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The Side by Side Lens allows you to create an easy to read comparison chart for up to three differing religious traditions. Select your traditions from the drop down menus. You can click on the major sections on each chart you build, in order to see more detailed comparisons.

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Quick Facts
Formed

1863 CE

c. 5th century B.C.E.

c. 2000 B.C.E.

Adherents

5,000,000

350,000,000

1,000,000,000

Origin

Iran (Persia)

India

India

Deity

God (monotheistic)

None / pantheon of deities

Polytheistic

Sacred Text

The collected writings of Baha'u'llah, especially his Kitab-i-Aqdas

Pali Tipitika, Mahayana, Vajrayana Canons

Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Epics

Headquarters

Haifa and 'Akka (Acco), Israel

None

None

Details
Origins

Baha'i: Origins

Buddhism Origins

Hinduism Origins

Beginnings

In the last half of the 19th century C.E., Baha'u'llah claimed to bring to humanity the latest teachings from God, which are intended to bring peace and unity to the world. He was preceded by the Bab.

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After a profound spiritual realization, the Buddha gathered many followers. He organized them into a community that fundamentally reshaped religious, social, and political structures.

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Hinduism is a perpetually evolving collection of an astounding array of philosophical, ritual, and devotional traditions. There is no founder, and there is no fixed moment of origin. Hindus often refer to their religion as "sanatana dharma" — the timeless, eternal truth.

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Influences

Many of the Baha'i scriptures were composed in dialogue with questioners raising issues of religious, social, and political concern. Baha'u'llah claimed that the teachings he brought were suited to the needs of the modern world.

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Buddhism emerged in response to social, political, and religious changes taking place on the northern Indian subcontinent during the 8th to 6th centuries B.C.E.

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What we call Hinduism has for thousands of years been in a constant process of change, absorbing and reacting to a tremendous array of influences.

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Founders

Baha'u'llah is the founder of the Baha'i faith and the main source of its teachings. He was preceded by a forerunner, the Bab, and succeeded by 'Abdu'l-Baha, who was appointed the authorized interpreter of Baha'u'llah's teachings.

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Buddhism's founder was a wealthy prince, born in India in the 6th or 5th century B.C.E., who renounced wealth and power to seek enlightenment.

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Hinduism does not have a founder or date of origin. Rather, it has been traditionally viewed as a timeless tradition that has been and continues to be revealed to humans at the start of each world cycle.

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Scriptures

The writings of Baha'u'llah are regarded by Baha'is as being divine revelation and form the core of Baha'i scripture. The writings of the Bab and 'Abdu'l-Baha are also regarded as scripture.

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Originally preserved by oral tradition, Buddhist scriptures contain a record of the Buddha's teachings and structures for Buddhist social organization. As Buddhism evolved through the centuries, systematic philosophical treatises and devotional stories were added to the canon.

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Hinduism does not rely exclusively on any single scripture, but rather on a vast collection of sacred writings of which the Vedas are the foundation.

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Historical Perspectives

Scholarship on the Baha'i faith has been patchy both in its coverage and quality. It has ranged from thinly disguised attacks on the religion to serious works focusing on a few areas of the religion.

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Scholars have criticized the popular emphasis on Buddhist philosophy and the practice of meditation over the ritual and devotional practices much more typical of Asian Buddhism.

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The context of colonialism has hovered over western representations of Hinduism. Many Indians have objected to western scholarly stereotypes and misrepresentations.

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Historical Development

Baha'i: Historical Development

Buddhism Historical Development

Hinduism Historical Development

Early Developments

The early history of the Baha'i faith (1844–1892), was mainly concerned with the establishment and survival of the religion in the face of fierce persecution and attempts to isolate its leaders from the main body of its adherents.

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Early Buddhism was primarily monastic, and Buddhist monks and nuns were expected to follow strict rules and regulations. Lay followers supported the monks by providing food, shelter, and clothing.

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The religious tradition that we call "Hinduism" has constantly changed over its 3,500 year history, absorbing a myriad of cultural influences.

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Schisms, Sects

There have been dissident Baha'is who have sought to create divisions in the community but they have been largely unsuccessful and the overwhelming majority (over 99.9 percent) of Baha'is today belong to one religious community headed by the Universal House of Justice.

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Buddhism continued to evolve after the Buddha's death. Philosophical innovations led to new sutras and new divisions of Buddhism emerged.

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The Hindu tradition encompasses four major sects—Shaiva, Vaishnava, Shakta, and Smarta—and dozens of minor subsects.

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Missions, Spread, Changes, Regional adaptations

The planned expansion of the Baha'i faith has been one of the notable features of the religion since the 1940s when a series of systematic plans were put into effect, which have made the Baha'i faith a global religion.

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In the first millennium of the Common Era, Buddhism spread throughout Asia, spawning new social identities, new languages, and new institutions.

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Hinduism has historically been a non-missionizing religious tradition. It has, however, spread to many parts of South and Southeast Asia, and to the West, and in the process has adapted to the cultural of these regions.

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Exploration, Conquest, Empire (incl. violence, persecution)

The Baha'i faith has not existed long enough to have a history of exploration, conquest, and empire. It has, however, experienced a great deal of persecution in its 160-year-history, both in its country of origin, Iran, and elsewhere, going on to the present day.

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Ashoka, who ruled a large portion of the Indian subcontinent in the 3rd century B.C.E., was a key figure in Buddhism's transformation from local to international religion.

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Hindus have not, generally, engaged in colonial conquest or empire building outside of India, although Hindu kingdoms were established in some parts of South and Southeast Asia.

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Modern Age

The later development of the Baha'i faith (since 1892) has involved the spread of the Baha'i faith to all part of the world; the emergence of new communities in these areas; and the development of Baha'i institutions and of Baha'i community life.

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Buddhism has become an international religion with adherents all over the world. It is integral to Asian cultural, political, intellectual, charitable, and religious institutions, and it has made significant in-roads into the west.

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Two major developments in the modern era have posed significant challenges to Hinduism and have led to substantial internal changes: the British colonization of India beginning in the 18th century, and rising tensions between Hindus and Muslims in India.

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Beliefs

Baha'i: Beliefs

Buddhism Beliefs

Hinduism Beliefs

Sacred narratives

Sacred narrative functions in the Baha'i Faith mainly as a way of illustrating spiritual teachings and providing inspiration and role models. The principle sacred narratives of the Baha'i Faith are the lives of its central figures, Baha'u'llah, the Bab, and 'Abdu'l-Baha.

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Buddhist sacred narratives include the life story of the Buddha, stories about his past lives, and stories he told as a teacher as recorded in the sutras.

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Unlike other religious traditions, Hinduism has no single, unifying sacred narrative. Rather, there is a vast array of narratives—theological, ethical, ritual, mythical, social—that different Hindus in different contexts hold sacred.

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Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings

Baha'is believe in God. The Essence of God is unknowable but the attributes of God can be known. These attributes are revealed in all things but most particularly and most perfectly in the founders of the world religions who are called Manifestations of God.

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There are varying and sometimes contradictory notions of ultimate reality in Buddhism. There are scholarly interpretations and popular interpretations, interpretations within different countries and in different eras.

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A major question to ask about Hinduism is whether it is a polytheistic or a monotheistic religion. The short answer is "yes"—it is both.

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Human Nature and the Purpose of Existence

The Baha'i faith teaches that human beings have two aspects: a physical aspect, the needs of which press urgently for their attention and thus distract them from the true purpose of human existence, which is to perfect their spiritual aspect.

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Human nature is illustrated by the Buddhist teaching of dependent origination, or arising, which shows how poisonous mental states give rise to suffering.

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Hinduism is in many ways a profoundly structured religion that presents what sometimes appears to be a highly rigid understanding of human existence. Within that structure, however, human beings are always free.

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Suffering and the Problem of Evil

For Baha'is, there is no independent evil force in the world. Figures, such as the Devil or evil spirits, are symbols for the base nature of human beings that is the source of evil. Suffering can, however, have the function of assisting humans in their spiritual growth.

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In Buddhism, there is no "problem of evil." Suffering is a normal part of life, but the nature of suffering is determined by how one responds to it.

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Evil in Hinduism is most often understood to be the result of human actions, of free will. Sometimes, however, evil is understood to be a result of the mysterious "play" of the gods.

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Afterlife and Salvation

The Baha'i scriptures assert that human beings continue to exist in a spiritual life after death. Salvation is not so much a state as a process of perfecting human spiritual attributes.

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There is no consistent notion of the afterlife or salvation in Buddhism. It varies according to country, era, and individual perspective.

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One of the fundamental principles of Hinduism is the concept of samsara, rebirth. Humans are reborn over and over and over again. They can, however, "escape" rebirth by ridding themselves of karma and attaining moksha.

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Ritual, Worship, Devotion, Symbolism

Baha'i: Ritual, Worship, Devotion, Symbolism

Buddhism Ritual, Worship, Devotion, Symbolism

Hinduism Ritual, Worship, Devotion, Symbolism

Sacred Time

Sacred time in the Baha'i Faith may be divided into the personal, which includes such activities as prayer and meditation, and the communal, which includes the celebration of Holy Days.

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Early Buddhists sought to escape from time. Their goal was nirvana, which is beyond experience and thus not a form of sacred time. Later developments deconstructed the nirvana/samsara dichotomy.

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Because Hinduism has not traditionally broken the world into a secular and a sacred sphere, there is no real sense of sacred time. All time is sacred, and the gods are eternally in the present. However, certain times are more auspicious for certain things than others.

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Sacred Space

Baha'is have a number of holy places, including the shrines of the central figures of the religion and places associated with their lives. There are also Houses of Worship (Mashriqu'l-Adhkar) where prayers are recited and scriptures read.

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Buddhist sacred spaces include stupas, containing relics of the Buddha or other monks, and the monastic complexes that grow up around them. Some mountains are also considered sacred.

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Thousands of minor and hundreds of major sacred places and spaces are scattered throughout the Indian subcontinent. Indeed, in an important sense the entirety of India is understood to be a sacred space.

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Rites and Ceremonies

There are few rites and rituals in the Baha'i faith. There are, however, several practices of the Baha'i community that create what may be called a Baha'i culture or ethos.

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Buddhist ritual calendars vary widely, but all usually include celebrations of the Buddha's birthday and the New Year. Other ceremonies typical of Buddhism are pilgrimages and rituals surrounding death.

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Although the Hindu tradition has over the centuries produced an incredible array of complex philosophical and theological doctrines, it has always been a religion of practice, of ritual acts, of rites, and of ceremonies.

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Worship and Devotion in Daily Life

Baha'u'llah gave a number of laws and obligations that were designed to develop the spiritual life of the individual. These include the obligation to perform daily prayer, reading of the scriptures, and meditation.

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The daily life of a Buddhist monk is quite different from that of a lay person. The interrelationship between the two reflects a symbiosis that revolves around the concept of merit.

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There is virtually no act that is not in some sense religiously significant in the Hindu world, and thus there is a vast array of rituals and ceremonies that take place in the context of daily life.

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Symbolism

The writings of Baha'u'llah are rich in symbolism and imagery. Some of this is the symbolism of the Abrahamic religions, which form the background to the Baha'i Faith, but many of these symbols are used in new ways.

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Early Buddhist symbols include the Buddha's footprint, the dharma wheel, and the stupa. Other symbols include mudras, mandalas, and monk's robes. Different Buddhist countries also have their own unique symbols.

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The Hindu world is permeated by symbols. Religiously significant symbolic images adorn temples, statues of the gods and goddesses, sacred texts, and even individual people. Furthermore, most religious rituals are themselves highly symbolic, with each action and gesture resonating with symbolic significance.

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Ethics, Morality, Community

Baha'i: Ethics, Morality, Community

Buddhism Ethics, Morality, Community

Hinduism Ethics, Morality, Community

Community Organization and Structure

The Baha'i community is led by elected councils at the local, national, and international level. In addition there are a number of appointed individuals whose function is to encourage the Baha'is, to help them to spread the Baha'i Faith, and to maintain the unity of the Baha'i community.

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Buddhist institutions are deeply involved in local communities in a variety of ways, both religious and secular. They provide rituals, festivals, places to worship, and practical benefits.

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Hindu communities are organized in part by caste (as well as class, which is more of an economic than a religious categorization) and in part by sectarian affiliation.

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Leadership/Clergy

The Baha'i community has no clergy or any professional religious class. Leadership is vested in elected institutions. Pastoral care is partly the responsibility of these institutions and partly the responsibility of every Baha'i.

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All Buddhist clergy wear distinctive robes and devote their lives to religious practice and service. The organizational structures of leadership are different, depending on region, size, and sect.

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Brahmins are members of the priestly caste of Hinduism. They have traditionally been the sole keepers of the Vedas and performers of the rituals of Hindus. There are, however, several different sorts of religious leaders in Hinduism.

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Principles of Moral Thought and Action

The Baha'i scriptures are full of injunctions to move away from a life of lusts and passions and toward one of virtue and service. The purpose of life is to acquire spiritual attributes.

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Buddhist principles of moral thought and action include karma, merit, and the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path provides guidelines for behavior that will lead to spiritual growth.

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Dharma and karma are the underlying principles of nearly all conceptions of morality and ethics in Hinduism.

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Vision for Society

Baha'u'llah declared that the age for global unity and peace has arrived. In order to bring this about, Baha'is believe that global institutions need to be established and certain social changes, such as a radical revision of social structure and functioning, need to occur.

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The social vision of Buddhism is to unite the entire cosmos and all beings within it into one harmonious whole.

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The Hindu understanding of the ideal society is that it must be coherently and cohesively organized and maintained to promote order, dharma.

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Gender and Sexuality

The Baha'i scriptures start from the assumption of the equality of women and men. Baha'is therefore advocate the education of the female child and the social advancement of women in order to make this a social reality.

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Attitudes regarding sexual misconduct, abortion, and divorce are often governed by societal norms rather than religious regulation. The issue of gender equality has been of greater interest in recent Buddhist scholarship.

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As with so much else in the Hindu social and ethical world, gender and sexuality are governed by the overarching concept of dharma.

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