Religions of the World

Further study Omsakthi.
View summaries of major world religions on this page.
Arcane: The Arcane School, an activity of the Lucis Trust, was established by Alice A. Bailey in 1923 to teach the science of the soul and to teach service to the Plan of the spiritual hierarchy by serving humanity. Esotericism is a practical way of life. A disciple pledges to do three things: serve humanity, cooperate with the Plan, and develop the powers of the soul, to expand his consciousness, and to follow the guidance of the higher self and not the dictates of his threefold lower self. Discipleship is often defined as the final stage of the path of evolution, in which a man knowingly pledges himself to impose the will of the soul (which is essentially the will of God) upon the lower nature. The training given in the Arcane School is based on three fundamental requirements -- occult meditation, study, and service to humanity. The Arcane School is non-sectarian, and respects the right of each student to hold his own view and beliefs, although most disciples tend to believe in a single supreme being, or a primary individual such as a prophet. The knowledge, insight wisdom, and capacity to wield spiritual energy resulting from work and training with the Arcane School should be expressed and applied in daily living service in helping to materialize the Plan of God and to aid in solving the problems of humanity.
Bahá'í: The Bahá'í Faith arose from Islam around 1863 based on the teachings of Baha'u'llah and is now a distinct worldwide faith. Followers believe that God has sent nine great prophets to mankind through whom the Holy Spirit has revealed the "Word of God." This has given rise to the major world religions. Although these religions arose from the teachings of the prophets of one God, Bahá'í's do not believe they are all the same. The differences in the teachings of each prophet are due to the needs of the society they came to help and what mankind was ready to have revealed to it. Bahá'í beliefs promote gender and race equality, freedom of expression and assembly, world peace and world government. They believe that a single world government led by Bahá'ís will be established at some point in the future. The faith does not attempt to preserve the past but does embrace the findings of science. Bahá'ís believe that every person has an immortal soul which cannot die but is freed to travel through the spirit world after bodily death.
Buddhism: Buddhism developed out of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama who, in 535 BCE, reached enlightenment and assumed the title Buddha. He promoted 'The Middle Way' as the path to enlightenment rather than the extremes of mortification of the flesh or hedonism. Long after his death the Buddha's teachings were written down. This collection is called the Tripitaka. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and that one must go through cycles of birth, life, and death. After many such cycles, if a person releases their attachment to desire and the self, they can attain Nirvana. In general, Buddhists do not believe in any type of God, the need for a savior, prayer, or eternal life after death. However, since the time of the Buddha, Buddhism has integrated many regional religious rituals, beliefs and customs into it as it has spread throughout Asia, so that this generalization is no longer true for all Buddhists. This has occurred with little conflict due to the philosophical nature of Buddhism.
Christianity: Christianity is rooted in Judaism's Torah, known as the Old Testament in the Christian Bible, but there are dramatic differences when taking into account the Christian New Testament (not accepted by Jews). The Christian God is understood as a Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost). All three parts of the Trinity are eternal, and the Son was also born around 4 BCE as a human named Jesus Christ to a virgin, Mary. Christians view the Son as a savior whose human form died as a sacrifice for the sins of all. All humans are sinners and insiginificant compared to God's infinite glory. The path to eternal forgiveness and to God's heaven after bodily death comes through the acceptance of Jesus as Savior. Jesus' life on earth was typified by humble service to others with a focus on peace and justice. The earthly existence of Jesus gives the Christian God a relationship with humanity unique among the deities of the major monotheistic religions. The earthly life of Jesus is famous for his band of 12 followers, powerful teaching techniques, miraculous acts, and finally by the betrayal of a follower and subsequent crucifixion. The resurrection of Jesus and ascension to heaven shows the way for Christians to be forgiven for their sins and exist forever with God. There are a multitude of Christian denominations which disagree on dogma, liturgy and ministries, beginning with Martin Luther's break from the Catholic Church in the 16th century which started the Reformation in Europe. Each denomination has its own views on the role of women and men, art, divorce, abortion, sexuality, evangelism and relationsips with other religions, and other aspects of life.
Confucianism: K'ung Fu Tzu (Confucius) was born in 551 BCE in the state of Lu in China. He traveled throughout China giving advice to its rulers and teaching. His teachings and writings dealt with individual morality and ethics, and the proper exercise of political power. He stressed the following values: Li (ritual, propriety, etiquette, etc.); Hsiao (love among family members); Yi (righteousness); Xin (honesty and trustworthiness); Jen (benevolence towards others; the highest Confucian virtue); Chung (loyalty to the state, etc.). Unlike most religions, Confucianism is primarily an ethical system with rituals at important times during one's lifetime. The most important periods recognized in the Confucian tradition are birth, reaching maturity, marriage, and death.
Hinduism: Hinduism originated within the Indus Valley civilization between 4000 and 2500 BCE. The basis is the belief in the unity of everything, a "totality" called "Brahman". By going through repeated cycles of birth, life and death known as "samsara", a follower gains an understanding of his or her relationship to God, ultimately becoming "enlightened". Then, the cycles end and the follower leaves the earthly plane. "Karma" is an accumulation of the follower's deeds and affects the next reincarnation, including the caste that the person is next born into, which constrains many decisions during that lifetime.
Indigenous: Researchers group the beliefs of aboriginals, indians and other indigenous peoples who see existence as a living, inseparable blend of spirits, nature and people, and who may not have a word for "religion". These beliefs are pagan, but European paganism is covered separately via Wicca. Some cultures may have been referred to as "animists" who believed spirits permeated and animated all. These peoples retell myths to explain the origins of the world and people, sometimes with humor, irony, complexity or esotericness. Some have notions of a separated heaven, and of named deities such as Sky Father and Earth Mother. Symbols such as pipes or feathers represent a connection between people and spirits or a spirit world. Today, these peoples struggle to keep their cultures alive in the face of colonialism and the migration of others. These belief systems are prehistoric and include a balance between man and nature. There is often no notion of land ownership (the land does not belong to people; people belong to the land).
Islam: Islam was founded in 622 CE by Muhammad the Prophet, in Makkah (Mecca). Followers (Muslims) believe that Islam is the same faith taught by the prophets Abraham, David, Moses and Jesus. The role of Muhammad as the last prophet was to formalize and clarify the faith and purify it by removing ideas which were added in error. The two sacred texts of Islam are the Qur'an, which are the words of Allah 'the One True God' as given to Muhammad, and the Hadith, which is a collection of Muhammad's sayings. The duties of all Muslims are known as the Five Pillars of Islam and are: Recite the shahadah at least once; Perform the salat (prayer) 5 times a day while facing the Kaaba in Makkah; Donate regularly to charity via the zakat, a 2.5% charity tax, and through additional donations to the needy; Fast during the month of Ramadan, the month that Muhammad received the Qur'an from Allah; Make pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in life, if economically and physically possible. Muslims follow a strict monotheism with one creator who is just, omnipotent and merciful. They also believe in Satan who drives people to sin, and that all unbelievers and sinners will spend eternity in Hell. Muslims who sincerely repent and submit to God will return to a state of sinlessness and go to Paradise after death. Alcohol, drugs, and gambling should be avoided and they reject racism. They respect the earlier prophets, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, but do not accept the divinity or resurrection of Jesus.
Jainism: The founder of the Jain community was Vardhamana, the last Jina in a series of 24 who lived in East India. He attained enlightenment after 13 years of deprivation and committed the act of salekhana, fasting to death, in 420 BCE. Jainism has many similarities to Hinduism and Buddhism which developed in the same part of the world. They believe in karma and reincarnation as do Hindus but they believe that enlightenment and liberation from this cycle can only be achieved through asceticism (self-denial). Jains follow fruititarianism, the practice of only eating that which will not kill the plant or animal from which it is taken. They also practice ahimsa, non-violence, because any act of violence against a living thing creates negative karma which will adversely affect one's next life.
Judaism: Judaism originated with a covenant between the God of the Israelites and Abraham around 2000 BCE. Led by Moses, the Jews left enslavement in Egypt and received the Law from God, which defines in particular that there is but one God. Joshua later led them into the promised land where Samuel established the Israelite kingdom with Saul as its first king. King David established Jerusalem where King Solomon would build the first temple. In 70 CE the temple was destroyed and the Jews scattered until 1948 when the state of Israel was formed. God rewards good, punishes evil, anc communicates through prophets. The Torah revealed to Moses by God cannot be changed. Jews believe they are God's chosen people and that a Messiah will gather them into Israel and the temple destroyed in 70 CE will be rebuilt.
Shinto: Shinto is an ancient (prior to 500 BCE) Japanese religion, closely tied to nature, which recognizes the existance of various "Kami", nature dieties. The first two deities, Izanagi and Izanami, gave birth to the Japanese islands and their children became the deities of the various Japanese clans. One of their daughters, Amaterasu (Sun Goddess), is the ancestress of the Imperial Family and is regarded as the chief deity. All the Kami are benign and serve only to sustain and protect. They are not seen as separate from humanity due to sin because humanity is "Kami's Child." Followers of Shinto desire peace and believe all human life is sacred. They revere "musuhi", the Kami's creative and harmonizing powers, and aspire to have "makoto", sincerity or true heart. Morality is based upon that which is of benefit to the group. There are "Four Affirmations" in Shinto: Tradition and family (the family is the main mechanism by which traditions are preserved); Love of nature (nature is sacred and natural objects are to be worshipped as sacred spirits); Physical cleanliness (they must take baths, wash their hands, and rinse their mouth often); "Matsuri" (festival which honors the spirits).
Sikh: The Sikh faith was founded around 1500 CE by Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the Punjab area, now Pakistan. He began preaching the way to enlightenment and God after receiving a vision. After his death a series of nine Gurus (regarded as reincarnations of Guru Nanak) led the movement until 1708. At this time these functions passed to the Panth and the holy text. This text, the Shri Guru Granth Sahib, was compiled by the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh. It consists of hymns and writings of the first 10 Gurus, along with texts from different Muslim and Hindu saints. The holy text is considered the 11th and final Guru. Sikhs believe in a single formless God with many names, who can be known through meditation. Sikhs pray many times each day and are prohibited from worshipping idols or icons. They believe in samsara, karma, and reincarnation as Hindus do but reject the caste system. They believe that everyone has equal status in the eyes of God. During the 18th century, there were a number of attempts to prepare an accurate portrayal of Sikh customs. Sikh scholars and theologians started in 1931 to prepare the Reht Maryada -- the Sikh code of conduct and conventions. This has successfully achieved a high level of uniformity in the religious and social practices of Sikhism throughout the world. It contains 27 articles. Article 1 defines who a Sikh as Any human being who faithfully believes in: One Immortal Being; Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Dev to Guru Gobind Singh; The Guru Granth Sahib; The utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus; the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru, and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion.
Taoism: Taoism was founded by Lao-Tse, a contemporary of Confucius in China. Taoism began as a combination of psychology and philosophy which Lao-Tse hoped would help end the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts of his time. His writings, the Tao-te-Ching, describe the nature of life, the way to peace and how a ruler should lead his life. Taoism became a religion in 440 CE when it was adopted as a state religion. Tao, roughly translated as "path", is a force which flows through all life and is the first cause of everything. The goal of everyone is to become one with the Tao. Tai Chi, a technique of exercise using slow deliberate movements, is used to balance the flow of energy or "chi" within the body. People should develop virtue and seek compassion, moderation and humility. One should plan any action in advance and achieve it through minimal action. Yin (dark side) and Yang (light side) symbolize pairs of opposites which are seen through the universe, such as good and evil, light and dark, male and female. The impact of human civilization upsets the balance of Yin and Yang. Taoists believe that people are by nature, good, and that one should be kind to others simply because such treatment will probably be reciprocated.
Wicca: Wicca is a mid-20th century revival of the pre-Christian, pagan practices of Europe. Wiccans experience the divine as immanent, as embodied in the universe, the world in all its aspects and in humanity, as well as transcendent. All of life is sacred and interconnected. Wicca incorporates ancient and modern liturgy, ritual and shamanic practices by which people attune themselves to the natural rhythms of the earth and the universe, enabling them to experience communion with the embodied divine. Wiccans honor nature as a profound spiritual teacher and devote themselves to the contemplation and integration of the spiritual wisdom inherent in the earth's cycles of seasonal transformation. Wicca is a modern version of older practices such as witchcraft. All Wiccans are pagans, but not all pagans are Wiccans. Wicca is a dynamic and accessible system of techniques. Spiritual insight is achieved through living in harmony with the earth. Women have played an important role in the development of Wicca, moreso than the major religions, and while there is some diversity with respect to lists of deities, Wiccans tend to worship a female goddess above the rest. Wicca is non-dogmatic with no single leader or absolute truth, although most Wiccans recognize some guidance from a 26 couplet poem known as the Rede, especially the final verse, "An (if) it harm none, do what you will." This honors the great freedom that each individual has to ascertain truth, to experience the divine directly, and to determine how to best live her or his own life. Wiccans practice magic and cast spells using a form of ritual and meditation similar to prayer, except that, instead of beseeching the aid or intervention of an external deity, the indwelling divine energy is drawn outward into manifestation in the world through harmonious interaction with the Divine presence already present. Wiccans do not work with supernatural powers nor do they seek to have "power over."
Zoroastrianism: Zoroastrianism was founded around 1000 BCE by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) in Persia. Zarathushtra preached what may have been the first monotheism with a single supreme god, Ahura Mazda. Zoroastrians belief in the dualism of good and evil as either a cosmic one between Ahura Mazda and an evil spirit of violence and death, Angra Mainyu, or as an ethical dualism within the human consciousness. The holy book "Avesta" includes the teachings of Zarathushtra written in a series of five hymns called the Gathas. They are abstract sacred poetry directed towards the worship of the One God, understanding of righteousness and cosmic order, promotion of social justice, and individual choice between good and evil. Later additions deal with rituals, practice of worship, and other traditions of the faith. Zoroastrians worship through prayers and symbolic ceremonies that are conducted before a sacred fire which symbolizes their God. They dedicate their lives to a three-fold path represented by their motto: "Good thoughts, good words, good deeds." The faith does not generally accept converts.
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