Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Religion is a theme based on personal belief, practice and interpretation. No two people, even within a particular family, denomination or culture, believe the exact same thing regarding their religious perspective or worldview. That’s what makes us individuals. But we can, and do, share common bonds as individuals, as a culture, as a religious community and as a human race. This theme is meant to highlight beliefs within various cultures in order to gain appreciation and understanding for our world’s diversity.
One World, Many Beliefs
There are many religions/belief systems around the world. The main themes in world religions include: God or Supreme Deity, sacred or divine matters, our soul or true self, the cosmos, heaven and the spirit world/realm, death and life after, sacred doctrines and scriptures, moral boundaries, codes or rules for living, reverence for nature and all of God’s creations, astronomy and astrology-based practices, holy days (holidays), stories, symbols and forms of communication with God (prayer, meditation, worship).
As with any theme I present relating to religious ideas, beliefs, traditions and practices, my approach is to offer information from an educational perspective. It is not my intent to upset or cause offense but rather share themes in a way to encourage learning. The following offers brief overviews of some of the more prominent religions in our history based on general characteristics within each group.
Hinduism originated in India. Followers, referred to as Hindus, consider it an ancient tradition that has always existed. The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, which was the name used by Persians at the time for the Indus River. As such, people who came from the Indus River Valley came to be known as Hindus. Hinduism religion holds there is one Supreme Being who has three distinct characteristics reflected in the AUM sound heard during worship when practitioners are in deep meditation. The AUM or Trinity that constitutes the Hindu God is A=Brahma the Creator, U=Vishnu the Sustainer, M=Shiva the Destroyer. When they come together, they reflect the Supreme Being or the AUM. Hinduism is not a single religion, but rather the umbrella whereby all the different practices of India are grouped. Hindus view their religion more as a way of life so the focus is on practice rather than on a set of beliefs. One of the main components of Hinduism is that there is a part of Brahma in all of us, which is referred to as the Atman. They also believe that our soul is eternal and lives many lives through the process of reincarnation. In addition, they also believe in the concept of karma, the cause and effect cycle that the soul passes through in life. Karma can be positive and negative. Hindus have various sacred texts but the most ancient is the Vedas. A major holiday for Hindus is Diwali, a five-day festival of lights held in October or November (depending on the lunar cycle).
Judaism originated in Israel. Its followers are known as Jewish people or Jews. According to Jewish history, this religious system was established when God began a covenant with Abram (Abraham) because Abram chose to obey and follow Him by adopting a monotheistic view of God (which was different from the monotheistic view common in his region at the time). Jews believe there is one God in single form who created the universe and that every believer can have a personal relationship with. God’s name is referred to as Yahweh, YHWH or Jehovah. Moses is considered the leader of the Jewish people and the person whom God revealed the Law to, which is the basis for the Jewish teachings. The holy book of Judaism is The Torah (teachings). The holiest site for Jewish people is Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, where tradition states is the place where the divine presence of God manifests more than any other. For this reason, Jews face in the direction of Temple Mount when they pray. According to the Bible, Temple Mount is the place where two previous Jewish temples stood before they were destroyed, and is the site where a third and final Temple is to be built as prophesied in the Book of Ezekiel. Common symbols in Jewish practice include the Star of David, the Menorah, the kippah (skull-cap) and the tallit (a prayer shawl). There are various sub-groups of Jewish practitioners, with Orthodox being the most religiously observant or traditional. Judaism has eight main festivals, including Passover and Hannukah. The most important day of the week is the sabbath or shabbat, which begins at sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday.
Buddism originated in India and is a tradition founded on the teachings of Prince Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Buddha. The name Buddha means awakened or enlightened One, which is similar to the term sage meaning someone who has attained wisdom. Siddhartha Gautama was born into a royal family and lived many years within the walls of the palace so he was sheltered from the suffering that was taking place in other parts of the kingdom. One day he decided to venture into the village and saw much suffering: sickness, poverty, old age and death. This troubled him. But he also saw a monk and noticed that he seemed to have peace even though he was surrounded by much suffering. As a result, Gautama decided to leave his comfortable life and seek a way to end the world’s suffering. This was his journey to enlightenment. It is said Gautama sat under a pipal or Bohdi tree and promised not to get up until he had found the truth. According to their ancient sacred texts, after a number of days under the tree, he finally attained the truth and became enlightened; thus given the title Buddha. Buddha is not considered a god; Buddhists recognize he was human, but due to his ability to reach enlightenment without it being taught to him, he is revered as a higher form and model for humanity. Buddhism holds there is a natural cycle that all things go through: birth, life, death and rebirth (which is different from reincarnation) and the way to break out of this cycle is to become enlightened (also referred to as reaching nirvana). Buddhists do not believe in the concept of a personal Creator God because they view life as a constantly changing cycle. They focus more on the belief that humanity can break out of this cycle and become like the Buddha. The Buddha’s teachings offer guides for attaining nirvana and they include: the Three Signs of Being, The Four Noble Truths, and The Noble Eight-Fold Path. Buddhists recognize a number of holidays, with Vesak (Buddha Day) being one of them.
Christianity originated in Israel and is founded on the teachings of Jesus Christ, who is considered God in human form. It is regarded as a Judeo-Christian belief system since it is rooted in Judaism. Its followers are referred to as Christians and its main holy book is The Bible, which consists of two sections: the Old Testament (Jewish text) and the New Testament (centered on Jesus). Christians believe in a triune God (one God with three separate but equal persons): God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit. This is commonly referred to as The Holy Trinity. According to Christian tradition, Jesus is revered as God the Son – who became man in order to accomplish God The Father’s plan for human salvation. As such, Jesus is referred to as the Savior of mankind (or the promised Messiah of the Old Testament). Jesus’s teachings hold that all are created equal as children of God, therefore, he taught to men, women and children alike. He traveled with a group of 12 disciples whom he mentored to share in his teachings. According to Christian tradition, Jesus was crucified and buried but resurrected three days later and ascended to heaven, thereby completing his mission. This act is the central theme of Good Friday and Easter Sunday celebrations, which are main holy days for Christianity. The other being Christmas, which Christians celebrate to mark Jesus’ birth. Christian belief states one must acknowledge Jesus as their personal savior in order to enter the kingdom of God. In addition, Christians await a “second coming” of Jesus when he is said to return to Earth during an apocalyptic time for a Judgement Day (referenced in the last book of the Bible: The Book of Revelation). Although Christianity has numerous denominations, they share common core beliefs and practices. Christians regard Jerusalem as a sacred area in general and the Temple Mount as a significant, holy place. Pilgrimages are often taken to Jerusalem (The Holy Land) and The Vatican City in Rome by Christians around the world. The cross is the primary symbol of Christianity (representing the cross that Jesus was crucified on).
Islam originated in Saudi Arabia and is one of three Abrahamic religions. It was established when the angel Gabriel revealed messages from God to prophet Muhammad while he prayed in a cave over the course of numerous visits. According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad is the last in a succession of prophets, which began with first-man Adam and include Abraham (Ibrahim), Moses (Musa), David (Dawud), Jesus (Isa) and others. These prophets are regarded with great respect so it is customary to include a blessing using the words peace be upon him (pbuh) following their name. As an example, Muhammad, peace be upon him. Followers of Islam are referred to as Muslims. They believe there is only one God in single form. The Arabic word for God is Allah. The holy book is the Qur’an, which is a written record of the revelations God gave to Muhammad through angel Gabriel. According to tradition, every Muslim must perform five duties (known as the Five Pillars of Islam) in order to put their faith into action: a declaration of faith, prayer, give to charity, fast during the month of Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime if it is financially possible. Mecca (Makkah) is the birthplace of Muhammad and the place of the first revelation by angel Gabriel. There is a mosque in Mecca with a building in the center. This cube shaped building (Ka’bah) is believed to have been built by Muhammad and is regarded as the holiest place for Muslims. Muslims around the world face in the direction of the Ka’bah during prayer time. Two of the main Islamic festivals are Ramadan (a month-long fasting) and Eid al’Fitr (the breaking of the fast) held at the conclusion of Ramadan. The primary symbol of Islam is the crescent moon and star.