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MODERN HINDUISM IS A RESTATEMENT OF BUDDHISM

ANKUR BARUA, M.A. BASILIO

Buddhist Door, Tung Lin Kok Yuen, Hong Kong

Hong Kong, 2009

Communication Address of Corresponding Author:

Dr. ANKUR BARUA

Block – EE, No.-80, Flat No.-2A,

Salt Lake City, Sector-2,

Kolkata - 700091, West Bengal, INDIA.

Email: ankurbarua26@yahoo.com

Mobile: +91-9434485543 (India), +852-96195078 (Hong Kong)


MODERN HINDUISM IS A RESTATEMENT OF BUDDHISM

Abstract

Due to the striking similarities in the teachings of Buddhism and modern

Hinduism, a group of modern scholars still believe that Buddhism is a

restatement of Hinduism. But this notion is absolutely false as Hinduism is a

much later development after the disappearance of Buddhism from India.

There is enough historical evidence that Buddhism paved the way for refining the

teachings of Hinduism. The finer aspects of Buddhism were later incorporated

into the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads by Adi Shankaryacharya during

the revival of Hinduism in 8th century A.D. As a result of this, we do not find any

major difference between the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism in modern

era. Thus, modern Hinduism is actually a restatement of Buddhism.

Key words: Buddhism, Restatement, Modern, Brahmanism, Hinduism.

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MODERN HINDUISM IS A RESTATEMENT OF BUDDHISM

Introduction

Conflicts of opinions prevail while exploring the parallel teachings of Buddhism

and modern Hinduism. Some scholars cherish the opinion that Buddhism in India

subsequently got incorporated into the Hinduism. They believe that modern

Hinduism in India is a new form of ancient Buddhism.1,2,3

Due to the striking similarities in the teachings of Buddhism and modern

Hinduism, there is another group of scholars who uphold the theory that

Buddhism is a restatement of Hinduism.1,2,4 But this notion is absolutely false as

Hinduism is a much later development after the disappearance of Buddhism from

India. If someone has to relate any ancient religion in India with Buddhism, it

should be the existing Brahmanism which paved way to the introduction of

Buddhism in India by Sakyamuni Buddha during the 6th century B.C., who was a

historical personality.

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Buddhism was a Critical Response to the Existing Brahmanism

Buddhism should be viewed as a critical response to the existing Brahmanism.

Buddhism came into existence in order to wipe off the existing four-tier caste

system in India laid down by the Aryans. As the status of women was remarkably

subdued and deplorable during the period of Brahmanism, Buddhism came to

the rescue by upholding the women’s rights and focused on empowerment of

women in the society. Sakyamuni Buddha was the first historical personality who

rose against all odds to abolish discrimination and violence against women in the

existing Indian society.1,2,5

The Revival of Hinduism

The Vedic revival during the 8th century A.D. was referred to as the revival of

Hinduism by the Western Scholars. This was initiated by Adi Shankaracharya in

the Gangetic plains of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The Hindus of Rajasthan also

participated in this hostile revival activity. After the death of Harshavardhana, the

Rajputs were arising on horizons of North India. The Rajputs belonged to the

lineage from among the remnants of Hunas and other foreign hordes which were

broken down by the activities of kings like Baladitya and the local tibals. The

Rajputs were made prominent by the Brahmins for the specific purpose of

suppressing Buddhism by use of force. They subsequently dominated the later

part of the history of India and played a key role in the revival of Hinduism.1,2,3,5

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During this time, the popular devotion to the Buddha was sought to be replaced

by devotion to Hindu gods such as Rama and Krishna. The existing version of the

Mahabharata was written in this period when the decline of Buddhism had

already begun. It was specially meant for the lower caste community (Shudras),

most of whom were Buddhists, in order to attract them away from Buddhism.

However, Brahmanism still prevented the Shudras from having access to the

Vedas. The Mahabharata was possibly rewritten to placate the Buddhist Shudras

and to compensate them for this discrimination. The Mahabharata incorporated

some of the humanistic elements of Buddhism to win over the Shudras. Overall,

it played the role of bolstering the Brahminical hegemony. Thus, Krishna, in the

Gita, was made to say that a person should not violate the divinely ordained law

of caste. Eklavya was made to slice off his thumb by Drona, who found it a gross

violation of dharma that a mere tribal boy should excel the Kshatriya Arjun in

archery.6,7

The various writers of the puranas carried out this systematic campaign of

hatred, slander and calumny against the Buddhists. The Brahannardiya Purana

made it a principal sin for Brahmins to enter the house of a Buddhist even at

times of great peril. The Vishnu Purana alleged that the Buddha as Maha Moha

or the great seducer. It further cautioned against the sin of conversing with

Buddhists and lays. Those who merely talked to Buddhist ascetics should be sent

to hell. In the Gaya Mahatmaya, the concluding section of the Vayu Purana, the

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town of Gaya was identified as Gaya Asura, a demon who had attained such

holiness that all those who saw him or touched him went straight to heaven.

Clearly, this demon was related to none other than the Buddha who preached a

simple way for all, including the oppressed castes, to attain salvation.7

The Vayu Purana story went on to add that Yama, the king of hell, grew jealous.

This was possibly because less people were now entering his domains. He

appealed to the gods to limit the powers of Asura Gaya. The gods, led by Vishnu,

were able to restrict his powers by placing a massive stone on the demon’s head.

This monstrous legend signified the ultimate capture of Buddhism’s most holy

centre by its inveterate foes.7

Kushinagar, also known as Harramba, was one of the most important Buddhist

centres as the Buddha breathed his last there. The Brahmins, envious of the

prosperity of this pilgrim town, invented an absurd theory in order to discourage

people from going there. They spread a rumor that if one died in Harramba, he

would go to hell. However, if one died in Kashi, the citadel of Brahmanism, he

would go straight to the heaven. This belief got deeply rooted in the minds of

the local community. So, when the Sufi saint Kabir died in 1518 AD at Maghar,

not far from Kushinagar, some of his Hindu followers refused to erect any

memorial in his honor there and instead set it up at Kashi. However, Kabir's

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Muslim followers were less superstitious and they set up a tomb for him at

Maghar itself.6,7

The Tendency of Hinduism to Absorb its Rival Faiths

The tendency of Hinduism to absorb rival faiths was evident from the fact that

many elements from other faiths had also gone into the making of Hinduism.

While some scholars focus on outright persecution, others speak of a long

process during which Buddhist practices became absorbed into Hinduism.

Though the doctrine of ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence had originated with the Buddha

and had certainly found its greatest exposition in the Buddha’s teachings, but by

the second half of the 1st millennium A.D. it had become an integral part of the

Hindu teachings. However, it is still not certain whether the Buddha was

absorbed into the Hindu pantheon as a gesture of compromise or as an attempt

of divide in order to reduce the overwhelming might of Buddhism or whether

Hinduism was eager to embrace as its own, certain values that Buddhism stood

for against the short-comings of Brahmanism.1,2,3,5,6

The simplicity of the Buddha’s message in emphasizing its stress on equality and

crusade against the bloody and costly sacrifices and ritualism of Brahmanism had

attracted the oppressed casts in large numbers. The Brahminical revivalists

understood the need to appropriate some of these finer aspects of Buddhism and

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discarded some of the worst of their own practices so as to be able to win over

the masses back to the Brahminical fold. Imitating the Buddhists in this regard,

the Brahmins, who were once voracious beef-eaters, had turned into

vegetarians.7

Adi Shankaracharya Had Preserved Buddhism by Incorporating It into

Hinduism

The great Brahmin philosopher, Adi Shankaracharya (c. 788-820 AD), took keen

interest in learning the inner aspects of Buddhist philosophy. He was alleged by

some scholars to have hated Buddhism and engaged the Buddhist monks in

public debates and each time he had emerged triumphant. But this theory was

far from truth for the simple reason that, had he successfully defeated the

Buddhist monks in debates all the time and had no faith in Buddhism, then there

was no logic behind his undertaking the initiative to incorporate the finer aspects

of Buddhist teachings into Hinduism. So, by the time he had invited the Buddhist

monks in public debates, he had already studied Buddhism and developed an

immense respect for the teachings of the Buddha. 1,2,3,5

He had also realized that all the Buddhist monks with whom he had debated

were not well-versed with the teachings of the Buddha. Due to their ignorance,

they were unable to preach the true meaning of the doctrine of the Buddha in an

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effective manner. So, he took the initiative to include the finer aspects of

Buddhism into the core teachings of Hinduism. Under his supervision, the Vedas,

Bhagavad Gita and Puranas were rewritten incorporating these new aspects. The

Buddha was also transformed into an avatara (descent) of Vishnu. 1,2,3,5

The monastic practices had been unknown in Brahmanism, but this practice was

also initiated under the leadership of Adi Shankaracharya. He had established

‘maths’ or monasteries at Badrinath in the north, Dwarka in the west, Sringeri in

the south, and Puri in the east.1,2,3

Modern Hinduism is a Restatement of Buddhism

The finer aspects of Buddhism were later incorporated into the Vedas, Bhagavad

Gita and Upanishads by Adi Shankaryacharya during the revival of Hinduism in

8th century A.D. As a result of this, we do not find any major difference between

the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism in modern era. Lay people and many

scholars often get deceived by ignoring the chronological order of historical

development of Brahmanism, Buddhism and Hinduism and they are unable to

make any distinction between these. We should understand that Hinduism was a

later development after Buddhism. There is enough historical evidence that

Buddhism paved the way for refining the teachings of Hinduism which came into

existence after the disappearance of Buddhism from India. We must always

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remember that the finer aspects of Buddhism had been later incorporated into

Hinduism under the supervision of Adi Shankaracharya during the 8th century

A.D. 1,2,3

So, by observing the strikingly similar teachings in both these religions, it would

be wiser to conclude that modern Hinduism is a restatement of ancient

Buddhism. The reverse of this statement is never true on historical perspectives,

as an earlier religion cannot predict or copy the teachings of a future religion.1,2,3

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Conclusions

The Brahmins could never deny or disrespect the inner truths in the teachings of

the Buddha in spite of having hatred against Buddhism as a religion. So, the

subsequent absorption of the Buddha into Vishnu’s pantheon represented some

sort of a compromise between the Brahmins and the Buddhists on moral and

philosophical grounds. Buddhism stood for to promote peace and harmony in the

society. This had been later incorporated into certain strands of modern

Hinduism in order to make it more refined and acceptable to the society. Thus,

the Buddha was finally given his just dues. From historical perspective, it is now

clearly evident that Buddhism was never conquered on moral grounds and

critical arguments, but was actually driven off by sheer force and might.1,2,3,5,6

Though the Buddha is now incorporated into modern Hinduism as Lord Vishnu’s

pantheon, but he should not be regarded as a god of the Hindu religion. It needs

to be emphasized once again that the Buddha was never a mythological figure as

Lord Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma or Rama, but he was a real historical personality

who devoted his entire life to eliminate the sufferings of all sentient beings.4

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References

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2. Jaini, P.S., Narain A.K., ed., 1980. The Disappearance of Buddhism and the
Survival of Jainism: A Study in Contrast. Studies in History of Buddhism.
Delhi: B.R. Publishing Company:181-91.

3. Ahir, D.C. 2005. Buddhism Declined in India: How and Why? Delhi: B.R.
Publishing.

4. Kantowsky, D. 2003. Buddhists in India Today: Descriptions, Pictures and


Documents. Delhi: Manohar Publications: 156.

5. Goyal, S.R. 1987. A History of Indian Buddhism. Meerut: 394.

6. Beal, S. 1884. Si-Yu Ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World. London:
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7. Pakistan Defence. 2008. Disappearance of Buddhism from "Non Violent


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story.html

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