Is Buddhism older than Hinduism?

by WriterArtist

Our understanding of religion followed in ancient India is inadequate. Inference is from the remains of scriptures and archaeological findings.

I can see a million opinions and arguments over the question - Is Buddhism older than Hinduism? The trouble is most of the disputes are baseless and devoid of any study and references. They are also influenced by one’s sentiments and religion biases.
Without going into history, archaeology and reading ancient texts, people believe Hinduism is older than Buddhism. People are carrying baggage of religion and spirituality, hence it becomes difficult to see the question objectively.

Hinduism is a fusion of practices, traditions, customs and ideas from Rig Vedas, Manu Smriti and other 18 contemporary Puranas. It is misleading to confuse Vedic religion to Hinduism. Hinduism did not exist in Vedic age, not in essence.

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Image Courtesy Pixabay, Author Susann Mielke

Evidence of Hinduism and Hindus

Proof from Texts

Earliest evidence of the appearances of Hindu came from text dated between 13th and 18th century in Sanskrit and Bengali languages. There is proof that Raja Rammohun Roy in 1816, was the first person to use the word ‘Hinduism’.

Studies in the Origins of Buddhism

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Studies in the Origins of Buddhism

Buddha in Meditation

Buddha in Meditation
Buddha in Meditation

Is Buddhism really older than Hinduism?

Ancient religions of India


The answer is YES. It may not seem evident because the internet is filled with misleading points of view and entire opinions are without much base, proof or research.

In fact, Hindus made Lord Buddha the 10th avatar of Hindu Gods. Nowhere in the scriptures, did Buddha ever describe himself an incarnation of God. His doctrines although ancient are thought provoking. In a way they are so modern, so scientific. He did not rely on any deity for enlightenment. With his own efforts he achieved greatness and encouraged masses to achieve the same. He doesn’t bow to any deity, nor customs and practices. To attain Nibbana, he is on a self-searching quest year after year and births after births.

Our knowledge about Indian’s history is lacking because of absence of proper historical documents. Nalanda a cultivated centre was destroyed thrice. Last destruction by a Muslim invader left it in shambles. It also included murders of Buddhist monks and burning invaluable scripts consisting of knowledge, Ayurveda apart from Buddhism. The library was so huge that rising smoke was seen for 3 months.

Our inference relies on the hints from famous Chinese pilgrims Fa Hien and Hiuen Tsang, Burmese and Sinhalese chronicles and concealed possibly in Puranas.

So what is older than Buddhism?

Which religion prevailed before Buddha?


The prevalent practices and rituals before Buddha were worshipping Nagas (serpents), Yakkhas (Yakshas) and deities associated with Fire, Water and Air.  The Yakshas are spirits mostly generous but can be naughty, roguish associated with trees, forests etc.

The religion followed in ancient India before and during Buddha was animism. The villagers and tribals worshipped these deities. Even today, Hindus celebrate Nag Panchami (Deity Naga/serpent) and Tulsi Pooja (Deity Basil plant).

Ironically, there never was a defined Hinduism. There is no single way of praying, prayers and worship. There is no homogeneity, monolithic single group. The Brahminism way was dividing the society in Chatur varna (4 castes). Every group practiced in a different way, different traditions with hundreds of deities and names.

Buddhism came into existence not as rebellion but a personal quest of an individual to obtain freedom from the cycle of birth and death. With his realization came many faults with the ancient way of worshipping. Buddha stresses on morality and ethics rather than the rituals and religious sacraments.

History during Buddha

Buddha and his Sangha



Buddha was born approximately 2000 to 2500 years ago around 500 to 600 BC. At that time from the study of Vedas, Agni pooja (worshipping fire), Jal pooja(worshipping water) were dominant. Chatur varna designed by Brahmins was widespread giving the lower caste all inferior charters.

Buddha was born in Royal Shakya clan. Royal Kshatriyas were supposedly the elite caste even superior than Brahmins during Buddha’s period. Marriages for these royals happened only within 2 elite clans - Sakyas and Koliyas.  Marriages outside these 2 clans for them were not permitted.

Buddha after his enlightenment spread Dhamma to all irrespective of the castes, on foot all over India, Nepal and Tibet. He sent "Arahants" in all directions to spread Dhamma possibly to Myanmar and Sri Lanka. At the time of Buddha, there was no Buddhism and no Buddhists. The terms evolved later after his enlightenment (Nibbana/Death). Buddha spread Dhamma. Dhamma means nature, properties, order of universe. Not really easy to translate in English. Buddha formed Sangha (Council) and one was held immediately after his death. Sangha samiti (Buddhist council conference or meeting). This Sangha contained very learned scholars who were established in Dhamma. The members of first Sangha were all enlightened.

Decline of Buddhism in India

Brahmins waging war on Buddhism


It is ironic that during Buddha and after his enlightenment, sects of Vaishnavas and Shaivas declared war against Buddhism.  Vaishnavas are worshippers of mythical Deity Vishnu and Shaivas are worshippers of mythical Deity Shiva. They called themselves the elite class Brahmins. They created ridiculous customs of offerings and spread the notion of self-manifested idols in converted Buddhist shrines.

The rituals during Vedic times were revived for the advantage of Brahmin priests. For example, in the event of birth there had to be offerings to Brahmin, event of birth followed offerings to priest, events of marriages, pooja and more – all involved Brahmins and Dakshina (offerings).

They waged war against lower castes who probably followed the teachings of Buddha. Prior to Buddha, animal sacrifice (cows, bulls) was predominant and morality was not in the game. It is obvious why Buddha was so hated by them that all traces of him were destroyed, Buddha Viharas converted and literature banished/vanished. Even in the time of Buddha, Brahmins suffered a setback. Offerings ceased as people realized the futility of traditions and customs and started following Buddha’s precepts and moral principles.

Origin of Hinduism

Confirming to History and Literature


It is interesting to note that nowhere the word "Hindu" makes an appearance in the scriptures of Puranas. The word Hinduism was formed when the invaders attacked India and its roots. Persians gave the name Hindu. In Persian language "s" is written as "h”, so river Sindhu (Indus) became "Hindhu" or "Hindu" and hence the country inhabited by "Hindus" became Hindustan. 


Siddhartha Gautama, Lord Buddha, was born approximately in 623 BC at Lumbini, Nepal. Although Buddha did not form any religion, post Buddha his followers who were established in Dhamma and general masses who followed his doctrines came to be known as Buddhists. King Ashoka was an ardent follower of Buddhism who spread Dhamma in all directions of his vast empire and beyond. Hinduism came into picture AD (After Death) between 13 and 18 centuries. Clearly Buddhism came before Hinduism.

Was Buddha a Hindu?

Vipassana Meditation

Teachings of S N Goenka

Buddha Dhamma

Sayagyi U Ba Khin - Burmese Teacher
Updated: 06/13/2023, WriterArtist
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According to you which is older - Buddhism or Hinduism?

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Tolovaj on 07/19/2023

I never thought much about the age of different religions but your info about relatively 'young' Hinduism surprised me. Your presentation is an interesting reading and I learned somthing new. Thanks!

DerdriuMarriner on 06/16/2023

Pali sources identify the 29th Buddha as Metteyya (Maitreya in Sanskrit), child of Subrahma and Brahmavati in Ketumatī.

Online sources link the name with an earthly, legendary paradise. Some mention it as in actuality Banaras, Uttar Pradesh; or as the Indian subcontinent river between Mount Nalika and Vipula; or as the Burmese city of Taungoo.

Pali sources likewise note that Maitreya will find enlightenment under the Nāga (Mesua ferrea) tree.

Would it be possible to perhaps guesstimate what will be a place where Maitreya talks and walks by mapping wherever there are what commonly gets called Ceylon ironwood or cobra saffron?

It would have to be somewhere in Mizoram (northeast India), Sri Lanka (off southeast India) or Tripura (northeast India) if it matters that the slow-growing tree respectively associates with those three places as national tree, state tree and state flower.

It would have to be Sri Lanka if one respects the natural dynamics of the graceful. gray-green-l and pink-red-leafed, fragrant-bloomed, white-flowered tree since the ferrea species is a Sri Lanka-exclusive endemic.

It would have to be Sri Lanka if it matters that Sri Lanka way down south mattered to Gautama Buddha way up north and to Ashoka, both of whose children ended up there.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/15/2023

The computer crashed before I could add an additional part to my question in the comment box below.

Is it not perhaps likewise indicative of an old religion, an old spirituality that we thereby know the incarnation of Gautama Buddha at the time of each previous Buddha, from number 4 onward (apart numbers 1, 2, 3 and 18)?

DerdriuMarriner on 06/15/2023

Pali sources from Sri Lanka identify 29 named Buddhas, of whom Gautama Buddha the 28th and Maitrya the 29th.

Is it not perhaps indicative of an old religion, an old spirituality that we thereby know the birthplaces, the enlightenment trees, the Pali and Sanskrit names and the parents of each Buddha, from 1 through 29?

DerdriuMarriner on 06/14/2023

My sister Stessily asked me to thank you for writing this article. She studied with Awadh Kishore "A.K." Narain, an Indian archaeologist, historian and numismatist who was a Buddhist. Professor Narain would be impressed with your research and with your ability to present an understandable explanation of the complexities of Buddhist prehistory.

WriterArtist on 06/14/2023

Frankbeswick - Thanks for visiting the page. My explanation -
Sindhu became Hindhu/Hindu.
From Hindu (and not Sindhu) came the following derivations:
Hindustan - country
Hindi - language of the country

frankbeswick on 06/14/2023

I found this article useful and informative. Thank you.

Just a linguistic point here. You mention the words Sindi and Hindu being interchangeable. I and U swaps are known elsewhere. Look at this table
Latin: super (above) means the same as the Greek hyper
Latin sub (below) means the same as the
Greek hypo.

WriterArtist on 06/13/2023

Dear DerdriuMarriner - I have added videos of S. N. Goenka who taught Vipassana meditation. It was taught to him by Sayagyi U Ba Khin his Burmese teacher. It is believed the pristine form of meditation was preserved by a line of teachers in Burma who guided the technique. It is believed It is the same meditation technique taught by Buddha. One can experience the results - now. One does not need to die and get a place in heaven to experience joy and equanimity.

WriterArtist on 06/13/2023

Dear DerdriuMarriner - Buddha preached non violence all the time. It is the most kindest and tolerant religion. He stopped animal sacrifice (cows, bulls) during events and yagnas. Buddha did not preach any religion , he showed a method to come out of sufferings. His doors were open to all - women, backward classes. Brahminism condemns it.
Hinduism you are talking about is actually ancient Vedic one. You can call it Brahminism. I have tried to explain it. It is animism - worship of mythical deities, nature etc.
After Buddha, there came to existence 2 deviations - Mayahana & Hinayana. Later there was Tantric Buddhism which is a distorted version of Buddhism. Focus is on tantras and demons. There is also Tibetan Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism.
Buddha and his teachings in pure form are the core. Unless you study them, practice what he preached, it is difficult to understand. Major of my understanding comes from Vipassana, Guruji S. N. Goenka's explanation, Sayagi U Ba Khin's articles. Both are established teachers and explain Buddhism in layman's terms. One is Indian , other is Burmese.
For enlightenment - Buddha stressed that it doesn't come from begging deities, bribing Gods and rituals. Vedas/Hinduism/Animism is full of it. They believe in self manifestation of Gods/Idols.
Buddha mentions 31 planes of existence. He says Devas exist in some of the realms. He talks out of his experience. Not one word is without his experiencing it. To reach such levels requires Paramis (Perfections). It is not a joke. He said - Humans are capable to reach such heights, animals and life from other realms cannot. He never claimed he was God/Almighty/Deity. His pure teachings are treasure. Although it is in Pali, translations are available. I would recommend them and to learn to meditate the right way (Vipassana meditation). A line of Burmese teachers kept the technique safe as it was getting distorted and vanished from the land of origin.

DerdriuMarriner on 06/13/2023

Historical linguistics assumes that older languages are more complicated structurally and that they simplify over time.

Going by that guideline I envision Hinduism as older than Buddhism. Hinduism is overall kinder about animal and plant sentients since Buddhism laments animals with claws, which Tibetan Buddhists mourn as unlucky rebirths.

Buddhism likes Indra, who is my favoritest god and Ganesha my next favorite. But it also promotes the demon Hariti that Hinduism warns against for stealing children and eating them.

Buddhism likewise likes gardens -- not that Hinduism doesn't -- so much that it matches each deity in each heavenly level with a specific garden type. Indra, of course, planted my favorite garden.

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