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Hinduism and Buddhism are both eastern traditions with much to say about the human condition as well as the reason human beings exist at all. In some ways they are different while also being similar in other ways. In this essay, those differences will be discussed and the similarities examined for their message. In conclusion, we will examine what these two faiths offer to the human beings of the twenty-first century.
According to Hinduism, at the most basic level, the purpose of life is to perform one’s social duty and live the exemplary life of the householder by marrying, having children, providing for them and observing the rituals required by the gods. Later, the Upanishads claimed that the purpose of life is to achieve unity with Brahman, the divine essence of all life. Humans were not to pursue worldly goods but choose a life of asceticism and seek enlightenment. This view is similar to what Buddhists believe the goal of life should be and they also share an explanation of the human condition. Both Buddhism and Hinduism cite worldly attachment and ignorance of the true self as the causes of human suffering which occurs in unending cycles (samsara or the wheel of death and rebirth) until we finally free ourselves from our own blindness. [ 3 ]
Buddhism teaches that the reason for being a human is that it gives a soul a chance to finally achieve enlightenment, describing in detail what other varieties of conscious beings must endure because they do not have an opportunity to gain merit or to perform dharma. The human being is a singular entity that may achieve enlightenment and become a Buddha through good works, right living, and meditation. [ 1 ]
Hinduism, on the other hand, teaches that human beings exist to uphold the structure of dharma and perform the tasks strictly assigned (as described by Krishna in the Mahabharata) to them by their caste. Atman puts on one body and performs that function assigned at birth and then sheds that body when it gets old and dies and puts on a new one, repeating the process endlessly. The Upanishads, the final Vedic scripture, changed that to reflect the search of atman to be reunited with the universal soul through enlightenment. [ 3 ]
Buddhism in the twenty-first century is still applicable in such a fast paced and confusing world. Despite all of our advanced science and technology, we understand even less our reason for existing and we know more than ever just how big the universe is and how uncaring. These circumstances drive people to seek out spirituality even today in order to achieve the basic comfort required for them to conduct their daily lives. The recent episodes of tremendous violence have placed an unsavory patina of stifling ignorance over the religions of Christianity and Islam as they continue to carry on like demented spinsters in the decaying finery of their former glory with no intention of acknowledging the catastrophe of their current circumstances. Buddhism, with its sterling values of moderation, peace, and detachment from the impermanent things of this world, now appears dignified and splendid as the ancient beauty of Asia to modern seekers.
No longer do we seek judgment and rigid, inexplicable rules from our God, with the hellfire and damnation that once drove us onward. We crave logic and sense from our world and in those circumstances, this faith tells us that lusting after expensive cars and clothes which we do not need will make us miserable. That is easy to understand. That makes sense. Use only what you need. Be compassionate to others, be charitable, avoid violence, and respect all life. All these things are self-evident in their truth. If all people acted this way, we would not feel so violent and conflicted and we would be without suffering. These ideas are not ambiguous and do not require us to submit to a priesthood or clergy which may become corrupt and abusive. We only need to read, for ourselves, the teachings of Buddha and reflect on our own conduct.
The same can be said for Hinduism, although because of the near-global distaste of the oppressive caste system and the shameful practice of Sati, or widow-burning, as well as the curse of untouchability, Hindus in India are convulsed with their own reforms of belief. Yoga, however, has seen a tremendous rise in popularity in the West because of the need for a system that brings mind, body, and spirit into harmonious alignment.
The tranquility offered by gurus who accept all backgrounds and beliefs in the search for God is a powerful lure for modern people whose lives are often chaotic. There has been a long trend historically away from the mysteries of a powerful and omnipotent priesthood towards a more personal, private, and intimate relationship with the divine. The ancient beliefs of Asia were first seeded among a patient and adaptable people who have endured for thousands of years and therefore are well-suited to weather the spiritual storms of mankind. For these reasons, both Hinduism and Buddhism will remain relevant for ages to come.
1. World Scripture (Unknown). Buddhism: Chapter 7 The Human Condition. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.unification.net/ws/intch7.htm. [Last Accessed 11/22/2012]. 2. Ananda W.P. Guruge (2000). Buddhism in Modern Life. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma3/modern.html. [Last Accessed 11/22/2012]. 3. Shaheen Emmanuel Lakhan, MS, PhD (2009). The Human Being in The Eye of the Hindu. [ONLINE] Available at: http://hinduism.about.com/cs/basics/a/aa120803a.htm. [Last Accessed 11/22/2012]. 4. Dr. Neria H. Hebbar (2002). Modern Hinduism. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.boloji.com/index.cfm?md=Content&sd=Articles&ArticleID=1494. [Last Accessed 11/22/2012].