The 4 Phases of The Development of Buddhism in India
Buddhism was introduced to Indians by Shakyamuni Buddha who lived in India in the sixth century BCE, a time of boom of religious and philosophical thought from Greece to China. Born as the crown prince of the great Shakya Kingdom, the youth Siddhartha Gautama was prepared to be a king in accordance with the wishes of his royal father.
However, at the age of 28 years old, he learned of the deep suffering experienced in life by most people. He left his royal palace life, gave up his fine clothes and ornaments in order to find the causes of this suffering and the means to overcome it. After a long period of learning, deprivation, and deep meditation he finally realized his goal. He had become the Enlightened one (Buddha).
In the woods with deer and other animals at Sarnath, near Varanasi in India, he gave his first sermon, an event which is called the first turning of the Wheel of Buddhist Law (Dharmacakra).
Table of Contents
- 1 - Early Development of Buddhism In India
- 2 - The Spread Of Buddhism In Asia
- 3 - Asoka and Buddhism in India
- 4 - Decline And Reestablishment Of Buddhism In India
Early Development of Buddhism In India
In brief, the historical development of Buddhism can mainly be classified into four phases:
The Phase Of Early Buddhism
The historic Buddha spread the teachings and his disciples preserved the teachings. This occurred approximately from the middle of the sixth to the middle of the fifth century B.C.E.
The Phase Of Interpretations Of The Teachings
The beginning of the separation 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 fourth century to the 1st century C.E. The Hinayana Schools refined between the mahaparinirvana (death) of the Buddha and the end of first-century B.C.E. After the third council, the first divided into schools took place and Hinayana Buddhism was divided into eighteen sub-schools.
It is said that its doctrines are usually 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 freedom called the Pratimoksha.
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 phase of Buddhism.
This occurred roughly from 1st to the 7th century C.E. Mahayana Schools built especially during the time of Asanga, Vasubhandu, Nagarjuna, and other great masters.
The Phase Of Buddhist Tantra
The revelation of Buddhist Tantras (in Tibet) started to take place after the seventh century. Tantric Buddhism prevailed 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 spread even more during the time of Sarah, 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 Hindu and Tibetan masters.
The Spread Of Buddhism In Asia
Starting about the 3rd century Buddhism began to excel and spread outside India, adjusting to local cultures and the varying conditions of different countries. Buddhism started to take root in different nations in Asia as they came in contact with Buddhism from early 2nd-century B.C.E.
Buddhism was introduced to Ceylon (Shri Lanka) in 250 B.C.E. by Mahinda and Sanghamitta, children of King Ashoka. This recorded the first time for Buddhism to spread outside India.
In the 3rd century C.E., Buddhism then came to Burma (Myanmar) during the rule 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 spread 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.
Asoka and Buddhism in India
Alexander returned back to Babylon in 324 BC. Then a man called by Chandragupta overthrew the old Vedic kingdom of Nanda and formed a big new empire. He ruled all of the northern territories of India and into Afghanistan.
Greek historians write that Chandragupta got the idea from Alexander. But it seems more likely that, like Alexander, the Indians got the idea of conquering empires from the Iranians. Or maybe he got the idea from earlier Vedic empire-builders from India. Chandragupta took the Indus valley back from the Greeks.
As part of the peace treaty he weeded the daughter of Seleucus, who had succeeded Alexander. He gifted Seleucus 200 elephants.
There was a lot many things going on in the Mauryan Empire. The Silk Road was getting started. Indian traders sold raw cotton, Indian pearls, black and white pepper and cinnamon to their northern neighbors, the Sogdians, and the Greeks.
They bought fast horses and silver, in return, these traders brought the new alphabet back to India. People used their version of that alphabet to write the Rig Veda, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata for the first time.
As India got wealthier from a trade, the Mauryan kings built the first Buddhist stupas. Then they engraved Buddhist temples into the cliffs at Ajanta – because Buddhism was also growing rapidly under Mauryan rule. People in India started to use water wheels for irrigation, they began to make steel to sell on the Silk Road. Even Hinduism changed: apparently, new ideas about dharma and karma came into the faith, possibly from China.
Chandragupta died in 298 BC and after him, his son Bindusara took over. Bindusara’s son Ashoka made the Mauryan Empire even powerful. He ruled some of southern India and the northern too.
But Ashoka’s victories at Orissa were so cruel and awful, that (at least according to tradition) after that battle he gave up warfare for the rest of his life. Ashoka transformed from traditional Indian Hinduism to the new faith of Buddhism.
After Ashoka died in 231 BC, though, his sons and grandsons were not as powerful rulers as he was. The Mauryan Empire gradually collapsed into a bunch of smaller kingdoms.
In the era of 300s BC, one of the greatest Mauryan kings, Asoka, became a Buddhist, which helped Buddhism to succeed. Asoka spread the knowledge of Buddhism to many other Indian people and also convinced them to become Buddhists.
Decline And Reestablishment Of Buddhism In India
Buddhism became nearly disappeared from India, the country of its origin, after the 13th century C.E., primarily due to the continuous destructive activity of different fundamentalist Muslim emperors.
However, it continued to grow and excel in other countries to the present day.
Buddhism is now restored in India by many Theravadin schools of Hinayana and Tibetan Mahayana-Vajrayana Buddhist schools in recent years.