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Classical India,
Hinduism, and Buddhism
Hinduism
• Atman: human soul
• Brahman: world soul;
supreme being
• Dharma: universal
principle of law, order,
harmony; ethics, duties
• Samsara: rebirth/reincarnation
• Karma: action or deed that causes samsara
• Moksha: liberation from samsara
Hinduism
• Devas: Hindu gods
– Descend to Earth as avatars to help humans
achieve moksha
• Humans follow dharma in
order to have good karma
– Karma determines into which
caste you are reincarnated
• Goal is to end samsara by
uniting atman with the
Brahman
Varnas in Caste System
• May have been based on mixing of invading
lighter-skinned Aryans and native Indians
• Brahmin: priests, teachers
• Kshatriya: warriors, rulers
• Vaisya: artisans, merchants,
farmers, herders
• Sudra: laborers, peasant
farmers
• Untouchables (Dalit): handled corpses and
animal skins
Hindu Texts
• Vedas (written by 600 BCE)
– Collection of poems, hymns, prayers, and rituals
• Upanishads (800-400 BCE)
– Mystical interpretations of the Vedas
• Mahabharata (400 BCE)
– Epic poem about a battle within
a family
– Bhagavad Gita—Krishna counsels
Arjuna
• Ramayana (400 BCE)
– Epic poem about duties of
relationships
Buddhism
Siddhartha Gautama (ca. 566-486 BCE)
• Wealthy Indian prince
– Lived luxuriously until he was
exposed to suffering
• Sought to overcome suffering by
being an ascetic
– Followed the Middle Way to achieve
nirvana
– Became the Buddha (“Enlightened
One”)
– Taught others the Four Noble Truths
Middle Way
• Path between self-indulgence and
self-mortification
– Remove desire and craving for
individual fulfillment to end suffering
– Live modestly, meditate, compassion
for all beings
• Nirvana: enlightenment,
extinguishing of the self,
removal of greed,
hatred, delusion
Appeal of Buddhism
• Egalitarian
– No caste system
• Individual was responsible for spiritual
enlightenment
– No need for Brahmins
• Buddhist teachings were
available in local language
– Written down as sutras
– Written in Pali, not Sanskrit
• Women could participate
equally
– Joined monasteries as nuns
Changes in Buddhism
•
•
•
•
•
Theravada
(Teaching of the Elders)
Non-divine Buddha
Individual responsibility for
spiritual development
Practices, not beliefs
Championed by monks and
nuns
Little emphasis on gods
•
•
•
•
•
Mahayana
(Great Vehicle)
Divine Buddha
Bodhisattvas: helped others
in search of nirvana
Acts of piety, devotion, to
achieve nirvana
Embraced by more people
Elaborate descriptions of
past and future
supernatural Buddhas,
levels of heavens and hells
Mauryan Empire (326-184 BCE)
• Chandragupta Maurya (r. 322-298 BCE)
– United most of India
– Created a bureaucracy influenced by Persia and
Alexander the Great
• Ashoka (r. 268-232 BCE)
– Converted to Buddhism
– Sent out Buddhist missionaries,
built monasteries
– Ended slavery
– Invested in roads and used
diplomacy with neighbors
Stupas of Ashoka
• 40-50 feet
tall
• 19 survive of
purported
84,000 built
by Ashoka
• Built
between
269-232 BCE
• Wheel: Ashoka
Chakra
– Symbolic of
dharma: following
the way of
Buddhism
– Many placed at
holy Buddhist sites
– Some contained
relics of the
Buddha
Rock and Pillar Edicts
• Edicts proclaimed
Ashoka’s practice of
Buddhism
• Communicated laws
and policies of his
administration
• Contained ideas about
benevolence, moral
treatment of people
and animals
Pataliputra
• Capital of the Mauryan and Gupta Empires
• Population of 150,000-300,000
• Situated on the Ganges River
– Major economic center and trade hub
• Architecture
influenced by Persian
Achaemenid style
Mauryan Decline
• Weak rulers
after Ashoka
– Unable to
manage army
and
government
• Invasion by
Central Asian
kingdoms
– Bactria and
Kushan Empire
Gupta Empire (320-550 CE)
• Golden Age of India
– Concept of zero,
base 10, numerals
– Studied Earth’s
rotation, solar and
lunar eclipses
• Development of chess
• Built free hospitals
– Performed inoculations,
skin grafts, set broken
bones
Nalanda
• Residential
university
– Specialized in
Buddhist
studies
– Massive
library
• Flourished with Gupta support
• 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers
– Students came from Middle East, China, Greece
Mauryan and Guptan Organization
• Alliances with Hellenistic kingdoms
• Regional princes and ministers ruled provinces and
districts in empire
– No political theory aside from laws
– Sanskrit promoted as official language of the elite
• Vast army of 600,000 soldiers and 9,000 war
elephants
• Caste system and
village life
dominated local
politics
Mauryan and Guptan Society
• Trade along Silk
Roads and Indian
Ocean ports
– Merchants had
great wealth and
high status
• Economy was primarily agricultural
• Upper classes controlled most land
– Majority of population were
subsistence-farming peasants
Gupta Influence and Decline
• Extensive trade with the
Middle East and
Mediterranean
– Less with China and Southeast
Asia
– Exported cotton and pepper
• Gupta Empire collapsed
– No single language
– Repetitive invasion of the
White Huns
– Conflict with other local
kingdoms
Changes in Buddha in Art
Changes in Buddha in Art
Various Buddhas
Changes in Buddha in Art