REL 151 A
Buddhism meets Hinduism; where they meet and where they part
There is no dispute that the roots of Buddhism lay in Hinduism. The dispute, however, arises over how these roots are placed. Some people argue that Buddhism was an offshoot of Hinduism and that the Buddha was a part of the Hindu pantheon, a view, which for obvious reasons, is not acceptable to many Buddhists. Their belief, one that is widely held, is that Buddhism gained popularity in India because it released people from the oppression and tradition of orthodoxy. Therefore, they propagate, it cannot be an offshoot of the religion that it was created to repudiate. Clearly, one way or the other these two religions manage to achieve a unique feat; they appear to be both, incredibly alike and dissimilar at the same. While both these religious titans of the East greatly contrast with the religions of the West, they also widely contrast each other. Their relationship is, no doubt, a peculiar and multilayered one, of which a close examination is bound to reveal important aspects of both religions’ dispositions, and the ways in which they align or separate themselves from one another.
Hinduism was, indisputably, one of the major influences in the life of the Buddha. It is clear then that the relationship between these two religions was borne even before the inception of Buddhism. In around 600 B.C, Hinduism was governed by the dogmatic and rigid principles of a stringent caste system, segregating society into different roles, and prescribing duties within each. Many individuals, born into households governed by Hindu philosophies, found themselves stuck in a rut of unhappiness. This misery laid a fertile ground for the growth of Buddhism and its subsequent popularity. Additionally, Gautam Siddhartha’s (Buddha’s) father, King Suddhodana, had an ardent desire to ensure his son was crowned king, and confined him to the palace grounds (Thera, 9). But when Siddhartha did eventually venture out of the palace, he came to understand the cycle of suffering by being exposed to the suffering of ordinary people. Thus began the Buddha’s journey to bring about the cessation of suffering. After seeking knowledge from famous Hindu religious Masters of the time, trying all measures of meditation, the Buddha came to find that he was nowhere close to his goal, and his pursuit continued (Thera, 14). This shows that Buddha could not find the component he required to feel complete from Hinduism, and rather had to cultivate this for himself. After ceaseless wandering, meditation and asceticism, it was in Bodh Gaya that he was able to completely overthrow all his mental obstacles and attain complete enlightenment. Hence, we are able to realize that although Buddhism’s roots lie in Hinduism, there was a quality missing in the religion, that prevented the Buddha from achieving his ultimate goal; Nirvana.
Nevertheless, there are some similarities between the two faiths, which are inevitable, given the geographic and cultural commonalities that bind them. Both Hinduism and Buddhism give immense importance to meditation and yoga, as a means to attain liberation. The notions of dharma, one’s duties, and karma, one’s deeds, are also common to both religions. Further, both also focus on an endless cycle of suffering, from which one is required to break free and release into Nirvana, which equates to the Hindu idea of Moksha. Nonetheless, the two faiths deal with these concepts, and several others, in very different ways, even though they might seem similar on a surface view.
Hence, while Hinduism and Buddhism may run parallel to each other in terms of some beliefs and aspects of culture, they do not really intersect, as they show a strong sense of divergence in theory and practice. The basic social structure of the two religions is different; Hinduism's caste system perpetuates a fatalism and apathy toward social rights