HINDUISM STUDIES AND DHIMMITUDE IN THE AMERICAN ACADEMY

M. Lal Goel
Professor Emeritus of Political Science, www.uwf.edu/lgoel 

Pro-Islamic and anti-Hindu mindset known as dhimmitude (described more fully later) is prevalent in sections of the American academy.  The case in point is the recent book by Dr. Wendy Doniger [1] , The Hindus: An Alternative History, The Penguin Press, 2009. 

Doniger’s 779-page tome is laced with personal editorials, folksy turn of the phrase and funky wordplays.  She has a large repertoire of Hindu mythological stories.  She often narrates the most damning mythical story—Vedic, Puranic, folk, oral, vernacular—to demean, damage and disparage Hinduism.  After building a caricature, she laments that fundamentalist Hindus (how many and how powerful are they?) are destroying the pluralistic, tolerant Hindu tradition. Why save such a vile, violent religion, as painted by the eminent professor?  There is a contradiction here.

This review focuses on Doniger’s discussion of Islamic incursions into India.  Islam entered south India in the 7th Century with Arab merchants and traders. This was peaceful Islam.  Later, Islam came to India as a predatory and a conquering force.  Mohammad bin Qasim ravaged Sindh in 712.  Mahmud Ghazni pillaged, looted and destroyed numerous Hindu temples around 1000 AD, but did not stay to rule. The Muslim rule begins with the Delhi Sultanate, approximately 1201 to 1526.  The Sultanate gave place to the Mughal Empire, 1526-1707.  Doniger makes the following dubious points regarding the Muslim imperial rule in India (1201-1707).

Muslims marauders destroyed some Hindu temples, not many.

Temple destruction was a long-standing Indian tradition.  Hindus destroyed Buddhist and Jain stupas and rival Hindu temples and built upon the destroyed sites.

Muslim invaders looted and destroyed Hindu temples because they had the power to do so.  If Hindus had the power, they would do the same in reverse.

The Jizya—the Muslim tax on non-Muslims—was for Hindu protection and a substitute for military service.

Hindu “megalomania” for temple building in the Middle Ages was a positive result of Muslim demolition of some Hindu temples.

The Hindu founders of the Vijayanagara Empire double-crossed their Muslim master in Delhi who had deputed them to secure the South.

Hindus want Muslims and Christians to leave India for Hindustan is only for Hindus.

Let us take each point in turn to examine Doniger’s mistaken views.

Muslim invaders beginning with Mahmud Ghazni in 1000 CE looted, pillaged and destroyed not few but many Hindu and Buddhist temples.  Muslim chroniclers describe the humiliation and utter desolation wrought by the Muslims on the kafirs (unbelievers).  Alberuni, the Muslim scholar who accompanied Mahmud to India, describes one such event:  “Mathura, the holy city of Krishna, was the next victim. In the middle of the city there was a temple larger and finer than the rest, which can neither be described nor painted.  The Sultan was of the opinion that 200 years would have been required to build it. The idols included 'five of red gold, each five yards high,' with eyes formed of priceless jewels. . . The Sultan gave orders that all the temples should be burnt with naphtha and fire, and leveled with the ground.  Thus perished works of art which must have been among the noblest monuments of ancient India.” [2]

At the destruction of another temple, Somnath, it is estimated that 50,000 were massacred. The fabulous booty of gold, women and children was divided according to Islamic tradition--the Sultan getting the royal fifth, the cavalry man getting twice as much as the foot soldier. Hundreds of Hindu and Buddhist shrines were destroyed.

Dr. Doniger asserts that Hindus too persecuted minority Jain and Buddhist religions and destroyed their shrines.  She narrates the now discarded story about the impaling of Jains at the hands of Hindu rulers in the Tamil country. Then she says that “there is no evidence that any of this actually happened, other than the story.” (p 365).  Then why narrate the story?  Hindu sectarian violence pales in comparison to what happened either in Europe or in the Middle East. The truth is that both Jainism and Buddhism were integrated into Hinduism’s pluralistic tradition.  The Buddha is accepted as one of the Hindu Avatars (God in human form).  Exquisite Jain temples at Mt Abu at the border of Gujarat and Rajasthan built around 1000 CE survive in the region dominated by Hindu Rajput rulers, falsifying notions of Hindu carnage of Jain temples.

Doniger says that Hindus would do the same to Muslims if they had the power to do so.  Hindus did come to power after the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, when the Mughal rule rapidly declined.  The Marathas were the strongest power in Western and Southern India in the 18th and 19th centuries, as the Sikhs were in North India.  There is no account of large scale demolition and looting of Muslim places of worship either by the Marathas or the Sikhs.  If a copy of the Quran fell into the hands of Maharaja Shivaji during a campaign, the same would be passed on to a Muslim rather than being burned.

Contrary to what Doniger says, Jizya is a long held Muslim tradition.  It was levied to begin with on the defeated Christians and Jews, the People of the Book, as a price for the cessation of Jihad.  Hindus, not being one of the People of the Book, did not deserve to live by paying the special tax. If defeated in battle, their only option was Islam or death. This was the position taken by the Islamic clergy. Unlike the clergy, however, the Muslim governors were practical men.  If they had killed the Hindus en masse for failing to adopt Islam, who would build their palaces, fill their harems, cut their wood and hue their water? [3]

Doniger argues that Hindu ‘megalomania’ for temple building resulted from Muslim destruction of some Hindu temples.  In other words, because the Muslims destroyed some of the Hindu temples, the Hindus went on a building spree.  If Doniger’s argument is accepted, Hindus should thank Islamic marauders for looting and desecrating their shrines. The truth is that in northern India which experienced 500 years of Islamic rule (1201-1707), few historical temples of any beauty remain. In contrast, temple architecture of some beauty does survive in southern India, the region that escaped long Muslim occupation.

That the Hindu founders of the Vijayanagara dynasty in the South double-crossed their Muslim master in Delhi is one among the innumerable editorial negative portrayal of Hindu character.  One may ask: why wouldn’t a slave double cross his oppressor?

The view that Muslims and Christians should leave India is not one held by most Hindus, only by a small minority on the extreme fringes. Muslim population has increased in India from about 9 percent at the time of Independence to about 13 percent now (1947-2009).  In contrast, in Pakistan, Hindu population has declined and now constitutes less than one percent.  In Muslim Bangladesh in the same period the Hindu population has declined from 29 percent to less than 10 percent.  Muslims hold important positions in government and business in contemporary India, which is 83 pct Hindu. The richest person in India has been a Muslim, Premji; the most popular film stars are Muslim; Christian and Muslim chief ministers and governors head several of the states.  The single most important leader in India is an Italian-born woman Sonya Gandhi and the Prime Minister is a Sikh, Dr. Manmohan Singh.  The past President APJ Kalam was a Muslim and before that K R Narayanan, a lower caste.  In Federal and State civil service, 50 percent of the jobs are reserved for backward classes and Untouchable, in order to compensate for past discrimination.  India has moved.

Let us look more closely. Doniger describes the invasion of Sindh by Arab soldier of fortune Muhammad bin Qasim as follows:

Qasim invaded Sindh in 713.  The terms of surrender included a promise of guarantee of the safety of Hindu and Buddhist establishments.  “Hindus and Buddhists were allowed to govern themselves in matters of religion and law.”  Qasim “kept his promises.” The non-Muslims were not treated as kafirs. Jizya was imposed but only as a substitute for military service for their “protection.”  He brought Muslim teachers and mosques into the subcontinent.  (paraphrased)

From Doniger’s assessment, Qasim should be regarded as a blessing.  Contrast Doniger’s description with that written by Andrew Bostom in “The Legacy of Islamic Jihad in India.” [4]

The Muslim chroniclers al-Baladhuri (in Kitab Futuh al-Buldan) and al-Kufi (in the Chachnama) include enough isolated details to establish the overall nature of the conquest of Sindh by Muhammad b. Qasim in 712 C.E. . . . Baladhuri, for example, records that following the capture of Debal, Muhammad b. Qasim earmarked a section of the city exclusively for Muslims, constructed a mosque, and established four thousand colonists there.  The conquest of Debal had been a brutal affair. . . Despite appeals for mercy from the besieged Indians (who opened their gates after the Muslims scaled the fort walls), Muhammad b. Qasim declared that he had no orders (i.e., from his superior al-Hajjaj, the Governor of Iraq) to spare the inhabitants, and thus for three days a ruthless and indiscriminate slaughter ensued. In the aftermath, the local temple was defiled, and “700 beautiful females who had sought for shelter there, were all captured.”

Distinguished historian R. C. Majumdar describes the capture of the royal Fort and its tragic outcome:

Muhammad massacred 6,000 fighting men who were found in the fort, and their followers and dependents, as well as their women and children were taken prisoners. Sixty thousand slaves, including 30 young ladies of royal blood, were sent to Hajjaj, along with the head of Dahar [the Hindu ruler]. We can now well understand why the capture of a fort by the Muslim forces was followed by the terrible jauhar ceremony (in which females threw themselves in fire kindled by themselves), the earliest recorded instance of which is found in the Chachnama. Cited in Bostom.

Doniger extensively footnotes Romila Thapar, John Keay, Anne Schimmel and A. K. Ramanujan as her sources for Islamic history, providing an impression of meticulous scholarship.  Missing are works of the distinguished historians: Jadunath Sarkar, R. C. Majumdar, A. L. Srivastava, Vincent Smith, and Ram Swarup.

Doniger writes at page 458: when Muslim royal women first came to India, they did not rigidly keep to purdah (the veiling and seclusion of women).  They picked the more strict form of purdah from contact with the Hindu Rajput women. Doniger finds much to praise in Muslim women during this period: some knew several languages; others wrote poetry; some managed vast estates; others set up “feminist” republics within female quarters (harems); some debated fine points on religion; some even joined in drinking parties (chapters 16, 20). Such descriptions are patently negated by distinguished historians. See The Mughal Harem (1988) by K S Lal, available free on the Internet.

If Hinduism is the source of strict purdah among Muslim women, as Doniger contends, how does one explain the strict veiling of women in the Middle East, a region far removed from Hindu influence?  Or, the absence of it in southern India, a region that escaped Islamic domination?

Doniger writes at page 627, “the Vedic reverence for violence flowered in the slaughters that followed Partition.” And, Gandhi’s nonviolence succeeded against the British.  But it failed against the tenaciously held Hindu ideal of violence that had grip on the real emotions of the masses.

What is one to make of these weighty pronouncements uttered in all seriousness by the author? These are an expression of the hurt feelings on the part of a scholar. While discussing the Hindu epic Ramayana in London in 2003, Doniger put forth her usual gloss: that Lakshman had the hots for his brother Rama’s wife Sita, and that sexually-charged Sita reciprocated these feelings. An irate Hindu threw an egg at her and conveniently missed it.  This incident is her cause célèbre.

DHIMMITUDE

Doniger’s uncritical review of the Islamic marauding raids in India (712-1200) and later the Islamic empire (1201-1707) suggests dhimmitude.  The concepts of dhimmi and dhimmitude were developed by the Egyptian born Jewish woman writer, Bat Ye’or (Daughter of the Nile), who fled Egypt in 1958 in the wake of Jewish persecution following the Suez Canal crisis. Her meticulous research puts to rest the myth of peaceful expansion of Islamic power in the countries of Middle East and Eastern Europe. [5]

Dhimmitude is a state of fear and insecurity on the part of infidels who are required to accept a condition of humiliation.   It is characterized by the victim’s siding with his oppressors, by the moral justification the victim provides for his oppressors’ hateful behavior. The Dhimmi loses the possibility of revolt because revolt arises from a sense of injustice. He loathes himself in order to praise his oppressors.  Dhimmis lived under some 20 disabilities.  Dhimmis were prohibited to build new places of worship, to ring church bells or take out processions, to ride horses or camels (they could ride donkeys), to marry a Muslim woman, to wear decorative clothing, to own a Muslim as a slave or to testify against a Muslim in a court of law.

Ye’or believes that the dhimmi condition can only be understood in the context of Jihad. Jihad embodies all the Islamic laws and customs applied over a millennium on the vanquished population, Jews and Christians, in the countries conquered by jihad and therefore Islamized.  She believes that dhimmitude was once the attribute of defeated Christian and Jewish communities under Islam.  Now it is a feature of much of the Western world, Europe and America. Her theory of dhimmitude applies to many Hindus in India.  Whereas dhimmitude in previous centuries resulted from real-life powerlessness and humiliation, modern dhimmi syndrome results from some combination of the following.

The corrupting power of oil money to influence think tanks, lobbyists and academic institutions.

De-Christianizing of Europe. It is now also happening in the U.S.  See Pew research reports.

Guilt feelings in the West on account of the Crusades to liberate the Holy Land (1095-1291).

Multiculturalism:  the belief that all cultural practices and ways of life are equally valid.

Violence by radical Muslims is on account of being poor and exploited by colonial hegemony.

Islam provided the West its basis for advancement in math and science.

The rising number of Muslim populations in Europe and America.

The rising level of alienation from one’s own culture in the West.

Doniger’s inflammatory book on the Hindus makes sense only in the light of a larger global trend—a trend that seeks to re-package Islamic history as a force for tolerance and progress. Doniger is not alone in holding such views. Dhimmi attitudes of subservience have entered the Western academy, and from there into journalism, school textbooks and political discourse. One must not criticize Islam. For, to do so would offend the multiculturalist ethos that prevails everywhere today. To do so would endanger chances for peace and rapprochement between civilizations all too ready to clash.  See, http://www.dhimmitude.org/archive/by_lecture_10oct2002.htm

The field of Middle East Studies in the U.S. is now controlled by pro-Middle East professors, according to Martin Kramer, editor of the Middle Eastern Quarterly.  “The crucial turning point occurred in the late 1970s when Middle East studies centers, under /Edward/ Said's influence, began to show a preference for ideology over empirical fact and, fearing the taint of the ‘orientalist’ bias, began to prefer academic appointments of native-born Middle Easterners over qualified Western-born students,” contends Kramer. The book is summarized at: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_17_119/ai_90989239/.

In contrast, the field of Hinduism studies is controlled by non-Hindus and anti-Hindus, with some notable exceptions of course.  Hindu gods and goddesses are lampooned and denigrated.  Hindu saints are described as sexual perverts and India in danger of being run over by Hindu fundamentalists.  In these portrayals, Doniger is joined by Martha Nussbaum, Paul Courtright, Jeffrey Kripal, Sarah Caldwell, Stanley Kurtz, to name a few of the leading academicians. For a critique of the American academy, see Rajiv Malhotra at www.sulekha.com, and a 2007 book titled, Invading the Sacred. [6]

Doniger is quite harsh on the British record in India (1757-1947).  She compares the British argument that they brought trains and drains to India to Hitler’s argument that he built the Autobahn in Germany (p. 583).  Censuring Britain and giving a pass to the more draconian Islamic imperialism in India fits with the dhimmi attitude that I have described.

Consequently, attitudes of concession and appeasement are on the rise. A reversal of language occurs.  Jihad is called ‘struggle within’ or struggle for liberation.  Dhimmitude is called tolerance.  Jizya is called protection.  Tony Blair declares Islam is a religion of peace and that the terrorists are not real Muslims.  Parts of London have been ceded to the control of radical mullahs.  Sharia arbitration courts are now part of the British legal system.  Melanie Phillips tells that London is becoming Londonistan. [7]    Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe. The destruction of life and property caused by Islamic extremists in the last thirty years is simply horrendous.  Of course, distinction must be made between moderate Muslims and radicals who wish to bring back the 7th century version of Islam.

The British helped abolish the horrible practice of Suttee (widow burning) in India in the 19th century.  At its peak in the 19th century, the practice of Suttee claimed the lives of 500 to 600 women a year in India. The honor killing of women, genital mutilation, and the caning of girls for minor sexual impropriety raises only a limited protest in the 21st century.  Amid the rising level of alienation, multiculturalism and the feelings of guilt in the West, the moral compass has been lost.


[1] Dr. Wendy Doniger is a distinguished professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago. She has written some 30 books, several dealing negatively with Hinduism.  Her writing has been described as “rude, crude and very lewd” by the BBC.

[2] Vincent Smith, The Oxford History of India, Delhi, 1981, pp. 207-08. Smith derives his account of Mahmud’s raids from the account written by Alberuni, the Islamic scholar who traveled with Sultan Mahmud to India.

[3] See Ram Swarup’s Hindu View of Christianity and Islam, 1992.  And, Andrew Bostom, The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims, 2005, at: http://www.andrewbostom.org/loj/.

[4] Published in 2005 in the American Thinker  by Andrew Bostom and available at: http://www.islam-watch.org/Bostom/Legacy-of-Islamic-Jihad-terrorism-in-India.htm

[5] Bat Ye’or’s writings include:  Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001.   The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996.     Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005.

[6] Krishnan Ramaswamy; Antonio de Nicolas; Aditi Banerjee ed. Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America, Rupa and Co., Delhi, 2007.

[7] Phillips, Melanie, Londonistan: How Britain is creating a terror state within, Encounter Books, 2006.  See summary at:

   http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2007/07/britians-war-ag.html


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"One should study closely what effect the spread of the islamic religion has on the psychology of the non-muslims. Across history and nowadays, it seems that muslim rage and intolerance causes people to prefer avoiding conflict and yield to some demands that they would not normally accept.

Please note that I don't consider muslims in general to be enraged people. However, there's a large amount of anger emanating from that religion, starting with its founder, who had very intense (pathological?) bouts of anger.

Such anger and paranoia results in very active militantism. In recent years it has taken the form of a worldwide, gigantic reaction against the Danish caricatures - published in a newspaper unknown outside of that country! There is probably not a similar phenomenon in other religions and it should take all of our attention finding out exactly what effect this has on all of us "kafirs" (that is, people who refuse to relinquish their own tradition!)."

Sacha — November 26, 2009 @ 5:14 AM

"Thanks to Prof M. Lal Goel
for his painstaking, analytical and logical review of the book."

Raj — November 6, 2010 @ 12:02 AM

"Well analyzed post. I just want to add a few things:

I have NEVER met an extremist who was of the view that Christians should leave India. Though there may some (very few, but then there are always some) who feel this way. Somehow Jesus Christ, Buddha and Mahavira Jain have been assimilated into mainstream Hinduism as Gods.

Though, I have met some people who feel that Muslims should go back to "their country" (Pakistan). Again this is a minority view and has to do with a turbulent Islamic history of India.

BJP (considered to be a right wing) party had to lost two consecutive general elections, mainly because Hindus associated it with Gujarat 2002 riots.

Hinduism has a very old history, so one can always find stories in some book which were of violent form.

But the best way to get an insight into modern Hinduism is Bhagwat Gita's Karma theory and the theory that you will have rebirths till you wipe out all sins and attain Moksha (which is what most Hindus try to achieve)."

Rahul — August 23, 2013 @ 2:37 PM

"1. Islam means peace.
Islam comes from the root word ‘salaam’, which means peace. It also means
submitting one’s will to Allah (swt). Thus Islam is a religion of peace, which is
acquired by submitting one’s will to the will of the Supreme Creator, Allah (swt).
2. Sometimes force has to be used to maintain peace.
Each and every human being in this world is not in favour of maintaining peace
and harmony. There are many, who would disrupt it for their own vested
interests. Sometimes force has to be used to maintain peace. It is precisely for
this reason that we have the police who use force against criminals and antisocial
elements to maintain peace in the country. Islam promotes peace. At the
same time, Islam exhorts it followers to fight where there is oppression. The
fight against oppression may, at times, require the use of force. In Islam force
can only be used to promote peace and justice.
3. Opinion of historian De Lacy O’Leary.
The best reply to the misconception that Islam was spread by the sword is given by
the noted historian De Lacy O’Leary in the book “Islam at the cross road” (Page 8):
“History makes it clear however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping
through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races
is one of the most fantastically absurd myth that historians have ever repeated.”
4. Muslims ruled Spain for 800 years.
Muslims ruled Spain for about 800 years. The Muslims in Spain never used the
sword to force the people to convert. Later the Christian Crusaders came to
Spain and wiped out the Muslims. There was not a single Muslim in Spain who
could openly give the adhan, that is the call for prayers.
5. 14 million Arabs are Coptic Christians.
Muslims were the lords of Arabia for 1400 years. For a few years the British
ruled, and for a few years the French ruled. Overall, the Muslims ruled Arabia
for 1400 years. Yet today, there are 14 million Arabs who are Coptic Christians
i.e. Christians since generations. If the Muslims had used the sword there would
not have been a single Arab who would have remained a Christian.
6. More than 80% non-Muslims in India.
The Muslims ruled India for about a thousand years. If they wanted, they had
the power of converting each and every non-Muslim of India to Islam. Today
more than 80% of the population of India are non-Muslims. All these non-
Muslim Indians are bearing witness today that Islam was not spread by the
sword.
7. Indonesia and Malaysia.
Indonesia is a country that has the maximum number of Muslims in the world.
The majority of people in Malaysia are Muslims. May one ask, “Which Muslim
army went to Indonesia and Malaysia?”
8. East Coast of Africa.
Similarly, Islam has spread rapidly on the East Coast of Africa. One may again
ask, if Islam was spread by the sword, “Which Muslim army went to the East
Coast of Africa?”
9. Thomas Carlyle.
The famous historian, Thomas Carlyle, in his book “Heroes and Hero worship”,
refers to this misconception about the spread of Islam: “The sword indeed, but
where will you get your sword? Every new opinion, at its starting is precisely in
a minority of one. In one man’s head alone. There it dwells as yet. One man
alone of the whole world believes it, there is one man against all men. That he
takes a sword and try to propagate with that, will do little for him. You must get
your sword! On the whole, a thing will propagate itself as it can.”
10. No compulsion in religion.
With which sword was Islam spread? Even if Muslims had it they could not use
it to spread Islam because the Qur’an says in the following verse:
“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from
error”
[Al-Qur’an 2:256]
11. Sword of the Intellect.
It is the sword of intellect. The sword that conquers the hearts and minds of
people. The Qur’an says in Surah Nahl, chapter 16 verse 125:
“Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching;
and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious.”
[Al-Qur’an 16:125]
12. Increase in the world religions from 1934 to 1984.
An article in Reader’s Digest ‘Almanac’, year book 1986, gave the statistics of
the increase of percentage of the major religions of the world in half a century
from 1934 to 1984. This article also appeared in ‘The Plain Truth’ magazine. At
the top was Islam, which increased by 235%, and Christianity had increased
only by 47%. May one ask, which war took place in this century which converted
millions of people to Islam?
13. Islam is the fastest growing religion in America and Europe.
Today the fastest growing religion in America is Islam. The fastest growing
religion in Europe in Islam. Which sword is forcing people in the West to accept
Islam in such large numbers?
14. Dr. Joseph Adam Pearson.
Dr. Joseph Adam Pearson rightly says, “People who worry that nuclear
weaponry will one day fall in the hands of the Arabs, fail to realize that the
Islamic bomb has been dropped already, it fell the day MUHAMMED (pbuh) was born."

shabeer — May 12, 2014 @ 5:52 AM

"Buddhism’s Disappearance from India
Vinay Lal

---------------------------------
One of the supreme ironies of the history of Buddhism in India is the question of how Buddhism came to disappear from the land of its birth. Many scholars of Buddhism, Hinduism, Indian history, and of religion more generally have been devoted to unraveling this puzzle. There is no absolute consensus on this matter, and a few scholars have even 8-contended that Buddhism never disappeared as such from India. On this view, Buddhism simply changed form, or was absorbed into Hindu practices. Such an argument is, in fact, a variation of the view, which perhaps has more adherents than any other, that Buddhism disappeared, not on account of persecution by Hindus, but because of the ascendancy of reformed Hinduism. However, the view that Buddhists were persecuted by Brahmins, who were keen to assert their caste supremacy, still has some adherents, and in recent years has been championed not only by some Dalit writers and their sympathizers but by at least a handful of scholars of pre-modern Indian history. [1]

What is not disputed is the gradual decline of Buddhism in India, as the testimony of the Chinese traveler, Hsuan Tsang, amply demonstrates. Though Buddhism had been the dominant religion in much of the Gangetic plains in the early part of the Christian era, Hsuan Tsang, traveling in India in the early years of the 7th century, witnessed something quite different. In Prayag, or Allahabad as it is known to many, Hsuan Tsang encountered mainly heretics, or non-Buddhists, but that is not surprising given the importance of Prayag as a pilgrimage site for Brahmins. But, even in Sravasti, the capital city of the Lichhavis, a north Indian clan that came to power around 200 AD, established their capital in Pasupathinath, and in a long and glorious period of reign extending through the early part of the ninth century endowed a large number of both Hindu and Buddhist monuments and monasteries, Hsuan Tsang witnessed a much greater number of “Hindus” (ie, non-Buddhists, such as Jains and Saivites) than Buddhists. Kusinagar, the small village some 52 kilometres from Gorakhpur where the Buddha had gone into mahaparinirvana, was in a rather dilapidated state and Hsuan Tsang found few Buddhists. In Varanasi, to be sure, Hsuan Tsang found some 3000 Bhikkus or Buddhist monks, but they were outshadowed by more than 10,000 non-Buddhists. There is scarcely any question that Hsuan Tsang arrived in India at a time when Buddhism was entering into a state of precipitous decline, and by the 13th century Buddhism, as a formal religion, had altogether disappeared from India. [2] But even as Buddhism went into decline, it is remarkable that the great seat of Buddhist learning, Nalanda, continued to flourish, retaining its importance until the Muslim invasions of the second millennium. Moreover, it is from Nalanda that Padmasambhava carried Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century. Consequently, even the story of Buddhism in India cannot be unequivocally written in a single register of decline.

To consider the question somewhat more systematically, we might wish to consider in serial order the various reasons advanced for Buddhism’s decline and disappearance from India. The various arguments can be grouped under the following headings: sectarian and internal histories, focusing on schisms within the Buddhist faith, the widening differences between the clergy, Bhikkus, and laity, and the growing corruption within the sangha; histories focused on Buddhism’s relations with Brahmanism, dwelling on the alleged persecution of Buddhists by Brahmins, the defeat of the Buddhists by the great theologian Shankara in public debates, as well as on the supposedly characteristic tendency of Hinduism, or rather Brahmanism, to absorb its opponents; and, finally, secular and political histories, which emphasize the withdrawal of royal patronage from Buddhism and, later, the Muslim invasions which had the effect of driving into extinction an already debilitated faith.

Turning our attention to what I have described as sectarian histories, it is generally conceded that the Buddhist clergy paid insufficient attention to its laity. Buddhist mendicants kept their distance from non-mendicants, and as scholars of Buddhism have noted, no manual for the conduct of the laity was produced until the 11th century. Non-mendicants may not have felt particularly invested in their religion, and as the venues where the mendicants and non-mendicants intersected gradually disappeared, the laity might have felt distanced from the faith. The contrast, in this respect, with Jainism is marked. Some scholars have also emphasized the narrative of decay and corruption within a faith where the monks had come to embrace a rather easy-going and even indolent lifestyle, quite mindless of the Buddha’s insistence on aparigraha, or non-possession. The Buddhist monasteries are sometimes described as repositories of great wealth.

The secular and political histories adopt rather different arguments. It has been argued that royal patronage shifted from Buddhist to Hindu religious institutions. Under the Kushanas, indeed even under the Guptas (325-497 AD), both Buddhists and adherents of Brahmanism received royal patronage, but as Brahmanism veered off, so to speak, into Vaishnavism and Saivism, and regional kingdoms developed into the major sites of power, Buddhism began to suffer a decline. The itinerant Buddhist monk, if one may put it this way, gave way to forms of life less more conducive to settled agriculture. The Palas of Bengal, though they had been hospitable to Vaishnavism and Saivism, were nonetheless major supporters of Buddhism. However, when Bengal came under the rule of the Senas (1097-1223), Saivism was promulgated and Buddhism was pushed out -- towards Tibet.

Though Buddhism had already entered into something of a decline by the time of Hsuan Tsang’s visit to India during the reign of Harsha of Kanauj in the early seventh century, it has also been argued that its further demise, particularly in the early part of the second millennium AD, was hastened by the arrival of Islam. On this view, Buddhism found competition in Islam for converts among low-caste Hindus. Even Ambedkar, whose animosity towards Hinduism is palpable, was nonetheless firmly of the view that Islam dealt Buddhism a death blow. As he was to put it, “brahmanism beaten and battered by the Muslim invaders could look to the rulers for support and sustenance and get it. Buddhism beaten and battered by the Muslim invaders had no such hope. It was uncared for orphan and it withered in the cold blast of the native rulers and was consumed in the fire lit up by the conquerors.” Ambedkar was quite certain that this was “the greatest disaster that befell the religion of Buddha in India.” We thus find Ambekdar embracing the “sword of Islam thesis”: “The sword of Islam fell heavily upon the priestly class. It perished or it fled outside India. Nobody remained alive to keep the flame of Buddhism burning.” [3] There are, of course, many problems with this view. The “sword of Islam” thesis remains controversial, at best, and many reputable historians are inclined to dismiss it outright. Islam was, moreover, a late entrant into India, and Buddhism was showing unmistakable signs of its decline long before Islam became established in the Gangetic plains, central India, and the northern end of present-day Andhra and Karnataka.

Many narrative accounts of Buddhism’s decline and eventual disappearance from the land of its faith have been focused on Buddhism’s relations with Hinduism or Brahmanism. Nearly 20 years ago the historian S. R. Goyal wrote that "according to
many scholars hostility of the Brahmanas was one of the major causes of the decline of Buddhism in India." The Saivite king, Shashanka, invariably appears in such histories as a ferocious oppressor of the Buddhists, though the single original source for all subsequent narratives about Shashanka’s ruinous conduct towards Buddhists remains Hsuan Tsang. Shashanka is reported to have destroyed the Bodhi tree and ordered the destruction of Buddhist images. Hindu nationalists appear to think that many Muslim monuments were once Hindu temples, but partisans of Buddhism are inclined to the view that Hindu temples were often built on the site of Buddhist shrines.

If some scholars focus on outright persecution, others speak of a long process during which Buddhist practices became absorbed into Hinduism. The doctrine of ahimsa may have originated with the Buddha, and certainly found its greatest exposition in the Buddha’s teachings, but by the second half of the 1st millennium AD it had become part of Hindu teachings. The great Brahmin philosopher, Shankaracharya (c. 788-820 AD), is said to have engaged the Buddhists in public debates and each time he emerged triumphant. Monastic practices had once been unknown in Brahminism, but over time this changed. Shankaracharya himself established maths or monasteries at Badrinath in the north, Dwarka in the west, Sringeri in the south, and Puri in the east. The Buddha had, as is commonly noticed, been transformed into an avatara (descent) of Vishnu. The tendency of Hinduism to absorb rival faiths has been commented upon by many, though one could speak equally of the elements from other faiths that have gone into the making of Hinduism. Was Buddha absorbed into the Hindu pantheon so that Buddhism might become defanged, or is it the case that Buddhism stood for certain values that Hinduism was eager to embrace as its own?

Though many Dalit and other anti-Brahminical writers would like to represent Brahminism as a tyrannical faith that wrought massive destruction upon the Buddhists [see www.dalistan.org], the matter is more complicated. A recent study of the Bengal Puranas indubitably shows that the Buddhists were mocked, cast as mischievous and malicious in Brahminical narratives, and subjected to immense rhetorical violence. But rhetorical violence is not necessarily to be read as physical violence perpetrated upon the Buddhists, any more than accounts of thousands of Hindu temples destroyed at the hands of Muslim invaders are to be read literally. Similarly, the absorption of the Buddha into Vishnu’s pantheon may have represented something of a compromise between the Brahmins and Buddhists: since so much of what Buddhism stood for had been incorporated into certain strands of Brahminism, the Buddha was at least to be given his just dues. This anxiety of absorption continues down to the present day, and one of the more curious expressions of this anxiety must surely be a letter from the All India Bhikkhu Sangha to the-then Prime Minister of India, P. V. Narasimha Rao. In his letter of 23 February 1995, the President of the Sangha complained that the actor Arun Govil, who had played Rama in the TV serial Ramayana, had been chosen to play the Buddha in the TV serial by the same name. Could anyone really play the Buddha? “As you know,” the letter reminds Rao, “the Buddha was never a mythological figure as Rama & Hanuman but very much a historical figure.” [5] If nothing else, we might at least read the disappearance of Buddhism from India as a parable about how myth always outlives history.

Notes:
1. See, for example, D. C. Ahir, Buddhism Declined in India: How and Why? (Delhi: B. R. Publishing, 2005).

2. For Hsuan Tsang’s travel narrative, see the translation by Samuel Beal, Si-Yu Ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World (London: Trubner & Co., 1884; reprint ed., Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corporation).

3. Vasant Moon, compiler and ed., Babasaheb Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches (Bombay: Government of Maharashtra, 1987), Vol. 3, pp. 232-33.

4. S. R. Goyal, A History of Indian Buddhism (Meerut, 1987), p. 394.

5. See Detlef Kantowsky, Buddhists in India Today: Descriptions, Pictures and Documents (Delhi: Manohar, 2003), p. 156.

Short Further Reading:
Padmanabh S. Jaini, “The Disappearance of Buddhism and the Survival of Jainism: A Study in Contrast”, in Studies in History of Buddhism, ed. A. K. Narain (Delhi: B. R. Publishing Co., 1980), pp. 181-91."

shabeer — May 12, 2014 @ 5:53 AM

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