Sunday, June 12, 2022

Rise and fall of Buddhism in India

 Rise and fall of Buddhism in India, was it a revolt against Brahmanism or a philosophical challenge? 

Vedic Dharma was a Brahmin Dharma in which the religious teachings were followed by the Brahmins and the society was into four categories based on professions and accordingly people were performing their duties and passing life. Performing sacrifices (at the cost of Yajman!) was the duty of the Brahmins, fighting was the duty of Kshatriya, trading was the duty of Vaishyas and service was the duty of Shudras. 

The yagyas and sacrifices were not the common practice of large majority of the country except the rituals on birth, marriage and death. The dwij concept was mostly followed by Brahmins and to some extent by the Kshatriyas. However, the practice of classifying people as upper and lower by birth was prevalent. Intercaste marriages were seen as a downfall of the character of an individual. 

Suddhodana, the father of Siddharth Gautam was the King of Sakya kingdoms of Kapilvastu, a Ganarajya where the polity (rules of administration) was decided by the nobles/important group leaders. The Sangha made of youthful males and adults was powerful. As a young man of 20y Sidharth Gautam became a member of Sakya Sangha. The member has to safeguard the interests of the Sakyas by body mind and money, attends all meetings and exposes faults without fear or favour. There was disqualification in case of the member commits rape or murder or guilty of giving wrong evidence. 

On the 8th year of his membership Gautam came in conflict with the Sangha. There was a State of Koliyas bordering the state of Sakyas. Both the kingdoms were subordinate to the Koshalas. The two kingdoms were divided by the river Rohini. The water of Rohini was used for irrigation by the farmers of both the kingdoms. Every season, there used to be disputes regarding who take water of Rohini first and how much. That year, they had a clash and the servants of both the sides suffered injuries. The Senapati of Sakya called a meeting of the Sangha to consider the question of declaring war against the Koliyas. Siddharth Gautam opposed the resolution. He believed that war doesn’t solve problem instead one war becomes seed for another war. He proposed careful investigation to ascertain the guilty party. He heard that their men had also been aggressors and were not free from the blame. The amendment in the resolution proposed by Gautam was lost by an overwhelming majority. The Senapati put his resolution to waging war to vote that Gautam opposed. When Senapati argued that fighting is the Dharma of Kshatriya, Siddharth pleaded that his Dharma consists in recognising that enmity does not disappear by enmity. It can be conquered by the love only. The majority didn’t agree with Gautam and the resolution of the Senapati was passed. (What would our majority of present day choose if they are asked?) 

Next day in another meeting called for the plan of mobilisation of youths of 20-50 age group, the minority of the previous day remained present but none except Gautam opposed the mobilisation. The Senapati grew angry and explained the consequences of his oppose to the Sangh decision and the power of Sangha to order the offender to be hanged or exile or declare social boycott and confiscate family land without the permission of the King of Kosalas. Gautam continued with his opposition of war against the Koliyas. Finally, he accepted his guilt of opposing the decision of the Sangha and chose the second alternative, the exile to save his family and father from social boycott and confiscating the land which was their means of livelihood. The Senapati feared accepting the suggestion of Siddharth to accept exile or death voluntarily as that may invite action against the Sangh by the King of Koshalas. Gautam thereafter proposed a way out, “I can become a Parivrajaka and leave this country. It is a kind of exile”. Gautam assured that he would obtain permission of his parents and wife and leave the country whether he obtains their consent or not. Before conclusion of the meeting, Gautam was allowed to speak. He proposed to postpone the war for sometime so that the King of Koshalas shouldn’t find connection between his renunciation and the decision of war. The Sangh agreed and postponed the commencement of hostilities against the Koliyas. 

Gautam returned home and took consent of his parents and wife. How great was Yashodhara! She replied, “your decision is the right decision. You have my consent and my support. I too would have taken Parivraja with you. If I do not, it is only because I have Rahula to look after”. 

Siddharth left home and took Parivraja at the hands of Bhardwaja who had his Ashram at Kapil-Vastu. After Pariv-raja ceremony Siddharth left Kapilvastu and moved to Rajagraha, the Capital city of Maghadha King Bimbisar. He travelled many places in search of the new light, studied Sankhya philosophy and learned Samadhi {breath control (anapanasati), pranayam, dhyana and Samadhi} from Arada Kalam at Vaishali. Sage Uddaka Ramaputta taught him Dhyana technique one stage higher. He learned the technique of higher concentration. He practices asceticism (self mortification, fasting or taking little meal) torturing the body for six years at Gaya. His belly cleave to his backbone and was unable to move. His inner voice reflected, “this is not the way, even to passionlessness, nor to perfect knowledge, nor to liberation”. He questioned, can the mortification of the body be called religion? It is only the mind’s authority that the body either acts or ceases to act. 

Sujata was a daughter of a household named Senani of Uruvela. She had uttered a wish to a Baniyan tree and viewed a yearly offerings if she should have a son. She sent her maid Punna to prepare the site under the Baniyan tree for the offering. Punna found Gautama sitting beneath the Banyan tree and thought him the God of the tree. Sujata came and offered him the food prepared by her in golden bowl. He took the bowl to the river bank, took bath and ate the food. His five ascetics became angry as Gautama broke the life of austerity and left him. On the night of that day Gautama had five dreams and when he interpreted the dreams he was sure to attain enlightenment. He threw the bowl into the river, the bowl floated. He left Uruvela in the evening and came to Gaya and saw a Banyan tree. Facing east, he sat down cross legged and upright under the tree. He had collected enough food to last for forty days. He continued meditation with an aim of obtaining enlightenment for four weeks and reached to the final fourth stage. The first stage was reasoning and investigation, the second stage was concentration, the third stage was of equanimity and mindfulness and the fourth was purity to equanimity and equanimity to mindfulness. On the night of the last day of the fourth week darkness was dispelled, light arose, ignorance was dispelled and knowledge arose. He saw a new way. It was the night of Vaishakh Purnima. Bodhisatva Gautama became Buddha, the enlightened, therefore Buddha Purnima. 

He found the answer to counter sufferings and unhappiness which were not dealt by Sankhya or Samadhi or the asceticism (Jains) the more prevalent practices of those days. 

Kapilvastu was the capital city of the kingdom of his father Suddhodana. Kapil was the ancient sage referred in Gita and the first part of Gita talks more about the Sankhya philosophy. Sankhya was a physicist theory of searching the truth by analysing the 24 elements of nature (as Vastu-things) and the Purusha the reason of creation. It was followed by Yoga and later by Karma Yoga of Jains and Gita. But none of them had satisfactory answers for the suffering of the humans in present life. Either they didn’t have answer or blamed the actions of previous life the reason for sufferings in present life. Buddha worked on the subject, analysed the problem, mediated to find right answer and brought out the ‘art of living’, treating the human mind by following eightfold path to remove the major cause of misery the human desires. 

Thus the circumstances lead him to Parivrajak life, his intuition to find out right answer for the sorrow and unhappiness in the life of millions marched him on the path of Samkhya, Samadhi and Asceticism, and finally found out the reasons for sufferings, the four noble truths, reached to the destination of “middle path” of eightfold path to attain Nirvana, nirvana from three poisons (raga-dwesha-moha: greed, aversion, ignorance); and attained liberation from the Sansaran (sansar), the cycle of rebirth. 

When other philosophies were talking about Atma (I am), he talked Anatta (I am not). ‘I am’ creates ego and attachment while ‘I am not’ keeps one free from attachment and that way make free from greed, aversion and ignorance, so that the mirror (intellect) gets clear and reflects the Truth. 

All philosophies of India revolve around ‘I’ and the liberation of the ‘I’. I think Buddha wins amongst all. 


17 May 2022

NB: the details on story of Buddha taken from a book, “The Buddha and His Dhamma”, by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.


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