THE SACRED WRITINGS OF THE MAJOR WORLD RELIGIONS, Eastern Religions, Part One

By Penny Warren, B.A., M.A., D.D.

from (c) Mar. APR. 1997 PLIM REPORT

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See Related Articles: Comparative Religions

(Part One of this article will cover the sacred writings of four eastern religions. The western religions will be covered in Part Two.)

Man’s basic desire to communicate with the divine source is the common thread that connects most of the world’s major religions. The main aim of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, and Islam is to unite with the creator. The Hindus call this union Nirvana. The Buddhists speak of an awakening, becoming enlightened, or satori in Zen. Taoists discover the Way. Christians receive the Holy Spirit. Muslims completely surrender.

[Note: Only two religions have a different emphasis. Confucianism, the religions of ethics, stresses traditional, humane relationships between men without urging them to communicate with the Creator. Judaism, on the other hand, assumes the Jews already maintain an exclusive connection with Spirit since Yahweh chose the Hebrews as His people (Exo. 19:5-6; Deut. 7:6-9, 14:2; 26:16-19; Psa. 135:4). Their seers and prophets throughout Biblical history have demonstrated a continuous, sustained, and demanding tradition of mediating between the Spirit world and the mundane (Exo. 28:3, 31; 2-6; Jud. 13:24-25, 14:5-6; I Sam. 10:9-13; Matt. 13:6; Rom. 8:14). To keep their union with Yahweh secure, Judaism stresses obedience to the Laws, Feast Days, and ordinances of the Old Testament. If Israel obeyed Yahweh’s Laws, He empowered their prophets and kings, protected them from their enemies, and delivered them from insurmountable odds (Exo. 20:23; II Sam. 6:15-16). If they disobeyed His commandments, He cursed them (II Sam. 24th; Lev. 26th; Deut. 28th Chapters).]

The method each religion developed to achieve or sustain paradise (a direct union with God) shaped the distinct beliefs described in their sacred writings. Of the eastern religions, Hinduism is the most ritualistic and ceremonial with spiritual exercises and the worship of countless gods and goddesses. Both Buddhism and Taoism take the opposite approach of direct contact with the Supreme Being through meditation and following the way of nature, respectively. Of the western religions, Islam is the most dogmatic and exact in their practice and belief in the Koran. Although Judaism and Christianity allow for a more liberal interpretation of the scriptures, they too are steeped in tradition, ceremony, and customs.

What else unites all world religions?

The sacred writings of all the world’s major religions emphasize a body of ethical laws that remind men how they should treat each other and encompass principles of honesty, truth, justice, decency, and high morals. Those who think that the Bible is the only source of moral laws will find the originality of the Ten Commandments and the Messiah’s teachings hotly debated in scholarly circles. The Bible is not unique in its proclamation of the golden rule. Hindu literature written more than 500 years before the Bible states: “Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you (http://www.innersphere.com/golden/rule.htm).”9

Also non-Hebrews located geographically outside of Jerusalem, in India, China, and Persia came to the same conclusion 500 years before the Messiah’s birth. Buddhists state: “Hurt not others in ways that you would find hurtful.” Confucius said: “Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not unto others that you would not have them do unto you.” Taoism says: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” Zoroastrianism believe: “That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself.” (http://www.innersphere.com/golden/rule.htm)9

When compared against the moral principles found in other religions’ holy books, the Bible does not contain much in that area to distinguish itself. Where the writings of the Bible exceed other religions is in terms of prophecy. “Only the Bible manifests this remarkable prophetic evidence, and it does so on such a tremendous scale as to render completely absurd any explanation other than divine revelation (www.ChristianAnswers.Net).”10 There is no other book that has prophesied, and still is prophesying, as many local and world events more accurately than the scriptures of the Bible (See “The Destruction of Mystery Babylon,” the cover story in the November/December 1996 issue of the “PLIM REPORT.” Before we examine the important aspects of each holy book, we should clarify the intent of this article.

What is the intent of this article?

The intent of this article is to examine the sacred writings of each religion and to highlight some of the more unique points of each faith. These points will be compared with the Bible when appropriate. Because a multitude of authors has written a mountain of books on varoius religions' holy books, this article cannot possibly detail every aspect of each religion’s sacred writings. It can only capture the essence of the scriptures in hopes that the reader will be inspired to research this topic further. [NOTE: This article should be read in conjunction with the article “When Did The World’s Religions Emerge” in the “Did U Know” section of the September/October 1996 issue of the “PLIM REPORT,” to provide a historical context and development of each religion. A numerical listing of references can be found at the end of this article. To facilitate the flow of ideas, numbers that refer to this list, as well as page numbers when appropriate, will be dispersed throughout the article.]

How do sacred writings differ?

Sacred writings differ from each other in various ways. Some groups believe that their holy books are direct pronouncements from God given to a particular prophet to begin a religion. Muslims claim that Allah revealed the Koran to Mohammed for just that purpose. Islam declares that the Koran is an earthy manifestation of the heavenly God “in almost the same way that Christians consider Jesus to have been the human incarnation of God (The World’s Religions, p. 232).”6 Other sacred writings downplay the importance of written expression and stress that experience is superior to words. Buddhists believe that words are only signposts or maps pointing to the truth. Although the Buddha’s teachings are written in the Pali Canons and Tripitakas, the entire Buddhist experience, especially Zen, centers on breaking the language barrier and not substituting words for the reality—an enlightened consciousness.

When were many holy books written?

The sacred writings of numerous religions were not written down until many years after their founder’s death. During their lives, the Masters did not write, but taught their disciples who sustained an oral tradition and years later finally recorded their Masters’ words and teachings. Buddha’s followers did this, as well as Confucius’ students who compiled his words into a book called the Analects. The Messiah has the distinction of not only having His disciples write of His life after He died, but also having the Hebrew patriarchs prophesy of His coming before He was born (Matt. 5:39; Lk. 24:44-45).

Who wrote some holy books?

Some ancient writings, such as the Hindu Vedic literature, were written primarily for and by a certain class of anonymous seers who served as priests for the people. Later the masses of people learned the principles of Hinduism from mythological narratives in the form of epic poems containing various tenets of their doctrine. We will discuss the Bhagavad Gita later in this article.

The origins of other sacred writings are only legend, as in the case of the Tao Tse Ching in Taoism. Tradition claimed that before Lao Tzu went into self-exile, a gatekeeper asked him to leave a record of his beliefs to those he was leaving. He consented and wrote for three days. He returned with a thin volume of 500 characters and then crossed over. In any instance, the ideas and beliefs found in all sacred writings unites the people who believe.

How is the Bible commonly interpreted?

Every student of divine metaphysics must understand that the current interpretation of the Bible does not declare the immense treasure of prophecy therein. The Bible interpreted in the Jewish and Christian religions emphasize the commandments, ceremonies, and rituals to their congregations. These religions do not reveal the spiritual reality of the ordinances of the Mosaic Law nor their prophetic symbolism. For example, when Moses broke the first table of stones and Yahweh gave him another, this prefigured the first covenant coming to an end and a second covenant being established (Exo. 32:1-19, 34:1-4; Heb. 8:7-13; Jer. 31:31-34; Gal. 4:22-26). As the second tables of stones were placed in the Ark of the Covenant after Moses broke the first tables of stones, the New Covenant would be placed in a man’s heart after the first one ended. One must understand that the Law and Prophets foretold the Messiah’s life before He was born. Several articles in past “PLIM REPORT” issues have explained that the Old Testament related every detail of His life or symbolically portrayed the Messiah’s biography prior to His birth.

Let’s begin this examination by discussing the sacred writings of the eastern religions.

Hinduism

The most cursory observation of Hindu writings and worship reveals its abundance of gods and goddesses prompting most Westerners to conclude that Hinduism is polytheistic. However, viewing Hinduism from a Hindu’s point of view, the thousands of divinities are simply different aspects of the same substance. Hindu’s believe there are limitless manifestations of the ultimate reality, Brahman, who is omnipresent, incomprehensible, and infinite. Hindus simply have personified the endless manifestations of Brahman and given them names. In the Rig-Veda that we will describe below, it states: “Truth is one; sages call it by various names (Vedanta, p. 10).”4

The Rig-Veda is the oldest of four parts of a body of ancient Hindu literature, called the Vedas (i.e., sacred knowledge). A number of anonymous Vedic “seers” composed each of the four Vedas in different periods, between 1500 and 500 B.C., to serve as a manual for priests (Tao of Physics, p. 76).3 Prior to the Vedas being written, the highest class of men in India, the seers or priests (brahmins) transmitted these ancient scriptures orally from teacher to disciple. [Remember that Indian society follows a strict caste system. The highest members being seers or priests, then administrators and generals, third producers (artisans and farmers), and finally servants or unskilled labor.] People outside the priestly class did not know of this knowledge unless they were present at a ritual. Vedic literature, written in ancient Sanskrit, the sacred language of India, “remained the highest religious authority for most sections of Hinduism (Tao of Physics, p. 76).”3

What do the four Vedas contain?

The Rig-Veda is an anthology of religious hymns. The Sama-Veda is a collection of rhythmic chants that priests sang at the soma sacrifices (Man’s Religions, p. 80).5 Soma was an intoxicating, narcotic drink made of a now unknown plant (said to be a mushroom) and milk. The third Veda is the Yajur-Veda, written mostly in prose. It was meant to supply dedications, prayers and litanies to accompany the devotional use of the Rig-Veda (Man’s Religions, p. 79).5 The final part is the Atharva-Veda, a treasury of charms, incantations, maledictions, and spells. Each Veda had an appendix called the Brahmanas that directed the priests in their use of the hymns and prayers.

How did modern Hinduism originate?

Modern Hinduism evolved from the Upanishads (Vedanta) that compares to the New Testament of the Bible. The Upanishads was written about 800 B.C., and called the end of Vedanta. It is an explicitly metaphysical book that explains the essence of Hinduism’s spiritual message. These writings describe the one Brahman, Abstract, Eternal, and Absolute. He is the divine principle that holds all things together and unifies all life. “To unite the individual with Brahman and to join all Hindus into one mystical family of believers is the nature and purpose of the Upanishads (Major Religions of the World, p. 30).”1 This book deals with the search for meaning in life and the universe, and explains the principle of reincarnation and the doctrine of karma.

The Puranas are another ancient Hindu text that provides narrative legends that generally have five themes: creation, periodic recreation, genealogy of gods and sages, description of eras, and the feasts of the dynasties. The Puranas are primary scriptures for the three most worshipped deities: Brahma-Creator, Shiva-Sustainer (Cosmic Dancer), or Vishnu-Destroyer (who appears as the god Krishna of the Bhagavad Gita and as Buddha when Hinduism absorbed Buddhism).

How did most Hindus learn the principles of Hinduism?

The masses of Indian people did not learn Hinduism through the Vedas or the Upanishads, but through popular mythical tales that support Hindu beliefs. These were almost the sole documents of Hindu religion from 400 B.C. to A.D. 200 (Encyclopedia Britannica, Macropaedia).7 Within the epic poem, the Bhagavad Gita, written around the second or third century, the caste system, reincarnation, karma, and four types of yoga performed for liberation are discussed. The Bhagavad Gita is a philosophical dialogue between Arjuna, a warrior, and the god Krishna, disguised as his charioteer, which takes place in the middle of a battle between two warring families. Arjuna is in great despair because he is being forced to fight people he loves. Krisha convinces Arjuna that he should fight because he is of the warrior caste and has been bred to fight. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the physical battle points to “the spiritual battle of human nature, the battle of the warrior in search of enlightenment (The Tao of Physics, p. 76-77).”3 Krisha also sets forth four methods of yoga to liberate Arjuna from the Karmic cycle of reincarnation called samsara (See “Resurrection vs. Reincarnation,” the cover story in the January/February 1994 issue of the “PLIM REPORT.”

Yogi is a type of meditation to unite man with the absolute and predates Brahminism. Yogi in Sanskrit means to harness a horse to a chariot. Yogi provides innumerable ways to liberation: Bakti-love; Hatha-physical exercise; Jhana-knowledge; Karma-selfless service; Mantra-prayer using sacred sounds; and Raja-mind control, the most metaphysical. Trantra rites also involve meditation, yoga, and sexual intercourse to awaken the kundalini, attain miraculous powers, and unite with Brahman.

The Bhagavad Gita Krishna favors Karma yoga that is totally indifferent to the results of deeds. Krishna tells Arjuna the following. “You have a right to the deeds, never to the fruits. If you can perform your deeds but are holy indifferent to the results of our actions, you will not build up any karma and you will not be reborn. Fight because you are a warrior, but don’t mind what happens or who wins. On action alone be thy interest, never on its fruits (“What Should Arjuna Do?” developed by Jean Johnson, New York University, (http://www.askasia.org/frclasrm/lessplan/1000059.htm).”11

The next religion we will discuss is Buddhism whose founder initially tested each precept of Hinduism before separating and developing his own doctrine.

Buddhism

It is almost ironic to mention sacred writings and Buddhism in the same breath when, in principle, the meaning of one is nearly opposite the intent of the other. Buddha stressed the direct experience of achieving Nirvana through meditation. He did not want to substitute words for the experience, as a menu can never replace a meal. About 500 B.C., the Buddha attained Nirvana under the Bodhi tree. He taught the four Noble Truths to his followers for the next 45 years. Like a doctor, Buddha provided a diagnosis, prognosis, and remedy for psychological maladies.

The first Noble Truth states that life is suffering and frustration because people do not want to face life’s impermanence and transitory nature. The second Noble Truth says the cause of suffering is desire. People tend to cling or grasp material possessions and experiences based on ignorance or avidya. The third Noble Truth states it is possible to transcend life-death-rebirth (samsara) and Karma and achieve Nirvana. The fourth Noble Truth states man can attain complete liberation by practicing an 8-fold path.

Buddha did not write during His ministry. Neither did he theorize about ontology. “His way was uniquely devoid of talk about God or gods; he had little to say about prophecy, less to say about worship, and even less about the deification of himself (Major Religions of the World, p. 54).”1 He never meant for his doctrine to develop into a consistent philosophical system, but saw it as a means of achieving enlightenment (The Tao of Physics, p. 86).3

Does Buddhism have written texts?

After his death, Buddha’s disciples memorized his wisdom and transmitted it orally. At several councils spanning hundreds of years, the leading monks settled differences of interpretation in Buddha’s teachings. His memorized sayings were finally written down in an ancient Indian language called Pali at the fourth Great Council in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The Pali Canons were written about 500 years after Buddha’s death in the first century.

Buddha’s followers compiled his teaching and philosophies into holy books called Pitakas (one of three divisions of the Buddhist scriptures, Tripitakas) which in Sanskrit means baskets. They contain 10 commandments (ethical laws) and the golden rule. The Pitakas is a very large book whose English translation takes up 40 volumes.

Did the interpretation of Buddha's teachings cause divisions?

Because so much time had elapsed between the founder’s death and the first written doctrine, Buddhism had begun to split into several sects. The Hinayana or Theravada, the more conservative group, followed the Pali Canons, an oral tradition finally written down after 500 years. The Hinayana or small vehicle believes that only monks and nuns can have salvation and Buddha was human.

The Mahayana, the more liberal Buddhist sect, followed the Sutras, scriptures written one or two hundred years later. The Sutras provided more paths to enlightenment for everyone. The Mahayana or great vehicle believes that all have potential for enlightenment and Buddha is eternal.

Their philosophies on Nirvana also distinguished these two groups. The Hinayana thought once a man achieved Nirvana, he should stay in that peaceful state; the Mahayana thought he should come back to humanity to show others the way. Ashvaghosha was the first expounder of Mahayana doctrine in 1 A.D. He wrote The Awakening of Faith.

A third Buddhist sect was Tantra-Vajrayana that means indestructible vehicle. Its goal was to transmute passion, aggression, and ignorance.

What is Zen?

About 1200 A.D. the Buddhism that developed in Japan from the Ch’an or meditation philosophy of Buddhism is called Zen. In Japan, Zen is a blend of India’s mysticism, the Taoist’s love of naturalness, and the spontaneity and the thorough pragmatism of the Confucian mind. (The Tao of Physics, 106).3 The aim of Zen is to attain enlightenment or satori. Zen is concerned with the fact that Buddha awakened and believes everyone has this potential. (The Tao of Physics, 108).3

Zen masters are not given to verbosity and despise all theorizing and speculation. (The Tao of Physics, 109).3 They know that words are not the things described. They stress personal experience instead of book learning and teach that actions speak louder than words. They teach their students to seek the inner dwelling light. (See “Mystical States of Consciousness” in the January/February 1994 issues of the “PLIM REPORT”)

How was Zen taught?

A student of Buddhist is taught to achieve satori by participating in zazen, koan and sanzen. Zazen means seated meditation. A koan is a problem or riddle the student must contemplate and try to solve. Sanzen is a private consultation with a master concerning the progress of the student’s meditation. Two schools use these methods.

1. Rinzai or the sudden school uses shock treatment to facilitate satori for students almost at the brink of enlightenment.

2. Soto or the gradual school aims at maturing the Zen student step-by-step. It advocates quiet sitting and the use of one’s ordinary work as two forms of meditation.

Enlightenment in Zen does not mean withdrawal from the world but means, on the contrary, active participation in everyday affairs. Confucius, Buddha’s contemporary in China, would have agreed with this aspect of Zen because he never wanted to start a religion, just achieve a better social structure.

IV. Confucianism

Marcus Bach in his book Major Religions of the World refers to Confucianism as a "Religions of Ethics" (p. 74).1 Confucius taught “a pattern of ideal responses that might be consciously initiated” (The World’s Religions, p. 208).6 He based his ideas on the six Classics, ancient books of Chinese philosophical thought, rituals, poetry, music, and history. He did not only transmit the ancient cultural heritage to his disciples, but he interpreted this knowledge according to his own moral concepts.

Confucius lived during the days of feudalism and had seen so much unnecessary injury that he worked to provide Chinese society with a system of education and with strict conventions of social etiquette. He stressed moral order, which he called “li”. Confucius believed in social consciousness and responsibility.

Confucius’ teachings emphasized the propriety of Five Constant Relationships between parent and child, husband and wife, elder sibling and younger sibling, elder friend and junior friend, and ruler and subject. During and after his life, his disciples compiled a collection of his aphorisms called the Analects in 20 short chapters.

The best way to understand Confucianism is to let Confucius speak for himself. I will quote a few of his sayings in Confucius Speaks: Words to Live By, translated by Brian Bruya.2

“A gentleman [an exemplary man who lives in accord with the true spirit of virtue and propriety] is modest in word and extravagant in deeds (p. 118).”

“Is it not pleasurable to study and practice what one learns? Is it not delightful to have friends come from afar? Is he not a gentleman who remains dignified though going unrecognized (p. 68)."

“Someone who is forty years old and still goes about acting wickedly will never do a single decent thing his whole life (p. 140).”

“Young people should not be taken lightly; Who’s to say that someday they won’t surpass our own generation? However, if a person has reached forty or fifty years old and is still without accomplishment, that person is not worth one’s respect (p. 102)!”

“Don’t worry about not having a position. Worry instead about whether or not you have what it takes to hold a position. Don’t worry about other people not knowing about you. Pursue instead qualities that are worth knowing about (p. 76).”

His disciple Mencius wrote Five Constant Virtues. He wrote the essence of his master’s philosophy. Confucius, like Buddha, did not address ontology or life after death. He would not comment on how to serve God when men had not learned how to serve each other.

V. Taoism

The easiest way for a Westerner to understand Taoism (pronounced Dowism) is to remember the Messiah’s description of the unity He experienced with His Father Yahweh in John 14:10. “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” Like this scripture, Taoism describes a union with the ultimate, undefinable, one reality, the “Way.” Being married to this dynamic, creative force permits harmony, spontaneity, and grace to flow through a person.

Taoism teaches man to trust in his own innate, intuitive intelligence, as the laws of change are innate in all things. A concept of wu wei (i.e., inaction) exists in Taoism that Houston Smith described as “the precious suppleness, simplicity, and freedom that flows … through us, when our private egos yields to a power not their own (The World’s Religions, p. 208)." 6 Taoists strive to pattern human actions after the “Way.” They claim that human happiness is achieved “when one follows the natural order, acting spontaneously and trusting one’s intuitive knowledge (The Tao of Physics, p. 92)."3

Taoists observe nature and agree with the Buddhist that all things, events, people, and ideas are impermanent and transitory. The Chinese took the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence one step further. Taoist’s “not only believed that flow and change were essential features of nature, but also that they are constant patterns in these changes (The Tao of Physics, p. 95).”3 The Ying and Yang symbol represents the pattern Taoists observe in nature.

Are nature’s cyclic patterns the key of Taoism?

The sacred writings of Taoism, Tao Teh Ching, The Classic of the Way & its Power (Virtue), and Chuang Tzu, written two hundred years later, are not filled with descriptions of historical or personal gods, narratives, rituals, incantations, or ceremony. Instead, nature is praised; the continuous flow and change of life are expounded. The sage recognized that the patterns in the change and transformations of nature and directed his actions according to them. He became ‘one with the Tao,’ living in harmony with nature and succeeding in everything he undertakes.

“The principle characteristic of the Tao is the cyclic nature of its ceaseless motion and change (The Tao of Physics, p. 95)2.” The cyclic nature was no doubt deduced from the movements of the sun and moon and from the change of the seasons, it was also taken as a rule of life. “The Chinese believe that whenever a situation develops to its extreme, it is bound to turn around and become its opposite. This basic belief has given them courage and perseverance in times of distress and has made them cautious and modest in times of success. (The Tao of Physics, 95)."3 In short, Taoists believe in the implicit unity of all opposites (The Tao of Physics, p. 102).3 Westerners, on the contrary, find it difficult to accept that contrary experience and values are aspects of the same thing. These cyclic patterns in motion (dark and light, cold and hot, winter and summer, female and male, earth and heaven) are the essence of Tao. The ying/yang symbol captures the polar opposite concept that all these opposites are relative and united.

The three branches of Taoism (Philosophical, Vitalizing, and Religious) focus on maximizing te (or power). Philosophical Tao teaches ways to use the power one has most effectively. Vitalizing Tao teaches methods to increase one’s allotment of power. Religious Tao gathers the cosmic energy and deploys it for the people’s welfare.

Part Two of this article will proceed on to discuss the sacred writings of western religions.

References

1Bach, Marcus, Major Religions of the World, ( 1999 by Graded Press)

2Bruya, Brian, Confucius Speaks: Words to Live

3Capra, Fritjof, The Tao of Physics, 2nd Edition (1975 Bantam Books)

4Johnson, Clive, editor, Vedanta, ( 1971 Harper & Row)

5Noss, John B., Man’s Religions, 6th Edition ( 1980) New York,: Macmillan Publishing Company

6Smith, Huston, The World’s Religions, ( 1991 HarperSanFrancisco) Revised and updated edition of The Religions of Man, 1958

7The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Macropaedia, Vol. 8, p. 937

8Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition

9(http://www.innersphere.com/golden/rule.htm)

10(http://www.ChristianAnswers.Net)

11“What Should Arjuna Do?” developed by Jean Johnson, New York University, (http://www.askasia.org/frclasrm/lessplan/1000059.htm

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