Courtesy Reuters

The Buddhism That Was India

ONE of the decisive struggles of all human history was that which took place long ago between Buddhism and Hinduism for control of India, and its results are still being seen in the evolution of the Asian peoples. This struggle was epic, prolonged, filled with incident and drama, and yet it has figured very little in written history. If we say that the great Emperor Asoka, in the third century B.C., represents the triumph of Buddhism, and the Gupta dynasty around 400 A.D. the reviving triumph of Hinduism (or Brahmanism) we get about 700 years of a Buddhist India enlightening the whole of the East. What is more likely is that Buddhism continued to flourish in India, although not as the religion of the state, until about 1,000 A.D., at which period it had become extinct in the land of its birth and lived on, henceforth, only in the countries farther east.

There is nothing quite like this in the long story of man's development. The Lord Buddha arose in northern India around 500 B.C. as an ethical reformer, a rationalist and what some writers (H. G. Wells among them) have called an atheist. He swept away caste, ritual, superstitions and privileges of all sorts. To him there was little that was good in traditional Hinduism. He was, of course, Hindu, of the princely or warrior caste (i.e. not a Brahmin) and his followers during his own lifetime were all Hindus. And yet his great permanent following, the Buddhist world of today, is found in China and Japan, Tibet, Siam, Indo-China and Burma. Of the 340,000,000 or so people in India today only a handful are Buddhists, and these are to be found only in the mountain regions, toward Tibet, or on the borders of Burma. The mass of the Hindu people reverted, after their thousand years of Buddhism, to the many gods and rites of their forefathers.

It might be the first impression of the foreigner in India that Buddhism

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