Chapter 1
Strife between Buddhism and Brahmanism

It is a well known fact that Lord Buddha had revolutionized the old Vedic religion and the whole country was once Buddhist. However, there was a counter-revolution and Brahmanism gained ground and the religion of Buddha, declined the country of its origin. The Bhikkus were killed and the remaining were compelled to migrate to foreign lands, taking with them some religious literature. The lay Buddhists were converted to Hindu fold. The Buddhist books disappeared from this land and when the western scholars were looking for the Buddhist Texts, no books were found except, perhaps a solitary instance of Manjushri mula kalpa found in Kerala. [Rahul Sankrutyayan, "Buddhacharya", quoted by Bhau Lokhande:1979:p.107] On the point of absence of Buddhist texts Chaudhari has observed:

"... In a region where the philosophic doctrines of Buddhism and Jainism flourished for over three centuries, the absence of literature seems inconceivable. Perhaps there was a king of literary vandalism at the hand of literary vandalism at the hands of Hindu zealous..." [Chaudhari:1984:50]

However most of the Buddhist Doctrines, customs and practices among the masses in India remained in a distorted from and are still seen in the various groups of people. The Buddhist places of worship, the temples, the mutthas, viharas and the shrines which had been abandoned by bhikshu degenerated into ruins; but not all. Most of the important ones were appropriated by the Brahmins and converted for Brahmanic use. It is already shown by many scholars that the Lord Jagannatha of Puri, Lord of Badrikeshvara, and Vithoba at Pandharpur in Maharashtra were once Buddhist. But nobody has, up till now, to out knowledge, has shown that Lord Venkatesvara, the presiding deity on the Hill at Tirupati which is very important deity of South India and has also become very popular in the North as Balaji among the Hindus, to be a Buddhist deity and that at one time it was a worshiping place sacred to Buddhist and had been taken away from them in days of decline of Buddhism. The endeavor of this writing is to show that this famous shrine of Tirupati, which is now being worshipped in the form of Vishnu, was actually a Buddhist centre of olden times.

Residual Effects of Buddhism on Brahmanism

It goes without saying that the present day Hinduism is mostly influenced by Buddhism. Let us see what the scholars have to say about the influence of Buddhism on Hinduism and its residual effects which are seen even now, L. M. Joshi, observes:

"In his speeches and writings Swami Vivekananda has often noted the diverse Buddhist influences on Hinduism. He had observed that "Modern Hinduism is largely Pauranika, that is, post-Buddhistic in origin." He pointed out that Buddhism was mainly responsible for stopping or lessening the customs of drinking wine and killing living animals for sacrifice or for food in India. He rightly traced the origin of Hindu images and temples to Buddhist models. About the relation of Vaishnavism to Buddhism, he was declared that "Buddhism and Vaishnavism are not two different things. During the decline of Buddhism in India, Hinduism took from her a few cardinal tenets of conduct and made them her own, and these have now come to be known as Vaishnavism." It should be noted here that Vaishnavism does not consist mainly of a few cardinal tenets of conduct. The Swami is briefly referring to moral principles and practices, such as ahimsa, karuna, maitri, respect for the guru, control of the mind and the senses of yoga, etc. which Buddhism transmitted to Vaishnavism. The Bodhisattva ideal and the idea of Buddhavatar also became integral parts of Vaishnava theology." [Joshi:1977:348]

Not only ideals and morals but also temples were taken over by Brahmins

About the ideals and morals taken up by Brahmanism to make it stand among the people of this country, L.M.Joshi further observes:

"Speaking of Buddhist ascetic ideals and institutions, Swami Vivekananda has said that the monastic vow and renunciation began to be preached all over India since the time of the Buddha, and Hinduism has absorbed into itself this Buddhist spirit of renunciation. The ochre robe found a lasting home in Hinduism also. The Hindu teacher not only accepted the Buddhist institution of monks. They occupied the Buddhist monasteries also. The many monasteries that you now see in India occupied by monks were once in the possession of Buddhism. The Hindus have only made them their own now by modifying them in their own fashion. Really speaking, the institution of Samnyasa originated with the Buddha. In conclusion the Swami has stated that Hinduism has become so great only by absorbing all the ideal of the Buddha. Swami Vivekananda has been a pivotal figure in modern Hinduism and his opinions are representative of the educated Hindus." [Ibid:348, emphasis ours]

Social conditions were influenced

About the impact of Buddhism on the social conditions in this country and how it influenced the conditions of women and shudras, L.M.Joshi again, observes:

"Buddhism made profound impact in Indian social life in several ways. Its leaders and teachers continuously criticized the theory of castes and ridiculed the false claims to superiority based on birth (jati) and colour (varna). On the other hand, Buddhism opened the doors to higher religious life and the highest goal for all those who sought them, including the members of the lower strata of society. Although Buddhism was not directly concerned with the abolition of castes, it strongly opposed the caste system and repeatedly taught the evils of casteism. Another aspect of Buddhist social inhibition. Buddhism along with Jainism but unlike Brahmanism gave the equality of opportunity in religious culture to women. Some of the female members of the earliest ascetic order known to history were the Buddhist Theris or nuns whose religious poetry has come down to us in the Theriagatha. The eminent position attained by large number of women in Buddhist history, viz. Khema, Patacara, Dhammadinna, Subha, Kisa, Sujata, Visakha, Samavati, Ambapali, Upplamanna, and Soma, etc. shows that Buddhism had done much for the emancipation of women in Indian society. The same is true with regard to the Buddhist contribution towards the upliftment of shudras." [Ibid:368]

What happened to the Buddhist Population

After the fall of Buddhism, what happened to masses who were in majority? It is already shown by Dr. Ambedkar that many among the Buddhists were condemned to be untouchables. If proper study is made, we feel that it is possible even now to recognize the population groups who got converted to Hinduism. Some minor groups are identified by Joshi:

"It has been pointed out by scholars that the cult of Dharmathakura had been current among the people of low class, such as the Domas, Hadis, Fishermen, Carpenters, etc. In the Brahmanical social scheme these castes belong to the shudra order. S. B. Dasgupta describes their religion as "a mixture of later Buddhistic ideas and practices with the popular Hindus beliefs and practices of the non-Aryan aborigines." According to him "Dharma cult owes many of its elements to that form of later Buddhism, which is known as Mantrayana and latterly and most commonly, as Vajrayana." He suggests some Muslim influences on the Dharmathakura cult, and contrariwise, some Buddhist influence on the Muslims of Bengal." [Ibid:350]

However, it is our feeling that many more, more important and bigger groups from modern Indian population can be identified to have been originally Buddhists. Nagendranath Basu has investigated the forest areas of Mayurbhanj and discovered the people there, being Buddhists. Dr. Haraprasad Shastri, writing in 1911 in his Introduction to this book of Shri Nagendranath Basu, found out some groups in modern population, who were originally Buddhists. He mentions among them the followers of Goraksha Nath, Dharmaghadiya Yogis, many Guptas, Baidyas, Kars, Goldsmiths, Carpenters and Painters, Business class of Bengal, most of the Kayasthas, Sonar Baniyas, Vaishnava Sahajiyas. [Basu:p.12]

More work needs to be done to identify other classes who became Buddhists, in addition to those among Buddhists, who have been condemned to be untouchables. (1) One of the clues could be that all those groups for whom derogatory remarks and various hidden, and not so hidden, abuses are showered in the medieval Brahmanic texts, did in fact belong to Buddhist sects. (2) The other clue could be all those groups of people who are and were successful in getting educated, and acquiring literacy in spite of opposition of Brahmins during the middle ages could be conveniently recognized and identified as Buddhists of olden times. (3) Many groups in higher castes also who are not given status of equality within the same caste, can be identified as Buddhist of olden times. If some work is done on these lines, we feel that scholars would be surprised to find in the Brahmanic texts of medieval ages, a very large number of groups.

Though Hinduism has borrowed all these tenets from Buddhism, it is still different from Buddhism. Joshi observes:

"Although modern Hindu culture has a great many elements of the Buddhist culture, the two are not identical. The Hindus consider the Buddha as a maker of Hinduism and worship Him as an avatara of God; Hinduism has accepted all the great and noble elements of Buddhism. These facts do not alter the historical truth that Buddhism is different from Hinduism and Hinduism is different from Buddhism. The Hindus may worship the Buddha, because their religion is largely based on the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddhists do not worship either Vishnu or Siva, not is their religion based on the Vedas." [Joshi:p.330]

Image Worship originated amongst the Buddhist

A few people who like to think that roots of everything are found in Vedas, think that practice of Image worship started from Vedic times. However, consensus of opinion is that it originated as a Buddhist practice. For example Joshi has following to say:

"The worship of icons, images and symbols also seems to have been introduced by the Buddhist and the Jains, although its ultimate origin may be traced to the pre-vedic Harappan culture. In historical times the art and ritual of image worship was popularized first by Buddhist. It soon became an essential feature of all the sects of puranic Brahmanism. There is remarkable correspondence in the iconography of Buddhist and Brahmanical sculptures and painting of gods and goddesses." [Joshi:p.336]

Tirtha yatras were started by Buddhists

L. M. Joshi observes:

"The practice of visiting the holy places (tirthas) possibly originated with the Buddhists. In the Maha parinibban sutta visit to the spots sanctified by the Buddha is recommended. In the Vedic texts, a tirtha was understood to mean a place where animal sacrifices were performed. But in the Epics and Puranas, which teach the cult of tirthayatra or pilgrimage, killing of animals in sacrifice in holy place is prohibited. The eighth chapter of the Lankavarara sutta perhaps contains the strongest exposition of vegetarianism which became central feature of Vaishnavism in medieval India." [Ibid:337] Shri K. A. Nilkanata Sastri acknowledges this fact as follows:

"...The temple and the palace are both indicated by one word koyil in Tamil, and prasada in Sanskrit, and it universally recognized that temple - worship was not part of the original Vedic religion..." [Sastri:1966:64]

It is usually accepted that the first image that was manufactured in India for the purpose of the worship was that of the Buddha. Whether it was first manufactured at Mathura or in Gandhara could be a debatable point, but that the images of Vishnu and other Hindu gods were manufactured later than the image of Buddha, is universally accepted by scholars.

When did the Buddha worship start

The worship of Buddha was started with the emergence of Mahayana, which is a fact accepted by almost all scholars. We will only see what L.M.Joshi has to say:

"...The Mahaparinibban sutta narrates how the nobles and the commoners, both men as well as women, of the Malla clan honoured the body of the Tathagata by dancing and singing in accompaniment with instrumental music, with garlands and perfumes. Similar artistic activities full of ceremonial dignity and aesthetic sense are reported in the Lalitavistara and the Buddhacarita to have been performed by men and women of Kapilvastu at the birth of the Bodhisattva Sidhartha. "...With the emergence of the Mahayana, the Buddha image became the central plank of popular Buddhism and it was manufactured in a thousand plastic forms. Manufacturing religious icons and emblems was viewed as pious deed. So was excavating viharas in live rocks and erecting shrines and stupas. The Pali Apadanas as well as the Sanskrit Avadanas eminently display popular enthusiasm for adoration (puja) of emblems, such as the wheel, bowl, foot-prints, the Bodhi tree and other items connected with the Master's earthly existence. From about the beginning of the Christian era images of the Buddha began to come into existence, and revolutionized rituals of worship not only in Buddhism but also Brahmanism. In place of sacrificial rituals temple rituals now become popular..." [Joshi:p.158]

In contrast to this, the worship of Brahmanic images started mostly from Gupta period.

Struggle between Brahmins and Buddhists was the cause of origin of Image Worship among Hindus

Dr. Ambedkar, while discussing the origin of untouchability in his book 'The Untouchables', has given a short description of the struggle between Brahmins and Buddhists, and described why Brahmins had to start, inter alia, temple worship. This is what he says:

"To my mind, it was strategy which, made the Brahmins give up beef-eating and start worshipping the cow. The clue to the worship of cow is to be found in the struggle between Buddhism and Brahmanism and means adopted by Brahmanism to establish its supremacy over Buddhism. The strife between Buddhism and Brahmanism is a crucial fact in Indian history. Without the realization of this fact, it is impossible to explain some of the features of Hinduism. Unfortunately students of Indian history have entirely missed the importance of this strife. They knew there was Brahmanism. But they seem to be entirely unaware of the struggle for supremacy in which these creeds were engaged and that their struggle which extended for 400 years has left some indelible marks on religion, society and politics of India. "This is not the place for describing the full story of the struggle. All one can do is to mention a few salient points. Buddhism was at one time the religion of the majority of the people of India. It continued to be the religion of the masses for hundreds of years. It attacked Brahmanism on all sides as no religion had done before. Brahmanism was on the wane and if not on the wane, it was certainly on the defensive. As a result of Buddhism, the Brahmanism had lost all power and prestige at the Royal Courts and among the people. They were smarting under the defeat they had suffered at the hands of Buddhism and were making all possible efforts to regain their power and prestige. Buddhism had made so deep an impression on the minds of the masses and had taken such a hold of them that it was absolutely impossible for the Brahmins to fight the Buddhism except by accepting their ways and means and practicing the Buddhist creed in its extreme form. After the death of Buddha his follower started setting up the image3s of the Buddha and building stupas. The Brahmins followed it. They, in their turn, built temples and installed in the images of Siva, Vishnu and Rama and Krishna etc., - all with the object of drawing away the crowd that was attracted by the image worship of Buddha. That is how temples and images which had no place in Brahmanism came in to Hinduism. The Buddhist rejected the Brahmanic religion which consisted of Yajna and animal sacrifice, particularly of the cow. The objection to the sacrifice of the cow had taken a strong hold of minds of masses especially as they were an agricultural population and the cow was a very useful animal. The Brahmins in all probabilities had come to be hated as the killer of the cow in the same as the guest had come to be hated as Goghna, the killer of the cow by the householder, because whenever he came, a cow had to be killed in his honour. That being the case, the Brahmins could do nothing to improve their position against the Buddhist except by giving up the Yajna as a form of worship and the sacrifice of the cow." [Ambedkar: Untouchables: 1969:146]

In spite of the fact that the temple worship was not part of their religion, the Brahmins, in days of decline of Buddhism, when they got an opportunity, did in fact take away the Buddhist temples, viharas and places of worship for their own use. This is the story which is the subject matter of the next few chapters.

Preface          Chapter 2