Pala Dynasty, Medieval
In and around 7th century, the status of Buddhism had highly declined due to the lengthy reign of the Hindu Brahman kings. After Kanishka, significance of Buddhism had highly slumped due to lack of patronage. It was the Pala kings who had revived the fallen fabric of Buddhism towards a new glory. The Palas were essentially patrons of Mahayana Buddhism. Though the two sects of Buddhism had received a massive change during the Pala kings, yet it was the Mahayana cult, which had witnessed new variations during the period, due to its synthesis with Brahmanical Hinduism.
The Pala period had witnessed variations in the cult of Mahayana Buddhism. The doctrine of existence and non-existence, Vijnanavada, Madhyamikavada- all these philosophical disputations were relegated to the background. Occult doctrines, miracles, Tantra and mantra had overshadowed hair-splitting logic and rationalistic ideas of Buddhism during the Pala Age. Secret Tantra rites, mantra ideas, Vija, Mandala dominated Buddhist rites and beliefs. As historical records of the contemporary era states, a Buddhist teacher named Asanga brought about transformation in the Mahayana cult. He had plans to bring the primitive hilly tribes within the folds of Buddhism. As a result Asanga had incorporated primitive rites and rituals into the original mould of Mahayanism. He also had accommodated the mother cult, ghost cult, Dakini, Yogini, Raksha, and Yaksha etc. quite unusual to Buddhism. This assimilation was the result of synthesis of the Brahmanical Cult with the Mahayana cult. However historians in the later years have opined that the incorporation of Brahmanical cult into a completely different mould of Mahayanism led to the degeneration of Mahayanism.
The Vajrayana creed also had flourished during the Pala period. Vajrayana cult had emerged from the Mahayana cult. Vikrammsila Vihara became a famous centre of Vajrayana creed. The seed of Vajrayana was perhaps laid in Sthaviravada. Some of the Theravadis also practiced cults of magic, occult and supernatural powers. The Vajrayanas received these faculties from the ones mentioned above and consequently converted into a system called "Tantra". The Vajrayana monks practiced "Hath Yoga", which they incorporated from their teachers, styled in the form of Brahmin "Gurus". The Vajrayana gurus were called Siddhas, who taught selected disciples about the secrets of hath yoga, occult knowledge and magic. The Vajrayanists believed in female goddesses, who were consorts of the male god, Bodhisattva or Buddha. The most important concept of goddess in Vajrayana school of thought was "Prajnaparamita", who was a consort of Bodhisattva and the source of his power, "Shakti". "Prajnaparamita" became the concretisation of integration of Brahmanical Hinduism with Mahayana Buddhism. Mantras were enchanted in the Vajrayana School of thought in order to please the female goddess. According to Vajrayana School of thought, human faculties were attributed to Gods and goddesses. The foundation of Vajrayana School of thought was hath yoga and its practice. The secret success of hath yoga however depended on deep knowledge of human anatomy and its nervous system. Therefore a guru taught secrets of Vajrayana to the disciples only.
The concept of 'Niaratma' was very important in Vajrayana. It signified the union of soul with Niaratma after death. Niaratma was actually conceived as a goddess. Bodhichitta was the equilibrium of mind, which could be achieved by constant practice of Yoga. The union of Bodhichitta with Niaratma brought a blissful stage of mind, according to Vajrayana cult. The stability of Bodhichitta was called 'Vajra'. Due to the rising significance of the Vajrayana cult, female deities gradually rose to prominence during the Pala period.
However Buddhism during the Pala Age had undergone massive transformation and the form of Buddhism prevalent in the Pala period was not an original one, rather it was an assimilation of the Brahmanical cult with the original form of Buddhism. In the evolution of the Mahayana creed during the Pala Age, Gurus or Siddhacharyas had represented the most important part. Thus, in the Pala era though Buddhism had received great impetus, yet it was one of synthesis and Brahmanical Hinduism was incorporated within it. There was nothing left of the originality in Buddhism practiced during the Pala period.
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