Buddha was a Hindu

Some years ago, I met an American from Seattle, who studied Sanskrit at the university there. He had come to India to meet his guru and had even taken an Indian name. He told me that westerners, including professors, at his university who had accepted Buddhism had no hesitation to openly identify as Buddhists, yet those, who felt close to Hinduism, would not identify as Hindus. He summed it up: to be a Buddhist makes you look intellectual in the eyes of others, but to be a Hindu makes you look somewhat suspect.

A few months after I had met this American, Julia Roberts openly declared that she is a practising Hindu and I wondered, whether those Americans now also have more courage to stand by their conviction.

In India, the English educated elite seem to have taken a cue from the west, as they do so often. They also seem to feel that Buddhism is intellectual and Hinduism is suspect. Several years ago, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam, who lives in France since decades, came to India to give workshops. I signed up and was amazed that many of the elite in town were present – people who would never listen to a Hindu Swami. The most reputed school in town, and maybe in the whole of India, hosted the event. A big hotel catered food. The hall was packed on the first evening. The Kendra Vidyalayas, schools run by the central government, had dispatched two teachers each to attend. Thich Nhat Tanh had come with a group of monks and nuns, dressed in dark, long robes who chanted before his lecture standing behind him.  It surely was impressive.

What the Buddhist monk  said was good advice, but common knowledge and more attuned to western societies, like “If you have misunderstandings with your father, clear them before he dies.”

The attendance thinned out over the 3 days of the workshop, in spite of the good food, yet the teachers of the Kendrya Vidyalayas were stuck. I talked to some of them and they were of the view that any Hindu Swami could do the same, if not a better job. They had a point, as Thich Nhat Tanh  made a few blunders, like when he mentioned, “A French philosopher said that there is no death”. This French philosopher probably got his knowledge from the Bhagavad Gita…

Recently a question was asked on Quora, why not more Indians are aware of Buddhism, though Buddha was born in India.

I replied that Hinduism has many sages and Buddha was one of them. Many of those sages could have started an ‘–ism’ in their names. Luckily they did not. It is doubtful whether Buddha had approved of Buddh-ism. It was Emperor Ashoka a few hundred years after Buddha, who was intent to make people follow what Buddha had preached.

A nice story is usually taught about Ashoka, that he was moved by the terrible violence in a war and then followed Buddha’s non-violent teaching. It may not be fully true, as it is hardly possible to push a whole people to change its ancient ways of worshipping the Divine without violence. And there are indications that he forced his conviction on his countrymen. They, however, fell back to their old ways some centuries later.

Adi Shankara did his bit on the intellectual and spiritual level to restore trust in the Vedas by challenging Buddhist scholars for debates and coming out of them convincingly.

A physical, deadly blow was given by Muslim invaders under Khilji around 1200 AD, who ransacked the Nalanda University which housed thousands of Buddhist monks from all over Asia. Monks were killed and the huge library was burned. It is said that it burned for three months. Imagine the wealth of knowledge that went up in flames, at a time, when the west just started to establish universities.

Hinduism is a new term, introduced by the British, and does not do justice to the great variety of views, of philosophies, of gods, of rituals and to the huge body of knowledge that is contained in the Vedas, which includes ‘worldly’ subjects like medicine, economy, astronomy, mathematics, architecture, arts and so on. In fact, Hindus don’t see a dichotomy between worldly and sacred. All is a manifestation of the one great, invisible Brahman or Ishwara.

Hindus don’t feel the need to pledge that they only follow one particular human being. They are free to choose what suits them best to connect with the Divine, which the Vedas claim is one’s innermost essence. No need to identify with only one strand of the many possible helpful strands, which have emerged over many millennia.

An example from my own experience: In my early years in India some 35 years ago, most of the foreigners I met identified as Buddhists. Most of them also felt that Buddhism was superior to Hinduism. They were attending teachings by their root lama. I met several of those lamas. Once, a French girl wanted me to join her and take an initiation from a high Tibetan lama. It was clear that if one wanted to take the initiation, one had to become Buddhist by ‘taking refuge’. So I told her that I don’t want to limit myself and keep my freedom. She felt I was missing a great chance and a few days later, she said, she had talked to the lama and I could take part without taking refuge. I did. Next time, I visited another lama and his first words were: “Oh Maria, you are now a Buddhist.” My spontaneous reaction: “No, I am not…”

In 1985, I had a chance together with two German friends to spend over an hour with HH the Dalai Lama. I mentioned that I had met several Hindu sages and was greatly impressed by Indian philosophy. The Dalai Lama asked whether I think that the concept of Atman in Hinduism makes any difference to Buddhism.  I was sure that it does not and quoted from the Upanishads “Ayam Atma Brahman” (This Atman is Brahman). I was however not sure, whether the Dalai Lama saw it also like this.

A few weeks later, I met Sakia Trizin, the head of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism, and asked him, “What is the difference between Buddhism and Hinduism?” Immediately, he replied: “The concept of Atman”.

Buddhist monks have to study plenty of Buddhist texts, and I guess, to mark a basically non-existent border to Hinduism, they learn that Atman signifies a kind of separate entity. Some philosophers may see it like this, but Advaita Vedanta does not.

Hindus respect Buddha. Buddha is even seen as an avatar. He is one of their own. Hindus do not feel the need for a demarcation to other views. They are the least dogmatic of all and have the most profound philosophy as a solid basis for the manifold ways of connecting with the all-pervading Divinity for which (though formless and nameless) they have varied names.

By Maria Wirth

 

 

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48 comments

  1. abhiray59 · · Reply

    Very nicely written. I read sometime before that unlike Hindus, who believe in four barnashram (social division), Buddhist do believe in all humans are equal. That is why many Hindus, specially oppressed sections, had embraced Buddha and many still do. But in terms of core philosophy Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism may have a lot of similarities. Both believe truth is beyond mind. Truth can be attained by all. Buddha is a state of mind. Yes Shankar a had tried to bring Buddhists to the fold of Hinduism. Some say excessive emphasis on renunciation and nonviolence might have been responsible for inability to fight foreign invasion. I am not sure of this theory though. It is for sure, Indian kings were not as familiar with martial philosophies compared to invaders. Hinduism by contrast wants one to follow his Dharma as a person living in society. So kings and warrior castes are encouraged to pursue their profession. That is war.

    1. Religious affiliation aside, what the Buddhas teach and what the Hindu avatars taught doesn’t have any difference. Its the same pill of enlightenment cloaked in different ways

      1. abhiray59 · ·

        There has been only one Gautama Buddha. Both Hindu and Buddhist teachers claim truth is for all to attain.

      2. That’s the dharma am preaching. Duality is the real killer of enlightenment

      3. abhiray59 · ·

        I am not starting an argument. Just to share Hindus believe all stairs lead to roof. Once there every thing becomes one.

  2. Chitra Vartak · · Reply

    You write so well and straight from the heart. I am amazed by the faith you have in Hindu philosophy and sometimes I even feel ashamed that born Hindus like myself lack it. It’s so so difficult to wipe the muck deposited in our minds by reading left leaning /so called secular and liberal writers for all these years whom we read unsuspectingly. Can’t thank you enough.

    1. When all is set and done, it is more than easy to attain self liberation, placing dogmas aside. As Narayana and the rest did

  3. Very well written.
    Buddhism is a part of Indian philosophy as is jain ism. There is a lot of similarities between these religions.
    The nirgun Brahman of Advaith is so much similar to Sunyata, yet there are subtle differences.
    But Hinduism is not only Advaith vedant or vishist Advaith, but it has also dwaitwaad, shakta and Tantra as well as Bhakti. And each one of them are so profound in their own way.
    Having said that, Buddhism as well as Jaina philosophy too is wonderfully awesome and they are completely each other perfectly…

  4. Ramasaharanam · · Reply

    One thing i want to clear here, Buddha was born in Nepal not in india.

    1. Ramachandran Nair · · Reply

      That was just an ‘accident’, I think. Correct me if I am wrong. As I remember, fully pregnant queen, the mother of Sidhartha, who was in India only wanted to visit her parents in Nepal. As the delivery was expected shortly, she did so against the advice. She happened to deliver the boy on the at Lumbini in Nepal.

    2. he was the prince of a Hindu kingdom. Names like India and Nepal not in use then…

      1. Ramachandran Nair · ·

        Yea. you have a point there. It was all part of ‘Akhand’ Bharat.

  5. Dhrubesh · · Reply

    Wonderfully explained. Swami Vivekananda in his lectures on Buddhism & Advaita philosophy has intrinsically discussed the similarity of concepts, at the same time, the loopholes of Buddhist conclusions, with lively logics. The presence of the Ultimate, Shunya or Purna in Buddhism & Advaita respectively, has been compared & discussed at length. In general, it is said that Buddha was so great that he created a religion without the concept of God or Atman, just think of it.

    1. Yes because he knew if people practiced mindfulness properly that would automatically lead to God Realization.

  6. Gaya Spiga · · Reply

    Yes, Maria. Thanks.
    Buddhism is a heretic doctrine. And the Buddhists seem to enjoy conversions and despise Hinduism. I dislike very much this kind of behaviour.
    In Advaita a separate entity( soul ) does not exist. The problem arises only because of the incorrect translation of Atma with soul. Jiva or jivatma ( mind) is the soul, in Advaita

    1. But Hinduism also has many elements of heresy. Buddhism is the offshoot of Hinduism by all means. It the cream of the previous 8 avataras before Buddha.

  7. m Vijay janardhan · · Reply

    hats off ma’am

  8. Nicely presented Ma’m.
    As you have pointed out The Buddha is considered as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
    The ism of Buddha is considered as another progression or rather a thread in the flow of knowledge that Hinduism is centered on.

    1. The incarnations of Vishnu are many like rivulets flowing out of a source of water

  9. Jyoti Kaul · · Reply

    Even if Buddhists believe Atman to be different from Bramhan , it doesn’t make them any different. Dvaitavadis believe the same and are hindus too.

  10. suryabittu · · Reply

    Your writings seem to fulfill a crying need- pride of Hindus in Hinduism. It’s a mystery as to how and when Hindus started feeling apologetic about their religion.

    1. I sense that you have a strong point here. Can you please expound?

  11. Krrish · · Reply

    nice lecture by Swami Vivekananda on atman/brahman. http://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/volume_3/lectures_and_discourses/the_free_soul.htm

    There’s only one absolute (as there cannot be multiple absolute). The souls are illusion or rather reflection of this one absolute. The absolute is reflecting through these souls to realize itself as it being absolute it cannot know itself.
    IN order to rise to that highest state in which you realize that you’re the same absolute, you need to cut the ideas of distinction by rejecting existance of everything (the jnani way) or by other methods such as worship (surrender cuts the ego – the fundamental cause of illusion of separation).

  12. Kishan Sharma · · Reply

    But I think Buddhists believe in rebirth over many lives. What do they think is rebirth if there is no Atma ?

    1. And what is atma? Isn’t it the same nirvana that Buddha preached?

      1. Kishan Sharma · ·

        Nirvana is a state where Atma is freed from cycle of birth & death.

      2. But that is exactly what Siddhartha propounded, how to break free the Atma from the cycle of birth and rebirth. What confuses our learned friends here is the Art of Bodhisattvahood, an aspect not well elucidated in the Hindu doctrine.

        Know what am saying?

      3. Kishan Sharma · ·

        No.What is Bodhisattvahood ? True enlightenment ?

      4. The conscious procrastination of the perfect enlightenment in order to appear in a future epoch to teach the Dharma. This is the nexus between the teaching of the Hindu avatars and Buddha, where Kalki shall be the same as Maitreya the Bodhisattva.

        Do you understand?

      5. Kishan Sharma · ·

        “Conscious procrastination of the perfect enlightenment ……………………” Great word play ! But what does it mean ?

  13. R.Venkatanarayanan · · Reply

    I suspect that traditional Buddhists in Asian countries did not think Buddhism was “superior” to Hindu Dharma. This was so till Western Whites began to feel attracted to Dalai Lama’s plight under Chinese Communist aggression and till Dalai Lama and some of the Buddhist monks, highly learned in their Texts and living a spartan life, began to seek “conversion” to “Buddhism”.
    With their congenital inability to see that Buddha’s teaching was a contextual and temporal internal “reformist” movement within Hinduism of the day, the Western Whites, lay intellectuals and academics, began to propagate “Buddhism” as a different “religion”. The additive, “ism” is so dear to the Western mind.The enormous Western academic resources rapidly strengthened and expanded this point of view. The converts may think and say that Buddhusm is materially different or is superior or more convincing than Hinduism. But the aging Dalai Lama constantly says that Buddhist learning, teaching and writing owe a lot to Hinduism as a child in his/her growth owes so much to parents. As for the learned metaphysical controversy regarding ‘atman’ and ‘Brahman’ a deep study will show that it is not a black and white divide as converts tend to believe or claim. It is a matter of ‘psyche’ to see contradiction instead of differing stand points, in respect of the same object or subject.
    R.Venkatanarayanan

  14. saurabh · · Reply

    Useless article..unsolicited..Buddha is rational. Shankara is mystical…his concept of mayavada itself sounds surreal…I do not hv a single doubt in the theory of shunyavada..as philosophers says that with nagarjuna the human reason was placed to its farthest limits…Hinduism is the world’s best literature while Buddhism cud lead a little in logic..

    1. What’s the fuss all about? This is duality at its best..

  15. Poonam Nanwani · · Reply

    Thankyou. Beautiful article. And this i guess is the essence of Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma. Anyone who is on the spiritual path can embrace the teachings of Hindu scriptures without having to go through a process.

  16. kavita c · · Reply

    Let us say in all its totality, that all the religions are different (for those who want to believe it) from other on one or the other aspect; but, all the religions have pointed to in one direction. Some like christians will call it as resurrection day and at this time as promised by Jesus he will send someone who will be “comforter, counsellor, and redeemer”, or the muslims will call it as the day when will your hands will speak as per mohammed sahab, the red indian will say the day white calf(buffalow) is born (which already did) is the time the divine is born, the buddhist will say that buddha has talked of some will come as maitreya (mistook as friend instead of tri-maa meaning mother with three powers, or hindus will say the time when kalki will come after the krita yuga which is time of revelation as per shankara or for astrologers it is time of aquarius (“kumbha”). In the fight between the nala and kalki , kalki had said in his time one would reach God with no effort. Just taking one name is enough.

    So what is the time or person which is being pointed at ?

    As we all know when kalki / jesus is born there will be no time left for as the kalki will be on a horse cutting left and right. So if then there is no chance given to think and surrender to God then which is the time when we have to ?

    So the answer lies in finding that person which every religion has pointed at. But how to recognise such person? Red Indian already believe that one such person is born already because of sign of white calf given in their scripture. what about others ?

    So if all pointers at one direction, let us assume as a hypothesis, that some thing happens and the above said things in different religion HAPPEN to a human body. Again its happening and not thinking. For eg. a fruit happened to be a flower i.e. flower slowly transformed into a fruit ! As buddha is a state which cannot be understoody by mind which is thinking. So it happens to be a buddha from human state. Christ said know thyself. Shivaji said ” know your tantra of body (swa che tantra jana ). Kabira and so has Patanjali talked about ida pingla and sushumna(sukhamana) nadi i.e. when there is balance between ida and pingla the energy rises through the sushumna and crosses the sixth chakra of mind or as Jesus said I am the gate to the kingdom of God and pierces to the final chakra the sahasrar (1000 petal call it as tongue of flames or lotus) and we merge into the state of one with Brahma ! The Parama Chaitanya !

    So having said all that,who is such a person? And the answer is Her Holiness Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi. In her presence the kundalini shoots up and crosses 7th chakra just by desiring it. It had started in 1970 already. But then what is the pramana/proof ? Try it your self!

    May be we don’t have much time left when Kalki/Jesus comes and gives his decision !

    1. Kishan Sharma · · Reply

      Great, confusing, effort at publicity by kavita c for Nirmala Devi ! Nirmala Devi surpasses Kalki, Allah, Jesus in greatness ! Wow !

    2. Good that you have found your guru and have great trust in her. however, in my view there is no need to believe something strongly which one cannot know. Maybe somebody else has similar uplifting experiences with another guru.
      regards
      Maria Wirth

  17. If the “educated” elites of India are drifting towards Buddhism, let them do so. People are free to choose their religion. If someone is not happy/comfortable with Hinduism, I would much rather see him/her become a Buddhist than end up be vulnerable to Islamic dawa-ists.

    Having said that, the root cause behind people drifting elsewhere is because Hindus are not doing enough to bring people to their own faith (via knowledge-dissemination, not violence). In today’s environment, this needs to be done and not doing so is Adharma on the part of Hindus and will certainly result in suffering and ignorance to the coming generations.

  18. Nitin Raval · · Reply

    Failure of Buddhism
    Buddha, by some sections, is considered incarnation of Vishnu. He produced the largest number of enlightened beings in a single lifetime. He took Hinduism back to the basics to the Sankhya Philosophy of Kapila Maha Muni. That is why he is called “Sankhya Muni” (Sakhya muni in Pali). And yet Buddhism has been, in retrospect, the cause of much harm to Asia – mainly due to the extreme violence and barbarism of Islam.

    There are two things that stand out in Buddha’s teaching – Ahimsa (or non violence) and rejection of deity worship and rituals.  In a reasonably enlightened society, both can be dispensed with. But only the civilization which has gone through all kinds of ups and downs and faced every kind of human mental setup can understand the need for these two.

    Buddha himself was not at fault since he was addressing the current society he lived in. But the followers who made his teachings into a dogma failed to understand that he said was to be taken in the context of the society he was addressing.  To some extent Buddhism re-invented deity worship and rituals (as the Mahayana form of Buddhism) and that is why it has even survived this far as a followed religion and not a minor cult. NO PHILOSOPHY THAT DOES NOT HAVE THESE COMPONENTS OF PHYSICAL WORSHIP AND CELEBRATION SURVIVES. Buddhists recognized this early on – within a century or so of Buddha. But their extreme abhorrence of self protection in the name of non-violence has caused immense damage to the world.

    India’s inability to handle the Islamic invasion came because of this. Adi Shankaracharya worked hard to reverse the degradation caused by the mindless application of Buddha’s teachings – and as such Buddhism lost hold in India. And India was able to survive Islam for 400 years. But the damage caused to India was immense. So many temples were destroyed and lives lost and horrors inflicted on its people.  And by the time the British arrived we were too weak to offer a resistance to their cunning mind games.

    Every country where the strength of Hinduism gave way to the easy path of Buddhism has been overrun by the violence of Islam – Afghanistan,  India, Mongolia, Kazhakstan, Indonesia, Malaysia and so on.  Bodhidharma brought Buddhism to China along with martial arts such as Kung Fu – which were disallowed by Indian Buddhists. Hence the Buddhism there has survived – although not in the passive and inert form that it was practiced in India for many centuries. The lack of active protection has made Tibet all but destroyed and the Tibetans as refugees in all other countries.

    From Buddhism, the same principle of inaction imagined to be NON VIOLENCE was adopted by GANDHI and has RUINED INDIA and made her weak in the last 70 years. It is high time we understand its influence and move back to the Sanatana Dharma which gave the right place to everything with a very long term vision. Buddha was a great incarnation – but Buddhism has FAILED. One of the greatest failed experiments of the ocean of tempering with Sanatana Hindu Dharma.

  19. The following comment is by GV Chelvapilla. i only post it, because there were difficulties in posting:

    Ms Maria Wirth has a better grasp of Hinduism than many who are born Hindu but remain self alienated due to arrogance or ignorance or both which were spoon fed through an education system that was alien adopted by independent India which had Marxist, Macaulay mind children guiding it.
    She is right, Buddha was a Hindu, the name Hindu might not have been there then but he belonged to Vedic lineage though he rejected authority of Veda. Yet he did not start any new religion as such. Like Rshabhadeva before, who was first Tirthankara for Jainism, Buddha also remained revered as a great sage.
    Contrary to modern fashion, Buddha did not start any movement to abolish castes. Instead he proudly declared ” Aham , Kshatriya”, I am Kshatriya. In his days India was not infected with so called composite culture or casteist hypocrites of politicians who declare their opposition to castes, yet go around dividing and pitting one caste against the other to garner votes just like earlier British who ruled using time tested principle of divide and rule.
    Buddha’s emphasis on non violence, not castes nor start of any new religion as such. Hinduism for ease of reference, the Vedic Dharma is a vast ocean that gave rise to many great rivers, which nourishing the earth again merge into same ocean.
    Though Buddha rejected authority of Veda his emphasis on non-violence was Vedic in origin. This was said precisely in Bhaagavatham which mentioned in future tense Buddha’s advent nearly 2000 years later from when Bhagavatham of Sri Vyasa came into existence, ‘ in the age of kali, Sri Vishnu takes the form of Buddha in order to make those who do not know or reject Veda, to follow Vedic principles.’
    That was what was done, Ahimso Paramo Dharmah was not Buddhist in origin but we come across it in Mahabharath from Yudhishtara’s answer to Yaksha who asks him among Dharmas which is best.
    In the days of yore, especially the great kings took to renunciation after their reign. Again due to divide and rule politics that continued where British left, it became fashionable to further break Indian society, particularly Hindu, saying Buddhists are not Hindu, Jains are not Hindu, now Karnataka ruling Congress want to put Lingayats too in a different religion. But there were no vote bank politics in the days of Buddha but based on principles. Hence for the royalty it was common to renounce worldly materialism, take to spiritual meditation towards the later part of their life. Some thus followed Jain principles and others adopted Buddhist ones , and many more continued practicing Vedic rites.
    Much is made of Ashoka taking to non-violence and becoming a Buddhist. Ashoka’s grand father Chandragupta too took to renunciation , became a Jain monk. Then there were any number of kings and others as mentioned before followed Vedic rites and rituals after taking to life of renunciation.
    Vikramaditya was well known in India then, we even date our calendar using time of Vikramaditya. He was a Suryavamsi and legends were built around his exploits.
    So originally Congress flag committee led by Purushottan Das Tandon selected age old safforn flag with symbol of Boar, a replica of Vikramaditya flag to represent newly independent India .
    However given the appeasement , divide and rule politics , both the flag and Vikrama were rejected, in favor of an obscure Ashoka then in our lore. There is much to doubt about his conversion to non-violence because even after the said transformation, he continued to fight wars, even alleged to have persecuted Jains in his kingdom which was vast . Sure enough, soon Purushottham Das Tandon was out of party presidency, dynasty reign began. Another note may be of interest here. None of Kings or rulers have ever declared in ancient India, any official religion, only exception being Ashoka who made Buddhism official creed. And secular India was made to adopt his communal motifs.
    So also with regards to selection of national anthem,national flag carefully anything that smacks of Vedic or Hindu connection was put aside in favor of non aligned Buddhism, non-aligned between Hinduism and Islam.
    Confusion was deliberately introduced to suit the politics of 20 th century rather than allow history tell us what was the situation when Buddha walked on earth in person, according to our calendar, approximately in 2000 BC, not 600 BC. Hence what Ms Maria Wirth was saying that Buddha was of Vedic Dharma or Hindu in modern parlance, also got lost in deliberately created confusion.
    Nevertheless with ascendance of India, many things, suppresio veri, suggestio falsi that pass for history of India will soon be corrected.
    Best wishes, G V Chelvapilla

  20. All Buddhas are usually, when they take their last births, born into the most popular religion of the time. And at that time it was Hinduism. This time I guess it shall be Christianity.

    1. what is a better criterium: most popular or closest to truth? Christianity may be still ‘most popular” (maybe not for long anymore. looking at teh world situation??), but Hindu/ Sanatan Dharma is clearly closer to truth

      1. I agree with you. But you must understand the Hindu prophecies in light of your transcendental way of thought. Mahabharata and kalki purana states clearly how The Teaching will fade into oblivion during this new millennium, even those who shall be claiming to be Hindus will be just a superficial attachment without deeper Realization

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