DECADENCE OF BUDDHISM IN INDIA
The theme of this chapter is sad for it is the decadence, degradation
and ultimate disappearance of Buddhism in India. The other great
religions offer no precise parallel to this phenomenon but they
also do not offer a parallel to the circumstances of Buddhism at
the time when it flourished in its native land. Mohammedanism has
been able to maintain itself in comparative isolation: up to the
present day Moslims and Christians share the same cities rather
than the same thoughts, especially when (as often) they belong to
different races. European Christianity after a few centuries of
existence had to contend with no rival of approximately equal strength,
for the struggle with Mohammedanism was chiefly military and hardly
concerned the merits of the faiths. But Buddhism never had a similarly
paramount and unchallenged position. It never attempted to extirpate
its rivals. It coexisted with a mass of popular superstition which
it only gently reprobated and with a powerful hereditary priesthood,
both intellectual and pliant, tenacious of their own ideas and yet
ready to countenance almost any other ideas as the price of ruling.
Neither Islam nor Christianity had such an adversary, and both of
them and even Judaism resemble Buddhism in having won greater success
outside their native lands than in them. Jerusalem is not an altogether
satisfactory spectacle to either Christians or Jews.
Still all this does not completely explain the disappearance
of Buddhism from India. Before attempting to assign reasons, we
shall do well to review some facts and dates relating to the period
of decadence. If we take all India into consideration the period
is long, but in many, indeed in most, districts the process of decay
In the preceding chapter I have mentioned the accounts of Indian
Buddhism which we owe to the Chinese travellers, Hsüan Chuang and
I-Ching. The latter frankly deplores the decay of
the faith which he had witnessed in his own life (i.e. about
650-700 A.D.) but his travels in India were of relatively small
extent and he gives less local information than previous pilgrims.
Hsüan Chuang describing India in 629-645 A.D. is unwilling to admit
the decay but his truthful narrative lets it be seen. It is only
of Bengal and the present United Provinces that he can be said to
give a favourable account, and the prosperity of Buddhism there
was largely due to the personal influence of Harsha.
In central and southern India, he tells us of little but deserted
monasteries. It is clear that Buddhism was dying out but it is not
so clear that it had ever been the real religion of this region.
In many parts it did not conquer the population but so to speak
built fortresses and left garrisons. It is probable that the Buddhism
of Andhra, Kalinga and the south was represented by little more
than such outposts. They included Amarāvati, where portions of the
ruins seem assignable to about 150 A.D., and Ajantā, where some
of the cave paintings are thought to be as late as the sixth century.
But of neither site can we give any continuous history. In southern
India the introduction of Buddhism took place under the auspices
of Asoka himself, though his inscriptions have as yet been found
only in northern Mysore and not in the Tamil country. The Tamil
poems Manimźgalei and Silappadigaram, especially the former, represent
it as prevalent and still preserving much of its ancient simplicity.
Even in later times when it had almost completely disappeared from
southern India, occasional Buddhist temples were founded. Rajaraja
endowed one at Negapatam about 1000 A.D. In 1055 a monastery was
erected at Belgami in Mysore and a Buddhist town named Kalavati
is mentioned as existing in that state in 1533.
But in spite of such survivals, even in the sixth century Buddhism
could not compete in southern India with either Jainism or Hinduism
and there are no traces of its existence in the Deccan after 1150.
For the Konkan, Maharashtra and Gujarat, Hsüan Chuang's statistics
are fairly satisfactory. But in all this region the Sammitīya sect
which apparently was nearer to Hinduism than the others was the
most important. In Ujjain Buddhism
was almost extinct
but in many of the western states it lingered on, perhaps only in
isolated monasteries, until the twelfth century. Inscriptions found
at Kanheri (843 and 851 A.D.), Dambal (1095 A.D.) and in Miraj (1110
A.D.) testify that grants were made to monasteries at these late
But further north the faith had to endure the violence of strangers.
Sind was conquered by the Arabs in 712; Gujarat and the surrounding
country were invaded by northern tribes and such invasions were
always inimical to the prosperity of monasteries.
This is even more true of the Panjab, the frontier provinces
and Kashmir. The older invaders such as the Yüeh-chih had been favourably
disposed to Buddhism, but those who came later, such as the Huns,
were predaceous barbarians with little religion of any sort. In
Hsüan Chuang's time it was only in Udyana that Buddhism could be
said to be the religion of the people and the torrent of Mohammedan
invasion which swept continuously through these countries during
the middle ages overwhelmed all earlier religions, and even Hinduism
had to yield. In Kashmir Buddhism soon became corrupt and according
to the Rājataranginī
the monks began to marry as early as the sixth century. King Lālitāditya
(733-769) is credited with having built monasteries as well as temples
to the Sun, but his successors were Sivaites.
Bengal, especially western Bengal and Bihar, was the stronghold
of decadent Buddhism, though even here hostile influences were not
absent. But about 730 A.D. a pious Buddhist named Gopāla founded
the Pāla dynasty and extended his power over Magadha. The Pālas
ruled for about 450 years and supplied a long and devout line of
defenders of the faith. But to the east of their dominions lay the
principality of Kanauj, a state of varying size and fortunes and
from the eighth century onwards a stronghold of Brahmanic learning.
The revolution in Hinduism which definitely defeated, though
it did not annihilate Buddhism, is generally connected with the
names of Kumāriḷa Bhatta (c. 750) and Śaṅkara
(c. 800). We know the doctrines of these teachers, for many
of their works have come down to us, but when we enquire what was
their political importance, or the scope and extent of the
movement which they championed we are conscious (as so often) of
the extraordinary vagueness of Indian records even when the subject
might appeal to religious and philosophic minds.
Kumāriḷa is said to have been a Brahman of Bihar who abjured
Buddhism for Hinduism and raged with the ardour of a proselyte against
his ancient faith. Tradition
represents him as instigating King Sudhanvan to exterminate the
Buddhists. But nothing is known of this king and he cannot have
had the extensive empire with which he is credited.
Śaṅkara was a Brahman of the south who in a short
life found time to write numerous works, to wander over India, to
found a monastic order and build four monasteries. In doctrine and
discipline he was more pliant than Kumāriḷa and he assimilated
many strong points of Buddhism. Both these teachers are depicted
as the successful heroes of public disputations in which the interest
at stake was considerable. The vanquished had to become a disciple
of the vanquisher or to forfeit his life and, if he was the head
of an institution, to surrender its property. These accounts, though
exaggerated, are probably a florid version of what occurred and
we may surmise that the popular faith of the day was generally victorious.
What violence the rising tide of Hinduism may have wrought, it is
hard to say. There is no evidence of any general persecution of
Buddhism in the sense in which one Christian sect persecuted another
in Europe. But at a rather later date we hear that Jains were persecuted
and tortured by Śaiva princes both in southern India and Gujarat,
and if there were any detailed account, epigraphic or literary,
of such persecutions in the eighth and ninth centuries, there would
be no reason for doubting it. But no details are forthcoming. Without
resorting to massacre, an anti-Buddhist king had in his power many
effective methods of hostility. He might confiscate or transfer
monastic property, or forbid his subjects to support monks. Considering
the state of Buddhism as represented by Hsüan Chuang and I-Ching
it is probable that such measures would suffice to ensure the triumph
of the Brahmans in most parts of India.
After the epoch of Śaṅkara, the history of Indian
Buddhism is confined to the Pāla kingdom. Elsewhere we hear only
of isolated grants to monasteries and similar acts of piety, often
striking but hardly worthy of mention in comparison with the enormous
number of Brahmanic inscriptions. But in the Pāla kingdom
Buddhism, though corrupt, was flourishing so far as the number of
its adherents and royal favour were concerned. Gopāla founded the
monastery of Odontapuri or Udandapura, which according to some authorities
was in the town of Bihar. Dharmapāla the second king of the dynasty
(c. 800 A.D.) built on the north bank of the Ganges the even
more celebrated University of Vikramaśila,
where many commentaries were composed. It was a centre not only
of tantric learning but of logic and grammar, and is interesting
as showing the connection between Bengal and Tibet. Tibetans studied
there and Sanskrit books were translated into Tibetan within its
cloisters. Dharmapāla is said to have reigned sixty-four years and
to have held his court at Patna, which had fallen into decay but
now began to revive. According to Tāranātha his successor Devapāla
built Somapuri, conquered Orissa and waged war with the unbelievers
who had become numerous, no doubt as a result of the preaching of Śaṅkara.
But as a rule the Pālas, though they favoured Buddhism, did not
actively discourage Hinduism. They even gave grants to Hindu temples
and their prime ministers were generally Brahmans who
used to erect non-Buddhist images in Buddhist shrines. The dynasty
continued through the eleventh century and in this period some information
as to the condition of Indian Buddhism is afforded by the relations
between Bengal and Tibet. After the persecution of the tenth century
Tibetan Buddhism was revived by the preaching of monks from Bengal.
Mahīpāla then occupied the throne (c. 978-1030) and during
his reign various learned men accepted invitations
to Tibet. More celebrated is the mission of Atīsa, a monk of the
Vikramaśila monastery, which took place about 1038. That these
two missions should have been invited and despatched shows that
in the eleventh century Bengal was a centre of Buddhist learning.
Probably the numerous Sanskrit works preserved in Tibetan translations
then existed in its monasteries. But about the same time the power
of the Pāla dynasty, and with it the influence of Buddhism, were
curtailed by the establishment of the rival Sena dynasty in the
eastern provinces. Still, under Rāmapāla, who reigned about 1100,
the great teacher Abhayakara was an ornament of the Mahayana. Tāranātha
says that he corrected the text of the scriptures and that in his
time there were many Pandits and resident Bhikshus in the monasteries
of Vikramasīla, Bodh-Gaya and Odontapuri.
There is thus every reason to suppose that in the twelfth century
Buddhism still nourished in Bihar, that its clergy numbered several
thousands and its learning was held in esteem. The blow which destroyed
its power was struck by a Mohammedan invasion in 1193. In that year
a general of Kutb-ud-Din, invaded Bihar with a band of only two
hundred men and with amazing audacity seized the capital, which,
consisting chiefly of palaces and monasteries, collapsed without
a blow. The monks were massacred to a man, and when the victors,
who appear not to have understood what manner of place they had
captured, asked the meaning of the libraries which they saw, no
one was found capable of reading the books.
It was in 1193 also that Benares was conquered by the Mohammedans.
I have found no record of the sack of the monastery at Sarnath but
the ruins are said to show traces of fire and other indications
that it was overwhelmed by some sudden disaster.
The Mohammedans had no special animus against Buddhism. They
were iconoclasts who saw merit in the destruction of images and
the slaughter of idolaters. But whereas Hinduism was spread over
the country, Buddhism was concentrated in
 the great monasteries
and when these were destroyed there remained nothing outside them
capable of withstanding either the violence of the Moslims or the
assimilative influence of the Brahmans. Hence Buddhism suffered
far more from these invasions than Hinduism but still vestiges of
it lingered long
and exist even now in Orissa. Tāranātha says that the immediate
result of the Moslim conquest was the dispersal of the surviving
teachers and this may explain the sporadic occurrence of late Buddhist
inscriptions in other parts of India. He also tells us that a king
named Cangalarāja restored the ruined Buddhist temples of Bengal
about 1450. Elsewhere
he gives a not discouraging picture of Buddhism in the Deccan, Gujarat
and Rajputana after the Moslim conquest of Magadha but adds that
the study of magic became more and more prevalent. In the life of
Caitanya it is stated that when travelling in southern India (about
1510 A.D.) he argued with Buddhists and confuted them, apparently
somewhere in Arcot.
Manuscripts preserved in Nepal indicate that as late as the fifteenth
or sixteenth century Bengali copyists wrote out Buddhist works,
and there is evidence that Bodh-Gaya continued to be a place of
pilgrimage. In 1585 it was visited by a Nepalese named Abhaya Rājā
who on his return erected in Patan a monastery imitated from what
he had seen in Bengal, and in 1777 the Tashi Lama sent an embassy.
But such instances prove little as to the religion of the surrounding
Hindu population, for at the present day numerous Buddhist pilgrims,
especially Burmese, frequent the shrine. The control of the temple
passed into the hands of the Brahmans and for the ordinary Bengali
Buddha became a member of India's numerous pantheon. Pandit Harapraśad
Sastri mentions a singular poem called Buddhacaritra, completed
in 1711 and celebrating an incarnation of Buddha which apparently
commenced in 1699 and was to end in the reappearance of the golden
age. But the being called Buddha is a form of Vishṇu and the
work is as strange a jumble of religion as it is
of languages, being written in "a curious medley of bad Sanskrit,
bad Hindi and bad Bihari."
It is chiefly in Orissa that traces of Buddhism can still be
found within the limits of India proper. The Saraks of Baramba,
Tigaria and the adjoining parts of Cuttack describe themselves as
Their name is the modern equivalent of Śrāvaka and they apparently
represent an ancient Buddhist community which has become a sectarian
caste. They have little knowledge of their religion but meet once
a year in the cave temples of Khandagiri, to worship a deity called
Buddhadeva or Caturbhuja. All their ceremonies commence with the
formula Ahiṃsā parama dharma and they respect the temple
of Puri, which is suspected of having a Buddhist origin.
Nagendranāth Vasu has published some interesting details as to
the survival of Buddhist ideas in Orissa.
He traces the origin of this hardy though degraded form of Mahayanism
to Rāmāi Pandit,
a tantric Ācārya of Magadha who wrote a work called Śūnya Purāṇa
which became popular. Orissa was one of the regions which offered
the longest resistance to Islam, for it did not succumb until 1568.
A period of Śivaism in the tenth and eleventh centuries is
indicated by the temples of Bhuvaneshwar and other monuments. But
in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the reigning dynasty were
worshippers of Vishnu and built the great temples at Puri and Konārak,
dedicated to Jagannātha and Sūrya-nārāyaṇa respectively. We
do not however hear that they persecuted Buddhism and there are
reasons for thinking that Jagannātha is a form of the Buddha
and that the temple at Puri was originally a Buddhist site.
It is said that it contains a gigantic statue of the Buddha before
which a wall has been built and also that the image of Jagannātha,
which is little more than a log of wood, is really a case enclosing
a Buddhist relic. King Pratāparudra ( 1529) persecuted Buddhism,
which implies that at this late date its adherents were sufficiently
numerous to attract attention. Either at the beginning of his reign
or before it there flourished a group of six poets of whom the principal
were Acyutānanda Dāsa and Caitanya Dāsa.
Their works are nominally devoted to the celebration of Kṛishṇa's
praises and form the chief vernacular scripture of the Vaishṇavas
in Orissa but in them Kṛishṇa, or the highest form of
the deity by whatever name he is called, is constantly identified
with Śūnya or the Void, that favourite term of Mahayanist philosophy.
Passages from them are also quoted stating that in the Kali age
the followers of the Buddha must disguise themselves; that there
are 3000 crypto-Buddhists hidden in various parts of Orissa, that
Hari has been incarnate in many Buddhas and that the Buddha will
appear again on earth. The phrase "I take refuge in the Buddha,
in Mātā Ādiśakti (= Dharma) and in the Sangha" is also
quoted from these works and Caitanya Dāsa describes five Vishnus,
who are apparently identical with the five Dhyāni Buddhas.
Tāranātha states that the last king of Orissa, Mukunda Deva,
who was overthrown by the Mohammedans in 1568, was a Buddhist and
founded some temples and monasteries. In the seventeenth century,
there flourished a Buddhist poet named Mahādevadāsa,
and the Tibetan pilgrim Buddhagupta visited among other sites the
old capital of Mayurabhanja and saw a stupa there. It is claimed
that the tribe known as Bāthuris or Bāuris have always been crypto-Buddhists
and have preserved their ancient customs. They are however no credit
to their religion, for one of their principal ceremonies is hook-swinging.
The doctrine of the Bāthuris is called Mahimā Dharma and experienced
an interesting revival in 1875.
A blind man named Bhīma Bhoi had a vision of the Buddha who restored
 and bade him preach
the law. He attracted some thousands of adherents and led a band
to Puri proclaiming that his mission was to bring to light the statue
of Buddha concealed in the temple. The Raja resisted the attempt
and the followers of Bhīma Bhoi were worsted in a sanguinary encounter.
Since that time they have retired to the more remote districts of
Orissa and are said to hold that the Buddha will appear again in
a new incarnation. They are also called Kumbhipatias and according
to the last census of India (1911) are hostile to Brahmans and probably
number about 25,000.
Traces of Buddhism also survive in the worship of a deity called
Dharma-Rājā or Dharma-Thakur which still prevails in western and
Priests of this worship are usually not Brahmans but of low caste,
and Haraprasad thinks that the laity who follow it may number "several
millions." Though Dharma has come to be associated with the
goddess of smallpox and is believed even by his adorers to be a
form of Vishnu or of Śiva, yet Dhyāna, or meditation, forms
a part of his worship and the prayers and literature of the sect
retain some traces of his origin. Thus he is said to be highly honoured
in Ceylon and receives the epithet Śūnyamūrti.
A corrupt form of Buddhism still exists in Nepal.
This country when first heard of was in the hands of the Nevars
who have preserved some traditions of a migration from the north
and are akin to the Tibetans in race and language, though like many
non-Aryan tribes they have endeavoured to invent for themselves
a Hindu pedigree. Buddhism was introduced under Asoka. As Indian
influence was strong and communication with Tirhut and Bengal easy,
it is probable that Buddhism in Nepal reflected the phases which
it underwent in Bengal. A Nepalese inscription of the seventh century
gives a list of shrines of which seven are Śivaite, six Buddhist
and four Vishnuite.
After that date it was more successful
 in maintaining
itself, for it did not suffer from Mohammedan attacks and was less
exposed to the assimilative influence of Brahmanism. That influence
however, though operating in a foreign country and on people not
bred among Brahmanic traditions, was nevertheless strong. In 1324
the king of Tirhut, being expelled thence by Mohammedans, seized
the throne of Nepal and brought with him many learned Brahmans.
His dynasty was not permanent but later in the fourteenth century
a subsequent ruler, Jayasthiti, organized society and religion in
consultation with the Brahman immigrants. The followers of the two
religions were arranged in parallel divisions, a group of Buddhists
classified according to occupation corresponding to each Hindu caste,
and appropriate rules and ceremonies were prescribed for the different
sections. The code then established is still in force in essentials
and Nepal, being intellectually the pupil of India, has continued
to receive such new ideas as appeared in the plains of Bengal. When
these ascended to the mountain valleys they were adopted, with free
modification of old and new material alike, by both Buddhists and
Hindus, but as both sects were geographically isolated, each tended
to resemble the other more than either resembled normal Buddhism
or Hinduism. Naturally the new ideas were mainly Brahmanic and Buddhism
had no chance of being fortified by an importation of even moderately
orthodox doctrine. In the fourteenth century arose the community
of wandering ascetics called Nāthas who were reverenced by Hindus
and Buddhists alike. They rejected the observances of both creeds
but often combined their doctrines and, though disavowed by the
Brahmans, exercised a considerable influence among the lower castes.
Some of the peculiar deities of Nepal, such as Matsyendranāth, have
attributes traceable to these wanderers. In 1769 Nepal was conquered
by the Gurkhas. This tribe seems related to the Tibetan stock, as
are the Nevars, but it had long been Hinduized and claimed a Rajput
ancestry. Thus Gurkha rule has favoured and accelerated the hinduizing
of Nepalese Buddhism.
Since the time of Hodgson the worship of the Ādi-Buddha, or an
original divine Buddha practically equivalent to God, has been often
described as characteristic of Nepalese religion and such a worship
undoubtedly exists. But recent accounts indicate that it is not
prominent and also that it can hardly be
 considered a distinct
type of monotheistic Buddhism. The idea that the five Dhyāni-Buddhas
are emanations or manifestations of a single primordial Buddha-spirit
is a natural development of Mahayanist ideas, but no definite statement
of it earlier than the Kālacakra literature is forthcoming, though
many earlier works point towards it.
In modern Nepal the chief temple of the Ādi-Buddha is on the hill
of Svayambhū (the self-existent) near Katmandu. According to a legend
preserved in the Svayambhū Purāṇa, a special divine manifestation
occurred in ancient times on an adjoining lake; a miraculous lotus
arose on its surface, bearing an image, over which a Caitya was
subsequently erected. The shrine is greatly venerated but this Ādi-Buddha,
or Svayambhū, does not differ essentially from other miraculous
images in India which are said not to consist of ordinary matter
but to embody in some special way the nature of a deity. The religion
of Nepal is less remarkable for new developments of Buddhism than
for the singular fusion of Buddhism with Hinduism which it presents
and which helps us to understand what must have been the last phase
The Nepalese Brahmans tolerate Buddhism. The Nepāla-māhātmya
says that to worship Buddha is to worship Śiva, and the Svayambhū
Purāna returns the compliment by recommending the worship of Paśupati.
The official itinerary of the Hindu pilgrim includes Svayambhū,
where he adores Buddha under that name. More often the two religions
adore the same image under different names: what is Avalokita to
the one is Mahākāla to the other. Durgā is explained as being the
incarnation of the Prajńā-pāramitā and she is even identified with
the Ādi-Buddha. The Nepalese pantheon like the Tibetan contains
three elements, often united in modern legends: firstly aboriginal
deities, such as Nagas and other nature spirits: secondly definitely
Buddhist deities or Bodhisattvas of whom Mańjuśrī receives
the most honour: thirdly Hindu deities such as Gaṇeśa
and Kṛishṇa. The popular deity Matsyendranath appears
to combine all three elements in his own person.
Modern accounts of Nepal leave the impression that even
corrupt Buddhism is in a bad way, yet the number of religious establishments
is considerable. Celibacy is not observed by their inmates, who
are called banras (bandyas). On entering the order the novice takes
the ancient vows but after four days he returns to his tutor, confesses
that they are too hard for him and is absolved from his obligations.
The classes known as Bhikshus and Gubhārjus officiate as priests,
the latter being the higher order. The principal ceremony is the
offering of melted butter. The more learned Gubhārjus receive the
title of Vajrācārya
and have the sole right of officiating at marriages and funerals.
There is little learning. The oldest scriptures in use are the
so-called nine Dharmas.
Hodgson describes these works as much venerated and Rajendralal
Mitra has analysed them, but Sylvain Lévi heard little of them in
1898, though he mentions the recitation of the Prajńā-pāramitā.
The Svayambhū Purāṇa is an account of the manifestation of
the Ādi-Buddha written in the style of those portions of the Brahmanic
Purāṇas which treat of the glories of some sacred place. In
its present form it can hardly be earlier than the sixteenth century
A.D. The Nepāla-māhātmya is a similar work which, though of Brahmanic
origin, puts Buddha, Vishnu and Śiva on the same footing and
identifies the first with Krishna. The Vāgvatī-māhātmya
on the other hand is strictly Śivaite and ignores Buddha's
claims to worship. The Vāmśāvali, or Chronicle of Nepal, written
in the Gurkha language (Parbatiya) is also largely occupied with
an account of sacred sites and buildings and exists in two versions,
one Buddhist, the other Brahmanical.
But let us return to the decadence of Buddhism in India. It is
plain that persecution was not its main cause nor even very important
among the accessory causes. The available records contain clearer
statements about the persecution of Jainism than of Buddhism but
no doubt the latter came in for some rough handling, though not
enough to annihilate a vigorous sect. Great numbers of monasteries
in the north were demolished by the Huns and a similar catastrophe
brought about the collapse of the Church in Bihar. But this last
incident cannot be called religious persecution, for Muhammad did
not even know what he was destroying. Buddhism did not arouse more
animosity than other Indian religions: the significant feature is
that when its temples and monasteries were demolished it did not
live on in the hearts of the people, as did Hinduism with all its
The relation between the laity and the Church in Buddhism is
curious and has had serious consequences for both good and evil.
The layman "takes refuge" in the Buddha, his law and his
church but does not swear exclusive allegiance: to follow supplementary
observances is not treasonable, provided they are not in themselves
objectionable. The Buddha prescribed no ceremonies for births, deaths
and marriages and apparently expected the laity to continue in the
observance of such rites as were in use. To-day in China and Japan
the good layman is little more than one who pays more attention
to Buddhism than to other faiths. This charitable pliancy had much
to do with the victories of Buddhism in the Far East, where it had
to struggle against strong prejudices and could hardly have made
its way if it had been intolerant of local deities. But in India
we see the disadvantages of the omission to make the laity members
of a special corporation and the survival of the Jains, who do form
such a corporation, is a clear object lesson. Social life in India
tends to combine men in castes or in communities which if not castes
in the technical sense have much the same character. Such communities
have great vitality so long as they maintain their peculiar usages,
but when they cease to do so they soon disintegrate and are reabsorbed.
Buddhism from the first never took the form of a corporation. The
special community which it instituted was the saṅgha or body
of monks. Otherwise, it aimed not at founding a sect but at including
all the world as lay believers on easy terms. This principle worked
well so long as the faith was in the ascendent but its effect was
disastrous when decline began. The line dividing Buddhist laymen
from ordinary Hindus became less and less marked: distinctive teaching
was found only in the monasteries: these became poorly recruited
and as they were gradually deserted or destroyed by Mohammedans
the religion of the Buddha disappeared from his native land.
Even in the monasteries the doctrine taught bore a closer resemblance
to Hinduism than to the preaching of Gotama and it is this absence
of the protestant spirit, this pliant adaptability to the ideas
of each age, which caused Indian Buddhism to lose its individuality
and separate existence. In some localities its disappearance and
absorption were preceded by a monstrous phase, known as Tantrism
or Śāktism, in which the worst elements of Hinduism, those
which would have been most repulsive to Gotama, made an unnatural
alliance with his church.
I treat of Tantrism and Śāktism in another chapter. The
original meaning of Tantra as applied to literary compositions is
a simplified manual.
Thus we hear of Vishnuite Tantras and in this sense there is a real
similarity between Buddhist and tantric teaching, for both set aside
Brahmanic tradition as needlessly complicated and both profess to
preach a simple and practical road to salvation. But in Hinduism
and Buddhism alike such words as Tantra and tantric acquire a special
sense and imply the worship of the divine energy in a female form
called by many names such as Kālī in the former, Tārā in the latter.
This worship which in my opinion should be called Śāktism rather
than Tantrism combines many elements: ancient, savage superstitions
as well as ingenious but fanciful speculation, but its essence is
always magic. It attempts to attain by magical or sacramental formulę
and acts not only prosperity and power but salvation, nirvana and
union with the supreme spirit. Some of its sects practise secret
immoral rites. It is sad to confess that degenerate Buddhism did
not remain uncorrupted by such abuses.
It is always a difficult and speculative task to trace the early
stages of new movements in Indian religion, but it is clear that
by the eighth century and perhaps earlier the Buddhism of Bihar
and Bengal had fallen a prey to this influence. Apparently the public
ritual in the Vihāras remained unchanged and the usual language
about nirvāna and śūnyatā was not discarded,
but it was
 taught that those
who followed a certain curriculum could obtain salvation by magical
methods. To enter this curriculum it was necessary to have a qualified
teacher and to receive from him initiation or baptism (abhisheka).
Of the subsequent rites the most important is to evoke one of the
many Buddhas or Bodhisattvas recognized by the Mahayana and identify
oneself with him.
He who wishes to do this is often called a sādhaka or magician but
his achievements, like many Indian miracles, are due to self-hypnotization.
He is directed to repair to a lonely place and offer worship there
with flowers and prayers. To this office succeed prolonged exercises
in meditation which do not depart much from the ancient canon since
they include the four Brahmā-vihāras. Their object is to suppress
thought and leave the mind empty. Then the sādhaka fills this void
with the image of some Bodhisattva, for instance Avalokita. This
he does by uttering mystic syllables called bīja or seed, because
they are supposed to germinate and grow into the figures which he
wishes to produce. In this way he imagines that he sees the emblems
of the Bodhisattva spring up round him one by one and finally he
himself assumes the shape of Avalokita and becomes one with him.
Something similar still exists in Tibet where every Lama chooses
a tutelary deity or Yi-dam whom he summons in visible form after
meditation and fasting.
Though this procedure when set forth methodically in a medięval
manual seems an absurd travesty of Buddhism, yet it has links with
the early faith. It is admitted in the Pitakas that certain forms
lead to union with Brahmā and it is no great change to make them
lead to union with other supernatural beings. Still we are not here
breathing the atmosphere of the Pitakas. The object is not to share
Brahmā's heaven but to become temporarily identified with a deity,
and this is not a byway of religion but the high road.
But there is a further stage of degradation. I have already mentioned
that various Bodhisattvas are represented as accompanied by a female
deity, particularly Avalokita by Tārā. The
 mythological and
metaphysical ideas which have grown up round Śiva and Durgā
also attached themselves to these couples. The Buddha or Bodhisattva
is represented as enjoying nirvana because he is united to his spouse,
and to the three bodies already enumerated is added a fourth, the
body of perfect bliss.
Sometimes this idea merely leads to further developments of the
practices described above. Thus the devotee may imagine that he
enters into Tārā as an embryo and is born of her as a Buddha.
More often the argument is that since the bliss of the Buddha consists
in union with Tārā, nirvana can be obtained by sexual union here,
and we find many of the tantric wizards represented as accompanied
by female companions. The adept should avoid all action but he is
beyond good and evil and the dangerous doctrine that he can do evil
with impunity, which the more respectable sects repudiate, is expressly
taught. The sage is not defiled by passion but conquers passion
by passion: he should commit every infamy: he should rob, lie and
These crazy precepts are probably little more than a speculative
application to the moral sphere of the doctrine that all things
are non-existent and hence equivalent. But though tantrists did
not go about robbing and murdering so freely as their principles
allowed, there is some evidence that in the period of decadence
the morality of the Bhikshus had fallen into great discredit. Thus
in the allegorical Vishnuite drama called Prabodhacandrodaya and
written at Kalanjar near the end of the eleventh century Buddhists
and Jains are represented as succumbing to the temptations of inebriety
It is necessary to mention this phase of decadence but no good
purpose would be served by dwelling further on the absurd and often
disgusting prescriptions of such works as the Tathāgata-guhyaka.
If the European reader is inclined to condemn unreservedly a religion
which even in decrepitude could find place for such monstrosities,
he should remember that the aberrations of Indian religion are due
not to its
 inherent depravity,
but to its universality. In Europe those who follow disreputable
occupations rarely suppose that they have anything to do with the
Church. In India, robbers, murderers, gamblers, prostitutes, and
maniacs all have their appropriate gods, and had the Marquis de
Sade been a Hindu he would probably have founded a new tantric sect.
But though the details of Śāktism are an unprofitable study,
it is of some importance to ascertain when it first invaded Buddhism
and to what extent it superseded older ideas.
seem to implyfor their statements are not very explicitthat Śāktism
formed part if not of the teaching of the Buddha, at least of the
medley of beliefs held by his disciples. But I see no proof that Śāktist
beliefsthat is to say erotic mysticism founded on the worship of
goddesseswere prevalent in Magadha or Kosala before the Christian
era. Although Siri, the goddess of luck, is mentioned in the Pitakas,
the popular deities whom they bring on the scene are almost exclusively
And though in the older Brahmanic books there are passages which
might easily become tantric, yet the transition is not made and
the important truths of religion are kept distinct from unclean
rites and thoughts. The Bṛihad-āraṇyaka contains a chapter
which hardly admits of translation but the object of the practices
inculcated is simply to ensure the birth of a son. The same work
(not without analogies in the ecstatic utterances of Christian saints)
boldly compares union with the Ātman to the bliss of one who is
embraced by a beloved wife, but this is a mere illustration and
there is no hint of the doctrine that the goal of the religious
life is obtainable by maithuna. Still such passages, though
innocent in themselves, make it easy to see how degrading superstitions
found an easy entrance into the noblest edifices of Indian thought
and possibly some heresies condemned in the Kathāvatthu
indicate that even at this early date the Buddhist Church was contaminated
by erotic fancies. But, if so, there is no evidence that such malpractices
 The appendices
to the Lotus
show that the worship of a many-named goddess, invoked as a defender
of the faith, was beginning to be a recognized feature of Buddhism.
But they contain no indications of left-handed Tantrism and the
best proof that it did not become prevalent until much later is
afforded by the narratives of the three Chinese pilgrims who all
describe the condition of religion in India and notice anything
which they thought singular or reprehensible. Fa-Hsien does not
mention the worship of any female deity,
nor does the Life of Vasubandhu, but Asanga appears to allude to Śāktism
in one passage.
Hsüan Chuang mentions images of Tārā but without hinting at tantric
ritual, nor does I-Ching allude to it, nor does the evidence of
art and inscriptions attest its existence. It may have been known
as a form of popular superstition and even have been practised by
individual Bhikshus, but the silence of I-Ching makes it improbable
that it was then countenanced in the schools of Magadha. He complains
of those who neglect the Vinaya and "devote their whole attention
to the doctrine of nothingness," but he says not a word about
The change probably occurred in the next half century
for Padma-Sambhava, the founder of Lamaism who is said to have resided
in Gaya and Nalanda and to have arrived in Tibet in 747 A.D., is
represented by tradition as a tantric wizard, and about the same
time translations of Tantras begin to appear in Chinese. The translations
of the sixth and seventh centuries, including those of I-Ching,
comprise a considerable though not preponderant number of Dhāraṇīs.
After the seventh century
 these became very
numerous and several Tantras were also translated.
The inference seems to be that early in the eighth century Indian
Buddhists officially recognized Tantrism.
Tantric Buddhism was due to the mixture of Mahayanist teaching
with aboriginal superstitions absorbed through the medium of Hinduism,
though in some cases there may have been direct contact and mutual
influence between Mahayanism and aboriginal beliefs. But as a rule
what happened was that aboriginal deities were identified with Hindu
deities and Buddhism had not sufficient independence to keep its
own pantheon distinct, so that Vairocana and Tārā received most
of the attributes, brahmanic or barbarous, given to Śiva or
Kāli. The worship of the goddesses, described in their Hinduized
form as Durgā, Kālī, etc., though found in most parts of India was
specially prevalent in the sub-himalayan districts both east and
west. Now Padma-Sambhava was a native of Udyāna or Swat and Tāranātha
represents the chief Tantrists
as coming from there or visiting it. Hsüan Chuang
tells us that the inhabitants were devout Mahayanists but specially
expert in magic and exorcism. He also describes no less than four
sacred places in it where the Buddha in previous births gave his
flesh, blood or bones for the good of others. Have we here in a
Buddhist form some ancient legend of dismemberment like that told
of Satī in Assam? Of Kashmir he says that its religion was a mixture
of Buddhism with other beliefs.
These are precisely the conditions most favourable to the growth
of Tantrism and though
 the bulk of the
population are now Mohammedans, witchcraft and sorcery are still
rampant. Among the Hindu Kashmīris
the most prevalent religion has always been the worship of Śiva,
especially in the form representing him as half male, half female.
This cult is not far from Śāktism and many allusions
in the Rājataranginī indicate that left-hand worship was known,
though the author satirizes it as a corruption. He also several
Mātri-cakras, that is circles sacred to the Mothers or tantric goddesses.
In Nepal and Tibet tantric Buddhism is fully developed but these
countries have received so much from India that they exhibit not
a parallel growth, but late Indian Tantrism as imported ready-made
from Bengal. It is here that we come nearest to the origins of Tantrism,
for though the same beliefs may have flourished in Udyāna and Kashmir
they did not spread much in the Panjab or Hindustan, where their
progress was hindered at first by a healthy and vigorous Hinduism
and subsequently by Mohammedan invasions. But from 700 to 1197 A.D.
Bengal was remote alike from the main currents of Indian religion
and from foreign raids: little Aryan thought or learning leavened
the local superstitions which were infecting and stifling decadent
Buddhism. Hsüan Chuang informs us that Bhaskaravarma king of Kāmarūpa
attended the fźtes celebrated by Harsha in 644 A.D. and inscriptions
found at Tezpur indicate that kings with Hindu names reigned in
Assam about 800 A.D. This is agreeable to the supposition that an
amalgamation of Śivaism and aboriginal religion may have been
in formation about 700 A.D. and have influenced Buddhism.
In Bihar from the eighth century onwards the influence of Tantrism
was powerful and disastrous. The best information about this epoch
is still to be found in Tāranātha, in spite of his defects.
He makes the interesting statement that in the reign of Gopāla
who was a Buddhist, although his ministers were not (730-740 A.D.),
the Buddhists wished their religious buildings
to be kept separate from Hindu temples but that, in spite of protests,
life-sized images of Hindu deities were erected in them.
The ritual too was affected, for we hear several times of burnt
and how Bodhibhadra, one of the later professors of Vikramaśila,
was learned in the mystic lore of both Buddhists and Brahmans. Nalanda
and the other viharas continued to be seats of learning and not
merely monasteries, and for some time there was a regular succession
of teachers. Tāranātha gives us to understand that there were many
students and authors but that sorcery occupied an increasingly important
position. Of most teachers we are told that they saw some deity,
such as Avalokita or Tārā. The deity was summoned by the rites already
and the object of the performer was to obtain magical powers or
siddhi. The successful sorcerer was known as siddha, and we hear
of 84 mahāsiddhas, still celebrated in Tibet, who extend from Rahulabhadra
Nāgārjuna to the thirteenth century. Many of them bear names which
appear not to be Indian.
The topics treated of in the Tantras are divided into Kriyā (ritual),
Caryā (apparently corresponding to Vinaya), Yoga, and Anuttara-yoga.
Sometimes the first three are contrasted with the fourth and sometimes
the first two are described as lower, the third and fourth as higher.
But the Anuttara-yoga is always considered the highest and most
that the Tantras began to appear simultaneously with the Mahayana
sūtras but adds that the Anuttara-yoga tantras appeared gradually.
He also observes that the Ācārya Ānanda-garbha
did much to spread them in Magadha. It is not until
a late period of the Pāla dynasty that he mentions the Kālacakra
which is the most extravagant form of Buddhist Tantrism.
This accords with other statements to the effect that the Kālacakra
tantra was introduced in 965 A.D. from Śambhala, a mysterious
country in Central Asia. This system is said to be Vishnuite rather
than Śivaite. It specially patronizes the cult of the mystic
Buddhas such as Kālacakra and Heruka, all of whom appear to be regarded
as forms of Ādi-Buddha or the primordial Buddha essence. The Siddha
named Pito is also described as the author of this doctrine,
which had less importance in India than in Tibet.
On the other hand Tāranātha gives us the names of several doctors
of the Vinaya who flourished under the Pāla dynasty. Even as late
as the reign of Rāmapāla (? 1080-1120) we hear that the Hinayanists
were numerous. In the reign of Dharmapāla (c. 800 A.D.) some
of them broke up the great silver image of Heruka at Bodh-Gaya and
burnt the books of Mantras.
These instances show that the older Buddhism was not entirely overwhelmed
though perhaps it was kept alive more by pilgrims than by local
sentiment. Thus the Chinese inscriptions of Bodh-Gaya though they
speak at length of the three bodies of Buddha show no signs of Tantrism.
It would appear that the worship celebrated in the holy places of
Magadha preserved a respectable side until the end. In the same
way although Tantrism is strong in the literature of the Lamas,
none of the many descriptions of Tibet indicate that there is anything
scandalous in the externals of religion. Probably in Tibet, Nepal
and medięval Magadha alike the existence of disgraceful tantric
literature does not indicate such widespread depravity as might
be supposed. But of its putrefying influence in corrupting the minds
of those who ought to have preserved
 the pure faith
there can be no doubt. More than any other form of mixed belief
it obliterated essential differences, for Buddhist Tantrism and Śivaite
Tantrism are merely two varieties of Tantrism.
What is happening at Bodh-Gaya at present
illustrates how Buddhism disappeared from India. The abbot of a
neighbouring Śivaite monastery who claims the temple and grounds
does not wish, as a Mohammedan might, to destroy the building or
even to efface Buddhist emblems. He wishes to supervise the whole
establishment and the visits of pilgrims, as well as to place on
the images of Buddha Hindu sectarian marks and other ornaments.
Hindu pilgrims are still taken by their guides to venerate the Bodhi
tree and, but for the presence of foreign pilgrims, no casual observer
would suppose the spot to be anything but a Hindu temple of unusual
construction. The same process went a step further in many shrines
which had not the same celebrity and effaced all traces and memory
At the present day the Buddha is recognized by the Brahmans as
an incarnation of Vishnu,
though the recognition is often qualified by the statement that
Vishnu assumed this form in order to mislead the wicked who threatened
to become too powerful if they knew the true method of attaining
superhuman powers. But he is rarely worshipped in propriā personā.
As a rule Buddhist images and emblems are ascribed to Vishnu or Śiva,
according to sectarian preferences, but in spite of fusion some
lingering sense of original animosity prevents Gotama from receiving
even such respect as is accorded to incarnations like Paraśu-rāma.
At Bodh-Gaya I have been told that Hindu pilgrims are taken by their
guides to venerate the Bodhi-tree but not the images of Buddha.
Yet in reviewing the disappearance of Buddhism from India we
must remember that it was absorbed not expelled. The result of the
mixture is justly called Hinduism, yet both
in usages and beliefs it has taken over much that is Buddhist and
without Buddhism it would never have assumed its present shape.
To Buddhist influence are due for instance the rejection by most
sects of animal sacrifices: the doctrine of the sanctity of animal
life: monastic institutions and the ecclesiastical discipline found
in the Dravidian regions. We may trace the same influence with more
or less certainty in the philosophy of Śaṅkara and outside
the purely religious sphere in the development of Indian logic.
These and similar points are dealt with in more detail in other
parts of this work and I need not dwell on them here.
Suggested Further Reading