Jainism : The World of Conquerors ► 6 ► The Culture ► 6.9 ► The World’s Spiritual Quest

Posted: 31.12.2015

In human history, there have always been those who regard the spiritual quest as the true goal of life. In a diverse world, thinkers and philosophers have attempted to resolve the many profound questions posed by human existence. In spite of markedly different backgrounds, they have shown a remarkable consistency of experience and expression. From the dawn of civilisation, spirituality and religion have played a role in both the private lives and the affairs of society, and worship, study, sermons, rituals, renunciation, meditation and prayer have been performed from the distant past up to today.

During the nineteenth century, the progress of science and the rise of industrial societies in the West led many thinkers to believe that spirituality and religion had little or no place in modern society. Modern secular states and systems of government became dissociated from religion, treating it as a private, not a public matter. Towards the end of the twentieth century, however, it could be said that, in many parts of the world, religion and spirituality are alive and well. In addition to the traditional religions of the East and West, many new cults and spiritual movements have established themselves this century; a concern for ecology and personal growth draw on spiritual practices and traditions from a variety of sources. Most people belong to one or the other religious tradition, but there are many, who uphold strong ehical and moral values, and do not believe in the established religions, and this includes the humanists.

Modern western consumer society attaches great importance to material possessions and shows little interest in spirituality, a view that is circulating around the world by means of a term used by sociologists, the process of 'globalisation'. It is the circulation of this singular form of economy, culture and society that questions the future of traditional religion in a transformed world.

Modern communications and migrations have brought peoples of different faiths into contact with one another for the first time, and over the last few decades many have striven for interfaith and intercommunal understanding. Thus, it is also essential for the people to understand the basic beliefs of the major faiths and, against the backdrop of this exposition of Jainism, it will be worthwhile to examine salient features of the other prominent faiths and compare them with Jainism. Over the centuries, the development of the neighbouring faiths have influenced each other, hence for the sake of convenience, we have considered the faiths, which originated in the Indian sub-continent and the traditional faiths of China and Japan as 'Eastern faiths', and the faiths that originated in Middle East as 'Western faiths'.

Eastern Faiths

From earliest times, spiritual values were given great importance in India and other countries of the East, and religions have played an indispensable role both in the spiritual life of the people and the social realm. Ascetics and scholars were respected and supported by a society which fulfilled their material needs, and discussions on philosophy and spiritual values were the norm, supported by the rulers and the elites of society. As a result, in the sixth century BCE, when Mahavira and Buddha emerged, hundreds of schools of thought were extant, of which the most prominent were the Vedic and the Sramanic. Hinduism developed from Vedism, and Jainism and Buddhism from the Sramanic tradition. We will discuss the main Indian religious traditions, which have affected one another in their development, and note the major traditions of China and Japan and the effect of Buddhism on them.


Hinduism is the name given in the nineteenth century to the coalition of religions that existed (originated) in India (Bowker 1997: p.18). Muslim invaders named the people of the Indus Valley 'Hindus'; the name derived from the Persian word Hindu, and the Sanskrit Sindhu, which means 'river': But Hinduism's origins lie in the Vedic religion. The beliefs and practices of Hinduism can be traced, in part, to its vast sacred literature: the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puraanas, the Dharma Sutras, the Dharma Sastras, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which includes the Bhagvad Gita.

Hinduism is a complex religion with a great variety of beliefs and practices, a social system and way of life. It is a polytheistic religion, though such is its tolerance, that it encompasses beliefs, which are monotheistic and atheistic, although it believes in the supreme authority of a creator God and the supremacy of the spiritual realm over worldly affairs. Hindus believe in the immortality of souls, their transmigration through many lives, driven by karma and the possibility of liberation (moksa); it is actions performed with a sense of attachment that generate karma and the resultant cycle of death and rebirth.

Karma has to be annihilated to achieve moksa, the goal of human life, where the soul becomes free from worldly sufferings, is purified, and achieves a state of bliss and oneness with God. It can be achieved by one of three paths: the path of knowledge (jnaan maarga), the path of detachment from actions (karma maarga) and the path of devotion to God (bhakti maarga).

Hindus worship a host of gods and goddesses, such as Vishnu (and his incarnations such as Rama and Krishna) and his consort Laxmi, Siva and his cosorts Parvati, Durga and Kali, and his sons Ganesha and Kartikeya (Agni's son also), Agni (fire god), Surya (sky god), Vaayu (wind god) and his son Hanuman, and Sarasvati (goddess of learning), which derive from Vedic polytheism, while the Upanishads advocate monism.

God possesses three aspects: creator, preserver and destroyer, the creator is Brahma, the preserver is Vishnu and the destroyer is Siva (Mahesh); these three constitute the trinity of Hinduism, which are encompassed in one supreme Lord Vishnu who is loving, compassionate, benevolent and virtuous. It is believed (mainly by Vaisnavites) that whenever unrighteousness reigns in the world, Vishnu incarnates himself in human form to banish the evil; to date he has been incarnated in nine forms: a fish, a tortoise, a bear, a man-lion (nrisinha), a dwarf (vaamana) and four times in human form as Parasurama, Rama, Krishna and the Buddha. A tenth incarnation Kalki is expected in the near future (Bowker 1997: p.26). Siva is believed to be everything (especially by Saivites), a creator, destroyer and is preserver and is venerated as great yogi and diligent householder; or Bhairava the destroyer and the giver of rest; and serene and peaceful, reconciling them. Siva is often worshipped through his symbol the linga, male energy surrounded by the yoni, the female source of life. Saivism has three principles: pati, or God; pasu or individual soul and pasa, or bondage for earthly existence. The aim of Saivism is to rid the soul of bondage and achieve sivatva, 'the nature of Siva' through ascetic practices and penances, and through yoga and renunciation.

Hinduism has many theories about the creation of the world, but generally it is believed that God either created the world from external elements or of material from his own being. An important belief is that the world exists only as a 'play' (lila) as directed by God, who created the world in accordance only with the requirements of the law of karma (Tiwari K. 1983; p.20).

The human being has been given the highest status in Hinduism, but due to ignorance (avidya or ajnaana), the human soul cannot liberate itself, however, by acquiring knowledge it can dispel ignorance and liberate itself. It is bound by its own karma and can achieve moksa only by its own efforts, one makes one's own destiny, happiness or sufferings- as one sows, so one reaps. The soul enjoys or suffers the fruits of the attached karma in this or subsequent lives; rebirth is, therefore, a result of one's own actions in previous lives. The three paths to moksa are interdependent: the path of knowledge is the path of inner realisation; the path of action is the path of selfless, detached actions (niskaama karma) and the path of devotion is the life of sincere worship and prayers to God. For inner realisation, Hinduism prescribes the various disciplines of yoga, austerities (saadhanaa) and meditation, thus many Hindu yogis or saadhus renounce the world to reside in the forests and mountains, and practise the path of meditation for inner purity. But Hindus also give great importance to external purity, bathing at home and in sacred rivers, to the purity of their food and the environment, and some consider this external purity an important aspect of their religion.

The Bhagvad Gita advocates the moral path of selfless detached action, setting out the duties of the various castes. The Rigveda and Upanishads contain the core of Hindu morality, the Dharma Sastras describe the ethical virtues.and the duties of each caste and each stage of life:

The general duties prescribed for all Hindus are the practices of ahimsaa, satya, asteya, brahmcarya and aparigraha, identical, to a degree to Jain panca mahaavratas.

The path of devotion to God includes prayers, worship and complete surrender, in daily practice, a Hindu combines all the three paths, performing prayers and worship and practising the virtues of charity, liberality, kindness, honesty and truth, and this may include yoga and meditation. Pujaa is performed in the home, in temples or at places of pilgrimage, where certain celestial beings, the Sun, Indra, Varuna, may also be worshipped. Offerings of sacred substances and food are given during pujaa and afterwards, the food is distributed among the family members. Most temples have a brahmin priest, who makes offerings on behalf of devotees and performs the rituals. Some rituals can be extremely elaborate such as the yagnas, in which sacred offerings, such as sandalwood, to the sacred fire are made to purify the self and the family members. In order that Hindus might gain the grace of the gods or goddesses, animals were slaughtered before the deity and their flesh was distributed as prasaada among the worshippers or the priests. These practices were very prevalent in the times of Mahavira and Buddha, but they are rarity today. Hindus have a number of sacred duties and social rituals such as those for marriage and death, and for some castes, wearing the sacred thread (janoi). Generally, Hindu society is patriarchal, however women are respected and their views are noted, particularly from older women. And since the beginning of this century, women have been given a greater role in the management of the households, businesses, society and the state.

Hinduism has two major sects, Saivism and Vaishnavism, and a third strand, Saktism, recognised as an offshoot of Saivism. However, over the centuries, a large number of additional sects have emerged such as Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Rama Krishna Mission, Swaminarayan, Brahma Kumaris, Harekrishna (Iskcon), Sathya Sai Baba and Jalaram Bapa movement. Most of the Hindus are normally very tolerant to other faiths.

The worship, both viewing the image (darsan) and pujaa, is of paramount importance in the home as well as in the temple. The temple has a brahmin priest, who acts as an intermediary between the devotee and the god and makes offerings on behalf of the devotee. Pilgrimages to various sacred places are also an important part of Hindu life. Most of the Hindu places of pilgrimage are near rivers when compared to Jain pilgrimage sites, most of which are on hills. Hindus have many festivals; most common among them are: Lohri, celebrated in Punjab at the end of January to mark the end of winter; PongalSankati, celebrated in south India as feast for the rice harvest in /February; Holi and Sivaratri, both celebrated as national festivals in March; Sri Vaisnavas celebrated in Madras in April to honour Visnu and his consort Sri, when the Temple images of Visnu are carried to the sea shore; Rathyatra celebrated in May to mark the birthday of the Lord Jagannath, with a large chariot procession in Puri; Janmastami, a national celebration in August, as the birthday of Krishna; Ganesh Caturthi, as the birthday celebration for Ganesha and Dassera to celebrate the triumph over evil in September; and Divali, a national celebration in honour of Rama and his consortin October.

Jainism and Hinduism

The sacred books of the Hindus are the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Smritis and the Puraanas. Both believe in karma theory: Jainism describes karma as fine particles of matter, Hinduism as the mere impressions of actions, but the aim of both traditions is moksa, Hinduism has varying paths for liberation, while Jainism has a singlar path of Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct. Jainism has influenced Hinduism in observing the doctrine of ahimsaa, and the influence of Hinduism can be seen in some Jain rituals.

Jainism believes the individual soul keeps its shape and, as it has no form, it seems to be merged with other liberated souls; Hinduism believes that the soul merges with God when one attains moksa. Jainism believes the universe to have always existed and that no God created it; Hinduism believes the world has been created by the Supreme God from his own body and external material.

Jainism does not have the varna (caste) system of the Hindus. It believes in the equality of souls and that every person, irrespective of caste, creed or colour, can obtain liberation, provided s/he follows the path of self-conquest. Hinduism considers Brahmins to have an innate superior; the Brahmin priest acts as intermediary in Hindu worship in the temples between god and the devotee; Jainism believes in equality, the worship is individual and there is no intermediary in temple worship. There is more emphasis on external cleanliness in Hinduism, while Jainism places more emphasis on internal purity.

Jainism has a well-organised fourfold order of male and female ascetics, laymen and laywomen, and there are substantial spiritual contacts between laity and the ascetics, but Hinduism lacks such an order.

Social rituals are sacred to Hinduism, while Jains do not attach great importance to such rituals, but both religions have influenced one another in devotional practices and in moral values. Worship also differs, Jains worship the jinas as examplary and do not ask them for any favours, whereas Hindus pray for the realisation of the objects of desire; Hindu offerings in temple rituals are distributed as prasaada, while Jains disdain such offerings. Objects of worship differ,and festivals have dissimilar objectives and Jains do not believe in Hindu rituals such as sun worship, bathing during eclipses, or ceremonial bathing in rivers. Jain rituals follow the example and teachings of the jinas.


Buddhism means 'path of the Enlightened One', was founded by Gautam Buddha (566 to 486 BCE), born as a prince to the parents, who were believed to have followed the Sramana tradition of Parsvanath (1997: personal communication with Dr L. M. Singhvi). At the age of 29, in order to find a path to alleviate of human suffering, Gautam left his wife Yashodhara, his son Rahul, his family and his possessions, cut off his hair, and renounced the worldly life. He went to live in the forest, learned meditation from two sages, but could not progress far enough spiritually; He went to another sage and fasted so severely that he could feel his backbone through his stomach, but this did not bring enlightenment. As neither the meditation, nor the austerities produced the enlightenment, he concluded that the ideal was a middle way between the extremes of self-denial and self-indulgence. Six years after renunciation he went to Bodha Gaya and resolved to meditate until he reached his goal. Right thinking and meditation gave him a new vision: he attained enlightenment and, thus, became the Buddha. He then travelled to Sarnath, near Varanasi, and gave his first sermon on the four noble truths and eightfold path to seekers of the truth, and gained his first five disciples. Gautam Buddha taught until the age of 80, and when he died, he achieved final Nirvana at Kushinagara. The four noble truths and the eightfold path are the basis of Buddhist teachings, which are inscribed in their canon, the Tripitikas. The four noble truths are:

  1. Ignorance is the root cause of suffering, which is in fact self-created.
  2. Ignorance generates evil: desires, greed and hatred.
  3. There can be a cessation or end to suffering.
  4. There is an eightfold path to remove suffering and obtain happiness.

The eightfold path is ethical conduct: Right Views (or Knowledge), Right Thoughts, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Means of livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mental Control and Right meditation. Meditation plays a central role in Buddhism; it has two forms: samatha (tranquillity) and vipasyana (insight). Other Buddhist practices include mantras and the mandalas (sacred diagrams) and veneration for the Buddha and the Bodhisatvas, the enlightened persons who are active in helping unenlightened and suffering individuals for enlightenment.

Buddhism believes that nothing is permanent, everything is transitory; the world is a chain of interdependent momentary events; everything derives from an antecedent condition that ceases after producing its consequence. The soul is impermanent, it is a stream of consciousness, and attachment to the world produces suffering. Buddhism believes in karma, and that everyone has to suffer or enjoy the consequences of their actions, except detached ones, either in this life or in lives hereafter. Exhaustion of the fruits of karma is essential for nirvana, a state of perfection and bliss, and it can be achieved even in this life by the observance of the eightfold path.

Buddhism follows the middle way: in ethics, in metaphysics, in daily life and in every action, and avoids the extreme path of austerities. Buddhism teaches that it is just not sufficient to attain one's own enlightenment, nirvana, but after achieving one's own nirvana, one must work for the salvation of others. The three jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Buddhism does not believe in God, the Supreme Being, but believes in a state of godliness, nirvana, which anyone can achieve; however, later Buddhists seem to interpret Buddha himself as God.

Buddhism argues that human beings are an aggregate of matter, feelings, perception, disposition and consciousness. What others call the soul, is nothing but a series of continuous unbroken conscious instants. All tendencies and dispositions of antecedent instants being transferred to succeeding ones, the final conscious instant of the human life transmigrates with all its tendencies and dispositions to its next incarnation and forms its first instant consciousness. The ceasation of thought-instants or dispositions is nirvana, which is an eternal transcendental, spiritual state of perfect peace, equanimity and bliss and it can only be attained by the personal efforts to remove ignorance. Attachment to the world induces humans to perform actions for selfish ends, producing dispositions (sanskaaras) and binding them to suffering and rebirth.

The Buddhist sangha includes monks and nuns, who undergo an elaborate ceremony to enter the monastic order, involving acceptance of the three jewels and the ten precepts of commitment to the sangha. They are to refrain from: harming any living being; stealing; evil behaviour; wrong speech; intoxication, drugs or drink; eating after the mid-day meal; dancing, music, singing and indulging in unseemly shows; garlands, perfumes and personal adornments; using a broad and luxurious bed; and accepting gold and silver.

Buddhism has two main traditions – the Hinayana (Theravada) and the Mahayana. Theravada has remained loyal to the original teachings of the Buddha, while Mahayana has been modified to a very great extent to accommodate many elements that could appeal to and attract followers. The Theravadis are smaller in number, are sometimes called southern Buddhists because they have survived in the countries like Sri Lanka, Burma and Southeast Asia. Mahayana Buddhists are called northern Buddhists because they have spread to nothern countries like Tibet, China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea, and have developed seperate schools of thought such as the Tendai, Pure land, Shingon, Nichiren and Zen Buddhism.

Tibet has its own distinctive form of Buddhism, combining the pre-Buddhist Bon religion and Vajrayana (vehicle of the thunderbolt or diamond) form of Mahayana, based on mystic teachings. It believes in a Tibetan guru, the lama, as the fourth 'jewel' of Buddhism after the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha.

Some Japanese Buddhist groups such as Soka Gokkai have a lay orientation and others such as Rissho Kosei-Kai promotes interfaith dialogues; and some such as the Nipponzan Myohoji Order is well known for its pacifism and it has built the Peace Pagoda in Milton Keynes (1980) and Battersea in London (1985). Buddhists following these three groups and the Western Buddhist Order, started by the Venerable Sangharaksita, a monk for 18 years in India, have a following in the United Kingdom.

Although Buddhism emphasises the avoidance of intentional killing, Buddhists are not necessarily vegetarians. Some such as the Chinese Zen Buddhists are strict vegetarians and do not take onions and garlic, while others such as Tibetan monks do eat meat and in Theravada Buddhism monks and nuns are allowed to eat meat, provided animals are not killed especially for them.

Buddhists worship in domestic shrine as well in temples, which includes pujaa and meditation. Buddhists celebrate a variety of festivals, the major being Vaisakha or Buddha day (May), the dharmacakra, the anniversary of Buddha's first sermon (July/August), the sangha (November), and enlightenment (December). The southern monks observe the Rains Retreat (June/July - September/October) and on Kathina day, the final day or a day within one month of the end of the retreat, the laity present monks and nuns with cloth for their robes.

Jainism and Buddhism

Buddhism has some superficial resemblance to Jainism such as non-belief in the creator God, non-belief in the authority of the Vedas or in animal sacrifices; and belief in some aspects of karma theory, the potentiality of a soul to obtain godliness; and the five vratas of ahimsaa, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy and non-attachment. Both stress amity, compassion, equanimity and non-attachment to the material world. Jainism believes in the equality of all souls and reverence for life in its totality, and accords significance to the minutest living organisms. Animal welfare, vegetarianism and care of the environment are much at the heart of Jain beliefs. Relative pluralism has made Jains tolerant towards other faiths and has kept Jainism as an 'open' religion. Whereas Buddhism has missionaries and seeks converts, Jainism has not followed the path of active conversion. Both belong to the sramana tradition, Buddha founded Buddhism in the sixth century BCE, while Jainism has existed in India for much longer.

Buddhism believes in the impermanence of the world and that everything is transitory, which is totally counter to Jain beliefs, which states that the universe and everything in it are real and permanent; the modes of the Reality change, but the Reality or the substance are permanent. Buddhism believes the soul as a series of continuous unbroken instants of consciousness: it is an illusion. Jainism believes the soul as an eternal Reality, which has consciousness as one of its attributes; the soul keeps its individuality even after liberation. Karma is very fine particles of matter according to Jains, while it is merely a force according to Buddhism.

Jainism prescribes a programme of spiritual training far more rigorous than the middle path of Buddhism and the fourfold order of Jainism does not exist in Buddhism. The Jain daily practices of ascetics, the temples, rituals and the duties of the laity differ from those of Buddhism. The life of Jain ascetics is much more austere than that of Buddhist monks. Jains have remained strict vegetarians, Buddhists are also vegetarians, but in some Buddhist traditions meat-eating has become permissible, though Buddhists would not undertake the slaughter of animals themselves, nor accept meat from an animal slaughtered especially for them. Both religions have given importance to asceticism, but Buddhism accepts temporary asceticism, whereas in Jainism it is permanent.


Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak (1469-1539 CE) in the Punjab, as an attempt to reconcile Hinduism and Islam, and was promoted by a succession of nine gurus, the last of whom was Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708 CE). Sikhism is a monotheistic religion believing in the oneness of God and of humanity and that divinity lies within oneself; its teachings as revealed to the Gurus are found in the holy Sikh scripture the 'Guru Granth Sahib' (Adi Grandh), a copy of which is kept in every Gurudwara (Sikh temple).

God is regarded as eternal, omnipotent, creator, sustainer and destroyer of the world. Sikhism believes in karma and transmigration, but salvation is possible through God's grace and with the aid of the Guru, hence, loyalty to the Guru is of overriding importance. Sikhism believes in humanity and its true nature, whereby human beings possess divine elements in the form of mind or soul (mana or atman), but the involvement of humans in evil passions and egoism, does not allow the divine element to reveal itself; thus, Sikhism emphasises a self-purification as means of purging evil passions and egoism. Bad actions bring misery and rebirth, while good leads to happiness and salvation. Sikhism firmly believes in karma professing 'As one sows, so one reaps'.

Sikhism believes in the performance of righteous actions, repeating God's name (naama smaran), and hymns and praises to God (bhajan and kirtan) as the means to liberation, emphasising inner purity of mind and heart. It is opposed to pilgrimage, idolatry and other extraneous practices, and emphasises that practices are only religious if they are performed with a pure heart, as the mere mechanical repeating of God's name and praises to him are of no benefit if they do not come from one's own heart. There is a particular importance given to self-conquest claiming that 'A person, who conquers the mind, has conquered all'.

Sikhism practises religious discipline in the form of repetition of God's name, devotional songs, a dedicated virtuous life, selfless service to the people, and the company of Guru Mukha, for the path of final release. It emphasises cultivation of the virtues of humility, love, contentment, truth, righteousness, mercy, compassion and purity, and preaches love to all without any distinction of caste or creed.

Though Sikhism in its essence is opposed to extrinsicality and rituals, over time rituals have been accepted, such as baptism, pilgrimage to Guru Gobind Singh's birthplace, and daily rituals. Guru Gobind Singh has laid down daily rituals such as: rising early, bathing in cold water, morning and evening prayers and meditation on God's name.

The Sikh place of worship is the Gurudwara meaning 'the doorway of the Guru', a centre for worship, religious education, social activities and welfare services. Readings from the 'Granth Sahib', hymns and praises to God, meditation on God's name and reverence of the 'Granth Sahib' and Guru are the specific features of Sikh worship. Some Sikhs may have a special room at home where the 'Granth Sahib' is displayed. It is customary to have a communal meal (langar) at the Gurudwara where no meat dishes, alcohol or smoking are permitted.

Sikhism has no priests or monks and any adult can perform religious ceremonies. On special occasions, continuous liturgical readings of the complete 'Granth Sahib' (akhand paath), a reading for a whole week (saptah paath), and the reading of extracts (sahaj paath) are relayed to the congregation. Sikh worship ends with the distribution of an edible gift (karah prasaada) and a communal meal (langar).

All Sikh men take the religious name Singh (lion) and all Sikh women Kaur (princess), in order to promote equality and nullify caste. Sikhism, however, does have a number of sects such as Namadhari, Akalis, Nirankaris, Nanak-panthis and Khalsa. Many Sikhs expect to be initiated at some stage in their life, and the Sikhs belonging to Khalsa observe 'the five Ks' kesh (uncut hair), kangha (to keep hair clean), kara (symbol of spiritual allegiance) and kirpan (ceremonial sword for self-defence and to protect the weak and oppressed).

Sikhs celebrate many festivals, the major among them are Vaisakhi (April), Diwali (Oct/Nov), Guru Nanak's birthday (November) the Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur (Nov/Dec), and Guru Gobind's birthday (Dec/Jan).

Jainism and Sikhism

The spiritual core of Sikhism, that rebirth and sufferings can be ended by conquering the mind or soul and controlling the five evils of lust, anger, covetousness, attachment and pride, are similar to Jain teachings of self-conquest and control over the passions, but that salvation is attained through God's grace is contrary to Jain belief.

Like Jainism, Sikhism believes in the equality of souls, reverence for Gurus, the scripture and its ethical teachings. However, unlike Sikhism, Jainism believes in the teachings of the omniscient tirthankaras, the organised ascetic orders, renunciation, austerities, a logically argued karma theory, a theory of knowledge, stages of spiritual progress leading to the attainment of godhood, and love and friendship to all living beings.

Sikhism believes in God as the creator of the Universe and that the individual merges with God after salvation. Jainism professes that the Universe is eternal, is not created by any supreme being, and that the soul retains its own identity even after salvation, and the teachings and wisdom of the omniscients are found in the vast literature preserved by the Jains.

Other religions of the East

China has three major spiritual traditions: Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Confucius emphasised the traditional values of civilised behaviour, modesty, restraint and respect for ancestors and rituals. Taoism stresses the importance of being 'natural' and spontaneous, living at one with the Tao, the underlying principle of reality, and focussing on rituals, elixirs and gods. In addition to Buddhism, Christianity and Islam are also practised in China.

Japan's indigenous religion is Shinto, the 'way of the gods', with its deities, rites, shrines and priests and no concept of a human or divine creator, rather its central concern is with this world, and its visible form of expression is in the ritual visiting of shrines. It is largely concerned with the community. In addition to Shinto, many Japanese are also practising Buddhists.

Western Faiths

e major Western faiths originated in the Middle East. The ancient faith of the Zoroastrians, which was influential in the development of religions in the Middle East, developed in Iran. The religions of the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims are closely interrelated. Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew, and the sacred scriptures of the Jews were adopted by the Christians to form the first part of their Bible. Six hundred years after Jesus, the Prophet Mohammed preached the Muslim religion in Arabia, but he was familiar with both the Jewish and Christian religions, and is regarded by Muslims as the final successor in a line of Prophets, which included Abraham and Jesus. These religions developed over the centuries in close contact with one another, even though they were often mutually intolerant of each other, frequently to the point of bloodshed or war. Contacts with the religions of India were rare until relatively recently, although there were followers of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam in India from earliest times.

Western religions differ from Jainism in their development, their concern being with humanity and, above all, in the fact that they believe in a single God who created the world and who takes an interest in it. They are apprehensive about the karma theory, but they do believe in a final judgement and the settlement of accounts for good or bad behaviour in the earthly life.


Zoroastrianism is a religion founded in Iran by Zarathustra, a priest of the old religion of Persia, estimated to have lived sometime between 1,700 BCE and 600 BCE. He denounced the belief in polytheism (multiple gods or demonic spirits) and its many associated practices, and proclaimed the worship of Ahura Mazda (The Wise Lord) as the source of truth, righteousness, order and justice (asha), and good mind (vohu manah). He called the people to follow the threefold ethic of good thoughts (humata) and good words (hukhta) and good deeds (hvarstha). He influenced the Iranian King Vishtapa of the Kaynian dynasty with his teachings, although traditional supporters of polytheistic beliefs opposed him. For over a thousand years Zoroastrianism flourished in Iran.

The Parsis: In the tenth century CE, some Zoroastrians from Khorasan, a north eastern province of Iran, migrated out of fear of persecution following the Arab conquest, and became established at Sanjan in Gujarat, where they became known as the Parsis. Over the next thousand years, many more Zoroastrians migrated to India due to continual religious persecution. The Zoroastrians consider India as their adopted homeland, where the majority of Parsis live.

Zoroastrianism is an ethical, monotheistic religion believing in Ahura Mazda as the one supreme God, which persuaded its followers to cultivate a life of righteousness and goodness whereby they could strengthen the power of God's goodness to destroy the forces of evil. Zoroastrianism's three most important commandments are good thoughts, good words and good deeds. It believes in a life after death strictly in accordance with the law of retribution-heaven for people of righteous deeds and hell for those of evil deeds. However, damnation to hell is not eternal as Zoroastrianism promises an ultimate happy and good life to all. Its religious life consists of the cultivation of moral virtues. Zoroastrians regard fire as a symbol of divine purity.

Zoroastrian worship mainly consists of offering prayers to Ahura Mazda requesting him to guide the life of righteousness. The traditional Zoroastrian places of worship are fire temples in which the sacred flame burns eternally in a consecrated chamber. It is a symbol of divine purity, where sandalwood is offered to create the good attributes in life (fragrance of sandalwood symbolises good attributes). Priests tend these fires. The people visit these temples with sandalwood as offerings to the sacred flames, and receive cold ashes to apply to their foreheads as sign of humility.

Fire is used in many Zoroastrian ceremonies and most Parsis keep an oil lamp burning in their homes. Fire is seen as the creation of Asha and considered a sacred force, a source of light, warmth and energy for life and symbol of truth and righteousness. It is believed that by utilising fire in worship, Zoroastrians develop the five senses to feel the presence of Ahura Mazda. They worship Ahura Mazda and venerate the guardian angels (Amesha Spentas) and the adorable beings worthy of worship (Yazatas), and not the fire. A high priest (Dastur) or an authorised priest (Mobed) officiates at Zoroastrian ceremonies. The priests wear masks over their faces so that their breath may not contaminate the sacred fire.

The only surviving major group following the Zoroastrian faith is the Indian Parsis. Except for two historical sects, the Shahanshahis, named after the last Shahanshahian King of Persia (Yazedegard), and the Kadmis, no other notable sects exist. Zoroastrians are urged to live an active, industrious, honest and charitable life and enjoy the good creation. They have an initiation ceremony for a newly born child (navjote) and wearing a sacred white shirt (sudreh) as symbol of purity, good thoughts, good words and good deeds; and sacred cord (kushti)) woven from 72 threads as symbol of 72 chapters of Yasna (Act of worship). In India, the Parsis dispose of their dead bodies in the Towers of Silence, where vultures are allowed to consume the bodies; this special practice is to avoid polluting the earth and water, according to Zoroastrian belief. Zoroastrians have a variety of festivals, among them are No-Ruz (New Year's Day) observed as the Day of Yazedegard on 20th/21st March; Khordad Sal (6th day after NoRuz); six seasonal festivals (Gahanbars) devoted to the Amesha Spentas and the creation of sky, water, earth, plants, animals and the people, and festivals in devotion to specific Yazatas.

Similarities between Jains and Parsis can be seen in their ethics of Right Thoughts, Right Words and Right Action; avoidance of animal sacrifices; and the use of sandalwood and its ash symbolically on the forehead (Jains use sandalwood paste). To avoid the pollution of fire, Parsis wear a mouthpiece in the fire temple; Jains use 'mouthkerchief' to avoid harm to micro-organisms in the air. Divine judgement of good or bad deeds after death indirectly supports the theory of karma, but there are also many differences.


Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people, who are the descendants of the ancient Hebrews, revealed by God to his 'chosen people', through the prophet Moses on Mount Sinai, around 1300 BCE, but its origin can be traced back to Abraham and a chain of prophets following Moses to reform the faith over time. The sacred text of Judaism is the Torah.

Judaism is a monotheistic religion that believes in one and only one God. He requires Jews to serve and observe the Torah ('teaching') and commandments given to them. In their existence on the earth, Jews have an opportunity to lead a life of righteousness and serve God's purpose. Judaism believes in the immortality of the soul, and life after death in heaven or hell, in accordance with earthly deeds.

The Jewish scriptures are known as the Tanakh, which has three constituents: the teaching (Torah), the prophet (Nevi'im) and the writings (Ketuvim). The Torah consists of the five (Humash) books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) which contains God's revelation to Moses and includes commandments on ethics, spirituality, dietary regulations, the community and social life. The Nevi'im consists of the books of the prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the related historical book of Joshua, Judges and Kings. The Ketuvim are the remaining Biblical books, which contain works such as the Psalms, the Song of Songs, and the books of Ruth and Esther.

The Tanakh is complemented by the Talmud, which contains the Mishnah, the summary of religious and civil law, and the Gemara, the commentary and discourses on the Mishnah. Other important scriptures are the Midrash, the rabbinic interpretation of the texts, and includes moral teachings, legends and parables from a variety of great rabbis; and the Halacha (Jewish law), the life of the Jewish community, the interpretation of Jewish law and its practice.

Judaism believes that God is personal and speaks to Jews and responds to their prayers, emphasising that God is spiritual and abounding in moral qualities, and his aim is to inspire Jews to the highest path of morality and goodness, as God loves his people and forgives their sins. Judaism teaches its followers to live an active social life of righteousness, love and kindness for the welfare of society and God's creations. Judaism does not prescribe asceticism. The basic ethical virtues consist of justice, mercy, righteousness, humility, and holiness. Judaism believes that only God is eternal, while the world is mortal.

Some traditional Jews believe that one day a Messiah will appear on earth to redeem the Jews, to make the world full of righteousness and goodness, and release Israel from all its sufferings. The Shabbat (or Sabbath) is central to the rhythm of Jewish individual, family and communal life, observed as a day of worship, rest and peace, on Saturday, the seventh day, as this is believed to be the day on which God rested after creating the earth in six days. It begins half an hour before sunset on Friday evening and ends at nightfall on Saturday. During the Shabbat it is forbidden for Jews to engage in any activities which are considered as work. The Shabbat concludes with Havdalah, a ceremony, separating it from the working week.

Some of the Jewish festivals are: the Purim (thanksgiving) in February/March; the Pesach or Passover (the celebration of freedom, i.e. the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt) during the spring; the Shavuot (commemoration of the Ten Commandments from God) in May/June; Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) in September/October; and Yom Kippur (the day of atonement) during the autumn.

Judaism has a series of dietary regulations: food is either permitted (kosher), forbidden (treif) or neutral (parve), but these restrictions apply to animal products only, and Jewish law prohibits the mixing of milk products with meat; for meat to be kosher the animal must have been humanely slaughtered in accordance with a particular ritual; fruit and vegetables are, by definition, kosher.

The principal place of communal Jewish worship is the synagogue, and in orthodox synagogues men and women are separated. Inside synagogues one will see symbols such as the seven-branched candlestick (Menorah); on a doorpost of a synagogue or a Jewish home, a small box containing a parchment scroll with passages from the scriptures written on it (Mezuzah); a perpetually burning light (Ner Tamid), and an 'ark' (Aron), a cupboard containing hand-written scrolls of the Torah. Jews cover their heads during prayers and wear a prayer garment (tallit) for some prayers.

Jewish communities employ rabbis to teach and to preach, to take on pastoral duties and advise the community on Jewish law. Orthodox communities have only male rabbis, whereas progressive communities employ both men and women rabbis. Rabbis are well educated, require ordination and are paid a salary by the congregation. To administer Jewish law, a judge (Dayan) is appointed. Judaism has four main divisions: orthodox, conservative, reform and liberal. The reform movement began in the early nineteenth century as an attempt to accommodate Judaism to the modern world. The orthodox constitutes only a small minority of the world's Jewish population today.

Jainism and Judaism: It is difficult to establish a basis for comparing these two faiths, which have very different understandings of the universe and very different histories. Both traditions teach reverence for life, though there is no concept in Judaism quite as all-embracing as ahimsaa is in Jainism. In the modern world, the Jain and Jewish communities have similar social and economic profiles. Both exert economic influence out of all proportion to their numbers and both groups are significantly represented in the modern 'professions' such as medicine, law, accountancy, finance and business, for example in the international diamond trade.


Christianity originated as a sect from within Judaism nearly 2,000 years ago, following interpretations from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It is believed by some that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of a virgin mother, Mary, generated by the Holy Spirit, as the promised Messiah of Jewish tradition. Jesus was condemned to death by the Roman authorities, by crucifixion, a commonplace capital punishment for a criminal in those days, but the blasphemous claim was vindicated by his resurrection from the dead three days after his execution.

The boyhood life and early history of Jesus remains a mystery. The Gospel of St Mark describes his baptism in the River Jordan, his journey to Jerusalem accompanied by twelve disciples, his entry into the holy city and his cleansing of the Temple, his arrest, appearance before the High Priest, trial before Pilate, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection. It also catalogues instances of Jesus's healing miracles. The belief in a Messiah dying and rising again was central to early Christian preaching. St Paul, a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia and one time persecutor of Christians, became the most prominent apostle of Christ, and made an outstanding contribution to the growth of Christianity. He preached that redemption was open to any person who subscribed to Christ by faith and baptism, whether Jew or Gentile. Salvation could be attained through Christ alone, not by any moral or legal precepts.

Christians at first suffered harassment at the hands of fellow Jews. St. Stephen was the first martyr, and the Roman Emperor Nero from 64CE persecuted the Christians. Sporadic persecution continued until the fourth century when the last and most systematic took place under Diocletian, who abdicated in 395 CE. A policy of toleration was adopted by Constantine the Great (274 or 288-337CE), who became a convert, and during the reign of Emperor Theodosius I, Christianity was established as the imperial religion. Since then Christianity has attracted adherents in ever growing numbers. Christianity is a monotheistic religion, believing in one and only one God who is the creator and sustainer of the world. It believes that God has created the world from nothing and may destroy it at any time, according to his will. He has many metaphysical and ethical attributes but essentially his nature is that of a loving father. God has created human beings in his own image, has given them free will. The first man, Adam, misused this freedom, committing sin (disobedience to God), and that is the cause of man's suffering. Nevertheless, God who is kind and loving wished for humanity's redemption. Hence he sent his son Jesus to earth to demonstrate people the right path. Christianity teaches that redemption or liberation can be obtained only by the grace of God. It believes in immortality of the soul, life everlasting, and heaven and hell. It also believes in heavenly angels both good and evil. Satan is a fallen angel, the devil, who disseminates evil by instigating people to sin. However, he is not beyond God's control. The Bible is the Christian scripture, which consists of 'Old' and 'New' Testaments. The Old Testament is similar to the Jewish Tanakh, though differing in its internal order after the first five books. The New Testament is a collection of texts dating from the first and second centuries of the Common Era (CE) which describe the impact of Jesus upon the Jewish community, beliefs about him, as well as the formation of the early Christian community outside Palestine, and the ethical implications of Christian belief.

The four Gospels, named of four disciples of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, recount the religious biography and describe the significance of Jesus. The Book of Acts describes the spread of early Christianity. The Epistles describe the problems and issues of the early Christian church. The Book of Revelations of St. John the Divine records a series of revelations, including the prediction of the end of the world and the Second Coming. The body of those who subscribe to the ideological beliefs of Jesus is known as the Church, and the summary of statements of orthodox beliefs is known as the Creed. Genesis describes how God created man in his own image. Man is the final fruit of creation and God's special preference giving humans insight, intelligence, sensitivity, and all the admirable and virtuous qualities, and chose them for a special relationship with him, to be a partner in fulfilling his ultimate grand design: the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Human beings have perishable bodies, and an immortal soul, thus death of the body is not the death of the soul. Humans are finite and unable to attain divine immortality. By following the teachings of Jesus, Christians can end their suffering. One should love God with both heart and mind and love one's fellow beings. Love is the essence of Christian teachings, and it is by love and love alone that one can attain redemption.

As the soul is immortal, death is not the total and final end. There is an afterlife corresponding to one's good or bad deeds on earth. On the day of the final judgement, there will be a resurrection and all the souls will be reunited with their respective bodies. Those whose deeds were in accordance with the teachings of Jesus will ascend to heaven and those who were unrighteous and sinful will descend to hell. Hell is a place or state of eternal punishment, damnation and separation from God, while heaven is the 'Kingdom of God', a realm above and beyond this world, a state of eternal happiness. The ultimate destiny of a human being is salvation and life eternal in communion with God in heaven.

It is a point of debate whether God's love extends to all his creatures or just to humanity. If the principle of love and 'Thou shall not kill' applies to all his worldly creation, and as God granted humans stewardship of the earth, is it right to harm, exploit or kill animals and other beings of the natural world for human consumption? The aim of Christian ethics is redemption from a life of suffering and cultivation of the virtues of Jesus, an exemplary life of love, humility and suffering. It is believed that Christ suffered for human sinners, hence love, humility and suffering of the self and others are basic Christian virtues. The suffering of Christ on the cross is the symbol of physical suffering and purgation of the spirit. Christianity teaches love and humility. The two teachings of 'love thy neighbor as thyself' and 'Turn to him your right cheek who strikes your left one', are the prime examples of these; even hatred is to be met not with hatred but with love and forgiveness. Those who wish to share a more complete devotion to Jesus and follow the pattern of his life and work, take lifetime vows of poverty, chastity and obedience by joining an order of monks or nuns and undertaking 'solemn vows', unlike members of a congregation who take 'simple vows'. Religious brothers are those who have chosen not to be ordained as priests, while yet making vows to live in a religious community. Monks, nuns and the religious initiates can be found in the contemporary Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches. The religious way of life of such churches varies according to the interpretation and teachings of their founders: some are more concerned with prayer, meditation and retreat, while others are concerned with service and 'good works'. Some monks and nuns live in monasteries with minimum contact with the outside world, others are very active in the world.

Religious buildings are called cathedrals, churches, chapels (churches of certain denomination, or those found in hospitals, prisons, etc., and large private houses). Christians use images extensively in worship, but they are careful to avoid 'idolatry', the mistake of confusing the image with God, who is pure spirit. Christians observe rituals for discipline, spiritual training and bringing the community together to reaffirm its identity. Baptism marks initiation into the Christian life and consists of ceremonial bathing or the sprinkling of clean water on the forehead or immersion of the whole body. It signifies purification from sin; it also represents death: the newly baptised emerges from the water as if rising to a new life in a second birth.

Most churches have Sunday worship, and may be entitled the Eucharist, Communion or Mass; there may be a reading from the Bible, a sermon, prayers and the singing of hymns, varying in style in differing Christian groups (described later in this section). Prayers may be individual or communal: Congregational prayers are usually observed at the Sunday service may be a petition, adoration, meditation, for acts of contrition and of surrender. Roman Catholics hold Holy Communion patterned on the 'Last Supper' eaten by Jesus with his disciples on the night before his death. It is celebrated in different ways, in some churches with music, opulent vestments, incense, and elaborate ceremonies, in other churches, in others in an informal atmosphere. Protestant services are generally more austere, while the Catholic and Orthodox Mass can be very elaborate. For example, the Roman Catholic priest or the representative of Christ breaks bread and distributes bread and wine to the congregation to eat and drink. The bread represents Jesus's body and the wine his blood. Christians believe that Jesus himself is present in the meal, as the spirit made flesh.

Other rites mark the important stages of life: birth, marriage, death, or events in the life of the Christian community, the ordination of priests or deacons, the enthronement of bishops, the blessing of a church or pilgrimage to a holy site. Christians observe many festivals; important amongst them are Good Friday (day of crucifixion of Jesus); Easter (day of resurrection) and Christmas (Jesus's birthday). They observe Sunday: 'the Lord's Day', a special day for prayers, fellowship and rest. Lent is a period of abstinence for 40 days before Easter. Christians are divided into three main groups: Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants.

The Roman Catholics, who are generally the most conservative and traditional, believe the Church is the representative of Christ and that he reveals himself through it; the sacraments exist for the redemption of humans, and the Pope (or his representative clergy) possesses divine infallible authority. Roman Catholics have created well-known orders such as the Jesuits, the Benedictines, the Dominicans and the Carmelites (nuns). The Orthodox Church flourishes in eastern Europe and the Middle East, was historically based in Constantinople (Istanbul) and separated from the Catholic Church in the eleventh century CE. It has highly decorated churches filled with pictorial icons, representations of Christ, the apostles and the saints; and its worship is intricate and ornate. It does not accept the authority of the Pope and, instead, has its own patriarchs in Istanbul, Moscow, etc.

Protestant Churches do not accept the centralised organisation and authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church; rather they believe that individuals can establish a direct relationship with God. A person is directly responsible to God and the mediation of the Church is unnecessary as they accept the authority of the Bible, which they believe is the only true source of Christian doctrine. They may be organised into provinces, dioceses, parishes (the neighbourhood area) and deaneries (large groupings of parishes). Lutherans, Calvinists, Pentecostalists, Presbyterians, the Salvation Army, Quakers, Unitarians and Black-Majority Churches are all representatives of Protestantism, as are the United Reformed Church (formerly Congregationalists and English Presbyterians), Methodism, Baptists, and the Anglican Church (the Church of England). Some churches are known as 'Non-Trinitarian' and fall outside the mainstream tradition of Christianity: indeed, some dispute whether they are Christians at all. Among these are Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and Mormons or the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints.

Many other community groups exist within and with the blessing of the Churches. They have developed as responses to particular needs or to strengthen or renew the Christian life, including some ecumenical communities such as those at Iona in Scotland and Lee Abbey in Devon, England. There may be thousands of Protestant sects and subsects, largely founded by charismatic evangelists, and many are based in the United States.

Christianity has strong organisation and infrastructure. Unordained members of the Church are generally known as the laity, who can conduct the ceremonies, rights and functions of the Church. The ordained leadership, the clergy usually carries out these functions and pastoral care. Christians have also developed regional, national and international leadership.

Jainism and Christianity: Jainism and Christianity have many teachings in common. Love in Christianity is similar to the friendship to all living beings in Jainism, and both traditions believe in forgiveness. Christians believe in a heaven where souls live close with God, but are always inferior to him; Jains believe that liberated souls live in Siddha silaa, at the apex of the universe, and all are equal. Both believe in non-violence and reverence for life, but Christianity largely limits its concern to human life, in contrast to Jain reverence for all non-human life. Both traditions have ascetics, but the life of Jain ascetics is more austere than that of Christian monks and nuns. They both follow the teachings of their respective faiths zealously in comparison with the laity. Jains believe that Right Faith, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct are necessary for spiritual progress. Mahavira and the other tirthankaras, whom Jains revere as exemplars, do not bestow any favours, but their teachings that 'self-effort alone leads to liberation' are central to Jain belief. Christians believe that God's grace is necessary for human redemption.

When Christians speak of God as the father, they imply that they are his children along with the rest of his creation. God's 'selfless' love extends not only to humanity but also to the whole of his creation. Jains believe in the fundamental unity of all life, and that all life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence. When Christians speak of 'God the Son' they believe that God revealed himself in Jesus his son, so, if we want to see the life of God lived in the world, we can look to Jesus of Nazareth and his life of 'selfless love'. The Jain principle of 'non-violence' (ahimsaa) tells the same story of 'selfless love' for all living beings. The understanding of God as pure spirit is difficult to grasp for non-Christians, even for many Christians. God as the Holy spirit cannot be seen, heard, touched or otherwise apprehended by the senses, yet it is believed that he dwells within the heart of the faithful, forgiving their sins, directing and guiding their actions and thoughts, allowing them freedom and wisdom. The spirit can be compared to the pristine soul, which has infinite perception, infinite knowledge, infinite bliss, and infinite energy. The freedom from the bondage of sin facilitated by the Holy Spirit may remind us of the liberation of the soul to attain moksa. Jesus's claim that 'the spirit will lead you into all truth', can be compared to the Right Faith of Jainism; but in reaching this freedom and knowledge the soul has to overcome attachment to material things; and shed its karmic bondage by its own efforts. Both traditions extol a total asceticism and have fasting, prayers and daily practices for spiritual progress. On personal autonomy, there is a clear parallel between Christianity and Jainism in that the soul is transcendent and it carries immense responsibilities in attaining its full potential. Both traditions believe that the true self is only to be found through selfless behaviour and love of all.

However there are some major differences: Jains believe the world is eternal; the Christians believe God is eternal and he created the world of his free will. Jains believe in love and friendship to all living beings and would not harm any living creature whether human or not. Christians offer love to all of God's worldly creations, but they are not clear about harm to animals and plants. In dietary habits Jains are strictly vegetarians, as they would not wish to harm other life forms for their own consumption. Christians in many countries have a tradition of charity towards animals but this is not seen as a religious duty. Christianity does not advocate vegetarianism, though abstention from meat (and sometimes fish) is practised as a penance. Of course, some Christians are vegetarians by choice.


Islam means 'submission to God' and the followers of Islam are known as Muslims. Muslims believe its founder, Mohammed (571-632 CE) was the last prophet of the succession of Jewish and Christian prophets and, as such, not really the architect of a new faith; rather, he is the 'seal of the prophets'; he renews and completes the teachings of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Mohammed was born in the Arabian City of Mecca. Over a period of twentythree years, from the age of forty, through the Angel Gabriel, he received God's revelation, known as the Qur'an (Koran). Soon after he began receiving revelations he attracted followers, but because of resistance to his message in Mecca, he migrated to Medina. This migration is known as the Hijra, the date from which the Muslim calendar begins.

From Arabia, Islam spread rapidly throughout the Middle East, into Persia and eastwards to the Indian sub-continent and beyond, and later into Africa and Europe. With the establishment of the Mogul Empire (1550-1707 CE) Islam thrived in India through active proselytising. During Muslim rule in India, hundreds of Hindu and Jain temples and their images were destroyed. From India it spread to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. During the twentieth century it has spread in North America and other parts of the world.

Islam has a great deal in common with the Jewish religion: it is strictly monotheistic, God (Arabic: Allah), is believed to be the creator and sustainer of the universe, and merciful, powerful, omniscient and omnipresent, and he has prescribed Islam as the only path. To become a Muslim, a convert makes a declaration (Sahada) that 'there is no god but God and that Mohammed is his prophet' and that 'Qur'an was revealed through the Prophet Mohammed', and that 'human accountability occurs on the Day of Judgement'. Absolute submission to God is regarded as the pious duty of all Muslims. Muslim life is regulated by the Qur'an, which teaches ethics and service to humanity; opposes polytheism, ritualism, image worship, and priesthood. It believes in benevolent angels and in one fallen angel, Iblis (ruler of hell), and good and bad jinns (demonical spirits). Islam believes in life after death, resurrection of the dead on the day of judgement, and reward or punishment by God.

Islam is emphatic about its monotheistic character. Each chapter (surah) of Qur'an reminds us that there is no God but Allah. Every Muslim prayer is preceded by the words that 'There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet (La ilaha ila' ilahu, Mohammad rasulu' llah)'. Because the Qur'an is viewed as the actual words of God (in Arabic), the learning and recitation of the Qur'an is the duty of all Muslims. The framework within which Muslim life has evolved is the Shari'ah (law).

Muslims believe that humans are created by God and absolutely dependent upon him, and they should serve God in humble submission. Islamic prayers are reverential and not petitionary. Islam believes the human being has a soul and it will be united with the body on the Day of Judgement by the grace of God. Righteous individuals will ascend to heaven, while the wicked will descend to hell.

Islam can be regarded as a religion of legalistic ethics and inner spiritual piousness, as it teaches its followers religious and ethical disciplines simultaneously. The five essential duties of a Muslim are known as 'Five Pillars' of Islam:

  1. Sahadah: repetition of faith in the absolute oneness of 'Allah' and Mohammed as his messenger
  2. Salat: observance of five daily prayers
  3. Zakat: giving alms to the poor, as a religious tax, usually two and half percent of annual income
  4. Ramadan: a month of fasting and spiritual discipline in the ninth month of the lunar calendar
  5. Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca and the Ka'bah (the house of God) at least once in a lifetime

Sometimes a 'Holy War' (jihad) against unbelievers is described as the sixth pillar, and immediate entry to paradise is promised to those who die in a holy war; modern Islam interprets jihad as a war against sins and sinners in the cause of religion. Sincere observance of the above duties and leading a life in accordance with the Qur'an seems to be sufficient guarantee of heaven.

Muslim ethics are mainly social: such as hospitality; obedience to one's parents; avoidance of adultery, cheating and lying; and refraining from stealing, killing and murder. Islam forbids violence except in the name of religion, or self-defence. It teaches individual virtues such as refraining from intoxicating drinks and from the use of perfumed oils; and cultivates renunciation and non-attachment towards worldly possessions. It also regulates marriage, divorce, dowry, inheritance, funeral ceremonies, and practically every sphere of life including economics, family life and the behaviour of rulers. Dietary rules are also an important aspect of Muslim values and ethics. The Qur'an prohibits the consumption of meat or the by-products of pigs and carnivorous animals, finned or scaly marine animals, meat of unlawfully (haram) slaughtered animals, and alcohol. Meat obtained from the animals slaughtered, according to the teachings of Qur'an is deemed lawful (halal) meat, but when halal meat is unavailable, kosher meat is acceptable to some Muslims. All Muslims accept vegetarian food. Food, which contains by-products of non-halal meat, such as cheese containing animal rennet, is prohibited.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims do not consume food or drink between dawn and sunset, although exceptions are made for children, the sick, pregnant women, the elderly and travellers. Islam confers equal dignity, the same religious duties and legal rights on both men and women. It views marriage and procreation positively and celibacy is discouraged, but Islamic law allows a man to have up to four wives, but because of strict regulations and financial constraints this is practically impossible in modern times. Social contact with persons of the opposite sex, other than in one's own family, is restricted.

Obligatory prayers (namaz) for a Muslim take place five times a day at dawn, mid-day, late afternoon, after sunset and late evening, from puberty onwards, except for menstruating and post-natal women. Friday is the day for congregational prayers, and most male Muslims attend the mosque for this Salat al-Jum'ah, although it is optional for women who may pray at home.

Muslim religious prayer halls are known as mosques. They provide a number of services such as the channelling of alms (zakat) to the poor; providing Imams to visit Muslims who are sick in hospital or inmates in prison, instruction in Arabic, the solemnisation of marriage and burial rites. Women do not attend the mosque regularly, and when they attend they sit separately. Muslims have many festivals, principal among them are Eid al-Fitr (end of Ramadan), Eid al-Adha (end of hajj), fast of Muharam (Islamic New Year) and fasting during Ramadan. Muslims are divided into many sects, for political rather than doctrinal reasons. Important among them are Sunni, Shi'as, Ismaili, Khojas, Zaidi: Wahhabi, Ahmadiyya and Sufi.

Islam and Jains: Islam flourished for many centuries as the religion of the rulers of India and, as a result, Islam and Jainism have influenced one another, not in principles or lifestyle, but in art and architecture. One can also find influence of Mogul painting on Jain miniature painting However, there is evidence that the Mogul Emperor Akbar was influenced by the Jain Aacaarya Hiravijaya and he issued a decree prohibiting slaughter of animals during the Jain holy days of Paryusana. Jehangir and Shah Jahan had respect for Jain Tapaagacchi ascetics. Jehangir had issued a decree for the protection of Satrunjay and even Aurangzeb issued a decree for the proprietary rights of Jains over mount Satrunjay (Encyclopaedia Britannica 1974: 22.253). But earlier Muslim rulers were not sympathetic to Jainism and as it was not difficult for Muslims to convert Jain temples into mosques, many such examples are found in Rajasthan and Gujarat. It may well be the case that it was the influence of Muslim iconoclasm, which shaped the attitude of Jain thinkers such as Lonkasaha who established the Svetambara non-imageworshipping sect of the Sthanakvasi, and Tarana Svami, who founded the Digambara sect of Taranapantha.


The Bahai faith began in Iran in the mid-nineteenth century, developing from Shi'a Islam to become a new religious system. It was founded by Bab (the Gate or Door), believed to be a descendent of the Prophet Mohammed, who in 1844 proclaimed himself the Messenger of God and foretold the coming of one greater than himself, who would bring a new age of peace and civilisation. He was followed by Baha'u'llah, who claimed to have received the divine revelation to fulfil the promises made by previous prophets of other religions, followed by his son Abdul'l-Baha, and succeeded by his grandson, Sughi Effend. Bahais believe that the scriptures written by the three central figures Bab, Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha, are the revealed message of God.

The Bahai religion is based on the belief that all religions are related to a single truth, and that they arise from time to time to meet the needs of evolution, and that divine revelation never ends and will ultimately lead to world unification. There has only ever been one God, whom people have addressed by different names. Bahais believe that each human being has a separate soul, which is related to, but distinct from the human body. Life in the world is seen as analogous to existence in the womb, and the process of death is likened to the process of birth; the world is a place for the development of the soul, which survives death. Heaven is a state of nearness to God and hell remoteness from God; each state follows the consequences of effort or the lack of them to develop spiritually.

Bahais are forbidden to proselytise, but they are always eager to share their vision and belief with enquirers, as teaching is done through knowledge and 'pioneering' (spreading the faith), and is carried by travelling to where there are no Bahais. They actively participate in inter-faith activities and invite interested outsiders to their celebratory functions. Men and women have equal status in Bahaism. Bahais give great importance to education, knowledge and to understanding the place of human beings in the world. In education they give priority to women, as they are the first educators of the next generation.

There are no specific dietary laws, although vegetarianism is encouraged, alcohol and habit-forming drugs are prohibited. Smoking is discouraged. The Bahai community is tightly structured and organised, and it forbids other Bahais to have social relations with those who have attempted to establish alternative authorities and groups.

Every Bahai over the age of fifteen recites one of three obligatory prayers and reads extracts from the scriptures, morning and evening. The Bahai faith has no set services or ordained priesthood. Their devotional practices consist of prayers, meditation and reading from scriptures in Houses of Worship or local Bahai centres and music is encouraged during devotional programmes. Most Bahai gatherings take place in people's homes. These meetings, known as 'Firesides', which begin and end with prayers and include information and discussion. Houses of Worship are attractive buildings, each is nine-sided and surmounted by a dome, standing in extensive gardens with fountains, trees and flowers, and have additional buildings for educational, charitable and social purposes, for example, old people's homes and orphanages.

Bahais have their own festivals, principal among them are: the feast Ridvan (21st April to 2nd May) and a period of fasting (2nd to 21stMarch), when Bahais abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, a time for reflection on spiritual progress and detachment from material desires.

The administration of the Bahais at local and national level is by Spiritual Assemblies, and at the international level by the Universal House of Justice, which is based in Haifa, Israel.

Jains and Bahais: Bahais believe in the existence of a soul in each human being, separate from the body. The world is a place to develop the soul, which survives death and attains nearness to or remoteness from God, depending upon one's own efforts towards spiritual development. Jainism emphasises that every living being has a soul, which attains liberation by the shedding of karma through its own efforts.

The account of different faiths offers the choices that have evolved in attempting to understand the meaning of life, the truth, and to live an ethical life in this world. The teachings are conveyed in the indigenous language of the people concerned, but the message is clear: it is to have a moral and purposeful life.

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