Asian Religions

Hinduism

“Hinduism is the oldest and perhaps the most complex of all the living, historical world religions. It has no one single identifiable founder. The actual names found for the religion in the Hindu scriptures are Vedic Religion, i.e., the Religion of the Vedas (Scriptures) and Sangtana Dharma, i.e., Universal or Perennial Wisdom and Righteousness, the “Eternal Religion.” Hinduism is not merely a religion, however. It encompasses an entire civilization and way of life, whose roots date back prior to 3000 B.C.E beyond the peoples of Indus Valley culture. Yet, since the time of the Vedas, there is seen a remarkable continuity, a cultural and philosophical complexity and also a pattern of unity in diversity that evolved in the course of its history, also a demonstrated propensity for deep integration and assimilation of all new and external influences.” (Joel D. Beversluis, Sourcebook of the World’s Religions: An Interfaith Guide to Religion and Spirituality, 3rd ed. (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2000), 50.)

 

Buddhism

“Buddhism as we know it commenced in Northeast India about 500 B.C. through the teaching of Prince Siddartha Gautama, often known subsequent to his experience of “enlightenment” as Sakyamuni. Sakyamuni traveled around and taught in the Ganges basin until his death at the age of eighty-four. From there Buddhism spread through much of India until its total disappearance from the land of its origin by the end of the 13th century. This disappearance occurred as a consequence of several centuries of foreign invasions leading ultimately to the conquest of India by successive waves of conquers who had been unified under Islam. … From the start, the teaching of the Buddha was a middle way. In ethics it taught a middle way avoiding the two extremities of asceticism and hedonism. In philosophy it taught a middle way avoiding the two extremities of eternalism and annihilation. The single most important and fundamental notion underpinning Buddhist thought was the idea of “contingent genesis” or “dependent origination” (pratitya-amutpada). Here the thought is that every birth or origination occurs in dependence on necessary causes and conditions; however not everything so asserted can function as a cause – in particular, any kind of eternal or permanent whole. Consequently, the Buddhist idea of “contingent genesis” came to be characterized by consistency. Unpropelledness signifies that origination or genesis is not propelled by a universal design such as the thought or will of a creator. Impermanence means that the cause of an effect is always requires that the genesis or effect will be consistent with and not exceed the creative power of the cause. For example, it is on the basis of the quality of consistency that the Buddhist denies that any kind of material body can provide a sufficient material cause of the production of a mind. Thus, on account of this primary philosophical underpinning of contingent genesis, Buddhism has produced a quite large etiological rather than theological literature.” (Beversluis, Sourcebook of the World’s, 11-12.)

 

Jainism

“Jainism begins with a serious concern for the human soul in its relationship with the laws governing existence in the universe, with other living beings, and to its own future state in eternity. First and foremost, it is a religion of the heart: the golden rule is Ahimsa, nonviolence by all faculties – mental, verbal, and physical. The whole of its structure is built upon compassion for all forms of life. Like an inner Japanese garden, with its profusion of inner worlds, restrained exuberance, and perfect orchestration, Jainism, too, emerges as a secret refuge for life, an artistic oasis; and its delicate balance spanning hope and despair does not brashly declare itself nor go in for theatrics.” (Beversluis, Sourcebook of the World’s, 79.)

 

Sikhism

“Founded only five hundred years ago by Guru Nanak (1439-1539), Sikhism is one of the youngest world religions. After a revelatory experience at the age of about thirty-eight, Nanak began to teach that true religion consisted of being ever-mindful of God, meditating on God’s Name, and reflecting it in all activities of daily life. He condemned superstition and discouraged ritual. He traveled throughout India, Ceylon, Tibet, and parts of the Arab world with followers of both Hindu and Muslim origin, discussing his revelation with those he met. His followers became known as Sikhs (from the Sanskrit word shishya – disciple.) … The Guru Granth Sahib is at the heart of Sikh worship, and its presence lends sanctity to the Sikh place of worship, the gurdwara. This holy book contains devotional compositions written by the Sikh gurus, recorded during their lifetimes. It also contains hymns by Hindu and Muslim religious thinkers. Written in Sanskrit, Persian, Hindi, and Punjabi, the compositions are set in rhymed couplets. The Guru Granth Sahib is printed in Gurmukhi script, an alphabet adapted by the second guru, Guru Angad, for the Punjabi language. It has standardized pagination: all copies having 1,430 pages. The Rehat Maryada (Sikh Code of Conduct) published in 1945 by the SGPC of Amritsar, Punjab, India, regulates individual and corporate Sikh life.” (Beversluis, Sourcebook of the World’s, 92.)

 

Taoism/Daoism

“Taoism believes Tao to be the cosmic, mysterious, and ultimate principle underlying form, substance, being, and change. Tao encompasses everything. It can be used to understand the universe and nature as well as the human body. … Tao is the cause of change and the source of all nature, including humanity. Everything from quanta to solar systems consists of two primary elements of existence, Yin and Yang forces, which represent all opposites. These two forces are complementary elements in any terms coexist in an interdependent network. The dynamic tension between Yin and Yang forces in all systems results in an endless process of change: production and reproduction and the transformation of energy. This is the natural order. … The path of the Return to the Tao is the process of transforming Later Heaven into Earlier Heaven. In other words, it is the process of a reunification with Tao, of being transformed from a conflicting mode to a harmonious mode. The conflicting mode is the destructive or waning cycle of the Five Elements (metal, wood, earth, water, and fire). The destructive cycle consists of metal destroying wood (axes cutting trees); wood dominating earth as the roots of the trees dig into the ground (power domination); earth mastering water and preventing the flood (anti-nature forces); water destroying fire (anti-nature causes pollution that destroys the beauty of the world); and fire melting metals (pollution). Taoists believe that through both personal and social transformation we can convert the destructive cycle of the Five Elements into a creative cycle of the Five Elements – to change from a conflicting mode of life into a supportive way of living.” (Beversluis, Sourcebook of the World’s, 105-106.)

 

Shinto

“Shinto is the indigenous national religion of Japan. It is more vividly observed in the social life of the people, or in personal motivations, than as a firmly established theology of philosophy; yet it has been closely connected with the value system and ways of thinking and acting of the Japanese people. Modern Shinto can be roughly classified into three types: Shrine Shinto, Sectarian Shinto, and Folk Shinto.

  • Shrine Shinto has been in existence from the prehistoric ages to the present and constitutes a main current of Shinto tradition. Until the end of 1945, it included State Shinto within its structure and even now has close relations with the emperor system.
  • Sectarian Shinto is a relatively new movement based on the Japanese religious tradition, and is represented by the thirteen major sects, which originated in Japan around the 19th century. Each of the thirteen sects has either a rounder or a systematizer who organized the religious body. New Shinto sects which appeared in Japan after World War II are conveniently included in this type.
  • Folk Shinto is an aspect of Japanese folk belief closely related to Shinto. It has neither a firmly organized religious body nor any doctrinal formulas, and includes small roadside images, agricultural rites of individual families, and so on.

These three types of Shinto are interrelated: Folk Shinto exists as the substructure of Shinto faith, and a Sectarian Shinto follower is usually a parishioner of a certain shrine of Shrine Shinto at the same time.” (Beversluis, Sourcebook of the World’s, 89.)

 

Confucianism

“Confucianism is a philosophy of a way of life, although many people also consider it a religion. The tradition derives its name from Kung Fu Tzu, or Confucius, (551-479 B.C.) who is renowned as a philosopher and educator. … The overall goal of Confucianism is to educate people to be self-motivated, self-controlled, and able to assume responsibilities; it has the dual aims of cultivating the individual self and contributing to the attainment of an ideal, harmonious society. Confucius based his method on the assumption that lawlessness and social problems result from the combination of unenlightened individuals and a social structure without norms.” (Beversluis, Sourcebook of the World’s, 37.)