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Hong Kong, 2009

Background: Dr. Ankur Barua had graduated with distinction from the University of Hong Kong (MBuddStud, 2009). He had also completed two other Master Degrees, one from Sikkim Manipal University (MBAIT, 2007) while the other from Manipal University (MBBS-2000, MD in Community Medicine - 2003) and presently working in professional field. Ms. M.A. Basilio is a nursing professional who has also a keen passion for conducting research on religion and science.

First Publication on 8th October 2009
Buddhist Door, Tung Lin Kok Yuen, Hong Kong

Copyright © Ankur Barua and M.A.Basilio

Communication Address of Corresponding Author:
Block – EE, No.-80, Flat No.-2A,
Salt Lake City, Sector-2,
Kolkata - 700091, West Bengal, INDIA.
Mobile: +91-9434485543 (India), +852-96195078 (Hong Kong)


I wish to express my sincere gratitude and indebtedness to Ven. Dr. Jing Yin, Professor of Buddhist Studies and Director of the Centre of Buddhist Studies in the University of Hong Kong for his kind support, inspiration, encouragement and timely advice during the compilation of this book.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my beloved father Dr. Dipak Kumar Barua, who was the earlier Dean of the Faculty Council for Postgraduate Studies in Education, Journalism & Library Science in the University of Calcutta (1987-1991) and the Director of Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Nalanda (1996-1999) for his technical guidance and valuable advice.

I would also like to convey my sincere thanks to my beloved mother Mrs. Dipa Barua for showing keen interest and providing constant assistance and support during this endeavor.

Ankur Barua

Initiated in India by the Sakyamuni Buddha, Buddhism has now become a world religion and at present, the Buddhist population is the third largest religious community in the world. Buddhism lasted over a thousand years in India, the land of its origin. But the supreme irony of the history of Indian Buddhism still remains with the unexplained question regarding what led to the disappearance of Buddhism from India. Many scholars of Indian history and religion are devoted to unraveling this puzzle. Due to the lack of historical and archeological evidence, the debate continues for centuries and there is no absolute consensus on this matter till date.

Since, the teachings of the Buddha is appreciated by people of every religion all across the world, everyone in India now wants a share of its merit. As a result, none of the concerned royal families or the religious communities in India is ready to own the responsibility for its disappearance.

However, this research explores the probable reasons for the gradual decline and subsequent disappearance of Buddhism from India. An attempt is also made at the end to arrange all these sequence of events in a chronological manner to understand the actual process of this decline.

Ankur Barua & M.A. Basilio



Many scholars of Indian history and religion are devoted to unraveling the mystery of what led to disappearance of Buddhism from India. Due to the lack of historical and archeological evidence, there is no absolute consensus on this matter till date. However, if we analyze all the contributing factors and arrange them in a chronological order, we would realize that the whole sequence of events was initiated by the Buddhist monks and clergy when they had ignored the teachings of the Buddha and concentrated on accumulation of abundance of wealth in the monasteries. They had abandoned the community visits and concentrated on their own salvation instead of helping the common people and oppressed classes to end their sufferings. As the lay devotes were ignored, Buddhism started losing the general support from the community. Subsequently, the Brahmins took advantage of this situation and deepened the rift between the common people and the Buddhist practitioners. They also manipulated the contemporary rulers to withdraw their support from Buddhism and help in reviving the existing Brahmanism. This was followed by the revival of Hinduism and further decline of Buddhism. Towards the end stage of this decline, there was the Muslim invasion of India. During this time, majority of the surviving Buddhists in India, who earlier belonged to the lower class Hindus, was either forcefully or willingly got converted into Islam.

Key words: Buddhism, Disappearance, Decline, Brahmanism, Brahmins, Hinduism, Islam.


Buddhism lasted over a thousand years in India. But it is still unknown as to what led to the disappearance of Buddhism from India, the land of its origin. Many scholars of Indian history and religion are devoted to unraveling this enigma. Due to the lack of historical and archeological evidence, the debate continues for centuries and there is no absolute consensus on this matter till date.1 Two factors were generally cited as the main reasons for the ultimate disappearance of Buddhism from India. The first one was the Vedic revival, which drove the religion out the country and this was followed by the invading hordes of the Prophet Mohammed, who razed the temples and slaughtered the remaining unresisting monks. Though majority of the scholars generally accept these two important factors, still they do not believe that these were the truly crucial reasons for the disappearance of Buddhism from India. Muslim invasions primarily wrecked only Northern India. But Buddhism was a significant religious force in Southern India too. Mahayana Buddhism mainly developed in the Southern regions. So whatever happened to Buddhism in the northern regions, it still could not explain how the religion disappeared from Southern India as well.1,2,3

However, the irony of Buddhism in India is represented by the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya in Bihar, India. The present condition of the Bodhi tree also aptly symbolizes the present status of Buddhism in the world. The main original trunk of the Bodhi tree is missing and the tree is now thriving on its prop roots. Similarly, though Buddhism had been wiped off from its place of origin in India, but it is still flourishing in other countries across the world.

Buddhism was a Critical Response to the Existing Brahmanism
Conflicts of opinions prevail while identifying the probable factors leading to the disappearance of Buddhism from India during the 12th century A.D. A few scholars however, cherish the opinion that Buddhism never disappeared as such from India and subsequently got incorporated into the Hinduism. They believe that modern Hinduism in India is a new form of ancient Buddhism.2,3 Due to the striking similarities in the teachings of Buddhism and modern Hinduism, there is another group of scholars who uphold the theory that Buddhism is a restatement of Hinduism.1,2,4 But this notion is absolutely false as Hinduism is a much later development after the disappearance of Buddhism from India. If someone has to relate any ancient religion in India with Buddhism, it should be the existing Brahmanism which paved way to the introduction of Buddhism in India by Sakyamuni Buddha during the 6th century B.C., who was a historical personality. Buddhism should be viewed as a critical response to the existing Brahmanism. Buddhism came into existence in order to wipe off the existing four-tier caste system in India laid down by the Aryans. As the status of women was remarkably subdued and deplorable during the period of Brahmanism, Buddhism came to the rescue by upholding the women’s rights and focused on empowerment of women in the society. Sakyamuni Buddha was the first historical personality who rose against all odds to abolish discrimination and violence against women in the existing Indian society.1,2,5

Gradual Decline of Buddhism in India during the 7th Century A.D.
Though Buddhism had been the dominant religion in much of the Gangetic plains in the early part of the Christian era, but the Chinese traveler, Ven. Hsuan Tsang, during his visit to India in the early years of the 7th century, had witnessed a recession. The testimony of Ven. Hsuan Tsang, had demonstrated the gradual decline of Buddhism in India. In Prayag or present Allahabad, he had encountered many non-Buddhists. This was not surprising considering the importance of Prayag as a pilgrimage site for Brahmins.1,2,3

Shravasti was the capital city of the Lichhavis, a north Indian clan that came to power around 200 AD and established their capital in Pasupatinath. In a long and glorious period of reign extending through the early part of the ninth century, they had endowed a large number of both Hindu and Buddhist monuments and monasteries. However, during his visit, Ven. Hsuan Tsang witnessed a much greater number of Saivites and Jains than Buddhists. 1,2,3,5

Kushinagar, the small village near Gorakhpur where the Buddha had gone into Mahaparinibbana, was in a dilapidated state and Ven. Hsuan Tsang found only a few Buddhists. Though in Varanasi, Ven. Hsuan Tsang found around 3000 Bhikkus or Buddhist monks, but they were outshadowed by more than 10,000 non-Buddhists. Hence, we can conclude that Ven. Hsuan Tsang had arrived in India at a time when Buddhism was entering into a state of precipitous decline. But even as Buddhism went into decline, it is remarkable that Nalanda, the great seat of Buddhist learning, continued to flourish by retaining its importance until the Muslim invasions of the second millennium. It was from Nalanda that Ven. Padmasambhava had carried Buddhism to Tibet during the eighth century.1,2,3,4,5

Hence, it is evident that the story of Buddhism in India cannot be unequivocally written in a single register of decline as the entire process of decline was gradual and spread over a long period of time.

Contributing Factors for the Disappearance of Buddhism from India
Buddhism had altogether disappeared from India as a formal religion during the 13th century A.D.6 In order to explore the contributing factors for the decline and disappearance of Buddhism from India; we need to consider all the events in a sequential and chronological order. These factors could be arranged under the following major headings: (a) Sectarian and Internal Conflicts – Relating to the schisms within the Buddhist faith; the widening differences between the clergy, Buddhist monks and laity; and the growing corruption within the sangha. (b) Buddhists were persecuted by Brahmins - Alleged persecution of Buddhists by Brahmins; the defeat of the Buddhists by the great theologian Adi Shankaracharya in public debates; as well as the characteristic tendency of Hinduism, or rather Brahmanism, to absorb its opponents. (c) Secular and political histories - Withdrawal of royal patronage from Buddhism was followed by the Muslim invasions which had the effect of driving into extinction the already debilitated Buddhist community.1,2,3,5,6

It is important to understand that Buddhism was never wiped off from India on a single day and in any single event. Like the causal web of a disease, it was a multi-factorial causation. The process of decline and subsequent disappearance was gradual and lasted for many centuries. So, before we get into the details of any historical analysis, we should first arrange the factors in a chronological order and observe the interdependency of a previous event leading to the next.

Concluding Remarks

In accordance to the teachings of the Buddha, the disappearance of Buddhism in India had actually followed the Buddha’s universal Doctrine of Dependent Origination. Here, one factor had led to the other and caused this ultimate outcome. So, instead of wasting our valuable time on debating over which factor was more responsible than the rest and caused more damage to the practice of Buddhism in India, we should now concentrate on how to revive Buddhism in a global perspective. Since, Buddhism preaches loving kindness and compassion as well as it can adopt to meet different traditional, moral and cultural needs of the community, it can play a lead role in promoting peace and harmony in the contemporary global society.

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