Last updated: September 21, 2019
Topic: LawGovernment
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Compare/ Contrast Essay: Hinduism and Buddhism
The Hindu religion dominated India thousands of years ago, which defined the government and social views throughout the country. Around 534 BCE, a Hindu prince named Siddhartha Gautama saw that the Hindu social views were impacting his country in an oppressive way. Thus, he felt the time for religious change in India had come, leading to Buddhism. Siddhartha’s ideas changed the religious and social views for many Indians. Although Hinduism and Buddhism shared the beliefs of dharma and karma, reincarnation, and moksha and nirvana, the caste system contributed to the creation of Buddhism and aided the ability for Buddhism to spread outside of India.

Dharma and Karma were a predominant way of life for both Hindus and Buddhists. The main objective of Karma was to live life according to your Dharma. Karma also directly related to doing what was right for the individual, the family, the community, and the universe itself. The body and the mind undertook these actions. Dharma was comparable to a cosmic norm and if one went against the norm, it would result in bad Karma. Dharma affects the future according to the karma that is accumulated throughout your whole life. The meaning of Dharma was ultimately to teach people to live in harmony with the world. Both of these religions practiced Dharma and Karma in relation to each other and pretty much let it control their life. Reincarnation was another striking similarity between these two religions. Samsara was a term used to describe the chain of births and deaths linked by reincarnation. The controlling force of Samsara is Karma. If you obtain good karma, you can eventually obtain a higher rank in the caste system for a future life.

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This appealed to most people and helped spread both religions. People liked the thought of having a reward for living a good life. Both Hinduism and Buddhism had the goal of reaching a certain point and freeing themselves from the world, thus breaking away from the cycle of death. People would build up karma, good and bad, based on their actions. Moksha, for Hinduism, was referred to as the “Last Sacrifice”. This was also considered the last cycle in Samsara. Reaching Nirvana and Moksha required the achievement of overcoming desire and ignorance as well as overcoming the desire for Moksha itself. Nirvana, for Buddhism, also known as “Enlightenment”, was the supreme state, free from suffering and existence. This was the ultimate goal for any Buddhist. Like Moksha, you had to overcome desire and ignorance in any form. You become free from worldly things such as greed and hate. The spread of Hinduism and Buddhism was all in all due to the fact that most people liked the core beliefs of both religions.

Hinduism is categorized as the first religion to dominate India. It eventually caused the split of religion into Buddhism but still remains very different from the traditional Buddhist culture. Hinduism has no traceable founder, but the word “Hindu” is derived from a Persian word that refers to the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. Historians believe that it started to rise after the Aryans invaded India around 2000-1500 BCE. Aryans created the caste system to separate themselves from the native peoples. Ritual Priests of the Vedas, the spiritual book written for Hinduism, named themselves Brahmin priests. The Upanishads, another holy book in the Hindu religion, stated that the material world that we live in is not real. The Indian Caste system played a huge, if not, the biggest part in Indian civilization and the Hindu religion itself. The caste system dates back to the Aryan invasion. People were assigned to groups based on their birth not their personality. There were four different castes and a fifth group, the untouchables that was not even considered honorable enough to be known as an official caste. The first caste, which was the highest rank, was called Brahmin, consisting of intellectual and spiritual leaders. The second caste was called the Kshatriyas, which were made up of the protectors of society. The third caste is the Vaisyas, which consisted of the skillful producers of material things. The fourth caste, the lowest rank before the untouchables, was the Shudras, which were the followers or the maintenance people. Unlike Buddhism, Hinduism was not spread. There is no evidence to attest the influence of Hinduism in any other part of the old world. Part of this reason was due to the fact that the caste system was so harsh. People did not like for other people to think of themselves as superior to them. As Hinduism grew, superiority of certain people became a debatable subject and led to the emersions of other religious practices, such as Buddhism.

Siddhartha Gautama, a Hindu prince, founded Buddhism. In his childhood he had been sheltered from the social effects of the caste system prevalent throughout India. He agreed with the belief described in the Upanishads that human misery is created by humanity itself. Once he was exposed to the suffering and pain, this belief had a different meaning. His first rule was “nothing is essentially permanent.” His second rule was “not wanting the impossible and accepting the inevitable.” The third and fourth rules were “proper speech and proper actions.” The fifth rule was to “injure no living thing.” This contradicted the Hindu belief in human and animal sacrifice. He believed that everyone controlled their own fate and there were no gods to influence life. In regards to the caste system in India, Siddhartha, also known as Buddha, ridiculed it. The theological base of Buddhism welcomed everyone into the congregation as equals. Evidence of this belief is found in his statement, “Birth does not make one a priest or an outcast, behavior makes one either a priest or an outcast.”

The spread of Buddhism was due to the fact that Buddhist Indian merchants traveled on the silk roads and created oases. The more they traded, the more people of small oases converted to Buddhism. Buddhism was appealing in the way that everyone was equal. Many Buddhist monks traveled to Northern China and showed miracles by giving advice to many leaders about military strategies. Once the leaders saw that the monks were correct, this led to the conversion of many Chinese leaders. Buddhism also appealed to nomadic peoples in the way that the views and beliefs differed from the ancient Chinese Confucius views. Buddhism’s popularity was directly related to the way it valued all its followers.

Hinduism and Buddhism had the same core beliefs, but what made them so different was how their followers were a part of the wide panorama of the religion. The Hindu religion allowed the caste system to define their societal and religious standings. Buddhism accepted all people of any societal background to worship equally without the threat of losing the right to practice the religion. Buddhism was able to attract more followers due to its welcoming beliefs. Both of these religions were a vital part of Indian society and to this day define Indian culture.