Religious & Symbolic Difference Between Hinduism & Buddhism

The religion of the Buddha emerged as a reaction to the brahminic culture of Indian society.
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Buddhism, as a religion and system of thought, defies many elements that Hinduism embraces, as the religion of the Buddha was very much a reaction to the dominant Hindu social system alive in India at the time. The Buddha’s primary objections were to the Hindu caste system, philosophical notions of the soul and the ritualization of religion.

1 Belief in a Soul

Although the Buddha recognized the system of karma and believed that one's present life is a direct result of actions and decisions made in past lives, he did not advocate a belief in the soul. This differs from the Hindu notion of a soul, which passes on from being to being during the reincarnation cycle of life, death and rebirth. The Buddha refused to place meaning in substance and viewed the soul as something substantive. Rather than a material soul, the Buddha taught that what is passed on from body to body during reincarnation are ideas, impressions, feelings and consciousness.

2 Authority and Tradition

The Buddha taught that religion should be devoid of authority and hierarchy. He encouraged his followers to break free from the Hindu tradition, as its institutionalized caste system bred inequality. He also wanted to take the exclusive spiritual prowess away from the Brahmins, the highest caste of India’s Hindu society, by encouraging all people to seek spiritual attainment. He taught that a person did not need to be a Brahmin, or any other kind of social elite, to obtain release if he was willing to work toward self actualization.

3 Rites and Rituals

The Buddha taught that religion should be free of ritual. He believed the practicing of ritual acts made it harder for people to break through the ego, as they would develop attachments to the rituals themselves. In Hinduism, nearly every aspect of religious devotion involves some type of ritual. There are rites and rituals specific to death, marriage, child birth and daily prayer to the deities. Objects, spaces and people can be ritualized. The Buddha saw this emphasis on ritual to be a distraction from the main spiritual goal.

4 Simplicity of the Buddha's Teachings

The Buddha advocated that religion should be free of speculation. A parable of the Buddha, taught to Buddhist students by their teachers, illuminates the simplicity of his teachings. “And what have I explained? Suffering have I explained, the cause of suffering, the destruction of suffering, and the path that leads to the destruction of suffering have I explained. For this is useful.” He believed that any other inquiries concerning life’s mysteries would be distractions from this desired outcome. At the time of Buddhism’s emergence, Hindus were entrenched in philosophic speculation, particularly regarding creation myths and stories. In addition, there is no belief in a god or multiple gods in Buddhism, unlike Hinduism, which reveres a pantheon of deities.

Rachel Alexander is a cultural and political area specialist of South Asia and the Middle East. She received the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in 2011, and again in 2012, to live in northern India and study advanced Hindi. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Loyola University of Chicago.