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Decline of Buddhism in India

Ideological and financial causes

             The period between the 400 BCE and 1000 CE saw gains by Hinduism at the expense of Buddhism. it is seen that the evolution of Hindu ideology influenced by Buddhism was more important factor for the growth of Hinduism. Hinduism became a more "intelligible and satisfying road to faith for many ordinary worshippers" than it had been because it now included not only an appeal to a personal god, but had also seen the development of an emotional facet with the composition of devotional hymns.

Xuanzang's Report

                 Much of what we know about the state of Buddhism in the second half of the first millennium CE comes from the 7th century Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang, who traveled widely and documented his journey. Although he found many regions where Buddhism was still flourishing, he also found many where it had sharply and startlingly declined, giving way to Jainism and a Brahmanical order.

                 Xuanzang compliments the patronage of Harshavardana. He reported that Buddhism was popular in Kanyakubja (modern day Uttar Pradesh), where he noted "an equal number of Buddhists and heretics" and the presence of 100 monasteries and 10,000 bhikshus along with 200 "Deva" (Hindu) temples. He found a similarly flourishing population in Udra (modernOrissa). He found a mixed population in Kosala, homeland of Nagarjuna, and in Andhra, and Dravida which today roughly correspond to the modern day Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. In a region he calls Konkanapura, which may be Kolhapur in southern Maharashtra, he found great numbers of Buddhists coexisting with a similar number of non-Buddhists, and a similar situation in Northern Maharashtra. In Sindh he finds a large Sammitiya and Theravada population. He reports a fair number of Buddhists in what is now Pakistan.

                  In Dhanyakataka (today's Vijayawada), he found a striking decline, with Jainism and Shaivism ascendant. In Bihar, site of a number of important landmarks, he also found a striking decline and relatively few followers, with Hinduism and Jainism predominating. He also found relatively few Buddhists in Bengal, Kamarupa (modern Assam). He reported no Buddhist presence in Konyodha, few in Chulya (in the Tamil region), and few in Gujarat and Rajasthan, except in Valabhi, where he found a large Theravada population.


                   During the reign of the Chalukya dynasty, Xuanzang reported that numerous Buddhist stupas in regions previously ruled by Buddhist-sympathetic Andhras and Pallavas were "ruined" and "deserted".These regions came under the control of theVaishnavite Eastern Chalukyas, who were not favorable to Buddhism and did not support the religion. Xuanzang's report also mentions that, in the 7th Century, Shashanka of the Kingdom of Gouda (Bengal), was expanding his influence in the region in the aftermath of the fall of the Gupta Empire. He is blamed by Xuanzhang and other Buddhist sources for the murder of Rajyavardhana, a Buddhist king of Thanesar. Xuanzang writes that Shashanka destroyed the Bodhi tree of enlightenment at Bodh Gaya and replaced Buddha statues with Shiva Lingams. However, it has been claimed that Xuanzhang had a Buddhist bias in favor of the buddhist rulers such as Harshavardhana and that his account may therefore be slanted.

Philosophical convergence

                         One factor that contributed to the demise of Buddhism was the diminishing of Buddhism's distinctiveness with respect to the ascendant Hinduism. Though Mahayana writers were quite critical of Hinduism, the devotional cults of Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism likely seemed quite similar to laity, and the developing Tantrism of both religions were also similar. Furthermore, Hinduism borrowed elements from Buddhism. Vaishnavites eventually frowned on animal sacrifices and practiced vegetarianism (a requirement of Mahayana texts), while Shaivites came to downgrade caste-distinctions as not relevant to religious practice. Furthermore, the prominent Hindu philosopher Shankara developed a monastic order on the Buddhist model, and also borrowed concepts from Buddhist philosophy.


Pande (1994: p. 255) identifies the entwined relationship of Buddhism and the view of Shankara:

                       The relationship of Śaṅkara to Buddhism has been the subject of considerable debate since ancient times. He has been hailed as the arch critic of Buddhism and the principal architect of its downfall in India. At the same time he has been described as a Buddhist in disguise. Both these opinions have been expressed by ancient as well as modern authors--scholars, philosophers, historians and sectaries.

                        While Shankara is given credit for the defeat of Buddhism in Hindu literature, he was in fact active after Buddhism had faded from prominence in some areas. In particular, he was not a contemporary of the great Indian Buddhist philosopher,Dharmakirti. When Shankara came north to the intellectual centers there, he borrowed many of the ideas that had been formulated by Buddhist philosophers of the past. In his exposition that the world is an illusion, Shankara borrowed arguments from Madhyamaka and Yogacara, though he disagreed with them on some matters. Despite this, Shankara described the Buddha as an enemy of the people.

                          Literary evidences point towards an absorption of Buddhist elements by Hindu culture over a period of centuries. Anti-Buddhist propaganda was also reaching its peak during the 8th century when Shankara modeled his monastic order after the Buddhist Sangha. An upsurge of Hinduism had taken place in North India by the early 11th century as illustrated by the influential Sanskrit drama Prabodhacandrodaya in the Chandela court; a devotion to Vishnu and an allegory to the defeat of Buddhism and Jainism. The population of North India had become predominantly Shaiva, Vaishnava orShakta. By the 12th century a lay population of Buddhist hardly existed outside the monastic institutions and when it did penetrate the Indian peasant population it was hardly discernible as a distinct community.Buddhist monasteries were well-funded and life within was relatively easy. To avoid unwanted members, many monasteries became selective about whom they admitted, in some cases based on social class.

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