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Advent of Buddhism

Buddhism and Jainism are two religions which evolved during the post Vedic Age. There were many reasons why the birth of these religions became imminent during a phase where friction between different sections of the society took center stage. The article lists the major factors and the influencing elements that led to the rise of religions like Buddhism.

During the Vedic age, i.e. 1500 – 600 BC, the society was divided into 4 major groups or varnas called the Brahmanas, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras. The people of the lowest race were deprived of many fundamental rights and were exploited by those of the higher varnas. This continued through the post Vedic age also and subsequently the condition of the shudras became so deteriorated that it led to an uprising. They were not allowed to take up Vedic studies and were classed as untouchables. The shudras were treated as a group which was meant to provide services to the higher 3 varnas of the society. The brahmanas were considered to be the highest varna or section of the society. So they tried to dominate all the other varnas including the kshatriyas (second highest position in the society) which led to a spark between the two. The friction thus created between the brahmanas and the kshatriyas became one of the major factors in the birth of a new religion, Buddhism. Vardhamana Mahavira and Gautama Buddha belonged to the kshatriya race. They were against the dominance of the brahmanas and objected the practices followed by them. They further disputed the authority of the brahmanas over the other races of the society. As a result of their activities, both became highly unpopular among the brahmanas. During this period there occurred an agricultural boom in the north eastern parts of India. The main reason and the crux behind this development was the use of iron ploughshare which required the use of bullocks. This meant that the age old custom in the Vedic age of killing animals as sacrifices should be abandoned for this agricultural economy to stabilize. Furthermore the flourishing of animal husbandry became imminent to raise a potential animal population to take up the work that is required to uphold the agricultural sector development.

During the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E., commerce and cash became increasingly important in an economy previously dominated by self-sufficient production and bartered exchange. Merchants found Buddhist moral and ethical teachings an attractive alternative to the esoteric rituals of the traditional Brahmin priesthood, which seemed to cater exclusively to Brahmin interests while ignoring those of the new and emerging social classes. Furthermore, Buddhism was prominent in communities of merchants, who found it well suited to their needs and who increasingly established commercial links throughout the Mauryan Empire. Merchants proved to be an efficient vector of the Buddhist faith, as they established diaspora communities in the string of oasis towns-Merv, Bukhara, Samarkand, Kashgar, Khotan, Kuqa, Turpan, Dunhuang – that served as lifeline of the silk roads through central Asia. The Maurya empire reached its peak at the time of Emperor Asoka, who himself converted to Buddhism after the Battle of Kalinga. This heralded a long period of stability under the Buddhist emperor. The power of the empire was vast—ambassadors were sent to other countries to propagate Buddhism. Emperor Ashoka the Great (304 BCE–232 BCE) was the ruler of the Maurya Empire from 273 BCE to232 BCE. According to legend, emperor Ashoka was overwhelmed by guilt after the conquest of Kalinga, following which he accepted Buddhism as personal faith with the help of his Brahmin mentors Radhasvami and Manjushri. Ashoka established monuments, marking several significant sites in the life of Shakyamuni Buddha, and according to Buddhist tradition was closely involved in the preservation and transmission of Buddhism. He used his position to propagate the relatively new philosophy to new heights, as far as ancient Rome and Egypt.

Kushan Empire under emperor Kanishka was known as the Kingdom of Gandhara. The Buddhist art spread outward from Gandhara to other parts of Asia. He greatly encouraged Buddhism. Before Kanishka, Buddha was not represented in human form. In Gandhara Mahayana Buddhism flourished and Buddha was represented in human form.

Under the rule of the Pala and Sena kings, large mahaviharas flourished in what is now Bihar and Bengal. According to Tibetan sources, five great Mahaviharas stood out:Vikramaśīla, the premier university of the era; Nalanda, past its prime but still illustrious,Somapura, Odantapurā, and Jaggadala.  The five monasteries formed a network; “all of them were under state supervision” and their existed “a system of co-ordination among them. It seems from the evidence that the different seats of Buddhist learning that functioned in eastern India under the Pāla were regarded together as forming a network, an interlinked group of institutions,” and it was common for great scholars to move easily from position to position among them.

The advent and spread to Buddhism to the other parts of world happened due to the propagation efforts of preaching masters. Indian shramanas propagated Buddhism in various regions, including East Asia and Central Asia.In the Edicts of Ashoka, Ashoka mentions the Hellenistic kings of the period as a recipient of his Buddhist proselytism. Emissaries of Ashoka, such as Dharmaraksita, are described inPali sources as leading Greek (“Yona”) Buddhist monks, active in Buddhist proselytism (theMahavamsa),.

Roman Historical accounts describe an embassy sent by the “Indian king Pandion (Pandya), also named Porus,” to Caesar Augustus around the 1st century. The embassy was travelling with a diplomatic letter in Greek, and one of its members was a sramana who burned himself alive in Athens to demonstrate his faith. The event made a sensation and was described byNicolaus of Damascus, who met the embassy at Antioch, and related by Strabo and Dio Cassius. A tomb was made to the sramana, still visible in the time of Plutarch, which bore the mention:”The sramana master from Barygaza in India.”

Lokaksema is the earliest known Buddhist monk to have translated Mahayana Buddhist scriptures into the Chinese language. Gandharan monks Jnanagupta and Prajna contributed through several important translations of Sanskrit sutras into Chinese language.

The Indian dhyana master Buddhabhadra was the founding abbot and patriarch of the Shaolin Temple. Buddhist monk and esoteric master from SouthIndia (6th century CE), Kanchipuram is regarded as the patriarch of the Ti-Lun school. Bodhidharma (c. 6th century) was the Buddhist Bhikkhu traditionally credited as the founder of Zen Buddhism in China.

The story of this faith of four noble truths that are Life is suffering; Suffering is due to attachment; Attachment can be overcome; and there is a path for accomplishing this task, is still spreading in a new motive force with the belief of coming the second Buddha. Facing new challenges to its faith, the followers of this faith are propagating their message of peace and order in letter and spirit.

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