A Brief History of Eastern Ideas
S.P. Rai

Ideas are indivisible. To classify them on regional basis may not be a fair system. Plato and Aristotle are as universal in their approach and application as Buddha or Shankara. But in the history of ideas such "labels" have been fiercely guarded. With due regard to this tradition as also for the clarity of understanding, we have accepted and adopted this approach. This is in continuation of our earlier presentation - A brief history of Western Ideas. It is a stupendous task to condense authors into paras on whom volumes have been written. A specialist, it is said, "Knows more and more of less and less". A generalist by reverse logic ought to know a bit of everything. This presentation is for the latter class.
In dealing with the "Eastern" thought, the focus will be largely on India with the spotlight turning to other countries as we discuss Buddhism. The fact that this is the only living system is another justification for so doing: "Of the great civilizations of the World", says Dr. Radhakrishnan, "hoary with age, only the Indian survives. The magnificence of the Egyptian civilization can be learnt only from the reports of the archaeologists and the readings of the hieroglyphics; the Babylonian Empire with its marvels of scientific irrigation and engineering skill is today nothing more than a heap of ruins. The great Roman culture, with its political institutions and ideals of law and equality, is, to a large extent, a thing of the past. The Indian civilization, which even at the lowest estimate is 4000 years old, still survives in its essential features". We may add to this China, which under its present dispensation, has completely disowned its cultural past, though still retaining the imperialist ambitions.
At the outset we may list, far better appreciation, a few distinguishing characteristics of the Eastern thought. It is essentially spiritual. It is this intense spirituality which has helped it to resist and survive the ravages of time. "External invasions and internal dissensions", says Dr. Radha Krishnan, "came very near crushing its civilization many times in the history. The Greek and Scythian, the Persian and the Moghul, the French and the English have by turn attempted to suppress it and yet it has held its head high. The purpose of, philosophy in India, notwithstanding various contending schools, has always been socio-spiritual regeneration of society".
The concept of religion in the East is not dogmatic. In fact the Sanskrit word Dharma is not an equivalent for English word "religion". It signifies much more than ritualism and ritualistic observances. Its literal meaning is that which "holds together" and in the broader senses its connotation is "Socially ordained duties". It is all-inclusive, accommodating in its fold the loftiest idealism of the Upanishads to the darkest fetishisms of the common man. It is the tolerance of divergence and dissent, the acceptance of many sidedness of truth that lends it its innate strength.
The earliest source of information regarding the eastern thought is the Veda. They come under the category of Shrut or "revealed" as against Smriti or tradition. But the concept of "revelation" as understood in the Western context is very different from what it is in regard to the Veda. They were not revealed to any individual at a particular time. It is rather immemorial, Sanatana and a "community of saints and seers" in their ecstatic moments, in a state of "good intoxication" or "divine madness" as it were, received the inspiration to compose these hymns, spread over centuries. This is a very important distinction and Shabda or verbal testimony due to their authentic nature is taken as a valid proof of knowledge, when other means fail or require corroboration.
Finally, we may note a very important concept, the concept of Jnan/Gyan as the path as well as the goal, the means as well as the state of deliverance. Gyan has no English equivalent. "Knowledge" or "enlightenment" falls short of giving its full meaning. Dr. R.D. Ranade has suggested the Greek word theoria as its nearest equivalent. It is the resultant of three components - perception, intellection and intuition, the last one being very important. Intuition, we will note as we proceed ahead, is a very important means of apprehending the truth, which was recognized by the Western thinkers rather late. When Gyan, the goal is achieved, one lives yet one lives not.
With these introductory observations, we propose to take up the subject proper. It will be in four parts. Part one will deal with the philosophy of Vedas, Upanisads and the Bhagvadgita. Part two will cover Jainism and Buddhism with the latter taking different forms to accommodate the local faiths and traditions. In part three we will discuss the six systems of Indian thought. And finally, we will examine the comparative aspects and try to answer some of the un-fair criticisms by the Western thinkers and theologians against the Eastern thought.
Part I
As is well known, there are four Vedas : Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva each consisting of four parts viz. the Samahita or Mantras, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and the Upanisads. The last one, also called Vedanta, the end of Vedas, is the concluding portion of the Vedas. Of the early Upanisads, Aitareya and Kausitaki belong to the Rig, Kena and Chhandogya to the Sam, Isa and Taittiriya and the Brihdaranyaka to the Yajur and Prasna and Mundaka to the Atharva Veda. The Aranyakas form the transition link between the rituals of the Brahmanas and the philosophy of the Upanisads.
The Vedic hymns do not contain philosophy but they do display philosophical tendencies to the extent that they attempt to explain the mysteries of the world. The genuine philosophical impulse came a little later when men sat down to doubt the gods, they ignorantly worshipped and reflected on the mysteries of life. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan writes: "Even though the germs of true philosophy appear at a late stage, still the view of life reflected in the poetry and practice of Vedic hymns is instructive. As legendary history precedes archaeology, alchemy/chemistry, astrology and astronomy, even so mythology and poetry precede philosophy and science". It is worth noting that in the early stages of reflection mythology, cosmology and religion are found inter-mixed.
We notice some very important concepts developing during this period, which provide the bedrock of later philosophy. The concept of Rita, which literally means the "course of things", with Varuna as its custodian, is the precursor to monotheism and monism. It stands for inviolable cosmic order or the law in general and the immanence of justice. Dr. Radhakrishnan compares it to the universals of Plato. The universal is prior to the particular, and so Vedic seer thinks that Rita exists before the manifestation of all phenomena. The "shifting, series of the world are the varying expressions of the constant Rita". The word Dharma subsequently subsumes this concept and, in a way, replaces the word Rita.
The displacement of naturalism and polytheistic anthropomorphism of the early hymns by a spiritual monotheism is a logical, albeit gradual, process. The implicit demand of religious consciousness for one supreme God took the route of henotheism, which, according to Max Muller is the worshipping of each divinity in turn, as if it were the greatest and even the only god. But even the concept of one god did not answer to man's questioning spirit. "Who has seen the first born? - Ko dadarsha prathama Jayamanam?" The obvious development was tracing the world to not one creator, but to borrow a phrase from Dr. M. Hiriyanna, "to a single primordial cause, which unfolds itself, as the universe in all its diversity". On this monistic theory of the Rig Veda, Deussen writes: "The Hindus arrive at this monism by a method essentially different from that of other countries. Monotheism was attained in Egypt by a mechanical identification of the various local gods, in Palestine by proscription of other gods and violent persecution of their worshippers for the benefit of their national god, Jehovah. In India they reached monism, though not monotheism, on a more philosophical path, seeing through the veil of the manifold the unity that underlies it". It is equally interesting to read what Max Muller says: "In fact the Vedic poets had arrived at a conception of the godhead which was reached once more by some of the Christian philosophers at Alexandria, but which even at present is beyond the reach of many who call themselves Christians". This central principle was called "sat", a neuter term to show that it was above the distinction of sex. The conclusion is contained in the profound statement - mahavakya - "Ekam sadvipra vahudha vadanti - the truth is one, the learned call it by different names".
We would like to attract pointed attention of our readers to the cosmology of Rig Veda. At the pluralistic stage the origin of the universe is attributed to the actions of several gods, Varuna, Indra, Agni, Vishwakarman. When we come to monotheistic level, the question arises as to whether God created the world out of His own nature without any pre-existent matter or through His power acting on externally pre-existent matter. The higher monistic conception is implied in the former view while the latter keeps us at the monotheistic level. There are hymns containing both views. In X -121 the creation is attributed to an Omnipotent God out of pre-existent matter. Hiranyagarbh, arising out of the all pervading waters, evolved the beautiful world from "shapeless chaos". Thus the Supreme spirit himself "became manifest in the form of Hiranyagarbha". According to this theory "the two eternally co-existent substances seem to be the evolution of one ultimate sub-stratum". In X-120, which is the well known Nasadiya Hymn, we find the representation of the most advanced theory of creation. We reproduce below only two stanzas from Max Muller's translation.
There was then neither what is nor what is not, there was no sky, nor the heaven which is beyond. What covered? Where was it and whose shelter? Was the water the deep abyss (in which it lay)?
There was no death, hence there was nothing immortal. There was no light, distinction between night and day. That one breathed by itself without breath, other than it there has been nothing.
Commenting on this, Dr. Radhakrishnan says: "The absolute reality, which is at the back of the whole world cannot be characterized by us as either existent or non-existent. The one breathed breathless by its own power. Other than that there was not any thing beyond. First cause of all it is older than the whole world, with the sun, moon,
sky and stars. It is beyond time, beyond space, beyond age, beyond death and beyond immortality. We cannot express what it is except that it is".
Another important hymn is Purusha Sukta, Rig Veda, X-90, where act of creation is treated as a sacrifice involving a huge human form having covered the world on all sides, it extended beyond it the length of ten fingers. The primal principle no doubt is immanent in the world which emerges from it, but is certainly not exhausted by it. This hymn is a bridge between the immanent and transcendent principles of the absolute.
Sam and Yajur Veda are in a way, collection of the hymns of Rig Veda, for specific purpose - Sam to be sung at the time of sacrifices whose details are given in Yajur Veda. But Atharva Veda, which represents a weird religion, is a later collection though the various religious practices and rituals are older..
As we transit to Upanisads, we step into the real world of philosophy. Dr. R.D. Ranade in his monumental work "A constructive Survey of Upanasadic philosophy" asserts that Upanisads do not contain one system of philosophy; they contain systems of philosophy, one rising above the other like Alps over Alps. Every revival of idealism in India, heterodox Buddhism included, traces its ancestry to the teachings of Upanisads. Dr. Radhakrishnan writes: they reveal to us the wealth of the reflective religious mind of the times. In the domain of intuitive philosophy, their achievement is a considerable one. Nothing that went before them for compass and power, for suggestiveness and satisfaction, can stand comparison with them. Their philosophy and religion have satisfied some of the greatest thinkers and intensely spiritual souls".
There is a marked shift in thinking noticeable from Rig Veda to the Upanisads. Dr. R.D. Ranade writes: "from Rig Veda to Upanisads, we find the same transition as we find in the history of Greek philosophy from Homer and Hesiod to Thales and Anaximander. Natural forces cease to be personified, and a definite attitude comes to be taken which is worthy of only speculative thinkers". The central question is : What is it which being known, everything else becomes known? It is this which leads us to the problem of ultimate reality envisioned in the Upanisads.
Two of the Western philosophers, Decartes and Spinoza have approached the problem from two different angles. For Decartes, the Self is the primary reality, self-consciousness the primary fact of existence, and introspection the start of the real philosophical process. From self, we arrive at the conception of God, who is the cause of the Self and therefore more perfect. For Spinoza neither the self nor the phenomenal world is the ultimate reality; for him God is the be-all and end-all of all things. As against this, asserts Dr. Ranade, the Upanisadic philosopher regard the Self as ultimate existence and subordinate the world and God to Self. The Self, to them, is more real than either the world or God. It is only ultimately that they identify the Self with God, and thus bridge over the gulf that exists between the theological and psychological approaches to Reality.

Dr. Ranade has traced five stages of this development, which he calls the "Ladder of spiritual experience". The first stage is to mystically apprehending the glory of the Self within us as though we were distinct from him. At the second stage, we must experience that we are really the very Self and that we are neither the bodily, or the sensuous, or the intellectual, or the emotional vestures; that we are in our essential nature entirely identical with the pure Self. In the third stage of spiritual experience, we come to realize that this Self is identical with the Absolute - Ayamatma Brahman (Brih II.5.19). For the fourth stage, let us have a re-look at the second and third. If I am the Self and the Self is the Absolute, then it follows syllogistically that I am the Absolute - Aham Brahmasmi (Brih I.4.10). If "I" is identified, "Thou" also projectively gets identified with Brahman- Tatvamasi (Chh VI.8.7). This is the significance of the two most famous and most misunderstood statements of reality. At the final stage, if "I" and "Thou", that is the subject and the object are the Absolute, it follows that every thing that we see in this world, Mind and Nature, the Self and the not-Self equally constitute the Absolute. This leads to the grand synthesis of the Upanisads that Brahman is very the "All" - Sarvam khalvidam Brahma (Chh III.14.1). This logical synthesis of the opposites is the highest contribution to thought from the sages of the Upanisads. In the field of metaphysics this synthesis of the gross and the subtle is as radical as Einstein's mass-energy equivalence, e = mc2 , in the field of physics.
It is not possible to do justice to the body of knowledge which the Upanisads contain within the space available in the scheme of this presentation. We will, however, refer to them as we discuss the various systems of philosophy to show their indebtedness to the Upanisads.
The Bhagvadgita is inset in the Mahabharat and is much later in time than the Upanisads. But it has influenced the thinking mind not only in India but beyond its frontiers. "It attempts to reconcile", says Dr. Radhakrishnan, "varied and apparently antithetical forms of the religious consciousness and emphasizes the root conceptions of religion which are neither ancient nor modern but eternal and belong to the very flesh of humanity, past, present and future". It is interesting to read the views of J.W. Hauer, an exponent of the German faith, about Bhagvadgita. He says : "it gives us not only profound insights that are valid for all times and for all religious life, but it contains as well the classical presentation of one of the most significant phases of Indo-Germanic history … It shows us the way as regards the essential nature and basal characteristic of Indo-Germanic religion. Here spirit is at work that belongs to our spirit".
Bhagvadgita is not concerned so much with philosophy as the correctness of action. The opening section raises the question of the problem of human action. How can we live in the Highest Self and yet continue to work in the world? It's importance lies in the answer it gives. Bhagvadgita is both, science of reality as well as art of union with that reality. Here we find a comprehensive synthesis of different currents of thought - the Vedic cult of sacrifice, the Upanisad teaching of the transcendent Brahman, the Bhagvat theism and tender piety, the Samkhya dualism and the Yoga meditation. The method adopted is to put them side by side and show how they converge towards the same end.
As regards the goal of perfection or attainment of saving truth or apprehension of ultimate Reality, Bhagvadgita gives us three different ways - by knowledge of Reality (gyan) or adoration of the Supreme Being (Bhakti) or by the subjection of the will to the Divine purpose (karma). These are not mutually exclusive. To borrow a phrase from Dr. Radhakrishnan the distinction is on account of the "distribution of emphasis on the theoretical, emotional and practical aspects". Bhagvadgita's biggest contribution to mankind is its theory of disinterestedness, action without attachment to the fruit thereof. Even mind in success and failure or inner poise leads to the state of Yoga, which is true skill in action.
Part II
Jainism is a very old form of un-orthodox or non-Vedic religion. It arose, in all probability , in the later Vedic period and was revised by Vardhmana, styled Mahavira, in the sixth century BC. Vardhamana born in about 540 BC, like his contemporary Buddha, was from a princely family of north Bihar. He is considered as 24th in the line of path-finders or tirthankaras, the first being Rishabhadeva.
Jainism believes in the eternal and independent existence of spirit and matter or "jiva" and "ajiva". But the spirit here is only the individual self and not the supreme self of the Upanisads. Jiva is conceived as an eternal substance or "dravya" of limited but variable magnitude, which is capable of adjusting to the shape and size of the physical body with which it is associated for the time being. Empirical, knowledge in its diverse forms is a manifestation of it under limitations caused by the inanimate nature of a jiva. The ultimate aim of life is conceived as casting off these limitations so that the soul may reveal its true nature of omniscience. At this stage there is a mystic or direct intuition of all things. This full and comprehensive knowledge is termed "Kevala-jnan". Jainism believes in the theory of transmigration and reward and retribution is allotted according to ones "Karma".
Ajiva, as the name indicates, includes all that is devoid of consciousness or life. It is five fold : matter, time, space, dharma and adharma. Matter is manifold, the ultimate stage of its being atomic. It is as the aggregate of atoms that it becomes the object of common experience. Time is infinite and all pervasive. All things are in time and all changes take place in it. Space is viewed as extending beyond our world and like time it is also infinite and all pervasive. Dharma and Adharma do not stand for religious merit and demerit. They represent the principles of motion and rest.
Jainism has elaborate theory of knowledge. It is conceived as self-luminous so that it shows to the self not only objects but also itself. It is in two categories : mediate or paroksha and immediate or pratyaksha. In the latter category, keval- jnana is conceived as the highest form of knowledge, which does not depend on the cooperation of any sense. All that it pre-supposes is the self.
The concept of ultimate Reality in Jainism could be summed up in the phrase "Pluralistic Realism". It is multiple in character. It is dynamic in that it keeps changing perpetually yet retaining its identity throughout. There are two aspects to it: general or samanya and, particular or vishesha. The relation between the two is one of identity in difference.
From the above it is obvious that the concept of reality does not exclude contradictory features. It amounts to saying that it is indeterminate in nature. From this follows what is known as the Sapta-bhang or the doctrine of Syadvada i.e. may be. We may state the various steps of the scheme : (1) may be, a thing is; (2) may be, it is not; (3) may be, it is and is not; (4) may be it is inexpressible; (5) may be, a thing is not and is inexpressible; (6) may be, a thing is not and is inexpressible; (7) may be a thing is, is not and is inexpressible. What a variety in skepticism !
As regards the practical part of Jainism, two things stand out. It is pessimistic, though not ultimately so; and it is also severely ascetic. The goal of life, as already remarked, is to restore the soul to its pristine purity so that it may attain omniscience. The discipline recommended for bringing about this consummation is threefold. It is right faith (Samyagdarshan), right knowledge (Samyagjnana) and right conduct (Samyag Charitra). Together these are known as the three jewels (tri-ratna). Dr. M. Hiriyanna writes: "Jainism may deny the existence of a Supreme God, it retains the idea of the divine as representing perfection". Dr. S. Radhakrishnan likens the metaphysics of Jainism to Leibniz's monadism and Bergson's creative evolutionism.
Sidhartha, born in 567 BC, better known as Gautam Buddha, came from a princely family. Much disturbed by the transience and uncertainty of life, he left his royal privileges to wander in search of truth. "Any man with imagination", says Dr. Radhakrishnan, "will be struck with amazement when he finds that six centuries before Christ there lived in India a prince second to none before him or after in spiritual detachment, lofty idealism, nobility of life and love for humanity". It is a miracle of history that his teachings spread far and wide on sheer force of their logic, their simplicity, and their ethical appeal un-backed by the sword, as we find in the case of Christianity as well as Islam. What is it and how it happened? Let us look into this.
Buddhist thought evolved in India over a period of thousand years. Three distinct phases are discernible in its evolution. Early Buddhism, development of canonical literature and acquisition of monastic character and Buddhism as religion.
Early Buddhism is viewed, essentially, as a protest against over-ceremonialism of the time. For most men religion consisted in regular ceremonial prayer and penance, purification and prohibitions applicable to almost all relations of human life. Buddha, through his own sincere experience, felt the hollowness of the most of beliefs which people regarded as articles of faith. "There is no question", observes Dr. Radhakrishnan, "that the system of early Buddhism is one of the most original which the history of philosophy presents. In its fundamental ideas and essential spirit it approximates remarkably to the advanced scientific thought of the nineteenth century". It was free from dogma, priesthood, sacrifice and sacrament and insisted on an inward change of heart and system of self-culture. Hegel compares the man of genius in relation to his age to one who places the last and the locking stone in an arch. Such a master hand was that of Buddha who undoubtedly is one of the greatest thinkers of India. Dr. Radhakrishnan compares Buddha's relations with his predecessors to that of Socrates to the Sophists. He proceeds to observe: "Buddha is not so much creating a new drama as rediscovering an old norm. It is the venerable tradition that is being adapted to meet the special needs of the age. To develop his theory, Buddha had only to rid the Upanisads of their inconsistent compromises with Vedic polytheism and religion, set aside the transcendental aspects as being indemonstable to thought and un-necessary to morals and emphasise the ethical universalism of the Upanisads." It may be noted that the roots of early Budhism are firmly fixed in the soil of India's hoary tradition. Rhys Davids has beautifully summed up his relationship with Hinduism thus : "Gautam was born and brought up and lived and died a Hindu………there was not much in the metaphysics and principles of Gautam which cannot be found in one or other of the orthodox systems, and a great deal of his morality could be matched from earlier or later Hindu Books. Such originality as Gautam possessed lay in the way in which he adopted, enlarged, enobled and systematised that which had already been well said by others; in the way in which he carried out to their logical conclusion principles of equity and justice already acknowledged by some of the most prominent Hindu thinkers. The difference between him and other teachers lay chiefly in his deep earnestness and in his broad public spirit of philanthropy."
Buddha passed through the known stages of penance, mortification of the physical self and all that. But finally it was his intense spiritual experience which helped him to discover the well known four noble truths (Arya Satya). These are the existence of suffering, its cause, the possibility of its elimination and finally the way to accomplish it. The system which Budhha enunciated is free from the extremes of self indulgence and self mortification. There are two extremes, habitual devotion to passions, to pleasures of sensual things on the one hand and habitual devotion to self mortification on the other, which is painful, ignoble and unprofitable. The Tathagata suggested the middle path, a path which opens the eyes and bestows understanding, which leads to peace, to insight to higher wisdom, to "nirvana" or final deliverance. This is the Aryan eight fold-path. That is to say : right beliefs, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct, right mode of livelihood, right effort, right mindedness and right rapture.
For an authentic account of early Buddhism we have to depend on "Pitakas" or the baskets of Law. To settle disputes among the folllowers of Buddha about the exact nature of his teachings, a council was called at Rajgriha near Magadha. Kashyapa, the most learned among the disciples stated the metaphysical position contained in Abhidhammapitak. Upali the oldest amongst them, gave the rules of discipline found in Vinayapitaka. Lastly, Anand, Buddha's favourite disciple narrated the stories and parables which find place in Suttapitaka. About this basket of discourses or Suttapitaka as a whole, Rhys Davids says : "In depth of philosophical insight, in the method of Socratic questioning often adopted, in the earnest and elevated tone of the whole, in the evidence they afford of the most cultured thought of the day, these discourses constantly remind the reader of the dialogues of Plato……..It is quite inevitable that as soon as it is properly translated and understood, this collection of the dialogues of Gautam will come to be placed in our schools of philosophy and history, on a level with the dialogues of Plato.
"When we pass from Upanisads to early Buddhism," says Dr. Radhakrishnan, " we pass from a work of many minds to the considered creed of a single individual. In the Upanisads, we have an amazing study of an atmosphere, in Buddhism the concrete embodiment of thought in the life of a man. This unity of thought and life worked wonderfully on the world of the time. The singular personality and life of Buddha had much to do with the success of early Buddhism".
Early Buddhism is essentially a gospel of hope and not of despair. It is positive and constructive. Milind Panha or the questions of Milinda, a work which is standard authority in Ceylon (now Shri Lanka ), is not considered as authoritative as the Pali Pitakas. In it, Nagsena seems to commit Buddha to a negative dogmatism. Dr. Radhakrishnan asserts: "Suspended judgement was Buddha's attitude, reckless repudiation was Nagsena's amendment." The early Buddhism has three distinct characteristics, an ethical earnestness, an absence of any theological tendency and an aversion to fruitless metaphysical speculation. Buddha wished to steer clear of metaphysical discussions, at times responding with silence, which was construed by some as negation. He would not like to pass judgement on insufficient evidence. He felt moral life suffered due to peoples energies getting absorbed in theological discussions and metaphysical subtleties. Buddhism is essentially psychology, logic and ethics and not metaphysics. Whatever metaphysics we have is added to it (abhidhamma) and not "Dhamma" as Buddha propounded.
From psychological point of view, the phenomena of the world are divided into two classes: (1) Rupino, having form, the four elements and their derivatives; (2) arupino, not having form, the four elements and their derivatives. "Nam" and "Rupa" are briefly used for the two categories respectively. The latter involves phases of consciousness i.e. feeling, perception, synthesis and intellect. The scheme shows pretty high development of the power of introspective analysis.
Buddhistic ethics is a derivative of its elaborate logic and deep psychological analysis. We have seen how the logic of the existence of suffering led to the analysis of its cause and suggested a way out. The essential purpose of Buddha's teaching is redemption from suffering. The goal of moral life is to escape from the pervasive evil of existence. While "nirvana" is the highest goal, all forms of conduct which lead to it positively or bring about an un-doing of rebirth are good and their opposite bad. Buddhism insists on purity of motive and humility in life.
As we examine the development of Buddhism as a religion, we observe two distinct courses becoming discernible rather early. The orthodox party or the Sthaviras initially take precedence over the Progressive Party or the Mahasanghlikas. The question dividing them centres round the attainment of Buddhahood. The Sthaviras held that it is a quality to be acquired by strict observance of the rules of Vinaya. The progressives, on the other hand, maintained that Buddhahood was a quality inborn in every human being, and by adequate development it was capable of raising its possessor to the rank of Tathagata. The orthodox view is said to be the lineal ancestor of Ceylonese Buddhism.
After Ashoka adopted Buddhism two and a half centuries later after Buddha's death the phase of vigorous expansion begins. All over his vast empire extending from the valleys of Kabul to the mouths of the Ganga and from Himalayas to the south of Vindhyas, Buddha's edicts were engraved on stone pillars. He sent missionaries well beyond his empire. The thirteenth edict states that he sent missionaries to Antiochus II of Syria, Ptolemy II of Egypt, Antigonos Gonatos of Macedonia, Magas Cyrene and Aalexander II of Epirus. In the third century B.C. Buddhism entered Kashmir and Ceylone and penetrated slowly in Nepal and Tibet, China, Japan and Mongolia.
It is a miracle of history how a faith by dint of sheer logic and pursuation got such wide acceptance. Of the two main branches Hinayan and Mahayan, it is the latter which had wider appeal. Wherever it prevailed, India, China, Korea, Siam, Burma and Japan the indigenous ideas were tolerated while it took care to teach them new respect for life, kindness to animals and resignation. Dr. Radhakrishan observes: "So long as men conformed to certain ethical rules and respected the order of the monks, Buddhist teachers did not feel called upon to condemn the superstitious usages. It does not matter what gods you worship, so long as you are good. The protean character of Mahayana Buddhism is due to this tendency. In each of the countries where it was adopted it had a separate history and doctrinal development". In this process Buddhism deeply influenced the local faiths and in the process got itself enriched.
It is not necessary to go into the details of the various schools of Buddhism. We may however, mention that these are broadly four, two belong to Hinayana and two to Mahayan. The Hinayana schools are the Vaibhasikas and the Sautrantikas, who are realists believing that there is a self existent universe actual in space and time, where mind holds an equal place with other finite things. The Mahayana Schools are the Yogachara and the Madhyamika. The former contends that thought is self creative and all producing. It is the ultimate principle and even the ultimate type and form of reality. The latter is a negative critical system. The Madhyamikas are considered by some as nihilists.
We will conclude after examining the fall of Buddhism in India and its influence on Indian thought. Dr. Radhakrishnan avers that the vital reason for disappearance of Buddhism from India is the fact that it became ultimately indistinguishable from other flourishing forms of Hinduism. When Brahmanical faith inculcated universal love and devotion to God and proclaimed Buddha to be an avatara or incarnation of Vishnu, the death knell of Buddhism in India was sounded. Buddhism simply passed away by becoming blended in Hinduism. He calls it an invention of the interested to say that fanatic priests fought Buddhism out of existence. It is true that Shankara and Kumrila criticised Buddhistic doctrines but only to creatively improve upon it. "Slow absorption and silent indifference", says Dr. Radhakrishnan, "and not priestly fanaticism and methodical destruction, are the causes of the fall of Buddhism".
When a system absorbs something else out of existence, it is only logical to conclude that it cannot stay wholly its original self. The same is true of Hinduism. Influence of Buddhism on Hindu thought is visible on all sides. Even Shankara was criticised by the conservative thinkers as cripto-Buddhist. The influence of Buddhist ethics is particularly marked. A respect for life, kindness to animals, a sense of responsibility and endeavour after higher life got injected into Hinduism with renewed vigour. The life and teachings of Buddha were such that they left indelible marks not only on Hinduism but the entire oriental thinking. To recall the words of Dr. Radhakrishnan: "His life and teachings will compel the reverence of mankind, give ease to many troubled minds, gladden many simple hearts and answer to many innocent prayers".