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AstroChuck's avatar

Why so few Buddhists in India?

Asked by AstroChuck (37461points) August 17th, 2008 from iPhone

Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism combined are practiced by fewer than 3% of the population in India. All three originated there. So why so few? There are approximately 376 million Buddhists in the Earth. That’s about 6% of the world population. But why so few in the country where it began?

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9 Answers

eambos's avatar

Hinduism has such strong roots in the area that not many converted or are converting.

I have to break out the History books. I just did a whole lot of research on Hinduism and Buddhism.

Harp's avatar

The simple explanation is that Buddhism, as it was practiced in India, was a primarily monastic institution. Early Buddhists followed the strict monastic code called the Vinaya, which prohibited monks from working the soil, touching money, and other restrictions which made them entirely dependent upon the support of secular patrons. In addition, they would not bear arms, which made them vulnerable and, again, dependent upon secular authorities for protection.

For the first few centuries of Buddhism in India, the political climate was such that secular benefactors were not wanting. Buddhism flourished under the protection and patronage of several Indian rulers. But in the following centuries, these were succeeded by others less sympathetic to Buddhism and either unwilling to support it or downright hostile to it.

Invasions by the White Huns and the Mongols supplanted Buddhism in some regions, and the spread of Islam under the Moghul empires resulted in widespread destruction of monasteries and shrines.

Under all of this pressure, Buddhists retreated to Himalayan strongholds, or into other surrounding kingdoms where Buddhism had also taken root.

The present small Buddhist population of India actually represents an increase from the virtual absence of Buddhism at the beginning of the modern era.

lifeflame's avatar

It is fascinating how Buddhism has been so influential in other countries (e.g., Thailand, Cambodia, Japan) but not in so much in its country of origin.

I can sense why though. Hinduism is such a way of life, and is so ingrained in the Indians’ social order that it would be difficult for a Hindu to switch. Also I think Buddhism as a philosophy can be quite hard to grasp for the average farmer, and who would find it much easier to pray to Ganesh to end his suffering (more rain for my crops please) rather than to examine the nature of suffering itself.

Harp's avatar

Another thing to consider is that Buddhism and Hinduism don’t have an “oil and water” relationship. Both grew out of Brahminist culture and shared a common spiritual vocabulary. Early Buddhist writting is rich in Brahminist imagery. Under the disparate outer trappings of the two religions lies a similar way of looking at the human predicament.

So there is a high degree of miscibility between Buddhism and Hinduism. Buddhism had a great deal of influence on Hindu thought and practice, which carries on to this day. The Hindus embraced the values of vegetarianism and non-violence from Buddhism and Jainism, for instance. Jainism is so similar to Hinduism, in fact, that many Hindus consider it a sect of Hinduism. Hindus also tried to assimilate Buddhism by suggesting that Buddha was an incarnation of Vishnu.

So, in a certain sense, Buddhism never entirely left India.

mattw's avatar

IMO Buddhism doesnt actively try to proliferate itself. It is a meme that spreads in a virus like way, from one person to another. That being so, Buddhism has the chance to die out in a region, while moving to, and flourishing in another.

stradman_2000's avatar

the real reason is that when islam invaded india, it destroyed as much of buddhism as it could, temples, priests, and forceably converted millions to islam. it also turned india into an open air slave market. very destructive religion.

nadeem_sh's avatar

King asoka made buddhism his state religion around 260BC and since then 1000years india was ruled by buddhist….The Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent mainly took place from the 12th century onwards, though earlier Muslim conquests made limited inroads into the region…..when muslims came to india buddhists were already been eradicated from india by hindu kings who were caste system followers!!!!!and Muslims ruled for 600years on india… come if they destroyed buddism in india…they din’t destroy hinduism in india and today there are 80% hindus living in india????these 80% hindu population in india are proof that islam is not destructive!!!!

asadahmed1's avatar

If Muslims were responsible for the eradication of Buddhism from India, how come most Hindu sacred places in India (like Mathura, Varanasi, Haridwar) are built upon the ruins of Buddhist shrines? The truth is that Buddhism had already been eradicated from India by Hindu revivalists like Shankaracharya a few centuries before thae arrival of the first Muslim conquerers. Yes, Muslims did destroy many temples in India but they were mainly Jain and Hindu temples – not Buddhist temples since they had already been destroyed by Hindu revivalists. And it must have been a very bloody revival since no trace of Buddhism was left on the sub-continent.

AstroChuck's avatar

But not only does Hinduism predate Buddhism, Buddhism came from Hinduism. How is it that Hinduism is responsible for this?

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