Christianity and Other World Religions
“the name ‘Hinduism’ was not one that it took to itself, but rather it was named ‘Hinduism’ in the 13th century by the invading Muslim Persians who wanted to differentiate between their religion and the religion of the Indians, Hinduism – the religion of the people of the Indus Valley.” (Legge, Strongholds of Satan, 143)
The original stock was a monotheistic nature worship, which the Hindu ancestors held in common with other branches of the Aryan family when dwelling together on the high tablelands of Central Asia. …it seems certain, from similarities of language, that this Aryan family once dwelt together, and had a common worship, and called the supreme deity by a common name. It was a worship of the sky, and at length of various powers of nature: Surya, the sun; Agni, fire; Indra, rain, etc. (Ellinwood, Oriental Religions, 73)
Central principles: (simplified version of Sanatana Dharma)
Truth or God is one.
Our real nature is divine.
The purpose of our life is to realize the One in our own soul.
There are innumerable spiritual paths, all leading to this realization of divinity.
Hindu sacred texts fall into one of two categories: sruti (“heard”) or smruti (“remembered”). Sruti scriptures are considered divinely inspired and fully authoritative for belief and practice, while smruti are recognized as the products of the minds of the great sages.
However, smruti texts often carry almost as much authority as sruti, and the religion of the older sruti texts bears little resemblence to modern Hinduism and is largely unknown to the average Hindu. Nevertheless, the sruti are still held in very high regard and portions are still memorized for religious merit. The only texts regarded as sruti are the Vedas, which include both ancient sacrificial formulas and the more philosophical Upanishads.
Smruti texts help explain sruti scriptures and make them meaningful to the general population. Despite their lesser authority, they are generally the most recent, the most beloved by the Hindu population, and the most representative of actual Hindu beliefs and practices. Smruti texts include the Itihasas (History or Epics), Puranas (Mythology), Dharma Shastras (Law Codes), Agamas and Tantras (Sectarian Scriptures), and Darshanas (Manuals of Philosophy). (religionfacts.com)
Veda, (Sanskrit: “Knowledge”) a collection of poems or hymns composed in archaic Sanskrit. No definite date can be ascribed to the composition of the Vedas, but the period of about 1500–1200 BC is acceptable to most scholars. The hymns formed a liturgical body that in part grew up around the soma ritual and sacrifice and were recited or chanted during rituals. They praised a wide pantheon of gods, some of whom personified natural and cosmic phenomena, while others represented abstract qualities such as friendship (Mitra), moral authority (Varuna), kingship (Indra), and speech (Vach, a goddess).
Upanishad, also spelled Upanisad, Sanskrit Upaniṣad (“Connection”), one of four genres of texts that together constitute each of the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of most Hindu traditions. Each of the four Vedas—the Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda—consists of a Samhita (a “collection” of hymns or sacred formulas); a liturgical prose exposition called a Brahmana; and two appendices to the Brahmana—an Aranyaka (“Book of the Wilderness”), which contains esoteric doctrines meant to be studied by the initiated in the forest or some other remote place, and an Upanishad, which speculates about the ontological connection between humanity and the cosmos. Because the Upanishads constitute the concluding portions of the Vedas, they are called vedanta (“the conclusion of the Vedas”), and they serve as the foundational texts in the theological discourses of many Hindu traditions that are also known as Vedanta. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
Eerdmans’ Handbook to The World’s Religions, on page 172, defines their understanding of God like this: ‘The individual Hindu may reverence one god, a few gods, or many gods, or none at all. He may also believe in one god and in several gods as manifestations of that one god. He may express the ultimate in a personal way or in an impersonal way’.
So is Hinduism polytheistic, pantheistic, or monotheistic? Contributing to the difficulty of answering this question is the fact that Hindus are not nearly as concerned as are western thinkers with such labels and categories. After all, it is a favorite Hindu saying that “The Truth is One, but different sages call it by different names.” But when Hindus do define their religion in these terms, usually for the benefit of curious westerners, they tend to do so in terms of monotheism and pantheism:
“According to the tenets of Hinduism, God is one as well as many.” (HinduWebsite.com)
“Hindus believe in monotheistic polytheism, rather than polytheism.” (The Hindu Universe)
“Even though Hinduism is mistakenly regarded by many as a religion having many gods namely, polytheism, yet truly speaking Hinduism is a monotheistic religion.” (Sri Swami Chidanda)
Taking all of the above into consideration, our Fast Facts on Hinduism page classifies Hinduism as “pantheism with polytheistic elements.” (religionfacts.com)
Jesus measures up as a Sadhu, a holy man. He preached a universal message, love of God and love of brother, which was beyond any sectarianism or selfishness. Jesus was one of those people who appealed from heart to heart, and that’s what makes him such a good Hindu Saint.
In my particular tradition, and among other Hindus, He is seen as much more, as an Avatar, specifically a Shaktavesha Avatar or an empowered incarnation. This means that God has sent Him to us for a specific mission to fulfil God’s will on earth.
The Sanskrit word acharya means ‘one who teaches by example’. For Hindus, Christ is an acharya. His example is a light to any of us in this world who want to take up the serious practice of spiritual life. His message is no different from the message preached in another time and place by Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya. It would be a great shame if we allowed our Hinduism, our Islam, our Judaism or indeed our Christianity to stand in the way of being able to follow the teachings and example of such a great soul as Lord Jesus Christ. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/beliefs/jesus_1.shtml)
The Shastras use the same word for man and the one divine and universal Being: Purusha, as if to lay stress upon the oneness of humanity with God.
Be that as it may, there can be no doubt that man is full of divine possibilities – he is not merely a term in physical evolution, but himself the field of a spiritual evolution which with him began and in him will end. It was only when man was made, that the gods were satisfied. (http://www.hinduwebsite.com/divinelife/auro/notebook1911.asp)
[T]he basic tenets of Hinduism: Man is an aspect of God. He is God’s objective reality in creation. He exists in relationship with God like a reflection in the mirror that is somewhat different yet inseparable and somewhat similar. Veiled in him is the true self by the influence and involvement of Prakriti or primordial nature. The purpose of his life upon earth is to follow the law (dharma) of God and achieve salvation (moksha) or freedom from his false self (ahamkara) by leading a balanced life in which both material comforts and human passions have their own place and legitimacy.
The four chief aims or purusharthas are:
1. Dharma (righteousness)
2. Artha (wealth)
3. Kama (desire)
4. Moksha (salvation or liberation).
…As he passes through the rigors of life and experiences the problem of human suffering, he learns to appreciate the value of liberation. He becomes sincere in his quest for salvation. So we have the four goals, instead of just one, whose pursuit provides us with an opportunity to learn important lessons and move forward on the spiritual path. What the purusharthas characterize is not a life of self-negation, but of balance, complexity, richness, opportunities and moderation in a cosmic drama of immense proportions in which man ultimately envisions and experiences his true grandeur and fulfills the very purpose of his creation.
Every individual in Hindu society is expected to achieve these four objectives with detachment, without any expectation and as a sacrificial offering to God in the ritual of human life. They have to be pursued selflessly for a higher and greater cause. Depending upon the attitude and the manner in which we pursue them, they either set us free or entangle us deeper with the allurements of human life. (www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_aims.asp)
Liberation is known variously in Hinduism as mukti, kaivalya, moksha or nirvana. Liberation means when a soul is released from its involvement with Prakriti or nature, which uses its instruments of delusion, attachment and egoism to subject the souls to their physical existence and the cycle of births and deaths. When the individual souls become aware of their true nature and transcend their limitations, they gain freedom and become one with the divine. It takes several births and intense effort on the part of the souls to regain their freedom.
Hinduism does not prescribe a particular way to achieve liberation. It is goal specific, but not path specific. This way it differs radically and fundamentally from all the other major religions of the world. It specifies the primary and the most important objective of human life as self realization, but leaves the specifics of the manner and the method in which it is to be attained to the wisdom of the scholars and philosophers and the individuals themselves. Since God is omniscient and innumerable are His forms, innumerable are also the paths and the methods by which one can find Him. To limit the paths by which one can reach God or to declare a path as the one and the only super highway to the kingdom of God, is to attempt to measure the infinite or define the indefinable.
While this is the basic approach, Hindu scriptures mention three broad categories of paths or approaches to the goal of self realization. They are the path of knowledge (jnana marg), the path of renunciation of action (karma-sanyasa-marg) and the path of devotion (bhakti marg). These three approaches are equally effective, depending upon who is practicing them and how they are practiced, and no one can say with certainty that one path is better than the other. One can attain liberation by practicing any one of them individually or by combining the best of their features. The Bhagavad Gita presents them as complimentary paths, acknowledging the path of devotion as easier and superior. (http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_enlighten.asp)
Yoga is the means to integrate the body with the mind and the lower self with the higher self. Through yoga, one can achieve perfection of the physical, mental and lower selves and prepare ones journey into higher consciousness through the awakening of the kundalini and other latent powers. Purely as a physical exercise yoga can aid us in keeping our bodies and minds in perfect balance and at peace. Yoga is the most important contribution of Hinduism to the modern world. The practice of yoga is a sure way to hasten the process of our evolution into higher beings of the transcendental realms. (http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/yogaindex.asp)
Hindu ethics are related to reincarnation, which is a way of expressing the need for reciprocity, as one may end up in someone else’s shoes in their next incarnation. Intention is seen as very important, and thus selfless action for the benefit of others without thought for oneself is an important rule in Hinduism, known as the doctrine of karma yoga. This aspect of service is combined with an understanding that someone else’s unfortunate situation, while of their own doing, is one’s own situation since the soul within is the soul shared by all. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics_in_religion)
Hindu ethics is mainly subjective or personal, its purpose being to eliminate such mental impurities as greed and egoism, for the ultimate attainment of the highest good. Why Hindu ethics stresses the subjective or personal value of action will be discussed later. Objective ethics, which deals with social welfare, has also been considered by Hindu thinkers. It is based upon the Hindu conception of Dharma, or duty, related to a man’s position in society and his stage in life. Objective ethics, according to the Hindu view, is a means to an end, its purpose being to help the members of society to rid themselves of self-centeredness, cruelty, greed, and other vices, and thus to create an environment helpful to the pursuit of the highest good, which transcends society. Hinduism further speaks of certain universal ethical principles which apply to all human beings irrespective of their position in society or stage in life. (http://www.hinduism.co.za/ethics.htm)
Hindu ethics are taught by guidance from leaders and teachers (see guru), wandering holy men (sadhus), and sages (rishis). Some gurus are venerated, and may work miracles. Sacred scriptures also give guidance. Morality is taught through Hindu scriptures, for example the Ramayana. The scriptures prohibit murder, theft, adultery, and consuming alcohol, and promote kindness to others, respect for all life (ahimsa), vegetarianism, and respect for elders. There is no centralized religious authority, and the religion is held together by the duties of family and caste.
For Hindus, there are four goals in life: love or pleasure (kama), material wealth (artha), the path (dharma), and release from reincarnation (moksha). Dharma is based on sympathy, fairness, and restraint. Sin is to act selfishly instead of following dharma. Hindus aspire to equanimity and a sense of calmness (shama). Asceticism, the renunciation of physical pleasure, is a path taken by only a very small minority of Hindus. Some Hindus make daily worship and offerings to humankind, the needy, and to guests. Unexpected guests must be welcomed and fed. (http://www.talktalk.co.uk/reference/encyclopaedia/hutchinson/m0099087.html)
[L]iberation does not mean dying and going to heaven. Heavenly life is as desirable or undesirable as earthly life because in the ultimate sense, heavenly life is also limited and transient, though compared to the earthly life it may be longer and more intense. True liberation means liberation of the individual soul from the cycle of births and deaths, from the sense of duality and separation, and union with Brahman, the Supreme Soul. (http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_enlighten.asp)
Most Hindu traditions consider moksha the ultimate goal of life.
The main differences of opinion center on the precise nature of moksha. Although practically all schools consider it a state of unity with God, the nature of such unity is contested. The advaita traditions say that moksha entails annihilation of the soul’s false sense of individuality and realisation of its complete non-difference from God. The dualistic traditions claim that God remains ever distinct from the individual soul. Union in this case refers to a commonality of purpose and realisation of one’s spiritual nature (brahman) through surrender and service to the Supreme Brahman (God). (http://hinduism.iskcon.com/concepts/106.htm)
Siddhartha Gautama was born in approximately 560 B.C. in northern India. His father Suddhodana was the ruler over a district near the Himalayas which is today the country of Nepal. Suddhodana sheltered his son from the outside world and confined him to the palace where he surrounded Gautama with pleasures and wealth. Despite his father’s efforts, Gautama one day saw the darker side of life on a trip he took outside the palace walls.
He saw four things that forever changed his life: an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a beggar. Deeply distressed by the suffering he saw, he decided to leave the luxury of palace life and begin a quest to find the answer to the problem of pain and human suffering.
Gautama left his family and traveled the country seeking wisdom. He studied the Hindu scriptures under Brahmin priests, but became disillusioned with the teachings of Hinduism. He then devoted himself to a life of extreme asceticism in the jungle. Legend has it that he eventually learned to exist on one grain of rice a day which reduced his body to a skeleton. He soon concluded, however, that asceticism did not lead to peace and self realization but merely weakened the mind and body.
Gautama eventually turned to a life of meditation. While deep in meditation under a fig tree known as the Bohdi tree (meaning, “tree of wisdom”), Gautama experienced the highest degree of God-consciousness called Nirvana. Gautama then became known as Buddha, the “enlightened one.” He believed he had found the answers to the questions of pain and suffering. His message now needed to be proclaimed to the whole world.
As he began his teaching ministry, he gained a quick audience with the people of India since many had become disillusioned with Hinduism. By the time of his death at age 80, Buddhism had become a major force in India. Three centuries later it had spread to all of Asia. Buddha never claimed to be deity but rather a “way- shower.” However, seven hundred years later, followers of Buddha began to worship him as deity.
Four Noble Truths
1. Suffering exists
2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path
Noble Eightfold Path
Three Qualities Eightfold Path
Wisdom (panna) Right View
Morality (sila) Right Speech
Meditation (samadhi) Right Effort
Buddhists of both traditions (Theravada (“more monastic and conservative”), Mahayana (“more liberal and lay-oriented”) look to the Buddha as their primary source of truth. But Mahayanists, unlike Theravadins, recognize numerous other Buddhas and bodhisattvas (those who help others toward enlightenment and nirvana). These personalities are said to be manifestations of the Absolute and, along with the Buddha, are regularly prayed to for assistance. Some are worshiped as gods.
The Theravada and Mahayana scriptures are different as well. The former tradition looks to the Pali Canon (written about 80 B.C.). This text—written in the Pali language and divided into a number of suttas—is called the Tripitaka, which means literally “three baskets.” It is about eleven times as large as the Bible and is arranged in three main divisions: (1) the Sutta Pitaka (discourses of Siddhartha); (2) the Vinaya Pitaka (precepts and rules for the Sangha); and (3) the Abidhamma Pitaka (esoteric and philosophical interpretations of the dharma.
The Mahayana tradition accepts as authoritative an extensive list of texts called sutras (composed primarily between the sixth and first centuries B.C.). The Chinese canon alone encompasses more than 5,000 volumes. Unlike the Theravadin suttas, which average only about twenty pages each, the Mahayana sutras are very long. They cannot be found in original form in only one language, but instead are written in Chinese, Tibetan, and Sanskrit. Furthermore, since there is no clear limit to the Mahayana canon, recent writings are constantly being added to Mahayana scriptures. This has forced most Mahayana sects to choose favorite texts for common use. Martin, Kingdom of the Cults
“Buddhism is often described as a “nontheistic religion.” There is no personal God who creates everything and to whom prayers can be directed. …the Buddha did not focus on descriptions of ultimate reality, the nature of the soul, life after death, or the origin of the universe.” Fisher, Living Religions
Interviewer: “How is it that the idea of God has arisen in the world?”
Dr Vajiragnana: “As we Buddhists believe, purely due to the fear and also due to ignorance”
Interviewer: “Fear and ignorance?”
Dr Vajiragnana: “Yes, fear and ignorance. Ignorance means the not understanding things as they really are, because when natural things happened they didn’t know how to tackle it, and how to handle it, and how to realise it; and they thought that there was a powerful being who does these things, or there was a powerful being behind of all those things. To prevent any danger from that powerful being they started venerating or praising or praying to that unseen being whom they have created by themselves as a god.” ‘Most Venerable Dr M. Vajiragnana’, from the London Buddhist Vihara
“Was Jesus a Buddhist? Certainly he was many things–Jew, prophet, healer, moralist, revolutionary, by his own admission the Messiah, and for most Christians the Son of God and redeemer of their sins. And there is convincing evidence that he was also a Buddhist. The evidence follows two independent lines–the first is historical, and the second is textual. Historical evidence indicates that Jesus was well acquainted with Buddhism. If Jesus did not go to India, then at least India went to Judea and Jesus. The real historical question is not if he studied Buddhism, but where and how much he studied Buddhism, especially during his so-called “lost years.”
Historical accounts aside, many textual analyses indicate striking similarities between what was said by Jesus and by Buddha and between the prophetic legend of Jesus and ancient Buddhist texts. The conclusion is that, although not identifying himself as a Buddhist for good reasons, Jesus spoke like a Buddhist. The similarities are so striking that, even if no historical evidence existed, we can suspect that Jesus studied Buddhist teachings and that the prophecy and legend of Jesus was derived from Buddhist stories.”
The biblical silence about Jesus’ lost years is one of the strangest hiatuses in history. It is a total silence about one of the greatest moralists in human history, covering seventeen years of Jesus’ life between the ages of twelve and twenty-nine. Indeed, except for his birth and a singular account of Jesus as a twelve-year old in Jerusalem, there is silence about all but the last three years of his life. Why? Why did not Jesus’ twelve disciples and his thousands of followers not comment on his life for twenty-nine of his thirty-two years?
Surely they did comment. Hundreds, even thousands, of accounts were written in the form of prayers, sermons, letters, or what became disparaged as the “apocrypha.” …Was Jesus really a Buddhist? The answer is not yes or no, but rather to what extent Jesus was or was not a Buddhist. James M. Hanson. Buddhist-Christian Studies, Annual 2005 v25 p75(15)
The Buddha held that everything that exists is characterized by anitya, or impermanence, and is continually coming into being and passing out of being as a result of certain interrelated causal conditions. A 12-link chain of causation (the “wheel of life”) explains how these causal conditions produce people’s mistaken perceptions of enduring realities.
The Buddha rejected contemporary Hindu views about the reality of an enduring self (atman), an indestructible soul that passes from one life to another. He claimed that belief in a substantial self is mistaken and results in the grasping or desire that produces suffering. What is normally thought of as a person is merely the ever-changing combination of psychophysical forces—the “Five Aggregates” of matter, sensations, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. At death, what passes from this life to the next is not a soul but simply the cumulative karmic effects of actions, which then produce in the next life the (mistaken) perception of an enduring person. ESV Study Bible
The question Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, sought to answer was, Why is there pain and suffering? Also, he held to the Hindu belief of reincarnation: after death one returns to earthly life in a higher or lower form of life according to his good or bad deeds. This belief prompted a second question that needed to be answered, How does one break this rebirth cycle? The basic teachings of Buddhism, therefore, focus on what Gautama believed to be the answer to these questions. These basic tenets are found in the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path.
After freeing oneself of all desires and evil, a person must concentrate his efforts in meditation so that he can overcome any sensation of pleasure or pain and enter a state of transcending consciousness and attain a state of perfection. Buddhists believe that through self effort one can attain the state of peace and eternal bliss called Nirvana. Paul Zukeran, Buddhism
Buddhism insists very strongly that there is right action, but it says that we cannot decide what right action is only by thinking about it. It says that right action is decided just at the moment of acting. So that decision is not a decision in our mind alone, but an intuitive decision in our whole body and mind.
So the question is then, how do we ensure that our action is right. The answer that Buddhism gives is very simple. It says that as the decision is taken by our body and mind together at the moment of acting, then the best way to ensure right action is to practice putting our body and mind together in the moment of the present. And in order to do this, Master Dogen and all the Buddhist masters of the past have recommended that we practice the simple practice called Zazen (meditation). Zazen is sitting with body and mind as one.
The Three Devotions are:
Devotion to Buddha
Devotion to Dharma (integrating Buddha’s teaching into daily life)
Devotion to Sangha (community, people who have attained the first stage of awakening)
Society must have rules, and we need guidelines to tell us the kind of behavior that is right action. For this reason, Buddhism has precepts.
The Three Universal Precepts are:
No.1: To observe the rules of society
No.2: To observe the moral rule of the Universe
No.3: To work for the salvation of all living beings
The Ten Fundamental Precepts are:
No.1: Don’t destroy life.
No.2: Don’t steal.
No.3: Don’t desire too much.
No.4: Don’t lie.
No.5: Don’t live by selling liquor.
No.6: Don’t discuss failures of Buddhist priests and laymen.
No.7: Don’t praise yourself or berate others.
No.8: Don’t begrudge the sharing of Buddhist teachings and other things, but give them freely.
No.9: Don’t become angry.
No.10: Don’t abuse the three supreme values.
These sixteen precepts are the Buddhist’s moral code. Eido Michael Luetchford
But the most important thing to Buddhism is ‘nirvana’, this idea that you can get to a stage where suffering is excluded from your life, a state where you have no longer any craving, any desires, any want or ambition. Therefore, because you don’t have any desire, there is no longer any suffering. When you reach that place there’s no more reincarnations for you. You will continue in this transcendent permanence. Legge
The third key concept is Nirvana. The term means “the blowing out” of existence. Nirvana is very different from the Christian concept of heaven. Nirvana is not a place like heaven but rather a state of being. What exactly it is, Buddha never really articulated.
Nirvana is an eternal state of being. It is the state in which the law of karma, and the rebirth cycle come to an end. It is the end of suffering, a state where there are no desires and the individual consciousness comes to an end. Although to our Western minds this may sound like annihilation, Buddhists would object to such a notion. Gautama never gave an exact description of Nirvana, but his closest reply was this. “There is disciples, a condition, where there is neither earth nor water, neither air nor light, neither limitless space, nor limitless time, neither any kind of being, neither ideation nor non-ideation, neither this world nor that world. There is neither arising nor passing-away, nor dying, neither cause nor effect, neither change nor standstill.” Although no Buddhist really understands the condition of Nirvana, it is their eternal hope. Paul Zukeran, Buddhism
Taoism, also known as Daoism is an indigenous Chinese religion often associated with the Daode jing (Tao Te Ching), a philosophical and political text purportedly written by Laozi (Lao Tzu) sometime in the 3rd or 4th centuries B.C.E. The Daode jing focuses on dao as a “way” or “path”-that is, the appropriate way to behave and to lead others-but the Daode jing also refers to Tao as something that existed “before Heaven and Earth,” a primal and chaotic matrix from which all forms emerged. Taoism did not exist as an organized religion until the Way of the Celestial Masters sect was founded in 142 C.E. by Zhang Daoling, who based the sect on spiritual communications from the deified Laozi. The Way of the Celestial Masters and other later sects of Taoism engaged in complex ritual practices, including devotion to a wide range of celestial divinities and immortals, and thousands of Taoist religious texts were produced over the centuries. Taoists also engaged with Chinese politics in a variety of ways throughout Chinese history. At one time, scholars in both China and the West distinguished philosophical from religious Taoism, but more recently a continuity of belief and practice between these has been recognized. In both, a harmonious relationship between nature, humanity, and the divine is emphasized, and both are concerned with appropriate behavior and ways of leading and governing others. The term “Tao” has a number of meanings. Taoist religious sects were persecuted in China during the 19th and 20th centuries, but are currently undergoing a revival. Western interest in Taoism has, for the most part, been confined to the Daode jing, but in both the West and in the East, there is considerable interest in practices which, while not “Taoist” per se, are often associated with Taoism, ranging from fengshui to taiji quan to acupuncture and herbal medicine. http://www.patheos.com/Library/Taoism.html
The Taoist canon is huge. Even in its reduced form it contains 1,120 volumes. The most important Taoist text is Tao De Jing(“The Way and Its Power”), a 5000-character synopsis of Taoist beliefs reportedly written by Lao-tzu shortly before he died. This short book was the inspiration for a primarily philosophical form of Taoism. Two other important Tao texts are the Tao The King (a series of wise sayings) and the Writings of Chuang Tzu (a discourse written by the Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu), which appeared a few centuries after Lao-tze’s reported death. These two texts are more mystical and religious in nature. http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=91
According to the Taoist creation theory (which is similar to the Chinese Creation Theory): “In the beginning of the universe there was only material-force consisting of yin and yang. This force moved and circulated, turning this way and that. As this movement gained speed, a mass of sediment was pushed together and, since there was no outlet for this, it consolidated to form the earth in the center of the universe…How was the first man created?…through the transformation of the material force. When the essence of yin and yang and the five agents are united, man’s corporeal form is established.
When asked about the existence of God, Kuo Hsiang said, “But let us ask whether there is a Creator or not. If not, how can he create things? If there is he is capable of materializing all forms. Therefore, before we can talk about creation, we must understand the fact that all forms materialize by themselves. Hence everything creates itself without the direction of any Creator. Since things create themselves, the are unconditioned. This is the norm of the universe.”
Tao and tê are central concepts of Taoism. Tao (meaning “The Way”) has been described as “the divine way of the universe” and the “unproduced producer of all that is.” Tê is the power of Tao and the power to bring Tao into realization. It incorporates the belief that human interference is damaging.
Tao is invisible, unnameable, impalpable, unknowable and imitable. Taoists believe that nothing exists before something, inaction exists before action and rest exists before motion. Thus nothingness is the fundamental state and qualities inherent to this state include tranquility, silence and humility and associations with femanine yin rather than masculine yang. Motion and change are important concepts, because from the state of inaction every kind of action is possible, and is why the term “Way” (Tao) is used.
Pure Taoism doesn’t dwell on an all-knowing, all-powerful God, or even nature spirits, rather it deals with “nonbeing,” the “unity of experience,” and “oneness” with chi. Taoism’s association with gods is mainly the result of its associations with Chinese folk religions.
There are thousands of Taoist gods. Some are holy men. Others occupy rivers, streams and mountains. Most have individual responsibilities and specific powers and abilities to grant wishes in particular areas of expertise. Taoists who need something pray to the appropriate deity in special shrines called departments or halls in Taoist temples.
Most Taoist gods are associated with a spot in the external world and a corresponding spot on the inside of man and often have a role in preventing disease. The position of Taoist deities in a large pantheon often mirrors those of secular officials in a bureaucracy. Many Chinese cities to this day have a temple dedicated to the City God, the heavenly equivalent of a mayor. http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=91
Taoism is an inclusive religion in that it does not reject the gods of other religions. While Taoists worship their own gods, they would not claim that the gods of other religions, such as Christianity, do not exist. Individual beliefs vary even more widely than do those of Christians, but I have put that question to a Taoist priest. Jesus, as a God of Christianity, would be accepted as probably real, but not relevant to followers of Taoism. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_do_taoists_believe_about_Jesus_Christ
At the beginning of time, some Taoists believe, nine vapors were created. The purest vapors formed the heavens and the coarser ones made up the human body. Life, they assert, begins when one of these primordial vapors enters the body at birth and mixes with essence to form spirit. Death occurs when the vapor and essence go their separate ways once again. Taoists believe that immortality is possible if essence and vapor can be kept together. [“World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]
When Chuang Tzu was asked by a friend why he was singing and drumming and not grieving after his wife died, he said: “When she died, how could I help being affected? But as I think the matter over, I realize that originally she had no life and not only no life, she had no form; not only no form, she had no material force (ch’i). In the limbo of existence and non-existence, there was transformation and the material force was evolved. The material force was transformed to be form, form was transformed to become life, and now birth has transformed to become death. This is like the rotation of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall and winter. Now she lies asleep in the great house [the universe]. For me to go about weeping and wailing would be to show my ignorance of destiny. Therefore I desist.” http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=91
Salvation for Taoism (absent the Buddhist influence) is a matter of participation in the eternal return of the natural world, a yielding to chaos followed by spontaneous creation, in a never-ending cycle. This is not a permanent transcendent state or redemption such as has been articulated in the Abrahamic traditions. For Taoism, salvation is not an escape from this world; rather, it is to become perfectly aligned with the natural world and with the cosmic forces that sustain it. http://www.patheos.com/Library/Taoism/Beliefs/Afterlife-and-Salvation.html
According to these texts, to emulate nature and “do without doing” (wei wu-wei), and to harmonize oneself with Tao, will lead naturally to behavior that is genuinely virtuous. …In the 4th century, a text appeared that designated 180 moral precepts, attributed to the deified Laozi. This was clearly inspired by the rules of the Buddhist community, which by then had established a significant presence in China. These 180 precepts included prohibitions against theft, adultery, killing, abortion, intoxication, and waste. They encouraged polite and mature behavior toward others, and also provided specific regulations regarding appropriate behavior within and outside of the community.
When the Lingbao scriptures appeared in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, they included a more developed moral component than was present in the Way of the Celestial Masters texts. Lingbao absorbed many elements of Buddhism, and the Lingbao sect adopted ten precepts, just as the Buddhists had ten precepts. Later the Celestial Masters movement also employed these precepts.
As in the case of Buddhism, when one was ordained, one vowed to follow these precepts, which included prohibitions against killing, stealing, lying, and intoxication. Notably, the precept against sexual misconduct in the five basic precepts of Buddhism was absent, replaced by a prohibition against immoral deeds and thoughts. Others among the ten were specifically Taoist in nature: to maintain harmony with one’s family members, living and dead; to support acts of good toward others; to help the unfortunate; and to avoid thoughts of revenge. The tenth precept is an obvious borrowing from Mahayana Buddhism: not to expect to attain the Tao until all beings have done so. http://www.patheos.com/Library/Taoism/Ethics-Morality-Community/Principles-of-Moral-Thought-and-Action.html
Immortality is an important idea in Taoism. Because all nature is united by Tao, Taoists believe, immortality can be attained. Taoists also believe that immortality it not something that can be achieved by separating oneself from nature, like with a soul, but rather is something achieved by directing natural forces through the body, creating more durable body materials, using techniques such as breathing, focusing sexual energy and alchemy.
The immortality referred to in Taoism is physical immortality. The highest goal of many devotees of Taoism is the attainment of immortality through a total channeling of energies to reach harmony with Tao. Immortality can be viewed literally or as a symbol of spiritual liberation. The idea of a spiritual immortality like that of Christianity was alien to the Chinese until Buddhism was introduced to China. http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=91