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Anju Sachdev, Maneeza Ahuja, Jaya Singh, Kavita Sharma, Vijaylaxmi Jain Sandeep Bhatt, Seema Nagpal (Under the guidance of Shri K. N. Rao)
23 October 2021, 4:56 AM

Our society has been divided into four castes; Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. Well thought and well schemed, this system continued for centuries. But, some flaws can develop in every system with time. There came a time when Brahmins were at the forefront, superceding even Kshatriyas. People were not happy with the dominance of Brahmins in the Caste system.

Vedic philosophy got too complex; many rituals had turned to superstitions. Discontent had creeped in the society. At that time, an apparently simpler religion came up; it was Buddhism. Gautam Buddha brought about Buddhism; which comprised of by and large the same Hindu rules but in a loose accommodating setting. The need for mediator between God and Man was questioned at that time, there was little use of a priest.

Buddha taught all; a simple religion in Pali language, which maximum people could understand. Whereas the Hindu religion was largely in Sanskrit and was largely practised by Brahmins, Buddhism was open to all people; this was a prime reason for making it so popular. Royalty also joined it in time which made it all the more popular.

Buddhism is based on four Noble truths: - Life is suffering
- Cause of suffering is desire
- Cure of suffering is to remove desire.
- To remove desire, one has to follow the Eightfold path (Ashtangika Marg).

Ashtangika Marg is the eight fold path (shown by 8 spoke wheel), a path of:

- Right understanding - Right thought
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood - Right Effort
- Right Mindfulness
- Right Meditation

Madhya Marg (The Middle Path) is advised in Buddhism. Man should avoid both extremes; follow the middle path between worldly pleasures and absolute asceticism.

Buddha is mentioned in Brihat Parashar Hora Shastra as one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu. He is said to be the avatar (incarnation) of planet Mercury (Buddha).

After the death of Gautam Buddha, his disciples got together in a General Council at Rajagriha, made a compilation of his teachings. The sacred literature of Buddhism is known as Tripitaka (The Three baskets)
- Vinaya-pitaka
Regulations for guidance of monks
- Sutra-pitaka
Collection of religious discourses of Buddha - Abhidhamma-pitaka
Philosophical Principles of the religion.

There is also this popular concept of Buddhist churches, known as Sanghas. Millions of Buddhists chant the sacred formula of Holy Trinity "I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma and I take refuge in the Sangha."

Spread of Buddhism
Buddhism in Afghanistan can be charted out from when it was a part of Mauryan Empire. Let us have a little bit of historical sketch to get a feel of how Buddhism actually took roots there.

Let us go back in history to the reign of Alexander (356 to 323 BC), well known as Alexander the Great; known for his lengthy military campaigns and numerous conquests. From Macedon in Greece, he kept moving on, conquering places and adding to his territory; his Empire stretched from Adrian Sea to Indus River.

He moved towards Central Asia where his campaign took him to the cities of Kandhar, Aria, Arachosia and Bactria (present day Afghanistan); which he occupied somewhat but in these regions he faced so much trouble. He ruled there for three years but endless war was always on. Alexander quotes about Afghanistan "May God keep you away from the venom of the cobra, the teeth of the tiger, and the revenge of the Afghans."

Alexander died at the age of thirty two. His Generals took control in different areas. Seleucus was the General who sought to recapture the Indian satrapies of the Macedonian Empire some of which had been occupied by Chandragupta Maurya by that time.

This is an interesting story of Afghanistan's inclusion in India. Alexander's general Seleucus conquered the area as far as Kandhar and proceeded to move towards India. Chandragupta Maurya moved to the Western border of India; resulting in Selucid- Mauryan war (305 BC). This war ended in a compromise. Afghanistan was given to Chandragupta Maurya, who had to give 500 elephants, grains and supplies etc. in return. Furthermore, it is said that Helen (daughter of Seleucus) was married to Chandragupta Maurya; the alliance strengthening relations between the two countries (but we could not verify this). Megasthenese was the Greek ambassador appointed in the court of Chandragupta Maurya. Thus, intermingling of the two cultures is evident. This background makes very clear how the inscriptions of Buddhism found in parts of Afghanistan have been written in Greek.

Maurya Empire had its roots in India and it lasted in India from 321 to 185 BC; spanning from Magadh (today's Bihar and Bengal) with its capital at Patliputra (near Patna now) stretching far in the West till modern day Afghanistan.

After Chandragupta Maurya, came his son Bindusara followed by his grandson Ashoka the Great (304-232 BC). It was in the 37 year reign of Ashoka the Great (269 to 232 BC) that Buddhism reached great heights, so much so that Buddhism was proclaimed as the State Religion.

What events inspired such dedication to Buddhism! Ashoka was a great warrior who built his empire well. The biggest conquest of his was his victory of Kalinga (present day Orissa and some parts of Andhra Pradesh). This was the deadliest war fought where 1,50,000 people were captured and 1.00,000 got killed.

The war of Kalinga (261 BC) shook Ashoka emotionally. After being a witness to so many deaths and destruction, Ashoka was distraught; he understood the futility of war; he became a changed man who in time became a follower of Buddhism. He got many stupas and viharas built, as many as 84,000 it is said.

The famous Third Buddhist Council was held in Pataliputra in 250 BC. Emperor Ashoka propagated Buddhism like none else. He donated money and provided clothes and essentials to the Buddhists. To spread Buddhism he sent groups of people well versed in Buddha's Dhamma and Vinaya (who had learnt it by heart and could teach) to different countries like Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Gandhar (Afghanistan now), West Asia, Egypt etc. to spread Buddhism far and wide. He even sent his son Mahendra and his daughter Sanghmitra to preach in Ceylon.

Buddhist Councils were the meetings which had to be held, after the death of Gautam Buddha, to conserve and spread Buddhism and give guidelines to monks. These councils were held under the patronage of various rulers. The first Buddhist Council was held in 483 BC; in Sattapani caves in Rajgriha, under King Ajatashatru of Haranyaka dynasty. The Second Buddhist Council was held in Vaishali in 383 BC under ruler Kalasoka of Shisunaga Dynasty.

The fourth Buddhist Council was held in first century (year not confirmed) at Kashmir under Emperor Kanishka; its agenda was reconciliation between different schools of thought as Buddhism had divided into two sects now viz. Heenayaan and Mahayaan. Heenayaan, the Lesser vehicle, believed in original teachings of Buddha and there was no idol-worship in it. Mahayaan, the Greater vehicle, believed that "Buddha is God" and obviously Idol worship came into being with this ideology.

Another sect ‘Vajrayaan’ came into being later, which was more based on tantrik practices.

Chinese monk Fa Hien who had travelled from China by foot, to visit India (399 AD to 414 AD) to study Buddhism, related the economic, social, political religious status of our country, described how Buddhism was very popular in India; how vegetarian food was eaten, people did not even eat onion and garlic.

As for successors of the Mauryan Dynasty (first and second century BC), there were at least six of them who continued to rule mostly from Patliputra for another 50 years. Supposedly, Mauryan control in the provinces of Afghanistan, Gandhar, slipped in this phase. We can understand that, by this time, with practice of Dhamma (Dharma), the fighting spirit had taken a back seat.

Then came Gupta Empire which saw the rise of all three religions; Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Its expanse was again till Afghanistan in the West. Later, in the times of King Harshvardhana of (606 AD - 647 AD) Vardhana dynasty, Afghanistan was no longer a part of his empire.

Great Khan brothers
Great Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, a prominent Gandhian, and his brother Dr. Khan Saheb known to be great freedom fighters in Mahatama Gandhi era, used to say that "We are all Buddhists, converted to Islam under force." Both Abdul Gaffar Khan and his brother Dr. Khan Saheb, they became prominent leaders of India's Independence struggle. They were so kind and had become the favourites of volunteers in Gandhiji's sewagram.

There is one incident which respected Shri K. N. Rao Sir reminisces... When he was in Lucknow in Nazar Bagh, Khudai Khitmatgar was agitating; it is an incident of Pre-independence era; when Shri K. N. Rao Sir was a small child; they were watching and what they saw; these hugely built men of Khudai Khidmatgar were protesting, when police men came and started beating them. That was an actually absurd site to watch; puny police men beating men of such big stature and huge Khitmatgaars not lifting a finger. This was a generation before us. Frontier Gandhi and Dr. Khan were great Freedom fighters. Their Khudai Khidmatgar was the Pashtun non-violent resistance movement against British Raj in colonial India, where the Afghans had been duly trained to be nonviolent. This is the glimpse of the Buddhist, non-violent pathans; as they must be in the centuries gone by.

When it came to following Non-violence of Gandhiji, it was nothing new for people coming from North Province. The famous Khudai Khitmatgar followed the same ideology; they were great examples of Buddhist culture.

Badshah Khan, as Great Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan is popularly known as, writes in his Autobiography "My Life and Struggle" how their country progressed with Buddhism. He refers to the two great magnificent statues of Gautam Buddha in Bamian, probably the largest statues of Buddha in the world. Statues surrounded by caves where the monks, their disciples and spiritual aspirants lived. In this book, he also mentioned a Buddhist University at Ada near Jalalabad and another one at Taxila, where ruins of idols and images showed the artistic calibre of Pathans. He clearly mentions that spread of Buddhism was till China and far East.

Evidences of Buddhism
The pair of Bamiyan statues (standing 38 meters and 55 meters high), carved in the side of a cliff in Bamiyan valley (130 kms NW of Kabul) are carbon-dated to 544-595 AD and 591-644 AD, showing that till 7th century Buddhism was much prevalent in Afghanistan

There were numerous monasteries in Afghanistan; largest of them being the famous Buddhist monastery, called Nava Vihara (New Monastery) in Balkh; a Central Asia Buddhist learning center for centuries.

The archeological evidences of Buddhism have been found at various places:
- Buddhist cave complex Homay Qala in Ghazni
- Tapar Sardar monastery has a hill-top stupa surrounded by a row of smaller stupas and an 18 meter reclining Buddha. (as per excavation by an Italian Archeological Mission)
- Mes Aynak, an important Buddhist site near Kabul; The excavation showed an establishment with 10,000 artifacts 400 statues of Buddha, a stupa and a monastic complex.
- Excavation at several other sites, like Shewaki which is in East of Kabul, give us ampleevidence of Buddhism spread in Afghanistan, China, Korea, Sri Lanka and Central Asia.

Another site is Takht-e-Rustam in Samangan, where a monastery with five chambers and a stupa has been found; stupa is of 3-4th century. Afghan government started its renovation work in Jan 2021 and a big hall was to be built in the premises for the tourists. But, now that the Taliban has conquered strategic cities of Afghanistan, we can not say what will be the future of these artifacts and stupas!!

Decline of Buddhism
Like all other systems, Buddhism also had its negative side. "In its negative aspect, Buddhism denied the efficacy of Vedic rites and practices for the purpose of salvation, and challenged the superiority assumed by the Brahmanas." [Pg 198, The Ancient Indian History by R. C. Mazumdar]

This antagonised the other prominent sections of society. When we talk about Buddhism, we have to talk about Kumaril Bhatt and Adi Shankaracharya; who revived Hinduism.

Kumaril Bhatt was born in prayag-kshetra when Buddhism was at its prime. Buddhist teachers critised Vedas, upnayan and yagya. Bhatt was of the view that one had no right to criticise a philosophy till you know it well. He wanted to understand the Buddhist philosophy but Buddhist teachers would not adopt a Brahmin pupil in their vihara, so he had to pose as a non-Brahmin, to understand the tenets of Buddhism.

When the Buddhists would abuse vedas and criticize the vedic rituals, he would shed tears. On asking why he was crying, he would try to get through saying that their deep criticism of vedas was very good and had brought tears to his eyes. But, when this happened several times, the teachers got to know his real identity. They decided that he had no right to live.

They took him to the seventh floor of the building and caused him to fall from there. While falling,, he uttered a shloka saying "If Veda is pramana (authority) I should not suffer from this fall." When he fell, he did not suffer any great harm. Only one of his eyes was hurt by a stone.

Kumaril Bhatt got furious. He thought: "What great faith I had in the Veda and this has happened to me." At that time, there was a voice heard and it said : This is the result of your hypothetical statement 'if the Veda is pramaan (authority)!' The 'if' indicates some doubt." [Pg 83, Adi Sankara His Life and Times By HH Jagadguru Sri Candrashekharendra Sarasvati Sri Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamkoti Pitha]

Hence forth, Bhatt propagated that karma (ritual) is the main path whereas Buddhism said there is no Karma, there is no God.

Kumaril Bhatt had already defeated Buddhists in many intellectual debates (shastrarths) and had made the task of Shankaracharya so easy. All that Shankaracharya had to do was to complete the residual work. Moorkhanandji (respected saint) has written it once in a manuscript in which he had established it on the basis of some ancient palyra manuscripts he had read.

The available manuscripts of Shankar Maths show clear astronomical dates, it is easy to accept that Shankaracharya belonged to 2nd century BC when neither Christ nor Mohammad were heard of and Buddhism, with a history of three hundred years, was a religion with which both Kumaril Bhatt and Shankaracharya had to do a battle. [Dips into Divinity, Astrology & History by Shri K. N. Rao]

Shankaracharya met great philosopher Kumaril Bhatt when he had already placed himself on a slow burning fire as he wished to do penance for the sins committed against his Guru, from whom he learnt Buddhism, just to refute it later. As per vedas, this is a sin and the great scholar had to repent.

Adi Shankara, had the massive task of reviving Hinduism. He established Sanatan Dharma to its previous glory. He followed Advaita Vedanta and established four mathas in all four directions. Adi Shankara wrote Bhashyas on the ten major Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. He is known as the revivalist of Hinduism, as also a severe critic of Buddhism.

Shankaracharya did not agree to the postulates of Buddhism. Society needed correct spiritual guidance. Shankaracharya gave us the correct interpretation of Upanishads. He openly criticised and questioned Buddhism. 

Shankara argues that Buddhism (Mahayana) is vainasika- mata (destructive), a teaching of non- existence and destruction. Shankara even portrays Buddha's teachings as a means to lead the wicked and the demons astray despite his inclusion of Buddha as the ninth avatar of Vishnu (Hindu god). wpcd/wp/a/Adi_Shankara.htm

Initially Buddhism was only one religion. Gradually it split into different sects, different Yaans; the unity and simplicity got lost. Towards the end of Gupta Dynasty, royalty stopped supporting Buddhism. Later on, Invasion of Huns and Islamic armies wiped it out in a big way by majorly destroying its monasteries.

Keywords: KN Rao, Journal of Astrology, Gautam Buddha, Buddhism, Afghanistan, Bamian, Adi Shankracharya, Ashoka, Mauryan Dynasty, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Kumaril Bhatt

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