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Buddhism is one of the world's oldest religions, developed in India in the sixth century BC around the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. The name of the founder of Buddhism was Siddhartha Gautama, with Buddha being an honorific title given to him after he attained Samma-Sambodhi (perfect enlightenment). Born about 623 BC, the son of King Suddhodana, ruler of Kapilavastu, a principality on the border of modern Nepal, Siddhartha renounced the splendour and comfort of princely life in his 29th year in order to discover the origin of suffering and the means of extirpating it. At the age of 35, under the bodhi tree on the banks of the Niranjana at Gaya, he seemed to have succeeded in his quest for perfect wisdom and deliverance, and henceforth was called the Buddha, the 'Awakened' or 'Enlightened' one. He was also called Shakyamuni, the top of the Sakya clan, Tathagata, the accomplished one, and bodhisattva, an aspirant to Buddhahood, before his enlightenment.

Statue of Buddha at Kamlapur, Dhaka

The Buddha was neither a god nor a prophet. While he was a prince, he was still an ordinary man, awakened to the highest truth by his own efforts. He did not claim to be a saviour. Instead, he exhorted his followers to depend upon themselves and work out their own salvation. According to him, 'You yourself must make the effort; Buddhas only point the way'.

The teachings of the Buddha, or his Dhamma as it is expressed in pali, does not recognise a supernatural god. It also lacks most of the other features that are generally considered to be essential to a religion: the idea of creation, the immortality of the soul, the last judgment, faith etc. But even without all these theistic notions, Buddhism may still be called a religion as it is a spiritual discipline and a way of life based on a fine system of ethics. Faith is explicitly repudiated by the Buddha as a basis for accepting his Dhamma. Thus, Buddhism has been characterized as a religion of reason (Vibhajjavada) as opposed to the religions of blind faith. 'Accept my words', said the Buddha, 'only after you have examined them yourselves; do not accept them simply because of the reverence you have for me'.

What the Buddha taught revolves around the problem of suffering. The truths he discovered and propounded concerning this most practical and vital question of life are traditionally known as the four noble truths: (1) Suffering (Dukkha); (2) the arising of suffering (Dukkha-Samudaya); (3) the extinction of suffering (Dukkha-Nirodha) and (4) the way to the extinction of suffering (Dukkha-Nirodha-Gamani-Patipada). Buddhism, however, does not advocate an attitude of hopelessness toward life and should not to be labeled pessimistic.    

The Buddha perceived the universality of sorrow and suggested that the way to end this universal suffering of human life was by attaining nirvana, the extinction of craving that causes suffering. This state is to be realised by developing the fourth noble truth known as the eight-fold path (Astangika-Marga) which consists of (1) right understanding (Sammaditthi); (2) right resolve (Samma Sangkappa); (3) right speech (Samma Vacha); (4) right action (Samma Kammanta); (5) right livelihood (Samma Ajiva); (6) right effort (Samma Vayama); (7) right mindfulness (Samma Sati); and (8) right concentration (Samma Samadhi). The eight steps are grouped under three headings: the first two are called wisdom (Prajna), the next three morality (shila) and the last three are known as meditation (samadhi) which must be harmoniously cultivated in order to attain Nirvana. The Buddha was concerned with the familiar and everyday world, not an after-life. Nirvana is to be realised in this world and not in some transcendental realm.

Furthermore, the Buddha explained the cause and origin of suffering not by positing a creator or first cause, but by his doctrine of dependent origination (patichchasamutpada), according to which, everything in the world is 'related to, contingent upon and conditioned by something else'.

On this doctrine are based on the three other theories taught by the Buddha: namely, the theory of impermanence (anitta), the theory of no soul (anatman) and the theory of karma. Buddhism teaches that all things flow ceaselessly, everything is subject to change and decay, and so there is no abiding substance called the soul. The theory of karma is a principle of universal causality, stating that one has to reap the consequences of one's own actions, so that the suffering of human beings is of their own making and it is only they who can eradicate it, if they so like, by their own efforts and actions.

The teachings of the Buddha have been recorded in Pali and have been preserved in three voluminous collections of books known as the tripitaka, literally the 'three baskets'. These are (1) the Basket of Discipline (Vinayapitaka) dealing with the rules of the monastic order; (2) the Basket of Discourses (Suttapitaka) containing the Buddha's numerous discourses, dialogues, sermons, verses etc., including his doctrine as summarized in the Four Noble' Truths; (3) the Basket of Ultimate Doctrine (Abhidhammapitaka) containing texts that enumerate and explain the teachings of the Suttapitaka in systematic and philosophical form. The Tripitaka is the sacred literature of the Theravada sect. Mahayana literature includes the Mahayana Sutras, also called Vaipulya Sutras, which are traditionally believed to have been proclaimed by the Buddha. Perhaps the most famous and the most representative as well as the most ancient Mahayana literature is constituted by Praj'aparamita Sutras, containing the Buddha's discourses on the perfection of wisdom (Praj'a).

After the Buddha passed away (parinirvana), controversies arose amongst his followers with regard to the exact interpretation of his teachings. Although such disputes were resolved in the first Council of about five hundred leading monks held at Rajagriha, renewed controversy about a century after the Buddha's death, resulted in a schism within the Sangha in the second Council held at Vaishali. The elder members of the Sangha, who preserved and upheld the orthodox and ancient doctrines of their teacher, were called Theravadins, and the dissenters, who held separate and unorthodox views, came to be known as Mahasanghikas. This division of the Buddhist Sangha into two camps is said to have eventually given rise to as many as eighteen Buddhist sects. Historically, however, the most important divisions of Buddhism are Theravada and Mahayana. The followers of Mahayana claim that their religion as taught by the Buddha was for all human beings; the followers of Theravada (the Doctrine of the Elders), believe that enlightenment was not meant for all. Sometimes Theravada and Mahayana are also referred to as the 'southern school' and 'northern school' of Buddhism respectively, as the former spread to the south of India, that is, to Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, while the latter spread north of India, that is, to Tibet, China, Japan, Korea and Mongolia. A number of places such as Vietnam, Java and Sumatra to the south of India also follow the Mahayana form of Buddhism. In eastern India itself Mahayana Buddhism was turned into tantricism and flourished in Bengal until the twelfth century AD. Mahayana Buddhism also developed several other forms of which the most well-known are Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet and its neighbours, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan, and Zen Buddhism in Japan.

Buddhism in Bangladesh Bangladesh (historical Bengal) holds a unique place in the history of Indian Buddhism at least for two reasons. First, Bengal was the last stronghold of Indian Buddhism where it survived as a socio-cultural force until the twelfth century AD, despite its disappearance from other parts of the sub-continent. Secondly, it is generally claimed that Bengal was the home of a degenerate form of Buddhism known as Tantric Buddhism. Tantric Buddhism is a later development in Bengal and therefore it remains to be seen what specific factors are responsible for turning the pure form of Buddhism into tantricism and whether the mystic and esoteric practices in the Buddhism of Bangladesh are of distinctively Bengali origin.

It is in association with the rule of emperors and kings and their support and sympathy for Buddhism at different periods of time that the history of Indian Buddhism, and hence of the Buddhism of Bangladesh, should be looked at. The success of the Buddha's missionary activities during his lifetime and afterwards as well as the thriving of Buddhism both as religion and civilisation in different parts of India were largely due to the patronage of kings such as Bimbisara, Ashoka, Kaniska etc. down to the Palas and Chandras of Bengal in the twelfth century AD. Although not all monarchs patronized Buddhism, and some of them were even hostile to its progress, Buddhism nevertheless was able to prosper and flourish in Bengal over a period of more than eight hundred years.

It is possible that Buddhism entered Bengal before Asoka's time. After attaining enlightenment, the Buddha is said to have delivered his first sermon at Saranath and then moved to Magadha, Koshala, Vaishali and other places within what was known as Majjhimadesha or Madhyadesha. In the Divyavadana, the eastern boundary of the Majjhimadesha is said to have extended as far as pundravardhana (North Bengal). Furthermore, the Buddha is said to have received considerable support from King Bimbisara of Magadha who not only dedicated Venuvana as a residence for monks, but also remained his close friend and a great patron of his Dhamma throughout his life. Since Bengal was adjacent to Magadha, it is possible that the Buddha had visited parts of Bangladesh as suggested by Hiuen Tsang, who notes that Asoka had erected stupas at various places in Bengal and Orissa to commemorate these visits.

Asoka's Reign and the Post-Maurya Period Epigraphic and other sources reveal that Buddhism had established a powerful footing in Bengal during Asoka's reign. The discovery of a Mauryan inscription in Brahmi characters at mahasthan in the district of bogra bearing the name Pudanagala (Pundranagara) and the recovery of many Mauryan coins and other artifacts dating from the fourth and third centuries BC suggest that the Gangetic delta was under the control of the Mauryan empire. The Chinese traveler, i-tsing, is said to have noticed Asoka's stupas near tamralipti (Tamluk) and Karnasuvarna (modern Burdwan and Murshidabad districts) in west bengal, in Pundravardhana (North Bengal) and in samatata (Bangladesh). The port of Tamralipti to the west of the Bhagirathi-Hughli river, in particular, played an important role during Asoka's rule. It was from here, according to Mahavangsa, that the Buddhist mission from Asoka's capital city, Pataliputra, sailed for Ceylon to spread the message of the Buddha.

With the fall of the Mauryan Empire, Buddhism lost its royal patronage. Pusyamitra killed his master, Brhadratha, and captured the throne of Magadha, founding the Sunga dynasty in the second century BC. With the advent of the Sungas, Buddhism had its first setback. The once thriving religion declined not merely for lack of royal patronage but, most importantly, because of the hostile attitude of the Sunga kings towards Buddhism and the Sangha.

However, some Indian scholars are of the opinion that the orthodox Sunga kings were not intolerant towards Buddhism and that Buddhism prospered during the time of the Sunga kings. The existence of Buddhism in Bengal in the Sunga period can also be inferred from a terracotta tablet that was found at Tamralipti and is on exhibit at the Asutosh Museum, university of calcutta.

Buddhism received a further impetus from the Kushanas in the first century AD when Kaniska raised Buddhism to the status of a state religion, erected stupas and chaityas, built monasteries and, like Asoka, sent missions abroad. The discovery of Buddha images, copper and gold coins and inscriptions also clearly throw light on the flourishing condition of Buddhism during the reign of Kaniska.

Gupta Era As devout adherents of a Brahminical faith (Parama-Bhagavatas), the Gupta emperors patronized and revived Brahminism, but they also possessed a tolerant view of Buddhism. Moreover the rise of the two powerful cults of Saivism and vaisnavism brought Buddhism closer to hinduism. In its spiritual nihilism, Buddhism was approximated to the Bhakti movements so much so that, in the middle of the 6th century AD, the Buddha was accepted as an avatar of vishnu.

According to Chinese sources, Maharaja Gupta or Shri Gupta, the first ruler of the Gupta dynasty, built a Buddhist temple and offered it to Buddhist monks from China along with a gift of twenty-four villages. This temple is believed to have remained a sacred place till the 7th century AD. Samudra Gupta, despite being a devout worshipper of Vishnu, proved to be a great patron of Buddhism. It was during his reign that cultural relations between India and Ceylon were established, his teacher and guide, the celebrated Buddhist scholar Vasubandhu, was appointed minister, and, with the permission of the Ceylonese King Meghavanna, a monastery was built at Bodh-Gaya for the monks and pilgrims of Ceylon. Chandra Gupta II who, like his father, Samudra Gupta, was a devout Vaisnava by faith, gave full freedom to the practice of other faiths in his empire.

During his visit to Bengal, Fa-hien is said to have travelled eastward along the course of the Ganges, coming across Buddhist stupas and monks at different places. In Tamralipti, he is said to have spent two years and visited twenty-two monasteries, inhabited by monks who lived in accordance with the Buddhist Vinaya.

There is archaeological evidence to corroborate Fa-hien's account about the thriving state of Buddhism in the Gupta period. An inscription found at Gunaigarh near comilla, bearing the year 188 of the Gupta era (506 or 507 AD), records a gift of land by Maharaja Vainya Gupta in favour of the Buddhist Avaivarttika Sangha of the Mahayana sect. The Sangha founded by the Acharya Shantideva was housed in a monastery called Ashrama-Vihara which was dedicated to Avalokiteshvara. The inscription also refers to other Buddhist monasteries, one of which was known as Raja-Vihara or the royal vihara. Two Buddhist sculptures, a standing image of the Buddha found at Biharail in rajshahi district and a gold-plated bronze image of Manjushri discovered at Balai Dhap mound at Mahasthana in Bogra, also bear testimony to the flourishing state of Buddhism during the rule of the Gupta kings.

Both Theravada and Mahayana continued to flourish side by side during the Gupta period. Buddhist inscriptions, seals, images and manuscripts in Gupta characters, discovered from the sites of different archaeological excavations, testify to the flourishing state of the early Theravada schools, namely, the Sarvastivadins, the Sammatiyas or the Vatsiputriyas and Sthavirvadins. But gradually, Theravada lost its hold and gave way to Mahayana. Mahayana, with its ultra-altruistic principles, its scope for devotion and worship, and its opening of the state of Bodhisattvahood to recluses and laity, began to capture the imagination of common people and became an important religious movement. As Mahayana grew popular, Bodhisattvas such as Manjusri, Avalokitesvara and the goddess prajnaparamita assumed important positions. The adi buddha and Amitabha Buddha also received special attention. Worship of Bodhisattva images along with the image of the Buddha turned into a common practice. The Mahayanists are said to have revered the Prajna texts just as the Theravadins revered their Vinaya and Abhidharma books. The Mahayanists are also said to have practised spells (dharanis) for religious purposes.

Hiuen Tsang visited India in the 7th century AD and visited almost all the major places associated with Buddhism in Bangladesh. According to him, there were six or seven Buddhist monasteries at Kajangala near Rajmahal, housing over three hundred monks. In the northern part of the country, he also claimed to have seen a belvedere built of stone and brick, with a broad and high base, artistic ornamentation and distinct carved images of the Buddha and the devas. At Pundravardhana, he is said to have found twenty Buddhist monasteries with more than 3,000 monks who practised both Theravada and Mahayana. The magnificent Po-shi-po, with spacious halls and storeyed chambers, occupied by over 700 monks, was located in the vicinity of the capital of Pundravardhana. There is also mention of a temple with an image of Avalokitesvara not far from this establishment, which attracted visitors from far and near.

Fa-hien tells us that when he visited India in the 5th century AD, some of the old Buddhist centres like Kapilavastu and Saraswati were in a neglected and ruinous state, while Pataliputra, Mathura, Bodh-gaya, Sarnath and Nalanda were flourishing as active centres of Buddhism. The great monastery of Nalanda, which was founded by Kumara Gupta Mahendraditya, rose to prominence in the Gupta period and in course of time turned into a university and became the greatest centre of Buddhist learning in Asia. From an early date, the Buddhists of Bengal were closely linked with this great institution, although it was situated in Magadha. Prior to Hiuen Tsang's visit to Nalanda, Acharya Dharmapala had been the high priest of its monastery. He was succeeded by his disciple Acharya shilabhadra, a scion of a Brahmana king of Samatata. It was under Silabhadra's guidance that Hiuen Tsang studied Buddhist philosophy, including the vedas and Sangkhya Shastras, for five years. Not only scholars from Bengal but also its kings, the Guptas, the Palas etc., contributed to the development of the great institutions at Nalanda.

Post-Gupta Age In the post-Gupta period, Harsavardhana gave Buddhism a new impetus. But in the 6th century AD, when Shashanka came to the throne, he was hostile to Buddhism. According to Hiuen Tsang's account, Shashanka ordered the extermination of the Buddhist monks in and around Kushinagara; he cut down the holy Bodhi tree of Gaya and threw into the Ganges a sacred stone bearing the footprints of the Buddha. He is also said to have removed a Buddha image from a temple close to the Bodhi tree and replaced it with an image of shiva.

In sharp contrast to Shashanka's persecution of Buddhism, the reign of Emperor Harsavardhana (606-647 AD) was one of resurgence and renewed progress and development. Despite being a worshipper of Shiva and Surya, Harsa had great leanings towards Buddhism, with both his elder brother, Rajyavardhana, and sister Rajyashri being devout Buddhists. Harsa was at first a devotee of the Theravada sect, but, in later life, became an ardent follower of Mahayana. Some of his notable contributions to the cause of Buddhism include erecting stupas on the banks of the Ganges, building monasteries at places sacred to Buddhism, and forbidding the slaying of animals. Another of his important contributions to Buddhism was his convening regularly the quinquennial convocation in which he gave away in religious alms everything he possessed. Harsa used to summon Buddhist monks once a year for religious discussions. Harsa was specially attached to Nalanda and extended help liberally.

After Harsavardhana, the Khadga dynasty is said to be the first Buddhist dynasty to rule an independent Bengal between the 7th and 8th centuries AD. The discovery of two copperplates, one at Ashrafpur, 30 miles north-east of dhaka and another at Deulbari, 14 miles south of Comilla, gives us valuable information about this royal dynasty. These copperplates mention the names of three kings, Khadgodyama, Jatakhadga and Devakhadga, and include the names of the queen and the son of Devakhadga, Prabhavati and Rajaraja or Rajarajabhata. I-tsing's account notes that as many as fifty-six Buddhist priests from China visited India and its neighbouring areas in the latter half of the seventh century AD. One of these monks, Sheng-chi, who visited Samatata, mentions Rajabhata as its king and describes him as an ardent worshipper of the three gems (Triratna), ie, the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. There were 30 monasteries with more that 4,000 monks in Samatata alone during the pilgrim's visit. It is clear from all these that during the reign of the Khadga kings, Buddhism continued to flourish in Bengal in the seventh century AD.

Rule of the Pala Dynasty The Pala rule may be regarded as the golden age of Buddhism in Bengal. The Palas were devout Buddhists (Parama-saugata) who were, however, equally sympathetic to other faiths. They invoked the Buddha at the beginning of their official records. Buddhism survived and flourished in Bengal for four centuries under the patronage of the Pala kings, while it was almost wiped out in other parts of India. At the same time, it also became a dominant international force, extending its influence to Tibet in the north and the Malaya peninsula in the south.

Archaeological and epigraphic evidence testifies to the lavish patronage of the Palas towards the cause of Buddhism. Instances of the Palas' patronage of Buddhism are numerous. King Gopala, according to Tibetan tradition, built a monastery at Nalanda and established many religious schools. According to Taranatha, many distinguished Buddhist teachers flourished during the reign of Gopala, prominent among them being Danashila, Vishesamitra, Sura and Praj'avarman. The Odantapuri Vihara was a specimen of rare architectural beauty. The famous Sam-ye monastery of Tibet is said to have been built on the model of this great vihara.

dharmapala continued the religious policy of his father Gopala and extended his liberal support to Buddhist establishments. He is said to have founded the famous Vikramashila Vihara on a hill top on the bank of the Ganges in Magadha. The vihara soon rose to prominence as an international university, second only to Nalanda, maintaining contact with Tibet and graced by the presence of Tibetan scholars throughout the Pala rule. Many of the Vikramashila scholars, who once numbered 3000 in the 12th century AD, composed numerous books in Sanskrit and also translated them into Tibetan. The curricula of the university included logic, metaphysics, grammar, tantras, rituals etc. Importantly, the reigning monarch of the land awarded degrees to students.

Dharmapala is also known to have built a monastery at Somapura, in Rajshahi district. The somapura mahavihara, Naogaon which became a model for many monasteries in South-east Asia, stands as a magnificent testament to the Pala patronage of Buddhism. Dharmapala is also said to have established as many as fifty religious schools designed to teach Buddhist philosophy and to study Prajnaparamita in particular. He was a great patron of the Buddhist writer, Haribhadra, and, during his reign, as in his father's, many distinguished Buddhist teachers, such as Purnavardhana, Prabhakara, Kalyanagupta, Sagaramegha, Bhuddhaj'apada, flourished.

Under devapala, the Pala empire reached the zenith of its glory, and Bengal became a paramount power. Devapala is said to have granted an endowment of five villages for the upkeep of a monastery founded by King Balaputradeva of Java, Sumatra and Malaya. Not only did he complete the Somapura establishment, he also showed keen interest in the well-being of the Vikramshila Vihara. Mahipala I, the ninth king of the Pala dynasty and rightly called the founder of the second Pala empire, is responsible for the revival of the past glory of the Buddhist establishments. He repaired the Buddhist monuments at Nalanda and constructed two new temples at Bodh-Gaya. Many famous monasteries were built during the Pala period of which mention may be made of Jagaddala, Traikutaka, Pandita, Devikota, Pattikeraka, Sannagara, Phullahari and Vikramapuri.

Buddhism flourished during the reign of the Chandra dynasty in harikela (eastern and southern parts of Bengal). The discovery of a large Buddha stupa, Salbana Vihara and other inscriptions at the Mainamati hills, four miles to the west of Comilla, still bears testimony to the condition of Buddhism during the Chandra kings. According to Tibetan sources, Buddhist tantricism flourished under the Chandra rule. The famous Buddhist scholar of vikramapura, atish dipankar srijnan, is believed to be related to this Chandra dynasty.

The Pala Kingdom was not only the last stronghold of diminishing Buddhism in India, it was also responsible for the rise of Tantric Buddhism. This new phase of Mahayana Buddhism has been variously designated by Charles Eliot and others as 'late', 'degenerate', and 'corrupt'. Such allegations are based on the assumption that when Buddhism entered Bengal, it gradually came under the powerful influence of tantric beliefs and practices, including what are known as sexo-yogic practices, which made it fall away from the purity of its early form and eventually develop into what came to be known as esoteric or magical Buddhism.

It is almost certain that in Bengal from the time of Asoka to the Pala period, both the Theravada and Mahayana, not the tantric, forms of Buddhism were practised. He describes the classical pattern of Buddhism as a three-cornered relationship between Sangha, king and people and emphasizes that the Buddhism of the Pala period was a true representative example of this classical pattern. Trevor Ling and many others believe that the Pala rule in Bengal heralded an era of progress in culture, religion, education, literature, art and sculpture. Amongst other achievements of the Palas, Ling has particularly mentioned their active patronage of Bangla language and literature. It was in a popular new language, a proto-Bangla form, that the Buddhist poets composed what are known to be the first poems of Bangla literature, the famous charyapada, a Tantric work of twenty-three Buddhist Tantrikists known as Siddhas.

Tantric Buddhism The term tantra has several meanings; but when it is applied, in its special technical sense, to a religion, the religious system assumes some fundamental features with emphasis laid on the use of such practices as mystic syllables (mantras), magical diagrams (yantras), ritualistic circles (mandalas), physical gestures (mudras), spells (dharanis), etc. To these are added the elements of sex-play (maithuna), psycho-physical discipline (yoga), a pantheon of gods, worship and ritualism, magic, sorcery, charms, necromancy, astrology, symbolism, alchemy, the principle of an apparent duality in an absolute non-duality, co-efficiency of the female partner and the concept of the Great Delight (mahasukha) born of the union of male and female. Two of the earliest available texts on Tantric Buddhism are the Guhyasamajatantra and Manjushrimulakalpa, the former dealing with yoga and anuttarayoga (tantric forms of meditation), and the latter with mantras, mudras, mandalas, etc. In the Manjusrimulakalpa are also given instructions for painting the different gods and goddesses of the Tantric pantheon. Amongst other tantric works are mentioned Hevajratantra, Samvaratantra, Kalachakratantra, Jnanasiddhi, Karandavyuhasutra, Nilakanthadharani and Mahapratyangiradharani.

This mystic form of Buddhism developed in Bengal during the Pala period and its profound impact entirely changed the course and history of Buddhism. This medieval Buddhist movement was founded by the tantric acharyas known as Siddhas who are traditionally believed to be men of psychic and supernatural powers. In the Buddhist tradition, the number of the Siddhas is put at eighty-four. Some of the principal figures amongst the Siddhas are Sarahapa, Nagarjuna, Tilopa, Naropa, Advayavajra, kahnapa, Savarapa, Luipa, Bhusuku, Kukkuripa, Dombi and Indrabhuti.

The earliest form of tantric Buddhism is usually believed to be Mantrayana, a name derived from the word mantra. The mantras are set mystical formulae which were recited at religious ceremonies under the impression that their recitation and repetition were efficacious in attaining a desired goal and even emancipation. This religious cult was in course of time superseded by other forms of Buddhist tantricism, namely, vajrayana, sahajayana and Kalachakrayana. Both Vajrayana and Sahajayana dealt, though not in the same manner, with the stage of the same mysticism. But while the first laid emphasis on ceremonials, in the latter ceremonials had no place. Vajrayana attached great importance to the practice of mantra, mudra and mandala in the worship of gods and goddesses. In both Vajrayana and Sahajayana, the practice of yoga is required which, however, must be done with the help of the guru or teacher. The guru determines the right path of sadhana for his disciple and guides him along that path towards the goal, viz. mahasukha or perfect bliss.

Decline and Resurgence Buddhism, as a typical tantric form of mysticism, reached a stage in Bengal in the hands of the Siddhas where it was easily assimilated to Saktism. The fusion between Saktism and Buddhist mysticism gave rise to new schools of Saktism and some forms of popular religion in which Buddhism is said to have survived, despite its decline in the face of Brahmanism. One such school of Saktism came to be known as Kaula, which is derived from the word Kula, meaning Sakti. The followers of the school are called Kaula, Kulaputra or Kulina. Amongst other systems or forms of religion that Buddhist mysticism is said to have absorbed within itself, the most noteworthy are nathism, Avadhuta, sahajiya and baul. The leaders of Nathism or Nathamarga were known as Nathas who were also called yogis as they practised a form of yoga different from the one used by the Buddha or Pata'jali. Instead of concentrating on one definite point in the process of attaining salvation, they tried to attain success (siddhi) by restricting the internal air and guiding it from below the abdomen to the forehead. Amongst the Nathas, the most famous are matsyendranath, Goraksanatha, Minanatha, Chauranganatha, the former being the founder of the Natha school.

The Avadhuta sect also practised the Buddhist form of yoga which emphasized a thorough knowledge of the entire physiological system, including the countless nadis (veins) within the body of which the principal ones are lalana, rasana and avadhuti. The Avadhuta sect seems to be the revival of some old religious practices known as dhutangas, mentioned in old Buddhist texts but which were never practised by orthodox Buddhists. These rules of dhuta-discipline included living by begging, living far away from human habitation, wearing torn clothes etc. Nityananda, an associate of Sri chaitanya, was said to be a great follower of this Avadhuta sect.

The Sahajiya sect is believed to have been established by the great Siddha Saraha, the other two great exponents of it being Kahna and Lui. The Sahajiyas were opposed to the worship of gods or goddesses and other ceremonies; instead they laid stress on the easy path of salvation which they wanted to achieve through carnal enjoyments. The Mainamati plate, an inscription of the 13th century, is believed to have the oldest reference to Sahajiya. In the writings and songs of chandidas, a Bengali poet of the 14th century, one can trace the ideas of the Sahajiya cult. In course of time, Buddhist Sahajayana is said to have been assimilated into Vaisnavism and lost much of its ancient traditions. It is the Bauls who are believed to have preserved the tradition more faithfully than the Sahajiyas, as they have not been carried away by the influence of Vaisnavism.

The Senas, who followed the Palas, were orthodox followers of Saivaism or Vaisnavism and had little sympathy with Buddhism. Deprived of royal support, Buddhism soon began to decline and disintegrate. Its institutions disappeared and those which lingered on could not withstand the onslaught of muhammad bakhtyar khalji. Buddhist monks who outlived persecution by Muslim invaders fled to Nepal, Tibet or Bhutan. The Buddhist laity were either converted to Islam or were integrated into the fold of Brahmanism. Buddhism, as a separate entity, was almost extinct, surviving in many debased forms of popular practices such as dharma thakur puja or the puja of jagannath.

The decline of Buddhism, however, did not result in its total disappearance from the land of its birth, and it continued to survive in various forms of popular worship, rites and rituals until its resurgence in modern India. With its rediscovery in its parent country, the traditions of Buddhism were significantly recognised so that the Asokan pillar, the sacred Wheel of Law (Dharmachakra) and the Singhanada sculpture from Saranatha are now a part of Indian national life and heritage. The renewal of Buddhism in India today is attributed to Dr BR Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, who led the mass conversion of millions of untouchables or 'Scheduled Castes' to Buddhism in 1956. In Bengal, however, the revival of Buddhism seems to have taken place centuries before Dr BR Ambedkar's introduction of the neo-Buddhist movement in Maharastra and other places. In the districts of chittagong and the chittagong hill tracts, the south-eastern parts of Bangladesh, a Buddhist minority had been practicing Theravada long before the Moghuls and the British arrived in Bengal. In course of time, these Buddhists reformed their Sangha and in 1887 founded the Chittagong Buddhist Association, believed to be the first Buddhist society to be formed in the sub-continent. [Niru Kumar Chakma]

Bibliography George Grimm, The Doctrine of the Buddha, Berlin, 1958; RC Majumdar ed, The History of Bengal, Vol. I, University of Dhaka, 1963; Binayendranath Chaudhury, Buddhist Centres in Ancient India, Calcutta, 1969; Lalmani Joshi, Studies in the Buddhistic Culture of India, Delhi, 1977; Kanailal Hazra, Buddhism in India as Described by the Chinese Pilgrims AD 399-689, New Delhi, 1983.