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

By Sukumar Dutt | Go to book overview

4
Monasteries under the Gupta Kings

To a certain period of European history, historians assign the label: 'the age of Renaissance and Reformation'. Interpreted in the context of ancient Indian history, the phrase may perhaps serve to indicate the quality and character of the two and a half centuries (c. AD 300- 550) known as the Gupta Age. Culture flourished, and side by side was a movement for remodelling society on fresh ideological foundations.

A phenomenal broadening and enrichment of literature in its chosen linguistic medium Sanskrit--a many-sided development in scholarship and learning--a flowering of the Fine Arts, specially sculpture and painting, out of tentative beginnings to such finished perfection that later ages looked to its achievements as classic examples and models--represent its cultural side. It was also the golden age of Sanskrit literature.

While this literature reflects the opulence of its aesthetic culture and its abounding curiosity of mind, it mirrors also a process of transformation of society, of a rethinking and re-laying of the bases of social life and a transvaluation of values accompanied with the formulation of new theological concepts and new forms of practice in religion. The movement finds literary expression in different types of literature. The final redactions of the sacred epics, a good many of the Purāṇas, the Dharmaśstras and the Arthaśāstras, the fundamental texts of both Brāhmaṇical philosophy and Mahāyāna Buddhism--all belong to this age.

The Gupta-age 'reformation' was traditionalist: it sought to derive its basic ideas and governing principles from a source of higher antiquity than Buddhism--the Vedas. But Buddhism was neither suppressed nor regarded as a cross-current or counter-force in the rising tide of this reformation. On the other hand the Mahāyāna development gave the religion a congenial form--even, one might say, a kind of family likeness.

In the Mahāyānic emphasis on Bhakti, in the form and ceremony of image-worship that had become prevalent in Buddhism, in the enlarged Mahāyānist pantheon, which, like the Brāhmaṇical, admitted deities, both male and female, both principal and attendant, and even in the speculative trends of Mahāyāna philosophy, Budd-

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