Fundamental beliefs and basic history
Because it integrates a large variety of heterogeneous elements,
Hinduism constitutes a very complex but largely continuous whole,
and since it covers the whole of life, it has religious, social,
economic, literary, and artistic aspects. As a religion, Hinduism
is an utterly diverse conglomerate of doctrines, cults, and ways
The distinction between the level of popular belief and that of elaborate ritual technique and philosophical speculation is very marked and attended by many stages of transition and varieties of coexistence. Primitive magic and feishism, animal worship, and belief in demons occur beside, and often combined with, the worship of more or less personal gods, as do mysticism, asceticism, and abstract and profound theological systems or esoteric doctrines. For example, worship of female local deities does not, in the same milieu, exclude the belief in pan-Indian higher gods, or even in a single High God. Such deities are also frequently looked upon as manifestations of a High God.
In principle, Hinduism incorporates all forms of belief and worship without necessitating the selection or elimination of any. The Hindu is inclined to revere the divine in every manifestation, whatever it may be, and is doctrinally tolerant, leaving others - including both Hindus and non-Hindus - whatever creed and worship practices suit them best. A Hindu may embrace a non-Hindu religion without ceasing to be a Hindu, and since the Hindu is disposed to think synthetically and to regard other forms of worship, strange gods, and divergent doctrines as inadequate rather than wrong or objectionable, he tends to believe that the highest divine powers complement each other for the well-being of the world and mankind. Few religious ideas are considered to be finally irreconcilable. The core of religion does not even depend on the existence or nonexistence of God or on whether there is one god or many. Since religious truth is said to transcend all verbal definition, it is not conceived in dogmatic terms. Hinduism is, then, both a civilization and a conglomerate of religions, with neither a beginning, a founder, nor a central authority, hierarchy, or organization. Every attempt at a specific definition of Hinduism has proved unsatisfactory in one way or another, the more so because the finest Indian scholars of Hinduism, including Hindus themselves, have emphasized different aspects of the whole.
Primarily the religion of about two-thirds of the people of India.
It comprises a variety of creeds derived from Brahmanic sources.
It is divided into three periods: Vedic, Epic, and Puranic. Its
supreme deities are the triad of Brahma, the creator, Vishnu,
the preserver, and Siva, the destroyer. Many other inferior divinities
and natural objects are also worshipped, numbering close to two
hundred million. In the modern, popular faith, Brahman lapsed
into an abstraction. Practical adoration is divided between the
other two members of the triad: Siva and Vishnu. Sivaite worship
is chiefly attracted by the wife of Siva, under various names:
Kali, Durga, Parbati, and so forth. Vishnu, again, is almost lost
in the worship paid to his two incarnations (avatars), Rama and
Krishna. Lesser divinities that are very popular include Hanuman,
the "monkey-god" and Ganesh, the "elephant god".
Hinduism is a medley of unfixed religious dogmas; there is no standardization of the faith such as is found in other great religions. It is above all a religion of castes and the Brahmans are the ruling caste. All of the castes of Hinduism are subject to the ruling of the Brahmans, whose word is law and whose shadows are all benevolence. To a Brahman, all other castes are inferior; he is supreme and his authority is unquestioned.
The Brahmans look to the Vedas, their holy writings, for their authority. The Vedas are four metrical books: Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda. The Rigveda is of great antiquity, some of its songs dating from long before 1000 BC. It is a work of poetic ritual and prayer to the gods. The Samaveda is a resume of the Rigveda, presenting the songs and invocations in sacrificial order. The Yajurveda (known to western scholars as the "White, or Sacrificial Veda") is based upon the Rigveda, but contains original formulas arranged in order for use at certain sacrifices. The Atharvaveda is a collection of incantations against evil spirits and formulas of exorcism. The Vedas form the basis of early Indian social life and comprise its legal and political aspects as well. From this beginning was born the faith. Brahman means "prayer"; the commentaries to be found at the end of the Vedas proper are called Brahmanas; so that the religion of Hinduism is concerned mainly with prayers and incantations.
It is full of ceremony; polytheistic, its myriad gods decked the temples scattered throughout India. The cow is held in reverence, since it is believed to be the repository of the spirits of long-vanished gods.
Hinduism is a composite belief. Ancient practices and social distinctions became crystallized in the caste system, which is the backbone of the religion. For this reason, a continuous reading of all four Vedic classics will bring incongruity to light; even after the long centuries which have passed since the Vedas were first written, these inconsistencies still litter the path of the Hindu ritualist.
Hinduism, as now constituted, relies almost as much on the Upanishads (esoteric treatises), as upon the Vedas. The Brahmanas referred to above, explain the Vedas, the Aranyaks or "forest books" (to be read in the solitude of the forest) explain the Brahmanas, and the last sections of the Aranyakas form the Upanishads. These are essays of lofty philosophy, of metaphysical speculation on the essential nature of the spirit of the universe, which is called Atman, or Brahma. Collectively, the Upanishads bear the name Vedanta, which comes from the Sanskrit words Veda, "wisdom" and Anta, "end" and signifies "supreme wisdom." This name has given rise, within Hinduism, to a system of thought called the Vedanta philosophy that deals with the fundamental principles and the practice of religion, rather than with dogmas and personalities.
The gods of Vedic were merely personified natural phenomena. Indeed, Vedic Hinduism was a primitive nature worship. The next step was a division of the gods into Celestial and Terrestrial. It was not until much later (the period of the Atharvaveda) that magic began to complicate the simple faith. Demons as well as gods multiplied apace, and soon it became impossible to count the myriad gods and demi-gods of the Hindu Pantheon. From very early times there were three types of priests, the reader, the cantor, and the ritual priest. These three later were multiplied into many subdivisions as the caste system developed and further stages were added to the Hinduistic superstructure.
Hinduism of one school leans toward a triad: Brahma (the Creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Siva (the destroyer). There was, at the beginning, a triad of castes, also: Brahmans (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), and Vaisyas (merchants and agriculturists); today, the different castes and sub-castes number nearly 200.
Hinduism accepts transmigration, holding that gods and men are not essentially different from each other; the former are nearer the goal, that is all. There is a wealth of mythology incorporated in Hinduism and much valuable knowledge of purely Aryah India can be gained from a study of the early songs and stories.
The principal gods of Hinduism are amoral; the lower gods are immoral; and serve the purpose of impressing the people in their capacity as "horrible examples". There are heavens and hells as well as a Paradise for those who pass successfully through all upward stages of existence. Much is made of a parade of religious fervor, fasting, penances and the like, but it was the empty ineffectiveness of Hinduism that turned Buddha's eyes inward seeking, "something more lofty and ideal, something which the manifold sufferings and penances of Brahmanism can not effect."
Hare Krishna is a popular name for the International Society for
Krishna Consciousness, a Hindu movement founded (1965) in the
United States by A.C. Bhaktivedanta. The popular name derives
from the mantra Hare Krishna ("O Lord Krishna") chanted
by members of the group.
Devotees of the Hindu god Krishna, the members are divided into two classes: brahmacarin ("students"), who live in temples and vow to abstain from sex, meat, intoxicants, and gambling, and grihasta, or lay members who marry and have families. They are proselytizers who actively seek converts. In the mid-1980s the Hare Krishna movement had more than 200 centers in the United States, Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa. In the United States it was troubled by internal disputes that reportedly led to several killings, and was accused by critics of other illegal activities as well.
Fundamental beliefs and basic history
Buddhism was founded by Gautama Buddha, north of Hindustan, about
the middle of the sixth century BC. Is present adherents are chiefly
in Burma, Nepal, Ceylon, Thailand, Tibet, and China, with small
numbers in Japan. It has, in recent years, made some inroads into
Europe and North America, though chiefly those in the West are
immigrants from Asia.
Buddhism is regarded by many as not a new religion, but rather a reformation of Hinduism, and specifically of the Hinduism as practiced by the highest caste, the Brahmans.
The attraction of Buddhism, especially in its original environment, was the spirit of universal charity and sympathy that it breathed, as contrasted with the exclusiveness of caste. It was, in fact, a reaction against the exclusiveness and formalism of Hinduism - an attempt to render it more universal and to throw of its burden of ceremonies. Buddhism did not expressly abolish caste, but declared that all followers of the Buddha who embraced the religious life were thereby released from its restrictions. This opening of its ranks to all classes and to both sexes no doubt gave Buddhism one great advantage over Hinduism.
Max Muller says that the Buddha "addressed himself to castes and outcasts. He promised salvation to all; and he commanded his disciples to preach his doctrine in all places and to all men. A sense of duty, extending from the narrow limits of the house, the village, and the country, to the widest circle of mankind, a feeling of sympathy and brotherhood toward all men, the idea, in fact, of humanity, were first pronounced by Buddha."
The books of the Ceylon Buddhists, are in the language called Pali, which is still the sacred language of Buddhism. Translations from the Ceylon standards are used by the Buddhists of Burma and Siam. Tibetan and Chinese translations were made from the Sanskrit. The Buddha had composed no work himself, but his chief followers assembled in council immediately after his death and proceeded to reduce his teaching to a canon. These canonical works are divided into three classes, forming the Tripitaka (Pali: Tipitaka), or "three baskets." The first consists of the Vinaya, or discipline; the second contains the Sutras, or discourses; and the third the Abhidharma, or psychology. The canon was not reduced to writing till the first century BC. Besides the Tripitaka referred to above, the canon of the Great Vehicle (Mahayana) contains two special works, dating not earlier than the first century AD. These are "The Lotus of the Good Law," and the Lalita Vistara, the latter of which contains the life of Buddha. To these may be added the Mahavastu, which belongs to the second century BC. The Buddhacarita, the earliest life of Buddha, dates from the first century AD. The Buddhist religion early manifested a zealous missionary spirit. A prince of the royal house of Magadha, Mahindo, carried the faith to Ceylon, 307 BC. The Chinese annals speak of a Buddhist missionary as early as 217 BC. And the doctrine made such progress that in 65 AD, it was acknowledged by the Chinese Emperor as a third state religion. The Chinese Buddhists have always looked on India as their "holy land", and beginning with the fourth century of our era, a stream of Buddhist pilgrims continued to flow from china to India during six centuries. Several of these pilgrims have left accounts of their travels, which throw a light on the course of Buddhism in India, and on the internal state of the country in general, that is looked for in vain in the literature of India itself.
A prominent name in the history of Buddhism is that of Asoka, King of Magadha in the third century BC, whose sway seems to have extended over the whole peninsula of Hindustan and even over Ceylon. This prince was to Buddhism what Constantine was to Christianity. He was at first a persecutor of the faith, but being converted - by a miracle, according to the legend - he became a zealous propagator of the religion - not, however, as princes usually promote their creed, for it is a distinguishing characteristic of Buddhism that it has never employed force, rarely even to resist aggression. Asoka showed his zeal by building and endowing viharas (monasteries) and raising topes and other monuments over the relics of Buddha and in spots remarkable as the scenes of his labors. Hiouen-Thsang, in the seventh century of our era, found topes attributed to Asoka from the foot of the Hindu Kush to the extremity of the peninsula.
For the glimpses we get of the state of Buddhism in India we are indebted chiefly to the accounts of Chinese pilgrims. Fahien, at the end of the fourth century, found some appearances of decline in the east of Hindustan, its birthplace, but it was still strong in the Punjab and the north. In Ceylon it was flourishing in full vigor, the ascetics or monks numbering nearly 100,000. In the seventy century - i.e. 1200 years after the death of the Buddha - Hiouen Thsang represents it as dominant but decaying, though patronized by powerful rajas.
During the first four or five centuries of our era, Buddhists, perhaps driven from the great cities, retired among the hills of the west, and there constructed those cave temples which, for their number, vastness, and elaborate structure, continue to excite wonder. There are reckoned to be not fewer than 900 Buddhist excavations still extant in India. How the destruction of the Buddhist faith in Hindustan came about - whether from internal corruption, or the persecution of powerful princes, adherents of the old faith - we do not know. But it is certain that from the time of Hiouen-Thaang's visit its decay must have been rapid, for about the eleventh or twelfth century the last races of it disappear from the Indian Peninsula.
According to Buddhist belief, when a man dies he is immediately
born again, or appears in a new shape. That shape may, according
to his merit or demerit, be any of the innumerable orders of being
that compose the Buddhist universe - from a clod to a divinity.
If his demerit would not be sufficiently punished by a degraded
earthly existence - in the form, for instance, of a woman, or
a slave, or of some persecuted group, or a disgusting animal -
he will be born in one of the 136 Buddhist hells, situated in
the interior of the earth. These places of punishment have a regular
gradation in the intensity of the suffering and in the length
of time the sufferers live, the least term being ten million years;
the longer terms are almost beyond the powers of Indian notation
to express. A meritorious life, on the other hand, secures the
next birth either in an exalted and happy position on earth, or
as a blessed spirit, or even divinity, in one of the many heavens,
in which the least duration of life is about ten billion years.
But however long the life, whether of misery or of bliss, it has
an end, and at its close the individual must be born again and
may again be either happy or miserable - either a god or the vilest
The Buddhist conception of the way in which the quality of actions - which is expressed in Sanskrit by the word karma, including both merit and demerit - determines the future condition of all sentient beings, is peculiar. They do not conceive any god or gods as being pleased or displeased by the actions, and as assigning the actors their future condition by way of punishment or of reward. The idea of a god, as creating or ruling the world, is utterly absent in the Buddhist system. God is not denied; he is simply not known.
Another basis of Buddhism is the assumption that human existence is on the whole miserable and a curse rather than a blessing. An enervating climate and political conditions may have aided in producing the feeling common to Hindu and Buddhist that life is evil. But the root of the matter is philosophical. Life is a whole; nature is a whole; to be born is to become separate or individualized from the whole. Individuality implies limitation; limitation implies error; error implies ignorance. Hence birth is an evil because it is inseparable from ignorance, and it is only the removal of ignorance which can lead to the suppression of desire, while only the suppression of desire can lead to peace. This desire, which Buddha identified with the "will to live," he called trshna (Pali, Tanha) or "thirst." The little value that Hindus set upon their lives is manifested in many ways. The punishment of death has little or no terror for them and is even sometimes coveted as an honor.
Death was no escape from this inevitable lot, or, according to the doctrine of transmigration, death was only a passage into some other form of existence equally doomed. Guatama saw no escape but in what he called Nirvana, literally "extinction", "blowing out," or "annihilation." Yet it would be wrong to hold that the man who has freed himself from desire and has recognized the essentially illusory character of this world is utterly devoid of sentiment; on the contrary, the Buddha and his followers lay stress on Love, which is the cardinal virtue of Buddhism. While, in his perfect peace of mind, the "enlightened" man is entirely indifferent to pleasure and pain and unmoved by the vicissitudes of this world, his soul is not dead, but filled with love and sympathy for everything which is still in the thrall of desire, but without undue preference of one object over another. This love, or charity, is called in Sanskrit Maitri. Complete Nirvana, which in the original meaning of the term is attainable during life, was in fact, attained by Guatama himself. The process by which the state is attained is called Dhyana and is neither more nor less than ecstasy or trance, which plays so important a part among mystics of all religions. The individual is described as losing one feeling after another, until perfect apathy is attained, and he reaches a state "where there are neither ideas, nor the idea of the absence of ideas."
The key of the whole scheme of Buddhist salvation lies in what Gautama called his four sublime verities (truths). The first asserts that pain exists; the second, that the cause of pain is desire or attachment; the third, that pain can be ended by suppressing desire; and the fourth shows the way that leads to this. This way consists in eight things: right faith, right judgment, right language, right purpose, right practice, right effort, right thinking and right meditation.
In order to understand how this method is to lead to the proposed end, we must turn to the metaphysical part of the system contained in the "concatenation of causes," or "chain of causation" (Pratityasamutpada), which may be looked upon as a development of the second "verity", viz., that the cause of pain is desire (Trshna) - or rather, as the analysis upon which that verity is founded. The immediate cause of pain is birth, for if we were not born we should not be exposed to death or any of the ills of life. Birth, again, is caused by previous existence; it is only a transition from one state of existence into another.
Contemplation and science or knowledge are ranked as virtues in Buddhism and hold a prominent place among the means of attaining Nirvana. It is reserved, in fact, for abstract contemplation to effect the final steps of the deliverance. Thought is the highest faculty of man, and, in the mind of an Eastern philosopher, the mightiest of all forces. A king who had become a convert to Buddhism is represented as seating himself with his legs crossed and his mind collected; and "cleaving with the thunderbolt of science the mountain of ignorance," he saw before him the desired state. It is in this cross-legged, contemplative position that the Buddha is almost always represented - that crowning intellectual act of his, when, seated under the Bo tree he attained the full knowledge of the Buddha, saw the illusory nature of all things, broke the last bonds that tied him to existence, and stood delivered for evermore from the necessity of being born again, being considered the culmination of his character and the highest object of imitation to all his followers.
Morality and Religious Observances
There are ten moral precepts or "precepts of aversion."
Five of these are of universal obligation: not to kill, not to
steal, not to commit adultery, not to lie, and not to be drunken.
The other five are for those entering on the direct pursuit of Nirvana by embracing the religious life: to abstain from food out of season (i.e., after midday); to abstain from dances, theatrical representations, songs, and music; to abstain from personal ornaments and perfumes; to abstain from a lofty and luxurious couch; to abstain from taking gold and silver.
For the regular ascetics, or monks, there are a number of special observances of a very severe kind. They are to dress only in rags, sewed together with their own hands, and to have a yellow cloak thrown over their rags. They are to eat only the simplest food and to possess nothing except what they get by collecting alms from door to door in their wooden bowls. They are allowed only one meal, and that must be eaten before midday. For a part of the year they are to live in forests, with no other shelter except the shadow of a tree, and there they must sit on their carpet even during sleep, to lie down being forbidden. They are allowed to enter the nearest village or town to beg food, but they must return to their forests before night.
Besides the absolutely necessary "aversions and observances" above mentioned, there are certain virtues or "perfections" of a supererogatory or transcendent kind that tend directly to "conduct to the other shore" (Nirvana). The most essential of these are almsgiving or charity, purity, patience, courage, contemplation, and knowledge. Charity or benevolence may be said to be the characteristic virtue of Buddhism - a charity boundless in its self-abnegation and extending to every sentient being. Benevolence to animals, with the tendency to exaggerate a right principle, is carried among the Buddhist monks to the length of avoiding the destruction of fleas and the most noxious vermin, which they remove from their persons with all tenderness. The sect of the Jains carried this to absurd extremes.
There are other virtues of a secondary kind, thought still highly commendable. Thus, not content with forbidding lying, the Buddha strictly enjoins the avoidance of all offensive and gross language, and of saying or repeating anything that can set others at enmity among themselves; it is a duty, on the contrary, especially for a Sramana, to act on all occasions as a peacemaker. Patience under injury and resignation to misfortune are strongly inculcated. The Buddhist saints are to conceal their good works and display their faults. As the outward expression of this sentiment of humility, Gautama instituted the practice of confession. Twice a month, at the new and at the full moon, the monks confessed their faults aloud before the assembly. This humiliation and repentance seems the only means of expiating sin that was known to Gautama. Confession was exacted of all believers, only not so frequently as of the monks.
The ritual or worship of early Buddhism is very simple in character. There are no priests, or clergy, properly so called. The Sramanas or Bhikshus (mendicants) are simply a religious order - a class of monks, who, in order to accomplish the more speedy attainment of Nirvana, have entered on a course of greater sanctity and austerity than ordinary men; they have no sacraments to administer nor rites to perform for the people, for every Buddhist is his own priest. The only thing like a clerical function they discharge is to read the scriptures or discourses of the Buddha in stated assemblies of the people held for that purpose. But in northern Buddhism there is a complete ritual, with rites and worship strangely like that of the Roman Catholic Church, through whose missionaries these traits may have been introduced.
In some countries the monks are exceedingly numerous; around Lhassa in Tibet, for instance, they are said to be one-third of the population. They live in monasteries, and subsist partly by endowments, but mostly by charity. Except in Tibet, they are not allowed to engage in any secular occupation. The vow is not irrevocable. This incubus of monasticism constitutes the great weakness of Buddhism in its social aspect.
Lamaism, the form of Buddhism prevalent in Tibet and Mongolia is a combination of Buddhism with Sivaism and Shamanism or spirit worship. The nature worship of the nomad Mongols was probably influenced by the precepts of Lao-Tse and Confucius and the preaching of Nestorian monks before it absorbed a Buddhism which had already become weak.
The acceptance of Buddha as an incarnation of the divine essence resulted in the establishment of a hierarchy in Tibet. There were two Lama popes, the Dalai-lama or "grand lama" and the other bearing the titles of Tashi-lama, Bogdo-lama, or Pen-Ch'en. While both popes have the same rank and authority, the Dalai-lama's diocese was larger, giving him greater influence.
Lamaism possesses a lower clergy, which recruits its ranks on the principle of merit. It has four orders: the novice; the assistant priest; the religious mendicant; and the teacher. All these make a vow of celibacy, and live in convents. At the head is a Khubilghan, or an abbot. Lamaism also has its nuns.
The adoration of the statues of the Buddha and of his relics is the chief external ceremony of the religion. This, with prayer and the repetition of sacred formulas, constitutes the ritual. The central object in a Buddhist temple, corresponding to the altar in a Catholic church, is an image of the Buddha, or a dagoba or shrine containing his relics. Here flowers, fruit, and incense are daily offered, and processions are made with singing of hymns. Of the relics of the Buddha, the most famous are the teeth that are preserved with intense veneration in various places.
With all their admiration of the Buddha, his followers have generally never made a god of him. Gautama is only the last Buddha - the Buddha of the present cycle. He had predecessors in the cycles that are past (24 Buddhas of the past are enumerated); and when, at the end of the present cycle, all things shall be reduced to their elements, and the knowledge of the way of salvation shall perish with all things else, another Buddha will appear, again to reveal to the renascent beings the way to Nirvana. The Buddha, then, is not a god; he is the ideal of what any man may become; and the great object of Buddhist worship is to keep this ideal vividly in the minds of the believers.
In the early period of Gautama's teachings, Buddhism was a simple
enunciation of the value of contemplation and a call to renunciation
of the material things of life. Shortly after the collection of
the sayings of Buddha, communities of ascetics were formed, having
as their sole object the continual contemplation of the sayings
of Gautama. Thus were evolved some of the "hidden doctrines",
not written in the ordinary works, but practiced by those who
were to become adepts. The trend of this teaching was increasingly
toward the exercise of thought as the sure means of emancipation
from rebirth and its attendant evils. For many centuries this
teaching was withheld from all devotees below the grade of Bodhisat,
one who has the essence of knowledge. Having become Bodhisat the
devotee had but one life more to live before attaining Nirvana.
Then came the great schism, the division into Mahayana (Greater
Vehicle), and Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle), which demanded a complete
revision of the terminology then in use in the schools. The central
power of Buddhism had now shifted to Ceylon and Southern India.
These were the centers of conservative Buddhism and here were
maintained the early principles as enunciated by Buddha himself.
The northern Buddhists, progressive and aggressive, built up a
new development (Mahayana) and in large measure evolved Esoteric
At first the elementary principles remained unchanged, and contemplation was merely brought to bear until new aspects of old principles gave hints of something as yet unknown. Then Nirvana took on new qualities and the word Parinirvana (complete, perfect nothingness), came into use. For a long time Gautama was the one and only Buddha. Later some of his utterances were given what really amounts to undue prominence. In these he had elected his successors (one a woman), in future cycles of existence to be the enlightening Buddhas of unknown, untold future generations. Buddhism in the hands of the Mahayana leaders became limitless, there was no termination of cycles, and Parnirvana became more distant than ever before. "Beyond our best there ever rises a better hope" - a supposed utterance of Buddha - was taken so literally that the Buddhist began to look for a new Buddha who should be more perfect than Gautama. Gradually new adaptations from pure philosophy, from Hinduism and Brahman ritual, began to mingle with the finer elements of Buddhist belief and from this mixture arose the new rules of life for the novice and for all grades up to Arhat, Bodhisat, and Buddha. But above all rules and orders, thought is paramount, an unruffled serenity of mind is supreme.
There has been much confusion between Esoteric Buddhism and Theosophy. That Buddhism as a whole contributed much to the development of Theosophy is agreed, but faiths and belief systems have been laid under contribution to form the latter. So great has this confusion become that Esoteric Buddhism has been identified wholly with Theosophy, an error too glaringly obvious to need stressing. Buddhism by its stand on the great principles of transmigration, Nirvana, and contemplation is exclusive. Theosophy will accept anything coming within the range of knowledge of the Divine. The Upanishad which form a large part of the basis of Theosophy were mostly rejected by the early Buddhists, parts only surviving in Buddhist books.
The Chinese: Ch'an (from Sanskrit dhyana, meaning "meditation") is an important school of Buddhism in Japan that claims to
transmit the spirit or essence of Buddhism, which consists in
experiencing the enlightenment (bodhi) achieved by the Gautama
Buddha. The school arose in the 6th century in China as Ch'an,
a form of Mahayana Buddhism; its development in Japan dates from
the 12th century. In its secondary developments of mental tranquillity,
fearlessness, and spontaneity - all faculties of the enlightened
mind - the school of Zen has had lasting influence on the cultural
life of Japan.
Zen teaches that the Buddha-nature, or potential to achieve enlightenment, is inherent in everyone but lies dormant because of ignorance. It is best awakened not by the study of scriptures, the practice of good deeds, rites and ceremonies, or worship of images but by a sudden breaking through of the boundaries of common, everyday, logical thought. Training in the methods leading to such an enlightenment is best transmitted personally from master to disciple. The methods recommended, however, differ among the various sects of Zen.
The Rinzai (Chinese Lin-chi) sect, introduced to Japan from China by the priest Ensai in 1191, emphasizes sudden shock and meditation on the paradoxical statements called koan. The Soto (Chinese Ts'ao-tung) sect, transmitted to Japan by Dogen on his return from China in 1227, prefers the method of sitting in meditation (zazen). A third sect, the Obaku (Chinese Huang-po), was established in 1654 by the Chinese monk Yin-yan (Japanese Ingen). It employs the methods of Rinzai and also practices nembutsu, the continual invocation of Amida (the Japanese name for the Buddha Amitabha), with the devotional formula namu Amida Butsu (Japanese: "homage to Amida Buddha").
During the 16th century period of political unrest, Zen priest not only contributed their talents as diplomats and administrators but also preserved the cultural life; it was under their inspiration that art, literature, the tea cult, and the No theater, for example, developed and prospered. Neo-Confucianism, which became the guiding principle of the Tokugawa feudal regime (1603-1867), also was originally introduced and propagated by Japanese Zen masters.
In modern Japan, Zen sects and subsects claim about 9,600,000 adherents. Considerable interest in various aspects of Zen thought has developed also in Western countries in the later half of the 20th century, and a number of Zen groups have been formed in North America and Europe.
Confucianism, the philosophical system founded on the teaching of Confucius (551-479 BC), dominated Chinese sociopolitical life for most of Chinese history and largely influenced the cultures of Korea, Japan, and Indochina. The Confucian school functioned as a recruiting ground for government positions, which were filled by those scoring highest on examinations in the Confucian classics. It also blended with popular and imported religions and became the vehicle for articulating Chinese mores to the peasants. The school's doctrines supported political authority using the theory of the mandate of heaven. It sought to help the rulers maintain domestic order, preserve tradition, and maintain a constant standard of living for the taxpaying peasants. It trained its adherents in benevolence, traditional rituals, filial piety, loyalty, respect for superiors and for the aged, and principled flexibility in advising rulers.
Westerners use Confucius as the spelling for K'ung Fu-tzu-Master K'ung-China's first and most famous philosopher. Confucius had a traditional personal name (Ch'iu) and a formal name (Chung-ni). Confucius' father died shortly after Confucius' birth. His family fell into relative poverty, and Confucius joined a growing class of impoverished descendants of aristocrats who made their careers by acquiring knowledge of feudal ritual and taking positions ofinfluence serving the rulers of the fragmented states of ancient China. Confucius devoted himself to learning. At age 30, however, when his short-lived official career floundered, he turned to teaching others. Confucius himself never wrote down his own philosophy, although tradition credits him with editing some of the historical classics that were used as texts in his school. He apparently made an enormous impact on the lives and attitudes of his disciples, however. The book known as the Analects, which records all the "Confucius said, . . . " aphorisms, was compiled by his students after his death. Because the Analects was not written as a systematic philosophy, it contains frequent contradictions and many of the philosophical doctrines are ambiguous. The Analects became the basis of the Chinese social lifestyle and the fundamental religious and philosophical point of view of most traditionalist Chinese intellectuals throughout history. The collection reveals Confucius as a person dedicated to the preservation of traditional ritual practices with an almost spiritual delight in performing ritual for its own sake.
Confucianism combines a political theory and a theory of human
nature to yield a tao-a prescriptive doctrine or way. The political
theory starts with a doctrine of political authority based on
the mandate of heaven. The legitimate ruler derives authority
from heaven's command. The ruler bears responsibility for the
well-being of the people and therefore for peace and order in
Confucian philosophy presupposes a view of human nature in which humans are essentially social animals whose mode of social interaction is shaped by li (convention or ritual), which establishes value distinctions and prescribes activities in response to those distinctions. Education in li, or social rituals, is based on the natural behavioral propensity to imitate models. Sages, or superior people-those who have mastered the li-are the models of behavior from which the mass of people learn. Ideally, the ruler should himself be such a model and should appoint only those who are models of te (virtue) to positions of prominence. People are naturally inclined to emulate virtuous models; hence a hierarchy of merit results in widespread natural moral education.
Then, with practice, all people can in principle be like the sages, by acting in accordance with li without conscious effort. At that point they have acquired jen (humanity), the highest level of moral development; their natural inclinations are all in harmony with tao (way). The world is at peace, order abounds, and the harmony between the natural and the social sphere results in material well-being for everyone. This is Confucius' utopian vision, which he regards as modeled on the practice of the ancient sage kings.
Confucianism emerged as a more coherent philosophy when faced
with intellectual competition from other schools that were growing
in the fertile social upheavals of preimperial China (c.400-c.200
BC.) Taoism, Mohism, and Legalism all attacked Confucianism. A
common theme of these attacks was that Confucianism assumed that
tradition or convention (li) was correct. Mencius (c.372-c.289
BC) developed a more idealistic version of Confucianism stressing
jen as an innate inclination to good behavior that does not require
education. Hsun Tzu (c.313-c.238 BC), on the contrary, argued
that all inclinations are shaped by acquired language and other
Confucianism rose to the position of an official orthodoxy during the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). It absorbed the metaphysical doctrines of Yin (the female principle) and Yang (the male principle) found in the I Ching (Book of Changes) and other speculative metaphysical notions. With the fall of the Han, the dynastic model, Confucianism fell into severe decline. Except for the residual effects of its official status, Confucianism lay philosophically dormant for about 600 years.
With the reestablishment of Chinese dynastic power in the T'ang dynasty (618-906) and the introduction of the Ch'an (Zen Buddhist) premise that "there is nothing much to Buddhist teaching," Confucianism began to revive. The Sung dynasty (960-1279) produced Neo-Confucianism-an interpretation of classical Confucian doctrine (principally that of Mencius) that addressed Buddhist and Taoist issues. The development of this philosophy was due mainly to Cheng-hao (1032-85) and Cheng-i (1033-1107), but for the orthodox statement of Neo-Confucianism, one turns to Chu Hsi (1130-1200). His commentaries on the four scriptures of Confucianism were required study for the imperial civil service examinations.
Neo-Confucianism focuses on the term li, which here means "lane" or "pattern." Correct behavior is held to follow a natural pattern (li) that is apprehended by hsin (heart-mind). Mencius' theory of the innate goodness of man is a theory of the innate ability of this heart-mind to apprehend li in situations and to follow it. To become a sage, one must study li and develop the ability to "see" it by a kind of intuition. Later, in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Wang Yang-Ming claimed that the heart projects li on things rather than just noticing external li. To become a sage, one cannot just study situations, one must act before li becomes manifest. Thus the heart-mind, which guides the action, is the source of li (moral patterns).
After the disastrous conflicts with Western military technology at the dawn of the 20th century, Chinese intellectuals blamed Confucianism for the scientific and political backwardness of China. Chinese Marxism, nonetheless, differs from Western Marxism in ways that reveal the persistence of Confucian attitudes toward politics, metaphysics, and theories of human psychology. Anti-Confucianism has been a theme in various political campaigns in modern China-most notably during and just after the Cultural Revolution. Increased toleration for all religions since Mao Tse-tung's death may lead to a moderate revival of Confucianism, although the interest seems to be mostly in historical issues.
In Taiwan, by contrast, Confucian orthodoxy has survived and serves to underpin an anti-Marxist, traditional authoritarianism. Serious, ongoing Confucian philosophy, however, is found mainly in Hong Kong and among Chinese scholars working in the West.
The term Taoism refers both to the philosophy outlined in the Daode Jing (Tao Te Ching) (identified with Laozi or Lao-tzu) and to China's ancient Taoist religion. Next to Confucianism, it ranks as the second major belief system in traditional Chinese thought.
The formulation of Taoist philosophy is attributed to Laozi (fl. 6th or 4th century BC) and Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu) (c.369-c.286 BC) as well as the Lie Xi (Lieh-tzu) (compiled during the Han dynasty, 202 BC-AD 220). Three doctrines are particularly important: Tao (way) is nonbeing (wu), the creative-destructive force that brings everything into being and dissolves everything into nonbeing; return (fu) is the destiny of everything-that is, everything, after completing its cycle, returns to nonbeing; and nonaction (wu wei), or action in harmony with nature, is the best way of life. Zhuangzi taught that, from a purely objective viewpoint, all oppositions are merely the creations of conceptual thought and imply no judgments of intrinsic value (one pole is no more preferable than its opposite). Hence the wise person accepts life's inevitable changes. The Lie Xi said that the cultivation of Tao would enable a person to live for several hundred years. Taoism teaches the devotee to lead a long and tranquil life through the elimination of one's desires and aggressive impulses.
Often regarded as a corruption of Taoist philosophy, the Taoist
religion began in the 3d century BC with such practices as alchemy
(the mixing of elixirs designed to ensure the immortality of the
body). The alchemy was carried out by Taoist priest-magicians
at the court of Shih Huang-ti of the Qin (Ch'in) dynasty (221-207
BC). These magicians were also acclaimed as spirit mediums and
experts in levitation. They were the heirs of the archaic folk
religion of China, which had been rejected by the early Confucianists.
Among the prominent features of Taoist religion are belief in
physical immortality, alchemy, breath control and hygiene (internal
alchemy), a pantheon of deities (including Laozi as one of the
three Supreme Ones), monasticism and the ritual of community renewal,
and revealed scriptures. The Taoist liturgy and theology were
influenced by Buddhism. Its scriptures, the Daozang (Tao-tsang),
consist of hundreds of separate works totaling more than 5,000
Among the principal Taoist sects to emerge was the Heavenly Master sect, founded in West China in the 2d century AD. It advocated faith healing through the confession of sin and at one time recruited members as soldiers and engaged in war against the government. The Supreme Peace sect, also founded in the 2d century, adopted practices much like those of the Heavenly Master sect and launched a great rebellion that went on for several years before ending in AD 205. The Mao-shan (Mount Mao) sect, founded in the 4th century, introduced rituals involving both external and internal alchemies, mediumistic practice, and visionary communication with divinities.
The Ling-pao (Marvelous Treasure) sect, also founded in the 4th century, introduced the worship of divinities called T'ien-tsun (Heavenly Lords). The Ch'uan-chen (Completely Real) sect was founded in the 12th century as a Taoist monastic movement. Eventually the Heavenly Master sect absorbed most of the beliefs and practices of the other sects and, in the 20th century, became the most popular Taoist group.
Sikhs are followers of Sikhism, an Indian religion that originated
in the Punjab in northwest India. In 1990, India had approximately
16 million Sikhs, 1.9% of the population. Small communities of
Sikhs also exist in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States,
Malaysia, and East Africa.
The movement was founded in the Punjab by Guru Nanak (1469-1539), who sought to combine Hindu and Muslim elements in a single religious creed. He taught "the unity of God, brotherhood of man, rejection of caste and the futility of idol worship." He was followed by nine masters, the last of whom was Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708; guru 1675-1708), who involved his followers in an unsuccessful martial struggle against Mogul rule.
After Gobind's assassination, the Sikhs were persecuted by the Muslim Mogul rulers until 1799 when, under Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), they laid claim to a large part of northwest India. After Ranjit's death his Sikh kingdom disintegrated into anarchy. The British moved into the Punjab, and the Sikh Wars followed (1845-46, 1848-49).
The Sikhs were defeated, and the British annexed the Punjab. Sikhism did not recover until the 20th century, when the Sikhs were given control of their holy places (gurdwaras). When the Indian subcontinent was partitioned in 1947, the western Punjab became Pakistani territory and the eastern Punjab part of India. The Sikhs were victimized by the ensuing communal rioting, especially in Pakistan's Punjab, and about 2,500,000 moved from Pakistan into India.
The holiest place for Sikhs is the Golden Temple at Amritsar (now in the Indian state of Punjab) founded by the fourth guru, Ram Das (guru 1574-81). The fifth guru, Arjun (guru 1581-1606), gave Sikhism its holy book, the Granth Sahib, which contains hymns of Sikh gurus as well as those of Hindu and Muslim saints such as Kabir.
Sikhs are readily identifiable by their turbans. They take a vow not to cut their hair as well as not to smoke or drink alcoholic beverages. When Gobind Singh founded (1699) the martial fraternity Khalsa ("pure"), his followers vowed to keep the five K's: to wear long hair (kesh), a comb in the hair (kangha), a steel bracelet on the right wrist (kara), soldier's shorts (kachha), and a sword (kirpan). The tradition persists to the present day.
Some of India's Sikhs favor the establishment of a separate Sikh nation (Kalistan). In the early 1980s Akali Dal, a Sikh nationalist party, provoked a confrontation with the Indian government by demanding greater autonomy for Punjab. Unassuaged by the election of a Sikh, Zail Singh, to the largely ceremonial office of president of India in 1982, the militants continued to stage violent demonstrations. As fighting between Sikhs and Hindus became widespread in Punjab, the central government took direct control of the state in 1983. By April 1984, 50,000 troops occupied Punjab and the neighboring state of Haryana. In June 1984, Indian troops attacked the Golden Temple, where the militants had established their headquarters. This angered many Sikhs and was believed to have led to the assassination of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by Sikh members of her bodyguard later that year.
Shinto is the indigenous religious tradition of Japan. Unlike
some religions, Shinto has no historical founder; its roots lie
deep in the prehistoric religious practices of the Japanese people.
Nor does Shinto have any canon of sacred scriptures, although
important elements of its mythology and cosmology may be found
in ancient Japanese chronicles (the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki),
and ritual prayers called norito were compiled into written collections
at an early date.
The name Shinto is actually the Sino-Japanese reading for the more purely Japanese kami no michi, which means the "way of the kami." The kami are innumerable Japanese deities that may be thought of as full-fledged gods (such as the sun-goddess Amaterasu, from whom the imperial family is said to descend); the divinized souls of great persons (warriors, leaders, poets, scholars); the ancestral divinities of clans (uji); the spirits of specific places, often of natural beauty (woods, trees, springs, rocks, mountains); or, more abstractly, the forces of nature (fertility, growth, production).
Kami are generally worshiped at shrines (jinja), which are established in their honor and house the go-shintai (sacred objects) in which the kami are said to reside. Worshipers will pass under a sacred arch (torii), which helps demarcate the sacred area of the shrine. They will then purify themselves by washing their hands and rinsing their mouths, approach the shrine itself, make an offering, call on the deity, and utter a silent prayer. Special times for worship include important moments in the life cycle of individuals (birth, youth, marriage, and, more recently, school entrance examinations) and festival dates (matsuris) that reflect the rhythm of the year: the New Year, the advent of spring, rice planting, midsummer, harvesting, and so on. In addition, each shrine will usually have its own special matsuri particular to its own history or foundation. On any of these occasions the shrine will be crowded with worshipers, many of whom may wish to have their fortunes told or to receive special blessings or purifications from the Shinto priests. Certain shrines have also taken on national importance. The Grand Shrine of Ise, for example, is sacred to Amaterasu. Because she is associated with the imperial family, her shrine is a national center of pilgrimage-the focal point for paying respect to the emperor and, through him, to Japan.
With the establishment of Buddhism in Japan during the Nara and Heian periods (AD 710-1185), Shinto quickly came under its influence as well as that of Confucianism and Chinese culture as a whole. On the one hand, it became more highly structured, following the Buddhist lead. On the other hand, certain kami came to be thought of as manifestations of particular Buddhas or bodhisattvas. (Amaterasu, for example, was identified with the cosmic Buddha Vairocana.) Thus the two religions both mixed and coexisted at the same time.
During the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), the Buddhist sects became tools of the feudal regime and neo-Confucianism served as the guiding ideology. Shinto was overshadowed in the process. Gradually, however, certain nationalist scholars, reacting against what they considered foreign ideologies, turned more and more to Shinto as the source of a uniquely Japanese identity.
With the Meiji Restoration in 1868-and the disestablishment of both the Tokugawa regime and the Buddhism that had accompanied it-Shinto naturally came to the fore. In the 1880s the government guaranteed freedom of religion to practitioners of all faiths but also drew a distinction between shrine Shinto (sometimes called state Shinto) and sect Shinto. The former was a nominally secular organization by means of which the state transformed shrines into centers of a patriotic and nationalistic "cult" applicable to followers of all faiths. In the 1930s shrine Shinto was used by the ultranationalists and militarists as one of several vehicles for their views. Sect Shinto, on the other hand, was a separate category for various popular religious groups (a total of 13 Shinto "denominations" were distinguished), which were thereby separated from the state-sponsored shrines and had, like the Buddhist sects and Christian denominations, to rely on private, nongovernmental support. These sect Shinto groups were, in many instances, the prototypes of various new religions that have emerged in Japan during the 20th century, especially since World War II.
With the end of World War II and the American occupation of Japan, the shrine Shinto system was dismantled and Shinto as a whole was disassociated from the state. Following that period, however, the shrines were revitalized and today remain one of the sacred focuses of Shintoism
Fundamental beliefs and basic history
Judaism traces itself back to Moses, who is regarded as the author
of the first five books of the Bible, where he laid down the law
of God to the nation. Salvation was a work of God, demonstrated
by the Exodus. Since God had the power to save the nation from
Egyptian bondage, so God had the power to save people from bondage
to sin. The law was given after salvation from Egypt, not accidentally;
it illustrates that salvation is a work of God, and that obeying
the law is a consequence of the work God has begun in the heart
- a loving response to his grace.
Unfortunately, as so often happens, the concept of the nature of salvation quickly became perverted. Israel quickly fell into allowing their beliefs to be dictated by their culture, and as the surrounding culture was polytheistic, they quickly started worshipping other gods in addition to Yahweh. The prophets warned the people of God's displeasure, but repentance was never complete until after Israel suffered the indignity of first Assyrian and then Babylonian exile and captivity.
Afterward, Israel was never tempted to worship idols or other gods; however, Judaism became increasingly legalistic in its orientation, with salvation being tied to keeping the law, performing the sacrifices, and doing what the priests ordered. The cart was placed before the horse, as it was.
Three main sects developed in Judaism, the Pharisees, who believed in the books of Moses and also the Writings and the Prophets and who taught that external righteousness was the way to achieve God's favor. The only difference that the Saducees, another sect had with the Pharisees, what that the Saducees did not accept any of the Bible but the five books of Moses. Consequently, they also didn't believe in angels, demons, or the resurrection of the dead (no afterlife at all, in fact). The Eseens were like the Pharisees in most ways, except they viewed the nation as hopelessly corrupt, and so they separated themselves and lived in the hills, waiting for God to send a reformer like Moses who would eliminate the corruption and restore a legalistically pure religion.
The zealots were entirely political in orientation, and argued for the use of force to drive out the Romans. They contented themselves with acts of terrorism until they eventually became the dominant force in the nation and in AD 66 began a seven year struggle, ultimately unsuccessful, to drive out the Romans.
The result of their activity was the destruction of the nation and the burning and destruction of the temple, ending the possibility of sacrifice.
As most of the Saducees had been priests, they mostly died when the temple was destroyed. The zealots were also mostly dead at the hands of the Romans, and the Esseens didn't involve themselves with anyone. Also, being celibate, they didn't reproduce and finally died out.
The only group left to reconstitute Judaism after the disastrous Jewish War were the Pharisees, and so modern Judaism is essentially the child of the Pharisees and bears scant resemblance to the Judaism of the Old Testament.
Since the temple no longer exists, Judaism had tried to get around this significant lack by arguing that God prefers acts of righteousness and mercy better than sacrifice. The result is that Judaism emphasizes doing good deeds in order to stay of God's good side and to ensure a good afterlife. Salvation is a process of personal redemption by bettering oneself and bettering mankind.
Judaism accepts as its most important text the five books of Moses called the Law or the Torah. In addition, the books of the prophets and the writings are also authoritative. Additional works of importance in Judaism are the Talmud (both the Babylonian and Palestinian), which is a compendium of commentary and teaching by the rabbis of the first few centuries AD through the Middle Ages. Other important religious writings include the Kabbalah, a compendium of mystical writings dating from the second century AD and later, though the most important Kabbalistic writers date between the 13th and 16th centuries AD.
During the 7th and 6th centuries BC the ancient polytheistic religion
of the Iranians was reformed and given new dimensions by the prophet
Zoroaster (or Zarathusthra). Zoroaster's life dates have been
traditionally given as c.628-551 BC, but many scholars argue for
earlier dates. Linguistic evidence suggests that he was born in
northeastern Iran, but the prophet's message was to spread throughout
the Persian Empire. Adopted as the faith of the Persian kings,
Zoroastrianism became the official religion of the Achaemenid
empire and flourished under its successors, the Parthian and Sassanian
empires. Its theology and cosmology may have influenced the development
of Greek, later Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thought. The Muslim
conquest of the 7th century AD marked the beginning of a steady
decline of Zoroastrianism. Persecution resulted in the migration
(about the 10th century) of the majority of Zoroastrians to India,
where the Parsis of Bombay are their modern descendants.
The religion of ancient Iran was derived from that of the ancient Indo-Europeans, or Aryans. The language of the earliest Zoroastrian writings is close to that of the Indian Vedas, and much of the mythology is recognizably the same. Two groups of gods were worshiped, the ahuras and the daevas. The worship of the ahuras (lords) may have reflected the practice of the pastoral upper classes, and tradition holds that Zoroaster was born into a family that worshiped only the ahuras. The message of the prophet, however, was that Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, was the sole creator and lord of the world and that the worship of the daevas was the worship of evil. In Zoroaster's theology the Amesha Spentas, or Bountiful Immortals, were divine beings who acted essentially as agents of the power of Ahura Mazda; they were traditionally seven in number: Bounteous Spirit, Good Mind, Truth, Rightmindedness, Dominion, Health, and Life. The first of these, Spenta Mainyu, is of special importance in that he is paired with a "twin," Angra Mainyu, or Hostile Spirit. When given a choice between good and evil, or truth and the lie, Bounteous Spirit chose truth and Hostile Spirit the lie. Creation becomes a battleground, with the demoted ahuras invoked for the doing of good and the daevas enlisted by Angra Mainyu in the doing of evil. Nevertheless, Ahura Mazda has decreed that truth will triumph, and the old world will be destroyed by fire and a new creation instituted.
In the period following Zoroaster, for which little evidence remains, Zoroastrianism consolidated its position and spread throughout Iran. The rise of the southern Persians and Medes seems to have been accompanied by the reinstatement of many of the ahuras, although Ahura Mazda is still recognized as supreme god. Among the most important figures to revive at this time were Mithra, usually associated with the sun, and Anahita, associated with the waters and fertility. Ahura Mazda (who becomes Ormazd) becomes identified with Spenta Mainyu, and Angra Mainyu (Ahriman) remains his antagonist. Ahura Mazda has relinquished some of his absolute supremacy and appears to need the assistance of the lesser ahuras, particularly Mithra, who appears as mediator and protector of the created world.
This dualist view eventually became the orthodox position. Its development may have owed much to the Magi, a hereditary priestly caste, although their role is unclear. From them, however, the Greco-Roman world learned much of what it knew of the religion. An important reform movement, however, arose within Zoroastrianism-the movement around Zurvan. The Zurvanites posited a supreme god, Zurvan (Infinite Time), who had sacrificed for 1,000 years in order to gain offspring. At the end of that time he experienced momentary doubt, and from that doubt arose Ahriman; at the same time, Ormazd came into being because of the efficacy of the sacrifices. At the end of 3,000 years Ahriman crossed the void that separated them and attacked Ormazd. The two made a pact to limit the struggle, and Ahriman fell back into the abyss, where he lay for 3,000 years. During that period Ormazd created the material and spiritual world; in retaliation, Ahriman called into being six demons and an opposing material world. In the next 3,000-year period Ahriman attempted to corrupt the creation of Ormazd; he was successful but was trapped in the world of light. The final period of 3,000 years was ushered in by the birth of Zoroaster, who revealed this struggle to man; the prophet is to be followed by three saviors, appearing at intervals of 1,000 years. At the appearance of the last, a day of judgment will occur, the drink of immortality will be offered to those who have fought against Ahriman, and a new creation will be established.
The sacred literature of Zoroastrianism is found in the Avesta, which was compiled sometime during the Sassanian period (AD 224-640) from much earlier materials. Only a portion of the Avesta remains, but the language of its earliest sections is extremely ancient, closely related to that of the Indian Vedas. These sections, the Gathas, are thought to be by Zoroaster himself. They are hymns and form the primary part of the Yasna, the central liturgy of the religion. Also contained in the Avesta are the Yashts, hymns to a number of the ahuras, and later in date than the Gathas. Finally comes the Videvdat, which is concerned with purity and ritual. A large body of commentary exists in Pahlavi, dating from the 9th century AD, which contains quotations from earlier material no longer extant.
The rituals of Zoroastrianism revolve around devotion to the good and the battle against the forces of evil. Fire plays a major role, being seen as the manifestation of the truth of Ahura Mazda, as preached by Zoroaster. Also important is the ritual drink, haoma, which is related to the Vedic soma.
Fundamental beliefs and basic history
The term "Islam" means "submission".
Becoming a Moslem is simplicity itself; one much merely affirm
that, "There is no God but God and Mohammed is his prophet."
The word Allah is merely the Arabic word for God. It is not a
Moslems are expected to read and study the Koran, to give alms to the poor, pray five times a day (24 hours) facing Mecca, to fast during the month of Ramadan, and, at least once if they can, make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Islam has no clergy. Circumcision is practiced, and they are forbidden to drink alcohol, eat pig flesh, eat blood, or eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols, or that has been killed by a blow, fall, strangulation, or by another animal.
The head of civil and religious law is the Caliph. His vice-regent in religion is the Grand Mufti or Sheikh ul Islam, under whom are the gild of Ulema or experts.
God is gracious and kind in Islamic teaching, and essentially one is required to do the best one can, but if you don't, that'll be okay.
Islam permits a man to have up to four wives, and as many concubines as he can handle. One achieves heaven or paradise by being a good Moslem and doing the best you can to keep the commandments of the Koran.
The Koran explicitly denies and condemns several beliefs of Christianity, for instance, that Jesus is God and that he died on a Cross. The Koran is somewhat schizophrenic in both condemning Jews and Christians and encouraging their elimination, and commending them as "the people of the book."
Historically, this is the consequence of Mohammed's hot and cold relations with Jews and Christians. As both groups rejected his message, he came to hate them and went to war against them. This, despite the fact that he gained his concept of God and most of his theology from second and third hand accounts of what Christians and Jews believed. The Koran retells, often rather oddly, many of the same stories that are in the Bible. They are retold as Mohammed heard them or remembered them.
It should be kept in mind, too, that Mohammed was illiterate, and so he dictated the Koran rather than writing it out himself.
The Koran (also spelled Quran) serves as the basis for all Islamic doctrine and teaching. It is made up of a series of chapters which claim to be discourses by God to Mohammed.
Two main sects exist in Islam: Shiite and Suni.
At the death of Mohammed, Abu-Bekr was elected Caliph without
dissent. Omar, his successor, likewise had the vote of all the
faithful. But Othman's misrule, succeeding, ended in his assassination,
and finally Ali, a son-in-law and favorite of the dead prophet
was chosen. The Ommiads, however, opposed this election, especially
as Ali's followers claimed that only the Prophet's family had
the right to the caliphate. This dispute soon caused a permanent
split among Moslems into Shiites and Sunnites. A third party,
the Kharijites, claimed that any man, of any degree, might be
called to leadership; in fact, that there was no absolute need
for any imam. further division occurred among the Shiites after
765 AD; two brothers, Musa and Ismail al Kasim, each claimed their
father's spiritual inheritance.
The Ismailis played an important part in Islamic history, dating from the leadership of Abd Allah, a reformer of keen and vigorous mind, who aimed to rationalize Islam, keeping the more advanced philosophic tenets for the "strong-minded," mysticism for the fanatics, and miracles for the ignorant. His sect soon grew to be a power that, especially under the Karmathian form, threatened the very existence of the Caliph's dominions. After extensive conquests during the ninth century, the Karmathians were subdued toward the end of the tenth.
The Assassins, another offshoot of the Ismailians, rose to power through a secret organization in Persia and for two centuries defied the strongest Muslim armies sent against them. The Mongol invasion(1255) reduced them. In the Syrian mountains two other sects appeared, the Nosairians, who recognized the claim of Musa instead of Ali; and the Druses, derived from the Mahdi, founder of the Fatimite dynasty (909). Under the influence of Greek philosophy a further rationalistic sect, the Mutazilites, arose in Persia, and this in turn divided into many branches according to differing concepts of the nature of God, free-will, etc. The 12th and 13th centuries witnessed the rise of the mystical fanatics, the various orders of Dervishes - howling, whirling, dancing, and so on.
Babism and Bahaism were the last Shiite religious movements. The first-named was founded by Mirza Ali Mohammed, who was shot in 1850; the latter was founded by Husain Ali Nuri, a follower. Bahaism again has ended in schisms. In the middle of the 18th century the powerful Wahhabis, a reform sect, conquered Mecca and Medina, and were finally defeated by Egyptian troops. However, the strong Wahhabi State of Nejd was established in central Arabia, with Riyadh as its capital. Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud succeeded in conquering all of Arabia and created the current Wahhabiite kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Black Muslims is a widely used name for the adherents of an American
black nationalist religious movement whose self-designation changed
in 1976 from "The Lost-Found Nation of Islam" to "The
World Community of Islam in the West." The movement traces
its beginnings to the enigmatic figure of Wallace D. Fard (Wali
Farad), known as "Prophet Fard," "The Great Mahdi"
or "The Savior," who attracted 8,000 followers in the
short period between his appearance in Detroit in 1930 and his
disappearance in June 1934.
The movement, with its present headquarters in Chicago, gained ground significantly under Fard's successor, Elijah Muhammad, who exercised strong leadership until his death in 1975. He saw himself as the "prophet and apostle of Allah," claiming that God had appeared in the figure of Fard. Preaching an anti-integrationist message, Elijah Muhammad frequently voiced warnings about "the human beast . . . the people or race known as the white." He called "every Black Man in America to be reunited with his own" and urged a sense of black self-reliance and separation from the white society, even economically. One of the best-known Black Muslim ministers during this period was Malcolm X, converted while he was in prison in 1947, who broke with the movement in March 1964 and was assassinated 11 months later.
A radically different phase began under Elijah Muhammad's son and successor, Warith Deen (or Wallace D.) Muhammad. He called for a new sense of patriotism, urging blacks to "identify with the land and flag." Advocating the "religious unification of the world's Muslims," W. D. Muhammad abandoned unorthodox notions and expressions that had presented obstacles for many other Muslims' recognition of this movement as being authentically Islamic. In May 1985 he announced the dissolution of the American Muslim Mission to unify its members with the worldwide Muslim community.
A splinter group led by Louis Farrakhan, however, retains the earlier separatist principles and the name "Nation of Islam." During the 1984 presidential campaign Farrakhan's racial comments stirred controversy. In subsequent years, he has repeated anti-Semitic remarks at large rallies, as have his subordinates in the movement.
Baha'i is a religious movement founded in the 19th century by
the Persian Bahaullah. It claims members in practically every
country of the world. Objecting to polygamy, slavery of any kind,
religious prejudices, and politicized religion, Baha'is call for
world peace and harmony. The ideals of a world federalist government
and a new world language are also a part of their teachings. Recognition
of the common ground of all religions is seen as fostering this
move toward global unity; Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Zarathustra,
Jesus, and Muhammad are all recognized as divine manifestations,
a series of prophets culminating in Bahaullah. Nonresistance,
respect for persons, and legal recognition of the equal rights
of both sexes constitute additional aspects of Baha'i teaching.
By the time of Bahaullah's death in 1892, the Baha'i faith had won adherents throughout the Middle East. Under his son Abbas Effendi (or Abdul Baha, 1844-1921), who succeeded him as the movement's leader, it spread to Europe and the United States. Abbas Effendi was succeeded by his grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957). Since Shoghi Effendi's death, the Baha'is have been governed by elected leaders. Divided into more than 130 national assemblies and more than 26,000 local assemblies, they are estimated to number about 2 million worldwide. Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the discrimination to which Baha'is have always been subjected in the country of their origin has escalated into outright persecution.
Fundamental beliefs and basic history
Christianity affirms that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh; yet,
since the Bible proclaims that there is but one God, but in the
same breath affirms that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
are each God, the doctrine of the Trinity was developed to reconcile
this apparent contradiction. The biblical analogy to explain the
nature of a single, triune deity is that of a family, inherent
in the names of the three members of the godhead, and reflected
in the femininity of the Holy Spirit, especially in the Old Testament.
Christianity also affirms that Jesus came to Earth for the express purpose of dying for the sins of humanity, solving what would otherwise be an insoluble problem. Christianity teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin - essentially, to put it in modern terms, Mary was a surrogate mother. The reason that he had to be born of a virgin is because sin is a genetically inherited trait; we are born this way. Therefore, for Jesus to escape the taint of original sin, he could not be descended from Adam.
Christianity affirms that Jesus was crucified by the Roman authorities and died, was buried in a rich man's tomb, and that three days later, Jesus rose from the grave. He preached to his disciples for another forty days, and then ascended back to the Father in Heaven, promising to return some day "in the same manner as you saw him leave."
The disciples of Christ, being average Jews of the first century, were not looking for a new religion; instead, their interest was in the coming of the promised Messiah, who would be king and would liberate the nation from the hated Roman oppressors. Even following the resurrection, his disciples kept pressing him, "are you now going to establish the kingdom?" That is, are you now going to get rid of these horrid Romans.
After Jesus' ascension back to heaven, the Holy Spirit was sent to the followers of Christ. This altered, or corrected their thinking so that they finally fully understood that Jesus' purpose was not to liberate them from political bondage, but rather to liberate them from spiritual bondage.
Christianity remained a sect of Judaism, and was tolerated by the Roman government as such, until the Jewish War when the Jewish people attempted by use of force, to liberate themselves from Rome. Christians refused to participate in this action, and as a consequence were kicked out of Judaism.
With the rising numbers of non-Jews converting to Christianity, its Jewish nature has become increasingly obscured.
The holy writings of Christianity consist of the Law, the Prophets
and the Writings of Judaism, which Christians call "The Old
Testament"; they are a collection of writings produced by
Jewish people between about 1400 BC and 500 BC. In addition to
these ancient writings, Christians accept as their scripture what
they call "The New Testament" which is a group of writings
written mostly by Jewish people between 45 and 100 AD (the only
parts of the New Testament not written by Jews are the Gospel
of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, also written by Luke, which
records the early history of the Church up to about 60 AD, just
before the persecution under the Roman Emperor Nero)
Catholicism accepts, in addition to the above writings, several other books that Protestantism classifies as Apocryphal or deutero-canonical. They are religious writings of Jewish origin produced between about 400 BC and AD 100 which were not accepted by the Jews as scripture. Catholicism accepts them now as scripture principally as a reaction to the Protestant rejection of the books; until the 1600's they had been studied and used by the Catholic church, but had not been explicitly labeled as scripture. The Protestant rejection forced the issue.
The three major branches of Christianity, which can then be further subdivided, are:
Orthodoxy (Greek, Russian, Coptic, etc.) are those churches in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire which did not accept the Bishop of Rome as the head of the visible church. Like Catholicism, salvation is a matter started by Christ that the believer contributes to by his or her actions. Tradition is equally authoritative with the Bible, and no believer is free to interpret the Bible for himself; interpretation must be in line with the received traditions. The split between the Catholic church and the Orthodox churches came AD 1054.
Catholicism claims an unbroken line from Peter, as the first Pope (Bishop of Rome, in charge of the visible Church of Christ) to the present. Salvation is considered to be the product of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross combined with certain good works and sacraments; therefore, a person contributes to their salvation by going to church, taking communion, and following the commands of the church. In Catholic theology, the words of the Pope, church councils and tradition are placed on the same authoritative level as the Bible, and the Bible is to be understood as it has been interpreted in the past. In fact, the laity is dependent upon the priests as their intermediaries to God, and as the explainers of the meaning of Scripture.
The result of Martin Luther's protest to the sale of indulgences was a split in the western church in the early 1500's AD. The pillars of the reformation are three:
1. Salvation by grace through faith, not by works.
2. Only Scripture is authoritative.
3. Priesthood of all believers.
Interestingly, in the late twentieth century, the Catholic church
is more and more coming to recognize the correctness of Luther's
ideas. In many ways, todays Catholicism is approaching the ideal
that Luther had in mind. Unfortunately, this transformation in
the Catholic Church for the most part has been limited to the
upper leadership and theologians. Most of the laity, and even
many in the priesthood, have yet to come to grips with the transformation.
The concept of Priesthood of the believer, where each individual Christian may for him or herself interpret the Bible and decide what to believe opened the floodgates for freedom; it also, not surprisingly, resulted in an increasing fragmentation within Protestantism over questions of doctrine. Divisions within Protestantism for the most part are over the following questions:
1. Church organization. There are three basic ways churches have organized themselves:
a. Authoritarian - church/denomination run by a single individual.
b. Presbyterian - church/denomination run by a group of elders elected by the churches of the denomination.
c. Congregational - each church is autonomous and is run according to democratic principles, with the individual members voting for what they want. Denomination is run by the individual churches cooperating voluntarily.
2. Baptisma. to baptize or not to baptize infants
b. is baptism a necessary part of salvation?
c. mode of baptism: by immersion only, or is pouring and sprinkling also valid methods?
3. Communiona. The bread and wine become the literal body and blood of Jesus.
b. The body and blood of Jesus are mystically present in the bread and wine.
c. The bread and wine are merely symbolic representations to remind the believer of Christ's sacrifice.
Other divisions in protestantism are largely the result of national
divisions; for instance, the reason for different Lutheran denominations
in the US is the consequence of them having been founded by German
or Norwegian immigrants. Consequently, in the twentieth century
we have witnessed the unification of some of these Lutheran denominations
since all of them speak English now, rather than different languages.
Some of the divisions have been of relatively recent origin, the result of the so-called Modernist/Fundamentalist controversy over the nature of Scripture: is it an inerrant product of God, or is it of purely human origin and therefore, obviously, flawed. Several new Baptist denominations came out of the American Baptist Convention (formerly Northern Baptist Convention) over this issue.
The Baptists first split in the United states in 1845 over the issue of slavery. While the Northern Baptist Convention has since been renamed and has further fragmented, the Southern Baptist Convention retained its name and has yet to fragment, though in the 1980's it went through the same controversy.
Another division within Christianity since the early 1920's has been the so-called Charasmatic movement, which has emphasized personal spiritual experience and personal revelations, and "gifts of the Spirit", especially the speaking in tongues: glossilalia. Within the last twenty years or so some of the fastest growing denominations and churches have been those which are explicitly charasmatic.
Traditionally, the issue that has separated Baptists from other denominations has been baptism by dunking people, and their insistence on separation of Church and state; only in recent years have some Baptists started to drift from this firm belief that churches have no business involving themselves in politics or vice versa.
Under Protestantism may be included the non-orthodox, marginal sects which arose in the United States in the 19th century, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, who deny the Trinity, see salvation as the result of works, and believe that Jesus is a created being, not God, and reject the notion of Hell. Mormonism also rejects the Trinity, sees salvation as the result of works, rejects the notion of Hell, and is explicitly polytheistic. They believe that God was once a man, and that someday each individual will rise to the same status and be put in charge of his own world. Extremely patriarchal, they believe that the purpose of women in eternity is to give birth to an endless supply of "spirit babies," to populate the worlds each man will control. Also, in the middle of the 1800's, the Millerites became a popular movement, which believed in the soon coming of Jesus Christ and set a date in 1847. When Jesus failed to materialize, the movement transformed itself and became what today is known as Seventh-Day Adventism. Seventh Day Adventists today are essentially orthodox, except for their insistance on conducting church services on the "sabbath" - i.e., Saturday - a strong legalistic streak, and a tendency toward vegitarianism; the writings of White are also a very strong influence on the group.
Cults are non standard versions of world religions: some cults
become world religions, i.e. Budhism, a reform movement of Hinduism,
Christianity, an outgrowth from Judaism. What transforms a cult
from cult status to world religion status? Principally: how big
it gets and how clearly differentiated it becomes from its parent
There is no definition of cult that is universally accepted by sociologists and psychologists of religion. The term cult is popularly applied to groups characterized by some kind of faddish devotion to a person or practice that is significantly separate or distinguishing from the cultural mainstream. For example, certain kinds of activities may take on cultlike ritualistic characteristics (recent widespread interest in intense physical exercise has been termed the physical fitness cult). Movie stars, entertainers, and other public figures sometimes generate passionate bands of followers that are called cults (the Elvis Presley cult, to cite one). Groups that form around a set of esoteric beliefs - not necessarily religious - may also be termed cults (for example, flying saucer cults). When applied to religious groups, cult retains much of this popular usage but takes on more specific meaning, especially when contrasted with other kinds of religious organizations.
The most commonly used classification of religious organizations is as churches or sects. Although there have been numerous modifications of the original distinction, the following points are generally retained.
Church refers to a religious organization claiming a monopoly on knowledge of the sacred, having a highly structured or formalized dogma and hierarchy, but also being flexible about membership requirements as the organization attempts to minister to the secular society of which it is a part.
Sects, on the other hand, are protests against church attempts to accommodate to secular society. A sect views itself as a defender of doctrinal purity, protesting what it interprets as ecclesiastical laxity and excesses. As protectors of the true faith, sects tend to withdraw from the mainstream of worldly activities, to stress strict behavior codes, and to demand proof of commitment.
Cults have some of the same characteristics as sects. In fact, some scholars prefer not to make a distinction. There are, however, some noteworthy differences. Cults do not, at least initially, view themselves as rebelling against established churches. Actually, the practices of cults are often considered to enrich the life of the parent church of which they may be a part. Cults do not ordinarily stress doctrinal issues or theological argument and refinement as much as they emphasize the individual's experience of a more personal and intense relationship with the divine. Most of these groups are ephemeral, seldom lasting beyond a single generation; they are transient and suffer from a fluctuating membership.
Mysticism is frequently a strong element in cult groups. Religious orders such as the Franciscans began as cults built around the presence of a charismatic leader who emphasized a life-style dedicated to attaining high levels of spirituality. Mormonism began as a cult, became a sect, and eventually evolved into a church. All the great world religions followed this same pattern of development as they accumulated members and formalized hierarchy and dogma.
Cults are as old as recorded history, but contemporary interest
in cults became amplified during the late 1960s and early 1970s
as numbers of educated middle-class youths abandoned traditional
religions and embraced beliefs and practices that were either
culturally unprecedented (Eastern religions) or seemed to be throwbacks
to an earlier era (Fundamentalist Christianity). During this period,
young people were increasingly found living in various types of
religious communes and engaging in unconventional behavior, such
as speaking in tongues (glossolalia), faith healing, meditating
(often under the tutelage of a spiritual leader or guru), and
following leaders that conventional society tended to look upon
with suspicion and distaste. Interest in cults turned to a combination
of fascination and revulsion upon the mass suicide of the Jones
cult in November 1978, and national attention was focused in a
similar manner years later in Waco, Texas, when federal agents
engaged in a shoot-out late in February 1993 with sect leader
David Koresh. Even more recently, members of the group Heven's Gate gained notoriety from their mass suicide, which they saw as a means by which they could hook a ride on the passing comet, Hale-Bopp.
Modern cults come in a bewildering variety of ideologies, practices, and forms of leadership. They range from those adhering to a sort of biblical Christianity to those seeking satori (sudden enlightenment) via the pursuits of Zen Buddhism. Some cults have a flexible, functional leadership, such as many groups in the Charismatic Movement emanating from the mainline Christian religions, and others have mentors who control and orchestrate cult events, such as the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification church. Some Hindu gurus, such as Bhagwan Shree Rajineesh of the Rajineeshee sect have been believed by their followers to be living embodiments of God.
The common denominator of all the modern cults is an emphasis on community and on direct experience of the divine. In a cult, participants often find a level of social support and acceptance that rivals what may be found in a nuclear family. Cult activity, which is often esoteric and defined as direct contact with the divine, generates a sense of belonging to something profound and of being a somebody. The modern cult may be viewed as a cultural island that gives adherents an identity and a sense of meaning in a world that has somehow failed to provide them these things.
Several factors have been suggested as contributing to the quests of modern youths for meaning and identity via cults. Each of these factors relates to a disenchantment with, or loss of meaning of, traditional ways of viewing reality. A list of these contributing elements would include the following: the turmoil of the 1960s, including the unpopular Vietnam War, the assassinations of several popular national leaders, and growing evidence of top-level political incompetence and corruption; continued widespread drug use among youths, which tends to disrupt family relations and fosters the formation of drug subcultures stressing esoteric experience; the rapid expansion of technological innovations such as computers, and social organizations, such as bureaucracies, that tend to erode the individual's sense of being in control of his or her own destiny; the apparent failure of traditional religions to solve problems of war, hunger, and alienation; the growth of humanistic education that tends to discredit traditional ways of believing and behaving; the threat of ecological and nuclear disaster; and finally, affluence, which provides the means to pursue alternative life-styles.
Cults are challenges to conventional society. As such, they engender intense questions concerning their possible impact. The modern cults have clearly raised anew the legal issue of how far a society is willing to go to guarantee religious freedom. Some of the cults have been accused of brainwashing members and thereby violating the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. Court cases involving young people who were forcefully removed from cults by parents are still being decided. Future court decisions could significantly modify traditional protection of religious diversity in the United States. Some cults, Hare Krishna being one, have established a legal defense and public education organization to fight for their rights to exist and practice what they believe.
Other impacts are less clear. This wave of cults could crumble into the dust of history as so many others have. Conversely, this age could also be one of those historical junctures that produces an enduring change in theories of human nature and in the structure of social organizations. If so, the new cults provide some idea of the nature of that change. Almost all of them represent an emotional and personal approach to religious experience; they emphasize continued adaptation in a changing world; they stress the attainment of individual power and excellence via the pursuit of cult practices; and they often stress the necessity of harmony between humankind and other aspects of nature. As such, contemporary cults reinforce many traditional American values, such as independence, achievement, self-mastery, and conservation or ecology, that have lost ground in the face of affluence and self-seeking. Just as the Protestant Ethic supported early capitalism, the general ethic of the cults may be the stabilizing element in future society. If so, cult members may well be the leaders of that new age. Clearly, however, a historical verdict must be awaited.
The Christian's Attitude Toward Other Religions
Paul's approach in Athens serves as a good example for the Christian to follow as he or she considers other religions. In Acts 17 the following is recorded:
The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'
"Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone-an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject." At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.
It is instructive to note that although their idol worship disturbed him, when Paul talked to them he did not condemn them; rather, he found a point of agreement and moved from that point to a presentation of the Gospel without condemning them or overtly criticizing their religious beliefs. Why? Because he knew that once a person accepted Christ, the Holy Spirit would enter them and that such a transformation, such an encounter with the living God, would take care of their paganism once and for all.
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