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Buddism -




Buddism

History:

Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world, being exceeded in numbers only by Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. It was founded in Northern India by the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. He was born circa 563 befor Christ in Lumbini which is in modern-day Nepal. At the age of 29, he left his wife, children and political involvements in order to seek truth; this was an accepted practice at the time for some men to leave their family and lead the life of an ascetic. He studied Brahmanism, but ultimately rejected it. In 535 befor Christ he reached enlightenment and assumed the title Buddha (one who has awakened). He is also referred to as the Sakyamuni, (sage of the Sakya clan). He promoted The Middle Way, rejecting both extremes of the mortification of the flesh and of hedonism as paths toward the state of Nirvana. He had many disciples and accumulated a large public following by the time of his death in his early 80's in 483 befor Christ. Two and a half centuries later, a council of Buddhist monks collected his teachings and the oral traditions of the faith into written form, called the Tripitaka. This included a very large collection of commentaries and traditions; most are called Sutras (discourses).

Buddhist Beliefs:

Buddhism, like most of the great religions of the world, is divided into a number of different traditions. But I will deal in this essay with Theravada Buddhism. Buddhism is a religion which shares few concepts with Christianity. For example, they do not believe in a transcendent or immanent or any other type of God or Gods, the need for a personal savior, the power of prayer, eternal life in a heaven or hell after death, etc. They do believe in reincarnation: the concept that one must go through many cycles of birth, living, and death. After many such cycles, if a person releases their attachment to desire and the self, they can attain Nirvana. The Buddha's Four Noble Truths may be described (somewhat simplistically) as:



-to be fully understood: the universality of suffering

-to be abandoned: the desire to have and control things which cause. Suffering

-to be made visible: the supreme truth and final liberation of nirvana which is achieved as the cause of suffering is eliminated. The mind experiences complete freedom and liberation

-to be brought into being: the truth of the eightfold ariya path leading to the cessation of suffering

His Eightfold Path consists of:

  1. right understanding
  2. right thinking
  3. right speech
  4. right conduct
  5. right livelihood
  6. right effort
  7. right mindfulness
  8. right concentration

Buddhist Sects:

Buddhism is not a single monolithic religion. Many of its adherents have combined the teachings of the Buddha with local religious rituals, beliefs and customs. Little conflict occurs, because Buddhism at its core is a philosophical system to which such additions can be easily grafted. After the Buddha's death, splits occurred. There are now three main systems of thought within Buddhism which are geographically and philosophically separate. Each tradition in turn has many sects. One source divides the religion into three main groups by their location:

-Southern Buddhism (known as Therevada Buddhism) has 100 million followers, mainly in    Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka and Thailand, and parts of Vietnam. It started in Sri Lanka when Buddhist missionaries arrived from India. They promoted the Vibhajjavada school (Separative Teaching). By the 15th century, this form of the religion reached almost its present extent.

-Eastern Buddhism is the predominant religion in China, Japan, Korea and much of Vietnam. Buddhism's Mahayana tradition entered China during the Han dynasty (206 befor Christ to 220 past christ). It found initial acceptance there among the workers; later, it gradually penetrated the ruling class. Buddhism reached Japan in the 6th century. It underwent severe repression during the 1960's in China during the Cultural Revolution. Eastern Buddhism contains many distinct schools: T'ein-t'ai, Hua-yen, Pure Land teachings, and the Meditation school. They celebrate New Years, harvest festivals, and five anniversaries from the lives of Buddha and of the Bodhissattva Kuan-yin. They also engage in Dana, Sila, Chanting, Worship and Pilgrimage

-Northern Buddhism has perhaps 10 million adherents in parts of China, Mongolia, Russia and Tibet. It entered Tibet circa 640 past christ. Conflict with the native Tibetan religion of Bon caused it to go largely underground until its revival in the 11th century. The head of the Gelu school of Buddhist teaching became the Dalai Lama, and ruled Tibet. It has been, until recently, wrongly dismissed as a degenerate form of Buddhism.

Ceremony and ritual are emphasized. They also engage in Dana, Sila, Chanting, Worship and Pilgrimage. They developed the practice of searching out a young child at the time of death of an important teacher. The child is believed to be the successor to the deceased teacher. They celebrate New Years, harvest festivals and anniversaries of five important events in the life of the Buddha. Buddhist and Tibetan culture suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution when an attempt was made to destroy all religious belief.

Hinduism:

Overview:

Hinduism differs from Christianity and other Western religions in that it does not have a single founder, a specific theological system, a single system of morality, or a central religious organization. It consists of thousands of different religious groups that have evolved in India since 1500 befor Christ. Hinduism has grown to become the world's third largest religion, after Christinity and Islam. It claims about 762 million followers - 13% of the world's population. It is the dominant religion in India, Nepal, and among the Tamils in Sri Lanka. There are about 1.1 million Hindus in the U.S.  They estimated 766,000 Hindus in 2001, an increase from 227,000 in 1990. Statistics Canada estimates that there are about 157,015 in Canada. Hinduism is generally regarded as the world's oldest organized religion. Religions which recognize the existence of multiple deities have traditionally been among the world's most religiously tolerant. Hinduism remains arguably the most tolerant of such religions. However, during the past few years, a Hindu nationalistic political party has controlled the government of India. The linkage of religion, the federal government and nationalism has led to a recent degeneration in the level of religious tolerance in that country. The escalation of anti-Christian violence is one manifestation of this linkage. 

Name of the religion:

This religion is called:

-        Sanatana Dharma, 'eternal religion,'

-        Vaidika Dharma, 'religion of the Vedas,'

-        Hinduism -- the most commonly used name in North America.

Early history of Hinduism:

Beliefs about the early development of Hinduism are currently in a state of flux:There are different theorys but I want to tell you only the classical one:

The classical theory of the origins of Hinduism traces the religion's roots to the Indus valley civilization circa 4000 to 2200 befor Christ. The development of Hinduism was influenced by many invasions over thousands of years. The major influences occurred when light-skinned, nomadic 'Aryan' Indo-European tribes invaded Northern India (about 1500 befor Christ) from the steppes of Russia and Central Asia. They brought with them their religion of Vedism. These beliefs mingled with the more advanced, indigenous Indian native beliefs, often called the 'Indus valley culture.'. This theory was initially proposed by Christian academics some 200 years ago. Their conclusions were biased by their pre-existing belief in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). The Book of Genesis, which they interpreted literally, appears to place the creation of the earth at circa 4,000 BCE, and the Noahic flood at circa 2,500 befor Christ. These dates put severe constraints on the date of the 'Aryan invasion,' and the development of the four Veda and Upanishad Hindu religious texts. A second factor supporting this theory was their lack of appreciation of the sophisticated nature of Vedic culture; they had discounted it as primitive.During the first few centuries CE, many sects were created, each dedicated to a specific deity. Typical among these were the Goddesses Shakti and Lakshmi, and the Gods Skanda and Surya.



Sacred texts:

-        Among the most important of all Hindu sacred texts are the Vedas: the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. Rig Veda (a.k.a. Rigveda) is the oldest, having been composed about 1500 befor Christ and written down about 600 befor Christ. They contain hymns, incantations, and rituals from ancient India.

-         Another group of primary texts are the Upanishadas. They are 'a continuation of the Vedic philosophy, and were written between 800 and 400 befor Christ. They elaborate on how the soul (Atman) can be united with the ultimate truth (Brahman) through contemplation and mediation, as well as the doctrine of Karma-- the cumulative effects of a persons' actions.'

-        The Mahabharata, were written 540 to 300 befor Christ, and have been attributed to the sage Vyasa. They record 'the legends of the Bharatas, one of the Aryan tribal groups.' The Bhagavad Gita is the sixth book of the Mahabharata. It is a poem describing a conversation between a warrior Arjuna and the God Krishna. It is an ancient text that has become central to Hinduism and other belief systems

-        Another important text is the Ramayana. It is 'a moving love story with moral and spiritual themes.' It is dated to the first century past Christ and has been attributed to the poet Valmiki

-        Other texts include the Brahmanas, the Sutras, and the Aranyakas

Hindu beliefs and practices:

Categorizing the religion of Hinduism is somewhat confusing:

-        Hinduism has commonly been viewed in the west as a polytheistic religion - one which worships multiple deities: gods and goddesses

-        Some have viewed it as a monotheistic religion, because it recognizes only one supreme God: the panentheistic principle of Brahman, that all reality is a unity. The entire universe is seen as one divine entity who is simultaneously at one with the universe and who transcends it as well. 




-        Strictly speaking, Hinduism is a henotheistic religion -- a religion which recognizes a single deity, but which recognizes other gods and goddesses as facets or manifestations or aspects of that supreme God.

Most urban Hindus follow one of two major divisions within Hinduism:

-        Vaishnavaism: which generally regards Vishnu as the ultimate deity

-        Shivaism: which generally regards Shiva as the ultimate deity.

However, many rural Hindus worship their own village goddess or an earth goddess. She is believed to rule over fertility and disease -- and thus over life and death. The priesthood is less important in rural Hinduism: non-Brahmins and non-priests often carry out ritual and prayer there.Hindus believe in the repetitious Transmigration of the Soul. This is the transfer of one's soul after death into another body. This produces a continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth through their many lifetimes. It is called samsara. Karma is the accumulated sum of ones good and bad deeds. Karma determines how you will live your next life. Through pure acts, thoughts and devotion, one can be reborn at a higher level. Eventually, one can escape samsara and achieve enlightenment. Bad deeds can cause a person to be reborn as a lower level, or even as an animal. The unequal distribution of wealth, prestige, suffering are thus seen as natural consequences for one's previous acts, both in this life and in previous lives. Hindus organize their lives around certain activities or 'purusharthas.' These are called the 'four aims of Hinduism,' or 'the doctrine of the fourfold end of life.'

The caste system:

Although the caste system was abolished by law in 1949, it remains a significant force throughout India.  Each follower of Hinduism belonged to one of the thousands of Jats (communities) that existed in India. The Jats were grouped into four Varna (social castes), plus a fifth group called the 'untouchables.' A person's Jat determined the range of jobs or professions from which they could choose. Marriages normally took place within the same Jat. There were rules that prohibited persons of different groups from eating, drinking or even smoking with each other. People were once able to move from one Varna to another. However, at some time in the past (estimates range from about 500 befor Christ  to 500 past Christ), the system became rigid, so that a person was generally born into the Jat and Varna of their parents, and died in the same group.  'The caste system splits up society into a multitude of little communities, for every caste, and almost every local unit of a caste, has its own peculiar customs and internal regulations.'  The Rigveda defined four castes. In decreasing status, they are normally:

-        Brahmins (the priests and academics)

-        Kshatriyas (rulers, military)

-        Vaishyas (farmers, landlords, and merchants)

-        Sudras (peasants, servants, and workers in non-polluting jobs). 

The Dalit were outcasts who did not belong to one of the castes. Until the late 1980's they were called Harijan (children of God). They worked in what are considered polluting jobs. They were untouchable by the four castes; in some areas of the country, even a contact with their shadow by a member of the Varnas was considered polluting.Practicing untouchability or discriminating against a person because of their caste is now illegal. The caste system has lost much of its power in urban areas; however it is essentially unchanged in some rural districts. The government has instituted positive discrimination in order to help the Dalit and lower castes.Many Dalit have left Hinduism in recent years. This has sometimes been motivated by a desire to escape the caste system. On 2001-NOV-4, one million low-caste Dalits are expected to meet in Delhi, India, for a mass conversion to Buddhism. According to Gospel for Asia, Dalits feel that: 'The only way for our people to find freedom from 3,000 years of slavery is to quit Hinduism and Castism and embrace another faith.' Mass conversions to Christianity have also occurred.

Hindu sects and denominations:

About 80% of Hindus are Vaishnavites, who worship Lord Vishnu. Others follow various reform movements or neo-Hindu sects. Various sects of Hinduism have evolved into separate religious movements, including Hare Krishna, Sikhism and Theosophy. Transcendental Meditation was derived from a Hindu technique of meditation. The New Age movement has taken many of its concepts from Hinduism.










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