Why Buddhism prospered in Asia but died in India
Posted on June 9th, 2012

Shenali Waduge

Undoubtedly, the philosophy of Buddhism is one of the greatest gifts to mankind. Its peaceful concepts have distanced its followers from wars, crusades and is a binding formula for the entire South/South Eastern/Central/East Asian region of the world of which most nations are Buddhist countries whilst others including India are not.

The Buddha was not interested in numbers nor was he interested in the lay deity having a distinct identity. There were no social codes, modes of worshipƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦in other words adherence to the Buddhist faith was not obligatory unlike other religions of the world. Anyone, irrespective of caste, creed was welcome to take refuge in the teachings of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. There was no exclusive allegiance nor was lay deity required to perform regular religious service ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” essentially everything was voluntary. Only those that understood the philosophy behind Buddhism would be able to cherish its value.

With time the Brahminical Social Order began to secure greater advantage over Buddhism and with royal patronage shifting from Buddhism to Hinduism, the fate of Buddhism was sealed and the great philosophy all but disappeared from India with little help of revival even from State Governments.

Why India chose to forget Buddhism

A puzzle to most is how Buddhism disappeared in the land of its birth. Was it because people became absorbed in Hindu practices, rituals, mythology and caste supremacy or, was it the Moghul invasions, or could it have been the failure of Bhikkus to sustain the great philosophy itself?

Needless to say for whatever reasons, Buddhism did decline and disappear in India.

Historian S. R. Goyal has attributed the decline and disappearance of Buddhism from India to the hostility of the Brahmanas. An incident oft cited is the destruction of the Bo Tree and Buddhist images by Saivite King, Shashanka, persecution by Pusyamitra Sunga (185 BC to 151 BC) who detested the Law of the Buddha had set fire to the Sutras, destroyed Stupas, razed Samgharamas and massacred Bhikkus and even killed the deity of the Bodhi tree. There is also mention of the Huna onslaught on Taxila (in Pakistan), the persecution of Buddhist monks by Mihirkula.

Incidentally, though Moghuls are accused of destroying Hindu temples, most of these temples were actually built on Buddhist shrine sites. Results of Moghul invasions were many too – Somapura Mahavihara (now in Bangladesh) was set ablaze. Odantapuri Mahavihara close to Nalanda was razed to the ground in 1199 CE after killing all the monks and Bodhgaya was attacked as well. Though there is evidence that even a century beyond the Muslim conquest Buddhism remained in places like Gaya till the end of the 14th century which disproves the notion that Muslim conquest was not singularly responsible for the decline of Buddhism in India.

Thus the inability to gage a particular time period for the process of decline until Buddhism collapsed towards the end of the 12th century. Yet, the question remains if Jainism survived why Buddhism didnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t? The Bengal Puranas depict the Buddhists as being mocked and subject to verbal chiding.

Yet persecutions may suppress but it does not kill a religion!

So what really happened to Buddhism in India?

No Hindu civilization before Buddhism

There is no mention of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-HinduƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ in ancient Aryan literature nullifying the belief that a Hindu nation existed. Hindus profess to be Aryans citing the Rigveda as the oldest literature in the world. However, Rigveda was written in Sanskrit and contains references to Prakrit language (600 BCE to 1000 CE) and Prakrit was associated with Buddhism. The Rigveda also contains Vaidik prayer to God Indra to kill Dasas. Dr. Ambedkar claims Dasas and Nagas were the same people and were rulers of India when the Rigveda was written. The Rigveda also mentions Rishis like Bharadwaj, Vasistha, Bhrigu, Viswamitra etc ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” Buddhist literature mentions these are BuddhaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s contemporary so the Rigveda could not have been the oldest document in the world.

There is neither archeological evidence nor literary evidence that Sanskrit is anterior to Buddhism? Hindu historian Dr. Majumdar claims that 75% of Hindu culture derives from Dravidian culture. According to Brahminical literature the Chaturvarna (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras), the Kshatriyas were exterminated by Brahmin leader Parasuram. The Brahim text the Gita mentions Vaishyas, Sudras and women as belonging to papyoni ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” in other words they were non-Hindus. We also know that the Vaishyas and the Sudras were disallowed to hear or recite the Vedas. Moreover, the science of medicine ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” Ayurveda was the profession of the Sudras and Charak Samhita the father of Ayurveda was not only a Buddhist but also the physician of Buddhist emperor Kanishka.

The truth remains that there is nothing like Aryan civilization and Vedic period in Indian history anterior to Buddhism. Prakrit the language of the indigenous people was associated with Buddhism in ancient times. In reality, the Buddhist language is associated with the Harappan culture as inscriptions used by Buddhist emperor Ashoka to propagate his message to the people were derived from the language of the Harappan people. Aryan is a distortion of the word Iranian.

In all probability the Vaidiks falsely inserted the myth that ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Aryan cultureƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ and ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Vedic periodƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ in the historical sequence anterior to Buddhism because they did not want to disclose that the Brahminical culture came after Buddhism. It was essentially an inferiority issue.

It is clear that there was no ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Hindu civilizationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ before Buddhism, there was no ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-VedicƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ period before Buddhism because Sanskrit developed after Buddhism and it was during the Buddhist period that the Vedas were manufactured. Not wanting to give due place to Buddhism it is often argued that the Vedas were not written and were merely passed down over generations through oral scriptures (Shruties). If so, then why were they not called Vedas instead of shruties? If Sanskrit did not exist before Buddhism in what language were the Vedas or shruties passed down from generation to generation?

The Hindu era

We all agree that the history of ALL religions began from their leaders ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” the Buddhist era began with Lord Buddha, the Christian era began with Jesus Christ…etc. The Hindu era begins from Vikrami Samvat (from Hindu king Chandra Gupta Vikramaditya) and Shaka Samvat which are 2055 and 1922 years old respectively. Yet, there cannot be two eras for Hindus ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” the Shaka era started from 78AD related to Kanishka, a Buddhist emperor of the Kushan dynasty.

Hindu Brahminisation began with the Shaka era and continued to the Vikram era.

The first archaeological evidence of Sanskrit (language of Hindu Brahmins) called Rudra Danam inscriptions belong to the period of the Shaka rulers (Mathura, Nasik and Ujjain their capitals). Shaka era actually started from Kanishka, a Buddhist emperor of Kushan dynasty. Instead of Shaka era it should be called Kushan era. Another question seeks to ask why Vikram era associated with Chandra Gupta 11 was made anterior to Shaka era? What is the relationship of the Hindus with the Shakas and Chandra Gupta? Kanishka was associated with Buddhism while Chandra Gupta was associated with Hindu Brahmanism. The only possible conclusion we can derive is that Vikram era was made anterior to Shaka era to make Buddhism inferior to Hinduism.

It was during the Shaka era that Buddhism came to be divided into Mahayana and Hinayana. It was during the Vikram era that Pali, the language of the Buddhists was exterminated.

Hindu history is perhaps just 2055 years old but in order to show its superiority it exterminated Pali and destroyed the cultural and religious identity of Buddhism. There sealed the fate of Buddhism in India.

Buddhism in Asia

Buddhism has strong foundations in Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka whilst in other parts of South/South East Asia it is facing difficulties. The countries ruled by colonists resulted in persecution of Buddhist through missionary Christian/Catholic schools. Undoubtedly, there is a resurgence to revive Buddhism and to bring all Buddhist nations together.

South/South East Asia Theravada Buddhism – Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, Thailand, Bangladesh, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

In India it was only after Ambedkar started a neo-Buddhist movement among the untouchables in the 1950s that Buddhism came to be somewhat revived. In India it is mostly the Indian ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-untouchablesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ who are embracing Buddhism. There are 300m Dalits who to survive caste discrimination are turning to different faiths. We may recall how 50,000 Indian dalits converted to Buddhism.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Out of 28 Indian states and 7 union territories BuddhismƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s reach has become minimal. It is in the state of Maharashtra that 74% of total Indian Buddhists reside followed by Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Karnataka, UP, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh.

East Asian/Central Asian Mahayana Buddhism ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Nepal and Bhutan, Ladakh, Russia and China (non-Han regions ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Xinjian (East Turkistan). Han Chinese in inner China have also developed an interest in Buddhism.

It goes without saying that for a very peaceful practicing philosophy the currents that Buddhism and Buddhists have faced over ancient times and even towards contemporary times will never find answers as to why Buddhism has faced the challenges it weathered. There is no streak of violence in Buddhism. It is only about oneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s own journey towards salvation along a middle path that espouses to refrain from either extremes to finding the Truth for oneself. That Truth is not the same for any of us, yet it is the Truth nevertheless.

Similarly in the West too, the people have found Buddhism to be an easy philosophy to understand and follow. Thus, in the US, Europe, Australia, Canada and even South America plenty of ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Dharma centersƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ have emerged in over 90 countries.

Undoubtedly, we must mention Indo-Sri Lanka relationship and make special mention that there has never been a period of cordiality as that which existed during the time of King Asoka of India and King Devanampiyatiss of Sri Lanka. Regrettably, India has chosen to treat Sri Lanka as a quasi-enemy and has continued to carry out destabilizing operations against Sri Lanka. IndiaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s present overtures towards aligning with Sri Lanka through Buddhism shows clear signs of seeking to be a partner of the Asian block through Buddhism since India has antagonized enough of its neighbors already.

While India plays no role in the future of Buddhism except its treatment along scholarly lines devoid of emotional attachment, it is the practice, the understanding, the reverence given to Buddhism that is seeing a revival and a greater binding amongst South/South East/Central/East Asian countries of the world and Sri Lanka should take a lead to create greater binding.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ 

8 Responses to “Why Buddhism prospered in Asia but died in India”

  1. Dham Says:

    Thank you Shenali for not attempting to blame Budhism itself for self destruction in India, as in a continuous relentless attack Ben Silva, the FOOL of Lanka Web did some time ago. He seems to be seriously ill nowadays, Kamma cathching up for his fabricated lies. LEt his supporteres come barking now and perish subsequently.
    You have stated two important facts.

    1. There was no Hinduism before Buddha, contraray to Great Indian Lie of “Buddha born a Hindu”. Only the fools of India and most ignorant in Sri lanka belived that. However, Vedic sriptures were present in Buddha’s time but Vedic beliefs cannot be owned by so called “Hindu”s.

    2. If you research further you will find the it is the South Indians who finally got rid of Buddhism from India. I would’t say they were Tamils.

    INDIA is the most unfortunate country in the world.

  2. AnuD Says:

    The major Barrier for Buddhism was the Brahmins and secondly Jainists. They did everything they could even when Lord Buddha was living. There is a story, one Brahmin Military Commander, who usurped power from the King after a coup, killed every Buddhist in that area. The last nail was the Islam-conquests. They have killed every monk and had set fire to the Buddhist library which had burned for three months or so.

    Word “indu” was first coined by Romans, then by the west. Otherwise, it is different brahminic – religions as a whole is called Hinduism.

    Presently, if you ask, some Hindus are anti-Buddhist while some Hindus consider Buddhism as part of Hinduism.

    Tamils were even during the Buddha’s time were Jainists and, I heard, because of that, naked Tamils had to wear a white cloth around as Colonial master did not allow them that custom. Andra-pradesh was buddhist and they had done la lot to Buddhism and even the monk who took Buddhism to China via Indonesia was from Andra pradesh.

  3. charithsls Says:

    ‘nor was he interested in the lay deity having a distinct identity’ is where Shenali,current Sinhala Buddhist leaders and journalists like you should step in to come out with a code of dress to Buddhist men and specially to women.Although I completely agree with that stand as a Buddhist,in the present cut throat climax,I think we should take the Sikhs example.Though they are a minority in India,one sikh among a thousand of other indians is clearly recognised.Though we don’t have to be draconian like that,we Sinhala buddhists need to have a clearly distinctive identity by the dress or other social/religious code;just look at the cricket team how one stands out instantly when one player makes a sign of the cross while 10 buddhist players look non distinctive.It SHOULD be the strategy for a small nation to survive with a clear distinct code of dress and practice.On the top of that, don’t you see we would not have to look far now; our women now already look outwardly indians wearing their dress with no iota of brain; tvs/radios/cricket stadiums blaring out Hindu music;indians illegal or not infiltrating the country;all so called idiotic buddhists in line to pray gods with multiple heads and limbs cracking coconuts etc etc will Sri Lanka too soon lose great Buddhism?I entirely agree with Dham’INDIA is the most unfortunate country in the world’.

  4. herman Says:


    You should have explored another angle, that is “if you cannot win them join them” for that was precisely what the smart brahmins did. Buddhism was a such a formidable way of life in India in those days that there was no way they could have destroyed it totally, although they tried but was not successful entirely. So, the brahmins “integrated” Lord Buddha as a hindu deity krishna and to this day many foolish hindus think that they have destroyed the Buddha Dhamma in India completely while actually paying homage to the Buddha Dhamma.

  5. Sirih Says:

    Oh India what are you ?

    A feudal agricultural system won’t cope with that and the difficulties in establishing manufacturing and building infrastructure prevent the necessary job creation to support the population. The weight of the status quo fights against the necessary change, a status quo imposed by a vibrantly dysfunctional democracy.

    First, the government announced that it was at last opening its inefficient retail industry to foreign firms — only to change its mind within days. This month, to protect industry at home, it banned the export of cotton, upsetting India’s farmers and trading partners; within days, it backtracked. And last week the government moved to overrule the Supreme Court and change the tax code to tax foreign takeovers retroactively, not least Vodafone’s purchase of its Indian arm. Some worry that the rule of law, one of India’s great strengths, is being eroded.

    No wonder business is in a sulk and investment is falling. Red tape and corruption, always present, seem to have got worse — in recent state elections so many banknotes were doled out that they help explain a liquidity problem in the banking system. Longstanding bottlenecks have not been tackled. Partly as a result, inflation is high and stubborn.

    Every one of these problems involves the state, still huge and crazy after all these years. Few ever thought it could be reformed easily. But the hope was that a wily private sector would allow India to sprint to prosperity regardless. That view now looks romantic. It is not just a matter of a lack of the public services, from roads to power, that any economy needs, particularly if manufacturing is to thrive — as it must in India if the millions entering the workforce every year are to find jobs. Lately the state has found other ways to muck things up.

    Increasingly fractured and corrupt politics failing to deal with India’s enormous challenges now means the nation is being set up for greater crises as its population boom rolls on. The pro-India cheer squad cites its demographics and democracy as reasons for the Indian tiger to eventually overtake the Chinese dragon, but while China’s one-child policy has become a demographic problem and it suffers from not having enough democracy, India’s quickly growing population and rampant democracy may prove even more dangerous.

    Should the day arrive when one brand or another of authoritarianism – nationalistic, religious or military – is able to seize control through gross government failure ?

    To state the obvious, India is different. By most reckonings of the standard development curve, India is travelling somewhere between 15 and 20 years behind China. Of particular interest to outsiders, its steel intensity has barely started to take off. If India was to follow the Chinese example, the economic benefits would be massive, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty. It’s been expressed in various ways, but Deng Xiaoping arguably did more to alleviate poverty than all the world’s NGOs, charities and United Nations agencies combined.
    Krishna knows India urgently needs to follow the established pattern. Cheap labor certainly is exploited in the social sense, but has scarcely begun to be in the economic sense – the poor are just exploited and kept in their place.
    As China moves into the next phases of higher value manufacturing, as robots move into Guangdong factories, India barely has manufacturing industry thanks to a conspiracy of poisonous protectionism, stifling bureaucracy and endemic corruption, never mind the gross waste of resources that is the caste system.
    India’s great success stories in technology and outsourcing, from software engineering to call centres, have been achieved because they are new industries that didn’t have the dead hands of protectionism and bureaucracy upon them and thus allowed the entrepreneurial skills of well educated people to blossom.
    But while those new service industries have thrived, fuelling a burgeoning middle class of a hundred million or considerably more (depending on how you care to measure it), it remains a fraction of the whole. Yes, India produces hoards of talented university graduates, but more than a quarter of the population is illiterate. GE, Microsoft and IBM have Indian research centres, but the garbage dumps are combed by rag pickers who try to make a living by recycling plastic bags. India is a nuclear power, but the fuel of necessity for many remains dried cow pats.
    And looming over everything is a fearful demographic imperative. India, running hard to stand still for most of its nearly 1.2 billion people, is on track to add another half a billion or so by 2050. (And a worryingly disproportionate percentage of those new citizens are male, but that’s another story.)

    Michael you are a genius…

  6. Dilrook Says:

    Very good analysis containing multiple avenues for further research.

    Calling all idol worshippers Hindus is a mistake. For instance local gods from pre-Buddhist era including God Sumana Saman, God Kataragama, God Ayyanayaka, etc. were not Hindu gods. They were local deities who were humans when they ruled the island.

    These facts question the wrong assertion that pre-Buddhist religious practices were Hindu.

    Although the start of Buddhism is attributed to 588 BC, there is documented evidence of previous Buddhas who lived thousands of years before. Certain events that can be corroborated by independent historical accounts are recoded in remarkable accuracy in ancient Sinhala historical records.

    History is repeating in a remarkable way. Buddhism is once again becoming key to controlling the Asian region.

    As I wrote in a previous comment Sri Lanka had next to no connection with South Indian Buddhists compared to its connections with Burma and Thailand. It was not just Buddhism but Buddhism centred geopolitical and military connections. Today these Buddhism centred geopolitical and military connections are making a strong comeback.

  7. AnuD Says:

    As following what Dilrook says, I understand why recently china said China is also going to it’s Buddhist roots. While the previous Pope told that Asia is the 21st century’s battle ground.

  8. Dham Says:

    “Calling all idol worshippers Hindus is a mistake. For instance local gods from pre-Buddhist era including God Sumana Saman, God Kataragama, God Ayyanayaka, etc. were not Hindu gods. They were local deities who were humans when they ruled the island. ”

    Were you around that time to tell these stories ? Why positive evidence you got ?

    Who cares whether Tamil, Hindu , Sinhala or English when it comes to Buddhism ?

    While Buddhist teaching essence of courage, determination and deligence could be the back bones of the aspiration required to develop a nation, races has nothing to with Buddhism. Buddha is the greatest Indian ever lived.

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