There are many different religions in the world today. In Asia, Buddhism and Hinduism are the most popular beliefs in the general population. Hinduism is the oldest known religion and is very rich with literally hundreds of gods, symbolistic rituals and beliefs. It is believed to have been established around 1500 B.C. but one person never founded Hinduism as it evolved over a long period of time. Buddhism on the other hand has a definite founder, Siddhartha Gautama who is otherwise known as the Buddha or Enlightened One who lived from 565 to 483 B.C. Both these religions originated in India. Siddhartha Gautama was a Hindu who found Hindu theology lacking and after years of searching for truth created a religion now known as Buddhism. Because of these basic similarities, the two religions have much in common, but in the same light they differ immensely.
Hinduism and Buddhism both have numerous gods and both follow the same paths to ultimately achieve Nirvana (a place where all the enlightened beings reside). “He set himself forty-eight vows to fulfill, which, he proclaimed, would allow him to reach Nirvana.” (Encarta 98, “Amitabha,”) This is about one man who makes rules for himself so that he can get into Nirvana. The concept of a god or gods in Buddhism is almost void and therefore in the eyes of some not even a religion. Hindus have many gods governing different aspects of Hindu life. The three main gods in Hinduism are Vishnu who is the sustainer; Brahma is the creator and Shiva the destroyer. They are referred as Trimuti. Most Hindu gods are associated with animals and therefore Hindus feel that being a vegetarian is vital. Cows are sacred in Hinduism and are worshipped as the divine mother, making eating beef taboo. Buddhism involves meditation and prayer. In Buddhism, one must understand the four noble truths which are the truth of suffering, the truth of the origin of suffering, the truth of cessation, and the truth of the path. These all follow the Eightfold path, which describes the ways in which one must live. Hindu scriptures advocate the pursuit of many goals in ones life including righteous living, wealth, prosperity, love and happiness. The ultimate goal is to achieve Nirvana.
Following these steps and pleasing all these gods ensures ones ticket to achieving Nirvana. Both Hinduism and Buddhism have restrictions to the amount of freedom a woman can possess but a Buddhist woman has more freedom than a Hindu woman possesses. “‘All sentient beings are our fathers and mothers.’ Even someone who looks like a ruffian or a robber is still someone who has on his mind. ‘All mothers, all sentient beings.’ (Dalai Lama, Ocean of Wisdom, p.25) This means that every sentient being in Buddhism is equal to each other and all have a chance to reach enlightenment. In Buddhism the place of women is an inferior one, which stems from traditional, cultural, and social values of Asia. Although females can accumulate good karma, they have a harder time achieving enlightenment due to their social standing and their commitment to their family value. In Hinduism the role of women is downgraded as well and no act is to be done according to her will. A woman must always be cheerful and clever in the household business and keep the furniture well cleaned, meaning that she has to be cheerful and cannot get angry with the husband for doing anything. The woman must always have a free hand. She must have only one husband, even if he dies. If a woman commits adultery, she must be burned to death and all property a couple may acquire belongs to the male. Though both these religions have restrictions to women’s freedoms, a Buddhist female can do things more freely than a Hindu woman. Both religions believe that during life nonviolence is essential to reaching Nirvana. Buddhists preach compassion, charity and nonviolence and while Hindus profess pacifism and ahimsa, which is the avoidance of harm to people and animals, they still believe war is justifiable in certain cases. They see it as their duty to fight in a just war. Harming others is wrong but if the war will cause undo suffering to others, then violent acts are justifiable. “There is no greater good for a warrior than to fight in a righteous war.” (Bhagavad-Gita, Gita, 2:31) Many Buddhist beliefs and goals are similar if not the same as Hindu beliefs and goals. The concept in life that you should not act violently towards others is common to both religions, although they have some slight differences.
The concept of suffering and reincarnation is common in both religions. In Buddhism there is the concept of two extremes, one devoted to pleasure and lust and one devoted to mortification. Both are considered profitless and therefore one should take the middle path, which leads to insight. This means that people should not seek Nirvana too hard but should not seek it too little either. Hindus believe that life has no ultimate significance and is but a small part in a vast unending, and essentially meaningless cycle of life and death, and that everything has a soul or atman. Hindus believe in reincarnation and the transmigration of the soul and the concept of successive rebirths until one dwells in Brahman forever after the quest for the realization of truth. “The cycle of rebirths, samsara, is the very condition of all life. No existence escapes it, unless it gets to nirvana.” (Jean-Claude Carriere, The Power of Buddhism, p.189) This will eventually lead one to true happiness or salvation. Although pleasure in moderation is all right, a Hindu must remember that life is suffering (because of reincarnation) which is also taught in Buddhism.
Hinduism and Buddhism have different speeds of expansion. Hinduism had no real expansion over the years and basically remained stable where it originated despite the influence of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Hindus appreciated and were attracted by the stress on intricate worship, which in turn turned others away from Hinduism. Buddhist expansion on the other hand was massive, making a significant foothold in India, hundreds of monasteries sprang up and from these centers, the message of the Buddha was spread “Buddhism spread rapidly throughout the lands of its birth.” (Grolier 98, “Buddhism”) Gautama was a great “campaign manager” as he avoided the elaborate ideals of the Upanishads. Many Hindus were converted easily. The acceptance by the great emperor in 3 B.C. helped to promote growth and spread Buddhism into Ceylon and parts of Southeast Asia, also making headway in Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. By the sixth century, it spread to Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea and Japan. Buddhism one could say “sprouted” out of Hinduism. Hinduism stayed the same for a long time whereas Buddhism grew rapidly throughout the world.
Although Buddhism had a whole new meaning without any god and with these new ideals, one could argue that the backbone stems from its original “mother” Hinduism. No two religions are the exact same and it is good to have diverse religions so that people have a choice of which religion suits them.