The Latin term “Religio” means to say “obligation, the bond between man and the gods.” It is also used in reference to “respect for what is sacred”, “reverence for the gods”. Karl Marx said that a religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opiate of the people. Edward B Tylor said that the “Religion is the belief in Spiritual Beings. “Religion is a means of ultimate transformation and/or orientation” as interpreted by Joseph Adler.
Cambridge Dictionary says that the “religion is the belief in and worship of a god or gods, or any such system of belief and worship. As defined in the Oxford Dictionary the religion means that, “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. The Nature of Religion has been traditionally defined as a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes to moral values.
In Hinduism has been variously defined as a religion, a religious tradition, a set of religious beliefs, and a way of life. Hinduism is a religion of India that emphasizes freedom from the material world through purification of desires and elimination of personal identity. Hindu beliefs include reincarnation.
Merriam Dictionary has defined it as the dominant religion of India that emphasizes dharma with its resulting ritual and social observances and often mystical contemplation and ascetic practices. The ”Rig Veda” is a scripture of Hinduism and it dates back to between 1500–1200 BC. It is one of the oldest known complete religious texts that has survived into the modern age.
Jainism was born in India about the same period as Buddhism. It was established by Mahavira (599 – 527 BC) in about 500 B.C. He was born near Patna in what is now Bihar State. Mahavira was called ‘Jina’ meaning the big winner and from this name was derived the name of the religion.
Jainism developed as a dissension to the Brahminic philosophy that was dominant during that period in North-East India. It believes in reincarnation which eventually leads to liberation. Jainism is different to Buddhism in its ascetic beliefs. Both these religions emphasize non-violence, but non-violence is the main core in Jainism. In Jainism, non-violence is its main core.
Jains believe that everything has life and this also includes stones, sand, trees and every other thing. The fact that trees breath came to be known to the science world only from the 20th century.
Sikhism is a religion and philosophy founded in Punjab region in India in late 15th century. Its members are known as Sikhs. The Sikhs call their faith Gurmat (Punjabi: “the Way of the Guru”). According to Sikh tradition, Sikhism was established by Guru Nanak (1469–1539) and subsequently led by a succession of nine other Gurus. All 10 human Gurus, Sikhs believe, a single spirit. Upon the death of the 10th Guru Gobind Singh (1666–1708), the spirit of the eternal Guru transferred itself to the sacred scripture of Sikhism, Sikhs believe in one God who guides and protects them. They believe everyone is equal before God. Sikhs believe that one’s actions are important and he should lead a good life. They believe the way to do this as keeping God in their heart and mind at all times and live honestly and work hard. They also should treat everyone equally, be generous to those less fortunate than them and serve others.
Judaism has its roots as an organized religion in the Middle East during the Bronze Age. Modern Judaism evolved from ancient Israelite religion around 500 BCE and is considered one of the oldest monotheistic religions. The Hebrews and Israelites were already referred to as “Jews” in later books of the Tanakh such as the Book of Esther, with the term Jews replacing the title “Children of Israel”. Judaism’s texts, traditions and values strongly influenced later Abrahamic religions, including Christianity and Islam. Hebraism, like Hellenism, played a seminal role in the formation of Western civilization through its impact as a core background element of Early Christianity.
Jews believe in individual and collective participation in an eternal dialogue with God through tradition, rituals, prayers and ethical actions. Christianity generally believes in a Triune God, one person of whom became human. Judaism emphasizes the Oneness of God and rejects the Christian concept of God in human form.
Taoism (also spelled Daoism) is a religion and a philosophy from ancient China that has influenced folk and national belief. Taoism has been connected to the philosopher Lao Tzu, who around 500 B.C.E. wrote the main book of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching. Taoism holds that humans and animals should live in balance with the Tao, or the universe. Taoists believe in spiritual immortality, where the spirit of the body joins the universe after death. One of the main ideas of Taoism is the belief in balancing forces, or yin and yang. Yin and yang show that everything in the universe is connected and that nothing makes sense by itself. Taoism is a philosophy that is based in nature and the energies that keep everything in order and harmony.
Taoism became well-known in the eighth century. as the religion of the Tang dynasty. In the following centuries, it existed alongside Buddhism and Confucianism (another philosophical religion). However, during the Communist takeover in 1959, Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism and other religions were banned. This caused a decline in the practice of Taoism in China. Many modern Taoists live in Taiwan, although recent reforms in China have increased the number of Chinese Taoists.
Christianity, is a monotheistic, deontological, grass-roots, Jewish sectarian movement that focuses upon the life, teachings, and mission of Jesus of Nazareth (also known as Jesus the Christ). It began in Jerusalem in Judea in the 1st century. Christians are monotheistic, i.e., they believe there’s only one God, and he created the heavens and the earth. This divine Godhead consists of three parts: the father (God himself), the son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Bible includes important scriptures that outline Jesus’s teachings, the lives and teachings of major prophets and disciples, and offer instructions for how Christians should live. Both Christians and Jews follow the Old Testament of the Bible, but Christians also embrace the New Testament.
Muhammad was born in the year 570 in the town of Mecca, a mountain town in the high desert plateau of western Arabia. Quaran is the Islamic sacred book, believed to be the word of God as dictated to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel and written down in Arabic. Muslims believe that the Quran was orally revealed by God to the final prophet, Muhammad, through the archangel Gabriel incrementally over a period of some 23 years, beginning in the month of Ramadan, when Muhammad was 40; and concluding in 632, the year of his death. Muslims regard the Quran as Muhammad’s most important miracle; a proof of his prophethood and the culmination of a series of divine messages starting with those revealed to Adam, including the Tawrah (Torah), the Zabur (“Psalms“) and the Injil (“Gospel”) It touches upon all aspects of human existence, including matters of doctrine, social organization, and legislation. It could be said as a law which is mixed up with religious preaching.
Abrahamic religions were sent down to liberate human minds and render them enlightened and mature through the divine light. Religion is not meant to be in contrast to reason and truth. Rather, it is meant to be in harmony with reason and help develop and illuminate it.
Islamic philosophy in broadest sense means the world view of Islam, as derived from the Islamic texts concerning the creation of the universe and the will of the Creator. In another sense it refers to any of the schools of thought that flourished under the Islamic empire or in the shadow of the Arab-Islamic culture and Islamic civilization.
Uniform Features of Religions
I referred to above the main religions followed by the people in the present World except Buddhism. There are 535 million of people who follow and practice Buddhism all around the World and it represents about 8% of World population. Now the question is whether Buddhism has the main and significant features that is required to become a religion. As far as significant features are concerned, in a religion;
1) there must be the God or gods,
2) devotees/followers must have faith on him/them, at times on his/theirs messenger/s,
3) devotees/followers are bound over to follow him/them.
As pointed out above, though there is such a uniformity in all those religions, the Buddhism does not admonish to such belief or prayers to god/gods. Instead, it taught the opposite of it.
In the early history religions were emerged based on different reasons.
“Bahun ve saranan yanthi- pabbathani vananica
Arama rukka cethyani- manussa bhaya tajjitha”
People seek refuge in many things such as forest, hills, rocks, hermitages, temples because they live in fear. The Buddhism teaches the complete convers of it and the following two features demonstrate such facts;
1) Human being are not seekers of refuge of the God/gods, but they help gods. It does not believe one God concept, but concedes different kind of gods.
Buddha’s initial advice to His first group of Arahants consisting of sixty, was
“Caratha bhikkawe carikan, bahujana hithaya bahujana sukhaya,
Lakanukampaya, atthaya hithaya, sukhaya, deva manussanan……………”
which means all His disciples shall preach the Noble Dhamma for the purpose of the welfare and betterment of masses of people and gods. The golden thread that runs through the entire fabric of the purpose of His teachings, is summed up in that advice.
2) It does not compel to believe what Buddha taught, instead it teaches to believe only what you are convinced with.
The Buddha taught in Kalama Sutta what is to believed and what not. When The Buddha was wandering in the Kosala country Kalamas who were inhabitants of Kesaputta asked The Buddha that there are some monks and brahmans, who visit Kesaputta and explain only their own doctrines; the doctrines of others they despise, revile, and pull to pieces. Then some other monks and brahmans too, come and say the same thing. Therefore, we have doubt, there is uncertainty in us concerning them. Which of these reverend monks and brahmans spoke the truth and which falsehood?
The Buddha replied that;
“Alan hi vo kalama kandhithun
Alan viciciththutun kankaniyeda
Pana vo thane vicikiika upanna”
which means “Kalama you suspect when you have to do so. You question when you have to do so. Your suspicion is far more reasonable”
Then, The Buddha preached that;
“Etha tumhe Kalama. Ma anussavena, ma paramparaya, ma itikiraya, ma pitasampadanena, ma takkahetu, ma nayahetu, ma akaraparivitakkena, nid ditthinijjhanakkhantiya, ma bhabbarupataya, ma samanro no garu ti.”
Do not believe something just because it has been passed along and retold for many generations.
Do not believe something merely because it has become a traditional practice.
Do not believe something simply because it is well-known everywhere.
Do not believe something just because what the scriptures say.
Do not believe something solely on the grounds of logical reasoning.
Do not believe something merely because it accords with your philosophy.
Do not believe something because it appeals to common sense.
Do not believe something just because you like the idea.
Do not believe something because the speaker seems trustworthy.
Ma samano no garu ti
Do not be led by what your teacher tells you is so.
As explained in Vaseththa Sutta there were two young brahmins, Vāsettha and Bhāradvāja who were arguing on what makes a true brahmin. Bhāradvāja maintained that it was pure descent from seven generations of ancestors, with neither break nor blemish in the lineage, whereas Vāsettha contended that virtue and moral behaviour made a true brahmin. As neither could convince the other, they agreed to refer the matter to The Buddha, who said it was not by birth but by one’s own actions which made the true brahmin. Buddha replied Vasettha in verses that people are classified by their occupations but there is no one more superior than another because of birth. A true brahmin is one who is virtuous, abandoned cravings, destroyed all taints, practiced the noble eightfold path.
In the context of the present world, it is abundantly clear that man cannot distinguish between the right and the wrong; and thereby he perceives substantiality in unsubstantial things and vice- versa.
“Asare saramathino – sare casaradassino
Te saran nadhigadjjanti – miccasankappa gocara“
It is appropriate to mention what Albert Einstein said in his wisdom;
“Buddhism requires no revision to keep it up to date with recent scientific findings. Buddhism need not surrender its views to science because it embraces science as well, as it goes beyond science. Buddhism bridges between religious and scientific thoughts by stimulating man to discover the latent potentialities within himself and his environment. Buddhism is timeless”
It is not out of place to refer to what Shri Hari Singh, while addressing the World Congress of Faith in London said that;
“The one solution to the problem of man versus man lay in the use of only universal love. What was required was that we should see that we are all members of the universal self that constituted the universe. The practical value of Buddhism was demonstrated by the fact that there had never been a war in the name of Buddhism.”
Sir Arthur C. Clarke said that;
“The Buddhism which is not a religion, but a philosophy and the only philosophy with religious flavour and not originated from divine preaching, would fill the vacuum of religions based upon divine preaching which would be scattered and disappeared with hammers of the scholars and erudite in time to come. It will be the only philosophy which can stand the test of time.”
But I would exceptionally say that the Buddhism is neither a religion nor a philosophy too in that sense, it goes beyond a religion or a philosophy, and it should be more accurately defined as the “Reality in the World” consonant with the Four Noble Truths preached in Damsak Pevathum Sutta, in The Buddha’s first sermon to His first five disciples. But it must be conceded that for the sustenance and continuation of the Buddhist Order, presence of the features of a religious organization is essential and unavoidable.
May the Triple Gem Bless you all