All world religions have something to be learned from them. Most, if not all, share the common teachings of having respect for others, take care of your community, and know your inner-self. As the fourth and fifth largest world religions, respectively, Hinduism and Buddhism also value these teachings. I chose to do my essay on these two religions because of their influence here in the United States, especially on yoga and meditation practices done for relaxation and health purposes. Hinduism and Buddhism share origin, vocabulary, a few symbols, and some teachings. I am going to explain there similarities and along the way, point out their differences, which in turn will allow one to determine that they are indeed completely independent religions.
The first similarity is their place of origin. Both, Hinduism and Buddhism originated in Northern India. Hinduism arose around 1500 BC and has no particular founder. It is more of a collaboration of other religions that influenced the Vedic religion over time (Encyc, 521). Buddhism on the other hand, arrived around 500 BC and was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, aka the Buddha, who was born a Hindu. Gautama renounced the asceticism of Hinduism and founded a new path to liberation, the Enlightenment.
The second similarity of the two religions is their vocabulary. Because Hinduism “gave birth” to Buddhism, some of their key terms are the same which derived from the Sanskrit language. For instance, samsara- the cycle of reincarnation; dharma- laws, duties, and moral teachings; karma- deeds that have an influence on reincarnation; and mantra- short sacred formula used in prayer and meditation are all terms shared among both religions. Although the words are the same, they may have a different and deeper rooted meaning for each of the religions. To explain this further, we will consider the word dharma. Dharma for Hindus is a “wide-ranging term for righteousness, law, duty, moral teachings, religion itself, or the order of the universe. Dharma is also the god who embodies and promotes right order and living”, (Van Voorst, 76) according to Robert E. Van Voorst in his book titled RELG”World, Third Edition. For the Buddhists, dharma simply means the teachings of the Buddha about the universe and one’s release from it (Van Voorst, 125).
Karma is another word with similar meaning for each, yet is not thought of as exactly the same. Hindus relate karma as deeds done in their past lives and explains all their inequalities, for if a person had any good or bad karma attached to them at death, the cycle of reincarnation would begin again, creating a better or worse life depending on the deeds of their past. Buddhists believe good conduct can bring pleasant and happy results and that bad conduct brings an evil result with a tendency to repeat the offense. This karma can influence them during their present life, and upon reincarnation, their next life or any further future lives (Encyc, Buddhism, 269).
Thirdly, the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism share at least three symbolic articles, the swatstika, the lotus flower, and the mala. For the Hindus, the four legs of the swastika represent honesty, truth, purity, and stability with the four points at the end of each leg symbolizing the four directions of the Vedas. In contrast, the swastika symbolizes the Buddha’s footprint for the Buddhist and represents plurality, abundance, prosperity, and long life. The lotus flower is representative of all creation and symbolizes Vishnu, Brahma, and Lakshmi ( all deities of Hinduism) to the Hindus. Yet it represents “primordial purity” of the body, speech, and mind floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire which symbolizes to the Buddhists the blissful liberation from wholesome deeds (ancient symbols website). The Mala, prayer beads, are worn around the neck and consists of 108 beads and are used by both religions while repeating mantras and counting breaths. The Hindu’s prayer beads are made from rudraksha seeds, aka Shiva’s eyes, for the Shivas and tulsi seeds for the Vishnus. The beads represent the cosmos and there are 108 from the multiplication of the twelve astrological signs by the nine planets. Buddhists prefer prayer beads made of black lacquer, sandalwood, seeds, or animal bones and each bead represents the 108 worldly desires or negative emotions that must be overcome to reach nirvana (dharma-beads.net).
Lastly, I would like to compare the teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism. Although they share the common ideology of dharma, samsara, karma, and moksha among others, they are very different religions. Hinduism has a caste system that defines one’s social class and dharma. Their dharma, or rules, is defined by one’s specific place in the caste to which they were born and also dependent upon which of the four stages the person is living in; the student stage, the householder stage, the forest dweller stage, or the stage of sannyasin.
Hindus believe in many gods with three main deities for devotion, Shiva, Vishnu, and Shakti under one worldly, non-personal God called the Brahman. All though the Hindus have over three million gods in all, these are all gods of a lower form to these mentioned. Hindus also teach that every individual has a jiva, an individual soul that is affected by karma during reincarnation. Each individual also has an inner most soul called the atman that is identical and one with the Brahman. The atman is not affected by karma but goes where the jiva goes during samsara until moksha is achieved. Moksha is the ending of the cycle of reincarnation where the Hindu’s atman is joined with the Brahman and is the ultimate goal of all Hindus (Van Voorst, 77).
According to Hindu teachings, there are three main paths to moksha; the path of deeds, the path of knowledge, and the path of devotion. The path of deeds requires the person to follow the dharma of his social class, caste, and to perform rituals of worship. The path of knowledge is performed by meditation, contemplative training, and yoga until one achieves the realization that their identity is as one with the Brahman. The final path of devotion is done for the person’s own personal god by services of devotion and worship (Encyc,).
Unlike Hindus, the Buddhist do not worship a god but follow the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddha was born a Hindu in the Kshatriya caste of rulers and warriors as Siddhartha Gautama. Buddha means “Enlightened One”. Gautama believed that moksha, salvation, was achieved not by following the Hindu paths, but by a middle path that ended all suffering. Gautama tried the ways of the Hindus – self starvation, self denial, and self mortification- and realized that to reach nirvana, there had to be a better way. The Buddha became enlightened after viewing the world as all suffering, practicing strict meditation, and realizing that karma was actions that had a chain of cause and effect brought on by sentient beings (Van Voorst, 125). The Buddha did not have faith in the caste system of the Hindus and acknowledged that liberation from samsara was achievable by all individuals.
The Buddha also teaches Buddhists that there is no soul or atman, but rather nothing is permanent and therefore there is no self. Human existence is only the composite of the five aggregates – physical form, feelings, ideas, dispositions, and consciousness. None of which is permanent, the self, or the soul. Nirvana then is the goal of to be rid of the delusion of ego, freeing one’s self from all suffering and the over coming of reincarnation to reach a state of extinction (Encyc, 269).
The Buddha relayed the “Four Noble Truths”- truth of misery, truth that misery originates within us as desire, the truth that this desire can be eliminated, and the truth that the elimination of this desire must be done by following a specific path. He then explained this path called the “Noble Eightfold Path” to his disciples. The “Noble Eightfold Path” includes righteous understanding, righteous intention, righteous speech, righteous conduct, righteous effort, righteous mindfulness, and righteous meditational attainment. It is this path, a Buddhist’s dharma, which affects one’s karma and achievement of Enlightenment.
Lastly, each of these two religions is both very diverse and understanding. They will incorporate or fold in traditions and beliefs of other religions as part of the universe and mindlessness if a follower believes it is the right thing to do for themselves.
- “Basic Buddhism Guide.” Basic Buddhism: The Theory of Karma, Buddha Dharma Educatio Association, Inc., 2019, www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/5minbud.htm.
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- “Encountering Buddhism: The Middle Path to Liberation.” RELG: World: Introduction to World Religions, by Van Voorst Robert E., 3rd ed., Cengage Learning, 2018, pp. 112–141.
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