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Buddhism vs Hinduism: the five hindrances vs the four goals of life, and other speculation


kamadeva from another website

This (what follows) is mostly speculation.  Experts would probably find these descriptions over-simplified or just wrong.

Ancient forms of religion (mostly before 1000 BC) put a lot of emphasis on ritual sacrifices.  The earliest sacrifices killed people, but this was abandoned by most religions before 1500 BC– it is mentioned with disapproval in Greek myths.  Sacrifices involved using fire to burn items that were thought to be offered to the gods for their consumption.  Fire appears to have been a symbolic way to convert physical objects into spiritual objects.  The development of early Hinduism seems to have involved a transition from physical sacrifices to mental sacrifice-like activities.  This is where meditation comes in.  Early texts liken meditation to “fire offerings”.

Meditation, or “dhyana”, is an ancient practice (more than 2,600 years) described in Hindu literature probably before Buddhist and Jain doctrines were developed.  Brahman is the highest universal principle or ultimate reality of existence to Hindus.  In later Hindu thought, dhyana is taken up after learning breath control (“pranayama”) and mental focus (“dharana”), as a deeper concentration of the mind.  One might say that Hindus believe in the permanence of the soul.

Buddhists, however, deny that there is any permanent, unchanging soul.  That’s an oversimplification.  Both Hinduism and Buddhism are diverse and full of complex mythologies.  Buddhism, however, denies or ignores the existence of gods, while Hinduism has many gods.

A key Hindu text called the Bhagavad Gita describes meditation.  This text is of uncertain date but likely came from oral versions that are dated just prior to the advent of Buddhism in the fifth or sixth century BC.  This from Wikipedia: “Meditation in the Bhagavad Gita is a means to one’s spiritual journey, requiring three moral values – Satya (truthfulness), Ahimsa (non-violence) and Aparigraha (non-covetousness).”  The Buddha probably studied ancient Hindu religious thought prior to his Awakening but then seems to have concluded that meditation rather than extreme self-denial (asceticism) is the most important aspect of religious devotion.

Buddhists and Hindus agree on certain moral basics: truthfulness, non-violence, and not stealing or non-covetousness.

From Wikipedia:

Kama (SanskritPaliDevanagari: काम) means “desire, wish, longing” in Hindu and Buddhist literature.[3] Kama often connotes sexual desire and longing in contemporary literature, but the concept more broadly refers to any desire, wish, passion, longing, pleasure of the senses, desire for, longing to and after, the aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, or love, enjoyment of love is particularly with or without enjoyment of sexual, sensual and erotic desire, and may be without sexual connotations.[4][5]

Kama is one of the four goals of human life in Hindu traditions.[1] It is considered an essential and healthy goal of human life when pursued without sacrificing the other three goals: Dharma (virtuous, proper, moral life), Artha (material prosperity, income security, means of life) and Moksha (liberation, release, self-actualization).[6][7] Together, these four aims of life are called Puruṣārtha.[8]

Kama is an experience that includes the discovery of an object, learning about the object, emotional connection, the process of enjoyment and the resulting feeling of well-being before, during, and after the experience.[9]

Kama is not at all limited to sex; it includes the enjoyment of all sense perceptions and the entire cycle of seeing, learning, making a connection, the actual sense experience, and the feeling of well-being through-out the process.

In the Hindu “tradition”, kama is subordinate to dharma, which is proper conduct (not violating other’s rights or over-indulging oneself.)  The whole process of proper living involves earning a living (artha) and self-actualization or liberation (moksha.)

Contrast this with the Buddhist “tradition” of self-abnegation.  The monk/nun abandons all material possessions, gives up trying to enjoy him or herself through sex or any other pleasurable activity, stops earning a living and ekes out survival by begging while spending as much time as possible meditating.  This extreme is clearly limited to the mendicant or monk/nun.  Nonetheless, the five hindrances are very similar to the Hindu four goals in life.

The good Hindu starts with dharma, virtuous conduct, and under its strictures seeks to earn a living, participate in enjoying life, and seek the ultimate goal of self-actualization.  The good Buddhist probably starts with dharma too.  A Buddhist, unless he or she is overtaken by religious zeal, tries to earn a living and participate in normal activities.  The good Buddhist is certainly allowed to have sex with their spouse, eat nourishing and wholesome food, wear warm, clean, and attractive clothes, and sleep in a reasonably comfortable bed.  There is certainly a space for singing, playing an instrument, dancing, and even watching TV.

But a good Buddhist will not want to accumulate luxuries or store up great wealth.  Nor will they try to obtain rare and delicate foods.  Buddhism has parallels with the 21 rules of the Dokkodo, in which Miyamoto Mushashi proscribed luxuries, delicacies, “valuable antiques”, or “elegance and beauty” (see also my post on the Dokkodo translation.)

In Hinduism, the responsible pursuit of pleasure is considered wholesome and natural.  Kama is personified as a deity, Kamadeva, similar to the Greek gods Eros and Cupid and often portrayed as using a bow and arrow.  In Buddhism, there is more emphasis on asceticism.  There is, Buddha said, what is called the “middle way”– asceticism is not to be pursued to the point of starvation or malnutrition.

I’m not going to argue for or against any religion, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism.  I just found it interesting– and Americans know so little about the last two religions mentioned.  To a Buddhist, meditation involves thinking about nothing, if possible; to a Hindu, you can meditate about something like a beautiful landscape or music.  I don’t know enough about these things.

There will be more posts on these subjects, mostly for my edification.  You are invited to follow along with me.  I find it much more satisfying than learning about the novel coronavirus or racism, not to mention capitalism and socialism (and I know too much general medicine already.)  One thousand words (more or less)!!

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