As invigorating as it may sound, Buddhism has a rich history in India. If you would have gone through our blog Buddhist roots in India, you would be aware that Buddhism originated as a religion in India. Yes, Gautam Buddha, the awakened one on whose teachings, Buddhism is based was born in India. He spent his whole life on Indian Soil. As such, you will find numerous sites and scriptures that reflect on the origination as well as hint upon the decline of Buddhism in India.
Although Buddhism was found in India in 6th Century B.C. and was one of the popular religions in the country during the 3rd Century B.C., it could not survive in its birthland for long. Today, while the religion is the fourth populated faith in the world, in India only 1% population, follows it. This has been a result of several factors that drove Buddhism out of India. Some of which we will be discussing below.
Many scholars of Buddhism and other religious Indian history are weaving an absolute answer to the reason for the decline of Buddhism in India. However, they are still looking for absolute consensus on this matter. Another set of scholars believe that the downfall of Buddhism from India is a very harsh way to express the union of the religion into Hindu practices.
If we start digging deep in history, there are shreds of evidence supporting that the dominance of reformed Hinduism has been a significant reason for the decline of Buddhism in India. It is believed that the revival of Hinduism caused a decrease in the popularity of Buddhism. Eventually, this phase drove the faith out of its birthland while it started growing substantially in the rest of the South-Asian countries. The pre-modern time writers of Indian history pulled out many unaware issues that Buddhist monks encountered that led to the decline of the religion. In this blog, we will be touching on all possible aspects that may have led to the downfall of Buddhism in India.
Buddhism was a massive threat to the hierarchy command of the Brahminical Hindu faith. There was a situation of threat that could have led to extinction. Thus, Hinduism that used to follow the complex functioning system re-organized itself. Attempts to transform the complicated ways to simpler forms began. The Hindus came in support of non-violence and named Gautam Buddha as a Hindu reincarnation. The effort resulted favorably, making Hinduism popular once again. While, on the other hand, the Buddhist minority suffered an adverse.
Buddhists created mini-groups
Buddhist teachings encountered many challenges within the group. The difference in thought and opinion led to the division of Buddhism into small groups, namely Mahayana, Hinayana, Tantrayana, Vajrayana, and Sahajayana. Buddhism lost its originality in subsequent years. Down the line, religion became more complicated than easy.
Corruption in Buddhists Sanghas
As it goes with everything, Buddhism too had its share of bad influences that greatly impacted its popularity. Some Sanghas got lured by materialism and lost their goal to luxury. With a minority status in India, the corruption among a few of Sanghas was quite evident which strayed away its followers resulting in its decline.
Influence of Sanskrit Language
Legend says that Buddha preached his teachings in the Pali, the language of the commoners. Pali and Prakrit being widely practiced languages were initially used to spread Buddhist beliefs which led to its popularity. However, the fourth Buddhist Council adopted Sanskrit as the language of Buddhist preaching. Sanskrit was known to be the most complex language of all and was hard for the commoners to understand. As such, Buddhism which was popularized as a religion of common people lost its lustre.
Hindu Preachers painted a wrong picture
At a religious council held at Kannauj, Harsavardhan made the Brahmin flee to the Deccan. Kumarila Bhatta provided shelter and support to the Brahmins. Gradually, they started gaining strength and planned to take back what they lost. Adi-Shankaracharya joined them in the battle. The dominance of Hinduism over Buddhism made the latter lose its influence.
Adverse effects of Brahmanism
The last warrior of the Mauryan dynasty, Pushyamintra Sunga, established the Bhrahmanical faith. He set up the Sunga dynasty after Mauryan lost utterly. Pushyamintra Sunga waved off the basic rule of non-violence from the book. As such many Buddhist monks were put to swords, and pilgrim sites destroyed. The same created fear among the people.
Rift in Buddhist Order
The rifts within the dome were evident from outside. Division of groups, no support against the bullies, and many other reasons gave birth to doubts. On the other hand, Hinduism was rising with the help of royals.
Idol worship had remained a crucial part of Hinduism and Gautam Buddha never proposed it. As such Buddhism never propagated the practice of Idol worship. However, lately, the different schools of Buddhism enforced worshipping Buddha’s idol. This did not go down well with the Buddhist followers who started thinking that Buddhism was transforming into Hinduism.
Royal patrons side-lined Buddhism
If you would look into history, you will find that royal patronage played an important role in the popularity of religion. Royal influence paved the path for establishing religious authority. It was Ashoka’s interest in Buddhism followed by the patronage of rulers like Kanishka and Harshvardhan that led to its popularity. However, after them, Buddhism couldn’t find strong support from Royal families who were instead patronizing Hinduism which once again rose to popularity.
According to historians, the Huna invasion was one of the prominent reasons for the decline of Buddhism in India. Huns invaded India during the end of the 5th or early in the 6th Century which led to the destruction of Buddhism in the country. Apparently, Huns were not believers of Buddhism. They profoundly believed in violence and thus brought many monks and Bhikkus to swords. They destroyed many Buddhist monasteries and learning centers.
Another factor that deeply impacted the popularity of Buddhism in India was the Muslim invasion. They evolved as a significant threat to Hinduism too. The Invaders caused mass destruction and killings. They forced the masses to adopt Islam and boycott the rest of the religion. The Buddhist monks didn’t have any choice but to seek shelter in Nepal and Tibet.
The origin of Buddhism was for awakening oneself to experience the highest spiritual virtue. There was no discrimination or class division with everyone considered eligible for enlightenment someday. The teachings were very motivating and thus gained huge popularity in no time. In India, the caste system was quite prevalent. With Buddhism gaining popularity, the highest rank holders felt it as a threat to their position. The fear of losing the place in society made them push Buddhism away.
From the past couple of centuries, Buddhism has started regaining its popularity. Several Archaeological excavations carried out in the 19th century have recaptured the true essence of Buddhism in India. The land of Gautam Buddha is repairing the strings that were cut off by some standard religious practices or invaders. Alongside, Buddhist monks also accepted the fall-off that brought down the popularity of Buddhism. We are all looking to a new day with possibilities to shine again and guide humankind towards enlightenment.