Saturday, August 27, 2005

Buddhism vis-a-vis Hinduism

Religious aspects in general:

Hinduism can be broadly divided into two main divisions. The Jnana part and the Bhakti part, which though not accurate, for our purpose can be translated as Philosophical and Belief parts.

Hinduism, pre-Buddhism, was mainly (and mostly), comprised of philosophical parts. The Vedas and Upanishads occupied the central part for Hindus to follow in everyday life. The Vedas and the Upanishads are the philosophical aspects of Hinduism.

Even the early Buddhism was only philosophical in nature in its beginning. The differences thus between Hinduism and Buddhism at that time were that of philosophical technicalities, whether the reality is infinite or sunya etc etc kind of stuff.


In addition there were also other kinds of differences, that of excessive ritualism, which marked the Hindu society of those times. In fact much of the popularity of the Buddhism in those times is also attributed to this aspect.

But the Hindu society made corrections in this regard (which can be inferred from the debate victory of Adi Sankaracharya representing Jnana over Purva Mimamsakas representing ritualistic portions). Also the Buddhism which partly started as a revolt to excessive ritualism, made bigger rituals.

It may be interesting to note that the popularity of the temple & monastery concepts etc were the result of the development of Buddhist times. Before that temples were never seen as a central in Hinduism, but only fire altars of the Rig Veda were central. It is in the Buddhist times that giant temples and idols became the trendy (extending even to Bamiyan Buddha’s etc).


Thus we can say that at the beginning of Buddhism, the differences with Hinduism were both on philosophical and ritualistic aspects. But by the time the condition stabilized, both underwent some changes, and there are not much difference left on the extent of rituals.

But in the later times, particularly the Islamic rule, we had the Bakti revolution. It is during these times that the concepts of incarnations, itihasas, puranas etc became popular (the difference between the time for emergence and popularity to be kept in mind). It is the developments of these times, which one can actually see in the Hindu society today mostly. Worship of Rama, Krishna, worship of them, attitude that philosophy and logic not needed in religion, and that belief is superior.

Vedas still are there, and are still central, but they are not vital anymore. How many of the present day Hindus know the what is there is Vedas, Upanishads or what are the Jnana kanda, karma kanda portions of Vedas etc etc. So, Hinduism during these times have undergone a transformation of form.

It is not that the developments of these times were against the concepts of Vedas. But previously it used to be directly Vedas, not it is derivations of Vedas.

Buddhism having disappeared from India did not have the effect of all these changes, and it thus is freezed at the time of pre-Bhakti times in the public memory.

Thus I can say that in addition to the philosophic differences, the only differences Hinduism and Buddhism has are the belief and Bhakti parts. Hinduism has also the concpets of Bhakti in addition to the concepts of Jnana.


Is Buddhism = Hinduism - its bad practices?

It is true that it is a pretty popular view, but I don’t think that this is true. In fact, on the contrary, I think the revolutionary way in which Buddhism took India later lead to many problems, with most of them having their origin either in the Buddhist times of in the transition from Buddhist back to Hindu.

I don’t deny that there were problems in Hindu society before Buddhism. But as I have elaborated in the case of ritualism earlier, those differences are obsolete now. Some major points which are seen as problems by present Hindu society (and which are said to be absent in Buddhism), and their origin.


1. Untouchability: This is actually seen as a development in the middle and declining days of Buddhism. The pre-Buddhist Hinduism was not centered about non-violence, and sacrifices by even some upper castes common. But after Buddhism, non-violence became a taboo, and the Hindu society also was quick to accept this non-violence which was seen as a moral high ground in the society of that times. (I am not talking about introducing non-violence; but the transformation from “non-violence is spiritually superior, and please be non-violence if possible” to “you should be non-violent”). As a result the non-violent classes particularly towards the cow, became lower in social standing. (you may further read this and this articles on the “Broken men” by Ambedkar for more explanation )


2. Excessive Ritualism: Already discussed before.

3. Not logical: Some Hindus feel that Hinduism does not have any logical support, and is just based on some beliefs. It is true that being logical is not seen as compulsory in Hinduism, it is no way true that Hinduism does not have logical support. It just offers it. “If you want take it, there are the reasons. If you don’t want to know, no problem, go ahead” is it attitude. There are extensive philosophical literature and even the study of what is logic itself in ‘nyaya’. Then there is purva mimamsa, uttara mimansa, nyaya, vyseshika, sankya, yoga. Then there are different schools of thoughts Advaita, Dvaita, Visistadvaita, dvaita-advaita, bheda-abheda etc etc. And all not just saying something, but supporting them with arguments.

So this is not true, but appears so only due to the ignorance of some present Hindus, more so in times when the sources of learning our religion is mostly through western studies.


4. Tantra: I personally don’t think that tantra is anything bad. But here I am referring to the degeneration in it. The origins of tantra thought can be found from the earliest times I Hinduism in the form of purusha-prakruti concept etc. But all this was only symbological in nature, and in the times of Buddhism there evolved structured sects of Tantra (eg: Vajrayana)

Hence Buddhism != Hinduism - bad practices in Hinduism.


BuddhISTs and Buddha

Buddha's teachings were deeply spiritual. The Buddhism differs a little from the teachings of Buddha, but still has many factors to learn from. There are man positive contributions of that period, which most of us unaware of. Religion before Buddhism was not easily understood for the masses. It was covered with big rituals. It was Buddha who made religion very easy and it was Buddhism which propagated religion deep into the masses.

If Adi Sankaracharya deserves the credit for defeating many Buddhist scholars in debate, the Buddhists too deserve credit that the sat for the debate, and accepted what is true. Each did not sit for the debate to stick to their positions, but only viewed it as a combined search for truth. Sankara convinced that his was right, and the Buddhists accepted it. I only hope that such pure quest for truth is also there in ppl of present age.

I am not saying that Buddhism was flawless. It did have, and that’s why it vanished from India. But the point I am trying to make is that it need not be seen as an enemy. Buddhism covering most of India, and later it becoming extinct are in my view does not indicate any conflicts in the religions in the India, but only signifies that the Sanatana Dharma was constantly seeking to express itself in a better manner. This is neither a symbol of quarrel nor of a decayed race, but symbolizes a vibrant Nation which was constantly trying to seek perfection.

Our Ideal

Buddha with his tremendous compassion made religion easy for. His love was not just limited to humans but extended to even animals and plants. This also formed the basis for the service attitude for the Buddhist monks. But this also opened the doors for the religion to be easily malleable to suit the individual fancies. Huge monasteries, excessive idols and temples, vamachara etc are some results of it.

On the other hand Sankara had that tremendous intellect. With that he proved wrong all the others false schools. But this kind of intellect often leads to dryness, as can be seen from the so called intellectuals our country is having today who do not feel anything for the one they are writing, but do so, sitting happily in their a/c rooms.

What we want is the Intellect of Sankara with the Heart of Buddha. This must be our ideal.


Philosophical Comparison

Buddha died as a Hindu and is one of the ten Avataras of Vishnu. Buddhism came after Buddha and I do not see Buddhism as something different from Hinduism, hence I will write the differences between Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta (school of thought, mainly propounded by Adi Sankaracharya, and said to have participated in philosophical debated with many Buddhists).

Both Buddhism and Vedanta do not agree to the concept of the 'creation'. They hold that it eternally exist. Also both their concepts of time are cyclic, in contrast to the scientific model which suggests time is a one dimentional arrow(although the latest String theory questions this assumption).


According to Buddhism, Sunya or nothingness is the reality. Nihilism as it is called. What we observe is nothing but a series of changes. Each element is formed and then dissolved, and it exists for a infinitesimally small amount time, which is almost tending to zero.

It basically says that there is no fixed something. What we observe is a result of a series of changes. An example is a flowing river. In the river, the water is continously changing all the time, but this change gives us a feeling of river. or a film screen, which is not a single movie, but a series of pictures. In the same way, the universe is also nothing but a series of changes, and change is the only permanent thing, so to say.

But Vedanta does not agree with this Nihilism. It immediately asks "Change fine, but with respect to what?"

If we have to observe a change, or even have a change, then we need three things. ONE-an initial state of the being; TWO- a final state of the being; and the THIRD important one which the buddhists neglect-on observer which does not change with respect to both of these.

So, for even a change to happen, we want the presence of an unchanging element which does not change with respect to both of them.

In the above river example, eventhough the water in river is continoudly changing, there is a definite path which the river follows, and this is what charactarizes the river. In the movie example, the pictures may be changing, but there is a screen behind which is responsible for the feeling of movie. In the same way, universe may be a unending series of changes, but there is something which is unchanging begind all this.


More over the change or creation itself assumes the presence of time. Concept of change cannot exist without the concept of time. But if we talk about trascending the time or atleats bending of time as in the case of relativity, we will be forced to accept that time itself may have a beginning, and to call the change an eternally present phenomenon may be wrong.


So eventhough both Buddhism and Vedanta accept that Universe is not 'created' they differ at what is the final reality. Biddhist maintain that it is Sunya. Vedantins maintain that it is Infinite Brahman.

‘Na Asato Sato Jayate’, "Existence cannot be produced by non-existence." Or rather more simply put - something cannot come out of nothing. This is one of the central ideas of the ideas. It thus rejects the idea of infinitisimal elements being created and destroyed continously.

The Mahayana school understands anitya to mean that elements are trisitory, hence unreal and non-existent, not to speak of the substancelessness of the beings constituted out of the elements. This is a deviation from the Hinayana which denies Dharma-Sunyata. Nagarjuna as I understand, says that so-called objects, qualities, attributes, even nirvaana, Buddha or Biddhisatva are non-existent in the highest sense.

Thus Buddhism denies the existence of world and also the final reality itself as sunya, and hence is also known as Maya Vaada.

Vednata also holds that the world is unreal. But it does not say that final reality is non-existant. It says that behind this illusory world is the reality. As in the above example of movie, the pictures we see on screen are unreal and illusion. From this Buddhism says that world is also like it- a illusion. Vedanta on the other hand says that behind the changing screen there is the screen which makes one see the movie. The Vedanta calls this final reality, the One without any second, as Brahman. Thus Advaita is also known as Brahma Vaada.

2 Comments:

Blogger Azygos said...

Two corrections

Buddhism does not teach nihilism......It teaches a theory of impermanence, or nothing as permanent because everything is subject to dependent origination. Thus, atleast in the madhyamika marga of nagarjuna he refuses to take either of the two extreme positions of absolutism or nihilism. Even nagarjuna like Shankara later had postulated two orders of reality; the higher and the conventional. But his higher reality does not postulate a changeless permanent brahman.

The Mahayana marga and the Vajrayana (tibetan buddhism) to the contrary postulate an absolute reality. However, they maintain their belief in rebirth, not reincarnation. THat is obviously compatible with Advaita for even karma and individual souls are ultimately illusory.

I believe that Buddhism was inadverently responsible for introducing untouchability within indian society because of its excessive insistence on purity and non vilence. Hence, the classes which dealt with skinning animals, would naturaly be the genesis for later concepts of chandala. It is noteworthy that indian surgical sciences also declined post buddhism because physicians and surgeons who dealt with dead bodies were deemed impure. No wonder, they were castigated in several future smriti texts

12:58 AM  
Blogger Azygos said...

As for existence and non existence, both are relative terms. Existence can only be relative to non existence and vice versa. Hence, the nasadiya sukta postulates that which transcends both existence and non existence would be the highest reality.

Note carefully that Shankara himself in his commentary of the chandogya is critical of those upanishad texts like the Svet. Up where it is said that existence has come from non existence....i believe chandogya says in the beginning there was reality alone....Why the apparent contradictions?

Perhaps, Shankara understands that statements that attribute existence coming from non existence might connote nihilsm to the ignorant, and they might fail to appreciate the nature of the highest order reality which is certainly not insentient.

1:03 AM  

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