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What is the Difference Between Hinduism and Buddhism?

Updated: May 3, 2022

I have often been asked by my students as to the difference between Buddhism and Hinduism. This is a great question that I believe I can bring a small of light on.


My staple answer is that Buddha was a Hindu! Which is true, but does not explain the differences between the two since they were created by the Lord Buddha in his lifetime. Let me explain as simply as possible.


Origins


Hinduism is the major world religion originating on the Indian subcontinent and comprising several and varied systems of philosophy, belief, and ritual. Although the name Hinduism is relatively new, having been coined by British writers in the first decades of the 19th century, it refers to a rich cumulative tradition of texts and practices, some of which date to the 2nd millennium BCE or possibly earlier. If the Indus valley civilization (3rd–2nd millennium BCE) was the earliest source of these traditions, as some scholars hold, then Hinduism is the oldest living religion on Earth. It’s many sacred texts in Sanskrit and vernacular languages served as a vehicle for spreading the religion to other parts of the world. From about the 4th century CE, Hinduism had a dominant presence in Southeast Asia, one that would last for more than 1,000 years.

Buddhism, religion and philosophy that developed from the teachings of the Buddha, a teacher who lived in northern India between the mid-6th and mid-4th centuries BCE. Spreading from India to Central and Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan, Buddhism has played a central role in the spiritual, cultural, and social life of Asia, and, beginning in the 20th century, it spread to the West.

Buddhism was derived by the life and teachings of “The Buddha”, which preached in northern India and his teachings spread throughout. Buddha's followers gathered his teachings into the Tripitaka. Buddhism eventually split into two schools of thought: Theravada Buddhism, which closely followed Buddhas original teachings, and Mahayana Buddhism, which made it easier for the layman to follow His teachings.


Buddhism eventually declined in India, being swallowed up by Hinduism which made Buddha another Hindu God!


You can see why there would be so much confusion when discussing both.

Let me make it easier by discussing….


Differences and Similarities


Similarities between the two:

They both believe in Karma, Dharma, Moksha and Reincarnation.


Buddhism rejects the priests of Hinduism, the formal rituals, and the caste system (which has recently been removed and which also I believe it has been misunderstood for many centuries, perhaps this is for another article?)


Buddha also urged people to seek enlightenment through meditation. Mmmmm? But so does Hinduism? As I initially stated, Buddha was a Hindu.


Hinduism - Has no single founder, no single sacred text, grew out of various groups in India, the Aryans added their religions beliefs to those of the Indus Valley (where the name Hinduism came from).


Hindu Beliefs

  • God is One, but known by many names.

  • Everything in the universe is part of the unchanging- all powerful force called Brahman.

  • Brahman is too complex for most people to understand.

  • They worship gods that give a concrete form to Brahman.

  • Gods are Brahma the Creator; Vishnu of Preservation, Shiva the destroyer.

  • All are aspects of Brahman.

  • Every person has an essential life, or atman.



More Hindu Beliefs….

  • Atman, is just another name for Bhraman.

  • The ultimate goal is to attain moksha, union with Bhraman.

  • Hindus believe in reincarnation.

  • Reincarnation is the rebirth of the soul in another bodily form.

  • Karma: Your good or bad deeds affect ones future life, and the future of those around one, for good or suffering.

  • All existence is ranked, Bhraman, humans, animals, plants, things…. (Probably yet another blog post!)

  • To help escape the wheel of fate, dharma, religious duties can help on acquire for the next life .

  • Vedas and Upanishads are sacred texts. The Bhagavad Gita spells outman ethical issues.

  • Ahimsa s another key principle of Hinduism, nonviolence.

Buddha


Gautama Buddha, from the foothills of the Himalayas, founded a new religion (although many would say that this is not a religion, but a spiritual practice!)


Gautama was born about 566 BC

He saw for the first time his protected environment, a sick person, an older person and a dead person.


Gautama left a happy married life to discover the realm of life”where there is neither suffering or death.”


Buddha also …


Meditated and fasted. For 48 days he meditated in one place. He believed he understood the cure for suffering and sorrow; he was now The Buddha (a God Realized Being)


The Four Nobel Truths are the heart of Buddhism:


All life is full of suffering, pain and sorrow.


The cause of suffering is the desire for things that are really illusions, such as riches, power, and long life.


The only cure for suffering is to overcome desire.


The way to overcome desires is to follow the Eightfold Path!


The Eightfold Path

  • Right views

  • Right aspiration

  • Right speech

  • Right conduct

  • Right livelihood

  • Right effort

  • Right mindfulness

  • Right contemplation


Ok, not sure if I was able to enlighten you on the differences between the two since they are truly very similar!

Here are a few more clear distinctions:


Similarities :

Both have their roots in India

Both believe in Karma, Samsara, and Dharma.

Both practice meditation, yoga, mantras.

Both recognize symbols such as Dharmachakra and Mudra.


Differences:

Hinduism was not founded by a person, Buddhism was founded by Gautama Buddha.


Hinduism is followed mainly by Indians and Buddhism followers are mainly in East and Southeast Asia.


Hinduism recognizes many Gods, and Buddhism recognizes the existence of one god but does not focus on it.


Hinduism focuses on religious rituals, and Buddhism focuses on ethical behaviors.


Hinduism (this has recently changed) - divides society with a caste system (and yes, another blog article) and Buddhism recognizes that all humans are equal.


Hinduism has temples for certain Gods and believes that Buddha was a reincarnation of Vishnu. Buddhism has temples only for Buddha .



I have studied both practices for the majority of my life and both are beautiful expressions of the continuation of the soul, and the understanding of our lives here on the human earth.


I don't believe one is right and one is wrong ,as I do not believe that there is a right or wrong religion, anywhere .


Take what moves you and live life to its fullest! Take God’s passion that he has placed in your heart and make it glorious.


Thank you for reading,


Namaste


Berta


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Thank you Berta. I'm wondering about the differences with regard to the status of women in the two religions. Based on Hindu scripture, in theory, women are equal to men, but in practice, I don't think this is the case; at least in India. Obviously, in Hinduism God is often worshipped in female form. I don't know about Buddism in this respect.

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