Eastern Paths

Hinduism and Buddhism

Information is compiled by GraceWatcher

Sanatana Dharma, meaning “Eternal or Universal Righteousness” is the original name of what is now popularly called Hinduism.  Sanatana Dharma comprises of spiritual laws which govern the human existence.  Sanatana Dharma is to human life what natural laws are to the physical phenomena.  Just as the phenomena of gravitation existed before it was discovered, the spiritual laws of life are eternal laws which existed before they were discovered by the ancient  rishis (sages) for the present age during the Vedic period.  Sanatana Dharma declares that something cannot come out of nothing and, therefore, the universe itself is the manifestation of the Divine being.  This truth forms the invocation of the Isa Upanishad (a Hindu scripture):  

 Poornam-adah, poornam-idam, poor-nath poornam-udachyate. 
Poor-nasya poornam-adaya, poornam-eva-va-sishyate.

 That is full; this is full.  The full comes out of the full.
Taking the full from the full, the full itself remains.

This verse expresses the mystery of creation.  This universe comes forth from the Divine, yet the universe takes nothing from the Divine and adds nothing to It.  Divine remains ever the same.  Since the universe has come forth from the Divine, all things and beings are sacred and must be treated so in human thought and action.  The Divine sleeps in minerals, awakens in plants, walks in animals and thinks in humans. 

Sanatana Dharma looks upon a person as a part and parcel of the mighty Whole, but never regards him as “the Measure of all things.”  In the West, “person” is a supreme and final value, while Sanatana Dharma regards person as a part of the Whole, having the same vital essence as all other human and sub-human creatures of the universe.  This cosmic view of Hinduism transcends the sectarian or group dogmas and paves a way for the coexistence of all creatures under the Vedic principle of Vasudev Kutumbhkam, meaning “The Universe is One Family.”  This principle guides the humankind towards universal harmony through acceptance and tolerance. 

Sanatana Dharma recognizes that the Ultimate Reality, which is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization, cannot be limited by any name or concept.  The potential for human wholeness (or in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, liberation, transformation, blessedness, nirvana, moksha) is present in every human being.  No race or religion is superior and no color or creed is inferior.  All humans are spiritually united like the drops of water in an ocean. 

Although there are numerous doctrines in Hindu scriptures, the following are considered the principal doctrine of Sanatana Dharma:

Harmony of Religions

Ancient sages affirm that there is no one religion that teaches an exclusive road to salvation.  All genuine spiritual paths are valid and all great religions are like the branches of a treeľthe tree of religion.  The Bhagavad Gîtă declares, “In whatever way they [human beings] love Me [God], in the same way they find My love.  Various are the ways for them, but in the end they all come to Me.”    (BG 4.11)

Practical significance:  This doctrine lays foundation for the ideal of universal harmony.  The attitude of religious acceptance is Hinduism's greatest gift to mankind.

Ishvara (God)

There is but one Ultimate Reality (Supreme Being), Who is absolute existence, absolute knowledge, and absolute bliss (sat-chidănanda).  The Ultimate Reality is both immanent and transcendent, and both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.  There is no duality of God and the world, but only unity. The Ultimate Reality can be worshipped and prayed by any name and in any form.  A Hindu worships the Ultimate Reality in the form of a chosen deity (Ishta Devată) in the temples and in home shrines.  

Practical significance:  Being a God-loving religion and not a God-fearing one, Hinduism relies upon self-knowledge through yoga and meditation rather than on dogma or blind faith.

Non-Violence (Ahimsă)

Ahimsă means non-violence (in thought, word and deed), non-injury, or non-killing.  Sanatana Dharma teaches that all forms of life are different manifestations of Brahman (Ultimate Reality).  We must therefore not be indifferent to the sufferings of any of God’s creatures.

Practical significance: This doctrine creates love for humans between themselves as well as with other forms of life, and encourages the protection of our environment.  “That mode of living which is founded upon a total harmlessness towards all creatures or (in case of actual necessity) upon a minimum of such harm, is the highest morality.”  
(Mahăbhărata Shăntiparva 262.5-6 - a Hindu scripture)

The Doctrine of Dharma

The thought of dharma generates deep confidence in the Hindu mind in cosmic justice.  This is reflected in the often-quoted maxims: “The righteous side will have the victory.”  “Truth only prevails, not falsehood.”  “Dharma kills if it is killed; dharma protects if it is protected.”  “The entire world rests on dharma.”

Dharma is the law that maintains the cosmic order as well as the individual and social order.  Dharma sustains human life in harmony with nature.  When we follow dharma, we are in conformity with the law that sustains the universe.  Dharma is of four kinds:  universal dharma (rita), human dharma (ashram dharma), social dharma (varana dharma), and individual dharma (svadharma).  All four dharmas together are called sanătana dharma, the eternal philosophy of life.    

Universal dharma includes the natural laws associated with the physical phenomenon of the universe, such as the laws of matter, science, and planetary motions.  Human dharma means the human actions which maintain the individual, social, and environmental order.  Social dharma is exemplified in human actions associated with professional, social, community and national duties and responsibilities.  Individual dharma consists of individual actions associated with one’s individual duties and responsibilities.

The doctrine of dharma states that right action must be performed for the sake of righteousness, and good must be done for the sake of goodness, without any expectation of receiving something in return.  The question arises as to what is right?  Hindu scriptures include the following guidance that should be used to determine what is right under given circumstances:

Practical significance:  Dharma provides a rational approach to distinguish right from wrong and good from evil.  In this philosophy, the duties and responsibilities are emphasized more than rights and privileges.

Unity of Existence

Science has revealed that what we call matter is essentially energy.  Hindu sages have declared that the cosmic energy is a manifestation of the Universal Spirit (Brahman).  The entire universe is a play between Brahman, or the cosmic consciousness, and the cosmic energy.  Brahman has become all things and beings of the world.  Thus we are all interconnected in subtle ways.

Practical significance:  This doctrine encourages universal brotherhood, reverence for all forms of life, and respect for our environment.  There is no racial, cultural or religious superiority.  There are differences on the surface, but deep down there is perfect unity, as All is in One and One is in all.

Doctrine of Karma

The word karma literally means ‘deed or action,’ but implies the entire cycle of cause and its effects.  According to the Law of Karma, every human action—in thought, word, or deed—inevitably leads to results, good or bad, depending upon the moral quality of the action.  There is no such thing as action without results.  “As we sow, so shall we reap,” is the unerring law which governs all deeds.  The Law of Karma conserves the moral consequences of all actions, and conditions our future lives accordingly.  We ourselves create our future destinies by our own choices each minute.  Every child born in this world is born to work out its own past deeds.

The doctrine of karma is the answer provided by Hindus to the questions of why suffering and inequalities exist in the world:  “Why should one person be different from another in his looks, abilities, and character?  Why is one born a king and another a beggar?  A just and merciful God cannot create such inequalities.”  The doctrine of karma, a law of actions and their retribution, can be viewed as the law of causation (cause and effect) applied to the moral realm.  The law that every action has a reaction works in the scientific world as well as in the moral world.

The doctrine of karma is based upon the principle of cause and effect.  This doctrine of cause and effect differs from the illogical notion that God punishes the wicked and rewards the virtuous.  The underlying basis for this difference is that Hindu religion is a god-loving religion rather than a god-fearing one.

Karma is neither predestination nor fatalism.  Fatalism and predestination imply that individuals are bound by circumstances or by some outside power and, as such, cannot free themselves with their own effort.  That is exactly opposite of karma.  The Law of Karma is actually the law of harmony and equilibrium.  It adjusts wisely, intelligently and equitably each effect to its cause.  But, it is also the law of opportunity, which allows an individual to change his past for a better future.  If we understand karma as the law of order and opportunity, we will become self-reliant and understand that we cannot and should not escape responsibility.

 The Four Ends of Human Life

The four ends of human life are dharma, artha, kăma, and moksha.  Dharma is the first human goal and forms the foundation for the pursuit of the other three goals.  Dharmic actions are those individual, social, political, and professional actions which are based upon the four virtuesľtruth, ahimsă, morality and ethics.  Artha means to earn wealth in accordance with dharma.  Kăma is to satisfy one’s mental and intellectual desires in accordance with dharma.  Moksha denotes spiritual perfection, which is attained automatically when one leads a life that is dedicated to dharma.

Every child born on this earth is required to repay three debts in his (or her) lifetime.  These three debts are akin to the three mortgages on one’s life.  The first debt is to God and the repayment requires regular prayers and worship, and selfless service to all of God’s creatures.

The second debt is to the sages and saints, who have revealed truths in scriptures.  The repayment of this debt arises from service to the needy, handicapped, sick and poor, and less fortunate.  The third debt is to one’s ancestors, parents and teachers.  The repayment of this debt means raising one’s family in accordance with the moral and ethical principles of dharma.  To help an individual repay the above three debts, Hindu sages have organized life into four stages:  studentship (Brahmachărya Ăshrama), householder stage (Grhastha Ăshrama), retirement (Vănaprastha Ăshrama), and renunciation (Sannyăsa Ăshrama).

During studentship one must acquire knowledge and skills necessary to perform duties and responsibilities in adult life, i.e. the householder stage.  Retirement means a life of spirituality and gradual withdrawal from active life, to pass on skills to the next generation and begin devoting time to meditation and contemplation.  Renunciation is the last stage of life in which one devotes full-time to meditation and contemplation on one’s own self.

Practical significance: The concept of the four ends and three debts generates awareness of one’s duties and responsibilities, provides moral and ethical direction to life, encourages family values, and helps one to organize life for individual accomplishments.  The Hindu concept of the four stages (ăshramas) of life provides a road map for life’s journey from the first stage of learning to the final stage where the Divinity alone is the focus and support.

The Divinity of Ătman (individual spirit)

Each human being, regardless of religion, geographic region, color, or creed is in reality Ătman clothed in a physical body.  An individual is not born a sinner, but becomes a victim of măyă (cosmic ignorance).  Just as darkness quickly disappears upon the appearance of light, an individual’s delusion vanishes when he gains self-knowledge.

Practical significance: This doctrine eliminates fear of God, encourages divine love, promotes freedom of thought, and removes fear and guilt which are psychological barriers to human growth. 

Religious Discipline

Hindus believe that wisdom is not an exclusive possession of any particular race or religion.  Since a laborer requires a different kind of religion than a scholar, Hinduism allows an individual to select a religious discipline in accordance with one’s own religious yearning and spiritual competence.  Hindu religion recommends the guidance of a spiritually awakened master (guru) for attaining perfection in life.  If a devotee on the spiritual path is likened to a traveler, then the guru is the traveler’s guide who provides the road map and other helpful information needed to reach the destination successfully.

Practical significance:  This doctrine minimizes religious manipulation and control and provides everyone with absolute freedom of thought in religious matters.  One is free to question any belief and practice until one is convinced of the truth behind it.


The ultimate goal of Hindu religious life is to attain spiritual freedom (moksha, i.e. freedom from the cycle of birth and death in the phenomenal world), or union with God.  Moksha is the birth right of every individual and is automatically attained when one leads a life dedicated to dharma, artha, and kăma.  Moksha is akin to the top of a three-step ladder, and after taking the three steps of dharma, artha, and kăma, one will automatically reach the top.

Practical significance:  This doctrine encourages individual effort and understanding for attaining perfection in life. Each soul evolves toward union with God by his own effort.  No savior can achieve this for him.  There is no supernatural power that randomly determines our destinies.  We are the makers of our own destinies.  Self-effort and Divine grace together lead to spiritual perfection.

The Doctrine of Avatăra (Incarnation)

Hindus believe that God incarnates Himself on earth (avatăra) to uphold righteousness, whenever there is a loss of virtue.  The Bhagavad Gîtă thus declares, “Whenever there is a decline of righteousness and predominance of unrighteousness, I (God) embody Myself.  For the protection of the good and for the destruction of the evil-doers and for the re-establishment of righteousness, I am born from age to age.”    (Bhagavad Gîtă 4.6-4.7) 

Practical significance:  This doctrine encourages  righteousness and fosters hope for mankind, since divine intervention eventually destroys evil and  restores  balance in the world.

Concept of God

In Hinduism the concept of God is complex and depends on a particular tradition and philosophy. The term isvara - from the root is, to have extraordinary power that is seen differently within a diverse system of beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism, and atheism. It is sometimes referred to as henotheistic (i.e., involving devotion to a single god while accepting the existence of others), but any such term is an overgeneralization.

Most Hindus believe that the spirit or soul — the true "self" of every person, called the ātman — is eternal. According to the monistic/pantheistic theologies of Hinduism (such as Advaita Vedanta school), this Atman is ultimately indistinct from Brahman, the supreme spirit. Hence, these schools are called non-dualist. The goal of life, according to the Advaita school, is to realize that one's ātman is identical to Brahman, the supreme soul. The Upanishads state that whoever becomes fully aware of the ātman as the innermost core of one's own self realizes an identity with Brahman and thereby reaches moksha (liberation or freedom).

Dualistic schools (see Dvaita and Bhakti) understand Brahman as a Supreme Being who possesses personality, and they worship him or her thus, as Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, or Shakti, depending on the sect. The ātman is dependent on God, while moksha depends on love towards God and on God's grace. When God is viewed as the supreme personal being (rather than as the infinite principle), God is called Ishvara ("The Lord", Bhagavan ("The Auspicious One" or Parameshwara ("The Supreme Lord") However interpretations of Ishvara vary, ranging from non-belief in Ishvara by followers of Mimamsakas, to identifying Brahman and Ishvara as one, as in Advaita. In majority of traditions of Vaishnavism he is Vishnu, God, and the text of Vaishnava scriptures identifies this Being as Krishna, sometimes referred as svayam bhagavan. There are also schools like the Samkhya which have atheistic leanings.[

Devas and avatars

Krishna (left), the eighth incarnation (avatar) of Vishnu or svayam bhagavan, with his consort Radha, worshiped as Radha Krishna across a number of traditions - traditional painting from the 1700s.

The Hindu scriptures refer to celestial entities called Devas (or devī in feminine form; devatā used synonymously for Deva in Hindi), "the shining ones", which may be translated into English as "gods" or "heavenly beings". The devas are an integral part of Hindu culture and are depicted in art, architecture and through icons, and mythological stories about them are related in the scriptures, particularly in Indian epic poetry and the Puranas. They are, however, often distinguished from Ishvara, a supreme personal god, with many Hindus worshiping Ishvara in a particular form as their iṣṭa devatā, or chosen ideal. The choice is a matter of individual preference and regional and family traditions.

Hindu epics and the Puranas relate several episodes of the descent of God to Earth in corporeal form to restore dharma in society and guide humans to moksha. Such an incarnation is called an avatar. The most prominent avatars are of Vishnu and include Rama (protagonist in Ramayana) and Krishna (a central figure in the epic Mahabharata).

The Purpose of Karma

Karma translates literally as action, work, or deed and can be described as the "moral law of cause and effect". According to the Upanishads an individual, known as the jiva-atma, develops sanskaras (impressions) from actions, whether physical or mental. The linga sharira, a body more subtle than the physical one but less subtle than the soul, retains impressions, carrying them over into the next life, establishing a unique trajectory for the individual. Thus, the concept of a universal, neutral, and never-failing karma intrinsically relates to reincarnation as well as one's personality, characteristics, and family. Karma binds together the notions of free will and destiny.

This cycle of action, reaction, birth, death and rebirth is a continuum called samsara. The notion of reincarnation and karma is a strong premise in Hindu thought. The Bhagavad Gita states that:
“ As a person puts on new clothes and discards old and torn clothes,

similarly an embodied soul enters new material bodies, leaving the old bodies.(B.G. 2:22)

Samsara provides ephemeral pleasures, which lead people to desire rebirth so as to enjoy the pleasures of a perishable body. However, escaping the world of samsara through moksha is believed to ensure lasting happiness and peace. It is thought that after several reincarnations, an atman eventually seeks unity with the cosmic spirit (Brahman/Paramatman).

The ultimate goal of life, referred to as moksha, nirvana or samadhi, is understood in several different ways: as the realization of one's union with God; as the realization of one's eternal relationship with God; realization of the unity of all existence; perfect unselfishness and knowledge of the Self; as the attainment of perfect mental peace; and as detachment from worldly desires. Such a realization liberates one from samsara and ends the cycle of rebirth.

The exact conceptualization of moksha differs among the various Hindu schools of thought. For example, Advaita Vedanta holds that after attaining moksha an atman no longer identifies itself with an individual but as identical with Brahman in all respects. The followers of Dvaita (dualistic) schools identify themselves as part of Brahman, and after attaining moksha expect to spend eternity in a loka (heaven), in the company of their chosen form of Ishvara. Thus, it is said the followers of dvaita wish to "taste sugar", while the followers of Advaita wish to "become sugar".


In whatever way a Hindu defines the goal of life, there are several methods (yogas) that sages have taught for reaching that goal. Texts dedicated to Yoga include the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and, as their philosophical and historical basis, the Upanishads. Paths one can follow to achieve the spiritual goal of life (moksha, samadhi or nirvana) include:

* Bhakti Yoga (the path of love and devotion)
* Karma Yoga (the path of right action)
* Rāja Yoga (the path of meditation)
* Jńāna Yoga (the path of wisdom)

An individual may prefer one or some yogas over others, according to his or her inclination and understanding. Some devotional schools teach that bhakti is the only practical path to achieve spiritual perfection for most people, based on their belief that the world is currently in the Kali Yuga (one of four epochs part of the Yuga cycle). Practice of one yoga does not exclude others. Many schools believe that the different yogas naturally blend into and aid other yogas. For example, the practice of jnana yoga, is thought to inevitably lead to pure love (the goal of bhakti yoga), and vice versa. Someone practicing deep meditation (such as in raja yoga) must embody the core principles of karma yoga, jnana yoga and bhakti yoga, whether directly or indirectly.

Practices and Rituals

Hindu practices generally involve seeking awareness of God and sometimes also seeking blessings from Devas. Therefore, Hinduism has developed numerous practices meant to help one think of divinity in the midst of everyday life. Hindus can engage in pūjā (worship or veneration), either at home or at a temple. At home, Hindus often create a shrine with icons dedicated to their chosen form(s) of God. Temples are usually dedicated to a primary deity along with associated subordinate deities though some commemorate multiple deities. Visiting temples is not obligatory, and many visit temples only during religious festivals. Hindus perform their worship through icons (murtis). The icon serves as a tangible link between the worshiper and God. The image is often considered a manifestation of God, since God is immanent. The Padma Purana states that the mūrti is not to be thought of as mere stone or wood but as a manifest form of the Divinity. A few Hindu sects, such as the Ārya Samāj, do not believe in worshiping God through icons.

Hinduism has a developed system of symbolism and iconography to represent the sacred in art, architecture, literature and worship. These symbols gain their meaning from the scriptures, mythology, or cultural traditions. The syllable Om (which represents the Parabrahman) and the Swastika sign (which symbolizes auspiciousness) have grown to represent Hinduism itself, while other markings such as tilaka identify a follower of the faith. Hinduism associates many symbols, which include the lotus, chakra and veena, with particular deities.

Mantras are invocations, praise and prayers that through their meaning, sound, and chanting style help a devotee focus the mind on holy thoughts or express devotion to God/the deities. Many devotees perform morning ablutions at the bank of a sacred river while chanting the Gayatri Mantra or Mahamrityunjaya mantras.[citation needed] The epic Mahabharata extols Japa (ritualistic chanting) as the greatest duty in the Kali Yuga (what Hindus believe to be the current age).[citation needed] Many adopt Japa as their primary spiritual practice.

The vast majority of Hindus engage in religious rituals on a daily basis. Most Hindus observe religious rituals at home, but observation of rituals greatly vary among regions, villages, and individuals. Devout Hindus perform daily chores such as worshiping at the dawn after bathing (usually at a family shrine, and typically includes lighting a lamp and offering foodstuffs before the images of deities), recitation from religious scripts, singing devotional hymns, meditation, chanting mantras, reciting scriptures etc. A notable feature in religious ritual is the division between purity and pollution. Religious acts presuppose some degree of impurity or defilement for the practitioner, which must be overcome or neutralised before or during ritual procedures. Purification, usually with water, is thus a typical feature of most religious action. Other characteristics include a belief in the efficacy of sacrifice and concept of merit, gained through the performance of charity or good works, that will accumulate over time and reduce sufferings in the next world. Vedic rites of fire-oblation (yajna) are now only occasional practices, although they are highly revered in theory. In Hindu wedding and burial ceremonies, however, the yajńa and chanting of Vedic mantras are still the norm. The rituals, upacharas, change with time. For instance, in the past few hundred years some rituals, such as sacred dance and music offerings in the standard Sodasa Upacharas set prescribed by the Agama Shastra, were replaced by the offerings of rice and sweets.

Occasions like birth, marriage, and death involve what are often elaborate sets of religious customs. In Hinduism, life-cycle rituals include Annaprashan (a baby's first intake of solid food), Upanayanam ("sacred thread ceremony" undergone by upper-caste children at their initiation into formal education) and Shraadh (ritual of treating people to feasts in the name of the deceased). For most people in India, the betrothal of the young couple and the exact date and time of the wedding are matters decided by the parents in consultation with astrologers. On death, cremation is considered obligatory for all except sanyasis, hijra, and children under five.[citation needed] Cremation is typically performed by wrapping the corpse in cloth and burning it on a pyre.

The Process of Conversion

Concepts of conversion, evangelization, and proselytization are absent from Hindu literature and in practice have never played a significant role, though acceptance of willing converts is becoming more common. Early in its history, in the absence of other competing religions, Hindus considered everyone they came across as Hindus and expected everyone they met to be Hindus.

The modern view of conversions into Hinduism is influenced by the demise of caste system combined with the persistence of age old ideas of Sanathana Dharma. Hindus today continue to be influenced by historical ideas of acceptability of conversion. Hence, many Hindus continue to believe that Hinduism is an identity that can only be had from birth, while many others continue to believe that anyone who follows Hindu beliefs and practices is a Hindu, and many believe in some form of both theories. However, as a reaction to perceived and actual threat of evangelization, prozelyzation, and conversion activities of other major religions many modern Hindus are opposed to the idea of conversion from (any) one religion to (any) other per se.

Hindus in Western countries generally accept and welcome willing converts, whereas in India acceptance of willing converts is becoming more common. With the rise of Hindu revivalist movement, reconversions into Hinduism have also picked up pace. Reconversions are well accepted since conversion out of Hinduism is not recognized. Conversion into Hinduism through marriage is well accepted and often expected in order to enable the non-Hindu partner to fully participate in their spiritual, religious, and cultural roles within the larger Hindu family and society.

There is no formal process for converting to Hinduism, although in many traditions a ritual called dīkshā ("initiation") marks the beginning of spiritual life after conversion and a ritual called shuddhi ("purification") marks the return to spiritual life after reconversion. Most Hindu sects do not seek converts because they believe that the goals of spiritual life can be attained through any religion, as long as it is practiced sincerely. However, some Hindu sects and affiliates such as Vedanta Society, Arya Samaj, International Society for Krishna Consciousness and the Self-Realization Fellowship accept those who have a desire to follow Hinduism.

In general, Hindu view of religious freedom is not based on the freedom to proselytize, but the right to retain one’s religion and not be subject to proselyzation. Hindu leaders are advocating for changing the existing formulation of the freedom of religion clause in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights since it favors religions which proselytize.

Buddhism and Hinduism

Buddhism and Hinduism are two closely related religions that are in some ways parallel and in other ways divergent in theory and practice.

The Vedic, Buddhist, and Jain religions share a common regional culture situated near and around north eastern India – modern day eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Nepal. Both the Buddha and Mahavira (the historical founder of Jainism), hailed from this region. Also the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, considered to be among the very earliest Upanishads, was compiled in this region, under King Janaka of Mithila.

Ancient India had two philosophical streams of thought, the Shramana religions and the Vedic religion, parallel traditions that have existed side by side for thousands of years. Both Buddhism and Jainism are continuations of Shramana traditions, while modern Hinduism is a continuation of the Vedic tradition. These co-existing traditions have been mutually influential.

However, Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, for the most part rejected relying on Vedas for salvation, which included the earliest Upanishads. He redefined Indian cosmology, incorporating many existing terms in his doctrine, but redefining them for his purposes in explaining the Middle Path, also teaching that to achieve salvation one did not have to accept the authority of the scriptures or the existence of God. As regards Vedanta, though at the time of the early Buddhists there was no independent Vedanta school with a developed and organized philosophical system, the various philosophical theories of the Upanishads were quite widely disseminated. These intellectual trends are mentioned in the Buddhist texts, and rejected as "pernicious views".

Later Indian religious thought was in turn influenced by the new interpretations and novel ideas of the Buddhist tradition. Buddhism attained prominence on the Indian subcontinent, but was ultimately eclipsed (in the 11th century C.E.) at its point of origin by Hinduism and Islam. After this, Buddhism continued to flourish outside of India. Tibetan Buddhism predominates in the Himalayan region, as does Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, and Mahayana Buddhism in East Asia.

Evidence from both Buddhist and Hindu scriptures show that the two traditions were in dialogue with one another from a very early date. The Buddha is mentioned in several of the Puranas that are believed to have been composed after his birth. Certain Buddhist teachings appear to have been formulated in response to ideas presented in the early Upanishads – in some cases concurring with them, and in other cases criticizing or re-interpreting them.

The Bhagavad Gita is a post-Buddhist text, and some scholars believe it was composed as part of the Hindu reaction to Buddhism. Prominent Indian scholars see the Bhagavad Gita as rather the product of intellectual currents then prevalent in India that pre-dated the emergence of Buddhism.[14][15][16]

In later years, there is significant evidence that both Buddhism and Hinduism were supported by Indian rulers, regardless of the rulers own religious identity. Buddhist kings continued to revere Hindu deities and teachers, and many Buddhist temples were built under the patronage of Hindu rulers.

Technical language

The Buddha adopted many of the terms already used in philosophical discussions of his era; however, many of these terms were then re-interpreted or redefined in the Buddhist tradition. For example, in the Samanna-phala Sutta, the Buddha is depicted presenting a notion of the 'three knowledges' (tevijja) – a term also used in the Vedic tradition to describe knowledge of the Vedas – as being not texts, but things that he had experienced. The true 'three knowledges' are said to be constituted by the process of achieving enlightenment, which is what the Buddha is said to have achieved in the three watches of the night of his enlightenment.[19]


Ahimsa is a religious concept which advocates non-violence and a respect for all life. Ahimsa (अहिंसा ahiṁsā) is Sanskrit for avoidance of sacrificial himsa, or injury. The Buddha's dialogue in the Culakammavibhanga Sutta with the Brahmin Subha on killing is interesting considering the Vedic emphasis on sacrificial himsa. The focus on ahimsa, non-harm to all beings, in Buddhist ethics was a definitive move away from the killing inherent in the sacrifices of the Vedic ritual tradition. This move away from sacrificial himsa was also being made in other Sramana traditions. The Upanishadic literature, for example, is often critical of Vedic ritual and emphasises the internalization of the meaning and symbolism of sacrifice, rather than its literal enactment. Long life-span was much sought after by the composers of the Vedas. The Buddha's explanation of karma in the Culakammavibhanga Sutta challenges the Vedic idea that a life of sacrifice accrues benefits and excellence for oneself and one's family. The Buddha expounds his view that intentionally killing living beings leads not to the good, but to something that was problematic for the brahmins of his day, that is, shortness of life.


Karma (Sanskrit: कर्म from the root kṛ, "to do") is a word meaning action or activity and, often implies its subsequent results (also called karma-phala, "the fruits of action"). It is commonly understood as a term to denote the entire cycle of cause and effect as described in the philosophies of a number of cosmologies, including those of Buddhism and Hinduism.

The general understanding of karma in Indian religion is that individuals undergo certain experiences throughout their lives as a result of actions which they have chosen. The effects of all deeds actively create past, present and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one's own life, and the pain and joy it brings to others. In religions that incorporate reincarnation, karma extends through one's present life and all past and future lives as well.

Karma is a central part of Buddhist teachings. Buddhist teachings re-interpret certain aspects of the pre-Buddhist conception of karma, removing the idea of a perfect moral equilibrium present in some versions of those teachings. Meanwhile, certain aspects of Buddhist teachings on karma, such as the 'transfer of merit' (Sanskrit: Pariṇāmanā) or transfer of karma, seem to have been borrowed directly from earlier Hindu teachings, despite presenting apparent inconsistencies with the Buddhist doctrine of karma.[24][clarification needed]


Dharma (Sanskrit, Devanagari: धर्म or Pāli Dhamma, Devanagari: धम्म) means Natural Law or Reality, and with respect to its significance for spirituality and religion might be considered the Way of the Higher Truths. A Hindu appellation for Hinduism itself is Sanatana Dharma which translates to "the eternal dharma." Similarly, Buddhadharma in an appellation for Buddhism. The general concept of dharma forms a basis for philosophies, beliefs and practices originating in India. The four main ones are Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism (Jaina Dharma), and Sikhism (Sikha Dharma), all of whom retain the centrality of dharma in their teachings. In these traditions, beings that live in harmony with dharma proceed more quickly toward, according to the tradition, Dharma Yukam, Moksha, or Nirvana (personal liberation). Dharma can refer generally to religious duty, and also mean social order, right conduct, or simply virtue.


In Tibet, many Buddhists carve mantras into rocks as a form of devotion.

A mantra (मन्त्र) is a religious syllable or poem, typically from the Sanskrit language. Their use varies according to the school and philosophy associated with the mantra. They are primarily used as spiritual conduits, words or vibrations that instill one-pointed concentration in the devotee. Other purposes have included religious ceremonies to accumulate wealth, avoid danger, or eliminate enemies. Mantras existed in the Vedic religion and were later adopted by Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains, now popular in various modern forms of spiritual practice which are loosely based on practices of these Eastern religions.


Meditation was an aspect of the practice of the yogis in the centuries preceding the Buddha. The Buddha built upon the yogis' concern with introspection and developed their meditative techniques, but rejected their theories of liberation. In Buddhism, sati and sampajanna (both translated into English as mindfulness) are to be developed at all times, in pre-Buddhist yogic practices there is no such injunction. A yogi in the Brahmanical tradition is not to practice while defecating, for example, while a Buddhist monastic should do so. This difference is due the different goals of the practice. The former practitioner is aiming for gnosis of an object outside of the world, while for the latter there is no such object; experience in the world is the object, which must be purified. Another new teaching of the Buddha was that meditative absorption should be combined with the practice of mindfulness.

Religious knowledge or 'vision' was indicated as a result of practice both within and outside of the Buddhist fold. According to the Samańńaphala Sutta this sort of vision arose for the Buddhist adept as a result of the perfection of 'meditation' (Sanskrit: dhyāna) coupled with the perfection of 'ethics' (Sanskrit: śīla). Some of the Buddha's meditative techniques were shared with other traditions of his day, but the idea that ethics are causally related to the attainment of 'religious insight' (Sanskrit: prajńā) was original.

The Buddhist texts are probably the earliest describing meditation techniques. They describe meditative practices and states which had existed before the Buddha as well as those which were first developed within Buddhism. Two Upanishads written after the rise of Buddhism do contain full-fledged descriptions of yoga as a means to liberation.

While there is no convincing evidence for meditation pre-Buddhist early Brahminic texts, Wynne argues that formless meditation originated in the Brahminic tradition, based on strong parallels between Upanishadic cosmological statements and the meditative goals of the two teachers of the Buddha as recorded in the early Buddhist texts. He mentions less likely possibilities as well. Having argued that the cosmological statements in the Upanishads also reflect a contemplative tradition, he argues that the Nasadiya Sukta contains evidence for a contemplative tradition, even as early as the late Rg Vedic period.


In the Rig Veda, man is thought to be born and die only once. The Rig Veda mentions life after death in heaven in the company of ancestors. The ritual system of the Vedas was central to Vedic life and thought and depended 'on the notion of constant sacrifice, the reintegration of multiple elements into a moment of unity before a new dispersal into being'.

It is highly probable that in India the concept of reincarnation (along with karma, samsara, and moksha) was developed by non-Aryan people outside of the caste system whose spiritual ideas greatly influenced later Indian religious thought. Buddhism and Jainism are continuations of this tradition, and the early Upanishadic movement was influenced by it. Reincarnation was likely adopted from this religious culture by Brahmin orthodoxy, and Brahmins composed the earliest known scriptures containing these ideas in the early Upanishads. According to the Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, the Upanishadic treatments of samsara, karma, and reincarnation are "fundamental contributions of the Upanishads to Hindu—indeed, South Asian—eschatology."

According to Hinduism, the soul (atman) is immortal, while the body is subject to birth, decay, old age and death. The meme of reincarnation is intricately linked with the notion of karma, another concept first recorded in the Upanishads. Karma (literally: action) is the sum of one's actions, and the force that determines one's next reincarnation. The cycle of death and rebirth, governed by karma, is referred to as samsara.

The Shakyamuni Buddha rejected all theories according to which beings have an eternal, immutable self that transmigrated – the 'dweller within the body' or atman – he also criticized the statement "I have no self". Buddhism developed an understanding of a 'continuum or stream of skanda' through such disciplines as vipassanā and shamata, which has become reified in later Buddhist discourse as the Mindstream doctrine, a reification that Shakyamuni Buddha would have challenged. Hence, it is to be understood as an upaya doctrine, as are all doctrines of the Buddhadharma. The mindstream was further developed by the Cittamatra and Yogacara schools and it impacted on the development of the 'store consciousness' (ālāyavijńāna) and the buddha nature conceptions and tathagatagarbha literature. In English Buddhist discourse the nomenclature 'reincarnation' is unfavoured due the insidious bias of an 'entity' that 'incarnates'. Buddhism challenges all such 'entities'. Instead of an 'entity', what is reborn is an 'evolving consciousness' (M.1.256) or 'stream of consciousness' (D.3.105), whose quality has been conditioned by karma.

Buddhist scriptures regularly discuss what is generally understood by the lay person as future and past lives, though these are more appropriately understood following Buddhavacana as the continuity of the mindstream of sentient beings. The phenomenon and institution of tulku within the Vajrayana tradition is an interesting qualification and analogue to the reification of the entity and the transmigration and reincarnation meme within many of the plethora of schools and sects of the Sanatana Dharma.

The practice of Yoga is intimately connected to the religious beliefs and practices of both Buddhism and Hinduism. However there are distinct variations in the usage of yoga terminology in the two religions. In Hinduism, the term "Yoga" commonly refers to the eight limbs of yoga as defined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written some time after 100 BCE. Whereas in the Vajrayana Buddhism of Tibet, the term "Yoga" is used to refer to any type of spiritual practice; from the various types of tantra (like Kriyayoga or Charyayoga) to 'Deity yoga' and 'guru yoga'. In the early translation phase of the Sutrayana and Tantrayana from India, China and other regions to Tibet, along with the practice lineages of sadhana, codified in the Nyingmapa canon, the most subtle 'conveyance' (Sanskrit: yana) is Adi Yoga (Sanskrit). A contemporary scholar with a focus on Tibetan Buddhism, Robert Thurman writes that Patanjali was influenced by the success of the Buddhist monastic system to formulate his own matrix for the version of thought he considered orthodox.[46]

There is a range of common terminology and common descriptions of the meditative states that are seen as the foundation of meditation practice in both Hindu Yoga and Buddhism. Many scholars have noted that the concepts of dhyana and samādhi - technical terms describing stages of meditative absorption - are common to meditative practices in both Hinduism and Buddhism. Most notable in this context is the relationship between the system of four Buddhist dhyana states (Pali: jhana) and the samprajnata samadhi states of Classical Yoga. Also, many (Tibetan) Vajrayana practices of the generation stage and completion stage work with the chakras, inner energy channels (nadis) and kundalini, called tummo in Tibetan.

Yoga is central to Tibetan Buddhism. In the Nyingma tradition, certain practitioners progress to increasingly profound levels of yoga, starting with Mahā yoga, continuing to Anu yoga and ultimately undertaking the most subtle, Ati yoga. In qualification, the Nyingmapa do not equate a value judgment with the yana, one is not better than another, the yana most appropriate for a practitioner is determined by their karma, propensity and proclivity. The majority of practitioners stay within one yana for the duration of their lifetime. The Nyingmapa view all traditions, not just their own through the modal of the nine yana. The Bonpo have a comparable modal of nine. Elements of Adi Yoga for both the Bonpo and Nyingmapa are perceived in other traditions. Indeed, Nyingmapa and Bonpo are not the only source of Ati Yoga teachings as both traditions testify, as Adi Yoga is propagated in other worlds and dimensions. In the Sarma traditions, the Anuttara yoga class is equivalent to the three most subtle yana of the Nyingmapa. Other tantra yoga practices include a system of 108 bodily postures practiced with breath and heart rhythm timing in movement exercises is known as Trul khor or union of moon and sun (channel) prajna energies, and the body postures of Tibetan ancient yogis are depicted on the walls of the Dalai Lama's summer temple of Lukhang.

Tibetan Buddhist doctrines unite a seemingly diverse group of practices to offer a variety of ways to 'truth' (Sanskrit: satya; refer Two Truths) and 'enlightenment' (Sanskrit: bodhi) in accordance with the different qualities and capacities of sentient beings. These practices involve the use of tantra and yoga. Yoga used as a way to enhance concentration.

Nagarjuna's Madhyamika view and Yogacara's Mind-only view are used in Tibetan Buddhism as bases for Yoga practices. Focused meditation clears the mind of unenlightened concepts.

In the 13th and the 14th centuries, the Sarma traditions developed a fourfold classification system for Tantric texts based on the types of practices each contained, especially their relative emphasis on external ritual or internal yoga. The first two classes, the so-called lower tantras, are called the Kriya and the Chatya tantras; the two classes of higher tantras are the Yoga and the Anuttara Yoga (Highest Yoga).[53]

Brahman in Buddhism

The old Upanishads largely consider Brahman (masculine gender, Brahmā in the nominative case, henceforth "Brahmā") to be a personal god, and Brahman (neuter gender, Brahma in the nominative case, henceforth "Brahman") to be the impersonal world principle.[70] They do not strictly distinguish between the two, however. The old Upanishads ascribe these characteristics to Brahmā: first, he has light and luster as his marks; second, he is invisible; third, he is unknowable, and it is impossible to know his nature; fourth, he is omniscient. The old Upanishads ascribe these characteristics to Brahman as well.

In the Buddhist texts, there are many Brahmās. There they form a class of superhuman beings, and rebirth into the realm of Brahmās is possible by pursuing Buddhist practices. In the early texts, the Buddha gives arguments to refute the existence of a creator.

In the Pāli scriptures, the neuter Brahman does not appear (though the word brahma is standardly used in compound words to mean "best", or "supreme", however ideas are mentioned as held by various Brahmins in connection with Brahmā that match exactly with the concept of Brahman in the Upanishads. Brahmins who appear in the Tevijja-suttanta of the Digha Nikaya regard "union with Brahmā" as liberation, and earnestly seek it. In that text, Brahmins of the time are reported to assert: "Truly every Brahmin versed in the three Vedas has said thus: 'We shall expound the path for the sake of union with that which we do not know and do not see. This is the correct path. This path is the truth, and leads to liberation. If one practices it, he shall be able to enter into association with Brahmā." The early Upanishads frequently expound "association with Brahmā", and "that which we do not know and do not see" matches exactly with the early Upanishadic Brahman.

In the earliest Upanishad, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Absolute, which came to be referred to as Brahman, is referred to as "the imperishable". The Pāli scriptures present a "pernicious view" that is set up as an absolute principle corresponding to Brahman: "O Bhikkhus! At that time Baka, the Brahmā, produced the following pernicious view: 'It is permanent. It is eternal. It is always existant. It is independent existence. It has the dharma of non-perishing. Truly it is not born, does not become old, does not die, does not disappear, and is not born again. Furthermore, no liberation superior to it exists elsewhere." The principle expounded here corresponds to the concept of Brahman laid out in the Upanishads. According to this text the Buddha criticized this notion: "Truly the Baka Brahmā is covered with unwisdom."

Atman in Buddhism

In Hinduism, the atman is considered the essential 'self' of a person.

The pre-Buddhist Upanishads link the Self to the feeling "I am."The Chandogya Upanishad for example does, and it sees Self as underlying the whole world, being "below," "above," and in the four directions. In contrast, the Buddhist Arahant says: "Above, below, everywhere set free, not considering 'this I am.'"

While the pre-Buddhist Upanishads link the Self to the attitude "I am," others like the post-Buddhist Maitri Upanishad hold that only the defiled individual self, rather than the universal self, thinks "this is I" or "this is mine". According to Peter Harvey,

This is very reminiscent of Buddhism, and may well have been influenced by it to divorce the universal Self from such egocentric associations.

The Upanishadic "Self" shares certain characteristics with nibbana; both are permanent, beyond suffering, and unconditioned. However, the Buddha shunned any attempt to see the spiritual goal in terms of "Self" because in his framework, the craving for a permanent self is the very thing which keeps a person in the round of uncontrollable rebirth, preventing him or her from attaining nibbana. Harvey continues:

Both in the Upanishads and in common usage, self/Self is linked to the sense of "I am" ... If the later Upanishads came to see ultimate reality as beyond the sense of "I am", Buddhism would then say: why call it 'Self', then?

Buddhist mysticism is also of a different sort from that found in systems revolving around the concept of a "God" or "Self":

If one would characterize the forms of mysticism found in the Pali discourses, it is none of the nature-, God-, or soul-mysticism of F.C. Happold. Though nearest to the latter, it goes beyond any ideas of 'soul' in the sense of immortal 'self' and is better styled 'consciousness-mysticism.'

Possibly the main philosophical difference between Hinduism and Buddhism is that the concept of atman was rejected by the Buddha. Terms like anatman (not-self) and shunyata (voidness) are at the core of all Buddhist traditions. The permanent transcendence of the belief in the separate existence of the self is integral to the enlightenment of an Arhat.

The Buddha criticized conceiving theories even of a unitary soul or identity immanent in all things as unskillful. In fact, according to the Buddha's statement in Khandha Samyutta 47, all thoughts about self are necessarily, whether the thinker is aware of it or not, thoughts about the five aggregates or one of them.

At the time of the Buddha some philosophers and meditators posited a "root": an abstract principle out of which all things emanated and which was immanent in all things. When asked about this, instead of following this pattern of thinking, the Buddha attacks it at its very root: the notion of a principle in the abstract, superimposed on experience. In contrast, a person in training should look for a different kind of "root" — the root of dukkha experienced in the present. According to one Buddhist scholar, theories of this sort have most often originated among meditators who label a particular meditative experience as the ultimate goal, and identify with it in a subtle way. Alan Wallace writes that the transcendental notion of the self is an "idol" that cannot "withstand empirical investigation or rational analysis."

Rahula writes, "Two ideas are psychologically deep-rooted in man: self-protection and self-preservation. For self-protection man has created God, on whom he depends for his own protection, safety, and security, just as a child depends on its parent. For self-preservation man has conceived the idea of an immortal Soul or Atman, which will live eternally. In his ignorance, fear, weakness, and desire, man needs these two things to console himself. Hence he clings to them deeply and fanatically. The Buddha's teaching does not support this ignorance, fear, weakness, and desire, but aims at making man enlightened by removing them and destroying them, striking at their very root. According to Buddhism, our ideas of God and Soul are false and empty. Though highly developed as theories, they are all the same extremely subtle mental projections, garbed in an intricate metaphysical and philosophical phraseology. These ideas are so deep-rooted in man, and so near and dear to him, that he does not wish to hear, nor does he want to understand, any teaching against them. The Buddha knew this quite well. In fact, he said that his teaching was 'against the current,' against man's selfish desires".

The Buddha in Hinduism is sometimes viewed as an Avatar of Vishnu. In the Puranic text Bhagavata Purana, he is the twenty-fourth of twenty-five avatars, prefiguring a forthcoming final incarnation. A number of Hindu traditions portray Buddha as the most recent of ten principal avatars, known as the Daśāvatāra (Ten Incarnations of God). The Buddhist Dasharatha Jataka (Jataka Atthakatha 461) represents Rama as a previous incarnation of the Buddha as a Bodhisattva and supreme Dharma King of great wisdom.

Buddha's teachings deny the authority of the Vedas and consequently Buddhism is generally viewed as a nāstika school (heterodox, literally "It is not so" from the perspective of orthodox Hinduism.





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