Buddhism: Origin, Spread and Decline
By Pankaj Jain
The Huffington Post
Contemporary Indian Society and Buddhism's origin
A keen observer of the world history may notice a pendulous motion. At one end of the pendulum's swing is the society immersed in crass materialism, Pravritti (literally, action) and at the other end is the society engrossed itself in spirituality, Nivritti (literally, withdrawal).
Histories of both the east and the west seem to follow this trend. Greeks were originally Nivritti oriented. The Greek Pythagorean School was Nivritti oriented but later Epicureans were at the opposite end. Romans believed in active life but later Christianity emerged as a monastic movement with celibate monks and nuns. Martin Luther founded Protestantism to reject Catholic Nivritti. The scientific and industrial revolution of the 18th century can be identified as extreme Pravritti and now we are witnessing the Nivritti-oriented people opposing the extremes of science: atomic bombs, pollution etc. And the society is slowly inclining towards yoga, meditation, etc.
Similarly, India had its own share of these cycles. In the pre-historic times, Vedic India had an active life (Pravritti), and then Upanishadic sages realized and propounded the concepts of renunciation (Nivritti). After that, Krishna preached the balance of Pravritti and Nivritti in the Bhagavad-Gitä, by being active in one's duties but not attached to the results of it.
At the time of the Buddha's birth, Indian society had lost its balance of Pravritti and Nivritti. Society was divided into different sects. Brahmins who were the torch-bearers of the spiritual wisdom in the ancient times, had limited themselves to rituals. In the absence of knowledgeable guides and spiritual leaders, society had become virtually directionless. Society was looking for the ethical and moral order once again.
In such a chaotic time, the Buddha was born in Northeast India. In his early life, he renounced his wife, son, and kingdom and achieved liberation (nirvana). The Buddha revolutionized the society by showing a new path to spiritual freedom by renouncing the worldly activities. Hundreds of Buddhist Viharas were founded which were instrumental in spreading Buddhism all over India and other Asian countries. Thus, the Buddha rekindled the spirit of propagating spiritual knowledge in the society. Renunciation and passive life (Nivritti) became a major trend of the society.
Seated Buddha, c. 300s
Afghanistan, Gandhara, Hadda, late Kushan Period (1st century-320)
Source: The Cleveland Museum of Art