The rise and fall of Buddhism
The causes for rise of Buddhism
Kshatriya class’s rising resentment towards the domination of the priestly class:
- Under the order of hierarchy in the Varna system Brahmanas were ranked at the top due to their knowledge and understanding of the scriptures.
- The Kshatriyas who were ranked second strongly objected to the ritualistic domination of the Brahmanas and the various privileges enjoyed by them.
- It should come as no surprise to know that Buddha belonged to the Kshatriya varna.
Rise of the new agricultural economy that needed animal husbandry:
- By the sixth century BCE, there was a shift of the centre of economic and political activity from Haryana and western U.P to eastern U.P and Bihar since the land was more fertile due to abundant rainfall.
- Bihar and its adjoining areas also contained abundant iron ore reserves and made it easier for people to access them.
- This ease of access enabled people to use more and more iron tools like ploughshare for agricultural purposes.
- The use of iron ploughshare required the use of bullocks, this in turn meant that the age-old custom in the Vedic age of killing animals as sacrifices became a threat to rising agricultural economy.
- Furthermore, the flourishing of animal husbandry became a prominent support pillar which helped to uphold the agricultural sector development.
- All these reasons resulted in Buddhism being explicitly against any kind of sacrifices, hence it found immense support amongst the peasant class.
The mercantile class favoured Buddhism due to their desire for better socio-political conditions:
- The rising agricultural production led to the increased availability of food which resulted in the rapid development of trade, craft production and urban centres.
- This period came to be known as the era of second urbanisation and was marked by the prevalence of silver and copper Punch-Marked Coins.
- The Vaishyas and other mercantile groups rose to prominence and started to patronise non-Vedic religions like Buddhism and Jainism and gave substantial donations.
- As Buddhism promoted peace and non-violence, it’s teachings would help to put an end to wars between different kingdoms which will result in further trade and commerce, which benefited for the mercantile class.
Acceptance of simple and peace centred principles of Buddhism:
- The common masses welcomed the Buddhism since they preached peace and social equality, simple and ascetic living.
- This provided a means of relief from the growing social problems for those who yearned to live a peaceful and uncorrupted life.
Why Buddhism declined:
Corruption in Buddhist Sangha:
- Buddhist Sangha became corrupt in due course of time.
- Valuable gifts from various royal patrons drew them towards luxury and enjoyment.
- The principles prescribed by Buddha were gradually forgotten and this started the degradation of the Buddhist monks.
Division among Buddhists:
- Buddhism became divided from time to time.
- Buddhism in its later years split into splinter groups like Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Tantrayana and Sahajayana which led Buddhism loosing its originality.
- This resulted in Buddhism losing its simplicity and it becoming more and more complex.
Use of Sanskrit language:
- Pali, which was the spoken language of most people of India, was used as the medium for the spread of the message of Buddhism.
- But starting from the Fourth Buddhist Council during the reign of Kanishka, Sanskrit replaced Pali.
- Sanskrit was seen as the language of intellectuals and was hardly understood by masses and this became one of the major reasons for the fall of Buddhism.
- Image worship was started in Buddhism by the Mahayana Buddhists.
- It began with the worshipping the image of the Buddha.
- This method of worship was seen as a violation of the Buddhist principles of opposing complex rites and rituals of Brahmanical worship.
- This paradox led many people to believe that Buddhism was moving towards the ideals promoted by Hinduism.
Persecution of Buddhists:
- Later years led to a resurgence of the Brahmanical faith.
- Some Brahmana rulers, such as Pushiyamitra Shunga, the Huna king, Mihirakula (worshiper of Shiva) and Shaivite Shashank of Gauda persecuted the Buddhists on a large scale.
- The liberal donations to the monasteries gradually declined.
- Also, some rich monasteries were specifically targeted by the Turkish and other invaders.
- The Muslim invasion of India almost wiped out Buddhism.
- Their invasions of India became regular, and repeated such invasions forced the Buddhist monks to seek asylum and shelter in Nepal and Tibet.
- In the end, Buddhism died away in India, the land of its birth.