicants. a!e way to forms of life less more conduci!e to settled a riculture. Buddhism beaten and battered by the Muslim in!aders had no such hope. later. C!en /mbed%ar. to absorb its opponents> and.onmendicants may not ha!e felt particularly in!ested in their reli ion. it is enerally conceded that the Buddhist cler y paid insufficient attention to its laity. On this !iew. It has been ar ued that royal patrona e shifted from Buddhist to Hindu reli ious institutions. or nonpossession. if one may put it this way. and laity.oin and e!en indolent lifestyle. Howe!er.differences between the cler y. no manual for the conduct of the laity was produced until the ((th century. . #he itinerant Buddhist mon%. and the rowin corruption within the sangha> histories focused on Buddhism’s relations with Brahmanism.4 /mbed%ar was quite certain that this was 3the reatest disaster that befell the reli ion of Buddha in India. ?nder the 8ushanas.

Hindu nationalists appear to thin% that many Muslim monuments were once Hindu temples.E #he $ai!ite %in .early 01 years a o the historian $. Many narrati!e accounts of Buddhism<s decline and e!entual disappearance from the land of its faith ha!e been focused on Buddhism<s relations with Hinduism or Brahmanism. any more than accounts of thousands of Hindu temples destroyed at the hands of Muslim in!aders are to be read literally.uranas indubitably shows that the Buddhists were moc%ed. cast as mischie!ous and malicious in Brahminical narrati!es. &war%a in the west. #he doctrine of ahimsa may ha!e ori inated with the Buddha. .dalistan. the absorption of the Buddha into Vishnu<s pantheon may ha!e represented somethin of a compromise between the . but by the second half of the (st millennium /& it had become part of Hindu teachin s. #he tendency of Hinduism to absorb ri!al faiths has been commented upon by many. $han%aracharya himself established maths or monasteries at Badrinath in the north. moreo!er. $imilarly. -FF-F01 /&7. and .uri in the east. $han%aracharya 5c. a late entrant into India. Islam was.obody remained ali!e to %eep the flame of Buddhism burnin . . If some scholars focus on outri ht persecution. . But rhetorical !iolence is not necessarily to be read as physical !iolence perpetrated upon the Buddhists. #he 3sword of Islam4 thesis remains contro!ersial.the 3sword of Islam thesis4= 3#he sword of Islam fell hea!ily upon the priestly class. been transformed into an avatara 5descent7 of Vishnu. central India. at best. It perished or it fled outside India. Monastic practices had once been un%nown in Brahminism. thou h the sin le ori inal source for all subsequent narrati!es about $hashan%a<s ruinous conduct towards Buddhists remains Hsuan #san . as is commonly noticed.or ). is said to ha!e en a ed the Buddhists in public debates and each time he emer ed triumphant. others spea% of a lon process durin which Buddhist practices became absorbed into Hinduism. thou h one could spea% equally of the elements from other faiths that ha!e one into the ma%in of Hinduism.an etic plains. the matter is more complicated. and certainly found its reatest e2position in the Buddha<s teachin s. many problems with this !iew. D. #he Buddha had. and the northern end of present-day /ndhra and 8arnata%a. but partisans of Buddhism are inclined to the !iew that Hindu temples were often built on the site of Buddhist shrines. and subBected to immense rhetorical !iolence. but o!er time this chan ed. and many reputable historians are inclined to dismiss it outri ht. #he reat Brahmin philosopher.oyal wrote that Eaccordin to many scholars hostility of the Brahmanas was one of the maBor causes of the decline of Buddhism in India. in!ariably appears in such histories as a ferocious oppressor of the Buddhists.4 ':) #here are. and Buddhism was showin unmista%able si ns of its decline lon before Islam became established in the . *as Buddha absorbed into the Hindu pantheon so that Buddhism mi ht become defan ed. or is it the case that Buddhism stood for certain !alues that Hinduism was ea er to embrace as its ownG #hou h many &alit and other anti-Brahminical writers would li%e to represent Brahminism as a tyrannical faith that wrou ht massi!e destruction upon the Buddhists 'see www. $hashan%a. of course. $hashan%a is reported to ha!e destroyed the Bodhi tree and ordered the destruction of Buddhist ima es. $rin eri in the south. / recent study of the Ben al .

(9J. pp. compiler and ed. who had played Dama in the #V serial Ramayana.oyal. Si-Yu i= Buddhist Records o! the Western World 5London= #rubner I +o. In his letter of 0: Hebruary (AA9.4 '9) If nothin else. :. for e2ample. Hor Hsuan #san <s tra!el narrati!e. . 3the Buddha was ne!er a mytholo ical fi ure as Dama I Hanuman but !ery much a historical fi ure.. Short Further Reading: .rime Minister of India. p. V. +ould anyone really play the BuddhaG 3/s you %now. and one of the more curious e2pressions of this an2iety must surely be a letter from the /ll India Bhi%%hu $an ha to the-then . 9. # History o! Indian Buddhism 5Meerut. ed. &.ublishin +o. Vol. Notes: (. . . Vasant Moon. 011:7. D..arasimha Dao. $. in Studies in History o! Buddhism.ublishin .. &elhi= Oriental Boo%s Deprint +orporation7. the .admanabh $.resident of the $an ha complained that the actor /run . (AF17. #his an2iety of absorption continues down to the present day. . :A@. see the translation by $amuel Beal. 8. 6aini. (F(-A(. @.arain 5&elhi= B. :.4 the letter reminds Dao. the Buddha was at least to be i!en his Bust dues. we mi ht at least read the disappearance of Buddhism from India as a parable about how myth always outli!es history. Buddhists in India &oday: Descriptions% 'ictures and Documents 5&elhi= Manohar. D.. 0:0-::. +. Ba"asahe" #m"ed$ar% Writings and Speeches 5Bombay= .. pp. 0. $ee. (AF-7.o!il. D. 01197. had been chosen to play the Buddha in the #V serial by the same name. /. (AF-7.o!ernment of Maharashtra. $ee &etlef 8antows%y. 3#he &isappearance of Buddhism and the $ur!i!al of 6ainism= / $tudy in +ontrast4.Brahmins and Buddhists= since so much of what Buddhism stood for had been incorporated into certain strands of Brahminism. . (FF@> reprint ed. . p. /hir. Buddhism Declined in India: How and Why? 5&elhi= B. .

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