Buddhism: Teaching, Spread, Causes for Decline and contribution to Indian Culture

Causes of origin of Buddhism:

  • The complex rituals and sacrifices during the later Vedic period were not acceptable to common people.
  • Expansive Sacrificial ceremonies.
  • The confusion of people about the ‘superstitious beliefs and mantras’.
  • The highly philosophical nature of the teaching of Upanishads which were not easily understood by all.
  • Complex languages of these religious teaching.
  • The teaching language of Buddha was simple and easily understood by people.
  • Other regions also played a significant role in the growth of Buddhism- The rigid caste system created tension in the society, The privileged position of the upper caste. the economic growth of Vaisyas and their will to enhance their social status.
Important facts about Gautama Buddha (567-487 B.C)

The founder of Buddhism was Gautama Buddha. He Born in 567 B.C. in Lumbini Garden near Kapilavastu in Nepal. His childhood name was Siddhartha. He was a contemporary of Mahavira.

  • The father of Gautama Buddha was Suddodhana of the Sakyas clan and his mother Mayadevi. Suddhodhana seems to have been elected ruler of Kapilvastu and headed the republican clan of the Shakyas.
  • His mother died in childbirth, he was brought up by aunt Prajapati Gautami.
  • Siddhartha got married to Yasodhara at the age of sixteen.
  • He had a son named Rahul.
  • He left home at the age of 29 in search of truth as the sight of an old man, a diseased man, a corpse and an ascetic turned him away from worldly life.
  • He wandered for seven years, and get enlightenment at the age of 35 under the Bodhi (Pipal) tree at Bodh Gaya. Since he began to be called the Buddha or the enlightened.
  • Buddha is also known as “The light of Asia”.
  • He delivered his first sermon at Sarnath near Varanashi.
  • He kept on wandering, preaching, and meditating continuously for 40 years.
  • He died at the age of eighty in 487 B.C at Kushinagar.

Disciples of Buddha: Sariputta, Moggallanna, Ananda, Kassapa and Upali were most important disciples of Buddha. Kings like Prasenjit of Koshala and Bimbisara and Ajatsatru of Magadha accepted his doctrines and became disciples of Budhha.

Places  Budhha visited:  Buddha in his lifetime spread his message far and wide in North India and visited places like Benaras, Rajagriha, Sravasti, Vaisali, Nalanda, and Pataligrama.

Symbols representing events of Buddha’s life:

Events of Buddha’s life Symbol
Birth Lotus and Bull
Renunciation (Mahabhiniskraman) Horse
Enlightenment (Nirvana) Bodhi tree
First Sermon (Dhammachakra Pravartan) Wheel
Death (Maha Parinirvana) Stupa
Teachings of Buddha/ Doctrines of Buddhism:

Gautam Buddha said that the world was full of sorrow and the people suffered on account of desires. If desires are conquered, nirvana is attained, i.e. man is free from the cycle of birth and death.

The four noble truths of Buddha are:

  1. The world is full of suffering
  2. The cause of suffering is desires
  3. If the desires are gotten rid of, suffering can be removed.
  4. This can be done by following the Eightfold path.

The eightfold path: Gautam Buddha recommended an eightfold path (ashtangika marga) for the elimination of human misery. The eightfold path consists of the right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

  • Buddha taught people to avoid the excess of both luxury and austerity. He prescribed a middle path.
  • Buddhism neither accepts nor rejects the existence of god.
  • He laid great emphasis on the law of Karma.
  • Buddha argued that the condition of man in his life depends upon his own karma.
  • In Buddhism existence of a soul is not accepted. Buddha rejected the existence of a soul.
  • He emphasized Ahimsa.
  • Buddha was against any social discrimination like the caste system, his teachings were open to all.

Code of conduct for the followers of Buddha:

Buddha also laid down a code of conduct for his followers, these are:

  • do not covet the property of others
  • do not commit violence
  • do not use intoxicants
  • do not speak a lie
  • do not indulge in corrupt practices.

Spread of Buddhism:

One of the most important regions of the spread of Buddhism was that Buddhism did not accept the existence of god and soul, and the caste system, so the people of lower orders fully supported the religion.

Other important facts about the spread of Buddhism were:

  • People were taken into the Buddhist without any consideration of caste.
  • Women were also admitted to the Sangha and brought on par with men.
  • Buddhism was liberal and democratic in comparison with Brahmanism.
  • There was a special code for nuns restricting their residence and movements.
  • Magadha Kosala and Kausambi, and several other states of North India embraced this religion.

There are three main elements in Buddhism:

  1. Buddha
  2. Sangha
  3. Dharma

As a result of organized preaching under the auspices of the Sangha, Buddhism made rapid strides even in the lifetime of Buddha.

About two hundred years after the death of Buddha, the famous Mauryan Emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism. Through his missionary efforts, Ashoka spread Buddhism into west Asia and Ceylon, and by this, Buddhism transformed into a world religion.

Buddhist Councils:
  • The first Buddhist council was held at Rajagriha under the chairmanship of Mahakasapa immediately after the death of Buddha.
  • The second Buddhist council was convened at Vaishali around 383 B.C.
  • The third Buddhist council was held at Pataliputra under the patronage of Ashoka and presided by Moggaliputta Tissa.
    • The final version of Tripitaka was completed in the third Buddhist Council.
  • The fourth Buddhist council was convened in Kashmir by Kanishka under the chairmanship of Vsumitra.
    • Ashvaghosha participated in the fourth Buddhist council.
    • In this council, the new school of Buddhism named Mahayana (Idol worship) came into existence.
    • The Buddhism preached by Buddha and propagated by Ashoka was known as Hinayana.
Table of Buddhist Councils
Council Year & Venue Chairman Royal Patron Development
1st Buddhist Council 483 BC

Saptaparni cave, rajagriha

Mahakassapa Ajatshatru

(Haryanka Dynasty)

Compilation of Sutta Pitaka and Vinaya Pitaka by Ananda and Upali respectively
2nd Buddhist Council 383 BC


Sabakami Kalasoka (Shishunaga Dynasty) Monks were split into Sthavirvadins and Mahasanghikas
3rd Buddhist Council 250 BC


Mogaliputta Tissa Ashoka

(Mauryan Empire)

Compilation of  Abhidhamma Pitaka
4rth Buddhist Council AD 72

Kundalvan, Kashmir

Vasumitra (Chairman)

Ashvaghosha (Vice-chairman)


(Kushan Dynasty)

Division of Buddhist into Hinayana and Mahayana
Sects of Buddhism:
  • Hinayana
  • Mahayana


The followers of the Hinayana or Lesser vehicle believed in the original teachings of Buddha. They sought individual salvation through self-discipline and meditation.

  • They did not believe in idol worship.
  • Hinayana is a religion without god, Karma is in the place of god.
  • Nirvana is regarded as the extinction of all.
  • The oldest school of Hinayana, Buddhism is the Sthaviravada or the doctrine of elder (the doctrine maintains the existence of all things, physical as well as mental).
  • Pali was used by Hinayana Buddhists, as it was the language of the masses.
  • Ashoka patronised Hinayana.
  • The followers of Mahayana or Greater Vehicle believed in the heavenliness of Buddha and sought the salvation of all through the grace and help of Buddha and Bodhisatva.
  • It believes in idol worship.
  • It believes that nirvana is not a negative cessation of misery, but a positive state of bliss.
  • Madhyamika and Yogachara were two philosophical schools of Mahayana.
  • Nagarjuna propounded Madhyamika.
  • Maitreyanatha founded the Yogachara school, which completely rejected the realism of Hinayanism and maintained absolute idealism.
  • Mahayana Buddhists used Sanskrit, the language of scholars.

Buddhist Texts: The Buddhist texts were collected and compiled after 500 years of the death of Buddha. The Buddhist texts are known as the Tripitakas, namely the Suttapitak, Vinayapitak, and Abhidhamma Pitakas. These texts are written in the Pali language.

Buddhist Architecture:

  • Stone pillars depicting the life of Buddha at Gaya, Sanchi, and Bharhut.
  • Gandhara Art and beautiful images of Buddha,
  • Cave architecture of the Barabar Hills at Gaya and in Western India around Nasik
  • Art pieces of Amravati and Nagarjunakonda, etc.
Buddhist Mudras:

Abhaya Mudra: The mudra of “No fear” represents protection, peace, benevolence, and dispelling of fear.

Bhumisparsha Mudra: In this Mudra, the gesture calls upon the Earth to witness Shakyamuni Budhha’s enlightenment at Bodh Gaya.

Dharmachakra Mudra: It represents a central moment in the life of Buddha when he preached his first sermon after his enlightenment in Deer Park in Sarnath.

Dhyana Mudra: It is the gesture of the meditation of good concentration on good laws and the sangha is represented.

Varda Mudra: The Favourable Mudra signifies offering, welcome, charity, giving, compassion, and sincerity.

Vajra Mudra: The vajra or thunder Mudra is the gesture of knowledge.

Vitarka Mudra: It is the gesture of discussion and transmission of Buddhist teaching.

Gyana Mudra: It is done by touching the tips of the thumb and index together forming a circle and the hand is with the palm inward towards the heart.

Karana Mudra: It expels demons and removes obstacles such as sickness or negative thoughts.

Causes for decline of Buddhism in India:

By the early 12th century A.D. Buddhism became practically extinct in India. The main causes for its decline were:

  • To meet the Buddhist challenges the Brahmanas reformed their religion.
  • The revival of Brahmanism and the rise of Bhagavatism led to the fall in the popularity of Buddhism.
  • The Buddhists began to adopt the Sanskrit language instead of Pali.
  • After the Birth of Mahayana Buddhism, the practice of idol worship led to the deterioration of moral standards.
  • The attack of Huns in the 5th and 6th centuries and Turkish invaders in the 12th centuries destroyed the monasteries.
  • The Huna king Mihirkula killed hundreds of Buddhists. The Shaivite Shashanka of Gauda cut off the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya.
  • Hsuan Tsang states that 1600 stupas and monasteries were destroyed, and killed thousands of monks and lay followers. (There may be some truth)
Contribution of Buddhism to Indian Culture:

Buddhism has made a remarkable contribution to the development of Indian culture. highlights of the important contributions of Buddhism are:

  • The chief contribution of Buddhism was Ahimsa as it became one of the cherished values of our nation.
  • The contribution of Buddhism to the Art and architecture of India was notable, as the Stupas at Sanchi, Bharhut, and Gaya are wonderful pieces of architecture. Chaityas and Viharas in different parts of India.
  • Residential universities like Taxila, Nalanda, and Vikramshila, promoted education.
  • The language of Pali and other local languages developed through the teaching of Buddhism.
  • Buddhism also promoted the spread of Indian culture to other parts of India.
  • Buddhism made an important impact on society by keeping its doors open to women and Shudras.
  • Gandhara Art came to light as the Greek and Indian sculptors worked together to create a new kind of art on the Northwest frontier of India which was known as Gandhara Art.

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List of important books and Authors in Ancient India

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