Around the same period of history (500 BCE), another major religion of India, Buddhism, was born. This is the only religion that originated in India but spread and flourished more outside its borders. Buddhism took strong roots in China, Tibet, Cambodia, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Korea, and Sri Lanka, and it is still very popular in many of these countries. Buddhist monks also went to the West, to far places such as Egypt, Syria, and Greece. It is believed that as many as eighty-four thousand monks were sent out of the country to propagate the spiritual message of the Buddha. According to historian Professor Mahaffy, Buddhist monks preached in Palestine and Syria a couple of centuries before the birth of Christ.58
Socrates, the famous Greek philosopher (469 – 399 BC), and teacher of Plato, in his writing has quoted, “The soul being immortal, having been born again and again, and having seen all things that exist; …all learning is but a recollection…”. (Hinduism Today July-Sept ’17, p 14) This gives a strong indication that he may have come in contact with Hindu/Buddhist Rishis in some way.
In the opinion of the learned Anglican priest C. F. Andrews, the ideal of ahimsa (non-violence) was planted in a holy manner from the Hindu origin. In India, however, after the initial period of its rapid rise, there was a sharp decline in the influence of Buddhism, mainly due to the heavy destruction of the Buddhist monasteries at Nalanda and other places by the Muslim invaders. The renaissance of Hinduism brought about by Sri Shankaracharya was another important reason.
According to historian Professor Mahaffy, Buddhist monks preached in Palestine and Syria a couple of centuries before the birth of Christ.
Even though Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism later became separate religions, Hindu society accepted them with open arms, and regarded them as “reform” movements. Many of their new and modified changes in course of time would heavily influence Hindu culture. Buddha adopted the new middle path of moderation. This would be the cornerstone of his spiritual practices in the future. This “middle path” of Lord Buddha has also been generally welcomed in Hindu theology. In fact, this philosophy has become the cornerstone of spiritual practices for many persons in the world, regardless of their religion.
It was finally the process of deep meditation, while sitting under the famous banyan tree at Sarnath that brought him the enlightenment he had been seeking for so long. Later, when asked whether he was a god or an angel, he simply acknowledged, “I am awake, and I know.” He came to be known as Buddha—the wise one! Meditation has been a watch-word in Hindu religion from ancient times, but Buddha propagated it to a whole new level; the whole world has adopted “meditation” with great enthusiasm and keenness. There are now meditation centers in all places, even in prisons!
The caste system was rejected by Buddha in an outright manner, as he preached a religion without rituals. In the same way, excessive rituals associated with the Hindu religion too have been scorned periodically, right from the Upanishad times. They however continue to remain accepted in Hindu society, although changes and modifications have been adopted continually. Buddha also opted heavily for rational, ethical conduct backed by common sense and free will, in place of rigid scriptural commands. This teaching too has found great favor, especially in the modern generation across the globe. Hinduism has approached all of the emerging religions with a soft, welcoming attitude. Lord Buddha has even been regarded by some Hindus as the ninth avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu.