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CONTRIBUTING FACTORS FOR THEDISAPPEARANCE OF BUDDHISM FROMINDIA

ANKUR BARUA, M.A. BASILIOHong Kong, 2009

Background: Dr. Ankur Barua had graduated with distinction fromthe University of Hong Kong (MBuddStud, 2009). He had alsocompleted two other Master Degrees, one from Sikkim ManipalUniversity (MBAIT, 2007) while the other from Manipal University(MBBS-2000, MD in Community Medicine - 2003) and presentlyworking in professional field. Ms. M.A. Basilio is a nursingprofessional who has also a keen passion for conducting researchon religion and science.

First Publication on 8

th

October 2009Buddhist Door, Tung Lin Kok Yuen, Hong KongCopyright © Ankur Barua and M.A.BasilioCommunication Address of Corresponding Author:

Dr. ANKUR BARUABlock EE, No.-80, Flat No.-2A,Salt Lake City, Sector-2,Kolkata - 700091, West Bengal, INDIA.Email: ankurbarua26@yahoo.comMobile: +91-9434485543 (India), +852-96195078 (Hong Kong)

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Acknowledgements

I wish to express my sincere gratitude and indebtedness to

Ven.Dr. Jing Yin

, Professor of Buddhist Studies and Director of theCentre of Buddhist Studies in the University of

Hong Kong for hiskind support, inspiration, encouragement and timely advice duringthe compilation

of this book.I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my beloved father

Dr. Dipak Kumar Barua,

who was the earlier Dean of the FacultyCouncil for Postgraduate Studies in Education, Journalism & LibraryScience in the University of Calcutta (1987-1991) and the Directorof Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Nalanda (1996-1999) for histechnical guidance and valuable advice.I would also like to convey my sincere thanks to my belovedmother

Mrs. Dipa Barua

for showing keen interest and providingconstant assistance and support during this endeavor.

Ankur Barua

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Preface

Initiated in India by the Sakyamuni Buddha, Buddhism has now becomea world religion and at present, the Buddhist population is the thirdlargest religious community in the world. Buddhism lasted over athousand years in India, the land of its origin. But the supreme irony of the history of Indian Buddhism still remains with the unexplainedquestion regarding what led to the disappearance of Buddhism fromIndia. Many scholars of Indian history and religion are devoted tounraveling this puzzle. Due to the lack of historical and archeologicalevidence, the debate continues for centuries and there is no absoluteconsensus on this matter till date.Since, the teachings of the Buddha is appreciated by people of everyreligion all across the world, everyone in India now wants a share of itsmerit. As a result, none of the concerned royal families or the religiouscommunities in India is ready to own the responsibility for itsdisappearance.However, this research explores the probable reasons for the gradualdecline and subsequent disappearance of Buddhism from India. Anattempt is also made at the end to arrange all these sequence of eventsin a chronological manner to understand the actual process of thisdecline.

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Ankur Barua & M.A. Basilio

Contributing Factors for the Disappearance of Buddhism from India

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CONTRIBUTING FACTORS FOR THE DISAPPEARANCE OFBUDDHISM FROM INDIA

Abstract

Many scholars of Indian history and religion are devoted to unravelingthe mystery of what led to disappearance of Buddhism from India. Dueto the lack of historical and archeological evidence, there is no absoluteconsensus on this matter till date. However, if we analyze all thecontributing factors and arrange them in a chronological order, wewould realize that the whole sequence of events was initiated by theBuddhist monks and clergy when they had ignored the teachings of theBuddha and concentrated on accumulation of abundance of wealth inthe monasteries. They had abandoned the community visits andconcentrated on their own salvation instead of helping the commonpeople and oppressed classes to end their sufferings. As the lay devoteswere ignored, Buddhism started losing the general support from thecommunity. Subsequently, the Brahmins took advantage of thissituation and deepened the rift between the common people and theBuddhist practitioners. They also manipulated the contemporary rulersto withdraw their support from Buddhism and help in reviving theexisting Brahmanism. This was followed by the revival of Hinduism andfurther decline of Buddhism. Towards the end stage of this decline,there was the Muslim invasion of India. During this time, majority of the

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surviving Buddhists in India, who earlier belonged to the lower classHindus, was either forcefully or willingly got converted into Islam.

Key words: Buddhism, Disappearance, Decline, Brahmanism,Brahmins, Hinduism, Islam.

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CONTRIBUTING FACTORS FOR THE DISAPPEARANCE OFBUDDHISM FROM INDIA

Introduction

Buddhism lasted over a thousand years in India. But it is still unknownas to what led to the disappearance of Buddhism from India, the land of its origin. Many scholars of Indian history and religion are devoted tounraveling this enigma. Due to the lack of historical and archeologicalevidence, the debate continues for centuries and there is no absoluteconsensus on this matter till date.

1

Two factors were generally cited asthe main reasons for the ultimate disappearance of Buddhism fromIndia. The first one was the Vedic revival, which drove the religion outthe country and this was followed by the invading hordes of the ProphetMohammed, who razed the temples and slaughtered the remainingunresisting monks. Though majority of the scholars generally acceptthese two important factors, still they do not believe that these were thetruly crucial reasons for the disappearance of Buddhism from India.Muslim invasions primarily wrecked only Northern India. But Buddhismwas a significant religious force in Southern India too. MahayanaBuddhism mainly developed in the Southern regions. So whateverhappened to Buddhism in the northern regions, it still could not explainhow the religion disappeared from Southern India as well.

1,2,3

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However, the irony of Buddhism in India is represented by the Bodhitree at Bodh Gaya in Bihar, India. The present condition of the Bodhitree 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 nowthriving on its prop roots. Similarly, though Buddhism had been wipedoff from its place of origin in India, but it is still flourishing in othercountries across the world.

Buddhism was a Critical Response to the Existing Brahmanism

Conflicts of opinions prevail while identifying the probable factorsleading to the disappearance of Buddhism from India during the 12

th

century A.D. A few scholars however, cherish the opinion that Buddhismnever disappeared as such from India and subsequently gotincorporated into the Hinduism. They believe that modern Hinduism inIndia is a new form of ancient Buddhism.

Due to the strikingsimilarities in the teachings of Buddhism and modern Hinduism, there isanother group of scholars who uphold the theory that Buddhism is arestatement of Hinduism.

1,2,4

But this notion is absolutely false asHinduism is a much later development after the disappearance of Buddhism from India. If someone has to relate any ancient religion inIndia with Buddhism, it should be the existing Brahmanism which paved

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way to the introduction of Buddhism in India by Sakyamuni Buddhaduring the 6

th

century B.C., who was a historical personality. Buddhismshould be viewed as a critical response to the existing Brahmanism.Buddhism came into existence in order to wipe off the existing four- tiercaste system in India laid down by the Aryans. As the status of womenwas remarkably subdued and deplorable during the period of Brahmanism, Buddhism came to the rescue by upholding the women’srights and focused on empowerment of women in the society.Sakyamuni Buddha was the first historical personality who rose againstall odds to abolish discrimination and violence against women in theexisting Indian society.

1,2,5

Gradual Decline of Buddhism in India during the 7

th

Century A.D.

Though Buddhism had been the dominant religion in much of theGangetic plains in the early part of the Christian era, but the Chinesetraveler, Ven. Hsuan Tsang, during his visit to India in the early years of the 7

th

century, had witnessed a recession. The testimony of Ven. Hsuan Tsang, had demonstrated the gradual decline of Buddhism in India. InPrayag or present Allahabad, he had encountered many non- Buddhists. This was not surprising considering the importance of Prayag as apilgrimage site for Brahmins.

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Shravasti was the capital city of the Lichhavis, a north Indian clan thatcame to power around 200 AD and established their capital inPasupatinath. In a long and glorious period of reign extending throughthe early part of the ninth century, they had endowed a large number of both Hindu and Buddhist monuments and monasteries. However, duringhis 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 hadgone 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 wereoutshadowed by more than 10,000 non-Buddhists. Hence, we canconclude that Ven. Hsuan Tsang had arrived in India at a time whenBuddhism was entering into a state of precipitous decline. But even asBuddhism went into decline, it is remarkable that Nalanda, the greatseat of Buddhist learning, continued to flourish by retaining itsimportance until the Muslim invasions of the second millennium. It wasfrom Nalanda that Ven. Padmasambhava had carried Buddhism to Tibetduring the eighth century.

1,2,3,4,5

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Hence, it is evident that the story of Buddhism in India cannot beunequivocally written in a single register of decline as the entire processof decline was gradual and spread over a long period of time.

Contributing Factors for the Disappearance of Buddhism fromIndia

Buddhism had altogether disappeared from India as a formal religionduring the 13

th

century A.D.

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In order to explore the contributing factorsfor the decline and disappearance of Buddhism from India; we need toconsider all the events in a sequential and chronological order. Thesefactors could be arranged under the following major headings: (a)

Sectarian and Internal Conflicts

Relating to the schisms within theBuddhist faith; the widening differences between the clergy, Buddhistmonks 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 greattheologian

Adi Shankaracharya in public debates; as well as thecharacteristic tendency of Hinduism, or rather

Brahmanism, to absorbits opponents. (c)

Secular and political histories

- Withdrawal of royal patronage from Buddhism was followed by the Muslim invasionswhich had the effect of driving into extinction the already debilitatedBuddhist community.

1,2,3,5,6

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It is important to understand that Buddhism was never wiped off fromIndia on a single day and in any single event. Like the causal web of adisease, it was a multi-factorial causation. The process of decline andsubsequent disappearance was gradual and lasted for many centuries.So, before we get into the details of any historical analysis, we shouldfirst arrange the factors in a chronological order and observe theinterdependency of a previous event leading to the next.

(A) Sectarian and Internal Conflicts

It was found that the Buddhist clergy paid insufficient attention to itslaity. Buddhist mendicants kept their distance from non-mendicants.So, the non-mendicants might not have felt particularly invested inBuddhism. As the venues, where the mendicants and non-mendicantsintersected, gradually disappeared, the laity got distanced from thefaith in Buddhism. The scholars of Buddhism had revealed that nomanual for the conduct of the laity was produced until the 11

th

centuryA.D. Some scholars had also emphasized the decay and corruptionwithin the Buddhist faith itself.

1,2,3

Dispute over Wealth and Leaderships in Buddhist Monasteries

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The Buddhist monasteries were described as repositories of greatwealth which was accumulated through generous donations from theroyal families and rich devotees in the community. As food and moneywas always available in the monastery, majority of the monks hadadopted a rather easy-going and even indolent lifestyle. There were alsodisputes over money matters and leadership which led to great divideamong many groups of Buddhist monks.

1,2,3

The unity and harmony of many major monasteries were affected bythese disputes. The sectarian splits between various Buddhists sects insubsequent years had finally weakened the foundation andadministrative infrastructure of Buddhism in India. This was aconsequence of a major deviation from the Buddha’s insistence on

aparigraha

, or non-possession. As the monks had ignored the instructionof the Buddha and became greedy for power and wealth, themonasteries got entrapped in controversies and the communities losttheir 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 theBuddhist monks and clergy had often concentrated mainly on ownsalvation and rarely visited the community to reduce the suffering of

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the general population. Here, the Buddhist monks and clergy hadmissed out a very important message by the Buddha. When the Buddhahad advised his disciples to visit the community every day and not tostay in a same place for more than three days, it was with a vision thathad a far more impact in the society than mere begging for food. Hewanted his disciples to meet as many common people as possibleduring their community visit and help them to overcome thesufferings.

1,2,3

If it was only for gathering food and wealth, he could have arrangedthem for his disciple monks with ease by requesting the Kings andemperors, who were also his followers. The main idea behind sendingthe emissaries door to door was to build up a community network anddevelop a good rapport with the community so that majority of thepopulation could reap the benefit from the teachings of the Buddha. Heknew that once the community had accepted his disciples, they woulddevelop faith in his teachings and would follow his advice to endsuffering. One should not misinterpret the emphasis on building up acommunity network as an intention of the Buddha to become a ruler infuture. This is because, as Prince Siddhartha, he had already given uphis kingdom and everything in order to devote the rest of his life to endthe suffering of all human beings. As the Buddha, his aim was to carryforward this mission further through his disciples by spreading the

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message of the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path in thecommunity. So, the goal for his disciples was not to concentrate onone’s own salvation, but to help others to reduce the suffering in thecommunity.

1,2,3

The Buddhist monks in India, during the sixth century had deviated fromthis noble target and stopped visiting the community. As the communityvisit was rare by the monks, the general lay Buddhists felt neglectedand isolated from the Buddhist monastery. This sense of insecuritymade them suffer discrimination from the higher class of the Brahminsociety and they gradually lost faith in Buddhism. The Buddhist monksdid not visit the houses of the lower caste and the untouchables and asa result, they too did not get the opportunity to adopt Buddhism andgain status in the society. The shellfish nature of the Buddhist monksduring that time had generated a sense of hatred and insecurity in thegeneral population which had contributed significantly towards theirloss of faith in Buddhism at a later date.

(B) Relationship between Buddhism and Brahmanism

Many narrative accounts of Buddhism’s decline and eventualdisappearance from the land of its faith had been focused onBuddhism’s relations with Hinduism or Brahmanism. Some scholars

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believe that Buddhism never got wiped off from Indian society. On thecontrary, it simply changed form and was later absorbed into Hindupractices. They believe that Buddhism disappeared, not on account of persecution by Hindus, but because of the ascendancy of reformedHinduism. However, there is enough historical evidence to suggest thatthe Buddhists were persecuted by Brahmins who were keen to asserttheir caste supremacy. The renowned historian S.R. Goyal concludedthat "according to many scholars hostility of the Brahmins was one of the major causes of the decline of Buddhism in India."

1,2,3,5

The Buddha’s fight against Brahmanism won him many enemies fromamong the Brahmins. They were not as greatly opposed to hisphilosophical teachings as they were to his message of universalbrotherhood and equality. As this directly challenged their hegemonyand the scriptures, the Brahmins had invented to legitimize this. Tocombat Buddhism and revive the tottering Brahminical hegemony,Brahminical revivalists resorted to a three-pronged strategy. At thebeginning, they launched a campaign of hatred and persecution againstthe Buddhists. This was followed by the incorporation of many of thefiner aspects of Buddhism into the system of Hinduism so as to win overtheir "lower" caste and newly converted Buddhist masses. However, theBrahmins made sure that these selective appropriations did not in anyway undermine Brahminical hegemony. The final blow of the Brahmins

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to wipeout Buddhism was to propound and propagate the myth that theBuddha was merely another incarnation (avatar) of the Hindu godVishnu. The historical Buddha was thus turned into just another of thecountless mythological deities of the Brahminical pantheon.

1,2,3,7

But the hostile attitude of Brahmanism alone could not explain thedisappearance of Buddhism from India. As we recall the history,Brahminical opposition to Buddhism was always present right from dayone. It was nothing new. If Buddhism could survive and prosper formore than thousand years in spite of Brahminical opposition, there wasno reason for it to decline over the time. The "Brahminical opposition"itself was also exaggerated at times by some historians.We should remember that Buddha himself belonged to the Kshatriya(worrier) caste of Brahmanism which was next to the Brahmins. So, theBrahmins never had any problem related to caste discrimination whileaccepting his teachings. The first five disciples of the Buddha were theBrahmins. Most of the great Arahants of Buddhism belonged to theBrahmin caste. Historical evidence also suggested that more than anyother caste it were the Brahmins themselves who contributed the mostin the development of Buddhism.

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However, some of the Brahmins did not like the way the outcaste andlower caste community were rapidly getting converted into Buddhismand gaining higher status in the society. The importance of theBrahmins in the Indian society was significantly diminished during thepropagative phase of Buddhism. This sense of insecurity among some of the Brahmins vitiated their minds with jealousy which later gottransformed into vengeance towards the contemporary Buddhistfollowers.

Buddhists Were Persecuted by Brahmins

Buddhism did not have any caste discrimination. As Buddhism rose toabolish the caste system in the existing Brahmanism society, majority of the lower castes and outcastes were getting converted into Buddhism inorder to attain higher social status. This sent a signal of uncertaintyamong the Brahmins who were losing grounds on critical argumentswith the Buddhist monks and were unable to dominate and rule thedeprived section of the Indian society. This sense of insecurity soon ledto the development of jealousy and hatred in the minds of the Brahminswho began to assault both physically and mentally and victimize theBuddhist community.

1,2,3,5

In recent years this view is championed not only by some Dalit writers,but also some scholars of pre-modern Indian history. Many Hindu

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nationalists often believe that many Muslim monuments of recent erawere actually Hindu temples in earlier times. However, based onarcheological evidence, the modern historians are inclined to the viewthat Hindu temples were often built on the sites of Buddhist shrines.

1,2,3,5

The Buddhists, who survived in India after the decline of Buddhism,were finally absorbed into the Hindu caste system, mainly as Shudras. To lend legitimacy to their campaign against Buddhism, Brahminicaltexts included fierce strictures against Buddhists. Manu, in hisManusmriti, laid down that, “If a person touches a Buddhist he shallpurify himself by having a bath.” Aparaka ordained the same in hisSmriti. Vradha Harit declared entry into a Buddhist temple as a sin,which could only be expiated for by taking a ritual bath. Even dramasand other books for lay people written by Brahmins containedvenomous propaganda against the Buddhists. In the classic work,Mricchakatika, (Act VII), the hero Charudatta, on seeing a Buddhistmonk pass by, exclaims to his friend Maitriya" "Ah! Here is aninauspicious sight, a Buddhist monk coming towards us." The BrahminChanakya, author of Arthashastra, declared that, "When a personentertains a dinner dedicated to gods and ancestors, then for those whoare Sakyas (Buddhists), Ajivikas, Shudras and exiled persons, a fine of one hundred panas shall be imposed on him."

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The Revival of Hinduism

The Vedic revival during the 8

th

century A.D. was referred to as therevival of Hinduism by the Western Scholars. This was initiated by AdiShankaracharya in the Gangetic plains of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. TheHindus of Rajasthan also participated in this hostile revival activity.After the death of Harshavardhana, the Rajputs were arising on horizonsof North India. The Rajputs belonged to the lineage from among theremnants of Hunas and other foreign hordes which were broken downby the activities of kings like Baladitya and the local tibals. The Rajputswere made prominent by the Brahmins for the specific purpose of suppressing Buddhism by use of force. They subsequently dominatedthe later part of the history of India and played a key role in the revivalof Hinduism.

1,2,3,5

During this time, the popular devotion to the Buddha was sought to bereplaced by devotion to Hindu gods such as Rama and Krishna. Theexisting version of the Mahabharata was written in this period when thedecline of Buddhism had already begun. It was specially meant for thelower caste community (Shudras), most of whom were Buddhists, inorder to attract them away from Buddhism. However, Brahmanism stillprevented the Shudras from having access to the Vedas. TheMahabharata was possibly rewritten to placate the Buddhist Shudras

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and to compensate them for this discrimination. The Mahabharataincorporated some of the humanistic elements of Buddhism to win overthe Shudras. Overall, it played the role of bolstering the Brahminicalhegemony. Thus, Krishna, in the Gita, was made to say that a personshould not violate the divinely ordained law of caste. Eklavya was madeto slice off his thumb by Drona, who found it a gross violation of dharmathat a mere tribal boy should excel the Kshatriya Arjun in archery.

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The various writers of the puranas carried out this systematic campaignof hatred, slander and calumny against the Buddhists. TheBrahannardiya Purana made it a principal sin for Brahmins to enter thehouse of a Buddhist even at times of great peril. The Vishnu Puranaalleged that the Buddha as Maha Moha or the great seducer. It furthercautioned against the sin of conversing with Buddhists and lays. Thosewho merely talked to Buddhist ascetics should be sent to hell. In theGaya Mahatmaya, the concluding section of the Vayu Purana, the townof Gaya was identified as Gaya Asura, a demon who had attained suchholiness that all those who saw him or touched him went straight toheaven. Clearly, this demon was none other the Buddha who preacheda simple way for all, including the oppressed castes, to attain salvation. The Vayu Purana story went on to add that Yama, the king of hell, grew jealous. This was possibly because less people were now entering his

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domains. He appealed to the gods to limit the powers of Asura Gaya. The gods, led by Vishnu, were able to restrict his powers by placing amassive stone on the demon’s head. This monstrous legend signifiedthe ultimate capture of Buddhism’s most holy centre by its inveteratefoes.

7

Kushinagar, also known as Harramba, was one of the most importantBuddhist centres as the Buddha breathed his last there. The Brahmins,envious of the prosperity of this pilgrim town, invented an absurd theoryin order to discourage people from going there. They spread a rumorthat if one died in Harramba, he would go to hell. However, if one diedin Kashi, the citadel of Brahmanism, he would go straight to the heaven. This belief got deeply rooted in the minds of the local community. So,when the Sufi saint Kabir died in 1518 AD at Maghar, not far fromKushinagar, some of his Hindu followers refused to erect any memorialin his honor there and instead set it up at Kashi. However, Kabir'sMuslim followers were less superstitious and they set up a tomb for himat Maghar itself.

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The Tendency of Hinduism to Absorb its Rival Faiths

The tendency of Hinduism to absorb rival faiths was evident from thefact that many elements from other faiths had also gone into themaking of Hinduism. While some scholars focus on outright persecution,others speak of a long process during which Buddhist practices becameabsorbed into Hinduism. Though the doctrine of ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence had originated with the Buddha and had certainly found itsgreatest exposition in the Buddha’s teachings, but by the second half of the 1

st

millennium A.D. it had become an integral part of the Hinduteachings. However, it is still not certain whether the Buddha wasabsorbed into the Hindu pantheon as a gesture of compromise or as anattempt of divide in order to reduce the overwhelming might of Buddhism or whether Hinduism was eager to embrace as its own,certain values that Buddhism stood for against the short-comings of Brahmanism.

1,2,3,5,6

The simplicity of the Buddha’s message in emphasizing its stress onequality and crusade against the bloody and costly sacrifices andritualism of Brahmanism had attracted the oppressed casts in largenumbers. The Brahminical revivalists understood the need toappropriate some of these finer aspects of Buddhism and discardedsome of the worst of their own practices so as to be able to win over themasses back to the Brahminical fold. Imitating the Buddhists in this

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regard, the Brahmins, who were once voracious beef-eaters, had turnedinto vegetarians.

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Adi Shankaracharya Had Preserved Buddhism by IncorporatingIt into Hinduism

The great Brahmin philosopher, Adi Shankaracharya (c. 788-820 AD),took keen interest in learning the inner aspects of Buddhist philosophy.He was alleged by some scholars to have hated Buddhism and engagedthe Buddhist monks in public debates and each time he had emergedtriumphant. But this theory was far from truth for the simple reasonthat, had he successfully defeated the Buddhist monks in debates allthe time and had no faith in Buddhism, then there was no logic behindhis undertaking the initiative to incorporate the finer aspects of Buddhist teachings into Hinduism. So, by the time he had invited theBuddhist monks in public debates, he had already studied Buddhismand developed an immense respect for the teachings of the Buddha.

1,2,3,5

He had also realized that all the Buddhist monks with whom he haddebated were not well-versed with the teachings of the Buddha. Due totheir ignorance, they were unable to preach the true meaning of thedoctrine of the Buddha in an effective manner. So, he took the initiative

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to include the finer aspects of Buddhism into the core teachings of Hinduism. Under his supervision, the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita and Puranaswere rewritten incorporating these new aspects. The Buddha was alsotransformed into an

avatara

(descent) of Vishnu.

The monastic practices had been unknown in Brahmanism, but thispractice was also initiated under the leadership of Adi Shankaracharya.He had established ‘maths’ or monasteries at Badrinath in the north,Dwarka in the west, Sringeri in the south, and Puri in the east.

1,2,3

Modern Hinduism is a Restatement of Buddhism

The finer aspects of Buddhism were later incorporated into the Vedas,Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads by Adi Shankaryacharya during therevival of Hinduism in 8

th

century A.D. As a result of this, we do not findany major difference between the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduismin modern era. Lay people and many scholars often get deceived byignoring the chronological order of historical development of Brahmanism, Buddhism and Hinduism and they are unable to make anydistinction between these. We should understand that Hinduism was alater development after Buddhism. There is enough historical evidencethat Buddhism paved the way for refining the teachings of Hinduismwhich came into existence after the disappearance of Buddhism fromIndia. We must always remember that the finer aspects of Buddhism

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had been later incorporated into Hinduism under the supervision of AdiShankaracharya during the 8

th

century A.D.

1,2,3

So, by observing the strikingly similar teachings in both these religions,it would be wiser to conclude that modern Hinduism is a restatement of ancient Buddhism. The reverse of this statement is never true onhistorical perspectives, as an earlier religion cannot predict or copy theteachings of a future religion.

1,2,3

(C) Secular and Political Factors

During the rule of the Kushanas and the Guptas (325-497 AD), bothBuddhists and adherents of Brahmanism received royal patronage.However, the royal patronage had shifted from Buddhist to

Hindureligious institutions from the beginning of the sixth century A.D.Buddhism began to suffer a decline as Brahmanism veered off intoVaishnavism and Saivism. This was followed by some regional kingdomssubsequently developing into the major sites of power.

1,2,3,5

Shashanka, the Shaivite Brahmin king of Bengal was a ferociousoppressor of the Buddhists. The single original source for all subsequentnarratives about Shashanka’s ruinous conduct towards Buddhists wasdocumented by Ven. Hsuan Tsang during his visit to India in early partof the seventh century A.D.

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But the exact reasons for his hostile attitude towards Buddhism werenot known. It was believed that the Brahminical revivalists had goadedthe Hindu kings like him to persecute and even slaughter innocentBuddhists.

7

It was reported that Shashanka had destroyed the Bodhitree of Bodh Gaya and ordered the destruction of all Buddhist imagesand monasteries in his kingdom. This biased and sectarian policy of Shashanka had broken the backbone of Buddhism in India.

1,2,3,5,6

Shashanka had also murdered the last Buddhist emperorRajyavardhana, elder brother of Harshavardhana, in 605 AD. He hadmarched on to Bodh Gaya and destroyed the Bodhi tree under whichthe Buddha had attained enlightenment. He forcibly removed theBuddha's image from the Bodhi Vihara near the tree and installed one of Shiva in its place. Shashanka is alleged to have slaughtered all theBuddhist monks in the area around Kushinagar.

1,2,3,7

After the rule of Shashanka, the Pala kingdom was established inBengal. Though the Palas of Bengal had been hospitable to Vaishnavismand Saivism, but nonetheless they were major supporters of Buddhism.However, when Bengal came under the rule of the Senas (1097-1223),Saivism was promulgated and Buddhism was neglected.

1,2,3

Anotherhostile Shaivite king like Shashanka was Mihirakula who had completelydestroyed over 1500 Buddhist shrines. His hostile action was followed

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by the Shaivite, Toramana who had destroyed the GhositaramaBuddhist monastery at Kausambi.

7

The Final Blow from Islam Invasion

Buddhism had already entered into a state of a decline at the time of Ven. Hsuan Tsang’s visit to India during the reign of Harsha of Kanauj inthe early seventh century. It had also been argued that its furtherdemise, particularly in the early part of the second millennium A.D., washastened by the arrival of Islam. Buddhism had found competition inIslam for converts among low-caste Hindus. Even Dr. B.R. Ambedkarwas firmly convinced about the view that Islam dealt Buddhism a deathblow. He had described the process of disappearance of Buddhism inIndia as “Brahmanism beaten and battered by the Muslim invaderscould look to the rulers for support and sustenance and get it.

1,2,3,8

But Buddhism beaten and battered by the Muslim invaders had no suchhope. It was uncared for orphan and it withered in the cold blast of thenative rulers and was consumed in the fire lit up by the conquerors.”Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was certain that the Muslim invasion was thegreatest disaster that befell the religion of Buddha in India and he haddescribed appropriately described this event as “the sword of Islam fellheavily upon the priestly class. It perished or it fled outside India.Nobody remained alive to keep the flame of Buddhism burning.”

1,2,3,8

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However, the “sword of Islam” thesis of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar remainedcontroversial and many reputable historians were inclined to dismiss itoutright. This was due to the fact that Islam was a late entrant intoIndia, and Buddhism was showing unmistakable signs of its decline longbefore Islam

became established in the Gangetic plains, central India,and the northern end of present-day Andhra and Karnataka.

During theMuslim Invasion, Bengal and Sind were ruled by Brahminical dynastiesbut had Buddhist majorities. Buddhism was in a state of decline by thattime and the community was neglected by the Buddhist monasteries. The lower caste and outcaste Hindus, who had recently taken refuge inBuddhism, were again subjected to discrimination by the upper casteHindus. The Buddhist monks and clergy did not come to their rescueduring that time. Majority of these newly converted lay Buddhists, whoearlier belonged to the low caste Hindus, were forcefully converted intoIslam. However, some of them were believed to have welcomed theMuslims as saviors who had freed them from the tyranny of 'upper'caste rule. This explains why most of the 'lower-caste' people in EasternBengal and Sind embraced Islam after the decline of Buddhism in India.But one thing clear from this is that Buddhism was on the verge of extinction during the Muslim invasion of India.

Contributing Factors for the Disappearance of Buddhism from India

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30

If Buddhism was still going strong during the Muslim invasion, it wouldhave easily prevented the

conversions of its followers into Islam andalso helped in bridging the gap between the Hindus and

Muslims byabolishing the caste system and promoting peace and harmony in theIndian society.

1,23,7

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Conclusions

Many scholars often like to represent Brahminism as a tyrannical faiththat caused massive

destruction of the Buddhist monasteries. But thismatter is however, far more complicated than this.

A recent study of the Bengal Puranas proved that the Buddhists were mocked andprojected as

mischievous and malicious in Brahminical narratives aswell as subjected to immense rhetorical violence. This rhetoricalviolence should be interpreted as both physical and mental violenceperpetrated upon the Buddhists. The extermination of Buddhism in Indiawas hastened by

the large-scale destruction of Buddhist shrines by theBrahmins. The Maha Bodhi Vihara at Bodh Gaya was forcibly convertedinto a Shaivite temple.

1,2,3,5,6,7

The controversy of the actual ownership of Maha Bodhi Vihara at BodhGaya lingered till it was declared as a “World Heritage” by the UNESCOin recent years. The cremation stupa of the Buddha at Kushinagar waschanged into a Hindu temple dedicated to the obscure deity with thename of Ramhar Bhavani. Adi Shankaracharya was alleged to haveestablished his Sringeri Mutth on the site of a Buddhist monastery whichhe took over by force.

7

At present, many Hindu shrines in Ayodhya arebelieved to have once been Buddhist temples earlier. This is also thecase with other famous Brahminical temples such as those atSabarimala, Tirupati, Badrinath and Puri.

7

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32

Even though there was hatred against Buddhism, but the Brahminscould never deny or disrespect the inner truths in the teachings of theBuddha. So, the subsequent absorption of the Buddha into Vishnu’spantheon represented some sort of a compromise between theBrahmins and the Buddhists on moral and philosophical grounds. WhatBuddhism stood for to promote peace and harmony in the society, hadbeen later incorporated into certain strands of modern Hinduism inorder to make it more refined and acceptable to the society. Thus, theBuddha was finally given his just dues.

1,2,3,5,6

Though the Buddha is now incorporated into modern Hinduism as LordVishnu’s pantheon, but he should not be regarded as a god of the Hindureligion. It needs to be emphasized once again that the Buddha wasnever a mythological figure as Lord Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma or Rama, buthe was a real historical personality.

4

Hence, in the light of historicalevidence, we should now interpret the disappearance of Buddhism fromIndia as a parable about how a social myth had outlived a historicalevent.

If we analyze all the contributing factors and arrange them in achronological order, we would realize that the whole sequence of eventswas initiated by the Buddhist monks and clergy when they had ignored

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33

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 overmoney matters and leadership. So, they abandoned the communityvisits and concentrated on their own salvation instead of helping thecommon people and oppressed classes to end their sufferings. As thecommunity was ignored, the tight bonding between the lay devoteesand the Buddhist monasteries became weak and finally broke loose. This restricted the spread of Buddhism in India and soon Buddhismstarted losing the general support from the community. Subsequently,the Brahmins took advantage of this situation and deepened the riftbetween the common people and the Buddhist practitioners thatincluded the monks and clergy. The Brahmins also manipulated thecontemporary rulers to withdraw their support from Buddhism and helpin reviving the existing Brahmanism. This was followed by the revival of Hinduism and further decline of Buddhism. Towards the end stage of the outright massacre of Buddhistfollowers and demolition of Buddhist monasteries on a large scale, therewas the Muslim invasion of India. During this time, majority of thesurviving Buddhists in India, who earlier belonged to the lower classHindus, was forcefully converted into Islam. Some of them of course,

Contributing Factors for the Disappearance of Buddhism from India

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34

willingly adopted Islam as it did not have any caste discrimination andwas powerful enough to save them from the torture of Brahmins andupper class Hindus.After examining all the contributing factors associated with thedisappearance of Buddhism from India, we must understand that it wasnot a single major factor that could be isolated and held absolutelyresponsible for this horrendous outcome. Sequence of multiple factorshad often acted synergistically over a long period of time in order toforce Buddhism disappear from India, the place of its origin. Fromhistorical perspective, it is now clearly evident that Buddhism was neverconquered on moral grounds and critical arguments, but was actuallydriven off by sheer force and might. Considering the fact that

themaximum damage is already done, it is now a futile exercise to attemptany chronological historical dissection on establishing the major causefor disappearance of Buddhism from India.

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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.doc.2. Jaini, P.S., Narain A.K., ed., 1980.

The Disappearance of Buddhismand 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 ReprintCorporation.7. Pakistan Defence. 2008. Disappearance of Buddhism from "NonViolent India": An Untold Story. Daily Muslims. [serial online]. [cited2009 October 8]; [2 screens]. Available from:

URL:http://www.defence.pk/forums/current-events-social-issues/9222-disappearance-buddhism-

non-violent-india-untold-story.html8. Moon, V., ed., 1987. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Writings and

Speeches.

Bombay: Government of Maharashtra

3: 232-33.

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Concluding Remarks

In accordance to the teachings of the Buddha, the disappearance of Buddhism in India had actually followed the Buddha’s universal Doctrineof Dependent Origination. Here, one factor had led to the other andcaused this ultimate outcome. So, instead of wasting our valuable timeon debating over which factor was more responsible than the rest andcaused more damage to the practice of Buddhism in India, we shouldnow concentrate on how to revive Buddhism in a global perspective.Since, Buddhism preaches loving kindness and compassion as well as itcan adopt to meet different traditional, moral and cultural needs of thecommunity, it can play a lead role in promoting peace and harmony inthe contemporary global society.

The EndCONTRIBUTING FACTORS FOR THEDISAPPEARANCE OF BUDDHISM FROMINDIA

ANKUR BARUA, M.A. BASILIOHong Kong, 2009

Background: Dr. Ankur Barua had graduated with distinction fromthe University of Hong Kong (MBuddStud, 2009). He had alsocompleted two other Master Degrees, one from Sikkim ManipalUniversity (MBAIT, 2007) while the other from Manipal University(MBBS-2000, MD in Community Medicine - 2003) and presentlyworking in professional field. Ms. M.A. Basilio is a nursingprofessional who has also a keen passion for conducting researchon religion and science.

First Publication on 8

th

October 2009Buddhist Door, Tung Lin Kok Yuen, Hong KongCopyright © Ankur Barua and M.A.BasilioCommunication Address of Corresponding Author:

Dr. ANKUR BARUABlock EE, No.-80, Flat No.-2A,Salt Lake City, Sector-2,Kolkata - 700091, West Bengal, INDIA.Email: ankurbarua26@yahoo.comMobile: +91-9434485543 (India), +852-96195078 (Hong Kong)

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Acknowledgements

I wish to express my sincere gratitude and indebtedness to

Ven.Dr. Jing Yin

, Professor of Buddhist Studies and Director of theCentre of Buddhist Studies in the University of

Hong Kong for hiskind support, inspiration, encouragement and timely advice duringthe compilation of this book.I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my beloved father

Dr. Dipak Kumar Barua,

who was the earlier Dean of the FacultyCouncil for Postgraduate Studies in Education, Journalism & LibraryScience in the University of Calcutta (1987-1991) and the Directorof Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Nalanda (1996-1999) for histechnical guidance and valuable advice.I would also like to convey my sincere thanks to my belovedmother

Mrs. Dipa Barua

for showing keen interest and providingconstant assistance and support during this endeavor.

Ankur Barua

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Preface

Initiated in India by the Sakyamuni Buddha, Buddhism has now becomea world religion and at present, the Buddhist population is the thirdlargest religious community in the world. Buddhism lasted over athousand years in India, the land of its origin. But the supreme irony of the history of Indian Buddhism still remains with the unexplainedquestion regarding what led to the disappearance of Buddhism fromIndia. Many scholars of Indian history and religion are devoted tounraveling this puzzle. Due to the lack of historical and archeologicalevidence, the debate continues for centuries and there is no absoluteconsensus on this matter till date.Since, the teachings of the Buddha is appreciated by people of everyreligion all across the world, everyone in India now wants a share of itsmerit. As a result, none of the concerned royal families or the

religiouscommunities in India is ready to own the responsibility for itsdisappearance.However, this research explores the probable reasons for the gradualdecline and subsequent disappearance of Buddhism from India. Anattempt is also made at the end to arrange all these sequence of eventsin a chronological manner to understand the actual process of thisdecline.

Contributing Factors for the Disappearance of Buddhism from India

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Ankur Barua & M.A. Basilio

Contributing Factors for the Disappearance of Buddhism from India

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CONTRIBUTING FACTORS FOR THE DISAPPEARANCE OFBUDDHISM FROM INDIA

Abstract

Many scholars of Indian history and religion are devoted to unravelingthe mystery of what led to disappearance of Buddhism from India. Dueto the lack of historical and archeological evidence, there is no absoluteconsensus on this matter till date. However, if we analyze all thecontributing factors and arrange them in a chronological order, wewould realize that the whole sequence of events was initiated by theBuddhist monks and clergy when they had ignored the teachings of theBuddha and concentrated on accumulation of abundance of wealth inthe monasteries. They had abandoned the community visits andconcentrated on their own salvation instead of helping the commonpeople and oppressed classes to end their sufferings. As the lay devoteswere ignored, Buddhism started losing the general support from thecommunity. Subsequently, the Brahmins took advantage of thissituation and deepened the rift between the common people and theBuddhist practitioners. They also manipulated the contemporary rulersto withdraw their support from Buddhism and help in reviving theexisting Brahmanism. This was followed by the revival of Hinduism andfurther decline of Buddhism. Towards the end stage of this decline,there was the Muslim invasion of India. During this time, majority of the

Contributing Factors for the Disappearance of Buddhism from India

Page

surviving Buddhists in India, who earlier belonged to the lower classHindus, was either forcefully or willingly got converted into Islam.

Key words: Buddhism, Disappearance, Decline, Brahmanism,Brahmins, Hinduism, Islam.

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CONTRIBUTING FACTORS FOR THE DISAPPEARANCE OFBUDDHISM FROM INDIA

Introduction

Buddhism lasted over a thousand years in India. But it is still unknownas to what led to the disappearance of Buddhism from India, the land of its origin. Many scholars of Indian history and religion are devoted tounraveling this enigma. Due to the lack of historical and archeologicalevidence, the debate continues for centuries and there is no absoluteconsensus on this matter till date.

1

Two factors were generally cited asthe main reasons for the ultimate disappearance of Buddhism fromIndia. The first one was the Vedic revival, which drove the religion outthe country and this was followed by the invading hordes of the ProphetMohammed, who razed the temples and slaughtered the remainingunresisting monks. Though majority of the scholars generally acceptthese two important factors, still they do not believe that these were thetruly crucial reasons for the disappearance of Buddhism from India.Muslim invasions primarily wrecked only Northern India. But Buddhismwas a significant religious force in Southern India too. MahayanaBuddhism mainly developed in the Southern regions. So whateverhappened to Buddhism in the northern regions, it still could not explainhow the religion disappeared from Southern India as well.

1,2,3

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8

However, the irony of Buddhism in India is represented by the Bodhitree at Bodh Gaya in Bihar, India. The present condition of the Bodhitree 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 nowthriving on its prop roots. Similarly, though Buddhism had been wipedoff from its place of origin in India, but it is still flourishing in othercountries across the world.

Buddhism was a Critical Response to the Existing Brahmanism

Conflicts of opinions prevail while identifying the probable factorsleading to the disappearance of Buddhism from India during the 12

th

century A.D. A few scholars however, cherish the opinion that Buddhismnever disappeared as such from India and subsequently gotincorporated into the Hinduism. They believe that modern Hinduism inIndia is a new form of ancient Buddhism.

2,3

Due to the strikingsimilarities in the teachings of Buddhism and modern Hinduism, there isanother group of scholars who uphold the theory that Buddhism is arestatement of Hinduism.

1,2,4

But this notion is absolutely false asHinduism is a much later development after the disappearance of Buddhism from India. If someone has to relate any ancient religion inIndia with Buddhism, it should be the existing Brahmanism which paved

Contributing Factors for the Disappearance of Buddhism from India

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9

way to the introduction of Buddhism in India by Sakyamuni Buddhaduring the 6

th

century B.C., who was a historical personality. Buddhismshould be viewed as a critical response to the existing Brahmanism.Buddhism came into existence in order to wipe off the existing four- tiercaste system in India laid down by the Aryans. As the status of womenwas remarkably subdued and deplorable during the period of Brahmanism, Buddhism came to the rescue by upholding the women’srights and focused on empowerment of women in the society.Sakyamuni Buddha was the first historical personality who rose againstall odds to abolish discrimination and violence against women in theexisting Indian society.

Gradual Decline of Buddhism in India during the 7

th

Century A.D.

Though Buddhism had been the dominant religion in much of theGangetic plains in the early part of the Christian era, but the Chinesetraveler, Ven. Hsuan Tsang, during his visit to India in the early years of the 7

th

century, had witnessed a recession. The testimony of Ven. Hsuan Tsang, had demonstrated the gradual decline of Buddhism in India. InPrayag or present Allahabad, he had encountered many non- Buddhists. This was not surprising considering the importance of Prayag as apilgrimage site for Brahmins.

1,2,3

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10

Shravasti was the capital city of the Lichhavis, a north Indian clan thatcame to power around 200 AD and established their capital inPasupatinath. In a long and glorious period of reign extending throughthe early part of the ninth century, they had endowed a large number of both Hindu and Buddhist monuments and monasteries. However, duringhis 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 hadgone 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 wereoutshadowed by more than 10,000 non-Buddhists. Hence, we canconclude that Ven. Hsuan Tsang had arrived in India at a time whenBuddhism was entering into a state of precipitous decline. But even asBuddhism went into decline, it is remarkable that Nalanda, the greatseat of Buddhist learning, continued to flourish by retaining itsimportance until the Muslim invasions of the second millennium. It wasfrom Nalanda that Ven. Padmasambhava had carried Buddhism to Tibetduring the eighth century.

1,2,3,4,5

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Hence, it is evident that the story of Buddhism in India cannot beunequivocally written in a single register of decline as the entire processof decline was gradual and spread over a long period of time.

Contributing Factors for the Disappearance of Buddhism fromIndia

Buddhism had altogether disappeared from India as a formal religionduring the 13

th

century A.D.

6

In order to explore the contributing factorsfor the decline and disappearance of Buddhism from India; we need toconsider all the events in a sequential and chronological order. Thesefactors could be arranged under the following major headings: (a)

Sectarian and Internal Conflicts

Relating to the schisms within theBuddhist faith; the widening differences between the clergy, Buddhistmonks 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 greattheologian

Adi Shankaracharya in public debates; as well as thecharacteristic tendency of Hinduism, or rather Brahmanism, to absorbits opponents. (c)

Secular and political histories

- Withdrawal of royal patronage from Buddhism was followed by the Muslim invasionswhich had the effect of driving into extinction the already debilitatedBuddhist community.

1,2,3,5,6

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It is important to understand that Buddhism was never wiped off fromIndia on a single day and in any single event. Like the causal web of adisease, it was a multi-factorial causation. The process of decline andsubsequent disappearance was gradual and lasted for many centuries.So, before we get into the details of any historical analysis, we shouldfirst arrange the factors in a chronological order and observe theinterdependency of a previous event leading to the next.

(A) Sectarian and Internal Conflicts

It was found that the Buddhist clergy paid insufficient attention to itslaity. Buddhist mendicants kept their distance from non-mendicants.So, the non-mendicants might not have felt particularly invested inBuddhism. As the venues, where the mendicants and non-mendicantsintersected, gradually disappeared, the laity got distanced from thefaith in Buddhism. The scholars of Buddhism had revealed that nomanual for the conduct of the laity was produced until the 11

th

centuryA.D. Some scholars had also emphasized the decay and corruptionwithin the Buddhist faith itself.

1,2,3

Dispute over Wealth and Leaderships in Buddhist Monasteries

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The Buddhist monasteries were described as repositories of greatwealth which was accumulated through generous donations from theroyal families and rich devotees in the community. As food and moneywas always available in the monastery, majority of the monks hadadopted a rather easy-going and even indolent lifestyle. There were alsodisputes over money matters and leadership which led to great divideamong many groups of Buddhist monks.

1,2,3

The unity and harmony of many major monasteries were affected bythese disputes. The sectarian splits between various Buddhists sects insubsequent years had finally weakened the foundation andadministrative infrastructure of Buddhism in India. This was aconsequence of a major deviation from the Buddha’s insistence on

aparigraha

, or non-possession. As the monks had ignored the instructionof the Buddha and became greedy for power and wealth, themonasteries got entrapped in controversies and the communities losttheir 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 theBuddhist monks and clergy had often concentrated mainly on ownsalvation and rarely visited the community to reduce the suffering of

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the general population. Here, the Buddhist monks and clergy hadmissed out a very important message by the Buddha. When the Buddhahad advised his disciples to visit the community every day and not tostay in a same place for more than three days, it was with a vision thathad a far more impact in the society than mere begging for food. Hewanted his disciples to meet as many common people as possibleduring their community visit and help them to overcome thesufferings.

1,2,3

If it was only for gathering food and wealth, he could have arrangedthem for his disciple monks with ease by requesting the Kings andemperors, who were also his followers. The main idea behind sendingthe emissaries door to door was to build up a community network anddevelop a good rapport with the community so that majority of thepopulation could reap the benefit from the teachings of the Buddha. Heknew that once the community had accepted his disciples, they woulddevelop faith in his teachings and would follow his advice to endsuffering. One should not misinterpret the emphasis on building up acommunity network as an intention of the Buddha to become a ruler infuture. This is because, as Prince Siddhartha, he had already given uphis kingdom and everything in order to devote the rest of his life to endthe suffering of all human beings. As the Buddha, his aim was to carryforward this mission further through his disciples by spreading the

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message of the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path in thecommunity. So, the goal for his disciples was not to concentrate onone’s own salvation, but to help others to reduce the suffering in thecommunity.

1,2,3

The Buddhist monks in India, during the sixth century had deviated fromthis noble target and stopped visiting the community. As the communityvisit was rare by the monks, the general lay Buddhists felt neglectedand isolated from the Buddhist monastery. This sense of insecuritymade them suffer discrimination from the higher class of the Brahminsociety and they gradually lost faith in Buddhism. The Buddhist monksdid not visit the houses of the lower caste and the untouchables and asa result, they too did not get the opportunity to adopt Buddhism andgain status in the society. The shellfish nature of the Buddhist monksduring that time had generated a sense of hatred and insecurity in thegeneral population which had contributed significantly towards theirloss of faith in Buddhism at a later date.

(B) Relationship between Buddhism and Brahmanism

Many narrative accounts of Buddhism’s decline and eventualdisappearance from the land of its faith had been focused onBuddhism’s relations with Hinduism or Brahmanism. Some scholars

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believe that Buddhism never got wiped off from Indian society. On thecontrary, it simply changed form and was later absorbed into Hindupractices. They believe that Buddhism disappeared, not on account of persecution by Hindus, but because of the ascendancy of reformedHinduism. However, there is enough historical evidence to suggest thatthe Buddhists were persecuted by Brahmins who were keen to asserttheir caste supremacy. The renowned historian S.R. Goyal concludedthat "according to many scholars hostility of the Brahmins was one of the major causes of the decline of Buddhism in India."

1,2,3,5

The Buddha’s fight against Brahmanism won him many enemies fromamong the Brahmins. They were not as greatly opposed to hisphilosophical teachings as they were to his message of universalbrotherhood and equality. As this directly challenged their hegemonyand the scriptures, the Brahmins had invented to legitimize this. Tocombat Buddhism and revive the tottering Brahminical hegemony,Brahminical revivalists resorted to a three-pronged strategy. At thebeginning, they launched a campaign of hatred and persecution againstthe Buddhists. This was followed by the incorporation of many of thefiner aspects of Buddhism into the system of Hinduism so as to win overtheir "lower" caste and newly converted Buddhist masses. However, theBrahmins

made sure that these selective appropriations did not in anyway undermine Brahminical hegemony. The final blow of the Brahmins

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to wipeout Buddhism was to propound and propagate the myth that theBuddha was merely another incarnation (avatar) of the Hindu godVishnu. The historical Buddha was thus turned into just another of thecountless mythological deities of the Brahminical pantheon.

1,2,3,7

But the hostile attitude of Brahmanism alone could not explain thedisappearance of Buddhism from India. As we recall the history,Brahminical opposition to Buddhism was always present right from dayone. It was nothing new. If Buddhism could survive and prosper formore than thousand years in spite of Brahminical opposition, there wasno reason for it to decline over the time. The "Brahminical opposition"itself was also exaggerated at times by some historians.We should remember that Buddha himself belonged to the Kshatriya(worrier) caste of Brahmanism which was next to the Brahmins. So, theBrahmins never had any problem related to caste discrimination whileaccepting his teachings. The first five disciples of the Buddha were theBrahmins. Most of the great Arahants of Buddhism belonged to theBrahmin caste. Historical evidence also suggested that more than anyother caste it were the Brahmins themselves who contributed the mostin the development of Buddhism.

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However, some of the Brahmins did not like the way the outcaste andlower caste community were rapidly getting converted into Buddhismand gaining higher status in the society. The importance of theBrahmins in the Indian society was significantly diminished during thepropagative phase of Buddhism. This sense of insecurity among some of the Brahmins vitiated their minds with jealousy which later gottransformed into vengeance towards the contemporary Buddhistfollowers.

Buddhists Were Persecuted by Brahmins

Buddhism did not have any caste discrimination. As Buddhism rose toabolish the caste system in the existing Brahmanism society, majority of the lower castes and outcastes were getting converted into Buddhism inorder to attain higher social status. This sent a signal of uncertaintyamong the Brahmins who were losing grounds on critical argumentswith the Buddhist monks and were unable to dominate and rule thedeprived section of the Indian society. This sense of insecurity soon ledto the development of jealousy and hatred in the minds of the Brahminswho began to assault both physically and mentally and victimize theBuddhist community.

1,2,3,5

In recent years this view is championed not only by some Dalit writers,but also some scholars of pre-modern Indian history. Many Hindu

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19

nationalists often believe that many Muslim monuments of recent erawere actually Hindu temples in earlier times. However, based onarcheological evidence, the modern historians are inclined to the viewthat Hindu temples were often built on the sites of Buddhist shrines.

1,2,3,5

The Buddhists, who survived in India after the decline of Buddhism,were finally absorbed into the Hindu caste system, mainly as Shudras. To lend legitimacy to their campaign against Buddhism, Brahminicaltexts included fierce strictures against Buddhists. Manu, in hisManusmriti, laid down that, “If a person touches a Buddhist he shallpurify himself by having a bath.” Aparaka ordained the same in hisSmriti. Vradha Harit declared entry into a Buddhist temple as a sin,which could only be expiated for by taking a ritual bath. Even dramasand other books for lay people written by Brahmins containedvenomous propaganda against the Buddhists. In the classic work,Mricchakatika, (Act VII), the hero Charudatta, on seeing a Buddhistmonk pass by, exclaims to his friend Maitriya" "Ah! Here is aninauspicious sight, a Buddhist monk coming towards us." The BrahminChanakya, author of Arthashastra, declared that, "When a personentertains a dinner dedicated to gods and ancestors, then for those whoare Sakyas (Buddhists), Ajivikas, Shudras and exiled persons, a fine of one hundred panas shall be imposed on him."

7

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The Revival of Hinduism

The Vedic revival during the 8

th

century A.D. was referred to as therevival of Hinduism by the Western Scholars. This was initiated by AdiShankaracharya in the Gangetic plains of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. TheHindus of Rajasthan also participated in this hostile revival activity.After the death of Harshavardhana, the Rajputs were arising on horizonsof North India. The Rajputs belonged to the lineage from among theremnants of Hunas and other foreign hordes which were broken downby the activities of kings like Baladitya and the local tibals. The Rajputswere made prominent by the Brahmins for the specific purpose of suppressing Buddhism by use of force. They subsequently dominatedthe later part of the history of India and played a key role in the revivalof Hinduism.

1,2,3,5

During this time, the popular devotion to the Buddha was sought to bereplaced by devotion to Hindu gods such as Rama and Krishna. Theexisting version of the Mahabharata was written in this period when thedecline of Buddhism had already begun. It was specially meant for thelower caste community (Shudras), most of whom were Buddhists, inorder to attract them away from Buddhism. However, Brahmanism stillprevented the Shudras from having access to the Vedas. TheMahabharata was possibly rewritten to placate the Buddhist Shudras

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and to compensate them for this discrimination. The Mahabharataincorporated some of the humanistic elements of Buddhism to win overthe Shudras. Overall, it played the role of bolstering the Brahminicalhegemony. Thus, Krishna, in the Gita, was made to say that a personshould not violate the divinely ordained law of caste. Eklavya was madeto slice off his thumb by Drona, who found it a gross violation of dharmathat a mere tribal boy should excel the Kshatriya Arjun in archery.

7

The various writers of the puranas carried out this systematic campaignof hatred, slander and calumny against the Buddhists. TheBrahannardiya Purana made it a principal sin for Brahmins to enter thehouse of a Buddhist even at times of great peril. The Vishnu Puranaalleged that the Buddha

as Maha Moha or the great seducer. It furthercautioned against the sin of conversing with Buddhists and lays. Thosewho merely talked to Buddhist ascetics should be sent to hell. In theGaya Mahatmaya, the concluding section of the Vayu Purana, the townof Gaya was identified as Gaya Asura, a demon who had attained suchholiness that all those who saw him or touched him went straight toheaven. Clearly, this demon was none other the Buddha who preacheda simple way for all, including the oppressed castes, to attain salvation. The Vayu Purana story went on to add that Yama, the king of hell, grew jealous. This was possibly because less people were now entering his

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domains. He appealed to the gods to limit the powers of Asura Gaya. The gods, led by Vishnu, were able to restrict his powers by placing amassive stone on the demon’s head. This monstrous legend signifiedthe ultimate capture of Buddhism’s most holy centre by its inveteratefoes.

7

Kushinagar, also known as Harramba, was one of the most importantBuddhist centres as the Buddha breathed his last there. The Brahmins,envious of the prosperity of this pilgrim town, invented an absurd theoryin order to discourage people from going there. They spread a rumorthat if one died in Harramba, he would go to hell. However, if one diedin Kashi, the citadel of Brahmanism, he would go straight to the heaven. This belief got deeply rooted in the minds of the local community. So,when the Sufi saint Kabir died in 1518 AD at Maghar, not far fromKushinagar, some of his Hindu followers refused to erect any memorialin his honor there and instead set it up at Kashi. However, Kabir'sMuslim followers were less superstitious and they set up a tomb for himat Maghar itself.

7

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The Tendency of Hinduism to Absorb its Rival Faiths

The tendency of Hinduism to absorb rival faiths was evident from thefact that many elements from other faiths had also gone into themaking of Hinduism. While some scholars focus on outright persecution,others speak of a long process during which Buddhist practices becameabsorbed into

Hinduism. Though the doctrine of ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence had originated with the Buddha and had certainly found itsgreatest exposition in the Buddha’s teachings, but by the second half of the 1

st

millennium A.D. it had become an integral part of the Hinduteachings. However, it is still not certain whether the Buddha wasabsorbed into the Hindu pantheon as a gesture of compromise or as anattempt of divide in order to reduce the overwhelming might of Buddhism or whether Hinduism was eager to embrace as its own,certain values that Buddhism stood for against the short-comings of Brahmanism.

1,2,3,5,6

The simplicity of the Buddha’s message in emphasizing its stress onequality and crusade against the bloody and costly sacrifices andritualism of Brahmanism had attracted the oppressed casts in largenumbers. The Brahminical revivalists understood the need toappropriate some of these finer aspects of Buddhism and discardedsome of the worst of their own practices so as to be able to win over themasses back to the Brahminical fold. Imitating the Buddhists in this

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regard, the Brahmins, who were once voracious beef-eaters, had turnedinto vegetarians.

7

Adi Shankaracharya Had Preserved Buddhism by IncorporatingIt into Hinduism

The great Brahmin philosopher, Adi Shankaracharya (c. 788-820 AD),took keen interest in learning the inner aspects of Buddhist philosophy.He was alleged by some scholars to have hated Buddhism and engagedthe Buddhist monks in public debates and each time he had emergedtriumphant. But this theory was far from truth for the simple reasonthat, had he successfully defeated the Buddhist monks in debates allthe time and had no faith in Buddhism, then there was no logic behindhis undertaking the initiative to incorporate the finer aspects of Buddhist teachings into Hinduism. So, by the time he had invited theBuddhist monks in public debates, he had already studied Buddhismand developed an immense respect for the teachings of the Buddha.

1,2,3,5

He had also realized that all the Buddhist monks with whom he haddebated were not well-versed with the teachings of the Buddha. Due totheir ignorance, they were unable to preach the true meaning of thedoctrine of the Buddha in an effective manner. So, he took the initiative

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to include the finer aspects of Buddhism into the core teachings of Hinduism. Under his supervision, the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita and Puranaswere rewritten incorporating these new aspects. The Buddha was alsotransformed into an

avatara

(descent) of Vishnu.

1,2,3,5

The monastic practices had been unknown in Brahmanism, but thispractice was also initiated under the leadership of Adi Shankaracharya.He had established ‘maths’ or monasteries at Badrinath in the north,Dwarka in the west, Sringeri in the south, and Puri in the east.

1,2,3

Modern Hinduism is a Restatement of Buddhism

The finer aspects of Buddhism were later incorporated into the Vedas,Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads by Adi Shankaryacharya during therevival of Hinduism in 8

th

century A.D. As a result of this, we do not findany major difference between the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduismin modern era. Lay people and many scholars often get deceived byignoring the chronological order of historical development of Brahmanism, Buddhism and Hinduism and they are unable to make anydistinction between these. We should understand that Hinduism was alater development after Buddhism. There is enough historical evidencethat Buddhism paved the way for refining the teachings of Hinduismwhich came into existence after the disappearance of Buddhism fromIndia. We must always remember that the finer aspects of Buddhism

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had been later incorporated into Hinduism under the supervision of AdiShankaracharya during the 8

th

century A.D.

1,2,3

So, by observing the strikingly similar teachings in both these religions,it would be wiser to conclude that modern Hinduism is a restatement of ancient Buddhism. The reverse of this statement is never true onhistorical perspectives, as an earlier religion cannot predict or copy theteachings of a future religion.

1,2,3

(C) Secular and Political Factors

During the rule of the Kushanas and the Guptas (325-497 AD), bothBuddhists and adherents of Brahmanism received royal patronage.However, the royal patronage had shifted from Buddhist to Hindureligious institutions from the beginning of the sixth century A.D.Buddhism began to suffer a decline as Brahmanism veered off intoVaishnavism and Saivism. This was followed by some regional kingdomssubsequently developing into the major sites of power.

1,2,3,5

Shashanka, the Shaivite Brahmin king of Bengal was a ferociousoppressor of the Buddhists. The single original source for all subsequentnarratives about Shashanka’s ruinous conduct towards Buddhists wasdocumented by Ven. Hsuan Tsang during his visit to India in early partof the seventh century A.D.

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But the exact reasons for his hostile attitude towards Buddhism werenot known. It was believed that the Brahminical revivalists had goadedthe Hindu kings like him to persecute and even slaughter innocentBuddhists.

7

It was reported that Shashanka had destroyed the Bodhitree of Bodh Gaya and ordered the destruction of all Buddhist imagesand monasteries in his kingdom. This biased and sectarian policy of Shashanka had broken the backbone of Buddhism in India.

Shashanka had also murdered the last Buddhist emperorRajyavardhana, elder brother of Harshavardhana, in 605 AD. He hadmarched on to Bodh Gaya and destroyed the Bodhi tree under whichthe Buddha had attained enlightenment. He forcibly removed theBuddha's image from the Bodhi Vihara near the tree and installed one of Shiva in its place. Shashanka is alleged to have slaughtered all theBuddhist monks in the area around Kushinagar.

1,2,3,7

After the rule of Shashanka, the Pala kingdom was established inBengal. Though the Palas of Bengal had been hospitable to Vaishnavismand Saivism, but nonetheless they were major supporters of Buddhism.However, when Bengal came under the rule of the Senas (1097-1223),Saivism was promulgated and Buddhism was neglected.

1,2,3

Anotherhostile Shaivite king like Shashanka was Mihirakula who had completelydestroyed over 1500 Buddhist shrines. His hostile action was followed

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by the Shaivite, Toramana who had destroyed the GhositaramaBuddhist monastery at Kausambi.

7

The Final Blow from Islam Invasion

Buddhism had already entered into a state of a decline at the time of Ven. Hsuan Tsang’s visit to India during the reign of Harsha of Kanauj inthe early seventh century. It had also been argued that its furtherdemise, particularly in the early part of the second millennium A.D., washastened by the arrival of Islam. Buddhism had found competition inIslam for converts among low-caste Hindus. Even Dr. B.R. Ambedkarwas firmly convinced about the view that Islam dealt Buddhism a deathblow. He had described the process of disappearance of Buddhism inIndia as “Brahmanism beaten and battered by the Muslim invaderscould look to the rulers for support and sustenance and get it.

1,2,3,8

But Buddhism beaten and battered by the Muslim invaders had no suchhope. It was uncared for orphan and it withered in the cold blast of thenative rulers and was consumed in the fire lit up by the conquerors.”Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was certain that the Muslim invasion was thegreatest disaster that befell the religion of Buddha in India and he haddescribed appropriately described this event as “the sword of Islam fellheavily upon the priestly class. It perished or it fled outside India.Nobody remained alive to keep the flame of Buddhism burning.”

1,2,3,8

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However, the “sword of Islam” thesis of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar remainedcontroversial and many reputable historians were inclined to dismiss itoutright. This was due to the fact that Islam was a late entrant intoIndia, and Buddhism was showing unmistakable signs of its decline longbefore Islam became established in the Gangetic plains, central India,and the northern end of present-day Andhra and Karnataka.

During theMuslim Invasion, Bengal and Sind were ruled by Brahminical dynastiesbut had Buddhist majorities. Buddhism was in a state of decline by thattime and the community was neglected by the Buddhist monasteries. The lower caste and outcaste Hindus, who had recently taken refuge inBuddhism, were again subjected to discrimination by the upper casteHindus. The Buddhist monks and clergy did not come to their rescueduring that time. Majority of these newly converted lay Buddhists, whoearlier belonged to the low caste Hindus, were forcefully converted intoIslam. However, some of them were believed to have welcomed theMuslims as saviors who had freed them from the tyranny of 'upper'caste rule. This explains why most of the 'lower-caste' people in EasternBengal and Sind embraced Islam after the decline of Buddhism in India.But one thing clear from this is that Buddhism was on the verge of extinction during the Muslim invasion of India.

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If Buddhism was still going strong during the Muslim invasion, it wouldhave easily prevented the conversions of its followers into Islam andalso helped in bridging the gap between the Hindus and Muslims byabolishing the caste system and promoting peace and harmony in theIndian society.

1,23,7

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Conclusions

Many scholars often like to represent Brahminism as a tyrannical faiththat caused massive destruction of the Buddhist monasteries. But thismatter is however, far more complicated than this. A recent study of the Bengal Puranas proved that the Buddhists were mocked andprojected as mischievous and malicious in Brahminical narratives aswell as subjected to immense rhetorical violence. This rhetoricalviolence should be interpreted as both physical and mental violenceperpetrated upon the Buddhists. The extermination of Buddhism in Indiawas hastened by the large-scale destruction of Buddhist shrines by theBrahmins. The Maha Bodhi Vihara at Bodh Gaya was forcibly convertedinto a Shaivite temple.

1,2,3,5,6,7

The controversy of the actual ownership of Maha Bodhi Vihara at BodhGaya lingered till it was declared as a “World Heritage” by the UNESCOin recent years. The cremation stupa of the Buddha at Kushinagar waschanged into a Hindu temple dedicated to the obscure deity with thename of Ramhar Bhavani. Adi Shankaracharya was alleged to haveestablished his Sringeri Mutth on the site of a Buddhist monastery whichhe took over by force.

7

At present, many Hindu shrines in Ayodhya arebelieved to have once been Buddhist temples earlier. This is also thecase with other famous Brahminical temples such as those atSabarimala, Tirupati, Badrinath and Puri.

7

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Even though there was hatred against Buddhism, but the Brahminscould never deny or disrespect the inner truths in the teachings of theBuddha. So, the subsequent absorption of the Buddha into Vishnu’spantheon represented some sort of a compromise between theBrahmins and the Buddhists on moral and philosophical grounds. WhatBuddhism stood for to promote peace and harmony in the

society, hadbeen later incorporated into certain strands of modern Hinduism inorder to make it more refined and acceptable to the society. Thus, theBuddha was finally given his just dues.

1,2,3,5,6

Though the Buddha is now incorporated into modern Hinduism as LordVishnu’s pantheon, but he should not be regarded as a god of the Hindureligion. It needs to be emphasized once again that the Buddha wasnever a mythological figure as Lord Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma or Rama, buthe was a real historical personality.

4

Hence, in the light of historicalevidence, we should now interpret the disappearance of Buddhism fromIndia as a parable about how a social myth had outlived a historicalevent.

1,2,3

If we analyze all the contributing factors and arrange them in achronological order, we would realize that the whole sequence of eventswas initiated by the Buddhist monks and clergy when they had ignored

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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 overmoney matters and leadership. So, they abandoned the communityvisits and concentrated on their own salvation instead of helping thecommon people and oppressed classes to end their sufferings. As thecommunity was ignored, the tight bonding between the lay devoteesand the Buddhist monasteries became weak and finally broke loose. This restricted the spread of Buddhism in India and soon Buddhismstarted losing the general support from the community. Subsequently,the Brahmins took advantage of this situation and deepened the riftbetween the common people and the Buddhist practitioners thatincluded the monks and clergy. The Brahmins also manipulated thecontemporary rulers to withdraw their support from Buddhism and helpin reviving the existing Brahmanism. This was followed by the revival of Hinduism and further decline of Buddhism. Towards the end stage of the outright massacre of Buddhistfollowers and demolition of Buddhist monasteries on a large scale, therewas the Muslim invasion of India. During this time, majority of thesurviving Buddhists in India, who earlier belonged to the lower classHindus, was forcefully converted into Islam. Some of them of course,

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willingly adopted Islam as it did not have any caste discrimination andwas powerful enough to save them from the torture of Brahmins andupper class Hindus.After examining all the contributing factors associated with thedisappearance of Buddhism from India, we must understand that it wasnot a single major factor that could be isolated and held absolutelyresponsible for this horrendous outcome. Sequence of multiple factorshad often acted synergistically over a long period of time in order toforce Buddhism disappear from India, the place of its origin. Fromhistorical perspective, it is now clearly evident that Buddhism was neverconquered on moral grounds and critical arguments, but was actuallydriven off by sheer force and might. Considering the fact that themaximum damage is already done, it is now a futile exercise to attemptany chronological historical dissection on establishing the major causefor disappearance of Buddhism from India.

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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.doc.2. Jaini, P.S., Narain A.K., ed., 1980.

The Disappearance of Buddhismand 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 ReprintCorporation.7. Pakistan Defence. 2008. Disappearance of Buddhism from "NonViolent India": An Untold Story. Daily Muslims. [serial online]. [cited2009 October 8]; [2 screens]. Available from:

URL:http://www.defence.pk/forums/current-events-social-issues/9222-disappearance-buddhism-

non-violent-india-untold-story.html8. Moon, V., ed., 1987. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Writings and

Speeches.

Bombay: Government of Maharashtra

3: 232-33.

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Concluding Remarks

In accordance to the teachings of the Buddha, the disappearance of Buddhism in India had actually followed the Buddha’s universal Doctrineof Dependent Origination. Here, one factor had led to the other andcaused this ultimate outcome. So, instead of wasting our valuable timeon debating over which factor was more responsible than the rest andcaused more damage to the practice of Buddhism in India, we shouldnow concentrate on how to revive Buddhism in a global perspective.Since, Buddhism preaches loving kindness and compassion as well as itcan adopt to meet different traditional, moral and cultural needs of thecommunity, it can play a lead role in promoting peace and harmony inthe contemporary global society.

The End

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