Hindus and Buddhists share many core beliefs. Gautama Buddha was a Hindu until the day he died, and his efforts to share his personal enlightenment involved making the Hindu concepts prevalent in his time more accessible -- not changing them. One reason why modern Buddhists and Hindus use different words for some of the most important ideas is that the Buddhist teachings were recorded in Pali, a variant of Sanskrit -- the language of Hinduism.

The Natural Law

The Sanskrit word "dharma" denotes the natural law, often connoting a sense of duty and righteousness, and both Hindus and Buddhists believe it is of central importance for correct living. The original name of Hinduism is Santana Dharma, which refers to the eternal Law that all people should follow; the word "Hindu" comes from Muslim invaders and British colonists. Buddhists also use the words dharma and dhamma -- the Pali equivalent -- to refer to natural order and proper way of living. Because Buddha taught a simplification of the Hindu Dharma, however, Buddhists are often referring to his teachings when they use either word.

Death and Rebirth

Both Buddhists and Hindus believe in reincarnation, but the two religions take different approaches. Hindus believe there is a soul, which they call Atman. According to a passage in the Bhagavad Gita, a central Hindu text, the soul changes bodies in the same way that a person changes clothes. Buddhists don't believe in the existence of an individual soul, and liken rebirth to the rekindling of a flame -- there is a connection in essence only. Nevertheless, Buddhists share the belief in samsara -- the eternal wheel of death and rebirth -- with Hindus.

The Value of Meditation

Compared to what most Hindus believe, the Buddhist teaching of impermanence is radical. Buddha asserted that decay was inherent in everything, while Hindus maintain the existence of a permanent state of unity with God. Both Hinduism and Buddhism agree, however, in the transitoriness of the material world and its ultimate worthlessness, and both traditions stress the value of meditation. The reality the meditator encounters is beyond form and comprehension, and in that state of formlessness, the accomplished meditator encounters a paradoxical state in which awareness exists without an object. In that state, questions regarding the permanence of the soul disappear.

The Way Out

Buddhists call the ultimate freedom from samsara "nirvana," which is a word that connotes cessation, while Hindus call it "moksha" -- liberation -- and "samadhi" --absorption in the Infinite. The concepts are not really different, because they all require annihilation of the ego that creates the suffering of separation in the first place. Both traditions believe in an inherent system of cause and effect called karma -- kamma in Pali -- that conditions an individual's ability to achieve freedom. Karma is the result of moral actions, and positive karma, together concerted practice, is the recipe for liberation in both traditions.