Rise of Buddhism

Buddhism, religion and philosophy that developed from the teachings of the Buddha (Sanskrit: “Awakened One”), a teacher who lived in northern India between the mid-6th and mid-4th centuries BCE (before the Common Era). Spreading from India to Central and Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan, Buddhism has played a central role in the spiritual, cultural, and social life of Asia, and during the 20th century it spread to the West.

Ancient Buddhist scripture and doctrine developed in several closely related literary languages of ancient India, especially in Pali and Sanskrit. In this article Pali and Sanskrit words that have gained currency in English are treated as English words and are rendered in the form in which they appear in English-language dictionaries. Exceptions occur in special circumstances—as, for example, in the case of the Sanskrit term dharma (Pali: dhamma), which has meanings that are not usually associated with the term dharma as it is often used in English. Pali forms are given in the sections on the core teachings of early Buddhism that are reconstructed primarily from Pali texts and in sections that deal with Buddhist traditions in which the primary sacred language is Pali. Sanskrit forms are given in the sections that deal with Buddhist traditions whose primary sacred language is Sanskrit and in other sections that deal with traditions whose primary sacred texts were translated from Sanskrit into a Central or East Asian language such as Tibetan or Chinese.

Life of the Buddha

The evidence of the early texts suggests that he was born as Siddhartha Gautama in Lumbini and grew up in Kapilavasthu, a town in the plains region of the modern Nepal-India border, and that he spent his life in what is now modern Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. His father was a king named Suddhodana, his mother was Queen Maya, and he was born in Lumbini gardens.

When he reached the age of 16, his father reputedly arranged his marriage to a cousin of the same age named Yasodhara. According to the early Buddhist Texts of several schools, and numerous post-canonical accounts, she gave birth to a son, named Rahul. Siddhartha is said to have spent 29 years as a prince in Kapilavasthu.

At the age of 29, Siddhartha left his palace to meet his subjects. Despite his father’s efforts to hide from him the sick, aged and suffering, Siddhartha was said to have seen an old man. When his charioteer Channa explained to him that all people grew old, the prince went on further trips beyond the palace. On these he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These depressed him, and he initially strove to overcome ageing, sickness, and death by living the life of an ascetic.

According to the Buddhist sutras, Gautama was moved by the innate suffering of humanity and its endless repetition due to rebirth. He set out on a quest to end this repeated suffering. Early Buddhist canonical texts and early biographies of Gautama state that Gautama first studied under Vedic teachers, namely Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, learning meditation and ancient philosophies, particularly the concept of “nothingness, emptiness” from the former, and “what is neither seen nor unseen” from the latter.

Finding these teachings to be insufficient to attain his goal, he turned to the practice of asceticism. This too fell short of attaining his goal, and then he turned to the practice of dhyana, meditation, which he had already discovered in his youth. He famously sat in meditation under a Ficus religiosa tree now called the Bodhi Tree in the town of Bodh Gaya in the Gangetic plains region of South Asia. He gained insight into the workings of karma and his former lives, and attained enlightenment, certainty about the Middle Way as the right path of spiritual practice to end suffering (dukkha) from rebirths in Saṃsara.

As a fully enlightened Buddha, he attracted followers and founded a Sangha (monastic order). Now, as the Buddha, he spent the rest of his life teaching the Dharma he had discovered, and died at the age of 80 in Kushinagar, India.

Teachings of Buddhism

Four Noble Truths

  1. The world is full of sorrow.
  2. There is cause of sorrow.
  3. The cause of sorrow is desire.
  4. Sorrow could be eliminated by annihilating desire.

 8 Fold Paths / Astangika Marg

  1. Right belief
  2. Right conduct
  3. Right memory
  4. Right meditation
  5. Right speech
  6. Right thought
  7. Right means of livelihood
  8. Right action

10 Teaching

  1. Not to harm living begins
  2. Not to tell lie
  3. Not to sleep on high & broad bed
  4. Not to take what is not given
  5. Abstain from evil behavior
  6. Abstain from eating at forbidden time
  7. Abstain alcoholic drink
  8. Abstain receiving gold & silver
  9. Abstain using jewelry
  10. Abstain of music, singing, dancing & drama.

Concept of Salvation in Buddhism

According to Buddha a person has to remain trapped in cycle of life & death because of wrong deeds. Salvation is possible through knowledge (Janamarg). The 4 noble truth represented true knowledge. Eight fold path & ten teaching were put forward by Buddha to enable people to annihilate their desire & avoid wrong deeds.

In Buddhist philosophy salvation known as Nirvana. It represents freedom from cycle of birth & death. At death person attain Mahaparinirvana.

Other Elements of Buddhist

Buddha rejected idea of soul. He believed in soulnessness. Buddha didn’t say anything about existence / non-existence of god. Buddhism believed in idea of conditioned co-production (pratitya Samutpda).

According to this idea one state of life leads to next that is present activity shape future. Buddhism didn’t believe in infallibility of Vedas. He refused to accept Vedas as ultimate truth. Buddha condemned priestly domination ritual & ceremonies.

Buddhism believed in efficacy of middle path that is neither path of existence luxury nor existence self-asterism. Non-violence but within practical limits. Buddhism accepted Varna system but only in modify form. In Varna system put forward by Buddhism Kshatriya preceded over Brahman. Doesn’t believe in untouchability. There are references of chandala teachers in Buddhism literature.

Buddhism recognition slavery. Slaves were not allowed to enter into monastery without permission of master. Buddhism attitude forward women were non-egalitarian. Initially he was against entry of women in Buddhist Sangha but when his foster mother Prajapati Gautami & his chief disciple Ananda requested repeatedly, women were allowed to center into Sangha with some restriction on their activity.

Influence of Upanishad on Buddhist Philosophy

Upanishad reflects 1st reaction against Brahmnical dominance. They condemned rituals & ceremonies. According to Mundaka Upanishad, the rituals & sacrifices are broken boats that can’t fairy person across ocean of life. A similar attitude is found in Buddhism towards priestly dominance as well as rituals & ceremonies.

The Upanishad philosophy emphasize on non-violence. Violence sacrifice condemned in UP. Buddhism also believes in non-violence. Upanishad believes in efficacy of path of knowledge (Janna Marg) for attainment of salvation. Buddhism also believes that salvation only possible only through knowledge.

Difference between Upanishadic philosophy & Buddhism

Upanishad believes in idea of soul & transmigration of soul. Buddha rejected existence of soul, it believes in soullessness. Upanishadic philosophy revolved around idea of one supreme deity – Brahma. Everything revolves around Brahma. Every individual living soul) is considered as an expression of Brahma. This idea of monotheism (Adwaitawad). This idea of monotheism is of central significance in U.P.

Buddha didn’t say anything about existence & non-existence of God. The concept of salvation is different in Upanishadic philosophy & Buddhism. In U.P salvation is known as “Moksha” Moksha lies in merging of individual soul with supreme soul that is Brahma once person attain Moksha, soul of such person reaches heaven & reside there forever without coming to this world. Moksha is identified with ultimate bliss. This is the place where life cycle doesn’t end for soul, it only ends for body. Moksha is attained only on death.

In Buddhist philosophy salvation is known as “Nirvana”. It’s freedom from cycle of life & death. A person can achieve Nirvana within lifetime itself, on death person attain Mahaparinirvana. Ideas of heaven & hell found in Universe are absent in Buddhism. According to Upanishad god Brahma is creator of universe & he sustains universe. Buddhism says nothing about creation & sustenance of universe.

For many centuries after Buddha’s demise, Buddhism strived in its earlier form. But by the advent of 1st century AD, anew doctrine emerged which was different and distinct in ideas and practices from the previous orthodox Buddhism. These schools have been divided into the two Yanas or ‘Vehicles’ or ‘Paths’. These two are: the Hinayana and Mahayana. ‘Yana’ is referred to the vehicle that one takes to reach from the sufferings to enlightenment.


Early Buddhist teachings gave more importance to self-realization and effort in achieving nirvana. Hinayana and Mahayana The ideal of Hinayana is individual salvation, thus it is considered lesser vehicle. The Hinayana or Theravada doctrine believes in the original teaching of Buddha, or the old, respected path of theras.

They don’t believe in Idol Worship. Hinayana teaches that, to attain individual salvation the path goes through self discipline and meditation. It should be noted here that Asoka patronized Hinayana. Pali, the language of masses was used by the Hinayana scholars. It is also called the “Deficient Vehicle”, the “Abandoned Vehicle”, Stharvivada or Theravada meaning “doctrine of elders”.

Hinayana stresses on righteous action and law of karma. The Hinayana ideal is Arhat, the one who strives for his own redemption. Hinayana regards Buddha as a man, of extraordinary knowledge, but just a man, therefore, does not worship him.

It is developed around the acts of Buddha. Hinayana believes in salvation by works, that each man should work for his own salvation. Hinayana scriptures are written in Pali, and founded on the Tripitakas. Hinayana or Theravada traditions are followed in Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia, other South-east Asian countries.


Mahayana believes firmly in the spirit of Buddha’s teachings. Mahayana scriptures are written in form of Sutras in Sanskrit. This form of Buddhism gained recognition at the time of Kanishaka. The Third Buddhist Council recognized these two forms of Buddhism. It believes in salvation by faith.

Mahayana is developed around the symbolism of Buddha’s life and personality. The Mahayana ideal is salvation for all that is why it is called as greater vehicle. Mahayana holds the law of karuna / compassion over and above the law of karma. Mahayana upholds the ideals of Bodhisattva / the savior – who is concerned about the salvation of others.

This sect believes in the divine qualities of Buddha and thus believes in Idol Worship. It is also known as the Bodhisattva Vehicle. Hinayana and Mahayana. Mahayana Buddhism is spread across India, China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and Mongolia. Tibetan Buddhism is a tradition of Mahayana only. The fundamental principles of Mahayana doctrine are based on the possibility of universal liberation from suffering for all beings. Therefore this is considered the “Great Vehicle”.

The doctrine of Bhakti has evolved as a characteristic feature of Mahayana Buddhism. “Nagarjuna” was the most outstanding exponent of Mahayana Buddhism.

Spread & Popularity of Buddhism

The simplicity and relevance of Buddhism teachings attracted common masses towards it. The magnetic personality of Mahatma Buddha played important role in rapid popularity of Buddhism. Use of language of common masses & hence appeals of Buddhism.

Buddha use Pali language. The institution of monastery (Sangha) contributed immensely to the spread and popularity of Buddhism because it provided unity & guidance to Buddhist monk. It maintained discipline & purposefulness among monks.

The degenerated state of Brahmnical order also contributed to rapid growth of Buddhism because common masses were seething discontent in Brahmnical order they already looking for new system when Mahatma Buddha emerged on scene. Patronage of some of most prominent rulers such as Ajatshatru, Kalashoka, and Ashoka & Kanishaka contributed immensely to popularity of Buddhism. Buddhist councils were held during reign of these rulers. According to Buddhist texts number of monks were send by Ashoka to various parts of world to spread message of Buddhist after 3rd Buddhist council. Mahendra & Sanghmitra – Srilanka Son & Uttara – Suvarna Bhumi. Mahadev – Mysore. Dharmarakshit – Himalayan region & Maharakshita went land of Greek.

Merchants & traders also contributed immensely to the popularity of Buddhism. Merchants & traders issued huge donation to Buddhist monastery. They patronize Buddhist Monk. Many monks used to move along Merchants & traders to various part of world. These monks used to spread messages of Buddhism on the way. This process was responsible for spread of Buddhism to central, South-east Asia etc.

Many Buddhist monks were invited by rulers of neighboring countries & they carries message of Buddhism. In 1st Century AD Chinese ruler send his ambassador to India to invite Buddhist monk. These ambassadors carried Dharmarakshit & Kasyapa Matanga to China. They translated Buddhist literature into Chinese.

Kumarjiva was prominent Buddhist scholar. He went to China in 401 AD. He became president of Buddhist scholar in China. Dharmadeva was another prominent Buddhist scholar went to China in 1001 AD. From China Buddhist moves to Korea & Japan. Chinese travelers visited India to carry Buddhist literature. Fa-hien visited India during opening decades of 5th century AD (399-415AD). Hieun-Tsang visited India during 1st half of 7th century (629-645 AD).

Decline of Buddhism in India

Having emerged in 600 BC, Buddhism was phenomenal successful in India as well as in many other parts of the world. But beginning in 4th century AD. Buddhism gradually decline in India & it was no longer the faith of significance percentage of Indian population. This decline of Buddhism in land of its origin was the outcome of number of factors.

Buddhism became complex with passage of time. New Ideas & Philosophies were developed by Buddhist teacher over period of time. In beginning, Buddha was considered as teachers but Mahayanist transformed Buddha into God. This complexity eroded mass appeal of Buddhism.

Sanskrit became language of Mahayana Buddhism. As a result of which, it lost touch with common masses. The Buddhist monastery amassed huge wealth as Mahayanist received gift of gold & silver. Monk started living luxurious life which corroded their character & paved the way for. Revival of Brahmnical religion in a new form known as Vaishnavism attracted common masses towards it Vaishnavism was free from ritual & sacrifices, priestly domination & emphasized direct relationship between god & devotee through Bhakti.

Loss of royal patronage also contributed to decline because Gupta rulers patronize Vaishnavism. Anti-Buddhist attitude of rulers like Pushymitra – Sunga also contributed to decline. He destroyed Buddhist monastery & killed Buddhist monk & award of 100 dinaar was announced on head of each Buddhist monk.

Decline of trade & commerce, arts & craft also played role in downfall of Buddhism because inflow of donation to Buddhist monastery stopped. Foreign invasions were also responsible for decline of Buddhist. Hunas led Mihirkula destroyed Buddhist Monastery. Turks also attacked & destroyed Buddhist monastery because of their wealth.

Absence of great personality like Mahatma Buddha when Buddhism facing challenge from various sides hastened the process of its down fall. Scholars like Shankaracharya shattered credibility & reputation by defeating Buddhist monk in discourses & discussion. He adopted good elements from Buddhist & integrated them with main stream Hinduism.

Fragmentation of Buddhism into various sections also affected its popularity & mass appeal. By 400 AD, there were more than 12 dozen sections of Buddhist who followed difference ideas & philosophy. This process of division started at time of 2nd Buddhist council & continued gain momentum thereafter.