Religion exam #2 review By David Benjamin

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Religion exam #2 review


David Benjamin

The Hindi word ‘dharma’ refers to a broad complex of meanings, encompassing duty, natural law, social welfare, ethics, health, and transcendental realization.

According to tradition, there are actually 330 million deities in India.

The feeling is that the divine has countless faces.

According to 18th and 19th century theories, the cultures of the Indus Valley Civilization were overrun by nomadic invaders from the north, who introduced the Vedas- the religious text often referred to as foundations of Hinduism- to the native Indians.

The theory of an invasion of, and religious influence on, the Indus Valley Civilization by “Aryans” from the north was based largely on linguistic similarities between European languages to Sanskrit- the ancient language in which the Vedas were composed.

The word ‘Aryan’ is used in the Vedas to mean a noble person who speaks Sanskrit and practices the Vedic rituals.

It is not a racial category.

There is not confirmed evidence of what actually happened.

The early Vedas seem to have been written by agro pastoral peoples yet the Indus valley Civilization was primarily urban centered.

According to orthodox Hindus, the Vedas are not the work of any humans.

They are considered shruti texts- those which have been revealed, rather than written by mortals.

They are the breath of the eternal as heard by the ancient sages, or rushis, and later compiled by vyasa (collector)

The oldest Vedic scriptures- and among the oldest of the world’s existing scriptures- is the Rig Veda.

This praises and implores the blessings of the devas- the controlling forces of the cosmos, deities who consecrate every part of life.

The major devas included:

Indra (god of thunder and bringer of welcome rains),

Agni (god of fire),

Soma (associated with a sacred dink), and

Ushas (goddess of dawn).

The word Upanishad embraces the idea of the devoted disciple sitting down by the teacher to receive private spiritual instruction about the highest reality, loosening all doubts and destroying all ignorance.

Emphasis is placed on inner experience as the path to realization and immortality, rather than outward ritual performances.

Another important concept is karma.

It means action, and also the consequences of action.

Every act we make, every thought, and every desire we have, shapes our future experiences.

Our life is what we have made it, and we ourselves are shaped by what we have done.

The ultimate goal however is not creation of good lives by good deeds, but a clean escape from the karma run wheel of birth, death, and rebirth, or samsara.

To escape from samsara is to achieve moksha, or liberation from the limitations of space, time, and matter through realization of the immortal absolute.

Whereas one view of the Upanishads is that the human self (atman) is an emanation of Brahman, Shankara insisted that the atman and Brahman are actually one.

Whereas one view of the Upanishads is that the human self (atman) is an emanation of Brahman, Shankara insisted that the atman and Brahman are actually one.

According to Shankara, our material life is an illusion.

The absolute spirit, Brahman, is the essence of everything, and it has no beginning and no end.

That which makes us think the physical universe has its own reality is maya, the power by which the Absolute veils itself.

Maya is the illusion that the world as we perceive it is real.

Shankara says only that which never changes is real, everything else is changing, impermanent.


From ancient times the people of the Indian subcontinent have practiced spiritual disciplines designed to clear the mind and support the state of serene, detached awareness.

The practices for developing this desired state of balance, purity, wisdom, and peacefulness of mind are known collectively as yoga.

Yoga means yoke or union- referring to union with the true self, the goal described in the Upanishads.

Religious Foundations and Theistic Paths

In ancient Vedic times, elaborate fire sacrifice rituals were created, controlled by brahmins (priests).

Specified verbal formulas, sacred chants, and sacred actions were to be used by the priests to invoke the breath behind all of existence.

This universal breath was later called Brahman, the Absolute, the Supreme Reality.


Shaivites who worship the god Shiva

Shiva is a personal, many faceted, manifestation of the attributeless supreme deity: Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Preserver), and Shiva (Destroyer).

Shaivites worship him as the totality, with many aspects.

Shiva is often shown with his spouse Parvati.

Through their union, cosmic energy flows freely, seeding and liberating the universe.

Shiva and Parvatis son Ganesh, a deity with a head of an elephant, guards the threshold of space and time and is invoked for his blessing at the beginning of a new venture.


Vaishnavites who worship the god Vishnu

Vishnu is beloved as the tender merciful deity.

“This god is the mightiest, since he overpowers all by goodnes and generosity.”


Jainism has about 6 million adherents in India and is recognized as a complete and fruitful path with the potential for uplifting human awareness and inculcating high standards for personal ethics.

It has never condoned war or the killing of animals for any reason.

The Tirthankaras and Ascetic Orders

Jainism’s major teacher is Mahavira (the great hero).

He was a contemporary of the Buddha and died approximately 527 BCE.

The extreme antiquity of Jainism as a non-Vedic, indigenous Indian religion is well documented.

Ancient Hindu and Buddhist scriptures refer to Jainism as an existing tradition that began long before Mahavira.

Digambara (sky-clad) monks wear nothing at all, symbolizing innocence and non attachment.

They do not consider themselves nude, instead they take the environment as their clothing.

The Svetambara (white-clad) monks and nuns wear simple white cloth robes: they do not feel this prevents them from attaining liberation.

Freeing the Soul

Jiva = the individual higher consciousness or soul- can save itself by discovering its own perfect, unchanging nature and thus transcend the miseries of earthly life.

Jains, like Hindus and Buddhists, believe that we are reborn again and again until we finally free ourselves from samsara (the wheel of birth, death, and rebirth).

In its true state, it is fully omniscient, shining, potent, peaceful, self-contained, and blissful.

One who has brought forth the highest in his or her being is called “Jina” (winner over the passions), from which the word Jain is derived.

The Tirthankaras were Jina who helped others find their way by teaching inspiring spiritual principles.


The principle of nonviolence, ahimsa, is very strong in Jain teachings, and through Jainism it also influenced Mahatma Gandhi.

Jains believe that every centimeter of the universe is filled with living beings, some of them minute.

Jains are therefore strict vegetarians, and they treat everything with great care.

In Delhi, Jain benefactors have established a unique charitable hospital for sick and wounded birds.

Jains are known to rescue animals bound for slaughter for their meat by purchasing them while living and raising them in comfort.

Jains are careful not to kick stones as doing so might unintentionally cause harm to living beings.

Jains are also aware that violence may be caused by the clothes we buy, and they avoid purchasing leather or silk.

Ahimsa also extends to care in speaking and thinking, for abusive words and negative thoughts can injure another.

One’s profession must also no injure beings, so most Jains work at jobs considered harmless, such as banking, education, law, and publishing.

The Life and Legend of the Buddha

Buddha’s teachings were transmitted orally for hundreds of years after his death before being written down.

The one who became the Buddha (a generic term meaning awakened one) is said to have been born near the border of Nepal and India.

He was named Siddhartha Gautama meaning wish fulfiller or he who has reached his goal.

He is said to have lived over eighty years during the 5th century BCE.

His father was a wealthy land owner serving as a chief of a Kshatriya clan, the Shakyas who lived in the foothills of the Himalayas.

As the legend goes, the gods arranged for him to see four sights that his father had tried to hide from him:
  • A bent old man

  • A sick person

  • A dead person

  • A mendicant seeking lasting happiness rather than temporal pleasure

The core teaching he taught, which became known as dharma:
  • The four noble truths

  • The noble eightfold path

  • The three marks of existence

  • Other guidelines for achieving liberation from suffering

The Sangha- monastic order that developed from the Buddha’s early disciples- accepted people from all castes and levels of society.

In contrast with Hindusim and Digambara Jainism, the Buddha asserted that women were as capable as men of achieving enlightenment and he allowed women to be nuns.

The Four Noble Truths

In his very first sermon, the Buddha set forth the Four Noble Truths, the foundation for all his later teachings:
  • Life inevitably involves suffering, dissatisfaction, and distress

  • Suffering is caused by craving, rooted in ignorance

  • Suffering will cease when craving ceases

  • There is a way to realize this state: the Noble Eightfold Path

In the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha diagnosed the human condition and proposed a cure, one step at a time.

The Buddha’s first noble truth is the existence of dukkha: suffering and dissatisfaction.

Noble Eightfold Path

Noble Eightfold Path
  • Right understanding- comprehending reality correctly through deep realization of the four noble truths.

  • Right thought or motivation- removal of selfishness or self interests

  • Right speech- don’t lie, gossip, speak harshly, or engage in devisive speech, instead communicate truth and harmony

  • Right action- 5 precepts: avoid destroying life, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and intoxicants.

  • Right livelihood- making sure that one’s way of making a living does not violate the 5 precepts.

  • Right effort- striving continually to eliminate the impurities of the mind and cultivate wholesome actions of the body, speech, and mind.

  • Right mindfulness- cultivate awareness moment to moment

  • Right meditation- applies mental discipline to quiet the mind and develop single pointed concentration

The Wheel of Birth and Death

In Buddhism, each event acts as a cause that sets another into motion.

The central cause in this process of cause and effect is karma- our actions of body, speech, and mind.

In Buddhist cosmology there are multiple possible states of existence, including hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, and gods.

All of these states of rebirth are imperfect and impermanent.

One enters a state the Buddha called quietude of heart, a state beyond grasping, aging, and dying.

When the arhant (worthy one who has found nirvana in this life) dies, individuality disappears and the being enters the ultimate state of nirvana.

Branches of Buddhism

After the Buddha gathered a group of disciples, he began to send them out in all directions to help teach the Dharma.

Two hundred years after the Buddha died a powerful king named Ashoka led a huge military campaign to extend his empire.

After witnessing the tremendous loss of life on both sides, he felt great remorse, became a Buddhist, and began to espouse nonviolence.

Of the earliest Buddhist schools, only the one today known as Theravada (the way of the elders) survives.

This school is prevalent in Southeast Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.

The schools that developed somewhat later are known as Mahayana (the great vehicle).

This school became dominant in Nepal, Tibet, China, Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Japan.

The Triple Gem

Like Buddhists in all schools, those who follow the Theravada go for refuge in the Triple Gem:
  • The Buddha (the enlightened one)

  • The Dharma (the teachings he gave)

  • The Sangha (community)

The Mahayana scriptures emphasize the practice of compassion and wisdom by both monastics and laypeople, toward the goal of liberating all sentient beings from suffering.

This literature praises the deeds and qualities of innumerable Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and inspires practitioners to develop the compassion and wisdom needed to become bodhisattvas and eventually Buddhas themselves.


The Lotus Sutra claimed that there was a higher goal than the arhant’s achievement of liberation, namely, to aspire to become a bodhisattva (a being who is dedicated to liberating others from suffering) and work to achieve the perfect enlightenment of a Buddha.

The Lotus Sutra says that all beings have the capacity for Buddhahood and are destined to attain it eventually.

Both monastics and laity are encouraged to take the bodhisattva vow and work to become fully enlightened.

The Four Great Bodhisattva Vows:
  • Beings are infinite in number, I vow to save them all

  • The obstructive passions are endless in number, I vow to end them all

  • The teachings for saving others are countless, I vow to learn them all

  • Buddhahood is the supreme achievement, I vow to attain it.

These sacred rituals of ancestor worship are called Li.

They are essential because the ancestor will help their descendants if treated with proper respect, or cause trouble if ignored.

Since ancient times, there was also belief in a great variety of demons and the ghosts of people who had not been properly honored after their death.

These beings were seen as causing so much mischief that many efforts were made to thwart them, including evil deflecting charms, gongs, firecrackers, appeals through spirit mediums, spirit walls to keep them from entering doorways, exorcisms, prayers, incense, and fasts.

The highest god was Shangdi the Lord-on-High.

He was believed to rule over important phenomena such as the weather, crops, battles, and the king’s health.

The king was responsible for maintaining harmony between the gods and ancestors and the earthy world.

During the Zhou dynasty (1046 – 221 BCE), which overthrew the Shang, the rulers continued to play major spiritual roles.

During the Zhou dynasty (1046 – 221 BCE), which overthrew the Shang, the rulers continued to play major spiritual roles.

However, the locus shifted from the Shangdi to Tian (heaven), a more impersonal power controlling the universe.

Cosmic Balance

In addition to ancestors, gods, and heaven, there has long existed in China a belief that the cosmos is a manifestation of an impersonal self-generating physical-spiritual substance called qi (chi).

It is basically the stuff of which all things that exist are composed.

It has two aspects whose interplay causes the ever changing phenomena of the universe.

Yin is the dark, receptive, female aspect; Yang is the bright assertive, male, aspect.

Wisdom lies in recognizing their ever shifting, but regular and balanced, patterns of moving with them.

This creative rhythm of the universe is called the Dao, or way.

To harmonize with the cosmic process, the ancients devised many forms of divination.

One system developed during the Zhou dynasty was eventually written down as the Yijing (I Ching) or Book of Changes.

It is a common source for both Daoism and Confucianism and is regarded as a classic text in both traditions.

They recognized that any extreme action will produce its opposite as a balancing reaction and this they strived for a middle way of discretion and moderation.

From these roots gradually developed two contrasting ways of harmonizing with the cosmos- the more mystically religious ways, which are collectively called Daoism, and the more political and moral ways, which are known as Confucianism.

Like yin and yang, they interpenetrate and complement each other, and are themselves evolving dynamically.

Teachings of Daoist Sages

The specific origin of Daoist philosophy and practices is unclear.

In China, tradition attributes the publicizing of these ways to the Yellow Emperor, who supposedly ruled from 2697 – 2597 BCE.

He was said to have studied with an ancient sage and to have developed meditation, health, and military practices based on what he learned.

After ruling for 100 years, he ascended to heaven on a dragon’s back and became one of the immortals.

The two most salient texts of the classic Daoist tradition are the Dao de jing and the Zhuangzi.

The Dao de jing (“The Classic of the Way and its Power) is said to have been written for a border guard by Lao Tzu, a curator of the royal library of the Zhou dynasty, when he left the society for the mountains at the reported age of 160.

The guard recognized Lao Tzu (Old Master) as a sage and begged him to leave behind a record of his wisdom, and so the Dao de jing was written.

The books central philosophy is a practical concern with improving harmony in life.

It says that one can best harmonize with the natural flow of life by being receptive and quiet.

The Daoist sage takes a low profile in the world.

He or she is like a valley, allowing everything needed to flow into his or her life, or like a stream.

Flowing water is a Daoist model for being.

It bypasses and gently wears away obstacles rather than fruitlessly attacking them, effortlessly nourishes the ten thousand things of material life, works without struggling, leaves all accomplishments behind without possessing them.

This is the uniquely Daoist paradox of wu wei- actionless action, or taking no intentional or invasive action contrary to the natural flow of things.

Wu wei is spontaneous, creative activity proceeding from the Dao, action without ego assertion, letting the Dao take its course.

Furthermore, according to Daoist ideals, there should not be a great gap between the rich and the poor.

Just as heaven makes adjustments between surpluses and deficiencies, the rich should desire to share with the poor.

Confucianism- The Practice of Virtue

Confucius lived in the 6th century BCE though his family name was Kong.

The Chinese honored him as Kong Fuzi (Master Kong) and called his teaching Rujiao (the teaching of the scholars).

It did not begin with Confucius, instead, it is based on the ancient Chinese beliefs in heaven, ancestor worship, and the efficacy of rituals.

According to tradition, it was Confucius who edited older documents pertaining to the six classics of China’s cultural heritage (the yijing, poetry, history, rituals, music and dance, and the spring and autumn state events known as Lu) and put them into the form now known as the Confucian Classics.

Of his role, Confucius claimed “I am a transmitter and not a creator. I believe in and have a passion for the ancients.”

The Confucian Virtues

The foremost of the virtues that Confucius felt could save society was ren- innate goodness, love, benevolence, perfect virtue, humaneness, and human-heartedness.

Confucius describes the rare person who is utterly devoted to ren as one who is not motivated by personal profit but by what is moral, is concerned with self improvement rather than public recognition, is ever mindful of parents, speaks cautiously but acts quickly, and regards human nature as basically good.

The prime exemplar of ren should be the ruler.

Rulers were urged to rule not by physical force or coercion but by the example of personal virtue.

The Roots of Shinto

According to current scholarship, Shinto is not a single self-conscious religious tradition but rather an overarching label applied to ways of honoring the spirits in nature.

Shinto harmonizes people with the natural world.

Shinto has no founder, no orthodox canon of sacred literature, and no explicit code of ethical requirements.

The meanings of many of its elaborate rituals are unknown by many who practice them.

The label Shinto was formed from the words shin (divine being) and do (way), and it came into use to distinguish indigenous Japanese ways from Buddhism and other imported religions.

Although industrialization and urbanization have blighted some of the natural landscape, the sensitivity to natural beauty survives in small scale arts.

In rock gardening, flower arrangements, the tea ceremony, and poetry, Japanese artists honor the simple and natural.

If a rock is placed just right in a garden, it seems alive, radiating its natural essence.

In a tea ceremony, great attention is paid to each natural sensual delight, from the purity of water poured from a wooden ladle to the genuineness of the clay vessels.

Honoring the Kami

Surrounded by nature, beauty, and power, the Japanese people found the divine all around them.

According to Japanese mythology, a deity gave birth to many kami (or spirits), two of which were told to organize the material world.

Kami can either be singular or plural, for the word refers to a single essence manifesting in many places.

Rather than evoking an image kami refers to quality.

It means literally “that which is above” and also refers to that which invokes wonder and awe within us.

The kami harmonize heaven and earth and also guide the solar system and the cosmos.

They tend to reside in beautiful or powerful places, such as mountains, certain trees, unusual rocks, waterfalls, whirlpools, and animals.

They also manifest as wind, rain, thunder, or lighting,.

To follow the kami is to bring our life into harmony with nature.

Kannagara (the way or nature of the kami) can be understood as “natural religion”

The word kamikaze, divine wind, became a symbol of divine protection of Japan by the kami.

The earliest places of worship were probably sacred trees or groves.

Tall gate frames known as torii must be crossed to enter the holy precinct of the kami.

The priesthood was traditionally hereditary.

One temple has drawn its priests from the same four families for over a hundred generations.

Not uncommonly, the clergy may be priestesses.

The priests may be assisted by young unmarried women dressed in white kimonos.

Neither priests nor priestesses live as ascetics; it is common for them to be married, and they are not traditionally expected to meditate.

Rather, they are considered specialists in their arts of maintaining the connection between the kami and the people.

However, ritual impurity is a serious problem that obscures our originally pristine nature; it may offend the kami and bring about calamities, such as drought, famine, or war.

The quality of impurity or misfortune is called tsumi.

It can arise through contact with low level spirits, negative energy from corpses, negative vibrations from wicked minds, hostility toward others or the environment, or through natural catastrophes.

In contrast to repentance, tsumi requires purification.

The body and mind must be purified so that the person can be connected with kami that are clean, bright, right, and straight.

One way of purification is by a ceremony performed by priests which includes the waving of a branch from a sacred tree.

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