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?
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.