History of World Religions:
The World’s Major Religions in terms of numbers of followers divide into two primary belief systems. That is Hinduism/Buddhism and the Abrahamic Religions.
Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest religions, according to many scholars, with roots and customs dating back more than 4,000 years. Today, with about 900 million followers, Hinduism is the third-largest religion behind Christianity and Islam. Roughly 95 percent of the world’s Hindus live in India. Because the religion has no specific founder, it’s difficult to trace its origins and history.
900 Million Profess to Hinduism as their belief system. 400 Million To Buddhism.
Religions that owe their origins to Abraham are called Abrahamic faiths. There are three such faiths.
(Abraham lived in the Middle East about 4000 years ago)
Christianity 2.25 Billion (1.15 Billion of these are Catholic)
Judaism 14 Million
Out of a world population of just over 7 Billion approximately:
3. 75 Billion approx. are Abrahamic.
Some basic Hindu concepts include:
Hinduism embraces many religious ideas. For this reason, it’s sometimes referred to as a “way of life” or a “family of religions,” as opposed to a single, organized religion.
Most forms of Hinduism are henotheistic, which means they worship a single deity, known as “Brahman,” but still recognize other gods and goddesses. Followers believe there are multiple paths to reaching their god.
Hindus believe in the doctrines of samsara (the continuous cycle of life, death, and reincarnation) and karma (the universal law of cause and effect).
• One of the key thoughts of Hinduism is “atman,” or the belief in soul. This philosophy holds that living creatures have a soul, and they’re all part of the supreme soul. The goal is to achieve “moksha,” or salvation, which ends the cycle of rebirths to become part of the absolute soul.
• One fundamental principle of the religion is the idea that people’s actions and thoughts directly determine their current life and future lives.
• Hindus strive to achieve dharma, which is a code of living that emphasizes good conduct and morality.
• The Om and Swastika are symbols of Hinduism. The Swastika, which represents good luck, later became associated with evil when Germany’s Nazi Party made it their symbol in 1920.
• Hindus revere all living creatures and consider the cow a sacred animal.
• Food is an important part of life for Hindus. Most don’t eat beef or pork, and many are vegetarians.
• Hinduism is closely related to other Indian religions, including Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism.
Hindus value many sacred writings as opposed to one holy book.
The primary texts, known as the Vedas, were composed around 1500 B.C. This collection of sacred verses and hymns was written in Sanskrit and contains revelations received by ancient saints and sages.
The Vedas are made up of:
The Rig Veda
• The Samaveda
Hindus believe that the Vedas transcend all time and don’t have a beginning or an end.
The Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, 18 Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata are also considered important texts in Hinduism.
ORIGINS OF HINDUISM
Most scholars believe Hinduism formally started somewhere between 2300 B.C. and 1500 B.C. in the Indus Valley, near modern-day Pakistan. But many Hindus argue that their faith is timeless and has always existed.
Unlike other religions, Hinduism has no one founder but is instead a fusion of various beliefs.
Around 1500 B.C., the Indo-Aryan people migrated to the Indus Valley, and their language and culture blended with that of the indigenous people living in the region. There’s some debate over who influenced who more during this time.
The period when the Vedas were composed became known as the “Vedic Period” and lasted from about 1500 B.C. to 500 B.C. Rituals, such as sacrifices and chanting, were common in the Vedic Period.
The Epic, Puranic and Classic Periods took place between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D. Hindus began to emphasize the worship of deities, especially Vishnu, Shiva and Devi.
The concept of dharma was introduced in new texts, and other faiths, such as Buddhism and Jainism, spread rapidly.
MEDIEVAL AND MODERN HINDU HISTORY
The Medieval Period of Hinduism lasted from about 500 to 1500 A.D. New texts emerged, and poet saints recorded their spiritual sentiments during this time.
In the 7th century, Muslim Arabs began invading areas in India. During parts of the Muslim Period, which lasted from about 1200 to 1757, Hindus were restricted from worshipping their deities, and some temples were destroyed. Saints expressed their devotion through poetry and songs.
Between 1757 and 1848, the British controlled India. At first, the new rulers allowed Hindus to practice their religion without interference. But later, Christianmissionaries sought to convert and westernize the people.
Many reformers emerged during the British Period. The well-known politician and peace activist, Mahatma Gandhi, led a movement that pushed for India’s independence.
The partition of India occurred in 1947, and Gandhi was assassinated in 1948. British India was split into what is now India and Pakistan, and Hinduism became the major religion of India.
Starting in the 1960s, many Hindus migrated to North America and Britain, spreading their faith and philosophies to the western world.
Hindus worship many gods and goddesses in addition to Brahman, who is believed to be the supreme God force present in all things.
Some of the most prominent deities include:
The caste system is a social hierarchy in India that divides Hindus based on their karma and dharma. Many scholars believe the system dates back more than 3,000 years.
The four main castes (in order of prominence) include:
1. Brahmin: the intellectual and spiritual leaders
• 2. Kshatriyas: the protectors and public servants of society
• 3. Vaisyas: the skilful producers
• 4. Shudras: the unskilled labourers
Many subcategories also exist within each caste. The “untouchables” are a class of citizens that are outside the caste system and considered to be in the lowest level of the societal hierarchy.
For centuries, the caste system determined every aspect of a person’s social, professional and religious status in India.
When India became an independent nation, its constitution banned discrimination based on caste.
Today, the caste system still exists in India but is loosely followed. Many of the old customs are overlooked, but some traditions, such as only marrying within a specific caste, are still embraced.
History of Hinduism, BBC.
Hinduism Fast Facts, CNN.
What are the Basic Beliefs of Hinduism, Smithsonian Institution.
Hinduism: The World’s Third Largest Religion, Religioustolerance.org.
Samsara: Hinduism, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University.
What is Buddhism:
The founder of Buddhism was Buddha Shakyamuni who lived and taught in India some two and a half thousand years ago. Since then millions of people around the world have followed the pure spiritual path he revealed. The Buddhist way of life of peace, loving kindness and wisdom is just as relevant today as it was in ancient India. Buddha explained that all our problems and suffering arise from confused and negative states of mind, and that all our happiness and good fortune arise from peaceful and positive states of mind. He taught methods for gradually overcoming our negative minds such as anger, jealousy and ignorance, and developing our positive minds such as love, compassion and wisdom. Through this we will come to experience lasting peace and happiness. These methods work for anyone, in any country, in any age. Once we have gained experience of them for ourselves we can pass them on to others so they too can enjoy the same benefits.
Meditation is at the heart of the Buddhist way of life. It is basically a method for understanding and working on our own mind. We first learn to identify our different negative mental states known as ‘delusions’, and learn how to develop peaceful and positive mental states or ‘virtuous minds’.
Then in meditation we overcome our delusions by becoming familiar with virtuous minds. Out of meditation we try to maintain the virtuous minds we have developed and use our wisdom to solve the problems of daily life. As our mind becomes more positive our actions become more constructive, and our experience of life becomes more satisfying and beneficial to others.
Anyone can learn basic meditation techniques and experience great benefits, but to progress beyond basic meditation requires faith in the Three Jewels – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Usually people find this develops naturally as they experience the benefits of their meditation practice.
The spiritual path
The teachings of Buddha reveal a step by step path to lasting happiness. By following this path anyone can gradually transform his or her mind from its present confused and self-centred state into the blissful mind of a Buddha.
As Geshe Kelsang says in his popular book Eight Steps to Happiness:
Every living being has the potential to become a Buddha, someone who has completely purified his or her mind of all faults and limitations and has brought all good qualities to perfection. Our mind is like a cloudy sky, in essence clear and pure but overcast by the clouds of delusions.
Just as the thickest clouds eventually disperse, so too even the heaviest delusions can be removed from our mind. Delusions such as hatred, greed, and ignorance are not an intrinsic part of the mind. If we apply the appropriate methods they can be completely eliminated, and we shall experience the supreme happiness of full enlightenment.
Having attained enlightenment we shall have all the necessary qualities – universal love and compassion, omniscient wisdom and boundless spiritual power – to lead all living beings to the same exalted state. This is the ultimate aim of Mahayana Buddhism.
To find out more about basic Buddhism, read Introduction to Buddhism by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
Religions that owe their origins to Abraham are called Abrahamic faiths. There are three such faiths. All three use the Old Testament with varying interpretations as their founding belief system and knowledge about God.
Christianity 2.25 Billion (Of which 1.15 are Catholic)
Judaism 14 Million
Out of a world population of 7 Billion approximately:
3. 75 Billion approx. are Abrahamic.
That is they owe their faith allegiance to the God of Abraham.
After the destruction of the world by the flood over 6000 years ago: Noah and his descendants re populated the earth. Many generations later the people once again turned away from God and started to build the Tower of Babel which in their pride they declared would allow them to reach heaven.
God scattered them to the four corners of the world all speaking in different languages.
God later made a covenant with Abraham that in return for his faithfulness to God he would make his descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky. 3.75 Billion Over half the population of the world, is a lot of people?
The Split between Judaism and Islam:
Abraham’s wife Sarai was barren into their very late years even though God had promised Abraham his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abraham became impatient and had a son with an Egyptian slave girl called Hagar, they called him Ishmael. Some years later Sarai bore him a Son as God had promised and they called him Isaac. Tension arose between Sarah and Hagar over inheritance rights, so Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away into the desert.
Isaac became the father of the Jewish nation and Ishmael became the father of the Arab nations.
Beginning of Christianity
Jesus was a descendant of the great King David who was a descendant of Isaac who was Abraham’s son. King David ruled the Jewish nation 1000 years before the birth of Jesus, so Jesus was a Jew. The Judaic belief system and practice of Torah (Old Testament) was that of a God of Laws with an absolute focus on the letter of the law as opposed to the spirit.
Jesus came teaching an interpretation and practice that focused on the spirit of the law as opposed to the letter. Love of God and Love of Neighbour being the supreme commandments.
This teaching was bitterly opposed by the leaders of the Jewish communities, the Scribes and the Pharisee’s who seen it as a direct challenge to their authority as teachers and minders of the Law. This conflict eventually led to the execution of Jesus by the Jewish authorities/Romans.
This rejection of Jesus as the Messiah by the Jewish nation led to the founding of Christianity by his Apostles and disciples.
Founding of Islam:
600 years after the death of Jesus, Mohamad as a descendant of Ishmael claimed to have visions/messages from God proclaiming that the descendants of Ishmael in the nation of Islam were the true inheritors of Gods covenant with Abraham, not the Jewish nation, nor Christianity which they see as arising from Judaism.
Following the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah by the Jewish nation: Christianity meaning the followers of Christ was founded by Jesus and the Apostles:
New Age Based Religions:
New Age is a term applied to a range of spiritual or religious beliefs and practices that developed in western nations during the 1970s. Precise scholarly definitions of the New Age differ in their emphasis, largely as a result of its highly eclectic structure. Although analytically often considered to be religious, those involved in it typically prefer the designation of spiritual or Mind, Body, Spirit and rarely use the term "New Age" themselves. Many scholars of the subject refer to it as the New Age movement, although others contest this term and suggest that it is better seen as a milieu or zeitgeist.
As a form of Western esotericism, the New Age drew heavily upon a number of older esoteric traditions, in particular those that emerged from the occultist current that developed in the eighteenth century. Such prominent occult influences include the work of Emanuel Swedenborg and Franz Mesmer, as well as the ideas Spiritualism, New Thought, Theosophy, Bioscopy and the European Lebensre form movement. A number of mid-twentieth century influences, such as the UFO religions of the 1950s, the Counterculture of the 1960s, and the Human Potential Movement, also exerted a strong influence on the early development of the New Age. The exact origins of the phenomenon remain contested, but there is general agreement that it developed in the 1970s, at which time it was centred largely in the United Kingdom. It expanded and grew largely in the 1980s and 1990s, in particular within the United States. By the start of the 21st century, the term "New Age" was increasingly rejected within this milieu, with some scholars arguing that the New Age phenomenon had ended.
Despite its highly eclectic nature, a number of beliefs commonly found within the New Age have been identified. Theologically, the New Age typically adopts a belief in a holistic form of divinity that imbues the entire universe, including human beings themselves. There is thus a strong emphasis on the spiritual authority of the self. This is accompanied by a common belief in a wide variety of semi-divine non-human entities, such as angels and masters, with whom humans can communicate, particularly through the form of of distinct ages, a common New Age belief is that whereas once humanity lived in an age of great technological advancement and spiritual wisdom, it has entered a period of spiritual degeneracy, which will be remedied through the establishment of a coming Age of Aquarius, from which the milieu gets its name. There is also a strong focus on healing, particularly using forms of alternative medicine, and an emphasis on a New Age approach to science that seeks to unite science and spirituality.
Centred primarily in Western countries, those involved in the New Age have been primarily from middle and upper-middle-class backgrounds. The degree to which New Agers are involved in the milieu varied considerably, from those who adopted a number of New Age ideas and practices to those who fully embraced and dedicated their lives to it. The New Age has generated criticism from established Christian organisations as well as modern Pagan and indigenous communities. From the 1990s onward, the New Age became the subject of research by academic scholars of religious studies.