Brief Sketches of the Five Major World Religions
Symbols of the Five Major Wold Religions
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.
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
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’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
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
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
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.
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