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Posted on August 16th, 2012, by

Religions played vitally important roles in the historical development of human civilizations. The term religion denotes a strong belief in some divine and supernatural power that is capable of controlling the destiny of humans (Levy, 11).

Hinduism and Buddhism belong to the greatest religions all over the world. Buddhism and Hinduism have a lot in common and at the same time are not identical religions. Before making the comparative analysis of both, it seems necessary to study their historical development and the reasons of replacement of one religion by the other.

Both unique cultural phenomena root from the late Vedic period (namely between 800 and 600 BC), when people were no longer worshiping to the gods of nature and the personal relation between god and human being became more important.  Hindu religion brought concept of trinity of gods: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, each of them having each their function Brahma played the role of Creator, Vishnu was considered to be the Preserver and Shiva as the Destroyer. Buddhism started its development later- around 563 BC; the founder of this religion was Hindu prince – Gautama Buddha. He left his palace and became a pilgrim, prophesying mediation as a way to salvation. Later, his teachings got the name Buddhism. The whole history of Buddhism in India had several periods of its development: early Buddhism or Early Buddhist Schools (also called Pre-sectarian Buddhism); Early Mahayana Buddhism, Later Mahayana Buddhism, Vajrayana Buddhism (also called Esoteric Buddhism) (Ahir, 26). However with time Buddhism lost his popularity in a way in India; although it continued to exist in India and other countries and occupied the fourth place among all world religions, it had no strong influence any more. Historians name several reasons of Buddhism decline. One of the reasons is that the early development of this religion was strongly supported by the local Buddhist kings, after these rulers lost their power, correspondingly disappeared the auspices from them. The fall of the Pala dynasty in the twentieth century CE contributed to further decline of Buddhism. Thus from 400 CE Hinduism started to gain its power; Hinduism became a more intelligible and satisfying road to faith for many ordinary worshippers because it now included not only an appeal to a personal god, but had also seen the development of an emotional facet with the composition of devotional hymns (Levy, 22). As a result there remained several monasteries of Buddhism, mostly at the places where it originated from. Some researchers stated, that these monasteries became disengaged from Indian life and traditions due to lack of their own rituals and priests.

Hinduism of the contrary flourished, because on one hand there were numerous rituals, related to the most important events in people’s lives and on the other hand its beliefs were rather flexible and could incorporate various ideas and approaches.

Besides Hinduism supported concrete caste system, which certainly was a kind of reflection of person’s social status.

This position was without any doubt more appropriate for the higher and for the lower classes. Higher classes had their justification, because their actual position in the society meant, that they deserved it in their previous lives and as for the lower classes they had the aim to strive for in the future and learnt to respect the higher classes without rebelling. This was one of the ways to set harmony in the society and to maintain strict social order.

As it was already mentioned Hinduism and Buddhism are very closely related to each other and still are different in their practical and theoretical approaches. The roots of the two religions come from the Vedic religions, developing from the northeastern part of India. But Buddhism was more a continuation of Shramana traditions, whereas Hinduism followed directly the Vedic traditions.

As Buddhism and Hinduism are so close, there are enough similarities between them. The first example could be the language used most of the terms of Buddhism religion have counterparts in Hindu terminology. But even the terms, which were borrowed from Hinduism, were reinterpreted by Buddhists.

Very important for both religions is the notion of karma, the actual meaning of it is the result of the activities or actions of a person. It is also a definition of the cause and effect cycle, which is studied in many philosophies, including Hinduism and Buddhism. The major moral of karma in Indian religion is that people have to face the events in their lives, which are direct outcomes of their own actions and decisions. This means that every person is responsible for his own life or lives. Karma is very important in Buddhist teachings and some aspects of its interpretations are borrowed from Hinduism. The notion of dharma – religious duty, and also mean social order, right conduct, or simply virtue» is seen also very much alike by Buddhism and Hinduism (Levy, 66).

Hinduism religion presumes that the soul is not mortal, only the physical body is dying and is being born again. This process is called reincarnation i.e. movement of the souls. The idea of reincarnation is closely related to karma, which manages the cycle of death and birth. Although Buddha didn’t support the idea, that humans have eternal self, the ideas of reincarnation were still accepted by Buddhism.

Yoga practices are integral part of both religions, although there are variations in yoga terminology in Hinduism and that of Buddhism. At the same time, as Buddhism borrowed a lot from Hinduism yoga, there are also common presentations of the meditation states, for example Many scholars have noted that the concepts of dhyana and samadhi – technical terms describing stages of meditative absorption – are common to meditative practices in both Hinduism and Buddhism. Most notable in this context is the relationship between the system of four Buddhist dhyana states (Pali jhana) and the samprajnata samadhi states of Classical Yoga (Ahir, 68). Other similarities of the two religions can be traced in the concepts of Naraka and Svarga lokas, the mountain Sumeru, Jambudvipa, entities such as devas, asuras, nāga, preta, yaksha, gandharvas, kinnars, brahma, etc. Cosmological time is measured in kalpas (Levy, 48).

Some rituals of Buddhism and Hinduism can be also very much alike, for example the Shingon Fire Ritual of Hindus is present also in Tibetan Buddhism.

Despite all these common features, there are still enough nuances, which are different by each of the two religions discussed. Further we are going to stop at the most important ones. The way the notion of God is perceived is actually the key characteristic for any religion. Gautama Buddha didn’t teach the notion of all mighty God. In some of devas writings it is possible to find the examples of rebirth of humans into gods and gods into humans. The cosmology of Buddhism is built on different levels of gods and their types, but there is not a single one, which is separated and considered to be an almighty creator of the human race: Well then, Vasettha, those ancient sages versed in ancient scriptures, the authors of the verses, the utterers of the verses, whose, ancient form of words so chanted, uttered, or composed, the priests of to-day chant over again or repeat; intoning or reciting exactly as has been intoned or recited-to wit, Atthaka, Vamaka, Vamadeva, Vessamitta, Yamataggi, Angirasa, Bharadvaja, Vasettha, Kassapa, and Bhagu- did even they speak thus, saying: We know it, we have seen it, where the creator is whence the creator is, whither the creator is?( Ahir, 111). At the same time Hinduism developed the notion of Atman, which is an individual soul and is seen by Hindus as the Supreme Creator or as the integral self of a person. This difference is said to be the major difference between the two religions. Buddhists support that idea that God is nothing more than human creation for self protection Two ideas are psychologically deep-rooted in man: self-protection and self-preservation. For self-protection man has created God, on whom he depends for his own protection, safety, and security, just as a child depends on its parent (McLeod, 151). From the point of view of Buddhism, the ideas of Soul and God are empty and not more than mental projections. Buddhists considered the desire of a person to trust in God presence to be selfish.

Speaking about the attitudes to other religions of Buddhism and Hinduism it is necessary to explain the notions of pasanda and nastika. In Buddhism, Dharmas, which do not belong to Buddhist ones are called pasandra. They are called pasanda because they lay out a snare (Be: pasam denti; Ce: pasam oddenti); the meaning is that they throw out the snare of views among the minds of beings. But the Buddha’s dispensation frees one from the snare, so it is not called pasanda; the pasanda are found only outside the dispensation (Levy, 113). For Hinduism classification of other religions is important, whether they accept of reject the authority of Vedas, based on this they defined two types of traditions astika and nastika; to the first belong religions, which accept the authorities of Vedas and to the send one those, which reject, like for example Buddhism.

The issue of religious conversion is not evident in Hinduism. Since it is not discussed openly in Hindu writings, there are various interpretations. One point of view is, that in order to be a Hindu this is necessary to be born Hindu.

However, if treated from the point of view of pure philosophy and way of life any person can convert to Hinduism, if he accepts the beliefs of the religion. Finally, the Supreme Court of India defined Hindu person based on his belief system and not his ethnicity.

On the contrary, Buddhism was spread through conversion. There were several ways of conversion: in the form of lay followers declaring their support for the Buddha and his teachings, or via ordination as a Buddhist monk (Ahir, 59). This means, that any person, who would need to take refuge in the Buddha is allowed to do it, and there is no any certain ethnicity associated with Buddhism, which is one of the reasons, that is it spread not only India, but in other countries as well.

The concept of Bidhicitta plays an important role for Buddhism, as it is one of the two aspects on order to achieve full enlightenment of a Buddha (McLeod, 158). The meaning of this concept is striving for enlightenment of the mind with subsequent becoming a Buddha. This is logical, that this notion is not present in Hinduism.

According to Buddhism teachings, as our world is full of sorrow, the main aim is to end this sorrow. In Hinduism however there four concretely defined aims: dharma (religious duty), artha (wealth or material possessions), kama (desires and passions) and moksha (salvation.) (Levy, 134). Also the four ashramas (stages) of life, which are named in Hinduism are not followed by Buddhists. Buddhists prefer to orient on the spiritual readiness of a person, not on time period.

At last, there is difference in application of caste system in these two religions. In Hinduism there are duties, occupations and taboos identified based on the caste system. Whereas Buddhist monastic code doesn’t include such a system of taboos and purity.

Overall, we may conclude, that although Buddhism and Hinduism appeared from similar roots and have a lot of features in common, they are still drastically different in their approaches and views on such core ideas as interpretation of God and person’s social status; they have different definitions for some terms, along with different terms in general. There were historical and social preconditions for developing of each of the two religions, however Hinduism proves to be the dominant one in India at the moment.

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