FOUNDED: Hinduism, the world's oldest religion, has no beginning -- it predates recorded history.
FOUNDER: Hinduism has no human founder.
MAJOR SCRIPTURES: The Vedas, Agamas and more.
ADHERENTS: Nearly one billion, mostly in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Malaysia, Indonesia, Indian Ocean, Africa, Europe and North and South America.
SECTS: There are four main denominations: Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism.
Hinduism is a vast and profound religion. It worships one Supreme Reality (called by many names) and teaches that all souls ultimately realize Truth. There is no eternal hell, no damnation. It accepts all genuine spiritual paths -- from pure monism ("God alone exists") to theistic dualism ("When shall I know His Grace?"). Each soul is free to find his own way, whether by devotion, austerity, meditation (yoga) or selfless service. Stress is placed on temple worship, scripture and the guru-disciple tradition. Festivals, pilgrimage, chanting of holy hymns and home worship are dynamic practices. Love, nonviolence, good conduct and the law of dharma define the Hindu path. Hinduism explains that the soul reincarnates until all karmas are resolved and God Realization is attained. The magnificent holy temples, the peaceful piety of the Hindu home, the subtle metaphysics and the science of yoga all play their part. Hinduism is a mystical religion, leading the devotee to personally experience the Truth within, finally reaching the pinnacle of consciousness where man and God are one.
GOALS OF THE FOUR MAJOR HINDU SECTS
SAIVISM: The primary goal of Saivism is realizing one's identity with God Siva, in perfect union and nondifferentiation. This is termed nirvikalpa samadhi, Self Realization, and may be attained in this life, granting moksha, permanent liberation from the cycles of birth and death. A secondary goal is savikalpa samadhi, the realization of Satchidananda, a unitive experience within superconsciousness in which perfect Truth, knowledge and bliss are known. The soul's final destiny is vishvagrasa, total merger in God Siva.
SHAKTISM: The primary goal of Shaktism is moksha, defined as complete identification with God Siva. A secondary goal for the Shaktas is to perform good works selflessly so that one may go, on death, to the heaven worlds and thereafter enjoy a good birth on Earth, for heaven, too, is a transitory state. For Shaktas, God is both the formless Absolute (Siva) and the manifest Divine (Shakti), worshiped as Parvati, Durga, Kali, Amman, Rajarajeshvari, etc. Emphasis is given to the feminine manifest by which the masculine Unmanifest is ultimately reached.
VAISHNAVISM: The primary goal of Vaishnavites is videha mukti, liberation -- attainable only after death -- when the small self realizes union with God Vishnu's body as a part of Him, yet maintains its pure individual personality. Lord Vishnu -- all-pervasive consciousness -- is the soul of the universe, distinct from the world and from the jivas, "embodied souls," which constitute His body. His transcendent Being is a celestial form residing in the city of Vaikuntha, the home of all eternal values and perfection, where the soul joins Him upon mukti, liberation. A secondary goal -- the experience of God's Grace -- can be reached while yet embodied through taking refuge in Vishnu's unbounded love. By loving and serving Vishnu and meditating upon Him and His incarnations, our spiritual hunger grows and we experience His Grace flooding our whole being.
SMARTISM: The ultimate goal of Smartas is moksha, to realize oneself as Brahman -- the Absolute and only Reality -- and become free from samsara, the cycles of birth and death. For this, one must conquer the state of avidya, or ignorance, which causes the world to appear as real. All illusion has vanished for the realized being, Jivanmukta, even as he lives out life in the physical body. At death, his inner and outer bodies are extinguished. Brahman alone exists.
PATHS OF ATTAINMENT
SAIVISM: The path for Saivites is divided into four progressive stages of belief and practice called charya, kriya, yoga and jnana. The soul evolves through karma and reincarnation from the instinctive-intellectual sphere into virtuous and moral living, then into temple worship and devotion, followed by internalized worship or yoga and its meditative disciplines. Union with God Siva comes through the grace of the satguru and culminates in the soul's maturity in the state of jnana, or wisdom. Saivism values both bhakti and yoga, devotional and contemplative sadhanas.
SHAKTISM: The spiritual practices in Shaktism are similar to those in Saivism, though there is more emphasis in Shaktism on God's Power as opposed to Being, on mantras and yantras, and on embracing apparent opposites: male-female, absolute-relative, pleasure-pain, cause-effect, mind-body. Certain sects within Shaktism undertake "left-hand" tantric rites, consciously using the world of form to transmute and eventually transcend that world. The "left-hand" approach is somewhat occult in nature; it is considered a path for the few, not the many. The "right-hand" path is more conservative in nature.
VAISHNAVISM: Most Vaishnavites believe that religion is the performance of bhakti sadhanas, and that man can communicate with and receive the grace of the Gods and Goddesses through the darshana of their icons. The paths of karma yoga and jnana yoga lead to bhakti yoga. Among the foremost practices of Vaishnavites is chanting the holy names of the Avataras, Vishnu's incarnations, especially Rama and Krishna. Through total self-surrender, prapatti, to Vishnu, to Krishna or to His beloved consort Radharani, liberation from samsara is attained.
SMARTISM: Smartas, the most eclectic of Hindus, believe that moksha is achieved through jnana yoga alone -- defined as an intellectual and meditative but non-kundalini-yoga path. Jnana yoga's progressive stages are scriptural study (shravana), reflection (manana) and sustained meditation (dhyana). Guided by a realized guru and avowed to the unreality of the world, the initiate meditates on himself as Brahman to break through the illusion of maya. Devotees may also choose from three other non-successive paths to cultivate devotion, accrue good karma and purify the mind. These are bhakti yoga, karma yoga and raja yoga, which certain Smartas teach can also bring enlightenment.
- I believe in the divinity of the Vedas, the world's most ancient scripture, and venerate the Agamas as equally revealed. These primordial hymns are God's word and the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion which has neither beginning nor end.
- I believe in a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.
- I believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.
- I believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.
- I believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha, spiritual knowledge and liberation from the cycle of rebirth, is attained. Not a single soul will be eternally deprived of this destiny.
- I believe that divine beings exist in unseen worlds and that temple worship, rituals, sacraments as well as personal devotionals create a communion with these devas and Gods.
- I believe that a spiritually awakened master, or satguru, is essential to know the Transcendent Absolute, as are personal discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry and meditation.
- I believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, "noninjury."
- I believe that no particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths are facets of God's Pure Love and Light, deserving tolerance and understanding.
FOUNDED: Buddhism began about 2,500 years ago in India.
FOUNDER: Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha, or "Enlightened One."
MAJOR SCRIPTURES: The Tripitaka, Anguttara-Nikaya, Dhammapada, Sutta-Nipata, Samyutta-Nikaya and many others.
ADHERENTS: Over 300 million.
SECTS: Buddhism today is divided into three main sects: Theravada or Hinayana (Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia), Mahayana (China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea), and Vajrayana (Tibet, Mongolia and Japan).
Life's goal is nirvana. Toward that end, Buddha's teachings are capsulized in the Four Noble Truths, chatvari arya satyani:
- THE TRUTH OF SUFFERING: Suffering, duhkha, is the central fact of life. Being born is pain, growing old is pain, sickness is pain, death is pain. Union with what we dislike is pain, separation from what we like is pain, not obtaining what we desire is pain.
- THE TRUTH OF THE ORIGIN (SAMUDaYA) OF SUFFERING: The cause of suffering is the desire (icchha), craving (tanha) or thirst (trishna) for sensual pleasures, for existence and experience, for worldly possessions and power. This craving binds one to the wheel of rebirth, samsara.
- THE TRUTH OF THE CESSATION (NIRODHA) OF SUFFERING: Suffering can be brought to an end only by the complete cessation of desires -- the forsaking, relinquishing and detaching of oneself from desire and craving.
- THE TRUTH OF THE PATH (marga) TO ENDING SUFFERING: The means to the end of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path (arya ashtanga marga), right belief, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right meditation.
GOALS OF BUDDHISM
The primary goal of the Buddhists is nirvana, defined as the end of change, literally meaning "blowing out," as one blows out a candle. Theravada tradition describes the indescribable as "peace and tranquility." The Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions view it as "neither existence nor nonexistence," "emptiness and the unchanging essence of the Buddha" and "ultimate Reality." It is synonymous with release from the bonds of desire, ego, suffering and rebirth. Buddha never defined nirvana, except to say, "There is an unborn, an unoriginated, an unmade, an uncompounded," and it lies beyond the experiences of the senses. Nirvana is not a state of annihilation, but of peace and reality. As with Jainism, Buddhism has no creator God and thus no union with Him.
PATH OF ATTAINMENT
Buddhism takes followers through progressive stages of dhyana, samapatti and samadhi. Dhyana is meditation, which leads to moral and intellectual purification, and to detachment which leads to pure consciousness. The samapattis, or further dhyanas, lead through a progressive nullification of psychic, mental and emotional activity to a state which is perfect solitude, neither perception nor nonperception. This leads further to samadhi, supernatural consciousness and, finally, entrance into the ineffable nirvana. Many Buddhists understand the ultimate destiny and goal to be a heaven of bliss where one can enjoy eternity with the Bodhisattvas. Mahayana places less value on monasticism than Theravada and differs further in believing one can rely on the active help of other realized beings for salvation. Vajrayana, also called Tantric or Mantrayana Buddhism, stresses tantric rituals and yoga practices under the guidance of a guru. Its recognition of and involvement in the supernatural distinguishes it from other Buddhist schools.
- I believe that the Supreme is completely transcendent and can be described as Sunya, a void or state of nonbeing.
- I believe in the Four Noble Truths: 1) that suffering is universal; 2) that desire is the cause of suffering; 3) that suffering may be ended by the annihilation of desire; 4) that to end desire one must follow the Eight-Fold Path.
- I believe in the Eight-Fold Path of right belief, right aims, right speech, right actions, right occupation, right endeavor, right mindfulness and right meditation.
- I believe that life's aim is to end suffering through the annihilation of individual existence and absorption into nirvana, the Real.
- I believe in the "Middle Path," living moderately, avoiding extremes of luxury and asceticism.
- I believe in the greatness of self-giving love and compassion toward all creatures that live, for these contain merit exceeding the giving of offerings to the Gods.
- I believe in the sanctity of the Buddha and in the sacred scriptures of Buddhism: the Tripitaka (Three Baskets of Wisdom) and/or the Mahayana Sutras.
- I believe that man's true nature is divine and eternal, yet his individuality is subject to the change that affects all forms and is therefore transient, dissolving at liberation into nirvana.
- I believe in dharma (the Way), karma (cause and effect), reincarnation, the sanga (brotherhood of seekers) and the passage on Earth as an opportunity to end the cycle of birth and death.
FOUNDED: Jainism began about 2,500 years ago in India.
FOUNDER: Nataputra Vardhamana, known as Mahavira, "Great Hero."
MAJOR SCRIPTURES: The Jain Agamas and Siddhantas.
ADHERENTS: About six million, almost exclusively in Central and South India, especially in Mumbai.
SECTS: There are two sects. The Digambara ("Sky-clad") sect holds that a saint should own nothing, not even clothes, thus their practice of wearing only a loincloth. They believe that salvation in this birth is not possible for women. The Svetambara ("White-robed") sect disagrees with these points.
Jainism strives for the realization of the highest perfection of man, which in its original purity is free from all pain and the bondage of birth and death. The term Jain is derived from the Sanskrit jina, "conqueror," and implies conquest over this bondage imposed by the phenomenal world. Jainism does not consider it necessary to recognize a God or any being higher than the perfect man. Souls are beginningless and endless, eternally individual. It classes souls into three broad categories: those that are not yet evolved; those in the process of evolution and those that are liberated, free from rebirth. Jainism has strong monastic-ascetic leanings, even for householders. Its supreme ideal is ahimsa, equal kindness and reverence for all life. The Jain Agamas teach great reverence for all forms of life, strict codes of vegetarianism, asceticism, nonviolence even in self-defense, and opposition to war. Jainism is, above all, a religion of love and compassion.
THE GOALS OF JAINISM
The primary goal of the Jains is becoming a Paramatman, a perfected soul. This is accomplished when all layers of karma, which is viewed as a substance, are removed, leading the soul to rise to the ceiling of the universe, from darkness to light, where, beyond the Gods and all currents of transmigration, the soul abides forever in the solitary bliss of moksha. Moksha is defined in Jainism as liberation, self-unity and integration, pure aloneness and endless calm, freedom from action and desire, freedom from karma and rebirth. Moksha is attainable in this world or at the time of death. When it is reached, man has fulfilled his destiny as the man-God. For the Jains there is no creator God and, therefore, no communion with Him. The nature of the soul is pure consciousness, power, bliss and omniscience.
PATH OF ATTAINMENT
The soul passes through various stages of spiritual development, called gunasthanas, progressive manifestations of the innate faculties of knowledge and power accompanied by decreasing sinfulness and increasing purity. Souls attain better births according to the amount of personal karma they are able to eliminate during life. Between births, souls dwell in one of the seven hells, the sixteen heavens or fourteen celestial regions. Liberated souls abide at the top of the universe. All Jains take five vows, but it is the monk who practices celibacy and poverty. Jainism places great stress on ahimsa, asceticism, yoga and monasticism as the means of attainment. Temple pujas are performed to the twenty-four Tirthankaras or spiritual preceptors, literally "ford-makers," those who take others across the ocean of samsara.
- I believe in the spiritual lineage of the 24 Tirthankaras ("ford-makers") of whom the ascetic sage Mahavira was the last -- that they should be revered and worshiped above all else.
- I believe in the sacredness of all life, that one must cease injury to sentient creatures, large and small, and that even unintentional killing creates karma.
- I believe that God is neither Creator, Father nor Friend. Such human conceptions are limited. All that may be said of Him is: He is.
- I believe that each man's soul is eternal and individual and that each must conquer himself by his own efforts and subordinate the worldly to the heavenly in order to attain moksha, or release.
- I believe the conquest of oneself can only be achieved in ascetic discipline and strict religious observance, and that nonascetics and women will have their salvation in another life (Digambara sect).
- I believe that the principle governing the successions of life is karma, that our actions, both good and bad, bind us and that karma may only be consumed by purification, penance and austerity.
- I believe in the Jain Agamas and Siddhantas as the sacred scriptures that guide man's moral and spiritual life.
- I believe in the Three Jewels: right knowledge, right faith and right conduct.
- I believe the ultimate goal of moksha is eternal release from samsara, the "wheel of birth and death," and the concomitant attainment of Supreme Knowledge.
FOUNDED: Sikhism began about 500 years ago in the Lahore area of India's Punjab region which is now in Pakistan.
FOUNDER: Guru Nanak.
MAJOR SCRIPTURE: The Adi Granth, revered as the present guru of the faith.
ADHERENTS: Estimated at nine million, mostly in India's state of Punjab.
SECTS: Besides the Khalsa, there are the Ram Raiyas in Uttar Pradesh and two groups that have living gurus -- Mandharis and Nirankaris.
The Muslims began their invasions of India some 1,200 years ago. As a result of Islam's struggle with Hindu religion and culture, leaders sought a reconciliation between the two faiths, a middle path that embraced both. Sikhism (from sikka, meaning "disciple") united Hindu bhakti and Sufi mysticism most successfully. Sikhism began as a peaceful religion and patiently bore much persecution from the Muslims, but with the tenth guru, Govind Singh, self-preservation forced a strong militarism aimed at protecting the faith and way of life against severe opposition. Sikhism stresses the importance of devotion, intense faith in the guru, the repetition of God's name (nam) as a means of salvation, opposition to the worship of idols, the brotherhood of all men and rejection of caste differences (though certain caste attitudes persist today). There have been no gurus in the main Sikh tradition since Guru Govind Singh, whose last instructions to followers were to honor and cherish the teachings of the ten gurus as embodied in the scripture, Adi Granth.
THE GOALS OF SIKHISM
The goal of Sikhism lies in moksha, which is release and union with God, described as that of a lover with the beloved and resulting in self-transcendence, egolessness and enduring bliss, or ananda. The Sikh is immersed in God, assimilated, identified with Him. It is the fulfillment of individuality in which man, freed of all limitations, becomes co-extensive and co-operant and co-present with God. In Sikhism, moksha means release into God's love. Man is not God, but is fulfilled in unitary, mystical consciousness with Him. God is the Personal Lord and Creator.
PATH OF ATTAINMENT
To lead man to the goal of moksha, Sikhism follows a path of japa and hymns. Through chanting of the Holy Names, Sat Nam, the soul is cleansed of its impurity, the ego is conquered and the wandering mind is stilled. This leads to a superconscious stillness. From here one enters into the divine light and thus attains the state of divine bliss. Once this highest goal is attained, the devotee must devote his awareness to the good of others. The highest goal can be realized only by God's grace, and this is obtained exclusively by following the satguru (or nowadays a sant, or saint, since there are no living gurus, by the edict of Govind Singh, the tenth and last guru) and by repeating the holy names of the Lord guided by the Adi Granth, the scripture and sole repository of spiritual authority. For Sikhs there is no image worship, no symbol of Divinity.
- I believe in God as the sovereign One, the omnipotent, immortal and personal Creator, a being beyond time, who is called Sat Nam, for His name is Truth.
- I believe that man grows spiritually by living truthfully, serving selflessly and by repetition of the Holy Name and Guru Nanak's Prayer, Japaji.
- I believe that salvation lies in understanding the divine Truth and that man's surest path lies in faith, love, purity and devotion.
- I believe in the scriptural and ethical authority of the Adi Granth as God's revelation.
- I believe that to know God the guru is essential as the guide who, himself absorbed in love of the Real, is able to awaken the soul to its true, divine nature.
- I believe in the line of ten gurus: Guru Nanak, Guru Angad, Guru Amardas, Guru Ram Das, Guru Arjun, Guru Har Govind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Har Krishnan, Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Govind Singh -- all these are my teachers.
- I believe that the world is maya, a vain and transitory illusion; only God is true as all else passes away.
- I believe in adopting the last name "Singh," meaning "lion" and signifying courage, and in the five symbols: 1) white dress (purity), 2) sword (bravery), 3) iron bracelet (morality), 4) uncut hair and beard (renunciation), and 5) comb (cleanliness).
- I believe in the natural path and stand opposed to fasting, pilgrimage, caste, idolatry, celibacy and asceticism.
FOUNDED: Taoism began about 2,500 years ago in China.
FOUNDER: Lao-tzu, whom Confucius described as a dragon riding the wind and clouds.
MAJOR SCRIPTURE: The Tao te Ching, or "Book of Reason and Virtue," is among the shortest of all scriptures, containing only 5,000 words. Also central are the sacred writings of Chuang-tsu.
ADHERENTS: Estimated at 50 million, mostly in China and and other parts of Asia.
SECTS: Taoism is a potently mystical tradition, so interpretations have been diverse and its sects are many.
The Tao, or Way, has never been put down in words; rather it is left for the seeker to discover within. Lao-tzu himself wrote, "The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao." Taoism is concerned with man's spiritual level of being, and in the Tao te Ching the awakened man is compared to bamboo: upright, simple and useful outside -- and hollow inside. Effulgent emptiness is the spirit of Tao, but no words will capture its spontaneity, its eternal newness. Adherents of the faith are taught to see the Tao everywhere, in all beings and in all things. Taoist shrines are the homes of divine beings who guide the religion, bless and protect worshipers. A uniquely Taoist concept is wu-wei, nonaction. This does not mean no action, but rather not exceeding spontaneous action that accords with needs as they naturally arise; not indulging in calculated action and not acting so as to exceed the very minimum required for effective results. If we keep still and listen to the inner promptings of the Tao, we shall act effortlessly, efficiently, hardly giving the matter a thought. We will be ourselves, as we are.
THE GOALS OF TAOISM
The primary goal of Taoism may be described as the mystical intuition of the Tao, which is the Way, the Primal Meaning, the Undivided Unity, the Ultimate Reality. Both immanent and transcendent, the Tao is the natural way of all beings, it is the nameless beginning of Heaven and Earth, and it is the mother of all things. All things depend upon the Tao, all things return to it. Yet it lies hidden, transmitting its power and perfection to all things. He who has realized the Tao has uncovered the layers of consciousness so that he arrives at pure consciousness and sees the inner truth of everything. Only one who is free of desire can apprehend the Tao, thereafter leading a life of "actionless activity." There is no Personal God in Taoism, and thus no union with Him. There are three worlds and beings within them, and worship is part of the path.
PATH OF ATTAINMENT
One who follows the Tao follows the natural order of things, not seeking to improve upon nature or to legislate virtue to others. The Taoist observes wu-wei, or nondoing, like water which without effort seeks and finds its proper level. This path includes purifying oneself through stilling the appetites and the emotions, accomplished in part through meditation, breath control and other forms of inner discipline, generally under a master. The foremost practice is goodness or naturalness, and detachment from the Ten Thousand Things of the world.
- I believe that the Eternal may be understood as the Tao, or "Way," which embraces the moral and physical order of the universe, the path of virtue which Heaven itself follows, and the Absolute -- yet so great is it that "the Tao that can be described is not the Eternal Tao."
- I believe in the unique greatness of the sage Lao-tsu and in his disciple Chuang-tsu.
- I believe in the scriptural insights and final authority of the Tao te Ching and in the sacredness of Chuang-tsu's writings.
- I believe that man aligns himself with the Eternal when he observes humility, simplicity, gentle yielding, serenity and effortless action.
- I believe that the goal and the path of life are essentially the same, and that the Tao can be known only to exalted beings who realize it themselves -- reflections of the Beyond are of no avail.
- I believe the omniscient and impersonal Supreme is implacable, beyond concern for human woe, but that there exist lesser Divinities -- from the high Gods who endure for eons, to the nature spirits and demons.
- I believe that all actions create their opposing forces, and the wise will seek inaction in action.
- I believe that man is one of the Ten Thousand Things of manifestation, is finite and will pass; only the Tao endures forever.
- I believe in the oneness of all creation, in the spirituality of the material realms and in the brotherhood of all men.
FOUNDED: Confucianism began about 2,500 years ago in China.
FOUNDER: Supreme Sage K'ung-fu-tsu (Confucius) and Second Sage Meng-tzu (Mencius).
MAJOR SCRIPTURES: The Analects, Doctrine of the Mean, Great Learning and Mencius.
ADHERENTS: Estimated at 350 million, mostly in China, Japan, Burma and Thailand.
SECTS: There are no formal sects within Confucianism. Followers are free to profess other religions and yet still be Confucianists.
Confucianism is, and has been for over 25 centuries, the dominant philosophical system in China and the guiding light in almost every aspect of Chinese life. Confucius and his followers traveled throughout the many feudal states of the Chinese Empire, persuading rulers to adopt his social reforms. They did not offer a point-by-point program, but stressed instead the "Way," or "One Thread," Jen (also translated as "humanity or love"), that runs through all Confucius' teachings. They urged individuals to strive for perfect virtue, righteousness (called Yi) and improvement of character. They taught the importance of harmony in the family, order in the state and peace in the Empire, which they saw as inherently interdependent. Teachings emphasize a code of conduct, self-cultivation and propriety -- and thus the attainment of social and national order. Stress is more on human duty and the ideal of the "superior man" than on a divine or supramundane Reality. Still, Confucius fasted, worshiped the ancestors, attended sacrifices and sought to live in harmony with Heaven. Confucianism is now enjoying a renaissance in China.
THE GOALS OF CONFUCIANISM
The primary goal of Confucianism is to create a true nobility through proper education and the inculcation of all the virtues. It is described as the return to the way of one's ancestors, and the classics are studied to discover the ancient way of virtue. Spiritual nobility is attainable by all men; it is a moral achievement. Confucius accepted the Tao, but placed emphasis on this return to an idealized age and the cultivation of the superior man, on the pragmatic rather than the mystical. The superior man's greatest virtue is benevolent love. The other great virtues are duty, wisdom, truth and propriety. Salvation is seen as realizing and living one's natural goodness, which is endowed by heaven through education. The superior man always knows the right and follows his knowledge.
PATH OF ATTAINMENT
Besides virtue, the five relationships offer the follower of Confucianism the means for progressing. These five relationships are to his ruler, his father, his wife, his elder brother and his friend. Ancestors are revered in Confucianism, and it is assumed that their spirit survives death. With respect to a Deity, Confucius was himself an agnostic, preferring to place emphasis on the ethical life here rather than to speak of a spiritual life beyond earthly existence, guiding men's minds not to the future, but to the present and the past.
- I believe in the presence of the Supreme Ruler in all things, and in Heaven as the Ethical Principle whose law is order, impersonal and yet interested in mankind.
- I believe that the purpose of life is to follow an orderly and reverent existence in accord with Li, propriety or virtue, so as to become the Superior Man.
- I believe in the Golden Rule: "Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you."
- I believe that Confucius, China's First Sage, is the Master of Life whose teachings embody the most profound understanding of Earth and Heaven, and that Mencius is China's Second Sage.
- I believe in the writings of Confucius as scriptural truth and in the Four Sacred Books: The Analects, Doctrine of the Mean, Great Learning, and Mencius.
- I believe that each man has five relationships, entailing five duties to his fellow man: to his ruler, to his father, to his wife, to his elder brother and to his friend -- the foremost being his familial duties.
- I believe that human nature is inherently good, and evil is an unnatural condition arising from inharmony.
- I believe that man is master of his own life and fate, free to conduct himself as he will, and that he should cultivate qualities of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and sincerity.
- I believe that the family is the most essential institution among men, and that religion should support the family and the state.
FOUNDED: Shintoism began around 2,500 -- 3,000 years ago in Japan.
FOUNDER: Each of the thirteen ancient sects has its own founder.
MAJOR SCRIPTURES: Kojiki (Record of Ancient Things), Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan), a later work, Yengishiki (Institutes of the period of Yengi), and the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves are the primary works, but they are not regarded as revealed scripture.
ADHERENTS: Estimated at 30 million, mostly in Japan. Most are also Buddhists.
There are two main divisions. One is the thirteen ancient sects, all very similar. The second is known as State Shinto, and is a later synthesis finding its highest expression in the worship of the Emperor and loyalty to the State and family. Shinto (from the Chinese characters Shen and Tao, signifying the "Way of the Spirits") is called Kami-no-michi in vernacular Japanese. Kami are the innumerable Gods or nature spirits. Shinto shrines are many, over 100,000 in Japan. In the shrines no images are worshiped, rather it is considered that the Kami themselves are there. Fresh foods, water, incense, etc., are offered daily upon the altar. There is an inward belief in the sacredness of the whole of the universe, that man can be in tune with this sacredness. Stress is placed on truthfulness and purification through which man may remove the "dust" which conceals his inherently divine nature and thus receive the guidance and blessings of Kami. The Shintoist's ardent love of the motherland has found unique expression in the loyalty and devotion of the Japanese people to their state institutions.
THE GOALS OF SHINTOISM
The primary goal of Shintoism is to achieve immortality among the ancestral beings, the Kami. Kami is understood by the Shintoist as a supernatural, holy power living in or connected to the world of the spirit. Shintoism is strongly animistic, as are most Eastern and Oriental faiths, believing that all living things possess a Kami nature. Man's nature is the highest, for he possesses the most Kami. Salvation is living in the spirit world with these divine beings, the Kami.
PATH OF ATTAINMENT
Salvation is achieved in Shinto through observance of all taboos and the avoidance of persons and objects which might cause impurity or pollution. Prayers are made and offerings brought to the temples of the Gods and Goddesses, of which there are said to be 800 myriad in the universe. Man has no Supreme God to obey, but needs only know how to adjust to Kami in its various manifestations. A person's Kami nature survives death, and a man naturally desires to be worthy of being remembered with approbation by his descendants. Therefore, fulfillment of duty is a most important aspect of Shinto.
- I believe in the "Way of the Gods," Kami-no-michi, which asserts nature's sacredness and uniquely reveals the supernatural.
- I believe there is not a single Supreme Being, but myriad Gods, superior beings, among all the wonders of the universe which is not inanimate but filled everywhere with sentient life.
- I believe in the scriptural authority of the great books known as the Record of Ancient Things, Chronicles of Japan, Institutes of the Period of Yengi and Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves.
- I believe in the sanctity of cleanliness and purity -- of body and spirit -- and that impurity is a religious transgression.
- I believe that the State is a divine institution whose laws should not be transgressed and to which individuals must sacrifice their own needs.
- I believe in moral and spiritual uprightness as the cornerstone of religious ethics and in the supreme value of loyalty.
- I believe that the supernatural reveals itself through all that is natural and beautiful, and value these above philosophical or theological doctrine.
- I believe that whatever is, is Divine Spirit, that the world is a one brotherhood, that all men are capable of deep affinity with the Divine and that there exists no evil in the world whatsoever.
- I believe in the practical use of ceremony and ritual, and in the worship of the Deities that animate nature, including the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, the Moon God Tsuki-yomi, and the Storm God Sasa-no-wo.
FOUNDED: Zoroastrianism began 2,600 years ago in ancient Iran.
FOUNDER: Spenta Zarathustra (Zoroaster).
MAJOR SCRIPTURE: Portions of the Zend Avesta (Persian).
ADHERENTS: 125,000, mostly near Mumbai, where they are called Parsis.
SECTS: The present-day sects are three: Shahenshai, Kadmi and Fassali.
Two principles form the basis of Zoroastrian ethics: the maintenance of life and the struggle against evil. In order to maintain life, one must till the soil, raise cattle, marry and have children. Asceticism and celibacy are condemned; purity and avoidance of defilement (from death, demons, etc.) are valued. In order to combat evil, one must at all times oppose the forces of evil and those who side with them. Zoroastrianism stresses monotheism, while recognizing the universal sway of two opposite forces (dualism). The powers of good are led by Ahura Mazda, or Ormazd (the Wise Lord), and the forces of evil by Angra Mainyu or Ahriman (the Evil Spirit). Each side has an array of warriors; bands of angels and archangels on one side and hosts of demons and archfiends on the other. Good will eventually triumph on Judgment Day, when a Messiah and Savior named Saoshyant will appear to punish the wicked and establish the righteous in a paradise on Earth. A central feature of the faith is the sacred fire that is constantly kept burning in every home, fueled by fragrant sandalwood. Fire is considered the only worshipful symbol, the great purifier and sustainer, of the nature of the sun itself.
THE GOALS OF ZOROASTRIANISM
The goal of Zoroastrianism is to be rewarded with a place in heaven where the soul will be with God, called Ahura Mazda, sharing His blessed existence forever.
PATH OF ATTAINMENT
Man's life, according to Zoroastrianism, is a moral struggle, not a search for knowledge or enlightenment. He is put on the Earth to affirm and approve the world, not to deny it, not to escape from it. Salvation is found in obedience to the will of Ahura Mazda as revealed and taught by His prophet, Zoroaster. Man has but one life. He also has the freedom to choose between good and evil, the latter being embodied in Angra Mainyu who rebelled against God. At death, each is judged and consigned to his deserved abode.
Zoroastrians hold truth as the greatest virtue, followed by good thoughts, words and deeds. They value the ethical life most highly. Though there will be a resurrection of the dead, a judgment and a kingdom of heaven on Earth, followed by punishment of the wicked, all sins will be eventually burned away and all of mankind will abide forever with Ahura Mazda. Hell, for the Zoroastrian, is not eternal.
- I believe there are two Great Beings in the universe. One, Ahura Mazda, created man and all that is good, beautiful and true, while the other, Angra Mainyu, vivifies all that is evil, ugly and destructive.
- I believe that man has free will to align himself with good or evil, and when all mankind is in harmony with the God Ahura Mazda, Angra Mainyu will be conquered.
- I believe the soul is immortal and upon death crosses over Hell by a narrow bridge -- the good crossing safely to Heaven and the evil falling into Hell.
- I believe that a savior named Sayoshant will appear at the end of time, born of a virgin, reviving the dead, rewarding the good and punishing the evil, and thereafter Ahura Mazda will reign.
- I believe that Zoroaster, also known as Zarathustra, is the foremost Prophet of God.
- I believe in the scriptural authority of the Zend Avesta.
- I believe that purity is the first virtue, truth the second and charity the third -- and that man must discipline himself by good thoughts, words and deeds.
- I believe that marriage excels continence, action excels contemplation and forgiveness excels revenge.
- I believe in God as Seven Persons: Eternal Light; Right and Justice; Goodness and Love; Strength of Spirit; Piety and Faith; Health and Perfection; and Immortality -- and that He may best be worshiped through the representation of fire.
FOUNDED: Judaism began about 3,700 years ago in the Near East (chiefly Canaan, now Israel; and Egypt).
FOUNDERS: Abraham, who started the lineage, and Moses, who emancipated the enslaved Jewish tribes from Egypt.
MAJOR SCRIPTURE: The Torah (the Old Testament and the Talmud).
ADHERENTS: About 12 million worldwide, over half in the United States.
SECTS: Jews are divided into Orthodox, Conservative and Reform sects, with other regional and ethnic divisions.
The religion of the Jews is inseparable from their history as a people. Much of the Torah traces the ancestry of Abraham through Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and finally to Moses, the foremost of God's prophets in Hebrew history. It was Moses who conveyed to Judaism the Ten Commandments given by God and established the religious laws and traditions.
The Torah (literally, "Doctrine," "Teaching," "Law") consists primarily of the written Torah, i.e. the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament; and secondarily of oral Torah, ultimately codified as Talmud (literally, "instruction"), in two redactions, Jerusalem Talmud and the more authoritative Babylonian Talmud. In the narrower sense, Torah denotes only the Pentateuch, i.e., the first five books of the Old Testament. But in extended usage, Torah as scripture is somewhat analogous to the Hindu Veda, which beyond the four Samhitas may also apply to their extensions, the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. As a term for moral and religious principles, Jewish Torah has as comprehensive an application as Hindu Dharma.
By far the most profound characteristic of Judaism is its strict monotheism. The Jews hold an unshakable belief in one God and one God only, known as Yahweh, "whose name cannot be taken in vain," and from whom all creation flows. The Jewish people consider themselves a chosen people, apart from all the other peoples of the Earth, by virtue of their covenant with Yahweh.
Much stress is placed on the hallowing of daily existence, worship in the synagogue, prayer and reading of the scriptures. Few religions can boast of such a close-knit family tradition as Judaism, making the home a great strength to the religion and a constant refuge to the faithful. Each day, morning and evening, every devout Jew affirms his faith by repeating Moses' prayer: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One."
THE GOALS OF JUDAISM
The goal of Judaism lies in the strict obedience to the Torah, Jewish scripture, which can alleviate the plight of the individual and of society. Obeying God's law brings rewards in the future life when the Messiah will come to overthrow evil and reward the righteous in God's kingdom on the Earth, the Day of the Lord. The soul thereafter will enjoy God's presence and love.
PATH OF ATTAINMENT
Man has two impulses: good and evil. He can either follow God's law or rebel and be influenced by Satan, who caused God's creation to go astray. Following God's law is the highest morality, possible through obedience to the Torah, which pleases God. One must follow justice, charity, ethics and honesty, being true to the one true God, Yahweh.
- I believe in the One God and Creator who is incorporeal and transcendent, beyond the limitation of form, yet who cares for the world and its creatures, rewarding the good and punishing the evil.
- I believe in the Prophets, of whom Moses was God's foremost, and in the Commandments revealed to him by God on Mount Sinai as man's highest law.
- I believe in the Torah as God's word and scripture, composed of all the Old Testament books (the Hebrew Bible) and the Talmud. They are God's only immutable law.
- I believe that upon death the soul goes to Heaven (or to Hell first if it has been sinful), that one day the Messiah will appear on Earth and there will be a Day of Judgment, and the dead shall be called to Life Everlasting.
- I believe that the universe is not eternal, but was created by and will be destroyed by God.
- I believe that no priest should intervene in the relationship of man and God, nor should God be represented in any form, nor should any being be worshiped other than the One God, Yahweh.
- I believe in man's spiritualization through adherence to the law, justice, charity and honesty.
- I believe that God has established a unique spiritual covenant with the Hebrew people to uphold for mankind the highest standards of monotheism and piety.
- I believe in the duty of the family to make the home a House of God through devotions and ritual, prayers, sacred festivals and observation of the Holy Sabbath Day.
FOUNDED: Christianity began about 2,000 years ago in what is now Israel.
FOUNDER: Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus Christ, "Anointed One," "the Messiah."
MAJOR SCRIPTURE: The Bible -- Old and New Testaments.
ADHERENTS: Estimated at 2 billion.
SECTS: Christianity is divided into three main sects: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant. Among Protestants there are over 20,000 denominations.
The majority of Christians adhere to the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into Hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended unto Heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost,...the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting." Most Christian faith revolves around the basic principles of this creed, but with important exceptions to its various beliefs. Christianity has an unswerving conviction that it is the only true religion, the only path to salvation. This engenders a missionary zeal, an urgency to evangelize around the world.
Stress is placed on acceptance of Jesus as God incarnate and Savior, on good conduct, compassion, service to mankind, faith and preparation for the Final Judgment. Only good Christians will be saved and accepted into heaven. Today over half of all Christians are black. Membership is diminishing in developed nations but increasing in undeveloped nations.
THE GOALS OF CHRISTIANITY
The goal of Christianity is eternal life with God in heaven, a perfect existence in which God's glory and bliss are shared. It is also a personal life, enjoyed differently by souls according to the amount of grace achieved in life.
PATH OF ATTAINMENT
Man's plight is caused by disobedience to God's will. Man needs redemption from the forces which would enslave and destroy him -- fear, selfishness, hopelessness, desire and the supernatural forces of the Devil, sin and death against which he is powerless. His salvation comes only through faith in Jesus Christ, that is, in acceptance of Jesus' resurrection from the dead as proof of God's power over the forces of sin and death. The good Christian lives a life of virtue and obedience to God out of gratitude to God for sacrificing Jesus for the sins of all who come to accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord. Jesus is to return again to judge the world and bring God's rule to the Earth. Through following the law of God as found in the Holy Bible and through God's grace, man attains salvation. Those who do not achieve this blessedness are, after death, consigned to a hell of eternal suffering and damnation.
- I believe in God the Father, Creator of the universe, reigning forever distinct over man, His beloved creation.
- I believe man is born a sinner, and that he may know salvation only through the Savior, Jesus Christ, God's only begotten Son.
- I believe that Jesus Christ was born of Mary, a virgin.
- I believe that Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross, then resurrected from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father as the final judge of the dead, and that He will return again as prophesied.
- I believe that the soul is embodied for a single lifetime, but is immortal and accountable to God for all thoughts and actions.
- I believe in the historical truth of the Holy Bible, that it is sacred scripture of the highest authority and the only word of God.
- I believe that upon death and according to its earthly deeds and its acceptance of the Christian faith, the soul enters Heaven, Purgatory or Hell. There it awaits the Last Judgment when the dead shall rise again, the redeemed to enjoy life everlasting and the unsaved to suffer eternally.
- I believe in the intrinsic goodness of mankind and the affirmative nature of life, and in the priceless value of love, charity and faith.
- I believe in the Holy Trinity of God who reveals Himself as Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and in the existence of Satan, the personification of evil, deception and darkness.
FOUNDED: Islam began about 1,400 years ago in present-day Saudi Arabia.
FOUNDER: Prophet Mohammed.
MAJOR SCRIPTURES:The Koran, Islam's revealed scripture, and the Hadith, the teachings, sayings and life of the Prophet Mohammed.
ADHERENTS: One billion, mostly in the Middle East, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Africa, China and Eastern Europe.
SECTS: There are two main divisions within Islam. The Sunnis are followers of the political successors of Mohammed. The Shiites are followers of Mohammed's family successors, all martyred at an early age.
Islam means "submission," surrender to the will of God, called Allah. Those who submit are called Muslims. Islam is based upon five "pillars," or principal acts of faith to which every Muslim in the world adheres. These are: 1) Faith in Allah: "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His Prophet." 2) Praying five times daily: kneeling in the direction of Mecca, the holy city. 3) Giving of alms: a share of each Muslim's income is given to support the mosque and the poor. 4) Fasting: throughout Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, the faithful fast from sunrise to sunset. 5) Pilgrimage: the binding force of the peoples who have embraced Islam. At least once in life every believer, physically and materially able to do so, must go to Mecca, the holy city. They go dressed in simple, seamless white garments.
Islam teaches absolute monotheism and Mohammed's primacy as God's last Prophet on Earth. Stress is on the brotherhood of believers, nondifference of religious and secular life, obedience to God's Law, abstinence from alcohol, good conduct and the limitation of all except Allah. Today Islam is the world's fastest-growing religion.
THE GOALS OF ISLAM
The primary goal of Islam is to enjoy eternal life, both physical and spiritual, in heaven with Allah. Heaven is a paradise in which all the joys and pleasures abound, in which one lives amid beautiful gardens and fountains, enjoying the choicest foods served by sweet maidens. Man is the noblest creation of God, ranking above the angels. It is the sacred duty of Muslims to convert others to the Islamic faith. Islam has an ardent conviction that it is the only true religion, the only path to salvation. From this belief arises an extraordinary zeal, to share the faith and to convert others. The ideal human society is an Islamic theocracy.
PATH OF ATTAINMENT
Total submission to Allah is the single path to salvation, and even that is no guarantee, for Allah may desire even a faithful soul to experience misery. The good Muslim surrenders all pride, the chief among sins, and follows explicitly the will of Allah as revealed in the Koran by His last and greatest prophet, Mohammed. This and this alone brings a full and meaningful life and avoids the terrors of Hell which befall sinners and infidels. He believes in the Five Doctrines and observes the Five Pillars. The virtues of truthfulness, temperance and humility before God are foremost for Islam, and the practices of fasting, pilgrimage, prayer and charity to the Muslim community are most necessary to please Allah. The five doctrines are: 1) There is only one true God, Allah. 2) There are angels, chief of whom is Gabriel. 3) There are four inspired books: the Torah of Moses, the Zabur (Psalms) of David, the Injil (Evangel) of Jesus, and the Koran, Allah's final message, which supersedes all other scriptures. 4) There have been numerous prophets of Allah, culminating in Mohammed, the Last Prophet. 5) There will be a final Day of Judgment and Resurrection. A sixth, but optional, doctrine is belief in kismet, "fate" or "destiny."
- I believe that Allah is the Supreme Creator and Sustainer, all-knowing and transcendent and yet the arbiter of good and evil, the final judge of men.
- I believe in the Five Pillars of Faith: 1) praying five times daily, 2) charity through alms-giving, 3) fasting during the ninth month, 4) pilgrimage to Holy Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and 5) profession of faith by acknowledging, "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His Prophet."
- I believe in the Koran as the Word of God and sacred scripture mediated through the Angel Gabriel to Mohammed.
- I believe in the direct communion of each man with God, that all are equal in the eyes of God and therefore priests or other intercessors are unneeded.
- I believe in the pure transcendence of God, great beyond imagining -- no form or idol can be worshiped in His Name.
- I believe that the soul of man is immortal, embodied once on Earth, then entering Heaven or Hell upon death according to its conduct and faith on Earth.
- I believe in the Last Judgment and that man should stand in humble awe and fear of God's wrathful and vengeful power.
- I believe that truthfulness should be observed in all circumstances, even though it may bring injury or pain.
- I believe that salvation is only obtained through God's grace and not through man's efforts, yet man should do good and avoid all sins, especially drunkenness, usury and gambling.