Buddhism gave the greatest jolt to the orthodox Brahamism. Buddhism exercised profound influence in shaping the various aspects of Indian society. It developed a popular religion without any complicated, elaborate and unintelligible rituals requiring necessarily a priestly class. This was one of the reasons for its mass appeal. The ethical code of Buddhism was also simpler based on charity, purity, self sacrifice, and truthfulness and control over passions.
It laid great emphasis on love, equality and non violence. It became an article of faith for the followers of the Buddhism. It laid emphasis on the fact that man himself is the architect of his own destiny. It was devoid of any elaborate idea of God. Although Buddhism could never dislodge Brahmanism from its high position, it certainly jolted it and inspired institutional changes in Indian society.
Rejecting the caste system and its evils including rituals based on animal sacrifices, conservation, fasting and pilgrimage, it preached total equality. Promotion of social equality and social justice helped Buddhism to cross the frontiers of Indian sub-continent and became a world religion. In the field of education Buddhism tried to make education practical, action oriented and geared towards social welfare. Most of the ancient Indian universities like Nalanda,Taxila were products of Buddhism.
Buddhism gave us a simple, intelligible and popular religion. Buddhism greatly appealed to the people on account of its simplicity; emotional element, easy ethical code, the use of vernacular language and the methods of teaching. It disordered the abstract philosophy of Upanishads.
Buddhism imported various good qualities like compassion, nonviolence and truth. All these good qualities shaped human personality and character-building.
Another contribution of Buddhism was the monastic system. The Buddhist monks obeyed a common head and lived together under a common code of discipline. The head of a monastery was elected by the monks. Gradually this monastic system was adopted into Hinduism.
Development of Language and Literature:
Buddha preached his message in Pali language. Pali was the language of the common people. During Kaniska’s time the Buddhist monks preached the message of Buddha in Sanskrit language. Spread of Buddhism through these languages enriched these languages and their literatures.
Art, Architecture, Sculpture and Painting:
The most fascinating contribution of Buddhism to India was in the field of Sculptures and architectures. Buddhist art and sculpture developed with the spread of Buddhism. In art and architecture stone was used from Asoka’s time. Numerous stupas, chaityas and pillars were constructed.
Stupas at Sanchi, Sarnath, Runidei, Bharhut, Dliauli and Jaugad etc. are some specimen of Buddhist art and architecture. A large number of sculptures of Buddha and Bodhisattavas came to be built according to the Gandhara and Mathura school of art. The Buddhists set the example of dedicating cave temples and this practice was followed by the Hindus and Jainas etc.
Contact between India and Foreign Countries:
Buddhism established an intimate contact between India and Foreign Countries. The Buddhist monks carried the gospel of the Buddha to the foreign countries from 3rd century B.C. onwards and foreign Buddhist Pilgrims and students came to India in search of knowledge. The foreigners who came to India were conquered by the rich culture of India and gave up their names and creeds and adopted Hindu names and Hindu faith. Thus Buddhism contributed largely to the synthesis which produced the modern Hindu society.
Development of University:
The Buddhist monasteries were used for education purposes. In the Buddhist monasteries the beginnings of vernacular or Prakrit literature were made which lateron developed into an extensive body of literature. Buddhism promoted education through famous residential universities like Nalanda, Taxila Vikramasila and Nagarjunakonda, Yalabhi.
Respect for Animal Life:
Buddhism laid emphasis on non-violence and the sanctity of animal life. It popularised the creed of ‘Ahimsa Paramo Dharma’. The earliest Buddhist text ‘Suttanipata’ boosted the cattle wealth as it declares the cattles to be the givers of food, beauty and happiness. Buddhism pleads for the protection of cattles.
Due to the influence of Buddhism, the Hindus became vegetarian.
Thus Buddhism exercised a tremendous influence on India culture. It enriched religion, art, sculpture, language and literature of India. Buddhism is a missionary religion and aims at converting the whole mankind to the doctrines of Buddha.