Buddhism in India comprises a vast array of traditions, institutions, doctrines, and literatures. It flourished on the Indian subcontinent for some 1,700 years, from its origins in the 5th century BCE to its effective disappearance from most regions in the 13th century. The early tradition rapidly evolved monastic institutions, and during its first five or so centuries expanded from its birthplace in the north throughout much of the subcontinent. Within the schools and monastic culture of the Indian Buddhism of this period, and possibly as early as the 1st century BCE, a number of movements developed that emphasized the importance of the bodhisattva and the scriptural authority of particular texts. Adopting the label Mahayana (Great Vehicle), these movements distinguished their emphases from those of the Buddhist mainstream (referred to as Mainstream Buddhism in modern scholarship). The Mahayana, apparently of marginal influence for a number of centuries, itself became progressively mainstream from the 5th or 6th century onward. By the end of the 7th century, tantric approaches to meditation and ritual emerged as a self-conscious tradition. Referring to itself as the Vajrayāna (Thunderbolt Vehicle), over the following centuries it increasingly came to dominate Indian Buddhist praxis. Scholarship on Buddhism in India almost matches the size and diversity of its subject. Recent research has been fascinated with issues of origins, whether of early Buddhist ideas and practices, the Mahayana, or tantric traditions. There has also been an emphasis on the importance of understanding the social, cultural, and historical contexts of texts and traditions, and a recognition of the value of epigraphic and archaeological sources of evidence. And, increasingly, studies are exploring the influence of the wider non-Buddhist religious, cultural, and political environments within which Buddhism in India was always embedded.
Recent scholars have generally shied away from attempting comprehensive overviews of this increasingly large field. Burnouf 2010, the earliest work cited here, was written in the 1840s, and this highly influential survey was not superseded for more than a century. The next significant survey of Indian Buddhism following Burnouf, Lamotte 1988, focuses on Buddhism’s first half millennium. Hirakawa 1990, a thorough and readable text that also concentrates on the earlier period, is important for its model of Mahayana origins in a lay Buddhist movement associated with stūpa worship. More recently, Berkwitz 2010 has provided a comparatively brief but comprehensive overview, designed primarily for students. Davidson 2002, treating an often underrepresented area of Indian Buddhism, gives a detailed history and overview of tantric traditions. Providing a valuable wider context, Samuel 2008 surveys Indic traditions of meditation and yoga up to the 13th century.
Berkwitz, Stephen C. South Asian Buddhism: A Survey. London and New York: Routledge, 2010.
The only recent work to focus solely on Buddhism in India that covers the whole field. Up-to-date treatment, with two chapters covering Buddhist revivals from the 19th century onward. Suitable as an undergraduate textbook.
Burnouf, Eugène. Introduction to the History of Indian Buddhism. Translated by Katia Buffetrille and Donald S. Lopez Jr. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
First English translation of a highly influential 19th-century overview of the field that set many parameters for future research. Contains a useful introduction by Lopez. Originally published in French in 1844.
Davidson, Ronald M. Indian Esoteric Buddhism: A Social History of the Tantric Movement. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
In-depth overview of the development of tantric Buddhist traditions during the early medieval period. Particularly useful for its analysis of the impact of the broader Indic sociopolitical context.
Hirakawa, Akira. A History of Indian Buddhism: From Śākyamuni to Early Mahāyāna. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1990.
Detailed account of approximately the first six hundred years of Buddhism in India. Contains the influential, but now generally superseded, thesis of the lay origins of the Mahayana (see Part 3). Written in a clear style. Originally published in 1974 in Japanese.
Lamotte, Étienne. History of Indian Buddhism: From the Origins to the Śaka Era. Translated by Sara Webb-Boin. Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium: Université Catholique de Louvain Institut Orientaliste, 1988.
Landmark overview of the first five centuries of Indian Buddhism. Original French published in 1958. Lengthy (over 900 pages) and detailed. Still largely authoritative.
Samuel, Geoffrey. The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Overview of traditions of mental and physical cultivation—i.e., meditation, yoga, and tantra—within a detailed account of their cultural-historical context. Covers the development of Buddhist, Jain, and Brahmanical renouncer traditions, with the early (4th to 2nd centuries BCE) and late (5th to 12th centuries CE) periods as principal foci. Invaluable for its location of Buddhist traditions within the broader Indic context.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions and individuals. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email email@example.com to express your interest.
- Abhijñā/Ṛddhi (Extraordinary Knowledge and Powers)
- Abortion, Buddhism and
- Ajanta Caves
- Ambedkar Buddhism
- Ancient Indian Society
- Archaeology of Early Buddhism
- Art and Architecture In China, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in India, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Japan, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Nepal, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture in Tibet, Buddhist
- Art and Architecture on the "Silk Road," Buddhist
- Asceticism, Buddhism and
- Awakening of Faith
- Beats, Buddhism and the
- Bhāviveka / Bhāvaviveka
- Bodh Gaya
- Body, Buddhism and the
- Buddha, Three Bodies of the (Trikāya)
- Buddhism and Ethics
- Buddhism and Law
- Buddhism and Marxism
- Buddhism and Modern Literature
- Buddhist Art and Architecture in Sri Lanka and Southeast A...
- Buddhist Hermeneutics
- Buddhist Ordination
- Buddhist Theories of Causality (karma, pratītyasamutpāda, ...
- Buddhist Thought and Western Philosophy
- Buddhist Thought, Embryology in
- Buddhist-Christian Dialogue
- Cambodian Buddhism
- Canon, History of the Buddhist
- Caste, Buddhism and
- Central Asia, Buddhism in
- China, Esoteric Buddhism in, (Zhenyan and Mijiao)
- Chinese Buddhist Publishing and Print Culture, 1900-1950
- Colonialism and Postcolonialism
- Compassion (karuṇā)
- Cosmology, Astronomy and Astrology
- Culture, Material
- Dalai Lama
- Demons and the Demonic in Buddhism
- Dignāga and Dharmakīrti, The Philosophical Works and Influ...
- Drigung Kagyu (’Bri gung bKa’ brgyud)
- Dzogchen (rDzogs chen)
- Early Buddhist Philosophy (Abhidharma/Abhidhamma)
- Early Modern European Encounters with Buddhism
- East Asian Buddhist Art, Portraiture in
- Ellora Caves
- Emptiness (Śūnyatā)
- Environment, Buddhism and the
- Ethics of Violence, Buddhist
- Family, Buddhism and the
- Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism
- Four Noble Truths
- Funeral Practices
- Gandhāra, Buddhism in
- Gelugpa (dGe lugs pa)
- Gender, Buddhism and
- Hakuin Ekaku
- History of Buddhisms in China
- Image Consecrations
- India, Buddhism in
- India, Mahāmudrā in
- Internationalism, Buddhism and
- Intersections Between Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand
- Iranian World, Buddhism in the
- Islam, Buddhism and
- Japan, Buddhism in
- Korea, Buddhism in
- Laos, Buddhism in
- Linji and the Linjilu
- Literature, Chan
- Literature, Tantric
- Local Religion, Buddhism as
- Lotus Sūtra
- Mahayana, Early
- Mahāvairocana Sūtra/Tantra
- Malaysia, Buddhism in
- Mantras and Dhāraṇīs
- Merit Transfer
- Miracles, Buddhist
- Modernism, Buddhist
- Monasticism in East Asia
- Mongolia, Buddhism in
- Mongolia, Buddhist Art and Architecture in
- Music, and Buddhism
- Myanmar, Buddhism in
- New Medias, Buddhism in
- New Religions in Japan (Shinshūkyō), Buddhism and
- Śāntideva (Bodhicaryāvatāra)
- Nuns, Lives, and Rules
- Oral and Literate Traditions
- Pagan (Bagan)
- Perfection of Wisdom
- Perfections (Six and Ten)
- Philosophy, Chinese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Indian Buddhist
- Philosophy, Classical Japanese Buddhist
- Philosophy, Tibetan Buddhist
- Pilgrimage in India
- Pilgrimage in Japan
- Pilgrimage in Tibet
- Psychology and Psychotherapy, Buddhism in
- Pure Land Buddhism
- Pure Land Sūtras
- Religious Tourism, Buddhism and
- Saṃsāra and Rebirth
- Self, Non-Self, and Personal Identity
- Shinto, Buddhism and
- Soka Gakkai
- South and Southeast Asia, Devatās, Nats, And Phii In
- Southeast Asia, Buddhism in
- Sri Lanka, Monasticism in
- Sōtō Zen (Japan)
- Stūpa Pagoda Caitya
- Suffering (Dukkha)
- Sutta (Pāli/Theravada Canon)
- Texts, Dunhuang
- Thai Buddhism
- Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Three Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine (Dharma-Cakra)
- Tibet, Buddhism in
- Tibet, Mahāmudrā in
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Tri Songdetsen
- Uighur Buddhism
- Verse Literature, Tibetan Buddhist
- Vidyādhara (weikza/weizzā)
- Vietnam, Buddhism in
- Vision and Visualization
- Visualization/Contemplation Sutras
- Warrior Monk Traditions
- West (North America and Europe), Buddhism in the
- Wheel of Life (Bhava-Cakra)
- Women in Buddhism
- Women in the West, Prominent Buddhist
- Zen, Premodern Japanese