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According to Bass, "Hinduism is the only major religion lacking an adequate explanation as to its origin," as no definitive Hindu text exist that that date before 1000 B.C. Indeed, because Hinduism is one of the religions that views time as cyclical rather than linear, what information is available about Hinduism does not give a very accurate picture of its history (Bass 5). What can be gleaned from this history is the fact that Hinduism is one of the oldest religions with one of the oldest societies in the world. Just as their origins are difficult to define, the beliefs of Hinduism are varied depending on one's personal interpretation of the religion. However, one of the more important aspects of Hinduism is its social caste system. This belief states that there are four casts, and each "has its rules and obligation for living." The three castes are Brahman, priests, hatriyas, warriors, Vaisyas, merchants or farmers, and Shudras, manual laborers. Anyone who is not part of the caste system is an untouchable, or outcasts ("Hindu Beliefs"). Ancient Hindu societies were heavily reliant upon this system, which governed nearly all goings on in India. In addition, Ancient Hindu societies faced a great deal of external pressure from Jews, Christians, Muslims, and eventually Imperialist government. Muslims were the first persecutors of the Hindu people. Their invasion of the Indus valley in A.D. 712 began what would be a long phase of compression for Hindus, as they called all non-Muslims Hindu, leading to confusion not only in name, but also in spiritual practice. According to Bass, only recently have Hindus learned to accept this name that was pushed upon them (Bass 1-2). Spiritually, Hindus share three primary beliefs with Christians, Jews, and Muslims. They believe that people are rewarded for doing good; Hindus believe in an afterlife; and the religion also believes in an ultimate reward, like heaven for the other religions. How these concepts are realized, however, are far different from the way that the people of the book realize them, as Hindus believe in reincarnation, as well as Nirvana. Instead of being a heaven, Nirvana is simply a release from one's cycle of reincarnations ("Hindu Beliefs").
Rising out of Hinduism, Buddhism claims many of the same beliefs as Hindus. For instance, both religions accept the concepts of Karma and Nirvana. Buddhist beliefs, however, are so different that some call Buddhism a philosophy rather than a religion. Founded by Siddhartha Guatama between 400-600 B.C., the religion seeks to inform followers how to gain enlightenment ("Buddhism in India"). But while Hinduism advocates a belief in a God who takes many forms, Buddhism contains neither the worship of the Buddha or instructions for salvation. Instead, the Buddha taught the four noble truths, steps that any person can take to achieve enlightenment, or a state of being awakened. Unlike the conflicts between Hinduism and the Abrahamic religions or amongst Christianity and Judaism, however, Hindus and Buddhist societies have managed to live relatively peaceful coexistences. In fact, some "avowedly Hindu monastic communities have grown up over time and adopted some of the characteristics associated with early Buddhism" ("Buddhism in India" 8). However, conflicts between members of the two societies did occur throughout history. For example, in the 3rd century BCE a Buddhist emperor prohibited the killing of animals, infringing on the Hindu tradition of animal sacrifice (Leukel and Ursaki 3). Indeed Leukel and Ursaki maintain that the Buddhist-Hindu relations suffered in the first millennium BCE, as both Hindu and Buddhist philosophers attacked the religions from philosophical standpoints (Leukel and Ursaki 3).
Thus, the ancient world was filled with religions that both complemented and contrasted each other. Because of this, in addition to political issues, wars were waged between ancient societies. Still, a reflection upon these four ancient religions and the societies that were affected by them suggests that each was able to stand remarkably strong, existing today while other religions, such as the ancient Greek and Roman religions, do not. In addition, it is clear that all of these ancient religions held in common praise for doing good things to others and chastisement for harm.
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