Roots of Hinduism and Buddhism
At first, the Aryans and the non-Aryans followed their own forms of religion. As the two groups intermingled, the gods and forms of their religion also blended together. This blending resulted in the worship of thousands of gods. Different ways of living and beliefs made life more complex for both groups. This complexity led some people to question the world and their place in it. They even questioned the enormous wealth and power held by the Brahmin priests. Those priests officiated elaborate state ceremonies and sacrifices. Out of this turmoil, new religious ideas arose that continue to influence millions of people today.
Hinduism is a collection of religious beliefs that develops slowly over a long period of time. Some aspects of the religion can be traced back to ancient times. In a Hindu marriage the bride and groom marry in the presence of the sacred fire as they did centuries ago. Verses from the Vedas are recited daily by the faithful. Some non-Aryan gods known in Vedic times such as Krishna of Mahabharata, continue to be worshiped.
From time to time, scholars have tried to organize the many popular cults, God's and traditions into one grand system of belief. However Hinduism, unlike religions such as Buddhism, Christianity or Islam cannot be traced back to one founder with a single set of ideas.
Origins and beliefs Hindu share a common worldview. They see religion as a way of liberating the soul from illusions, disappointments and mistakes of everyday existence. Somewhere between 750 and 550 BC, Hindu teachers try to interpret and explain the hidden meaning of the Vedic hymns. As I meditated on the Vedas, they asked what is the nature of reality? What is morality? is there eternal life? What is the soul? The teacher's comments were later written down and became known as the Upanishads.
The Upanishads are written as dialogues or discussions between a student and teacher. They explore how a person can achieve liberation from desires and sufferings. This is described as Moksha, a state of perfect understanding of all things. The teacher distinguishes between atman, the individual soul of a living being, the Brahman, the world soul that contains unites all atmans. The interconnectedness of all life is a basic concept in all-Indian religions. Here's how one teacher explains the unifying spirit of Brahman:
When a person understands relationship between atman and Brahman, that person achieves perfect understanding and a release from life in this world. This understanding does not usually come in one lifetime. By the process of reincarnation, an individual soul or spirit is born again and again until Moksha is achieved. A soul's karma good or bad deeds follows from one reincarnation to another. Karma influences specific life circumstances such as the caste one is born into, one state of health, wealth or poverty.
Buddhism developed out of the same. A religious questioning that shape modern Hinduism and Jainism. The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama was born in the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal. According to Buddhist legend, the baby exhibited the marks of a great man. A prophecy indicated that if the child stayed home he was destined to become a world ruler. If the child left home however he would become a universal spiritual leader. To make sure the boy would be a great King, his father isolated him in his palace. Separated from the world, Siddhartha married and had a son.
Siddhartha's never cease thinking about the world that lay outside the palace, which she had never seen. When he was 29, he ventured outside the palace four times. First he saw an old man, next a sick man, then a corpse being carried to the cremation grounds, and finally a wandering holy man who seemed at peace with himself. He understood these events to mean that every living thing experiences old age, sickness and death and that only a religious life offers a refuge from this inevitable suffering. Siddhartha decided to spend his life searching for religious truth and an end to suffering. So, soon after learning of his son's birth, he left the palace.
He wandered to the force of India for six years seeking enlightenment and wisdom. He tried many ways of reaching an enlightened state. He first debated with other religious seekers. He then fasted, eating only six grains of rice a day. Yet none of these methods brought them to the truth and he continued to suffer. Finally he sat in meditation under a large fig tree. After 49 days of meditating, he achieved an understanding of the cause of suffering in this world. From then on he was known as Buddha meaning the enlightened one.
Origins and Beliefs the Buddha preached his first sermon to five companions who had accompanied him on his wanderings. The first sermon became a landmark in history as it laid out the four main ideas that he understood in his enlightenment and he called those ideas the four Noble truths. First Noble Truth is everything in life is suffering and sorrow. Second Noble Truth, the cause of all suffering is people’s selfish desire for the temporary pleasures of this world. Third Noble Truth is the way to end all suffering is to end all desires. Fourth Noble Truth is the way to overcome such desires and attain enlightenment is to follow the Eightfold path or the middle way between desires and self-denial.
The Eightfold Path is like a staircase. For Buddha those seeking enlightenment had to master one step at a time but typically would occur over many lifetimes. By following this path anyone could reach Nirvana, the Buddha's word for release from selfishness and pain. Buddhist teachings included many ideas from the Hindu tradition but they also differed sharply.
As in Hinduism, the Buddha accepted the idea of reincarnation and a cyclical, repetitive view of history where the world is created and destroyed over and over again. However, Buddha rejected the many gods of Hinduism. He taught a way of enlightenment. Buddha reacted against the privileges of the Brahmin priests and rejected the caste system. The final goals of both religions moksha for Hindus and nirvana for Buddhists are similar. Both involve a perfect state of understanding and a break from the chain of reincarnations.