Buddhism in India

Buddhism, or the spiritual tradition of the awakened one, Buddha, (Buddha-dharma) is regarded as one of the three most widespread major world religions. Buddhism was founded by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni or Gautama, in the 5th or the 6th centuries B.C.E.

The basic teachings of the Buddha can be recapitulated in the Tripitaka – the three collections of: Vinaya-pitaka (the collection of discipline), Sutra-pitaka (collection of discourses), and Abhidharma-pitaka (collection of abhidharma or metaphysics). The main subject matter or the purpose of these teaching is, respectively, the development of the three higher trainings of discipline, concentration and transcendental knowledge, while their function is to remedy the three poisons of desire, anger and delusion.

In brief, the historical development of Buddhism can mainly be classified in four phases:

1. The Phase Of Early Buddhism: The historic Buddha expounded the teachings and his disciples preserved the teachings. This occurred approximately from the middle of the 6th to the middle of the 5th century B.C.E.

2. The Phase Of Interpretations Of The Teachings: The beginning of the divisions into various (Hinayana) schools on the basis of different interpretations of the teachings of Buddha (Councils) started to occur, the criterion of the second phase. This took place approximately from the 4th century to the 1st century C.E. The Hinayana Schools developed between the mahaparinirvana (death) of the Buddha and the end of first century B.C.E. After the third council, the first split into schools took place and Hinayana Buddhism was divided into eighteen sub-schools. It is said that its doctrines are essentially based on the sutras taught by the Buddha, its discipline based on Vinaya, and the analysis of the Abhidharma teachings. Hinayana primarily presents the path of individual salvation or liberation called the Pratimoksha.

3. The Phase Of The Rise Of Mahayana Buddhism: The rise of Mahayana Buddhism with its two sub-schools – Chitamattra (or the Yogacharya) and Madhyamaka was the third historical phase of Buddhism. This occurred approximately from 1st to the 7th century C.E. Mahayana Schools developed especially during the time of Asanga, Vasubhandu, Nagarjuna, and other great masters.

4. The Phase Of Buddhist Tantra: The revelation of Buddhist Tantras (in Tibet) started to take place after the 7th century. Tantric buddhism existed in India at the time in an extremely hidden or secret form and was not made public or accessible to the general buddhist practitioners. It expanded even more during the time of Saraha, Nagarjuna, and other great mahasiddhas and finally came to Tibet in full through the blessings of Guru Padmasambhava, Marpa the Great Translator, and many other great Indian and Tibetan masters.

Starting about the 3rd century Buddhism began to grow and spread outside India, adjusting to local cultures and the varying conditions of different countries. Buddhism began to take root in different countries in Asia as they came in contact with Buddhism from early 2nd century B.C.E.

Buddhism was brought to Ceylon (Shri Lanka) in 250 B.C.E. by Mahinda and Sanghamitta, children of King Ashoka. This marked the first time for Buddhism to spread outside India. In the 3rd century C.E., Buddhism then came to: Burma (Myanmar) during the reign of the King Ashoka; Cambodia; China in the 2nd or 3rd century C.E.; and Indonesia in the 3rd century C.E. From the 4th through the 8th century C.E.: Buddhism came to: Korea from China in the 4th century C.E.; to Japan from Korea in 522 C.E.; to Thailand from Burma in the 6th century C.E.; and to Tibet in early 8th century C.E.

Buddhism became nearly extinct in India, the country of its origin, after the 13th century C.E., primarily due to continuous destructive activity of different fundamentalist muslim emperors. However, it continued to grow and expand in other countries to the present day. Buddhism is now reestablished in India by many Theravadin schools of Hinayana and Tibetan Mahayana-Vajrayana buddhist schools in the recent years.