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What happened to Buddhism?

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What happened to Buddhism?

By Flotsam


I have always wondered why there are so few relics of the Buddhist age in India. In fact there are many more in Pakistan than in the land which was the birthplace of this gentle faith and where its founder, Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha, lived all his life except the first 20 or so years as a Nepalese prince before he left family, hearth and home and a throne. He attained Nirvana in Gaya (Bihar) and then went on his travels all over South Asia to preach his gospel.

Of course there are many stupas in India but there are no Buddhist temples except unpretentious ones built by adherents of the faith in comparatively modern times. (A stupa is not always a place of worship but usually a dome-like structure that houses some relic associated with the Buddha.) But there is nothing in India on the scale we have in Gandhara, which may be because Gandhara was a Buddhist kingdom. Its complete history is still to be revealed, and may never be revealed because of the absence of documents of the period. There is very little of the sequence of events that one can learn from archaeological excavations and sculptures, even if they are countless and continue to be unearthed day and night, as they do in Pakistan.

The fact remains that there is hardly anything worthwhile by way of Buddhist relics of a religious nature in India to indicate that once upon a time Buddhism was the second biggest faith of the subcontinent, if not the first. "While Indian scholars and historians have not bothered to throw light on this phenomenon, perhaps for fear that the true story may cast aspersions on the Hindu faith, there is nothing to hold back Europeans from trying to discover the reasons."

I recently came across an article captioned "How Buddha was erased in India" in a London daily newspaper. The writer, Edward Dalrymple, alleges that when the efforts of Hinduism succeeded in gaining mastery over the Buddhist rulers and in restoring the prime position of the Hindu faith in India, there was a deliberate, and successful, campaign of destruction to ensure that no sign of the ascendancy of Buddhism was left anywhere in India.

Dalrymple bases his article on a book by Charles Allen, a truly remarkable scholar and researcher of Buddhism, and says that the book, which is not much known outside scholastic circles, makes truly enjoyable reading. For instance I was simply amazed to read Dalrymple quoting the fact that Buddhism and the Buddha were unknown in the West before the beginning of the 19th century. The credit for discovering them for the West goes to a number of dedicated men who had worked in India (under the patronage of the British colonial government) to unearth and translate Buddhist scriptural books and documents.

"For thirty years," says Dalrymple, "Charles Allen has been quietly plugging away in the unfashionable field of colonial history. What is perhaps especially valuable about the Buddha and the sahibs is Allen's gentle reminder of exactly how and why Buddhism died out in the land of its birth.Every child in India is taught that when the Muslims first came to India they destroyed temples and smashed idols. But what is conveniently forgotten is that during the Hindu revival at the end of the first millennium AD many Hindu rulers had behaved in a similar fashion with Buddhists.

"It was because of this persecution, several centuries before the arrival of Islam, that the philosophy of the Buddha, once a serious rival to Hinduism, virtually disappeared from India. At a time when Islamophobia is becoming endemic in both India and in the West, and when a far-right Hindu mentality is doing its best to terrorize India's Muslim minority, the story of how an earlier militant phase of Hinduism violently rooted out Indian Buddhism is one that needs to be told, and remembered."

But who will tell this story to the Indians? And even if their own scholars are broadminded enough to do so, will the people of India,the majority, believe it? Fed on fables and mythology, many are not likely to readily accept historical truths, particularly when they show up India's past in a bad light.

This new revelation about the annihilation of the Buddhist faith and its signs and symbols from India is a great blot on the cultural image that Indians parade about themselves all over the world. But since very few people know about it they will try to ensure that it is never talked about.

Meantime, destiny has given Pakistan a great opportunity to display tolerance of other faiths, though this still needs to be nurtured to reach its full fruition. Instead of the approach that the remains and relics of Moenjodaro and Gandhara are not Islamic and therefore not worthy of attention, we must try to emulate our own brothers-in-faith of Spain who, for more than six centuries astounded the world with their liberal attitude towards Jews and Christians. A golden era indeed.


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I doubt Budhism was ever an all prevading religion in India. I think it was probably viewed as the "latest" revealtion of a sage. I don't think Indians had a concept of Hinduism and the "others". Hinduism always had more history behind it, so Budhism couldn't possibly delete a mammoth faith group like that. Plus, I don't think the Budhist ideal of non-violence and living in poverty made any die-hard Budhists.

Just some personal thoughts.

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Well i dont know what academic research or historical facts/evidence you are basing your opinion on but from what material i have read, you're way off.

I think you should get yourself a copy of the book "A Sea of Orange". There is an excellent paper in that book by Cynthia Mahmood regarding the so-called "enigma" of the decline of Buddhism in India.

That book is a must read for all Sikhs and all Human Rights activists.

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