Comparing Hinduism and Buddhism – World Religion Essay
In the world today there are many different world religions and also smaller divisions of belief which are based on certain philosophies. There are three major religious belief in the world today. The largest two of
these three are Christianity and Judism. Hinduism is the third largest world religion which is mainly confined in India. Within this third main religion, we can find almost any form of religion from simple animism to elaborate philosophical systems. Derived from Hinduism, Buddhism is one of the intensely studied beliefs. Buddhism is considered another world religion but it is mainly a form of philosophy. Hinduism and Buddhism are both world religions but their differences and similarities are extensive.
Hinduism, to some extent, can be called the melting pot of religions. It has met the challenge of other religions by absorbing them and their practices and beliefs into the mainstream of Hindu religious _expression. Hinduism is the most complex, diverse, and tolerant of the world’s religions. Its history is long and diverse and has evolved over the centuries.
In the second millennium B.C., the Aryans (noble ones) invaded the Indus valley from Persia. There were wandering nomads who spoke an Indo-European language which became the basis for Sanskit (early language of India). Many different dialects later derived from Sanskit. The early Aryan society developed into three main socio-economiv classes. The priests or Brahmins became the ruling class, the tribal chieftans and their warriors or Kshatriyas were next in line, and lastly, came the commoners and merchants or Vaishyas. A fourth group, made up of pre-Aryan people or Shudras, were at the bottom of society. Eventually, these separate groups developed into a religious supported caste system. With the changing of the different groups of people and the changing of the dialect in Sanskit, the Hindu religion changed since the translating into the different dialects cause wording differences. The change in language altered the religion although the main beliefs and philosophies remained the same or similar to the original.
The sacred scriptures of Hinduism are the Vedas. There are four basic Vedic books and they are the Rig-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda, and the Atharva-Veda. Each of these books is divided into four parts which contains the hymns to the gods (Mantras), a section of ritual materials (Brahmanas), a section of guidance for hermits (Aranyakas), and a fourth section of philosophical treatises (Upanishads). The Mantra and Brahmana sections are the oldest materials with the Aranyakas and Upanishads added later. The Vedic literature further evolved during the classical period of Hinduism. The fourth book, the Upanishads, forms the basis of Hindu philosophy.
The Upanishads is the ground work of Hindu beliefs. The Hindu belief states that there is one reality, the impersonal god-being called Brahman. All things and beings are an _expression of Brahman and everything in the world and experience which is not Brahman is illusion (maya) ( Sprunger, 1). This means that all phenomenal existence (pleasure, worldly success, wealth) is illusion arising from ignorance of the true nature of reality. Those who then continue this ignorance are bound to live by the law of karma (cause and effect) which keeps them endlessly in the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth. When man discovers the Path of Desire is not fulfilling, he is ready to start on the Path of Renunciation. When he discovers this, he is ready to except his duty to others, family, community, and dedicates himself to a life of service. This is rewarding but he still yearns for infinite being, infinite awareness, and infinite joy (Sprunger, 1). Achieving these ultimatums is not easy and to do so we must realize the basic purpose of life is to pass beyond imperfection. That which is beyond the limitation and imperfections of life can only be found within. This means that underlying our very physical existence and personality is an infinite reservoir of reality. This infinite center of every life (comparable slightly to the soul in other religions), this hidden authentic self or Atman is not less than Brahman, the Godhead. When we detach ourselves from the finite, illusory self and commit ourselves to Atman-Brahman, we can achieve infinite awareness and infinite joy. This philosophy has its basis in the sacrificial, priestly form of worship in Hinduism. It emphasizes meditation as a means of worship and teaches that ignorance is man’s basic plight.
Classical Hinduism also produced the ethnical Code of Manu which teaches that the caste system is divinely ordained. The first three castes the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, and the Vaishayas are “twice born” people while the Shudras are “once born” manual laborers. The only way to move upward in the caste system would be by repeated incarnations. Although the caste system is outlawed in contemporary India, the social influences are still strong. The Code of Manu also teaches the various stages through which a man is expected to pass in a successful life: student, householder, hermit, and wandering beggar. These stages of living are only meant solely for “twice born” men. Women should stay in the home under the protection and control of the chief male in the household. The code also requires the cultivation of pleasantness, knowledge, truthfulness, and non irritability. The killing of a cow is considered among the greatest of sins.
Near the end of the classical period of Hinduism, subtle changes gradually appear in Hinduism. Out of the millions of major and minor gods, worship became centered around the Trimurti which includes Brahman, the creator; Shiva, the destroyer; and Vishnu, the preserver. Among this trinity, Brahman receives the least attention. Shiva is the most popular of the three because he is the god of sex and reproduction and appeals to the deprivation experienced by the masses. According to mythology, Vishnu has appeared on earth in nine forms and will come a tenth time to bring the world to an end. Among his appearances are Krishna; Gautama, the Buddha; Matsya, the fish who saved Manu from a great flood; and Christ.
The majority of the people of India seek salvation through devotion to the gods while many of the wealthy and educated seek salvation through knowledge. The intellectual Hinduism centers around six systems of philosophy which are Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, Vedanta, Vaiseshika, and Nyana. All six of these philosophies base their claim around the Vedas and all have common themes. The only difference between them is their view of ultimate reality. Jainism and Buddism later began as reform movements in Hinduism and it has absorbed much of their thinking.
Buddhism adapted part of its beliefs from Hinduism. Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 BC), or the Enlightened one in Sanskrit, founded Buddhism in India. Although the earliest accounts of his life were not recorded until about three hundred years after his death, the history that is now written is accepted by most Buddhists as being true and forms the model for all Buddhists today. Buddha in itself means “the enlightened one.” When Siddhartha was an infant, a sage visited the King’s court and made a prophecy that Siddhartha would become either a great ruler like his father if he remained in the palace or if he went out into the world, he would become a Buddha. The King believed that if Siddhartha was exposed to any human misery he would leave his home to seek out the truth. Therefore, the King ordered his subjects to shield Siddhartha from any form of evil or suffering. Despite his father’s attempts to shield his son, Siddhartha ventured outside and observed a leper, a corpse, and an ascetic. From his observations he determined that happiness was an illusion and as soon as his first son was born he left the kingdom on a pilgrimage of inquiry. For six or seven years, he sought communion with the supreme cosmic spirit, first through the teaching of two Brahmin hermits and then in the company of five monks. Despite gaining this knowledge, he did not believe that he had found truth. At this point he discovered the importance of what he called the Middle Way. Instead of denying himself food or sleep or even worldly things like the monks did, he consumed food and did not deny himself worldly things. This angered the monks and Siddhartha decided it was best for him to continue on him pilgrimage. As the story goes, at Gaya in northeast India, he sat at the foot of a fig tree where Mara, the evil one, tried to thwart his becoming the Buddha. After withstanding the temptations from Mara, he received a revelation. He then felt he knew the way to escape the cruel cycle of rebirth and claimed to have discovered the four noble truths (Pativedhanana) and henceforth was the Buddha. He decided he would not retreat into solitude with his knowledge as the monks had done, but instead share his new found knowledge with others.
Siddhartha died shortly after consuming poisoned food from a black smith. His followers then convened and created a system of doctrines of this teachings. These were first passed down orally by Buddhist monks for many generations. In 80 BC, Buddhist scribes finally compiled the teachings of the Buddha on paper, which became the Pali Canon, also called the Triptaka. These teachings contained the rules of conduct, methods of spiritual attainment, and the ethics taught by the Buddha. Buddhism is based on the “Wheel of the Law.”
Contrary to the Hindu cast system which you could only move through by incarnation, the Buddhists recruited disciples from all castes. According to Buddha, nirvana, or deliverance from suffering, is extended to everyone who strictly obeys the laws of monastic life. It was believed however, that the cast system was important for the framework of temporal life. The Buddha rejected subservience of any kind to a supreme God and denied belief in an eternal self. While he still did believe that karma would determine the kind of rebirth and quality of life one would have at rebirth, he didn’t believe it was a self or soul that was reborn. He taught instead that there is a rearrangement of the elements of a person’s identity, which are called “self.” The new elf is then comprised of the same parts.
The Brahmins of India taught that nirvana was attained when the soul becomes one with the Universal soul, Buddha held that nirvana is actually the termination of rebirths. That means that once Nirvana is achieved you are “done” and cease to exist. Buddha also believed that we are temporal creations born to lives of sorrow and suffering. This suffering is a result of selfish desires that chain people to the wheel of insubstantial impermanent things. Thus, living according to the Dharma will help one eliminate these desires and then it leads you to Nirvana. According to Buddha, the way to deliverance is summed up in four noble truths. The first is the universality of suffering which means that we suffer sorrow until deliverance is achieved. Then the origin of suffering says that suffering is caused by the false desires of the senses that have been deceived into clinging to the impermanent world. The quest for immortality further aggravates human suffering. The third is overcoming of suffering which states that if the desire that causes suffering is suppressed, abandoned, or rejected this would nullify the effects. The last way to achieve deliverance is the way leading to the suppression of suffering. The noble eightfold path is a sacred path with eight called right views of understanding, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct or action, right livelihood, right effort or endeavor, right mind control or concentration, and right mindfulness. These are all different dimension of a total way of life. While Buddha did not deny the existence of gods, he taught that the worship of gods obstructed one’s quest for nirvana. From the eighteen schools of Buddhist teaching, three major branches of Buddhism eventually formed which are the Theravada (the doctrine of elders), the Mahayana (the Great Wheel), and the Vajrayana (the Diamond Vehicle). These groups make up the Buddhist community and the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha are known as the “Three Jewels” of Buddhism.
Although Hinduism and Buddhism are considered world religions, they are very different in many ways. Hinduism teaches that there are gods that need to be respected but Buddhism does not teach that praising a godly figure will get you any closer to the deliverance that is the main goal of Buddhism. Hinduism also teaches that one is reborn and the way your life is lived now can influence you in your next life based on the teaching of karma. Buddhism teaches that you are not reborn but that you must strive for the ultimate goal which is nirvana. In the teachings of Buddhism, you are not reborn but merely cease to exist once nirvana is reached. The three major groups of Buddism, the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha could be compared to the Trimurti which are all greatly worships. Hinduism respects the gods and Buddhism respects the three main teachings. Both religions greatly respect the giving of one’s self to the purpose of reaching personal salvation through either bettering your standing in the next life as in Hinduism or reaching nirvana as in Buddism. Hinduism and Buddism are similar in that they both require the search for reality and the highest truth.