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Mains Answer Writing

25-November-2023

1.  How do you explain the decline of Buddhism and Jainism? What was the impact of these philosophies on Indian society?

ANSWER

Buddhism and Jainism, two ancient Indian religions, emerged during the 6th century BCE, providing alternatives to the prevailing Vedic traditions. Both religions emphasized non-violence, compassion, and liberation from the cycle of birth and death. However, despite their initial popularity and influential teachings, both Buddhism and Jainism witnessed declines in their prominence over time.

CAUSES OF THE DECLINE OF BUDDHISM AND JAINISM

  1. Gupta Dynasty and Hindu Revival: The Gupta dynasty (4th to 6th century CE) marked a Hindu revival period, with rulers like Samudragupta favouring Hinduism over Buddhism. For instance, Samudragupta’s Allahabad Pillar inscription glorified Vishnu, promoting Hinduism’s resurgence.
  2. The decline of Trade and Commerce: The decline of trade along the Silk Road, which connected India to Central Asia and beyond, affected Buddhist monastic centres, as they heavily relied on patronage and support from prosperous trade networks.
  3. Corruptions in Buddhist Sanghas: The Buddhist ‘Sangha’ became corrupted throughout time. The monks and their followers were enamoured with luxury and pleasure. They became hungry and materialistic as a result of receiving and saving expensive presents such as gold and silver.
  4. Use of Sanskrit Language: Pali and Prakrit, the spoken languages of the majority of Indians, were used to propagate the Buddhist message. During Kaniska’s rule, however, Sanskrit superseded these in the Fourth Buddhist Council. Sanskrit was a difficult language that few people could under stand.
  5. Hindu-Buddhist Conflicts: Tensions and conflicts between Buddhists and Hindus, particularly during the later medieval period, led to violence and the destruction of Buddhist monasteries, as seen during the reign of the Pala dynasty in Bengal.
  6. Islamic Invasions: The arrival of Islamic invasions in the 12th century, such as Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji’s conquest of Bihar, resulted in the destruction of major Buddhist centres, further diminishing their presence.
  7. Absorption and Syncretism: Over time, some Buddhist and Jain followers assimilated into Hinduism, embracing certain Hindu practices and philosophies, leading to a blurring of distinct religious identities.
  8. Socio-economic Changes: Changes in societal structures, with an increasing focus on caste-based social organization, favoured the Hindu hierarchical system, which challenged the more egalitarian principles of Buddhism and Jainism.
  9. Role of Hindu Preachers: Adi Sankaracharya strengthened Hinduism through debates, vanquishing Buddhists, and establishing its dominance. Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Ramananda, and others further perpetuated this revival, eclipsing Buddhism.

IMPACT OF BUDDHISM ON INDIAN SOCIETY

  1. Social Equality: Buddhism rejected the caste system and emphasized the equality of all individuals. This influenced social attitudes, leading to greater acceptance of lower-caste individuals and women in society.
  2. Spread of Education: Buddhist monastic institutions became centres of learning, promoting education and scholarship. Nalanda University, a renowned Buddhist institution, attracted scholars from across Asia. Example: The Chinese traveller Xuanzang studied at Nalanda during the Gupta period.
  3. Art and Architecture: Buddhist patronage stimulated the development of unique art forms and architectural styles. The Ajanta and Ellora caves showcase exquisite Buddhist cave paintings and sculptures. Example: The Great Stupa at Sanchi, commissioned by Emperor Ashoka, became an iconic architectural symbol of Buddhism.
  4. Trade and Cultural Exchanges: Buddhism’s spread along trade routes facilitated cultural interactions and knowledge exchange. Buddhist missionaries, like Bodhidharma, introduced Buddhism to East Asia, fostering cross-cultural ties.

IMPACT OF JAINISM ON INDIAN SOCIETY

  1. Non-violence and Compassion: Jain principles of ahimsa (non-violence) and compassion influenced attitudes towards animals and environmental conservation. Example: Chandragupta Maurya, after adopting Jainism, renounced violence and became a practitioner of non-violence.
  2. Ethical Living: Jain ethical teachings emphasized self-discipline and austerity, promoting a simple and mindful way of life. Example: Mahavira’s Five Great Vows (Pancha Mahavrata) guided Jain laypersons and monks in leading a virtuous existence.
  3. Trade and Economics: Jain merchant communities upheld principles of non-violence in trade, fostering trust and integrity. Example: Shrenika (Rajamati), a Jain merchant, set a precedent by generously donating her wealth to a religious cause.
  4. Contribution to Literature: Jain scholars enriched Indian literature with philosophical and poetic works. Example: Acharya Kundakunda’s “Samayasara” is a significant Jain philosophical text, elucidating the path to spiritual liberation.

These philosophies profoundly impacted Indian society by shaping ethical and moral values, promoting education and scholarship, influencing art and architecture, fostering social equality, and facilitating cultural exchanges and trade.The legacy of Buddhism and Jainism continues to inspire and shape the cultural fabric of India to this day.

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