Memos from Asia

Trailing India’s Buddhist Journey

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“What is evil? Killing is evil, lying is evil, slandering is evil, abuse is evil, gossip is evil, envy is evil, hatred is evil, to cling to false doctrine is evil; all these things are evil. And what is the root of evil? Desire is the root of evil, illusion is the root of evil.”

Buddha, the most enlightened one, a philosopher, teacher, guru, and god to millions of people around the world, was born in Lumbini, near the Indo-Nepal border, as Siddhartha Gautama. He was born as a prince to Shakya clan, in an eastern Magadha empire in 5th century BC.

Great Buddha Statue near Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaia, Bihar state of India
Lumbini, Nepal – Birthplace of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama

He got enlightened in Bodh Gaya, gave his first sermon in Sarnath, and died in Kushinagar.

Bodhgaya, India – February 26, 2014: Tibetan monks are celebrating a ceremony beneath the bodhi tree, under which the Buddha became enlightened. They are chanting, playing on flutes and drums, which they hold up while they are playing on them.
Dhamekh Stupa and ruins in Sarnath, India
Kushinagar, India – December 3, 2006: Parinirvana temple, Kushinagar, India. It is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site, where Buddhists believe Gautama Buddha attained Parinirvana after his death

India, from the last 3rd BCE till 10th century AD, had many great Buddhist kingdoms

A beautiful huge statue of Lord Buddha, at Rabangla, Sikkim, India. Surrounded by the Himalayan Mountains it is called Buddha Park – a popular tourist attraction.
Gurubhaktulakonda Buddhist Monastery remnants at Ramateertham (Credit: Adityamadhav83, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ashoka, one of the most celebrated India king, turned Buddhist after witnessing extreme violence in battlefield. He is well known for his contribution to India’s Buddhist Architecture. He donated land, grants and money to Buddhist mission and thousands of big Buddhist temples and stupas was commissioned under his rule.

Sanchi Stupa – Madhya Pradesh
Pillar of Ashoka, Lord Buddha’s place of birth. Lumbini, Nepal
State Emblem of India. Lion Capital of the Pillars of Ashoka from Sarnath.

After Ashoka, the western Indian kingdom of what is present-day Pakistan was a great center of Buddhism. Many empires of foreign invaders converted to Buddhism. These empires were Graeco-Bactrians, Sakas, Indo-Parthians, and Kusanas. Converting present-day Taxila and Gandhar into Buddhist and spreading Buddhism to Afganistan.

Buddha statue in Gandhāra style in Taxila Museum in Pakistan.
View of the Dharmarajika stupa in Taxila ruins, Pakistan
Rock cut stupa with only surviving wooden umbrella in western Indian rock-cut Karla caves, Pune district, Maharashtra India.

The next Golden Age of Buddhism in India was Gupta period. Gupta period was known for its tolerance and value on ahimsa(non-violence), one of most basic India philosophical trait. The kingdom was Hindu but promoted Buddhism extensively. The Buddhist art and architecture flourished.

Nalanda was an acclaimed Mahāvihāra, a large Buddhist monastery in ancient Magadha (modern-day Bihar), India. The site is located about 95 kilometres southeast of Patna, and was a centre of learning from the fifth century CE to c. 1200 CE. Historians often characterize Nalanda as a university.
Agra Fort – Historic red sandstone fort of medieval India also known as the Red Fort Agra at sunrise. Agra Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage site in the city of Agra India.

After collapse of Gupta empire, Buddhism was still very much part of eastern Indian demography and flourished under Pala and Sena dynasty

Revival of Buddhism in India

Due to various reasons, Buddhism hadn’t survived in India as an organized religion past the 11th century AD until the emergence of 20th century Buddhism. Buddhism actually got extinct in the Indian subcontinent, except in few areas in the Himalayas mountains.

Thiksey Monastery or Thikse Gompa on top of a hill in Thiksey village for Tibetan people and foreign travelers travel visit and respect the praying god and buddha at Leh Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, India
Ralang Monastery or Ralong Palchen Choling, Ravangla, Sikkim, India

The revival of Buddhism started with one of India’s biggest civil right activist, B R Ambedkar who together with his followers adopted Buddhism as a way to protest against caste based discrimination in Hinduism.

Deekshabhoomi is a sacred monument of Navayana Buddhism located in Nagpur
The Global Vipassana Pagoda, which can house 8,000 meditators. Meditation Hall near Gorai, North-west of Mumbai, India.

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