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World Religions

Differences and similarities
between Hinduism and Buddhism:

Hinduism symbol   buddhism symbol

The main Hindu and Buddhist symbols.

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A brief comparison of Hinduism and Buddhism:

  • Quotations:
    • On Hinduism: Mahatma Gandhi said: "I think I have understood Hinduism correctly when I say that it is eternal, all-embracing, and flexible enough to suit all situations."

    • On Buddhism: Buddha said: "In the end, only three things matter: How much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you."

  • About the soul:
    • Hinduism has two major concepts concerning souls: "Atman" and "Brahman:"

      • "Atman" refers to an individual's soul. That is an immortal essence that is present in every living thing, including humans, animals, and even plants! A person's body houses its atman throughout its entire life on Earth, until they die. However, their Atman is eternal and lives on forever through successive reincarnations.

      • "Brahman" refers to the "world soul" or "cosmic soul" which has been described as: "the eternal essence of the universe and the ultimate divine reality."

    Beverlee Jill Carroll wrote:

    "... the phrase "atman is Brahman" is saying, quite simply, that the individual soul is the world soul.

    In other words, each individual soul ... comes from and is made of the same reality as the world soul. There is no distinction between us, on the one hand, and the ultimate divine reality, on the other. This is an amazing concept!

    It basically means that in our deepest selves, we are divine. All living things are divine in their deepest selves. Now, that divine self may be hidden or covered over by hatred, envy, fear or other negative things. But, it is there nonetheless and it is our "true" and "eternal" selves." 1

    • In Buddhism there is no concept of people or other living things possessing an eternal soul. Thus, the Buddhist religion has no concept analogous to the Hindu concept of Brahman or Atman.

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  • Religious symbols:
    • The main Hindu symbol includes the spelled of the word "AUM" in Sanskrit. 2 "AUM" represents Brahman and is the sound that Hindus believe occurred when the universe was created. The Sanskrit letter "A" appears in the left part of the symbol as the Arabic number "3"; it represents the waking state." "U" is the almost complete circle to the right of the "A"; It represents the dream state. "M" is the curved symbol in the shape of a horn above "U"; and represents deep, dreamless sleep. Finally, the diamond shape represents the fourth state of consciousness, Turiya. 3 This means "the fourth" in Sanskrit and refers to a state beyond deep sleep. 4

    • Twenty-five other Hindu symbols are shown at the Hinduism Facts web site. 5 The second most important symbol is the Swastika which, unfortunately, was rotated and adopted as the main symbol for Nazism.

    • AUM is also used in Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh mantras, which consist of a repeated word or phrase during meditation.

    • The main Buddhist symbol 6 is referred to as the Dharmachakra or Dharma Wheel. The eight spokes of the wheel correspond to the Buddha's Eightfold Path. Eleven other Buddhist symbols are shown in the Ancient-Symbols web site. 6

  • Personal goals of followers:
    • In Hinduism:
      • The ultimate aim for a person is Purusartha, which consists of attaining four separate goals: Dharma (righteousness), Artha (prosperity), Kama (pleasure/love), and Moksha (liberation). These are, respectively, moral, economic, psychological, and spiritual values. 8

    • In Buddhism:
      • The ultimate goal of the Buddhist religion is or the individual to attain Nirvana. When this happens, a person no longer suffers, exhibits desire, or has a sense of self. One is released from the effects of karma, and also from the recurring cycles of death and rebirth.

        Karma is the sum of a person's actions in their current lifetime and previous lifetime(s). It determines a person's future in their current life, where and for how long they will spend the interval after they die and before they are reincarnated in the next life. It also affects their quality of life on earth during their next life.

      • The Buddha said:

        "One who is willing to attain Nirvana, has to understand [the] Four Noble Truths: ... proper understanding of Suffering, Cause of Suffering, Relief of Suffering, and the way to end Suffering.

  • Belief in Goddesses and Gods:
    • In Hinduism, there is no generally accepted total for the number of deities:

      "The Hindu deity concept varies from a [single] personal god as in Yoga school of Hindu philosophy, to 33 Vedic deities" and more. 7

    • Two common Hindu beliefs are that there are 33 million or 330 million deities! Most of them are female! However, they are generally viewed not as individual deities, but as different:

      "... emanations or manifestations of [a single] genderless principle called Brahman, representing the many facets of Ultimate Reality. 7

    • In Buddhism there is no single deity, like Judaism, Christianity and Islam teach. BuddhaNet, a major Buddhist website, said:

      "There is no almighty God in Buddhism. There is no one to hand out rewards or punishments on a supposedly Judgment Day. Buddhism is strictly not a religion in the context of being a faith and worship owing allegiance to a supernatural being.

      However, some Buddhist sects have absorbed beliefs about local deities from other religions in their area.

  • About one's caste:
    • In Hinduism, most people are born into one of four castes. Originally, people were classified according to their "nature, aptitude, and conduct." Over time, caste became hereditary: they automatically inherited the same caste as their parents.

      The casts were defined as follows:
      • The highest caste were Brahmin (Priests). They could become priests, teachers, or professors.

      • Next were Kshatriya (warriors): They protected society and maintain law and order.

      • Next were Vaishya (businessmen): They assumed commercial and trading tasks.

      • The lowest were Sudra (laborers): They engaged in physical labor.

      • Those without caste were considered "untouchables," and profoundly discriminated against. They were restricted to polluting tasks.

    The present Constitution in India prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. The caste system has largely faded throughout the country, except in some "traditional villages and communities." 14

    • In Buddhism, there is no caste system except in Nepal where:
  • "... Tantric priests form a separate caste and will neither initiate into their priesthood or allow into their temples those of other castes." 15

    The caste system in Nepal still exists but has become less rigid. In 1962, a federal law made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste. 16

    Buddha was born into the Kshatriya caste of warriors, and raised as a Hindu. He ridiculed the Caste system and once said:

    "Birth does not make one a priest or an outcaste. Behavior makes one either a priest or an outcaste." 15

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  • What happens after a person dies?
    • Hindus believe in a process of reincarnation, called "samsara." After death, a person spends some time in a heavenly or hellish realm, depending on their accumulated karma. They are later reborn into a new body which may be a animal, a human, or a divine being. This cycle is repeated until Moksha (liberation) is attained. 10

    • Buddhists also believe in the concept of Samsara -- a painful condition in which people are trapped in potentially endless rounds of rebirth, life on Earth, death, existing in one of the six realms of existence. The realms consist of three good realms (heavenly, demi-god, or human) and three evil realms (animal, ghosts, hellish). The repeating cycles only end when the individual attains Nirvana during one of their lifetimes on Earth. 11

  • Denominations/traditions:
    • Hinduism is often viewed as consisting of three main denominations, defined by their focus on a specific deity:
      • Vaishnavas focus on Vishnu and his incarnations (avatara/avatars). They believe that God repeatedly incarnates into the world in different forms such as Krishna and Rama, in order to restore dharma (natural law & religious/moral duty).

      • Shaivaites focus on Shiva -- whose name means the "Auspicious One" in Sanskrit. Shiva is often shown with many faces, as creator, destroyer and preserver in absolute command of the cosmos. ... He protects his devotees from all evil that surround them. He blesses his followers with grace, knowledge and peace.

      • Shaktas focus on one form of the Goddess, such as Laksmi, Parvati, Sarasvati, Durga or Kali. 10

    • Buddhism is divided into several geographical groupings:
  • Origin of the religions:
    • Both Hinduism and Buddhism originated in India.
      • Hinduism can be traced back four millennia. It is generally regarded as the oldest organized religion in the world. It is currently the third largest world religion after Christianity and Islam. Most Hindus live in India.

      • Buddhism was formed from the teachings of Gautama Buddha who was born in approximately 624 BCE in Lumbini, Nepal. It is now the fourth largest world religion.

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Books about Hinduism:

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Books about Buddhism:

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Some related essays and sections on this web site that may interest you:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Beverlee Jill Carroll, "Atman & Brahman," World Religions Professor, 2015, at: http://www.world-religions-professor.com/
  2. Image by Ms Sarah Welch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
  3. Melanie Levine, "5 Facts You May Not Know About 'OM'," 2011-JUL-14, MBG, at: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/
  4. "Turiya," Wikipedia, as on 2017-AUG-25, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  5. "Hindu Symbols," Hinduism Facts, undated, at: http://www.hinduismfacts.org/
  6. "Buddhist Symbols," Ancient Symbols, at: http://www.ancient-symbols.com/
  7. "Hindu Deities," Wikipedia, as on 2017-SEP-13, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  8. "Purusartha," Wikipedia, as on 2017-SEP-10, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  9. Tan Swee Eng, "Buddhism - Major Differences," BuddhaNet, 2017, at: http://www.buddhanet.net/
  10. Prof. Gavin Flood, "Hindu concepts," BBC, archived; last updated 2009-AUG-24, at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/
  11. "Samsara (Buddhism)," Wikipedia, as on 2017-JUN-12, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  12. "About Lord Shiva," Maha Shivratri at: http://www.mahashivratri.org/
  13. "Hindu Caste System," at: http://www.hinduismfacts.org/
  14. Michigan State University journalism students, "What is the Indian caste system?," Read the Spirit, at: https://www.readthespirit.com/
  15. G.P. Malalasekera and K.N. Jayatilleke, "The Caste system," BuddaNet, 1968, at: http://www.buddhanet.net/
  16. "Caste system in Nepal," Wikipedia, as on: 2017-SEP-17, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
  17. Chris Deziel, "What Beliefs Do Hindus & Buddhists Have in Common?," Classroom, 2017, at: http://classroom.synonym.com/
  18. Rachel Alexander, "Religious & Symbolic Difference Between Hinduism & Buddhism," Classroom, 2017, at: http://classroom.synonym.com/
  19. Beverly Jill Carroll, "Difference Between Buddhism and Hinduism," DifferenceBetween.net, 2011, at: http://www.differencebetween.

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Home page > Hinduism > here

Home page > World religions > Hinduism > here

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Copyright © 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally posted on: 2017-OCT-05

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