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Development of Buddhism in India: After 19th Century

By Devik Balami at
sarnath india - buddhism in india

The Early development of Buddhism in India was halted due to various reasons. Pala dynasty, last empire to support Buddhism, fell in the 12th century to Muslim invaders. Muslims not only took over the empire but also destroyed Buddhists monasteries, monuments and Antique Buddha Statue built over several different dynasties. According to Randall Collins, Buddhism was declining in India before the 12th century, but with the invasion, it nearly became extinct in India in the 12th century. It was recorded that Buddhists monks were forced to flee to South (Tibet) in order to prevent from persecution. But the decline did not last long. It again rise with the establishment of different societies and movements.

Anagarika Dharmapala and Maha Bodhi Society

Sri Lankan Buddhist leader Anagarika Dharmapala played an important role to revive Buddhism in India. When he was on a pilgrimage to Bodhi Temple, he had a shocking experience. He found that the temple was leading by a Saivite priest and the Buddha statue was transformed into a Hindu icon. He also experienced that Buddhists were barred from worship and not allowed to enter the temple. As a result, he founded Maha Bodhi Society in 1891 and expanded its activities to promote Buddhism in India. He built many Viharas and Buddhists temple in India.

Bengal Buddhist Association

Most Venable Kripasaran Mahasthavir founded the Bengal Buddhist Association (Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha) in 1892. The main purpose behind the establishment was to revive the Buddhism which has lost its glory due to several different factors. It was also his dream to revive Buddhist culture and religious practice and to promote the principles of Buddhism. He established the first Vihara, Dharmankur Vihara, in eastern India. The main objective was to bring people together and to perform the religious ceremonies. He also dreamt to aware on the educational and cultural aspects of Buddhism. Therefore, he established branches of the Bengal Buddhist Association in many parts of the country. Some are located at Shimla (1907), Lucknow (1907), Dibrugarh (1908), Ranchi (1915), Shillong (1918), Darjeeling (1919), Tatanagar Jamshedpur (1922), in Sakpura, Satbaria, Noapara, Uninepura, Chittagong Region in present day Bangladesh.

Tibetan Buddhism

After Tibet-China conflict, many of the Buddhists monks and followers have taken refuge in a neighboring country- Nepal and India. When Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru offered to permit 14th Dalai Lama and his followers to establish Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala. Several thousand Tibetan have taken refuge in the town, Dharamsala. That's why it is also called "Little Lhasa" and has become one of the popular centers for Buddhism in the world.

In 2000, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa arrived in India. He has been head Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. He leads Kagyu Monlam, a Buddhist festival, in Bodh Gaya which is attended by thousands of monks and followers.

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, head of Nyingma ( an ancient school of Tibetan Buddhism) helped to re-establish a Nyingma monastery in Bylakuppe, Mysore. This monastery is very popular to receive higher education and generally, monks from Himalayan regions of India, Nepal, and Bhutan and from Tibet visits this monastery. His Holiness Penor Rinpoche also founded a dharma center for lay practitioners, named Thubten Lekshey Ling in Bangalore. This center helped people to practice Vajrayana Buddhism and Dzogchen meditation.

Dalit Buddhist Movement

Dalit Buddhist movement is Buddhist revival movement in India. The main motive behind the conversion was to end caste-based society. Socialist leaders such as Iyothee Thass, Bhagya Reddy Varma, Damoday Dharmananda Kosambi, and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar had played an important role in this movement. But the action of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar has shaken the world. Along with estimated five lakhs supporters, he took 22 vows and became Buddhists. Not only this, he founded Bharatiya Bauddha Mahasabha (Buddhist Society of India) in 1955. He published The Buddha and His Dhamma in 1956 but his another book The Buddha or Karl Marx remained unfinished.

Vipassana Movement

Vipassana Movement is also called the Insight Meditation Movement. It focuses on three marks of existence as main means to attain awakening. These are - impermanence, suffering, and non-self.

The origins of Vipassana Meditation has its influences on the traditions of Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. It can be seen that the role of Theosophical Society for the formulation of Vipassana meditation is very crucial. The Theosophical Society started a lay-Buddhist organization in Sri Lanka. The main objective was to raise local interest in its own traditions. This helped U Naradah to develop "new Burmese method" of Vipassana practice. It was popularized by Mahasi Sayadaw. It was therefore spread over Southeast Asia, Europe, and America which was later popularized by Vipassana.

In India, this movement is being popular. This form of meditation is mainly practiced by high and middle-class Indians. Even the government and private sector institutions offer courses for their employee.