Sunday, February 12, 2012

Buddhism in mainstream Indian household

The middle path was introduced in the land of the Hindus by the enlightened one around the 5th century BC. It was a welcome respite from the mindless ritual that had become the part of Hindu life. The faith and its practice had been reduced to just mechanically conducting those rituals and effectively controlled in a large part by the priest class which there is no evidence to suggest that was not corrupt and pushed its own agenda in the name of worship. Buddha was a refreshing change, the zephyr from the eastern floodlands of India. His ideas were potent and his cult was that of compassion. He was himself a burning light to the seeker much impressive in thought, ideas and practice. And by virtue of this force, his doctrine spread through the vastness of India with much regard. Ofcourse it had political overtones which have always been present to adulterate any spiritual movement throughout the recorded annals of human history. The patronage of kings like Ashoka led to its propagation in foreign lands as well. There is an allegation - like there is always an allegation in everything - on Ashoka that his conversion to Buddhism and eventual adoption was non-violence was not sincere and a political gimmick. Ofcourse he had no more conquests to be made and would have liked to have a stable and thriving empire. Peace and non-violence were necessary to maintain a stable empire.
But eventuall Buddhism eloped from India. Today it thrives as a faith in the mainland ofChina, Jpan, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Burma. But it has long gone from the mainstream of the Indian society at least outside the expanse of the sister states of the north east. It is a curious case for me. I mean even if it was just a case of a marked decrease in the number of followers, it would have been understandable. But it is completely wiped off and it calls for an analysis. Especially in the light of the fact that the Hindus have never been aggressive in history to have effected the downfall of the Buddhism by force. There just seems to be a natural cycle in action in the curious case which we have at hand in this exercise. There are suggestions that there were some uprisings from the Hindu fold during even the times of Ashoka, but they were not prominent.
The ideals of Buddha were noble and high grounded. He was an enlightened one and with a compassionate heart urged his fellow men to apply themselves to break from the fetters of their mental captivity and realise their true nature - glimpses of the original Hindu or for that matter any other spiritual faith. But Buddhism was still largely cult following. He had propagated his faith by sheer force of his personality. Once he was gone, the natural cycle resumed. Buddhism would have inevitably been corrupted by its own powerful people and their politics. Then the Hindu revival happened during the periodof the Guptas and followed into the later centuries when various discrete events augmented the rise of the original Hindu thought and practice - the Bhakti movement, Sankaracharya, Vaishnavites, later in the day Sri Chaitanya mahaprabhu. They all were learned scholars and practitioners and passionate about reviving the old school. So we can see that the original thought reemerged. But the main point here is, notwithstanding the natural cycle, why did the faith got completely wiped off from the face of India even as there is a history of peaceful coexistence among faiths and spiritual movements in this land. Jains, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians have always been a part of the fabric once they were assimilated into the mainstream society. Buddhism seems to be an aberration in this trend.
The ideals of Buddhism are noble and filled with compassion, are very powerful to lead a society forward. They ofcourse do not believe in a universal godhead which is again an exception from all other mainstream faith. Mind is all that is to Buddhists - the individual and the universal. There were once large congresses organised in India for the gathering of the Buddhist scholars to contemplate on the thoughts of the Tathagata and further the ideas of the Tripitika. The kings patronised them then. There were followersof the Buddha in the average Indian household. And then for some mysterious reason, it all vanished!

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