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The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast two religions namely, Buddhism and Hinduism. These religions have their roots in the Indian subcontinent where they are highly influential (Oxtoby and Amore 30-150). Hinduism and Buddhism have distinct philosophical, religious, and ethical teachings, which determine the behaviors of the people who follow them. Ethical teachings are an integral aspect of the two religions because they are the basis of righteousness. Concisely, ethical principles distinguish good conduct from immoral behavior in the two religions.
Hindus and Buddhists usually observe the ethical principles to live in harmony with their neighbors and to attain righteousness. This paper focuses on Hindu and Buddhist ethical teachings. In this regard, it will explain how Hinduism and Buddhism share some ethical teachings and differ in others. The explanations will be based on the premise that the application of ethical principles depends on the belief system of specific religions.
Hindu Verses Buddhist Ethics
The similarities and differences in the ethical teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism include the following. First, the basis of ethics is different in the two religions. In Buddhism, ethics leads to the development of moral and spiritual life through personal effort and realization. The ethical teachings are clear, comprehensive, rational, and impartial sets of guidelines that combine moral thought and action. These guidelines are universally accepted, and their role is to enable individuals to engage in good deeds in order to attain the highest level of freedom, peace, and happiness (Oxtoby and Amore 200-350).
Thus, Buddhist ethics determine the social status of an individual in society. In Buddhism, moral development does not depend on external factors such as caste system, gender, or ideology. Hence, individuals should show impartiality in their judgment of human actions. Hindu ethics, on the other hand, are based on the Law of Manu, as well as, the Dharmastutras.
The ethical teachings in Hinduism mainly focus on karma, purification, and restoration. They define the social and spiritual responsibilities of the individuals who belong to various castes (Coomaraswamy 20-100). Thus, the caste system is the basis of Hindu ethics. The higher castes are associated with purity and holiness, whereas anything that is associated with lower castes is considered to be impure.
Second, Hinduism and Buddhism prohibit the killing of human beings. According to Buddhist ethics, taking the life of an individual is the most serious offense (Coomaraswamy 20-100). Individuals are not only advised to avoid taking the lives of others, but also to refrain from inciting their colleagues to kill. Buddha encouraged his followers to focus on rescuing other people’s lives. Furthermore, committing suicide is not allowed since it is deemed an act of killing. Buddhists normally follow this code in order to avoid oppression, animosity, and the risk of revenge attacks from their enemies.
In Hinduism, killing is only a grave offense if a person kills a Brahmin. According to Manu, killing a priest is the most serious crime on earth, and it attracts severe penalties such as confiscation of private property. However, killing members of a lower caste is a minor offense. Hinduism also prohibits suicide. However, a person can take his own life if he fasts for three days (Coomaraswamy 20-100). In a nutshell, both religions prohibit killing. However, in Hinduism, the gravity of this offense depends on the caste system.
Third, stealing is unethical behavior in both Hinduism and Buddhism. In Buddhism, stealing is a serious crime that no ordained or layperson should engage in. Additionally, a person should not encourage others to steal (Oxtoby and Amore 200-350). A person should show generosity in order to prevent those who are in need of material things from stealing. In Buddhism, there are no clear or specific punishments for theft. Consequently, secular laws determine the penalties that are imposed on thieves. Hinduism also prohibits stealing among its followers.
Unlike Buddhism, the consequences of theft are clearly defined for each caste. For instance, a priest who has been found guilty of theft has to pay a fine that is equivalent to sixty-four times the value of the stolen item (Coomaraswamy 20-100). A Sudra, on the other hand, is executed and his property has to be confiscated if he is found guilty of stealing. In this regard, the similarity between Hinduism and Buddhism is that both prohibit stealing. However, the difference between them is that Buddhism does not identify the types of punishments that are associated with stealing.
Fourth, the act of lying is unacceptable in both Hinduism and Buddhism. In Buddhism, individuals are expected to abstain from lying and to focus on saying the truth. In this regard, individuals should always maintain the right views, and encourage others to avoid lying. Liars are likely to face severe consequences such as being falsely accused in the human kingdom or going to hell (Coomaraswamy 20-100). The rewards of telling the truth include avoiding oppression, animosity, and the risk of false accusations.
In Hinduism, the rewards that are associated with telling the truth include enjoying a glorious life after death, gaining a good reputation, and earning the respect of the Brahman. Lying, on the other hand, attracts severe penalties such as losing one’s caste status, and lifetime merit. In this regard, the similarity between Hinduism and Buddhism is that they both discourage lying. Additionally, lying attracts severe penalties in both religions. However, the difference is that the two religions associate the act of telling the truth with different sets of rewards.
Fifth, the ethical teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism discourage sexual misconduct. In Buddhism, monks should not engage in any sexual activity since chastity is one of the most important precepts of the monastic Vinaya. The laypeople, on the other hand, should not engage in adultery or persuade others to do so. Thus, individuals should focus on practicing and teaching others about the importance of purity and chastity. Engaging in illicit sex is likely to cause rivalry and revenge in the human kingdom (Coomaraswamy 20-100).
Moreover, individuals who are guilty of this offense are likely to face harsh punishments. In Hinduism, the severity of this offense depends on the caste system, which defines the penalties that are imposed on the offenders. Generally, the penalties are more severe in the lower castes than in higher ones. For example, a man who belongs to the servant class is likely to be executed if he commits adultery with a Brahmin woman. On the other hand, the Brahmin woman’s life will not be taken. In a nutshell, sexual misconduct is condemned in both religions. However, in Hinduism, the punishments that are associated with this offense are based on the hierarchical caste system.
Finally, the act of consuming intoxicants such as alcohol is not acceptable in Hinduism and Buddhism. In Buddhism, drinking is discouraged because it leads to loss of wealth and weakening of a person’s intelligence. Additionally, it causes diseases and quarrels or disagreements in society. Nonetheless, drinking is a minor offense in Buddhism (Coomaraswamy 20-100).
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However, selling alcohol or any intoxicant is a major offense since it promotes addiction. In Hinduism, drinking liquor is a major offense since it leads to undesirable behaviors such as gambling, fighting, betting, and hunting. However, drinking wine is acceptable among the Hindus. In this regard, both religions discourage the consumption of intoxicants due to the harmful effects of such substances. However, Buddhism considers the act of selling liquor to be the most serious offense, whereas Hinduism considers the act of drinking alcohol to be the most serious crime.
Ethical teachings are integral aspects of both Buddhism and Hinduism. These teachings are essentially the guiding principles that enable the followers of the two religions to distinguish between good and bad behavior (Oxtoby and Amore 30-80). Generally, the two religions discourage lying, stealing, adultery, drinking alcohol and killing. However, the interpretation of these codes of ethics in terms of their gravity and the penalties that are associated with them differs in the two religions. This difference is mainly attributed to what is believed to be right or wrong in the two religions. This leads to the conclusion that the application of ethical principles depends on the belief system of specific religions.
Coomaraswamy, Ananda. Hinduism and Buddhism. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print.
Oxtoby, Willard and Roy Amore. World Religions: Eastern Traditions. New York: Oxfrod University Press, 2010. Print.