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Classical Religions: Hinduism and Buddhism

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Throughout world history, religion has been at the center of human civilization; social and political life has been dictated by religion at the heart of people groups all around the world. In India, the beliefs of Hinduism and Buddhism have been the two main religions that have shaped and molded daily life and social order over hundreds of years. Today, Hinduism and Buddhism are the 3rd and 4th largest religions, respectively. These two religions make up roughly 21% of the world's population, adhering to 1.3 billion people around the globe. Like all other beliefs, Hinduism and Buddhism have their separate beliefs, ideas, and practices while still sharing certain aspects of morality and orthopraxy. Hinduism, while divergent from its Buddhist counterpart in its doctrine, numerous deities and promotion of a strict, harsh social order, finds common ground with Buddhism in its beliefs of reincarnation, mystical experiences, and hope of reaching a spiritual escape.

Out of all of the classical civilizations, Classical India was the only one to produce two major world religions. Both Hinduism and Buddhism originated, evolved, and spread out from indigenous and Indo-European beliefs centered in Northern India. It is no surprise, then, that these two beliefs share certain similar aspects. Hinduism and Buddhism both aspire to reach a certain point in which their physical life ceases to exist and spiritual bliss is experienced. In Buddhism, this spiritual bliss is known as nirvana, and it is by way of enlightenment of the mind. Hinduism's destination is to be united as one with the Brahman creator life force, and in doing so experiencing eternal spiritual paradise. In addition, both these faiths reach this euphoria by means of good living and works as well as experiencing reincarnation after death. The fact that these religions coincide in overall goals and the means by which to reach them can be attributed to the fact that the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, was born and raised a Hindu. After letting go of all his worldly pleasures and experiencing enlightenment, Gautama created the teachings of Buddhism and in the process took ideas and practices from subconscious experiences with the Hindu faith. Overall, both Hinduism and Buddhism provide a mystical experience of meditation and "salvation by works" that has appealed to people all throughout history.

However, though they share some basic concepts and ideas, Hinduism and Buddhism deviate in many other ways. Hinduism's main principles include that all living things are part of Brahman, the creator life force. When created, man is given a certain dharma- a status within the social system with certain instructions and tasks to be accomplished throughout the present life. One's karma, or his works, determines whether or not one advances to a higher, more prestigious dharma in the next life. The goal is to one day be able to be united with Brahman by climbing the hierarchal caste system of dharmas from merchant to warrior to priest and finally Brahman. Though it may seem like a strict religion, Hinduism is one of the most diverse religions with one of the loosest doctrines when it comes to a set of rules or beliefs that followers have to adhere to. It is a polytheistic religion that offers over 330 million deities, most importantly Vishnu and Shiva, and numerous sacred texts such as the Sacred Vedas and the Upanishads. It has no single founder, specific theological system, single concept of deity, single holy text, or single system of morality. However, in stark contrast to its tolerance for belief and worship, the social order imposed by Hinduism is the strictest social system ever instituted in the history of our world. During pre-Mauryan India (1000-300 BCE), Aryan invaders who introduced Hinduism in India developed a social class system, known as the caste system. They organized people into four broad castes according to their gifts and talents- Brahmins (scholars and priests), Kshatriyas (rulers and warriors), Vaishyas (merchants, traders), and Shudras (workers, laborers, servants, etc); each caste had its own specific duties and expectations. Though this system brought about well needed order that was lacking in other civilizations, the ramifications of the social injustice it caused were not enough to justify the use of the caste system. Upper-class Brahmins and Kshatriyas looked down on and discriminated the lower class peoples. Certain sub-groups of the Shudra caste were deemed as "untouchables" for their supposed moral perverseness represented in their karma-inflicted jobs of dealing with the dead and such. Movement up or down the caste system was regarded as impossible, leaving the corrupt elite in charge and the diligent, hardworking outcast left working in vain. The essence of the castes,



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