In Theravada Buddhism, three collections of works are regarded as sacred scripture, collectively referred to as the "Three Baskets" (Tripitaka):
The 'discipline basket' is a collection of regulations that apply to the upper class.
The 'teaching basket' contains the Buddha's lectures.
Buddhist theology is contained in the 'metaphysical basket.'
Mahayana Buddhism's texts are far more extensive. The Mahayana 'canon' has no clearly defined boundaries.
The yaksha is a large group of nature spirits, most of whom are benign, who look after the natural treasures hidden in the earth and tree roots. Having been worshipped in India earlier in the Vedic period, both Buddhism and Jainism accepted their worship.
In Buddhism, the yaksha is thought to be governed by Kubera, the king of riches.
Expansion of Buddhism
Buddhism was introduced by Kumarajeeva in China. Vyayasinghava introduced it in Ceylon and in Tibet, Padmasambhava. Ashoka sent his son Mahendra, a monk, and daughter Sanghamitra, a nun, to Ceylon.
The disciples Mahadeva (Mahishamandala), Rakshita (Vanavasa), Dharmarakshita (Aparantaka), a yavana, and Mahadharmarakshita (Maharashtra) travelled to southern India to spread Buddhism.
Several other significant events in Buddhist history include:
Kanishka, the greatest of the Kushanas and the fourth Buddhist council's major benefactor, popularised Buddhism in central Asia.
In Nagaigunakonda, Acharya Nagarjuna founded the first Buddhist university, Sriparvata.
Nalanda a renowned Buddhist monastery was established by 'Kumaragupta'
Huen Tsang made Harshavardhan, the last great ruler, a Buddhist (Mahayana).
The Pala dynasty ruled Bengal and promoted Vajrayana Buddhism.
Dharmapala founded Vikramsila, Uddandapura, and Jagaddala universities.
Buddhism in China
Buddhism is one of China's three major faiths. In some temples, Buddhist gods were worshipped alongside Chinese gods.
Mahayana Buddhism, more complex than Theravada Buddhism, was practised in China. Concerns about some Buddhist teachings prompted a monk named Xuan Zang (also known as Tripitaka) to travel to India in 600 A.D. In the 1500s, a chronicle of his famous journey was written as Journey to the West. Gods Sun Wukong and Zhu Bajie accompany Xuan Zang on his quest. Several ordeals and tests of their honesty awaited the three travellers over the course of their 14-year journey, including combat with demons and monsters using a magic stick.
Hierarchy of Gods
Buddhists in China created a complex god-goddess hierarchy. Shang Di was a powerful deity, and Dongyue Dadi was known as the Great Emperor of the Eastern Peak. He oversaw numerous departments staffed by virtuous souls who administered all aspects of human and animal life.
The Four Kings of Heaven, the Four Kings of Hell, and the Kitchen God were all important Buddhist gods. It was also believed that the future Buddha would be the bodhisattva Mi-le (Maitreya in India). Mi-Le was known as the Laughing Buddha due to his chubby, happy appearance. Worshipers prayed to join him in paradise. Every region, occupation, and way of life in China had its own god. Minor gods and goddesses ruled even the tiniest aspects of existence.
Buddhism in Japan
The Japanese royal family encouraged the spread of Buddhism in Japan after A.D. 550. Although Shinto, Japan's indigenous religion, opposed Buddhism at first, the two religions grew close.
Shinto shrines were housed in Buddhist temples, and Shinto gods (known as kamt) served as Buddhist guards. The Emperor declared Shinto the national religion in 1868, banning Buddhist priests and images from Shinto shrines.
Nonetheless, Buddhism has remained popular in Japan, outnumbering Shinto.
With influences from India and China, Japanese Buddhism has developed its own mythologies and gods.
Amida (or Amitabha in some Buddhist traditions) is a major god. He rules the Pure Land, a paradise. Various Japanese religions revere him as humanity's saviour. Kuanyin, Avalokitesvara, and Kannon are bodhisattvas who protect children, pregnant women, and the dead.
Another well-known god, Bodhisattva Jizô, protects and saves souls. As a peaceful monk who walks the afterlife, offering light and comfort to imprisoned souls.
Buddhism in Tibet
In the sixth century A.D., Buddhism arrived in Tibet from India and gradually incorporated indigenous religious rituals, resulting in the formation of a distinct style of Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhists hold numerous Buddhas, saints, and bodhisattvas in high regard.
Additionally, they believe in a variety of demons and evil spirits. Tibetan Buddhists believe that the world is perpetually in a state of creation and disintegration and that each world age brings a new Buddha to teach Buddhist teachings.
Avalokitesvara, a bodhisattva, was commissioned by one of these Buddhas, Amitabha, to bring Buddhism to Tibet, according to legend. At the time, the area was populated entirely by animals and adversaries.
As a result, Avalokitesvara created a monkey and sent it to Tibet to practise meditation. A female monster dressed as a lovely woman approached the monkey and requested to marry him. The two produced offspring, but their heads were shrouded in hair and their tails were attached. Avalokitesvara relegated the infants to a jungle to breed with other monkeys. A year later, he returned and discovered an abundance of children. When Avalokitesvara fed these animals, they became human, allowing him to convert them to Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhism is based on the rigorous intellectual disciplines of Madhyamika and Yogachara philosophy and makes extensive use of tantric ritual practises developed in Central Asia, most notably in Tibet. Tibetan Buddhism also incorporates early Theravada Buddhism's monastic traditions, as well as magical elements from the indigenous Tibetan religion of Bon. Tibetan Buddhism has several distinguishing characteristics, including the following:
A sizable portion of the population engages in religious activities on a regular basis (until the Chinese communist takeover in the 1950s, an estimated one-quarter of the populace were members of various religious orders).
Its system of "reincarnating lamas," consists of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.
The Dalai Lama's office and person are customarily a synthesis of spiritual and temporal power.
The numerous divine creatures (each with their own family, spouse, and peaceful and threatening characteristics), which are viewed as symbolic representations of the spiritual life by religiously sophisticated people and as reality by the common people.
Several Buddhist councils were called to discuss scriptural passages and settle doctrinal differences.
The first council, according to legend, took place in Rajagriha during the first rainy season after the Buddha's death. Compilations of the Buddha's vinaya (monastic discipline) regulations and sutras were prepared under the leadership of the elder Upli. The 500 monks who had gathered then recited the authorised holy passages in full force. The existence of the Rajagriha Council is disputed by some researchers.
Less than a century after the Buddha's death, the second council convened at Vaishali. This is considered a historical event. It was called to settle a dispute over Vaishali's monks' looser discipline standards.
The convened council of monks was divided between supporters and opponents of the Vaishali monks' relaxed practises, according to Sri Lankan Theravada tradition. The Vaishali regulations were defeated by the majority of the council, prompting the defeated minority of monks to withdraw and form the Mahasarika school. Salt storage, eating or begging outside of permitted hours, and receiving gold and silver as alms were among the ten controversial behaviours. The importance of theological disagreements on the nature of the arhat is highlighted in accounts of the split between the Mahasarikas and Theravadins (a perfected one who has attained nirvana).
The third council, held in Pataliputra around 247 B.C. during Ashoka's reign, may have been limited to a gathering of Theravadas. The faithful had been divided into schools and subschools by that time, each with its own explanation of monastery discipline; it became difficult for monks presided over by monks from different schools to keep the fortnightly uposatha ceremony, which required monks to confess any breach of discipline in advance, together. This predicament may have prompted the gathering of the third council. Monks who did not identify as vibhajyavadins (followers of the "doctrine of analysis") were removed from the meeting.
The Ashoka assembly is not mentioned in the records of the Sarvashtivada school.
The third assembly, about which the Theravadas are silent, was held at Jalandhara during Kaniska's reign (according to some sources, in Kashmir). Dating the council is difficult due to the difficulties surrounding Kaniska's dates. It could have happened around the year 100 A.D.
Vasumitra, a well-known scholar, was named head of the council, and according to one account, he oversaw the composition of commentary on the texts as well as their preservation in stupas.
The Decline of Buddhism in India
It is difficult to determine the relative importance of the many factors that contributed to Buddhism's decline in its motherland.
Buddhism came under attack scientifically when Adishankaracharya stated through the reasoning that Buddhist philosophy was nothing more than an extension of Upanishad thought. He established four maths (Sungeri, Badrinath, Dwarka, and Puri) to enhance Brahmanism, hence accelerating Buddhism's downfall.
Another argument is that because Buddhism was so forgiving of other faiths, it was simply absorbed by a revived Hindu tradition. This occurred despite the Mahayanists' occasional conflict with bhakti and with Hinduism in general.
However, another component was probably more significant. Indian Buddhism, which has mostly become a monastery religion, appears to have lost contact with its lay followers. Numerous monasteries had defined themselves as collections of riches, to the point of hiring indentured servants and paying labourers to care for the monks and cultivate the estates they held.
Thus, after Muslim invaders, the most notable of whom was Bakhtiyar Khilji, attacked Bihar and Bengal in 1197, destroyed Buddhist centres at Patna and Nalanda University, and pillaged Indian monasteries in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Buddhist laity demonstrated little interest in reviving the religion.
Buddhism influenced art, architecture, and literature as well. Buddhism's art evolved into three schools.
The Gandhara school of art arose in modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, with Sialkot serving as its epicentre. It was first invented by Indo-Greeks and then by Kushanas.
The Buddha is depicted with a manly figure, thickly curled hair, and a pointed nose in this art genre. The Buddha is sometimes depicted as a Greek scholar, with an extra robe slung over his left shoulder.
The Buddha in this image bears a striking resemblance to Apollo, the Greek god. The Taliban demolished the Banyan Buddha sculptures, which were thought to be the pinnacle of Gandharan art.
In and around Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, the Sunga dynasty aided the development of Mathura art. In the art form, Buddha is always seated in deep concentration, the wisdom wheel behind his head. This was entirely made in India and reflects the country's folk art heritage.
The Amravati school of art arose in South India.
The Satavahana dynasty's art was produced between the second century BC and second century AD. It is thought to be the most attractive and artistic of the three art forms. It depicts all significant episodes in Buddha's life on white limestone slabs. It has a lot of flowers and vegetation motifs.
Yakshas and Gandharvas can also be seen dancing around the Buddha. It's referred to as a living art because it's so good at expressing human emotions.
Design and Construction
Buddhist architecture is defined by stupas, chaityas, and piharas.
Stupas are structures erected to house Buddha's relics. As a result, they are regarded as sacred and are known as Dhatu Garbithas. The stupas of Sanchi, Sarnath, Sasaram, and Soneri were built by Ashoka.
The Barahut stupas were built by the Sunga dynasty (MP). Nagashoka built the Amsavati stupa, which was once the world's largest stupa. The world's largest stupa, built by Purnavarman II of the Shailendra dynasty, is located in Borobudur, Java.
Chaityas are prayer halls. Kanheri and Karle chaityas in Maharashtra are the most beautiful.
Buddhist monks use viharas, which are circular restrooms. It is referred to as "the vihara" by the Buddhists of Nagarjunakonda. It was founded by Shantisri, King Shantamula's sister.
The stupa, chaitya, and vihara are all referred to as Mahasngharama.
The Literature of Buddhism
The Buddhists communicated in Pali. The Pali language was used to produce all Buddhist texts (Treepitakas). Milindapanha is the primary text in Pali Buddhist literature. It takes the form of a discussion between King Menander, the greatest of the Indo-Greeks, and Nagasena, the convert to Buddhism who converted Menander.
Sanskrit entered Buddhism in the first century A.D. through Mahayanism. Ashvaghosh was the first Buddhist Sanskrit academic who was also an accomplished poet, musical singer, short tale-teller, and playwright. His Buddhacharita is Sanskrit literature's first Karya.
His Sriputraprakarna was a dramatic work on Sriputra's conversion to Buddhism.
Maharibhasya is a commentary on Buddhist philosophy authored by him.
Acharya Nagarjun was Buddhism's finest scholar. His Madhyamika constitutes the foundation of Mahayana Buddhism. Nagarjuna's Sruhulekha is a letter to his friend Yajnasri Satakarni, and his Rasaratnakara is the earliest work on chemical characteristics. He was the creator of the Sunyavada ideology (theory of nothingness).
Sutralankara was written by Aryasamgha, while Abhidhammakosa was written by Vasubandhu (the first dictionary of Buddhist philosophy).
Nyaybindu was written by Dharmakirti (also known as Kant of India). Buddhaghosha authored Visuddimaga, a book about Buddhist architecture.