Thursday, October 2, 2008

Asian Religious Traditions

The purpose of this research is to examine the concept of the divine in selected Asian religious traditions. The plan of the research will be to set forth key concepts in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shinto and to argue that concepts of divinity and worshipful practice are secondary in these religions to social and ethical concerns.

Hinduism dominates virtually all aspects of Indian society. To see why Hindu culture predominates in India, it is important to know that its history extends to about 1500 BCE. There is evidence of Indus worship of a mother goddess, as well as sacred animals, with some deities posed in yoga fashion (Molloy 76ff). The Hindu pantheon absorbed multiple deities of the Indus and Aryan peoples, with the gods Brahmin and Varuna in particular representing or protecting cosmic order (Van Voorst 41).

The multiple gods of Hinduism seem to suggest that they are of utmost importance to Hindus. However, Hinduism's key concepts do not emphasize worship but human relationships. The Upanishads articulate concepts such as the Atman, which Molloy calls "deepest self" (83), to distinguish it from Western concepts of the soul; maya, the notion of everyday experience; samsara, the "wheel of life, the circle of constant rebirth; and moksha, which "includes the notion of getting beyond egotistic responses . . . which limit the individual" (Molloy 83).

A relationship with the gods is secondary to the relationship to reality, or materia

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nators seem to have responded, and partly by what seems to have been felt as a need to establish a distinctive Sikh social identity. Like Hinduism, Buddhism was born in India, but it migrated to China and the rest of Asia. Buddhism has a complex structure of belief, and sectarian differences exist between branches of the religion that took place in various countries. All strands of Buddhism, however, share the idea that all of life is sorrowful, which is due to desires that must be conquered, by way of carefully disciplined and moral behavior, and its highest expression can be found in the meditation typical of the monastic order. Divine beings do not make an appearance in these fundamentals, and there is a view that Buddhism lacks belief in any god. Rather, the focus is on life as a process of detachment from materialism and from causing suffering, to be navigated via the "noble eightfold path," aimed at developing appropriate behavior as well as inner peace and enlightenment (Molloy 131). The process, by the way, is unending, perhaps impossible, and all-absorbing, which helps explain why there is an "a-theistic" feature to Buddhism. Buddhism is linked not only with Hinduism, but also with Confucianism and Taoism, comprising wi
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