“Help!!” on five venerable religions

JAEDE ASKS:

I need to know the founder, area of the world it’s in, what their holy book is called, and their holidays, for Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Shinto.

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

Jaede headlined this item “Help!!” and was probably sweating over some school exam or term paper so this comes too late. Nonetheless, a sketch of these five Asian creeds might be informative since they’re lesser-known than the much larger Hinduism and Buddhism. The Guy is grateful that Jaede didn’t ask about their complex belief systems and practices! And after some research The Guy failed in attempts to summarize their many regional and local holidays. Much more could be said but here are a few basics.

The five are listed below in order of adherents as of 2010, estimated by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell seminary, a standard data source. Such numbers are controversial, and aspects of these faiths influence much broader populations, reflected in higher numbers from such sources as www.patheos.com/Library.html. Apart from the statistics, The Guy relied especially on The Encyclopedia of Religion (1987). Conventional years and centuries are designated here by the multifaith B.C.E. (Before Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era) rather than the familiar B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, “Year of the Lord”).

SIKHISM (10,678,000 adherents) was founded in India by Guru Nanak (1469-1539 C.E.) and developed by a series of nine authoritative successors through 1708 C.E. Its center is the Golden Temple in Amritsar, near today’s border with Pakistan. Most Sikhs live in India but the faith has spread to Sikh communities worldwide (where the men stand out by wearing obligatory turbans). Though a distinct world religion, Sikhism shares some concepts with Hinduism (e.g. reincarnation and the law of karma) and Islam (worship of one all-powerful God).  Its scripture is the Adi Granth (“First Book”), also called the Granth Sahib, collected hymns and poems of the Guru and others. This is supplemented by collected life stories about the Guru as well as manuals of conduct. Further info at www.thesikhencyclopedia.com.

CONFUCIANISM (5,759,000) is an ancient philosophy of China with influence in the worldwide Chinese diaspora and nearby nations, especially Japan and Korea. This is more an ethical path than a religion with defined gods, though many venerate or worship their ancestors and the founding sage Confucius (K’ung Fu-tzu or “Master Kung”). He lived from 552(?) to 479 B.C.E., roughly contemporary with the Buddha and the Bible’s prophets of exile, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The primary scripture is the well-known Analects, conversations between Confucius and his disciples, compiled after his death and perhaps centuries later. Confucianism functioned as China’s official state creed as early as the 2d Century B.C.E. and often thereafter. But its cultural status was opposed by the 20th Century Republic. When Communists gained power they all but abolished the creed but have shifted to limited toleration (see the January 13 New Yorker magazine). Also: http://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Fac/Adler/Reln270/Berling-Confucianism.htm.

SHINTO (4,175,000) is the historic faith of Japan, consisting of age-old beliefs and practices that were defined under this name in the 6th Century C.E. to distinguish the heritage from Buddhist inroads. Shinto has no founding personality. It also has no official scripture as such, though 10 historical annals compiled in the 8th Century C.E. and later can be seen as sacred. Japan’s emperors embraced Shinto as an aspect of nationality and patriotism, reinforced in the 1868 “Restoration.” After Japan’s World War Two defeat, “state Shinto” and emperor worship were abolished, but shrine-based devotionals continue amid occasional controversy. See: http://k-amc.kokugakuin.ac.jp/DM/dbTop.do;jsessionid=1B9695B313567D2A9152DC59C8019E01?class_name=col_eos.

JAINISM (2,629,000) is an ascetic faith of India known for observance of ahimsa (non-violence and strict protection of all living things as sacred). Jains believe their faith originated in a primordial line of 24 great teachers culminating in the Lord Mahavira, a 6th Century B.C.E. contemporary of Confucius and the Buddha. Jainism’s original scriptures, the 14 Purvas, were lost, but material from these was incorporated into 32 (or 45) treatises known collectively as Agams (traditions) or the Jain Shrut, which were preserved orally and apparently reached written form early in the Common Era. See: www.cs.colostate.edu/~malaiya/jainhlinks.html.

TAOISM or DAOISM (1,734,000) is a primeval faith of China that became an organized entity early in the Common Era and thereafter often competed and alternated with Confucianism as the ideology of state dynasties while influencing popular folk religions and vice versa. Its founder or historical formulator was Lao-tzu, another 6th Century contemporary of the Buddha and Confucius, who is depicted in writings dating from around 100 B.C.E. Lao-tze is the reputed author of the primary scripture, the Tao-te Ching, but some scholars date it centuries after his time. A secondary work, the Chuang-tzu, is named for its author. China’s Communist rulers have worked to abolish Taoism but it survives on Taiwan and elsewhere in the Chinese diaspora. See: www.taoism.net.

About Richard Ostling

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.


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