How Shankaracharya destroyed Buddhism and founded Hinduism in the 8th century

The antics of Adi Shankara in the 8th century assuming he was born in 788 and died in 820 CE are well known and part of history. Sankara postulated the Vedas as authority; and hence was ranked as a Sanatani. Later on, the priestly class appropriated this and Max Muller called it Hinduism. Thus Hinduism dates back to to the 8th century.

He was the arch foe of Buddhism and the principal architect of its downfall in India (Pande 1994: p. 255). Adi Shankara, along with Madhva and Ramanuja, was instrumental in the revival of Hinduism through aggressive and violent means.

The historians like Vincent Smith suggested that it was due to Adi Sankaracharya there wasdecline of Buddhism in India. Others argue that it was due to the Muslim invasion (of Bakhtyar) that Nalanda was routed and the library there was burned and thousands of Buddha viharas were destroyed subsequently. Much of this is described in The Book of Thoth(Leaves of Wisdom).

Shashanka was the Shaivite Brahmin king of Bengal. He was manipulated by the Brahmins to become a ferocious oppressor of the Buddhists. He had destroyed the Bodhi tree of Bodh Gaya and ordered the mass destruction of all Buddhist images and monasteries in his kingdom.

1. Lal, V. 2004. Buddhism’s Disappearance from India [serial online]. [cited 2009 August 26]; [2 screens]. Available from

2. Jaini, P.S., Narain A.K., ed., 1980. The Disappearance of Buddhism and the Survival of Jainism: A Study in Contrast. Studies in History of Buddhism. Delhi: B.R. Publishing Company:181-91.

3. Ahir, D.C. 2005. Buddhism Declined in India: How and Why? Delhi: B.R. Publishing.

Prof. P. Sankaranarayanan in his article The life and work of Sri Sankara published in the web page of Kanchi Mutt writes: “Buddhism, the rebel child of the Vedic religion and philosophy, denied God and the soul, laid the axe at the very roots of Vedic thought and posed a great danger to its very survival. This onslaught was stemmed occasionally, compelling Buddhism to seek refuge in other lands. While the credit for this should go primarily to the Mimamsaka, Kumarila Bhatta, it was because of Sri Sankara’s dialectical skill and irrefutable arguments that it ceased to have sway over the minds of the inheritors of Vedic religion.”

The hold of Buddhism on the masses of India could be seen from the writing of celebrated Chinese pilgrim Faxian (334-420 AD). He made a journey that marked the high point of the first wave of Chinese pilgrims in India. He left China in 399 AD and returned in 414 AD. We see that even two centuries later the religion was hardly weakened as may be gleaned from the detailed historic accounts of the reign of Harshavardhana (606-647AD). The sources for such accounts are: coins and inscriptions, the reports of pilgrims, official Chinese documents and writings by well-known personalities like the Chinese travelerHuien Tsang.

Though a Hindu, King Harshavardhana maintained an impartial tolerance towards the other religions, especially Buddhism that at that time was the religion of the common masses. To honor Huien Tsang, a devout student Buddhist theology and admirer of the holy land of Buddha, Harshavardhana organized the Kanauj Assembly in 643 AD. This was a grand assembly of many rajas including King Bhaskaravarman of Kamrupa (Assam) and the Vallabhi king, Dhuvabhatti. The Assembly at Kanauj included a large congregation of Brahmans, Buddhist monks ands Jains, who were involved in religious discourses. We should not forget to mention that Huien Tsang, along with thousands of students from many countries, studied in the well-known Buddhist university of Nalanda. If so, how could the religion that Sankara opposed and helped drive out of India flourish

T1) The Divyavadana (ed. Vaidya, 282). The most important of the murderous Hindu bigots who carried out their systematic campaign of violence against the peaceful followers of Lord Buddhawas Pushyamitra (184-48 B.C.), the founder of the Shunga dynasty. For details and refrences do see below

2) Goyal [430] “The culprit in this case was Toramana, a member of the same dynasty as the Shaivite Mihirakula who did “immense damage to the Buddhist shrines in Gandhara, Punjab and Kashmir.” For details and refrences do see BELOW

3) Mihirakula is said to have razed 1600 viharas, stupas and monasteries, and “put to death 900 Kotis, or lay adherents of Buddhism” [Joshi, 404].

4) The Aryamanjushrimulakalpa tells us that Pushyamitra “destroyed monasteries with relics and killed monks of good conduct.” [Jayaswal, 18-19]

5) As Goyal [394] notes, “According to many scholars hostility of the Brahmanas was one of the major causes of the decline of Buddhism in India.”

6) The celebrated Tibetan historian Lama Taranatha mentions the march of Pushyamitra from Madhyadesha to Jalandhara. In the course of his campaigns, the book states, Pushyamitra burned down numerous Buddhist monasteries and killed a number of learned monks The archaeological evidence for the ravages wrought by Pushyamitra and other Hindu fanatic rulers on famous Buddhist shrines is abundant.

7) The Brhannaradiya-purana lays it down as a principal sin for a Brahmana to enter the house of a Buddhist even in times of great peril.

8) The drama Mrchchhakatika shows that in Ujjain the Buddhist monks were despised and their sight was considered inauspicious.

9) The Vishnupurana (XVIII 13-18) also regards the Buddha as Mayamoha who appeared in the world to delude the demons. Kumarila is said to have instigated King Sudhanvan of Ujjain to exterminate the Buddhists.

10) The Kerala-utpatti describes how he exterminated the Buddhists from Kerala.”

11) The Chinese traveller Yuan Chwang (Huen Tsang), who visited India in the seventh century records the oppressions of Shashanka, the king of Gauda, who was a devotee of Shiva.

12) Yuan Chwang’s account reads, “In recent times Shashanka, the enemy and oppressor of Buddhism, cut down the Bodhi tree, destroyed its roots down to the water and burned what remained.” [Watters II p.115] He also says that Shashanka tried “to have the image (of Lord Buddha at Bodhgaya) removed and replaced by one of Shiva”.

13) Another independent account of Shashanka’s oppressions is found in the Aryamanjushrimulakalpa, which refers to Shashanka destroying “the beautiful image of Buddha” [Jayaswal, 49-50].

14) Another prominent seventh century murderer of Buddhists was Sudhanvan of Ujjain, already mentioned in the quotation from Goyal above as having been supposedly instigated by Kumarila Bhatt.

15) Madhava Acharya, in his “Sankara-digvijayam” of the fourteenth century A.D., records that Suddhanvan “issued orders to put to death all the Buddhists from Ramesvaram to the Himalayas”.

16) Even after the Islamic invasions of India, Hindu bigotry and hatred for Buddhists was not subdued. According to Sharmasvamin, a Tibetan pilgrim who visited Bihar three decades after the invasion of Bakhtiaruddin Khilji in the 12th century, the biggest library at Nalanda was destroyed by Hindu mendicants who took advantage of the chaos produced by the invasion.

He says that “they (Hindus) performed a Yajna, a fire sacrifice, and threw living embers and ashes from the sacrifice into the Buddhist temples. This produced a great conflagration which consumed Ratnabodhi, the nine-storeyed library of the Nalanda University”. [Prakash, 213]. Numerous destroyed Buddhist shrines were converted into Hindu temples after their destruction.

17) Ahir [58] notes that “The Seat of Buddha’s Enlightenment was in the possession of a Hindu Mahant till 1952.

18) Similarly, at Kushinara, where the Buddha had entered into Mahaparinirvana, the cremation stupa had been converted into a Hindu temple, and on top of it stood the temple of Rambhar Bhavani when Cunningham discovered the site in 1860-61.

19) Among the shrines which still continue to be dedicated to Hindu gods mention may be made of the Caityas of Chezrala and Ter in Andhra Pradesh which are now Shiva and Vishnu temples respectively.

20) The temple of Madhava at Sal Kusa, opposite Gauhati in Asam, was once a sacred shrine of the Buddhists. …

21) And the famous Jagannatha temple at Puri in Orissa was also originally a Buddhist shrine.

22) Similarly, the Vishnupada temple at Gaya was also once a Buddhist shrine.” As Rajendralal Mitra notes in his famous work of 1878 [quoted in Ahir, 59] the feet of Buddha at Gaya were rechristened the feet of Vishnu and held as the most sacred object of worship in the new Vishnupada temple.

23) According to the records of Hieun Tsang and Kalhana’s Rajaatarangini, Asoka the great repented, converted to Buddhism (273-232 BC) and did a lot for Buddhism. Asoka renounced violence, and renounced his religion after the Kalinga war, and he became a Buddhist. During Asoka, Buddhism had become the state religion. The Brahmans did not like him, and many historians think the Brahaman opposition to Asoka led to the destruction of the Muyarian dynasty says the following about the Kushans (emphasis is mine and not Nehru’s): ” This Kushan Empire is interesting in many ways. IT WAS A BUDDHIST EMPIRE, and one of its famous rulers-the Emperor Kanishka-was ardently devoted to the dharma…the Kushans were Mongolians or closely allied to them. From the Kushan capital there must have been a continuous coming and going to the Mongolian homelands, and Buddhist learning and Buddhist culture must have gone to China and Mongolia…the Kushan Empire sat like a colossus astride the back of Asia, in between the Greaco-Roman world in the south. It was a halfway house both between India, and Rome, and India and China. The Kushan period corresponded with the last days of the Roman Republic when Julius Ceaser was alive, and first 200 years of the Roman Empire

Jawarhalal Nehru in his book Glimpses of World History says (Page 103 and 104) “Chandragupta proclaimed his holy war “against all foreign rulers in India. The Kashatriyas and the Aryan aristocracy, deprived of their power and positions by the aliens (Kushans), were at the back of this war. After a dozen or so years of fighting, Chandragupta managed to gain control over Northern India including what is now called UP. He then crowned himself king of kings. Thus began the Gupta dynasty. It was a period of somewhat aggressive Hinduism and nationalism. The foreign rulers-the Turkis and Parathions and other Non-Aryans were rooted our and forcibly removed. We thus find racial antagonism at work. The Indo-Aryan aristocrat was proud of his race and looked down upon these barbarians and malachas. Indo-Aryan States and rulers were conquered by the Guptas were dealt with leniently, But there was not leniency for non-Aryans.

26) Jawarhalal Nehru in his book Glimpses of World History says “Chandragupta’s son Samadugupta was an even more aggressive fighter than his father….the Kushans were pushed back across the Indus…Samadugupta’s son, Chandragupta II was also a warrior king, and he conquered Kathiwad and Gujrat, which had been under the rule of a Saka or Turki dynasty for a long time. He took the name Vikramaditya…..The Gupta period was a period of Hindu imperialism in India. There was a great revival of old Aryan culture and Sanskrit learning. The Hellenistic, or Greek and Mongolian elements in Indian life and culture which had been brought by the Greeks, Kushans and others were not encouraged, and were in fact deliberately superseded by laying stress on the Indo-Aryan traditions. Sanskrit was the official court language. But EVEN IN THOSE DAYS SANSKRIT WAS NOT THE COMMON LANGUAGE OF THE PEOPLE.

The spoken language was a form of Prakrit….Kalidasa belonged to this period ……………. Samadragupta changed the capital of his empire from Pataliputra (Peshawar) to Ayodhia. Perhaps he felt that Ayodhiya
offered a more suitable outlook–with its story of Ramachandra immortalized in Valmikis epic.

Jawarhalal Nehru in his book Glimpses of World History says “The Gupta revival of Aryanism and Hinduism was naturally not very favorably inclined towards Buddhism. This was partly because this movement was aristocratic, with the Kashatriya chiefs backing it, and Buddhism had more democracy in it; partly because the Mahayana form of Buddhism was closely associated with the Kushans and other alien rulers of northern India….but Buddhism declined in India…Chandragupta the first was a contemporary of Constantine the great, the Roman Emperor who founded Constantinople. ”

The Buddha was a true revolutionary—and his crusade against Brahminical supremacy won him his most ardent followers from among the oppressed castes. The Buddha challenged the divinity of the Vedas, the bedrock of Brahminism. He held that all men are equal and that the caste system or varnashramadharma, to which the Vedas and Other Brah’minical’ books had given religious sanction, was completely false. Thus, in the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha is said to have exhorted the Bhikkus, saying,

“Just, O brethren, as the great rivers, when they have emptied themselves into the Great Ocean, lose their different names and are known as the Great Ocean Just so, O brethren, do the four varnas—Kshatriya, Brahmin, Vaishya and Sudra—when they begin to follow the doctrine and discipline propounded by the Tathagata [i.e. the Buddha], renounce the different names of caste and rank and become the members of one and the same society.”

The Buddha’s fight against Brahminism won him many enemies from among the Brahmins. They were not as greatly opposed to his philosophical teachings as they were to his message of universal brotherhood and equality for it directly challenged their hegemony and the scriptures that they had invented to legitimize this. To combat Buddhism and revive the tottering Brahminical hegemony, Brahminical revivalists resorted to a three-pronged strategy.

Firstly, they launched a campaign of hatred and persecution against the Buddhists. Then, they appropriated many of the finer aspects of Buddhism into their own system so as to win over the “lower” caste Buddhist masses, but made sure that this selective appropriation did not in any way undermine Brahminical hegemony. The final stage in this project to wipeout Buddhism was to propound and propagate the myth that the Buddha was merely another ‘incarnation’ (avatar) of the Hindu god Vishnu. Buddha was turned into just another of the countless deities of the Brahminical pantheon. The Buddhists were finally absorbed into the caste system, mainly as Shudras and ‘Untouchables’, and with that the Buddhist presence was completely obliterated from the land of its birth. Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar writes in his book, The Untouchables, that the ancestors of today’s Dalits were Buddhists who were reduced to the lowly status of ‘untouchables’ for not having accepted the supremacy of the Brahmins. They were kept apart from other people and were forced to live in ghettos of their own. Being treated worse that beasts of burden and forbidden to receive any education, these people gradually lost touch with Buddhism, but yet never fully reconciled themselves to the Brahminical order. Many of them later converted to Islam, Sikhism and Christianity in a quest for liberation from the Brahminical religion.

To lend legitimacy to their campaign against Buddhism, Brahminical texts included fierce strictures against Buddhists. Manu, in his Manusmriti, laid down that, “If a person touches a Buddhist […] he shall purify himself by having a bath.” Aparaka ordained the same in his Smriti. Vradha Harit declared entry into a Buddhist temple a sin, which could only be expiated for by taking a ritual bath. Even dramas and other books for lay people written by Brahmins contained venomous propaganda against the Buddhists. In the classic work, Mricchakatika, (Act VII), the hero Charudatta, on seeing a Buddhist monk pass by, exclaims to his friend Maitriya— “Ah! Here is an inauspicious sight, a Buddhist monk coming towards us.”

The Brahmin Chanakya, author of Arthashastra, declared that, “When a person entertains in a dinner dedicated to gods and ancestors those who are Sakyas (Buddhists), Ajivikas, Shudras and exiled persons, a fine of one hundred panas shall be imposed on him.” Shankaracharaya, the leader of the Brahminical revival, struck terror into the hearts of the Buddhists with his diatribes against their religion.

The simplicity of the Buddha’s message, its stress on equality and its crusade against the bloody and costly sacrifices and ritualism of Brahminism had attracted the oppressed casts in large numbers. The Brahminical revivalists understood the need to appropriate some of these finer aspects of Buddhism and discarded some of the worst of their own practices so as to be able to win over the masses back to the Brahminical fold. Hence began the process of the assimilation of Buddhism by Brahminism.

The Brahimns, who were once voracious beef-eaters, turned vegetarian, imitating the Buddhists in this regard. Popular devotion to the Buddha was sought to be replaced by devotion to Hindu gods such as Rama and Krishna. The existing version of the Mahabharata was written in the period in which the decline of Buddhism had already begun, and it was specially meant for the Shudras, most of whom were Buddhists, to attract them away from Buddhism. Brahminism, however, still prevented the Shudras from having access to the Vedas, and the Mahabharata was possibly written to placate the Buddhist Shudras and to compensate them for this discrimination.

The Mahabharata incorporated some of the humanistic elements of Buddhism to win over the Shudras, but, overall, played its role of bolstering the Brahminical hegemony rather well. Thus, Krishna, in the Gita, is made to say that a person ought not to violate the “divinely ordained” law of caste. Eklavya is made to slice off his thumb by Drona, who is finds it a gross violation of dharma that a mere tribal boy should excel the Kshatriya Arjun in archery.

The various writer of the puranas, too, carried on this systematic campaign of hatred, slander and calumny against the Buddhists. The Brahannardiya Purana made it a principal sin for Brahmins to enter the house of a Buddhist even in times of great peril. The Vishnu Purana dubs the Buddha as Maha Moha or ‘the great seducer’. It further cautions against the “sin of conversing with Buddhists” and lays down that “those who merely talk to Buddhist ascetics shall be sent to hell.”

In the Gaya Mahatmaya, the concluding section of the Vayu Purana, the town of Gaya is identified as Gaya Asura, a demon who had attained such holiness that all those who saw him or touched him went straight to heaven. Clearly, this ‘demon’ was none other the Buddha who preached a simple way for all, including the oppressed castes, to attain salvation. The Vayu Purana story goes on to add that Yama, the king of hell, grew jealous at this, possibly because less people were now entering his domains. He appealed to the gods to limit the powers of Asura Gaya. This the gods, led by Vishnu, were able to do by placing a massive stone on the “demon’s” head. This monstrous legend signified the ultimate capture of Budhdhism’s most holy centre by its most inveterate foes.

Kushinagar, also known as Harramba, was one of the most important Buddhist centres as the Buddha breathed his last there. The Brahmins, envious of the prosperity of this pilgrim town and in order to discourage people from going there, invented the absurd theory that one who dies in Harramba goes to hell, or is reborn as an ass, while he who dies in Kashi, the citadel of Brahminism, goes straight to heaven. So pervasive was the belief in this bizarre theory that when the Sufi saint Kabir died in 1518 AD at Maghar, not far from Kushinagar, some of his Hindu followers refused to erect any memorial in his honor there and instead set up one at Kashi. Kabir’s Muslim followers were less superstitious. They set up a tomb for him at Maghar itself.

In addition to vilifying the fair name of the Buddha, the Brahminical revivalists goaded Hindu kings to persecute and even slaughter innocent Buddhists. Sasanka, the Shaivite Brahmin king of Bengal, murdered the last Buddhist emperor Rajyavardhana, elder brother of Harshavardhana, in 605 AD and then marched on to Bodh Gaya where he destroyed the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha had attained enlightenment. He forcibly removed the Buddha’s image from the Bodh Vihara near the tree and installed one of Shiva in its place.

Finally, Sasanka is said to have slaughtered all the Buddhist monks in the area around Kushinagar. Another such Hindu king was, Mihirakula, a Shaivite, who is said to have completely destroyed over 1500 Buddhist shrines. The Shaivite Toramana is said to have destroyed the Ghositarama Buddhist monastery at Kausambi.

The extermination of Buddhism in India was hastened by the large-scale destruction and appropriation of Buddhist shrines by the Brahmins. The Mahabodhi Vihara at Bodh Gaya was forcibly converted into a Shaivite temple, and the controversy lingers on till this day. The cremation stupa of the Buddha at Kushinagar was changed into a Hindu temple dedicated to the obscure deity with the name of Ramhar Bhavani. Adi Shankara is said to have established his Sringeri Mutth on the site of a Buddhist monastery which he took over. Many Hindu shrines in Ayodhya are said to have once been Buddhist temples, as is the case with other famous Brahminical temples such as those at Sabarimala, Tirupati, Badrinath and Puri.


4. Yu-Ki Or, Buddhist Records of the Western Countries written by Hsien-tsang (circa 650 AD). Taken from Translations by Thomas Watters (1904) and Samuel Beal (1884)

5. Messengers of light: Chinese Buddhist pilgrims in India by Paul Magnin Unesco Courier, Vol. 48 No.5 May.1995 Pp.24-27.

6. Discovery of India by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

Recently we read in the Mississauga’s Weekly Voice dated December 5, 2009 relating to the Crowning Glory entitled “Politician Donates $10 million Crown for Tirupati Deity.” It is also most remarkable that medical surgeon Dr. K. Jamanadas writes a book entitled “Tirupate Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine” and this book has potential credibility to accept that Buddha statues become God