Buddhism

The Decline of Buddhism in India

   We don't know why Buddhism declined in the last half of the first millenium AD. By the time the Muslims began conquering India in the twelfth century, the number of monasteries had severely declined. Buddhism, which once had spread across the face of India, was a vital force only in the areas of its origins. Scholars believe that the monasteries became detached from everyday life in India. After centuries of patronage, the monasteries had amassed a wealth of endowments. Life inside the monasteries was very good. So the monasteries became very selective in admitting monks to the brotherhood.

   For the everyday Indian, Buddhism increasingly became indistinguishable from Hinduism, which had undergone a transformation itself. The average Hindu thought of Buddha as a god among their gods; we find numerous indications that Buddha was worshipped by Hindus as any other god. In fact, Hinduism eventually construed Buddha as a manifestation, or avatar , of the god Vishnu (Krishna is another avatar of Vishnu).

   Finally, the Buddhists lived in separate communities; Buddhism wasn't an integral part of everyday life in India, such as the rituals associated with Hinduism. When the Muslims began their conquest of India in 1192, they energetically set about trying to convert the regions to Islam. Part of this conversion process involved suppressing indigenous religions. Since Hinduism was so fundamentally a part of Indian life, they didn't succeed in suppressing it. But when they destroyed the Buddhist monasteries and either executed or drove out the Buddhist monks, there was no-one left to take up the religion. From 1192 to the present day, Buddhism ceased to be an organized religion in India, the fertile soil from which the religion grew.

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1996, Richard Hooker
Updated 10-26-96