Have you ever visited India? Or have you wondered what goes on in a Buddhist temple? Have you heard people like Julia Roberts talk about Hinduism, or George Lucas talk about Buddhism?
What are these two massive world religions? That is what this post answers. Of course, the subject is vast, and so we will have to be brief.
But we have outlined the majors, and then sought to show why you should reject these two Eastern imitations, and trust in the one true God of the Bible, through the Lord Jesus Christ.
What is Hinduism?
Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest and largest religions. Some 1.25 billion people identify with some sort of Hinduism. It is actually a combination of several ancient religious traditions. Hindus are monistic and henotheistic.
Monism means that all of reality is connected and comprises one entity. And henotheism is a belief that a supreme impersonal god (Brahman) exists together with avatars (manifestations or expressions) of those gods in a multitude of different gods and goddesses.
Hindus would identify in one of four different branches of Hinduism (or in a subgroup with in one of these branches): Shaktism, Shaivism, Smartism and Vaishnavism.
What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is another one of the world’s oldest and largest religion (Hinduism occupies the 3rd largest spot, followed by Buddhism, with nearly half a billion adherents).
Like Hinduism, Buddhism is monistic. Buddhism stresses more the balance and unity of all things. They reject the monotheistic distinction between the Creator and the creature, believing that ever part of reality is part of each other part.
Similarities between Hinduism and Buddhism
Both religions are ancient and both have massive followings in the present day. They share a similar (and sometimes overlapping) history, including the regions where they were founded. They are both monistic in their view of the world. Both reject monotheism, absolute truth, the biblical notion of sin, and so on.
Both believe in a cycle of life, and both subscribe to a form of reincarnation (though distinct in their respective understandings).
Origins of Hinduism
Unlike most world religions, Hinduism lacks a clearly recognized founder. Most trace its origins to the region and peoples around the Indus River in modern day India and Pakistan, beginning around 2000 B.C. While Hindus do have a sacred text (discussed below), most of its teaching in the early centuries was continued by oral traditions.
Origins of Buddhism
Buddhism began around 500 B.C., also in modern-day India. It was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, a prince from northern India. Gautama set out to discover the meaning of suffering. He did this primarily through ascetic practices like meditation and self-denial.
After meditating 40 days under a fig tree, Gautama became enlightened. He then developed Buddhistic principles and practices and traveled widely teaching these the rest of his life. Gautama is considered the Buddha.
Beliefs of Buddhism
Buddhists believe that balancing all of the opposites is the goal and meaning of life. Good and evil, life and death, virtue and vice, compassion and cruelty all need to be balanced and held in balance. For a Buddhist, there is no sin, only imbalance.
Additionally, Buddhist subscribe to four “Nobel Truths”. These are the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering and the freedom from suffering. Everyone suffers, and all suffering is from desire. Thus, when a person ceases desire, he ceases to suffer. Freedom from suffering is attained when one masters Buddhism. Thus, this is the highest aim in Buddhism.
Finally, Buddhists believe in a concept called The Cycle of Life. This is very similar to the Hindu belief of reincarnation. Every event is caused by a preceding event. Birth leads to life which leads to death which leads to rebirth. And the cycle continues.
The only escape from this cycle is ultimate enlightenment, or nirvana.
Beliefs of Hinduism
Hindus believe that there are both one god and many gods in an interconnected way. Brahman is the impersonal god, but Brahman is manifested by gods Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. Hindus would claim many other lesser gods and believe that they are manifestations or expressions of one of these three main gods.
Central to Hindu practice are the paired concepts of Dharma and Karma. Dharma has to do with virtue, duty, conduct, morality, etc. It is basically the measure of one’s life within a caste system. Hindus either excel and do poorly at Dharma and this influences their Karma. They either advance in the case system or digress.
Karma attributes a persons wealth and status by how well or poorly they conducted their previous lives. To a Hindu, the Dharma drives the Karma.
Entrenched in the Hindu religion is a caste system. Advancing through this system, through reincarnation, is the bread and butter of the Hindu religion.
Hindu practice is a pursuit after good Dharma, attaining more knowledge and virtue, morality, etc. Hindus have developed many techniques for attaining these things. The most famous of which (in the West at least!) is Yoga.
Hindus also have many rituals, sacrifices, festivals, and even pilgrimages. These vary widely depending on the branch of Hinduism and one’s personal involvement.
Buddhist practices center around learning the Dharma, attaining enlightenment and finding balance. Many Buddhists practice asceticism, meditation, and other such activities to this end. Buddhists will also pray at a temple, make offerings for imbalances, and spin prayer wheels, and maintain balance-encouraging diets (such as vegetarianism so beings are not harmed).
Many prominent Buddhist symbols are images and statues of Buddha in various depictions. The symbol of a wheel (circle of life) is also very prominent, as well as the swastika and various shapes depicting interconnectedness.
Hindus have various symbols. The most famous (notorious) of these is the swastika, which was adopted by the Nazi’s before and during the Second World War. Other symbols include the shatkona (similar to the star of David, but with a solid dot in the middle) and the padma, which resembles a flower.
The holy texts for Hindus are called the Vedas, and are comprised of four books of ancient hymns. The four books are called Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Yajur-Veda, and Atharva-Veda.
There is no broad consensus among Buddhists as to which texts are sacred and which are not, and the library of ancient Buddhistic texts is vast, especially considering the literature of the major branches of Buddhism (Tibetan, Chinese, etc.).
The most agreed upon sacred texts for Buddhists is called the Sutras.
Hindus believe in one impersonal god, Brahman, with three main manifestations: Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva. They further believe in many different avatars, or earthly incarnations of gods and goddesses.
To express the vast number of these gods, Hindus will often say there are 330 million gods and goddesses. This is not meant as an exact number, but rather to show innumerable Hindu deities.
Buddhists do not believe in a separate deity, but that all of reality is both interconnected and as such, divine.
Why believe in one God?
Buddhism and Hinduism both confuse the Creator/creature distinction. But the God of the Bible reveals himself as the Creator of the universe, and as such enjoys sovereignty over all his creation. Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism confuse this, and have led many away from faith in God, through the Lord Jesus Christ.
The very best reason to believe in one God is because he is true, and he is testified to clearly in the Scriptures. God is one, though he manifests himself in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This God has revealed himself to us in the Bible, and he commands all people everywhere to repent and believe in him, and find forgiveness of sins through the work of Christ.
Why choose Christianity over these religions?
The problem of evil and suffering and death has caused many to stumble. Eastern religions were literally born in this stumbling. But we need not stumble because the Bible answers those questions.
Christ suffered and died and was raised again to defeat evil ultimately, end suffering, and destroy death. We should trust the God of the Bible, and come to him through faith in Jesus. He created us. God has authority over our lives. And the Bible has the answers.