Hinduism, which remains the oldest surviving religion known to man was also the religion practiced by the royal family of Siddhartha Gautama, which confers that the Hindu philosophy of Samsara is the truest and most profound for its spiritual effect on the people of India. Although the Buddha is a wise man who has contributed greatly to humanity with a simplification of the concepts and ideals of the Hindu philosophy; the Buddhist philosophy comes from the ancient teachings of the Hindu religion and texts. One must consider Buddhism as the less complex and elementary version of the Hindu religion, which has gained popularity for the lack of ritualistic flair common to Hinduism. Buddhism has allowed for a less confusing and friendly approach to the fundamental teachings of Hinduism made available to a wider diversity of individuals throughout the world. However, one must not forget that Hinduism is where the concept of Samsara originated, therefore making the true philosophy of Samsara to be delivered by way of Hinduism versus Buddhism.
Naturally, religion is a phenomenon that is delivered to the masses via the religious leaders responsible for imparting the acumen to the religious disciples. Although both Hinduism and Buddhism have shared a copious amount of noteworthy leaders to teach the philosophies of each religion, I will only use one leader from each religion in the following discussion. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) was a great leader for imparting the philosophies of the Hindu religion on a global scale ("Vivekananda Vedanta Network - Biography"). As for the Buddhist leader, the current 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso born in 1935 and presently still contributes the Buddhist teachings around the world with his message of peace (The Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama). Each of these leaders has been profound in introducing the Eastern religions on a grand scale to the Western world.
Each of these great religious leaders has transformed the world through exposing the Eastern philosophies of Hinduism and Buddhism. The two religions that are the topic of discussion are often referred to as a philosophy along with the designated title of the primary Eastern religions. It is the nature of the core concepts of each religion that encourages the exploration of existence, similar to the practice of philosophy. Examining one’s purpose at a deeper level beyond the material plane is common to each of these Eastern religions, hence questions pertaining to which version of Samsara is most beneficial to spiritual growth are relevant in the context of both religions.
It is no surprise that these ancient Eastern religions both incorporate numerous sacred texts as part of the knowledge that is necessary in understanding the depth of the teachings. However, each religion has a foundational text that is the original one known to exist prior to many of the other known texts. The Hindu text that I will examine is a series of books called the Vedas, and the Buddhist text I will discuss it the oldest one called the Tripitaka comprising of approximately fifty volumes. The goal in discussing the two texts is to explore the concept of Samsara from the Vedas and Tripitaka to confirm my position on the Hindu theory of Samsara to be just as useful for spiritual growth, if not more so, than the Buddhist theory of Samsara.
In the ancient text of the Vedas, Samsara is a foundational concept that is linked with the Jiva (soul), Karma, and Moksha- the ultimate goal for union with the Universal Consciousness/ “God” (“Karma and Samsara” 2012). To explain the overall message of the very complex Vedas I will use the concepts of Jiva, Karma, Samsara, and Moksha on the most basic level. Each Jiva (soul) has a process that it will go through in the physical form of the body to rid itself of Karma (the desire). Until all Karma has been removed from the Jiva, the process of reincarnation (Samsara) must occur until all desire has left the soul. Once Jive has removed all trace of Karma, then the soul is free of Samsara and capable of Moksha where freedom to be one with the Creator is attained.
Next I will discuss the concept of Samsara according to the Buddhist text Tripitaka. In the teaching of Buddhism, there is Kamma, which is thought or action that can be either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ that is only displayed or carried out in the process of the physical body. “The Samsara, rebirth process is where Kamma is fulfilled. In its primary role, kamma determines the sphere into which rebirth takes place, wholesome actions bringing rebirth in higher forms, unwholesome actions rebirth in lower forms” ("The Dhammapada: The Buddha's Path of Wisdom" 2013, para.13). The ultimate goal in Buddhism is to escape dukkha (suffering), which is only found to occur in the physical body where kamma is fulfilled, hence liberation from rebirth of the physical body (Samsara) towards unification with the Supreme Consciousness.
It is easy to see that both Hinduism and Buddhism are stating nearly the same thing about the purpose and point of Samsara in terms of its purpose in the spiritual journey of the soul. It is only minor details and terminology that differ between the two religions on the role of Samsara. Therefore, further proof of the original theory of Samsara, in Hinduism would be confirmed as the sensible or acceptable philosophy to follow.
The Concept of God
The core purpose of most religions is to design a path that makes sense of the purpose of life and death, and where God “The Creator” fits into that theory. However, these Eastern religions have a unique perspective in the belief of “God.”
First I will discuss the concept of God from the Hindu perspective. Although many believe that Hindus worship numerous “Gods” that is somewhat questionable based on the actual concept of God from the philosophical perspective of what Hinduism preaches. According to Hinduism, God is not necessarily a man or woman sitting in the cosmos, but rather everything. God is what makes up the entire force of life inside and outside of oneself. God can be in form and without form according to Hindu beliefs (“Hindu Concept of God” Shaivam.org Web.). God is also not something to fear, and is not sitting in judgement of the souls who reside in the material form, but more so just the original source of what the soul is made of. Therefore, the goal of the soul to realize its origins is meant to free one from Samsara to rejoin the Cosmic Consciousness.
The Buddhist does not necessarily believe in the concept of God as something to be worshipped or feared. From the Buddhist perspective, the belief in God is not going to enhance one’s advancement towards the enlightened state. If anything, Buddha discouraged the belief in God as another desire that would be chased by the individual, rather than looking internally to find truth. According to Thera (2013), “the Buddhist's conclusion must be that the highest mystic states do not provide evidence for the existence of a personal God or an impersonal godhead” ("Buddhism and the God-idea", para.10). The entire focus of the Buddhist is to escape Samsara through realizing oneness in and lack of desires within the body that one is residing in, which may be less motivating to many individuals who are hoping to find a greater meaning and connection in their spiritual growth. Therefore, the Hindu philosophy on Samsara is once again much more empowering for the spiritualist.
Another common factor in any religious or spiritual study is the concept of ‘the meaning of life’ or a purpose and path for existence. Often religion brings comfort and a sense of direction for the human psyche through the story or structure creating a meaning of for human life.
Hinduism sees life’s purpose to occur in a “four-fold” system, of which each soul must go through all four prior to attaining the final step towards liberation from Samsara (Sivakumar, 2014). The four steps or stages are called Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. Dharma is the duty to live an ethical life, as well as a debt owed to God, one’s parents, one’s teachers, other human beings, and every living creation (Sivakumar, 2014). Artha is the aim for the individual to pursue wealth and prosperity in his or her life within the bounds of dharma (Sivakumar, 2014). Kama has to do with the spiritual obligation to find joy in one’s life (Sivakumar, 2014). And finally, Moksha, which is the final and most difficulty step when enlightenment is realized; “it is considered the most important meaning of life and offers such rewards as liberation from reincarnation, self-realization, enlightenment, or unity with God” (Sivakumar, 2014, para.1).
In Buddhism, the primary purpose of one’s life is to understand one’s own nature and the nature of life (Maha Thera, n.d.). As the highest of evolved species, the ultimate goal is to find oneself through the peaceful calm and control of one’s thoughts and desires (Maha Thera, n.d.). The challenge for man to overcome the ignorance and entrapments of the mind is one of the most difficult tasks to attain, as well as the acceptance of the nature of life as impermanent (Maha Thera, n.d.). It is the entire purpose of the Buddhists life to find a way to control the mind and see man’s nature for what it is, along with the nature of life which is in constant flow.
Nature of the Universe
The Universe according to what most individuals in the Western world believe, is what comprises of everything in space including, planets, solar systems, galaxies, and the endless mystery “out there.” Where then does the concept of the Universe fit into these eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism? The following portion of the essay will examine the nature of the Universe in each religion and how that concept incorporates the philosophies of Samsara according both Hinduism and Buddhism.
In Hinduism, the Universe is Brahman. Brahman is the Supreme Consciousness, it is what everything seen and unseen is made up of. Basically the Universe and God is one and the same from the Hindu perspective. The concept of Universe is rather abstract in the way Hindus believe it as everything/ nothing, having no beginning or ending, the Universe is God or Brahman, Supreme Consciousness making up every aspect of life throughout the cosmos. Maya is another important factor in Hinduism. “Maya is change and relativity. It is neither real nor unreal nor both. As long as it is not known, maya is delusive; but when known, maya is nothing but Brahman” (Swami Adiswarananda, para. 2). Maya is made up of three characteristics called gunas- sattva, rajas, and tamas which are present in each aspect of the Universe (Swami Adiswarananda).
There is also a cycle that is believed to occur in the Universe according to the Vedas. A period of nonmanifestation exists when the gunas are still, but when the gunas are disturbed then the manifestation of the Universe begins (Swami Adiswarananda). The Universe has these phases in a cyclical pattern that never ceases according to the Hindu philosophy (Swami Adiswarananda).
In Buddhism, considering there is no belief in the entity of God, there is no originator of this thing called the Universe. Buddhism believes in the similar cyclical concept of the Universe as Hinduism; however God is not a factor in the cyclical phenomenon of the Universe in the Buddhist philosophy. Buddhism “teaches that everything depends on everything else: present events are caused by past events and become the cause of future events” ("Origin of the Universe," BBC News, 2009, para.1). The cycle of the Universe begins with good and eventually is destroyed as greed and wickedness arise among the people, which ultimately destroys the Universe as well (“Origin of the Universe,” BBC News, 2009).
Common Practices of the Eastern Religions
After researching the various aspects of both Hinduism and Buddhism, one can see the correlations that give rise to common practices among these Eastern religions. Many similarities exist in the practices of both religions despite the minor differences in the concepts associated with God and the soul. For example, meditation as a means to achieve ‘enlightenment’ is a method utilized by both Hindu and Buddhist disciples as the most effective means calming one’s mind enough to recognize the true essence of the individual. Whether that concept is to recognize oneself as a piece of the Universe or another abstract state of existence that requires the ability to disconnect from the emotional and mental attachments associated with life common to cause suffering are practiced by both religions. The ultimate goal for the Hindu or Buddhist is to escape the torment that is often common in the daily challenges common to life in the world.
Each of the Eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism stem from some profound philosophies that prove to be beneficial in the spiritual growth of any individual willing to embrace the search for inner peace through acceptance of one’s thoughts and emotions that harm the individual’s quality of life. Despite the validity in concepts delivered within the Buddhist religion, the Hindu religion originated the concepts of Samsara making the philosophy of Samsara most valuable to the people of India, as well as any others interested in the methodology of these ancient teachings.
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