Introducing World Religions

By-Gaurav Gurung

Religions provide platform to the people bringing them to consider their relations to God and supernatural elements. Several elements like sacred, divinity, supernaturalism, holy, godly etc. come across when we are into religion. Religion is the diversely opinionated term which more or less talks about faith and belief system of people.

Malory Nye defines in the book ‘Religion: The Basics’ that “Religion is the term with the wide range of meanings, but it is used on a global scale for a variety of purposes and in many different, often contrasting and conflicting, ways” (18). Sometimes it is also taken as an illusion too in which Sigmund Freud defined in his book New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis saying “Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires.” 

In this way defining the religion never became someone’s cup of tea. There are variations indeed and those variations have made the way to make them to stand in their own. So, here is the introduction of diverse opinions and thought systems attached with two Indo-European religions and three semiotic religions.

Hinduism

Hinduism is taken as the dominant religion of Indian Sub-continent which began around 3000BCE. It is particularly taken in two Asian countries India and Nepal. Hinduism is taken as the historic Vedic religion of Iron Age India. It’s defined as the oldest living religion with no founder as such.

It has diverse traditions along with distinct philosophical ideas and intellectual stand points. Sue Penney, British author, in her book entitled “Hinduism” said that “Most Hindus don’t call their religion Hinduism. They call it Sanatan Dharma. This means ‘eternal truths’” (6).

All those eternal truths are collected and transferred to generations with their holy books. They consider two books to be highly sacred which are Shruti (revealed-Veda) and Smriti (remembered-Puranas and Upanisadhas). Similarly, Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas are considered main texts of Hinduism.  Generally, these texts discuss upon diverse topics like theology, philosophy, mythology, Vedic Vajna, agamic rituals, temple building and other.

Hinduism
Avatars of Hindu God

            Hindu’s philosophy of world view rests upon the cyclical pattern in which every element of this nature keep on moving in cyclical patterns with its endless rebirths and deaths. Similarly, they consider the view of ultimate reality, concept of a man and self, the problem with life, the cause of the problem, solutions etc. Generally in world view, Hinduism has set certain views regarding several topics like Brahman, two selves of man, problems with life: Samsara and karma, the case: Avidya and Maya, the ultimate aim of life: Moksha, three paths to Moksha, common grounds with apologetic thoughts and more.

            William claims that “The ultimate goal of the Hindu believer is release or liberation from the continuous cycle of samsara, which is known as moksha. This is accomplished by the realization of absolute truth, knowing who one really is and knowing the true nature of reality, which is different for the three branches of Vedanta.

The knowledge of the true nature of atman provides liberation from samsara. Moksha is viewed as the liberation from samsara. Although all branches of Hinduism share moksha as their ultimate goal, they differ on the nature of the liberated state. (25)”   

 

            Besides obtaining of MOksha, Hindu wants to get united with Brahma

(The ultimate) ultimately. Hindu followers are taught to follow four ways to obtain Moksha (revelation) which are Gyana (Knowledge), Karma (Action), Bhankti (Devotion) and Raja (Meditation) Yogas.

            They rest their thought more upon the ideas of polytheism and pantheism in which they believe that all the elements in this nature have gods with different forms of them.  But scholars are still hooked with the idea of one main God Brahma which tags Hinduism as the monotheistic religion too.

            Hindu believes over several concepts like God as an almighty, devas and avataras, Karma and Samsara, sin and penance, self-control and self-realization, objectives of life: dharma, artha, karma, yoga, moksha; reincarnation and liberation and more. Similarly, they practice Puja (Worship), Bhajan, Symbolism, rituals, pilgrimage, festivals and more.

Buddhism

            Buddhism is the religion which is based on the teachings and lessons by Siddhartha Gautam. It was originated from northern Indian sub-continents. “Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development and the attainment of a deep insight into the true nature of life. There are 376 million followers worldwide.” (BBC religions)

            According to BBC religions, Buddhism started 2,500 year ago with Siddhartha Gautama’s quest for enlightenment in around 6th century BC. They believe that nothing permanent and fixed, everything is changeable.  

Gautam Buddha
Gautam Buddha

            It’s believed that the Buddha started teaching after he got Buddhatva (enlightenment) with his meditation. Later on, his teachings were written and collected in the Buddhism’s main scriptures like Tripitak, Jataka and Pragyaparamita.  

            Buddhism’s world views are shaped by the concept of Nirvana (salvation/Moksha) which is achieved with cyclical pattern of time. Through cyclical lives, sufferings, teaching and meditation; you can come to the point of Nirvana.  

            The four noble truths through which you can obtain Nirvana is the essence of Buddha’s teachings. Those four noble truths are the truth of suffering (Dukkha), the truth of the cause of the suffering (Samudaya), the truth of the end of suffering (Nirhodha), and the truth of the path that frees us from suffering (Magga). The fourth noble truth came out with the prescription of eightfold path to get released from the suffering.

Buddhism is also taken as the variedly perceived religion along with its variation like Theravada, Mahayana and Hinayana.  Buddhism also encompasses several practices and religious beliefs like enlightenment, sangha and other.

Anita states that Buddha spent the next 45 years travelling throughout north-eastern India and teaching people from all walks of life. Many of his followers dedicated their lives to Buddhism. They became monks and nuns and were known as the sangha. For some Buddhists, Sangha also includes laypersons (9).  

Buddhism is also taken as the polytheistic religion with the presence of several forms of the gods. Buddhism believes that it hasn’t achieved Buddhatva yet which precisely defines that Buddha is not the God but the path finder only.

Several series of queries about the religion and faiths make you clear enough to follow the religion which removes the rigidity of the religion.

Judaism

Judaism is one of the oldest religions which began as the religion of the small nation of the Hebrews, along with thousands of years of suffering, persecution, dispersion, and occasional victory, has continued to be a profoundly influential religion and culture.

Judaism is the original of the three Abrahamic faiths, which also includes Christianity and Islam. According to information published by The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, there were around 13.1 million Jewish people in the world in 2007, most residing in the USA and Israel. (BBC Religions)

Judaism is supposed to be started by Mosses before 3500 year ago in the Middle East. The main text of Judaism is Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) which is also known as the Tanakh and the Talmund in later texts. The way to salvation in the Judaism is 10 Commandments and its honest follow leads to salvation in life. Otherwise you are going to bear pain and suffering.

10 Commandments that you follow
10 Commandments that you follow

Judaism is the monotheistic religion. The Hebrews / Israelites were already referred to as “Jews”. Israel is taken as the country of its origin along with its founder Abraham. They believe in a single God Jebovah. Judaism has the linear worldview and time unlike of two Indo-European religions: Hinduism and Buddhism. It’s doesn’t possess any faith over the next life or rebirths. Thus, they try hard to get salvation in this life.

Judaism has got several belief systems like sacred narratives, ultimate reality and divine beings, Human nature and the purpose of existence, suffering and problems of the evil and after life and salvation.

Christianity

Sharing its roots with Judaism, Christianity began with the life and teaching of Jesus Christ as described in the new testament of Bible. Christianity is said to be the largely followed religions by more than 2.2 billion people. It’s also the monotheistic religion with the existence of only one God. Jesus Christ is considered fully divine, son of the God, the messiah in the old testament of the bible.

It had started as a Jewish sect in the middle of 1st century originating in the Middle East which quickly spread towards Syria, Mesopotamia and Egypt. Along with colonization and missionary works helped to shape the Christianity throughout the world.  

Besides meonotheism, it has lived the idea of holy Trinity as well in which three different elements are included in one God i.e. God the father, God the son and Holy Spirit.

Bowing down to Jesus
Bowing down to Jesus

The worldview and the concept of the time are governed by linearity in which there are no possibilities of afterlife and rebirths.  But there is the presence of purgatory which decides whether you would be sent to hell or heaven.

They highly believe in original sin and getting rid of that sin gives them the true salvation. “ The only way a person can ‘cleanse’ their soul from sin is to accept that Christ’s death on the cross atoned for this sin, accept that only God’s grace can cure this sin, confess their sins and ask for forgiveness and be baptized.” (BBC religions)

The main text of the Christianity is Bible (New testament and old testament) which is altered with two different interpretation of it i.e. protestant and catholic.

Islam

Islam is also one of the Abrahimic and monotheistic religion. It’s founded by Mohammad during first half of 7th century. Muslims communities have considered Mohammad to be the last prophet of the God. Muslim communities love and care to the god has been the sole purpose of their existence.

Islam’s main text is Quran in which Allah is considered to be the ong God. And, it’s land of origin is considered to be Arabia. Recitation of Quran has remained the integral part of the Muslim living.

This is how they pray
This is how they pray

The word Islam means “Submission to the will of God”. Jesus, Prophet and Moses are respected as prophets of God. According to Muslims, God sent a number of pr0phets to mankind to teach them how to live according to his law. There are five basic Pillars of Islam which are declaring of faith, praying five times a day, giving money to charity, fasting and pilgrimage. (BBC Religions)

The linearity with worldview is taken and there is no existence of rebirth and afterlife. But deeds we do decide whether it leads to Jannat (Heaven), or Jahammat (Hell). There is two variations among the Muslims i.e. Shia and Sunni.

Thus all these five dominant religions standing in their own have taught people to get attached with God and accomplish your duties for salvation. They have diverse opinions, thoughts and ideas which make some connections as well as some sort of variations too. But, serving the beliefs systems and elements of supernaturalism have made their own way to define the universe and quest for solutions of sufferings and problems. 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

  1. BBC Religions. Islam at a glance. 17 November 2009. BBC Religions. 5 Sep. 2013.<http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/ataglance/glance.shtml> 
  2. BBC Religions. Original sin. 17 November 2009. BBC Religions. 5 Sep. 2013.<http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/beliefs/originalsin_1.shtml#h4>
  3.  BBC Religions. Buddhism at a glance. 17 November 2009. BBC Religions. 5 Sep. 2013. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/ataglance/glance.shtml>
  4.  Hedrick, William P. “Worldviews of Hinduism.” Diss. Liberty University. 2008.
  5.  Nye, Malory. Religion: The Basics. London: Routledge. 2003.
  6. Ganeri, Anita. Atlas of World Faiths: Buddhism. Minnesota: Arcturus. 2008.
  7. Penney, Sui. Discovering religion: Hinduism. UK: Heinemann. 1999.

 Written by:

Gaurav Gurung

MA-III semester in English

IACER, Pokhara University

Pokhara, Nepal.

Note: This is the first draft. I will post Final paper shortly. ENJOY reading.

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6 thoughts on “Major Religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism

  1. We all agree that historically religious texts back date to 4000 BC. This is back to Egypt which is around where the judaism and biblical aspects of the Old Testament is written. I am not sure of any text of hinduism referring to these places. As per my knowledge Hinduism was practiced around India and its neighbouring countries [ united region then] which happens to be far away from Egypt. Any explanation on this would help know the ancient religious practices [ not religion ]

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