Over the years, Buddhism developed into many branches. Some of them are –

  • Theravada – literally, ‘the Teaching of the Elders’ or ‘the Ancient Teaching,’ is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. It was founded in India. It is relatively conservative and closer to early Buddhism and is still prevalent in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Indonesia etc.
  • Hinyana – It is also the oldest and original branch and perhaps more orthodox. It depicts Buddha and incidents associated with his life only through symbols and prohibit representation of Buddha in human form.
  1. Lotus and bull – Birth of Buddha
  2. Horse – Renunciation
  3. Bodhi Tree – Nirvana or Enlightenment
  4. Wheel – It stood for first sermon at Sarnath,
  5. Stupa – Parinirvana
  6. Empty chair – Mahaparinirvana
  • Mahayana – Mahayana (literally the ‘Great Vehicle’) is one of the two main existing branches of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice. Mahayana Buddhism originated in India during times of Kushana. It was popularized by Kanishka and believes in gods, putting Buddha at the top of them. Its emphasis is more on devotion, charity and prayer instead of austere self-restraint. It depicts Buddha in human form, while earlier and original Hinyana form prohibits it. According to the teachings of Mahayana traditions, ‘Mahayana’ also refers to the path of seeking complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, also called ‘Bodhisattvayana’, or the ‘Bodhisattva Vehicle’; Bodhisattva is an enlightened being (bodhi – gyaan, Sattva – existence) or a minor god. Padmapaani is the most popular Bodhisttva. Others are like Amitabh, Vajrapani etc. In early Indian Buddhism the term bodhisattva was used generally to refer specifically to the Buddha in his former lives. The Jatakas, which are the stories of his lives, depict the various attempts of the bodhisattva to embrace qualities like self-sacrifice and morality.

This had two distinct features as compared to Thervada and Hinayana –

  • Earlier, the Buddha’s presence was shown in sculpture by using certain signs. For instance, his attainment of enlightenment was shown by sculptures of the peepal tree. Now, statues and pictures of the Buddha were made.
  • The second change was a belief in Bodhisattvas. These were supposed to be persons who had attained enlightenment. Once they attained enlightenment, they could live in complete isolation and meditate in peace. However, instead of doing that, they remained in the world to teach and help other people to find salvation.

Over the years, Buddhism developed into many branches. Some of them are –

  • First Buddhist council – Rajgriha, Ajatshatru – According to the scriptures of all Buddhist schools, the first Buddhist Council was held soon after the mahaparinirvana of the Buddha, dated by the majority of recent scholars around 400 BCE, under the patronage of king Ajatasatru at Rajgriha (now Rajgir). Its objective was to preserve the Buddha’s sayings (Suttas) and the monastic discipline or rules (Vinaya). The Suttas were recited by Ananda, and the Vinaya was recited by Upali. According to some sources, the Abhidhamma Pitaka, or its matika, was also included.
  • Second Buddhist Council – Vaishali
  • Third Buddhist Council – Patliputra, Ashoka
  • Fourth Buddhist Council – Kashmir, Kanishka King was patron and was presided over by Vasumitra, and Mahayana Buddhism is born. Though Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism had certain differences, they agreed on teachings of Buddha and differed only in the ways it should be followed.

Budhhist Literature is classified as canonical and non-canonical. Canonical literature includes Tripitaka and non canonical literature includes Jatakas, probably written by ordinary people and later compiled, which tell stories of Buddha in past lives. Milinda Panho is another non-canonical text. Milinda Panho means ‘Questions of Milinda’. It contains the dialogue of Indo-Greek king Meander and Buddhist monk Nagasena in 100 BC. Nagasena answered questions of Milinda and he was converted to Buddhism.

Dipavamsa or ‘Chronicle of Island’ is another non-canonical text. It is the oldest historical record of Sri Lanka. Other non-canonical Buddhist literature includes – Mahavamsa written in Pali, Buddha Charita etc.

Tripitaka – After his death his teachings were compiled by his disciples at a council of ‘elders’ or senior monks at Vaishali in present-day Bihar. These compilations were known as Tripitaka or Three baskets. Tripitaka traditionally contains three compilations –

  • Sutta Pitaka – carried teachings/sermons of Buddha. It also contained some Nikayas which were another category of Buddhist literature. It was compiled during first Buddhist Council.
  • Vinaya Pitaka – includeed rules and regulations for those who joined these angha or monastic order
  • Abhidharma Pitaka – dealt with philosophical matters Buddhist principles. Other Concepts related to Buddhism –
  • Pariniravana – In Buddhism, parinirvana is the final nirvana, which occurs upon the death of the body of someone who has attained complete awakening (bodhi). Parinirvana of Budhha is called Mahaparinirvana.
  • Therigatha – It is a part of Buddhist literature that was compiled by Buddhist nuns.
  • Pavarna – It is a ceremony of Buddhists during which monks confess the offences committed by them during their stay at monetary.
  • The Sangha – Both the Mahavira and the Buddha felt that only those who left their homes could gain true knowledge. They arranged for them to stay together in the sangha, an association of those who left their homes or monks. Men and women who joined the sangha led simple lives.

They meditated for most of the time, and went to cities and villages to beg for food during fixed hours.

  • Monasteries and Vihars – Both Jaina and Buddhist monks went from place to place throughout the year, teaching people. The only time they stayed in one place was during the rainy season, when it was very difficult to travel. Then, their supporters built temporary shelters for them in gardens, or they lived in natural caves in hilly areas. As time went on, many supporters of the monks and nuns, and they themselves, felt the need for more permanent shelters and so monasteries were built. These were known as viharas. Very often, the land on which the vihara was built was donated by a rich merchant or a landowner, or the king. The local people came with gifts of food, clothing and medicines for the monks and nuns. In return, they taught the people.
  • Madhyamaka School – It was founded by Acharya Nagarjuna who was an important Buddhist teacher and philosopher belonging to Satvahana kingdom. Along with his disciple Aryadeva, he is credited with founding the Madhyamaka school of Mahayana Buddhism.

Causes for decline of Buddhism in India –

  • Bikhsus started to receive large doles and indulged themselves into luxuries, leading to their moral degeneration.
  • Buddha at that time was considered as one of the incarnations of the Vishnu and thus became a part of Vasihnavism.
  • Both Buddhism and Jainism started image worshipping during later part.
  • Hinduism reformed itself
  • Monks were cut off from common lives, relinquished Pali for the Sanskrit
  • For their riches, monasteries became targets of choice for invaders