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How can we explain the fall of Buddhism in India, which is the geographic origin of Buddhism?

Were there ever any direct conflicts between Hinduism and Buddhism?

From what I understand, the rise of Hinduism directly led to the decline of Buddhism. The White Hun invasion in the 6th century followed by a series of other military invasions and conflicts definitely hurt the influence of Buddhism but these events seem disjoint and regionally limited.

From wikipedia, what exactly does this mean? I am not satisfied with this explanation because Buddhism is strongly rooted in other Asian societies.

"By that time, Buddhism had become especially vulnerable to hostile rulers because it lacked strong roots in society as most of its adherents were ascetic communities."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decline_of_Buddhism_in_India

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I don't have a direct answer, but religion often had a dynamic of rise, fall and relocation influenced greatly by shifting powers. Ashoka the Great did much to export Buddhism beyond its zone of development, and as you've noted in its home base it was superseded with another creed. The spread of Christianity after the Roman Empire embraced it is an obvious example, as is the growth of Islam with the Arab conquests. Aside from whatever spiritual bite the various proselytising religions had, in my view it's impossible to discount the muscle that was behind them. –  EndlessLoop Feb 1 at 1:44

2 Answers 2

There were a multitude of complex factors that led to the decline of Buddhism around the 12th Century.

But first some caveats:

  1. Buddhism is/was not a monolithic entity- there are many "Buddhisms".
  2. No religion, culture, social custom has ever died out completely in India, right from the times of Mohenjodaro- they have lived on in new forms in new homes.
  3. All religions in India have borrowed from other religions.

Now the short answer:

  1. Buddhism became increasingly complex over the centuries as the philosophies got refined. (eg. Abhidharma, Sautrantika, Madhyamaka, Yogacara). This took it out of popular culture and understanding.

  2. Buddhism increasingly became a religion of renunciation and asceticism. So if you did not want to renounce worldly life and become a monk, you wouldn't probably take up Buddhism. Add to that the fact that the other sects/cults started mocking the monks' way of life as lazy and beggarly - merely an excuse to avoid the hardships of life.

  3. The ethos of non-violence was not compatible with the militaristic expansion policies of the kings. So they could not favor or promote Buddhism. Without royal patronage it would be difficult for any religion to prosper. This was especially true of the Rajputs.

  4. Many regional languages came into being, and along with that local deities, local heroes, texts and customs. For example Marathi came into existence, and Marathi devotional poems promoted local deities. Similarly Tamil devotional poems had profound impact through love/devotional "Shangam" poetry. Kannada had royal patronage, and became the language of the Lingayat movement. Local deities outside the Puranic tradition, such as Panduranga/Vitthala gained acceptance- they were semi-gods/heroes. This made the non-elite/non-Brahmin acceptable as god. Many such local heroes attracted local hymn writers such as Namdeva, Sena, Narahari and Janabai, who were people with ordinary professions in their day to day life. Janabai was a maid servant, Namadeva a tailor and Sena a barber. All these movements were thus converging towards a democratization and popularization of theology.

  5. Many of the local texts and hymns, such as of the Alvars and Nayanars blurred the distinction between monarchs and deities. This suited the monarchs and their political agenda. There are complex explanations of the equation of the state with the temple and the monarch with the deity. "The king is seen as the focus of loyalty and demands devotion from the intermediaries and the subjects, while the deity receives similar sentiments from the worshipers. This implicit overlap may have encouraged the rulers to patronize the devotional sects, underlining the notion of loyalty."

  6. Temples became political extensions and therefore powerful centres, attracting the masses. They served the dual purpose of extending monarchial supremacy and serving to use Puranic ideology to establish caste system in places where they did not exist. Note that this was politically expedient to provide a stable social structure for the efficiency of state building.

  7. The Bhakti movements simplified religion for the masses. The common man could now relate "personally" to God and did not need the intervention of the priest. The ability of an "individual" to search for liberation outside the orthodox rituals made these movements popular and acceptable. Therefore many flavors of Bhakti cults grew. By the end of this period Vaishnava, Shaiva and Shakta cults became more dominant. Kashmir Shaivaism/Tantra also came into prominence. Then there were the Kapalika, Kalamukha, Bhagavata and Pashupata cults to name a few. Far too many sects were prevalent in the various regions of the subcontinent. In this hectic competition, anyone could have "won" in the end. But what can be said with certainty is that Buddhism's dominant role as opposer of orthodox Vedic Brahmanism was usurped by the newer cults. Borrowing from Buddhist ideas, even the local deities became "compassionate" deities. This too, somewhat snatched from Buddhist "compassion" ideas and legitimised other sects as equally 'peaceful'/benevolent.

  8. Besides the Bhakti cults, Dwaita, Advaita, and other schools of thought came into existence. The effects of revivalism through thinkers such as Shankaracharya, Ramanuja and Madhava started paying dividends as the old order of Vedic Brahmanism was destroyed to form new theological doctrines. Interestingly, everyone borrowed freely from everyone else to be able to compete. Examples: Buddha became accepted as the last avatar of Vishnu. And Madhava's philosophy, that only the devoted would be salvaged seems to have been borrowed from the Malabar Christians. Tantras influenced Buddhism too- this became the Vajrayana Buddhism. But possibly, austere Buddhism borrowed less- and therefore the religion "stagnated".

  9. Puranas, Mahabharata and Ramayanas grew in popularity in local languages, leaving the Jataka tales of Buddhism behind. Possibly these were not translated from Pali. (eg Kamban's Ramayana, as opposed to Valmiki's, is quite sympathetic to Ravana- but the point is that local acceptance of non-Buddhist tales/mythology/fables had an impact on regional culture.)

  10. A few years later the arrival of Sufis from Persia, and more specifically their borrowing, intermingling and exchange of ideas with the Bhakti movements of Punjab and Bengal also infused new thinking. Arrival of Jews, Zorashtrians and Christians also added to the growing chaos.

  11. Last, and probably the last nail in the coffin- the routing of Buddhism by the Mohammedans from the west. This happened a while later, but cleared up the remaining influences of Buddhism from the North western provinces.

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+1 a model answer IMHO –  Drux Feb 26 at 8:52

In his book Charles Allen argues that with the fall of Ashokan Empire, Buddhism, the then official religion of the king started to decline. Also the decline in Buddhism started the revival of Hinduism by Pusyamitra Sunga who was a Brahmin from Bhardwaj Gotra, one of the highest castes in Hinduism.I'd also like to add that from 6/7th Century onwards India witnessed the Bhakti and Sufi Movements which also helped in reconverting the converted Buddhists into Hinduism an Islam .

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