History of Buddhism in India

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Buddhism is a world religion, which arose in and around ancient Magadha, India (modern Bihar), and is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who is known as the Buddha (literally the Enlightened One or Awakened One). It spread outside of Magadha starting in the Buddha's lifetime, and with the reign of the Buddhist Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, spread across India and became the dominant religion.[2][3] Followers of Buddhism, called Buddhists in English, referred to themselves as Sakyan-s or Sakyabhiksu in ancient India.[4][5] Buddhist scholar Donald S. Lopez asserts they also used the term Bauddha,[6] although scholar Richard Cohen asserts that that term was used only by outsiders to describe Buddhists.[7] Buddhism has spread outside of India through two main traditions; Theravada which extended south and east and now has widespread following in Southeast Asia, and Mahayana, which diffused first west, then north and later east throughout East Asia. Both traditions have since spread throughout the world, mainly in North America. The practice of Buddhism as a distinct and organized religion declined from the land of its origin in around 13th century, but not without leaving a significant impact. Hindus continued to absorb Buddhist practices and teachings, such as meditation and the renunciation of the material world. Buddhist practice is most common in Himalayan areas like Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Buddhism has reemerged as a major faith in India in the past century, thanks to its adoption by many Indian intellectuals, the migration of Tibetan Buddhists displaced by the Chinese invasion, and the mass conversion of hundreds of thousands of Hindu untouchables.[8]


The Mahabodhi Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the four holy sites related to the life of the Lord Buddha, and particularly to the attainment of Enlightenment. The first temple was built by Emperor Asoka in the 3rd century BCE, and the present temple dates from the 5th century or 6th century. It is one of the earliest Buddhist temples built entirely in brick, still standing in India, from the late Gupta period.


Siddhartha Gautama

Siddhārtha Gautama was the historical founder of Buddhism.

After asceticism and meditation, he discovered the Buddhist Middle Way—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. 

Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment sitting under a pipal tree, now known as the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India. Gautama, from then on, was known as "The Perfectly Self-Awakened One," the Samyaksambuddha.

Buddha found patronage in the ruler of Magadha, emperor Bimbisara. The emperor accepted Buddhism as personal faith and allowed the establishment of many Buddhist "Viharas." This eventually led to the renaming of the entire region as Bihar.[9] 

At the Deer Park near Vārānasī in northern India, Buddha set in motion the Wheel of Dharma by delivering his first sermon to the group of five companions with whom he had previously sought enlightenment. They, together with the Buddha, formed the first Sangha, the company of Buddhist monks, and hence, the first formation of Triple Gem (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) was completed. 

For the remaining years of his life, the Buddha is said to have traveled in the Gangetic Plain of Northeastern India and other reigons.

Buddha attained Parinirvana in the abandoned jungles of Kuśināra.

Just before Buddha died, he reportedly told his followers that thereafter the Dharma would be their leader. The early arhants considered Gautama's words the primary source of Dharma (doctrine, teaching) and Vinaya (rules of discipline and community living), and took great pains to formulate and transmit his teachings accurately. Nonetheless, no ungarnished collection of his sayings has survived. The version of the Canon (accepted scripture) preserved in Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan are sectarian variants of a corpus that grew and crystallized during three centuries of oral transmission.

The Ashoka Chakra is an ancient Indian depiction of the Dharmachakra. Illustration of the Ashoka Chakra, as depicted on the National flag of the Republic of India.