⒂Why Buddhism spread so rapidly in India: the birth of a great power that distanced itself from Brahmanism and the rise of new merchants

Varanasi Buddhist Columns & Dharma Talks

[Introduction to Buddhism, Life of Buddha (Shakyamuni) as seen through local photographs] ⒂
 Why did Buddhism spread so rapidly in India - the birth of a great power distancing itself from Brahmanism and the rise of new merchants?

Previous Article"⒁The historical background of India, where Buddhism was born - What is the history and worldview of the ancient Indian religion of Brahmanism? And a word about the caste system."In the following section, I talked about the religious situation in India before the birth of the Buddha. Some of you may have been surprised that I went back to the Indus civilization, but after listening to the story, you may have thought, "Oh, I see! I see! I am sure that some of you nodded your head and said, "I see!

The flow of history and historical background is still important.

In this article, we will finally talk about the very period in which the Buddha is active. Buddha was not born apart from the context of his time. It can be said that the time period wanted Buddha.

Domestic conditions in India around the 5th century B.C., when the Buddha was born.

Now, as I mentioned in my previous article, I told you that the Aryans invaded India around 1500 B.C. and gradually increased their power and spread into the interior of India. The brown line on the map above shows the mountain range, the light blue line on the left is the Indus River, and the right is the approximate course of the Ganges River. And the red square area is the entry point for the Aryans.

As a reconfirmation here, India is surrounded by the sea to the south and mountain ranges to the north, east, and west, so it is basically an independent space closed off from the outside world. However, the only gap among them is the area of the Khyber Pass, circled by the red square. This is where the Aryans invaded and entered India, and inevitably, the Aryan color is strong in the northern part of India, such as the Delhi area. In other words, the area from northern to central India is the area where Aryan rule was strong and Brahmanism was most active.

From northern India, the Aryans gradually moved east and south, but there was a major obstacle. However, there was a major obstacle: the hot and humid tropical climate and the existence of plague.

As you can see from the map above, the color of the map is clearly different,

As pointed out in William H. McNeil's "A World History of Plagues," northern India is a rugged environment in the Himalayas and other high altitude regions, but the climate is very different from the jungles of the tropics, where malaria and other pathogens are prevalent. The Aryans came to India via Georgia, Iran, and Afghanistan, so they are more of an arid region people. What they suffered the most was the existence of plague in the tropical climate.

As circled in the map above, Sarnath (near Varanasi on the map), where the Buddha performed his first Dharma Wheel and Buddhagaya (near Patna on the map), where he attained enlightenment, are quite far from Delhi, which is in northern India.

And the area circled in blue is Buddha's general area of activity. This is the point.

In other words, the area where the Buddha lived and worked was inaccessible to Aryans, and their system of rule was weaker than that of northern India. In addition, the mixture of Aryan and local people in this region was increasing, and the distinction between purely Aryan and other peoples itself became increasingly difficult to make. This means that the power of Brahmanism, the religion of the Aryans, was relatively weak in this region.

Use of Ironware and Emergence of Great Powers

And there is another major point that goes along with this. That was the use of ironware, which began in India around 1000 B.C.

This use of ironware led to a dramatic increase in agricultural production and the accumulation of surplus crops.

This led to the accumulation of wealth in various regions, and the wealth of local kings, princes, nobles, and warlords increased, becoming a major force to be reckoned with.

Thus emerged the great powers such as Magadha and Kosala. Magadha is the country of King Bimbisara, who met with the Buddha, and Kosala is also a great country with the birthplace of the Buddha. These eastern regions of India were particularly rich in land and climate, and their production was abundant.

Thus, a huge kingdom emerged, separate from the Aryan powers in Northern India and elsewhere.

This would make room for the introduction of a different religion or ideology than the system that places Aryan Brahminism at the center of the state. Brahmanism is based solely on the religious beliefs that support the Aryan system of rule. The idea is that praying to the Brahmin gods will bring about the victory of the Aryans and the prosperity of the nation.

However, such a worldview was not always fully accepted in the countries of eastern India, where there were few Aryans, and there were indigenous religions and cultures unique to the eastern part of the country. Against this background, the idea of growing the country by one's own ability and winning battles became stronger than praying to Brahmin gods. In other words, they thought, "Nothing will happen even if we pray to Brahmin gods. To win a battle, one needs military power, financial resources, and one's own wisdom and talent.

This is how the soil for religious thought that would bring about a new worldview and social order was created in this region.

In addition to the emergence of this great power, another important entity would emerge during this period. This was the emerging merchants.

Development of the monetary economy and the emergence of new merchants

As I mentioned earlier, the use of ironware led to an increase in wealth. As wealth increased, commerce also developed. This led to the emergence of many wealthy new merchants. It is said that a monetary economy had already penetrated India by the time of Buddha's reign, and it seems that quite active economic activity was taking place.

And as commerce flourishes, there will be more traffic to and from the city. This in turn necessitated the construction of roads. Here, too, iron tools were useful. They were able to cut down trees and open roads more easily than before.

Also, as roads are built, it is necessary to maintain public safety on the roads. That is true. If there is a danger of robbery every time people go to and from the city, business will not be viable. In this aspect as well, the power of the royalty and aristocracy will increase rapidly. The princes and nobles would pave the roads for the merchants, maintain markets, and collect taxes in exchange for maintaining public order. In this way, they accumulated mutual wealth and became a huge power.

And what does the existence of these new merchants mean? It can be said that the power of "money" has truly come into play.

Caste-wise, Brahmins are at the top, but people with enormous wealth practically run the world. Brahmins are unconditionally great institutionally, but people with enormous wealth are in a position to follow many people.

Even though the Brahmins are the superior in terms of structure, their true intention is that they cannot exist without contributions from the merchants. It is not surprising that the Brahmins are often frustrated that they are looked down upon when in reality they are the ones who are supporting the Brahmins. Here, as in the case of the royalty and aristocracy we have seen earlier, a tendency to emphasize their own wealth, wisdom, and talent emerges.

And from a geographical perspective, Varanasi (Varanasi in the map above), famous for the Ganges River, was a commercial center famous for its silk fabrics, and the country of Magadha, where the Buddha was mainly active, was also at the forefront of culture and commerce.

In other words, Buddha's sphere of activity was not only for royalty and nobility, but also for the emerging merchants, who were in search of new ideas and religions that would recognize their way of being.


This means that here in the eastern Indian cities there were many people who wanted to break away from the Aryan Brahminical world of northern India. As I will discuss in a later article, many of the Buddha's most ardent supporters were in fact royalty, aristocracy, and big businessmen, who became major sponsors of the Buddhist cult, which quickly expanded. The rapid spread of the Buddha's teachings was undeniably due in part to the presence of these royalty, aristocrats, and newly emerging merchants. Of course, it is true that many people were saved by the teachings of Buddha, who preached equality regardless of caste, but it is also an important fact that the prosperity of the Buddha's cult could not have been achieved by this alone.

Religion is not just religion."

This is a principle I hold dear. This is exactly the background of the times in India, where the Buddha lived. Buddhism did not spread because of the existence of Buddha alone. The times demanded Buddha.

And it is in this historical context that we should be careful,There were many people who, like the Buddha, brought their own ideas and religions to the world.That is to say.

In other words, it was during this period that Buddha's rivals were truly innumerable. Among these countless rivals, the most influential thinkers wereRokusigedou..

The term "Gedo" means "outside teaching" from the Buddhist side, and this refers to the six thinkers who preached teachings outside of Buddhism.

In other words, Buddha is not the only unique entity. In this turbulent era, there were many people who tried to transcend the old Aryan Brahminical world. Buddha was influenced by their ideas and established his own teachings through a battle of ideas with them. Buddha did not attain enlightenment alone; he lived with the movements of the world. This is an extremely important perspective.

In the following article, I will briefly discuss Buddha's rivals, the Samon (Emerging Thinkers) and the Six Master Exoteric Traditions, but don't worry, I won't get into the difficult ideological stuff. However, it is important to know even roughly what they were talking about in order to understand the uniqueness of the Buddha. After all, you have to compare them to know what they were talking about.

Therefore, starting with the next article, I will talk about Buddha's rivals, Shamon and RokushiGedo.

Next Article.

Click here to read the previous article.

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