Though for historical reasons Buddhism eventually disappeared from India by about the twelfth century, before it vanished it had profoundly transformed Hinduism. In our own time Indian thinkers as different as Swami Vivekananda, Tagore, Gandhi, and Nehru have looked upon the Buddha as a model. In the twentieth century, too, while Buddhism has lost much of its following in the East, it has begun to have a growing impact on an increasing number of people in the West, and in its own quiet way it is sending down firm roots in several countries of the Western hemisphere.
That the Buddha's teaching should remain perennially relevant throughout the changing eras of human history, that his message should be undimmed by the sheer passage of time, is already implicit in the title by which he is most commonly known. For the word "Buddha," as is widely known, is not a proper name but an honorific title meaning "the Enlightened One," "the Awakened One." This title is given to him because he has woken up from the deep sleep of ignorance in which the rest of the world is absorbed; because he has penetrated the deepest truths about the human condition; and because he proclaims those truths with the aim of awakening others and enabling them to share his realization. Despite the shifting scenarios of history over twenty-five centuries, despite the change in world views and modes of thought from one epoch to the next, the basic truths of human life do not change. They remain constant, and are recognizable to those mature enough to reflect on them and intelligent enough to understand them. For this reason, even today in our age of jet travel, computer technology, and genetic engineering, it is perfectly fitting that the One who has Awakened should speak to us in words that are just as powerful, just as cogent, just as illuminating as they were when they were first proclaimed long ago in the towns and villages of Northeast India.