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It’s always confusing when answering the question of how Buddhism did spread so widely throughout Asia, yet it declined in India. In the travelogue “A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms1and later Great Tang Records on the Western Region”2 written by different Chinese Buddhist monks.
It is revealed that between 399 CE to 645 CE, the descriptions of Indus society clearly indicated the decline of Buddhism in their birth land. In fact, the commencement of this decline was backdated to the times where historians can barely find any trace to prove that Buddhism was still in existence in the Deccan after 11503.
Most historians concluded that there were various internal and external factors which led to the disappearance of Buddhism in India. Some of this causes included; the decadence within Buddhism and the hostility from Brahmins. Being the main religion throughout the history of India, Brahmanism nourishes the Indian culture dominating around 80% of the Indian population (Hinduism)4.
Compare with the impact of Brahmins religion on Indian society, Buddhism didn’t truly challenge the supremacy of Brahmanism. Even at that time of the Mauryan Empire, Buddhism scaled down its peak heights. It is not necessarily important to justify that we ascribe the extinction of Buddhism simply to the influence of its powerful competitor, the Brahmanism.
However, it’s evident that the declining influence of Buddhism was also accompanied by the rise of agrarian-based religion of Brahmins on the Indian subcontinent. In addition to this, the persecution of Bramanical Kings together with the anti-Buddhism propaganda was a heavy hit to the Buddhists.
There is enough accounts rendered, which revealed all the persecution of Buddhism by Bramanical rulers. The Brahmanas never fully accepted the growing of Buddhist faith. In fact, at a later stage they counted Buddha as one of the avataras. Notable to mention is that, Sunga Pusyamitra is the best well-known example, of those anti-Buddhism kings who ordered the persecutions. According to history, these kings were linked in the persecution of Buddhists and the resurgence of Brahmanism.
Buddhist texts Ashokavadana and Divyavadana, accused the persecution of Buddhists under his reign stating that “he would give a hundred dinara rewards to whoever brought him the head of a Buddhist monk”5. Many secular historians regard these accounts as exaggerated K.T.S. This influenced Sarao to examine whether the animosity of the Brahmanas seriously contributed to the decline of Buddhism, especially in the case of Pusyamitra and Sasanka6.
In his conclusion, Sarao stated that there was no exact evidence showing that Pusyamitra and Sasanka did beleaguer Buddhists. However, the only certainty considered was that they withdrew the patronage of Buddhism and often selectively persecuted Buddhists.7 Inspite of many persecution stories being written down on Buddhists accounts, they are widely suspected by modern historians. By the matter of facts, it’s not fair to justify that such stories are not true considering that the author is a Buddhist by identity.
There are many extreme examples showing Brahmanas attempt to burn the pavilion, where Xuanzang was to be honored by king Harṣavardhana and also to kill pro-Buddhist Har–avardhana8. On the other hand, Brhannaradiyapurana declared it a principal sin, whenever any Brahmana would enters the house of a Buddhist even at times of great perils.
Vishnupurana regarded the Buddha as Mayamoha who appeared in the world to delude demons. On that note, Sankara vijaya of Madhava revealed that Sankara led a religious expedition against the Bauddhas as one of his strategies to end Buddhism.9 These accounts which are written by Brahmins avails clear evidence showing that the hostility of Brahmanism towards Buddhists is not some illusion or exaggeration, but was all political.
Although it might not appear that there was massive action to destroy Buddhism, it’s sufficient to declare that Brahmanas had no favor towards Buddhism. Furthermore, Bramanical Kings took necessary measures whatsoever to oppress any the development of Buddhism. Such steps include; withdrawal of patronage for the Buddhists. Bearing in mind that the flourishing of Buddhism entirely depended on the generosity of the royal patronage given by kings.
Nevertheless, not only Asoka, Kaniska, Harsavarkhana and the Pala kings who gave strong and substantial patronage to Buddhism but, as usually all Hindu kings were bound by custom to assist all categories of religions. Contrary, it was during the resurgence of Hinduism, when the patronage of Buddhism was sharply diminished. As we know, from the law of India, the patronage of any sects is related to a certain percentage of tax revenue and land grants10
In conclusion, it is evident to substantiate that the alleged persecution of Buddhists by Brahmans was one of the greatest hit which resulted to the decline of Buddhism. Other strategies used by Brahmans to ensure that they absorbed all the Buddhists into their religion included the withdrawal from the royal patronage.
This was followed by Muslim invasion, which was to drive away all Buddhists communities into extinction. Finally, it is good to understand that this war against Buddhism dint take one day or a single event, but it was a multi-factorial, which took centuries.
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1 FaXian A Record of Buddhist Kingdoms
2 Xuan Zang Great Tang Records on the Western Region
3 Sir Charles Eliot Hinduism and Buddhism: An Historica Sketch vol.2 p108
4 According to Wikipedia
5 Ashokavadana, 133, trans. John Strong.
6 K.T.S Sarao “On the Question of Animosity of Brahmanas and Persecution of Brahmanical Kings Leading to the Decline of Buddhism in India” Chung-Hwa Buddhist Studies, No. 10, (2006) Taipei: The Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies
7 Ibid., 274
8 Ibid., 266
9 Dr. S. R. Goyal A History of Indian Buddhism Kusumanjali Prakashan P394
10 Ibid., 399