And You May Find a Few Surprises…
Religious conflicts have turned the soil red with the blood of believers since ancient times. The world’s religions have extremely complicated histories and relationships that make peaceful solutions difficult. Yet, their similarities might serve as common ground.
In my last post, “The World’s Religions Have More in Common than You Might Think,” I delved into the three major Western or Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. These religions trace their roots to Abraham, whose story you will find in the Christian Bible, the Hebrew Bible and the Muslim Qur’an. Read my post here.
In today’s post, I’ll look at the three major Eastern religions, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Namely what are their beliefs and what do they say about hatred, anger, love and other emotions that lead to conflict? Might their beliefs serve as common ground with other religions?
Hinduism is generally considered the world’s oldest religion. With roots dating back more than 4,000 years, it has roughly 900 million-1 billion followers and ranks behind Christianity, which has more than 2.3 billion, and Islam, which has about 1.8 billion, according to the Pew third Research Center. Read more here.
Hinduism is unique in that it isn’t a single religion. Rather, it blends many traditions and philosophies. It also has no specific founder.
What Do Hindus Believe?
Hinduism Today, a quarterly magazine of the nonprofit Himalayan Academy, summarizes the nine major spiritual beliefs of Hinduism:
- One, all-pervasive supreme being/creator who is knowable but also outside full human understanding and experience.
- The divinity of four ancient scriptures called Vedas; Hindus also venerate the Agamas, which were written later.
- The idea that the universe undergoes cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.
- The law of cause and effect – called karma – through which people create their own destinies.
- Reincarnation of the soul, which continues until a person’s karmas have been resolved.
- Divine beings that exist in unseen worlds; Hindus also emphasize the importance of temple worship and individual devotionals to “create communion” with the divine beings.
- The importance of an “enlightened master,” personal discipline, purification, pilgrimage, good conduct, meditation, self-inquiry and surrender in god, as essential to knowing the “Transcendent Absolute.” The Transcendent Absolute is the power to transcend everything.
- The sacredness of all life.
- Hindus do not believe that any one religion teaches the only way to salvation. Rather, they say “all genuine paths to God’s light” deserve tolerance and understanding.
Besides these core beliefs, Hindus believe that anger and arrogance are enemies of the mind. Click here for more information. Would any of these beliefs serve as common ground with other religions?
Although many scholars think Hinduism began in 2300 B.C.-1500 B.C. near modern-day Pakistan, some followers argue that their religion has always existed.
(Side note: You might be surprised to know that the swastika is associated with Hinduism and frequently appears in its art. It signifies good luck. Hindus used the symbol long before the Nazis absconded with it in the 1920s, the History website says. Keep that in mind if you’re looking ancient Hindu art.)
Buddhism grew out of Hinduism around 2,500 years ago. The two religions share several beliefs including reincarnation and karma. Both religions also believe “that a life of devotion and honor is a path to salvation and enlightenment,” according to the History website.
Buddhism rejects the caste system and the rituals, priesthood and gods associated with Hinduism. The caste system determines people’s place in society based on their past lives, karma and family background.
It is most prevalent in India, according to the Set Free Alliance. The alliance is a Christian organization that shares the gospel with people in need, while also providing food, housing, medicines and other essentials. Learn more here.
What’s the History of Buddhism?
Buddhism’s founder was Siddhartha Gautama, a wealthy prince born in present-day Nepal during 564 B.C., National Geographic says. When he saw poor and dying people, he concluded that life means suffering.
He chose to become a poor beggar but concluded that neither extreme wealth nor extreme self-denial led to enlightenment. (To him, “enlightenment” meant a perfect state of wisdom or knowledge). He chose a middle way, and Buddhists believe he eventually achieved enlightenment during deep meditation.
What Do Buddhists Believe?
Gautama became known as the Buddha and taught his followers “Four Nobel Truths,” per National Geographic:
- Everyone suffers in some way.
- All suffering comes from desire.
- It is possible to end suffering and achieve enlightenment.
- The steps to achieve enlightenment are called the Middle Way.
Buddhists believe that “the human life is one of suffering, and that meditation, spiritual and physical labor, and good behavior are the ways to achieve enlightenment,” National Geographic adds.
They also believe that the basic causes of suffering are greed, ignorance and hatred. Additionally, they believe souls are born again and again and that people’s behavior in past lives influences their present and future lives.
Would any of these basic beliefs serve as common ground with other religions?
What Are the Schools of Buddhism?
The three main schools are:
- Mahayana, commonly found in China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea – It focuses on following role models of beings who have achieved enlightenment and now teach humans.
- Theravada, which is common in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar – It stresses living a monastic lifestyle of mediation in order to achieve enlightenment.
- Vajrayana, which is primarily found in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Mongolia – It provides followers a faster way to reach enlightenment than the other schools of Buddhism. Its traditional leader is the Dalai Lama.
Buddhists don’t worship any gods but do believe in supernatural entities that can impact people’s path toward enlightenment. Click here for more information.
Sikhism was founded in India in the late 15th century by Guru Nanak, according to Britannica. Sikh tradition says the guru received a revelation from God, or Waheguru, who represents Truth, according to Britannica.
The religion currently has more than 25 million followers, most of whom live in the India’s state of Punjab.
What Is the History of Sikhism?
Sikh means “learner” in Punjabi, and people who joined the Sikh community were looking for spiritual guidance. Followers insist their religion has always been separate from Hinduism, but Western scholars say that Guru Nanak grew up as a Hindu and that Hinduism influenced his thoughts. Some people claim that Sikhism had ties to Islam, but there is no proof of a connection.
Nanak became part of the Sant movement in northern India at some point. The Sants believed that devotion to God is essential if they want to liberate themselves from the continuous cycle of rebirth and death. They also believed that God could not be incarnated or represented in concrete terms.
Stories about Guru Nanak’s life were not written down until nearly a century after the guru died. “Only a tiny fraction of the material found in them can be affirmed as factual,” Britannica said. Britannica’s post on Sikhism is rich with historical details. To read the entire article, click here.
What Do Sikhs Believe?
Few Westerners know much about Sikhism. According to CNN, “Sikhism, the world’s fifth most popular religion, is a monotheistic faith that believes in equality and service to others…. ‘Everyone is the same,’ says Raghunandan Johar, president of the Guru Nanak Mission of Atlanta. ‘There is no distinction, no caste system.’”
CNN reports that Sikhs believe in the following:
- Freedom of religion
- Community service
- Goodness of all religions
Everyone is welcome in their temples. They don’t have a specific day for services, although Sunday has become popular in the U.S. because of the American work week. During their services, Sikhs pray, sing hymns and recite from their holy scriptures. Johar points out that the scriptures contain “not a word of hate.”
Sikhs believe that you must do good deeds throughout your life in order to end the cycle of rebirth, life and death and be with God. Most Sikh men wear turbans and beards and don’t cut their hair, while many of the women dress like Westerners or wear a traditional long shirt and loose-fitting pants, CNN says.
Would Sikhs’ beliefs serve as common ground with other religions?
We’re Facing a BIG Problem
While researching world religions for my current and previous posts, I saw an interesting suggestion for solving religious conflict: Simply abolish all religions.
I don’t know whether or not the person who made the suggestion was being facetious. But there’s one big reason it wouldn’t work. More than 84% of the world’s population – or eight in 10 people – identify with one of the world’s 4,000 religions, according to the Pew Research Center. You could never get that many people to agree about anything, much less a contentious subject like religion.
Seriously, How Do We Tackle Religious Conflicts?
On a more serious note, I do have a few thoughts about religion. The skills I bring to Patheos as a blogger are those of a former journalist and experienced researcher. I don’t have the wealth of knowledge a religious scholar has, nor am I a master negotiator or psychologist who could work on relationships.
However, I believe that improving communications among the various religions wouldn’t hurt. Neither would educating ourselves about the world or working on our prejudices. I believe every one of us is prejudiced in some way whether we admit it or not.
In my recent blog, “For God’s Sake, Christians! Pull the Plug on Hatred,” I looked at some of the issues that divide the Christian faith and reminded fellow Christians about Christ’s teachings about love. Keep in mind that this is hatred within one religion that preaches love. Read more here.
I’ve also written articles about racial hatred (click here), hatred against the LGBT+ community (click here) and Christian disputes over abortion (click here), politics and the church (click here), women in the ministry, (click here and so on.
In talking about hatred, the pastor of my church once said, “If you can think of the other person as having the image of God as you do, the ‘us vs, them’ mentality becomes an ‘all of us’ mentality.”
“All of us” would be a wonderful goal in your communities and beyond. Other religions wouldn’t think in terms of Christ, of course, but the six religions I researched for my two most recent posts have something to say about hatred, anger and love.
If everyone actually practiced what their religions teach, the world would be a better place.
Bringing People — & Faiths –Together
I don’t see religious harmony developing around the world in my lifetime or the lifetimes of my children or grandchildren. I don’t even see it happening in the U.S., where I live.
Sometimes, I think about my own faith and find myself agreeing with Mahatma Gandi: “I like your Christ,” he said. “I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” It hurts because it’s true.
But I pray that Christians and other religions begin to act on their faith and that interfaith groups continue to grow and tackle hostilities wherever they exist.
A website called “The Conversation” has an excellent article about religious harmony called “Bringing People of Different Faiths Together to Solve the World’s Problems Is a Noble Goal – But It’s Hard to Know What It Achieves.” I hope everyone who has an interest in the subject reads it. Click to read post.)
(By the way, The Conversation is a network of non-for-profit media outlets whose articles are written by academic experts for the general public.)
The Patheos website is another excellent source of information on a wide variety of religions. In addition to hosting thousands of articles, it has a library that allows you to easily compare two or three religions at a time. Click here to access it.
“Stress Basic Values Common to All Religions,” a speech by the UN’s secretary-general, also addresses the issue at a global level. Click here.
No, I don’t expect any of this to solve religious conflicts. However, educating ourselves may improve our understanding of other religions, help us gain respect for the world’s people if not their beliefs, and give us reason to pause before we jump into attack mode.