Buddhism UPSC – Simplified | Evolution, Philosophy, Scriptures, Impact And Decline

Buddhism UPSC
Buddhism UPSC

Buddhism UPSC – Basic Introduction

The Buddhism UPSC preparation has to be done with a special strategy for it is an extremely vast area of study. Buddhism, as philosophy and way of life in ancient times played a very important role in the social, cultural and spiritual lives of people not only in India, but also many parts of Asia. Since the beginning of 20th century it spread to the west as well, especially the Mahayana sect. Also known as Buddha Dharma or Dharma Vinaya is based on the original teachings of Buddha.

The period between 7th and the 5th centuries B.C. was a turning point in the intellectual and spiritual development of the whole world, for it witnesses the emergence of early philosophers of Greece, the great Hebrew poets , Confucius in China and Zoroaster in Persia . It was at this time that Jainism, Buddhism along with the Ajivikas arose in India , each based on a distinctive set of doctrines and each laying down distinctive rules of conduct for attaining salvation.

Causes of New Movements

  • The Vedic philosophy had lost its original purity.
  • The Vedic religion had become very complex and degenerated into superstitions , dogmas , and rituals.
  • Supremacy of the Brahmans created unrest in the society and Kshatriya reacted against the Brahmanical domination.
  • Introduction of a new agricultural economy in eastern India required money lending but this was sanctioned in Brahminical religion.
  • The desire of Vaishyas to improve their social position with the increase in their economic position due to the growth of trade.


Buddha’s Life – Buddhism UPSC

  • Gautama, the Buddha also known as Siddhartha , Sakyamuni and Tathagata.
  • Born in 563 BC ( widely accepted) ,on the Vaisakha Purnima day at Lumbini , near Kapilvastu , capital of the Sakya republic.
  • Left home at the age of 29 and attained Nirvana at the age of 35 at Bodh Gaya.
  • Delivered his first sermon at Sarnath.
  • He attained Mahaparinirvana at Kusinara in 483 BC.

Buddhist Philosophy

  • Idealism: Two source of valid knowledge ; a) Perception and  b) Inference.
  • Doctorine of dependent origination (Pratisamutpada): Central theory of Buddhist Philosophy. It tells us that in the empirical world dominated by the intellect, everything is relative, conditional, dependent, subject to birth and death and therefore impermanent.
  • Theory of momentariness (Kshanabhanga or Impermanence): It tells that everything in this world is merely a conglomeration of perishable qualities. Thus according to it, things that can produce effect exit and whatever can not produce effect has no existence.

 Buddhist Councils – Buddhism UPSC

  • The First Council was held in 483 BC at Sattapanni cave near Rajariha to compile the Dhamma Pitaka and Vinaya Pitaka.
  • The Second Council was held at Vaishali in 383 BC. The monks of Vaishali wanted some changes in the rites. Schism into Sthaviravadins and Mahasanghikas.
  • The Third Council was held at Patliputra during the regin of Ashoka , 236 years after  the death of Buddha. It was held under the Presidentship of Moggliputta Tissa to revise the scriptures.
  • The Fourth Council was held during the reign of Kaniksha in Kashmir under the President ship of Vasumitra and Asvaghosha and resulted in the division of Buddhist into Mahayanists and Hinayanists.

Five Great Events of Buddha’s Life and their Symbols

Buddhism UPSC
  • Birth : Lotus and Bull
  • Great Renunciation : Horse
  • Nirvana : Bodhi tree
  • First Sermon : Dhammachakra or wheel.
  • Parinirvana or Death : Stupa

Four Noble Truths

Buddhism UPSC
  • The world is full of sorrows.
  • Desire is root cause of sorrow.
  • If Desire is conquered ,all sorrows can be removed.
  • Desire can be removed by following the  eight-fold path.

Eight Fold Path

  • Right understanding
  • Right speech
  • Right livelihood
  • Right mind fullness
  • Right thought
  • Right action
  • Right effort
  • Right concentration.

Three Ratnas

  • Buddha
  • Dhamma
  • Sangha

Buddhist Scriptures

Buddhist scriptures

All Buddhist traditions have a commonality about transcending the individual self through the attainment of Nirvana. But as far as the path for liberation and canonicity is concerned there is variation.

The Vinaya Pitaka

  • Mainly deals with  rules and regulations, which the Buddha promulgated.
  • It describes  in detail the gradual development of the Sangha.
  • An account of the life and teaching of the Buddha is also given.
  • It includes a set of 227 offences including 75 rules of decorum for monks, along with penalties for transgression, in the Theravada tradition

The Sutta Pitaka

  • The Sutta Pitaka is also known as ‘Buddhavachana’ or words of Buddha and contains more than 10,000 suttas (teachings) attributed to the Buddha or his close companions.
  • Consists chiefly of discourses delivered by Buddha himself on different occasions.
  • Few discourses delivered by Sariputta , Ananda , Moggalana and others are also included in it.
  • It lays down the principles of Buddhism.
  • What was later to become the written scripture of the Sutta Pitaka was first orally rehearsed by Buddha’s cousin Ananda at the 1st Buddhist Council at Rajgriha  that was held shortly after the Buddha’s death.

The Abhidhamma Pitaka

  • It is a collection of canonical Buddhist texts belonging to the Hinayana or Theravada school of Buddhism.
  • Contains the  profound philosophy of the Buddha’s teachings.
  • The Abhidhamma Piṭaka is a detailed scholastic analysis and summary of the Buddha’s teachings in the Suttas.
  • It investigates mind and matter ,to help the understanding of things as they truly are.
  • The Khandhakas :  contain regulations on the course or life in the monastic order and have two sections – the Mahavagga and the Cullavagga. The  third party – the Pavitra is an insignificant composition by a Ceylonese monk.
  • Among the non-canonical literature Milindapanho, Dipavasma and Mahavamsa are important. The later two are the great chronicles of Ceylon.

Sacred Shrines – Buddhism UPSC

Buddhist Shrines
  • Lumbini , Bodhgaya , Sarnath and Kusinagar ,where the four principal events of the Buddha’s life, namely – Birth, Enlightenment , First sermon and Mahaparinirvana respectively took place.
  • To these are added four places Sravasti,  Rajgriha , Vaishali and Sankasya – these eight place have all along been considered as the eight holy places  (ashtamahasthanas).
  • Other centres of Buddhism is Ancient India – Amravati and Nagarjunikonda in Andhra Pradesh; Sanchi and Bharhut in MP; Ajanta-Ellora in Maharashtra ; and Jagadala and Somapuri in West Bengal.

Buddhist architecture

Buddhist Architecture
  • Buddhist architecture developed essentially in three forms, viz.
  • Stupa ( relics of the Buddha or some prominent Buddhist monk are preserved)
  • Chaitya ( prayer hall)
  • Vihara ( residence of the monks)

Other Personalities Associated With Buddhism

  • Asvaghosha – Contemporary of Kanishka .He was poet, dramatist, musician, scholar and debator.
  • Nagarjuna – He was  a friend and  Contemporary of Satavahana king Yajnasri Gautamiputra of Andhra. He propounded the Madhyamika School of Buddhist philosophy popularly known as Sunyavada.
  • Asanga and Vasubandhu – Two brothers who flourished in the  Punjab region in fourth century AD. Asanga was the most important teacher of the Yogachara or Vijnanavanda School founded by his guru, Maitreyanatha. Vasubandhu’s greatest work, Abhidhammakosa is still considered an important encyclopaedia of Buddhism.
  • Buddhaghosha — Who lived in the fifth century Ad was a great Pali scholar. The commentaries and the Visuddhimaga written by  him  are a great achievement in the post-Tripitaka literature.
  • Dinnaga – The  last mighty intellectual of the fifth century , is well known as the founder of the Buddhist logic.
  • Dharmakirti – Lived in the seventh century AD was anther great Buddhist logician . He was a subtle philosophical thinker and dialectician.

 Types of Buddhism – Buddhism UPSC

Hinayana :

  • Also known as ‘Theravada’ has a vast following in Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
  • Its followers believed in the original teachings of Buddha.
  • They sought individual salvation through self-discipline and meditation.
  • They did not believe in idol-worship,
  • Hinayana, like Jainism, is a religion without God.
  • Nirvana is regarded as the extinction of all.
  • The oldest school of Hinayana Buddhism is the Sthaviravada ( Theravada in Pali) or the ‘Doctrine of the Elders’
  • Its Sanskrit counterpart, which is more philosophical is known as Sarvastivada or the doctrine which maintains the existence of all things, physical as well as mental.
  • Gradually , from Sarvastivada or Vaibhasika branched off another school called Sautantrika, which was more critical in outlook.


  • This branch includes the traditions of Zen, Tiantai, Tandai, Pure Land and Shingong is popular in China, Japan, Nepal, Bhutan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and South Korea.
  • Its followers believed in the heavenliness of Buddha and sought the salvation of all through the grace and help of Buddha and Bodhivastvas.
  • Believes  in idol-worship.
  • Believes that Nirvana is not a negative cessation of misery but a positive state of bliss.
  • Mahayana had two chief philosophical schools; the Madhyamika and the Yogachara.
  • The former took a line midway between the uncompromising realism of Hinayanism and the idealism of yogachara.
  • The Yogachara school founded by Maitreyyanatha completely rejected the realism of Hinayana and maintained absolute idealism.


  • Its followers believed that salvation could be best attained by acquiring the magical power , which they called Vajra.
  • The chief divinities of this new sect  where the Taras.
  • It became popular in Eastern India, particularly Bengal and Bihar.
  • Since the practice of Tantra focuses on the transformation of poisons into wisdom, the yogic circles came together in tantric feasts often in sacred sites (pitha) and places (ksetra) which included dancing, singing, consort practices and the ingestion of tabooed substances like alcohol, urine, and meat.

Some Other Important Facts – Buddhism UPSC

  • The Buddha extended the teaching of two elder contemporaries, Alara Kalama, and Udlaka.
  • According to Buddhism there is no-self, no God, no soul and no spirit.
  • There is very little technological or philosophical speculation involved in Buddhism.
  • Buddhism is scientific in approach , a search for cause and effect relationsheeps and knowledge of reality, as each individual human being experiences it.
  • It is psychological in approach, that is , it begns with human being.
  • “If women were not admitted into the monasteries , Buddhism would have continued for a thousand years, but because this admission has been granted, it would last only five hundred years” – Buddha.

Roots of Buddhism in the Past – Buddhism UPSC

  • The Vedanta
  • Sankhya philosophy
  • The Upanishads : Ideas about karma , soul , rebirth , moksha ,ahimsa etc.

Contributions of Buddhism

  • The doctrine of Ahimsa  so strongly stressed, devoutly preached and sincerely practiced by the Buddhists, was incorporated in Hinduism of later days.
  • The practice of worshiping personal Gods, making their images and erecting temples  in their honor became a part of the later day Hinduism.
  • Buddhism proved to be one of the greatest civilizing forces , which India gave to the neighboring countries.
  • Buddhism broke the isolation of India and helped in establishment of intimate contacts between India and foreign countries.

Importance and Influence of Buddhism

  • The early rules suggest a return to primitive communism. The code of conduct prescribed for monks partially reflects a revolt against the use of money, private property.
  • Pali, which was the language of the people helped in the spread of Buddhism.
  • The doors of Sangha were kept open to all irrespective of their caste or sex.
  • The monarchies of Magadha, Koshala, and Koshambi and several other republican states and their people adopted this religion
  • Empror Ashoka who embraced Buddhism, spread it into Central Asia, West Asia and Sri Lanka and transformed it into a world religion.

Kings And Dynasties That Supported Buddhism

  • Ashoka : Himself embraced Buddhism and was instrumental in its spread in various countries. He infact deployed his own children also for the purpose (e.g. Daughter Sanghamitra was sent to Sri lanka).
  • The Guptas : Generously donated to Buddhist monasteries and set up the famous Nalanda University. They also built the Kuhinagara Temple.
  • The Satvahanas: Though they themselves did not embrace Buddhism, yet were instrumental in building Buddhist shrines at Ajanta, Amravati, Nagarjunkonda etc.
  • The Palas : Embraced Buddhism and revived it from its eminent decline in the 8th and 9th century A.D. They also set up The Vikramshila University for Buddhist learning.

Causes Of Decline Of Buddhism In India

  1. Growth of regionalization and decline of centralization since the decline of Gupta empire in the 5th century A.D.
  2. Invasions in north India by Huns, Turks, Mongols, Arabs and Persians and the subsequent destruction of Nalanda University along with religious persecutions.
  3. The differences between Buddhism and Hinduism started to blur as the Mahayana Buddhism started becoming ritualistic on one hand and on the other, the Vedic religion adopted many Buddhist practices. Vegetarianism being one of them.
  4. With the other mentioned adoption, Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Bhakti, Tantricism and many other sects emerged and became popular.
  5. The esoteric nature of Buddhist Tantricism became incomprehensible to the common people for whom the Hindu devotionalism and worldly power oriented Nath Siddhas were better alternatives.
  6. Brahmins developed new relationship with the state which led to a decline in donations to Buddhist monasteries and temples.
  7. According to A.L.Basham, Shiva and Vishnu worship became more popular among common people as compared to the monastic life advocated by Buddhism. Thus, henceforth the ritualistic and spiritual well being of the common people went under the control of Brahmins.
  8. According to John Bronkhorst, Buddhists lost royal patronage because they could not give practical advice to the kings as the Brahmins did from Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Manu Smriti. Moreover many Buddhist texts talked ill about the Kings and the worrier class.
  9. According to Padmanabh Jaini, Buddhist literature was devoid of any rules for Buddhist lay persons. only 1 such text was written in 11th century. On the other hand Jain literature has 50 such texts for the life and conduct of Jaina lay persons.

Buddhism UPSC Preparation

Preparation Buddhism for UPSC must be done in a meticulous way otherwise a candidate would end up wasting a lot of time and effort given that it is an extremely vast area of study. Buddhism for UPSC preparation must be started with Ancient India NCERT and then some additions can be done from Nitin Singhania’s book on Art & Culture. Preparation for Buddhism in UPSC is also important because questions are regularly asked in prelims as well as mains. While studying Buddhism for UPSC a candidate can also incorporate some if not all aspects of Buddha’s teachings into his personality, that might result in cracking the exam.

Buddhism UPSC & Prelims

On a regular basis questions are asked on Buddhism in UPSC prelims. Most questions are manageable if Buddhism UPSC preparation is done in a strategic manner. Once in a while the questions are tough. But one has to keep in mind that 99% of the candidates would not be in a position to answer them correctly.

See Also

Jainism – At A Glance


What are the 3 main Buddhist beliefs?

Dukkha: Life is full of suffering and one has to accept it.
Anitya: This is the principle of impermanence i.e. everything in the universe is in a state of flux. So change is the only constant.
Anatma: Just like everything, self also changes and one has to realize its importance.

What are the 5 beliefs of Buddha?

A true follower of Buddha’s path would abstain from killing living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication. By this way one can attain salvation.

Is the Buddha a god?

Buddhism does not believe in the concept of god. Rather it stresses on following a virtuous path leading to salvation. The Mahayanists though consider Budhha as a god. But the truth is Buddha never projected himself as a god rather he considered himself a teacher.

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