Hinduism and Buddhism Compared

With the same reservation they also approached Goethe and other secular giants. The parental home gave Hermann Hesse a taste of India, without acquainting him with India thoughts. These he had to acquire himself. Around 1900, the second wave of the Indian vogue was wide spread in the form of Theosophy which also attracted Hesse. Beginning in 1904, he was also drawn to Schopenhauer’s (1788-1860) Maya-philosophy. Three years later, he published “Legend of Indian King”, which shows that he was familiar with meditation as well as with the theory of Atman and Brama. This may be a result of his reading of Bhagava Gita in the translation (1892) of Franz Hartmann, who founded the German Theosophical Society in 1896. As far as Buddhism is concerned, he juxtaposed Buddha and Jesus in a letter of February 1903 to his parents. In another letter five years later, he wrote that he missed the idea of pre-existence in Christianity. Consequently, he turned to Buddha and the Vedic legends in order to construct a personal mythology. Nevertheless, he did not find the Indian notion of reincarnation entirely satisfactory, because it was not based on faith, but on cognition. He compared it with modern determinism, except that it left, on the way to Nirvana, a domestically constructed “hole” open for the freedom of the will. Obviously, for Hesse, Buddhism, despite its doctrine on reaching Nirvana, was more of an intellectual exercise than a religion based on faith. Even after his encounter with living Buddhism in Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, he did not change his opinion.

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We respected one another's values and beliefs, so much so that I filled my chest with teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Atheism and so on, in addition to the compulsory Islamic classes for all Muslim girls.

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