The essence of all religions | Daily News

The essence of all religions

The book titled ‘Ways to the Center’ and subtitled as ‘An Introduction to World Religions’ (1981, 1984, Wordsworth Publishing, California) reached me as a rare treasure from a car boot sale in London as far back as mid-eighties. For those who are in need of essential knowledge on the main religions of the world, the work is authored by two scholars: Denise Lardner Carmody and John Tully Carmody.

The work contains ten main chapters, helping the reader to grasp the background of the religion, the social impact, the various challenges faced by those who accepted the religion and the vision and the mission of the same that enabled it to be accepted via documents as well as the oral transmission over the years. Followed by the preface, the authors present some salient factors pertaining to the need for the study of world religions. The most significant factor is the necessity that created the religious belief.

Beneficial living

The earliest humans had to perceive the impact of the nature as a supportive mode as well as a divine element that makes him live with an awakened beneficial living condition. In the direction, the surmised belief in divinity or God had come to stay. Followed by various ways of seeing the divinity, arrived the need to know more about the studying of religion where the authors indicate the key events in the subject area of religious studies book in the East and in the West.

The scholarly methods of studying are indicated. Firstly there are the psychological perspectives indicative of research of the type of French (1856 – 1939). Secondly comes the sociological research leading to the study on the part of Max Weber (1864 – 1920) and Emile Durkheim (1858 – 1917). Thirdly more scientific studies that lay emphasis on some of the aspects of religious studies enter in the form of scientific studies that lay emphasis on physics, chemistry and medicine. This leads to the fourth area of study known as phenomenological perspectives. All these background material lead into the opening chapter on the ancient religious mind and the changing aspects of the same over the years.

The authors attempt to rediscover the nature of the pre-historic religious, mainly based on folklore, anthropology and history in various parts of the world. In this direction, the authors have indicated 25 key events globally from the formation of the earth 4.6 billion years ago.

The areas such as the rise of life, the growth of the advanced Hominoid, the use of stone tools, use of five, the rise of homo sapiens, and the use of the ritual, the growth of the hunting culture, migration, colonization, agriculture, breeding animals. Thinking patterns, irrigation, writing and literacy are traced with adequate examples. This leads to the phenomenon of the religions of non-literate people at the gradual changing process.

Myths and rituals

Twenty-five key dates relating to the religions of non-literate people are indicated. They include initially Homo Sapiens. Then come the homo sapiens of Australia, onto Polynesia and New Zealand. The authors introduce the types of myths and rituals linked to these key dates. Chapters three and four centres on the origins of Hinduism and Buddhism respectively. These chapters explore the aspects of the cultures in post-Vedic India, Vedic India, the period of native challenge, the period of reform and foreign challenge and a summary of what Hinduism means. Coming on to the chapter on Buddhism, the contents include the background history of the Buddha, Dhamma the aspects of early Buddhism, the aspects of Tantrism and Mahayanism, the challenges faced by the Buddha and the spread of Buddhism to other countries etc.

The story of the Buddha at the outset is narrated like a story stating that he would be Buddha, named as Siddhartha was born and grew up in a time of rapid change, when people were in turmoil over religion and open to new teachings. Furthermore, the legend has it that his father Suddhodana was a king, who received a revelation that his child would be a world ruler if the child stayed at home.

According to other legends as the researcher-writer notes, but if the child leaves home, he would be a spiritual saviour. The renunciation on the part of Prince Siddhartha amidst all the pleasures bestowed on him is emphasized as the ‘great renunciation’ the search for the ultimate spiritual goal. As stated, Prince Siddhartha, now known as Gothama meditated on age, disease and death and decided to cast away his round of pleasures and solve the riddle of life’s meaning by becoming a wandering ascetic. The words used by the writers go as follows:

“Renouncing his wife, child, father and all the luxuries, he set off to answer his soul’s yearning.”

Buddhist discourse

Chapter Five is an attempt to trace the areas in Chinese religion, such as Confucianism, neo-Confucianism, Taoism, Chinese Buddhism, and the allied religious areas. Then comes the chapter on Japanese religions. The contents include the formative stages of the rooting down of Buddhism into various sects such as Kamakura Buddhism, Zen Buddhism and the advent of new visions of Buddhist doctrine.

The reader comes to know that two of the great pioneers who launched Zen vision in Japan was Eisai (1141 – 1215) and Dogen (1200 – 1253). Eisai had studied Zen Buddhism in China and then established himself in Kamakura, the new centre of Japanese political power. His teaching won special favour among the warlords who were coming to dominate Japan. From there onwards, the Zen vision got close bonds with them.

Zen became popular due to the central theme of the twist of the vision that linked the narrative that evokes a psychological impact on either the listener or the reader. It is the great visionary Bodhi Dharma who is held responsible for the origins of the Zen Vision. The vision helped the masses to think of how the mind works and the need for the mastery of the same in situations.

The next episode is the presentation of facts and figures pertaining to religions of ancient near eastern civilizations. This includes areas such as religions and practices in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Iran and Greece. Followed by the merged Judaism. It is recorded that Judaism is the oldest of the three major prophetic religions. The founding and development of Christianity and Islam could not have occurred without the pre-existence of Judaism. It is also stated that Zoroastrianism can claim some prophetic equality with Judaism, but its prophecies never became dominant in near eastern and western beliefs. 


Add new comment