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Growth of Buddhism


  • The complex rituals and sacrifices of the Brahmins in the later Vedic period weren’t acceptable to the common people. The sacrifices and rituals were too expensive and mantras and superstitions confused the people.
  • The teachings of the Upanishads were philosophical in nature and weren’t easily understood. The common man needed simple, short and intelligible ways to salvation. The religious teachings should be in a language known to them. Jainism and Buddhism fulfilled this need.
  • The rigid caste system was also another reason that the new religions were accepted easily. The Varna system gave highest status to Brahmins. This caused resentment in Kshatriyas. The merchant class i.e. Vaishyas wanted to improve their status in society as they were economically and socially more forward.
  • The Varna system didn’t allow this. It should be noted that this merchant class embraced these new religions.

Origin of Buddhism

  • Buddhism, founded in the late 6th century B.C.E. by Siddhartha Gautama (the “Buddha”), is an important religion in most of the countries of Asia.
  • Buddhism started in India over 2,600 years ago as a way life that had a potential of transforming a person.
  • The fourth greatest religion in the world originated in India. Buddhism received state patronage of king like Ashoka the Great, and it spread to neighbouring countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Japan, Vietnam and Thailand.

Life of Buddha

  • Gautama Buddha, founder of Buddhism, was born in 563 BC, on the Vaisakha Purnima day at Lumbinivana (Rummindehi district, Nepal) in the Sakya Kashatriya clan.
  • His father Suddhodhana was the republican king of Kapilvastu and mother Mahamaya was a princess of Kollia republic.
  •  He lost his mother (Mahamaya) just a few days after his birth and was brought up by his stepmother Gautami.
  • He was married to Yashodhara at the early age of 16 and had a son named Rahula.
  • At the age of 29, he left his palace and decided to become a wanderer. He along with Channa, his charioteer and his horse, Kanthaka, wandered for six long years in search of truth (Mahabhinishkramana/Great Renunciation).
  • His first teacher was Alara Kalam from whom he learnt the technique of meditation.
  • At the age of 35, under a papal tree at Uruvella (Bodh Gaya) on the bank of river Niranjana (modern name Falgu), he attained Nirvana (Enlightenment) after 49 days of continuous meditation; now he was a fully enlightened.
  • Buddha derived his first Sermon at Sarnath to his five disciples; this is known as Dharmachakra Pravartana (turning of the wheel of law).
  • He died at the age of 80 in 483 BCE at a place called Kushinagara a town in UP. The event is known as Mahaparinirvana (Final blowing out).

Doctrine of Buddhism

Four Noble Truths

  1. Life is full of sorrow (Dukha)
  2. There are causes of sorrow (Dukha Samudaya)
  3. This Sorrow can be stopped (Dukha Nirodha)
  4. There is path leading to the cessation of sorrow (Dukha Nirodha Gamini Pratipada)
  5. One could get out of this chain of Suffering and achieve the final salvation(Nirvana) by following the Eight Fold Path (Asthangika Marga).The Noble Eightfold path of Buddha is as following:
  6. Right View
  7. Right Intention
  8. Right Speech
  9. Right Action
  10. Right Livelihood
  11. Right Effort
  12. Right Mindfulness
  13. Right Concentration

Buddhist Literature

  • Pali Text
  • Tripitaka: Pitika literally means ‘basket’ and it was called so, because the original texts were written on palm leaves and kept in baskets.
  • Vinay Pitika: Monastic code
  • Sutta Pitika: Buddha saying
  • Abhidhamma Pitika: Religious discourses of Buddha
  • Milindapanho: A dialogue between Milinda (identical with Indo-Greek ruler Menander) and Buddhist saint Nagasena.
  • Dipavamsha and Mahavamsha: The great Chronicles of Sri Lanka.
  • Sanskrit Text

Buddha Charita, Saundarananda, Sutralankar, Sariputra Prakaran and Vajra Suchi- Ashwagosha; Mahavibhasha Shastra- Vasumitra; Visudhamagga, Atthakathayen and Sumangalvasini- Buddhagosha; Madhyamika Karika and Prjnaparimita Karika- Nagarjuna etc.

Sects of Buddhism

Hinayana (The lesser Vehicle)

  • Its followers believed in the original teachings of Buddhism.
  • It does not believe in Idol worship and tries to attain individual salvation through self discipline and meditation.
  • Theravada is a Hinayana sect.
  • They favoured Pali language.

Mahayana (The Greater Vehicle)

  • Its followers believed in the heavenliness of Buddha.
  • It believes in the heavenliness of Buddha and Idol worship of Buddha and Bodhisattvas embodying Buddha Nature.
  • Buddhist schools embedded in China, Korea, Tibet and Japan belong to the Mahayana tradition.
  • They favoured Sanskrit language.


  • Its followers believed that salvation could be best attained by acquiring the magical power, which they called Vajra.
  • The chief divinities of this new sect were the Taras.
  • It became popular in Eastern India, particularly Bengal and Bihar.

Buddhist Councils

Buddhist CouncilYearVenueChairpersonPatronResult
1st483BCSataparni Cave,RajgrihaMahakassapaAjatashatru(Harayanka Dynasty)Compilation of Sutta- Pitaka Vinay- Pitaka by Ananda and Upali.
2nd383 BCChullavanga VaishaliSabbakamiKalashoka(Shisunaga Dynasty)1) The monks of Vaishali wanted some change in rites. 2) Schism into Sthavira vandins and Mahasanghikas.
3rd250 BCAshokarama-Vihar, PatliputraMogaliputta TissaAshoka(Maurya Dynasty)Compilation of Abhidhamma Pitaka.
4th98 ADKundala-Vana, KashmirVasumitra Vice-chairperson- AshvagoshaKanishka(Kushana Dynasty)1) Compilation of Mahavibhasha Shastra. 2) The division of Buddhists into Hinayanists and Mahayanist.

Sacred Shrines of Buddha

  • Lumbini, Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Kushinagar, where the four principal events of the Buddha’s life, namely Birth, Enlightenment, First Sermon, and Death took place.
  • To these added four places Sravasti, Rajgriha, Vaishali, and Sankasya-These eight places have all along been considered as the right holy places (Asthasthanas).
  • Other centres of Buddhism in ancient India- Amaravati and Nagarjunaikonda in Andhra Pradesh; Nalanda in Bihar; Junagadh and Vallabhi in Gujarat; Sanchi and Bharhut in M.P. ; Ajanta Ellora in Maharashtra; Dhaulagiri in Orissa; Kannauj,Kaushambi and Mathura in U.P. ; and Jagadala and Somapuri in West Bengal.

Spread of Buddhism

  • Buddha had two kinds of disciples – monks (bhikshus) and lay worshippers (upasikas).
  • The monks were organized into the Sangha for the purpose of spreading his teachings.
  • The Sangha was governed on democratic lines and was empowered to enforce discipline among its members.
  • Owing to the organised efforts made by the Sangha, Buddhism made rapid progress in North India even during Buddha’s life time.
  • After the death of Buddha, his followers traversed on his path of meditation and roamed throughout the countryside.
  • For 200 years Buddhism remained overshadowed by their Hindu counterparts until the advent of Great Mauryan King – Ashoka.
  • After the bloodbath in his Kalinga conquest, emperor Ashoka decided to give up the policy of worldly conquest and adopted Dhamma conquest.
  • Ashoka during the third Buddhist council dispatched various Buddhist missions to different areas such as Gandhara, Kashmir, Greece, Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), Egypt, and Thailand.
  • Through his missionary effort Ashoka spread Buddhism into West Asia and Ceylon. Thus a local religious sect was transformed into a world religion.

Reasons for Spread & Popularity of Buddhism

  1. Liberal & democratic – Unlike Brahmanism, it was far more liberal & democratic. It won the hearts of the lower class as it attacked the Varna system. It welcomed people of all castes and even women were admitted to the Sangha. The people of Magadha readily accepted Buddhism as they were looked down upon by the orthodox Brahmanas.
  2. Simple language – The Buddha spread his message in the simple language of the masses. The Pali language which Buddha used was the spoken language of the masses. The Vedic religion was understood only with the help of Sanskrit language which was the monopoly of the Brahmins.
  3. The personality of the Buddha – The personality of the Buddha endeared him and his religion to the masses. He was kind and ego-less. His calm composure, sweet words of simple philosophy and his life of renunciation drew the masses to him. He had ready moral solutions for the problems of the people.
  4. Royal patronage – Royal patronage of Buddhism also accounted for its rapid rise. Kings like Prasenjit, Bimbisara, Ashoka, Kanishka patronised Buddhism and helped its spread throughout India and outside as well. Ashoka deputed his children to Sri Lanka for the spread of Buddhism.
  5. Inexpensive– Buddhism was inexpensive, without the expensive rituals that characterised the Vedic religion. It advocated a spiritual path without any material obligation of satisfying gods and Brahmins through gifts and rituals.

Contribution of Buddhism

Buddhism exercise considerable influence in shaping the Cultural, Social, Religious, and Political aspects of Indian life. Its major contributions are as follows:

  • Buddhism gave the country a popular religion which was devoid of compilacted, elaborate incomprehensible rituals and sacrifices. It made n important impact on Indian society by keeping its doors open to Shudras and women who had been placed in the same category by Brahmanism.
  • The concept of ahimsa was its chief contribution. Later, it became one of the cherished values of our nation.
  • Buddhism laid the foundation of image worship in India. The first human statues worshipped in the country were probably those of Buddha. Worshipping personal gods and erecting temples in their honour are some of the important practices adopted by the Hindus in imitation of the Mahayana Buddhists.
  • Buddhism is created with developing a new awareness in the field of intellect and culture. It taught the people to judge things on merit rather than taking them for granted. This promoted rationalism among the people.
  • It was perhaps in the realm of art and architecture that Buddhism made finest contribution, the most striking examples being:-
  • The Stupas and stone pillars depicting the life of Buddha at Sanchi, Bharhut and Gaya
  • The cave architecture in the Barahar hills at Gaya and in western India
  • The art pieces of Amravati and Nagarjuna Konda
  • Development of Gandhara art on the north-west frontier of India by the combined effort of Greek and Indian Sculptors.
  • Buddhism enriched the Pali language enormously.
  • It promoted Trade and Commerce.
  • Buddhism led to the establishment of residential universities such as Nalanda and Vikramshila in Bihar, Vallabhi in Gujarat and Taxila in the North West frontier region.

Buddhism – Reasons for Decline

From the early 12th century, Buddhism began to disappear from the land of its birth. Various causes that led to the decline of Buddhism are:

  1. Corruption in Buddhist Sangha– In the course of time, the Buddhist Sangha became corrupt. Receiving valuable gifts drew them towards luxury and enjoyment. The principles prescribed by Buddha were conveniently forgotten and thus started the degradation of the Buddhist monks and their preachings.
  2. Division among Buddhists– Buddhism faced divisions from time to time. The division into various splinter groups like Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Tantrayana and Sahajayana led Buddhism to lose its originality. The simplicity of Buddhism was lost and it was becoming complex.
  3. Use of Sanskrit language– Pali, the spoken language of most people of India, was the medium for the spread of the message of Buddhism. But Sanskrit replaced these at the Fourth Buddhist Council during the reign of Kanishka. Sanskrit was the language of a few intellectuals, hardly understood by masses and therefore became one of the many reasons for the fall of Buddhism.
  4. Buddha worship– Image worship was started in Buddhism by the Mahayana Buddhists. They started worshipping the image of the Buddha. This mode of worship was a violation of the Buddhist principles of opposing complex rites and rituals of Brahmanical worship. This paradox led people to believe that Buddhism was tending towards the fold of Hinduism.
  5. Persecution of Buddhists– In course of time there was the rise of the Brahmanical faith again. 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.
  6. Muslim invasion– 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.