This article is not against Buddhism or Buddhists but against those that run false factories to repeat the lie that Hindus used violence to uproot Buddhism from this land.
While there are many reasons why the history of this great land needs to be relooked and rewritten, the myth of the persecution of Buddhists by Hindus would find an entry amongst the top 3 reasons, to get it done. What is most interesting in this whole propaganda of persecution of Buddhists by Hindus is that it is Jihadis worldwide who look most concerned with this centuries old issue on humanitarian grounds forgetting that it were their fellow Momins aka Taliban only, in Afghanistan, who blew the ‘dirty’ Bamiyan Buddha statues and showed how much Jihadis care for Buddhists in 21st Century!
The point of this article is to expose the fallacy of the argument of Hindu persecution of Buddhists, with specific instances from Buddhist historical accounts. The scope of this article is not about delving into the theological aspects of what Siddhartha Gautama Buddha taught or the various schools of Buddhism prevalent today. We proceed to the meat of the article right away by looking at Buddhist historical accounts at the time of Emperor Ashoka, who was instrumental in the spreading of Buddhism far and wide.
Myth #1: Emperor Ashoka became enlightened after embracing Buddhism and he was the first and the last secular emperor ever to have ruled India.
As we all know, Ashoka, propelled by a sense of guilt after the bloodbath in Kalinga embraced Buddhism as some form of redemption to overcome the same. Not many Marxist historians and Islamic historians in India do seem to acknowledge a little fact that Emperor Ashoka was helped by two of his Hindu mentors in this move. So, to start with, if Hindus were as dogmatic about their faiths, as these historians have projected Hindus to be and had persecuted Buddhists, why and how did those that had sway over this great emperor allow him to embrace Buddhism as his personal faith?
And the anti-Hindu bias of these historians has forced them to hide Ashoka’s disdain towards other faiths, after he became a Buddhist. Here is an incident chronicled in “Ashokavadana” (acts of Ashoka) and I am quoting it verbatim – “….an incident occurred which greatly enraged the king. A follower of the Nirgrantha (Mahavira) painted a picture, showing Buddha prostrating himself at the feet of the Nirgrantha. Ashoka ordered all the Ajivikas of Pundravardhana (North Bengal) to be killed. In one day, eighteen thousand Ajivikas lost their lives. A similar kind of incident took place in the town of Pataliputra. A man who painted such a picture was burnt alive with his family. It was announced that whoever would bring the king the head of a Nirgrantha would be rewarded with a dinara (a gold coin). As a result of this, thousands of Nirgranthas lost their lives.” Only when Vitashoka, Ashoka’s favourite Arhat (an enlightened monk, a Theravada-Buddhist saint), was mistaken for a Nirgran tha and killed by a man desirous of the reward, did Ashoka revoke the order.
But our biased historians would never even acknowledge this, as, Buddhism was supposed to have cleansed Ashoka of all negativities and this incident flies in the face of the secular image that these folks have carefully built.
Myth #2: King Pushyamitra was a Hindu bigot that slaughtered Buddhist monks.
This King Pushyamitra , who was a military general in the Mauryan army (when the dynasty’s power was on the wane), executed a coup and he founded the Shunga dynasty. The charge that historians desperately try to make is exactly the account we saw above (what Ashoka did), excepting that this time, Ashoka has been replaced by Pushyamitra and instead of Nirgranthas, the victims were Buddhist monks. And the delta information in deriding Pushyamitra comes in the form of a powerful Arhat creating many of the monks’ heads and having them sent to King Pushyamitra’s court. Do we need anything more in terms the credibility of the accounts of King Pushyamitra persecuting Buddhists? The myth seems to hinge on some magic of a senior Buddhist monk creating severed heads of other monks and sending them to the king! Also, this narrative on Pushyamitra occurs towards the end of Ashokavadana. And it gets even shallower, as, there are historical accounts of King Pushyamitra patronizing the construction of many Buddhist monasteries. This is where the statement of the historian Etienne Lamotte assumes significance: “To judge from the documents, Pushyamitra must be acquitted through lack of proof.” (History of Indian Buddhism, Institut Orientaliste, Louvain-la-Neuve 1988/1958, p.109)
Myth #3: Hindu rulers systematically uprooted Buddhism.
This is a very generic myth and to counter it we are going to use chronicles of Chinese travelers, some of whom, where students of Buddhist theology. When Hieun Tsang (the Chinese traveler and a student of Buddhist theology) was in India, king Harshavardhana organized the Kanauj assembly (643 AD). This king was a patron of both Shaivism and Buddhism and in fact Harshavardhana has written plays integrating legends from Puranas and Jataka. The invitees to the Kanauj assembly included King Bhaskaravarman of Kamrupa (Assam), many Buddhist monks, Hindu and Jain scholars. And where did Hieun Tsang pursue further studies? He did it in Buddhist University of Nalanda. Had Hindu rulers were so intent on finishing off Buddhism, how did this University survive? And a couple of centuries prior to this assembly at Kanauj, another Chinese traveler Faxian (330 – 420 AD) had chronicled the hold of Buddhism in India. Even in the two centuries between these two Chinese travelers, Buddhism did not wither away, which, clearly indicates that across this land ruled by Hindu kings, the growth of Buddhism was never curtailed.
And let us further see what we can infer from Hieun Tsang about Buddhism in India, in his works –
- Buddhism was popular in Kanyakubja (modern day UP).
- Kanyakubja had 100 monasteries and 10,000 bhikshus along with 200 “Deva” (Hindu) temples
- Konkanpura (perhaps modern day Konkan or may be the areas around Kolhapur), he found great numbers of Buddhists coexisting with a similar number of non-Buddhists
- In Sindh he finds a large Sammitiya and Theravada population. He reports a fair number of Buddhists in what is now Pakistan.
His chronicles, while discussing that some of the Hindu kings were not favorable to Buddhism, does not anywhere mention anything close to state sponsored violence being unleashed against Buddhists by these Hindu kings. And our Chinese friend (a known Buddhist student of theology) was of some repute and if these Hindu kings were so bigoted (as our modern day historians would have us believe), he would not have been allowed to enter into such kingdoms at all.
So what the above instances go to show is that Hindu kings were not Hindu extremists that destroyed Buddhism, as, the modern day historians try to claim. Given the obvious gaps in their falsified accunts, some of the historians use King Mihirakula as a Hindu poster boy that unleashed violence against Buddhists. But what they willfully gloss over is that this king was not a Hindu but was a Hun ruler that belonged to a clan (of Central Asian Xionites origin) that invaded North West India. The historians claim that King Mihirakula was a Shiavitie but in his campaigns against the kingdom of Malwa and Gwalior, he razed down temples and Buddhist stupas alike and this confirms his non-Hindu origins. Just to be doubly sure, I am also presenting his lineage which proves he was not a Hindu. Mihirakula was the son of the Hun ruler called Toramana and their Hun lineage and the spread of the kingdom can be seen in the Jain literary work called Kuvalayamala.
But our biased historians will have none of these and they will continue to parrot the lie that Hindu kings like Pushyamitra and Mihirakula persecuted Buddhists!
Myth #4: Adi Shankaracharya instigated Hindu kings to rid India of Buddhism
This is a myth that is completely unfounded. The historical records show that by the time Adi Shankaracharya started traveling and engaging Buddhist scholars in theological debates, Buddhism was already on the wane, due to the fact that monasteries started becoming organized power centers of kingdoms and instead of propagating the message of Gautama Buddha, they ended up setting agendas and started influencing the public discourse on theology. Buddhism had, by Adi Shankara’s time become monastery centric and the closed groups of monks started becoming corrupt. And in order to cling on to their exalted status the monks started espousing the very same superstitious beliefs that the original Buddha sought to destroy in the society of his time. Of course, we will deep-dive into reasons for the decline of Buddhism towards the end of this article.
Returning to Shankara, if anything the spade work for a theological counterpoint / debate against Buddhism was put in place by the famous Purva Mimamsa scholar called Kumarila Bhatta from modern day Assam. He had enrolled in the Nalanda University to understand Buddhist theology so that he can do a comparative study with Vedas. He was thrown out of the University, when, he questioned the understanding of one of his teachers on Vedic philosophy, who, criticized the Vedas. Kumarila Bhatta had already weakened the theological hold of Buddhism amongst the masses, by the time Shankara arrived. Kumarila Bhatta engaged many a Buddhist scholar in public debates on Vedas and was instrumental in many kings that patronized these Buddhist scholars returning back to the Vedic fold.
The debates that Shankara engaged in had the criterion that the one that lost the debate should embrace the faith of the victor. When Buddhist scholars lost debate after debate with Shankara, they had no choice but to honor the commitment and when they did so, the king / prince to whom these Buddhist scholars were mentors ended up following suit. There is nothing in the historical records, even remotely, to suggest that Shankara forced Hindu kings to unleash violence against the Buddhists.
While he did engage in discussions with many rulers persuasively about Hindu dharma, the charge of this Hindu Guru engaging in violence against Buddhists is the unilateral dream of biased historians. There is not even a shred of evidence that substantiates the charge of Adi Shankaracharya instigating violence against Buddhists. And just to be sure, if we deep dive into the Advaita philosophy, as expounded by Adi Shankaracharya, the same ethics that are seen in the Vedas, Upanishads & Bhagavad Gita, like truth, non-violence, service etc are seen. Had Adi Shankaracharya acted against what he publicly preached or had he done things blatantly contradicted the message of Vedas, he would have ceased to be the philosopher / saint he is.
Decline of Buddhism in India:
Here is where the falsified, unsubstantiated blatant lies of many a historian will be buried. Now, will our biased historians give us details of which of the Hindu kings pillaged and burnt down Buddhist monasteries? They hardly can but we are going to churn out some hard hitting facts.
- An excerpt from “History Of Magadha” by L.L.S. Omalley; J.F.W. James (Veena Publication, Delhi, 2005, pp. 35: “ The Buddhism of Magadha was finally swept away by the Muhammadan invasion under Bakhtiyar Khilji, In 1197 the capital, Bihar, was seized by a small party of two hundred horsemen, who rushed the postern gate, and sacked the town. The slaughter of the “shaven-headed Brahmans,” as the Muslim chronicler calls the Buddhist monks, was so complete that when the victor searched for someone capable of explaining the contents of the monastic libraries, not a living man could be found who was able to do so. “It was discovered,” it was said, “that the whole fort and city was a place of study.” A similar fate befell the other Buddhist institutions, against which the combined intolerance and rapacity of the invaders was directed. The monasteries were sacked and the monks slain, many of the temples were ruthlessly destroyed or desecrated, and countless idols were broken and trodden under foot. Those monks who escaped the sword flied to Tibet, Nepal and southern India; and Buddhism as a popular religion in Bihar, its last abode in Northern India, was finally destroyed. Then forward Patna passed under Muhammadan rule.”
- And what did the Hindus that were fighting the Muhammadan invaders do for Buddhism during the invasions? Here are some excerpts from Alexander Berzin’s “The Historical Interaction between the Buddhist and Islamic Cultures before the Mongol Empire”:
- Although the Mithila rulers were Shaivite Hindus, they continued the Pala patronage of Buddhism and offered strong resistance against the Ghurids. They stopped, for example, an attempted drive to take Tibet in 1206.
- The Sena king (Hindu) installed defensive garrisons at Odantapuri and Vikramashila Monasteries, which were imposing walled citadels directly on the Ghurids’ line of advance.
- A Tibetan monk called Dharmaswamin visited Nalanda in 1235, nearly forty years after its sack, and found a small class still conducted in the ruins by a ninety-year old monk, Rahul Sribhadra. Weak and old, the teacher was kept fed and alive by a local Brahmin, Jayadeva. Warned of a roving band of 300 Turks, the class dispersed, with Dharmaswamin carrying his nonagenarian teacher on his back into hiding. Only the two of them came back, and after the last lesson (it was Sanskrit grammar) Rahul Sribhadra told his Tibetan student that he had taught him all he knew and in spite of his entreaties asked him to go home. Packing a raggedy bundle of surviving manuscripts under his robe, Dharmaswamin left the old monk sitting calmly amidst the ruins. And both he and the Dharma of Sakyamuni made their exit from India.
- Dr.Ambedkar’s take on the topic:
“There can be no doubt that the fall of Buddhism in India was due to the invasions of the Musalmans,” writes the author. “Islam came out as the enemy of the ‘But’. The word ‘But,’ as everybody knows, is an Arabic word and means an idol. Not many people, however, know that the derivation of the word ‘But’ is the Arabic corruption of Buddha. Thus the origin of the word indicates that in the Moslem mind idol worship had come to be identified with the Religion of the Buddha. To the Muslims, they were one and the same thing. The mission to break the idols thus became the mission to destroy Buddhism. Islam destroyed Buddhism not only in India but wherever it went. Before Islam came into being Buddhism was the religion of Bactria, Parthia, Afghanistan, Gandhar and Chinese Turkestan, as it was of the whole of Asia….”
Dr.Ambedkar also laments the nature of priesthood and the practices of the communities (Buddhism and Hinduism) that enabled Hinduism to survive, while, Buddhism was not so lucky, against the brutal assaults by Muhammadans. “Such was the slaughter of the Buddhist priesthood perpetrated by the Islamic invaders. The axe was struck at the very root. For by killing the Buddhist priesthood, Islam killed Buddhism. This was the greatest disaster that befell the religion of the Buddha in India….” He continues elsewhere “…and the difference is so great that it contains the whole reason why Brahmanism survived the attack of Islam and why Buddhism did not.”
The lists of similar instances are available across the books that have been quoted above. But the biased historians of our land willfully follow an ostrich like approach and keep repeating the lie that Hindus uprooted Buddhism from India, violently. May truth prevail.
- Buddhist Records of the Western Countries written by Hsien-tsang (circa 650 AD). Taken from Translations by Thomas Watters (1904) and Samuel Beal (1884)
- Messengers of light: Chinese Buddhist pilgrims in India by Paul Magnin Unesco Courier, Vol. 48 No.5 May.1995 Pp.24-27.
- History Of Magadha by L.L.S. Omalley; J.F.W. James
- Alexander Berzin’s “The Historical Interaction between the Buddhist and Islamic Cultures before the Mongol Empire