Chapter 9: Hinduism and Buddhism
Examining Religious Beliefs
All five of the world religions studied in
this section are based on miracles
Historians cannot study actions that
leave no direct evidence; they can only
study the actions of believers
Religious belief creates standards of
behavior and religious organizations
Creates a sense of the sacred
Examining Religious Beliefs
Historians can study:
Sanctification of time
Sanctification of space
Sanctification of language and literature
Sanctification of artistic and creative
Sanctification of family and ancestors
Creation of religious organization
The Origins of Hinduism
Because of use of Sanskrit, many believed that
Hinduism was a product of the Aryan invasion
Now believe that Indus Valley people were source
of many Hindu beliefs
Anthropologists believe that Hinduism is an
amalgam of a variety of different beliefs
Outsiders, not insiders, see Hinduism as a unified
Sacred Geography and Pilgrimage
Hinduism is confined to the Indian
subcontinent and its migrants
Broad dispersion of sacred places
promotes pilgrimages to important sites
Each city and town has its own sites that
foster close-knit communities
Central Beliefs of Hinduism
• Oldest of four Vedas composed 1500-1200
• 1,028 verses of Sanskrit poetry that invokes
early gods and speculates on the creation of
the world
• Does not claim to offer specific answers
Central Beliefs of Hinduism [cont.]
• Rigveda introduced the caste system as result of
sacrifice of Purusha, a mythical creature, into four parts
• Caste is hierarchical and hereditary
• Speculations of purpose include maintaining order
among the diverse people of India, preserving frozen
economic system, or suppressing subject people
• Believe that today’s caste system existed in the past
• Caste was often more important that government
Central Beliefs of Hinduism [cont.]
Brahmanas (from 900-500 B.C.E.) and
Upanishads (800-500 B.C.E)
• Former discusses rituals and myths; latter contains
mystical speculation
• From the Upanishads Hindus derive
dharma = religious and ethical duties
karma = human activities and impact on its atman
samsara = life cycle of different duties for different stages
moksha = unification of atman and Brahman
Central Beliefs of Hinduism [cont.]
The Great Epics
• Bhagavad-Gita is part of Mahabharata
A story of duties and meaning of life and death
Warrior (kshatriya) must fulfill dharma by fighting
Krishna, blue-skinned god, is non-Aryan
Story supports bhakti, mystical devotion to god
Role of women is more prestigious than in
Ramayana, where Rama’s wife Sita was subservient
Central Beliefs of Hinduism [cont.]
The Puranas
• Focus on Vishna and Shiva, most popular of
the Hindu gods
• Goddesses serve as consorts to powerful male
• Balance the suppressed vision of women
present in earlier Hindu literature
Temples and Shrines
Shift in Hindu practice in 7th century C.E.
Personal prayer replaced sacrifice as way to
communicate with the gods
Result was caves and temples of great beauty that
reflected Hindu beliefs through art
Sexual passion and union of males and females
entered worship as analogues for passion for gods
Religion and Rule
Powerful sought support in religion and
religion validated power of elites
Brahmin priests were used to awe
indigenous people after confiscation of
local lands
Kings rewarded priests with land, court
subsidies, and temple bequests in return
for support
Hinduism in Southeast Asia
Brahmin priests and Hindu priests were used as
early as the 3rd century C.E. to validate royal
authority in rare example of spread of Hinduism
outside India
Represented an extension of ongoing trade
Externals of Hinduism--Sanskrit, Indian gods, and
Indian calendar--present by 5th century
Origins of Buddhism
Developed within Hinduism
The Life of the Buddha (born c. 563 B.C.E.)
• Sheltered life shattered by introduction to human
suffering at age twenty-nine
• Reached enlightenment after meditation under tree
• Antidote to pain and suffering is recognition that
temptations are illusions
• Key is Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path
The Origins of Buddhism [cont.]
The Sangha (groups of monks and nuns)
• Initially open to women; nuns today are in Tibet
• Obedient to order, monks are intellectually free
• Settled into monasteries after abandoning tradition of
• Abandonment of begging led to loss of contact with
common people
Emergence of Mahayana Buddhism
200 B.C.E-200 C.E. saw more Buddhist than
Hindu shrines in India
General councils codify Theravada Buddhism and
Mahayana Buddhism (“Greater Vehicle”)
Believed that bodhisattvas facilitated achievement
of Nirvana by masses
Maitreya Buddha a servant to redeem humanity
Mahayana Buddhism a challenge to Hinduism
Decline of Buddhism in India
Buddhist appeal was for warriors and
businessmen who felt scorned by Brahmins
Decline paralleled decline of Gupta empire
Many Indians could not easily distinguish
Mahayana Buddhism from Hinduism
Buddhists relied on Hindu priests to conduct lifecycle ceremonies
Decline of Buddhism in India [cont.]
Hinduism became more attractive to Buddhists
• Hindu religion built on common folktales
• Could be Hindu and Buddhist at same time
• Neither group treated women well
Began to wane with onset of Muslim traders along
silk route
Muslims destroy remnants of temples and
monasteries upon entering India
Another religion of India, similar to both
Hinduism and Buddhism
Like Theraveda Buddhism, Jains reject
caste system and supremacy of Brahmins
Jains practice nonviolence to such a
degree that many do not farm for fear of
killing creatures in the soil
Rely on Hindu priests for ceremonies
Buddhism in China
Arrival in China: The Silk Route
• First Buddhist missionaries to China in 65 C.E.
• Pilgrimages to India to learn Buddhism included
those of Faxian (early 5th century) and
Xuanzang (early 7th century)
• All traveled the silk route
Buddhism in China [cont.]
Relations with Daoism and Confucianism
• Fall of Han discredited Confucianism and
opened door to Buddhist ideas
• Mahayana Buddhism similar to Daoism
• In south, Buddhism represented philosophy for
dealing with hazardous life in semi-exile
• Buddhism and Confucianism accommodated
each other
• Buddhist travels promoted Chinese unity
Buddhism in China [cont.]
Buddhism under Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.)
• Divided into eight major sects
• Pure Land variant promised paradise for those who
believed in the ruler of paradise, Buddha Amitabha
• Chan taught the importance of meditation
• Invented woodblock printing
• Only woman to rule China in her own name, the
“Emperor” Wu (625-705 C.E.), used Buddhism to
legitimate her rule
Buddhism in China [cont.]
Buddhism’s Decline in China
• Chinese power in central Asia broken by Islamic power
• Central Asian Buddhism survived only in Tibet
• Tang Emperor Wuzong (r. 840-846 C.E.) feared power of
Buddhism and blamed it for decline of Tang power
– Confiscated Buddhist lands
– Destroyed Buddhist texts
– Forced monks and nuns to leave monasteries and
Buddhism in Japan
Japan followed Shinto, “the way of the kami,” who
were powers and spirits inherent in nature
After arrival of Buddhism, kami were seen as
minor Buddhas while bodhisattvas and Buddhas
were seen as major kami
Japanese royal family knew of adoption of
Buddhism by Asoka and imitated his action
Buddhism in Japan [cont.]
Buddhism’s Arrival in Japan
• Arrived 552 C.E. via Korea
• Initial acceptance tied to belief that monks
could work medical miracles
• Acceptance at court came under Prince
Shotoku Taishi (573-621 C.E.)
• Saw Buddhism as a basis of Chinese power
and wanted that power source for himself
Buddhism in Japan [cont.]
Buddhism’s Role in Unifying Japan
• Japanese creation of Nara capital expanded
imitation of Chinese practices including
• Buddhism joined Shinto as support of
• Buddhism facilitated Japanese centralization
• Buddhist wealth and power alarmed many
Buddhism in Japan [cont.]
Japanese Buddhism Develops New Forms
• Saicho monastery, placed far from centers of power,
focused on Tendai variant that held enlightenment
achieved by sincere religious devotion
• Shingon (“True Word”) emphasized mantras
• Amida (Amitabha) favored chanting mantras
• Zen (Chan in China) emphasized defense of state and
the importance of martial arts
Buddhism in Japan [cont.]
Lasting Buddhist Elements in Japanese
• Cultivated an especially pure aesthetic
• Buddhist emphasis on transience of all life
affected Japanese literature such as the Tale of
• Merged with aspects of Shinto
Both have experienced transformations
Both have sacred calendars and control of
life-cycle events
Both have sacred languages
Both ultimately connect to common people
Both show flexibility of world religions
Both show ties between government and
What Difference Do They Make?
Hinduism sustains a religion of
polytheism that provides cultural unity
for South Asia
Buddhism is religion of hundreds of
millions of people

Hinduism and Buddhism Examining Religious Beliefs