Were Buddhists persecuted by Hindus?

Written by Neer Mohammed

Intolerance towards Buddhists

The Brahmanical hostility towards Buddhism was a major reason of the decline of Buddhism in India, the place of its birth. It is quite true that at a later date the Brahmins accepted Buddha as one of the avataras but it was just another srewd Brahmin way of showing contempt towards the Buddha. The Hindus never really showed any friendly attitude towards the followers of the religion of the Buddha, as it shown from various historical records. The Bramins first sowed the seeds of hatred towards the Buddhists in their scriptures to gain the sympatheis of the common people in slaughtering Buddhists.

In the Ayodhya Kaanda of Valmiki Ramayana, a Buddhist was compared to a thief and the Tathagatas to atheists (Naastiks). It said:

यथा हि चोर स्स तथा हि बुद्ध-
स्तथागतं नास्तिकमत्र विद्धि।

As a thief, so is Buddha. Know that Tathagatas are atheists. [Sarga 109; shloka 34]

The Yajnavalkya Smriti says that the very sight of a monk with red robes and shaven head (referring to Buddhists), even in a dream, is a bad sign. [Yajnavalkya SmritiI/272-273]

The Agni Purana[16/1-3] and Vishnu Purana[18/13-18] refer to Buddha as an embodiment of Grand Deception (māyamohasvarup) and that he deluded the people from the Vedic Religion.  His path is a sure ticket to hell.

The great philosopher of Hinduism, Shankaracharya, said that the Buddha was suffering from what we know as schizophrenia. Shankaracharya said that

he (Buddha) was a man given to make incoherent assertions or else that hatred of all beings induced him to propound absurd doctrines by accepting which they would become thoroughly confused.–So that–and this the Sûtra means to indicate–Buddha’s doctrine has to be entirely disregarded by all those who have a regard for their own happiness.”

[Shankar Bhashya on Brahmasutra 2/2/32]

The writer of Saankhyakaarika, Vachaspati Mishra, uses the words ‘Mleccha (filthy)’, Purushaapsad (low people) and PashuPraay (Animal like) for Buddhists, Jains, etc. He writes:

आप्तग्रहणेनाsयुक्ताः  शाक्यभिक्षुर्नि ग्रन्थकसंसारमो चकादीनामागमाभासाः परिहृता भवन्ति . अयुक्तत्वं चैतेषां विगानात्, विच्छन्न मूलत्वात्, प्रमाणविरुद्धार्थाभिधानात् कैशिचदेव मलेच्छादिभिः पुरुषापसदैः पशुप्रायैः परिग्रहाद् बोद्धव्यम् .

“By saying ‘true revelation’, all pretended revelations such as those of Shaakya, Bhikshu (Buddha),etc have been set aside. The invalidity of these systems is due to their making unreasonable assertions, to want of sufficient basis, to their making statements contradictory to proofs, and lastly to their being accepted only by Mlecchas, or by mean men or by animal like people. “

Were Buddhists persecuted by Hindus? Yes, they were

Buddhism suffered a great decline owing to the hostile activities of some philosphers of Brahminical thought and preachers of South India. Kumarila Bhatta was regarded as the fiercest critic of Buddhism. He was the strongest protagonist of Vedic ritualism. Kumarila is said to have been a Brahmin of Bihar who raged with the ardour to preach against Buddhism. The Shankar Digvijayaof Madhava (earliest authentic biography of Shankaracharya) refers to Malayali King Sudhanva’s brutal extermination of Buddhists at the instigation of Kumarila Bhatta.

Intolerance towards Buddhists

The Brahmanical hostility towards Buddhism was a major reason of the decline of Buddhism in India, the place of its birth. It is quite true that at a later date the Brahmins accepted Buddha as one of the avataras but it was just another srewd Brahmin way of showing contempt towards the Buddha. The Hindus never really showed any friendly attitude towards the followers of the religion of the Buddha, as it shown from various historical records. The Bramins first sowed the seeds of hatred towards the Buddhists in their scriptures to gain the sympatheis of the common people in slaughtering Buddhists.

In the Ayodhya Kaanda of Valmiki Ramayana, a Buddhist was compared to a thief and the Tathagatas to atheists (Naastiks). It said:

यथा हि चोर स्स तथा हि बुद्ध-
स्तथागतं नास्तिकमत्र विद्धि।

As a thief, so is Buddha. Know that Tathagatas are atheists. [Sarga 109; shloka 34]

The Yajnavalkya Smriti says that the very sight of a monk with red robes and shaven head (referring to Buddhists), even in a dream, is a bad sign. [Yajnavalkya SmritiI/272-273]

The Agni Purana[16/1-3] and Vishnu Purana[18/13-18] refer to Buddha as an embodiment of Grand Deception (māyamohasvarup) and that he deluded the people from the Vedic Religion.  His path is a sure ticket to hell.

The great philosopher of Hinduism, Shankaracharya, said that the Buddha was suffering from what we know as schizophrenia. Shankaracharya said that

he (Buddha) was a man given to make incoherent assertions or else that hatred of all beings induced him to propound absurd doctrines by accepting which they would become thoroughly confused.–So that–and this the Sûtra means to indicate–Buddha’s doctrine has to be entirely disregarded by all those who have a regard for their own happiness.”

[Shankar Bhashya on Brahmasutra 2/2/32]

The writer of Saankhyakaarika, Vachaspati Mishra, uses the words ‘Mleccha (filthy)’, Purushaapsad (low people) and PashuPraay (Animal like) for Buddhists, Jains, etc. He writes:

आप्तग्रहणेनाsयुक्ताः  शाक्यभिक्षुर्नि ग्रन्थकसंसारमो चकादीनामागमाभासाः परिहृता भवन्ति . अयुक्तत्वं चैतेषां विगानात्, विच्छन्न मूलत्वात्, प्रमाणविरुद्धार्थाभिधानात् कैशिचदेव मलेच्छादिभिः पुरुषापसदैः पशुप्रायैः परिग्रहाद् बोद्धव्यम् .

“By saying ‘true revelation’, all pretended revelations such as those of Shaakya, Bhikshu (Buddha),etc have been set aside. The invalidity of these systems is due to their making unreasonable assertions, to want of sufficient basis, to their making statements contradictory to proofs, and lastly to their being accepted only by Mlecchas, or by mean men or by animal like people. “

Kumarila is said to have been a Brahmin of Bihar who raged with the ardour to preach against Buddhism. The Shankar Digvijayaof Madhava (earliest authentic biography of Shankaracharya) refers to Malayali King Sudhanva’s brutal extermination of Buddhists at the instigation of Kumarila Bhatta.

The king (Sudhanva) commanded his servants “kill all Buddhists from Himalaya to Rameshvaram, even children and elderly. Whosoever will not kill them, will be killed at my hands.” [93]

At the instigation of Kumarila Bhatta, the king killed the Buddhists, the opponents (of the Hindu religion) just like a Yogi destroys the disturbances. [95]

[Madhava-Vidyaranya, Sankara Digvijaya Sarg 1; shlokas 93-95]

This was about Kumarila’s brutal persecution of Buddhists. Now let us turn to Adi Shankaracharya, the Brahmin of South India, who did  a great job of glorifying the Vedas and the Advaita Vedanta philosophy. He was vigorously anti-Buddhism. I have already quoted his remarks on Buddha, which show his ‘regard’ for the Buddhist religion (Refer Shankar Bhasya on Brahmasutra 2/2/32). With regards to the Sringeri matha built by Shankaracharya, Sir Charles Eliot in his book Hinduism and Buddhism (1921 Ed. Page 211) says,

“There is some reason to suppose that the Matha of Sringeri was founded on the site of a Buddhist Monestary”

The 15th Sarga of his biography Madhava-Vidyaranya Sankara Digvijay refers to his campaigns against the Buddhists, being escorted by King Sudhanvan’s army wherever he went from the Himalayas to the India Ocean. Owing to his anti Buddhist activities, Buddhism fell on its evil days.

This royal persecution of Buddhists by some Brahminic rulers was the most potent factor which contributed to bring the decline of Buddhism in India. The Budaun Stone Inscription of Lakhanapaala refers to one Varamasiva, a Saiva ascetic, who destroyed an idol of Buddha in the South (Dakshinapatha) before his arrival in Vodamayuta (Epigraphia Indica vol.1, Page 63)

Chalukya Inscription of 1184 A.D. refers to a feudatory chief, Mahaamandaleshvara Viruparasadeva, who is described as a’forest-fire to the Jain religion’, a ‘destroyer of the Buddha religion’, a ‘demolisher of Jain basadis’ and ‘establisher of the Sivalinga-Simhaasana (Shiva Linga Throne).He destroyed several samayas at Pariyalige, Anilevada (Anhilwad), Unukallu (Unkal), Sampagadi (Sampagaon), Ibbaluru (Ablur?), Marudige (Maradigi), Anampur (Alampur), KaTahada (Karad), Kembhavi, Bammakuru and other places. [Annual report of the archaeological survey of India 1929-30 Page 171]

We know from the record of the Nalanda Inscription of Vipulasrimitra, that a Vangala army killed a Buddhist monk namedKarunasrimitra of Somapura and burnt down his house, which was actually a monastery. [Epigraphia Indica vol.21 Page 97]

Another fierce Hindu king who showed his great hostility towards Buddhism was Shashanka, the King of Gauda. He was a notable example of anti-Buddhist Brahminical fanaticism. He is said to have uprooted the sacred Bodhi-Tree at Bodh-Gaya but in order to destroy it totally, he burnt its remains. A Buddha image from a temple east of the Bodhi tree was removed by him and in its place, he installed an image of Siva. [On Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India vol. 2 by Thomas Watters, 1905, Pages 115,116]

This is corroborated by The Life of Hiuen Tsiang by the Shaman Hwui Li who mentions that a certain Kumaara-Raja threatened the monks of Nalanda with a behaviour similar to Shashanka, and with the destruction of the whole monastery unless Hiuen Tsang was sent to his court. Kumara-Raja wrote in his letter,

“I have again sent a messenger with a written request: If he (Hiuen Tsang) does not  come, your disciple will then let the evil portion of himself prevail. In recent times Shanshanka-Raja was equal still to the destruction of the law and uprooted the Bodhi tree. Do you, my Master, suppose that your disciple has no such power as this? If necessary then I will equip my army and elephants, and like the clouds sweep down on and trample to the very dust that monastery of Nalanda. These words (are true) as the sun!” [The Life of Hiuen Tsiang by the Shaman Hwui Li ; Translated by Samuel Beal; 1911;  Pg. 171]

Another cruel persecutor of Buddhism was Mihirakula, who had occupied the throne of Kashmir. Kalhana Pandit, the famous chronicler of Kashmir and the author of Rajatarangini, says that for his atrocities he was like Yama, the god of death. Kalhana describes further: “One’s tongue would become polluted if one attempted to record his cruelties and evil deeds in detail” [Rajatarangini I, 289,290 and 304; Translated by M. A. Stein]. From his account it is known that Mihirakula played an important role in the development of Brahmanism. He was a worshipper of Shiva and built a Shiva temple in Srinagara [Rajatarangini I, 306; M. A. Stein]. The view that he was a Shaivite is upheld by M. A. Stein as he writes,

“The impression which this tradition retained of Mihirakula’s religious propensities, is in full accord with the evidence of his coins which, in the emblems of bull and trident and in the legends of jayatu vrsa, jayatu vrsadhvaja, display a distinct leaning towards Shaivism.”

[Rajatarangini; M. A. Stein; Footnote to I, 289]

Mihirakula oppressed the Buddhists and behaved with them cruelly. At his instigation not only were many Buddhists murdered but many Stupas, Caityas, Vihaaras, and other Buddhist establishments were destroyed in Punjab and Kashmir. The description of his cruelties as described in the Rajatarangini is corroborated by the description given by Hiuen Tsang in his book Si-Yu-Ki. He writes,

“He exterminated the royal family and the chief minister, overthrew stupas, destroyed the sangharamas, altogether one thousand six hundred foundations.”

[Si-Yu-Ki. Buddhist Records of the Western World Tr. Samuel Beal, 1969; Book iv, Page 171]

Mihirakula’s hostility towards the Buddhist was shared by the Shaivite Brahmins. Kalhana comments in the Rajatarangini on the greed of the Brahmins who eagerly accepted grants of land from Mihirakula.

“Brahmins from Gandhara, resembling himself in their habits and verily themselves the lowest of the twice-born, accepted Agraharas from him.”

[Rajatarangini I, 307; M. A. Stein]

This shows that the Brahmins were hand in glove with his slaughter of Buddhists and the destruction of the Buddhist establishments. So, the fake polemics of some Hindu writers that Mihirakula was not a Hindu or that his destruction of Buddhists establishments cannot be tied to Hindus are unfounded.

Another hateful persecutor of Buddhists was Pushyamitra Sunga, founder of the Sunga Dynasty. Several Chinese and Japanese historians mention Pushyamitra’s name at the head of the list of persecutors. Buddhist writers portray Pushyanitra as a cruel persecutor of the religion of Sakyamuni (Buddha). Pushyamitra, a militant follower of Brahminism, assassinated the last Mauryan Emperor Brhadratha, capturing the throne of Magadha and founded the Sunga Dynasty. It ruled for a period of one hundred and twelve years.  Pushyamitra had to justify his position as head of the Brahmanic reaction by persecuting the Buddhists and destroying Buddhist monasteries on the one hand and restoring the sacrificial ceremonies of the Brahmanic faith on the other, for which his principal helpers were Patanjali and also perhaps Manu, the author of the Manusmriti. who was also his contemporary according to some scholars. The persecution of the Buddhists by Pushyamitra, was a logical sequence of the Brahmanic reaction and the political coup d’etat. The Buddhist text Divyavadana mentions the persecutions of Pushyamitra and his destruction of Buddhist stupas and monasteries. Hindutva apologists such as Dr. Koenraad Elst have tried to refute these charges on Pushyamitra, saying that they are “rendered improbable by external evidence”. Elst then claims that “he (Pushyamitra) allowed and patronized the construction of monasteries and Buddhist universities in his domains, as well as the still-extant stupa of Sanchi.” Although he gives no reference for this claim, it is possible that he was referring to the epigraph on the gateway of Barhut, which mentions its erection “during the supremacy of the Sungas“. The inscription uses the words सुगनं रजे (During the reign of Sungas). It does not necessarily include the reign of Pushyamitra. It only means ‘during the reign of Sungas’. The gateway was constructed during the reign of his successors who were more tolerant to Buddhism than the founder of the dynasty and leader of the Brahmanic reaction. That the gateways were erected long after the time of Pushyamitra is also the opinion of eminent archaeologists like Mr. N. G. Mazumdar, who writes,

“The Sungas referred to in this inscription formed a dynasty which was founded by the general (Senapati) Pushyamitra, succeeding the Mauryas about 180 B.C. The gateways, however, appear to have been set up about a century later, towards the close o the Sunga period.”

[A Guide To The Sculptures In The Indian Museum, Pt.I N. G. Mazumdar, 1937 Ed., Page 13]

Dr. Elst also quotes the historian of Buddhism, Etienne Lamotte, who wrote, “To judge from the documents, Pushyamitra must be acquitted through lack of proof”. [History of Indian Buddhism, Institut Orientaliste, Louvain-la-Neuve 1988/1958, p.109] Firstly, this reference is incorrect as the page number is 392. Even then, let me provide the complete quote of Etienne Lamotte. He writes,

“To judge from the documents, Pushyamitra must be acquitted through lack of proof. Nevertheless, as was remarked by H. Kern, in view of the varied opinions, it is possible that, in some localities, there may have been pillages of monasteries, perhaps with the tacit permission of the governors. “

Prominent Indian historian, professor Romila Thapar writes,

“Buddhist sources claim that they (Sungas) persecuted the Buddhists and destroyed their monasteries and places of worship. This could have been an exaggeration, but archaeological evidence reveals that Buddhist monuments in the Sunga domain were at this time in disrepair and being renovated. However, if the chronology of these monuments shifts forward as is now being suggested, then this would make them post-Sunga renovations. Nevertheless, even if some renovations were of a later date, the damage to the stupa at Sanchi, and to the monastery at Kaushambi dates to Shunga times. Added emphasis is given to this from Pushyamitra having performed ashvamedhas, or horse sacrifices. This is sometimes viewed as indicating support of Vedic Brahmanism and a disapproval of heterodox sects.”

[The Penguin History of Early India from the origins to AD 1300, Romila Thapar, 2002 Edition, Pg. 210]

deorkothar stupaThis view of Professor Thapar was confirmed when Deorkothar Stupaswere excavated by P. K. Mishra (Archaeological Survey of India) in 1999 till 2000. The story about this Stupa was published by P. K. Mishra on the official website of the Archaeology magazine, a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America. P. K. Mishra wrote,

“The ancient Buddhist text Divyavadanam speaks of the death and destruction brought about by Pushyamitra Sunga, who ruled in the first quarter of the second century B.C., in a bid to glorify Hinduism. During his reign, Buddhist monuments were wantonly destroyed. Although archaeological evidence is meager in this regard, it seems likely that the Deorkothar stupa was destroyed as a result of Pushyamitra Sunga’s fanaticism. The exposed remains at Deorkothar bear evidence of deliberate destruction datable to his reign. The three-tiered railing is damaged; railing pillars lie, broken to smithereens, on stone flooring. Twenty pieces of pillar have been recovered, each fragment itself fractured. The site offers no indication of natural destruction.”

[SOURCE: http://archive.archaeology.org/online/news/deorkothar/ ]

Etienne Lamotte wrote his book in 1958, when he did not have the new archaeological findings before him. To hang on to his quote is an example of a drowning man clutching at straws.

Further Reading

Buddhist scholars have also laid claim to many Hindu temples being original Buddhist Shrines. A book written by Dr. K. Jamnadas was titled ‘Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine’. In this book, the author has given huge stock of evidence to prove that the temple which is today sacred to Hindus was once a Buddhist Shrine. Readers are advised to make up their own mind after reading the book themselves and verifying the proofs.The book can be downloaded from the link http://www.ambedkar.org/Tirupati/Tirupati.pdf

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