HINDUISM: The world's third largest religion

Hinduism is a religion, or a way of life, widely practiced in the Indian subcontinent

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Prior to his enlightenment, the Buddha was brought up in a traditional Hindu family. Before finding his own path, he went to Hindu gurus to find an answer to the problem of suffering. He followed the meditation techniques and ascetic practices as prescribed by the Hindu scriptures and followed by the Hindu yogis of his time. It is said that after becoming the Buddha, he showed special consideration to the higher caste Hindus especially the Brahmins (priests) and Kshatriyas (warriors). He exhorted his disciples to treat especially Brahmins with respect and consideration because of their spiritual bent of mind and inner progress achieved during their previous births. It is said that certain categories of Brahmins had free access to the Buddha and that some of the Brahmin ascetics were admitted into the monastic discipline without being subjected to the rigors of probation which was other wise compulsory for all classes of people. The Buddha converted many Brahmins to Buddhism and consider their involvement a sure sign of progress and popularity of his fledgling movement. Much later, we find a similar echo of sentiment in the inscriptions of King Ashoka where he exhorted the people of his empire to show due respect to the Brahmins.

Religions of the world Menu Hinduism: The world's third largest religion

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By all accounts, Patanjali did not invent the wheel of yoga. He codified it and standardized its teaching. During his wanderings as an ascetic monk, the Buddha practiced various forms of austerities and yoga. His enlightenment was a direct result of dhyana, an ancient form of meditation. The ascetic practices of both Buddhism and Hinduism draw heavily from ancient Yoga traditions in their respective ways to practice self-transformation. Both rely upon Yoga to restrain human nature and overcome desires and attachments. They use many common terms to explain the practices of yoga or stages in self-absorption. However, yoga has a much wider connotation in Hinduism than in Buddhism. Hindu yoga aims to achieve liberation through union with the inner Self and in some yogas through union with the Supreme Self, whereas in Buddhism it is meant to suppress the modification and disperse the formation of ego. In Buddhism self-absorption denotes the end of all desires and modifications and an experience with emptiness. In Hinduism also it denotes the end of all desires and modifications but an experience with transcendence or union with the transcendental Self.

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Yoga is essentially a Hindu tradition with its roots in the Vedic ritual symbolism and its internalization. Yoga is mentioned and explained in several ancient Upanishads, long before the emergence of Buddhism. Prior to the Buddha, yoga was practiced in many forms by the ascetics and ascetic traditions of ancient India, including Jainism. The rudiments of yoga practice are found in the Katha and Svetasvatara Upanishads, while a more advanced version in the Maitri Upanishad. The epic Mahabharata makes many references to yoga. According to Edwin F. Bryant, the terms yoga and yogi occur about 900 times in the epic.

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2. According to the Buddha, desire is the root cause of suffering and removal of desire results in the cessation of suffering. Some of the Hindu texts such as the Upanishads (Isa) and the Bhagavadgita consider doing actions prompted by desire and attachment would lead to bondage and suffering and that performing actions without desiring the fruit of action would result in liberation.

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The Vedic texts, especially the Puranas betray a pointed animosity towards Buddhism and the Buddha. The chasm between the two traditions grew in course of time as Buddhism tried to capitalize on the vulnerabilities of Vedic beliefs. The Buddha is considered an incarnation of Lord Vishnu for all the wrong reasons. The Puranas suggest that Lord Siva and Vishnu manifested as a Jina and Buddha respectively to mislead the demons and cause their destruction. Once the people lost their dharma and cease being devotees of gods, the gods such as Vishnu and Shiva would have no problem launching an offensive against them and destroying them. Thus the purpose of including the Buddha and some Jinas in the Hindu pantheon was entirely parochial. The Buddha's not-self (anatta) theory is very similar to the belief held by the demons that the body is the soul, which is mentioned in the Chandogya Upanishad (8.7), as the doctrine learned wrongly by Vairocana while he was receiving instruction from Brahma. This gave the Vedic scholars valid justification to draw parallels between the two. Incidentally, Vairocana is considered one of the five Dhyana Buddhas in Vajrayana Buddhism. Therefore, although religious tolerance was the hallmark of ancient Indian society, the relationship between the Buddhist and the Hindus was less than cordial. When Buddhism was on decline, many caves and monasteries belonging to the Buddhist monks were either occupied or converted by Hindus into places of worship by installing Hindu deities. It is possible that a similar practice might have been followed by Buddhist monks when Buddhism was in ascendance.

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We can safely conclude that in the first few centuries following the nirvana of the Buddha, Buddhism was an integral and significant part of the complex religious character of the subcontinent that was later came to be recognized as Hinduism by the outside world. However subsequently Buddhism crossed the boundaries of the Indian subcontinent and went on to play a much greater role in the whole of Asia. In the process it developed a very complex sectarian, theological and geographical diversity and tradition of its own to become one of the most significant and influential religions of the world. No wonder many people who are not familiar with the history of the Indian subcontinent fail to understand and notice the deep connection that existed between Hinduism and Buddhism in the earlier days and the significant ways in which they enriched each other.