A Perspective of Buddhism
- The birth and decline of Buddhism in India
- Influence of Hinduism
- Caste divisions was/is a social and economic class distinction and not a racial distinction.
- It is from this Hindu concept of karma and reincarnation that is the basis of Buddhism. The aim of all Buddhists to achieve “Nirvana” or to become a…
- The White Hun invasions
- Turkish Muslim Conquerors
- Causes within the Buddhist Tradition of the time
- The Four Major Buddhist Sects Within Tibetan Buddhism
- 2. Kagyu
- 3. Sakya
- 4. Gelug
A Perspective of Buddhism
The birth and decline of Buddhism in India
Buddhism is a religion, which arose in Bihar, India and is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (c:563-483 BC) who is known as the Buddha (the Enlightened One or Awakened One). It flourished during the reign of Maurya Empire.
Buddhism declined and disappeared from the land of its origin in around 13th Century. Buddha is regarded as the 9th incarnation of Hindu god Visnu. Buddhism is practiced areas like Sikkim, Ladakh, and Arunachal Predesh probably because to the influence of Tibetan Buddhism.
The decline of Buddhism has been variously attributed to varying reasons. One of the reasons cited for the early strength of Buddhism in early Indian history was the support of the local Buddhist kings such as the kings of Magadha, Kosala and the Kushan, and Pala Empires, and the weakening of Buddhism was thus also related to the absence of royal patronage after the fall of these sympathetic rulers. Some Hindu rulers resorted to military means to suppress Buddhism.
The continuing decline of Buddhism occurred after the fall of the last Empire supportive of Buddhism: the Pala dynasty in the 12th century CE. Later the destruction of monasteries by the new Muslim invaders destroyed Buddhism as Muslims were determined to spread Islam in India.
Influence of Hinduism
Hinduism had more appeal because of its simplicity and being able to visualize and identify with the familiar Hindu gods, while Buddhism was more of a philosophy that seemed rather abstract requiring more self discipline that they could not understand.
Hinduism preceded Buddhism by thousands of years and their culture as will established. The social order and the culture of Hinduism was based on the Cast System.
Caste is defined as a rigid social system in which a social hierarchy is maintained generation after generations without any social mobility from one’s birth.
Caste divisions was/is a social and economic class distinction and not a racial distinction.
The caste system was introduced to India about 1500 BC by the migration of Ayrans from the Northwest. Ayran priests, also made laws, and brought in four hereditary divisions. The priestly class was naturally placed at the top of the hierarchical system with such titles of earthly gods, or Brahmans who were priests and the learned men of their time.
Next were the Kshatriyas who constituted the rulers and the warriors of their time.
The third in line where the Vaishyas who were the traders and merchants who brought wealth into the community.
The fourth were the Sudras or the workers, and the peasants born to work for and serve the others above them.
Symbolically, to Hindus, Brahmans were from the mouth of god, Kshatriyas from his arms, Viaishyas are from his thighs, and Shudras from his feet. Below this and out of the social order were the Harijans or Untouchables who were only fit to undertake the dirtiest and most undesirable jobs, like removing night soil from houses.
In this caste system, there were strict restrictions observed such as he choice of occupation, on social or personal contacts with members of different castes, and most importantly, the restrictions of marriage outside of one’s caste.
However, the only glimmer of “hope” in this system was the concept of “reincarnation and Karma.” Where with pious living in strict accordance of Hindu codes, it could be possible for a person to be reincarnated into that of a superior caste. With this exception, that Women may only ever be reincarnated, after pious living to be an animal form. A sex related discrimination in Hinduismo.
It is from this Hindu concept of karma and reincarnation that is the basis of Buddhism. The aim of all Buddhists to achieve “Nirvana” or to become a Buddha.
The following are some of the steps to achieve “Nirvana.”
The path to enlightenment is a long and difficult one. Buddhists believe that everyone has the ability to achieve nirvana if they open up their minds and hearts. While the path to enlightenment isn’t easy, there are a few things that you can do to help you achieve nirvana and learn the meaning of life and everything around you.
(1) Realize that you don’t belong to yourself. You’re a part of the energy and matter that make up the universe. You’re one with the trees, the river and the sky. You are but one single entity, moving along the cosmic path to enlightenment. This idea is one that is strengthened on your path to achieving nirvana.
(2) Come to terms with the fact that you own nothing. Personal possessions mean nothing to you, as you realize that you’re one with the universe. The longer you study Buddhism, the more you’ll begin to understand that mental concentration is the key to everything.
(3) Give up your possessive emotions. Ideas like greed, hatred and jealousy all stem from the idea of self. Once you let go of your ideas of self and your worldly possessions, you will no longer feel the need for such emotions.
(4) Let go. The last stage to achieving nirvana has to do with letting go completely. You’re surrendering to the higher power, the universe and all that it represents. It’s no longer about you and what you want, but rather about the world as a whole. Negative and positive things hold no emotions, since they’re all part of the flow of energy.
It sounds like a democratic system when it is possible, by good deeds and living, a person can break the glass ceiling of caste/class and be transported from a “Harijans” to a “Brahmins.” However, I have never yet heard of any such transformation over the centuries. Yes, there may have been a few priests, or monks who may have elevated themselves to high office of Buddha, or Dalai Lama but never a Harijan to a Brahmin. So in practice, that “glass ceiling” remains. It is possible that this Buddhist concept caused alarm among the Hindu priests who felt that they would lose their absolute influence that caused the demise of Buddhism in India.
The period between the 400 CE and 1000 CE saw gains by Hinduism at the expense of Buddhism.
The White Hun invasions
Chinese scholars traveling through the region between the 5th and 8th centuries CE, such as Faxian, Xuanzang, I-Ching, Hui-sheng, and Sung-Yun, began to speak of a decline of the Buddhist Sangha, especially in the wake of the White Hun invasion.
Turkish Muslim Conquerors
The Muslim conquest of the Indian sub continent was the first great invasion into South Asia. The resulting occasional and sporadic destruction of temples did not affect Hinduism, but for Buddhism the destruction of the stupas attributed with a rapid and almost total disappearance of Buddhism from North India. Additionally purer forms of Indian Buddhism relied on patronage by kings and merchants and this change in rulers coupled with the economic integration with the Islamic world and thus the growing domination of long-distance trade by the Muslim merchant class eroded these sources of patronage resulting in an absorption into either Hinduism or Islam.
Causes within the Buddhist Tradition of the time
By the time the Muslims began conquering India in the twelfth century under the Ghurids, the number of monasteries had severely declined. Buddhism, which once had spread across the face of India, was a vital force confined to an ever-shrinking number of monasteries in the areas of its origins. Scholars believe that the monasteries at the time became detached from everyday life in India and that Indian Buddhism had no rituals or priests with the laymen relying on Brahmin priests for marriages and funerals
It seems that there are a lot of misconceptions about Buddhism in recent times. Many people do not realize that there are many sects in Buddhism that are quite different from one another. The major Buddhist sects are:
There are many subdivisions within Buddhism, but most can be classified into three major branches:
Theravada (Way/lineage of the Elders),
Mahayana (Greater Vehicle/Profound Lineage), and
Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle).
Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism went their separate ways. Mahayana then subdivided into several diverse schools, such as:
(b) Pure Land
(c) Nichiren, many of which flourish today in East Asia.
(d) Tendai/T’ien Tai
The Vajrayana Buddhist tradition is an esoteric sect that is predominant in Tibet and Nepal.
The Four Major Buddhist Sects Within Tibetan Buddhism
Sects are answerable to their own spiritual head of that sect and not to the heads of any other sect.
The Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism claims as its founder Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, the “Beloved Master.”
Padmasambhava was said to have built the first monastery, Samye in about 779 BC in Tibet. The Nyingma school includes the Dzogchen doctrines (the great completion) with the basic tantric practices, and incorporates Padmasambhava’s personal teachings. This school of Buddhism does not appoint a head, but will take the lead of the most senior priest of that community.
The originator of this sect was Marpa, c:1012-1099 was the founder of this sect. Later one of his students Dagpo Lhaje, aka Gampopa (1084-1161) introduced the practice of deditation known as Mahamudra. The head of this school has the title of “Karmapa. The 17th Gyalwa Marmapa is Ogyen Trinley Dorje born in 1985 in Lhathok region of Tibet.
The Sakya Monastery was built in 1073 by Khon Konchok Gyelpo (1034-1102 in south Tibet. Sakya Kunga Nyingpo, his son established the Sakya sect and converted Mongol Emperors of the Yuan Dynasty of China like Godan Khan and Kublai Khan into Buddhism. Eventually this sect subdivided into two lineages of the ‘Ngor and the Tsar.’ The present headquarters of this sect is at Rajpur, Uttar Pradesh, India. The current head is Ngawang Kunga Thjeckchen Rimpoche (b.1945).
Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) a scholar, founded the Gelug school of Buddhism and their monastry was build in 1409 .The third lama, Sonam Gyatso (14543-1588 was credited of converting Altan Khan to Buddhism. It was Altan Khan who, as Emperor of the Yuan dynasty of China, bestowed the title of Dalai Lama to Sonam Gyatso. Dalai Lama means,”Ocean of Wisdom” and this title has been handed down over the ages. With the protection of the Mongol Emperor of China, Gushri Khan, the 5th Dalai Lama was secure in his position as temporal leader of his sect.