It could be said that Buddhism emerged out of Hinduism because Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, grew up learning Hindu teachings before he became a traveling monk and gained enlightenment. Considering this overlapping background between Buddhism and Hinduism, it is natural that both share common ideas.
1. Similar Concepts
In both religions, you will come across similar vocabulary such as samsara (the cycle of rebirth), karma (cause and effect), or dharma (moral order).
Samsara refers to the endless cycle of birth and death. Both Hinduism and Buddhism see life as a cycle, which means that spirits are continually reincarnated into a new life after the end of their previous one. This cycle can only be broken by achieving enlightenment.
For Buddhists, enlightenment is referred to as attaining nirvana, while for Hindus this is referred to as moksha, or becoming one with Brahman, the supreme god. The concept of enlightenment is similar in the two religions, but they differ on the path towards achieving it.
Karma is the concept that any action or thought will directly result in a fitting consequence in the present or future life state. To put it plainly, if someone does bad things in this life, that person might be reborn in a less desirable state in the next life. Similarly, when good things happen to someone, karma states that it may be due to good deeds in a past life.
However, the idea of karma for Hindus and Buddhists is slightly different. Hindus see karma as fitting behavior according to the role of the person, often this includes religious rituals, while Buddhists see it as correct intent and ethical actions.
Sculpture of Hinduism temple
Dharma is a difficult word to translate and it vaguely means natural law, duty, moral order, right conduct, or role in the universe. This concept is central to both Hinduism and Buddhism, but the interpretations in the two religions are different. In Hinduism, it is tied closely with the duty of a person, or how a person is supposed to conduct oneself according to their caste. In Buddhism, it often refers to the teachings of Buddha.
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2. Similar Symbolism
Apart from similar concepts, there are similar symbols that occur in both Hinduism and Buddhism, including mudra and dharmachakra.
Mudra is a system of symbolic hand gestures with meanings, often used during meditation. Buddha is often portrayed using these hand gestures in statues or paintings. Mudra is commonly practiced in both Hinduism and Buddhism but the positions, meanings, and uses are different.
Dharmachakra is a symbol common to Hinduism and Buddhism that looks like a ship's steering wheel. The wheel appears in India's national flag as well as the Thai royal family's flag. It is also called the Wheel of Law. The number of spokes varies, but eight is most common, representing the Eightfold Path teaching for Buddhists. Dharmachakra commonly appears on Hindu temple walls as well, particularly in temples of the sun god, Surya.
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3. Similar Practices
On the surface, you may notice that Hindus and Buddhists share a few common practices such as meditation and the use of mantras.
A mantra is the utterance of syllables or words in a melodic way, which is believed to have spiritual power and can bring the person to a higher spiritual awareness.
Hindus use mantras during rituals while worshiping gods. They also use it while praying. In Buddhism, mantra is more used as a meditation exercise to help the mind focus on certain things and let go of attachments.
Another shared practice between Hinduism and Buddhism is meditation. But again, the two religions have different perspectives on how to go about it and why you should practice it. Buddhists see meditation as a means of self-edification and attaining nirvana, while Hindus have varying purposes for meditation including physical, mental, and spiritual enhancement.
Both religions also have an inclination towards vegetarianism. In India, 33% of Hindus are vegetarians. While becoming vegetarian is not mandatory, it is highly encouraged in both Hinduism and Buddhism as an expression of non-violence.
Differences between Hinduism and Buddhism
Clearly, there are overlapping concepts and practices between these two religions, but while there are clear similarities there are even more differences. Some of Buddha's teachings were influenced by his disapproval of the Hindu practices at the time, especially regarding the caste system.
1. Different Perspective on God(s)
One of the most fundamental differences between Buddhism and Hinduism is their view on the existence of god.
Hindus worship numerous deities. A few of the most important include Lord Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu, Ganesh, and Lakshmi. Even though there are many gods in Hinduism, they are believed to all come from Brahman, the universal soul.
Hindus recognize that there is an individual soul inside each person, called an atman. Some Hindus believe that the atman and Brahman are ultimately the same, an idea that resonates with pantheism. However, views on this vary greatly.
On the other hand, Buddhists deny the existence of many gods. Instead, they believe in the existence of one god, but they do not believe it is necessary to seek god. This is reflected in their teachings which mainly talk about ethical behavior rather than worship towards a god.
Worshiping various different gods is very deeply ingrained in Hindu culture, but in Buddhism, followers are instead encouraged to focus more on self-discipline.
2. Different Morality
One of the most important teachings of Buddhism is the Eightfold Path. The eight practices are right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi (meditative union). This is believed to help a person achieve nirvana and release him/her from the cycle of rebirth, which is the ultimate goal in Buddhism.
Hinduism's view on morality goes hand in hand with their view of dharma. Hindus do not just focus on a person's moral behavior, but instead emphasize the fulfillment of duties and rituals expected for the person's particular lifestyle and socio-economic status.
3. Different Views on the Caste System
Although it is currently illegal in India, traditionally Hindus believe in the caste system which divides people into four hierarchical groups, or five if including the untouchables. Each caste has its own dharma, or expected behavior and actions. Historically, the caste system has been very prevalent in Hindu culture and determined many decisions such as who to marry.
Marriage with a different caste was highly discouraged throughout India and although older generations still may not approve, today, many young people participate in intercaste relationships and marriages.
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The caste system benefits the upper castes but suppresses the lower castes. In fact, Hindus have to be of the Brahmin caste in order to achieve moksha, or enlightenment. The lowest caste, which is known as the untouchables, gets the worst end of it.
Disapproval of the caste system was one of the things that triggered some of Gautama Buddha's teachings. Instead of dividing the society into hierarchical categories, he taught that all people are of equal value, therefore there is no caste system recognized in Buddhism.
4. Different Views on Buddha
Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, is a historical figure who was born a prince of India and lived in the 4th century BC. Buddhists see him as an admirable teacher who achieved enlightenment and founded the Buddhist religion.
Some denominations of Hinduism also recognized the figure of Buddha, but they perceive him as the 9th avatar of the god Vishnu, one of the three most important gods in Hinduism. They believe that Vishnu incarnated as Buddha in order to restore dharma, or moral order, in the world. Buddhists, however, do not share this view.
5. Different Architecture/Function of Temples
The differences in architecture between Hinduism and Buddhism can be found mainly in their temples. Hindu temples are architecturally dedicated to the worship a certain god: Lord Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu, Ganesh, or Lakshmi, etc., while Buddhist temples or stupas are used to honor (incarnations of) Buddha and for meditation.
Hinduism architecture can be found in simple shrine structures by the side of roads or in large temple complexes like Swaminarayan Akshardham (the largest) in Delhi.
The famous originally Hindu-style temples Angkor Wat and Bagan in Cambodia and Burma respectively were later converted to Buddhist-style temples!
Buddhism temples are designed to represent the pure land or pure environment of a Buddha. The largest Buddhist temple in the world is Borobudur in Indonesia.
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6. Different Distribution "Homelands" for Hindus and Buddhists
Buddhism and Hinduism are the third and fourth-largest religions in the world after Christianity and Islam. In fact, 15% of the world's population is Hindu and 7% is Buddhist.
Hinduism is mainly focused in India. 92% of all Hindus come from India, which makes it an ethnic religion. The second largest populations of Hindus outside India are in Nepal and Mauritius. Less than 1% of Hindus live outside Asia and the Pacific.
Buddhism originated in northern India, but it is a religion that is distributed more widely. China has 18% of the world's Buddhists, the largest percentage. Thailand and the neighboring countries of Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia and other East Asian countries have the greatest numbers of Buddhists. Small numbers of Buddhists are found outside Asia.
7. Different Religious Festivals
All festivals in Hinduism are predominantly worshipful in character and significance. They usually combine with religious ceremonies of sacrifice and washing, semi-ritual spectacles, deity worship and prayer, and processions. The main festivals for Hindus include Diwali, Holi, Onam, Maha Shivaratri, and Ganesh Chaturthi. See The 12 Most Popular Festivals in India.
Festivals are also an important aspect of Buddhist practice. At festivals, Buddhist will go the local temple or monastery and offer food to the monks, honor Buddha, concentrate on the Five Precepts (refraining from killing, stealing, sensuality/fornication, wrong speech, and intoxicants), listen to a Dharma talk or chant of the Buddha's teachings, and meditate. The major Buddhist festivals are Vesak (Buddha Day), Nirvana Day, Magha Puja, and Dharma Day.
chant of the Buddha's teachings
Learn More about Buddhism and Hinduism in India with Asia Highlights
As you visit India and experience the local culture, you will be able to see that Buddhism and Hinduism share many intriguing similarities, but also have distinct differences in their beliefs and practices. Contact us for a tailor-made tour to help you plan a memorable journey across this enchanting country.