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A BOOK OF RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE


 

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Title
Table of Content
Foreword
Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4
Section 5
Section 6


 


SECTION 6

COMPARATIVE RELIGIONS
A SURVEY OF MAJOR FAITHS


INTRODUCTION

To fully appreciate the religion of Islam and to be able to explain its excellences to other people, Muslims must learn something about the beliefs, traditions and history of the world's other major faiths.

An important aspect of modern research in the area of religion has been the application of comparative methods of inquiry. Under this system of investigation, one compares the beliefs, modes of worship, ethical and moral codes, social directives, and the philosophies of two different religions. Since most of us are quite familiar with at least one religion, we can appreciate the concepts and tenets of another religion when compared with our own.

But, unfortunately, a study of comparative religions frequently deteriorates into a study of competitive religions. In most such studies the student learns little about the other faith except how ridiculous it is. And this is not the purpose of true learning.

Ahmadi Muslims believe that at the root of all major religions is the process of revelation. It is through this process that spiritual knowledge and wisdom is given to man by God. The knowledge thus received is considered to be the most authentic and truest form of learning. The founders of all major religions have either explicitly claimed to have received revelation, or their lives clearly demonstrate this fact.

While there are many aspects of earlier religions which became outdated with time due to man's continuing progress in the fields of social behaviour, technological achievements and religion: philosophy, there are certain wisdoms expressed in all religions which are "everlasting" and of universal appeal. These gems of wisdom have an uncanny ability to survive the vagaries of time and could be unearthed even in the ruins of some of the oldest faiths on earth. For that reason, selected words of wisdom taken from their sacred books have been included under each religion.


CLASSIFICATION OF RELIGIONS

As we mentioned at the beginning of this book, there are about ten major religions in the world. In alphabetical order, these are: Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Taoism and Zoroastrianism. Although Sikhism is not considered a major religion or a revealed faith, it is included in this section for the benefit of the reader.

To simplify the study of comparative religions, the scholars classify these faiths into various categories based on certain criteria. For example, on the basis of geographic origin, the world's major religions may be classified as follows:

Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, which originated in India

Confucianism and Taoism, which originated in China

Shinto, which originated in Japan

Zoroastrianism, which originated in Iran

Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which originated in the Near East.

Another criterion that can be used in classifying these religions is their ethnic aspect. Some religions have appeal to their own people and are, therefore, called ethnic. Preaching to outsiders and conversions in these ethnic faiths have always been uncommon. Other faiths claim to be of more universal: appeal, have been vigorous in missionary work and have actively sought conversions. Following is the division of the world's major religions into these two classes:

Ethnic Religions Missionary Religions
Hinduism Buddhism
Jainism Christianity
Confucianism Islam
Taoism
Shinto
Zoroastrianism
Judaism

Another classification of these religions is based on the relative importance of "prophecy" in these faiths. Religions in which prophecy has been demonstrated to have played an important role are called "Religions of Prophecy" while all other faiths are called "Religions of Wisdom". On this basis, the major religions could be divided into:

Religions of Prophecy Religions of Wisdom
Zoroastrianism Hinduism
Judaism Buddhism
Christianity Jainism
Islam Confucianism
Taoism
Shinto

Muslims believe that God sent His messengers to all the nations in the world. For this reason, Muslims should carry out any comparative religious study with due objectivity and proper consideration for the convictions of others. Muslims should realize that for many people a religion is not simply a rational set of beliefs and worships but also a way of life in which loyalty to one's country, ancestors, traditions and culture, all play an important role. Muslims, therefore, should treat the religions of other people with great respect and strongly refrain from ridiculing them in any way.

Now, one by one, we will study the major religions of the world. We will study their essential beliefs, modes of worship and philosophy of fife, and will frequently quote words of wisdom from their sacred Scriptures. In each case, brief comparisons will be made with the religion of Islam. The treatment of the world's major religions in this section is intended to be informative and educational rather than competitive and contentious. It is hoped that the student will benefit from this approach.

HINDUISM

Some Basic Facts:

Name The word "Hindu" is the Persian word for Indus, the
river along which the ancient Indus Valley civilization
flourished. Hindus themselves prefer to speak of their
Religion as Sanatan Dharm or the True Teachings.
Founder Hinduism has no known founder. Also, the followers
of Hinduism do not recognize any "prophets" in
their religious tradition. Non Hindu scholars believe
that personages such as Krishna and Ram Chandra
were Hindu prophets.

Place of Origin India

Sacred Books The Hindu sacred literature is divided into two kinds: the Sruti or revealed and Smrti or remembered.

The Sruti or revealed literature

Rig Veda lyric hymns to various deities

Santa Veda hymns in reference to the Soma sacrifice
Yajur Veda sacrificial prayers Atharva Veda incantations

Brahmanas commentaries of the Vedas and concerned with ritual and prayer

Upanishads philosophical and speculative texts dealing with Brahman and Aatman

Smrti or remembered literature

Mahabharata epic literature of the third century BC. Ascribed to the sage Vyasa. The hero of the epic is the avatar Krishna. This epic contains the famous Bhagavad-Gita or the Song of the Lord.

Ramayana epic literature of the second century BC and ascribed to the saint Valmiki. It narrates the life of the avatar Rama.

Puranas devotional texts dealing with religious
practices, mythology and cosmogony.

Sacred Places City of Varanisi or Banaras, on the Ganges. Allahbad, where Ganges and Jamna meet. Vrindaban

Festivals Holi a spring festival associated with
Krishna
Divali the Feast of Lights, an autumn festival
Dasehra a ten day festival celebrating Rama's
battle against Ravana

Introduction

The word Hinduism covers a large number of indigenous faiths that developed and flourished in the Indian subcontinent, over the past four thousand years. On the lowest level, these faiths include the most primitive type of animism and, on the highest level, a rarefied monism.

The Hindu religion is very old, diverse, and evolved considerably over the first 1,000 to 1,500 years of its existence. Due to its great antiquity, a great deal of mythology got incorporated with the wisdom and philosophical speculation.

The history of the Hindu religion dates back to the arrival of the Indo Aryans in India around 1500 BC. The word "Aryan" is a linguistic term indicating a speech group of Indo European origin and is not an ethnic term. The arrival of the Indo Aryans coincided with the decline of the Indus Valley civilization which had existed in India since 3000 BC. The Indo Aryans came from the region of the Caspian Sea and the southern Russian steppes. They entered north India through the passes in the Hindu Kush mountains.

The Indo Aryans brought many beliefs with them. Over the centuries the beliefs of the Aryans mixed with those of the local Dravidian people giving rise to what is known today as Hinduism.

Essential Beliefs Of Hinduism

Without any attempt to rank them in their order of importance, following are the essential Hindu beliefs:

1. The Hindu Triad

The central belief of Hinduism is that there is One Universal Spirit called Brahman which has no beginning or end. In Bhagavad-Gita, the Song of the Lord, we find the following description of the Supreme Spirit:

"I am He by Whom the worlds were created and shall be dissolved ... There is nothing higher than Me... The whole world is pervaded by Me, yet My form is not seen. All living things have their being in Me, yet I am not limited by them... 1, the Supreme Self, am the cause and upholder of all. Under My guidance, Nature produces all things movable and immovable ... I am the Father of the universe and its Mother. I am its Nourisher. I am the Knowable and the Pure .... I am the Goal, the Sustainer, the Lord, the Witness, the Home, the Shelter, the Lover and the Origin. I am Life and Death; I am the Fountain and the Seed Imperishable.

"I am the Source of all; from Me everything flows. The Supreme Spirit, the Eternal Home, the Holiest of the Holy, the Eternal Divine Self, the Primal God, the Unborn and the Omnipresent. The Source and Master of all beings, the Lord of Lords, the Ruler of the universe.

"Could a thousand suns blaze forth together it would be but a faint reflection of the radiance of the Lord God. He is the Light of lights, beyond the reach of darkness; the Wisdom, the only thing that is worth knowing.

"The aspects of My divine life are endless. Whatever is glorious, excellent, beautiful and mighty, be assured that it comes from a fragment of My splendour"

In the Hindu religious philosophy, Brahman, the Supreme Spirit, has three main attributes or manifestations which are identified as:

o Brahma, the Creator
o Vishnu, the Preserver
o Shiva, the Destroyer

Because of these three main attributes or forms of Brahman, He is also called Trimurti or the Three in One God. Besides Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, there are many other attributes of Brahman which are all symbolized in the Hindu religion as "gods".

Brahman is the Absolute, impersonal World Soul Who cannot be known without its various manifestations which then become the personal deities. Different groups of Hindus worship Brahma or Vishnu or Shiva as their personal god.

Hindus believe that at the end of each cycle of creation, called a "Day of Brahma", Shiva destroys the old world, Brahma creates a new one and Vishnu appears on earth in various forms or incarnations called "avatars".

With this "usual belief in the Brahman on one hand and in its various manifestations on the other, Hinduism is at once a monotheism and a polytheism.

2. Avatars

According to Hindu belief there are ten avatars or incarnations of Vishnu:

1. Matsya, the fish
2. Kurma, the tortoise
3. Varaha, the boar
4. Nara Simha, the man lion
5. Vamana, the dwarf
6. Parusha Rama, Rama with an axe
7. Rama Chandra, the hero of the Ramayana epic
8. Krishna, the main character in the Bhagavad-Gita
9. Buddha, the founder of Buddhism
10. Kalki, the tenth avatar who is yet to come

3. World Is Eternal

Hindus believe that the world is part of a beginingless and endless process which follows fixed cycles known as the Days of Brahma. Each day of the Brahma lasts for four and a half billion years.

4. The Soul is Eternal

Hindus believe that the souls have existed from time immemorial and are not necessarily created by Brahma.

5. The Law of Dharma

Very simply, this is the Law of Moral Order or right conduct. According to this law each person has his own dharma which depends upon his own race, caste or family. Although dharmas of various people may be different according to their station in society, they all lead to the same objective: reunion with Brahman, the World Soul.

6. The Caste System

Hinduism is the only religion in the world that believes in a caste system. Under this system people are assigned certain specific functions and duties in the society. The four castes recognized under
this system. are:
Brahmins the priests, philosophers and holy people dedicated
to the study of the sacred books. Brahmins belong
to the highest caste.
Kshatriyas engage in military and governmental activities.
They represent the upper middle class.
Vaisyas the tradesmen, merchants, farmers and Indus
trialists
Shudras these carry out menial jobs in the society and their
essential purpose is to serve the other three castes.

7. Samsara

Samsara is the endless cycle of birth and rebirth through which each soul goes until it attains liberation. This concept of reincarnation applies to the individual as well as the universe.

8. The Law of Karma

According to this law every action produces its inevitable result so that the conditions of each rebirth are determined by the acts performed during the previous life. Under this law, "From good must come good; and from evil, evil".

9. Moksha or Salvation

Salvation is achieved in Hinduism when the soul is finally released from its continuous process of birth and rebirth and becomes one with Brahman, the World Soul.

Hindu Acts Of Worship

In Hinduism, there are many ways and methods to achieve religious objectives. There is the way of penance and the way of sacrifice. There are the ways of meditation, of devotion, of renunciation and of religious acts.

There are no specific practices or creeds that are held essential in Hinduism and there are many forms of religious worship in this faith:

1. Sandhya

These are devotional rituals that are performed three times a day: at dawn, at midday and in the evening. These rituals begin by bathing oneself in the morning and include meditation, making of offerings and uttering of prayers.

2. Puja

Puja, which literally means worship, involves the paying of respect to the god. The Hindu gods are invariably in the form of idols. These idols are usually kept in the temple but may also be kept at home. The idol or statue of the god is the symbol of divine presence to the Hindus. The Hindu worship is seldom congregational and is largely individual. Certain rituals are followed during the puja both at home and in the temple.

3. Katha

Katha is the communal worship and involves recitations from the Scriptures.

4. Yogas

Yoga is the general name for certain disciplines which, the Hindus believe, should be followed to achieve the state of "nirvana" or enlightenment. These disciplines are extremely ancient and are considered necessary to gain complete control of one's emotions and morals. It is through the yogas that the Hindus try to identify with the Brahman.


5. Samakaras

In the Hindu religion certain rituals are performed which relate to the various stages of one's life. These rituals include:
name giving ceremony
shaving of the child's head initiation into the caste
marriage ceremony
funeral sacrament
post cremation ceremonies

6. Pilgrimage

The pilgrimages are a very important aspect of Hindu religion. There are local, regional and national pilgrimage sites across India. The objectives of performing these pilgrimages are manifold: for salvation, for absolution of sins, for worship, for experiencing the divine, for obtaining relief from illness or for receiving some other specific blessings.

The Philosophy Of Life In Hinduism

risk of over simplification, we could reduce the Hindu philosophy of life to four basic objectives:

(i) Dharma: The acquisition of religious knowledge through right conduct and right living

(u) Artha: The lawful making of wealth

(iii) Karma: The satisfaction of human needs and desires covering the entire lifetime

(iv) Moksha: The quest for liberation and salvation.

Wisdom Of Hinduism

Below is a sampling of some of the wisdom of Hinduism taken from its sacred books:

"The end and beginnings of beings are unknown. We see only the intervening forms. Then what cause is there for grief"

"Sacrifice is the noblest form of action"

"All action originates in the Supreme Being"

"Neither in this world, nor elsewhere, is there any happiness in store for the one who always doubts"

"In sorrows not dejected, in joys not over joyed; outside the stress of passion, fear and anger, steadfastly calm in lofty contemplation; such a one is the wise man"

"Be not overglad attaining joy, and be not oversad encountering grief"

"That man alone is wise who remains master of himself"

"Do your earthly duty free from desire, and you shall well perform your heavenly purpose"

"If you were the worst of all wrong doers, the ship of truth would bear you safe across the sea of your transgression"

"Four sorts of mortals know Me; he who weeps, the man who desires to know, he who toils to help, and he who is sure about Me"

"Whoever offers Me in faith and love a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water poured froth, that offering made lovingly with pious will, I accept"

"Those who worship Me with love, I love; they are in Me and I in them"

"Be certain that none can perish, trusting Me"

"Passion binds by toilsome strain; but ignorance, which shuts the beams of wisdom, binds the soul to sloth"

"The doors of hell are threefold, through which men to ruin pass: the door of lust, the door of wrath, and the door of avarice"

"The faith of each believer conforms itself to what he truly is"

"Religion shown in acts of proud display is rash and vain"

Comparative Study

Below, we will try to compare the various beliefs and acts of worship of Hinduism with their counterparts in Islam.

(i) Concept of God

Hinduism, with its belief in One Supreme God called Brahman, is basically a monotheistic religion. But the symbolization of the various attributes of Brahman into different deities turns this fundamental monotheism into a kind of polytheism. Furthermore, the concept of One God is not central to Hinduism as it is with the religion of Islam. In Islam, God is One and no manifestations of God exist in any form.

(ii) Inequality of people

With its institutionalized caste system, Hinduism advocates a strong inequality among people. This caste system is unique to this religion and nothing similar to it can be found in the other major religions of the world. It is conceivable that the caste system originated in ancient India essentially to bring certain order to the society and to allocate different duties to the people. With time, this social order could have become ingrained in the Hindu society and eventually became a source of considerable sorrow to the people in the lower castes.

(iii) Reincarnation

The Hindu philosophy of reincarnation is obviously based on intellectual speculation regarding the nature of death and what happens to the soul afterwards. Belief in reincarnation also exists in two other faiths of Indian origin: Buddhism and Jainism. In Islam, the death in this life leads to resurrection on the Day of Judgment and then an everlasting life afterwards in a spiritual state.

(iv) Salvation

Because of its belief in reincarnation, Hindu concept of salvation is concerned with release from this endless cycle of births and rebirths. In Islam the concept of salvation relates to the receiving of God's pleasure and nearness on the Day of Judgment.

(v) The Worshiping of Idols

Although the Hindus worship idols, they do not believe that the statues themselves have any powers. To them the idols are mere representations of gods and help to create the proper mood for prayer. Other religions, such as Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Islam, consider this representation of divine existence into various statues, a rather primitive action and attribute it to the great antiquity of this religion. In Islam, all worship is performed to the One Invisible God and no representations of any nature are permitted.

(vi) The Hindu Sacred Books
The Hindus perhaps have the most extensive sacred literature of any religion in the world. But, because of their great antiquity, it is difficult to assign the various books to their original authors. Also, much of the sacred texts relate to intellectual speculation, a field that is continually challenged by man's increasing knowledge.
How much of this sacred literature is the product of revelation and how much owes to human interpolation, is a question difficult to answer with any certainty. There is great wisdom in the Vedas to elicit the view that they were originally revealed. With the passage of time they could have easily suffered at the human hand, much like the sacred texts of many other religions. As regards authenticity, the Holy Quran is the only sacred book in the world today which has remained unchanged since it was first compiled during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet.

(vii) The Hindu Avatars
The avatar in Hinduism is perhaps the closest thing to the prophet in the Near Eastern faiths. Although the Hindus believe that the various avatars such as Rama Chandra and Krishna were manifestations of the god Vishnu, to the outsiders these avatars appear to be sages, saints or prophets who, because of the great reverence by the followers, were elevated to their divine status. Muslims believe that Rama Chandra and Krishna were indeed prophets of God, much like Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.


BUDDHISM: Some Basic Facts

Name The religion is named after Gautama Buddha

Founder Siddhartha Gautama Buddha (560 480 BC)

Place of origin India

Sacred Books Tripitaka the Three Baskets of Wisdom,
accepted by Mahayana branch
Pali Canon accepted by Hinayana or Theravada
branch

Sacred Places There is no one sacred place for all the Buddhists of the world. Pilgrimages are usually carried out in individual countries to local shrines and historic places.

Festivals Perahera a festival held in August
Wesak (Kason) a festival in May celebrating
Buddha's birth

Introduction

Buddhism was founded in India in the sixth century BC, at a time when the people of India had become disillusioned with the Hindu caste system and certain other Vedic teachings.

The founder of this new faith was Siddhartha Gautama who was a Hindu prince living in northern India. At a very young age, he became deeply affected by the great suffering and pain that existed in the world. He left his family, renounced his princely status and went out searching for the answers to these problems. He wandered from place to place in search of wisdom when, suddenly, he received enlightenment. Since that day he has been known as the Buddha or the Enlightened One.

Buddha lived for about eighty years and taught his new found wisdom all over India. For the next thousand years or so, Buddhism spread very rapidly in India and south east Asia. In every country, Buddhism adapted itself to the local conditions and absorbed many of the local beliefs and rituals. Over the years, many sects developed in Buddhism, two of which are very important:

Mahayana, or Greater Vehicle of Salvation, and
Hinayana (also called Theravada), or Lesser Vehicle of salvation

The Mahayana Buddhism is currently practiced in eastern Asia including China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Hinayana Buddhism is dominant in southern Asia including Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. A relatively minor sect, known as Northern Buddhism, flourishes in Tibet, Mongolia and the Himalayas.

Initially, Buddhism started as a reform movement within Hinduism but eventually became an independent religion. Buddhism was the first missionary religion of the world where the followers of Buddha carried this faith to other countries and peoples with a strong sense of universal mission. Buddhism shares a number of beliefs with the traditional Hinduism such as the doctrine of reincarnation and the Law of Karma. The main differences between the two faiths originate from the rejection by Buddhism of the Hindu caste system, of the authenticity of the Vedas, and of the belief that an individual soul must be united with the World Soul or Brahman. To many Hindus, Buddha still remains the ninth avatar or incarnation of their god Vishnu.

Essential Beliefs Of Buddhism

Following are the essential beliefs of Buddhism as the religion exists today:

1. From good must come good, and from evil must come evil (this is the Hindu Law of Karma).
2. Prayers and sacrifices to the gods are useless.
3. The Vedas are not sacred books.
4. The world always was and always will be.
5. Brahma did not create the caste system.
6. The aim of life is not pleasure or happiness but the end of individual existence through the practice of the Ten Perfections.
7. He who attains perfect wisdom enters nirvana, and is freed from the endless chain of births and rebirths.

In addition to the above, the Buddhists believe in the Four Noble Truths:

According to the First Noble Truth, there are many kinds of sufferings in this world including old age, illness, death, failure, separation, etc.

According to the Second Noble Truth, the cause of all these sufferings is the human desire which grasps for the wrong things.

According to the Third Noble Truth, all human suffering can be dissolved by getting rid of the human desire.

According to the Fourth Noble Truth, the desire can be rid of by following the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path

1. Right Belief
2. Right Resolve
3. Right Speech
4. Right Behaviour
5. Right Occupation
6. Right Effort
7. Right Contemplation
8. Right Concentration

The Buddhist DO's and DON'T's:

Among the extensive codes of Buddhism are the Ten Commandments and the Ten Perfections.

The Buddhist Ten Commandments:

1. Do not destroy life
2. Do not take what is not given to you
3. Do not commit adultery
4. Tell no lies and do not deceive anyone
5. Do not become intoxicated
6. Eat moderately
7. Do not watch dancing or plays nor listen to singing
8. Wear no garlands, perfumes or ornaments
9. Do not sleep in luxurious beds
10. Do not accept any gold or silver.


The Buddhist Ten Perfections:

1. Giving (in charity)
2. Duty (religious and worldly)
3. Renunciation (from worldly pleasure)
4. Insight (and wisdom)
5. Courage
6. Patience
7. Truth
8. Resolution (in all undertakings)
9. Loving kindness (towards friends and enemies alike)
10. Serenity (towards joy and sorrow).

The Worship In Buddhism

Worship is not considered extremely important in Buddhism and varies a great deal between Mahayana and Hinayana branches. Some forms of Buddhist worship are noted below:

(i) Relic Worship: Actual and symbolic relics of Buddha are worshiped by the followers by prostration, chanting and making offerings.

(ii) Meditation: Meditation is the main religious activity in which the individual attempts to control his self and tries to achieve nirvana.

(iii) Paritta: This involves chanting of discourses from the sacred Pali books. This chanting may be done at special events such as death, illness, danger or when embarking upon a new activity.

Buddhist Philosophy Of Life

Buddha strongly preached his followers to follow what he called the "Middle Way". He told them to avoid both extremes. One extreme is to indulge in the pleasures and comforts of this material world and the other extreme is to starve oneself, go without sleep or inflict self punishment.

In the Buddhist philosophy of life, man can overcome the suffering in this world by controlling his desires and following the Eightfold Path. When man obtains perfect wisdom and masters his emotions and his self, he gains salvation and is ready for the final reward, that is nirvana.

Nirvana, in the Buddhist religion, is not only the blissful state in which all suffering ceases, but it also marks the release of the soul from the endless cycle of birth and rebirth.

The Wisdom Of Buddhism

Following are some of the sayings taken from the Buddhist sacred book, Tripitaka:

o "A man who conquers himself is the greater conqueror than the one who battles against a million men"

o "Hatred is not diminished by hatred, but by love"

o "The evildoer mourns in this world, and he mourns in the next"

o "Few there are among men who arrive at the other shore; most of them run up and down this shore"

o "An evil deed, like freshly drawn milk, does not turn sour at once"

o "The scent of flowers does not travel against the wind; but the fragrance of good people travels even against the wind"

o "Not in the sky, nor in the midst of the sea, nor in the clefts of the mountains, nor in the whole world is there a spot where a man could avoid death"

o "The fool wishes for precedence among the monks, for lordship in the monasteries, for honour among other people"

o "Without knowledge there is no meditation, without meditation there is no knowledge"

o "All created things perish"

o "No suffering befalls the man who calls nothing his own"

o "He whose evil deeds are covered by good deeds brightens up the world, like the moon freed from clouds"

o "No amount of effort can purify a man who has not overcome his doubts"

o "There is no fire like passion; there is no evil like hatred; there is no pain like this body; there is no happiness greater than peace"

"You yourself must make the effort; the Buddhas are only teachers"

Comparative Study

As we mentioned earlier, Buddhism started essentially as a reform movement within Hinduism. Gradually, however, Buddhism started to diverge away from Hinduism and reverence for Buddha increased so much that he began to be portrayed by his followers as a semi divine and, ultimately, as a celestial being.

Buddhism maintains belief in the process of reincarnation and the Law of Karma, as understood by the Hindus. Buddhism, however, rejects the Hindu caste system and the authenticity of the Vedas.

Buddhism of today places little emphasis on the concept of God. But then Buddhism has changed so much to adapt itself to the local conditions in the various countries, that it is almost impossible to ascertain with any great deal of accuracy what its original teachings used to be in this respect.

Buddhism is at once a philosophy of fife and a practical discipline. Although Buddhism lacks a well developed spiritual philosophy, it is an extremely humanistic religion and has found great popularity among the people in the western countries. What people find attractive in this religion is its great tolerance, its high moral and ethical standards, its relatively bloodless history and its concept of nirvana.

JAINISM: Some Basic Facts

Name Jainism means "Religion of the Conquerors"

Founder Prince Vardhamana, known to his followers as Mahavira,
the Great Hero (540 468 BC)

Place of Origin India

Sacred Books Siddhanta (of the "sky clad" Jains) Angas (of the "white clad" Jains)

Festivals Pajjasama, a festival held for eight days at the close
of the Jain year.
Divali, originally a Hindu festival but celebrated by
the Jains in honour of Mahavira.

Introduction

The Jain religion was founded by Prince Vardhamana who lived in northern India from 540 to 468 BC. He was a contemporary of Buddha and, like him, was born into a Hindu family and studied Hindu religion in his early years. Prince Vardhamana was given the title of Mahavira by his followers which means the Great Hero. The followers of this religion are called Jains, meaning Conquerors who had conquered their own selves.

While both Buddhism and Jainism rebelled against the Hindu caste system and the authority of the Vedas, they both accepted Hinduism's Law of Karma and the belief in Reincarnation and Nirvana. But at this point the two new faiths parted company. Buddhism followed the "Middle Way" of moderation while Jainism followed the way of self denial and asceticism.

There are only about three million Jains living today, almost all in India. But these followers have retained a degree of influence out of proportion to their numbers and the Jain philosophy has played an important role in the history of Indian religions.


Essential Beliefs of Jainism

The two essential beliefs in Jainism which set this religion apart from traditional Hinduism or contemporary Buddhism, relate to the conquering of one's self and the sanctity of all living things.

1. Conquest of Self

In Jainism, the self can only be conquered by self denial, renunciation of worldly pleasures, asceticism and giving up of all desires and ambitions.

2. Principle of Ahimsa

By far the most important tenet of Jainism is the principle of Ahimsa or "non injury". The Jains accord great reverence to all living things and killing of any form of life is strictly forbidden.

3. The Law of Karma

Jainism believes in the Hindu Law of Karma that from good must come good and from evil, evil. The Law also determines the conditions of each rebirth according to the acts performed in the previous life.

4. Samsara

Jainism also believes in the Hindu principle of Samsara or the endless cycle of births and rebirths. This process of reincarnation continues till the soul finally attains liberation.

5. Moksha

Moksha or salvation in Jainism can only be achieved by the conquest of one's own self and by practicing the principle of Ahimsa.

The Does and Don'ts In Jainism

There are five important commandments in Jainism:

Do not kill or hurt any living thing
Do not steal
Do not lie
Do not covet or desire anything
Do not live an unchaste life.
Do not become intoxicated

The Worship In Jain Religion

The Jains worship many Hindu gods and also their own saints. Jains believe that Mahavira was the 24th saint and that twenty three saints had passed away before him. Jain temples are filled with images of these twenty four saints called Tirthankaras, who are the object of worship by the followers.

Aside from the temple worship, Jains spend about an hour every day in unbroken meditation in which they try to be at peace with the world and contemplate on spiritual heights. If possible, this meditation is carried out three times a day, in the morning, afternoon and the evening.

The Jains also devote their time to temporary monkish living at least six times a month. The Jains have a well developed ethical system in which gambling, eating of meat, drinking, adultery, hunting, stealing and speaking ill of others, are strongly forbidden.

Similarly the concept of charity is a very important part of the Jain religion and is widely practiced. In fact the religion demands that at least one act of charity be carried out each day. Jains today are very active in promoting public welfare and building schools and hospitals.

Jain Philosophy of Life

The Jains believe in the principle of Samsara, the endless cycle of births and rebirths. According to Jains it happens only rarely that a soul is born in the human body. Man, therefore, should use every opportunity to obtain moksha or salvation. The path to achieving salvation lies in acquiring the Three Jewels:

o Right Knowledge
o Right Faith
o Right Conduct


Right knowledge comes through knowing the Jain principles, right faith through believing in them and the right conduct through following them.

The Wisdom Of Jainism

o "All living things hate pain; therefore do not hurt them"

o "No man should seek fame and respect by his austerities"

o "There are three ways of committing sin: by our actions, by authorizing others, and by approval"

o "Knowing the truth one should live up to it"

o "A blind man, though he may carry a light, still does not see"

o "A man should treat all creatures in the world as he himself would like to be treated"

o "He who is carried away by passion will not get very far"


Comparative Study

Jainism, very much like Buddhism, developed as an offshoot of the Hindu religion. It maintained many of the Hindu beliefs such as Samsara, Karma and Nirvana. The only two beliefs that are new to Jainism relate to extreme self denial and the sanctity of life. Basically, both these concepts exist in the other major religions of the world but are not taken to the degree practiced in Jainism. Islam and the other religions also de emphasize worldly pleasures and comforts but do not go to the extreme of giving them up completely. Similarly, all religions teach sanctity of human life and kindness to animals but do not carry this teaching to such extremes that one is forced to give up ploughing the land for fear of killing the rodents or insects. Although the principle of Ahimsa, as taught by Jainism, is not really practicable, it has highlighted the fact that all living things suffer pain and should not be needlessly hurt.


THE SIKH RELIGION: Some Basic Facts

Name The word Sikh means a disciple

Founder The Sikhs regard Baba Nanak as the founder of their
faith. History, however, shows that the Sikh religion in
its present form was founded by later successors of
Baba Nanak. Baba Nanak lived from 1469 to 1539 AD

Place of Origin Punjab, North India
Sacred Books Guru Granth

Introduction

The Sikh movement started in India as a small group of devoted disciples who gathered around the saintly person of Baba Nanak. Baba Nanak was a contemporary of Babar, the first Moghul Emperor of India, and was born in April 1469 AD, in a village called Nankana Sahib, not far from Lahore. Although born in a Hindu family, he was disillusioned by the Hindu caste system, the power of the Brahmin priests, and the custom of "sati" in which the widows were burned on the funeral pyre of their husbands.

There is considerable evidence in historical records that Baba Nanak embraced Islam, used to perform the Islamic rituals and undertook the pilgrimage to Mecca. These records also point to the fact that Baba Nanak did not found any new religion. Over the years his disciples and successors, however, did form a new identity and a religion for themselves.

After the death of Baba Nanak, there came a succession of nine Gurus (teachers) who formalized the teachings of the various Gurus, organized the Sikhs into a proper community and implemented the various social institutions found among the Sikhs today. Below are given the names of the various Sikh Gurus, their periods and the periods of their guruship

1. Guru Nanak 1469 1539
2. Guru Angad 1504 1552 (Guru 1539 1552)
3. Guru Amar Das 1479 1574 (Guru 1552 1574)
4. Guru Ram Das 1534 1581 (Guru 1574 1581)
5. Guru Arjan 1563 1606 (Guru 1581 1606)
6. Guru Har Gobind 1595 1644 (Guru 1606 1644)
7. Guru Har Rai 1630 1661 (Guru 1644 1661)
8. Guru Har Krishna 1656 1664 (Guru 1661 1664)
9. Guru Tegh Bahadur 1621 1675 (Guru 1664 1675)
10. Guru Gobind Singh 1666 1708 (Guru 1675 1708)

Excluding the period of Baba Nanak, the period of the nine successors lasted 169 years.

These Gurus served as the spiritual and temporal heads of the Sikh community. Each Guru was nominated by his predecessor on the basis of his spiritual ability and worthiness. But, starting with the Fourth Guru, the office became hereditary in the line of his male descendants. Each of the Gurus contributed something which helped the community:

Guru Nanak taught the Unity and love of God

Guru Amar Des established the "langar" or communal eating facility which helped significantly in fostering the bonds of mutual brotherhood

Guru Ram Das initiated the building of the city of Amritsar

Guru Arjan established a number of other Sikh towns in Punjab and built the now famous Hari Mandir, or the Golden Temple, at Amritsar. It was during the time of this Fifth Guru that confrontations with the Muslims started. Guru Arjan died while in Muslim custody and gave the Sikhs their first martyr.

Guru Har Gobind, Guru Har Rai and Guru Har Krishna
the sixth, seventh and eighth Gurus did not make any significant contribution to the Sikh religion and spent most of their efforts in militarily organizing the Sikh community.

Guru Tegh Bahadur was the surviving son of Guru Har Gobind. During his period, Moghul King Aurangzeb was actively pursuing the policy of Islamization in India. Guru Tegh Bahadur opposed many of the Emperor's policies. The Guru was imprisoned and later executed and is revered by the Sikhs as a great martyr.

Guru Gobind Singh was the tenth and the last Guru of the Sikhs. He took up the office at the age of nine and for the next 33 years consolidated the military power of the Sikhs, leading them against the Islamic powers with considerable success. In fact most of the visible aspects of the Sikh community today owe their origin to Guru Gobind Singh. He gave them the name of "Khalsa" meaning the Pure. The male members of the community were given the title of Singh (lion), and the females that of Kaur (princess). He also introduced the five symbols for the Sikhs known commonly as the five K's. These are:

o Kesh (uncut hair)
o Kangha (comb)
o Kirpan (sword)
o Kara (steel bangle)
o Kach (shorts)

Guru Gobind Singh's four sons were all killed during his lifetime. When the Tenth Guru himself was lying on his deathbed, he told the Sikh community that from then on no more human Gurus will appear and that their sacred scriptures, the Granth, would be their Guru. That is why the Sikhs call their sacred book Guru Granth.

Essential Beliefs Of The Sikh Faith

I. The most important belief of the Sikh religion concerns the Unity of God. God is One, the Creator of all things, existing from beginning and the source of all man's happiness.

2. Man can become one with God only by walking on the path of the Gurus. By sincere worship and meditation, the Sikhs believe, one can experience God.

3. The sacred book, Guru Granth, can lead the followers to find God and salvation. No more religious leaders are necessary after the Granth was declared the Guru of the Sikhs.

4. Salvation results with a love union with God. Until this union takes place, individuals may go through many reincarnations. This principle of reincarnation is taken from Hinduism.

It should be noted that Guru Granth does not present the Sikh beliefs in any systematic manner. The Granth
emphasizes the stimulating aspects of its teachings on the human heart, to love God.

Worship In The Sikh Religion

The focal point of all Sikh worship is the Guru Granth. In the gurdwara, the Sikh place of worship, the Sikhs sing hymns from the scriptures and members of the congregation give readings and expositions from the Granth. No weekly holy day is observed by the Sikhs.

Although the Sikhs reject the symbolization of God by idols, the paintings of Baba Nanak are highly revered and displayed prominently in the Gurdwara.

In their homes, the Sikhs recite various shabads or verses from the Granth. The most important of these is Guru Nanak's Japji which is recited silently by the Sikhs every morning. Below are given some selected verses from this Japji to give the reader some idea of the fundamental beliefs of this religion:

o "There is One God whose name is true, the Creator. Devoid of fear and enmity, Immortal, Unborn, Self Existent

o "The True One was in the beginning; the True One was in the primal age

o "The True One is now also, O Nanak; the True One also will be

o "The hunger of the hungry for God diminishes not though they obtain the load of the worlds

o "If man should have hundred thousand devices, even one would not assist him in finding God

o "How shall man become true before God? How shall the veil of falsehood be rent?

o "By walking, O Nanak, according to the Will of the Commander as ordained

o "Bodies are produced by His order; His order cannot be described

o "By His order souls are infused into bodies; by His order greatness is obtained

o "By His order men are high or low; by His order they obtain predestined pain or pleasure

o "By His order some obtain their reward; by His order others wander in transmigration

o "All are subject to His order; none escapes from it. He who understands God's order, O Nanak, is never guilty of egoism

o "Who can sing His power? Who has power to sing it? "Who can sing His gifts or know His signs?
"Who can sing His attributes, His greatness, His deeds?"Who can sing His knowledge whose study is laborious? "Who can sing Him, Who fashions the body and then destroys it?"Who can sing Him, Who takes away life and then restores it? "Who can sing Him, Who appears to be far, but is actually so near?
"Who can sing Him, Who is All Seeing and Omnipresent?"In describing Him there would be no end"

Comparative Study

The Sikhs claim that Baba Nanak founded their faith which, they profess is distinct from either Hinduism or Islam. Historical records, however, prove that Baba Nanak, who was born and raised in a Hindu family, later accepted Islam. Also, many of the shabads of the Granth are simply Gurmukhi renderings of the Quranic verses. Similarly, the concept of God presented in the Granth is exactly the same as given in the Quran. Many of God's attributes mentioned in the Granth are again translations of the Quranic attributes of God.

It is for this reason that many western scholars of religion do not regard Sikhism as an independent religion but an offshoot of Islam.

The Ahmadis believe, and this belief is borne out by ample historical evidence, that Baba Nanak was a Muslim saint and a mystic who was greatly affected by the general lack of education and awakening in his agrarian community in the Punjab. His teachings were directed essentially at his own people and that is the reason why Sikhism later developed as a strongly ethnic religion.

The beliefs and modes of worship of Sikh religion were greatly influenced by the surrounding Hindu tradition and environment. The principle of reincarnation, prostrating in front of the Granth, and the use of Baba Nanak's portraits in the gurdwara, are a few examples.

CONFUCIANISM: Some Basic Facts

Name Religion named after Confucius, the founder
Founder Ch'iu K'ung, who was known to his followers as
K'ung-fu-tse (K'ung the Philosopher). This was
changed in the western countries to Confucius.
Period: 551 -479 BC.

Place of Origin: China
Sacred Books The Five Kings:
Yi K'ing (The Book of Changes)
Shu K'ing (The Book of Annals)
K'ing Shih (The Book of Poetry)
Li K'ing (The Book of Ceremonies)
Ch 'un Ch 'in (The Book of History)
Lu Yu (The Book of Analects). This book contains Confucius' sayings and was compiled after his death.


Introduction
Confucianism is a Chinese religion founded by Confucius who lived from 551 to 479 BC, around the same time that Mahavira and Buddha were founding two new faiths in India. The real name of Confucius was Ch'iu K'ung but his followers used to call him K'ung-fu-tse meaning K'ung the Philosopher. This, over the years, got simplified to Confucius in the western countries.

Although Confucius accepted the traditional concept of God and the Divine Law, his teachings mostly emphasized ethics, wisdom, governmental system, regard for justice and the value of tradition. Confucius was a great teacher and he traveled throughout China, teaching and preaching his philosophy and his system of ethics. He laid great emphasis on the seeking of knowledge and the need to question anything that was ambiguous, until the ambiguity was removed.


The Teachings Of Confucius

The teachings of Confucius can be condensed into six principles and five virtues. These are given below:

The Six Principles of Confucius

1. Human nature is good and evil is unnatural.

2. Man is free to choose his conduct as he wills.

3. Virtue is its own reward. Doing good for a reward or avoiding evil for fear of punishments, is not virtue.

4. The rule for behaviour is: what you do not want others to do to you, do not do to them.

5. A man has five duties: to his ruler, to his father, to his wife (and she to him), to his elder brother, and to his friend.

6. Man should strive to become a superior man.

Five Constant Virtues taught by Confucius

1. Benevolence, which is to think of other people first

2. Righteousness, which is not to do to others which you would not want them to do to you

3. Propriety, which is to behave with respect and courtesy towards others

4. Wisdom, which is to be guided by knowledge and understanding

5. Sincerity, which is to be sincere, truthful and honest in all your actions

The Wisdom of Confucius

Following are some of the sayings of Confucius which have been selected from the Book of Analects:

o "He who does not recognize the existence of a Divine Law cannot be a superior man"

o "Repay kindness with kindness, and enmity with justice"

o "Men of superior mind first get down to the root of things; then the right course is open to them"

o "To prize the efforts above the prize, that is virtue"

o "Do not wish for speedy results nor trivial advantages"

o "The superior man will be agreeable even when he disagrees; the inferior man will be disagreeable even when he agrees"

o "The superior man seeks what is right, the inferior one what is profitable"

o "A good man is neither liked by everybody nor disliked by everybody. He is liked by all the good people and disliked by the bad"

o "Do not set before others what you yourself do not like"

o "In a good country, people speak out boldly and act boldly'

o "When you have erred, be not afraid to correct yourself"

o "We know so little about life, how can we then know about death"

o "To see what is right and not do it, that is cowardice"

o "Only the supremely wise and the abysmally ignorant do not change"

o "When you know a thing, maintain you know it; when you do not, acknowledge it. This is the characteristic of knowledge"

o "Let there be three men walking together, and in them I will be sure to find my instructors"

o "One should not be greatly concerned at not being in office, but rather about the requirements in one's self for that office"

o "The superior man is slow to promise, but prompt to fulfill"


Comparative Study

The Chinese religions have developed so differently from the Near Eastern or Indian religions that a proper or valid comparison is difficult to make. While most major religions emphasize the spiritual aspects of man's life, Chinese religions emphasize only the moral and ethical aspects.

The moral and ethical teachings of the Chinese religions are quite comprehensive. It is in the area of spiritual philosophy and man's relationship with God that these faiths fall short. The Chinese religions lack the intellectual speculation of the Indian faiths and the spirituality of the Near Eastern religions. For this reason many Chinese people practice the teachings of Confucianism but try to seek salvation in Buddhism.

TAOISM: Some Basic Facts

Name The religion derives its name from the Chinese word
Tao meaning The Way. Note that Taoism is
pronounced as dowism
Founder Lao tze (604 524 BC)
Place of Origin China

Sacred Books Tao Teh King
Festivals Chinese New Year
Chio, the festival of cosmic renewal

Introduction

Very little is known about the life of the founder of Taoism except that he was known to his followers as Lao tze, meaning the Old Philosopher. Lao tze was a contemporary of Confucius and about fifty years his senior. There are historical records indicating that the two had met more than once. Lao tze lived in that golden century of religious awakening when four new religions were being founded in the world: two in India and two in China.

The teachings of Taoism are completely different from Confucianism or from any other major religion. Tao teachings are highly metaphysical and lend themselves to such a variety of interpretation that one doesn't really know for sure what Lao tze intended them to mean.

The teachings of Lao tze, as they are available today, lack in theology, social laws and institutions. The religion emphasizes living naturally and ethically but not necessarily spiritually.

Very early in its life, this religion branched into two movements: one purely philosophical and the other, religious. As a philosophy Taoism moved towards naturalism while as a religion it deteriorated into superstitious beliefs and occult practices. The followers of Taoism started worshiping nature gods along with Lao tze and many other gods borrowed from Buddhism.

Over the years, Buddhism exerted great influence on the development of Taoist beliefs and acts of worship. Since Taoism lacked a formalized or systematic mode of worship, Buddhism promptly filled this vacuum.

Although Taoism is not a major religious order in China today, it has continued to influence the thinking and ethical standards of the Chinese people who still try to seek mystic and philosophical wonders in the teachings of the Tao sacred book, Tao Teh King.

Most Taoists today worship Buddhist gods, make offerings to their ancestors, and follow many other Buddhist rites and ceremonies. They also believe in spirits both good and bad.

The Wisdom Of Taoism

Following are some of the selected sayings from Tao Teh King, the sacred book of Taoism:

o "Nameless are the origins of all creation"

o "The wise man wears a coarse garment, but carries a jewel in his heart"

o "The way of heaven is impartial; but it favours good men"

o "Absence of desires brings tranquility"

o "A thousand mile journey can be made one step at a time"

o "He who conquers others is strong, he who conquers his own will is mighty"

o "The world is lost to those who try to win it"

o "Everything difficult can be dealt with while it is still easy"

o "In serving Heaven and in ruling men, use moderation"

o "To the good I would be good, and to the bad I would be good"

o "The more prohibitions, the more poverty; the more laws, the more crimes;
the more weapons, the more chaos"

o "Sincere words are not fine, fine words are not sincere"

o "The wise reject all extremes"

o "The way of Tao is to recompense injury with kindness"

o "Little faith is put in those who have little faith"

o "The value of an act is judged by its timing"

o "Get rid of your preachers and discard your teachers and the people will benefit a hundred times"

o "If you trust people not enough, they may trust you not at all"


SHINTO: Some Basic Facts


Name Shinto is the Chinese rendering of the Japanese word Kami no Michi which means the Way of the gods.

Founder There is no specific founder of this religion which is largely based on Japanese traditions and mythology

Place of Origin Japan

Sacred Books Kojiki (Records of Ancient Writings),
assembled in 712 AD
Nihongi assembled in 720 AD

Sacred Places Ise, east of Osaka, main island of Honshu. Izumo, north of Hiroshima, island of Honshu

Festivals Gion festival in Kyoto
Takayama festival in the Hida region
Chichibu festival in the mountains north west of Tokyo

Introduction

The Japanese religion Shinto is not considered to be a revealed religion by the scholars and historians. Although some fundamental ideas of this religion date as far back as 600 BC, the religion was organized into a systematic set of beliefs and worships around 350 to 550 AD.

One important reason for the organization of this national religion was to meet the challenge of the two imported religions: Buddhism from Korea and Confucianism from China. Over the years, Shinto and Buddhism intermingled so much in the Japanese society that today many Japanese would declare themselves to be both, Shintoist and Buddhist. It is very common for a Japanese to have a Shinto wedding and a Buddhist funeral.

In the Japanese mythology, the islands of Japan were created by two gods, Izangi and Izanami, who then descended from heaven to populate them. The first emperor of Japan is said to have descended from these two gods. The roots of the Japanese religion, therefore, lie in animism a belief that supernatural forces reside in natural objects such as animals, trees and mountains.

The central concept in the Shinto religion is that of Kami. Kami is a general term of respect for something holy and awesome. According to the Japanese, spiritual forces may reside in people, animals, trees, mountains or other objects. The Japanese appease to these forces by revering or worshiping these objects and respectfully call them Kami.

In rare cases, a living person may be regarded as a Kami. The Japanese believe that a god may take possession of a person's soul and use him as a medium to speak the words of the god. This is the closest thing to the Shinto concept of a prophet.

The Beliefs Of Shinto

Although the Shinto religion has no revealed commandments, it has a fairly well developed code of ethics and social behaviour. The basic beliefs of the Shinto faith could be summarized in the five tenets given below:

1. To be courageous, loyal and to observe cleanliness
2. That the Japanese race originated from two gods names Izangi and lzanami
3. That life is good
4. That the world reveals itself in beauty
5. That the deeds are more important than arguments

The Shinto DO's and DON'T's

There are two sects of Shinto which have developed formal decalogues or Ten Commandments.

The ten DO's of the Shinshu Kyo sect are:

1. Worship the great deities of Shinto
2. Pacify your spirit
3. Practice the Way of the gods
4. Revere the divine origin of the state
5. Be loyal to the ruler
6. Be zealous in your duty towards your parents
7. Be kind to others
8. Be diligent in business
9. Be steadfast
10. Cleanse away the rust of your body

The ten DONT's of the Shinri Kyo sect are:

1. Do not transgress the will of the gods
2. Do not forget your obligations to the ancestors
3. Do not transgress the decrees of the state
4. Do not forget the great goodness of the gods which removes misfortune and sickness
5. Do not forget that the world is one great family
6. Do not forget the limitations of your own person
7. Do not become angry
8. Do not be lazy in your business
9. Do not cause dishonour to the teachings
10. Do not be carried away by foreign teaching

Worship In The Shinto Religion

Much of Shinto worship is an individual matter. Usually, before undertaking a journey, or an examination, or a new venture, a Shintoist will visit the shrine to appease the gods.

The concept of the shrine is very important in the Shinto religion. In the Japanese language the word for shrine means spiritual dwelling place of a god. It is very common for a shrine to enshrine a different deity. The deities of Shinto are not supernatural beings or gods, but rather the spiritualization of ordinary natural objects.

The shrines are generally located at places of natural beauty such as mountain tops. Inside the shrine is a large trough of clean water for the worshiper to perform ablution. The worshiper then performs a short prayer in the worship hall of the shrine.

In the Shinto religion, ancestor worship has an important place. In Shinto philosophy, man can only exist in this world by receiving the blood of countless ages of ancestors. These ancestors, therefore, must not be forgotten. Reverence and worship of ancestors is one of the fundamental principles of the Shinto faith.

Wisdom Of Shinto

o "All men are brothers"

o "When prayer fails to help you accomplish your purpose, know that something is lacking in your sincerity"

o "Do not profess love with your lips while you harbour hatred in your heart"

o "One should not be mindful of suffering in his own life and unmindful of suffering in the lives of others"

o "In all the world there is no such thing as a stranger"

Comparative Study

The Shinto religion is an "unfounded" religion in the sense that it cannot be traced to any known founder and appears to have evolved from ancient Japanese folk beliefs.

While the ethical system of the Shinto faith is reasonably well developed, its spiritual philosophy is very primitive. The religion revolves around nature worship and is highly disinterested in intellectual and philosophical speculation.

Among the major religions of the world, the Shinto religion comes closest to Hinduism. Both have a rich blend of tradition and mythology and both lack a known founder. But while most Hindu beliefs are a result of intellectual curiosity and philosophical speculation, Shinto beliefs appear primitive and superstitious by comparison. While Hindu triad has its basis in Brahman, the One God, there is no such concept of One Supreme Being in the Shinto religion, not at least in the way the faith exists today.

The Shinto religion is an ethnic faith; it is meant for the people of Japan only. Until very recently, the Shinto religion demanded complete loyalty to the King of Japan. The Japanese monarchy is a hereditary institution, existing in the same family for 124 generations since Emperor Jimmu, the first Emperor of Japan. The Japanese Emperor is also the high priest of the Shinto religion. Today, Shinto is more of a Japanese culture or a way of life than a true religion.


ZOROASTRIANISM: Some Basic Facts

Name Religion named after the founder, Zoroaster

Founder Zarathustra, called Zoroaster by the Greeks (around
1500 BC)

Place of Origin Steppe lands to the east of the Caspian Sea (Iran)

Sacred Books Zend Avesta (The Law and Commentaries)

Sacred Places Yazd and Kerman, in Iran;
Udwada, in India

Festivals Gahambars
Muktad the festival of all souls
Khordad Sal celebration marking the birth of
Zoroaster
Zarthosht no diso celebration marking the death of
Zoroaster

Introduction

Zoroaster was born in the area east of the Caspian Sea. At the time of his birth this area was in north east Persia, but now it lies in southern USSR. The Indo Iranian race living in that part of the world used to worship many nature gods such as the Rain god, the Sun god, the Fertility god, and so on.

According to legend, Zoroaster used to meditate a great deal. One time he went up to the top of Mount Sabalan to live in isolation. There, in a flash of enlightenment, he found what he was seeking:

"From good must come good; and from evil, evil"

The good cannot create evil, and the evil cannot create good.

According to Zoroastrianism, there are two forces in the world: one is the Wise Lord (Ahura Mazda), and the other is the Destructive Spirit (Angra Mainyu). The two great forces or beings have no contact with each other. Men must choose between the two spirits because there can't be any compromise. Ahura Mazda is the Supreme God in the Zoroastrian religion and, therefore, worthy of absolute worship.

The Zoroastrians believe that Zoroaster was a prophet through whom the Divine revelation was given to mankind. Zoroaster forbade the worship of idols and instead instituted the worship of Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord. He also told the people that on a Day of Judgment, good will overcome evil.

History Of Zoroastrianism

The first 1,000 years of Zoroastrian religion are shrouded in mystery. Persia at the time was just emerging out of the stone age and writing was not known to the people. No records, therefore, exist of this early period.

Then in 599 BC, Cyrus came to power in a small Persian kingdom and, in a matter of twenty years, conquered all of Persia and the mighty Babylonian Empire. After the fall of Babylon, Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. These Jews had been exiled since Babylon conquered the southern kingdom of Judah in 586 BC, during the time of Prophet Jeremiah.

Cyrus founded the Achaemenid dynasty which ruled the greatest empire the world had then known. He adopted Zoroastrianism as the state religion, spreading it in the entire kingdom. Some of the great kings of this dynasty include Darius (522 486 BC), Xerxes (486 465 BC), and Artaxerxes (465 424 BC). The Achaemenid Empire was eventually brought to an end in 331 BC by Alexander the Great or, as he is known in the Persian history, Alexander the Vandal.

After the death of Alexander, the descendents of one of his generals, the Seleucids, ruled Persia for many years until a new Persian dynasty by the name of Parthians grew powerful enough to expel them. The Parthians ruled Iran for nearly 500 years and continuously fought with the Roman Empire in the west. It was during the Parthian rule that the teachings of Zoroaster began to be compiled in the form of a holy book, the Avesta.

Around 224 AD, a ruler of a south western province in Persia rebelled against the Parthians and established the Sasanid Empire, named after a legendary ancestor, Sasan. The Sasanids ruled Persia for over four centuries till the Muslim armies defeated their kingdom in 642 AD, in the battle of Nihawand. In 652 AD, the last Zoroastrian king of the Sasanid Empire, Yazdigard III, died. It is from his coronation, held in 632 AD, that the Zoroastrians date their calendar using the convention AY, for After Yazdigard.

After the fall of the Sasanid Empire, a majority of the population of Iran accepted Islam and the number of Zoroastrians started to decline rapidly. In the tenth century AD, a small group of Zoroastrians left their Persian homeland and emigrated to India where they began to be called Parsis meaning Persians. Although the religion of Zoroastrianism originated and flourished in Persia, today there are more followers of this ancient faith living in India than in their original homeland.

Essential Beliefs Of Zoroastrianism

1. Zoroastrians believe that there are two independent and rival forces in nature: the good force in the form of Ahura Mazda (the Wise Lord) and the evil force in the form of Angra Mainyu.

2. Man has the free will to choose either good or evil.

3. Man must stay on the side of Ahura Mazda so that on the Day of Judgment the good may overcome evil.

4. To properly ally himself with Ahura Mazda, man must acquire the following virtues:

o Truth

o Charity

o Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.

5. A man should pray to Ahura Mazda for all his needs.

6. When a man dies, his soul crosses a narrow bridge over hell. The good man crosses over safely and is welcomed by a beautiful maiden. But for the evil man, the bridge becomes narrow until he falls down in hell.
7. Hell and heaven are not eternal in Zoroastrian belief. The purpose of all punishment is to reform.

8. At the end of time there will appear a saviour who will revive the dead, reward the good and punish the bad.

Worship In Zoroastrianism

1. Prayer

Zoroastrians say their daily prayers five times each day. Before saying their prayer, they perform ablution. The prayers are always said facing a light (sun, fire or lamp). All prayers are said while standing and in the sacred language of the Avesta.

2. Ceremonies

Many stages in the life of a person are marked by religious ceremonies. These include:

o Birth rites

o Initiation, around the age of ten

o Marriage

o Death

The Zoroastrians neither bury their dead nor cremate them. The dead body is first washed, then wrapped in clean clothes, and finally placed in the Towers of Silence to decompose naturally and to be consumed by birds.

The fire is considered sacred in this religion and plays an important role in all their worships and ceremonies.

Comparative Study

Zoroastrianism is a very ancient religion going back to about the time of Moses. But while Judaism was blessed by a series of Israelite prophets who came after Moses, no such successors seem to have come in Persia after Zoroaster. Zoroastrianism, therefore, maintained much of its early primitive features and teachings and its religious philosophy did not keep pace with the times.

Both Judaism and Zoroastrianism appeared in the world around the same time and in areas not too distant from each other. Over the years, the two faiths influenced not only each other but also the religions of India and China. Some of the religious concepts that are common to both Judaism and Zoroastrianism are;

o concept of One God

o concept of Angels

o concept of devil or swan

o concept of hell and heaven

o concept of a day of judgment

o concept of a latter day Messiah

Because of the discontinuation of revelation in the Zoroastrian religion, this faith started to become outdated and by the time Islam came, a majority of the Zoroastrians adopted the new religion. It is interesting to note that of the three pre Islamic religions of the Near East Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism only the followers of Zoroaster embraced Islam in large numbers.

Today, Zoroastrianism is gradually becoming extinct from the world; there are less than 100,000 followers remaining, mostly in India. One reason for this gradual decline is the fact that Zoroastrianism is a strongly ethnic religion and conversions are not possible. People can get out of this faith but no new converts can enter it. A faith meant for a people, therefore, dies with the people!


JUDAISM: Some Basic Facts


Name The names Judaism, Judea and Jew are all derived
from Judah, the brother of Joseph and the fourth
son of Jacob
Founder Judaism in the present form was founded by Moses (1525 1405 BC)

Place of Origin Babylon Canaan Egypt area

Sacred Books The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), consists of 39 books including the five books of the Torah

Sacred Places Jerusalem

Festivals Rosh Hashanah the Jewish New Year
Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement
Sukkot the feast of Tabernacles
Simchat Torah rejoicing of the Law

Introduction

Judaism is one of the oldest religions in the world and had significant influence on the development of two other monotheisms, Christianity and Islam. The central doctrine of Judaism is the Unity of God. But along with this doctrine goes the belief that the Jewish people are God's chosen people, and that God wants them to be an example to all mankind.

Judaism, therefore, is an ethnic religion and its history is the history of the Hebrew people. These people trace their ancestry to the great patriarch, Abraham, who lived in Chaldaea around 2,000 BC. Chaldaea is in the eastern part of the Fertile Crescent which extends from the areas of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.


The Chaldaeans used to worship idols and images, and Abraham revolted against this practice. Abraham used to receive revelations from God and during one of these revelations God made a Covenant with his people. In this Covenant, God promised Abraham's descendents all the land of Canaan and God's protection in exchange for their homage and allegiance. The followers of Judaism still call themselves the Sons of the Covenant or B'nai B'rith in Hebrew.

Abraham spoke the Hebrew language and his descendents, therefore, are called Hebrew people. But a grandson of Abraham, by the name of Jacob, was given the title of Israel by God in one of his revelations, and the descendents of Jacob began to be called Israelites. Jacob had twelve sons from whom descended the Biblical Twelve Tribes.

A son of Jacob, by the name of Joseph, was appointed a governor of a province of Egypt by a benevolent king. During his time many Israelites migrated to Egypt from their homeland in the Canaan Babylonia area. The later kings of Egypt, however, treated the Israelites badly who spent the next three hundred years in bondage and servitude under their Egyptian masters.

Some five hundred years after Abraham, one of his descendents by the name of Moses arose and unified the Israelites living in Egypt. Moses eventually led the Israelites out of Egypt towards the land of Cancan.

On the way to Canaan, Moses experienced a vision on Mount Sinai and received the famous Ten Commandments from God. These ten Commandments became the foundation on which the teachings of the Torah were later amplified. Although Judaism contains teachings going as far back as Noah and Abraham, its present form and structure was established essentially by Moses.

After the death of Moses and after their wanderings in the desert for nearly forty years, the Israelites finally settled down in the Canaan area. Here, in the year 1043 BC, the first Israelite kingdom was established by King Saul. Saul was followed by the two great prophet kings of the Israelites, David and his son Solomon. After the death of Solomon, the united kingdom of Israel broke up into two separate kingdoms: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.

The northern kingdom of Israel lasted until 722 BC when its capital, Samaria, fell to the conquering Assyrians. The southern kingdom of Judah lasted till 586 BC when its capital, Jerusalem, fell to the conquering Babylonians. The Babylonians exiled the Jews from Jerusalem and destroyed their holy city. It was only when Cyrus of Persia defeated the Babylonians in 539 BC that the exiled Israelites were allowed to return to their homeland and rebuild the city of Jerusalem.

The six hundred year period, from the start of the united kingdom to year 400 BC, is one of the most glorious periods in the Israelite history or, for that matter, the history of the world. It was during this period that most of the known prophets of the world appeared. One could even call this period the Age of the Prophets.

Some of the great prophets like Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Amos, Ezekiel, Job, Ezra and Malachi appeared in this period. It was also during this period that the founders of four other great religions, Mahavira, Buddha, Confucius and Lao tze, appeared in India and China. With the death of Malachi, the last of the Israelite prophets, the Old Testament comes to a close around 400 BC.

The Old Testament, or the Hebrew Bible as the Jews prefer to call it, is the sacred book of Judaism. It contains not only the five books of Torah revealed to Moses, but many other books attributed to later prophets such as Joshua, Samuel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Job, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Zechariah and Malachi.

Besides the Hebrew Bible, there are two other texts considered sacred by the Jews: the Mishnah and the Talmud. The Mishnah is a collection of religious laws arranged in six orders which cover agricultural tithes, festivals, marriage, civil laws, sacrifices and ritual purity. The Mishnah was codified around 200 A.D. under Rabbi Judah the Prince. The Talmuds are commentaries on the Mishnah and were written by the middle of the sixth century A.D. in Aramaic, the everyday language of the Jewish people of the time.

The Essential Beliefs Of Judaism

Although there are many beliefs in Judaism, there are 13 articles of faith considered essential. These are:

1. The belief in God
2. The belief that there is only one God
3. The belief in the non corporeal nature of God
4. The belief that God is the First and the Last
5. The belief that God is All knowing, All Seeing and the Lord
6. The belief that prayers should only be directed to God
7. The belief that God rewards the good and punishes the bad
8. The belief that all the words of the prophets are true
9. The belief that Moses is the chief of all prophets
10. The belief that the present Torah is the same as revealed to Moses
11. The belief that the Law of Torah is the last law from God
12. The belief in the coming of the Messiah
13. The belief in the Resurrection

The central belief expressed in the Hebrew Bible concerns the Unity and love of God. This is evident from the Hebrew declaration of faith, the Shemah, which could be considered equivalent to the Islamic Kalima:

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is One.

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might

And these words which I command you shall be upon your
heart" (Deuteronomy 6:4 6)


The Codes For Social And Moral Conduct

The Hebrew Bible contains hundreds of codes and directives for the Israelites by which to conduct their spiritual and worldly affairs. Of these, the Ten Commandments are the most famous:

1. You shall have no other gods besides Me
2. You shall not make any image or likeness of anything in heaven above
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain
4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy
5. Honour your father and your mother
6. You shall not commit murder
7. You shall not commit adultery
8. You shall not steal
9. You shall not bear false witness
10. You shall not covet anything that is your neighbour's

Some additional directives besides the Ten Commandments are given below:

You shall not oppress your neighbour

You shall do no injustice in weight or in measure

You shall seek no vengeance

Open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor

You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind

You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial toward the poor, nor favour the mighty

You shall not wrong the stranger. The stranger among you shall be as the home born among you, and you shall love him as yourself

Modes of Worship In Judaism

All acts of worship in Judaism are based on three principles which are:

(i) That God should be praised and worshiped
(ii) That man should ask his Lord for all his needs
(iii) That man can commune with God through prayer

The various acts of worship in Judaism including prayer, singing of God's praise, fasting, observing the day of Sabbath, giving of sacrifices, are all based on the three fundamental principles given above. The various rituals followed in Jewish worship are:

1. The Prayer

There are three daily prayers which include the Shemah and other passages from the Hebrew Bible and the post Biblical works. The prayer also includes meditation and asking of individual favours and
blessings. The prayers are said in the morning, afternoon and evening, either at home or in the synagogue.

2. Mezuzah

This is a small wooden case inscribed with the Shemah and another discourse from Deuteronomy. This case is fastened to the doorpost of one's home and each time, upon going out or coming in, the Mezuzah is touched with the tips of two fingers, which are then kissed. The entire ritual is symbolic of remembering God in all goings in and goings out.

3. Feast of Passover

In this ritual, which takes place during the annual Feast of Passover, the entire family participates. The occasion marks the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The ritual celebrations include the invoking of blessings, singing of the fast chapter of Genesis and saying of prayers.

4. Observing the Sabbath

This is the Jewish weekly holy day and begins on Friday after sunset and ends with the sunset on Saturday. The day is essentially devoted to services in the synagogue and prayers. No work of any kind is permitted on this day. The orthodox Jews neither drive nor undertake any journey on this day.

5. Kosher Foods

It is a duty of the Jews to eat kosher food food fit according to Jewish dietary laws. According to these laws, meat and dairy products must not be served in the same meal. Only meat of certain animals is permitted; pork and shellfish are forbidden. Furthermore, the animals must be slaughtered in the proper Jewish way.

The Wisdom of Judaism

The following sayings are taken from the Hebrew Bible to give the reader some idea of the wisdom contained in this religion:

o "What does the Lord require of you? Only to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God"

o "What is hateful to thee, do not to thy fellow man do"

o "He who oppresses the poor blasphemes his Maker, but he who has mercy on the needy, honours Him"

o "One can enter the heavenly kingdom without diamonds, but not without honesty"

o "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away"

o "Better a dinner of herbs where love is, than a roasted ox with hatred"

o "Say not anything which cannot be understood at once"

o "Separate not yourself from the community"

o "The price of wisdom is above pearls"

o "Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins"

o "Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?"

o "To the wise the path of life goes upward"

o "Where there is no vision, the people perish"

o "As he thinks in his heart, so is he"

o "Let justice flow like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream"

o "Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles".

o "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink"

o "For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born and a time to die: a time to plant and a time to harvest"

Comparative Study

While the beliefs and principles of Judaism are of universal appeal, its history has associated them with a national group, speaking a national language and living in their native land. Judaism, therefore, developed strictly as an ethnic religion for the descendents of Abraham and Jacob.

Despite being fairly ancient and ethnic, Judaism formalized some of the most basic principles of man's religion, in a form not accomplished before. Two other faiths that are as old as Judaism Hinduism and Zoroastrianism both lack the sophistication in spiritual philosophy and in the social and moral codes, which we find in Judaism.

Of all the religions of the world, Islam is closest to Judaism. Both are strongly monotheistic, far more than Christianity. Both have a well developed law and social and moral codes. Both have more or less similar religious philosophies: beliefs in One God, the angels, the prophets, the Day of Judgment, and the carrying out of service to humanity. In fact, both religions trace their ancestries to Prophet Abraham; the Jews through Abraham's son Isaac, and the Quraysh of Mecca through Abraham's son Ishmael.

Basically, there are two differences that set these religions apart:

(i)The Jews believe in the finality of the Mosaic Law while the Muslims believe in the finality of the Quranic Law.

(ii)The Jews do not believe in the prophethood of any one after the Prophet Malachi. The Muslims believe in the continuity of prophethood after Malachi in the persons of John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and Muhammad.

All other differences are either as a consequences of the above, or interpretational, and fundamentally non essential.

Although the Jews believe in the coming of the Messiah, they do not recognize him in the person of Jesus Christ. The reason for this is the statement in the Book of Malachi which prophesied the return of the Prophet Elijah before the coming of Messiah. The Jews take the returning of Elijah literally, and do not agree with the Christian or Muslim belief that Elijah has returned in the form of John the Baptist.


CHRISTIANITY: Some Basic Facts


Name The word Christian was first used by the Greeks for
the followers of Christos, as the Greeks used to call
the Messiah.
Founder Jesus Christ, which is the Greek rendering of the
original Hebrew name Isa al Masih, meaning Isa the
Anointed. (Born: 4 7 BC)

Place of Origin Palestine area

Sacred Books The New Testament. It includes the four Gospels and 23 other books

Sacred Places Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem

Festivals Christmas which celebrates Jesus' birth
Easter which celebrates the resurrection of
Jesus
Ascension which celebrates the ascension of Jesus
to heaven, forty days after the Easter
Pentecost which celebrates the coming of the Holy
Spirit to the apostles, ten days after the
Ascension.

Introduction

Christianity is the faith with the largest following in the world. The term Christian was used for the first time after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, for people who associated themselves with the teachings of Christos. Although other religions like Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Confucianism are also named after their respective founders, the attachment and the reverence which the Christians display for Jesus Christ is quite different. The person of Jesus Christ is worshiped by his followers and is central to the teachings and philosophy of Christianity.

Strangely, no other prophet has appeared in history whose birth, life, death, and teachings have been the subject of greater controversy than Jesus Christ's. Likewise, very few other religions have been so drastically misinterpreted by their own followers as the religion of Christianity. In what follows, we will try to explain the reasons for this rather unique development of this religion.

JESUS CHRIST

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in the province of Judea, anywhere between 4 to 7 BC. The Christians believe, and majority of the Muslims concur with this belief, that Jesus was born to Mary, his mother, without the agency of a human father. Joseph, the husband of Mary, is supposed to have married her after the conception of Jesus.

Jesus was born among the Israelites and the Gospels trace his ancestry to Prophet David, through his "father" Joseph. Jesus, therefore, was not only born a Jew but was also raised and educated according to the Judaic tradition.

Early in his life he became a Jewish rabbi, but was opposed by the orthodox Jewish priests for preaching his radical teachings. At the age of thirty, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, who was then heralding the coming of the Messiah. Jesus' ministry is believed to have started after his baptism. When the Jews raised the objection that how the Messiah can come before the reappearance of Prophet Elijah, Jesus is said to have responded by pointing out that John the Baptist was in fact Elijah.

Jesus' ministry in the Palestine area lasted about three years. During this short period he is said to have performed a number of miracles and healed many a people of their illnesses. Jesus' teachings emphasized the gentler elements of the Mosaic teachings and condemned the rigid, often cruel, application of the Law. His open criticism of the Jewish priests and his rapidly increasing popularity among the masses made him an enemy of both the Jews and the Romans.

As a result, Jesus was first made to appear in front of the Jewish religious authorities who, after questioning him at great length, passed him on to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate believed in the innocence of Jesus Christ but, at the demand of the people and the priests, condemned him to crucifixion.

Jesus was put on the cross on Friday. With the start of the Jewish Sabbath at sunset, Jesus' body was released to his followers, after the Roman soldiers had assumed that he had died. For the next two days Jesus' body was placed in a cave. After this period Jesus was seen alive by a number of his disciples and ate with them. Later on, according to the Christian belief, Jesus was taken up to heaven.

The Ahmadi belief in this regard is that Jesus recovered from his wounds, met and ate with his disciples and left the Palestine area, traveling eastward to Afghanistan and Kashmir. The Ahmadis believe that Jesus lived to a ripe old age, died in Kashmir and is buried in Sri Nagar.

Development Of Christianity After The Crucifixion of Jesus

Although all religions change with time, the changes which occurred in Christianity after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, affected the fundamental beliefs and principles of this religion. The developments in Christianity, from the moment of crucifixion when there were only a handful of devoted followers, to the time when it became a dominant force in much of Middle East and Europe, can be divided into two phases: the Jewish Phase and the Greek Roman Phase.

The Jewish Phase (30 70 AD)

In the beginning, Christianity was totally limited to the Jewish people. The God of Christians had the same attributes as the God of the Israelite people. The early Christians also followed the Jewish traditions of circumcision, offering animal sacrifices and observing the Sabbath. They did not believe that Jesus was the son of God, not at least in the literal sense.

The early Christians also knew that Jesus had survived the ordeal of the crucifixion and, therefore, did not subscribe to the idea of his resurrection. The only difference between these early Christians and the Jews was that the former believed in Jesus as the Messiah and considered faith in God more important than the following of the rigid Mosaic Law or the rituals of the rabbis.

The Greek Roman Phase (70 500 AD)

Initially, the disciples of Jesus Christ preached the new faith only to the Hebrew peoples. But with the conversion of Saul, a Jewish rabbi, to Christianity, all this changed. He took on the name of Paul and traveled extensively throughout Asia Minor and Eastern Europe, preaching the new religion to the gentiles or non Israelites.

The Greek civilization was the most advanced at the time and very receptive to the teachings of the new faith. Having no emotional or traditional attachment with the Judaic tenets, the Greek converts quickly gave up many Jewish customs such as animal sacrifice, circumcision and the observing of the Sabbath and the Law.

Then, with accession of Constantine the Great to power in 313 AD, Christianity became the official religion of the Eastern Roman Empire. The establishment of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire brought it great respect and prestige. Armed with this powerful political backing and supported by Greek intellectualism, Christianity started spreading rapidly among the "barbarian" tribes of northern and western Europe.

As the number of Hebrew Christians declined and the number and influence of the Greek Christians increased, many of the fundamental beliefs and practices of this new faith started to undergo significant changes. The concept of God changed from the personal, loving God of the Israelites to an impersonal, supreme deity, palatable to the Greek philosophical rationalism.

Similarly, while the Hebrew Christians were ingrained in the strong monotheism of the Old Testament and could accept Jesus as the son of God only in a metaphorical sense, the Greeks, having no such reservations, took the words literally. The Greeks used to believe in many gods and deities and had no intellectual hurdle in transforming a prophet into a god.

It was during this Hellenistic period, therefore, that the divinity of Jesus Christ and his resurrection after crucifixion became popular Christian beliefs. It was also in the same period that the terminology of Trinity came into existence to explain the combination of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

The Essential Beliefs Of Christianity

Although there are over 250 sects of the Christians today, some essential beliefs are shared by all of them. These basic beliefs are:

1. Belief in God, Almighty, Creator of all things

2. Belief in Jesus as the Messiah, and the Son of God (whether metaphorically or literally)

3. Belief in Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost

4. Belief in eternal sin (that man is born a sinner)

5. Belief that Jesus Christ came down to earth from heaven for the salvation of mankind

6. Belief that the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) is the only proper guidance for mankind

7. Belief in baptism as a remission of sin

8. Belief that sins can be forgiven through repentance

9. Belief in life after death

10. Belief that those who repent and follow Jesus Christ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven

The Christians not only believe that Jesus Christ is alive and accessible, but also that he is directing the affairs of the Church from his seat in heaven and that one day he will return to this world to establish the Kingdom of God. Except for a small minority of Unitarians and Universalists, all Christians today worship Jesus Christ in one form or another.

Worship in Christianity

Worship in Christianity varies considerably with the sect and the geographic location in the world. Worship may be private and individual or congregational. Private worship generally takes the form of "silent prayer" invoking God's mercy and help usually through the person of Jesus Christ.

Congregational worship in the churches takes on the form of an elaborate pageant involving priests in their ornate robes and music sung by the choir. The congregation usually joins in the singing of hymns and psalms while the priest may deliver a sermon.

Many Christians keep the fasts of lent, a forty day period before Easter. These fasts are kept in memory of the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.

An important Christian rite involves baptism. In the early days of Christianity, baptism marked the initiation into the new faith. The new convert was given a public "washing" symbolizing the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Today, some churches still carry out this rite on the confession of personal faith by believers. Other churches perform baptism on new born children on the promise that they be "confirmed" in their faith later.

The Teachings of Jesus Christ

To properly understand the teachings of Jesus Christ one has to turn to the Gospels. The only place in the Gospels where an attempt has been made by the narrators to quote Jesus Christ word for word is the account of the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon illustrates the emphasis of Jesus' teachings which was directed towards an unpretentious, honest and altruistic life. Below are quoted some selected verses from this sermon.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for their's is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness: for their's is the kingdom of heaven...

"Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you...

"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven...

"You have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.

"You have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you, that whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart...

"You have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, that you resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also...

"Give to him that asks of thee, and from him that would borrow, turn not thou away.

"You have heard that it has been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you...

"Take heed that you not give your alms before men, to be seen of them; otherwise you have no reward... Therefore when you do give alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets... But when you do give alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does...

"And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men...

"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you...

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal...

"For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged. and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.

"And why do you notice the speck in your brother's eye, but consider not the beam in your own eye? First cast out the beam out of your own eye, and then you shall see clearly to cast out the speck out of your brother's eye...

"All things you would like others do to you, you do to them...

"Enter you at the straight gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction. Because straight is the gate and narrow is the way, which leads unto life..."

Comparative Study

Basically, there is little difference between the teachings of Judaism and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Christianity, shorn of its later encrustations, is simply a sect of Judaism a sect which had recognized the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ.

The teachings of Jesus Christ are clearly of a reformatory nature. He saw many wrongs in the way the Mosaic Law was being interpreted and applied by the people, and tried to correct them.

There is no doubt that some of Jesus' teachings about love, forgiveness and charity were indeed revolutionary. And it was this aspect of extreme humility that attracted a number of his followers among the Hebrews and, later on, among the Greeks and the Romans. But having a few revolutionary ideas does not make a new religion.

The early Christians retained their Judaic traditions and practices. It was only when the Greeks adopted the teachings of Jesus Christ that they started formalizing them within the framework of a new theology... a theology now centred around the person of Jesus Christ himself. History shows very clearly this gradual process of Jesus' deification from an Israelite prophet to the Son of God.

From the point of view of a Muslim, the present day Christians have grossly misunderstood some basic historic facts. The misunderstandings are caused by:

(1) Taking literal meaning of the Hebrew phrase, "Son of God"

(2) Shrouding the events of crucifixion in great mystery and superstition

(3) Not understanding the true purpose of prophets

(4) Considering the New Testament as the authentic and final word of God.

Once all these misunderstandings are removed, the life of Jesus Christ clearly shows that:

o he was an Israelite prophet
o his main objective was to reform Judaism
o he did not die on the cross
o he recovered from the ordeal of crucifixion
o he ate food with his disciples like mortal beings
o he traveled to the east in search of the lost tribes of the Israelites
o he died and was buried in Kashmir.

APPENDIX
BOOKS FOR FURTHER READING

SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING

ISLAM

1. The Essence of Islam
Extracts from the writings of the Promised Messiah alaihisslam
Volumes I and II (1979); pp 328 and 355

2. Philosophy of The Teachings of Islam, by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1897).

[English translation of the Promised Messiah's book, Islami Usool ki Philosophy]

3. The Religion of Islam, by Muhammad Ali (1973); pp 677.

(A very comprehensive account of the beliefs, acts of worship and social and moral codes of Islam. Arrangement of the book is very good]

4. Islam in Focus, by Hammudah Abdalatai; pp 211

[A very well arranged, well written book on various Islamic beliefs, concepts and acts or worship. A very concise, to the point treatment of the subject]

5. The Spirit of Islam, by Ameer Ali (1982); pp 515

[A fairly comprehensive treatment of Islam]

6. The Eternal Message of Muhammad, by Abd al Rahman Azzam (1979); pp 297

[As the name implies, this book emphasizes the essence of the Prophet's teachings and its impact upon the people]

7. Islam, A Way of Life, by P.K. Hitti (1970); pp 198

[A well written book by the famous orientalist. Also includes brief treatment of Arab science and Islamic culture, philosophy and literature]

8. Islam, Edited by J.A. Williams (1962); pp 256

[A well written book. Also treats the Quran, Hadith and the Law]

9. Islam, Its Meaning For Modem Man, by Muhammad
Zafarullah Khan (1980): pp 216
[Besides basic Islamic worships and social codes, the book
covers such topics as public affairs, international relations,
man and the universe, and the role of Islam]
10. Islam, by C. E. Farah
11. Understanding Islam, by T.W. Lippman
12. Themes Of Islamic Civilization, by J.A. Williams
13. Ideals And Realities of Islam, by S. H. Nasr
14. Islam, by R. el Droubie
15. Islam, by A. Guillaume
16. Islam, by Fazlur Rahman
17. The House of Islam, by K. Cragg
18. Understanding Islam, by F. Schuon
19. Introduction To Islam, by M. Hamidullah
20. Islam, Its Meaning And Message, by K. Ahmad
21. Islamic Worship, by M. Z. Khan
22. Islam At A Glance, by S. Islahi
23. Concept Of Islam, by S. Islahi
24. Hajj. by The Muslim Institute
25. The Venture of Islam, by M. Hodgson
26. The Most Beautiful Names, by S. al Halveti
27. Ninety Nine Names of Allah, by S. Friedlander


ISLAM AND RELATED SUBJECTS

1. The Economic Structure of Islamic Society,
by Hazrat Mirza Basheer-ud-Deen Mahmood Ahmad

2. Presenting Islam To The Christians, by Naseem Saifi
3. Islam and Human Rights, by M. Zafarullah Khan
4. Jesus, Prophet of Islam, by M. Ata-ur Raheem
5. Jesus in the Quran, by G. Parrinder
6. Islamic Philosophy, by M.S. Sheikh
7. Moral and Spiritual Training, by M. Bashir Ahmad

THE HOLY QURAN

1. Introduction to the study of the Holy Quran, by Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad (1969); pp 262
[About 45 pages devoted to the Holy Quran; the rest of the book covers the life of the Holy Prophet and some comparative aspects of other faiths vis-à-vis Islam. Subject matter is extremely well arranged]
2. Commentary on Surah Fatihah, by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad
[Compiled from the writings and pronouncements of the Promised Messiah and translated into English by Muhammad Zafarullah Khan]
3. The Holy Quran, various English translations
4. Bell's introduction to the Quran, by W. Montgomery Watt (1970); pp 258
[A good book covering such topics as the history of the Quranic text, the Quranic style, the shaping of the Quran, its chronology and the doctrines of the Quran]
5. The Wisdom of the Quran, by M. M. Katircioglu
6. The Jewels of the Quran, by al Ghazali
7. The Quran, Basic Teachings, by T.B. Irving

HADITH LITERATURE

1. Sahih Bokharee (English translation)
2. Sahih Muslim (English translation)
3. Gardens of the Righteous, by M. Zafarullah Khan
4. A Manual of Hadith, by Muhammad Ali
5. Wisdom of the Holy Prophet, by M. Zafarullah Khan
6. A Selection of the Sayings of the Holy Prophet, by B. A. Bashir
7. Thus Spoke the Holy Prophet, by Bannet & Browne


ISLAMIC HISTORY

1. Muhammad, Seal of the Prophets, by Muhammad Zafarullah Khan (1980); pp 289
[An excellent biography of the Holy Prophet. Material is well arranged and the writing is very lucid]
2. A Study of Islamic History, by K. Ali (1978); pp 368
[Covers the period from the birth of the Holy Prophet to the end of the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258 AD. An excellent reference for dates. Brief, to the point accounts]
3. Spirit of Islam, by Ameer Ali (1982); pp 515
[Includes only 122 pages on the life of the Holy Prophet. The rest of the book is devoted to selected aspects of the religion of Islam]
4. Muhammad, His life Based on the Earliest Sources, by Martin Lings (1983); pp 359
[Well written and extremely well arranged book. A very unbiased account by an orientalist. Highly recommended]
5. The Life of Muhammad, by Muhammad Husayn Haykal (1976); pp 639
[An extremely detailed, well written and comprehensive biography of the Holy Prophet. The material is very well arranged and thoroughly researched]
6. History of the Arabs, by P. K. Hitti (1946); pp 767
[An excellent account of the history of the Arabs from the time of the Holy Prophet's birth to early sixteenth century. The life of the Holy Prophet is described briefly and the bulk of the book is devoted to the later period]
7. The Arabs In History, by B. Lewis
8. The Glorious Caliphate, by Athar Husain
9. The Early Islamic Conquests, by F.M. Donner
10 A Short History of the Saracens, by Amir Ali
11. Hundred Great Muslims, by Jamil Ahmad
12. A Political History of Muslim Spain, by S.M. Imamuddin
13. Glimpses of Islamic History, by Irfan Faqih
14. Stories of Great Muslims, by A. Haye
15. Muhammad, Prophet and Statesman, by W. M. Watt
16. Muhammad, by M. Cook
17. Muhammad, by M. Robinson
18. Muhammad The Holy Prophet, by H.G. Sarwar
19. Muhammad in Quran, by A. M. Raza
20. Muhammad the Prophet, by Muhammad Ali
21. Muhammad in the Bible, by Jamal Badawi
22. Muhammad Rasulullah, by M. Hamidullah
23. The Eternal Message of Muhammad, by A. R. Azzam
24. Muhammad the Liberator of Women, by Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad
25. The Life Muhammad, by Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad
26. Seerat un Nabi, by Shibli Nu'mani
(Available in Urdu and English)
27. Wives of the Prophet, by Fida Husain
28. The Battles of the Prophet of Allah, by Gulzar Ahmed


AHMADIYYAT

1. Ahmadiyyat, or the True Islam, by Hazrat Mirza Basheer-ud-Deen Mahmood Ahmad
2. Invitation to Ahmadiyyat, by Hazrat Mirza Basheer-ud-Deen Mahmood Ahmad
3. Tadhkira, by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad
[A compilation of the dreams, visions and revelations of the Promised Messiah alaihisslam. English translation by Chauhdry Muhammad Zafarullah Khan]
4. Ahmadiyyat, The Renaissance of Islam, by Muhammad Zafarullah Khan (1978); pp 360
[A historical account of Ahmadiyyat from the birth of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to the year 1974. A very well written book but the material is poorly arranged, without headings or titles]
5. Life of Ahmad (Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement) Part 1, by A. R. Dard (1948); pp 622
[Fairly detailed biographical account of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad from the time of his birth to the year 1901. The remainder of his biography was intended to be published under Part 11, which could not be completed by the author in his lifetime]
6. Ahmadiyyat, by Spencer Lawan
7. Hazrat Maulvi Noor-ud-Deen, by Muhammad Zafarullah Khan


COMPARATIVE RELIGIONS

1. What the Great Religions Believe, by Joseph Gaer (1963); pp 191
[A good compact book]
2. Eerdmon's handbook to the World's Religions, by various contributors (1982); pp 448
[Material not arranged systematically; too many photographs; otherwise fairly informative]
3. A Handbook of Living Religions, Edited by J. R. Hinnells (1984); pp 528
[Recommended only for a scholar or a serious student]
4. Sacred texts of the World, Edited by N. Smart and R.D. Hecht (1982); pp 408
[An anthology of selected portions of the sacred texts of the various religions]
5. Jesus In India, by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad
6. Where did Jesus Die, by J. D. Shams
7. Jesus in Heaven on Earth, by Khawja Nazir Ahmad
8. Jesus Lived in India, by Holger Kersten (1986); pp 242
9. For Christ's Sake, by Tom Harper (1986); pp 118
[A frank admission by a Christian journalist that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God, that he was only a Prophet and that his mission was not to found a new religion]
10. Religions Around the World, by L. Wolcott
11. A Comparison of World Religions, by H. J. Heydt
12. Introduction to the Study of Religion, by T. W. Hall
13. Comparative Religion, by A. C. Bouquet
14. World Religions, by G. Parrinder
15. Judaism, by A. Hertzberg
16. Judaism, by M. Domnitz
17. Judaism, by 1. Epstein
18. The Prophets of Israel, by L. J. Wood
19. The History of the Jewish people, by M. A. Shulvass
20. Abraham, His Life and Times, by M. H. Zubeiri
21. Hinduism, by L. Renou
22. Hinduism, by Y. Crompton
23. Hinduism, by K. M. Sen
24. The Bhagvad Geeta
25. Budhism, by R. A. Gard
26. The Buddha, by M. Carrithers
27. Introduction to Sikhism, by G.S. Mansukhani
28. Zoroastrianism and the Parsis, by J. H. Hinnells
29. Zarathustra, by P. D. Mehta

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