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Cults and World Religions

Eastern Religions



And their off-spring

Buddhism is an Eastern form of spirituality. . . . What is known as “Buddhism” is part of the common human heritage of wisdom, by which men have succeeded in overcoming the world, and in gaining immortality, or a deathless life. 240

As we complete our survey of cults and world religions, it is important to take a direct, albeit brief, look at Eastern Religions. While most of us think of Eastern Religions as the worry of the Oriental mission field, these groups have invaded the U.S. religious scene in a variety of fashions. The concept of Eastern Religions is both simple and complex. From a religious point of view, this field may properly cover the Asiatic and Oriental geographical regions. As such, Islam and Judaism may be considered Eastern Religions. Since we have already considered these two groups, we will not recover that ground.

And as we cover this new ground, it is important to keep in focus where we are going. The general tenor of Eastern Religions, mostly some variety of Hinduism or Buddhism, have been in existence for thousands of years. It is through their syncretism into the New Age movement which is of most importance to us.

It is also important to understand that this is a complex area, for Buddhism alone may support some 60,000 different sects. With all of those centuries to development, it is no wonder that these religions do not represent a simple formula. We will, however, attempt to make this fairly simple for our intention is not to undertake a detailed study of this area. For those who want more information, some references are given at the end of this chapter.

Hinduism

This is the father of Eastern Religions. There is a large sense in which all of the Eastern Religions may be found within the history and complexities of Hinduism. At the same time, it is important to remember that at various points in history, Hinduism takes on different looks – ranging from pantheism, to polytheism, to monotheism, to agnosticism.

Terms

General Beliefs

Hinduism is difficult to summarize, for while the essence of the religion is the same, the practices are different among each sect. There are many different ways of looking at a single object. No single view point provides the whole picture of the object, but each will be correct in its own right. Rites, ceremonies, systems and dogma may lead beyond themselves revealing new truths, leading to clarity. Every work is a pointer to a higher truth. In this fashion, Hinduism is able to tolerate most other religions.

Salvation is achieved by:

Any of the three will suffice.

The Hindus hold the cow, which is considered to possess great power, to be sacred.

The practice of popular Hinduism places great emphasis on the caste system. Originally there were four castes. These were the Brahmans (priests), the Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), the Vaisyas (craftsmen, farmers, artisans), and the Sudras (laborers, servants). Every one else were outcastes or untouchables. These social and occupational groups have now been divided into roughly 3,0000 subcastes. The true problem of the caste system is that Hinduism provides no mechanism to change castes.

From a practical view point, Hinduism has developed into a series of lesser gods. Practices include pilgrimages, diet restrictions, special postures and gestures, possession by the gods, sacred places, sacred formulas to be repeated, images and phallic emblems, and geometrical patterns.

Books of Belief

The Vedas, meaning wisdom or knowledge, are the oldest writings and appear to have been composed over the same general time period as the Old Testament (1400-to-400 B.C.). This is really a collection of hymns (“mantras”), prayers, and ritual texts (“Brahmanas” which deal with ritual practice and the “Upanishads” which deal with doctrine). Two epic poems are considered as part of the sacred books. The first is the Ramayana and the other is the Mahabharata. The Bhagavad Gita is considered the most sacred of the writings and was added to the Mahabharata during the first century A.D.

Footnotes:
240. Edward Conze, Buddhism: its essence and development, New York: Harper Colophon Books, Harper & Row Publishers, 1951, 11.

 

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