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Nirvana is described in Samyutta Nikaya 43 as

"the unfabricated (unborn?), the uninclined, the truth, the far shore, the subtle, the very difficult to see, the unaging (eternal?), the stable, the unintegrating, the unmanifest, the unproliferated (nippapancan), the peaceful, the deathless, the sublime, the auspicious, the secure, the destruction of craving, the wonderful, the amazing, the unailing, the unailing state, Nibbana, the unafflicted, dispassion, purity, freedom, the unadhesive, the island, the shelter, the asylum, the refuge, the destination."

Also from another source in Buddhism Stack Exchange, I see Samyutta Nikaya 43 as quoting Buddha as saying

"There is, monks, that base where there is neither earth, nor water, nor heat, nor air; neither the base of the infinity of space, nor the base of the infinity of consciousness, nor the base of nothingness, nor the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception; neither this world nor another world; neither sun nor moon. Here, monks, I say there is no coming, no going, no standing still; no passing away and no being reborn. It is not established, not moving, without support. Just this is the end of suffering."

The Tao Te Ching chapter 1 says

"The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name."

while chapter 7 says,

"The Tao is infinite, eternal. Why is it eternal? It was never born; thus it can never die."

And chapter 14 says,

"Look, and it can't be seen. Listen, and it can't be heard. Reach, and it can't be grasped. Above, it isn't bright. Below, it isn't dark. Seamless, unnamable, it returns to the realm of nothing. Form that includes all forms, image without an image, subtle, beyond all conception. Approach it and there is no beginning; follow it and there is no end. You can't know it, but you can be it ..."

The Bhagavad Gita states in chapter 2,

"The Atma is neither born nor does it die at any time, nor having been it will cease to exist again. It is unborn, eternal, permanent, and primeval. The Atma is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.", "This Atma cannot be cut, burned, wetted, or dried up. It is eternal, all pervading, unchanging, immovable, and primeval. The Atma is said to be unmanifest, unthinkable, and unchanging."

And in 12.3,

"... the imperishable, the undefinable, the unmanifest, the omnipresent, the unthinkable, the unchanging, the immovable, and the eternal Brahman;". In addition, other texts use "neti neti" (not this, not this) to say that Brahman is indescribable or all that is not impermanent.

From the above, it looks like all are the same, yet if we look at other references, Tao and Brahman is the origin or source of all things, but Nirvana is not. And Brahman can also assume attributes in the changing world or become God the Person or Consciousness, but Nirvana does not. Also, the aspirant can become or become one with the Tao or Brahman, but in Buddhism, one has to "unbecome" or let go of all that is impermanent, to realize Nirvana. But then again, Tao and Hindu sources also discuss letting go of all that is impermanent.

My question is, do Buddhists ever consider that it is possible that goals in other religions like Tao and Brahman, may in fact be the same as Nirvana, if we look beyond the semantics. And therefore, the practices in these religions, may in fact lead in the right direction?

Of course, we can also say that one could start off as a Taoist or Hindu, but after a few Jhanas, move towards being Buddhist, towards Nirvana. Or perhaps, all these labels are irrelevant at that point.

  • 1
    "The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name." the translation is incorrect. 非常道 doesn't translate to "not the eternal Tao". reading translation one's understanding also tainted by the translator. i don't read Sanskrit, so i can't say i understand the Vedas, they are interesting and inspiring, that's all. Chinese Classical Sutras were translated by accomplished Bhikkhus, either from India lived in China, or Chinese studied in india. The modern English translation of any sacred books should be read with serious discern, esp. Pali Suttas. – Mishu 米殊 Jun 11 '17 at 17:40
  • @Mishu米殊 What is the right translation according to you? – user13135 Aug 22 '18 at 5:10
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    It would be a long discussion to get it through thoroughly. Simply, there are many layers of meaning in Chinese, in just one sentence. 道可道非常道: "If the Dao has a way of it, it is not the ultimate Dao". Obviously, using 道 as the verb "tell" or "speak" was a later date, at the time Book of Dao written, 曰 was the verb "speak", like in Analectic of Confucius, it used 子曰, translates, "Confucius said". And if "the Dao can't be told" was a valid statement the entire book is BS, for the Book of Dao just telling you what is Dao, isn't it @FriedrickNietzsche? – Mishu 米殊 Aug 23 '18 at 13:52
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    Be careful of those phrases like "non-dual", "two-truth", emptiness, suchness, this-ness or that-ness... selfless-ness... "the ground of ground-less-ness" (engulfed by clear light!!! uhhhuu!)... "phenomena is in your mind only", or Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka interpreted by ancient Indian Buddhist-scholars (held in extreme noble veneration in Tibetan Canon)... especially books written in English by some non-English speaking "monks" - for they are penned ghostly by Western scholars/scientists... that's all I could tip if you want to track the Buddhist path with least detours @FriedrickNietzsche – Mishu 米殊 Aug 23 '18 at 14:15
  • Good question. Would like to answer in the future. But as of now, as many of you are assuming that 'Hindu' states stop at some minor state like jhana, then you might need to explore Hinduism more. Hinduism also mentions many pseudo-enlightenment states & also many enlightened states. It's just that some Hindu methodologies bypass all minor states. There is Krama & Akrama mukti in Hinduism. Akrama Mukti bypasses all intermediate states & make one arrive at liberation directly... – Mr.Sigma. Aug 26 at 4:36
3

"But then again, Tao and Hindu sources also discuss letting go of all that is impermanent"

We can have 2 groups advocating letting go of what is impermanent, and yet, if they disagree on what is impermanent, there will be endless debate with practitioners. Following to its conclusion, the risk of the first group is to hold to something that appears to be permanent but isn't. A question here would be what would be the risk of the other group?

Buddhist doctrine not only refers to the practice of "letting go impermanent things", but quite significant, it does not overlook our inclination to take something that takes a long time to show its impermanence as permanent. This is a risk of being deluded the Buddha has suggested a few times, which asks for a kind of careful evaluation that is perfectly thorough.

[edit:] For example, the Buddha describes in the Brahmajāla Sutta how a recluse "attains to such a degree of mental concentration that with his mind thus concentrated, [purified, clarified, unblemished, devoid of corruptions] he recollects his numerous past lives[...]" and, while exploring a very long time far back and not seeing a limit for the universe or rebirths, that person concludes that "the self and the world are eternal" -- a premature, careless conclusion, one of many wrong views. The simile of the elephant's footprint (Cūlahatthipadopama Sutta) also illustrates:

The Blessed One said: "Suppose an elephant hunter were to enter an elephant forest and were to see there a large elephant footprint, long in extent and broad in width. A skilled elephant hunter would not yet come to the conclusion, 'What a big bull elephant!' Why is that? Because in an elephant forest there are dwarf female elephants with big feet. The footprint might be one of theirs.

"So he follows along and sees in the elephant forest a large elephant footprint, long in extent and broad in width, and some scratch marks high up. A skilled elephant hunter would not yet come to the conclusion, 'What a big bull elephant!' Why is that? Because in an elephant forest there are tall female elephants with prominent teeth & big feet. The footprint might be one of theirs.

"So he follows along and sees in the elephant forest a large elephant footprint, long in extent and broad in width, with some scratch marks and tusk slashes high up. A skilled elephant hunter would not yet come to the conclusion, 'What a big bull elephant!' Why is that? Because in an elephant forest there are tall female elephants with tusks & big feet. The footprint might be one of theirs.

"So he follows along and sees in the elephant forest a large elephant footprint, long in extent and broad in width, with some scratch marks and tusk slashes high up and some broken-off branches. And he sees that bull elephant at the foot of the tree or in an open clearing, walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. He comes to the conclusion, 'That's the big bull elephant.'

As per the simile above, it is only correct without the slightest chance of mistake and room for doubt, for one to say "What a big bull elephant!" when he actually sees the actual big bull elephant. If, in one hand, this simile denounces the risk of partial evaluations and premature conclusions, in the other, the rest of the discourses insist on thorough investigations (delusion, after all, is not to be diminished, but exterminated).

Back to impermanence, in a related note, the Buddha even acknowledges somewhere else (SN 12.61) that, for an uninstructed person, it makes more sense to regard the body as permanent than the mind, as it is seen to endure for a long time -- and nothing in the mind is seen to stick for more than a moment.

"My question is, do Buddhists ever consider that it is possible that goals in other religions like Tao and Brahman, may in fact be the same as Nirvana, if we look beyond the semantics. And therefore, the practices in these religions, may in fact lead in the right direction?"

I think it is important not only to see Buddha's attempts of descriptions of nirvana, but the requirements for it. For example, if "Brahmanism" (or Taoism, or ...) requires something equivalent to the 7 enlightenment factors to be developed, and its goal culminates on the permanent destruction of all fetters (sakkāyadiṭṭhi, vyāpādo, kāmacchando, avijjā, etc) and a full understanding of something equivalent to the Four Noble Truths and conditioned arising, I think that would be a good start before assessing if the goals are the same.

As for going on the right direction, I think buddhists [should] acknowledge any person moving on the "right direction" if she, in whatever religious background, is (inadvertently or not) cultivating insight, skills and states that, ultimately, lead to nirvana -- where "right" means moving towards final liberation. Even if she is not aiming at it, or if she is still in ignorance or clinging to impermanent things here and there (buddhist practitioners are also). From the sutras, this seems pretty much the actual attitude of the Buddha in this matter:

But, bhikkhus, those ascetics and brahmins who understand aging-and-death, its origin, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation; who understand birth ... volitional formations, their origin, their cessation, and the way leading to their cessation: these I consider to be ascetics among ascetics and brahmins among brahmins [...]

-- SN 12.13

and:

[...] and the Blessed One said, "In any doctrine & discipline where the noble eightfold path is not found, no contemplative of the first... second... third... fourth order [stream-winner, once-returner, non-returner, or arahant] is found. But in any doctrine & discipline where the noble eightfold path is found, contemplatives of the first... second... third... fourth order are found. The noble eightfold path is found in this doctrine & discipline, and right here there are contemplatives of the first... second... third... fourth order. Other teachings are empty of knowledgeable contemplatives. And if the monks dwell rightly, this world will not be empty of arahants."

-- Mahaparinibbana Sutta, DN 16

  • Can you please give some reference for your second paragraph: when you say, "This is a risk of being deluded the Buddha has suggested a few times, which asks for a kind of careful evaluation that is perfectly thorough", I don't know which suggestion[s] of the Buddha that's referring to. – ChrisW Dec 7 '14 at 22:55
  • Could you give some examples of "it does not overlook our inclination to take something that takes a long time to show its impermanence as permanent"? – ruben2020 Dec 7 '14 at 23:55
  • Sure :) edited to included a few. – Thiago Dec 8 '14 at 0:10
  • One more example please, to show that "According to the sutras, this is pretty much the actual attitude of the Buddha in this matter after all." Even a link is sufficient – ruben2020 Dec 8 '14 at 13:10
  • Though some specific sutta may, by itself, illustrate that attitude -- and I'll see if I find a suitable one -- in that case I was referring to the suttas in general; the discourses depict that attitude. However, perhaps with a poor phrasing... – Thiago Dec 8 '14 at 18:40
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The Hindus had developed Samadhi (Concentration / Mastery over the Mind / Higher Mind) up to the the 8th Jhana, and also had a strong moral basis, but Buddhism went one step further and introduced Wisdom and Insight to the practice. The fact that many contemporary practitioners are strong in virtue and concentration would be the reason they manage to develop insight very quickly after meeting the Buddha.

So the practices of virtue and developing a higher mind does pay off in progressing on the Buddhist path also and will help when you switch to the developing Insight and Wisdom. But to go all the way to Nirvana you have to practice Wisdom and Insight which is only found in Buddhism, in the right and complete form. This was the discovery of the Buddha.

Also Buddhism has no notion of Soul / Atman or any unchanging core as taught in Hinduism.

  • The proponent of Brahman might look at Nirvana and say that it is an unchanging core. – ruben2020 Dec 8 '14 at 0:16
  • Or as i understand, Nirvana is unchanging but it is not a core or base – ruben2020 Dec 8 '14 at 12:37
  • It is unconditioned hence does not change, as anything conditioned changes. Until we see this it is just speculation though. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Dec 8 '14 at 13:17
  • So only Buddhist can reach Nirvava? Do you not think this is highly implausible? Is there any evidence? I cannot grasp why anyone would think only one tradition of practice can be successful. It makes a mockery of the idea there is a Perennial philosophy, and it may even undermine the idea we all have Buddha-nature. At any rate, I do not find this parochial idea in the Buddha's teachings. . . . – PeterJ Sep 14 at 12:53
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From the above, it looks like all are the same, yet if we look at other references, Tao and Brahman is the origin or source of all things, but Nirvana is not.

Nirvana is not the substrate of the source but it is the abiding in that source. The Hindus describe the Brahman as sat-chit-anand, which means truth-consciousness-bliss. The Buddha was the most scientifically accurate in His description of Nirvana because he did not say anything about Nirvana. Nirvana is blowing out, so it's not a positive or negative conceptualization. The way Samyukta Nikaya explains, Nibbana is a state and not an entity. Whereas Hindu Brahman is an entity which they ascribe a nature of having a self.

Brahman is a noun and Nirvana is a verb. You abide in Nirvana and Brahman is 'there'. So basically realizing of Brahman by Brahman itself is Nibbana. Nibbana takes the final leap. You can talk about the Brahman by coming out of the 8th Jhnana.

What the Buddha calls the 'anuttarā-samyak-saṃbodhi' is Nirvana and Patanjali describes this as, if I am not wrong, Nirbij Samadhi as the highest goal. So in the Vedas when it is declared, 'Aham Brahmasmi' (I am Brahman) that declaration is Nirvana, the Brahman is not the Nirvana, the realization of it is.

The definition of Nirvana in terms of modern philosophers and scientists can then be given as (universal) 'consciousness conscious of itself'. So, Nirvana becomes a constant experiencing constant abiding. And Hindu Brahman is the Universal Consciousness, as Patanjali describes as Purusha or Ishwara.

And the Tao also means the Brahman itself but when the Taoists say, 'living in the Tao', that means Nirvana.

do Buddhists ever consider that it is possible that goals in other religions like Tao and Brahman, may in fact be the same as Nirvana, if we look beyond the semantics. And therefore, the practices in these religions, may in fact lead in the right direction?

The goals of other religion are not the same. Don't know much about Taoism, but I can attest from my own experience of a practicing Hindu for 26 years that although Hinduism makes a lofty statement about the ultimate reality of the nature of Brahman, the GOAL of Hinduism is not its realization. The GOAL of practicing Hindus remain, 'living in abundance by pleasing the Hindu pantheon'. The Hindu idea is that if you live in accordance with its script in a natural way you will ultimately attain to that.

However, Buddha explicitly made it a GOAL to attain Nibbana. It's extremely different.

And therefore, the practices in these religions, may in fact lead in the right direction?

No, practicing Hinduism does not at all lead one in the right direction. Hindus give very little stress on Karma. In fact Hindus believe that if you please gods your Karma can be wiped out, it can even be wiped out by bathing in river Ganges.

Furthermore, to be a Hindu you have to, I repeat you have to have a 'caste or varna'. So in effect, you end up getting a view about yourself even before you set out to realize 'no-self' and that to wrong in itself.

Maybe if you practice Patanjali's yoga sutras you might end up in Nirvana but the practice of Patanjali's 'ashtanga yoga' is not per se a Hindu practice, its something one explicitly undertakes to get there.

  • As an addition, IMO Jesus Christ also identified Himself with the Tao or Brahman till on the cross where He declared, 'God, Thy Will be Done', that was the act of ultimate surrender and ultimate sacrifice. In that instant of letting-go, Jesus got Enlightened. So in effect, He dissolved the Karma of Himself and of humanity in a way and so what the Bible says is right, in effect Christ did really died for our sins. – user13135 Aug 22 '18 at 6:33
  • OR in another interpretation, Christ was already enlightened and what He called God was really Tao/Brahman and then the 'Kingdom of Heaven' becomes Nirvana. This also makes sense of the Christian Trinity, God the father (Tao), God the Son (Christ/Buddha) and then the Holy Spirit becomes Karma. So it makes sense to say that Holy Spirit or the Karma of Virgin (Pure/Pious) impregenated her with Christ or a son like Christ. – user13135 Aug 22 '18 at 7:26
  • In a similar vien then Allah becomes Brahman or Tao and when the Quoran says Mohammed ascended to heaven (Jannat) on the horses it makes sense, He must have become Enlightened somehow, as the Arabs are fond of Horses than the Indians whose gods send Hawks/Doves to get to the Heaven, they say He got to Heaven on flying Horses. That flying horse is an important link to interpret Islam. – user13135 Aug 22 '18 at 7:29
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    "Thy will be done" happened before the crucifixion, e.g. it's taught in the Lord's Prayer during the Last Supper, and repeated in His prayers in Garden of Gethsemane. The doctrine reminds me slightly of the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta i.e. "one cannot say that 'this is me' and 'this is mine'" -- so the "letting-go" started before the crucifixion. Also it's not clear to me that "Jesus Christ identified Himself" or whether he (like a Prophet) identified God and/or let God speak though him. To have said "I am God" would have been blasphemous (according to Jews). According to Islam Jesus was a prophet. – ChrisW Aug 22 '18 at 9:04
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    The doctrine of (i.e. the mystery of) the Trinity was developed -- historically -- a little after Jesus' life. A large majority of (not all) Christians and Christian churches since then accept that doctrine as an article of faith. – ChrisW Aug 22 '18 at 9:10
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I suspect that when and if you have learned some Buddhist view, then you can read e.g. the passage which you quoted from the Tao Te Ching and interpret that from a Buddhist perspective.

For example, it seems to me to be talking about non-self and/or the impermanence of conditioned/compound objects.

Whether it is talking about that, instead of just seeming to be talking about that, is another matter. The "epiphany" in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is that the Tao corresponds to the author's conception of Quality (which I think is a.k.a. Virtue). Perhaps that implies that the Tao Te Ching can map to (been seen as a description of) almost any transcendental insight.

That doesn't IMO imply that every transcendental insight is alike, nor that the Tao Te Ching is especially good (skillful, accurate) at teaching such insight.

My question is, do Buddhists ever consider that it is possible that goals in other religions like Tao and Brahman, may in fact be the same as Nirvana, if we look beyond the semantics.

If we "look beyond the semantics", what's left?

You're saying, "If we ignore what it's saying, if we ignore the meaning of the literature, then are they the same?"

And therefore, the practices in these religions, may in fact lead in the right direction?

There are some who suggest that these religions are leading in the wrong direction: that they teach, for example, that an eternal self (immortality) is possible.

Then again, Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism have coexisted historically for quite a while, and influenced each other. Who's to say whether Taoist immortality and Buddhist deathlessness are or are not the same?

I think that even only within Buddhism, the schools of Buddhism differ on the subject of "Buddha-nature".


It also might be worth noting that traditions/religions/practices may be 'mixed' within a single person. For example, someone posted a question recently with videos of Papaji: he was "Hindu", and/but it's also easy to find evidence that he studied some Buddhism, for example here he is quoted as saying,

The school history book which contained Buddha’s picture was a simple guide for children. The main bio­graphical facts were there, but the concepts of meditation and enlightenment were not adequately explained. Pre­sumably the author did not think that these very essential points would be of interest to children. So, I remained ig­norant of what he was really doing under that tree and why his final accomplishment was so great.

  • Wrt to semantics - something like Nirvana, may indeed be difficult to describe accurately using words. And Taoists and Hindus would hold the same for Tao and Brahman. – ruben2020 Dec 8 '14 at 0:10
  • If we "look beyond the semantics", then aren't all teachings the same as an empty sheet of paper? The "semantics" of a text are the actual "meaning" of the text, aren't they? – ChrisW Dec 8 '14 at 0:23
  • It's being difficult to describe is a reason why The Buddha is unusual: not many people (perhaps only The Buddha) has been able to discover it for themselves, and explain it both plainly and in detail, not only what it is but how to attain it etc. – ChrisW Dec 8 '14 at 0:35
  • Yes. I agree with you that we can't overlook the semantics – ruben2020 Dec 8 '14 at 12:38
  • Isn't the empty piece of paper, Nirvana? As such, it would be more important than whatever words are written on it. – user2341 Nov 10 '15 at 3:30
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The essential difference between Atman of Vedanta (Hinduism) and Nibbana of Buddhism appears to be that the former is conditioned (sankatha) by PERCEPTION of worldly phenomena, whilst the latter is not.

The former is the SUBJECT, which knows, perceives, experiences every phenomenon in the mundane world including the Mind itself. In this context the Mind is not the Subject, as referred to by western philosophers in a Subject/Object relationship but the Mind itself is the Object of Atman. To realise Atman, one needs to be in a state of conscious PERCEPTION conditioned by mundane phenomena.

Nibbana, on the other hand is unconditioned (asankatha) by PERCEPTION of mundane phenomena. Simply put, mundane consciousness ceases, similar to a blackout (Sunna), referred to as the Çessation of FEELING and PERCEPTION or sanna-vedayita-nirodha in Pali and the yogi graduates intuitively to the state of Nibbana. In this context, intuition implies subliminal consciousness i.e. below Perception.

The ascetic Gautama (The Buddha) is said to have differed from his Vedanta teachers, on the question of Atman being the highest level of the development of consciousness. It is through his quest for Liberation that he discovered a state of mind beyond mundane consciousness i.e.the Supramundane, Unconditioned State of Nibbana. Although there are many similarities, it appears that this is one of the few distinctions between the two philosophies of Vedanta (Hinduism) and Buddhism.

0

Brahman/Atman lacks positive descriptions, but becomes absurdist and psychologically nihilist through 'neti, neti': denying a thing every property/description but saying it still exists, keeps the mind guessing on the propertiless thing (which it is, of course, not), and in doubt. It's unlike nibbana because it sides with Fullness and not Emptyness.

Taoism is much more a reification of Emptiness/sunyata than an outright Brahman. It feels to me like a Mahayana, with a sprinkle of steroids/other wrong views.

"You can't know it, but you can be it" is very similar to Buddhism being a practice, not an ideology (and nibbana not being reachable through reason alone):

Banish learning, discard knowledge: People will gain a hundredfold. Banish benevolence, discard righteousness: People will return to duty and compassion. Banish skill, discard profit: There will be no more thieves. These three statements are not enough. One more step is necessary. Look at plain silk; hold uncarved wood. The self dwindles; desires fade.

Appears more like the path of those Buddhists who disregard scriptures for meditative practice than the path of theists.

But "Form that includes all forms" is certainly more Platonic. It seems to stray into the Tathagatagarbha territory really, but overall is closer than Brahman - because it accurately singles out Emptiness, even if it adds a capital letter and ignores the emptiness of emptiness, so to say.

Attain complete emptiness, Hold fast to stillness. The ten thousand things stir about; I only watch for their going back. Things grow and grow, But each goes back to its root. Going back to the root is stillness. This means returning to what is. Returning to what is Means going back to the ordinary. Understanding the ordinary: Enlightenment. Not understanding the ordinary: Blindness creates evil. Understanding the ordinary: Mind opens. Mind opening leads to compassion, Compassion to nobility, Nobility to heavenliness, Heavenliness to Tao. Tao endures. Your body dies. There is no danger.

There is an acknowledgement of unsatisfactoriness with transitory experience (but this is around in all major reificationist religions), and the solution that Lao Tzu offers is almost word for word with the Buddha's, but in fact the presentation of the enduring Tao turns away from dependent origination, and saves the individual from extinguishment in the end, so Taoism does turn away from impermanence at the last moment, but it's almost as if it's one click away from seeing the root of all things as ignorance/craving.

I would think that a Taoist, meeting the Buddha, would agree with him much quicker than a Brahminist, because a lot more common ground would be found between them.

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May be the goals of Buddhism, Hinduism , and Taoism are similar or same. But as per Gautam Buddha, only vipassana is the only way, which he has followed to reach the ultimate Nirvana( which Buddha discovered in the quest to know the truth). It was not his goal to reach nirvana. Vipassana doesn't speak of setting goals and meditate . Buddha has considered any other practices, which is right , will lead to nirvana .

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