The following points highlight the top eleven contributions of Buddhism. The contributions are: 1. National Unity 2. Destruction of Militant Spirit 3. Contact with Outside World 4. Blow to the Caste System 5. Simplification of Religion 6. Improvement of Moral Standard 7. Effects on Brahmanical Religion 8. Idol Worship 9. Literature 10. Education 11. Development of Art.
Contribution # 1. National Unity:
One of the biggest contribution of Buddhism to India in the political field was that it promoted a sense of national feelings amongst the Indians. It not only shattered the dominance of the caste system which stood in the way of the achievement of this unity but also gave a death blow to the dominance of Brahmans.
As a result, the unnecessary rites and rituals as well as superstitions gave way to social and political understanding.
It was mainly due to this unity and social harmony that subsequently the Mauryas could found a powerful empire. This contribution of Buddhism has been highlighted by E. B. Havell thus, “In social and political sphere Buddhism has played the same role in cultivating a national spirit in India which Christianity did in 7th century to integrate the diversified elements of Saxon Hierarchy.”
Contribution # 2. Destruction of Militant Spirit:
Buddhism laid too much emphasis on the principle of Ahimsa, which greatly effected the character of the people. In course of time people developed a contempt for violence and neglected all military activities. It is well known that Ashoka under the influence of Buddhism gave up war and made it his policy to win the hearts of the kings and princess through love.
This gave a serious setback to the military policy of the king and the policy of the territorial expansion was given up. Due to this policy of peace and non-violence the military spirit of the armies as well as people was greatly crushed and they could not offer any resistance to the foreign invaders and fell easy pray to them.
Contribution # 3. Contact with Outside World:
Buddhism was a missionary religion, and with the support of kings like Ashoka and Kanishka it soon spread into foreign countries like China, Japan, Mongolia, Burma, Java, Sumatra, Tibet and Ceylon and exercised a profound influence on the culture and civilization of those countries.
According to J. N. Sarkar, due to spread of Buddhism in foreign countries foreigners considered India as a holy place and the sources of their religion. This contact with the outside world also promoted political and commercial relations with these countries.
Contribution # 4. Blow to the Caste System:
Buddhist began as a revolt against the social and religious mal-practices prevailing in the Hindu religion. It naturally condemned various social evils and gave a fatal blow to the dominance of caste system which was the most outstanding evil. Buddhism insisted on the equality of manhood and attracted followers from all the castes. As a result the rigours of the caste system broke down.
Contribution # 5. Simplification of Religion:
The greatest contribution of Buddhism was the establishment of a simple religion which could be easily understood and followed by the common people. In this religion, rites, rituals, yajnas and caste had no place. According to K. M. Panikar, “To the common man this (Buddhism) was indeed a new gospel. There were no secret mantras, no expensive yagas or sacrifices and indeed no difficult doctrines as in the Upanishads.”
Contribution # 6. Improvement of Moral Standard:
Buddhism attached great importance to the moral upliftment of man and directed the people to lead a moral life. It insisted on virtues like charity, purity, self-sacrifice, truthfulness, control over passions, non-injury to living creatures in thought and action etc.
Though these virtues were not new and had been advocated by the Upanishads also, yet it was Buddhism which put these virtues in actual practice and thereby greatly raised the moral standard of the people.
Contribution # 7. Effects on Brahmanical Religion:
Buddhist thought and ethics exercised a profound influence on the Brahmanical religion. It exercised a humanizing effect on Brahmanism. The Brahmanical religion which was full of unnecessary rites and rituals was proving unpopular with the common people, because they could not undertake these formalities.
The use of Sanskrit language was also proving quite difficult for the people to-understand its teachings. The popularity of the teachings of Buddha, preached in the popular language of the people, made the Brahmans realise that they must carry out necessary reforms in their religion.
Consequently a number of new faiths like Bhagvad Dharma, Shaivism took shape. These new forms of Hinduism laid great emphasis on Ahimsa and Bhakti and were less dogmatic.
Contribution # 8. Idol Worship:
It is believed that idol worship was also introduced by Buddhism for the first time. According to the historians the practice of worshipping the images of gods and goddesses did not initially exist in Hinduism. It was only during the reign of Kanishka that idol worship was first started when the people prepared the idols of Lord Buddha; These scholars believe that Hinduism borrowed idol worship from Buddhism.
It is well known that during the Vedic period people worshipped merely the symbols of various gods in open and the idol worship did not exist. In fact the Aryans religion mainly consisted of sacrifices performed in the open.
It was only after the spread of Buddhism that idol worship became popular. People constructed Stupas in which they placed the idols of Lord Buddha. The Hindus followed the example and started construction of temples for their gods. Therefore, we can very wall say that idol worship and erection of temples were legacies from Buddhism.
Contribution # 9. Literature:
Buddhism also made valuable contribution to the field of literature. A vast and varied nature of literature was produced in the popular language of the people. The Tripitakas and Jataka the most important literary works of the Buddhist, are held in high esteem and have been translated into various foreign languages. Originally these works were written in Pali, the language of the masses.
They are given the same honoured position by the Buddhist which is given to the Vedas by the Brahmanas. These works are of much historical importance because they help us in linking also early history of ancient India.
In addition to these works a number of Buddhist scholars produced other literary works. These included Amarkosh by Amar Singh, Sundaranand and Buddha Charit by Asva Ghosh etc. The last named author is also credited with two dramas entitled ‘Rashtrapala’ and ‘Sariputtra’.
Another Buddhist scholar Nagarjuna wrote an important book on ‘Ayurveda’. The other important works produced by the Buddhist scholars were Malindpanho, Mahavastu and Dirghanikaya.
Contribution # 10. Education:
In the field of education also Buddhism made an amazing contribution. The Buddhist Sanghas and Viharas served as great centres of education. Students from far off places, including foreign countries, came here to receive education. Nalanda Taxila and Vikramshila which gained reputations as great educational centres were actually originally only Buddha Viharas.
Students came to these places to receive education not only from different parts of India but also from Tibet, China etc. Nalanda particularly enjoyed great reputation as an educational centre and has been described as the Oxford ‘University of Buddhism. It may be noted that these institutions did not impart instructions only in religion but also in other subjects.
Contribution # 11. Development of Art:
The contribution of the Buddhism to the domain of art, architecture and sculpture was also remarkable. No doubt, these arts flourished even before the rise of Buddhism but they were mainly used for the construction of Mandaps, Yajnashalas, altars etc.
The Buddhists for the first time applied the art to religious architecture. A number of viharas were built for the monks all over the country. Similarly a large number of stupas of stone were raised over the relics of Buddha and the Bodhi satvas. The whole story of Lord Buddha’s life was expressed in stones.
The stupa art at Sanchi is well known all over the world for its gate-way and railings which are profusely covered with sculpture, depicting scenes from Buddha’s life. Buddhists were also the first to erect cave temples. These monuments were decorated with rich carvings, which possessed a style of their own.
The cave temples of Kanheri (Bombay), Karle (Poona) and Nasik are best specimens of Buddhist art. The Gandhara School of Art was also largely the outcome of the Buddhist patronage. The artists belonging to this school tried to interpret the Indian subject and religious conceptions through the Greco-Roman techniques.
Buddhist contribution was not confined to architecture and sculpture alone. It also made valuable contribution to the art of painting. The walls of the cave and temples were richly decorated with beautiful frescoes.
The best specimens of this art are found at Ajanta, Bagh and Sagririya (Ceylon) which get the admiration of the artists even today. The Buddhist art was essentially an art with an intense feeling for nature and a vivid comprehension of the unity of all life, human, animal and vegetable.
It had spirituality more intended than made manifest. It displayed an evident delight in life felt by the people. Life in it had the continuity of a stream and space was reduced to a convention. Kings, princes, courtiers, merchants, hunters, gods, goddesses, men, women, angel, fairies, animals, trees, creepers, flowers, all were spread across the surface of the stone and fused into a dignified cavalcade of life.
The method of the Buddhist art was that of a continuous narration and the technique used was one of the memory picture.