Buddhism(Ancient India)

Jainism and Buddhism, both arose as a reaction to the existing social and religious order.


  • The society after the Vedic age,was clearly divided into four varnas: brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishayas and shudras. Each varna had well-defined functions and Varna was based on birth, the two higher varnas captured power, prestige and privileges at the cost of the lower varnas.
  • The kshatriyas,who ranked second in the varna hierarchy, fought and governed, and lived on the taxes collected from the peasants. The vaishyas were engaged in agriculture, cattle rearing, and trade. They      were also the principal taxpayers.
  • A dvijawas entitled to wear the sacred thread and study the Vedas. The shudras were meant to serve  the three higher varnas, and along with women were barred from Vedic studies.           They worked as domestic slaves, agricultural slaves,  craftsmen, and hired labourers in post-Vedic times
  • They were described as cruel, greedy, and thieving in their habits, and some of them were treated as untouchables. The higher the varna, the more privileged a person was; the lower the varna of an offender, the more severe was the punishment prescribed for him.

Causes of Origin of new Belief Systems:

  • The kshatriya reaction against the domination of the brahmanas was one of the causes of the origin of new religions. Vardhamana Mahavira, who  founded Jainism, and Gautama Buddha, who founded Buddhism, belonged to the kshatriya clan.
  • The cattle wealth was gradually decimated because the cows and bullocks were being killed in the course of the numerous Vedic sacrifices, and the non-Vedic tribal people living on the southern and eastern fringes of Magadha also killed cattle for food. However, if the new agrarian economy was to stabilize, this killing had to be halted.
  • Around 500 BC, we see the rise of a large number of cities in northeastern India. We may refer, for example, to Kaushambi near Allahabad, Kusinagar, Varanasi, Vaishali (in the newly created district of the same name in north Bihar), Chirand (in Saran district), Taradih in Bodh-Gaya, Pataliputra, Rajgir (situated at a distance of about 100 km south-east of Patna), and Champa in Bhagalpur district. Both Vardhamana Mahavira and Gautama Buddha were associated with several of these cities.
  • The use of coins naturally facilitated trade and commerce, which added to the importance of the vaishyas. In the brahmanical society, the vaishyas ranked third, after the brahmanas and Kshatriyas.

Why the new Religions Became Popular?

  1.  Jainism and Buddhism at the initial stage did not attach any importance to the existing varna system.
  2. They preached the gospel of non-violence, which would put an end to wars between different kingdoms and promote trade and commerce.
  3.  The brahamical law-books, called the Dharmasutras, decried lending money at an interest, and condemned those who lived on interest. The vaishyas, who lent money because of the growing trade and commerce were held in low esteem and looked for better social status.

Gautama Buddha and Buddhism

  • Gautama Buddha, or Siddhartha, was a contemporary of Mahavira. According to tradition he was born in 567BC in a  Shakya  kshatriya family in Lumbini in Nepal near Kapilavastu, which is identified with        Piprahwa in Basti district and is close to the foothills of Nepal.
  • From early childhood Gautama showed a meditative bent of mind. He was married early, but married life did not interest him. He was moved by the       misery suffered by people in the world, and sought a solution.  At the age of 29, like Mahavira, he left home
  • Gautama Buddha delivered his first sermon at Sarnath in Banaras. He undertook long journeys and carried his message far and wide.

Doctrines of Buddhism

  • The Buddha proved to be a practical reformer who took note of the realities of the day.
  • He did not involve himself in controversies regarding the soul(atman) and Brahma which raged in his time, but addressed himself to worldly problems.
  • He said that the world was full of sorrows and  that people suffered on account of desires. If desires are conquered, nirvana is attained, that is, man is free from the cycle of  birth and death.
  • It comprised right observation, right determination, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right, effort, right awareness, and right concern.If a person follows this eightfold path, he would free himself from the machinations of priests, and would reach his destination.
  • The Buddha also laid down a code of conduct for his followers . The principal tenets are: (i)do not commit violence, (ii) do not covet the property of others, (iii) do not use intoxicants, (iv) do not tell a lie, and (v) do not indulge in sexual misconduct and adultery.

Features of Buddhism and the Causes of its Spread

  • Buddhism does not recognize the existence of god and soul.
  • It appealed to the common people, and particularly won the support of the lower orders because it attacked the varna system.
  • People were accepted by the Buddhist order without any consideration of caste, and women too were admitted to the sangha and brought on a par with men.
  • The use of Pali, a formof Prakrit, which began around 500 BC, contributed to the spread of Buddhism.
  • It facilitated the spread of Buddhist doctrines amongst the common people.
  • Gautama Buddha also  organized the sangha or the religious order, whose doors were open to all irrespective of caste, creed, and sex.

Three Elements of Buddhism:

  • There are thus three  principal elements in Buddhism: Buddha, dhamma, Sangha.
  • Two hundred years after the death of the Buddha, Ashoka, the famous Maurya king, embraced Buddhism. This was an  epoch-makingThrough his missionaries Ashoka spread Buddhism into Central Asia, West Asia, and Sri Lanka, and thus transformed it into a world religion.

Causes of the Decline:

  •  The Buddhist monks eventually were cut off from the mainstream of people’s lives; they gave up Pali, the language of the people, and took to Sanskrit, the language of intellectuals. Pali and Prakrit, the spoken language of most people of India, was the medium for the spread of the message of Buddhism
  • The rich offerings supplemented by generous royal grants to the Buddhist monasteries made the life of monks easy. This facilitated corruption in Buddhist Sanghas.In course of time, the Buddhist ‘Sangha’ became corrupt. The monks and followers came to be drawn towards luxury and enjoyment. Receiving and saving valuable gifts like gold and silver made them greedy and materialistic. They came to lead a life of indiscipline
  • Division among the Buddhists:  Division into various groups like ‘Hinayana’, ‘Mahayana’, ‘Vajrayana’, led Buddhism to lose its originality and divert from it’s path.
  • Reforms in Brahmans:Buddhism had dealt a heavy blow to Brahminical faith. Threatened with extinction, Brahmanism started to re-organize itself. Attempts were now made to give up the complex system of rites and rituals and make Hinduism simple and attractive.  Cattle was to be preserved and worshipped.
  • Patronage to Brahmanism:In course of time there was the rise of the Brahminical faith once again. Pushyamitra Sunga, the Brahmin commander of the last Maurya ruler Vrihadratha, assassinated the king and founded the Sunga dynasty replacing the Maurya dynasty.The Asvamedha sacrifice was done by him. It gave an impetus to the Brahminical faith. Non-violence, the basic principle of Buddhism, was given up. He destroyed many stupas and monasteries.
  • Image worship was started in Buddhism by the Mahayana Buddhists. They started worshipping the image of the Buddha. This mode of worship was a violation of the Buddhist principles of opposing complex rites and rituals of Brahminical worship
  • The Huna king Mihirakula, who was a worshipper of Shiva, killed hundreds of Buddhists. The Shaivite Shashanka of Gauda felled the Bodhi tree at Bodh-Gaya where the Buddha had attained enlightenment. Hsuan Tsang states that 1600 stupas and monasteries were destroyed, and thousands of monks and lay followers killed; this may not be without some truth.

Significance and Influence of Buddhism

  •  Buddhism advised  people not to   accumulate wealth. According to it, poverty breeds hatred, cruelty, and violence.
  • The code of conduct prescribed for the monksre presents a reaction against the material conditions of north-eastIndia in the fifth–fourth centuries BC. It imposes restrictions on the food, clothing, and sexual behavior of the monks.
  • Buddhism tried to mitigate the evils resulting from the new material life in the fifth century BC, it also sought to consolidate the changes in the social and economic life of the people. The rule that debators were not permitted to be members of the sangha helped the moneylenders and richer sections of the society from whose clutches the debators could not be saved.
  • Buddhism made an important impact on society by keeping its doors open to women and shudras. As both women and shudras were placed in the same categoryby Brahmanism, they were neither given the sacred thread nor allowed to read theVedas.
  • Buddhism created and developed a new awareness in the field of intellect and culture.           It taught           the people not to take things   for granted but      to argue and judge them on merits.
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