The life story of Buddha evokes in us peace, compassion and bliss. A religion that was born and flourished in India is now almost completely extinct from the country. Partly because, somehow an impression has gained that Buddhism stood for atheism. Some historians even believe that Buddhism was driven out of India. But, the numerous works in Pali and Sanskrit and Asokan edicts evoke in us pride that this great soul was born in India. The development of this religion had been remarkable. At one time, it had also spread to Tamil Nadu. One may wonder then why such religion was ‘driven out of India’.
When we view events in retrospect, we find, that as far Tamil Nadu is concerned, Jainism was much more popular than Buddhism. Though, Ahimsa was the cardinal principle for both, Jains were much more uncompromisingly committed towards it. Unlike Jainism, Buddhism had no scruples in eating flesh killed by someone else. So in a way, at places, Buddhism was replaced by Jainism.
Saankhya is another ancient religion which has produced more ascetics than Buddhism or Jainism and finds a better place in philosophical works than any of the two. Saiva and Vaishnav Siddhantas are other forms of Vedic religions. Vaishnavism of Shree Ramanuj and Saivism of Saiva Siddhanta School have great followers in Tamil Nadu. The Vaishnavite temples have images of Alwars installed. The Saivite temples have images of Saints. The most important Saiva temples have the images of all the 63 Nayanmars
Coming to Advaita, we don’t find even a thousandth of images that exist for Vaishnavite and Saivite saints. A high officer of the Archaeological Department once told me that if history is reconstructed only with the aid of inscriptions, images and archaeological materials, there may not be any reference to either Shri Sankara or Advaita
The founder of each religion criticized the religion that was in vogue in his time and which he sought to replace by his own religion. Buddhism criticized the Vedic religion; Jainism criticized Buddhism and so on. Each of the religion, including Vaishnavism and Saivism has a distinct feature of its own. Even in a matter like idol worship on which both agree, the former insists on, worship of the form in which god is conceived, while in the latter, is satisfied with the worship of a symbol, like the Linga. Christianity and Islam inveigh against Idol worship, as also the Arya Samajists.
When we survey the position of religion at the present, we find nearly half of the world’s population professes Christianity and almost an equal number, Buddhism. Several religion, as it arose, claimed the monopoly of truth and proclaimed that it alone was the last world in true religion. Is truth to be judged from the number of people claiming allegiance to a particular religious system? If so, how did it come about that a number of religions claiming monopoly for truth, and having panoply of followers, suddenly disappear from the face of an entire country? And, Hinduism in spite of cogent opposition from all emerging religions, managed to survive, and did that quite well!
Definitely, there’s more than what meets the eyes. At a time when every religion wanted to extirpate every other religion, Hinduism survived the bashing, the tides. Mainly because of the followers it had, who showed us how to attain an inner self-development and an elevated consciousness through their life and works. And, thus we arrive at a conclusion, that more than anything, it’s the followers who exemplify how one can lead an ordinary worldly life and simultaneously achieve the highest spiritual states known to mankind, and this is what makes a religion, a philosophy successful.