Lakeshore City

Evolution and Decline of Buddhism in Jambudvipa: A Study of Gandhara and Mahayana Buddhism

September 22, 2023


This proves that Kanishka worshipped Sarvastivadin, a member of the Theravada (Hinayana) school of Buddhism, as the Fourth Buddhist Council suggested. This will not be true for those who believed Kanishka supported the Mahayana or Ajarivada schools of Buddhism.

To prevent too many confrontations with Brahminism, efforts had been taken to alter the teaching methodology. Asvaghosa’s Jataka stories were added to the Text, further straying from the original Theravada. Because the original Theravada differs significantly from Sarvastinvadin in many areas, it is argued that Kanishka’s reign signified the start of Mahayana Buddhism.

Transformation of Buddhist Teaching Methodology

According to the commentators, the Mahayana and Theravada schools of Buddhism coexisted at the Fourth Buddhist Council in 643 BE4. The Mahisasakavada school was distinct from the Sabbatthikavada school. After that, Kassapikavada developed into Samkantikavada and Suttavada after being known as Sabbatthikavada. As a result, the fourth Council became known as the Buddhist Council of the Uttara Nikaya (the Northern school), which opened the door for Mahayana in the next era.

It was determined that Theravada or Hinayana Buddhism also vanished from Jambudvipa around the time the Maurya dynasty perished, around 359 BCE. Such an outcome is not unexpected. Even though it was still referred to as Theravada, the remaining branch of Buddhism had changed from its original course to coexist with Brahminism, which flourished during the reign of King Pushyamitra of the Sunga Dynasty. 

There was no exception at Sarvastinvadin University. The Buddha’s life had been enhanced by adding stories, as may be seen in Lalitavistara. This signals the start of Mahayana 400 to 700 BE is the range. (Early Mahayana stage) Monks who were instrumental in extending the During Kanishka’s reign, members of the Buddhist Order came from the Sarvastivadin University. Asvaghosa, Parsva Thera,

The works of Nagarjuna, Asanga, Vasubandhu, and others are exemplary works of Buddhist literature. The story was told in Sanskrit. as opposed to Pali.

Four Distinct Periods of Buddhist Events in Jambudvipa

The Gandharan art and Buddha images, which first appeared in the world under King Kanishka and have persisted to the present day, are two essential discoveries from the remains of Buddhist civilization. Buddhism underwent progressive change beginning in the 10th Buddhist century, straying from the original and ultimately vanishing due to political circumstances, war, and frailties within the Buddhist organization. The confusion among the monks stemmed from their ignorance of which Dhamma Vinay was the original and which was reform.

A fascinating research topic is how Buddhism continued after the Buddha’s death and how that is tied to the Buddhist World Heritage Sites. As a result, we will better understand the rich Buddhist heritage of northern Jambudvipa (Gandhara, Kamboja, Pancala, Kuru, and Surasena) and the complexity of each era’s civilization.

Following the death of the Buddha, Buddhist events in Jambudvipa can be divided into four distinct periods:

• Between the years of 100 and 400 B.E., Buddhism began to divide into two primary schools: Mahayana and Theravada (Hinayana)

• Post-400 BCE – 700 BCE: Beginning of the Mahayana (ending of Theravada); 

• Post-700 BCE – 1200 BCE: Golden Age of the Mahayana;

• Post-1200 BCE – 1700 BCE: Decline and extinction of Buddhism in Jambudvipa

Regarding the Buddhist culture in the northern areas, the third and fourth periods are highly worthwhile to study. They illustrate notable alterations in social, political, and governmental structures and how the Monastery and the Kingdom collaborated.

The Influence of Ven. Asanga and Yogachara

Take the roles of Parsva Thera, Asvaghosa, Nagarjuna, three Buddhist monks, and King Kanishka of the Kushan Empire. Asvaghosa and Nagarjuna, two Buddhist sages, contributed to the development of Mahayana Buddhism during the second period (400 BCE to 700 BCE).

The third and fourth centuries introduced us to various kingdoms and kings, including Harshavardhana, Samudragupta, and Vikramaditya, who practiced Buddhism and built close ties to it. We can observe the development and transmission of Buddhism. Ven. Asanga, a distinguished monk of the time and a Gandharan, developed the Yogachara or Vijnanavada. With the advent of Yogachara, Buddhism gained a fresh perspective entirely distinct from the original.

In the meantime, Sunyavada, founded by Nagarjuna after 1000 BCE, completely vanished. Instead, it thrived in China, Korea, and Japan. It is called Zen (Dhyana, Chan Jana) in Japan and Chanzong in Korea.

The Vijnanavada, or Yogachara school’s ideology, was founded by Ven. Asanga, gained popularity. Even though it was composed by a scholar after the time of the Buddha, the Mahayana school chose it as their principal Scripture since it was well received. They revered Bodhisattvas in the hope that they would aid in their ascension to the Kasetra (Buddha Land) and eventual attainment of nirvana. This returned to the idea that gods and Brahman, who could alter everything, including humanity, were sacred and powerful beings. Who had the power to alter everything, even society?

Preservation and Study of Buddhist Heritage

In Gandhara, there existed a school called Vijnanavada. The brothers Asanga and Vasubandhu were well-known figures at the time. Both were born into a Kausika Brahmin family in Purushpura (Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), where they both grew up. Asanga gave up Brahminism and joined the Sarvastivadin school of Theravada Buddhism, which was experiencing some change but only a little, along with his younger brother Vasubandhu. They became engrossed in the Mahayana studies. Vasubandhu created a miracle tale to describe Asanga’s encounter with Sri Ariya Maitreya, a Bodhisattva in Tusita Heaven. 

The Buddha foretold that Sri Ariya Maitreya would be born in Mahabhaddakappa and grow up to be the next Buddha.

According to the Mahayana doctrine, one must rely on both oneself and the strength of others (external component) to achieve enlightenment. The following are the two requirements for liberation:

1. The ability to rely on oneself, wisdom, and Dhamma (Zi Li in Mandarin Chinese).

2. The strength of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva (also known as Ta Li in Mandarin Chinese).

With each passing era, the Buddha’s original explanation of the Dhamma Vinaya changed and deviated from the Noble Eightfold Path, also known as the Ariyamagga. Between 1200 and 1700 BCE, the original Buddhism eventually vanished from Jambudvipa. The Tantra or Vajrayana school of Mahayana Buddhism thereafter emerged. While Buddhism may have disappeared from Jambudvipa, Theravada, and Mahayana are still alive and well in other parts of the world. The Vajrayana tradition is still thriving in Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet. Their sacred texts have not been harmed by conflict.

In Jambudvipa (India and Pakistan), Mahayana monasteries were destroyed, and monks were murdered. Temples, maha-viharas, and stupas were looted and set on fire, precisely like in Nalanda, shortly after 1700 B.E.

One of the four premier Buddhist universities in Jambudvipa, Taxila, was located in Gandhara between 700 and 1200 BCE. This was also obliterated. According to archaeological evidence, the Taxila Valley’s civilization flourished for 3,000 years before the white Huns wiped it out in 1008 BE (465 AD). This is consistent with “The Great Tang Records on the Western Regions,” written in 1189 BE (646 AD) by Xuanzang or Hiuen Tsang. In his two years there, he made the following observations:

The area that Takail covers is roughly 2,000 lis5. The capital city has a footprint larger than ten lis. Generals and tribal chiefs compete with one another for dominance. Clans in power have vanished. Taksasila, historically governed by Kapisa, is now a part of Kashmir. The locals typically dislike cruel, violent individuals. There are currently a lot of vacant and empty Buddhist temples and monasteries. There are a small number of monks, all from the Mahayana school.

Peshawar Museum’s Significance in Preserving Gandhara’s Heritage

The Buddhist sculptures from the Gandhara period (200 BC to 600 CE) are the Peshawar Museum’s most well-known collection. The museum building is red brick and has a large hall with two side galleries on the lower and two on the top. The exhibition of Gandhara sculptures, terracotta figurines, lithic inscriptions, toilets, trays, household objects, etc., will occur in the main hall and three galleries. A significant number of stone and stucco Buddha heads are also on show here, but the primary attraction of the museum is the enormous, standing Buddha in the main hall.

The Buddhist sculptures from the Gandhara period (200 BC to 600 CE) are the Peshawar Museum’s most well-known collection. 

The museum building is red brick and has a large hall with two side galleries on the lower and two on the top. The exhibition of Gandhara sculptures, terracotta figurines, lithic inscriptions, toilets, trays, household objects, etc., will occur in the main hall and three galleries. Many stone and stucco Buddha heads are also on show here, but the museum’s star attraction is the enormous, standing Buddha in the main hall.

The two-story structure is a fusion of British and Mughal design. It initially had a great hall and two side aisles on the ground and first levels, with four elegant cupolas and tiny pinnacles above each corner. On the east and west sides of the building, two halls were similarly erected in 1969–1970. 1974–1975, the second story was added to these side halls. Fourteen thousand one hundred sixty-eight objects comprise the Peshawar Museum’s significant collection as of this writing.


These include Kalash effigies, miniature paintings from the Mughal era and beyond, Gandharan models, coins, manuscripts, ancient Holy Quran manuscripts, and Persian handicrafts and antiquities, including regional household goods and weapons, clothing, and jewelry.

Questions and Answers

Q1. What role did Kanishka play in supporting Sarvastivadin Buddhism, and how did this impact the development of Mahayana?

Ans.  Kanishka played a significant role in supporting Sarvastivadin Buddhism by convening the Fourth Buddhist Council, during which Sarvastivadin teachings were codified and spread. However, his reign also marked the beginning of the incorporation of Mahayana elements into Buddhist teachings. This dual support led to the coexistence and eventual dominance of Mahayana Buddhism in the region.

Q2. How did incorporating Asvaghosa’s Jataka stories and other elements shift Buddhism away from its original Theravada form?

Ans.  Incorporating Asvaghosa’s Jataka stories and similar elements introduced new narratives and teachings that deviated from the original Theravada tradition. These additions expanded the scope of Buddhist literature and emphasized the development of Bodhisattvas, a central theme in Mahayana Buddhism, contributing to the transformation of Buddhist teachings.

Q3. Can you explain the coexistence of Mahayana and Theravada at the Fourth Buddhist Council and its implications? 

Ans. At the Fourth Buddhist Council, Mahayana and Theravada teachings coexisted, reflecting the transitional period in Buddhist history. While Sarvastivadin Theravada teachings were codified, Mahayana ideas were already present. This coexistence signaled the eventual dominance of Mahayana Buddhism and allowed for a broader interpretation of Buddhist philosophy.

Q4. Who were the key figures in the evolution of Buddhism from Early Mahayana to the Golden Age, and what were their contributions?

Ans.  Key figures in this evolution included Asvaghosa, Parsva Thera, and Nagarjuna. Asvaghosa’s literary contributions expanded Buddhist narratives, Parsva Thera played a role in Mahayana’s development, and Nagarjuna’s philosophical works reshaped Buddhist thought, particularly with the introduction of the Middle Way.

Q5. What were the major ideological shifts introduced by Ven. Asanga and the Yogachara school, and why were they significant? 

Ans. Ven. Asanga and the Yogachara school introduced the ideology that practitioners must rely on self-effort and Bodhisattvas’s assistance to attain enlightenment. This marked a shift towards emphasizing the role of Bodhisattvas and their guidance in the path to Buddhahood, a central tenet of Mahayana Buddhism.

Q6. How did Buddhism decline and eventually vanish in Jambudvipa, and what factors contributed to this process? 

Ans. Buddhism declined and vanished in Jambudvipa primarily due to political circumstances, wars, and changes within the Buddhist organization. Additionally, incorporating diverse Buddhist schools and the need for a unified doctrine led to confusion among monks and weakened the religion’s influence.

Q7. What role did Vajrayana play in the later stages of Buddhism in Jambudvipa, and where did Theravada and Mahayana continue to thrive?

Ans.  Vajrayana emerged as a school of Mahayana Buddhism in the later stages of Buddhism in Jambudvipa, offering a tantric approach to spiritual practice. Theravada and Mahayana continued to thrive in other parts of the world, with Theravada predominating in Southeast Asia and Mahayana flourishing in East and Central Asia.

Q8. Why is the preservation and study of Buddhist heritage in northern Jambudvipa important, and what challenges are involved? 

Ans. Preserving and studying Buddhist heritage in northern Jambudvipa is crucial for understanding the region’s rich history and cultural complexity. Challenges include physical preservation, addressing conflicts, and ensuring these heritage sites remain valuable resources for future generations.

Q9. Can you summarize the four distinct periods of Buddhist events in Jambudvipa and their key characteristics?

  • Ans. Between 100 and 400 B.E., Buddhism was divided into Mahayana and Theravada.
  • Post-400 BCE to 700 BCE: The rise of Mahayana and the decline of Theravada.
  • Post-700 BCE to 1200 BCE: The Golden Age of Mahayana.
  • Post-1200 BCE to 1700 BCE: Buddhism’s decline and eventual extinction in Jambudvipa.

Q10. What insights did Xuanzang’s visit to Taxila provide about the region’s state of Buddhism and culture?

Ans.  Xuanzang’s observations in Taxila revealed a decline in Buddhism, with many vacant monasteries and few monks. The region had undergone significant political changes, impacting Buddhism’s vitality. His accounts provide valuable historical insights into the area’s state of Buddhism and culture.

Q11. What is the significance of the Peshawar Museum in preserving Gandhara’s Buddhist heritage, and what are some notable collections? 

Ans. The Peshawar Museum is significant for safeguarding Gandhara’s Buddhist heritage through its extensive collection of Gandharan sculptures and artifacts. It houses numerous stone and stucco Buddha heads and a renowned standing Buddha sculpture. The museum’s collections offer valuable insights into the artistic and cultural legacy of the region.

Our Featured Article:

Read More: Hiking Trails at Lakeshore Club to Explore Nature’s Beauty

Don’t miss the chance to invest with Lakeshore! Secure your investment today by investing your financial investment with Lakeshore in the following available options like Lakeshore CityLakeshore Club, and Lakeshore Farms.

For More updates, please Contact +92 335 7775253 or visit our website

Lakeshore City is the upcoming elite lifestyle at Khanpur Dam. Offering no parallel amenities for the members and owners of distinguished farmhouses. 

Become Part of Luxurious Lifestyle

Contact: 0335 7775253

Posted in Lakeshore City
Write a comment
Our Blogs

Our Blogs