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DISAPPEARANCE OF BUDDHISM FROM INDIA:

THE MUSLIM RESPONSIBILITY

ANKUR BARUA, M.A. BASILIO

Buddhist Door, Tung Lin Kok Yuen, Hong Kong

Hong Kong, 2009

Communication Address of Corresponding Author:

Dr. ANKUR BARUA

Block – EE, No.-80, Flat No.-2A,

Salt Lake City, Sector-2,

Kolkata - 700091, West Bengal, INDIA.

Email: ankurbarua26@yahoo.com

Mobile: +91-9434485543 (India), +852-96195078 (Hong Kong)


DISAPPEARANCE OF BUDDHISM FROM INDIA:

THE MUSLIM RESPONSIBILITY

Abstract

From the chronological analysis of all the contributing factors that led to the

disappearance of Buddhism from India, it is evident that the whole sequence of

events was initiated by the Buddhist monks and clergy when they had loosened

up their links with the community. As the lay devotees were ignored, Buddhism

started losing the general support from the community. Subsequently, the

Brahmins took advantage of this situation and deepened the rift between the

common people and the Buddhist practitioners. They also manipulated the

contemporary rulers to withdraw their support from Buddhism and help in

reviving the existing Brahmanism. This was followed by the revival of Hinduism

and further decline of Buddhism. Towards the end stage of this decline, there

was the Muslim invasion of India. During this time, majority of the surviving

Buddhists in India, who earlier belonged to the lower class Hindus, was either

forcefully or willingly got converted into Islam.

Key words: Buddhism, Disappearance, Decline, Responsibility, Islam.

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DISAPPEARANCE OF BUDDHISM FROM INDIA:

THE MUSLIM RESPONSIBILITY

Introduction

Due to the lack of historical and archeological evidence, there is no absolute

consensus till date on what led to the disappearance of Buddhism from India.1

Two factors were generally cited as the main reasons for the ultimate

disappearance of Buddhism from India. The first one was the Vedic revival,

which drove the religion out the country and this was followed by the invading

hordes of the Prophet Mohammed, who razed the temples and slaughtered the

remaining unresisting monks.1,2,3

Though majority of the scholars generally accept these two important factors,

still they do not believe that these were the truly crucial reasons for the

disappearance of Buddhism from India. Muslim invasions primarily wrecked only

Northern India. But Buddhism was a significant religious force in Southern India

too. Mahayana Buddhism mainly developed in the Southern regions. So whatever

happened to Buddhism in the northern regions, it still could not explain how the

religion disappeared from Southern India as well.1,2,3,4

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Contributing Factors for the Disappearance of Buddhism from India

Buddhism had altogether disappeared from India as a formal religion during the

13th century A.D.6 In order to explore the contributing factors for the decline and

disappearance of Buddhism from India; we need to consider all the events in a

sequential and chronological order. These factors could be arranged under the

following major headings: (a) Sectarian and Internal Conflicts – Relating to

the schisms within the Buddhist faith; the widening differences between the

clergy, Buddhist monks and laity; and the growing corruption within the sangha.

(b) Buddhists were persecuted by Brahmins - Alleged persecution of

Buddhists by Brahmins; the defeat of the Buddhists by the great theologian Adi

Shankaracharya in public debates; as well as the characteristic tendency of

Hinduism, or rather Brahmanism, to absorb its opponents. (c) Secular and

political histories - Withdrawal of royal patronage from Buddhism was

followed by the Muslim invasions which had the effect of driving into extinction

the already debilitated Buddhist community.1,2,3,5,6

It is important to understand that Buddhism was never wiped off from India on a

single day and in any single event. Like the causal web of a disease, it was a

multi-factorial causation. The process of decline and subsequent disappearance

was gradual and lasted for many centuries. So, before we get into the details of

any historical analysis, we should first arrange the factors in a chronological

order and observe the interdependency of a previous event leading to the next.

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The Final Blow from Islam Invasion

Buddhism had already entered into a state of a decline at the time of Ven. Hsuan

Tsang’s visit to India during the reign of Harsha of Kanauj in the early seventh

century. It had also been argued that its further demise, particularly in the early

part of the second millennium A.D., was hastened by the arrival of Islam.

Buddhism had found competition in Islam for converts among low-caste Hindus.

Even Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was firmly convinced about the view that Islam dealt

Buddhism a death blow. He had described the process of disappearance of

Buddhism in India as “Brahmanism beaten and battered by the Muslim invaders

could look to the rulers for support and sustenance and get it.1,2,3,8

But Buddhism beaten and battered by the Muslim invaders had no such hope. It

was uncared for orphan and it withered in the cold blast of the native rulers and

was consumed in the fire lit up by the conquerors.” Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was

certain that the Muslim invasion was the greatest disaster that befell the religion

of Buddha in India and he had appropriately described this event as “the sword

of Islam fell heavily upon the priestly class. It perished or it fled outside India.

Nobody remained alive to keep the flame of Buddhism burning.” 1,2,3,8

However, the “sword of Islam” thesis of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar remained

controversial and many reputable historians were inclined to dismiss it outright.

This was due to the fact that Islam was a late entrant into India, and Buddhism

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was showing unmistakable signs of its decline long before Islam became

established in the Gangetic plains, central India, and the northern end of

present-day Andhra and Karnataka. During the Muslim Invasion, Bengal and Sind

were ruled by Brahminical dynasties but had Buddhist majorities. Buddhism was

in a state of decline by that time and the community was neglected by the

Buddhist monasteries. The lower caste and outcaste Hindus, who had recently

taken refuge in Buddhism, were again subjected to discrimination by the upper

caste Hindus. The Buddhist monks and clergy did not come to their rescue

during that time. Majority of these newly converted lay Buddhists, who earlier

belonged to the low caste Hindus, were forcefully converted into Islam.

However, some of them were believed to have welcomed the Muslims as saviors

who had freed them from the tyranny of 'upper' caste rule. This explains why

most of the 'lower-caste' people in Eastern Bengal and Sind embraced Islam

after the decline of Buddhism in India. But one thing clear from this is that

Buddhism was on the verge of extinction during the Muslim invasion of

India.1,2,3,7,8

If Buddhism was still going strong during the Muslim invasion, it would have

easily prevented the conversions of its followers into Islam and also helped in

bridging the gap between the Hindus and Muslims by abolishing the caste

system and promoting peace and harmony in the Indian society.1,23,4,7

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Conclusions

If we analyze all the contributing factors and arrange them in a chronological

order, we would realize that the whole sequence of events was initiated by the

Buddhist monks and clergy when they had ignored the teachings of the Buddha

and concentrated on accumulation of abundance of wealth in the monasteries.

This had made them over-satisfied and lethargic. They were often engaged in

disputes over money matters and leadership. So, they abandoned the community

visits and concentrated on their own salvation instead of helping the common

people and oppressed classes to end their sufferings. As the community was

ignored, the tight bonding between the lay devotees and the Buddhist

monasteries became weak and finally broke loose.

This restricted the spread of Buddhism in India and soon Buddhism started losing

the general support from the community. Subsequently, the Brahmins took

advantage of this situation and deepened the rift between the common people

and the Buddhist practitioners that included the monks and clergy. The Brahmins

also manipulated the contemporary rulers to withdraw their support from

Buddhism and help in reviving the existing Brahmanism.

This was followed by the revival of Hinduism and further decline of Buddhism.

Towards the end stage of the outright massacre of Buddhist followers and

demolition of Buddhist monasteries on a large scale, there was the Muslim

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invasion of India. During this time, majority of the surviving Buddhists in India,

who earlier belonged to the lower class Hindus, was forcefully converted into

Islam. Some of them of course, willingly adopted Islam as it did not have any

caste discrimination and was powerful enough to save them from the torture of

Brahmins and upper class Hindus.

After examining all the contributing factors associated with the disappearance of

Buddhism from India, we must understand that it was not a single major factor

that could be isolated and held absolutely responsible for this horrendous

outcome. Considering the fact that the maximum damage is already done, it is

now a futile exercise to attempt any chronological historical dissection on

establishing the major cause for disappearance of Buddhism from India.

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References

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2009 August 26]; [2 screens]. Available from: URL:
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c.

2. Jaini, P.S., Narain A.K., ed., 1980. The Disappearance of Buddhism and the
Survival of Jainism: A Study in Contrast. Studies in History of Buddhism.
Delhi: B.R. Publishing Company:181-91.

3. Ahir, D.C. 2005. Buddhism Declined in India: How and Why? Delhi: B.R.
Publishing.

4. Kantowsky, D. 2003. Buddhists in India Today: Descriptions, Pictures and


Documents. Delhi: Manohar Publications: 156.

5. Goyal, S.R. 1987. A History of Indian Buddhism. Meerut: 394.

6. Beal, S. 1884. Si-Yu Ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World. London:
Trubner & Co., reprint ed., Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation.

7. Pakistan Defence. 2008. Disappearance of Buddhism from "Non Violent


India": An Untold Story. Daily Muslims. [serial online]. [cited 2009 October 8];
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events-social-issues/9222-disappearance-buddhism-non-violent-india-untold-
story.html

8. Moon, V., ed., 1987. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches. Bombay:
Government of Maharashtra 3: 232-33.

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