Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture

By Sukumar Dutt | Go to book overview

3
Early Buddhist Culture and its Trans-Vindhyan Expansion

THE introduction of Buddhism by Tissa's missionaries into various regions of India in Asoka's reign is known to us from legends as also from historical evidence. But how the religion fared thereafter in these far-flung parts of the empire is not so evident. In northern India, it may be presumed, Buddhism during the remainder of Maurya rule made headway and the monk-settlements spread gradually from the ancient Puratthima in the east as far westwards as Ujjayinī.

The Maurya dynasty came to an end round 184 BC. The wreckage of its northern empire was divided among three ruling powers--the Śuṅgas in the east ruling from Pāṭaliputra, the old Maurya capital, the Yavanas (Bactrian Greeks) in the north, and the Sātavāhanas in the west and south, with their old capital at Amarāvatī shifted north to Pratisthāna.

Till the extinction of Maurya power, Magadha had been the headquarters of Buddhism and ancient stronghold of the Saṅgha. It does not seem to have flourished as such afterwards. Only after the lapse of four to five centuries when the Guptas ruled once again from the ancient imperial seat of the Mauryas, did Buddhism reassert its influence in this region. Its setback here followed close on the set-up of the successor dynasty.

The Śuṅgas were Brāhmaṇas of the Sāma-Veda school, wedded to Vedic rites which required animal sacrifice.1 A long way back in the past Emperor Asoka had forbidden by an edict animal-sacrifice at Pāṭaliputra.2 Perhaps during the remainder of Maurya rule, the ancient edict was more or less respected. But, with inauguration of Vedic rites since the first Śuṅga king Puṣyamitra seized the throne, the blood of sacrifice began to flow in the capital and the Buddhist monks must have resented and opposed the innovation. Whether the opposition had taken any active form is not known from history or legend, but bitter enmity sprang up between Puṣyamitra and the

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1
See Hara Prasad Sastri's article, Chips from a Buddhist Workshop, in Buddhistic Studies, ed. by B. C. Law ( Thacker Spink, Calcutta, 1931).
2
Rock Edict No. I--'Here no living things whatever are to be killed and offered in sacrifice' (Idha na kiḿci jīvaḿ ārabhitpā prajūhitavyaḿ). 'Idha' means at Pāṭaliputra. Sen Asoka's Edicts, p. 65.

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