Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Elements In History: Religion & Philosophy

Exploring the Origins and Various Details among History’s Religions and Philosophies that are still around today.

Hinduism: Transmigration (Reincarnation)

Hinduism, the religion of India, is the world’s third largest religion next to Christianity and Islam. Its origin stems from the Indo-Aryan religion, Brahmanism (c1500BC), during the ancient times of India. Hinduism is not associated with one sole founder; however, much of its teachings came from the words of Krishna (manifestation of Vishnu: “Supreme God”) written down in the Bhagavad-Gita (Hindu religious text). The Laws of Manu (laws of social classes) are essentially the commandants by which all Hindus follow and observe, and Transmigration (continuous cycles of life; i.e. reincarnation) is the major teaching within. Transmigration is the result there of -- good or bad -- in the next life instituted by the teaching of Karma, which defines one’s actions of the mind, speech, and body as either good or bad (sinful) and gives the consequences that will come from these actions in the next life.

For those who commit sins of the mind (envy, impure thoughts, or falling into false religions) the consequence is rebirth into the low caste (Hindu social class associated with the poor); if a person commits sins of speech (harsh words, lying, belittling, or idle talk) the consequence is rebirth to some kind of bird or beast; and lastly, if a person commits sins of the body (stealing, causing harm to creatures, or adultery) the consequence is rebirth to an inanimate (non-breathing) object.

The goal (though teachings vary) within Hinduism is to correct and abstain from all sinful acts in order to gain total liberation from Transmigration (reincarnation) which ultimately leads to Moksha (full spiritual state free from all self desires) -- Hindu’s version of Buddha’s Nirvana.

Buddhism: The Four Holy Truths

Buddhism, the religion of Buddha, was born in ancient India by Siddhartha-Gautama (Buddha: c500BC); and is associated as being a branch off of Hinduism. Although its roots come from Hindu-India, Buddhism migrated further east due to Hindu majority push and landed in the South East Asian countries with Japan having the largest Buddhist population today. According to Buddhism, Buddha was sitting under a tree when he experienced the enlightenment of the four key teachings that all Buddhists must follow -- The Four Holy Truth. The first Holy Truth is that life is going to bring suffering one way or the other; the second Holy Truth is that suffering is caused by craving worldly desires; the third Holy Truth is that suffering ends when craving desires ends; and the fourth Holy Truth comes from following the holy eightfold path of right conduct in order to achieve total self-improvement over all desires, then the path to Nirvana is finally received.

The reality of these Four Holy Truths promotes an almost endless cycle of self-improvement through reincarnation for the follower; but when total self-improvement is finally gained, the cycles stop, and liberation into Nirvana (full spiritual state free from all self desires) is obtained.

Confucius: The Golden Rule

Confucius, ancient Chinese philosopher, derived many philosophical teachings in his lifetime; but upon his death (479BC), his followers took the task of organizing his teachings into an elaborate set of rules and principles called, Analects. In the Analects, Confucius identified five basic relationships for a society to successfully become well-ordered, which consisted of the father and son (loving/reverential), older brother and younger brother (gentle/respectful), husband and wife (good/listening), older friend and younger friend (considerate/deferential), and ruler and subject (benevolent/loyal).

Although, Confucius is known as one of the greatest philosophers in history and influenced many areas in South East Asia, it would be one of his teachings on how humanity should treat one another that would influence the entire world, The Golden Rule: “Do not do to others as you would want them not to do to you.”

Daoism: Asian Philosophy

Daoism (Taoism) is an ancient Chinese philosophy attributed to the Chinese philosopher, Laozi (c600BC). The essential element within Daoism is wu-wei -- the state of acting selfless in order to cease the ego (effortless action). According to Daoism, nature acts in a state of constant harmony with its self; for example, water helps plants to grow without any knowledge of doing it, and likewise, the plants grow without any knowledge of doing that either; both are working in harmony with each other in effortless action. Humans, on the other hand, are quite different than water and plants, as a person knowingly acts upon his or her desires; therefore, whether the desire is good or bad, nonetheless, according to Daoism, the knowledge of that acting on that desire disrupts the state of harmony which then effects the alignment of the world resulting in the happening of negative elements. However, if a person obtains the state of wu-wei (state of effortless action) through discipline and meditation, he or she is then working in sink with the harmony of nature, and thus, bringing perfect alignment to the universe.

Islam: The Five Pillars of Religious Duty

The religion of Islam (“submission to Allah”) was founded by the Islamic prophet, Muhammad of Mecca (SW Saudi Arabia) around 622AD. The structure of the religion is found in the Islamic religious text, the Koran. According to Islamic tradition, the Koran was given to Muhammad by Allah (Arabic word for “God”) through the angel Gabriel in 610AD. During the time of Muhammad, the Koran was in oral form rather than written. The written version of the Koran was later compiled and standardized by the third Islamic Caliph (Islamic leader of faith), Uthman. Within the Koran, there are five major duties known as the Five Pillars of Islam that all Muslims (followers of Islam) must observe.

First is the Shahadah, which is the basic creed of Islam: “There is no other God but Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet.” The second is the Salah, which is a prayer ritual that must be performed five times a day facing towards the Kaaba (cubical tent which represents the first pagan idols offered to Allah) in Mecca. The third is the Zakat, which is charity giving based on one’s wealth that goes to help the poor and needy, and to aid in the spreading Islam. The fourth is the Sawm, which is a period of fasting (no food or drink), from dawn to dusk, during the month of Ramadan (9th month of the Islamic calendar; most often observed in August). And fifthly is the Hajj, which is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all able Muslims must do in his or her lifetime during the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah (12th month of the Islamic calendar; most often observed in December)

Islam: The Hadith on Jihad

The Hadith is an Islamic religious text that many Muslims consider to be holy and a companion to understanding the Koran; and, it is often used as a reference guide for Islamic laws. One subject discussed in the Hadith is Jihad, which means struggle, effort, or more commonly, holy war; it was adapted by the second Islamic Caliph (Islamic leader of faith), Umar (634BC). Jihad is essentially the actions used by which a Muslim should spread and/or defend Islam. According to Jihad, killing is only justified in self defense, when other nations attack an Islamic state, or when another state is oppressing Islamic practice; however, even in these cases, women, children, aged men, or wounded -- non-combative -- enemy soldiers should be spared from killing. Furthermore, Jihad expresses the action for Muslims to expel (cast out) all other religions such as Christianity and Judaism from Islam’s holy land Arabia by any means necessary -- “by the sword” if need be.

**Sources of Information:

1> The Human Venture, 5th Edition; Anthony Esler
2> The Global Experience: Readings in History, 5th Edition; Philip F. Riley