Understanding World Religions

Information is compiled by GraceWatcher  Ministries

page was created on August, 1996
page was updated on October  2009

Just because you are part of a religion does not mean you possess the truth. No religion does that. It is rather an invitation into a journey that leads one toward the mystery of God. I believe that all scriptures are inspired of God and  contains the living word of God, the Holy Bible, the Qur'an, the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Dhammapada of the Buddha, the Lotus Sutra of the Buddha. Take these scriptures away from the religions that claim them, they become powerful witnesses into true spirituality.

Of late, we are witnessing a new stream of thinkers advocating the evolution to a universal understanding on which the entire human kind may repose its faith. The simple reason for this advocacy is their realization that existence of different religions has become a cause for concern rather than instrumental in forging unity, brotherhood and mutual trust.

This realization is growing with each passing day. This has led to a clamor for a religious system which is universally acceptable. However, the truth is diametrically different. The fault lies not with any religion but in our own understanding of it and the way it is interpreted and taught. Lack of knowledge of its quintessence has reduced religion to a hackneyed concept and it has become responsible for all factionalism, sectarianism and parochialism. It is a formalistic approach to religion which is causing problematic situations. Too much attention is paid to forms, dogmas and rituals while ignoring its metaphysical content.

Religion is a metaphysical experience and is not to be found in the concrete physical world of books and places of worship like temples, churches, mosques, etc. It is a question of fact, not of talk or doctrines. The quintessence of religion lies in actual perception and realization of Self under tutelage of a perfect master of the time. This realization consists in attaining divine knowledge. One would definitely come across the eulogies of this knowledge in Holy Scriptures, but it can be unfolded and bestowed upon the seeker of truth only by a wise seer.

Since, we are ignorant of the true essence of our own religion, we find fault with others. Once we know the quintessence of our own religion, we will shun fault finding and looking upon others with disdain. All our misconceived notions will wither away.

Philosophy is the rational aspect of the faith, in any culture or Religion. It is an integral part of Hindu religious beliefs and culture in India. It is a rational inquiry into the nature of truth or reality, giving clear solutions to many problems of life and human behavior. It shows the ways to get rid of the pain and sufferings, to get happiness and peace of mind and to attain liberation and eternal bliss. Theology is considered important in most world religions. Philosophy is often agnostic and it is not part of the religious study. I consider philosophy as an integral part of their religious experience. In many cultures, theology is well mixed in all aspects of life through its mythology, art, music and dance and they all carry a moral. Religious Philosophy is not merely a speculation or guess work of a solution for human problems and doubts, but an organized doctrine based on the mystical experience of the Sages and Seers.

The teachings of my personal religious philosophy are given to me in the Holy Bible, Hindu and Buddhist texts. Upanishads, one of my favorite texts, is a wealth of my knowledge. The ethics and tenets are obtained from them through the Six Dharsanas and various later schools of philosophers. The glory of Hindu philosophy is seen in the teachings of Hindu dharma, the theory of karma and rebirth, the six dharsanas, and the four yogas or spiritual disciplines. They not only create the questions in our mind to think but also give us the answers to the problems. Dharma means "that which holds" the people of this world and the whole creation. It is the eternal Divine law of God. That which brings well being to man and supports the world with prosperity is dharma. It is the absolute Truth and laws of righteous living. The four Vedas are the authority of Dharma. The truth about dharma can not be realized through any other knowledge and one's own reasoning through any analysis alone can not be that authority.

As rituals became popular and were being considered as the sole path for my eternal bliss, the soundness of its philosophy and ethics of practice were reestablished by the sages. The four Yogas give me the spiritual discipline of my conduct. Karma Yoga is the correct path of performing work without greed or desire and the action performed without looking for the fruits of benefit or loss. Raja Yoga is the discipline of control of our body and mind. It teaches concentration, meditation, breathing and physical exercise and a state of equanimity of the mind as a natural reaction to all activities. Bhakthi Yoga is the spiritual discipline of absolute devotion and love of God. It teaches prayers and surrender to God at all times. It teaches to see and feel God in all people and all actions. Jnana Yoga is the path of obtaining Spiritual knowledge through action, study, meditation and devotion.

My Religious Faith and practice are based on strong philosophy and the ancient tradition. Most people in the world know about the Vedas and the Vedantha philosophy. Every one understands that there is one God who is worshipped in many forms. Most people are familiar with the Adhvaitha theory and Vedantha philosophy of oneness of the Divine and the human soul. However, the practice is much more closer to the Dhvaitha and Visishta-adhvaitha theories for the worship of the Divine. The paths of Karma yoga, Raja yoga, Bhakthi yoga and Gnana yoga are taught as the spiritual disciplines for the practice. Some feel that Gnana or the path of wisdom is the ultimate while others consider that after performing duties without attachment as in Karma yoga, practicing meditation and controlling thoughts as in Raja yoga and gaining knowledge of Gnana path one will reach the state of ultimate surrender of Bhakthi yoga.

Among all the paths of Eastern Tradititions, the most common and popular ones have been the ritualistic [Sanskaara] path and the Devotional [Bhakthi] paths of worship. The ritualistic path involves the practice of sanskaara which are performing the regular rituals for the formless Supreme Divine as prescribed in the Karma kanda and Upasana kanda portions of the Vedas. They are performed every day and for various events in one's life. These are practiced and performed mostly by persons knowledgeable in the Vedas and the Hindu philosophy and those initiated to the practice of these rituals.
The Bhakthi pathway is much easier to follow for everyone. It teaches a method of love and attachment towards a supreme God through one of His manifestations as in the Agamas and Puranas with devotional prayers and worship to various forms of Deities through poojas and bhajans. This form of Bhakthi develops into various levels and degrees as an inner attitude of an attachment and feeling of love towards God, from a blind faith and devotion to God in one form to total surrender to the Supreme.

Fundamental Disciplines needed for Bhakthi Yoga

1. Abhyasa: -Practice of constantly and continuously remembering God with a steady mind.
2. Viveka: Discrimination, the ability to choose between right and wrong.
3. Vimoka: Intense longing for God, rejecting everything that hinders our progress.
4. Sathyam: Truthfulness, to be always observed as a basic rule of spiritual ethics. We have to live a life of truth, think truth alone, speak truth and listen carefully to their own inner voice called conscience.
5. Arjavam: This is straightforwardness or honesty.
6. Kriya: Doing good to all beings, as the devotee will God in all forms.
7. Kalyana: This is wishing well of others with a loving heart, praying to the Lord
for the well being of others, for the peace and welfare of the world.
8. Dhaya: Compassion, as God is love, mercy and compassion personified.
As we seek to realize Him, we, too, must develop the same qualities.
9. Ahimsa: The practice of non-violence, non-injury to all creatures, by way of action, thought or word.
10. Dhaana: Abundant and spontaneous charity with a pure heart, for relieving the suffering
of the distressed is a potent means of growing spiritually.
11. Anavasada: To be cheerful and hopeful is an essential quality of a devotee. One must always have faith and hope.

Any religion is an organized approach to human spirituality which usually encompasses a set of narratives, symbols, beliefs and practices, often with a supernatural or transcendent quality, that give meaning to the practitioner's experiences of life through reference to a higher power or truth. It may be expressed through prayer, ritual, meditation, music and art, among other things. It may focus on specific supernatural, metaphysical, and moral claims about reality (the cosmos, and human nature) which may yield a set of religious laws, ethics, and a particular lifestyle. Religion also encompasses ancestral or cultural traditions, writings, history, and mythology, as well as personal faith and religious experience.

The term "religion" refers to both the personal practices related to communal faith and to group rituals and communication stemming from shared conviction. "Religion" is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system," but it is more socially defined than personal convictions, and it entails specific behaviors, respectively.

The development of religion has taken many forms in various cultures. It considers psychological and social roots, along with origins and historical development.

In the frame of western religious thought, religions present a common quality, the "hallmark of patriarchal religious thought": the division of the world in two comprehensive domains, one sacred, the other profane. Religion is often described as a communal system for the coherence of belief focusing on a system of thought, unseen being, person, or object, that is considered to be supernatural, sacred, divine, or of the highest truth. Moral codes, practices, values, institutions, tradition, rituals, and scriptures are often traditionally associated with the core belief, and these may have some overlap with concepts in secular philosophy. Religion is also often described as a "way of life" or a life stance.

The purpose of religion is to help us deal with our pain, suffering, and grief in ways that stop it from continuing to damage ourselves or others. The purpose of religion is to help us learn to "end suffering within.

I have this image of pain and suffering bouncing around the universe like ping pong balls. You see one coming at you, and the temptation is to bat it away. But doing so often makes it hit someone else and hurt them too. So they pick it up and angrily throw it back at you. Or maybe they miss and hit someone else. Etc.

To end suffering within is to catch the ping pong ball and paint it pretty colors and hang it in the window and show it off to your friends.

The power of religion then is redemption.

It really is possible to stop and hold your pain and suffering and grief instead of flinging it back on others. It really is possible to rework it in ways that make you a better person: stronger, more insightful, more compassionate.

We are artists, creators. The material we have to work with is our life experience. Just because we may not like some of the colors we are given does not mean that we cannot mix those colors with others to create beautiful art. The colors that are our experiences of pain can add depth and richness to the paintings we produce. Added artfully to our canvas, they can bring out the brilliance of the colors we do wish to emphasize.

Our world today, in general, does not do a very good job of teaching us how to do this. Our world today does not even do a very good job of reminding us that we should be trying to figure out how to learn this. Instead, when we are hurting, our culture tells us to find someone to blame -- as if blaming or punishing others will ever really prevent future suffering or help us to heal from our wounds.

Looking for blame misses the point. When we are wounded, it is our wound that needs attention. When we are wounded, we need healing.

The point of life is not to escape all suffering. That is naive and impossible.

Once we realize that most suffering does not destroy us, we can establish a new relationship with it. How can we meet life's challenges in ways that make us better people? How can we learn how to transform the pain and suffering that comes our way into strength, courage, compassion, and insight?

Religion is a natural evolving dynamic through which we restore and maintain a sense of harmony with self, God, humanity, and nature. Let me Illustrate the Practical Purpose of Religion. In practical everyday terms, religion is the natural dynamic through which we restore and maintain harmony with self. Psychiatrists might call this process self-integration.

The most basic mandate of religion is: "Know Yourself." The process of sorting out who we are, what our gifts are, what we want to do with the rest of our lives, of struggling with questions of identity, security, meaning, and self acceptance : this is the dynamic of religion.

Growing the fragmented self toward an integrated whole is the natural dynamic of religion. In practical everyday terms, religion is the natural dynamic of restoring and maintaining one's sense of harmony with ultimate reality, which in American culture is commonly called God. When we feel out of harmony with life, when we feel alienated from ultimate reality, when by our actions or inactions we have broken faith with life - the dynamic of regaining spiritual harmony with Ultimacy is religion.

In practical everyday terms, religion is the natural dynamic of restoring and maintaining harmony within humanity. When we are in conflict with someone we love, when friends become enemies, when nations are at war, when there is tension between races and religions, when labor and management can't agree, when the powerful treat the weak unjustly - the dynamic of giving and receiving forgiveness, of being reconciled, of restoring peace and justice is religion. In practical everyday terms, religion is the natural dynamic of restoring and maintaining harmony within nature and the cosmos.

When oceans are polluted by human garbage, when the atmosphere is poisoned with toxins, when the earth is raped and gorged with industrial waste, when we forget that earth is our Mother, when the human family loses consciousness of its interconnectedness with nature and the cosmos - the dynamic which restores consciousness of oneness and harmony within the universe is religion. In practical everyday terms, religion is the natural dynamic of restoring and maintaining harmony within the one life of the universe.

So, what is the real purpose of religion? It is supposed to help people curb their lower nature; man transiting from the animal to the human specie, has so much of the lower nature ingrained in him. As a human being, you have the technology of mind, senses, intellect, and self awareness; all this equipment is supposed to help you to accelerate your evolution. Being steeped in lower nature, humans just create more problems and degradation in the world; they create imbalance, destroying the rest of humanity. Religion was formulated to help man rise above and subdue the lower nature through fear and superstition. The great masters, the enlightened beings, have been saying for thousands of years that we need to adopt and develop higher qualities of love, mercy, generosity and so on. In this way, society will be of higher quality and we will be better human beings. This will help to create a better world. That should be the purpose of religion.

In every culture, you see people who are learnt and have knowledge, exploiting this situation of religion, using fear to enslave people instead of helping them to better themselves. They do that for their own purpose, because of their selfishness. Instead of doing their duty and using their knowledge to enlighten and free people, some of these so called religious people use their knowledge to enslave people, keeping them in bondage and superstition.

When someone is sincerely seeking liberation and enlightenment, there is always restlessness and desire for freedom, they will not be satisfied. That is what I observe in my life, from childhood, I always had that restlessness within me. As I continued in my life, I always pursued that path of freedom. If you live your life with that kind of awareness and you extricate yourself from the clutches of religion, then you experience so much freedom.

When you hear Vedanta philosophy from a person who really has that awakening within him, then it helps to expand your mind and your awareness. Because of the conditioning of fear and superstition in religion, people are afraid to ask questions like “Who is God?” “What is God?” Etc. The moment you dare to ask questions like that, a whole new dimension opens up to you and you start to see though the strangle-hold that religion has on people.

How many so called religious people and leaders, preachers and priests, really have that awakening within them? Most of them are fanatical people who want to keep their followers in that state of fanaticism and superstition for their own power, glory and benefit. The more followers they have, the bigger the following becomes. It is only when you remove yourself from that strangle-hold and associate with people who’s mind is expansive, that you start to see things differently. Otherwise, it is impossible to see anything better; because you are within that cocoon, that veil of superstition and fear.

All the wars in the world stem from religion. Then it goes on to race and so on… you have the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, the Jews and Muslims in the middle-east; even though the roots are the same, they still fight. It is all about power and politics now. What is the difference between Catholics and Protestants? It all started from the teachings of Jesus; but yet they find so much difference that they kill each other for it. Even here in the Hindu Temple, even though they are all from the same religion, they still find something to fight and bicker about; they fight over what color marble they should use for the statues! It comes down to the most ridiculous things; there is no limit to the stupidity of people! One person built a statue of Hanuman that is 80 Ft. high; what happens then to my 2 inch statue of Hanuman? Is God more present in the 80 Ft. statue then in my statue?! How often can you do Puja on that big statue? It takes so much milk and so on… whereas I can worship my little statue any time I want. It shows that there is no limit to people’s confusion.

Throughout the world people are being exploited in the name of God. Religious leaders use that fear of God and their power to control people, keeping them in bondage and superstition. When you control people’s mind and keep them in ignorance and darkness that is the greatest violence. When people are enslaved physically, they still have freedom of mind. If they work hard they can develop good health, strong will and if they act properly, they can be very content and happy. But when you take away the freedom of mind and instill fear and superstition in people’s minds, then they would be degrading their consciousness. A person who is enslaved physically can even reach liberation. People are enslaved anyhow all the time in the pursuit of wealth and pleasure, trying to satisfy their greed.

The essence of any religion lies solely in the answer to the question: why do I exist, and what is my relationship to the infinite universe that surrounds me? .. It is impossible for there to be a person with no religion (i.e. without any kind of relationship to the world) as it is for there to be a person without a heart. He may not know that he has a religion, just as a person may not know that he has a heart, but it is no more possible for a person to exist without a religion than without a heart.

The principles are very simple, comprehensible and uncomplicated. They are as follows:
1. that there is a God who is the origin of everything;
2. that there is an element of this divine origin in every person, which he can diminish or increase through his way of living;
3. that in order for someone to increase this source he must suppress his passions and increase the love within himself;
4. that the practical means of achieving this consist in doing to others as you would wish to do to you.

All these principles are common to Brahmanism, Hebraism, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity and Mohammedanism. (If Buddhism does not provide a definition of God, it nevertheless recognizes that with which man unites and merges as he reaches Nirvana. And that something is the same origin which the other religions recognize as God.)

Religion is the definition of man’s relationship to the origin of everything, and of the purpose acquired as a result of this relationship, and of the rules of conduct that follow from this purpose. And the religion common to all, the basic principles of which are alike in all practices, fully satisfies these demands. It defines man’s relationship to God as of a part to a whole. From this relationship follows man’s purpose, which lies in increasing his spiritual qualities, and man’s purpose leads to the practical rules of the law: do to others as you would have them do unto you.

Religion has played an important part in the history of our world. Religious teachings have shaped the lives of people since prehistoric times. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity have been major influences in the formation of Western culture. They have also played an important role in the development of Middle Eastern life. Asian civilizations have been affected by Buddhist teachings. Religion has been a major source of inspiration for the arts. Houses of worship are some of the world's most beautiful buildings. A lot of great music is religious. Many paintings, sculptures, books, dances, and motion pictures have been created with religious themes.

We all want to make it through life with some degree of success, some sense that we did it right. And if others think they know how life can be satisfying, even meaningful, it's at least worth checking out. What about the major world religions? Is there anything in them that would give our lives greater stability and value?

Other articles concerning world religions

The Eastern Paths - Hinduism and Buddhism

The Occult: Witchcraft, Sorcery, Magic, Spiritualism, Paganism, and Psychics

New Age and Lightworkers

Exposing the truth of Islam

email pjones@gracewatcher.org


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