By Jayaram V
Gautama was born and brought up and lived and
died a Hindu...There was not much in the metaphysics and principles
of Gautama which cannot be found in one or other of the orthodox
systems, and a great deal of his morality could be matched from
earlier or later Hindu books." (Rhys Davids)
"To my mind...Buddhism has always seemed
to be not a new religion, but a natural development of the Indian
mind in its various manifestations, religious, philosophical,
social and political" (Prof. Max Mueller.
"Buddhism, in its origin at least is an offshoot
of Hinduism." (S.Rahdhakrishnan)
"The Buddha reset the native thinking and breathed
fresh life into certain ancient beliefs providing them with
a new perspective and interpretation that was indisputably a
product of human intellect with its roots firmly entrenched
in virtue and righteous conduct. He was a ascetic teacher who
refused to believe in the Vedas blindly." Jayaram
"The more I study Hinduism and Buddhism, the
more I realize how similar they are except for the fundamental
differences. Both were born in the womb of the same Mother.
Both grew in the light of the same wisdom. Both understood the
implications of death and the need for a permanent solution.
For example the deity of Death who is holding the wheel of existence
in this Buddhist painting (of Kalacakra) is the same god of
Death who is mentioned in the Upanishads and who manifests before
Arjuna in the Bhagavadgita. He is also Rudra and Bhairava, and
Mara and Yama. This image of Death, holding the wheel of existence
in his Hands and between His teeth with fierce eyes and a terrible
form, symbolizes mortality of life and the fact that in the
end Death consumes us all." Jayaram V
Both Hinduism and
Buddhism originated in
the Indian subcontinent and share a very long, but rather peculiar
and uncomfortable relationship, which in many ways is comparable
to that of Judaism and Christianity.
The Buddha was born in
a Hindu family, just as Christ was born in a Jewish family. Some
people still argue that Buddhism was an offshoot of Hinduism and
the Buddha was a part of the Hindu pantheon, a view which is not
acceptable to many Buddhists. It is however widely accepted that
Buddhism gained popularity in India because it released the people
from the oppression of tradition and orthodoxy.
of the Buddha created hope and aspiration for those who had otherwise
no hope of salvation and freedom of choice in a society that was
dominated by caste system, predominance of ritual form of worship
and the exclusive status of the privileged classes which the Vedic
religion upheld as inviolable and indisputable.
Long ago, over 1500 years ago, Hindu tradition accepted the Buddha
as an incarnation of Vishnu. However strong
rivalry existed between both traditions in the subcontinent for
a very long time. The followers of Siva and
the Buddha could hardly stand each other in the earlier times. There
were instances of Buddhist persecution by Hindu rulers, though a
great majority followed a policy of religious toleration. Sasank,
a ruler from Bengal and contemporary of Harshavardhana vandalized
Buddhist monuments and burnt the Pipal tree under which the Buddha
Despite the fundamental differences between both the
religions, Hinduism and Buddhism influenced each other in many
ways. The Buddhist notion of non-injury and compassion toward
all living beings took deep roots in the Indian soil, while
Mahayana Buddhism took cue from the traditional Indian methods
of devotional worship. Buddhism influenced the growth and
development of Indian art and architecture and contributed
richly to the practice of breathing and meditation in attaining
mindfulness and higher states of consciousness. The Hindu tantra
influenced the origin and evolution of Vajrayana Buddhism.
Hinduism and Buddhism share some of the following similarities.
1. Both Hinduism and Buddhism emphasize the illusory nature of
the world and the role of karma in keeping
men bound to this world and the cycle of births and deaths.
2. According to the Buddha, desire is the root cause of suffering
and removal of desire results in the cessation of suffering. Some
of the Hindu texts such as the Upanishads
(Isa) and the Bhagavadgita consider
doing actions prompted by desire and attachment would lead to bondage
and suffering and that performing actions without desiring the fruit
of action would result in liberation.
3. Both religions believe in the concept of karma, transmigration
of souls and the cycle of births and deaths for each
4. Both emphasize compassion and non violence towards all living
5. Both believe in the existence of several hells and heavens
or higher and lower worlds.
6. Both believe in the existence of gods
or deities on different
planes. They also use similar names for several deities
such as Indra, Brahma, Yama etc.
7. Both believe in certain spiritual practices like meditation,
concentration, cultivation of certain bhavas or states of mind.
8. Both believe in detachment, renunciation of worldly life as
a precondition to enter to spiritual life. Both consider desire
as the chief cause of suffering.
9. The Advaita philosophy
of Hinduism is closer to Buddhism in many respects.
10. Buddhism and Hinduism have their own versions of
11. Both originated and evolved on the Indian soil. The founder
of Buddhism was a Hindu who became the Buddha. Buddhism is the greatest
gift of India to mankind.
12. Both Hinduism and Buddhism recognize Death as an inevitable
and inescapable aspect of life. Both personify Death as a deity,
as Kala and Yama in Hinduism and as Mara and Yama in Buddhism. Death
as the devourer of all life figures prominently in the Bhagavadgita
and Upanishads and so also in the Buddhist texts and iconography.
13. Both Hinduism and Buddhism believe that liberation, not rebirth
or heavenly life, is the best solution to the problem of suffering
14. Both Buddhism and Hinduism recognize a four tier cosmology
of multiple worlds and spheres. Hinduism recognizes a subterranean
world, the earth, the mid-region populated by celestial beings,
the heaven of Indra and the world of Brahman. Buddhism recognizes
an underworld, the earth, the mid-region of devas inhabiting the
worlds of passions and desires, the higher region of devas inhabiting
the worlds of forms and perception and the highest region of abstract
worlds known as Brahma lokas inhabited great beings.
15. Both religions recognize the earth as the center of the universe,
resting on the mountain Meru, surrounded by seven concentric rings
of mountains and seven oceans, with the hells of asuras below and
the worlds of devas above. Both recognize the land where the
Buddha was born as Jambudvipa.
16. Both hold that the whole cosmos is represented in the inner
world a human being.
Buddha's attitude towards Hindus
Prior to his enlightenment, the Buddha was brought up in
a traditional Hindu family. Before finding his own path, he went
to Hindu gurus to find an answer to the problem of suffering. He
followed the meditation techniques and ascetic practices as prescribed
by the Hindu scriptures and followed by the Hindu yogis of his time.
It is said that after becoming the Buddha, he showed special consideration
to the higher caste Hindus especially the Brahmins (priests) and
Kshatriyas (warriors). He exhorted his disciples to treat especially
Brahmins with respect and consideration because of their spiritual
bent of mind and inner progress achieved during their previous births.
It is said that certain categories of Brahmins had free access to
the Buddha and that some of the Brahmin ascetics were admitted into
the monastic discipline without being subjected to the rigors of
probation which was other wise compulsory for all classes of people.
The Buddha converted many Brahmins to Buddhism and consider their
involvement a sure sign of progress and popularity of his fledgling
movement. Much later, we find a similar echo of sentiment in the
King Ashoka where he exhorted the people of his empire to show
due respect to the Brahmins.
Hindus attitude towards Buddhists in ancient times
ThThe Vedic texts, especially the Puranas betray a pointed animosity
towards Buddhism and the Buddha. The chasm between the two traditions
grew in course of time as Buddhism tried to capitalize on the vulnerabilities
of Vedic beliefs. The Buddha is considered an incarnation of Lord
Vishnu for all the wrong reasons. The Puranas suggest that Lord
Siva and Vishnu manifested as a Jina and Buddha respectively to
mislead the demons and cause their destruction. Once the people
lost their dharma and cease being devotees of gods, the gods such
as Vishnu and Shiva would have no problem launching an offensive
against them and destroying them. Thus the purpose of including
the Buddha and some Jinas in the Hindu pantheon was entirely parochial.
The Buddha's not-self (anatta) theory is very similar to the belief
held by the demons that the body is the soul, which is mentioned
in the Chandogya Upanishad (8.7), as the doctrine learned wrongly
by Vairocana while he was receiving instruction from Brahma. This
gave the Vedic scholars valid justification to draw parallels between
the two. Incidentally, Vairocana is considered one of the five Dhyana
Buddhas in Vajrayana Buddhism. Therefore, although religious tolerance
was the hallmark of ancient Indian society, the relationship between
the Buddhist and the Hindus was less than cordial. When Buddhism
was on decline, many caves and monasteries belonging to the Buddhist
monks were either occupied or converted by Hindus into places of
worship by installing Hindu deities. It is possible a similar practice
might have been followed by Buddhist monks when Buddhism was in
Following are some of the differences we can see in the principles
and practice of these two religions.
1. Hinduism is not founded by any particular prophet. Buddhism
was founded by the Buddha.
2. Hinduism believes in the efficacy and supremacy of the
Vedas. The Buddhist
do not believe in the Vedas or for that matter any Hindu scripture.
3. Buddhism does not believe in the existence of souls as well
in the first cause, whom we generally call God. Hinduism believe
in the existence of Atman , that is the
individual soul and Brahman, the
4. Hinduism accepts the Buddha as an incarnation of
Mahavishnu, one of the gods of Hindu trinity.
The Buddhist do not accept any Hindu god either as an equal or superior
to the Buddha.
5. The original Buddhism as taught by the Buddha is known as
Theravada Buddhism or
Buddhism. Followers of this do not worship images of the Buddha
nor believe in the Bodhisattvas. The Mahayana sect considers the
Buddha as the Supreme Soul or the Highest Being, akin to the Brahman
of Hinduism and worship him in the form of images and icons.
6. Hinduism recognizes four chief aims of human life, namely
dharma (religious duty), artha (wealth or material possessions),
kama (desires and passions) and moksha (salvation). Buddhism considers
the world full of suffering and resolving it as the chief purpose
of human life. Therefore, it recognizes only two aims, namely the
practice of Dharma (Buddha's teachings) and liberation (Nirvana).
7. Hindus also believe in the four ashramas
or stages in life. This is not followed in Buddhism. People can
join the Order any time depending upon their spiritual preparedness.
8. Buddhists organize themselves into a monastic Order (Sangha)
and the monks live in groups. Hinduism is basically a religion of
9. Buddhism believes in the concept of Bodhisattvas. Hinduism
does not believe in it.
11. Buddhism acknowledge the existence of some
gods and goddesses of Hindu pantheon,
but give them a rather subordinate status.
12. Refuge in the Buddha, the Sangha and Dhamma are the three
cardinal requirements on the
eightfold path. Hinduism
offers many choices to its followers on the path of self-realization.
13. Although both religions believe in karma and rebirth, they
differ in the manner in which they operate and impact the existence
of individual beings.
Hinduism, Buddhism and Yoga
Yoga is essentially a Hindu tradition with its roots in the Vedic
ritual symbolism and its internalization. Yoga is mentioned and
explained in several ancient Upanishads, long before the emergence
of Buddhism. Prior to the Buddha, yoga was practiced in many forms
by the ascetics and ascetic traditions of ancient India, including
Jainism. The rudiments of yoga practice are found in the Katha and
Svetasvatara Upanishads, while a more advanced version in
the Maitri Upanishad. The epic Mahabharata makes many references
to yoga. According to Edwin F. Bryant, the terms yoga and yogi occur
about 900 times in the epic.
By all accounts, Patanjali did not invent the wheel of yoga.
He codified it and standardized its teaching. During his wanderings
as an ascetic monk, the Buddha practiced various forms of austerities
and yoga. His enlightenment was a direct result of dhyana, an ancient
form of meditation. The ascetic practices of both Buddhism
and Hinduism draw heavily from ancient Yoga traditions in their
respective ways to practice self-transformation. Both rely upon
Yoga to restrain human nature and overcome desires and attachments.
They use many common terms to explain the practices of yoga or stages
in self-absorption. However, yoga has a much wider connotation in
Hinduism than in Buddhism. Hindu yoga aims to achieve liberation
through union with the inner Self and in some yogas through union
with the Supreme Self, whereas in Buddhism it is meant to suppress
the modification and disperse the formation of ego. In Buddhism
self-absorption denotes the end of all desires and modifications
and an experience with emptiness. In Hinduism also it denotes the
end of all desires and modifications but an experience with
transcendence or union with the transcendental Self.
Of the two religions Hinduism is older perhaps by at least a
millennium or two. Some Buddhist may argue that the Buddha that
we know historically as born in the sixth century B.C. in the Indian
subcontinent was but one in the line of many Buddhas that preceded
him and would follow him. Such a belief may enjoy some validation
and approval in the metaphysical realm of enlightened monks, just
as the Hindus believe in the existence and continuation of Sanatana
dharma, (popularly known as Hinduism) through endless cycles of
creation and dissolution of worlds spanning across a time frame
of millions of years. However available evidence do not confirm
the theory that Buddhism existed as a religion prior to the birth
of the Buddha. In case of
Mahavira, the founder of
Jainism we have evidence that he was the last in the long line
of 24 Jain Thirthankaras, But in case of Buddhism we do not have
Technically speaking, Hinduism is not a religion but a group
of religious and sectarian movements that share some fundamental
and in some respects identical beliefs, regional variations, history,
tradition and practices peculiar to the land and the times in which
they originated and evolved. In contrast, Buddhism is a well established
and organized religion having a set of beliefs and practices, commonly
known as the Dhamma, based on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold
We can safely conclude that in the first few centuries following
the nirvana of the Buddha, Buddhism was an integral and significant
part of the complex religious character of the subcontinent that
was later came to be recognized as Hinduism by the outside world.
However subsequently Buddhism crossed the boundaries of the Indian
subcontinent and went on to play a much greater role in the whole
of Asia. In the process it developed a very complex sectarian, theological
and geographical diversity and tradition of its own to become one
of the most significant and influential religions of the world.
No wonder many people who are not familiar with the history of the
Indian subcontinent fail to understand and notice the deep connection
that existed between Hinduism and Buddhism in the earlier days and
the significant ways in which they enriched each other.
Suggested Further Reading