total population of Bangladesh in 2004 is about 125 million with
only 1 million Buddhists living in Chittagong, Chittagong Hill
Tracts, Comilla, Noakhali, Cox's Bazar and Barisal. The Buddhists
of Bangladesh belong to four groups of Nations who have been gradually
mixed together. The groups are the Austic, the Tibeto-Burman,
the Draviyans and the Aryans.
Village Buddhist Temple in Bangladesh.
to historians the Tibeto-Burman consists of 3 tribes - the Pyu,
the Kanyan and the Thet (Chakma). The Chakma tribes are living
in their historical land in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Kanyan
tribe is known as the Rakhine (Arakanese) group who still live
in the South-Eastern part of Chittagong. The plain Buddhists of
Bangladesh known as the Burua-Buddhist are the ancient peoples
of Bangladesh who have lived here for five thousand years according
to Arakanese chronology. They insist that they came from the Aryavarta
or the country of the Aryans which is practically identical to
the country later known as the Majjhimadesh or Madhyadesh in Pali
Buddha preached Buddhism during the 6th century BC in the Majjhimadesh
or the Middle country which is extended in the East of the town
of Kajangal, beyond which was the city of Mahasal; in the South-East
to the river Salalavati (Saravati); in the South of the town of
Satakannika; in the West to the Brahman district of Thuno; in
the North to Usiradhaja mountain. He traveled within these boundaries
on foot for the propagation of His religion. The Buddhists believe
that Lord Buddha was omniscient. Whenever He saw with His omniscient
eyes that he could do any good things for the welfare of the universe,
out of compassion he used to do those things and wherever His
religion was to flourish He used to go there and establish His
religion even in the Tavatims heaven. The Dhannyawadi Chronicles
claim that a Buddha-image known as Maha Mrat Muni was made in
the presence of Buddha Himself. Mr. Maurice Collis in his book
"The Land of Great Image" says that this Buddha image
was carried away to Mandalaya by the Bhama conquerors in 1784.
According to the Anguttaranikaya and Majjhimanikaya Buddha came
to Kajangal and gave two discourses to His followers there. But
there is no record that Buddha came to any part of Bangladesh
during His life to deliver any discourses. It may be assumed that
the fragrance of Buddhism spread in Bangladesh during the lifetime
of Buddha as we had one or two monks of Bengal who approached
the Buddha to learn about His teaching.
we have no direct evidence to show that Buddhism was preached
in Bangladesh during the lifetime of the Mauryan Emperor Asoka.
According to traditions after the 3rd Buddhist Council in Pataliputra,
Sonak and Uttara went to the Suvarnabhumi i.e. South-East Asia
to propogate Buddhism. Recently one of the Research Scholars came
from India and told me that he found one Asokan Pillar in Damrai
near Dhaka and he is trying to find out how it came to Bangladesh.
There are one or two other instances such as two Votive inscriptions
found at Sanchi recording the gifts of two inhabitants of Purnavardhan
(Pundravardhan) to guess the existence of Buddhism in Bangladesh
before the Christian era.
we discuss the propagation of Buddhism in Bangladesh we want to
mention the Buddhist Councils (Sangiti). After the Great Demise
of Lord Buddha, the First Buddhist Council was held in Rajagaha
under the patronage of King Ajatasatru to preserve the teachings
of Lord Buddha for the years to come. The Second Buddhist Council
was held at Vaisali during the reign of King Kalasoka one hundred
years after the Parinibana of the Lord Buddha. The Third Buddhist
Council was held in Pataliputra during the reign of the Mauryan
King Asoka (218 - 260). During this period many sects developed
within the regions of Buddhism. Those who had been lacking in
morale and character tried to form sects in their own way. All
those people ultimately arranged a Great Buddhist Council in Puruspura
or Jalandhar under the leadership of the Emperor Kanishka (621
- 644 B.E.). It was known as the council of the Heretical monks.
This council did not collect the Tripitaka but commentaries which
were known as Vibhasha-Shastra. At the Council a new set of Scriptures
in Sanskrit was approved together with fundamental Mahayana principles.
Through the influence of the Council, the works of the Scholars
like Asvaghosa, Parsva, Vasumitra and the encouragement of the
royal patron Mahayana Buddhism spread steadily through Central
Asia to China and then to Korea and Japan. It was also spread
in the South-Eastern countries of Asia up to Java and Borneo.
With the advent of the Mahayana School, a great Buddhist educational
centre had been established at Nalanda. Nagajuna also spent many
years of his life there. During the Gupta period (B.E. 863 - 1010)
it grew both in size and importance until it became the great
University of Nalanda where 3 to 10 thousand monks at a time lived,
teaching and studying and where various subjects were taught such
as Buddhism, Logic, Philosophy, Law, Medicine, Grammar, Yoga,
Alchemy and Astrology. Nalanda was supported by kings of several
dynasties and served as the great international centre of learning
until it was destroyed by the Turks in about 1750 B.E. (1200 A.D).
flourishing state of Buddhism in Bangladesh at the beginning of
the Gupta period presupposes that Buddhism had been prospering
in different parts of Bangladesh during the early centuries of
the Christian era. Now it has been clear that the Buddhism in
that time folllowed the Mahayana principles. Fa-hein mentioned
in his itinerary (399 - 414 A.D.) about the Kingdom of Champa
on the Southern bank of the Ganges when he came across much evidence
of living Buddhism which was mostly Mahayana. In the 7th century,
Hiuen-Tssang, the famous Chinese pilgrim in India, recorded various
accounts of the persecution of Buddhism by Sasanka, the king of
Gouda (North Western part of Bengal). He recorded Mahayana Buddhism
in various parts of Bangladesh with some Sthavir schools.
the 7th to 12th centuries the Mahayana sect found a golden era
in Bangladesh, great Buddhist monasteries in Paharpur, Somapura,
Jagaddal, Vikrampur, Pattikeraha were established. Scholars like
Sree Dipankar Atish, Shilabadra, Shantiraksit appeared in Bangladesh
and their scholastic works were towards the Mahayana school, which
ultimately absorbed Tantricism.
Tantric Buddhists had forgotten the original teaching of Lord
Buddha. They lost the basic principles of Buddhism. Even the monks
of the Buddhist community engaged in the 5 Ms (Matsya, Mangsa,
Madya, Mithun and Mudra - Fish, Meat, Wine, Sexual intercourse,
Dancing, Pose or Money). Seeing the downfall of Buddhism in Bangladesh
many monks and laities tried to rectify this situation. During
the 15th century (according to Dr. Heinz Bechert) one member of
the Royal Family named "Keyakcu" of Cakaria went to
Moulmein in Burma and was ordained there under the tutelage of
Ven. Sharbu. He was named Ven. Chandrajyoti Bhikkhu and stayed
for 20 years in Burma to study the scriptures. He came to Chittagong
and established Asrams in Sitakunda, Haidgaon called Cakrasala,
cendirpuni, thegarpuni, Chittagong, Ramu etc. for the propagation
of Theravada Buddhism. But he failed to organise a traditional
Buddhist Sangha in Bangladesh. The people of Bangladesh remained
in darkness about Theravada Buddhism. Dr. B. M. Barua writes "Buddhism
which was prevailing during the 19th century in Eastern India
comprising Chittagong proper, Chittagong hill tracts, Tipera,
Laksham and Comilla was not a Theravadin. It was a mixture of
Tantric faith, Hinduism and various other obscure religious cults.
Tantrayana in its later form gradually divided into three different
sects: Kala-Chakrayana, Vajrayana and Sahajayana. The Sahajayana
is associated with Hindu cults, like Sivaite and Vaisnavaite which
which in their turn gave rise to famous Nath Cults, Bauls, Avadutas
etc. As a result Buddhist monks did not observe Patimokkha rules
and laities too lost their Buddhist ideals. They began to worship
Durga, Kali, Laksmi, Manasa, Saraswati, Kartika and many other
gods and godesses. They used to observe many rites and rituals
which have no connection with a Buddhist tradition".
Buddhists tried to correct these corrupt practices observed by
the then Buddhists of Bangladesh. Ven. Cainga Bhikkhu of pahartali,
Chittagong visited Mrohang (Mijhan), the ancient capital of Arakan
and saw the wonderful Mahamuni image installed in a nice temple.
He at once drew a replica of the image in its full details comprising
its height, circumstances, etc. After coming home he started construction
of the Mahamuni image with the help of some Arakanese sculptors.
He also could not organise the formation of a Buddhist sangha.
Ven. Pannasar Mahasthavir (Khetromohan) of Raozan went to Burma
and studied the Buddhist Scriptures. He returned home and tried
to correct the corrupt monks of Bangladesh but in vain. Later
he again left Bangladesh in disappointment.
people of Bangladesh were anxious about the future of Buddhism
there. Many people like Bhikkhu Chandramohan, Radhu Mathe were
thinking about how to improve this situation. At this critical
moment Ven. Saramedh Mahasthavir of Arakan came to visit India
on a pilgrimage. On his way he met a Barua Raoli priest named
Radhu Mathe (Radharam Mahasthavir). Ven. Radharam Mahasthavir
was well-versed in Arakanese, Sanskrit and Pali. He discussed
the prevailing situation of Buddhism in Bangladesh with Ven. Sangharaj
Saramedha Mahasthavir and invited him to Bangladesh. In the meantime
the Chakma Kingdom was a feudal state under the British government
and its ruler was Queen Kalindi (1830 - 1873). She also invited
Ven. Sangharaj Saramedha Mahasthavir to come to Bangladesh. In
1864 Ven. Sangharaj Saramedha came to Chittagong and brought with
him a full chapter of trained monks in order to give higher ordination
to those who were willing. He was then staying at Pahartali Mahamuni
in Chittagong. During the annual "Mahamuni Fair" many
Buddhists assembled there and on that auspicious occasion he gave
higher ordination afresh to seven monks of Chittagong in the Udaka-Ukkhepa.
Sima of Hancoar-Ghona near Mahamuni village. This was the first
historic Upasampada ceremony in Chittagong by which Theravada
Buddhism was officially inaugurated. The ancient kings of Arakan
had created a precedent of honouring pre-eminent Bhikkhus, who
had served the causes of religion with marks and titles of distinction.
Ven. Saramedha was honoured with a high title by the British Government.
This is why he was widely known as "Sangharaj" and his
followers established the institution of Theravada Buddhism which
is popularly known as "Sangharaj Nikaya".
source from a 1990 booklet, by Dr. Sitangshu Bikash Barua)