Although the Gupta Emperors were orthodox Hindus, they were catholic enough not to have enforced their personal religion as the official religion of the people. They encouraged equally the promotions of all religions, including Buddhism and Jainism.
- Both Mahayanism and Hinyanism continued to prosper. Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was the stronghold of Hinduism. The Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa were written during the Gupta period.
- Buddhaghosa composed his famous work Visuddhimagga during this period. He also wrote many valuable commentaries on the Tripitakas. Buddhadatta wrote comprehensive works on Abhidhamma and Vinaya.
- Kashmir, Gandhara and Afghanistan continued to be the strongholds of Hinduism down to the fifth century A.D. Its Sarvastivadin school was strong in Kashmir. Its Sanskrit canon was completed during the Gupta period. Vasubandhu was the most authoritative exponent of Hinayana philosophy. His famous book Abhidharmakosa expounds the fundamental principles of Buddhism in a masterly fashion.
- As the Gupta period advanced, Mahayanism became stronger and stronger. Its growing popularity was due partly to the greatness of its philosophers and partly to the attractiveness of the philosophy they propounded. Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Asanga, Vasubandhu and Dignaga were great exponents of Mahayana philosophy. The philosophy preached by them appealed to the ordinary mind.
Yogacharya Buddhism – School of Buddhism Founded in India by Asanga(300 AD)
- Mahayanism developed two schools of philosophy, the Madhyamika School and Yogacharya Buddhism School. Aryadeva composed Catuh Sataka which is an authoritative work on Madhyamika School. The Gupta period is said to be the golden age of Yogacharya Buddhism School. Its founder was Maitreyananda. The most authoritative works of this School were written by Asanga. His brother Vasubandhu also wrote a number of important works. The Lankavatara-Sutra was composed probably towards the beginning of the fifth century A.D.
- The Madhyamika and Yogacharya Buddhism Schools started drifting away towards the end of the Gupta period. This was not liked by some Buddhist scholars. Asvaghosha tried to bring about a synthesis of their viewpoints.
- The foundations of Buddhist logic were laid down by Vasubandhu in his work Tarkashastra. Its further development is to be seen in the works of Dignaga who flourished in Kanchi towards the end of the fourth century A.D. Dignaga was one of the greatest thinkers and foremost figures in Indian philosophy.
Buddhism during Gupta Period
- The general view that Buddhism was on the decline in the Gupta period owing to the revival of Hinduism is not correct. The Gupta age was the Golden Age of Buddhist art and it is clear to any visitor to Sarnath, Paharpur, Ajanta and Nagarjunakonda.
- Kapilvastu, Ramagrama,Sravasti and Vaisali which were important places connected with the life of Buddha, were deserted when Fa Hien visited them, but that was probably due to the shifting of the economic and political centre rather than to the decline of Buddhism in the country around them.
- There is clear evidence that Kashmir, Afghanistan and Punjab were the strongholds of Buddhism during the Gupta Period. Fahien saw thousands of monasteries and monks in those areas.
- In the upper Gangetic plain, Hinduism and Buddhism were equally popular and the same was the case in Bihar and Bengal. Inscriptions have been found at Mathura, Kausambi and Kasia showing that these were sufficiently strong centre of Buddhism.
- A large number of stupas and statues have been found at Sarnath which was place from far and near. The same was the case with Bodhgaya.
- In Bengal, Mrigasira Havana was a centre of Buddhist religion and culture. In Western Maharashtra was a centre of Buddhist cave temples and monasteries have been found at Bhaja, Kuda, Mahar, Bedsa, Junnar, and Kanheri.
- The caves of Ajanta and Ellora show that they were centres of Buddhism in Maharashtra and were richly endowed by the state and society.
Stupas of Buddhism in India:
- Andhra country was studded with Buddhist stupas and Viharas and the most famous among them were those at Nagarjunakonda. Kanchi in Tamil country was a famous Buddhist logician Dignaga and supplied an abbot to Nalanda in Dharmapala.
- Valabhi was a famous Buddhist centre having a number of monasteries which were richly endowed. Some of them had libraries also.
- Buddhist nuns were admitted into the Buddhist faith in the early Buddhist period. There was a nunnery at Junnar in Western India. The practice of admitting nuns into the Sangha was getting unpopular.
- Buddhism became a popular religion in the Gupta period . The images of Buddha became very common all over the country. Magnificent stupas and chaityas were built everywhere and the image of Buddha was carried in procession in special chariots during the week preceding the full moon of Vaisakha. Buddhist establishments were decorated with artistic sculptures and paintings,describing the scenes of the last and earlier lives of Buddha. Buddhism was free from Tantric practices during the Gupta period.
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