Buddhism And Hinduism

Buddhism and Hinduism have common origins in the Ganges culture of northern India during the so-called “second urbanisation” around 500 BCE. They have shared parallel beliefs that have existed side by side, but also pronounced differences.

Buddhism attained prominence in the Indian subcontinent as it was supported by royal courts, but started to decline after the Gupta era and virtually disappeared from India in the 11th century CE, except in some pockets. It has continued to exist outside of India and has become the major religion in several Asian countries.


Certain Buddhist teachings appear to have been formulated in response to ideas presented in the early Upanishads – in some cases concurring with them, and in other cases criticizing or re-interpreting them.

The influence of Upanishads, the earliest philosophical texts of Hindus, on Buddhism has been a subject of debate among scholars. While Radhakrishnan, Oldenberg and Neumann were convinced of Upanishadic influence on the Buddhist canon, Eliot and Thomas highlighted the points where Buddhism was opposed to Upanishads.

Buddhism may have been influenced by some Upanishadic ideas, it however discarded their orthodox tendencies. In Buddhist texts he is presented as rejecting avenues of salvation as “pernicious views”. Later schools of Indian religious thought were influenced by this interpretation and novel ideas of the Buddhist tradition of beliefs.

Royal support

In later years, there is significant evidence that both Buddhism and Hinduism were supported by Indian rulers, regardless of the rulers’ own religious identities. Buddhist kings continued to revere Hindu deities and teachers and many Buddhist temples were built under the patronage of Hindu rulers. This was because Buddhism has never been considered an alien religion to that of Hinduism in India but as only one of the many strains of Hinduism. Kalidas’ work shows the ascension of Hinduism at the expense of Buddhism. By the eighth century, Shiva and Vishnu had replaced Buddha in pujas of royalty.

Buddhism and Hinduism

Buddhism and Hinduism


Basic vocabulary

The Buddha approved many of the terms already used in philosophical discussions of his era; however, many of these terms carry a different meaning in the Buddhist tradition. For example, in the Samaññaphala Sutta, the Buddha is depicted presenting a notion of the “three knowledges” (tevijja) – a term also used in the Vedic tradition to describe knowledge of the Vedas – as being not texts, but things that he had experienced. The true “three knowledges” are said to be constituted by the process of achieving enlightenment, which is what the Buddha is said to have achieved in the three watches of the night of his enlightenment.


Karma (कर्म from the root kṛ, “to do”) is a word meaning action or activity and often implies its subsequent results (also called karma-phala, “the fruits of action”). It is commonly understood as a term to denote the entire cycle of cause and effect as described in the philosophies of a number of cosmologies, including those of Buddhism and Hinduism.

Karma is a central part of Buddhist teachings. In Buddha’s teaching, karma is a direct intentional result of a person’s word, thought and/or action in life. In Buddhism a person’s words, thoughts and/or actions form the basis for good and bad karma: sila (moral conduct) goes hand in hand with the development of meditation and wisdom. Buddhist teachings carry a markedly different meaning from pre-Buddhist conceptions of karma.


Dharma (Sanskrit, Devanagari: धर्म or Pāli Dhamma, Devanagari: धम्म) means Natural LawReality or Duty, and with respect to its significance for spirituality and religion might be considered the Way of the Higher Truths. A Hindu appellation for Hinduism itself is Sanātana Dharma, which translates as “the eternal dharma.” Similarly, Buddhadharma is an appellation for Buddhism. The general concept of dharma forms a basis for philosophies, beliefs and practices originating in India. The four main ones are Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism (Jaina Dharma), and Sikhism (Sikha Dharma), all of whom retain the centrality of dharma in their teachings. In these traditions, beings that live in harmony with dharma proceed more quickly toward, according to the tradition, Dharma Yukam, Moksha, or Nirvana (personal liberation). Dharma can refer generally to religious duty, and also mean social order, right conduct, or simply virtue.


The term “Buddha” too has appeared in Hindu scriptures before the birth of Gautama Buddha. In the Vayu Purana, sage Daksha calls Lord Shiva as Buddha.

Similar symbolism

  • Mudra: This is a symbolic hand-gesture expressing an emotion. Images of the Buddha almost always depict him performing some mudra.
  • Dharma Chakra: The Dharma Chakra, which appears on the national flag of India and the flag of the Thai royal family, is a Buddhist symbol that is used by members of both religions.
  • Rudraksha: These are beads that devotees, usually monks, use for praying.
  • Tilak: Many Hindu devotees mark their heads with a tilak, which is interpreted as a third eye. A similar mark is one of the characteristic physical characteristics of the Buddha.
  • Swastika and Sauwastika: both are sacred symbols. It can be either clockwise or counter-clockwise and both are seen in Hinduism and Buddhism. The Buddha is sometimes depicted with a sauwastika on his chest or the palms of his hands.

Similar practices


In Tibet, many Buddhists carve mantras into rocks as a form of devotion.

In Tibet, many Buddhists carve mantras into rocks as a form of devotion.

A mantra (मन्त्र) is a religious syllable or poem, typically from the Sanskrit language. Their use varies according to the school and philosophy associated with the mantra. They are primarily used as spiritual conduits, words or vibrations that instill one-pointed concentration in the devotee. Other purposes have included religious ceremonies to accumulate wealth, avoid danger, or eliminate enemies. Mantras existed in the historical Vedic religion, Zoroastrianism and the Shramanic traditions, and thus they remain important in Buddhism and Jainism as well as other faiths of Indian origin such as Sikhism.


Further information: Mindful yoga

The practice of Yoga is intimately connected to the religious beliefs and practices of both Hinduism and Buddhism. However, there are distinct variations in the usage of yoga terminology in the two religions.

In Hinduism, the term “Yoga” commonly refers to the eight limbs of yoga as defined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written some time after 100 BCE, and means “yoke”, with the idea that one’s individual atman, or soul, would yoke or bind with the monistic entity that underlies everything (brahman). Yoga in Hinduism also known as being ‘complex’, based on yoking (integrating). Yoga defines a specific process: it has an emphasis on knowledge and practice, as well as being known to be ‘mature’ and difficult.The most basic meaning of this Sanskrit term is with technique. The technique of the different forms of yoga is what makes the practice meaningful. Yoga is not an easy or simple practice, viyoga is what is described as simple. Yoga is difficult in the fact of displaying the faith and meaning of Hinduism. Many Hindus tend to pick and choose between the five forms of yoga because of the way they live their life and how they want to practice it in the form they are most connected to.

In the Vajrayana Buddhism of Tibet, however, the term “Yoga” is simply used to refer to any type of spiritual practice; from the various types of tantra (like Kriyayoga or Charyayoga) to ‘Deity yoga’ and ‘guru yoga’. In the early translation phase of the Sutrayana and Tantrayana from India, China and other regions to Tibet, along with the practice lineages of sadhana, codified in the Nyingmapa canon, the most subtle ‘conveyance’ (Sanskrit: yana) is Adi Yoga (Sanskrit). A contemporary scholar with a focus on Tibetan Buddhism, Robert Thurman writes that Patanjali was influenced by the success of the Buddhist monastic system to formulate his own matrix for the version of thought he considered orthodox.

The yoga scholar Stephen Cope identifies the following similarities between Raja yoga and Buddhism. He notes that the two philosophies are not the same, but are strikingly similar, having shared a long period of interchange up to about 500 CE.

Aspects Raja yoga Buddhism
Primary problems Dukkha (suffering)
Seeing reality clearly
Problem-solving method 1:
Cultivate skilful behaviours
Yamas (restraints),
Niyamas (observances)
Sila (ethical practices)
Problem-solving method 2:
Cultivate concentrated states
Dharana (concentration),
Dhyana (meditation)
Problem-solving method 3:
Use states to explore self
(i.e. dharana, dhyana, samadhi)
other insight practices
View of ordinary reality 4 Erroneous Beliefs
— permanence,
— reality of body,
— that suffering is happiness,
— that body/mind is true self
3 Marks of Existence,
obscured by error:
— anicca (impermanence)
— anatta (no-self)
— duhkha (suffering)
The end of suffering Kaivalya (emancipation) Nirvana (“unbinding”
of constructions)
Shared concepts nirodha (cessation)
klesha (affliction)
karma (action)
samvega (urgency)
prajna (intuitive wisdom)
samskara (unconscious pattern)
maitra/metta (loving-kindness)
Shared approaches Direct investigation of reality (not metaphysics)
using self-study, self-reliance, self-liberation


There is a range of common terminology and common descriptions of the meditative states that are seen as the foundation of meditation practice in both Hindu Yoga and Buddhism. Many scholars have noted that the concepts of dhyana and samādhi – technical terms describing stages of meditative absorption – are common to meditative practices in both Hinduism and Buddhism. Most notable in this context is the relationship between the system of four Buddhist dhyana states (Pali: jhana) and the samprajnata samadhi states of Classical Yoga. Also, many (Tibetan) Vajrayana practices of the generation stage and completion stage work with the chakras, inner energy channels (nadis) and kundalini, called tummo in Tibetan.


Despite the similarities in terminology there exist differences between the two religions. There is no evidence to show that Buddhism ever subscribed to vedic sacrifices, vedic deities or caste.

The major differences are mentioned below.


Gautama Buddha was very ambiguous about the existence of a Creator Deity (Brahman) and Eternal Self (Atman) and rejected them both. Various sources from the Pali Canon and others suggest that the Buddha taught that belief in a Creator deity was not essential to attaining liberation from suffering, and perhaps chose to ignore theological questions because they were “fascinating to discuss,” and frequently brought about more conflict and anger than peace. The Buddha did not deny the existence of the popular gods of the Vedic pantheon, but rather argued that these devas, who may be in a more exalted state than humans, are still nevertheless trapped in the same samsaric cycle of suffering as other beings and are not necessarily worthy of veneration and worship. The focus of the Noble Eightfold Path, while inheriting many practices and ideologies from the previous Hindu yogic tradition, deviates from the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita and earlier works of the Dharmic Religions in that liberation (Nirvana or Moksha) is not attained via unity with Brahman (the Godhead), Self-realization or worship. Rather, the Buddha’s teaching centers around what Eknath Easwaran described as a “psychology of desire,” that is attaining liberation from suffering by extermination of self-will, selfish desire and passions. This is not to say that such teachings are absent from the previous Hindu tradition, rather they are singled out and separated from Vedic Theology.

According to Buddhologist Richard Hayes, the early Buddhist Nikaya literature treats the question of the existence of a creator god “primarily from either an epistemological point of view or a moral point of view”. In these texts the Buddha is portrayed not as a creator-denying atheist who claims to be able to prove such a God’s nonexistence, but rather his focus is other teachers’ claims that their teachings lead to the highest good.

Citing the Devadaha Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 101), Hayes states, “while the reader is left to conclude that it is attachment rather than God, actions in past lives, fate, type of birth or efforts in this life that is responsible for our experiences of sorrow, no systematic argument is given in an attempt to disprove the existence of God.”

The Buddha (as portrayed in the Pali scriptures, the agamas) set an important trend in nontheism in Buddhism by establishing a somewhat non-theistic view on the notion of an omnipotent God, generally ignoring the issue as being irrelevant to his teachings. Nevertheless, in many passages in the Tripitaka gods (devas in Sanskrit) are mentioned and specific examples are given of individuals who were reborn as a god, or gods who were reborn as humans. Buddhist cosmology recognizes various levels and types of gods, but none of these gods is considered the creator of the world or of the human race.

  1. Buddha preaches that attachment with people was the cause of sorrow when ‘death’ happens and therefore proposes detachment from people. Hinduism though proposes detachment from fruits of action and stresses on performance of duty or dharma, it is not solely focused on it. In Hinduism, Lord Shiva explains ‘death’ to be journey of the immortal soul in pursuit of ‘Moksha’ and therefore a fact of life.
  2. While Buddhism says retirement into forest was open to everyone regardless of caste, and although according to the vinaya (the code of conduct for the Sangha) it is not possible to take ordination as a Buddhist mendicant (a Bhikkhu or Bhikkhuni) under the age of 20 or adulthood, this is still viewed as escapism by Hinduism. Pre-Buddhist, non-brahman forest mendicants are criticised in the earliest group of Upanishads. Hinduism allows for this to happen only after performing all dharmas or duties of one’s life, starting from studying scriptures, working to support children and family and taking care of aged parents and lastly after all the dharma done retire to the forest and slowly meditate, fast and perform rituals and austerities (tapas), until physical disintegration & to reach the ultimate truth or Brahman. Buddhism by contrast emphasises realisation by the middle way (avoiding extremes of luxury or austerities), seeing limited value in the rituals and tapas and the danger of their mis-application.
  3. Buddhism explained that attachment is the cause of sorrow in society. Therefore, Buddhism’s cure for sorrow was detachment and non-involvement (non-action or negative action). Hinduism on the other hand explained that both sorrow or happiness is due to ‘Karma’ or past actions and bad karma can be overcome and good karma can be obtained by following dharma or righteous duty (pro-action or positive action) which will ultimately provide ‘Moksha’ i.e. overcoming the cycle of life and joining Brahman.

Buddhist canonical views about God and the priests are:

13. Well then, Vasettha, those ancient sages versed in ancient scriptures, the authors of the verses, the utterers of the verses, whose, ancient form of words so chanted, uttered, or composed, the priests of today chant over again or repeat; intoning or reciting exactly as has been intoned or recited-to wit, Atthaka, Vamaka, Vamadeva, Vessamitta, Yamataggi, Angirasa, Bharadvaja, Vasettha, Kassapa, and Bhagu [11] – did even they speak thus, saying: “We know it, we have seen it”, where the creator is whence the creator is?

Scholar-monk Walpola Rahula writes that man depends on God “for his own protection, safety, and security, just as a child depends on his parent.” He describes this as a product of “ignorance, weakness, fear, and desire,” and writes that this “deeply and fanatically held belief” for man’s consolation is “false and empty” from the perspective of Buddhism. He writes that man does not wish to hear or understand teachings against this belief, and that the Buddha described his teachings as “against the current” for this reason. He also wrote that for self-protection man created God and for self-preservation man created “soul”.

In later Mahayana literature, however, the idea of an eternal, all-pervading, all-knowing, immaculate, uncreated and deathless Ground of Being (the dharmadhatu, inherently linked to the sattvadhatu, the realm of beings), which is the Awakened Mind (bodhicitta) or Dharmakaya (“body of Truth”) of the Buddha himself, is attributed to the Buddha in a number of Mahayana sutras, and is found in various tantras as well. In some Mahayana texts, such a principle is occasionally presented as manifesting in a more personalised form as a primordial buddha, such as Samantabhadra, Vajradhara, Vairochana, Amitabha and Adi-Buddha, among others.

Rites and rituals

In later tradition such as Mahayana Buddhism in Japan, the Shingon Fire Ritual (Homa /Yagna) and Urabon (Sanskrit: Ullambana) derives from Hindu traditions. Similar rituals are common in Tibetan Buddhism. Both Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism share common rites, such as the purification rite of Homa (Havan, Yagna in Sanskrit), prayers for the ancestors and deceased (Ullambana in Sanskrit, Urabon in Japanese).


The Buddha repudiated the caste distinctions of the Brahmanical religion, by offering ordination to all regardless of caste.

While the caste system constitutes an assumed background to the stories told in Buddhist scriptures, the sutras do not attempt to justify or explain the system.In Aggañña Sutta, Buddha elaborates that if any of the caste does the following deeds: killing, taking anything which is not given, take part in sexual misconduct, lying, slandering, speaking rough words or nonsense, greedy, cruel, and practice wrong beliefs; people would still see that they do negative deeds and therefore are not worthy or deserving respect. They will even get into trouble from their own deeds, whatever their caste (Brahmin, Khattiya, Vessa, and Sudda) might be.

The superiority of Brahmanas were pretty clearly laid out in Buddhist scripture. In Madhura Sutta of the Majjhimanikdya (II 4.4) and in the Assalayana Sutta of Majjhima (II 5.3), the brahamanas claim to be of superior caste (“brdhmano seftho venno”) and the rest are of inferior caste (“hino anno vanno”), the brahmanas claim to have fair complexion (“sukko vanno”), while others are dark (“kanho“); the brahamanas are pure (“sujjhanti”), while non-brahamarws are not. Occupational mobility across caste divisions was frowned upon as indicated in Osukdri Sutta of the Majjhima (II 5.6). In Jataka like Setdketu Jataka, Matanga Jataka, Citta Sambhutta Jataka, there is evidence that the touch or sight of the pancamas was believed to cause pollution.

The Buddha himself didn’t repudiate or condemn the caste system. In Citta Sambhutta Jataka, describes the chandalas to be the lowest race and the meanest of men, and their origins traced to karma. Buddha in Ambaitha Sutta of Dighanikdya III says, “khattiyo va setfha hino brahmano” (he ksatriya is superior, brahmana inferior ) by the purity of their blood. Buddhist scriptures recognised caste distinctions in the present life as the product of a man’s past karmas and not an accident of birth.

Cosmology and worldview

Main article: Buddhist Cosmology

In Buddhist cosmology, there are 31 planes of existence within samsara. Beings in these realms are subject to rebirth after some period of time, except for realms of the Non-Returners. Therefore, most of these places are not the goal of the holy life in the Buddha’s dispensation. Buddhas are beyond all these 31 planes of existence after parinibbana. Hindu texts mostly mentions the devas in Kamma Loka. Only the Hindu god Brahma can be found in the Rupa loka. There are many realms above Brahma realm that are accessible through meditation. Those in Brahma realm are also subject to rebirth according to the Buddha.


To have an idea of the differences between Buddhism and pre-existing beliefs and practices during this time, we can look into the Samaññaphala Sutta in the Digha Nikaya of the Pali Canon. In this sutra, a king of Magadha listed the teachings from many prominent and famous spiritual teachers around during that time. He also asked the Buddha about his teaching when visiting him. The Buddha told the king about the practices of his spiritual path. The list of various practices he taught disciples as well as practices he doesn’t encourage are listed. The text, rather than stating what the new faith was, emphasized what the new faith was not. Contemporaneous religious traditions were caricatured and then negated. Though critical of prevailing religious practices and social institutions on philosophical grounds, early Buddhist texts exhibit a reactionary anxiety at having to compete in religiously plural societies. Below are a few examples found in the sutra:

Whereas some priests and contemplatives… are addicted to high and luxurious furnishings such as these — over-sized couches, couches adorned with carved animals, long-haired coverlets, multi-colored patchwork coverlets, white woolen coverlets, woolen coverlets embroidered with flowers or animal figures, stuffed quilts, coverlets with fringe, silk coverlets embroidered with gems; large woolen carpets; elephant, horse, and chariot rugs, antelope-hide rugs, deer-hide rugs; couches with awnings, couches with red cushions for the head and feet — he (a bhikkhu disciple of the Buddha) abstains from using high and luxurious furnishings such as these.

Whereas some priests and contemplatives… are addicted to scents, cosmetics, and means of beautification such as these — rubbing powders into the body, massaging with oils, bathing in perfumed water, kneading the limbs, using mirrors, ointments, garlands, scents, … bracelets, head-bands, decorated walking sticks… fancy sunshades, decorated sandals, turbans, gems, yak-tail whisks, long-fringed white robes — he abstains from … means of beautification such as these.

Whereas some priests and contemplatives… are addicted to talking about lowly topics such as these — talking about kings, robbers, ministers of state; armies, alarms, and battles; food and drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, and scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women and heroes; the gossip of the street and the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity [philosophical discussions of the past and future], the creation of the world and of the sea, and talk of whether things exist or not — he abstains from talking about lowly topics such as these…

Whereas some priests and contemplatives…are addicted to running messages and errands for people such as these — kings, ministers of state, noble warriors, priests, householders, or youths [who say], ‘Go here, go there, take this there, fetch that here’ — he abstains from running messages and errands for people such as these.

Whereas some priests and contemplatives…engage in scheming, persuading, hinting, belittling, and pursuing gain with gain, he abstains from forms of scheming and persuading [improper ways of trying to gain material support from donors] such as these. “Whereas some priests and contemplatives…maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such lowly arts as: reading marks on the limbs [e.g., palmistry]; reading omens and signs; interpreting celestial events [falling stars, comets]; interpreting dreams; reading marks on the body [e.g., phrenology]; reading marks on cloth gnawed by mice; offering fire oblations, oblations from a ladle, oblations of husks, rice powder, rice grains, ghee, and oil; offering oblations from the mouth; offering blood-sacrifices; making predictions based on the fingertips; geomancy; laying demons in a cemetery; placing spells on spirits; reciting house-protection charms; snake charming, poison-lore, scorpion-lore, rat-lore, bird-lore, crow-lore; fortune-telling based on visions; giving protective charms; interpreting the calls of birds and animals — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from lowly arts such as these.

Whereas some priests and contemplatives…maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such lowly arts as: determining lucky and unlucky gems, garments, staffs, swords, spears, arrows, bows, and other weapons; women, boys, girls, male slaves, female slaves; elephants, horses, buffaloes, bulls, cows, goats, rams, fowl, quails, lizards, long-eared rodents, tortoises, and other animals — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from lowly arts such as these.

Whereas some priests and contemplatives… maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such lowly arts as forecasting: the rulers will march forth; the rulers will march forth and return; our rulers will attack, and their rulers will retreat; their rulers will attack, and our rulers will retreat; there will be triumph for our rulers and defeat for their rulers; there will be triumph for their rulers and defeat for our rulers; thus there will be triumph, thus there will be defeat — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from lowly arts such as these. Whereas some priests and contemplatives…maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such lowly arts as forecasting: there will be a lunar eclipse; there will be a solar eclipse; there will be an occultation of an asterism; the sun and moon will go their normal courses; the sun and moon will go astray; the asterisms will go their normal courses; the asterisms will go astray; there will be a meteor shower; there will be a darkening of the sky; there will be an earthquake; there will be thunder coming from a clear sky; there will be a rising, a setting, a darkening, a brightening of the sun, moon, and asterisms; such will be the result of the lunar eclipse… the rising, setting, darkening, brightening of the sun, moon, and asterisms — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from lowly arts such as these.

Whereas some priests and contemplatives…maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such lowly arts as forecasting: there will be abundant rain; there will be a drought; there will be plenty; there will be famine; there will be rest and security; there will be danger; there will be disease; there will be freedom from disease; or they earn their living by counting, accounting, calculation, composing poetry, or teaching hedonistic arts and doctrines — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from lowly arts such as these.

Whereas some priests and contemplatives…maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such lowly arts as: calculating auspicious dates for marriages, betrothals, divorces; for collecting debts or making investments and loans; for being attractive or unattractive; curing women who have undergone miscarriages or abortions; reciting spells to bind a man’s tongue, to paralyze his jaws, to make him lose control over his hands, or to bring on deafness; getting oracular answers to questions addressed to a mirror, to a young girl, or to a spirit medium; worshipping the sun, worshipping the Great Brahma, bringing forth flames from the mouth, invoking the goddess of luck — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from lowly arts such as these.

Whereas some priests and contemplatives…maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such lowly arts as: promising gifts to devas in return for favors; fulfilling such promises; demonology; teaching house-protection spells; inducing virility and impotence; consecrating sites for construction; giving ceremonial mouthwashes and ceremonial bathing; offering sacrificial fires; administering emetics, purges, purges from above, purges from below, head-purges; administering ear-oil, eye-drops, treatments through the nose, ointments, and counter-ointments; practicing eye-surgery (or: extractive surgery), general surgery, pediatrics; administering root-medicines binding medicinal herbs — he abstains from wrong livelihood, from lowly arts such as these.


Main article: Dhyana in Buddhism

According to the Maha-Saccaka Sutta, the Buddha recalled a meditative state he entered by chance as a child and abandoned the ascetic practices he has been doing:

I thought, “I recall once, when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities — I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. Could that be the path to Awakening?” Then following on that memory came the realization: “That is the path to Awakening.”

According to the Upakkilesa Sutta, after figuring out the cause of the various obstacles and overcoming them, the Buddha was able to penetrate the sign and enters 1st- 4th Jhana.

I also saw both the light and the vision of forms. Shortly after the vision of light and shapes disappear. I thought, “What is the cause and condition in which light and vision of the forms disappear?”

Then consider the following: “The question arose in me and because of doubt my concentration fell, when my concentration fell, the light disappeared and the vision of forms. I act so that the question does not arise in me again.”

I remained diligent, ardent, perceived both the light and the vision of forms. Shortly after the vision of light and shapes disappear. I thought, “What is the cause and condition in which light and vision of the forms disappear?”

Then consider the following: “Inattention arose in me because of inattention and my concentration has decreased, when my concentration fell, the light disappeared and the vision of forms. I must act in such a way that neither doubt nor disregard arise in me again.”

In the same way as above, the Buddha encountered many more obstacles that caused the light to disappear and found his way out of them. These include sloth and torpor, fear, elation, inertia, excessive energy, energy deficient, desire, perception of diversity, and excessive meditation on the ways. Finally, he was able to penetrate the light and entered jhana.

The following descriptions in the Upakkilesa Sutta further show how he find his way into the first four Jhanas, which he later considered samma samadhi.

When Anuruddha, I realized that doubt is an imperfection of the mind, I dropped out of doubt, an imperfection of the mind. When I realized that inattention … sloth and torpor … fear … elation … inertia … excessive energy … deficient energy … desire … perception of diversity … excessive meditation on the ways, I abandoned excessive meditation on the ways, an imperfection of the mind. When Anuruddha, I realized that doubt is an imperfection of the mind, I dropped out of doubt, an imperfection of the mind. When I realized that inattention … sloth and torpor … fear … elation … inertia … excessive energy … deficient energy… desire … perception of diversity … excessive meditation on the ways, I abandoned excessive meditation on the ways, an imperfection of the mind, so I thought, ‘I abandoned these imperfections of the mind. ‘ Now the concentration will develop in three ways. ..And so, Anuruddha, develop concentration with directed thought and sustained thought; developed concentration without directed thought, but only with the sustained thought; developed concentration without directed thought and without thought sustained, developed with the concentration ecstasy; developed concentration without ecstasy; develop concentration accompanied by happiness, developing concentration accompanied by equanimity…When Anuruddha, I developed concentration with directed thought and sustained thought to the development … when the concentration accompanied by fairness, knowledge and vision arose in me: ‘My release is unshakable, this is my last birth, now there are no more likely to be any condition.

According to the early scriptures, the Buddha learned the two formless attainments from two teachers, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta respectively, prior to his enlightenment. It is most likely that they belonged to the Brahmanical tradition. However, he realized that neither “Dimension of Nothingness” nor “Dimension of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception” lead to Nirvana and left. The Buddha said in the Ariyapariyesana Sutta:

But the thought occurred to me, “This Dhamma leads not to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to Awakening, nor to Unbinding, but only to reappearance in the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception.” So, dissatisfied with that Dhamma, I left.

Cessation of feelings and perceptions

The Buddha himself discovered an attainment beyond the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, the “cessation of feelings and perceptions”. This is sometimes called the “ninth jhāna” in commentarial and scholarly literature. Although the “Dimension of Nothingness” and the “Dimension of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception” are included in the list of nine Jhanas taught by the Buddha, they are not included in the Noble Eightfold Path. Noble Path number eight is “Samma Samadhi” (Right Concentration), and only the first four Jhanas are considered “Right Concentration”. If he takes a disciple through all the Jhanas, the emphasis is on the “Cessation of Feelings and Perceptions” rather than stopping short at the “Dimension of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception”.

In the Magga-vibhanga Sutta, the Buddha defines Right Concentration that belongs to the concentration (samadhi) division of the path as the first four Jhanas:

And what is right concentration? There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities — enters & remains in the first Jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the Second Jhana: rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance. With the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the Third Jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’ With the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — he enters & remains in the Fourth Jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. This is called right concentration.

The Buddha did not reject the formless attainments in and of themselves, but instead the doctrines of his teachers as a whole, as they did not lead to nibbana. He then underwent harsh ascetic practices that he eventually also became disillusioned with. He subsequently remembered entering jhāna as a child, and realized that, “That indeed is the path to enlightenment.”

In the suttas, the immaterial attainments are never referred to as jhānas. The immaterial attainments have more to do with expanding, while the Jhanas (1-4) focus on concentration. A common translation for the term “samadhi” is concentration. Rhys Davids and Maurice Walshe agreed that the term ” samadhi” is not found in any pre-buddhist text. Hindu texts later used that term to indicate the state of enlightenment. This is not in conformity with Buddhist usage. In The Long Discourse of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya (pg. 1700) Maurice Walshe wrote,

Rhys Davids also states that the term samadhi is not found in any pre-Buddhist text. To his remarks on the subject should be added that its subsequent use in Hindu texts to denote the state of enlightenment is not in conformity with Buddhist usage, where the basic meaning of concentration is expanded to cover “meditation” in general.

Meditation was an aspect of the practice of the yogis in the centuries preceding the Buddha. The Buddha built upon the yogis’ concern with introspection and developed their meditative techniques, but rejected their theories of liberation. In Buddhism, sati and sampajanna are to be developed at all times, in pre-Buddhist yogic practices there is no such injunction. A yogi in the Brahmanical tradition is not to practice while defecating, for example, while a Buddhist monastic should do so.

Another new teaching of the Buddha was that meditative absorption must be combined with a liberating cognition.

Religious knowledge or “vision” was indicated as a result of practice both within and outside the Buddhist fold. According to the Samaññaphala Sutta this sort of vision arose for the Buddhist adept as a result of the perfection of ‘meditation’ (Sanskrit: dhyāna) coupled with the perfection of ‘ethics’ (Sanskrit: śīla). Some of the Buddha’s meditative techniques were shared with other traditions of his day, but the idea that ethics are causally related to the attainment of “religious insight” (prajñā) was original.

The Buddhist texts are probably the earliest describing meditation techniques. They describe meditative practices and states that existed before the Buddha, as well as those first developed within Buddhism. Two Upanishads written after the rise of Buddhism do contain full-fledged descriptions of yoga as a means to liberation.

While there is no convincing evidence for meditation in pre-Buddhist early Brahminic texts, Wynne argues that formless meditation originated in the Brahminic or Shramanic tradition, based on strong parallels between Upanishadic cosmological statements and the meditative goals of the two teachers of the Buddha as recorded in the early Buddhist texts. He mentions less likely possibilities as well. Having argued that the cosmological statements in the Upanishads also reflect a contemplative tradition, he argues that the Nasadiya Sukta contains evidence for a contemplative tradition, even as early as the late Rg Vedic period.


The Buddhist text Mahamayuri Tantra, written during 1-3rd century CE, mentions deities thrughout Jambudvipa (modern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and invokes them for the protection of the Buddhadharma. It also mentions a large number of Vedic rishis.

{{quote| The yaksha Mahesvara resides in Virata.
Brhaspati resides in Sravasti.
The yaksha Sagara resides in Saketa.
The yaksha Vajrayudha resides in Vaisali.
Haripingala resides in Malla.
The yaksha king Mahakala resides in Varanasi.
Sudarsana resides in Campa.
The yaksha Visnu resides in Dvaraka.
The yaksha Dharani resides at Dvarapali.
The yaksha Vibhisana resides in Tamraparni.

These deities of virtues and great yaksha generals are located everywhere in Jambudvipa. They uphold and protect the Buddhadharma, generating compassion.

Maharishi Astamaka / Maharishi Vamaka / Maharishi Vamadeva / Maharishi Marici / Maharishi Markandeya / Maharishi Visvamitra / Maharishi Vasistha / Maharishi Valmika / Maharishi Kasyapa / Maharishi Vrddhakasyapa /
Maharishi Bhrgu / Maharishi Bhrngirasa / Maharishi Angirasa / Maharishi Bhagiratha / Maharishi Atreya / Maharishi Pulastya / Maharishi Sthulasira / Maharishi Yamadgni / Maharishi Vaisampaya / Maharishi Krsnavaisampaya /
Maharishi Harita / Maharishi Haritaya / Maharishi Samangira / Maharishi Udgata / Maharishi Samudgata / Maharishi Ksantivadi / Maharishi Kirtti / Maharishi Sukirtti / Maharishi Guru / Maharishi Sarabha /
Maharishi Potalaka / Maharishi Asvalayana / Maharishi Gandhamadana / Maharishi Himavan / Maharishi Lohitaksa / Maharishi Durvasa / Maharishi Vaisampayana / Maharishi Valmika / Maharishi Batto / Maharishi Namasa /
Maharishi Sarava / Maharishi Manu / Maharishi Amgiraja / Maharishi Indra / Maharishi Brhaspati / Maharishi Sukra / Maharishi Prabha / Maharishi Suka / Maharishi Aranemi / Maharishi Sanaiscara /
Maharishi Budha / Maharishi Janguli / Maharishi Gandhara / Maharishi Ekasrnga / Maharishi Rsyasrnga / Maharishi Garga / Maharishi Gargyayana / Maharishi Bhandayana / Maharishi Katyayana / Maharishi Kandyayana /
Maharishi Kapila / Maharishi Gotama / Maharishi Matanga / Maharishi Lohitasva / Maharishi Sunetra / Maharishi Suranemi / Maharishi Narada / Maharishi Parvata / Maharishi Krimila.

These sages were ancient great sages who had written the four Vedas, proficient in mantra practices, and well-versed in all practices that benefit themselves and others. May you on account of Mahamayuri Vidyarajni, protect me [your name] and my loved ones, grant us longevity, and free us from all worries and afflictions.

The Buddha is recorded in the Canki Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 95) as saying to a group of Brahmins:

O Vasettha, those priests who know the scriptures are just like a line of blind men tied together where the first sees nothing, the middle man nothing, and the last sees nothing.

In the same discourse, he says:

It is not proper for a wise man who maintains truth to come to the conclusion: This alone is Truth, and everything else is false.

He is also recorded as saying:

To be attached to one thing (to a certain view) and to look down upon other things (views) as inferior – this the wise men call a fetter.

Walpola Rahula writes,

“It is always a question of knowing and seeing, and not that of believing. The teaching of the Buddha is qualified as ehi-passika, inviting you to ‘come and see,’ but not to come and believe… It is always seeing through knowledge or wisdom, and not believing through faith in Buddhism.”

In Hinduism, philosophies are classified either as Astika or Nastika, that is, philosophies that either affirm or reject the authorities of the Vedas. According to this tradition, Buddhism is a Nastika school since it rejects the authority of the Vedas. Buddhists on the whole called those who did not believe in Buddhism the “outer path-farers” (tiirthika).


Since the Hindu scriptures are essentially silent on the issue of religious conversion, the issue of whether Hindus proselytize is open to interpretations. Those who view Hinduism as an ethnicity more than as a religion tend to believe that to be a Hindu, one must be born a Hindu. However, those who see Hinduism primarily as a philosophy, a set of beliefs, or a way of life generally believe that one can convert to Hinduism by incorporating Hindu beliefs into one’s life and by considering oneself a Hindu. The Supreme Court of India has taken the latter view, holding that the question of whether a person is a Hindu should be determined by the person’s belief system, not by their ethnic or racial heritage.

Buddhism spread throughout Asia via proselytism and conversion. Buddhist scriptures depict such conversions in the form of lay followers declaring their support for the Buddha and his teachings, or via ordination as a Buddhist monk. Buddhist identity has been broadly defined as one who “takes Refuge” in the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, echoing a formula seen in Buddhist texts. In some communities, formal conversion rituals are observed. No specific ethnicity has typically been associated with Buddhism, and as it spread beyond its origin in India immigrant monastics were replaced with newly ordained members of the local ethnic or tribal group.


Upanishadic soteriology is focused on the static Self, while the Buddha’s is focused on dynamic agency. In the former paradigm, change and movement are an illusion; to realize the Self as the only reality is to realize something that has always been the case. In the Buddha’s system by contrast, one has to make things happen.

The fire metaphor used in the Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta (which is also used elsewhere) is a radical way of making the point that the liberated sage is beyond phenomenal experience. It also makes the additional point that this indefinable, transcendent state is the sage’s state even during life. This idea goes against the early Brahminic notion of liberation at death.

Liberation for the Brahminic yogin was thought to be the permanent realization at death of a nondual meditative state anticipated in life. In fact, old Brahminic metaphors for the liberation at death of the yogic adept (“becoming cool”, “going out”) were given a new meaning by the Buddha; their point of reference became the sage who is liberated in life. The Buddha taught that these meditative states alone do not offer a decisive and permanent end to suffering either during life or after death.

He stated that achieving a formless attainment with no further practice would only lead to temporary rebirth in a formless realm after death. Moreover, he gave a pragmatic refutation of early Brahminical theories according to which the meditator, the meditative state, and the proposed uncaused, unborn, unanalyzable Self, are identical. These theories are undergirded by the Upanishadic correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm, from which perspective it is not surprising that meditative states of consciousness were thought to be identical to the subtle strata of the cosmos. The Buddha, in contrast, argued that states of consciousness come about caused and conditioned by the yogi’s training and techniques, and therefore no state of consciousness could be this eternal Self.


Both the Buddha’s conception of the liberated person and the goal of early Brahminic yoga can be characterized as nondual, but in different ways. The nondual goal in early Brahminism was conceived in ontological terms; the goal was that into which one merges after death. According to Wynne, liberation for the Buddha “… is nondual in another, more radical, sense. This is made clear in the dialogue with Upasiva, where the liberated sage is defined as someone who has passed beyond conceptual dualities. Concepts that might have some meaning in ordinary discourse, such as consciousness or the lack of it, existence and non-existence, etc., do not apply to the sage. For the Buddha, propositions are not applicable to the liberated person, because language and concepts (Sn 1076: vaadapathaa, dhammaa), as well as any sort of intellectual reckoning (sankhaa) do not apply to the liberated sage.


Nirvana (or Nibbana in Pali language) means literally ‘blowing out’ or ‘quenching’. The term is pre-Buddhist, but its etymology is not essentially conclusive for finding out its exact meaning as the highest goal of early Buddhism. It must be kept in mind that nirvana is one of many terms for salvation that occur in the orthodox Buddhist scriptures. Other terms that appear are ‘Vimokha’, or ‘Vimutti’, implying ‘salvation’ and ‘deliverance’ respectively. Some more words synonymously used for nirvana in Buddhist scriptures are ‘mokkha/moksha’, meaning ‘liberation’ and ‘kevala/kaivalya’, meaning ‘wholeness’; these words were given a new Buddhist meaning.

The concept of Nirvana has been also found among other religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

Early Buddhism and early Vedanta

Early Buddhist scriptures do not mention schools of learning directly connected with the Upanishads. Though the earliest Upanishads had been completed by the Buddha’s time, they are not cited in the early Buddhist texts as Upanishads or Vedanta. For the early Buddhists they were likely not thought of as having any outstanding significance in and of themselves, and as simply one section of the Vedas.

The Buddhist texts do describe wandering, mendicant Brahmins who appear to have valued the early Upanishads’ promotion of this lifestyle as opposed to living the life of the householder and accruing wealth from nobles in exchange for performing Vedic sacrifices. Furthermore, the early Buddhist texts mention ideas similar to those expounded in the early Upanishads, before controverting them.


The old Upanishads largely consider Brahman (masculine gender, Brahmā in the nominative case, henceforth “Brahmā”) to be a personal god, and Brahman (neuter gender, Brahma in the nominative case, henceforth “Brahman”) to be the impersonal world principle. They do not strictly distinguish between the two, however. The old Upanishads ascribe these characteristics to Brahmā: first, he has light and luster as his marks; second, he is invisible; third, he is unknowable, and it is impossible to know his nature; fourth, he is omniscient. The old Upanishads ascribe these characteristics to Brahman as well.

Mahākāla in the Form of a Brahmān, 17th century, Tibetan painting on cloth, Rubin Museum of Art, New York

Mahākāla in the Form of a Brahmān, 17th century, Tibetan painting on cloth, Rubin Museum of Art, New York

In the Buddhist texts, there are many Brahmās. There they form a class of superhuman beings, and rebirth into the realm of Brahmās is possible by pursuing Buddhist practices.

In the Pāli scriptures, the neuter Brahman does not appear (though the word brahma is standardly used in compound words to mean “best”, or “supreme”), however ideas are mentioned as held by various Brahmins in connection with Brahmā that match exactly with the concept of Brahman in the Upanishads. Brahmins who appear in the Tevijja-suttanta of the Digha Nikaya regard “union with Brahmā” as liberation, and earnestly seek it. In that text, Brahmins of the time are reported to assert: “Truly every Brahmin versed in the three Vedas has said thus: ‘We shall expound the path for the sake of union with that which we do not know and do not see. This is the correct path. This path is the truth, and leads to liberation. If one practices it, he shall be able to enter into association with Brahmā.” The early Upanishads frequently expound “association with Brahmā”, and “that which we do not know and do not see” matches exactly with the early Upanishadic Brahman.

In the earliest Upanishad, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the Absolute, which came to be referred to as Brahman, is referred to as “the imperishable”. The Pāli scriptures present a “pernicious view” that is set up as an absolute principle corresponding to Brahman: “O Bhikkhus! At that time Baka, the Brahmā, produced the following pernicious view: ‘It is permanent. It is eternal. It is always existent. It is independent existence. It has the dharma of non-perishing. Truly it is not born, does not become old, does not die, does not disappear, and is not born again. Furthermore, no liberation superior to it exists elsewhere.” The principle expounded here corresponds to the concept of Brahman laid out in the Upanishads. According to this text the Buddha criticized this notion: “Truly the Baka Brahmā is covered with unwisdom.”

Gautama Buddha confined himself to what is empirically given. This empiricism is based broadly on both ordinary sense experience and extrasensory perception enabled by high degrees of mental concentration.


Main articles: Ātman In Hinduism and Ātman In Buddhism

Ātman is a Sanskrit word that means ‘self’. A major departure from Hindu and Jain philosophy is the Buddhist rejection of a permanent, self-existent soul (Ātman) in favour of anicca or impermanence.

In Hindu philosophy, especially in the Vedanta school of Hinduism, Ātman is the first principle, the true self of an individual beyond identification with phenomena, the essence of an individual. Yajnavalkya (c. 9th century BCE), in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, uses the word to indicate that in which everything exists, which is of the highest value, which permeates everything, which is the essence of all, bliss and beyond description. While, older Upanishads such as the Brihadaranyaka, mention several times that the Self is described as Neti neti or not this – not this, Upanishads post Buddhism, like the Maitri Upanishad, define Ātman as only the defiled individual self, rather than the universal self. Taittiriya Upanishad defines Ātman or the Self as consisting of five sheaths (kosha): the bodily self consisting of the essence of food (annamaya kosha), the vital breath (pranamaya kosha), the mind or will (manomaya kosha), the intellect or capacity to know (vijnanamaya kosha) and bliss (anandamaya kosha). Knowledge or realization of the Ātman is seen as essential to attain salvation (liberation):

If atman is brahman in a pot (the body), then one need merely break the pot to fully realize the primordial unity of the individual soul with the plenitude of Being that was the Absolute.

Schools of Indian philosophy, such as Advaita (non-dualism) see Ātman within each living entity as being fully identical with Brahman – the Principle, whereas other schools such as Dvaita (dualism) differentiate between the individual atma in living beings, and the Supreme atma (Paramatma) as being at least partially separate beings. Unlike Advaita, Samkhya holds blissfullness of Ātman as merely figurative. However, both Samkhya and Advaita consider the ego (asmita, ahamkara) rather than the Ātman to be the cause of pleasure and pain. Later Advaitic text Pañcadaśī classifies the degrees of Ātman under three headings: Gauna or secondary (anything other than the personality that an individual identifies with), Mithya or false (bodily personality) and Mukhya or primary (the real Self).

The concept of Ātman was rejected by the Buddha. Terms like anatman (not-self) and shunyata (voidness) are at the core of all Buddhist traditions. The permanent transcendence of the belief in the separate existence of the self is integral to the enlightenment of an Arhat. The Buddha criticized conceiving theories even of a unitary soul or identity immanent in all things as unskillful. In fact, according to the Buddha’s statement in Khandha Samyutta 47, all thoughts about self are necessarily, whether the thinker is aware of it or not, thoughts about the five aggregates or one of them.

Despite the rejection of Ātman by Buddhists there were similarities between certain concepts in Buddhism and Ātman. The Upanishadic “Self” shares certain characteristics with nibbana; both are permanent, beyond suffering, and unconditioned. Buddhist mysticism is also of a different sort from that found in systems revolving around the concept of a “God” or “Self”:

If one would characterize the forms of mysticism found in the Pali discourses, it is none of the nature-, God-, or soul-mysticism of F.C. Happold. Though nearest to the latter, it goes beyond any ideas of ‘soul’ in the sense of immortal ‘self’ and is better styled ‘consciousness-mysticism’.

However, the Buddha shunned any attempt to see the spiritual goal in terms of “Self” because in his framework, the craving for a permanent self is the very thing that keeps a person in the round of uncontrollable rebirth, preventing him or her from attaining nibbana. At the time of the Buddha some philosophers and meditators posited a root: an abstract principle all things emanated from and that was immanent in all things. When asked about this, instead of following this pattern of thinking, the Buddha attacks it at its very root: the notion of a principle in the abstract, superimposed on experience. In contrast, a person in training should look for a different kind of “root” — the root of dukkha experienced in the present. According to one Buddhist scholar, theories of this sort have most often originated among meditators who label a particular meditative experience as the ultimate goal, and identify with it in a subtle way.

Adi Shankara in his works refuted the Buddhist arguments against Ātman. He suggested that a self-evident conscious agent would avoid infinite regress, since there would be no necessity to posit another agent who would know this. He further argued that a cognizer beyond cognition could be easily demonstrated from the diversity in self existence of the witness and the notion. Furthermore, Shankara thought that no doubts could be raised about the Self, for the act of doubting implies at the very least the existence of the doubter. Vidyaranya, another Advaita Vedantic philosopher, expresses this argument as:

No one can doubt the fact of his own existence. Were one to do so, who would the doubter be?

Cosmic Self declared non-existent

The Buddha denies the existence of the cosmic Self, as conceived in the Upanishadic tradition, in the Alagaddupama Sutta (M I 135-136). Possibly the most famous Upanishadic dictum is tat tvam asi, “thou art that.” Transposed into first person, the Pali version is eso ‘ham asmi, “I am this.” This is said in several suttas to be false. The full statement declared to be incorrect is “This is mine, I am this, this is my self/essence.” This is often rejected as a wrong view. The Alagaduppama Sutta rejects this and other obvious echoes of surviving Upanishadic statements as well (these are not mentioned as such in the commentaries, and seem not to have been noticed until modern times). Moreover, the passage denies that one’s self is the same as the world and that one will become the world self at death. The Buddha tells the monks that people worry about something that is non-existent externally (bahiddhaa asati) and non-existent internally (ajjhattam asati); he is referring respectively to the soul/essence of the world and of the individual. A similar rejection of “internal” Self and “external” Self occurs at AN II 212. Both are referring to the Upanishads. The most basic presupposition of early Brahminic cosmology is the identification of man and the cosmos (instances of this occur at TU II.1 and Mbh XII.195), and liberation for the yogin was thought to only occur at death, with the adept’s union with brahman (as at Mbh XII.192.22). The Buddha’s rejection of these theories is therefore one instance of the Buddha’s attack on the whole enterprise of Upanishadic ontology.


See also: Bhagavad Gita and Brahman

The Buddha redefined the word “brahmin” so as to become a synonym for arahant, replacing a distinction based on birth with one based on spiritual attainment. The early Buddhist scriptures furthermore defined purity as determined by one’s state of mind, and refer to anyone who behaves unethically, of whatever caste, as “rotting within”, or “a rubbish heap of impurity”.

The Buddha explains his use of the word brahmin in many places. At Sutta Nipata 1.7 Vasala Sutta, verse 12, he states: “Not by birth is one an outcast; not by birth is one a brahmin. By deed one becomes an outcast, by deed one becomes a brahmin.” An entire chapter of the Dhammapada is devoted to showing how a true Brahmin in the Buddha’s use of the word is one who is of totally pure mind, namely, an arahant. However, it is very noteworthy that the Bhagavad Gita also defines Brahmin, and other varnas, as qualities and resulting from actions, and does not mention birth as a factor in determining these. In that regard, the chapter on Brahmins in the Dhammapada may be regarded as being entirely in tune with the definition of a Brahmin in Chapter 18 of the Bhagavad Gita. Both say that a Brahmin is a person having certain qualities.

A defining of feature of the Buddha’s teachings is self-sufficiency, so much so as to render the Brahminical priesthood entirely redundant.

Buddha in Hindu scriptures

Main article: Buddha as an Avatar of Vishnu

Hinduism regards Buddha (bottom right) as one of the 10 avatars of Vishnu.

Hinduism regards Buddha (bottom right) as one of the 10 avatars of Vishnu.

In one Purana, the Buddha is described as an incarnation of Vishnu who incarnated in order to delude demons away from the Vedic dharma. The Bhavishya Purana posits:

At this time, reminded of the Kali Age, the god Vishnu became born as Gautama, the Shakyamuni, and taught the Buddhist dharma for ten years. Then Shuddodana ruled for twenty years, and Shakyasimha for twenty. At the first stage of the Kali Age, the path of the Vedas was destroyed and all men became Buddhists. Those who sought refuge with Vishnu were deluded.

Consequently, the word Buddha is mentioned in several of the Puranas that are believed to have been composed after his birth.

Buddha in Buddhist scriptures

According to the biography of the Buddha, before taking his last birth on Earth as Gautama, the Buddha was a Mahapurusha (great being) named Shvetaketu, dwelling in the Tushita Heaven (Home of the Contented Gods). After attaining enlightenment on Earth, there is to be no more rebirth for the Buddha. Before leaving the Tushita realm to take birth on earth, he designated Maitreya to take his place there. Maitreya will come to earth as the next Buddha, instead of him coming back again. Krishna was a past life of Sariputra, a chief disciple of the Buddha. He has not attained enlightenment during that life as Krishna. Therefore, he came back to be reborn during the life of the Buddha and reached the first stage of Enlightenment after encountering an enlightened disciple of the Buddha. He reached full Arahantship or full Awakening/Enlightenment after becoming ordained in the Buddha’s sangha.

Notable views


Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan has claimed that the Buddha did not look upon himself as an innovator, but only a restorer of the way of the Upanishads, despite the fact that the Buddha did not accept the Upanishads, viewing them as comprising a pretentious tradition, foreign to his paradigm.

Vivekananda wrote in glowing terms about Buddha, and visited Bodh Gaya several times.

Steven Collins sees such Hindu claims regarding Buddhism as part of an effort – itself a reaction to Christian proselytizing efforts in India – to show that “all religions are one”, and that Hinduism is uniquely valuable because it alone recognizes this fact.


Some scholars have written that Buddhism should be regarded as “reformed Brahmanism”, and many Hindus consider Buddhism a sect of Hinduism.


B. R. Ambedkar, the founder of the Dalit Buddhist movement, declared that Buddhism offered an opportunity for low-caste and untouchable Hindus to achieve greater respect and dignity because of its non-caste doctrines. Among the 22 vows he prescribed to his followers is an injunction against having faith in Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. He also regarded the belief that the Buddha was an incarnation of Vishnu as “false propaganda”.

Hindu-Buddhist temples

Many examples exist of temples dedicated to both faiths. These include the Kaiyuan Temple and Angkor Wat.

See also

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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