Sunday, August 23, 2009

Buddhism is very different from Hinduism

Hindu saddhus in Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

Reply to Changi 1: Buddhism is very different from Hinduism
Daniel Hopkinson (, Aug. 22, 2009)
Buddhism is very different from Hinduism in several respects:
  • In Buddha's teaching there is no concept of gods such as in other theistic religions.
  • In Hinduism the God Shiva manifests itself in many forms.

WQ: The Buddha borrowed the prevalent concept of gods and Gods (devas and brahmas) and added to it. The concept is a far less complex pantheon, but there are many, many gods. The concept of what a deity is, indeed, is quite different. Buddhism is a non-theistic (not atheistic) tradition; it does not rely on gods but it does believe in them. The various kinds of gods in this and other worlds are subject to karma, rebirth, to downfall, and vary between one another. They are not able to grant liberation from Samsara. Often virtuous, they are not always wise. Sometimes powerful, they are oftentimes dealing with the same issues of vanity, ego, delusion, anger, and greed that humans are wrestling with.

  • Another fundamental difference is that while Hinduism condones the caste system Buddhism does not.
  • All human beings, in Buddhist beliefs, are equal. One station in life is in the hands of oneself. Karmic law ensures that.

WQ: Indeed, the Buddha did not support the traditional caste system. He regarded one's actions in this life, not one's rebirth into a particular station in life, as the more important thing. One is or is not a "brahmin" by one's actions now. However, one was not accidentally born into one's caste or circumstances. The Buddha pointed out inherent differences between beings. They are all equal in potential but not equal in karma (deeds), wisdom, access to knowledge, habits, and so on. The entire discussion is squashed whenever someone says the Buddha was a Hindu. He was not a Hindu. (There was not even such a thing as "Hindu" at that time).

The Buddha was a wandering ascetic who defied the dominant tradition (Brahmanism) and its Vedic authority. The Buddha rebelled against this authority and found a path to direct realization without the intermediary of priests (such as Protestantism in its utter rejection of Catholic Church orthodoxy and power) or authoritative and unquestionable texts no one but the priestly class even had a chance to handle and study much less interpret.

Reply to Changi 1: Buddhism is very different from Hinduism. Welcome to our discussions. It seems that we have a similar problem with Buddhism and Hinduism as we do in Christianity between Catholics and Protestants, at least in some respects:

  • Differences in belief: Some, like you [Changi], have asserted that they are very different, while others assert they are rather similar. It sounds as if we need more discussion and input from anyone who can provide us with some documentation. Thanks for your comments. Join the discussion!

WQ: Documentation (references to sutras, ancient commentaries, and modern scholarship) is abundant. The two traditions are not very different to the casual observer, no more different than Judaism and Christianity. And in that sense they are very different. People cannot tolerate the contrasts between Catholicism and Protestantism, and yet these are the same religion. Buddhism, like Christianity, is a new religion emerging out of Hinduism. The similarities are striking. But the comparisons between Christianity and Judaism are even stronger.

Whether Hinduism and Buddhism are more similar than different has more to do with what one regards as significant. On many significant points, they could not be more different. They sought the same thing (moksha or "liberation") but pointed out different means to achieve and different definitions for what constitutes deliverance. With the veneer of details removed, Hinduism is far closer to Christian beliefs than to Buddhism. But Hinduism and Buddhism share a common cultural background that links them.