Notes on Buddhist Journalism—5-Buddhism bridges gap between ‘Hindu’ and ‘Sinic’ philosophies
Posted on July 5th, 2011

By Shelton A. Gunaratne© 2011 Professor of mass communications emeritus at Minnesota State University Moorhead

 In this essay, I argue that Buddhism is the link that unites India’s  “Hinduism” (SanƒÆ’-¾tana Dharma) with Sinic philosophies. “Hinduism” was a label that the foreigners used to describe several streams of thought that were native to India dating back to well before 6500 BCE, when the Rig Veda, believed to be the earliest scriptures, was composed. It’s best defined as a way of life indigenous to India, rather than a religion, based on the teachings of ancient sages and scriptures like the four Vedas””‚Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda””‚and the more than108 Upanishads dating from 1000 BCE to the time of the Buddha (563 BCE “”…” 483 BCE).

During the Gupta Period (CE 320-CE 500), the “golden age” of Hinduism, Hindu (or Vedic) philosophy comprised the views of six orthodox (ƒÆ’-¾stika) schools of thought, which accepted the Vedas as supreme revealed scriptures: Samkhya, Yoga (meditation), Nyaya (logic), Vaisheshika (atomistic/empiricist), Mimamsa (anti-mysticistic school of orthopraxy), Vedanta (that emphasized Vedic ritual and mysticism); and the views of three other heterodox (nƒÆ’-¾stika) schools, which did not accept the Vedas as authoritative””‚Buddhism, Jainism, and CƒÆ’-¾rvƒÆ’-¾ka (a skeptical materialist school that died in the 15th century). Vaisheshika and Mimamsa became obsolete and disappeared by the later Middle Ages, when the various sub-schools of Vedanta (Dvaita “dualism,” Advaita “non-dualism” and others) began to rise to prominence as the main divisions of Hindu philosophy. Nyaya survived into the 17th century as Navya Nyaya “Neo-Nyaya,” while Samkhya gradually lost its status as an independent school, with its tenets absorbed into Yoga and Vedanta. The main divisions of Hinduism today are Vaishnavism (with Vishnu as Supreme Being), Shaivism (with Shiva as Supreme Being), Smartism (with all major deities as forms of Brahman), and Shaktism (with Shakti as Supreme Being).

Hinduism and Buddhism

Buddhism and modern Hinduism are both post-Vedic Dhammic religions/ philosophies. In the 11th century two main reasons caused the eclipse of Buddhism in its place of birth:  The destruction of Buddhist temples and conversion of Buddhists to Islam after the establishment of Gazhnavid Empire in North India in 1015; and the absorption of Buddhist concepts into Vedanta Hinduism since the initiative of ninth century Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara to make Advaita Vedanta more monotheistic. (Shankara’s non-dualism postulated the identity of the self or atman with the Whole or Brahman; therefore, it can be better described as monism or pantheism than as monotheism.) The Puranas mention Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu.

Although some Hindu scholars believe the Buddha accepted and incorporated many tenets of Hinduism in his doctrine, Buddhists point out that there was no such thing as Hinduism at the time of Buddha except for the six schools of Vedanta thought, which absorbed so many Buddhist traits.

Although both Hinduism and Buddhism explain the operational mechanics of samsara in terms of karma””‚the law of cause and effect, the Hindu view assigns a linear effect of karma on rebirth whereas the Buddhist view assigns a nonlinear effect. This difference occurs because of the Hindu view that every being has a self/soul (atman/atta) that reincarnates itself in a higher or lower world of the samsaric bhavacakra until it reaches moksha (union with Brahman or Supreme God); and the Buddhist view that no self (anatta) is the truth of existence because each namarupa is a manifestation of the five elements (pancaskanda), which sheds its material form at death while the other four elements bundle together into a new material form at each rebirth in the appropriate world of the samsaric cycle until it reaches nirvana (end of bhavacakra/ suffering).

Buddhist suttas describe 31 distinct “planes” or “realms” of existence into which a namarupa can be reborn during its long journey through samsara. These range from the extraordinarily dark, grim and painful realms of hell to the most sublime, refined and exquisitely blissful realms of heaven. However, because a namarupa is an ever-changing bundle of five elements that has no self, logically it cannot accumulate a lifetime of karma to carry over to the next birth under a new environment. If this interpretation is correct, the Buddhist namarupa (no self/anatta) is likely to suffer the consequences of its karma (volitional action) soon after its commission than much later. Buddhists believe that death and rebirth follow a series of re-becoming.

Hindu cosmology also presents a complex structure of the universe in which heaven (ruled by God Indra) and hell (ruled by God Yama) are only two of the many worlds broadly categorized into Bhur (the earth), Bhuva (heavenly worlds), Suvah (solar worlds), and Maha (the highest worlds). The karmic balance accrued by a living being (good minus bad) determines its world of rebirth through the bhavacakra.   Thus, the linear principle applies to the Hindu concept of karma. Rebirth means reincarnation.

No universally accepted theory exists on the origin of the caste-system in India””‚the division of people into five varnas: Brahmin (priestly), Kshatriya (warrior/ruler), Vaishya (merchant), Shudra (artisan) and Harijan (untouchable) categories. Although generally identified with Hinduism, followers of other religions in India, including Islam, also observed the caste system. Buddha, as well as two of his contemporaries””‚Mahavira and Ajitha Kesakambali””‚denounced the division of people by caste. However, Hindus accommodated caste by associating it with the law of karma.

Buddhism denies the existence of a Supreme God or a First Cause. In contrast, Hindus attribute the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction to the Trimurti personified in the forms of Brahman, the creator God; Vishnu, the preserver/maintainer; and Shiva, the destroyer/transformer. The monistic interpretation is that the Trimurti, as well as other deities who constitute the Hindu pantheon, are different forms of the all-pervading Brahman. However, because Brahman is beyond human comprehension, it is without any attributes; therefore, assigning attributes to it would be distorting the true nature of Brahman. (In this respect, it is comparable to Dao in Daoism.)

In Buddhism, it is the knowledge of the truth of one’s no-self (anatta) within the framework of the Four Noble Truths that enables a namarupa to attain enlightenment and nirvana. In (Vedanta) Hinduism, it is the understanding of one’s true self””‚the experiential realization that one’s self or soul (atta/atman) is identical with the transcendental self (paramatman or Brahman) that paves the way to attain salvation (moksha).

 German Indologist H.V. Glasenapp (1951) points out the following philosophical similarities between (Advaita) Hinduism and (Theravada) Buddhism: Both assert that the universe shows a periodical succession of arising, existing and vanishing, and that this process is without beginning and end. Both believe in the causality that binds the result of an action to its cause (karma), and in rebirth/re-becoming conditioned by that nexus. Both are convinced of the transitory (anicca) and, therefore, unsatisfactory (dukkha) character of individual existence in the world; they hope to attain gradually to a redeeming knowledge through renunciation and meditation and they assume the possibility of a blissful and serene state, in which all worldly imperfections have vanished for ever. Vedanta sees deliverance as the manifestation of a state which, though obscured, has been existing from time immemorial; for the Buddhist, however, Nirvana is a reality which differs entirely from all dharmas as manifested in Samsara, and which only becomes effective, if they are abolished.

To sum up: the Vedantin wishes to penetrate to the last reality which dwells within him as an immortal essence, or seed, out of which everything has arisen. The follower of early Buddhism, however, hopes by complete abandoning of all corporeality, all sensations, all perceptions, all volitions, and acts of consciousness, to realize a state of bliss which is entirely different from all that exists in the Samsara.

Buddhism outside India

 Hinduism, a term that came into parlance circa 1830 to describe the beliefs and traditions of the people who lived in the subcontinent for many centuries, had the ability to withstand the intrusion of Buddhism by absorbing Buddhist principles and terms into the traditional Hindu fold. Neither the Muslim invaders nor the Christian colonizers and missionaries could destroy Hinduism, the repository of the traditions of India. Hindus were not proselytic, so Hinduism””‚a way of life than a religion””‚remained pretty much confined to India.

Although Buddhism ultimately eclipsed in India, Buddhism successfully adapted itself to co-exist with Confucianism and Daoism in the Sinic world from the 1st century onwards. Buddhism was the bridge through which the ideas of the Dhammic faiths in the Indian subcontinent intermingled with those of Confucianism and Daoism. Buddhism’s adaptability to different socio-cultural conditions in the neighboring countries produced several forms of Mahayana Buddhism that spread as far as Japan.

Thus, I argue that Buddhism contains the staples of a distinct Eastern/Oriental philosophy that clearly stand out as a complement of Western/Occidental philosophy. An alternative news paradigm based on a Buddhist framework should be of interest to most of Asia.

Johan Galtung (1996), the author of Peace by Peaceful Means, should get the credit for the original recognition of Buddhism as a framework for deriving an alternative news paradigm.

2 Responses to “Notes on Buddhist Journalism—5-Buddhism bridges gap between ‘Hindu’ and ‘Sinic’ philosophies”

  1. Ben_silva Says:

    Since China became a Communist state, it dumped religion and turned secular just a India. Nirvana in the case of Taoism is different to Nirvana in Buddhism. Why is SAG promoting a religion that has been dumped by Indians and the Chinese. Does he want the Sinhalese to follow Nalanda Buddhists. Now SAG appaers to equate Buddhism to other belief systems in the East.

  2. Ben_silva Says:

    We now live in a highly competitive, global economy, with a population explosion, and with humans after limited resources of water , energy , land and so on. In such a situation, there will be wars as happened in the past. Only the fittest will survive and we need to get real and learn to survive rather than live in an era 2500 BC. If we follow SAG’s recipe, we will end up the same way as Nalanda Buddhists We need to move on and learn to live in the modern world. The key thing is we need to learn to compete. Otherwise we lose out. No pain, no gain and we should learn to handle pain.

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