Apr 6, 2014

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Buddhism and Hinduism – A Brief Essay

Hinduism and Buddhism – A Brief Essay


Hinduism and Buddhism are two of the five major religions in our world
today. They are widely practiced, and have survived for centuries. Both have
similarities and differences, as do all forms of religion. In this
brief essay, presented by the Ventura Buddhist Center, I will show you the
basic structure of each religion.

Hinduism: Foundation

No one is completely sure of where Hinduism was started and by whom.
Their oldest written documents, the Vedas, were written down in 1000 B.C. but
they had existed orally long before. The Vedas are where Hinduism originated.
Today, Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion. Many changes have come
upon Hinduism since they practiced it first. Hinduism includes many different
sects, or denominations, and beliefs that have arisen. Though, there are many
things in common with all of the Hindu sects. Their basic beliefs are what ties
them together.

Basic Beliefs

The religion of Hinduism teaches us that each living body, including
animals, is filled with an eternal soul. Hindus say that the individual soul was
a part of the creator spirit, Brahma. It is each soul’s job and wish eventually
to return to Brahma. It is not possible though because by a soul’s sins, and
impurities from the world, they are no longer pure and holy to return. Instead,
a soul must become pure before returning to Brahma, who is absolutely pure.
The process of becoming pure is so hard that no soul can become pure in
only one lifetime. The soul is forced to live life after life until it is pure
enough to return to Brahma. The cycles of rebirths are called samsara, or the
Wheel of Life, by the Hindus. When a soul is finally cleansed enough to break
free of samsara it is called moksha. The soul returns to Brahma for an eternity
of contentment and ecstasy.
There is no one incorporating creed in Hinduism. A follower may choose
any god as their personal god, or may worship several of them. Though to be a
Hindu there are certain things that a follower must believe in and live by.
Their main beliefs are:
1. A belief in karma, the result of one’s good and bad deeds in a
2. A belief in dharma, Hindu traditions.
3. A belief in the three main gods: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
4. A belief in reincarnation after death.
5. Honor for the sacred Vedas.
6. A belief that, if lived a religious life, the Wheel of Life can end
and achieve moksha.
7. An honor for an ascetic religious life, to be an orthodox Hindu.
Hindus worship many gods, but they are truly monotheistic by believing
in a single god. The reason behind this is that everything comes from Brahman.
It does not matter who the worship is for because it is ultimately Brahman.
Brahman does not reward or punish those for their deeds in life. Every soul
creates their own rewards and punishments through karma. Karma rules what each
soul will be in its next life, and it is formed from a soul’s good and bad deeds
in each life. If a soul has had more good deeds than bad deeds, then they have
good karma. Or vice versa if they have had more bad deeds than good.
Dharma is the ultimate meritorious balance of all things living. It
belongs to everything, including the universe. Every soul is responsible for
balancing their dharma. The areas to balance in dharma are religious, social,
and within the family. They must keep promises, and remain faithful to religious
rituals, while also taking care of their family. If a soul loses this balance,
then it will affect their karma. Dharma has been called tradition, duty, and a
custom, but to a Hindu it is spiritually more than that. Hindus also follow a
caste system, resulted from dharma, which I will discuss later.


There are three main gods in Hinduism. Many others exist in the religion,
but these are the most noteworthy. Brahma is the creator of life. Vishnu is
known as the preserver of life. You might pray to Vishnu if someone you knew was
going in for surgery so that they’ll come through it with no problems. Finally,
Siva, or Shiva is the destroyer of life. All three of these gods are portrayed
as female and male. Vishnu is more often a male, and Shiva is more often a

The Caste System

The society of Hinduism is strictly divided. The different levels,
called castes, do not mingle. The division is largely due to the practices of
dharma and karma. Both practices express the idea that if someone is born into a
specific lifestyle, they must stay there. It would be bad karma to attempt to
leave that lifestyle.
In the caste system, there are four levels along with two groups that
are apart from the castes. Every caste comes from Brahma, but each is from a
different body part. The highest level is the Brahmin. It means Brahman, but is
spelled in another way to resist confusion of Brahman, the creator spirit.
Brahmin comes from his head, and they are to be the voice of Brahma. They are
the priestly caste, but many are also teachers and keepers of the religion.
Today, many Brahmins are also involved in business and government.
The second level of castes is the Kshatriyas (warrior) caste. They were
the kings and soldiers, and come from Brahma’s arms. The third level is the
Vaisyas. They come from the thighs of Brahma, and occupy the jobs of merchants,
artisans, and farmers. The fourth and final caste is Sudras. These people are
the manual workers, represented by Brahma’s feet. It is considered a sin to
associate with people of a lower caste than you. So each caste is made up of a
different level of the society.
There are also two groups outside the caste system. One group is for
foreigners. They might be a nonbeliever or anyone who receives special treatment
from the Hindu society. The second “outcaste” group is the “Untouchables.” These
people are considered nonhuman and cannot participate in any Hindu practices.
They do the work no one wants to do and do not associate with anyone that is of
a higher caste.

Buddhism: Foundation

Buddhism was a product of the life and teachings of Siddartha Gautama, a historically-accounted-for prince born in what we now consider modern-day Nepal.  The term “Buddha” was coined later in his life and the subsequent term of “Buddh-ism” came much later through westernized re-tellings of the movement that Siddhartha started. Siddhartha’s intentions were not to form a new religion, only to perhaps modify an older one. Jainism and Brahmanism (Hinduism) were very well established in Indian culture during the 600 B.C. era, around the time of Siddhartha’s birth.  Both religions had been very orthodox and undeniably present within the culture.

Siddhartha was a minor prince of a small kingdom of northern India, where his father would protect him from the ‘suffering’ of the world. It is said that one day, he ventured outside the palace walls and saw how life really was. After being inspired to a series of personal transformations, Siddartha fled his home, and family to look for meaning to his life. For years he studied with the Indian masters, learning a variety of philosophies and meditation techniques. During those times, ascetic practices were very common, so it is said that Siddhartha conducted himself into mastery of such techniques and practices. Six or so years into this lifestyle, and discouraged from not finding the answers he wanted, he sat under a big tree (now called the “bodhi tree”).  He spent 49 days after enlightenment. The answer to his questions finally came to him, and he became “awakened” from his misery, and hence became a Buddha. Buddhism was founded.

Basic Beliefs

Buddhism is a reformed version of Hinduism. Buddha discovered the Four
Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths are the foundation for all forms of Buddhist

1. There is suffering.
2. Suffering has a cause.
3. Eliminating the causes of suffering can extinguish suffering.
4. The way to extinguish the causes of suffering is to follow the Middle
Way stated in the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path also comes from Buddha. It teaches to practice
moderation. It is the practical side of Buddhism. If followed, one may achieve
true enlightenment, or nirvana. Nirvana is reaching Brahma in one lifetime.
Buddha believed that you could live a perfect life and not have to continue in
the samsara. The basic way to this is the Eightfold Path, which says to practice
moderation in these areas:

1. Right views. You must have the right mind set.
2. Right intent (or right resolution) A person must want actively to
eliminate suffering.
3. Right speech. You must not lie, slander others, or insult. You’re not
to cause suffering with words.
4. Right conduct (or right action). To behave in a way that does not
cause suffering.
5. Right means of livelihood. Not to live in a way or hold a job that
causes suffering.
6. Right endeavor (or right effort) To prevent unclean states of mind
from happening.
7. Right mindfulness. To be aware of body activities, the senses,
perceptions, and thoughts.
8. Right meditation. The specific concentration to improve oneself.

Buddhists believe that if you follow this you will be enlightened. Many
Buddhist beliefs are almost the same as a Hindu’s. Buddhists do not practice the
caste system. One of the only ways to achieve nirvana in one’s lifetime is to be a
monk or a nun. If you break an area in the Eightfold Path, then you cannot
achieve nirvana.

Despite all the talk about suffering, Buddhism is really about the
absence of suffering. Buddhism is a way to develop the ability to love the
entire universe, simply because it is. It is understanding that the universe
exits inside a blade of grass, just as the blade of grass resides within the
universe. All things are inter-connected.

Comparisons Between Hinduism and Buddhism-

Both Hinduism and Buddhism accept and believe that there is one creator
spirit. Each of them recognizes Brahma or a version of Brahma as the creator
spirit. Though they also recognize other gods, Brahma is the ultimate god. All
praise goes to him, no matter which god you are praising. This is a significant
similarity between the two religions.
The two religions of Hinduism and Buddhism believe in the process of
reincarnation. Reincarnation is being reborn again with one soul. Inside this
belief, they also believe that your deeds, or activities, during your life will
determine where you will end up. If you have lived a good life, you will be
rewarded by another good life, or you might be allowed finally to rejoin with
Brahma. If you’ve led a bad life, you will remain on earth longer, and most
likely have a bad life when you are reborn.
Another similarity is that both Hinduism and Buddhism are very kind to
animals. They believe every living creature has a soul, and through
reincarnation, you might one day end up as one. Many Hindus and Buddhists are vegetarians of one sort or another (although some do eat meat).

Contrasts Between Hinduism and Buddhism

In the religion of Hinduism there are castes, or social classes. They
decide what your lifestyle will be like in that lifetime. If you are born a
slave, you must stay a slave your whole life. Or, if you are born a wealthy man
or woman, that is what you must be all of your life. To the Hindus, it is a sin
to try to change what caste you belong to. As well as to associate with a person
from a caste that is lower than yours.
On the other hand, the teachings of the Buddha did away with the caste
system. A person is allowed to change their social class. They can go from a
slave to an emperor or a president, if that is their calling. If they follow the
Eightfold Path, then this is permissible. It is an honor to be a monk or a nun,
for they are the ones who can achieve nirvana. Buddhists also will mingle with
those of less importance then themselves.

Hinduism teaches that you must go through samsara in order to finally
reach moksha. They do not believe that a soul can totally cleanse itself of all
impurities in just one life. It is a gradual process involving dharma, balancing
one’s life, and karma, weighing the deeds of a lifetime.
Meanwhile, the Buddha again went and brought question to samsara. He
found that it is possible to cleanse oneself in one lifetime and return to
Brahma. He called it nirvana. In order to achieve nirvana, a Buddhist must
follow and accept The Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold
Path serves as an instructional guide as how to keep yourself on the right path
to nirvana.

Hinduism and Buddhism also have several smaller differences. The area of
greatest concentration for Hinduism is India. India is where Buddhism originated,
but Hinduism eventually was a more appealing religion and it died out. Buddhism
is found mostly in East Asia, inside China and Mongolia. These areas prefer
having many, many small gods, as opposed to the Hindus only having three major
ones and then smaller, less important gods. Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha
Gautama, or the Buddha. Hinduism was started gradually; no one knows for sure
who founded it; most likely, it was many people. Both practice meditation, but
they practice it in different forms. A Hindu will meditate obtaining inner peace
through the chakras of the body. Once all of the centers, chakras, have been
balanced, a white light is said to be above the person’s head, and they are
enlightened. Buddhists meditate similarity, but have different variations of how
it is preformed. Their main goal is to end suffering.