Hinduism is not a religion in the usual sense of the word, but is rather a collection of sometimes widely divergent religious concepts and practices that evolved in India. It is sometimes said that Buddhism is a branch of Hinduism or that it started as a reform movement within Hinduism. Neither of these claims is correct.
It is very clear from the Buddhist scriptures that the Buddha saw his Dhamma as contrasting with and being an alternative to the religion of his time, not a reform or a reinterpretation of it. During the centuries in which they existed together, Buddhist and Hindu scholars and philosophers were sometimes highly critical of each others’ ideas and practices. This would not have happened if the two were the same or similar. The Maitri Upanishad says, ‘There are those who love to distract believers in the Vedas by the jugglery of false arguments, comparisons and parallelisms…The world bewildered by a doctrine that denies the self, by false comparisons and proofs, does not discern the difference between the wisdom of the Vedas and other knowledge…It is said that there should be attention to Dhamma instead of the Vedas...But what is said in the Vedas is true. The wise should base their lives on the Vedas. A Brahman should only study what is in the Vedas.’ This is obviously a criticism of the Buddhist doctrine of anattà, of its rejection of the Vedas and of the logical arguments Buddhists used to support their views. Again, this criticism would have been unnecessary and meaningless if Buddhism and Hinduism were the same. Today Hinduism is mainly practised in India and Nepal and amongst Indian expatriate communities from Fiji to the UK.
The famous term Nirvana (Pali: Nibbana) was not a Hindu term until the Bhagavada Gita and other later Hindu works, which were composed after the Buddhist Tipitaka. Scholars agree that it was first a Jain and Buddhist term long before Hinduism incorporated it (Fowler, 2012). The Yoga Sutras also came after the Tipitaka and the 8 limbed description found there is no doubt influenced from the Buddhist 8 fold path. Additionally, the Hindu importance put on ahimsa (nonviolence) also came later after Jainism and Buddhism were well established religions on the subcontinent. Therefore, it can be argued that Hinduism actually borrowed many of its ideas from Jainism and Buddhism, not the other way around.
- Brahminism, Buddhism and Hinduism, L.M.Joshi, 1970.
- Fowler, Jeaneane D. (2012), The Bhagavad Gita: A Text and Commentary for Students, Sussex Academic Press