Hinduism and Buddhism: A Comparative Study Essay
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This paper throws insight into the origin and development of two major religions of the world –Hinduism and Buddhism. Buddhism originated in 550 B.C with Gauthama Buddha as its founder. Hinduism in a strict sense is more of a religious and sectarian group and is at least 2000 years older than Buddhism. They both share the common time frame for a long and in the due course Hinduism absorbed some of the noble thoughts and principles from Buddhism.
Since Buddha was born as a Hindu in India, Hinduism and Buddhism have similarities in their beliefs. Since Buddhism has a founder and is an organized religion, there was no room for wide range of beliefs that crept in from outside as in the case of Hinduism. This led to differences between the two major religions.
Ultimately, Hinduism withstood the test of time and remained dominant. Buddhism disappeared from its land of birth leaving only a few Buddhists in India.
Chapter 1: Introduction to the Study
In the early centuries, people did not have refined religious practices as we have today in many parts of the world. As a result people were yearning for a quiet life amidst distortions. Every human being craves for an order, seeking to find meaning in life, existence, and its destination. A new cult or a religious movement is inevitable to guide people through. When we revisit history of India to the 1500 B.C, we come to know that Hinduism was evolving out of Vedic Aryans (Seshiengar 16). Later in the sixth century it was getting organized and developed from its earlier Vedic Hinduism. It established that God is one though people worship him by different names. This concept of ‘Brahma’ is the essential doctrine of Hinduism even today (Seshiengar 46).
Later, during 560 B.C, Buddhism came into existence with Gauthama Buddha as its founder. The birth of this religion had a lot more meaning and connection to the people who lived during that time. Buddhism started making inroad in the life of many. The response was overwhelming and there were many takers for Buddhism mainly because it freed people from the fetters of inequalities and oppression due to orthodox practices and caste system that prevailed. During this time, Hinduism seemed to be more predominant with ritual practices and was granting status to privileged classes. The people who were outside this class did not find much prominence and their real proximity towards religion, growth, and salvation were not respected by the higher echelons of the society. Buddhism with its noble principles came as a boon for many during this time. Besides, it preached equal love and sympathy for people.
In a way, Hinduism is not a religion but a conglomeration of beliefs and movements over a long stretch of time in the history that got readjusted on it way as a process of refinement. A resourceful Hindu started looking at Buddha as a reincarnation of Hindu God Vishnu. Hinduism was quick to readjust itself by absorbing the enduring teachings of Buddhism. In fact there was nothing in the Buddhist way of life that was contrary to Hinduism. Hinduism flourished overwhelmingly at the later stages. In today’s context, Hinduism is the major religion in India. On the other hand, Buddhism almost disappeared from its land of birth without any attempt of persecution by Hinduism (Seshiengar 65).
Buddha was born in a Hindu family and so there is a formidable relationship between Hinduism and Buddhism. However, Hinduism and Buddhism have both similarities and differences which help to carry out a comparative study. Also it helps to know what led to the rise of one religion and the fall of the other in India.
Statement of the Problem
From time immemorial, the history of mankind witnessed the cycle of birth and death. There has always been a desire to know what is beyond this mundane life. During this process many religions came in the way of humanity to show the intangibles and guide people to feel what is beyond this corporeal life. Studying about Hinduism and Buddhism in this research paper will give a fair idea about what Hinduism is and what Buddhism is? How they differ? What do they have in common? What have they given to the world? Ultimately it is not one religion that may have everything. There are many religions available and the choice is kept in front of human beings. It is important for the people to gather information from various sources to make their observation.
To meet the goals and purpose of this study, five research questions were explored:
1. What is the origin of Hinduism and Buddhism? What are the common foundations they both share?
2. What are the similarities and differences between Hinduism and Buddhism? What are their respective focuses and goals?
3. Which religion remained dominant in the past? What is the cause for their raise or fall?
4. What is the status of Hinduism and Buddhism today in India? Why did Buddhism lost its ground and Hinduism became dominant?
Significance of the Study
The whole world is watching Buddhism as a major religion of the world being followed in many countries like Japan, Thailand, China, Korea, etc. Buddhism was born in India when Hinduism was already getting refined. The disappearance of Buddhism from its native land remains as a puzzle among the international community.
This research paper will walk you through the basics and origin of Hinduism and Buddhism. The similarities and differences between Hinduism and Buddhism help us to know how they were close to each other in the world of religion. The rise of one religion and the fall of the other is a lesson to learn and tells us what really stood the test of time. The observations also imply that failure to revive a religion constantly leads to its downfall. Ultimately history has given people practices that can be chosen as guidelines for one’s future endeavor.
Definition of Terms
1. Hinduism – A major religion of India characterized by caste system and belief in law of karma.
2. Buddhism – A religion found by Buddha which preaches people to attain Nirvana.
3. Nirvana – The beatitude that transcends the cycle of reincarnation by extinction of desire.
4. Veda – Hindu sacred writings of Hinduism. There are four Vedas namely Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.
5. Upanishad – Hinduism interpretations of philosophical thoughts.
6. Aryan – The former Indo-European people who entered Indus Valley in 3000 B.C.
7. Bhagavad-Gita – The sacred text from Hindu epic Mahabharatha that deals with conversation between Krishna and Arjuna is given here.
8. Enlightenment – Knowledge attained by Buddha in his conscious state of mind.
Chapter 2: Review of Related Literature
To spot the origin of Hinduism or the speck of elements that we see in Hinduism today, we have to go as far as 5000 years back to the Indus Valley Civilization. There was no evidence of temple structure or any religious relics excavated (Seshiengar, 33) from Indus valley. However traces of evidences suggest that trees, bulls and other animals remained as object of worship. People also worshipped mother Goddess and Linga as Pashupathi (Siva). Then came the Aryans to this land and it took about 1000 years, between 1500 B.C and 500 B.C, to establish over the Indus valley. The Aryans absorbed the essential features of the Indus religion and gave rise to the evolution of the composite Hindu religion. The Vedas and Upanishads were developed by the Aryans during this time. The Hindu religion we have now is a happy blend of both Aryan and Dravidian cult (Seshiengar 25). It is important to note that Buddhism started somewhere around 560 B.C.
The early Vedic Aryans followed more rituals than the dogma and creed. They indulged in sacrificial offerings to the Vedic Gods through the Agni (fire). These practices were not static and the Aryans constantly developed new rituals and ideas over time. Eliot (169) rightly observes the transformation of Hinduism from the Vedic period to the modern time and expresses it in an amazing style:
“In the records accessible to us the tradition from Brahmanism – that is, the religion of the vedas and Brahmanas – to Hinduism does not appear as direct but as masked by Buddhism. We see Buddhism grow at the expense of Brahmanism. We are then conscious that it becomes profoundly modified under the influence of new ideas.”
Buddhism did not give room for any Vedic practices. Buddha did not accept the authority of the Vedas. He wanted his followers to have faith in convincing practices rather than something difficult sanctioned by Vedas (Seshiengar 60).
Considering Max Muller’s observation on Buddhism,
“To my mind….. Buddhism has always seemed to be not a new religion, but a natural development of the Indian mind in its various manifestations, religious, philosophical, social and political”.
We tend to think that Buddhism and its principles might have emerged as a comprehensive religious practice for the contemporary crowd facing challenges from their living environment, especially when Hinduism was bit of a scorn to many in the hands of Vedic Aryans. After attaining enlightenment, Buddha formulated his own principles which he said would help even the normal people attain Nirvana. Some of the tenets of both Buddhism and Hinduism were similar. Both Hinduism and Buddhism agree to the doctrine ‘law of karma’. The law of karma states that people are reborn according to their acts and deeds performed. The Bhagavad-Gita tells Hindus:
“Death is certain for anyone born, and birth is certain for the dead; since the cycle is inevitable you have no cause to grieve.” (II, 27).
Buddha too believed in the transmigration of souls. Both Hinduism and Buddhism encouraged compassion and non-violence towards all living beings. Both believed in the existence of several hells and heavens. Both believed in meditation, concentration, and improving the state of mind. Both believed detachment from the worldly affairs which led to spiritual life. Both considered desire as a chief cause of suffering. The Advaita philosophy is closer to Buddhism.
There are differences between Hinduism and Buddhism as stated below:
There is no prophet who found Hinduism like Buddha in Buddhism. Buddha did not accept the authority of the Vedas whereas Hinduism treats four Vedas as its pillars.
Buddhism did not believe in caste system and so the law of karma emphasizing caste system in Hinduism is disliked by Buddhism. According to Hinduism, one must live by his caste and do his duty. Bhagavad-Gita tells that Arjuna had to fight to stick to his karma. Buddha insisted that all human beings are alike. Buddha did not describe any supreme power or any transcendental power which is contradictory to Hinduism. Hinduism during its early phase practiced animal sacrifices and rituals. Buddha did not believe that animal sacrifices and rituals ever led to attain Nirvana. Hindus believed in Darma, Artha, and Karma, through which they attain Moksha (Seshiengar 48). The belief in four ashramas of life is not in Buddhism. Buddhist monks lived in groups and followed monastic order whereas Hinduism is a religion of individual.
After its birth, Buddhism started spreading rampantly in India. As a witness to this, even today in India, you can see some of the prominent Buddhist pilgrimage sites like Lumbini, Bodhgaya, Saranath, Shravasti, Sankashaya, Nalanda, etc. Besides these there are other commemorative monuments like Sanchi, Bharhut, Amaravathi, and Nagarjunakonda where great Buddhist stupas and Buddhist university sites remain.
Buddhism was at its helm in India for about 1000 years between 500 B.C and 500 A.D. According to Eliot (1998), Valabhi and Balabhi in Gujarat and Nalanda had great centers of Buddhist learning and monastic life. Valabhi was a district rather than a single locality and contained 100 monasteries with 6000 monks of the Sammitiya school.
Buddhism was equally dominant with the then Vedic Hinduism which remained as a major religion in India. In spite of Buddhism’s unparalleled growth in India, there was no rivalry between Hinduism and Buddhism. As one of the oldest and organized religions, Hinduism was always ready to absorb the noble thoughts, high moral standards of living and the conduct of Buddhism. Hinduism was not in the habit of setting up monasteries in those days but remained more as a religion of individual. Buddhism spread across Indian borders to flourish in China. Then it spread to Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other countries as well. Hinduism did not get any reception in far off lands. However Hinduism has its own strength in its native land of India.
In the sixth century A.D, Buddhism was loosing its charm and Brahmanism was gaining momentum. Many monuments of the Guptas suggest that they worshipped Lord Vishnu. Lord Shiva too was more prominent during this time. History has records that emperor Harsha (612 – 648) and his family worshipped Siva, the Sun and the Buddha. Shiva temples were built in different parts of India. The shrine in Kailas and Ellora were constructed in the seventh century. The Hinduism today is not what it was when Buddhism started. It underwent many changes adapting to modern times and allowing new movements and taking new directions. Klostermaier (3) views Hinduism as more than a religion and views it as a comprehensive way of life, a tradition by which people can live. A Buddhism monk by name Kumarila turned out to be a worshiper of Siva and decided to go against Buddhism persuading the then king Sudhanvan to exterminate Buddhism from India. This may be an exaggerated statement but there is room to think that Kumarila was an enemy of Buddhism (Eliot 207).
There was a sudden change in the trend during 1100 AD when Muslims started conquering the Central Asia and Afghanistan. This was a huge blow for Buddhism. All these centuries, Buddhism maintained its streak but was not prepared to defend itself from the attacks of Muslim rulers. Hinduism had the power and influence to withstand any turmoil in the Indian soil. This is mainly because Hinduism gained the patronage of Indian rulers who never allowed Hindu pilgrims to get destroyed. Even at a later stage, rulers like the Guptas extended great patronage to Hinduism that consolidated Hinduism and its ideologies in the Indian soil. At this point of time Buddhism was not supported by the rulers. Besides, Buddhism was more of a non-violent movement which was not ready to take on the sudden onslaught of Muslim rulers. Many Buddhist monasteries and temples were destroyed in India and in Afghanistan where Buddhism remained intact. Many monks had to flee to Tibet and Nepal.
One of the weaknesses of Buddhism was that it failed to attract strong Indian rulers. Instead it indulged in meaningless arguments during the regime of Kanishka (Seshiengar 64). The split in Buddhism – Hinayana and Mahayana – was an initial setback which further split into eighteen sects. Hinduism on its course of revival was already in the process of absorbing the noble teachings of Buddha. Of late in 700 A.D, Adi Sankaracharya was born who gave a new dimension to the religion Hinduism with his Advaith Philosophy. He was crystal clear in his views on Advaita: Brahma satyam jagat mithya, Jiva brahmaiva naparah; the meaning is Brahman alone is real, the world is illusory, the individual and Universal Soul are one. He was a rare human with a spirit of dynamism. He traveled on foot from south to north of India with determination to pass his message. Though he lived only for 33 years, he established four Hindu mutts and made priesthood an accepted practice. His scholarly approach in his debates and gatherings was peerless. This is the classical Hinduism that got refined more and more in the hands of reformers which would never lose its sheen. Many intruders in India someway or the other liked Hinduism and was attracted to it. Muslims were the only exceptions who remained as rivals to Hinduism for long. Buddhism had no such appeal and was dwindling partly because of its own weaknesses and partly because of the Muslim wave that hit India.
Chapter 3: Methodology
This study examines the origin of Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism is an old religion and the developments are interpreted by many scholars. Books written by Seshiengar, Klostermaier, and Eliot are rich sources through which we come to a common ground to decide the course of Hinduism and Buddhism. Buddhism is a religion that flourished in India and later disappeared. Different sources including a foreign author different from Indian author’s views help us to interpret the real cause for the fall of Buddhism and its disappearance from its land of birth. The internet resources that are available today are rich in information about the classical and modern developments in religion and so access to those sites yielded valuable conclusions.
Both the religions, Hinduism and Buddhism emerged from India. Hinduism as a religion was at least 2000 years older than Buddhism and withstood the challenges of time through many centuries. The modern Hinduism that we see today is different from the Hinduism then. It is evident that Hinduism had always been in a continuous process of revival. Buddhism came into existence in the 550 BC with noble thoughts and principles. Hinduism was quick to absorb the essentials of Buddhism and grew naturally. In other words, it is correct to say Buddhism replenished Hinduism with its lapses during its long journey. Both Hinduism and Buddhism had sweet and bitter moments during their course but it is unfortunate that Buddhism disappeared from India due to various reasons like formation of sects within, unwanted arguments of monks, no head like Buddha to guide Buddhism at a later stage. Buddhism did not face execution from the native land. On the other hand India is proud that it has Hinduism as its major religion comprising significant contribution from Buddhism. India is also proud for giving the world a major religion Buddhism. Today countries like Japan, China, Thailand, etc. follow Buddhism.
Eliot, Charles. Hinduism and Buddhism: An Historical Sketch.
London: Routledge, 1998. 1180pp.
Klostermaier, Klaus. A Survey of Hinduism. New York: Suny Press, 1994. 715pp.
Seshiengar, A. Studies in Indian Culture. Bangalore: Sri Rama, 1973.
Comparing Hinduism and Buddhism – World Religion Essay 8 March 2009 http://www.freeonlineresearchpapers.com/comparing-hinduism-buddhism
Lal, Vinay. Buddhism’s Disappearance from India
8 March 2009 http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/Adi_Sankaracharya/id/221463
Patil, Vidyanki. The Links between Buddhism and Hinduism
8 March 2009 http://www.buddhisminindia.com/buddhist-sites-india.html
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