Hinduism and Buddhism were two very different religions that arose on the subcontinent of India. They were the building blocks of the most populated country in the world and still have lasting impacts today. India’s Hindu and Buddhist roots play a major role in their actions today as a world super power. By extension, Hinduism and Buddhism played very different but equally vital roles in the beginnings of India’s modern societal and cultural values. The influences on society of Hinduism and Buddhism differed in Hinduism’s implementation of a strict rigid caste system and the Buddhist idea of having a single leader that influenced the people (a Bodhisattva), while they were similar in both giving the people who followed them a goal in life because both religions promoted right living to achieve spiritual enlightenment.
Hinduism and Buddhism differed in the societal impact of caste implementation; the Hindus strongly forced this stratified class system while the Buddhists discouraged it. This is one of the largest differences between these two religions and played a major role in the history of India. In India, before the life of Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha), the caste system was a way of life. Its strict and rigid implementation into the daily lives of all changed the society through such varying social classes. The caste system divided people into very strict social classes, and relationships/intermarriage between castes was not allowed. This meant that the classes in India stayed the same, and moving up or down in caste was impossible. When Buddhism was introduced, the Buddha believed the caste system was not needed for enlightenment and as his followers accumulated, the impact of the caste system dimished, allowing for the eventual banning of it altogether.
Both of these religions’ beliefs pertaining to caste regulation and social stratification forever changed the ideals of India and continue to today. Hinduism and Buddhism also differed in the existence of a single leader; the Hindus had none, while the Buddhists followed the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. This difference impacted society because before the rise of Buddhism, the Hindus had no specific origin or leader to follow. When the Buddha began his teachings, the society of India experienced a monumental shift as many of the people previously lacking a leader had someone to follow. This began the transition to Buddhism as well as instigated other social impacts like the weakening of the previously absolute caste system and majority Hindu following in India. The Buddha’s teachings and ideas were described in the allegorical novel, Siddhartha, which shows in part the Buddha’s following, his rise in fame, and journey to enlightenment through life. The followers and fame of the Buddha gradually changed the values and beliefs of Indian society as nothing in several thousand years of Hindu dominance had.
As a result, this changed Indian society in ways that we continue to see to this day. However, Hinduism and Buddhism were similar in giving their followers a goal (enlightenment) in life; Hinduism and Buddhism’s followers both strive to achieve enlightenment or nirvana: through Moksha, Karma, and Dharma, or through the eight-fold path. Either way, Indians have a goal in life, something with lasting impacts on societal values and the way of life of many Indians. Siddhartha, written as an allegory, displays this perfectly. The protagonist strives for enlightenment in life in the same way the followers of this religion do. As a result, this religion changes the society of India through living consciously to ones Dharma and practicing all aspects of the eight-fold path. Instead of living life hopelessly, like the early Mesopotamians who had nothing to hope for after life on earth, Indians strive for the betterment of society through first bettering themselves and altering the society as a whole.
Courtney from Study Moose
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