You are on page 1of 12

DISAPPEARANCE OF BUDDHISM FROM INDIA:

THE BUDDHIST RESPONSIBILITY

ANKUR BARUA, M.A. BASILIO

Buddhist Door, Tung Lin Kok Yuen, Hong Kong

Hong Kong, 2009

Communication Address of Corresponding Author:

Dr. ANKUR BARUA

Block – EE, No.-80, Flat No.-2A,

Salt Lake City, Sector-2,

Kolkata - 700091, West Bengal, INDIA.

Email: ankurbarua26@yahoo.com

Mobile: +91-9434485543 (India), +852-96195078 (Hong Kong)


DISAPPEARANCE OF BUDDHISM FROM INDIA:

THE BUDDHIST RESPONSIBILITY

Abstract

Many scholars of Indian history and religion are devoted to unraveling the

mystery of what led to disappearance of Buddhism from India. If we analyze all

the contributing factors and arrange them in a chronological order, we would

realize that the whole sequence of events was initiated by the Buddhist monks

and clergy when they had ignored the teachings of the Buddha and concentrated

on accumulation of abundance of wealth in the monasteries. They had

abandoned the community visits and concentrated on their own salvation instead

of helping the common people and oppressed classes to end their sufferings. As

the lay devotees were ignored, Buddhism started losing the general support from

the community. Subsequently, the Brahmins took advantage of this situation and

deepened the rift between the common people and the Buddhist practitioners.

They also manipulated the contemporary rulers to withdraw their support from

Buddhism and help in reviving the existing Brahmanism.

Key words: Buddhism, Disappearance, Decline, Responsibility.

Disappearance of Buddhism from India: The Buddhist Responsibility Page 2


DISAPPEARANCE OF BUDDHISM FROM INDIA:

THE BUDDHIST RESPONSIBILITY

Introduction

Buddhism lasted over a thousand years in India. But it is still unknown as to

what led to the disappearance of Buddhism from India, the land of its origin.

Many scholars of Indian history and religion are devoted to unraveling this

enigma. Due to the lack of historical and archeological evidence, the debate

continues for centuries and there is no absolute consensus on this matter till

date.1 Two factors were generally cited as the main reasons for the ultimate

disappearance of Buddhism from India. The first one was the Vedic revival,

which drove the religion out the country and this was followed by the invading

hordes of the Prophet Mohammed, who razed the temples and slaughtered the

remaining unresisting monks. Though majority of the scholars generally accept

these two important factors, still they do not believe that these were the truly

crucial reasons for the disappearance of Buddhism from India. Muslim invasions

primarily wrecked only Northern India. But Buddhism was a significant religious

force in Southern India too. Mahayana Buddhism mainly developed in the

Southern regions. So whatever happened to Buddhism in the northern regions, it

still could not explain how the religion disappeared from Southern India as

well.1,2,3

Disappearance of Buddhism from India: The Buddhist Responsibility Page 3


However, the irony of Buddhism in India is represented by the Bodhi tree at

Bodh Gaya in Bihar, India. The present condition of the Bodhi tree also aptly

symbolizes the present status of Buddhism in the world. The main original trunk

of the Bodhi tree is missing and the tree is now thriving on its prop roots.

Similarly, though Buddhism had been wiped off from its place of origin in India,

but it is still flourishing in other countries across the world.

Buddhism was a Critical Response to the Existing Brahmanism

Conflicts of opinions prevail while identifying the probable factors leading to the

disappearance of Buddhism from India during the 12th century A.D. A few

scholars however, cherish the opinion that Buddhism never disappeared as such

from India and subsequently got incorporated into the Hinduism. They believe

that modern Hinduism in India is a new form of ancient Buddhism.2,3 Due to the

striking similarities in the teachings of Buddhism and modern Hinduism, there is

another group of scholars who uphold the theory that Buddhism is a restatement

of Hinduism.1,2,4 But this notion is absolutely false as Hinduism is a much later

development after the disappearance of Buddhism from India. If someone has to

relate any ancient religion in India with Buddhism, it should be the existing

Brahmanism which paved way to the introduction of Buddhism in India by

Sakyamuni Buddha during the 6th century B.C., who was a historical personality.

Buddhism should be viewed as a critical response to the existing Brahmanism.

Disappearance of Buddhism from India: The Buddhist Responsibility Page 4


Buddhism came into existence in order to wipe off the existing four-tier caste

system in India laid down by the Aryans. As the status of women was remarkably

subdued and deplorable during the period of Brahmanism, Buddhism came to

the rescue by upholding the women’s rights and focused on empowerment of

women in the society. Sakyamuni Buddha was the first historical personality who

rose against all odds to abolish discrimination and violence against women in the

existing Indian society.1,2,5

Gradual Decline of Buddhism in India during the 7th Century A.D.

Though Buddhism had been the dominant religion in much of the Gangetic plains

in the early part of the Christian era, but the Chinese traveler, Ven. Hsuan

Tsang, during his visit to India in the early years of the 7th century, had

witnessed a recession. The testimony of Ven. Hsuan Tsang, had demonstrated

the gradual decline of Buddhism in India. In Prayag or present Allahabad, he

had encountered many non-Buddhists. This was not surprising considering the

importance of Prayag as a pilgrimage site for Brahmins.1,2,3

Shravasti was the capital city of the Lichhavis, a north Indian clan that came to

power around 200 AD and established their capital in Pasupatinath. In a long and

glorious period of reign extending through the early part of the ninth century,

they had endowed a large number of both Hindu and Buddhist monuments and

Disappearance of Buddhism from India: The Buddhist Responsibility Page 5


monasteries. However, during his visit, Ven. Hsuan Tsang witnessed a much

greater number of Saivites and Jains than Buddhists. 1,2,3,5

Kushinagar, the small village near Gorakhpur where the Buddha had gone into

Mahaparinibbana, was in a dilapidated state and Ven. Hsuan Tsang found only a

few Buddhists. Though in Varanasi, Ven. Hsuan Tsang found around 3000

Bhikkus or Buddhist monks, but they were outshadowed by more than 10,000

non-Buddhists. Hence, we can conclude that Ven. Hsuan Tsang had arrived in

India at a time when Buddhism was entering into a state of precipitous decline.

But even as Buddhism went into decline, it is remarkable that Nalanda, the great

seat of Buddhist learning, continued to flourish by retaining its importance until

the Muslim invasions of the second millennium. It was from Nalanda that Ven.

Padmasambhava had carried Buddhism to Tibet during the eighth century.1,2,3,4,5

Hence, it is evident that the story of Buddhism in India cannot be unequivocally

written in a single register of decline as the entire process of decline was gradual

and spread over a long period of time.

Contributing Factors for the Disappearance of Buddhism from India

Buddhism had altogether disappeared from India as a formal religion during the

13th century A.D.6 In order to explore the contributing factors for the decline and

Disappearance of Buddhism from India: The Buddhist Responsibility Page 6


disappearance of Buddhism from India; we need to consider all the events in a

sequential and chronological order. These factors could be arranged under the

following major headings: (a) Sectarian and Internal Conflicts – Relating to

the schisms within the Buddhist faith; the widening differences between the

clergy, Buddhist monks and laity; and the growing corruption within the sangha.

(b) Buddhists were persecuted by Brahmins - Alleged persecution of

Buddhists by Brahmins; the defeat of the Buddhists by the great theologian Adi

Shankaracharya in public debates; as well as the characteristic tendency of

Hinduism, or rather Brahmanism, to absorb its opponents. (c) Secular and

political histories - Withdrawal of royal patronage from Buddhism was

followed by the Muslim invasions which had the effect of driving into extinction

the already debilitated Buddhist community.1,2,3,5,6

It is important to understand that Buddhism was never wiped off from India on a

single day and in any single event. Like the causal web of a disease, it was a

multi-factorial causation. The process of decline and subsequent disappearance

was gradual and lasted for many centuries. So, before we get into the details of

any historical analysis, we should first arrange the factors in a chronological

order and observe the interdependency of a previous event leading to the next.

Disappearance of Buddhism from India: The Buddhist Responsibility Page 7


Sectarian and Internal Conflicts

It was found that the Buddhist clergy paid insufficient attention to its laity.

Buddhist mendicants kept their distance from non-mendicants. So, the non-

mendicants might not have felt particularly invested in Buddhism. As the venues,

where the mendicants and non-mendicants intersected, gradually disappeared,

the laity got distanced from the faith in Buddhism. The scholars of Buddhism

had revealed that no manual for the conduct of the laity was produced until the

11th century A.D. Some scholars had also emphasized the decay and corruption

within the Buddhist faith itself.1,2,3

Dispute over Wealth and Leaderships in Buddhist Monasteries

The Buddhist monasteries were described as repositories of great wealth which

was accumulated through generous donations from the royal families and rich

devotees in the community. As food and money was always available in the

monastery, majority of the monks had adopted a rather easy-going and even

indolent lifestyle. There were also disputes over money matters and leadership

which led to great divide among many groups of Buddhist monks. The unity and

harmony of many major monasteries were affected by these disputes. The

sectarian splits between various Buddhists sects in subsequent years had finally

weakened the foundation and administrative infrastructure of Buddhism in India.

This was a consequence of a major deviation from the Buddha’s insistence on

Disappearance of Buddhism from India: The Buddhist Responsibility Page 8


aparigraha, or non-possession. As the monks had ignored the instruction of the

Buddha and became greedy for power and wealth, the monasteries got

entrapped in controversies and the communities lost their faith in them.1,2,3

Abandonment of Community Visits by the Buddhist Monks

As there was abundance of wealth in their monasteries, majority of the Buddhist

monks and clergy had often concentrated mainly on own salvation and rarely

visited the community to reduce the suffering of the general population. Here,

the Buddhist monks and clergy had missed out a very important message by the

Buddha. When the Buddha had advised his disciples to visit the community every

day and not to stay in a same place for more than three days, it was with a

vision that had a far more impact in the society than mere begging for food. He

wanted his disciples to meet as many common people as possible during their

community visit and help them to overcome the sufferings.

If it was only for gathering food and wealth, he could have arranged them for his

disciple monks with ease by requesting the Kings and emperors, who were also

his followers. The main idea behind sending the emissaries door to door was to

build up a community network and develop a good rapport with the community

so that majority of the population could reap the benefit from the teachings of

the Buddha. He knew that once the community had accepted his disciples, they

Disappearance of Buddhism from India: The Buddhist Responsibility Page 9


would develop faith in his teachings and would follow his advice to end suffering.

One should not misinterpret the emphasis on building up a community network

as an intention of the Buddha to become a ruler in future. This is because, as

Prince Siddhartha, he had already given up his kingdom and everything in order

to devote the rest of his life to end the suffering of all human beings. As the

Buddha, his aim was to carry forward this mission further through his disciples

by spreading the message of the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path

in the community. So, the goal for his disciples was not to concentrate on one’s

own salvation, but to help others to reduce the suffering in the community.1,2,3

The Buddhist monks in India, during the sixth century had deviated from this

noble target and stopped visiting the community. As the community visit was

rare by the monks, the general lay Buddhists felt neglected and isolated from the

Buddhist monastery. This sense of insecurity made them suffer discrimination

from the higher class of the Brahmin society and they gradually lost faith in

Buddhism. The Buddhist monks did not visit the houses of the lower caste and

the untouchables and as a result, they too did not get the opportunity to adopt

Buddhism and gain status in the society. The shellfish nature of the Buddhist

monks during that time had generated a sense of hatred and insecurity in the

general population which had contributed significantly towards their loss of faith

in Buddhism at a later date.

Disappearance of Buddhism from India: The Buddhist Responsibility Page 10


Conclusions

If we analyze all the contributing factors and arrange them in a chronological

order, we would realize that the whole sequence of events was initiated by the

Buddhist monks and clergy when they had ignored the teachings of the Buddha

and concentrated on accumulation of abundance of wealth in the monasteries.

This had made them over-satisfied and lethargic. They were often engaged in

disputes over money matters and leadership. So, they abandoned the community

visits and concentrated on their own salvation instead of helping the common

people and oppressed classes to end their sufferings. As the community was

ignored, the tight bonding between the lay devotees and the Buddhist

monasteries became weak and finally broke loose.

This restricted the spread of Buddhism in India and soon Buddhism started losing

the general support from the community. Subsequently, the Brahmins took

advantage of this situation and deepened the rift between the common people

and the Buddhist practitioners that included the monks and clergy. The Brahmins

also manipulated the contemporary rulers to withdraw their support from

Buddhism and help in reviving the existing Brahmanism.

From historical perspective, it is now clearly evident that Buddhism was never

conquered on moral grounds and critical arguments, but was actually driven off

by sheer force and might.

Disappearance of Buddhism from India: The Buddhist Responsibility Page 11


References

1. Lal, V. 2004. Buddhism’s Disappearance from India [serial online]. [cited


2009 August 26]; [2 screens]. Available from: URL:
http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/Religions/paths/BuddhismDisappear.do
c.

2. Jaini, P.S., Narain A.K., ed., 1980. The Disappearance of Buddhism and the
Survival of Jainism: A Study in Contrast. Studies in History of Buddhism.
Delhi: B.R. Publishing Company:181-91.

3. Ahir, D.C. 2005. Buddhism Declined in India: How and Why? Delhi: B.R.
Publishing.

4. Kantowsky, D. 2003. Buddhists in India Today: Descriptions, Pictures and


Documents. Delhi: Manohar Publications: 156.

5. Goyal, S.R. 1987. A History of Indian Buddhism. Meerut: 394.

6. Beal, S. 1884. Si-Yu Ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World. London:
Trubner & Co., reprint ed., Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation.

Disappearance of Buddhism from India: The Buddhist Responsibility Page 12