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I was listening to a podcast featuring Alan Watts and he stated that Buddhism was Hinduism stripped for export. He also says it at more length in his book Buddhism the Religion of No Religion ....

Hinduism [..] is a religious culture. Being a Hindu really involves living in India [...]. You cannot be a Hindu in the full sense living in the United States or India.

Buddhism is Hinduism stripped for export. The Buddha was a reformer in the highest sense: someone who wants to go to the original form or reform it.

There is a sense here of Hinduism being a culturally specific religion and Buddhism being it's universal equivalent. Is there any sense in which that is true or is 'Buddhism is just Hinduism stripped for export' just a pithy soundbite that actually doesn't mean very much?

  • I wonder this too. I think the answer will lie in how "buddafied" the Hindu deities got. – MatthewMartin Jul 9 '14 at 12:41
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    I can't find where I read it, but I read a quote from a Brahman stating that Buddhism was ploy from Vishnu to make Atheists act religiously, which I always found amusing, and made this question remind me of. But other than that I fear that this question will gather mostly opinionated answers. – DirkM Jul 9 '14 at 13:19
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    Alan Watts is not a Buddhist, nor does he claim to be, and I would say it IS a pithy soundbite from a new age guru that should be taken with a grain of salt. As someone who is not very familiar with Hinduism I wouldn't mind learning from this topic either. – Sāmaṇera Jayantha Jul 9 '14 at 18:16
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    Since no one else mentioned it, the "for export" part is referring to how one can become a Buddhist (say by taking the refuges), but becoming a Hindu is tricker. For example, what caste do you get? (I'll sign up as a Hindu if I can be a top level Brahman :-) – MatthewMartin Jul 10 '14 at 1:45
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    Interesting comment and reference to a guru of the Beatnik generation. Of course his statement is subjective, since he was an outsider that wasn't from India or Sri Lanka. Perhaps the question can only be answered properly by a convert from Hinduism to Buddhism , who currently lives in India or Sri Lanka. So may be the question could be reformulated to request feedback from a recent convert from that background? – DharmaEater Jul 10 '14 at 2:22

14 Answers 14

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While "Buddhism" is already quite a difficult terminus, since there is a host of sects, schools, vehicles and apart from that another host of indigenous practices that infiltrated Buddhism in places it went to, "Hinduism" is even more difficult.

Just an overview:

  1. The Vedas are the oldest scriptures of India, dating back to somewhen between 1800 BC and say 1000 or 800 BC. The Vedic Religion is a religion of sacrifice. These are important in so far as practically all Hindus consider the Vedas as holy scriptures and their religion based on it.
  2. By the end of the Vedic Era, maybe 800 or 700 BC the first Upaniṣads began to appear and with them the ideas of an eternal individual soul (ātman) opposed to an all-encompassing world-soul (brahman), rebirth in an endless cycle (saṃsāra) determined by the deeds of an individual (karman).
  3. From about 700 or 600 BC onwards there was a movement of people who tried on their own, to find a way out of the cycle of rebirth by meditative and ascetic practices, the so-called Śramaṇa-movement. Theoretically this movement was heavily indebted to to the Upaniṣads.

Buddhism ultimately developed out of this heterodox movement (the Śramaṇa-movement) and except for the person of the Buddha and the theory of no-soul/not-the-soul (anātman) shares almost all of the common features of this movement, namely denial of Vedic authority and rejection of the caste-system. The Samañña-phala-sutta gives a good idea of views held in this movement and the relation of Buddhism to these views.

Now, as it comes to Hinduism, "classical Hinduism", if such a thing exists, surely did not exist in that time. In Hinduism there are six orthodox systems of philosophy, the first of which, Sāṃkhya, developed alongside with Buddhism, maybe a little earlier, maybe a little later. All the other orthodox systems (Yoga, Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Mimāṃsā, Vedānta) developed later and under more or less heavy influence from Buddhism.

To give just on example: Nyāya is classically the school of logic in Hinduism. It was the theory of Pratītyasamutpāda, that generated a need for a deeper understanding of causation, conditionality and logic, which in turn gave rise to a development in logic in India and ultimately to Nyāya. Similar indebtedness has also been claimed for the Hindu philosopher Śaṃkara to maybe the Buddhist philosopher Nāgārjuna.

Now, Śaṃkara is also responsible for the Hindu renaissance in India and for the final i-dot on the Vedanta-system. What Hindus believe in today is in no mean way shaped by his thinking (although we should always keep in mind, that it is impossible to point to that which "Hindus believe in") and therefore ultimately by Buddhist ideas and developments in refutation of Buddhist arguments.

Getting back to the question. It is very true, that Hinduism cannot or can hardly be exported, it is bound to a priestly class which in turn is bound to India (Brahmins not being allowed to defile themselves by leaving India), it does not or does hardly convert (sects like Hare Krishna disregarded here), the gods reverred are rather local deities without universal appeal and so on. And on top of that: missionary zeal is rather foreign to it.

Buddhism on the other hand had this "missionary zeal", though not to be compared with the Abrahamic religions, right from the beginning, embodied in the Buddha's wish and urge to teach the truth he had found. So what is true in Watts is that Buddhism is much more universal(ly appealing) than Hinduism. But the quote of Watts somehow implies two more things, both of them being wrong:

  1. That Buddhism is some sort of Hinduism. That this is wrong should have been shown by the above historical sketch.
  2. That Buddhism was designed to be exported. This is wrong since Buddhism was not designed.

The equally polemic counter-attitude to Watts would be that Hinduism is just Buddhism flavoured with some archaic elements (reverence of the Vedas) and stripped of anything too hard to understand for common people (like anātman) and anything that might offend a priestly elite (like "equality of men"). Like Watts statement it is basically wrong with a pinch of truth in it.

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I don't believe Watts's view would withstand much scrutiny from either Hindu or Buddhist scholars. Clearly Buddhism arose in a broader Hindu context, but I don't see any evidence of the former being merely an export-ready version of the latter.

As described here, a fundamental difference between Hinduism and Buddhism, is that while both have extensive concentration practices, Buddhism adds insight practices. In fact, a key feature of the "middle way" of Buddhism is that it does not rely on austerity-driven concentration (one of the two other "ways", with respect to which Buddhism is the "middle"). Instead, it sees samatha and its resulting samadhi, both of which were already understood in Hinduism, as at most a preparation for the enlightenment-targeted vipassana.

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There's an interesting talk given by Bhante Sujato regarding this.

(This is a very brief overview and I highly encourage you to view the full talk)

According to Ven. Sujato, there are several reasons why Buddha/Buddhism is not Hindu/Hinduism:

  1. According to the best archaeological history and evidence during the time of the Buddha, Hinduism (as we would call it today) either did not exist or it wasn't part of the major tradition.
  2. Cultural and language references in the Suttas and Vinaya located the duration and area.
  3. The idea that "ancient India has always been Hindu" became a mainstream idea during the British rule and is incorrect.

(I haven't listened to the podcast and don't have any idea on what basis Mr Watts bases his argument about Hinduism for export, but the above is Sujato's argument)

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    I disagree with your #3. The term 'Hindu' is relatively new but what is today practiced as Hindu-ism is not. The practices existed well before the name. – Bharat Jul 16 '14 at 19:07
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In addition to what @to mentions:

Buddhism differs from Hinduism. Hinduism has the notion of Atman as a central teaching. Buddhism does not.

Though Hindu practices you can reach Samadhi at the most. You cannot achieve Nirvana in the Buddhist sence since it lacks Vipassana.

Hence they are very different.

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Though Hinduism (as we call it today) and Buddhism originated in India, they are different. I am from India and a Hindu Brahmin by birth..

The Answer to the question "Is Buddhism just Hinduism stripped for export?" will be a straight "NO" from my side..

If you compare today's Hinduism with Buddhism, you would probably find no similarity at all between them.

But you can find quite similarities between the good old Hinduism (I mean the period of Upanishads and before) (which is completely lost more or less) and Buddhism. (In fact, you can find more similarity between Buddhism & Jainism) But they differed in concepts like Atman and God.

The most common thing about both of them is that "This world is Maya/illusion/false"

I would just like tell you this (if you never heard something like this):

Actually certain Upanishads distinguish between 'god' and 'God'. (There were even certain Hindu (Vedic) schools which were slightly similar to Buddhist schools) In those scriptures, by 'god' they mean the mortal super beings like Brahma or Devas in higher realms (as Buddhism says) and by 'God' they mean a 'Supreme Reality', which can be compared very roughly to the 'Void' we say in Buddhism. They doesn't seem to personify 'God' as today's heavily polluted Hinduism does.. An example of such an Upanishad would be Katha Upanishad (though it's scripted like a story)

But one major contradiction between Hinduism & Buddhism is the concept of Atman. From my point of view, if Atman is seen as a factor that causes Existence or birth (not as a permanent entity), I think it wouldn't contradict Buddhist views. With that view, Buddhism can be very roughly compared to Advaita concept, which says "'God' (or say Void) and 'Atman' (or Referential existence) are one, and they are/were/will never separate.", roughly similar to " We were never born/existent; we just forgot we are Nothing"

It is said Buddha's first teacher Ālāra Kālāma was a Jain and his next teacher Uddaka Rāmaputta was a Vedic Yogi (ofcourse, he'd be classified under Hinduism today). (Sorry, I don't remember where I saw this)

But remember, none of the teachings of Buddha is from Hinduism; it was his own experience and realization of knowledge what he taught.

Buddha never read the Vedas or Jain scriptures.. It was his own preachings of the Truth which is unbiased or were not adopted from any other religion.

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I noticed from the Wikipedia article about Alan Watts,

He chose Buddhism, and sought membership in the London Buddhist Lodge, which had been established by Theosophists, and was now run by the barrister Christmas Humphreys. Watts became the organization's secretary at 16 (1931).

That mention of "Theosophy" reminded me of this answer,

The reason stated in Anagarika Dharmapala's wikipedia page for his split with the Theosophical society is that he was against the idea of a universal religion that the Theosophists were aiming at.

Dharmapala eventually broke with Olcott and the Theosophists because of Olcott's stance on universal religion. One of the important factors in his rejection of theosophy centered on this issue of universalism; the price of Buddhism being assimilated into a non-Buddhist model of truth was ultimately too high for him."Dharmapala stated that Theosophy was "only consolidating Krishna worship." "To say that all religions have a common foundation only shows the ignorance of the speaker; Dharma alone is supreme to the Buddhist".

So I guess that something like that ("all religions are in essence one, different versions of The Truth") was one the theories of the time.

I listed to the 14-minute podcast you linked to (which doesn't include the quote, "Buddhism was just Hinduism stripped for export"). Based on that (i.e. on what I heard) my guess is that Alan Watts may have meant that the non-dualism of Mahayana is like the Advaita of Hinduism. The following is a quote from early in the podcast:

The middle way doesn't mean 'moderation'. It means a bringing together of opposites.

(!)

According to Christmas Humphreys – the most eminent of 20th Century British Buddhists,

At the age of 21 he met his future wife Aileen Faulkner, who was also interested in Buddhism and Theosophy. The couple and others loosely formed a study group that was to quickly develop into the Buddhist Lodge of the Theosophical Society, which Humphreys organised in 1924. In 1926, tensions between different schools of thought led to the Lodge seceding from the Theosophical Society and developing into the Buddhist Society, now one of the oldest Buddhist organizations in the West.


Buddhism is Hinduism stripped for export. The Buddha was a reformer in the highest sense: someone who wants to go to the original form or reform it

It doesn't say "just Hinduism stripped for export", which would be belittling. In the question you're saying "just": is that an accurate quote?

I can't find a copy of the book but perhaps there's a polite way to interpret the phrase: the polite or positive way to interpret that statement (without the "just") is that Buddhism contains what's essential, and is universal.

  • I will try to find that quote again. It was in a podcast but he repeats himself so much it's bound to be written down somewhere. I do like the audio though - it's so full of life. Not sure if its full of Buddhism though – Crab Bucket Nov 18 '15 at 9:08
  • I listened also. Alan Watts sounds like a Neo to me. He does not sound nondual. Long ago I liked one of his books, but after that he sounded fishy to me, and dying from the effects of alcoholism doesn't seem very elevated. – user2341 Nov 19 '15 at 2:30
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@Crab bucket.

... I'm interested in the relationship between Buddhism and Hinduism and I though this might be a good entry point. See how it goes

if this was your intention then, I think yes, its serving its purpose!

To comment on the same point - if you are interested in this relationship please do read Dr. Ambedkar. Authors like Com. Sharad Patil, P. Laxmi Narsu, Pro. Dhammanand Kosambi etc. are also helpful.

In case anything said by Mr. Watts, I will not go in details of it because @ MatthewMartin @ zwiebel and @ samnish have already talked about it in very much detail and I am of the same opinion regarding it. Just add one point to it saying that as far as my knowledge goes Buddha was not reformer but revolutionary. He did not reformed the Vedic religion. He abandoned it.

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All of the previous answers have good points. However, it is hard to find much difference between the Advaita Hinduism and the Kagyu Mahamudra Buddhist meditation practices. I do feel like Buddhism's Compassion practice is more structured than the Hindu practices, but that's just my opinion. Whatever works. If you are concerned about what is happening outside your meditation practice, you are wasting time and energy, both yours and that of others. Please focus on your practice.

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Here alan watts what actually says that in hinduism the gods appear in form of humans to destroy evil. Vishnu who takes the avatar of krishna and also enjoys his journey. So majority of hindus refer god as a person or in form of person or self. And buddist teach about self so it might not be same in knowledge but the result is almost same both hindus and buddist observe life as a play.

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Actually, Hinduism probably came from Buddhism.

Before Buddhism, it was called 'Brahmanism', which primarily was concerned with one God, namely, Brahma, who created the Brahman caste as the superior caste.

Also, Brahmanism did not have an inherent systemic doctrine of reincarnation in its Vedas (although some vague ideas appear in later texts, such as the Upanishads).

Then Buddha came & said to the Brahmans that the path to Brahma is via love.

Buddhism also had a teaching about kamma, kammic results, impermanence, Nibbana, etc.

After this, the diversity of Indian grew, which became known as Hinduism.

Hinduism has systematic ideas about reincarnation & liberation, similar to the later-day subsequent teachings in Buddhism (eg. Jataka) of rebirth over lifetimes & Nibbana (which are actually corruptions of what the Buddha taught, for the purpose of growing the religion among the masses).

Hinduism has its owns ideas of the Buddhist arising, existing & passing, which was deified as Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva, namely, the Tri-Murti.

Hindu texts such as Bhagavad Gita, have central teaching of giving up craving & attachment.

What is called 'Hinduism' I speculate obviously was influenced by 'Buddhism'.

In short, before Buddhism, the diverse religion called 'Hinduism' did not even exist.

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Well i am from srilanka and a Buddhist by birth.Here is the simple and direct answer,NO. If you ask why here's the thing, the Brahma worshiping teacher at Buddha's time had nothing else to do but going against Buddhism.

They tried to beat Lord Buddha in debates,open dialog and failed time and time again.

Then they sent their brightest students and they did failed like their teachers.

Then they tried to defame lord Buddha by sending a lady who looked pregnant.She said Lord Buddha is the father & Lord Buddha replied saying if that's the case only you and i will know the truth sister.Then the sack of sticks that made her look pregnant fell down,the lie was revealed.

They tried Framing Lord Buddha or murder by hiding a dead body of a female monk in the Jethavana temple.That lie was revealed too.

And Lord Buddha slammed Hindu beliefs saying that they are lies right to the face of the teacher of the religion.

Other than commonly shared words with the same sound Buddhism and Hinduism got nothing in common.Even the words that sound alike got different meanings.

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    The Buddha is realized, the others were not or they could have no disagreement with him. – user2341 Nov 19 '15 at 2:36
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Two points, 1) Alan Watts was a charismatic speaker given to wild generalisations, and

2) Buddhist practice has very little to do with 'Buddhism' as it appears to people who confine themselves to intellectual study, let alone to 'Hinduism'.

Edit:

The point I was making (not very clearly, apparently) was that Buddhism regarded as a philosophy, mythology or system of ethics is one thing, and Buddhism as it's actually practiced is another.

My life at the moment consists of large amounts of work, not very much sleep, lots of back pain and my practice is mostly accepting all this and trying to remain cheerful. It's not the same as reading books and mulling over meanings because it brings the Buddha's teachings into reality and challenges the egotistical mind directly, and you don't get this from reading books. I would add that the former is how Buddhism is meant to be practiced and the latter isn't (imho, obviously).

So I'm pointing out that comparing two philosophies (which is what I assume we're doing) is just mental masturbation and doesn't shed much light on the differences between the two religions (not that I see a lot of point in comparing them anyway).

Sorry to sound like a religious snob btw :D

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    The first point is clear, the second doesn't say much (or assumes the reader understands "Buddhist practice"). – ChrisW Aug 9 '17 at 22:07
  • Perhaps it was curt, I will try to think of an edit... – user10515 Aug 10 '17 at 7:06
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If anyone interacting with the ideas of Alan Watts doesn't understand that what he says is the stream of consciousness of a kind of genius mind that is at the same time playful and often tongue in cheek should not waste their time trying to understand the ideas of Alan Watts. There is other wisdom better suited for you. I recommend to go enjoy the wisdom that suits you and leave Alan to those who Alan suits.

Peace

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I agree that Buddhism is Hinduism stripped for export.

Buddha didn't really invent a religion out of thin air. His philosophy was an extension of and a reaction to Hindu philosophy. He retained a large amount of meta-physics from Hinduism - Dharma, Karma, Samsara.

For both "Liberation" is the ultimate goal and the cause of human condition is delusion. The difference is just in the path to the ultimate goal. It is here that the meta-physics starts to differ.

Hinduism's social structure which was intertwined with its philosophy made it difficult(but not impossible) to export. Before Buddhism, Hinduism did reached South East Asia and recently a 4000 year old Vishnu statue was discovered in Vietnam. Buddhism just made it very easy for export by removing certain aspects of the Hindu social structure.

Buddhism and Hinduism have evolved influencing each other and thus contain elements of each other.

Many practices which Buddha taught was what he learnt from his Hindu masters. Belgian Indologist Dr.Koenraad Elst says this in his essay When did the Buddha break away from Hinduism? :

He was a late follower of a movement very much in evidence in the Upanishads, viz. of spurning rituals (Karmakanda) in favour of knowledge (Jnanakanda). After he had done the Hindu thing by going to the forest, he tried several methods, including the techniques he learned from two masters and which did not fully satisfy him,-- but nonetheless enough to include them in his own and the Buddhist curriculum. Among other techniques, he practised Anapanasati, “attention to the breathing process”, the archetypal yoga practice popular in practically all yoga schools till today.

Similarly Adi Sankara whose is known for Advaita philosophy was influenced by Buddhist teachings, especially of Nargarjuna in such a way that his contemporary critics called his Advaita as Buddhism in disguise.

Tantra which is an important part of Tibetan Buddhism was originally considered a Hindu tradition.

It would be unfair to totally isolate Hinduism and Buddhism as being totally unrelated and disconnected. Many Hindus consider Buddhism as being an Hindu sect only and revere Buddha as being an Avatar.

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    Hinduism, as we see it today is definitely (as you also knows) the same the way it was. Important to note that it was never called as "Hindu" or Hinduism that time. It is important to note this difference especially when it has lot of political context. People misinterpret the history. Looking at the current political situation in India and the advent of Brahminism in the name of Hinduism, I think we need to be specific and careful in using that term - Hindu. What do you say? Plz look at ans.s by samnish and zwiebel – sangharsh Aug 31 '14 at 18:38

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