What are the similarities between Hinduism and Buddhism as expounded by Swami Vivekananda in his ''Addresses at the Parliament of Religions"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In his famous first address at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Swami Vivekananda expressed, although he was grateful that the Hindui tradition had brought about more religious tolerance, he hoped that inter-religious relations would transcend this secular ideal of tolerance. As part of his argument, then, he pointed to similarities between Buddism and Hinduism, and expressed the belief that people must see the other not as outside themselves, but as their very own self.

  • Both religions seek to achieve meditative or absorption states through the use of yoga and meditation.
  • Both Hinduism and Buddism hold with the idea of Dharma, or "natural law," which is applied to religious duties or regulations regarding ceremonies.
  • Both share the Samkhya philosophical system. This system purports that the universe consists of two realities:  Purusa, or consciousness, and prakriti, or phenomenal realm of matter. In this philosophical system, there is a dualism of order and chaos.
  • Vivekananda says, "I may tell you that there is no polytheism in India. In every temple, if one stands by and listens, one will find the worshippers applying all the attributes of God, including omnipresence, to the images" 
  • He states that although the Buddists do not believe in God, "the whole force of their religion is directed to the great central truth in every religion, to evolve a God out of man," and so it shares with Hinduism.
  • Vivekananda draws the analogy that the relation between Hinduism and Buddism is like that of Judaism to Christianity: "Hinduism cannot live without Buddhism, nor Buddhism without Hinduism."
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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In his "Address to the Parliament of Religions," Swami Vivekananda makes several key points about spiritual worship that embrace the universality of human experience.  The opportunity to speak at the World Parliament of Religions afforded him the chance to speak about the nature of Hinduism and Eastern Religions, in general. Swami understood that the Western religions had firmly established themselves as the focal point for all spiritual expression.  In speaking at the conference, Swami was able to challenge this notion in two critical ways.  The first was to present a vision of religions like Hinduism and Buddhism had just as much merit as their Western spiritual counterparts.  At the same time, Swami was able to develop a humanist approach that stressed all religions seek to drive human beings to the same fundamental goal.

In order to accomplish both ends, Swami Vivekananda had to argue that religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism were focused on advancing a spiritual notion of the good.  Similar to their Western counterparts, Swami outlined this in the exposition of his speech:  "I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept
all religions as true."  The idea of equating spiritual embrace with Eastern modes of religious identity was a critical part of Swami's speech. He was able to suggest that India, home to both Buddhism and Hinduism, represented a sanctuary of tolerance, acceptance, and individual exploration:  "I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth."  For Swami, Buddhism and Hinduism were uniquely positioned to embrace and accept many because of their abundance in plurality and their disdain for dogmatism. In referencing the Hindu scripture of the Bhagavad- Gita to make his point, Swami is very deliberate:  "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me."  In this light, Swami has been able to position religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism as modes of expression where individuals are free to take one step towards the divine who will take more steps towards them.

While Swami Vivekananda never made direct mention to Buddhism in his speech, it is clear from his writings and beliefs that he speaks towards a spiritual identity that embraces the teachings of the Lord Buddha that are rooted in pure Hindu thought.  At the conference, Swami read from a paper he wrote which argued this very point:  "From the high spiritual flights of the Vedanta philosophy, of which the latest discoveries of science seem like echoes, to the low ideas of idolatry with its multifarious mythology, the agnosticism of the Buddhists, and the atheism of the Jains, each and all have a place in the Hindu's religion."  It is with this in mind that Swami's closing line to his initial address so much in way of rejecting dogmatism and fanaticism, elements that he says are absent in the theoretical principles and pure practice of Hinduism and Buddhism.  

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