GK Chronicle GK Chronicle

Ancient History / Pre-Mauryan Era

History of Buddhism in India


    History of Buddhism in India dates back to Pre Mauryan era. Buddha lived during 6th and 5th Century BC. According to one tradition, he lived between 566 BC and 486 BC. Original name of Buddha is Siddhartha. He belonged to Sakya tribe. Hence, he is also known to be Sakya Muni. His father is Suddhodana, the king of a small kingdom named Kapilavastu ( right now located in Nepal ) and his mother is Mahamaya. He is married to Yashodhara. Siddhartha's son was Rahula.

    5 Important Events in Buddha's Life

    • Birth (symbol - Lotus and Bull) - He was born under a Peepal tree at Lumbini. Siddhartha's mother died when he was an infant and he was brought up by his aunt Gautami Prajapati, who is the first woman to convert into Buddhism. Until the age of 29, Siddhartha never came out of the house. At the age of 29, he saw 4 scenes, which disturbed him. They are (i) an old man, (ii) a sick man, (ii) a dead body and (iv) an ascetic person.

    • Mahabhinishkramana (symbol - Horse) - Channa was the officer who was always there with Siddhartha. Siddhartha left the palace with Channa and Kanthaka, Siddhartha's horse name. This stage is known as The Great Departure. For about 6 years Siddhartha roamed around here and there.

    • Nirvana (symbol - Bodhi or Pipal tree) - At Gaya, he underwent meditation for 49 days under a Bodhi tree. After that he got enlightened. This enlightenment is called Nirvana or Sambodhi. It indicates the third major event. Thathagata (attainer of truth) and Buddha were the names acquired after the enlightenment.

    • Dhammachakraparivartan (symbol - A wheel having 8 spokes) - This is the event where Buddha gave his first sermon (religious speech). From Gaya, he went to Sarnath ( outskirts of Varanasi ). In a deer park at Sarnath, Buddha gave his first sermon. It was attended by 5 disciples. Buddha was 35 years old at that time.

    • Mahaparinirvana (symbol - Stupa) - This event represents death of Buddha. He died at a place called Kusinara ( Kushinagar ) at an age of 80 years.

    Philosophies of Buddhism

    • Gautama Buddha taught four noble truths namely, Dukkha, Samudaya, Nirodha and Marga.

    • Buddha explained about Astangika Marga, an eightfold path, to become free from Samsara, which is nothing but endless cycle of rebirth. They are (i) Right speech, (ii) Right aim, (iii) Right action, (iv) Right efforts, (v) Right livelihood, (vi) Right vision, (vii) Right awareness and (viii) Right meditation.

    • He always taught the middle path and postulated to avoid extremes that is not to become too spiritualistic or too materialistic.

    • Pratityasamutpada, which actually means dependent origination, is a doctrine in Buddhism, which depicts the chain of causes leading to rebirth and Dukkha.

    Types of Buddhist Architecture

    • Stupa is a Buddhist religious structure built on the relics ( ashes ) of Buddha.
    • Chaitya is the prayer hall or shrine with a Stupa at one end.
    • Vihara or Arama is the monastery or residence of Buddhist monks.

    Buddhist Councils

    In total, four Buddhist Councils were held in ancient times and two Theravada Buddhist Councils were held in recent times.

    • First Buddhist Council

      It was held in 483 BC at Rajagriha and was presided over by Mahakasyapa under the patronage of king Ajatashatru. The purpose of this council was to document the preachings of Buddha. This council adopted Sutta Pitaka written by Ananda containing all the preachings of Buddha and Vinaya Pitaka written by Upali containing code of conduct.

    • Second Buddhist Council

      It was held in 383 BC at Vaishali and was presided over by Sabakami under the patronage of the king Kalashoka. The purpose of this council was to resolve the dispute between two groups of monks. In this council, schism happened for the first time in Buddhism. Reformist Sthaviras split from the conservative Mahasamghikas.

    • Third Buddhist Council

      It was held in the year 250 BC at Pataliputra and was presided over by Moggaliputta Tissa under the patronage of Emperor Ashoka. The purpose of this council was to discuss various issues in Buddhism. In this council, Abhidamma Pitaka, the third part of Tripitakas was adopted. Buddhist missionaries are also formed through this council.

    • Fourth Buddhist Council

      It was held in 78 AD at Kundalavana in Kashmir and was presided over by Vasumitra, assisted by Asvaghosa as his deputy, under the patronage of king Kanishka. The purpose of this council to unite the 18 sects of Buddhism that were existing at that time. In this council, 18 sects were merged into two broader sects, namely Hinayana Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism. It is a kind of union and not division.

    • Fifth Buddhist Council

      It was a Theravada Buddhist council. Mahinda, son of Emperor Ashoka, is credited with establishing Theravada sect of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, which later spread to South East Asia. This council was held in 1871 at Mandalay, Burma and was presided over by Mahathera Jagarabhivamsa, Narindabhidhaja, and Mahathera Sumangalasami under the patronage of King Mindon. In this council, it was decided that Tripitakas were to be engraved on 729 marble slabs in the Burmese script.

    • Sixth Buddhist Council

      It was also a Theravada Buddhist council. It was held in 1954 at Kaba Aye Pagoda in Yangon, the capital city of Burma. It was held under the sponsorship of Government of Burma led by the then Prime Minister U Nu. The outcome of this council was to print and publish all of the books of Tripitakas and their commentaries in the Burmese script.

    Difference between Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism

    • Hinayanas are anti-changers and are traditional and follow the original path of Buddha. They followed Pali even though it disappeared by 1st Century AD. Hinayanas worshipped the symbols of Buddha. They avoided idolatry and image worship. But empty throne, horse without rider, umbrella without a man below it, etc. are being worshiped by Hinayanas.

    • Mahayanas are pro-changers and they are ready to accept the changes in the religion. They adopted Sanskrit by discarding Pali. All Mahayana texts were written in Sanskrit. Mahayanas worshiped idolatry (human form). In full-pledged manner, idolatry was started by Mahayanas in India. Mahayanas started making images of Bodhisatvas (previous births of Buddha).

      Some of the names of Bodhisatvas are Avalokiteswara or Padmapani, Manju Sri, Vajrapani, Amitavha, Padma Sambhava, Ratna Sambhava, Maitreya (Future Buddha), etc.

    Vajrayana Buddhism

    • Vajrayana Buddhism was born in 5th century AD. In Vajrayanism, worship of Taras is important. Taras are the wives of Buddha and Bodhisatvas.

    • They argue that Tantrik (evil spirit) activity is the main thing for salvation. They also argue that sex is main thing for salvation. In Sangha (similar to Matha in Hindu), monks and nuns were allowed to live together to practice Brahmacharya. Sanghas became prostitute centers. To support this, they preached sex for salvation.

    • Because of Vajrayanism, there was decline of Buddhism in India. By 12th Century, Buddhism disappeared from India. Vajrayanism is still followed in Tibet.

    • Idol worship is present in Vajrayana Buddhism.