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  • Writer's pictureLama Jigme Gyatso

What is the Difference between Hinduism and Buddhism?

M. asked:

“Is Hinduism

like a spiritual Buddhism?”

Let us side-step the metaphoric landmine

of defining spirituality

and simply contrast Hinduism and Buddhism.

Of course that too

is not nearly as simple

as it sounds.

For Hinduism is an umbrella term

of a great many practices and beliefs

spanning many centuries

and is as varied

as the Indian sub-continent

is vast.

Buddhism too

is an umbrella term

for all the ways the Buddha’s

original teachings and techniques…

have been influenced and sometimes corrupted

first by Hinduism,

then by neo-Taoism,

and finally by all the various iterations of shamanism

indigenous to each region

in which Buddhism was introduced.

So for the sake of simplicity

and to prevent the (reader’s/ listener’s) heads from exploding

let us contrast Hinduism in a very general sense

with the original teachings of the Buddha.

The majority of Hindu teachers are theistic.

They firmly believe in the existence

of one or more pantheons of celestial entities.

They embrace epic literature

describing their deity’s exploits

and seek their divine assistance

through ritual and invocation.

The Buddha did not set out

to create a new religion.

He sought to create neither devotees

nor atheists.

Rather the Buddha was a meditation teacher

who was happy to teach those

who requested his guidance.

And the techniques he taught

absolutely did not rely

upon the invocation, supplication, or worship of deities,

and did not involve making offerings to them.

The Buddha expressly taught

that an hour spent in mindfulness

was superior

to a lifetime squandered in ritual.


after his death

the corruption of ritualism

crept, like a fungus, into Buddhism.

Nor did the Buddha

create any mythology

in the tradition of the Hindu epics

and yet in the decades and centuries

following his death

mythology was added

to the corpus of his teachings.

In the Hindu Upanishads

there are many philosophical treaties:

metaphysical, conceptual, and erudite.

Whereas, in contrast,

the Buddha’s original teachings

were earthy, pragmatic, and trenchant.

And yes, as the context would indicate,

in the centuries following his demise

an entire third category of teachings

known as the Abhidhamma Pitaka…

and consisting of metaphysics

was added to his cannon of teachings.

At last we come to meditation.

Generally speaking Hindu meditation

consists of variations of concentration

and permutations of mind suppression.

Before the Buddha was known as the Buddha,

when we was known merely

as the monk Gautama…

his first meditation teacher

taught him concentration.

Gautama worked diligently

and in time his teacher explained

that his attainments were equal to his own

and thus invited Gautama

to share the leadership

of his community.

The tale is told

that Gautama thanked him…

but explained that he was dissatisfied

with his attainments.

He then left his teacher’s community

and continued his quest for spiritual liberation.

The tale continues

that Gautama found

a second teacher,

received his teachings

trained in his methods

accomplished his teacher’s attainments

and was again offered to co-lead

his second teacher’s community of disciples.

Gautama thanked his second teacher,

yet still dissatisfied

he continued his journey.

Gautama retired to the forest

and in the company of five other monks

practiced austerities for six years.

Finally, nearing the point of death

Gautama realized

that the austerities of the forest

were as futile

as the debaucheries of the palace.

Not only did Gautama

forsake the physical austerities

but he also rejected

the mental austerities of concentration

wherein one traverses the brainstem’s path

of controlling tendencies

and seeks to compress one’s perceptions

of sensation, flavor, scent,

sound, and sight, as well as

emotion, intention, reason,

recollection, and imagination.

And instead Gautama

entered upon the midbrain’s path

of acquiescence.

Calling it mindfulness

he gave his perceptions free rein

and simply went along for the ride.

He found that our perceptions

spontaneously organize themselves

into the four categories

of circumstance, body, relationships, and mind.

Gautama also observed

FIRSTLY – that although stress is a universal phenomena,

SECONDLY – humans display the tragic talent

of neurotically striving to shove our dreads away

and vainly reaching for our desires

which only serves to exacerbate our stress.

THIRDLY – he observed that there was a cessation

(or Nibbana if your prefer the Pali language)

NOT of dread and desire

BUT of merely their tyranny.

And FOURTHLY – Gautama observed

that one could accomplish this cessation,

independent of the caprice

of real or imagined celestial beings,

simply by mastering the techniques

of the eight-fold path.

In tonight’s guided meditation,

beginning momentarily

we will explore the active contemplations

of love and letting-go

as well as passive mindfulness and meditation…

which, when applied to all perceptions,

transcend the duality of dread and desire.

Let us conclude

with a simple

call to action

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