Religious organisations can be divided into two main categories, of which they are Eastern religions, and Western religions.
The main Western religions around today are Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and their origins are, unsurprisingly, located in the Western world (Europe and America.) Meanwhile, the main Eastern religions still in existence today are Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism, all of which originated in the Eastern world (India, China, Japan, and Southeast Asia), again, unsurprisingly.
In this blog post, I will be exploring both Eastern and Western religions in turn, starting with Eastern religions.
So, let’s get straight into it!
Hinduism, at over 4000 years old, is one of the world’s oldest known religions, and the ‘original’ Dharmic (Indian) religion. Its 900 million followers (which makes Hinduism the third largest religion, by the way), hold the central belief in a Supreme Being known as ‘Brahman.’
‘Brahman’ is not a God as thought of in Western religions (i.e., an ‘other worldly’ being in human form), it is very much present in this world, as well as beyond it, with it being in and of everyone and everything (it is an impersonal force/ a universal soul, rather than a personal human being.) As such, Hindu’s understand that God is not far away, living in a remote heaven, but is inside every soul, in the heart and consciousness, just waiting to be discovered. Hinduism is therefore a religion that places quite a lot of emphasis on spirituality. They believe in karma, with this influencing their opinion of reincarnation- that life is a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. The ‘next life’ given to us during rebirth depends on how the previous life was lived. We will keep reincarnating on earth until we reach ‘moksha’ and our souls/atman become one, all going back to the source of all creation- the one true ultimate God.
Although a belief in one supreme God underlies the Hindu faith, Hindus also believe that, alongside the supreme God, many deities/Gods of alternative forms exist, all of which represent the supreme. The most prominent deities of the Hindu faith are:
- Brahma: the god responsible for the creation of the world and all living things
- Vishnu: the god that preserves and protects the universe
- Shiva: the god that destroys the universe in order to recreate it
- Devi: the goddess that fights to restore dharma
- Krishna: the god of compassion, tenderness and love
- Lakshmi: the goddess of wealth and purity
- Saraswati: the goddess of learning
Buddhism, a religion with a following of 376 million, arose out of Hinduism, approximately 2500 years ago, and therefore it shares many a similarity with the earlier religion. Both believe in reincarnation, karma, and the ultimate quest to reach ‘enlightenment.’
Unlike Hindu’s, however, Buddhist’s do not worship gods/deities, and nor do they believe in the soul, for, the soul is eternal, and Buddhist’s are of the belief that nothing is eternal. Everything is based on cause and effect, and therefore everything changes, constantly. And so, the idea of ‘God’, an eternal being, is therefore, from the Buddhist’s point of view, impossible, for, how can an impermanent world, feature in it a permanent creator? It can’t.
So, if not a ‘God’, then who actually is ‘Buddha?’
Well, it’s important to start off by saying that Buddha doesn’t claim himself to be a ‘God.’ He is simply an enlightened being, one of the first people to realise the truth about our nature- that we are all divine beings capable of living good, wholesome lives.
People look up to Buddha for advice regarding how they too can live ‘good’ lives. There is, however, no belief that Buddha possesses the power to condemn people if they do make mistakes, because he is not seen as being ‘superior’ in any way. It is for this reason why Buddhism is, not a religion based on control or fear, but a religion which is based on a sense of personal responsibility for doing the right thing
There are arguments suggesting that Buddhism shouldn’t actually be classified as a ‘religion’, because its lack of belief in a ‘creator’ means that there is no ‘higher power’ to be worshipped. I have to agree with this argument, as I am of the opinion that Buddhism is more of a philosophy than a religion. It is based on providing us all with advice as to how we should live to be the ‘best versions of ourselves’, something that we, not ‘God’, are all personally responsible for. We choose to live a life of good deeds because we know that this is the right thing to do, not because we’re scared that, if we do otherwise and commit ‘sinful’ acts, we will be unable to reserve our place in ‘heaven.’ Buddhism is therefore all about looking ‘inwards’ to explore our spiritual side and become enlightened. It is not about believing what we are told we need to do to become enlightened (i.e., being controlled by a concept that we refer to as ‘God.’)
Sikhism was founded around 500 years ago, and it has approximately 25 million followers.
The Sikh religion, unlike Hinduism- a religion that believes in Deities (reincarnations of God in human form)- believes in the existence of only one, ‘formless’ God, who is inside of everyone. They disregard the Hindu belief that there is a group of other ‘higher beings’ associated with God (i.e., deities), for they believe that everyone is equal (regardless of gender, race, sexuality, disability, class, wealth etc.) Why? Because our souls are beyond all of these factors and, to put it simply, we are all products of the one transcendent God that is ‘Waheguru.’
Waheguru, translated in English as ‘wondrous enlightener’, is both creator and creation, meaning that, like individual drops within the ocean, the two, (the creator and its creation), are inseparable. They are one and the same, and therefore superiority and inferiority do not exist, there is only equalness.
In terms of the Sikh belief in an afterlife, like both Hindus and Buddhists, Sikhs also believe that human beings spend their time in a cycle of birth, life, and rebirth, with their atman (soul) never dying. After, what they believe can be up to 8,400,000 reincarnations, the atman returns to Waheguru, merging to become ‘at one’ with the universal soul.
Christianity was founded 2000 years ago, and, with approximately 2.1 billion followers worldwide, it is the world’s biggest religion.
Christians, the name given to followers of Christianity, believe that there is only one God, whom many refer to as being the ‘Father.’ They believe that he came to earth in human form via Jesus Christ, who, in their eyes, was sent to earth to save mankind from death and sin.
‘All men and women are sinners’ is the view of Christian’s. They believe that all people are born sinful and thus need saving. God, and our ability to follow the rules he devised, is the only way in which we can be ‘saved’ from our sins, is what Christians believe. Christians also believe that, following God’s rules will land us a place in ‘heaven‘, whereas failing to follow his rules will lead us to ‘hell.’
This belief, that we are all born ‘sinners’ (that this is our true nature), is in direct opposition to the Eastern view of our nature- that we are all born ‘perfect’, without sin, and that it is our actions that lead some people to a life of sin.
Islam, a religion dating back approximately 1400 years, has a following of around 1.9 billion, with these ‘followers’ being referred to as ‘Muslims.’
The central belief in Islam is that there is only one God- ‘Allah’ (with ‘Allah’ being the Arabic word for ‘God.’) Allah, they believe, has always existed and will continue to exist forever more. Allah is not a ‘person’ as such, for he has no shape or form. He is above and beyond anything that exists in the world and is within all things on earth. Allah has no children, parents, partners, etc., and there are no equal, superior, or lesser God’s/Deities- Allah is all there is.
Allah is unable to communicate directly with humans (because he can’t be seen/heard), therefore his messages are passed to prophets via angels, who were Allah’s first creation (before humans.)
Another belief underpinning the Islam faith is the concept of ‘Judgement Day’, whereby, upon the moment of death, the life of every human being is assessed to decide whether they will go to heaven or hell.
As well as their belief in ‘Judgement Day’, Muslims are also of the belief that everything is predestined, with Allah having insight into all that will happen. This means that the whole universe, according to Muslims, follows a ‘divine masterplan’ that is, ultimately, out of our control.
Judaism is only slightly ‘younger’ than Hinduism, the world’s oldest known religion, dating back just under 4000 years. Its followers are Jewish, and there are around 14 million of them located around the world.
‘Jews’ believe that there is only one God who forms a ‘special agreement’ with believers/followers of Judaism. God communicates with these believers via prophets.
Traditionally, a person is considered Jewish if their mother is/was Jewish.
Whilst anyone can join the Jewish faith, even if they have no family ties to the religion, it is difficult to do so, considerably more so than it is to join other religions, such as Christianity, for example.
The biggest difference that I take from my research into Eastern and Western religions is that; Eastern religions tend to view God as being something that is within us all, whereas Western religions tend to view it as being some sort of ‘other worldly’, supreme being that exists above and beyond us all. Followers of Western religions therefore strive to form a relationship with God, who they believe is a person who is separate to themselves. On the other hand, followers of Eastern religions see God as ‘transpersonal’, believing that God is not a person, but more so a force, and one that is within everyone and everything. We are all ‘God’, is what Eastern religions claim.
Another major difference between Eastern and Western religions can be seen in their views of the afterlife. Whilst Western religions believe that we go to either heaven or hell when we die (the outcome of which is dependent on our ability to achieve salvation from our sins as committed in our one chance at life), Eastern religions believe that we reincarnate, with our souls being transferred to alternative forms, as determined by how we live our current lives. We keep reincarnating/being reborn until we become enlightened, at which stage we will merge back together with universal nature, becoming one with God again.
A final difference that I take from Eastern and Western religions, is that Western religions tend to tell more of a ‘story’ (i.e., they are more of a ‘fairy tale’ that I for one find hard to believe.) For example, Christians believe that Jesus, (who is God in human form), was born to a human woman, Mary. Mary, they believe, was a virgin, with Jesus being conceived, not between Mary and a human man (as we know is the only way for one to be conceived), but between Mary and ‘the holy spirit.’ This is something that I, along with many other people, I am sure, find very difficult to believe, no matter how much I want to believe it. Eastern religions, on the other hand, are, in my opinion, much more believable. Furthermore, the latter (Eastern religions) are also much more hopeful. How so? Because Western religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, are all based on achieving fear-induced control of the masses. They tell us that we are all born inherently ‘sinful’, that this is our ‘true nature.’ To redeem ourselves and thus achieve salvation from a life of sin, we must follow a set of rules, as designed by God himself, followers of Western religions say. In contrast, Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism are based, not on instilling fear in followers, but on instilling hope and empowerment in them instead. They remind us of the comforting fact that we are not born sinful, but quite the opposite. The reality is that we are all, in fact, born with goodness at the very core of our being. It is our actions in this life that can lead us to make questionable choices that do not always reflect this goodness that is our true nature. God, as followers of Eastern religions argue, is not there to ‘judge’ us for the mistakes that we make, but to guide us, to ensure that we stay true to ourselves and who we really are (that being good, in the purest sense of the word, not, by any means, ‘sinful’, as Western religions suggest that we are.)
In terms of the religion that I most relate to, that lies in Sikhism. Sikhism is the religion that makes the most rational sense to me, and, in a world where we have religions like Christianity that try to convince us that ‘the world was made in seven days’ and that Mary, the mother of Jesus, ‘conceived her son with the holy spirit’, it’s incredibly refreshing to have a religion that does make sense (because Christianity and other Western religions are, in my opinion, completely nonsensical.) I also like the fact that Sikhism doesn’t try to account for the unknowns by making up, what I can only describe as, ‘fairy tales’, to fill in the gaps. Instead, Sikh’s encourage us all to accept that questions such as, ‘how long did it take God to create the earth?’, will probably never be answered, for only God knows the answers to such complex questions.
With the English translation of the word ‘Sikh’ being ‘Student’, Sikhs don’t ‘shy away’ from the unknowns, they embrace them as another opportunity to learn (as, after all, they are “students of spirituality.”) Furthermore, they regard such unknowns as providing yet more proof of God’s superiority that goes way beyond human comprehension. It is for all the reasons that I have detailed above that Sikhism, if I were to devote myself to a particular religion, would be my ‘religion of choice.’
I hope that this post has been insightful and has encouraged you to think about what religion, if any, you most relate to. If you’re happy to, please comment with your answer to the question of, ‘What religion do you most relate to, and why?’ I would be really interested to hear all your responses, as I hope you have been interested in hearing/reading mine.
That’s it for today,