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Why did Buddhism become popular in India?

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Brayan Effertz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Buddhism also became popular in India as it meshed with the existing religious traditions known as Jainism, and forms of Hinduism. Jainism and Hinduism were well-established in India from early on. Buddhism shared some notable principles with those ancient traditions, for instance the insistence on non-violence, known as ahimsa, particularly important in Jainism, and the inter-related concepts of nirvana (literally meaning extinction) and moksha (liberation of the soul). These latter two concepts also are fundamental to the much younger Indian religion of Sikhism.

 However, Buddhism also modified other aspects of ancient religious traditions, such as the more rigidly ascetic practices of Jainism. Also, in relation to Jainism, Buddhism gave a more equal role to women and declared that they were as capable of attaining eternal salvation as men, while in Jain traditions, women were believed to be incapable of this, unless they were first re-born as men. 

Therefore, a major reason for Buddhism becoming popular in India was that it readily identified with some important features of the existing, and very ancient traditions of Jainism and Hinduism while modifying others. Unlike Jainism and Hinduism, however, Buddhism went on to lose influence within India itself whole profoundly impacting other countries in the east.

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Tim Mbiti eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There are two major factors that led to Buddhism becoming popular in India and these are:

  • The support by people against the caste system
  • Royal patronage through King Ashoka of the Mauryan Empire

Buddhism earned its place among the population in India because as a religion it offered an alternative to the seemingly unpopular Brahmanical order. The Brahmanical religion entrenched the caste system and exclusivity of religion. The Brahmins exercised immense power among the population and this led to intolerance against the lower classes of the society. This was until Prince Siddhartha Gautama challenged the state of affairs by personally experiencing the poverty and misery of his people. He sought to achieve moderation and enlightenment. After he attained this state of enlightenment he became known as Buddha. After his death, several small communities continued with Buddhism.

The rise of the Mauryan Empire in India saw a lot of bloodshed and due to the devastation it caused, the King of this empire converted to Buddhism to put an end to the wars. The King personally promoted the expansion of Buddhism making it very popular in India and beyond.