We constructed the information in such way that in „one go”
you will have quite a reasonable knowledge about the major religions around the world.
You will be able to learn about Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity
Answers from Elena Ornig
Here we are talking about the oldest religion that quite misunderstood, by many. To be precise, Hinduism is not even a religion in the way one would think or perceive. The so–called formal doctrine that every other religion has, or at least indicates and outlines, does not exist in Hinduism. Hinduism is based not on one, but on many different rituals that are practiced by many different sects, and they are based on different techniques. This is a unique situation, but unbelievably, Hinduism has many followers over the last 4,000 years; and we are talking about hundreds of millions of people who live in India, let alone those followers outside India. Unprecedentedly, Hinduism does not have a Founder or a specifically recognised founding event; rather it has the significant distinction in its core belief of the personal spiritual development of one.s identity by separation from the materialistic world or reality.
The word Hindu actually means Indian, but does not mean any nationalistic limitation and only identifies authentic and traditional spiritual beliefs practiced in India. The actual rituals are used as the tools to help the believer to achieve his or her spiritual journey. However, Hinduism does have some well-recognised principles that are accepted as the aspects of faith as well as a few holy books with different ideas. You can honestly admire these complex interconnections of competitive ideas instead of just one solely constructed ideology. The collaboration of one and many make Hinduism very distinctive when compared to other known major religions.
One of the well-recognised principles is reincarnation based on the belief of the human spirit returning back to life after death in different forms of physical body in order to achieve perfection, and to finally break the cycle of birth followed by death and go to heaven. This principle belief, accepted by the majority, set a very interesting precedent in the evolutionary development of Hinduism. It led to the acceptance of the incarnation of one god within another. The next unique development in Hinduism is the principle of karma, recognised as a doctrine based on the moral cause of actions that have implications on one.s personal incarnation in the future.
One of the effects on the social structure of Indian society, that has its core in Hinduism, is the system of castes that identifies social hierarchy as a strict order for marriages and social roles. The highest social caste is, by our definition, the elite class of priests. The second caste is military class or the rulers. The third caste is the class of merchants and farmers. The lowest caste is comprised of the peasants, or so called untouchables, in India. One of most interesting developments in Hinduism is the worship of animals, and as you all probably know, cattle and peacocks are regarded as sacred and their slaughter forbidden.
Hinduism has a very specific explanation of death and emphasizes no fear of it, rather peace and calmness because death is regarded as a passage or journey of the soul, or rather the personal transformation during departure, through the spiritual channel, or so-called chakra. One specific fragment of information you should take note of is that the Hindus prefer to think of Hinduism as a consolidated system or way of life, and not as a religion.
Buddhism originated in India and, unlike Hinduism, had as its origin a quite significant event and so called Founder. The event took place 600 B.C.E and based on the legend of the young monarch Gautama who had a revelation of human suffering after 29 years living in supreme luxury. Gautama eventually became a holy man after his decision to live in deprivation. His „awakening., his realisation that all beings have a state of enlightenment, was his revelation and he became known as one who „went through. completely. Gautama is known as the Enlightened One, Buddha and Founder of Buddhism. For the rest of his life he was traveling, preaching and creating communities of monks that are called sangha.
Buddhism is based on liberation from three forms of human perceptions – ignorance, desire and anger. Buddhism has many common beliefs with Hinduism, such as reincarnation and karma, but strictly rejects the social system of castes. Buddha claimed that he achieved true knowledge of the Four Noble Truths. He said death has no end to suffering and human existence is immanently painful. The ignorance of reality is our selfish craving and causes suffering as a result. Suffering can be overcome by entering a state of Nirvana that is a state of ultimate liberation. To achieve final liberation one must follow the path of right understanding , right purpose, right speech, right effort, right alertness, right concentration, right livelihood and right conduct (The Eightfold Path). One of the most significant concepts of Buddhism is the regarding of any fixation on distinctive form, including any spiritual form, as delusion because Buddhism regards any form as subject to division and disintegration. In Buddhism, nothing is permanent or forever, but everything is in temporary process.
A quite notable difference between Buddhism and even Hinduism is the doctrine that one must not look for divine involvement in this life, and instead of worshiping, must focus on individual spiritual goals solely through meditation and high moral practice. The moral practices that Buddhists must be committed to are: not to kill, not to steal, not to lie, not to take drugs and not to act in a lustful manner. Buddha left no written records of his teachings and he did not appoint a successor, and this resulted in many disputes on the directions of the faith. Finally, 18 disciplines were confirmed and only one, recognised as the oldest, survived until now and it is known as Theravada or “doctrine of elders” with strong emphasis on personal discipline and solitary practice. Others reformed and developed different philosophical views and notions as for example Mahayana Buddhism, and the well-known today Tibetan Buddhism, based on the incorporation of Mahayana Buddhism and Hindu Tantric practice.
What is interesting is that today Buddhism has relatively few followers in India and probably more in America. In America, Buddhism has many other schools of practice that sprang from authentic Buddhism and developed independently. One of the most popular is Zen, that means meditation, and not surprisingly, it has no rules but many forms of meditation for personal practice. Originally, “Zen” was “Chan”, and was founded in China and later renamed to “Zen” by the Japanese because as “Chan” practically disappeared in China it flourished in Japan within the military class. The American Zen Buddhism is Japanese. Two notable contemporary sects within Buddhism are mentioned in this regard; one called The Pure Land Buddhism with few branches, and, Nichiren Buddhism that was named after Buddhist Nichiren from Japan.
Judaism, based on the Five Books of Moses called The Torah, teaches the history of the Hebrew people who, according to scripture or scrolls, originated from Abraham who made the agreement with God. The agreement is quite straight forward- God will secure descendants from Abraham as a nation in return for total obedience to the one true God. Later the God Almighty made agreements with Noah and Moses. The main significance of these agreements is that according to scripture God spoke directly to all of them and the true God is the single dominant God. The other very important aspect in Judaism is the Law of the Ten Commandments, given to Moses by God, that became the pillar of Jewish tradition in their everyday life and religious practice. In Judaism, God has direct influence on every aspect of life of the Hebrew people that became “the chosen people”, including development of overall history of Earth, and He demands solely minded devotion to a single God Almighty and his will, as a necessity.
Jewish people that practice Judaism believe that The God is the ultimate authority and rules over the universe, the studying of the Torah is equal to prayer, and that life is holy. The Jewish people have responsibility to one another based on a common purpose and destiny. The last but not least important aspect of Judaism is community-based tradition reinforced by the constant sense of belonging by praying together at home and in synagogues , and by the custom of male circumcision only practiced by Jewish people.
However, if one thinks Judaism can be defined by one single dogma or by a few words, one must think again because Judaism is a very diverse faith with many variations of beliefs practiced around the world by Jewish people. What weidentified above, to be considered as the set of accepted principles and ideas of Judaism, evolved during the actual history of Jewish people. Without doubt, you can find a branch of Judaism that can be identified as fundamentalist, pursuing complete conformity to the will of God as written in scripture. That branch, known as the Orthodox movement, preserves every ritual and every tradition that was revealed in the beginning, by God, with no place for revision or even debate. The old traditional way or no way is not just practiced by the Orthodox branch, but also passed on with strong dedication to the next generation exactly how it was stated in the God.s first revelations and commandments.
Rabbis within the orthodox movement continue to be the instructors and the interpreters of the Torah and with strong influence inside the whole community. The acknowledgement of their integration within modern social development of the world around in culture, science and technology, influenced some Jewish people to form a new branch of Judaism called Conservative Judaism. Some minor adjustments to the modern „outside. way of life took place but the major traditions and practices were strictly followed in accordance with the scriptures. In mid-nineteenth century, a very pragmatic movement was evolving in Europe among Jewish people and later flourished in America between immigrants to reach a large enough number to become a separate branch of Judaism.
Unsurprisingly, it was named Reform Judaism. The biggest difference between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism versus Reform Judaism was the acceptance of the Torah by Reform Judaism as a way of life inspired by God and not as a set of rules based on the will of the God with total devotion to the God. Reform Judaism was open to explore the different interpretation of an individual and the Torah became more a moral guide, not enforced, but shared by Rabbis as a historic heritage. The next century produced the Reconstructionist School that rejected some of the core traditional beliefs and regarded Judaism as a cultural marvel. This new school has many followers with one common belief that the words in the scripture are not words of God. We cannot avoid the mentioning of such an event as the evolution of Zionism as a political movement in 1896 that proclaimed, somewhat aggressively, the goal of restoring the state of Israel; and as we all know, it become a reality in just a few years after the end of WWII. Zionism is not Judaism but is a very specific political movement.
Christianity arose initially from a very small sect in Palestine with the emergence of a teacher named Jesus of Galilee, who claimed he was anointed by God. He steered a popular ministry promoting tolerance, love and faith. Nevertheless, Christianity originally began as a form of Judaism. In addition, the Jesus in the beginning was a Jew, as were his followers. However, Christians still believe that Jesus Christ was a man and the God at the same time, and was born to redeem the human race as the Messiah.
Interestingly, in Greek translation “Christos” means “the anointed one”, but in Hebrew, “Christos” has the specific meaning of “Messiah”- the one anointed by God to bring salvation to Israel. The biggest problem for the Jewish people was that Jesus referred to himself by names for God from old Testimony and did not stop others calling him those names. In the eyes of Judaism that was Blasphemy. In Wikipedia we found this explanation – In the third book of the Torah, Leviticus 24: 16 states that those who speak blasphemy “shall surely be put to death”. Jesus knew this, therefore it was no surprise that by Judaism Law, he would be punished. However, Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judaea, officially condemned Jesus following his betrayal by Judas Iscariot. In the eyes of Judaism, Jesus was a criminal and not the Messiah. However, in the eyes of the non-Jewish audience Jesus became the Messiah who rose from the grave for the true salvation of the human race, and his non- Jewish followers grew in substantial numbers.
The earlier Gospels about Jesus were written in Greek and translated into Latin whereas Jesus spoke in Aramaic, a Semitic language combining Arabic, Amharic, Tigrinya and Hebrew. That means even if somebody wrote down Jesus. teaching in his original language, we can only rely on the product of translation and therefore a minimum of personal interpretation. Christians believe if they follow his teachings, they will enter the kingdom of heaven and that the words of the Bible are inspirational words of God. The Christian Bible includes the Old Testament (sacred Hebrew books, Aramaic books) and the New Testament written after the birth of Jesus. Christianity.s initial followers were from the lower classes. The biggest boost for Christianity to gain wider and faster respect was the conversion of Constantine (the emperor) to the faith.
Christianity was growing faster but it created many conflicts and divisions within the church. The western and the eastern churches split apart, becoming Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. The aim to control the holy land of Jesus resulted in shameful bloody crusades against the Muslims. The Inquisitions against heretics and institutional corruptions became the norm. The arising skepticism of many followers was growing and with controversial 95 theses by professor of theology, Martin Luther, the opening for the Protestant Reformations started. Some internal reforms took place but did not stop deep religious divisions and debates between denominations that eventually resulted in long bloody conflict.
The actual conflict is a basic one – who is in control and who is the authorial figure on interpretation of religious teachings. This conflict is not an easy one to solve, because Christianity has very diverse faith and therefore countless points of view and many different schools. One of the reasons for such diversity is the practical and pragmatic approach of the fast spreading Christian Churches that willingly incorporated different local traditions in order to gain wider and faster establishment of their Christianity around the world as far as their missionaries could go to spread the truth. It should also be noted that Christianity is not a concluded set of answers and the faith is just a direction towards redemption and resurrection through Jesus. The unsolved interpretation of the mystery of Christ and his salvation is evolving together with humankind history.
Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam also emerged in the Middle East and is related directly and quite intimately to Judaism and Christianity. Muslims believe in a single God, in angels, in the Day of Judgment, in the prophets and in the revelations of the God. Muslims do not believe in the divinity of Jesus because they regard him as one of the prophets, like Moses. The Prophet Muhammad is not worshiped, but is highly regarded as the last or final prophet. Muslims, or to be precise “Those Who Submit” to the will of Allah (“The God”), practice Islamic faith based on past revelations of Allah that are consolidated in the holy book of Qur.an that is written in Arabic. For Muslims, the Qur.an is the definitive word of God and divine in nature, whereas the Hebrew Scripts and The New Testament are regarded as derivatives from past revelations that have been compromised.
The Qur.an presents a system of “deen”, or simply a system of faithful living. It contains historical accounts of events with few parallels to Jewish and Christian traditions. It warns of the consequences of not having faith. It outlines direct doctrinal messages with specific moral duties, with emphasis on total dependence upon Allah in every aspect of human life. It explains the punishments and rewards for human behavior and actions. It teaches that life is a test and explains the Day of Judgment and resurrection. It clearly outlines the five most important obligations of the Muslims life: the confession of faith, the formal period of worship, the amount of fixed tax for the benefit of the poor, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca. Initially, there were few written versions of the Quran. However, the one accumulated by Muhammad.s secretary Zaid, in Thabit, and determined by Caliph Uthman almost 20 years after Muhammad.s death, was pronounced the authoritative version and the others were destroyed.
Caliph is actually the title given to a person who would lead and defend the faith. The first four Caliphs after Prophet Muhammad were his associates and became known as “Rightly Guided Caliphs”. Over history, the Islamic empire went through internal disagreements, including divisions and bloodshed. The basic conflict was based on determining if the Qur.an was created during time or was it eternal. Eventually, after many conflicts, the Qur.an was accepted as being quotations from God that were received directly by Muhammad from heaven, and passed on to the followers. The supplement of the Sunnah that offers some insights of how to behave in the right way in many situations was added to it.
Still, after all the conflicts and disagreements, major movements inside Islam established their schools of teachings and have many followers all over the world. They are regarded as sects – the Shiite and Sunni sects. The Sunni sect emerged out of a rationalist movement (religious) and as a school of theology known as “orthodox”. This sect has no religious hierarchy and accepts a broad set of theological principles. The Shia sect initially originated as a political movement in opposition to the central government and lost. Later, Shia incorporated a religious dimension but their view of the history of Islam was very different to that of the Sunni Muslims. Shia actually means – follower. The Sunnis accept “The Rightly Guided” as a whole group of legitimate caliphs whereas the Shiites reject legitimacy of the first three caliphs. The emphasis in this sect is heavily placed on the role of the individual clerics and it is vital to Shiite Muslims how the human leadership role is conducted within the faith.
Islam has become one of the major religions practiced globally. It is believed that more than a billion people are dedicated followers of Islam worldwide. There is no artistic representation of the image of Allah- it is forbidden. In any mosque, you will never find any images of humans, animals or plants, but only abstract decorative elements. All mosques have a distinctive feature as a niche or at least definite indication to help the followers to pray in the direction of Mecca, but the prayers are always directed to God. Muslims traditionally whisper the name of Allah to those just born and to those who are about to die. The word Islam has two meaning- “submission to God” and “peace”.
Best wishes and warmest regards,