India is a Multi religious secular nation and constitution of India secures the religious freedom through fundamental rights. Below are the major religions of India:-
Hindu Dharma: General characteristics and some common beliefs – Purusharthas– rituals and ethics – festivals and sacred days – pilgrimage and fairs.
- Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world. It is a religion followed by several racial and ethnic groups.
- The Hindu sacred texts deal with the ethical behaviour of an individual of a family and of society in general.
- They also discuss and prescribe rules of administration, politics, statesmanship, legal principles and statecraft.
- Hinduism, the world’s oldest religion, has no beginning–it precedes recorded history. It has no human founder. It 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.
- Hinduism has four main denominations–Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism
Concepts of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha
- A life of righteousness for a Hindu is possible through the fourfold scheme of practical endeavour. It comprises the concepts of dharma, artha, kama and moksha
- Dharma is honest and upright conduct or righteous action.
- Artha means a righteous and honest pursuit of economic activities.
- Kama is the fulfillment of one’s normal desires.
- Moksha is liberation, that is absorption of the self into eternal bliss.
- Related to these four concepts are the concepts of karma and samsara. Depending upon one’s deeds (karma) one is able to reach the stage of moksha or liberation.
- The stage of moksha or liberation is a term for describing the end of the cycle of birth and rebirth.
- The cycle of birth and rebirth is known as samsara. The Hindus believe that each human being has a soul and that this soul is immortal.
- It does not perish at the time of death. The process of birth and rebirth goes on until moksha is attained.
- This cycle of transmigration is also known as samsara, which is the arena where the cycle of birth and rebirth operates.
- One’s birth and rebirth in a particular state of existence is believed by the Hindus to be dependent on the quality of one’s deeds (karma).
- For a Hindu, the issue of liberation is of paramount significance.
Karma and Samsara
- The concepts of dharma, artha, kama and moksha are related to tenets of karma and samsara.
- Karma is a word used for all activity or work. Samsara is the term used for the arena where the cycle of birth and rebirth continues to operate until one attains liberation.
- This is also called the theory of reincarnation or punarjanma.
- Actions are divided into good or bad on the basis of their intrinsic worth.
- Good deeds bring fame, merit and are the path to heaven. Bad deeds bring notoriety and lead to punishment and life in hell.
- It is recognised that an individual’s overall position in a future life depends on the way he or she lives the present one. This belief, which gave a positive or negative value to certain actions, developed into a general theory of actions and is called the karma theory.
- The concept of karma is fully developed and woven into the belief in re-birth, which in turn is related to the belief concerning heaven, hell, and moksha.
- An individual’s fate after death is determined by the sum total of grades and attributes of his or her actions or deeds (karma) during his or her life. Better birth and status is obtained if there is a surplus of many good deeds in a person’s life.
- Otherwise one’s status falls in the next life. Another related belief-is that the world moves in a cyclical process (birth and death follow one another).
- By following one’s karma prescribed within the fourfold scheme of dharma, artha, kama, moksha an individual strives to get out of this otherwise infinite cyclical process of birth and death. Depending on one’s previous and present karma, one prospers or suffers in this world.
- Later after death he either gains heaven or is punished with life in hell.
- Thus a human being after death may become a denizen or inhabitant of heaven or hell, may be reborn as an animal, or even be reborn as a tree. All this depends on one’s karma. An individual usually wanders through many births till he or she finds final release or moksha.
9 Basic Hindu Beliefs
- Reverence for Our Revealed Scriptures
Hindus 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.
- All-Pervasive Divinity
Hindus believe in a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.
- Three Worlds and Cycles of Creation
Hindus believe there are three worlds of existence–physical, astral and causal–and that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.
- The Laws of Karma and Dharma
Hindus believe in karma–the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds–and in dharma, righteous living.
- Reincarnation and Liberation
Hindus 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.
- Temples and the Inner Worlds
Hindus 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.
- Yoga Guided by a Satguru
Hindus 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.
- Compassion and Noninjury
Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, “noninjury.”
- Genuine Respect for Other Faiths
Hindus 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
The Four Stages of Life
The Life of a Hindu is considered to be divisible into four stages, namely
- Brahmacharya ashram
- Grihastha ashram
- Vanaprastha ashram
- Sanyasa ashram
- It is the dharma of a Hindu to pass through these stages in one’s life. The male members of Brahman, Kshatriya and Vaishya varna pass through four different ashram (stages) in their life.
- The first ashram is called brahmacharya ashram (the educational stage) from which the fourth varna, viz., Sudra and women of the first three varna are barred Brahmacharyashram ends (after studentship) at marriage. Celibacy is prescribed till marriage.
- The second stage of life is called the grihasthashram.
- During this a man rears a family, earns a living and performs his daily personal and social duties.
- Following this a man gradually enters the third stage of life called the vanaprashthashram. During this stage the householder relinquishes his duties in the household, and devotes his time to religious pursuits. His links with his family are weakened. During this ashram a man retires into the forest with or without his wife leaving behind the householder’s cares and duties.
- The final phase of a Hindu’s life begins with the stage known as the sanyasashram. In this stage one attempts to totally withdraw oneself from the world and its cares by going to the forest and spending the rest of life in pursuit of moksha.
- The four stages of a Hindu’s life just described are together called the varnashrama system. There is an ideal scheme, which correlates the vamashrama phases to ages at which a particular ashram begins. However, it is the endeavour that is important and not the age at which this begins.
- Thus Hinduism permits young unmarried sanyasi, as well as those who never go beyond grihasthashrama.
- Thus there is nothing compulsory about living life in the varnashram scheme. It is, however, highly recommended.
- At present most Hindus do not systematically go through the varnashrama. They do, however, accept these stages to be the ideal ways in which a Hindu should spend his life.
- Like the four varna, the four stages of life are models. In real life, we find that occupations associated with each varna are not followed precisely in accordance with what is written in the sacred texts.
- Today a Brahman may be employed in a shoe company, selling shoes to all the customers irrespective of their varna or caste.
- The Hindus are divided into castes or jati which are hereditary groups.
FESTIVALS AND PILGRIMAGES
- Festivals, pilgrimages and other ceremonial occasions are usually linked with religion.
- As such they show how both personal identity of the individuals as well as collective identity of the groups are highlighted by the patterns of interaction during these events. Festivals manifest the social cohesion and solidarity of the community.
- Most of the Hindu festivals are linked to the arrival of particular seasons. For example, the festival of Diwali marks the arrival of winter season while that of Holi signifies the beginning of summer season. Some festivals are associated with eclipses and movements of the heavenly bodies such as the moon and other planets.
- Many festivals are held in the honour of the deities like Krishna, Siva, Durga, Lakshmi and Rama, e.g., Dussehra, Durgapuja, Janmashtami, etc.
- Local festivals have their roots in the ecology of the region, celebrating myths associated with plants like coconuts, tulsi (basil), the sacred tree, or with animals, like elephants, snakes and monkeys.
- There are regional festivals connected with the agricultural cycle such as the occasion of first ploughing, sowing or harvest. Among the artisans, carpenter, blacksmith and brass-workers, people worship the deity called Vishwakarma.
- We shall not go into the ritualistic aspect of these festivals. The emphasis here is on the role these festivals play in social life of the people. During festivals, people in a locality get together and their participation in a common activity enhances their feeling of belonging to a community.
- These occasions also provide the chance to people for buying and selling special commodities. By preparing special food and wearing special clothes, people bring about the feelings of freshness and change in their day-to-day life.
- This regenerates them for carrying the routine activities. Recurrence of festivals and associated rituals strengthens their faith in the stability and integrity of their social order.
- Festivals like Holi, Diwali and Dussehra are celebrated on a scale, which includes participation of Hindus as well as non-Hindus.
- They provide occasions for a meeting across religions. Associated with festivals are fairs, which are held at prescribed times on a holy spot. Sometimes, fairs assume independent significance and attract the participation of cross-section of society. Some famous fairs such as the fair of Sonepur or Pushkar draw people from all over the country.
- In these fairs, craftsmen bring their special artware, artists come to present their shows, agricultural surplus is brought for selling, brisk trading is carried on in cattle, horses, elephants.
- Each fair is both a religious and a secular occasion and people participate in both with equal enthusiasm.
- Not very different from a fair is a pilgrimage.
- The cultural unity of the Hindus is expressed in the institution of pilgrimage.
- When a pilgrim goes to the southern pilgrim centre at Rameshwaram, he or she also aspires to reach the northern end of the country, at Badrinath.
- Most pilgrims also aspire to go to Puri in the east and to Dwarikanath in the west.
- In these places of pilgrimage, there is often a fair being held during the periods pilgrims arrive in large numbers.
- Generally, people go to these places in large groups. Such groups are mostly formed on the basis of kin relationships.
- They may also include neighbours, friends and business partners.
- Different sects of Hinduism have acquired pilgrim centres around the whole country over time.
- Besides the four centres in the four directions, the Sakta sect has more than fifty centres of pilgrimage.
- There are seven places of pilgrimage, dedicated to the Sun god, Surya. One of them is in Multan, in West Pakistan.
- Despite linguistic, racial, and cultural differences, most Hindus undertake long and arduous journeys to the many varied pilgrim places. This adds an important dimension to their social life.\
Groups in Christianity: The roman Catholic church, The eastern arthodox church, and protestants churches
Roman catholic church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with more than 1.29 billion members worldwide. As one of the oldest religious institutions in the world, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. Headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the Pope, the church’s doctrines are summarised in the Nicene Creed. Its central administration, the Holy See, is in the Vatican City, enclaved within Rome, Italy. The Catholic Church teaches that it is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church founded by Jesus Christ in his Great Commission, that its bishops are the successors of Christ’s apostles, and that the Pope is the successor to Saint Peter to whom primacy was conferred by Jesus Christ. It maintains that it practices the original Christian faith, reserving infallibility, passed down by sacred tradition.The Latin Church and Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as institutes such as mendicant orders and enclosed monastic orders, reflect a variety of theological and spiritual emphases in the Church.
Of its seven sacraments the Eucharist is the principal one, celebrated liturgically in the Mass. The church teaches that through consecration by a priest the sacrificial bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Virgin Mary is venerated in the Catholic Church as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, honoured in dogmas and devotions. Its teaching includes sanctification through faith and evangelisation of the Gospel and Catholic social teaching, which emphasises support for the sick, the poor, and the afflicted through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and health care in the world.
The Catholic Church has influenced Western philosophy, culture, science, and art. The Catholic Church shared communion with the Eastern Orthodox Church until the East–West Schism in 1054, disputing particularly the authority of the Pope, as well as with the Oriental Orthodox churches prior to the Chalcedonian schism in 451 over differences in Christology. Catholics live all over the world through missions, diaspora, and conversions. Since the 20th century the majority reside in the southern hemisphere due to secularisation of Europe, and increased persecution in the Middle East. From the late 20th century, the Catholic Church has been criticised for its doctrines on sexuality, its refusal to ordain women and its handling of sexual abuse cases.
The eastern Orthodox church
The Eastern Orthodox Church, also known as the Orthodox Church, or officially as the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church, is the second-largest Christian Church, with over 250 million members. As one of the oldest religious institutions in the world, it has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Eastern Europe, and the Near East, including Slav and Greek peoples. A communion of autocephalous churches, each typically governed by Holy Synods, its bishops are equal by virtue of ordination, with doctrines summarised in the Nicene Creed. Although Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople is considered the most prominent, it lacks central governance analogous to the Papacy in the Roman Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that it is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church established by Jesus Christ in his Great Commission, and that its bishops are the successors of Christ’s apostles. It maintains that it practices the original Christian faith, passed down by sacred tradition. Of its several patriarchates four reminiscent the pentarchy, while its autocephalous and autonomous churches reflect or variety of hierarchical organisation.
Of its innumerable sacred mysteries, it recognises seven “major sacraments” of which the Eucharist is the principal one, celebrated liturgically in synaxis. The church teaches that through consecration invoked by a priest the sacrificial bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Virgin Mary is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church as Mother of God, honoured in devotions. Eastern Orthodoxy developed in the Greek-speaking Eastern part of the Roman Empire, continuing later in the Byzantine Empire. During the first centuries AD, most major intellectual, cultural, and social developments in the Great Christian Church took place within the sphere of influence of the Byzantine commonwealth, where the Greek language was widely spoken and used for theological writings. In reference to this legacy, it was sometimes called “Greek Orthodox”, though this was never in official use and gradually abandoned by the non–Greek-speaking Eastern Orthodoxy from the 10th century A.D. The contemporary Eastern Orthodox Church shared communion with the contemporary Roman Catholic Church until the East–West Schism in AD 1054, triggered by disputes over doctrine, especially the authority of the Pope. Prior to the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, also Oriental Orthodox churches shared in this communion, separating primarily over differences in Christology.
The majority of Eastern Orthodox Christians live in Russia, eastern Europe, Greece, and the Caucasus, with smaller communities in the former Byzantine regions of the eastern Mediterranean, Africa, and to a descreasing degree also in the Middle East due to persecution. There are also many in other parts of the world, formed through diaspora, conversions, and missionary activity.
Protestantism is the second largest form of Christianity with collectively more than 900 million adherents worldwide or nearly 40 percent of all Christians. It originated with the Reformation, a movement against what its followers considered to be errors in the Roman Catholic Church. Ever since, Protestants reject the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal supremacy and sacraments, but disagree among themselves regarding the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They emphasize the priesthood of all believers, justification by faith alone (sola fide) rather than by good works, and the highest authority of the Bible alone (rather than with sacred tradition) in faith and morals (sola scriptura). The “Five solae” summarize basic theological differences in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church. Protestantism is popularly considered to have begun in Germany in 1517 when Martin Luther published his Ninety-five Theses as a reaction against abuses in the sale of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church, which purported to offer remission of sin to their purchasers. However, the term derives from the letter of protestation from German Lutheran princes in 1529 against an edict of the Diet of Speyer condemning the teachings of Martin Luther as heretical. Although there were earlier breaks and attempts to reform of the Roman Catholic Church — notably by Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, and Jan Hus — only Luther succeeded in sparking a wider, lasting, modern movement. In the 16th century, Lutheranism spread from Germany into Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Estonia, and Iceland.Reformed (or Calvinist) denominations spread in Germany,Hungary, the Netherlands, Scotland, Switzerland and France by reformers such as John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Knox. The political separation of the Church of England from the pope under King Henry VIII sparked Anglicanism in England and Wales into this broad Reformation movement.
Protestants developed their own culture, with major contributions in education, the humanities and sciences, the political and social order, the economy and the arts, and many other fields. Protestantism is diverse, being more divided theologically and ecclesiastically than either the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, or Oriental Orthodoxy. Without structural unity or central human authority, Protestants spearheaded the concept of an invisible church rather than a body of clergy or focused on institutional figures. Some denominations do have a worldwide scope and distribution of membership, while others are confined to a single country.
A majority of Protestants are members of a handful of Protestant denominational families: Adventists, Anglicans, Baptists, Reformed, Lutherans, Methodists, and Pentecostals. Nondenominational, evangelical, charismatic, independent and other churches are on the rise, and constitute a significant part of Protestant Christianity. Proponents of the branch theory consider Protestantism one of the three major divisions of Christendom, together with the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodoxy (both Eastern and Oriental).
Islam: Sacred places, the family system, Sharia, Sunni and Shia
The most sacred place in Islam is the Ka’ba in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. The Ka’ba is a mosque (built by Abraham according to Muslim tradition) built around a black stone. The Prophet Muhammad designated Makkah as the holy city of Islam and the direction (qibla) in which all Muslims should offer their prayers. The Ka’ba is believed to be the first place that was created on earth and the place at which heavenly bliss and power touches the earth directly. Makkah is located in the Hijaz region of western Saudi Arabia.
Muhammad moved his ministry to Madina soon after his revelations began in 610 CE. The principle revelations were conveyed to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. These visions continued with him until his death in madina in 632 A.D. . By that time Islam had swept aside all other religions on the Arabian peninsular. In the 100 years after the prophet’s death the Arabs ruled a vast empire stretching from Spain to India and north into Russia. Madina became the centre for the expanding empire. As the adopted capital and city where Allah’s word spread through Muhammad Madina is second only to Makkah as a pilgrimage city. Muhammad is buried in Madina’s mosque of the prophet.
Jerusalam is considered the third Holiest City in Islam. Allah himself blessed the city in the Qur’an and appointed her as the first qibla of Islam, meaning that it was Jerusalem, and not Mecca, that served as the spiritual as well as geographical focus for Muslims’ prayers during the early years of Islam. It is reported that the Prophet Muhammad said, “There are only three mosques to which you should embark on a journey: the sacred mosque (Mecca, Saudi Arabia), this mosque of mine (Madinah, Saudi Arabia), and the mosque of Al-Aqsa (Jerusalem).
The family system in Islam
The family, which is the basic unit of civilization, is now disintegrating. Islam’s family system brings the rights of the husband, wife, children, and relatives into a fine equilibrium. It nourishes unselfish behavior, generosity, and love in the framework of a well-organized family system. The peace and security offered by a stable family unit is greatly valued, and it is seen as essential for the spiritual growth of its members. A harmonious social order is created by the existence of extended families and by treasuring children.
Sharia is an Islamic religious law that governs not only religious rituals, but aspects of day-to-day life in Islam. Sharia, literally translated, means “the way.”
Traditional theory of Islamic jurisprudence recognizes four sources of sharia: the Quran, sunnah (authentic hadith), qiyas (analogical reasoning), and ijma (juridical consensus). Different legal schools—of which the most prominent are Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali and Jafari—developed methodologies for deriving sharia rulings from scriptural sources using a process known as ijtihad. Traditional jurisprudence distinguishes two principal branches of law, ʿibādāt (rituals) and muʿāmalāt (social relations), which together comprise a wide range of topics. Its rulings assign actions to one of five categories: mandatory, recommended, neutral, abhorred, and prohibited. Thus, some areas of sharia overlap with the Western notion of law while others correspond more broadly to living life in accordance with God’s will.
Sects : Sunni vs Shia
Sunni Muslims are the largest denomination of Islam and are known as Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā‘h or simply as Ahl as-Sunnah. The word Sunni comes from the word sunnah, which means the teachings and actions or examples of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. Therefore, “Sunni” refers to those who follow or maintain the sunnah of Muhammad. In many countries, overwhelming majorities of Muslims are Sunnis, so that they simply refer to themselves as “Muslims” and do not use the Sunni label. The Sunnis believe that Muhammad did not specifically appoint a successor to lead the Muslim ummah (community) before his death, and after an initial period of confusion, a group of his most prominent companions gathered and elected Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s close friend and a father-in-law, as the first caliph of Islam. Sunni Muslims regard the first four caliphs (Abu Bakr, `Umar ibn al-Khattāb, Uthman Ibn Affan and Ali ibn Abu Talib) as “al-Khulafā’ur-Rāshidūn” or “The Rightly Guided Caliphs.” Sunnis also believe that the position of caliph may be attained democratically, on gaining a majority of the votes, but after the Rashidun, the position turned into a hereditary dynastic rule because of the divisions started by the Umayyads and others. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, there has never been another caliph as widely recognized in the Muslim world.
Shia Islam is the second-largest denomination of Islam, comprising 10–13% of the total Muslim population in the world. Shia Muslims, though a minority in the Muslim world, constitute the majority of the populations in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan as well as a plurality in Kuwait, Yemen and Lebanon. In addition to believing in the authority of the Qur’an and teachings of Muhammad, Shia believe that Muhammad’s family, the Ahl al-Bayt (the “People of the House”), including his descendants known as Imams, have special spiritual and political authority over the community and believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, was the first of these Imams and was the rightful successor to Muhammad, and thus reject the legitimacy of the first three Rashidun caliphs.
Originated in India thousands of years ago and is thought to have heavily influenced the two other main belief systems of the region at that time: Hinduism and Buddhism. The religion centres on the progress of one’s soul towards a divine consciousness through self-reformation, wisdom and self-control and pacifism towards all living creatures. There are two main sects of Jains today; the Digambara and the Svetambara. There are thought to be 10 million Jains worldwide, the majority of them in India and amongst Indian expatriate communities in North America, Asia and East Africa.
Jainism grew in India many thousands of years ago. As with Hinduism, some Jains believe that the origins are millions of years ago, although obviously it is impossible to verify the exact origins. The more realistic assessment is that the religion dates back to the second or third millennium BCE, and there are archaeological remnants found among the Indus Valley civilisations (sites such as Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in modern Pakistan) from around 1500 BCE that appear to mention Jain Tirthankaras.
Jains believe that there had been 24 great teachers known as ‘Tirthan-karas’ (‘those who have discovered and then shown the way to eternal salvation’) who taught people how to live in harmony with the universe and ultimately to achieve spiritual liberation through their own example. The first of these Tirthankaras was Rushabha. The 23rd was Parsva who lived from 872-772 BCE according to some sources.
The last of these teachers born in northern India in 599 BCE was Virdhamana, the son of King Siddhartha. At the age of 30, he went into seclusion as an ascetic and following twelve years of intense prayer and contemplation, claimed to reach enlightenment. It was at that point that he was given the title Mahavira (great hero). He spent the rest of his life teaching others how to fulfil the purpose of their existence and to achieve complete liberation from the shackles of modern life. He is widely accredited with establishing the present ‘Jain’ belief system. Mahavira passed away in 527 BCE at the age of 72 years leaving behind 14,000 monks and 36,000 nuns.
The 24 Tirthankaras in order are:
Rushabha, Ajitnath, Sambhavanath, Abhinandan Swami, Sumatinath, Padmaprabhu, Suparshvanath, Chandraprabhu, Pushpadanta, Sheetalnath, Shreyansanath, Vasupujya Swami, Vimalnath, Anantnath, Dharmanath, Shantinath, Kunthananth, Aranath, Mallinath, Munisuvrata Swami, Nami Nath, Neminath, Parshavnath and Mahavira.
As mentioned earlier, through various interactions in India, Jainism had an influence on Hinduism and Buddhism, and they share concepts such as the seeking of freedom from worldly life and reincarnation of the soul. Some scholars suggest that Hinduism adopted vegetarianism through strong Jain influence across India.
Jains believe that the knowledge of the true path (dharma) reaches a zenith and then wanes several times through the cycle of history, and each time the knowledge is revived through a Tirthankara just as other monotheistic faiths believe that prophets were sent by a Creator to revive faith.
Mahavira is believed to have recorded his teachings in a series of texts known as the Agamas, although the Jain texts are the major source of controversy between the sects. The Digambara sect believes that following a vast famine in 350 BCE when many monks died, the original texts were also lost, whereas the Svetambara sect (whilst acknowledging that the Purvas texts were lost) believes that the majority of the texts survived in the form that we have today.
The most often cited book of the Jains is the Tattvartha Sutra (Book of Reality) thought to date from the second millennium BCE, but only recorded in written form in the 5th century CE by Umasvati, and it is at that point that Jainism splintered into the two main sects.
The Jains have 5 great vows by which they try to live their lives:
Non-violence (Ahimsa) towards all living beings (human, animal or plant life) including a spectrum of harm from insult and injury to death;
Not getting too attached (Aparigraha) to material possessions, people or places;
Not telling lies (Satya);
Not stealing (Asteya) or taking things that are not willingly handed over;
Sexual restraint (Brahmacarya) practised as celibacy by monks and nuns, and monogamy by normal society.
They believe that all human, animal and plant life has a soul and therefore all of these life forms must be treated equally and fairly.
Jains believe that the purpose of man and creatures is to realise the soul’s true nature through the triple gems of (1) true perception, (2) true knowledge and (3) true conduct.
Unlike many other faiths, the Jains do not believe in a creator God or in spiritual beings such as angels, but do focus on the concept of reincarnation through which the soul evolves in life cycles until it reaches enlightenment when the soul is called jina (victorious). Whereas the major monotheistic faiths also believe in a spiritual journey, in the case of those faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), their followers seek the help of the Creator God to achieve spiritual liberation, whereas Jains believe that this journey is undertaken purely through their own efforts to achieve inner peace.
Moreover, the philosophy is that every soul is the architect of its own destiny. As a result of these beliefs, Jains also believe in an infinite Universe that was never created and will never end, but goes through major cycles.
The ultimate goal of self-reformation and the application of the Jain triple gems is to break free from the cycle of birth and death. In Jainism, a soul that frees itself (moksha) from the samsara cycle of life and death is called siddha (liberated soul) whereas those souls which are still attached to the wordly life are called samsarin (mundane souls). A liberated soul experiences boundless knowledge, power, perception and happiness.
As a result of these beliefs, they are vegetarians and aim to live in a manner which minimises the use of natural resources so as to limit the impact upon other life forms. Rigid followers will allow head lice to survive on their head and not shave their head or take any medicine. Even bacteria is not supposed to be killed.
Jains believe in soul reincarnation through phases including hell-being, sub-human (animal, plant and insects), human and super-human, and that there are an infinite number of souls in the Universe, that like matter, pre-existed creation.
Modern Jain society has a concept of monks and nuns similar to Buddhism and Christianity, but has no priestly class. Monks and nuns live a celibate and ascetic lifestyle and take on greater vows and responsibilities than normal society.
Jains are recognised by their symbol which is the Swastika. Although this symbol was misused by the Nazis of Germany in the last century, the original Jain symbol signifies peace and well-being. The Jain Swastika appears in all temples and holy books, and during ceremonies, a swastika is created using rice.
Jains do have some idols, but these represent souls that have conquered their passions rather than deities.
Jains have several days of fasting on which they abstain from all food but can take water. During the fast, they focus on worship, contemplation and reading scriptures. Although there are specific fast days, Jains also perform voluntary fasts at any time of the year to cleanse themselves.
Their festivals include the following:
Mahavira Jayanti – a celebration of the birth of Mahavira
Paryushana – 8 days of fasting
Divali – a festival of renewal and lights also celebrated by Hindus, but significant for Jains as the day that Mahavira achieved enlightenment
Kartak Purnima – an annual pilgrimage to the key Jain sites in India
Mauna Agyaras – a single day of fasting
Kshamavaani – a day to seek forgiveness from everyone else
Jains are renowned for the value that they place on education, and are recognised in India as the most literate community. Their libraries are well respected and complement the zeal for knowledge to enrich the soul.
Buddhism is a world religion and is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who is known as the Buddha (literally the Enlightened One or Awakened One). Siddhārtha Gautama was the historical founder of Buddhism. After asceticism and meditation, he discovered the Buddhist Middle Way—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. Early texts suggest that Gautama was not familiar with the dominant religious teachings of his time until he left on his religious quest, which is said to have been motivated by existential concern for the human condition.
Siddhartha was born in a royal Hindu Kshatriya family. The Buddha’s father was King Śuddhodana, the leader of Shakya clan, whose capital was Kapilavastu, Uttar Pradesh. Queen Maya, his mother, on her way to her father’s kingdom gave birth to her son at Lumbini, Nepal, in a garden beneath a sal tree. The infant was given the name Siddhartha (Pāli: Siddhattha), meaning “he who achieves his aim”. During the birth celebrations, the hermit seer Asita journeyed from his mountain abode and announced that the child would either become a great king (chakravartin) or a great holy man.
When he reached the age of 16, his father arranged his marriage to a cousin Yaśodharā They had a son, named Rahul. Siddhartha is then said to have spent 29 years as a prince in Kapilavastu. Although his father ensured that Siddhartha was provided with everything he could want or need, Buddhist scriptures say that the future Buddha felt that material wealth was not life’s ultimate goal.
At the age of 29, Siddhartha left his palace to meet his subjects. Despite his father’s efforts to hide from him the sick, aged and suffering, Siddhartha was said to have seen an old man. When his charioteer Channa explained to him that all people grew old, the prince went on further trips beyond the palace. On these he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These depressed him, and he initially strove to overcome ageing, sickness, and death by living the life of an ascetic and hence left his princely abode for the life of a mendicant.
Gautama initially went to Rajagaha and began his ascetic life by begging for alms in the street. After King Bimbisara’s men recognised Siddhartha and the king learned of his quest, Bimisara offered Siddhartha the throne. Siddhartha rejected the offer, but promised to visit his kingdom of Magadha first, upon attaining enlightenment. He left Rajagaha and practised under two hermit teachers. After mastering the teachings of Alara Kalama (Skr. Ārāda Kālāma), he was asked by Kalama to succeed him.
Siddhartha and a group of five companions led by Kaundinya are then said to have set out to take their austerities even further. They tried to find enlightenment through deprivation of worldly goods, including food, practicing self-mortification. After nearly starving himself to death by restricting his food intake to around a leaf or nut per day, he collapsed in a river while bathing and almost drowned. Siddhartha began to reconsider his path. Then, he remembered a moment in childhood in which he had been watching his father start the season’s plowing. He attained a concentrated and focused state that was blissful and refreshing, the jhāna.
According to the early Buddhist texts, after realizing that meditative jhana was the right path to awakening, but that extreme asceticism didn’t work, Gautama discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.
Gautama was famously seated under a banyan tree – now known as the Bodhi tree – in Bodh Gaya, India, when he vowed never to arise until he had found the truth. Kaundinya and four other companions, believing that he had abandoned his search and become undisciplined, left. After a reputed 49 days of meditation, he is said to have attained Enlightenment. From that time, Gautama was known to his followers as the Buddha or “Awakened One” (“Buddha” is also sometimes translated as “The Enlightened One”). He is often referred to in Buddhism as Shakyamuni Buddha, or “The Awakened One of the Shakya Clan.”
According to Buddhism, at the time of his awakening he realized complete insight into the cause of suffering, and the steps necessary to eliminate it. These discoveries became known as the “Four Noble Truths”, which are at the heart of Buddhist teaching. Through mastery of these truths, a state of supreme liberation, or Nirvana, is believed to be possible for any being. The Buddha described Nirvāna as the perfect peace of a mind that’s free from ignorance, greed, hatred and other afflictive states, or “defilements” (kilesas). Nirvana is also regarded as the “end of the world”, in that no personal identity or boundaries of the mind remain. In such a state, a being is said to possess the Ten Characteristics, belonging to every Buddha.
After his awakening, the Buddha met two merchants, named Tapussa and Bhallika, who became his first lay disciples. The Buddha intended to visit Asita, and his former teachers, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, to explain his findings, but they had already died. He then travelled to the Deer Park near Vārānasī (Benares) in northern India, where he set in motion what Buddhists call the Wheel of Dharma by delivering his first sermon to the five companions with whom he had sought enlightenment. Together with him, they formed the first Sangha: the company of Buddhist monks. All five become Arahants, and within the first two months, with the conversion of Yasa and fifty four of his friends, the number of such Arahants is said to have grown to 60. The conversion of three brothers named Kassapa followed, with their reputed 200, 300 and 500 disciples, respectively. This swelled the Sangha to more than 1000.
For the remaining years of his life, the Buddha is said to have travelled in the Gangetic Plain, in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and southern Nepal, teaching a diverse range of people: from nobles to outcaste street sweepers, murderers such as Angulimala, and cannibals such as Alavaka. From the outset, Buddhism was equally open to all races and classes, and had no caste structure. The Sangha traveled through the subcontinent, expounding the Dharma. This continued throughout the year, except during the four months of the Vassana rainy season when ascetics of all religions rarely travelled. One reason was that it was more difficult to do so without causing harm to animal life. At this time of year, the Sangha would retreat to monasteries, public parks or forests, where people would come to them.
The first Vassana was spent at Varanasi when the Sangha was formed. After this, the Buddha kept a promise to travel to Rajagaha, capital of Magadha, to visit King Bimbisara. During this visit, Sariputta and Maudgalyayana were converted by Assaji, one of the first five disciples, after which they were to become the Buddha’s two foremost followers. The Buddha spent the next three seasons at Veluvana Bamboo Grove monastery in Rajagaha, capital of Magadha.
Upon hearing of his son’s awakening, King Suddhodana sent, over a period of time, ten delegations to ask him to return to Kapilavastu. On the first nine occasions, the delegates failed to deliver the message, and instead joined the Sangha to become Arahants. The tenth delegation, led by Kaludayi, a childhood friend of Gautama’s (who also became an Arahant), however, delivered the message.
Two years after his awakening, the Buddha agreed to return, and made a two-month journey by foot to Kapilavastu, teaching the Dharma as he went. Buddhist texts say that King Suddhodana invited the Sangha into the palace for a meal, followed by a Dharma talk. After this he is said to have become a Sotapanna. During the visit, many members of the royal family joined the Sangha. The Buddha’s cousins Ananda and Anuruddha became two of his five chief disciples. At the age of seven, his son Rahul also joined, and became one of his ten chief disciples. His half-brother Nanda also joined and became an Arahant.
Of the Buddha’s disciples , Sariputta , Maudgalyayana , Mahakasyapa, Ananda and Anuruddha are believed to have been the five closest to him. His ten foremost disciples were reputedly completed by the quintet of Upali, Subhoti, Rahula, Mahakaccana and Punna. In the fifth Vassana, the Buddha was staying at Mahavana near Vesali when he heard news of the impending death of his father. He is said to have gone to King Suddhodana and taught the Dharma, after which his father became an Arahant.
The king’s death and cremation was to inspire the creation of an order of nuns. Buddhist texts record that the Buddha was reluctant to ordain women. His foster mother Maha Pajapati, for example, approached him, asking to join the Sangha, but he refused. Maha Pajapati, however, was so intent on the path of awakening that she led a group of royal Sakyan and Koliyan ladies, which followed the Sangha on a long journey to Rajagaha. In time, after Ananda championed their cause, the Buddha is said to have reconsidered and, five years after the formation of the Sangha, agreed to the ordination of women as nuns. He reasoned that males and females had an equal capacity for awakening. But he gave women additional rules (Vinaya) to follow.
Buddha found patronage in the ruler of Magadha, emperor Bimbisara. The emperor accepted Buddhism as personal faith and allowed the establishment of many Buddhist “Viharas.” This eventually led to the renaming of the entire region as Bihar.
The Maurya empire reached its peak at the time of Emperor Asoka, who himself converted to Buddhism after the Battle of Kalinga. This heralded a long period of stability under the Buddhist emperor. The power of the empire was vast – ambassadors were sent to other countries to propagate Buddhism. The Buddha did not appoint any successor and asked his followers to work for personal salvation. The teachings of the Buddha existed only in oral traditions. The Sangha held a number of Buddhist councils in order to reach consensus on matters of Buddhist doctrine and practice. Buddha attained Parinirvana in the abandoned jungles of Kuśināra, modern Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh.
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