Some facts to explain the close resemblance of Hinduism and Buddhism:
The life of Lord Buddha and Hinduism are interlaced so closely that it is a common mistake to mix up the two religions. It is a fact that the two religions are interconnected in many ways; but, Buddhism and Hinduism are two absolutely different religions. The main reason behind this is that, Lord Buddha laid the basics of Buddhism through a refinement of Hinduism. Buddhism in essence is a simple distillate of the Hinduism, offering a more practical approach towards spiritual enlightenment of a person. In order to comprehend Buddhism fully, it is therefore necessary to take into account, the principles of Hinduism, while viewing the same as a different trait of religion altogether. Lord Buddha envisaged a way of life, often referred to as the “golden mean” with reprieve from the orthodox odiums and the inflexible caste system of Hinduism.
While the rigid caste system of Hinduism designates the societal position of an individual based on the circumstances surrounding his birth, Lord Buddha condemned such unjust classification, and had advocated the concept of Karma – the choices and the actions made by an individual as the basis of the social status of the individual. Consequently follows the concepts of good Karma and bad Karma, where ethics and equalitarianism take precedence over the congenital issues. Swami Kriyananda (J Donald Walters), in his book ‘The Hindu Way Of Awakening’ refers to Lord Buddha in respect of Hinduism and Martin Luther In respect of the of the Roman Catholic Church as follows, “Both men were reformers, and the structure reformed by each was not supplanted by his teachings. The Catholic Church survives to this day, and has in many ways been strengthened by Luther’s reforms. Hinduism similarly was purified and strengthened by the teachings of Buddha, and was in no way replaced by them. Most Hindus today look upon Lord Buddha as one of their own Avatars or Divine Incarnations”.
The popular Hindu belief is, Lord Buddha was an Avatar, as described in the religious texts of Hinduism, whose incarnation on earth is always to uphold and protect ‘dharma’, when the evil of ‘adharma’ overshadows the goods of ‘dharma’. The role of the Avatar has always been the restitution of ‘dharma’ through the vanquishment of the elements of ‘adharma’. Certain orders of Hinduism have a firm belief that, Lord Buddha, in fact, was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. This stems from the fact that, the divine postulates of Buddha were in no way a contradiction to the dogmas of Hinduism, but in fact Buddhism, when conceived, was way ahead of its time, especially the orthodox Hinduism. Buddha had chosen the word ‘Nirvana’ to describe the state of perpetual rapture. The term originates from the Vedic texts of the Hindu religion. The amalgamation of Hinduism and Buddhism is still a commonplace occurrence in Nepal, the supposed place of birth of Lord Buddha.
The debate over the place of birth of Lord Buddha:
The most recent and sensational excavations of Archaeological Survey Of India(ASI) occurred between the months of February to June in 2013, that has rekindled the age old controversy of the exact location of Kapilavastu, where the Indian Prince Siddhartha, son of the Shakya King Suddhodana spent 29 years of his life before choosing the path to Buddhahood. The Nepal Government has long been staking the claim that the current location of Kapilvastu is in the modern day village of Tilaurakot in the Terai region, which lies about 30 kilometers inside the Indo-Nepal border, on the Nepal side. However, Indian historians have been continuously contradicting this claim. According to them, the actual location of Kapilavastu is in Piprahwa which is about 2 kilometers inside the Indo-Nepal border on the Indian side, based on the conclusions derived from the excavations in 1890 and 1970s.
The exhaustive excavations carried out by ASI from January 18th till the first week of June has yielded some important artifacts like 85 terracotta seals and some soapstone urns. Radiocarbon dating places these artifacts as belonging to fifth century BCE, and undoubtedly of the Shakya period conducive with the first few years of Prince Siddhartha’s life. ASI has postponed further excavation presently due to the advent of monsoon. Decisions are pending to continue further excavations after the monsoon season is over.
Nepal, on the other hand, carried out recent excavations in Tilaurakut and one particular artifact, an inscribed terracotta seal bearing the legend ‘Sa-ka-na-sya’ (translated ‘belonging to the Sakyas’), is an important substantiation of their claim. According to the Nepal Government, Lumbini was the birthplace of Prince Siddhartha (which has earned the title of a World Heritage Site from UNESCO in 1997) and he spent the first 29 years of his life in Tilaurakot (the erstwhile Kapilavastu) before choosing the path of renunciation to finally attaining Buddhahood. Nepal also has strong points to bolster its argument like, Buddhism being the primary religion of the country and the undoubted contribution of Nepal in propagating Buddhism in Tibet. This debate has crossed the line of simple academic interest long time ago and it’s now up to ASI and its excavation results to resolve, once and for all the issue, whether Lord Buddha had his roots in India or in Nepal.
The flip side of the story is one of promoting tourism, which happens to be the primary industry of Nepal. While the Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world posing an irresistible challenge to the mountaineers all over the world has already been tagged with the brand name Nepal, establishing Lumbini as the birthplace of Lord Buddha would no doubt attract a greater number of tourists and pilgrims.
Conclusion – Recent archaeological developments settle the dispute over the birthplace of Lord Buddha:
As of 26th November, 2013, recent excavations carried out in the Maya Devi temple (a UNESCO declared World Heritage Site) in Lumbini, Nepal proves beyond a shred of doubt that the birthplace of Lord Buddha was indeed Lumbini and also provides a clue to the century of the birth of Lord Buddha and the advent of Buddhism, namely 6th century BC. As history has it, the Maya Devi temple is located at the exact spot of Lord Buddha’s birth, where Maya Devi, the mother of the Prince Siddhartha, held on to the branch of a tree while he was being born. The excavations have unraveled the relics of a timber structure dating back to 6th century BC, under a layer of bricks in the temple. The timber structure constructed in an identical pattern as those of the bricks covering it, has a centrally located alcove which alludes to the birth of Prince Siddhartha. This, in fact is the first tangible archaeological evidence that provides a clue conjoining the birth of Siddharta, with the advent of Buddhism to a specific century. The international archaeological team, responsible for the discoveries, was spearheaded by Robin Conningham, Professor, Durham University, UK and Kosh Prasad Acharya of the Pashupati Area Development Trust in Nepal. The reviews of the findings are due to be published in the December 2013 issue of the international archaeological journal ‘Antiquity’.
As per the statements of the international team of archaeologists, working on the Maya Devi Temple Project, the discoveries will lead to a better comprehension of the early phases of the propagation of Buddhism and also will highlight the spiritual significance of Lumbini. The National Geographic Society is also partly conducive to the inferences drawn from the findings of the international archaeological team. To ascertain the approximate age of the timber structure and the brick overlays, a combination of Radiocarbon Dating and ‘Optically Stimulated Luminescence Techniques’ have been used. Geo-archaeological tests also affirmed the existence of roots of trees in the central alcove of the timber shrine. The international team of archaeologists is of the opinion that, in all possibilities, the central void in the timber shrine sheltered a tree. Brick constructions were implemented later surrounding the central void. Descriptions of the Chinese pilgrims, who had visited the spot in the first millennium AD, are conducive with the opinions of the archaeological team which depicts ‘a shrine beside a tree’.