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Hinduism and Buddhism

Kali, a Hindu god

Kali, a Hindu god

Question:

I was interested in learning the relationship between Hinduism and Buddhism. Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) was originally a Hinduist so it’s only natural for some of that to have bled into his teachings. Some Buddhist teachings actually talk about Hindu gods. There are also the primary concepts of karma and samsara in Buddhism which are directly taken from Hinduism. The problem is that having Hinduism bleed into Buddhism makes Buddhism much less of a philosophy and more of a religion. I can believe in the philosophy of Buddhism, but not necessary the religion.

So my question is: Is Buddhism rooted in Hinduism in the same way that Christianity is rooted in Judaism where to be a Christian you need to basically accept all or most of Judaism too, or is no there no real relationship other than the some of the same shared concepts?

Krishna, another Hindu god

Krishna, another Hindu god

Answer:

As you say, most everyone in that region during Buddha’s day was a Hindu, and yes, most of the religious trappings of Buddhism can be traced back to this in some way. Don’t think, however, that it was Buddha’s plan to “invent” a whole new religion. In his mind, he was a good Hindu, much in the same was as Jesus considered himself a good Jew. The expansion of things into a full-blown “religion” took many years after his death. Historically, the growth of Buddhism and Christianity are similar, just one of many parallels between the two. However, Buddhism is much more flexible and open-ended in what “beliefs” are required, which is one reason the various sects of Buddhism are so different from each other.

Hinduism had existed in that part of the world for… pretty much forever. Hinduism is the oldest of the major religions, going back way before recorded history. There’s no way anyone or any idea in that part of the world could avoid being influenced by this, and those beliefs are still very much a part of Eastern Buddhism today.

The Buddhist creation stories and a great majority of the original gods & deities (although there were also many “regional” additions) are straight from Hinduism. Even the core ideas of the cycle of samsara and karma comes from Hinduism, although it’s a little different there. Reincarnation/Rebirth is also from Hinduism, but again, has changed a bit over the years. These things are not necessarily so much a part of “religion” in the East as they are just the way things work; it’s an ingrained part of the culture.

However, the further Buddhism spreads away from Asia, the less relevant that Hindu influence gets, and in America, the Hindu influence probably works against Buddhism as much as anything else. Buddhism adapts to culture, not the other way around.

Once again, I’ll say it; let’s get back to the basics: Four Noble Truths & Eightfold Path. There’s nothing inherently religious in those, and no one is going to argue against their centrality to Buddhism. All the rest is at least somewhat optional. Certain denominations require certain additional things, and some are very religious in nature, but as we discussed a few weeks ago, you are a Buddhist if you follow the Path. That’s the only requirement.

In my own opinion, if you want to strip all the religion out and use Buddhism as a practice and/or a philosophy, that’s fine. Some people enjoy the rituals and religious aspects, and it helps them stay mindful and respectful, and that’s fine; but it’s not a take-it-or-leave-it proposition as many Western religions are.

11 comments to Hinduism and Buddhism

  • Timothy Hilgenberg

    Alan Watts in “Buddhism – Religion of No Religion” describes Buddhism as a path to overcome religion… following the dharma in the end is to “free” yourself … and religion is about faith, which at that stage you should not really need any more, being as you were fully realised – see one of Brian’s recent podcasts on Enlightenment đŸ™‚

  • Great article! I would also suggest that Jainism heavily influenced Buddhism, particularly the Triple Gems of Jainism: Right View, Right Knowledge, and Right Conduct. Sounds very much like the Eightfold Path in Buddhism. Jains also do not focus on the idea of an individual creator God, but unlike Buddhism, the Jains do focus heavily on the concept of a soul. Finally, Jains focus less on Brahmanism, which the Buddha rejected. The jains viewed the soul as equal instead of hierarchical. I have not done enough research on Jainism’s influence on Buddhism, but there are certainly shared values there as well. The Four Noble Truths, for example, seem very authentic to Buddhism, whereas the Eightfold Path seems somewhat “borrowed” or re-articulated in Buddhism. I am, by no means, rejecting Buddhism’s visions as authentic; I am simply taking a contextual approach to understanding the two religions, which I find amazing and inexhaustible. Thanks for the great topic today!

    –Jinglett

  • Abe Simpson

    I am uncomfortable with the belief that Buddha thought he was a good Hindu in the same way I am uncomfortable with the thought that Martin Luther thought he was a good Catholic.

    Buddha began his meditiation as a Hindu, but awakened and denounced the pagan and caste systems of Hinduism. The Buddha taught that the tenents of the Vedas as they were being practiced. If Hindus had a pope, Buddha would have been excommunicated thet way Martin Luther was.

    My two western,copper pieces.

  • Abe Simpson

    Oops…typo

    The Buddha taught that the tenents of the Vedas, as they were being practiced, were wrong.

  • Jami

    Interesting question and answer. Possibly, shared origins in most things can be found. It depends on how we pose the question.

    Ideas evolve. Words are not always simple synonyms. Buddha, in his journey, did not require Cast, and perhaps this alone was enough to flag the great change of his teaching regarding his family attachments.

  • Really good answer. I really admire those Buddhists (and any people) who can respect the beliefs of others. Hindus and Buddhists are quite unique.

  • Buddhism does not ask you to accept anything unless you confirm it with your own direct perception, primarily, and rational analysis, secondarily.

  • Steve

    All the hell with it,if it works for me than i am investigating as the BUDDHA advised us to ,Buddha said something like, investigate all things for yourself, to see if it is true and to not take someone else”s word for it or simply because it is written down,don”t take my word for the truth or anyone else”s ,check it out to see if it is true.

  • Roger

    Then go ahead and investigate free sex to see of HIV-AIDS is true. I think that we are you use our common sense. Too many people are experimenting with everything and not giving our attention to what is pure and elevating.

  • Roger, yes, of course common sense is needed. What Steve meant (and Buddha too) was that we should not accept ANYTHING blindly and that we should question those who claim to be authorities. Accept that which you know to be real, and not to follow blindly.

  • Sam

    Buddhism is an offshoot of Jainism. Buddha himself practiced Jainism earlier before he started preaching his own philosophy. H. Jacobi, the noted German Indolgist was the first person to prove this.

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