There are various reasons for the rise and decline of Buddhism in India. This article explains in detail the reasons for the rise and decline of Buddhism in India.

The Main Reasons for the Rise of Buddhism

Proper Time

The proper time of Buddhism was the main reason for the rise and existence of Buddhism. During this time, the Hinduism ritualistic was so complicated for the common people. Due to its complications, people have become sick with religious practices, rituals, and animal sacrifices. Reform or change in religion was the need of the day. People were aspiring for a simple religion. Preaching of the Buddha was liked by them. The lower classes of society embraced Buddhism because Hinduism doesn’t grant them the right to salvation.

Also in Buddhism, the lower and the oppressed classes were treated with equality and were given a status of equality. Moreover, it opened the door of salvation to all irrespective of caste and creed. Thus, the rituals and superstitious believes of Hinduism which the common people dislike also led to the rise of Buddhism.

Simplicity of Buddhism

Buddhism was an outcome of various evils and rituals which crept into Hinduism. Buddhism with its simplicity came as a release from the cruelty of Hinduism. The teaching of Buddha was simple and attracts lots of common people. Also, Buddha preached the people to follow the eight-fold path and the middle-path which was very easy to understand and follow. Thus, the simplicity of Buddhism teaching was another reason for the rise of Buddhism.

Principle of Equality

Buddhism was based on the spirit of equality. The caste system had no place in it. Hinduism was becoming rigid day by day. The lower classes were facing many difficulties in Hindu society. They were ill-treated by the higher class society. As a result, the lower and the oppressed class want changes to happen in their society.

At this juncture, Gautama Buddha expressed his disapproval of the caste system and opened the door of salvation for the high and the low, the learned and the illiterate alike. Besides, he welcomes everyone to join Buddhism irrespective of their caste and creed. Thus, the spirit of equality in Buddhism has contributes to the rise of this religion.

The Personality of the Buddha

People were really impressed with his personality, his ethical and spiritual life. He taught his followers more by the example of godly living than by words. He even lashed his powerful opponents with the weapon of logic and made them deaf and dumb before his reasoning.

Several Brahmins like Mahakasyapa, Sariputra, Moggallayan, and others felt the futility of sacrifices and became his true devotees due to his charming and bewitching personality. The personality of Buddha proved to be a touchstone for all who came into his contact.

 Royal Patronage

Buddhism got support from the Royal Patronage, without its support,  it is very uncertain that Buddhism will rise extensively.

Moreover,  Gautama Buddha belonged to a royal family. His father embraced the religion of his son. Bimbisar, Prasenjit, Pradyota, Udayana, etc. also became his followers and they declared Buddhism to be the Rajdharma. Later kings like Ashoka, Kanishka and Harshavardhan played an important role in the propagation of Buddhism. They sent not only missionaries to spread Buddhism far and wide, but they also took interest in its propagation.

Kanishka also devoted himself to propagating Buddhism. The fourth council of Buddhism was called by him. He provided grants from the Royal treasury for the expansion of Buddhism. At the time of the visit of the Chinese pilgrim Heiun Tsang, Buddhism was much advanced in India. Harshavardhan also left no stone unturned in making this religion popular. Thus we cannot deny the fact that royal support has contributed to a large extent in the rise of Buddhism.

Missionary Activities of the Sangha

It is also worth mentioning that the missionary activities of the Sangha have contributed extensively to the rise of Buddhism. Monasteries of the Buddhist Sangha were the central place for the training of monks.

Besides, many unselfish monks who were well trained and devoted Buddhist missionaries also contribute to the rise of Buddhism. These monks work tirelessly with great enthusiasm for the rise of Buddhism

The Buddhist Vihara also plays an important role, it provides the people with free education in moral and spiritual truth. Thus, the Buddhist monks and nuns with their high ideas, zeal and selfless work moved the hearts of common people and helped in the growth of Buddhism. Dr. V.A. Smith has affirmed: The well-organized body of monks and nuns proved the most effective instruments in the hands of this religion. “

University and Buddhist Scholars

Various Buddhist scholars have also played a vital role in the promotion of Buddhism. Prominent Scholars like Dennaga, Dhannakirti, Divakannitra, and Vasubandhu contributed to the popularity and maturity of Buddhism with their learned works. The Universities of Vallabhi, Nalanda, Odantpuri and Vakramshila, the centers of Buddhist education also play a prominent role in promoting Buddhism.

Absence of Serious Rival

Buddhism doesn’t face any hurdle from any rivals in propagating its missionary work. Hinduism had no missionary zeal at all, and Christianity and Islam had not yet appeared on the historical horizon. Jainism was also not a missionary religion. Thus, Buddhism in the absence of a powerful rival grew rapidly. Besides the above reasons, the adaptability of Buddhism was also an important factor that led to its growth and rise.

The Main Reasons for the Decline of Buddhism

Though Buddhism was growing rapidly and gaining popularity, it had downfall due to various reasons and fails to overcome the Hindu religion entirely in India. Below are the reasons for the downfall of Buddhism:

Defeat in Buddhism

Buddhism rose to prominence due to its simplicity and straight-forwardness. But by the passage of time, several rigidities passed into it.  During the reign of Kanishka, Buddhism was divided into two independent sects, namely Hinayana and Mahayana.

However, efforts were made from all quarters to patch up the differences prevailing in Buddhism. Various councils were held for this purpose but the differences could not be bridged.

Thus, the rise of the Mahayana branch gave birth to the worship of Buddha and Bodhisattvas. As a result, idol worship, which was condemned by Lord Buddha, became a part of Buddhism. Also, Tantrik Buddhism and Vajrayana sect gave birth to superstitions and rituals and marred the entire simplicity of Buddhist Sangha.

It is worth mentioning that the strict discipline was the root cause of the success of the Buddhist Sangha. But many unworthy persons joined the Buddhist Sangha and indulged in several evils due to their weaknesses. Thus, they brought a bad name to Buddhism.

Also, the coffers of the Buddhist Sangh were full of more wealth than the treasury of the king due to people’s attraction for Buddhism. Thus, the amassment of too much wealth spoiled the entire atmosphere of simplicity, purity, and chastity, the vital causes for the growth of Buddhism. The simple and austere life of the monks and the nuns were transformed into the life of comforts of luxuries. The ideal of social service was the matter of the past.

Corruption

Moral Life in the monasteries began to deteriorate, and corruption and luxury crept into the Buddhist Sangha which resulted in the decline of Buddhism. The admission of women to the Buddhist Sangha proved to be the last cause of the downfall of Buddhism. The monks failed to act strictly in accordance with the rules laid down by Gautama Buddha and corruption and a state of chaos prevailed within the Buddha Sangha. It not only adversely affects the entire discipline of the Buddhist Sangha but also opened a path for the decline of Buddhism.

Lack of Royal Patronage

One of the chief reasons for the rise of Buddhism was the Royal support provided by contemporary kings. The kings like Ashoka, Kanishka, Harsha Vardhan drained their entire treasuries to spread Buddhism. But after the death of these Kings, Buddhism could not get Royal support.

On the other hand, Gupta Kings were the devotees of Hinduism, and they tried to re-establish the sway of Hinduism in India. Thus, the Buddhist Monks began to lose royal support. It ultimately contributes to the downfall of Buddhism.

Rise of Rajputs

Rajput was a militant race. After the death of Harsha, the Rajputs rose to prominence and ruled over a large part of the country. They disliked the theory of Ahimsa propounded by the Buddha. It was not in accordance with their racial character. The Rajputs were imperialistic by nature and war was their hobby. Therefore, Buddhism did not suit them. Due to the Rajput’s nature, several monks left India and traveled to different parts of Asia when the Rajputs established their authority in India. Thus, it affected Buddhism adversely.

Foreign Invasions

The Huna invasion proved fatal to the existence of Buddhism. The Hunas were very cruel and barbarous by nature. They destroyed the Buddhist Vishras and monasteries violently. They destroyed the treasure of Buddhist literature and killed innumerable monks mercilessly. The principle of Ahimsa before the cruel invaders like Hunas and Turks proved fruitless and meaningless. Thus, due to the foreign invasion, it led to the decline of Buddhism.

The Assimilative Power of Hinduism

Hinduism has a remarkable power of assimilation. In fact, Hinduism contains several virtues and principles of other religions. Hinduism absorbed several cultures, such as those of Hunas and Shakas. Due to its assimilative nature, it absorbed several Buddhist principles. Scholars like Shankaracharya and Kumaril Bhatt criticized Buddhism in a very logical way. The life of the Buddhist monks had already become quite luxurious and thus, the logic of Hindus scholar proved fatal for Buddhism.

Revival of Hinduism

The revival of Hinduism was another important factor for the downfall of Buddhism. Hindu preachers removed several rigidities and rituals from the Brahminical faith and tried to reform it.

W.W. Hunter has also written, “The downfall of Buddhism seems to have largely resulted from the new movements of religious thoughts rather than from any general suppression by the word. Its extinction is contemporaneous with the rise of Hinduism.”

As a result of reformations in Hinduism, it began to regain its popularity and significance which ultimately contributed to the decline of Buddhism.

The Principle of Ahimsa

After the death of Ashoka, the vast Mauryan Empire met its miserable end. People held the principle of Ahimsa to be responsible for the downfall of the Mauryan Empire. Thus, people began to hate the philosophy of Ahimsa. Moreover, it did not suit the martial races. Kings like Pushyanitra Shunga and Shusanka persecuted the Buddhist monks mercilessly. Also, the brave rulers and warriors adopted the power cult or Shakti Puja of Hinduism.

Lack of Powerful Personalities

After the death of Gautama Buddha, no other magnetic Personality was born to attract the common masses. It was all due to the ideals and good moral character of Lord Buddha that Buddhism flourished. Thus, Buddhism began to decline with the death of that powerful master.

Thus, the growing defects in Buddhism, lack of royal support and revival of Hinduism were the contributory causes for the decline of Buddhism. But the deterioration of the Buddhist Sangha and the foreign attacks proved fatal for Buddhism. The Muslim invaders not only killed the Buddhist monks but also destroyed the monasteries and Viharas. Their cruelty and tyranny towards the monks ultimately sealed the fate of Buddhism.

Why did Buddhism Rise in India and abroad?

When Buddhism arose in India, it was a favorable time for spreading it. The people were not happy with the costly nature and caste system of Hinduism. Further, Hinduism was in Sanskrit which the common people did not know. On the other hand, the Buddha’s great personality gave a death blow to Hinduism. His teachings were simple and were spread in the language of the common people. Many Buddhist Universities were set up. Further, Buddhism got state patronage. Also, the Buddhist monks help in the rise of Buddhism in Indian culture, Central Asia, South-East Asia, China, and Tibet. Later on the emperors like Ashoka, Kaniska and Harsha made Buddhism still more popular even in foreign countries. As a result of all these reasons, Buddhism spread across India and abroad.

Importance of Buddhism on Indian Culture

Buddhism promotes a feeling of peace. The patrons of Buddhism like the kings took several welfare projects. It brought a sense of political unity. Through the Buddhist monks who went to other countries, an idea of universal brotherhood was promoted.

In the foreign religion, it purified religion, opposed the rigid caste system, it started idol worship and building temples thus developing the art of sculpture and architecture. Influenced by Buddhism, Ashoka, Harsha and Kaniska built a lot of monasteries, stupas, idols, and pillars.

In the field of literature, the Buddhist scholars wrote several books in popular Prakrit language. In fact, it was because of monks who went to foreign countries trade and commerce also grew up.

Source: Mohammed Rafi Komol & O. Jnanendra Singh

An Extreme Useful Guide to History of Ancient India, Book

Note: There are some changes in the Length and Text of the Article.

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