Buddhism exercised profound influence in shaping the various aspects of Indian Culture and society. It developed a popular religion without any complicated, elaborate and unintelligible rituals requiring necessarily a priestly class. This was one of the reasons for its mass appeal. The ethical code of Buddhism was also simpler based on charity, purity, self-sacrifice and truthfulness and control over passions. It laid great emphasis on love, equality and non-violence. It became an article of faith for the followers of the Buddhism. It laid emphasis on the fact that man himself is the architect of his own destiny. It was devoid of any elaborate idea of God. Although Buddhism could never dislodge Brahmanism from its high position, it certainly jolted it and inspired institutional changes in Indian culture and society.
The great man behind the origin of new religion “Buddhism” was Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, who was born in Lumbini (in present-day Nepal) during the 5th century BCE. By the 3rd century BCE, Mauryan Indian emperor Ashoka the Great (304–232 BCE), who ruled from 268 to 232 BCE, turned Buddhism into the state religion of India.
Buddhism gave us a simple, intelligible and popular religion. Buddhism greatly appealed to the people on account of its simplicity; emotional element, easy ethical code, the use of vernacular language and the methods of teaching. Rejecting the caste system and its evils including rituals based on animal sacrifices, conservation, fasting and pilgrimage, it preached total equality. Promotion of social equality and social justice helped Buddhism to cross the frontiers of Indian sub-continent and became a world religion. In the field of education Buddhism tried to make education practical, action oriented and geared towards social welfare. Most of the ancient Indian universities like Nalanda, Taxila were products of Buddhism. Though Buddhism disappeared from India, the land of its birth, yet. it had exerted great influence on the culture of India. It disordered the abstract philosophy of Upanishads. We discuss about Role of Buddhism on Indian Culture and Society in various aspect as under below.
1. Development of Language and Literature:
Gautam Buddha preached his ideas in simple languages. From the beginning he was using Prakriti language. Later on, he resorted to Pali language. With the gradual march of time, Sanskrit became the medium of preaching Buddhism. In this way, languages developed.
The Buddhist Canonical texts like ‘Sutta Pitaka’, ‘Vinaya Pitaka’ and ‘Abhidhamma Pitaka’ and several others were written in Pali language. ‘Mahabivasha’ was another book on Buddhism written in Sanskrit. ‘Sariputta Prakarana’ ‘Vajra Suchi’ and ‘Sutralankara’ etc. were other Sanskrit books on Buddhism. Thus, literature also flourished due to rise of Buddhism.
2. Simple Religion:
Buddhism was very simple. Its principles were very simple. It was easily followed by the people. It was not complex like Vedic religion. It also had no rituals. Due to the magnetic personality of Buddha, it spread throughout India. People accepted it due it simplicity.
3. Opposition to Caste System:
Buddha strongly opposed the caste system in Indian society which was an ugly practice during that remote phase of history. Due to his opposition the complexity of caste system vanished from the society. The society breathed a healthy atmosphere. This trend continued and Mahatma Gandhi and Ambedkar also adopted this principle of Buddha and became popular inside the society.
4. Character Building:
Buddhism taught many good qualities like truth non-violence, non-possession, compassion, brotherhood etc. All these virtues were meant to build up human character. These qualities were largely cultivated by the people in the society. The society grew with noble thought. The people by building their character helped in the creation of a healthy society.
5. Galvanized Hinduism:
Buddhism gave an impetuous to the existing Hinduism. The Mahayanas worshipped the image of Buddha. This inspired the Hindus to worship various images of gods and goddess. Instead of complex rituals, the Hindus prayed god through meditation and prayer. This became possible due to the influence of Buddhism on Hinduism.
6. Growth of Art and Architecture:
Buddhism went a long way in contributing the growth of art and architecture. For the first time Asoka sued rock to create art and architecture. Many stupas, Chiatyas and Pillars were constructed on rock. Sanchi, Saranath, Dhauli, Kanheri, Mathura, Gandhara bore the imprint of Buddhist art and architecture which grew from time to time. A large number of sculptures of Buddha and Bodhisattavas came to be built according to the Gandhara and Mathura school of art. The Buddhists set the example of dedicating cave temples and this practice was followed by the Hindus and Jainas etc.
The images of Buddha and Bodhisaltva, Gandharva, Yaksha, trees, birds, creepers etc. carved out on rock marked the growth of art and architecture in our country. The Buddhist paintings in Ajanta, Ellora, Karle, Bagh show the skill of Indian painters. So, art, architecture, painting etc. grew due to Buddhism.
7. Monastery System:
The Buddhist monasteries played vital role in Indian culture and devolvement of society. The Buddhist monks and nuns stayed in those monasteries. For the first time, democratic procedure was found inside a Buddhist monastery. The head of the monastery was elected not by selection but by vote which exhibited democratic spirit. Later on, the Hindus also followed this system. Sankaracharya set up four maths in four parts of India. Later on, others followed this system. It was possible due to the contribution of Buddhism.
8. Preaching of Brotherhood:
Buddhism propagated universal brotherhood. Asoka took keen interest to spread universal brotherhood through the propagation of Buddhism. Even he sent his own son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra to distant Ceylon for the spread of Buddhism. In due course of time Buddhism spread to Burma, Japan, China, Tibet, Java, Sumatra, Bali, Borneo, Champa and so on. Thus, Buddhism spread a unique feature of Indian culture abroad, that is universal brotherhood.
9. Influence on History:
Buddhism exerted its influence on the course of Indian history. The land of Kalinga changed Chandasoka to Dharmasoka Buddhism also attracted Kaniska and Harshavardhan. Mahatma Gandhi also learnt the lesson of Ahimsa from Buddhism and started the struggle for freedom against the Britishraj by following the path of non¬violence.
10. Emancipation of Women:
Buddha was the incarnation of mercy. In his monastic order he also received nuns. By this he made a noble attempt for bringing the social emancipation of women. Now the women did not consider themselves as inferior to man. In every sense, Buddha was responsible for the upliftment of the women.
11. National Unity:
Buddhism spread in the nook and comer of India It fostered the idea of national unity and integrity. Asoka, Kanishka and Harshavardhan became the ardent champion of nationalism and they tried to unite India under one umbrella. This was followed by the Moughals and also by the British. Thus, Buddhism undoubtedly brought national unity.
In every sense of the term, Buddhism exerted tremendous influence on Indian society and culture. It freed the people from the clutch of Vedic religion. It raised voice against caste system and propounded the idea of peaceful co-existence inside the society. In the field of art, architecture, painting, sculpture, literature and so on. Buddhism left its marks.
12. Contact between India and Foreign Countries:
Buddhism established an intimate contact between India and Foreign Countries. The Buddhist monks carried the gospel of the Buddha to the foreign countries from 3rd century B.C. onwards and foreign Buddhist Pilgrims and students came to India in search of knowledge. The foreigners who came to India were conquered by the rich culture of India and gave up their names and creeds and adopted Hindu names and Hindu faith. Thus Buddhism contributed largely to the synthesis which produced the modern Hindu society.
Buddha’s disciples belonged to all strata of society. Buddha/ Buddhism raised the status and position of the women in the society. Due to the influence of Buddhism, various religion people became vegetarian in India. Thus Buddhism exercised a tremendous influence on India culture. It enriched religion, art, sculpture, language and literature of India. Buddhism is a missionary religion and aims at converting the whole mankind to the doctrines of Buddha.
7. Tymick, Kenneth J. (2014) "The Communist Pure Land: The Legacy of Buddhist Reforms in the Early Chinese Revolutionary Period," Constructing the Past: Vol. 15 : Iss. 1 , Article 10.