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Brief Sketches of the Five Major World Religions

Expository critical essays in literary, political, historical, philosophical, and spiritual topics remain part of my literary toolkit.

Symbols of the Five Major Wold Religions

Introduction

According to Paramahansa Yogananda, all religions serve the same purpose for humanity: to reunite the individual soul with the Supreme Soul or God. The differences that seem to split religions from one another result from the use of different metaphors that portray concepts. Also use of different names for the Supreme Deity causes confusion; for example, Allah, Divine Mother, Ultimate Reality, Supreme Intelligence, Emptiness, Absolute, and Over-Soul represent some of the terms used to name the Unnameable.

A common misunderstanding of Hinduism emerges from the many Hindu names for God or the Supreme Soul. But instead of actually signifying different "Gods," the names merely signify different aspects of the one God. Hinduism is monotheistic, just as Christianity and all other religions are.

All of the five major world religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have in common a basic faith, even though each religion describes the nature of their faith differently. They each have a prophet, or prophets, who interpret God's ways, and scripture in which the interpretation resides. Each major religions also has denominations or sects, for example Christianity's Catholicism and Protestantism and Hindu's Sikhism.

Paramahansa Yogananda

Hinduism

Hinduism’s scripture is the Bhagavad-Gita, and major prophet is Krishna. However, Hinduism is probably the world’s oldest religion, and, therefore, it also has other ancient scripture that was not written down for many centuries or perhaps millennia. These are called the Vedas.

In more recent history the important scripture that contains the explanation for existence and the guide back to God is the Bhagavad-Gita, whose central narrator is Bhagavan Krishna.

Symbol for Hinduism

Also referred to a the Om sign

Also referred to a the Om sign

Buddhism

Buddhism’s scripture is the Dhammapada, and its major prophet is Siddhartha Gautama or the Buddha. Buddhism began around 500 B.C. in India, when the prince Gautama abandoned his young wife and child and took up the life of an ascetic. It is said that he positioned himself under a banyan tree and determined to remain there until he had attained enlightenment.

Buddhism is very similar to Hinduism in that they both focus on meditation to achieve “enlightenment,” which is called “nirvana” in Buddhism and “samadhi” in Hinduism. Also both religions describe the nature of God, or the Absolute, pantheistically.

Symbol for Buddhism

Judaism

Judaism’s major prophets are the Old Testament prophets, especially Moses; thus, its scripture is the Old Testament or Torah consisting of the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

Because Judaism does not recognize the New Testament, it does not recognize the “old” testament as such, but simply as the Torah.

The name "Judaism" originates from the fourth son of Jacob, who was the father of the tribe of "Judah." The name "Judah" means gratitude in Hebrew. It was the tribe of Judah that resided in Jerusalem during the reign of both David and Solomon. Later the Judaic kingdom included all of the southern tribes of Israel.

Thus, the religion of the Jews is called "Judaism.

Symbol for Judaism

Also known as the Star of David

Also known as the Star of David

Christianity

Christianity’s major prophet is Jesus Christ, whose major scripture is the Sermon on the Mount which is part of the New Testament.

Like most prophets, Christ appeared at a time of history when there was great turmoil and strife.

Human kind had lost its knowledge of its divinity within the soul, and the Christ appeared to remind people that “the kingdom of God is with you.”

Symbol for Christianity

More traditionally a single Cross

More traditionally a single Cross

Islam

Islam’s prophet is Muhammad, and its scripture is the Quran (Koran). In addition to the Quran the devout Muslim studies the Sunnah, which is an account of the prophet's life and the activities and traditions he approved.

The prophet Muhammad was born April 20, 571, to a wealthy family of the tribe of Mecca. His father had died a few days before his son was born, and his mother died when he was six-years-old. His grandfather, who was caring for the boy, then died when Muhammad turned nine, at which time he was cared for by an uncle. The world in which the young boy lived was a chaotic one, sometimes described a "barbaric.” It is said that Muhammad was a gentle boy, sensitive and compassionate in his dealings with others.

At the age of twenty-five he entered the caravan business owned by a wealthy widow, Khadija; their relationship grew from deep respect to admiration and love, and they married. Their union proved successful. Fifteen years later the man Muhammad transformed into the Prophet, but such a transformation did not happen overnight. According to Huston Smith,

There was a huge, barren rock on the outskirts of Mecca known as Mount Hira, torn by cleft and ravine, erupting unshadowed and flowerless from the desert sands. In this rock was a cave which Muhammad, in need of deep solitude, began to frequent. Peering into the mysteries of good and evil, unable to accept the crudeness, superstition, and fratricide that were accepted as normal, "this great fiery heart, seething, simmering like a great furnace of thoughts," was reaching out for God.

Symbol for Islam

Also referred to the Star and Crescent

Also referred to the Star and Crescent

Tangible Evidence of God’s Love

According the renowned spiritual leader, Paramahansa Yogananda, when an individual develops an intense yearning for God, then God sends that individual tangible evidence of His love. Also Yogananda has explained that when evil seems to be overcoming good in the world,

God sends a prophet (guru or spiritual leader) to help people turn back toward God. Muhammad, being a gentle, compassionate soul, developed his latent soul qualities and by intense meditation in the cave at Mount Mira touched God's heart and God spoke to him, not only to satisfy the individual soul of Muhammad, but God also used Muhammad to inform those crude, superstitious, fratricidal brothers of a better way of life.

Religious Distortion

All of the great religions have suffered distortion at the hands ignorant interpreters. In the name of Christianity large scale devastation was visited upon the world during in the Middle Ages during the Crusades, then later in the Spanish Inquisition, and even in the colonial America during the Salem Witch Trials.

Hindu zealots have misappropriated and turned the caste system into an oppressive ordering of society that was not part of Hindu scripture. Many adherents to Buddhism in the West are attracted to that religion based on the misunderstanding that Buddhism is an atheistic religion. Again the misunderstanding results from failure to grasp the basic metaphors used to make sensible the Ineffable. And, of course, the extremist Islamists who distort the meaning of jihad demonstrate the horror that can be fostered from erroneous understanding of the metaphor of scripture.

Much fantasy has grown out of the facts of religions, and much mayhem and destruction has been and continues to be carried out in the name of religion. But all of the great religions teach compassion and love, and even though certain misguided zealots try to conquer others immorally in so-called holy wars, they do not represent the vast majority of the devout who understand and practice their religions as they are meant to be practiced.

Facts about the Major Religions

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on October 05, 2019:

Jay C OBrien: 

1. "I did not ask for you to explain God, I am stating my opinion that God is Good. If applied to the stories, the stories misrepresent God and are therefore Blasphame."

You are, in fact, asking me to explain God, when you make the erroneous claim that scriptural narratives "misrepresent God" and "blaspheme." You believe that error only because you are not understanding the nature of God. Of course, God is good, but God is much, much more than merely good. By saying God is good only, you limit God, and by limiting God, you misunderstand His omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent nature.

(While I feel confident in making general statements like this about the nature of God, I am not competent in offering the specific instruction you need for understanding the nature of God. Only a God-realized saint/guru/avatar can do that. The writings of Paramahansa Yogananda are such a source.)

2. "you can rationalize by metaphor and change the stories"

Interpreting metaphor in any discourse is not changing the discourse; it is elucidating the meaning in the discourse.

You are continuing to repeat your same claims, and I have stated exactly what I think you need to study in order to clear up your confusion. If you are sincerely interested in understanding and clearing up your confusion, please study the sources I have listed in an earlier comment.

I do wish you many blessings and all the best on your spiritual quest.

Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on October 05, 2019:

Perhaps you misunderstand. I did not ask for you to explain God, I am stating my opinion that God is Good. If applied to the stories, the stories misrepresent God and are therefore Blasphame.

Now you can rationalize by metaphor and change the stories, but that is no longer the story. Now do you understand?

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on October 04, 2019:

Jay,

As I said, I am not qualified to help you understand God. I have given you sources that can help. I have nothing further to offer.

Wishing you blessings & all best!

Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on October 04, 2019:

"To understand how scriptural stories depict God, I think you have to understand more about the true nature of God, and I am not qualified to help you understand God."

Yes, what is the true nature of God? I believe God is Good, Not Evil. If applied to the actual stories, the stories become Blasphame.

I ask for your indulgence by asking you to read the following article and give me your opinion.

https://discover.hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/...

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on October 03, 2019:

Thank you, Jay, for your comments and your sincere interest in this subject.

To understand how scriptural stories depict God, I think you have to understand more about the true nature of God, and I am not qualified to help you understand God. I can only point you to the source from whom I learned about God. Because you have some awareness of the Bhagavad Gita, probably the best source for you is Paramahansa Yogananda's God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita http://bookstore.yogananda-srf.org/product/god-tal... . This translation offers a complete explanation of the symbolism used in the narrative. I believe it will help you understand the nature of scriptural writings that rely on metaphor, imagery, and symbolism to express the ineffable.

Also helpful is Paramahansa Yogananda's The Second Coming of Christ — The Resurrection of the Christ Within You - A revelatory commentary on the original teachings of Jesus http://bookstore.yogananda-srf.org/product/the-sec... . In this marvelous book, Paramahansa Yogananda explains the true meaning of the "second coming."

Other equally useful and helpful books by Paramahansa Yogananda:

Autobiography of a Yogi: http://bookstore.yogananda-srf.org/product/autobio...

The Science of Religion: http://bookstore.yogananda-srf.org/product/the-sci...

Man's Eternal Quest: http://bookstore.yogananda-srf.org/product/mans-et...

I wish you many blessings and the best of luck on your spiritual quest.

Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on October 03, 2019:

Thank you for your explaination:

"You also have demonstrated that you fail to grasp the scriptural writings of other religions. As mentioned earlier, scriptural writings cannot be taken literally, because they remain highly symbolic, communicating truths that are eternally and fundamentally ineffable."

All I can do is read what is written. The words never change, no matter how often I read them. I do understand metaphor, what I dislike is the Depiction of God in the story as doing or willing terrible acts by Man against Man.

I am opposed to the Depiction. Yes, you can read any story as a metaphor, but that is in in head of the reader, it is Not the actural story. Read the actual stories again.

Please help me out here, do the actual stories depict God as violent, etc?

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on October 02, 2019:

Jay C OBrien: Thank you for your comment.

Just a few quick points in response:

You are quite correct that no text, person, or other entity should "depict God as violent, jealous, vengeful, or wrathful," and none does. You are mistaken to say otherwise. Your claims suggest that you do not understand the nature of scriptural writings. For example, when you state, "Arjuna kills his family at the direction of Lord Krishna," you are vastly oversimplifying the actual narrative of the Bhagavad Gita, which offers an elucidation through symbolism, metaphor, and other literary devices of the nature of good vs evil within the human mind. The characters who perform the narrative of the Gita are symbols of various human traits which vie with one another for attention and supremacy. If you wish to enrich your understanding of the Hindu scripture, you should study God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita ( http://bookstore.yogananda-srf.org/product/god-tal... ). In this classic translation, Paramahansa Yogananda explains the meaning of the symbols that the Gita employs to impart its narrative.

You also have demonstrated that you fail to grasp the scriptural writings of other religions. As mentioned earlier, scriptural writings cannot be taken literally, because they remain highly symbolic, communicating truths that are eternally and fundamentally ineffable. Thus, the story of Joshua contains much more than merely killing "men, women, and children." And again, that very act of killing is symbolic, not literal.

Because God wills everything into existence, the point that, "God willed the torture and death of Jesus," remains without practical relevance; I note that you fail to mention that God also willed Jesus to resurrect himself after only three days dead!

It is a baseless claim to state, "Christianity adopts Judaism." Christianity arises from the teachings of Jesus the Christ, who rightly corrected some of the earlier teachings of Judaism, for example, "an eye for an eye" becomes "turn the other cheek."

Interesting that you would offer the Muslim devotee's post-script after the name "Muhammad" and at the same time condemn the founder of Islam as a murderer! Your confusion seems quite entrenched.

You are correct in holding to God as peaceful and non-violent. But God is much more than peace and violence. God is the power behind all creation, including all events and all people. God created love and all that is good, but God also created evil and all that is bad. That's the reason He is "God"—He is everything, within and without creation, the eternal, infinite, omniscient, omnipresent Power, and each human soul is a spark of that Divine Power. Each of us has only to realize each soul status as a Child of God.

Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on September 30, 2019:

Let me suggest that religion should not depict God as violent, jealous, vengeful, or wrathful. That would be blasphame. Most major religions do decpit God as violent, etc.

Hindu: the hero, Arjuna kills his family at the direction of Lord Krishna.

Judaism: Joshua kills men, women and children at the direction of The Lord.

Christianity: adopts Judaism. It further teaches God The Father willed the torture and death of Jesus.

Islam: Muhammad (PBUH) killed people to further his religion.

I believe in a Peaceful God, Not a Violent one. The definition of God should be of Peace, Not Violence.

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on October 16, 2015:

Thank you, Charito! Glad you found my piece useful. One of my favorite topics for study … have a blessed day!

Charito Maranan-Montecillo from Manila, Philippines on October 16, 2015:

This is such an educational hub, Ms. Linda.

Although I'm Catholic, I sure learned more about the other religions. I like the symbols, too.

Well researched. Good job!