Rise of Buddhism: Causes
Buddhism flourished rapidly during the lifetime of Buddha in India and abroad. Though in its home country it is almost extinct now, It is still flourishing in countries like Tibet, Mongolia, China, etc. There were several reasons for the rapid rise of this religion in the sixth century B.C. which are discussed below:
Use of Vernacular Language
The main reason for the rise of Buddhism was that it came into existence at a very proper time. Hinduism was becoming complicated and ritualistic day by day and people had grown sick of religious rigidities, rituals and animal sacrifices. Reform in the religion was the need of the day. People were aspiring for a simple religion. Preachings of Buddha were liked by them. The lower classes of society embraced Buddhism as in Hinduism, the right to salvation was not granted to them. The neglected and oppressed classes were granted a status of equality in Buddhism. Moreover, it opened the door of salvation to all and sundry. Thus, the rise of Buddhism took place at a time when people were fed up with the rituals and superstitions of Hinduism.
Principle of Equality
Buddhism was based on the spirit of equality. Caste system had no place in it. Hinduism was becoming rigid day by day. People of higher classes oppressed men of lower castes severely. The Hindu society was in a state of ferment and lower classes were aspiring for a change. At this juncture, Buddha expressed his disapproval of the caste system and opened the door of salvation for the high and the low, the learned and the illiterate alike. Persons of lower caste fell for it in large numbers and Buddha welcomed them all. Thus, a spirit of equality also contributed to its rise.
Buddhism was an outcome of various vices and rituals which crept into Hinduism in course of time. The supremacy of Brahminism and its orthodox rituals and sacrifices had made it unpopular. Buddhism with its code of morality and ethics came as a deliverance from the tyranny of Hinduism. Simplicity and nobility of the teachings of Buddhism attracted the common man. The Buddha laid stress on the middle path and the eight-fold path. It was not difficult for the masses to understand the Four Noble Truths and the Eigh-fold Path. Thus, the Buddha made his religion easily intelligible to all people. The simplicity of Buddhism contributed to its rapid growth.
Personality of the Buddha
The magnetic personality of the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, also helped in its rapid spread. People were spell bound when they listened to the sermon of Lord Buddha. His ethical and spiritual life, the purity of his intention and persuasive eloquence impressed all who came in his contact. He lashed his powerful opponents with the weapon of logic. Several Brahmins like Mahakashyapa, Sariputra, Moggallayana and others felt the futility of sacrifices and became his true devotees due to his charming and bewitching personality.
The royal support to Buddhism also helped in its rise. Without it, Buddhism might not have so developed. Bimbisara, Prasenjit, Pradyota, Udayana, etc became his followers and declared Buddhism to be the Rajdharma( official religion). Later, kings like Ashoka, Kanishka and Harshvardhana played an important role in the propagation of Buddhism. They not only send missionaries to spread it far and wide, but themselves took interest in its propagation. King Ashoka’s son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra travelled to Sri Lanka to propagate Buddhism. Kanishka called the fourth Buddhist council and provided grants for the propagation of Buddhism. At the time of the visit of the Chinese traveller Hieun Tsang, Buddhism was much advanced in India. Harshavardhana left no stone unturned in making this religion popular. Thus, royal support contributed much to the success and rise of Buddhism in India and its development abroad.
Missionary Activities of the Sangha
The missionary activities of the Buddhist Sangha also played a prominent role in the popularity and growth of Buddhism. Monasteries of the Buddhist Sangha were the central place for the training of monks. The well-trained Buddhist monks greatly contributed to the popularity of Buddhism. The unselfish and devoted missionaries worked with great zeal and enthusiasm. The Buddhist Vihara provided free education in moral and spiritual truth. Thus, the Buddhist monks and nuns with their high ideals, zeal and selfless work moved the hearts of common people and helped in the growth of Buddhism.
Universities and Buddhist Scholars
A large number of Buddhist scholars devoted themselves to the task of the development of this religion. Scholars like Dinnaga, Dharmakirti, Divakarmitra and Vasubandhu contributed to the popularity and maturity of Buddhism with their learned works. The Universities of Vallabhi, Nalanda, Odantpuri and Vikramshila were the centers of Buddhist education and they contributed to the advancement of Buddhism.
Absence of Serious Rival
There was no serious rival of Buddhism in the field of its missionary work. Hinduism had no missionary zeal at all and Christianity and Islam had not yet appeared on the historical horizon. Jainism was not a missionary religion. Thus, Buddhism in the absence of a powerful rival grew rapidly.
Besides the causes referred to above, adaptability of Buddhism was also an important factor that led to its growth and rise.