Islamic religion flourished in conjunction with the Arab civilization.
Accordingly, very much like Judaism, it is also a "dead" religion which
is a remnant of the long dead Arab civilization. The Shiite sect now
provides the fundamentalist movement for Islam. Christianity
essentially "slumbered" for several centuries (called the "dark ages")
before yielding Western Civilization. Meanwhile, Islam flourished
within the Arab Civilization, but was ultimately replaced by Western
Civilization, even though Islam remains as the predominant religion in
several countries. The two even mixed in Spain for a few centuries, to
the great benefit of Western Civilization.
Again, the lack of tolerance for "new thought" in Islam characterizes Islam as a "dead" religion, which was closely associated with a now dead civilization. The central commandment of Islam is essentially the Jewish first commandment: "You shall have no other gods but the one true God." Since the God referred to is the God of Abraham, which both Jews and Christians acknowledge, there is a substantial portion of Islamic tradition that is common with both Judaism and Christianity. Nonetheless, Spengler sees the founder of Islam, the Prophet Mohammed, as a religious reformer who "impoverished" the religious thinking of the Arab civilization by forcing it into a strict form which had no latitude for "new thought."
English Puritanism performed this same function for our own Western Civilization, and much deep insight into what Mohammed did for the Arabs may be gained through a comparative study of the Puritan movements in England.
The Hindu religion is chiefly associated with India, although it is the predominant religion in several other small countries close to India. It is one of the world's oldest religions, with a direct lineage of at least 30 centuries of religious tradition, although technically only for the last 20 centuries or so may the name of the religion be properly referred to as Hinduism. (For the previous ten centuries or so, the name of the religion is properly referred to as either Vedism39 or Brahmanism, which are the two principal known early forms of Hinduism.) The more recent forms are Vaishnavism (worship of Vishnu),40 Saivism (worship of Shiva), Tantrism (which bears many similarities to Tantric Buddhism), and Shaktism. Some scholars include Jainism as a sect of Hinduism, as opposed to a separate minor religion in India, which other scholars assert it is. There is little in the way of centralized control of the religion,41 so each locality tends to have its own variations in religious traditions which have developed over the centuries.
The foundations of Buddhism are the teachings of the Indian mystic, Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha.42 Buddhism began with the same Vedic heritage as did modern Hinduism, but denied certain fundamental Hindu concepts43 and took the religion into an entirely different direction.44 In some sense, Buddhism may be seen as a fundamentalist (or at least, "reformist") version of Hinduism,45
at least because those two religions share a common base, with Buddhism
declaring that the fundamental concepts of Hinduism are basically
but that the prior interpretations of the consequences of those
fundamental concepts are incorrect, and then declaring a new
interpretation of those concepts.
The fundamental belief of Buddhism is that human life basically involves receiving a whole lot of misery and sorrow for everyone involved with it; what little pleasure and happiness that an individual achieves are merely the flip sides of a certain measure of pain and sorrow which MUST be received to balance things out; and that by seeking (or even just receiving) pleasure and happiness an individual accumulates a Karmic charge which causes the individual to experience an appropriate amount of pain and sorrow at some point down the line, if not in their present life, then in some future life. Thus, Buddhists seek to follow the "middle path," avoiding both pleasure and pain (both happiness and sorrow). This requires meeting all the events in life with equanimity (both internally and externally),47 thereby dissipating any Karmic charge (for either good or evil) which the individual might otherwise accumulate (or even already possess), thereby placing that individual into a "chargeless" position (with respect to their own Karma) at the time of death. If successful, this will avoid a re-birth into another body for more misery and/or pain in yet another life.
There is some argument (among Westerners, anyway) as to whether Buddhists believe in No God, One God, or Many Gods.48 Buddhists believe that nothing is permanent, which could easily be taken as a statement that no everlasting God could exist. However, Buddhists also worship many deities (the number varying according to the particular sect of Buddhism), and thus Buddhism could also be taken to be polytheistic (to confuse matters further, these deities are sometimes called "Buddha" with a name denoting their specific place in the Buddhist pantheon). There are also beliefs of various natures (at least in some of the sects) which could be taken as meaning that each of the alleged Gods is really just a different aspect of the one true God (i.e., the "all soul" from which all individual souls are split from, including the souls of the various Buddhas and all of mankind), which is more in accord with the Western concept of a monotheistic God. The difficulty in grasping these various concepts seems to lie as much in the fact that a Westerner is simply not conceptually prepared to accept Buddhist thought patterns, nor to adequately translate Buddhist scripture into a Western language, such as English, which is ill prepared to receive the translation. Thus, a typical translation begins by including so many English representations of Buddhist words that the resulting work becomes unintelligible to the uninitiated Westerner. Nonetheless, there is certainly a great deal of accumulated wisdom in the collected Buddhist literature, and it is clearly a resource not to be ignored. It is also clear that the fundamental value system of Buddhist life would be familiar to a Westerner. The Westerner probably recognizes the Ten Commandments (even if the Westerner is an atheist), and the Buddhist has the Ten Precepts, only five of which apply to lay people. The five precepts for lay people prohibit killing, stealing, engaging in sexual misconduct,49 lying, and consuming intoxicants.50 The five additional precepts for holy persons (monks, nuns, and lay persons committed to the stricter moral code) prohibit eating during certain hours; prohibit attending festivals and amusements; prohibit use of garlands, perfumes, and ointments; prohibit use of beds and chairs which are too large or luxurious; and prohibit accepting money (for oneself, as opposed to accepting it for the benefit of the church, which is the only way that the various temples can support themselves).51
The original Buddhist traditions required strict life-long obedience to the moral codes (including avoiding the eating of meat, and other rules of diet) in order to gain salvation.52 Other sects developed a doctrine similar to Christian redemption from sin, to the effect that chanting prayers to a dead body within three days of death might still be enough to guide the spirit to the holy path and thereby avoid the consequences of any sins committed in the current life. However, it must be remembered that the Buddhist concept of Hell is to simply be re-born into another life on Earth where the individual can again try for salvation, if not in that life, then in some future life.
There are some important things to learn from Buddhism, not the least because it began with an agnostic and somewhat humanistic worldview. The following quotation is excerpted from the Introduction to "The Buddhist Tradition, in India, China & Japan" edited by William Theodore de Bary:53
"Buddhism has been known to its followers as both a teaching and a way of deliverance. It has also been a way of life for those so delivered. That is, Buddhism has both freed them from life and freed them for life. . . .
"Whether or not Buddhism is also to be considered a religion is a matter of definitions and perhaps of no necessary importance. But many persons do approach it from this standpoint, with a concept of religion based largely on Western experience and yet with genuine eagerness to understand Buddhism in terms of what has been most deeply meaningful in their own spiritual life. . . . Buddhism makes claims for itself and claims upon man as final as the other great religions. Yet it also insists on being, in some important ways, different from them."
At this point appears a discussion based on a quotation from Alfred North Whitehead which contrasts Christianity as "a religion seeking a metaphysic" with Buddhism as "a metaphysic generating a religion." This overly cute metaphor does emphasize that religious concepts should integrate into a philosophical framework, at least for each fully educated and sane human being. I continue with the quotation:
"As the Awakened One, Buddha exemplified to millions of his followers a living Truth, a dynamic wisdom, and an active compassion. It was these qualities which inspired hope and courage in believers who were asked to face the stark reality of man's finitude and his inevitable involvement in suffering. Without the powerful affirmation of his own example, nothing but despair could follow from the pessimistic premises concerning existence which Buddhism takes as its starting point."
At this point, there is some discussion of the "no God," "one God," and/or "many Gods" characterization of Buddhist beliefs. This whole debate arises from our own Western tradition of what we call "God." However:
". . . The Buddha himself, according to scripture, took an agnostic position with regard to the existence of God as known in the Indian tradition. He questioned whether the concepts or practices of that tradition offered any fundamental solution to the human predicament. How then can such an agnostic and humanistic teaching become the basis of a devotional cult and an elaborate system of religious worship?
". . .
"The Buddha is not God as distinct from man, nor does Buddhism, strictly speaking, have any `theology.' It bases itself on neither a revelation from God nor a revelation of God. Its initial orientation is to the human reality rather than a divine reality. . . . Buddhism starts rather from an experience of the human condition, an intuition concerning its essential character, and an aspiration to transcend it. . . ."
point, the introduction cautions against viewing Buddhism as in some
way "humanistic" because the essence of Buddhism is to renounce human
values in order to achieve the desired "end state" of human existence.
A contrast with another great Eastern "religion," Confucian humanism
(which denies the ability of mankind to be anything other than human)
clearly points out this distinction. The devout Buddhist merely
tolerates life, primarily conditioning themselves to non-existence
An understanding of Buddhism is needed because of the inevitable contrast between the Agnostic Church and the "other" agnostic religion, Buddhism. The Agnostic Church preaches Western humanism, closer to the teachings of Confucius, and virtually a diametric opposite of Buddhism. The Buddhist strives to eliminate all sensation from his or her existence, because salvation occurs only through extirpation of all such sensation. The Agnostic Church preaches a system of maximizing both knowledge and pleasure and, at the same time, minimizing pain and suffering among us all. Most Buddhists are not social activists (there are exceptions). Most humanists are socially active (again, there are exceptions). The great contrast between these two otherwise "agnostic" belief systems could hardly be more pronounced!
39 Vedism is clearly polytheistic, since there are numerous major and minor deities defined in the scripture.
40 While there might be some argument on this point, Vaishnavism is essentially monotheistic, with the worshipers usually choosing to worship only one of the various incarnations of Vishnu (who is usually said to have 10 distinct incarnations), with the choice of incarnation basically subject to local tradition (more than anything else).
41 The schools that teach religious philosophy exercise what little central control there is in Hinduism. However, each individual is basically free to find their own way to salvation, and thus there is an actual bias against central control.
42 Technically, one of many Buddhas, past and future.
43 Buddhists deny the religious authority of the Veda and its Brahmin priesthood, as well as the caste system in general. Buddhists also deny that there is anything at all which is permanent, including a God or a "soul" (atman) which survives for an infinitely long life. Buddhists believe that the goal of each individual is to avoid re-birth by reaching a mind-state at death that causes the individual to be extinguished rather than to be re-born in some form or another.
44 Nonetheless, both Hinduism and Buddhism have Tantric sects that have much in common with one another.
45 Others would argue with equal authority that modern Hinduism was a fundamentalist reaction to the Buddhist disrespect towards Vedism. The truth lies buried in the history of India for the sixth through fourth centuries BCE.
46 The basic belief system of both religions is founded upon a belief in reincarnation, that each individual will be born, live, and die again and again, with each successive re-birth occurring in accordance with the merit (or lack of merit) of the previous life. Hindus tend to be more fatalistic, believing that there is little an individual can do to alter the Karma which controls the lives of all individuals. Buddhists also believe that the future is foreordained, at least to some extent, but also believe that the free will of individuals can alter the future course of history. Both religions ground those beliefs in predestination on a concept of Karmic forces controlling the operation of the universe as a whole.
47 The key concept is that even internal reactions must not occur. An individual must be spiritually prepared for any amount of pleasure, pain, joy, or sorrow, and simply not react to the triggering event! This is very similar to the Christian concept that to even think the sin is to commit the sin. For the Buddhist, to think an emotional reaction is to express the emotional reaction, and the Karmic consequences are basically identical.
48 A Westerner would have to be raised in an Asian culture and speak an Asian language as a native language in order to have a prayer of understanding the true meaning of the belief systems. You do not have to read too many books written by Westerners, each describing the same subject in Buddhism, in order to grasp the essential concept that Westerners simply do not comprehend what the true meaning of those concepts is.
49 For monks, nuns, and others committed to the stricter precepts, this requires celibacy.
50 With some alteration, the first four precepts could easily compare with the Sixth, Eighth, Seventh, and Ninth Commandments, respectively, of the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible. The bottom line on this is that all civilizations need to prohibit certain conduct among the citizens of each civilization in order to claim to have a civilization. The conduct that must be prohibited does not vary to a great degree from one civilization to the next. One of the basic precepts of the Agnostic Church is that we ought to recognize what those common values are, which all individuals must accept in order to claim to be civilized, and ensure that those values are reinforced by both civil and religious law.
51 Many of these could easily be compared with the vows of similar Western religious orders. The rules requiring celibacy, poverty, control of eating habits, and a lack of luxurious surroundings could easily be seen as common between most Eastern and Western religious orders.
52 The consequences of sinful activity were automatically imposed upon the individual by the Karmic Laws, causing either a "good" or a "bad" rebirth depending upon the sins committed by the individual during the current life.
53 Copyright © 1969 by William Theodore de Bary; taken from the Vantage Books paperback.
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