A friendly study of the world's religions is a sacred duty
. -Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hinduism and Buddha

Hinduism is one of the great religions of the world. It is a complex religion with many gods, goddesses, choices, consequences, rituals, goals, and rewards. Much of the religion focuses on samsara (the vicious cycle of life, death, rebirth) and how to achieve moksha (liberty from samsara). The "life" part of samsara is where we learn how we must have done in our previous life, are we currently of the Brahmins? Kshatriyas? Vaishyas? Shudras? Dalits? Those being, respectively, the priests, warriors, householders, servants and controversially the untouchables. These are the castes of Hindu society that cannot be broken free from; if you were born a Kshatriya, you will die (this time around) a Kshatriya. Higher caste, better person you must have been in your previous life. Samsara, moksha, and castes are three major aspects of Hinduism.

Sometime around 500 BCE, a young prince was born who would put his own spin on Hinduism.

Buddha. Born to a king and queen in India somewhere between 563 and 483 BCE, Siddhartha Gautama (later to become Buddha) was wealthy, educated, handsome, and Hindu. As a young teenager he would often take rides around the country which his father had planned, making sure the young prince would never encounter any sign of death, sickness, or ugliness. One particular ride, however, the young prince mistakenly came upon an old, sick man. This was the first time Siddhartha Gautama realized that there was more to life than perishable things and beauty.

Gautama had had an educated upbringing and was familiar with all the aspects of Hinduism including the different paths to moksha (path of devotion, path of action, path of knowledge). He joined with the Hindi ascetics on the path of knowledge (jnana yoga) -- those that renounced all they had, even declared themselves dead to their own families, in search of truth, knowledge, enlightenment and moksha. He gave jnana yoga his best shot. With intense dicipline and self mastery, Gautama would fast until near death, hold his breath until his face turned blue, all in an attempt to master his own self, renounce everything physical, and reach enlightenment. Despite his unbroken will and severe truth seeking, the extreme asceticism never helped the young man reach true enlightenment; however, he truly appreciated the knowledge he had gained and the peace that meditation brought him.

Hindu practices and beliefs truly set Siddartha Gautama up to becoming Buddha. He was taught to seek truth by the Hindu religion. He was taught to love truth more than perishable, finite things and pleasure. He was taught to act and therefore tried out the way of knowledge and gave asceticism a fair shot. In the end, he found a "better" way -- the middle way, of moderation, peace, nothing too extreme, freedom from humanness, the true path to awakening. He became Buddha. He founded Buddhism.

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