Hinduism and Buddhism, ancient and complex religions, constantly influence today’s society. Although modern Hinduism and Buddhism are disparate than their original forms, the religions retain certain values critical to their essences. Hinduism preserves the skeleton of the caste system in India despite efforts to eliminate this social classification. Buddhism still possesses beliefs involving the elimination of desire and finding moderation. Both Hinduism and Buddhism involve meditation and rebirth, as well as enlightenment to escape to the rebirth cycle. Hinduism and Buddhism, religions with key similarities, contrast as incredibly different religions with profoundly different morals and core values.
Hinduism, commonly recognized as the oldest religion in the world, is explained primarily in The Vedas. The Vedas, written in Sanskrit, are essentially the Bible of Hinduism. Sanskrit is the writing of ancient Aryan societies. Sanskrit is important because it makes documentation of ancient Indian history possible. Much of what historians learn from an ancient culture is in writing. Although Hinduism used to be the world’s largest religion, today Hinduism has declined to the world’s third-largest religion. Hinduism began in the Indus Valley, a plain in ancient India in which most people lived. Although the ancient Indians expressed a religion, their society was not a theocracy. Cities such as Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro revolved around the beliefs that everyone was equal. The Aryans, another ancient population, conquered the ancient Indians, beginning the Vedic age, and evolving and reforming Hinduism. The Aryans established strict social classes known as Varna. The hierarchy starts with priests at the top, then travels down to warriors, traders, laborers, and “untouchables.” One is born into a social class and cannot escape that specific class during his/her lifetime. One hopes to be reborn into a higher class, and fuels that hope with good actions. Eventually, a priest, or a brahmin, can reach moksha, a state of complete and total enlightenment. Hinduism includes an understanding that there is one universal soul, known as Brahman. Each individual has Brahman within one’s self, the individual soul, however, is called an Atman. Everyone is connected in this aspect of Hinduism, even as Hinduism remains primarily a self-related religion. Brahman can take three different forms: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. A type of religion that includes three major gods is called a Trimurti. Hinduism is a Trimurti in the sense that there are three forms of the eternal soul, however Hinduism is also monotheistic because there is one soul, Brahman, in everyone. Brahma creates life, Vishnu preserves life, and Shiva destroys life. Brahma is portrayed as a creature with three heads, often meditating. Brahma could be in charge of birth, for example. Vishnu is depicted as a creature that may have lilies or life around him, and who may constantly save the earth. Healing animals or preserving plants could be in Vishnu’s domain. Shiva is a god that could be easily misinterpreted as malevolent, or evil. Shiva is not evil, despite his task of destroying life. Shiva could be depicted destroying evil, in many situations, for instance killing a dwarf– dwarves were an ancient symbol of evil. All people living under the protection of Brahman must adhere to a set of rules called Dharma. The word Dharma comes from the Sanskrit word dhri, which means to sustain. One’s Varna determines one’s Dharma, and one must always follow Dharma to advance castes. Dharma rules include not associating with too low of a class and performing jobs commonly completed by a person’s respective Varna. Major beliefs of Hinduism include karma, ahimsa, reincarnation, moksha, and maya. Karma is a term commonly used and understood in today’s society. Good actions will result in good consequences for he/she who acted well. The opposite is also true; if one commits a negative action, one can expect a negative action in response. With that said, the initial action and the consequential action are unrelated, or not in the same situation. Karma has no timeline and can catch up to a person at any point in their life. Karma affects the birth that one will achieve in the next life; if the overall karma of a person is good, then they will have a better birth in the next life. Another belief of Hinduism is ahimsa, a straightforward belief that reflects negatively upon violence toward any living thing. A simple belief that can be easily understood and acted, with ahisma, one must simply attempt to harm nothing. Reincarnation, the third belief, represents another term used often in today’s society. This term, however, has a different meaning in Hinduism context. Reincarnation in Hinduism could possibly occur infinitely because one is reborn as many times as it takes to advance to moksha. One is reincarnated in the caste that they deserve based on the individual’s last life. When one is reincarnated, the individual doesn’t remember anything from their last life; they have a completely new slate. The fourth belief in Hinduism is moksha, the state of complete enlightenment, or a way to finally exit the rebirth cycle. Moksha provides relief to the tired Atman, the Hindu’s word for soul. A human’s goal on earth is to always advance to the next caste, and eventually, one with a pure Atman can advance to moksha. The Atman represents one’s self. The final belief of Hinduism is maya, a force of evil that distracts the Atman’s journey and quest to achieve moksha. Maya is a malevolent type of magic that people wish to avoid as much as possible. The temptation to cheat on a test or exam is a form of maya. To summarize: everyone has part of a universal soul within him/herself and everyone is born into a caste. Each caste has a specific Dharma to follow; additionally, if he/she follows his/her personal Dharma, he/she can advance a caste in the next life or eventually reach moksha.
Buddhism was founded in India approximately 300 years after Hinduism. Today, approximately 7% of the world practices Buddhism. Buddhism was founded by one person, Siddhartha Guatama. Siddhartha was born in India as a Kshatriya, a noble and or warrior. A prophecy predicted that Siddartha would either become a ruler or a priest. Siddhartha’s parents kept Siddartha unexposed from the whole world until Siddhartha was twenty-nine years old. When Siddhartha left his palace, he recognized that the world was full of suffering. He met an old man, a dying man, and a sick man. He realized that this suffering was common, and despite his situation as a noble with all of his whims met, he set out on a quest to find the reason for suffering. At age 35, Siddhartha reached total enlightenment, known in Buddhism as Nirvana. Siddharta tried living as a noble with an excess of resources as well as living as one with no food or commodities at all. He realized that one must live in moderation to live the most fulfilling life. Siddhartha is depicted in statues and art as a man in meditation, often in the lotus pose. His ears, however, are stretched downward because of heavy earrings worn during his rich childhood. This is to signify that Siddhartha came from a noble family, yet chose to live in moderation. Siddartha determined four truths of life when he became enlightened: all life is suffering, suffering comes from desire, to end suffering one must end desire, and the Eightfold Path is the path to Nirvana. The Eightfold Path includes eight practices; if one follows the practices, one can reach Nirvana. Nirvana is the escape of the cycle of rebirth. These Four Noble Truths became the rules of Buddhism. Those who follow the Four Noble Truths and reach Nirvana, yet choose to stay on earth to guide other people, are known as Bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas sacrifice a great privilege by staying behind on earth, as enlightenment is paramount to Buddhism. The Buddhas, those who are not only successful in reaching Nirvana but also ascend, enjoy ceremonial burial sites known as Stupas. Stupas are temples that are constructed for those Buddas in veneration. An example of a famous Stupa is the Great Stupa at Sanchi. This stupa is believed to have ashes from the Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama. Veneration is the action of deeply honoring or feeling great respect for someone. An example of veneration in Charlottesville is the respect that all UVA students, alumni, and faculty feel for Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson founded UVA as well as other significant accomplishments, such as writing the Declaration of Independence. In summary, Siddartha Guatama created Buddhism. Additionally, Siddartha dictated that to be a successful Buddist one must end desire and obey the eightfold path. If one followed those suggestions, one could become enlightened and ascend, or remain on earth to help others achieve enlightenment.
To compare Hinduism and Buddhism, one must start by examining the beliefs. The two both maintain that karma exists in life, as well as that reincarnation occurs and is based on the overall actions of a person. The two also believe in ahisma, although fighting does occur in ancient India. The last belief that the two religions have in common is enlightenment. The respective religions refer to enlightenment with different names: moksha and nirvana. Buddhists do not have a similar belief to maya; they believe that everything is self-controlled. Hindus do not have a possibility within their religion for someone to delay enlightenment, such as becoming a Bodhisattva. Both religions have roots in ancient India, however, their different founders. Unlike Hinduism, Buddhism was created by one person, Siddartha Gautama. Hinduism was created more by the culture of the Aryans and the ancient Indians blending. Buddhism was largely based on Hinduism. Hinduism is an older religion than Buddhism; Buddhism was created about 300 years after Hinduism. Today Hinduism is much more practiced than Buddhism: Hinduism claims about 13% of the world while Buddhism is practiced by roughly 7% of the world. Both religions had ancient documents that were written in Sanskrit, a language spoken today by some. Hinduism has many gods, or forms of one being, that are not found in Buddhism. Buddhism does not have gods because it is even more self-related than Hinduism. Buddhism also eliminates the caste system. Unlike in Hinduism, in Buddhism one can reach enlightenment from any point in life. In Hinduism, Varna is based on skin color, and in Buddhism there is no such discrimination. The caste system is an integral part of Hinduism and its absence in Buddhism is a significant difference. Buddhism has the Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths while Hinduism has dharma. These rules or suggestions to follow are both examples of paths to reach enlightenment. They are similar in that one must reach enlightenment by following them, however, they are different in that the Buddhism rules apply for everyone, while the Hinduism rules are different for every class of person. The main differences between Hinduism and Buddhism: in Buddhism, gods aren’t recognized, in Buddhism, religion doesn’t discriminate based on social class, Buddhism was founded by a single person instead of by an entire culture.
Hinduism and Buddhism, decidedly distinctive religions, have remarkably similar beliefs, but contrasting core values. The two religions focus on self-reflection and discovery. One may choose to become either a Buddhist or a Hindu because both religions are earthly and humanistic. Those who don’t believe in gods may become Buddhist instead of a Hindu. Likewise, those who were raised traditionally in India may decide to become a Hindu instead of a Buddhist. Although Buddhism may seem the milder of the two religions, Buddhism still has extremists. The Burning Monk was an example of a Buddhist who had truly reached enlightenment. To sit still and utter no sound while one’s flesh smolders off demonstrates true courage, strength, and determination. The Burning Monk learned some of these disciplines during his study of Buddhism. The two religions are both great choices for those who wish to live a peaceful and self-aware life.