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A Comparative Study of Religions

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Nairobi University Press

First published in 1990 by Nairobi University Press P.O. Box 30197 Nairobi, Kenya. Printed by: Interface Printers Ltd. P .O . Box 68014 Factory Street, Nairobi, Kenya

©1990 Jesse Ndwiga Kanywa Mugambi The copyright of each individual chaptcr remain with the author or authors concerned except where stated otherwise.

Cataloguing in Publication Data A comparative study of religions ed. J.N.K. Mugambi - Nairobi: Nairobi University Press, 1990. 299p. Inlcudes bibliography and index 1. Religions 2. Religion, Comparative. I. Mugambi, Jesse N.K. BL 80.2.C6 ISBN 9966 846 03 8 ’4 .f a


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CONTENTS Acknowledgements SECTION I



The Scope of Comparative Religion E.M. Kasiera





Religion of the Eskimos 4


E.M. Kasiera



Religion of the Indigenous Australians E.M. Kasiera


Religion of the Indigenous Americans E.M. Kasiera



Theories of the Origin of Religion E.M. Kasiera






Earlier Studies of African Religion S.G. Kibicho


Nature and Structure of African Religion S.G. Kibicho



Conception of God in African Religion S.G. Kibicho




The Conceptions of Divinities and Spirits S.G. Kibicho





Pre-Vedic Elements in Hinduism E.M. Kasiera



Vedic Hinduism E.M. Kasiera



Classical Hinduism E.M. Kasiera




Origins and Teachings of Jainism S.G. Kibicho



The Lay Aspect of Jainism S.G. Kibicho




The Origins of Buddhism S.G. Kibicho


The Enlightenment of the Buddha S.G. Kibicho



The Philosophical Foundation of Buddhist Teaching S.G. Kibicho




The Spread of Buddhism and Its Scriptures S.G. Kibicho




The Origin of Sikhism S.G. Kibicho


Sikhism After Nanak S.G. Kibicho





Confucianism D.W. Waruta




Some of the Main Sects of Buddhism in Japan S.G. Kibicho



The Spread of Mahayana Buddhism to Northern Lands S.G. Kibicho



Mahayana Buddhism S.G. Kibicho



Shintoism D.W. Waruta



Taoism D.W. Waruta


Buddhism in Tibet S.G. Kibicho






The Rise of Zoroastrianism D.W. Waruta




The Teachings of Zarathustra D.W. Waruta




The Evolution of Judaism BJ. Ekeya



Basic Teachings and Practice of Judaism BJ. Ekeya




The Religious and Cultural Backgrounds of Early Christianity G.E.M. Ogutu



Christ and the Church He Founded G.E.M. Ogutu



Growth and Spread of Christianity G.E.M. Ogutu



35 ,

The Religious Heritage of Arabia Before and During Muhammad's Time J.N.K. Mugambi



Muhammad as the Founder of Islam J.N.K. Mugambi


Islam : A Living World Religion D.W. Waruta






Creative Act of God J.J. Ongong'a




Forms of Theism J.J. Ongong'a



Models of Relationship J.J. Ongong'a



The Nature and Destiny of Man J.J. Ongong'a



Good and Evil J.J. Ongong’a



Salvation J.J. Ongong'a

44 v



Death J.J. Ongong’a


Immortality of the Soul J.J. Ongong’a





The Present State of Religion in the Contemporary World J.N.K. Mugambi



The Future of Religion J.N.K. Mugambi


C ontributors


B ibliography





A ck n o w led g m e n ts

I place on record my deep gratitude and appreciation for all the colleag who responded to the urgent and pressing call to join the team and accomplish this project within very tight deadlines in addition to their regular teaching duties. As Chairman of the Department of Religious Studies, I was encouraged by their readiness and conscientiousness. Though some of them joined other universities before publication of the book, their contributions in this volume will remain a permanent edifice to their dedication. One member of the team, Dr. Jude Ongong'a was on the teaching staff at Kenyatta University, but his contribution is an indispensable part of this work. As Editor, I found it difficult to harmonize and synchronize the styles of six distinguished scholars without interfering with their academic and professional individuality. The challenge has been momentous, but I am convinced that the resulting volume is worth the effort. Hopefully, the reader will find it lucid and coherent. The scholars, of course, bear responsibility for their respective chapters, but the arrangement of the entire volume has been the Editor's task. The project was facilitated by another team of colleagues at the College of Education and External Studies under the co-ordination of Mr. J.O. Odumbe. To him we all owe a great deal for his patience and persistence. Finally, I thank the Nairobi University Press for its commitments to see the book through the long publication process within the shortest possible time. It is our hope that the book will meet the needs of undergraduates, postgraduates, researchers and teachers of comparative studies in Religions at both theological and secular institutions. Prof. J.N.K. Mugambi Nairobi, 30th July, 1990



CHAPTERS 1 The Scope of Comparative Religion 2 Theories of the Origin of Religion.


1 THE SCOPE OF COMPARATIVE RELIGION E.M. Kasiera D efinition of Religion The word religion is derived from the Latin word, religio, whose root meaning seems difficult to determine. In Indo-European language, the root leg or lig means, "to be concerned". This seems to derive from the Greek word alegein meaning "to pay heed to". Connected to this is the Latin word, diligens, from which the English word "diligent" comes. Already you get the idea that religion has to do with "concern", "paying heed to", and "diligence". In view of this linguistic background, Paul Tillich has defined religion as "ultimate concern". Providing definitioris is always problematic. A definition of religion should answer the question: "What is religion?" But this question raises another one: "How do you begin to define or describe the subject which you intend to study before you are able to study it?" Scholars and students of religion differ on this point. There are those who say that you cannot give a comprehensive and conclusive definition of what religion is until you have examined the subject matter and have familiarized yourself with it in detail. Their point is that such an early definition is likely to overlook certain matters which may not have been thought of at the time the definition was formulated. Here, then, we are presented with the first problem in our desire to define religion. There are, however, others who think that you need not to know everything about the subject before you can define it. Such arguments over definitions are primarily theoretical in emphasis. Besides this theoretical way of looking at religion, one can look at it from an empirical stand point. Perspectives that are characterized as empirical are those which rely on observation and experiment, and arc based on practical experience. They attempt to distinguish between the natural and the supernatural order of existence. The natural belongs to the realm of the empirical and the supernatural is seen to transcend the natural. In other words, the natural is seen to be subordinate to the supernatural. One is, therefore, seen to be religiously conscious if one can tell the difference between the natural and the supernatural. Another way of looking at religion is from a Theological perspective. Here, religion is regarded as a virtue which leads one to render to God the homage that is


Comparative Religion

due to him. This homage consists of believing in one God who is personal. Such a God is infinite in attributes. This leads one to develop an attitude of absolute respect for God and submit oneself to God. One's actions in relation to God express the belief in him through worship. In this way, there arises the need for institutions which have to regulate religious actions. A further way of looking at religion is the Historical perspective. This is the approach often used by anthropologists and, to some extent, sociologists. Here one tries to find the meaning of religion in a given society. On top of the institutions based on revelation, anthropologists discern what particular societies evolve as substitutes for revelation. The definition of the religious phenomenon then becomes entirely pragmatic and comes to embrace beliefs, rites, and institutions which fulfil specific functions at pardcular periods in history.. Let us now look at some specific definitions which have been proposed by various researchers and scholars in the field of comparative religion.

Some Specific Definitions in the Fields of Com parative Religion Religion as Belief in Supernatural Beings Edward B. Tylor (1832-1917) suggested one of the early definitions by proposing that religion was "Belief in Spiritual Beings". Indeed, most of us use the word "religion" in this way to refer to beliefs in gods, spirits and other powers which occupy a world beyond the world that is known to us all. Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) rejects this definition which ties religion to belief in supernatural beings. According to him, if you were to define religion in this way, you would deny religion to the peoples he called "primitive" because those peoples do not distinguish between the natural and the supernatural. Further, you would also be denying religion to Buddhists because they have no belief in gods. What Durkheim saw as characteristic of religious phenomena is that they suggest a division of the whole universe into two, the one which is known and the other which is yet to be known, such that you have two classes which embrace all that exists. The one class is called the sacred and the other one is called the profane. "Religious beliefs are", therefore, "the representations which express the nature of sacred things and the relations which they sustain either with each other or with profane things". He defined religion as a unified system of beliefs and practices, relative to sacred things, which unite all those who adhere to them into one single moral community called a church. The main concern in the attempts to define religion is to offer a concise statement which would agree with a wide range of religious phenomena. It is with this awareness in mind that Melford E. Spiro suggests that the belief in superhuman beings and their power to assist or harm man is the core variable

| Scope of Comparative Religion


Iwhich ought to be designated by any definition of religion. He therefore defines !religion as an institution which consists of culturally patterned interaction with | culturally postulated superhuman beings.

Underlying the above definitions is the need to distinguish between what is known through experience and that which is yet unknown. It is in this connection that Roland Robertson, a contemporary sociologist, makes the distinction between | the empirical natural order of existence and the order of existence beyond the | empirical or the natural. To him, religious culture is that set of beliefs and symbols, together with the values which derive from these, which relate to the i distinction between an empirical and super-empirical, transcendent reality. 1 In this definition, matters which relate to the empirical are subjected to the ' affairs of the super-empirical; apart from defining religious culture, Robertson j defines religious action as that which is shaped by an acknowledgment of the empirical/super-empirical distinction. Another definition is that of Paul Tillich who distinguishes between | ultimate authority as appreciated by man, and all other authority which is of ’ penultimate or secondary importance. ! f 1 Many anthropologists and sociologists have adopted some variation of Robertson’s definition. Others have found Tillich’s definition useful. William Lessa and Evan Vogt have interpreted Tillich’s definition in terms of the society as a | whole. According to them, "Religion may be described as a system of beliefs and I practices directed towards the "ultimate concern" of 4 society. They see two aspects ! in Tillich's concept of "ultimate concern": meaning and power. "Meaning" is the ultimate meaning of the central values of society; "power" is the ultimate, sacred, or supernatural power which stands behind those values. Viewed in this way, then, religion explains and expresses the value of society; it therefore functions as an integrative force between groups and within individual personalities. At the same time, religion deals with threats to the central values of the society or to social and individual existence. In this manner, religion resolves tensions and anxieties between groups or within individuals. Religion does, therefore, maintain the ultimate values of ■ society and manages tensions in the personalities of individual members of ■ society. Lessa and Vogt also argue that this double function of religion is found almost universally in human societies. The difference lies in the beliefs and practices which provide this double function in a given culture, because the beliefs and practices are developed and tailored with symbols, myths and rituals which are found in a given cultural context It is with this in mind that we are interested in the comparative study in religions.


History of the Study of Religion In the 19th century and early 20th century, scholars of anthropology, history, psychology, and sociology studied religious phenomena in ways that have yielded impressive results. The first efforts to understand and interpret religious


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phenomena comparatively were the works of British scholars such as Edward B. Tylor, William Robertson Smith, Andrew Lang, James Fraser and R.R. Marett. These scholars were influenced by the popular ideas of other time, such as those outlined below:

Evolutionism In his book On the Origin o f Species, published in 1859, Charles Darwin advanced the theory that life began from a simple form of one cell and evolved into more complex forms as time passed. This theory of biological evolution affected every field of endeavour. Either negatively or positively, by virtue of their commitment to the belief in the literal accuracy of the Christian Bible, conservative Christian preachers and theologians rightly saw the theory as a direct attack on the historical accuracy of the first chapters of the book of Genesis. Liberal Christian theologians and scholars in secular disciplines basically accepted the premises of the evolutionary theory. It is in this context that the works of the British scholars mentioned above need to be understood. They looked at their nineteenth century British culture and sought to describe and compare it with what they conceived as earlier stages of culture in other societies. It was in this connection that they turned to the study of "primitive" peoples in the remote parts of the world. These scholars were interested in establishing the origins of religion in the cultural evolution of mankind. They attempted to reconstruct earlier stages of religion in order to establish how man first created myths and developed rituals, whether or not animism was the first form of religion, and whether or not magic preceded religion. Related to the question of origins was whether or not these primitive people worshipped ■ primitive high god or a supreme Being.

Functionalism A second major effort to understand and interpret the comparatively religious phenomena is the work of the French sociological school, particularly the researches of Emil Durkheim. In his book The primitives Durkheim wrote on the indigenous Australians. He was not particularly interested in the origins of religion as such. He emphasized that religion is an integral part of society. He was interested in establishing the origin of religious emotion. The value of this school lies in the fact that it forms a historical bridge between the earlier interests in the origins of religion and the later interests in the functions of religion.

Structuralism A third effort to understand and interpret the comparative factor in religious phenomena comes from another sociological school, as is exemplified in the works of Max Weber. This comes out particularly in Weber's interest in exploring the

Scope of Comparative Religion


relationships between religious and economic institutions. This leads him to recognize the fundamental importance of the problem of meaning. The problem of meaning has two sides to it On the one hand, when unpredictable and unfortunate events take place in human life, people want to know the reasons or "meaning" behind such occurrences. On the other hand, in everyday life, people want to know what relationship exists between the major institutions that are prevalent in a particular society. The assumption here is that economic institutions must have some "meaning" in terms of the religious institutions and religious institutions must have some meaning in terms of the economic institutions.

Psycho-Analysis A fourth effort in understanding and interpreting the comparative approach to religious phenomena was in the discipline of psychology, especially in the works of Sigmund Freud who popularized the discipline. Freud's interest in the psychology of religion was mainly establishing the relationship between religious thought, emotions, unconscious motivation and religion as a projection of personal fears and aspirations.

Impact of Anthropology on Com parative Religion Anthropologists have had lasting impact on the comparative study of religion. Among the best known are Bronislaw Malinowski and A.R. Radcliffe Brown. These two were partially influenced by the French sociological school, but they carried out extensive firsthand field researches of their own. The effect of their efforts has been the shift from the question of origin to that of function of religion. Their researches focused on establishing the function of religion in social groups. To highlight this focus,,anthropologists in North America and Europe have documented new religious movements such as the Peyote Cult, Cargo Cults, the Unification movement, and the Children of God, among others. To be able to establish the function of religion in society, one needs to describe what religion is. This task necessitates a study of all the religious things that people do. Such things include symbolism, rituals and myths. It is in this regard, that Claude LéviStrauss in France has been interested in myth and various aspects of ritual. Following his efforts, other scholars have developed interest in symbolic analysis of both rituals and myths.

Meaning and Scope o f Comparative Religion Comparative Religion, is the study of the inter-relationships of the various religious traditions and of the way in which religious themes and ideas are diffused in these traditions. For example, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Zoroastrianism have some themes common to two, three, or four of them. Islam contributed to the disappearance of Buddhism in India. Hinduism had influence on Islam in India. Recently, Buddhism has had an effect on Western theology. Comparative Religion,

Comparative Religion


therefore, is concerned with the influences of religions on one another. Beyond the comparative study of religious ideas, comparative religion is interested in relating the findings of two separate disciplines related to religion - the philosophy of religion and the sociology of religion. An ideal situation would be where the findings of sociologists from all parts of the world have been compared and the findings of all philosophers of religion have similarly been all compared, then scholars of religion would take over 10 compare all those findings. Such an ideal, however, is impossible to realise. Only partial achievements are possible. From the foregoing then, comparative religion means an attempt to achieve a generalization by comparing similar kinds of phenomena gathered from various religious traditions and disciplines, covering various parts of the world. There are a number of aims in the effort to compare those religious phenomena. One of the aims is to establish general laws or regularities that are common to all the situations. A second aim is to note the range of variation in the phenomena that have been studied. A third aim of camparative religion is to attempt to reconstruct the history of religion and culture. Finally, a fourth aim is to test hypotheses derived from religious traditions that have hitherto been left out of scholarly enquiry.

M ethodological Perspectives in Com parative Religion The Psychological Approach There are a number of methodological perspectives which appear in the many studies of religion done by contemporary scholars. One of these perspectives is the psychological approach. The view here is that each person has personal problems which include the manner in which he handles his personal drives like the need for sexual satisfaction, friendship, acceptance by his peers, prestige and power, and the sense that he is somebody. Psychologists have analyzed how religious symbols and practices help or hinder the individual in working out these problems. The proponents of this approach are Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Erik Erikson.

The Sociological Approach A second perspective is the sociological approach. Here sociologists have analysed how religion operates at the social level to solve a number of related problems. (i)

First, religion is seen as having a social structure which must be maintained from generation to generation.


Secondly, religion operates in the larger structure of some social units like an ethnic group or nation.

(iii) Thirdly, religion may help or hinder an individual in integrating his personal life into the larger life of the society of which he is part

Scope of Comparative Religion


Some of the social anthropologists who have made important contributions to the study of how religion operates in human society are Edward B. Tylor, James Frazer, Bronislaw Malinowski, A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Talcott Parsons.

The Historical Approach A third approach to the study of religion is the historical perspective. In addition to the perspectives mentioned above, which are primarily interested in examining how religion functions at a given period of time for the individual, or in the society of which he is part, here a given religion is considered as a specific tradition of beliefs and practices which has gone through a complex course of development and transformation. This is why "Comparative Religion" is also called "History of Religions". Raffele Pettazzoni and Mircea Eliade are among those who seek to develop a comprehensive knowledge of the entire field and seek to be faithful to religious phenomena in their entirity.

The Form-Comparative Approach A fourth approach to the study of religion is the form-comparative perspective. Here, a specific religious phenomenon which reveals a distinctive structure of its own is studied, and then compared or contrasted with others in various religious traditions. The form may be ■ myth, a rite, or a religious functionary like a priest. Gerardus Van der Loeun is the one who adopts this approach. Although Rudolf Otto was not a phenomenologist, his work is often cited as an example of this approach. Phenomenology is a term used in philosophy and psychology to denote a study of the various forms in which something appears, as distinct from studying its meaning and origins.

The Hermeneutical Approach A fifth perspective can be characterized as the hermeneutical approach. This is an interpretation which includes a number of approaches to religion which, although they may disagree among themselves, are united by a common interest in religions as systems of symbols or kinds of languages which impart meaning that must be interpreted. The approach in this course is primarily a historicalphenomenological one. There will, however, be the combination of the other approaches.

A ctivity Use encyclopedias or other reference books to find out what you can about the scholars and researchers named in this chapter. Your notes will be useful as you come to see their conclusions referred to in later chapters.


2 THEORIES OF THE ORIGIN OF RELIGION E.M. Kasiera Introduction In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, great progress was made in the development of anthropology, history, psychology and sociology with regard to religious phenomena. Many scholars gave a great deal of attention to religion because they found that religion played ■ significant role in the various societies which they studied. It became clear to them that any account of how a society was formed and operated was incomplete unless they had some knowledge of the place of religion in the society. A common feature in these approaches was the interest in the "origin" of religion. We now turn to the most renowned theories of the origin of religion and the scholars associated with them.

Fetishism and Magic The term Fetishism comes from the Portuguese word feitico which means "an artificial thing" or "an object which is made". Feitico comes from the latin word factitius, meaning "skilfully made". The word was originally used by Portuguese travellers in West Africa to describe magical charms and figures. By extension, the term was used to describe the religious belief that preternatural power can reside, temporarily or permanently, in a natural or artificial object. Charles de Brasses (1709-1777) was the one who added the term "fetishism" to the vocabulary of Comparative Religion. He used it as ■ general category for religious systems which were based on a belief in the existence of spirits. In societies where fetishes were used, they were recognised as having been made by humans. The sentience and power of the fetishes to answer prayers did not come from some indwelling spirit, but from a combination of magically powerful ingredients (such as white clay, snake vertebrae, or human blood) which were placed in or on the fetishes. Later, James Frazer (1854-1941) came to advance a theory akin to fetishism. He argued that religion developed out of an original magical stage of human culture. According to Frazer, the magician believes that phenomena can be controlled through magic spells. The religious man, on the other hand, believes in


Comparative Religion

the existence of spirits which must be placated and cajoled by prayers, rather than controlled directly through a magic formula.

N aturism In the nineteeth century, some scholars advanced an approach to religion which was called the nature-myth theory. According to this school of thought, the great symbols of the religions of the world were personifications of natural phenomena like the sun, moon, stars, sky, winds, rivers, plants, animals, rocks and the seasons of the year. These scholars argued among themselves about which force of nature was primary in the concerns of early religion. Some, among them, maintained that solar myths were the ones which were most important. According to them, primitive rituals and myths were primarily concerned with man’s relation to the sun. One of the leading exponents of this approach was Max Muller (1823­ 1900). Muller was a philologist (scholar of written records) who did pioneer work in the study of Indo-European languages. He developed a method of comparative study of religion and tried to show how nature myths were operative in both European and Indian religions. This approach advocates that the nature cult was the point of departure for religious evolution. This then is the theory of naturism.

Animism and Animatism There was another group of scholars who advanced a different approach to study of religion. Rather than looking at that which addresses itself to the phenomena of nature, this group advocated that religion can be looked at from the angle of that which addresses itself to spiritual beings like spirits, souls, geniuses, demons, divinities and animated and conscious agents like man. The pioneer in this approach was Tylor. He sought to identify the difference between a living body and a dead one; what caused waking, sleep, trance, disease and death. He further sought to know what those human shapes were which appeared in dreams and visions. Tylor came to the conclusion that every human being had a life and phantom. Both the life and the phantom were in close connection with the body. With life, man felt, thought and acted; phantom was the image of life or the second self. Both the life and the phantom were separable from the body. Tylor further argued that since the life and the phantom belonged to one another, it meant that they were manifestations of one and the same soul. He concluded that this "apparitional soul” or "ghost-soul" was the cause of life and thought in humans. According to Tylor, it was from the experience of sleep, dreams, visions, ghosts, and the act of breathing that the "primitive man” came to conceive of an anima which, in Latin, means "soul". He came, therefore, to attribute anima to all entities that moved and appeared to live.

Theories of the Origin of Religion


So rivers, trees, sun, moon, stars, animals, among others, were thought to possess anim ae. By virtue of the fact that many of these entities were overwhelmingly powerful and impressive, man began to worship them. The degree to which man venerated these phenomena corresponded to the measure of his fear, respect, or need of them. This is how Tylor coined the word animism to refer to the existence of supernatural soul or spirits which were the basis of religious beliefs in the primitive minds. The theory of animism arose concurrently or in the wake of the naturism theory. The argument here was that animism was the primitive religion from which naturism derived. Animism, in turn, was challenged as being the elementary form of religion. R.R. Marett, while not rejecting animism as a legitimate stage in man's cultural development, maintained that belief in souls was preceded by a belief in the animation of non-physiological things. In other words, man first believed in the idea of inanimate objects, like rocks, having life before he developed the idea of the soul which animated them. This view is called animatism. Be that as it may, animism became a popular designation for the so called "primitive religion".

Euhem erism In order to establish animism as the elementary form of religion, its exponents had to explain three aspects within the theory. First, they had to show how the idea of the soul was cardinal to religion without borrowing any of its elements from another religion. Secondly, they had to demonstrate clearly how souls became objects of worship and how they were transformed into spirits. Thirdly, they were to explain how the cult of nature derived from animism. In dealing with this third aspect of the problem, Tylor advanced the view that it was due to the capability of the primitive mind to distinguish between the animate and the inanimate that nature cult grew out of animism. He illustrated his point by giving an example of an infant who plays with toys or manipulates certain objects to regard them as living beings like himself. Similarly, the primitive man who thinks like a child, begins to attribute to animate and inanimate things a nature that is similar to his own. It was in this regard that the ancestor cult became a nature cult. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), who advanced the theory of animism, differed with Tylor on this point. Agreeing that the transition from the cult of ancestors to that of things lay in confusion, he placed the confusion in errors created by language. Spencer states that in many "inferior societies", it was very common custom to give to each individual, either at his birth or later, the name of a natural object. Because the primitive man’s language was not precise enough, it became very difficult for the primitive man to distinguish between a metaphor and a reality.


Comparative Religion

According to Spencer, before long, the primitive man forgot that the animal-plant-star-object names were merely figurative. He took them literally and came to conclude that in the case where an ancestor had been named "Tiger" or "Lion” such an ancestor had actually been a real tiger or lion. It was at this stage that the religion of nature took over from the cult of the ancestors. The connection between natural phenomena and ancestors was exemplified in cases where, when animals frequent the surroundings of tombs or houses, such animals were taken to be the reincarnated souls of the ancestors; or where men were thought to have descended from the mountain, such a mountain was taken to be ancestor itself. To Spencer then, what constituted the institution of naturism was the literal interpretation of the metaphorical names. In this regard, Spencer found the origin of religion neither in naturism or animism, but in the respect given to ancestors along with the belief in ghosts which appeared in dreams. This means that "ancestor-worship is the root of every religion". This theory is sometimes known as euhemerism: it is named after Euhemerus, who lived in the fourth century BC and argued that the gods of religion were originally human beings of great power and authority who were later raised to the status of divine beings.

T otem ism The term "totem" comes from the word ototeman which, in Ojibwa languages of America, means "He is my relative". The word indicates kinship lines or membership in a given clan. It defines the limits within which marriage may or may not occur. In other words it makes restrictions on marriage. Totemism then is ■ complexity of ideas, practices, legend, fears, and kinship patterns which refer to the connection of human beings and animals or plants. It is the practice of taking a particular natural object or animal and making it the symbol (totem) of a particular social group or clan, Totemism is a world-view which holds that the environment dominates human beings and, in it, humans maintain spiritual relationships with the elements of their environment. It is a world-view in which there is no sharp distinction between humans as a species and other things like animals, vegetable or mineral; human beings are simple creatures in the scheme of things. At the heart of totemism is the the belief that the whole world has spirit. The totem objects themselves provide categories by which relationships which are based in personal revelation, religious experience, or membership in a specific group can be distributed. Totemism is not a religion as such, but it finds religious expression in widespread veneration of animals. One of the proponents of the theories of totemism was Durkheim. He was reacting to earlier theories of religion which tended to reduce religion to illusions or an intellectual mistake. According to him, religions of man deal with a very real empirical object, which is human society. It is the society which imposes on each individual rules of conduct which determine the shape of his social life. Religion is one of the ways in which man accomplishes his socialization process. It is in this regard that Durkhein got interested in totemism. To him, therefore, it

Theories of the Origin of Religion


is in totemism that the social nature of religion as well as its social origin was to be understood.

A ctivity (a) Make a list of elements which are common to all or several of the following: Fetishism Magic Naturism Animism Animatism Euhemerism Totemism (b) Do all or any of these elements also appear in organised religions with which you are familiar?

Further Reading 1.

Carmody, D.L. & Carmody, J. Ways to the Centre: an Introduction to World Religions (Belmont: Wadsworth, 1981), p. 4-10.


Comstock, W.R. Religion and Man: an Introduction (New York: Harper Row, 1971) p. 3-27.


Creel, R.E. Religion and Doubt: Towards a Faith of Your Own (Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall, 1977), p. 1-27; 44-66.


Eliade, M. The Quest: history and Meaning of Religion (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1959), p. 12-53.


Evans-Pritchard, E.E. Theories of Primitive Religions (London: Oxford University Press, 1965).


Hinnels, J.R., Ed. God and the Sun in Meru Thought (Helsink: Finnish Society for Missiology and Ecumenics, 1969) p. 1-30.


Hume, R.E. The World's Living Religions (Edinburgh: T.T. Clark) p.3-18.


James, E.O. Comparative Religion: an Introduction and Historical Study (London: Methuen, 1961) p. 15-56.


Lessa, W. & Ed. Vogt, Ed. A Reader in Comparative Religion (New York: Harper and Row, 1965) p. 1-8.


Comparative Religion


Ling, T.. A History o f Religion East and West (London: MacMillan, 1968), p. xvii-xxiv


Noss, B. Man's Religions (New York: Collier-MacMillan, 1975) p. 5-10.


Sharpe, E.J.. Comparative Religion: A History (London: Dukeworth, 1975, p. 1-17.


Smart, N. Religious Experience o f Mankind (New York: Scribner, 1969; Collins Fontana, 1971) p. 11-25; 45-46; 62-78.




Religion of the Eskimos


Religion of the Indigenous Australians


Religion of the Indigenous Americans


3 RELIGION OF THE ESKIMOS E.M. Kasiera Introduction In this chapter, we look at belief in supernatural beings, belief in Shamanism, and the Eskimo taboo system. Eskimos live in Greenland, Canada (Yukon and Northwest Territories), Alaska, and the Bering Strait. The history of the Eskimo habitation of these areas is uncertain. It is however, argued that by virtue of their location, physical characteristics and culture, they must have originated from North Asia, particulary from Siberia. Their life revolves around fishing and hunting. Their culture and religious beliefs and practices would, therefore, be shaped by their environment.

B elief in Supernatural Beings There are three figures cited independently in the myths of Alaskans, Canadians and Greenlanders. The Alaskan figure is known as the Great Raven. He is portrayed as having been sitting in darkness. Then he came to consciousness and was moved to create trees and human beings. This myth attempts to give a vague idea of creation. Beyond this we have no information as to the other activities of the Great Raven. The Eskimos of Northern Canada have a myth of a goddess of the sea, called Sedna. She is said to be the source of sea animals. Sedna was initially a pretty girl who proudly turned down proposals from men who wanted to marry her. One day during spring, a fulmar, a type of sea bird which lives near the coasts of cold northern countries of the world, flew in from across the ice and seduced her. In the serenade song, the fulmar described the soft bearskins on which she would sleep and told of the abundance of good food she would eat if she agreed to become his wife. By the twist of luck, the fulmar successfully wooed her. To her great disappointment, Sedna found herself in very miserable conditions. She began to lament with bitterness how she rejected earlier human suitors. To avenge her disgrace, Sedna's father killed the lying fulmar. Sedna and her father so became the object of the anger of other fulmars. One day Sedna and her father were fleeing from an attack when a heavy storm arose. Her father decided to surrender Sedna to the birds by throwing her


Comparative Religion

overboard. She clung to the side of the boat, but her father cut her fingers. The first joints became whales, the second joints became seals, and the stumps became ground animals. When the storm subsided, Sedna returned to the boat and found her father sleeping. Out of anger and hatred, she set her dogs on her father which chewed off his feet and hands. The father cursed her, her dogs, and himself. Thereafter the earth opened and swallowed them all. Since then, they have lived in the nether world, where Sedna is mistress of sea life. A slightly similar version of this myth exists among the Greenlanders. There is an old woman who is said to be living in the ocean depths, called Amaguagsaq. She sits in front of a lamp and sends out the animals which Eskimos hunt At times, when she is angry because parasites have settled on her head, she holds back the animals. In such a case, the angakoq (shaman) courageously goes to remove the parasites. In doing this, he crosses a turning wheel of ice, negotiates a ketde of boiling water, then goes round the guardian animals, and finally navigates a narrow bridge like the edge of a knife. A figure common to all the Eskimos is known as Sila. This is believed to be a great spirit which supports the world, the weather and all life on earth. The spirit is so powerful that he does not speak to man through common words. He speaks through storm, snow, rain and the fury of the sea. In other words, he speaks through all the forces of nature that men fear. Conversely, Sila also express himself gently, either by sunlight or the calm of the sea. He is said to have spoken frequently to small children, warning of the dangers to come. In this case, the children were to alert the shaman. No one has ever seen Sila, which means his is a mystery.

B elief in Shamanism In Eskimo religion, the Shaman normally mediates between Sedna or Sila and the society. The power of the shaman is believed, is acquired far from the habitation of men, out in great solitudes. It is attained through suffering. Privation and suffering are the only things that can open the mind of man to those things which are hidden from others. The hidden powers themselves choose the persons who are to deal with them, often through revelations in dreams. A story is told of one angakok called Igjugarjuk. He initially saw visions at night, the indication of which was that he was marked as a potential angakok. Thereafter he was given an instructor who, in mid-winter, placed him in a tiny snow hut and left him without food or drink, but a tiny snow hut and left him without food or drink, but advised to think of the Great Spirit. Five days later his instructor came back and gave him some lukewarm water, with the injuction think of Great Spirit. After twenty days of confinement, the instructor returned and gave the initiate another drink of water and a small piece of meat. Finally, after thirty days of solitude and fasting, Igjugarjuk saw a helping spirit in the form of a woman. For the next five months, he was kept on a strict diet and forbidden sexual

Religion of the Eskimos


intercourse in order to consolidate his new power. Later in his career, he fasted whenever he wanted to see his spirit in order to receive help from her. The foregoing is only one form of initiation. Other shamans get initiated by being shot through their hearts or by drowning. A case of one who was drowned tells of how he was tied to a pole and carried out onto a frozen lake. His instructor cut a hole in the ice and thrust him into it. He stood at the bottom, completely submerged in water. He was brought up to the surface after five days with his clothes completely dry. He therefore had overcome death and become a wizard.

Eskimo Taboo System Eskimo society focussed on survival in a hostile world. On the one hand, Eskimos need shelter against the cold. On the other hand, they obtained the seal, fish, or deer in order to furnish themselves with food and clothing. The male hunted and the female sewed. These activities were carried out in the midst of complex taboos. According to them, taboos formed a system for dealing with spirits. There is a general belief among the Eskimos that the food man eats consists entirely of souls. Eskimos being hunters, therefore, the elaborate taboo system was designed to conciliate the animals who had to suffer so that the Eskimos could live. Great precautions were taken to placate the spirits of the animals and avoid their anger. A few examples will suffice. In the event Eskimos killed a ringed seal, they poured water on its snout because they believed that it lived in salt water and was, therefore, thirsty. The harpoon which was used in killing the seal was placed next to the blubber lamp the first night in the belief that the soul of the animal, which was still in the head of the harpoon, would be kept warm. If they killed a bearded seal or bear, Eskimos would not go U work for three days and presents were given for such a kill. The Bering Sea Eskimos spent a month preparing for their festival of the bearded seal. During this time, they returned to the sea the bladders of all seals caught in the previous year. The Eskimos of central Canada had taboos which separated land animals from sea animals. For example, they did not eat the meat of a walrus on the same day they ate that of the caribou. Before they went to hunt the seal on ice, the hunters smoked their weapons over fires of seaweed in order 13 remove the smell of the land. By the same token, the sewing of caribou skins stopped on a particular day prior to the sea hunting. In matters of personal relationships, fathers valued male children. Due IB the practice of providing dowry, which was burdensome, often female infants were killed by either strangling or exposure.

Comparative Religion


Because men feared menstrual blood, women were forbidden to hunt. They cooked food; they chewed for hours on an animal skin to soften it for sewing; and did all the sewing of the clothing. The women who were in labour were isolated. A new mother was restricted in what she could eat, whom she could see, and what clothing she could wear among other things. Another awesome event involving dangerous forces was death. Often it was taken that a person died outdoors, and only certain persons could touch the dead. If anyone died indoors, everything in the house was destroyed. Curiously, sexual activity seems not to have been governed by taboo. Often ■ man offered his wife to a visiting friend and regularly arranged to share her with other men. In other cases, if his wife was pregnant, he would arrange to take the wife of the friend with whom he was hunting. The general attitude among the Eskimos was sexual desire is just another appetite like hunger.

A ctivity 1. 2.

3. 4.

Write notes on the effect of the environment on Eskimo myths and beliefs. Explain to a friend the myths of: a) The Great Raven b) Sedna c) Sila What is the power of ■ shaman? What is taboo, and what function does it play in the life of the Eskimos?


4 RELIGION OF THE INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS E.M. Kasiera Introduction This chapter will outline the religious beliefs of indigenous Australians with particular reference to supernatural beings, totemism, and the role of medicine-men. The indigenous Australians we refer to here are those known as "Aborigines" in other sources. They are said to have probably migrated from Southeast Asia about 50,000 years ago. They were sheltered from outside influence for a long time until the coming of Europeans in the eighteenth century. Some aspects of their culture indicate that they may have had contacts with peoples of Melanesia and New Guinea. Although a majority of them died at the hands of the European invaders, thousands of them still remain intact in the semi-desert northern region. Their culture is based on hunting and gathering.

Belief in Supernatural Beings One of the significant features in the religion of the indigenous Australians is the belief in various supernatural beings who appear in different forms and are known by different names. One such being is referred to as Sky Being and is said to be personal. Most Australian groups believed in eternal supernatural beings which were linked with totemic animals, plants, or natural phenomena. This seems to indicate that the eternal supernatural beings were originally ancestors and clan founders. The story goes that, in the beginning, these eternal supernatural beings slept under the earth's crust. Their coming out .of their eternity and bursting to the surface marked the beginning of time. According to the myth among the Unambal Australians, a being called Ungud lived in the earth as a snake and another one called Wallanganda lived in the sky. One night, through a creative dream, the two beings created everything. According to this myth, Ungud transformed himself into the beings which he dreamed. On the other hand, Wallanganda threw out a spiritual force; he shaped it into images and projected them onto the rocks of the present landscape. Next to


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arise were spirits which were shaped either as animals or as human beings. The spirits, in turn, shaped the rest of the earth. Kamilaroi Australians believe in the god Baiame. He resides in the sky and he looks like an old man with a long beard and two great quartz crystals at his shoulders. At one time, he is said to have been on earth, the itme at which he founded the group's ceremonies. In the ritual expression of the Kamilaroi, the presence of Baiame is often reactualized for the purpose of regenerating the world. The foregoing supernatural beings are viewed in positive light. There is, however, a belief in a superior force which can punish any crimes. This force is said to have restrained the ancestors after they had produced the sun, moon, stars, death, labour, and pain. As a result, the ancestors retreated back into their first state of sleep. It is believed, particulary among the Aranda Australians that the dead person’s second mortal soul turned into a ghost and was capable of malicious acts up to a given period of time following death. After that time, the ghost became incapable of mischief, because it departed for other haunts elsewhere or it simply faded away.

B elief in Totemism Totemism is a very important element in the life of the indigenous Australians. Emile Durkheim, in particular, brought the concept of totem into the study of religion after carrying out research in Australia. He used this as key concept in explaining the origin and growth,of religion. Following the studies of Durkheim, other scholars have demonstrated that totemism has both social and ritual dimensions. On the social side, the totemism of a given clan is evidenced in certain attitudes to blood kinship and rules about marriage and descent. Among the indigenous Australians, marriage must be exogamous. In other words, a partner must be taken from outside the totem group. On the ritual side, totemism was evidenced in puberty rites and in the prohibitions regarding clan totems. For indigenous Australians, puberty rites were a crucial occasion. On this occasion, adolescent initiates were exposed, for the firsi time, to the groups lore of how things were in the beginning, showing linkage tc ancestors, totemic animals, plants, and natural phenomena. As regards prohibitions, it was forbidden for members of a clan to kill or to cat the particulai animal or plant to which the clan was related, except on special ritual occasions. The economic value in these arrangements lies in the fact that the supply ol food was regulated. By preserving a species from pursuit by all members of th< society, the danger of over-hunting, leading to its extinction, is rcduccd. Totemism does, therefore, co-ordinate ritual, social custom and the gathering of food supply.

Religion of the Indigenous Australians


The M edicine-man and His Initiation The medicine-man is the principal figure in Australian ritual life, deriving his healing power from contact with supernatural beings through visions. His powers are symbolized in the magical items in his possession. These include quartz crystals, pearl shell, stones and bones, among other things. Among the Wiradjuri of Southeast Australia, the father of the prospective medicine-man places two large quartz crystals against the boy's breast. The crystals then disappear into the boy’s body, making him clever and enabling him to bring things up. Henceforth, the boy is able to see ghosts or spirits. At the time the body is about to undergo puberty rites, one of his teeth is knocked out. During the puberty rites, the boy learns to go down into the ground and bring up quartz crystals. The initiators take him to ■ grave. A dead man rubs him in order to make him clever. The dead man then gives him a personal totem, a tiger snake. The boy and the father then begin to follow the snake to find the living places of various gods. The climax of the initiation comes when they climb a thread and reach Baiame's place of abode in the sky.

A ctivity (1) (2) (3)

Why is the medicine-man the principal figure in Australian ritual life? Can you think of parallels in other societies? Can you see parallels between the role of totemism in the life and belief of indigenous Australians and its role among the Eskimos?


5 RELIGION OF THE INDIGENOUS AMERICANS E.M. Kasiera Introduction This chapter discusses beliefs belief in mana, supernatural beings, totemism and shamanism, in the context of modem developments in Amerindian religion. The indigenous Americans we refer to here are the Indians of North, Central and South America to whom we shall refer as Amerindians. They arc said to have settled in these areas as far back as 30,000 years ago. When Europeans made contact with them from the fiteenth century C.E., there were three great civilizations in Central and South America: the Aztec in Mexico, the Mayan in Guatemala and the Yucatan Peninsula and the Inca of Peru. In North America, there were five distinct geographical groups: in the East, Southeast, Midwestern plains, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest coast. The inhabitants of Central and South America had essentially ceased to be hunters and had become agriculturalists. In Nofih America, Easterners were hunters and Northwestemers were fishermen. In each case, the economy determined the activities and life-style of the people and thus had much to do with their religious beliefs and practices. The life of a hunter was organized differently from that of the fanner and of the fisherman. Scholars do, however, think that there were some ideas and attitudes basic to all Amerindians. We turn to some of these which reflect religious manifestations.

Belief in Mana Mana is Melanesian word which Robert Henry Codrington (1830-1922), a missionary to the South Sea Islands, explained to man. A kind of power which is capable of producing extraordinary occurrences in nature and also enables man to perform acts beyond his capacity. It is a hidden or a secrel force which operates silently and invisibly in things and persons that are in some way powerful, impressive, or socially important. This conception is conveyed by the use of the terms wakan or wakenda, orenda and manitu drawn from the Algonquin, Iroquois and Sioux Amerindians. Research indicate that Amerindian life revolves around this force. It makes the surrounding nature both attractive and intimidating, because the force can be used both positively and negatively. It can be transferred from a person to an object like


Comparative Religion

an arrow. An arrow thus endowed can be made effective to achieve what one wants, good or bad. In Amerindian life, the goal was 1» keep a harmonious relationship with this holy force. Because harmony led la fertility both in the society and on the farm; it also led IQ success both in hunting and in war; which means it led to full life. On the contrary, disharmony led to disaster. It ruined crops on the farm; it led to defeat in war; and brought about an unhealthy family with sickly children.

B elief in Supernatural Beings

It is unclear whether or not Amerindians worshipped a Supreme Being as such. Evidence does, however, suggest that Aztecs had a pantheon (council of gods) which consisted of Ometecuhtli, the supreme god; Tezcatlipoca, originally a tribal god who also assumed the form of the war god Huitzlopochtli; Xiuhutecuhtli, the lord of fire; and Tlazolteotl, a great goddess figure. Evidence from Amerindians in North America suggests that agricultural groups thought of a supreme power which was associated with the sun. Other than this most people worshipped several powers. One such power was "Earth Diver". This it either an animal or a bird which brings the earth up out of the water. This story is retold by the Maidu of California in a different form. A turtle is reported to j have collaborated with a heavenly spirit called "Earth Initiate" for the purpose of pulling the land up out of the waters. j The turtle volunteered to dive down for the earth because it wanted a place where it could rest after swimming. In the version of the Yaulmani Yokuts of California, a duck and an eagle took the places of the turtle and Earth Initiate, respectively. ■ The most celebrated god among the Aztecs is Quetzalcoatl who is famed for being decorated with plumes and in the form of a serpent Quetzalcoatl is said to be a culture hero who brought the art of civilization of Mexican tribes. Later in tfie Aztec civilization (1325-1521 C.E.), he became the god of the wind and of heaven at night. In his old age, he left his people and wandered to the east, where he cremated himself and became the morning star. He had promised that he would come back in the form of a man. When the Spanish came to Mexico under Heman Cortez, the Aztecs thought it was the fulfilment of the return of their god in human form. They were thoroughly disappointed when the coming of Cortez ushered in the demise of the Aztec civilization. Culture heroes are often twins to whom the people trace their arts and crafts. Along with stories of culture heroes, exists a myth about a spirit who owns the animals. In order to have good hunting or fishing, this spirit must be revered. There is another character in North Amerindian mythology called Trickster. He is said to be against culture heroes. He is both a cunning person and a dupe. In other words, he is capable of deceiving and being deceived. He is the embodiment of order and disorder. He is said to be the founder of convention and, at the same

Religion of the Indigenous Americans


time, the first to defy it. He has huge intestines, an appetite that is never satisfied, and a long uncontrolled penis which takes off on adventures of its own. In practice, however, North Amerindians had personal gods like Wakan Tanka, Mani and Tirawa. Wakan Tanka is the embodiment of all beings. Mani is the chief among many gods who serve as his agents. Most prayers are addressed to Mani's agents, but the greatest ceremonies address Mani himself. Tirawa can be likened to Wakan Tanka. Although one of his titles is "Father Above", he is thought to be more impersonal than personal. He can best be conceived as the power in all creation which sustains all things.

B elief in Totemism In this introduction, we have already discussed "totemism". We noted that the term derives from an Amerindian word ototoman meaning, He is my relative". The word "totem" has been taken by anthropologists and given a wider meaning. Here we want to elaborate on the idea that totemism was found particularly among hunting societies. In religious terms, The totem object is generally regarded as the great ancestor of the clan and is accorded the greatest courtesy, reverence and ceremony. In other words, the killing of the animals is necessary for the society’s survival. However, the act of killing is not to show hostility, because man and animal belong to a common world of dynamic existence and each of them shares in the being of the other. The killing is, therefore, to be done with reverence and ritual. The primary concern is to establish and reinforce ■ basic connection between man and the animal world through ritual and myth. Among Amerindians, one finds tall totemic poles, some standing as high as thirty feet tall. The poles are decorated with figures of animals from bottom to top. Here the religious symbols are essentially theriomorphic, meaning the gods are represented or symbolized in animal form. This signifies that the images and insights belong to hunters.

Belief in Shamanism The term "shamanism" derives from a Siberian word shama. Scholars, particularly Mircea Eliade, define a shaman as a specialist in ancient or archaic techniques of ecstacy. Shamanism, then, is the practice of going into ecstatic experiences and the ability of the shaman to go into a trance and travel to the realm of sacred powers. The other side of it is the ability to take the spirit. Instead of people going to the gods, therefore, the gods come into the people. Generally speaking, the person who becomes a shaman may need to have had a visionary experience in his early life, and be capable thereafter of inducing ecstacy. One characteristic feature among the Amerindians is that of the vision quest. South Amerindians accepted visions which came, but they tended not to


Comparative Religion

pursue them. North Amerindians did, however, seek earnestly for a vision of a guiding spirit. The vision quest came to ■ rite of passage which ushered in maturity. In the absence of a vision as a guiding experience, one lacked a sense of direction and purpose in life. If a young man failed to experience a vision, he was faced with the threat of being marginal in his society, of being forced to wear women's clothing, and of being barred from male roles. There is a variation of the Amerindian theme of the vision quest The Hopi Amerindians represent spirits through ceremonial masks. Children up to nine years old believed that the Kachinas, masked dancers, were real spirits in their midst The crisis of the Hopi passage to adulthoood was when the dancers dropped their masks. The young people had to be made to accept that the reality of the Kachina was not physical but completely spiritual. The adult Hopi assumed the characters of the masks they wore by projecting themselves into the spirit world and becoming what they were representing. The foregoing examples illustrate the type of persons from among whom shamans came. Usually, the initiation of a shaman is depicted as a long journey during which the shaman fights monsters, descends into the underworld, gets "killed" and tom apart, limb from limb. Then the gods restore him to life. Finally, he goes up to the sky and learns secrets from gods and heroes. After acquiring techniques of ecstasy, he returns to the world of his people with powers of healing and ability to assist them in performing successful hunts. Through their visions, Amerindian shamans functioned as healers, prophets and diviners. As healers, they extracted by sucking from the bodies of their patients objects thought to be the tools of witches or ghosts. Others stressed healing by ritual singing. Those from the agricultural groups specialized in spells for crop fertility.

M odern Developm ents With the coming of whites and their expansion in other parts of America, social changes among Amerindians came radically and violently. As Amerindians territories were taken by the white man's westward advance, depression set in among the Amerindians. The solution to this depression lay in new religious movements which emerged under the influence of local prophets. One such new religious movement was the Ghost Dance which arose in the nineteenth century. This was ■ cult based on trance and a spiritual message which promised that if the Amerindians renewed the old ways and danced the new dance, they would defeat the whites and be able to witness the return of the buffalo. In 1886, one Wowoka, j Paiute rallied hundred of Paiutes, Kiowas and Cheyenne in Nevada. In a period of four years, except for the Navaho who resisted it, the movement had become Pan Amerindian. By 1890, the Sioux, who had lost nine million acres of their best land, resorted to the Ghost Dance. Across the country, Amerindians sang the message which had been brought by a spotted eagle to the effect

Religion of the Indigenous Americans


The dead are returning; The nation is coming; The father will return the elk; The deer, and the buffalo. Disappointingly the movement came to an end when the Amerindian leader, Sitting Bull, was killed at Wounded Knee. The value of the Ghost Dance is seen in the fact that it placed emphasis on morality. It promised the ultimate hope, the destruction of the white man, with the assistance of the supernatural. The dance was a way of restoring social cohesion and dignity. And this did something to check the rapid spread of alcoholism, a social disease precipitated by the decay of traditional social values. Later developments among the Amerindians saw the rise of the Peyote religion. Peyote is a hallucinogenic drug which was introduced from Mexico in the late nineteenth century by Apaches. Peyotism is, therefore, the practice of the use of the drug to induce vision and a sense of peace. The experience is a means of contact with the supernatural. Gradually there came to be a body of rituals developed until there was a complete ceremony of confession, singing, drumming and praying. The movement came to borrow some Christian elements, with most of its followers coming from among the plains and Southeast Amerindians, thus filling some of the void left by the disappearance of the Ghost Dance. Today, the movement is incorporated as the Native American Church. Peyote religion does, therefore, offer Amerindians the legal right to take peyote as their ritual sacrement.

Further Reading (1)

Carmody, D.L. & Carmody, J.T. Ways to the Centre: An Introduction to World Religions (Belmont: Wadworth, 1981) p. 27-30: 36-45: 49-55.


Comstock, W.R. Religion and man: An Introduction (New York: Harper Row, 1971) p. 92-94.


Smart, N. Religious Experience of Mankind (New York: Scribner, 1969) p. 45-60.


Comparative Religion

A ctivity (1) (2) (3)

Discuss the impact of modernisation on the religious life of the Amerindians. Explain the belief in supernatural beings among the Amerindians. Who were the shamans and what function did they carry out in the life of the Amerindian?




Earlier Studies of African Religion


Nature and Structure of African Religion


Conception of God in African Religion


African Conception of Divinities and Spirits


6 EARLIER STUDIES OF AFRICAN RELIGION S.G. Kibicho Introduction Today, a number of new religions have been embraced by some Africans making them their religions. This is especially true of Christianity and Islam each of which has a big following in Africa and has been on the continent for a long time. In this sense then, we can describe both Islam and Christianity today as dominant religions of Africa, just as they are dominant religions of some other countries or world regions. The title African Religion, however, is given to the religion which the Africans had and practised long before the introduction to the continent of these other new religions. The title African Religion therefore (or African Traditional Religion as it has also been called) in this sense, corresponds to the titles of other religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc.. It should be emphasized that although it is no longer the only religion of Africa, and although there are parts of Africa or of African nations where it is no longer being directly and regularly practised, yet the religion does continue to the modem times in different ways and forms. The use of both past and present tenses is ■ reflection of this fact. In the latter parts of this sub-section later, we shall examine the nature and structure of African Religion, and the various ways it is continuing in the modem times. There are some variations in African Religion as it is found from one people to another; each people practised the religion separately from other peoples as part and parcel of their total national life. To that extent we talk of Yomba Religion, Nuer religion, Lughara religion, etc. In this sense the term African Religions in the plural is applicable. On the other hand there are important similarities in the fundamental beliefs, concepts and practices among all African peoples. For this reason and in this sense, the term African Religion in the singular as we are using in this course, and as some other writers have used (e.g. Parrinder, Idowu, Ranger) is appropriate. The earliest written accounts about African Religion were by European explorers or travellers and missionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries. These were mostly based on unreliable and inadequate sources and distorted views much


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coloured by the prevailing cultural-racial prejudices. The writers were influenced to a great extent on what and how they wrote by the popular stories and beliefs already circulating in their own home countries about those they derogatorily designated as "primitive" or "savage" races, contrasting them sharply with themselves, i.e. the "civilized" races. Africa, South of Sahara, was referred to as the 'Dark Continent*. This term emphasized the fact that little was known by European peoples, of this huge continent, especially its interior until late this century. But the term "Dark Continent" also carried another meaning in the minds of Westerners, that is "darkness" in terms of extreme backwardness and primitivity in all realms of life, including social, economic, cultural and religious. A good illustration of these distorted and prejudiced views of African Religion by early writers is the often-quoted statement by the famous explorer, Sir Samuel Baker. He was presenting a report to the Ethnological Society of London, in 1867 on the Nilotes of Southern Sudan: "Without any exception, they are without a belief in a Supreme Being, neither have they any form of idolatory, nor is the darkness of their mind enlightened by even a ray of superstition. The mind is as stagnant as the morass which forms their puny world". One dominating feature of the earlier studies of African Religion was the application of the evolutionary theory on the various human groups (tribes or races), their cultures and religions. Those group regarded as at the stage of least evolutionary development (including Africans) were designated primitive groups (tribes or races) and their religions and cultures, primitive religions and primitive cultures. Another derogatory term in common usage at this time to describe these socalled "primitive" peoples was "savage”. These terms and the accompanying attitudes are seen in some of the titles on the subject published during that period, and some quite recent ones of this century. A few of these will serve as illustations: Driberg, J.H. The Savage as He Really is (1929). Driberg, J.H. At Home with the Savage (1932). Tylor, B.E. Primitive Culture (1871). Norberck, N. Religion in Primitive Society (1961) Radin, V. Primitive Religion, Its Nature and origin (1954). W.S. & Routledge, K.With a Pre-historic People, the Kikuyu o f British East Africa (1910) A. Lang "Are Savage Gods Borrowed from Missionaries? in The Nineteenth Century", (Jan. 1899). Lory-Bruhl, L. Primitive mentality (1923).

Earlier Studies of African Religion


Lowie, R.H. Primitive Religion (1925). Swanson G.E. The Birth p f the Gods: The Origin o f Primitive Beliefs (1960).

S tereotyp es Another characteristic feature of the earlier studies of African Religion was the use of certain stereotype terms to describe this religion, along with other socalled "primitive" religions. We have already had occasion to refer to the terms "primitive" and "savage". Some of these terms have been discussed in Part I of this course. We shall mention and comment briefly on three of them: animism, fetishism and ancestorworship.

Anim ism This term was associated with Edward B. Tylor who advanced it in his twovolume work Primitive Culture (1871). He defined it as "belief in Spiritual Beings" embracing all categories of spirits, including deities. He regarded it as ■ minimum definition, and "essential source" of Religion. In terms of the evolution of religion, animism for Tylor and others who followed him, was the lowest form and stage of religion. The next important stages were polytheism and finally monotheism. For Tylor, however, an element of animism persisted even in the "higher” religions even though animism is essentially characteristic of the most "primitive" tribes. There is a strong element of the doctrine of spirits in African Religion. If animism was defined properly to mean belief in spirits, it could be applied to that particular aspect of the religion. Otherwise, the way it has been used since Tylor has presented and perpetuated a distortion and a misconception of the religion. The term has been used with the emphatic connotation that the whole of the religion thus described is nothing but belief in spirits, including the gods. The term therefore excludes in such a religion, the conception of god as the Supreme Being, as unique and distinct from spirits and any other categories of spiritual beings. Yet God understood this way, is the central aspect of African Religion.

F etish ism This term was derived from the Portuguese word feitico’ which meant 'charm'. As they sailed along the coast of West Africa, the Portuguese had observed the 'charms' or talismans which the West Africans were in the habit of wearing and they used the term feitico to refer to the "charms". In English feitico became fetish. The dictionary definition of "fetish" is "any object believed by superstitious people IB have magical power".


Comparative Religion

Before E.B. Tylor's theory of animism, Charles de Brasses, in 1760, had advanced his theory that fetishism was the origin of religion. He understood fetishism as the practice found among primitive peoples regarding certain otherwise natural and ordinary things (wood, stones, hills or mountains, trees, etc), as having sacred and divine power. The second and final stages in the evolution of religion according to De Brasses were polytheism and monotheism. Taylor substituted the notion of animism in place of fetishism as the first stage in the evolution of religion. The use of charms was widespread in the traditional African societies; it is still there, though not so widespread, even in modem Africa. However, such charms were not regarded as having sacred and divine power, nor were they worshipped or given reverence. They were in the category of maginal articles and were made and prescribed by the traditional divine-doctors. The power of charms was analoguous to the power of medicine, and medicine could be pharmaceutical or magical or both. (cf. M uthea in Kikamba, M uthaiga in Kikuyu, dawa in Kiswahili, and corresponding terms in our other African languages). Finally even when fetishism is properly defined it was a sign of awful ignorance to regard African Religion as nothing but fetishism or even as basically fetishism. Other terms used erroneously to describe African Religion include ancestor worship, magic, totemism and idolatory. In a book published in 1960s, W. Howell asserts, for instance, that ancestor worship is a characteristic feature of the whole of black Africa (The Heathen, pp. 166-7). The continuing erroneous use of these terms has perpetuated misconceptions and distortions of African Religion which they carry, even in the minds of unwary Africans themselves. For this reason the modem student of African Religion needs to be warned against these and related misconceptions and distortions.


7 NATURE AND STRUCTURE OF AFRICAN RELIGION S.G. Kibicho Integration of African Religion and Culture One of the most striking things that a student of African Religion learns is that almost universally, African peoples had no term for religion. The terms which come close to religion actually mean sacred rites or ceremonies (of Kalenjin: Tumwek', Kamba: K iulum i; Luo: N yasi; Gusii: Chinyangi; Luhya: Emulukha or Emisango; Meru and Kikuyu: Mambura or Magongona) yet, religion is much more than sacred rites and ceremonies, and as we shall see below, the basic elements which constitute religion were present among all African peoples. It was partly due to this lack of definite terms for religion that the missionaries here in East Africa borrowed the Arabic derived Swahili term Dini to translate the English term religion in our various African languages. Thus if you ask school or college-age Africans today the term for religion in their own African languages, they would give you the term Dini, or Diin, or Edini, according to the variations it has assumed in particular African languages. One possible reason why there was no definite term for religion is that in the traditional African set up, religion did not exist as a separate institution. Rather it was interlaced in all aspects and institutions of life: individual, social, political and economic. Thus, there were important religious rites and ceremonies accompanying every individual's life's pilgrimage, from the womb to the grave and to the invisible world of departed spirits. The most important of these rites were those which have come to be called the "rites of passage". These were the rites performed to mark the most significant turning or transitional points in the life of an individual, from one stage to the next. These include especially four, namely: birth, initiation to adulthood, marriage and death. In between these, and with variations among different ethnic groups, there were other minor transitional rites. The most significant of such intermediate rites of passage were the pre-initiation rites, and also those marking the attainment of the various successive stages of eldership and womanhood. An illustration of pre-initiation rites is the rite of Second Birth, or Returning the Child into the womb (guciarwo ringi or gucokia


Comparative Religion

mwana ihuini) among the Gikuyu of Central Kenya. The Maasai rite called Eunoto (transitional and initiation rite, from moranhood into Elderhood) is a good illustration of a post-initiation and pre-marriage transitional rite (see Sankan, 1971, p. 27-30). Similarly in the economic life, there were important rites accompanying the high-points of the agricultural cycle and related activities (e.g. breaking new ground, delayed rains, planting, ripening of new crop, harvest). The same applied to important institutions and activities in the social and political spheres, as well as all other important undertakings. Again, other religious ceremonies had to do with the areas of peace and tranquility health and general well being of individuals, families, and of the whole community. An important aspect of these rites and ceremonies had to do with prayers to God, and communion with departed ancestral spirits. However, this should not be taken to mean that everything the African did in the traditional set-up was a religious activity. For instance, a dance may begin with a brief religious ceremony, a form of prayer or liturgy of blessings, but we cannot say that ordinary dances are taken as religious activities. Similarly, if a person digging in his garden cuts himself or is injured by another resulting in the shedding of blood, this may call for a religious ritual. But we cannot say that the persons digging are engaged in religious activity.

The Main Elements W hich Constitute African Religion Besides and underlying the many religious rites and ceremonies which surrounded the important events and activities in all the spheres of individual's, the family's and the community's life, there were fundamental religious beliefs. The most important of these were belief in God - the Supreme Being; belief in departed or ancestral spirits; belief in the sacredness of life and of the laws, both ceremonial and ethical, which ensure and guard life's security and well being. The latter include the vital laws of inter-personal relationships and the relationship of humans with God and with the departed spirits.^ Bolaji Idowu lists the following as the essential elements of African Religion: (1) Belief in God; (2) Belief in the divinities; (3) Belief in spirits; (4) Belief in the ancestors; (5) The practice of magic and medicine;

^ Idowu, B. African Traditional Religion: A Definition.

Nature and Structure of African Religion


(6) (7)

Sacred rites relating to features 1-5 above; Rites of passage and other sacred rites relating to the life of the individual, the family and the larger community; (8) Religious specialists and their functions; (9) Sacred, social and ceremonial laws and prohibitions (so-called Taboos); (10) Belief in the sacredness of inter-personal and kinship relationships; morality

A ctivity Consider the above analysis in relation to the traditional religion of your local community. Are all the 10 items relevant? Are there others not included among the 10? If there are, list them.


8 THE CONCEPTION OF GOD IN AFRICAN RELIGION S.G. Kibicho Introduction In the last chapter, we discussed the nature and structure of African Religion. Ten main elements or features which constitute African Religion were given. The time and space at our disposal can allow us to discuss briefly only three of the ten features. The first of these, which is the subject of this chapter, is "the conception of God in African Religion”. The other two features will be discussed in the next chapter.

Evolutionary Interpretation in Earlier W ritings As we have already noted, one of the misconceptions contained in, and perpetuated by earlier Western accounts of African Religion, was that Africans were at the lowest stage of the religious evolution (fetishism or animism), and that essentially they had no concept of God, except perhaps where it may have recently been introduced from the outside. The evolutionary interpretation of African Religion (along with other socalled "primitive religions") is again well illustrated by the now famous statement by Emil Ludwig to Edwin Smith. The latter was a missionary in Africa (mainly southern and central Africa). The two were having dinner in the home of the Acting Governor of the Sudan at Khartoum. Smith was explaining to Ludwig how they (missionaries) were trying to teach the Africans to put their trust in the living God who is loving and stronger than any evil power. "Ludwig was puzzled" at the idea of trying to teach Africans about God. The implication is that Ludwig held the view (which was most likely shared by a good number of Western people then) that Africans did not have any concept of God, and also that they did not even have the mental capacity to grasp it. Smith explained to him that there was no need to persuade "pagan Africans" of the existence of God, because they are sure of it. But they were not sure of God as "a living power in their individual experiences". And this was what they (the missionaries) were trying to teach them.


Comparative Religion

This surprised Ludwig even more; he could not believe iL It was then that he made his famous statement: "How can the untutored African conceive God? ... Deity is a philosophical concept which savages are incapable of framing". 1

God in African Religion Extensive study has been carried out on this and related questions since that early period, and the earlier view shown to be erroneous. Long before the introduction of the new religions, particularly Christianity and Islam, most if not all African peoples had a conception of God as the Supreme Being, Creator, Sustainer and Controller of the universe. He was also experienced and thought of as Almighty, Omnipresent, Omniscient and Eternal. Okot p'Bitek strongly criticizes the use of the above attributes to describe African "deities". He feels that they have been taken over (smuggled) from Greek philosophy via Christianity and their use (and related borrowed ideas) has only managed to produce a distorted picture of the African conception of God, in Christian terms. He suggests that the more correct attributes should be not omnipotent, omniscient, eternal and omnipresent but, respectively - strong, wise, old and great. ^ While the danger p'Bitek is warning against should be heeded, there is much unbiased empirical evidence to show that the picture he ends up painting of African "deities" is not applicable to most African peoples. It may apply to some extent at the level of "divinities" among some groups. But as already shown, the conception of God as the Supreme Being was almost universally found throughout the continent.

M onotheism and Polytheism in African Religion The conception of God among most African peoples can be described as monotheistic. However, among those peoples whose world-view also includes divinities, placed next to God and regarded as God's representatives and manifestations, there is a polytheistic element (as among the Yoruba of Nigeria). But this is only at the divinities level, while at the level of the Supreme Being the concept of God is monotheistic. Idowu gives this qualified monotheism, among the Yoruba, the term "diffused monotheism". Even at this seemingly polytheistic level, the One Supreme Being (Olodumare) is in absolute control. Similarly, we find animistic elements (in the proper sense of the word animism) among those groups where the various categories of spirits are regarded * Smith, E. ed. African Ideas of God, p.l. 9 » • p Bitek, O. African R eligions in W estern Scholarship, p. 88.

Conception of God in African Religion


as God manifesting himself in the mode of spirits. The Nuer and the Dinka of Southern Sudan are good illustrations of this type of qualified monotheism, with an animistic element. But at the hightst level, God (Kwoth for the Nuer, Nhiabic for the Dinka) is onev the Supreme Being, the Creator and Controller of the universe. And even at the levels of spirits, it is the same one Kwoth or Nhiabic who manifests himself in multiple forms or modes.Thus, he is both and at the same time, one and multiple. There is some parallelism here with the Christian idea of the Trinity, God being at once both one and three. Forms of apparent dualism or pluralism are found in some African peoples concepts of God, which are otherwise monotheistic. Thus Bukusu among the Luhya of Western Kenya talk of the black God who is evil (Wele Gumali or Evimbi) and the white one, who is good (Wele Muwange). The Lugbara of Uganda say "God is one but many". Also, God in his transcendence (Adroa) is good, while in his immanence (Adro) he is "bad God" causing misfortunes and death.3 Besides providing a way of explaining and exonerating God, dualistic or plurasitic elements in the African conception of God also point to the complex nature of God's personality: his oneness is not a simple, monadic unity, but a complex one. Another quite common feature in the African conception of God is that of close association of God with celestial bodies and with other prominent natural phenomena. In a few cases, there is what appears to an observer as identification of God with such phenomena, especially the sun and the sky. The Nandi and other Kalenjin groups of the Rift Valley Province of Kenya, for instance, call God Asis and the sun asista. But it is clear from the studies which have been made that there is no real identification of God with the sun. The Luo of Nyanza Province of Kenya address the sun (chieng) at sunrise and at sunset as if praying to it. Similarly among the Abaluhyia of Western Kenya, the head of the family at sunrise, spits towards the rising sun (Liuwa or Luba) and addresses a prayer apparently to it "to let the day dawn well and spit his medicine upon the people, so that they may walk well".^ The Wapare of Tanzania call God, among other names, Murungu Izuva. (fzuva is the word for the sun). They also call God Murungu Kiumbi (God the creator). They too apparently address the sun (izuva) in some of their prayers. One of their prayers, said by the head of the family early in the morning as he faces the rising sun, goes as follows:

3 Middleton, J. Lugbara Religion, p. 250. ^ Wagner, G.

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O Izuva, you chief, you Murungu who made men and cattle and trees and grass, you who go by overhead, take ■ look at him who says curses to me! when you have come up in the morning may he see you; but when you go down in the evening, may he see you no more! But if I have myself done wrong to him, I shall die before you go down.^ Another common prayer among the Wapare, also said as one faces the sun, says: "O Murungu, I ask you to bless me for today". In all three cases given above, however, as in previous examples, there is no real identification of God with the sun, only apparent. One the other hand, the sun is taken as an effective symbol for God. All this points to an important aspect of African religion and world-view: namely his strong sense and awareness of the sacramental nature of the universe. Besides other ways, God who is invisible reveals himself through his visible creation. Another thing related to the above which is emphasized by this practice of seeming identification of God with the sun, or the sky etc., is that God in the African conception is both and at the same time transcendent and immanent.

A ctivity 1. 2.

Explain the African concept of God. Why did early Western visitors believe that the African had no concept of God?

5 Harjula, R. God and the Sun in Meru Thought, p. 26, quoting Bishop E. Mshana.


9 THE CONCEPTIONS OF DIVINITIES AND SPIRITS S.G. Kibicho Introduction In the last chapter, we discussed briefly the African conccption of God. In this final chapter on African Religion we shall discuss the conceptions of divinities, and spirits. Finally, we shall look at the present state of African Religion and its future prospects.

The Divinities It should be pointed out that belief in the divinities, is found only among some ethnic groups. The Yoruba of Nigeria are reputed to have the biggest number of divinities. No one knows the actual number, but figures ranging from 200 to 1700 and more have been suggested. Divinities are divine or spiritual beings, occupying the highest position among spiritual beings, next to God. Some arc conceived as personification of certain natural phenomena; others are deified heroes or ancestors. In his position of Supreme sovereignty over all his creation, like the King of Kings that He is, God brought the divinities into being and appointed them over specific areas in his theocratic government of the world. As God's representatives, divinities are worshipped, appealed to for assistance and they are obeyed. For illustrations, the following four are among the main Yoruba divinities: (a)



Obatala (or Orisa-nla) is the Yoruba’s arch-divinity. He was God's assistant in creation, and in moulding the human body. He helps childless women by giving them children, and is therefore very popular. Orunmila is also a great divinity, next to the Supreme being (Olodumare). He can plead with God on behalf of men in relation to the problems they bring to him. He is the divinity of knowledge and wisdom. Through his oracles, he gives divine guidance and counsel to those who consult him, and many consult him on important matters and occasions. Ogun is the divinity of iron and war. All who work with iron things and tools such as hunters, barbers, butchers, blacksmiths etc. hold him in high

Comparative Religion




place of honour and worhsip. He clears the paths of his devotees of all obstacles and gives them protection and prosperity. Sango (divinity of lighting) is a deified ancestor. As a human being he had been a fearful, autocratic king, with some magical powers. When addressing his subjects he would breath out fire and smoke from his mouth and nostrils, instilling fear in the people. He was forced to flee his kingdom by one of his powerful courtiers. He was then deserted by the closest members of his family, he ended up hanging himself. He turned into a kind of powerful vengeful spirit, and using his supporters, would bring disaster on the people of his former kingdom through thunder and lighting. He became deified, and his worshippers associated him with Jakuta - the solar divinity, and the original divinity of thunder and lighting. He represents God's wrath and hurls stones (strikes with lighting) at only those God thus punishes justly, for their evil deeds. Natural phenomena or forces may also be personified and regarded as divinities. These include some mountains and hills, certain rivers, and trees, and the earth. Such phenomena which is so regarded is believed to be inhabited by a spirit.

S p irits This important feature of African Religion along with the rest, will be dealt with in greater detail in the second year course on African Religion. Only a few of the main features will be given briefly here. This feature is found in the world-view of all African peoples. Among peoples with divinities, spirits come immediately below in the hierarchy of spiritual beings. Among many of the groups, however, divinities are not a distinct category higher than the spirits. Spirits come below God and between God and the living human beings. And even where divinities are to be found, they are part of the wide and general category of spirits; but of a special and higher status than the rest, closely associated with God's activities as his agents and representatives, or as symbolic manifestations of his attributes and activities. One broad division of spirits is between those which were thus created, as spiritual beings, and those which were once human beings; called spirits of the departed or departed spirits or ancestral spirits. The ancestral spirits are the most important, especially those still remembered and the living humans continue to have communion with through libations and offerings of food, blood and meat. They are regarded as the invisible members of their respective families, clans or age-grades as the case may be. They are accorded their due recognition in the gatherings feastings and other important activities of their respective groups of the living. Their presence is recognized and they are given their share of food, drink and meat. One important abode of the spirits is underground, and the libations to them are poured on the

Conceptions of Divinities and Spirits


ground, from where they symbolically drink it. Their shares of meat and foods are placed on the ground, and they eat them, symbolically, through certain animals such as wild cats. Ancestral spirits are regarded as guardians of morality among most African peoples; and as intermediaries or mediators between the living humans and God. Mbiti uses the term the "living-dead" for the spirits of those who died recently and who are still remembered and communicated with as described above. However, this term has been found by others to be confusing. The term departed spirits 'or' ancestral spirits are more suitable and more in accord with most African peoples' thoughts on this subject. Another division of spirits is between the good ones and the bad ones. The good people normally become good peaceful spirits when they die, and as ancestral spirits continue to have active concern for the welfare of the living. Consequently among some groups they can be appealed to for assistance, and among all African people, they punish (e.g. bringing misfortunes, sickness etc) only with good reasons. The evil people on this side of the grave plus those who, according to some groups do not receive proper burials, become restless and evil spirits who haunt and trouble people for no apparent reasons. There are other classifications or spirits which differ from one African people to another. A lot more research is needed on this subject. The concept of spirits among African peoples emphasizes that death is not annihilation; it is only a transition to the next and final stage of a person's life's pilgrimage. This is why funeral rites are included in the basic rites of passage. However, African religion is not other worldly; it does not lay emphasis on that stage of life beyond the grave. It does not regard life beyond the grave as more important than life on this side of the grave. The emphasis is on living a good upright full and happy (or blessed) life at every stage, from childhood to old age, and finally departing to the invisible world of departed or ancestral spirits in peace, from where one continues to have a harmonious relationship with the living.

Present State and Future Prospects of African Religion The colonization of Africa by European powers at the end of the last century meant inevitably the destruction (mainly forcible) of the traditional socio-political and economic institutions. African Religion did not exist as a separate institution but was interlaced in the fabric of all institutions and aspects of life. Consequently, this destruction of the basic socio-political and economic institutions meant at the same time the destruction of the socio-political and economic basis and organizational framework through and within which the religious process was carried out. Some of these institutions included councils of elders and of women, age-grade organizations, military organizations, political and judicial organizations. This inevitably resulted


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in b weakening of the vitality of African Religion. Since by its very nature it had no organization of its own separate from the other institutions, it could not make an organized response to the challenge and assaults of colonialism and Christianity, although it did and continue to make some response and to survive. Another factor which contributed to the weakening of African Religion was the loss of a good number of African people to new religions, especially to Christianity. The younger people, particularly, who before too long began to suffer from the effects of disintegration of the traditional communities at every level, were soon eager baits of the Christian evangelistic campaigns. The youth were attracted to the missions by the desire for the new knowledge of reading and writing and the social advantages it promised J As a result of the above and other related factors, the numbers of active, practising adherents of African Religion have continued to dwindle. Thus, for illustration, according to statistics given in The Kenya Churches Handbook (pp. 16-181) in 1972, Christians in Kenya had grown to 66% while African Religion had dropped to 27% of the population. Certain ethnic groups, however, taken separately, still continued practising African Religion. For instance the Turkana (96%), the Pokot (90%), the Samburu (97%), the Giriama (82%), the Maasai (78%). Those with the lowest number of active adherents included the Digo - 9%, the rest (91%) being Muslims, the Luhya - 4%, with most of the rest (94%) being Christians; the Pokomo - 1%, with most of the rest (85%) being Muslim. The picture of course differs from country to country. By and large, African Religion seems to be stronger today in its visible manifestations in Western than in Eastern Africa: in Nigeria, for instance cults of the various divinities continue being active. In spite of the dwindling numbers of active adherents however, it needs to be emphasized that African Religion has continued and will continue in other ways, even in and through the new religions. These ways of continuity include the following to mention only a few illustrations: (1) Beliefs and concepts including those basic in both African Religion and in Christianity or Islam e.g. the concepts of God, the after life, spirits, the curse, oaths, faith and healing practices, divincr-doctors, providence, moral laws and prohibitions, rituals, the family. (2) Essential customs, rites and ceremonies, e.g. those relating to birth, naming, kinship relationships, initiation, marriage, death.

Oliver, R. The Missionary Factor in East Africa, p. 119, 234.

Conceptions of Divinities and Spirits (3)



Independent Churches and Syncretistic Movements And Organizations, e.g. the Mau Mau movement, Dini ya Musambwa (a number of examples could be given, with beliefs and practices taken over from African Religion sometimes via the Old Testament where there is coincidence with Hebrew beliefs and practices). ^ Modem revival movements of the religion.

A ctivity 1 2

What is the position of African religion today? Discuss the phenomenon of spirits in African Religion; comparing the views of different communities.


RELIGIONS OF INDIA HINDUISM Chapters 10 Pre-Vedic Elements in Hinduism 11 Vedic Hinduism 12 Classical Hinduism

JAINISM 13 Origins and Teachings of Jainism 14 The Lay Aspect of Jainism

BUDDHISM 15 The Origins of Buddhism 16 The Enlightment of the Buddha 17 The Philosophical Foundation of Buddhist Teaching 18 The Spread of Buddhism and Its Scriptures

SIKHISM 19 The origin of Sikhism 20 Sikhism After Nanak


10 PRE-VEDIC ELEMENTS IN HINDUISM E.M. Kasiera Introduction The main religion followed by the majority of people of India is Hinduism this ancient religion whose roots can be traced back to 2500 BC has enriched itself over the centuries as a result of encountering and intermingling with various cultures. Off-shoots of Hinduism are Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Table 1 reflects the evolution of these religions, which are shown in their historical context, together with personalities and sacred literature that was developed alongside the religious movements. In this section we shall discuss Hinduism, under three major periods, namely pre-vedic, vedic and the classical periods. We shall conclude by looking at the enduring elements in Hinduism.

Pre-V edic Religion (Proto-H induism ) The term Hindu is derived from the word Sindhu, a name given by the Persians to the land watered by the River Indus. The Indus Valley civilization, is believed to have flourished around 2500 to 1500 BC. The inhabitants of the Indus Valley were probably related to the Dravidians of South India. Civilizations of the Indus Valley and South India are comparable to those around the Nile and Tigris Euphrates Rivers. Two cities some 400 miles apart, Harappa on River Ravi and Mohenjo Daro on River Indus, together with some smaller towns and villages, existed. The 1920's archaeological findings revealed that each city was laid out on a grid plan, and the houses, although virtually identical and severely functional, were technologically advanced. The plumbing has been equalled only by that of the Romans and the modem world. The writing of this culture has not been fully deciphered and there are many mysteries about it. This highly complex urban civilization had large buildings containing a bath-house measuring 108 feet by 189 feet, with a tank 39 feet long, 20 feet wide, having a depth of 8 feet. In the light of present day practice where the faithful perform ablutions in the tank or pool of a Hindu temple, the presence of a bath house suggests ritual bathing.

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Table 1 History of Religion in India Dates

General Historical Context

1500 AD

Bangladesh 1971 Independent India, Pakistan 1947 British rule 18th century - 1947 Mughal Empire 1526 1761

1000 AD

Small states, many Muslim ruled Delhi sultanate (Muslim) 1211-1761

500 AD

Small states, Largely Hindu


Gupta Empire in N. 320-540; classic Hindu period

500 BC

Mauryan Empire 321-185 Invasion by Alexander 326

1000 BC

1500 BC

Personalities and Movements

Sacred Literature

Gandhi 1869 - 1948 Akbar r. 1556-1605 Nanak 1470-1540 fdr. of Sikhs Kabir 1440-1518

Guru Granth Sahib

Ramanuja, d. 1137 Growth of Hindu Tantrism Shankara 788­ 822 Rise of Bhakti Decline of Buddhism in India Nagarjuna c.150

Ashoka r. 273-237 Buddhism prestigious First Buddhist Council C. 480 The Buddha 563­ 483.

Urban civilization beginnin ; Mahavira c. 540-468 in Ganges basin; Kashi (Benares) Prominent Consolidation of IndoEuropean Supremacy in N. End of Indus Valley Civilization


Puranas Lotus Sutra and other later Mahayan sutras Yoga Sutras Heart Sutra and other early Mahayana writings. Later Upanishads Buddhist Tripitaka Early Upanishads. Aranyakas Brahmanans

Later Vedas Rig Veda

Reproduced from Ellwood, R. Many Peoples, Many Faiths: An introduction to the religious life of mankind (Englewood Cliffs Prentice Hall. 2nd ed. 1982, p. 61).

Pre-Vedic Elements in Hinduism


Numerous female figurines (small ornamental human figures) made of baked clay and cut stone have been excavated. They are laden with ornaments, have protruding breasts and wide hips - which seem to connote fertility, thereby suggesting the possible existence of a fertility cult (as one would expect in a highly sedentary agricultural society). Figurines carrying children or pregnant suggest the idea of offering or examples of sympathetic magic. It is generally accepted by scholars that these figurines represent the Great Mother Goddess who is still worshipped in today's modem India. Hence it can be concluded that these figurines represent the historical antecedents of the worship of the Mother in the pre-vcdic religion. By virtue of the fact that these peoples were agriculturalists, it is in female terms that the sacred is understood. Even today in Southern India, among the Dravidians, the Gramadevata (the village goddess) is still the most characteristic cult - objcct. Some of the noted village deities Ambika, Ellamma and Mariyamma arc formed from a Dravidian root amma, meaning Mother other lesser goddesses with names ending with "ai" meaning "mother" are Mengai, Mandlivai, Sonjai and Udalai. That the prime aspect of pre-vcdic religion was fertility is further suggested by the findings of numerous cone-shaped objects which represent the male sexual organs, lingas, and ring-shaped stone representing the female sexual organs, yoni. The lingas therefore symbolized generative power, and the yoni a fertility cult of the mother or a mother - goddess. In one of the seals, however, there is a three - faced nude male figure seated in the posture of a Yogi with the two heels touching and an erect penis. This figure is surrounded by an antelope, a buffalo, an elephant, a rhinoceros, and a tiger. On his head he wears a crown of horns, bangles on each arm, a chest decoration hangs around his neck, and a fan-shaped headdress rises between his horns. All these features correspond to those of ■ later Hindu God Shiva (Vedic and classical period), who was three-faced called the lord of the Deserts (Pashupati), rode a bull, was also Lord of Yoga or the great ascetic (Mahayogi) and often appeared nude with his penis erect. The similarity of these features indicates that the fertility associations of the classical Shiva go back to the Indus Valley pre-Vedic religion. The head dress of the figure on the seal resembles the hunting costume of Shiva and his matted ascetic's hair. This would seem to indicate that Indus Valley culture considered its proto-Shiva a wild yet ascetic force. And since the classical Shiva was Lord of the Animals, the representation of the animals on the seal confirms the relationship. The worship of animals and trees has indeed been inferred from the seals. The pipal tree, under which Buddha is said to have achieved cnlightment, seems to have been sacred in the Indus Valley civilization. It is associated with figures of deities on the seals. Another seal worth mention is of a god in yogic position with a canopy of snakes over his head. In addition to the foregoing system of belief in deities and ritual practices, there was the belief regarding the destiny of man.


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This was based on the notion of Karma, meaning deed (action), which caused connection with the spiritual order or physical law of cause and effect. It is the law which allots destinies to individuals in terms of their actions. It means that what a man is in this present life has been determined by his conduct in the previous lives, similarly his conduct in this life will determine the kind of life he will lead in his next existence.

Contributions o f the Pre-Vedic Era to Hinduism


These beliefs ideas, and practices came Li be influenced by the religion of theAryans. There was, however, some resistance to this Aryan influence. This is where the traces of pre-Aryan religion emerge. These elements found their expression in the rise and development of Buddhism and Jainism, and even in Hinduism itself. 1.


3. 4.

Some scholars have theorized that the sides of Hinduism which centre around Shiva, bulls, the mother goddess, water ablutions, and yogic techniques come out an indigenous culture related to that of the Indus valley if not the Indus Valley itself. We noted that a seal showed a God in yogic position with a canopy of snakes over his head: (anticipation of serpent deities (Nagas). Vishnu, a later |[ vedic era Hindu God, is often pictured with snake hoods extending over his head. The same is also true of the Buddha. Nude male figurines standing upright suggest the Jain statues of later times. Figures in yogic posture on seals lead to the conclusion that the practice of yoga, and allied sorts of contemplation data from this pre-vedic culture.

This practice of training the mind and body through methods of asceticism, physical control, and contemplative techniques is seen in Jainism, where emphasis is laid on austerity; in Buddhism where more attention is given to pyschological and contemplative methods; and in Hinduism, where one of the schools of thought is yoga itself. The fact that fertility continued to be an important element in later religion indicates that Aryans as well as the inhabitants of the Indus Valley considered sexual powers sacred. By 1500 BC when the Aryans invaded the Indus Valley, the Harappa and Mohenjo-daro culture was destroyed. These invaders called themselves Aryans, a term which came to be anglicized as Aryas, meaning "noble folk" or "from the earth". Their name is said to survive in Iran and Eire which indicates that they were related to the peoples as far apart as Ireland and Central Asia. The language of the Aryans, Sanskrit, is related to all European languages apart from Finnish, Hungarian and Basque. Aryans were nomadic and pastoral (semi-nomadic) people. They were militarily advanced and loved fighting, racing, drinking, and other aspects of warrior life. They moved by horse, ate meat, and hunted with bow and arrow. They did iron work and fashioned good weapons. They loved story telling and singing.

Pre-Vedic Elements in Hinduism


They had developed a poetic technique in the composition of hymns in praise of their gods which were chanted at sacrifices. These hymns were remembered and transmitted orally by families of priests and a sacredness attached to them. The collection of hymns was later committed to writing. Along with other writings, it makes it possible to construct the beliefs and cult practice of the Vedic period.

A ctivity Discuss the history of the Indus Valley and the contributions it has made to the development of Hinduism.


11 VEDIC HINDUISM E.M. Kasiera Introduction The previous chapter discussed the cluster of ideas which can be discerned in the Indus Valley civilizations and which influenced the subsequent Aryan Culture. We shall now highlight the period when the Hindu scriptures were developed and study the faith in detail.

Vedic Hinduism When scholars speak of "Vedism" they mean the culture which resulted from the mixture of Aryans, Harappans, and other peoples of the Indus and Ganges Valleys. This culture expressed itself in the earliest Indian writings, which are a collection of religious songs, hymns, spells, rituals, and speculations called the Vedas. The word Veda, literally means "knowledge" or wisdom. Vedas were initially transmitted orally and they are said to be shruti, meaning, "that which has been heard". In other words, they came by revelation and they represent the expression of eternal truth, the highest intuitive knowledge, made known to the Rishis (holy persons or seers) of ancient time. Shruti implies that the eminent holy person has perceived certain things in peak experiences. Vedic literature, therefore, representing what the Rishis had seen, was considered the best and holiest presentation of knowledge.

Vedic Literature There are four distinct collections of the Vedas. Collectively, the four collections are known as the Samhitas, which means that Samhitas is a synonym for Vedas. The first of these four Vedas is called the Rig-Veda (Riksamhita) dating around 1400 BCE. this is the oldest, largest, and most important It contains 1028 units, called suktas, which are hymns to the gods, magical poems, riddles, and legends, among others. It has a total of 10,462 verses which are divided into ten books. Their formulation indicates that they represent the work of priestly leaders, who seem to be an educated class concerned with regulating contact with the gods and maintaining its own social status. Most hyms of the Rig-Veda serve two purposes: to praise the god being addressed and to ask the god favours or benefits. Another function of the Rig-Veda


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is to petition for forgiveness of sins, like having wronged a brother, cheated at games, or abused a stranger. This shows a stage of developed moral sense. The Rig-Veda seems to provide solid evidence of religion which centres on free and responsible choices made for good or evil. One also finds some of the hymns of the Rig-Veda to be philosophical, wondering about the first principle of cause and effect behind the many phenomena of the world. The second collection of Vedas is the Sama-Veda (Samasamhita) dating between 1400 and 1000 BCE. It contains melodies (Samans) which are largely verses (Mantras) taken from the hymns of the Rig-Veda and set to music. These 1810 verses arc meant to be chanted at the soma sacrifice. One can speak of the Sama-Veda as essentially a religious song book. The third collection of the Vedas is the Yajur-Veda (Yajuhsamhila) dating between 1400 and 1000 BCE. This is a collection of supplementary sacrificial formulae (Yajus) to be used by the priest who is responsible for the manual action. In other words, the Yaju-Veda is a priestly work of instructions regarding the times and materials for sacrifice, the construction of the fire altar, and formulae for the soma sacrifice. The fourth Veda which dates around 1200 BCE, is the Atharva-Veda (Atharvasamhita). This is a collection of magical formulae (Atharvan) containing prayers for long life and prayers to cure sickness and demonic possession: there are also curses upon demons, sorcerers, enemies, as well as charms to secure love. It has been said that because the Atharva-Veda is a collection of charms, it was probably more the possession of the laity. It also indicates that the earliest Hindu mind tried to ward off forces of evil and commandeer forces of good. In addition to the four collection of the Vedas indicated above, there were three other collections which were later assembled and came to be included in what is called Vedic literature. These are Brahmanas, Aranyankas, and Upanishads. Brahmanas which date between 1000 and 800 BCE, are collections acceptcd interpretations by Brahmans (priests). They are theological statements arising from scholastic controversy. Some of them relate to the stanzas of the Samhitas while others describe and explain the rites, indicating directions for sacrifice. Brahmanas are classified according to the Veda to which they refer and out of which they grew: the Brahmanas connected with the Rig-Veda are intended for the hotri (one who recited the verses of the Rig-Veda); those attached to the Sama-Veda are for the Udgatri (one who sings the songs of the soma sacrifice); and those attached to the YajurVeda are for the Adhvaryu (one who is responsible for the manual operations of the sacrifice). The Aranyankas, which date between 800 and 600 BCE, are known as "forest books" or "texts of the forest". They are so called because they are secret and therefore, kept from the public and read in forests.

Vedic Hinduism


The Ananyankas are concerned with the lication of the mystical meaning and symbolism of the sacrifice. They emphasize meditation rather than ritual performance. The Upanishads, in line with the Ananyankas, discuss the symbolism of melodies and words. They further expound the theory of breathing, and move into cosmological theories of the Atuman Brahman theme. The texts are thought to have began in the form of short philosophical statements which were communicated from teacher to pupil, whereby the communication was preceded and followed by expository discourses. In time, the discourses assumed a definite shape and, when they were reduced to writing, they resulted in the Upanishads as they are known today. The Upanishads, dating between 600 and later than 300 BCE suggest that they contain views of a series of teachers. When the texts were finally brought together and arranged, the Upanishads were appended to the Brahmanas. Because they stood at the end of Vedas, they came to be known as Vedanta, where, veda means "knowledge" and anta means "end". The number of Upanishads exceeds two hundred but only ten are the principal ones.

V edic Gods The second theme to look at in Vedic Hinduism is the Vedic gods. Tradition has it that there were 330 million gods. Only a few do, however, stand out as the most important. They are all said to be devas (good divinities) as distinguished from asuras (evil divinities). The Vedas cast most devas in human or animal form. The feature of the devas was power. Typically a deva was a male deity associated with a female consort, who represented his energetic force (shakti). Later, Tantrist Hinduism focussed on shakti, generally through the practice of ritual sex. The wroship of the many vedic gods and Shakti has been described as Henotheism, meaning the worship of many gods at the same time. This indicates that at the moment of praying or concentrating on a particular god, the worshipper tends to elevate that god to primacy without denying the existence of the other gods who have their claims to importance. There are different generations of the Vedic gods. The oldest group consists of the gods of the sky and the earth that the Vedas share with Indo-European religious texts. One example is the Vedic Father Sky, called Dyaus Pitar, who is related to the Greek Zeus and the Roman Jupiter. Dyaus Pitar is the overarching power which fertilizes the receptive earth with rain and rays of the sun. The Vedic earth is the Great Mother, the fertile female. These deities echo in the background of later gods as the oldest. The second oldest group includes Indra, Mithra, Varuna, Agui, and Soma. Indra was the warrior god of the storm endeared to the Aryan conquerors; Mithra was the god of the sun; Varuna was the god of cosmic and moral order; Soma was


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the god of the exhilarating cultic drink; and Agui was the god of fire, whose importance increased as the sacrifice focused more and more on fire. Most of the deities in this second generation represent earthly and especially heavenly forces. It is likely that the storm, the sun and the sky were all originally joined in Dyanus Pitar, but later they became separate objects of devotion. The third generation of gods includes Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, who are not true Vedic gods but rather developments of Vedic devas on Indian soil. These ones arose after the Aryans arrived in India, which would seem to indicate Dravidian influences on the invading culture. The fourth generation of gods comes to the fore in the Upanishads, comprising abstract deities such as one God, That one, Who and the Father of Creation.

Cultic Practice A third theme to consider in Vedic Hinduism is the cultic practice. Sacrifice was central to the cult. From the time of Rig-Veda, there seem to have been both private sacrifices and more elaborate sacrifices performed in public. The former were performed by the head of the house around ■ domestic fire and the latter were sponsored by a king or some other official. Private sacrifices depended on the Grihya Sutras, a body of texts which were not composed until the post-Vedic period (500-200 BCE). Public sacrifices are the ones which are elaborately outlined in the Brahman as. Sacrifices of the Vedic cult took place either in the house of the sacrificer or on altars on ■ chosen level spot of ground covered with grass for the purpose. The offering consisted in what the men themselves enjoyed eating; milk, ghee, and cakes of barley or rice. In that early period, there were also animal sacrifices. In addition, there were human sacrifices which were considered the most efficacious of all. There were some less complicated sacrifices which required only one priest. In later development, there came to be those sacrifices which required various priests to perform different parts of the sacrifice. The most important priest was the Hotri, whose chief duty, as indicated above, was to recite the stanzas of the RigVeda. A second specialized priest was the Udgathi, whose responsibility was to sing those portions of the Sama-Veda which were used during the soma sacrifice. A third specialized for manual operation of the sacrifice. He tended the fires, prepared the altar, utilized the utensils, and cooked the oblations. In due course, the Adhvaryu came to be the overseer of the cult. He ordered the various performances and was aware of the expiation to be performed in case of error in the sacrifice. Initially, the sacrifice was the means by which the favour of the gods was sought In time, and as the sacrifices became more elaborate, the sacrifice became more of a powerful mystery. It came to be understood that, through the sacrifice, the priest recreated the world and men came to believe that the order of nature ultimately rested on the perfect performance of the sacrifice. The result came to be that the gods themselves became dependent on the sacrifice.

Vedic Hinduism


By virtue of the fact that the sacrifice depended upon the accuracy of the priestly class, the Brahmans became more powerful than any earthly king or even any god. Special honoraria in the form of cows, gold, clothes, and horses, among other things, accompanied the sacrifices and were given to the priests.

Som a One of the chief sacrifices in Vedism is the Soma sacrifice (agnishtomd). This is named in praise of the deity Agui, probably due to the fact that the last hymn used on that day is addressed to Agui. Soma is b plant whose juice was prepared for use both as libation to the god (referred to as the heavenly nectar of the gods) and as a beverage for the worshipper. Soma juice produced profound effects on its consumers: hallucinations and b sense of glory followed its consumption. The soma experience was regarded as the occasion of sacred significance and holy dynamism. This sacrifice was carried out each spring. It involved certain preliminary operations, such as the consecration of the area and the participants. The soma was ceremoniously purchased, altars built, and preparations for the sacrifice were made for three days. The sacrifice itself was performed in one day, consisting of three pressings of the soma: morning, noon and evening. The noon pressing was the climax of the sacrifice. It included vegetable and animal sacrifices, the drinking of the soma juice by the officiant, and the distribution of the honoraria. The sacrificer could give up to one thousand cows, all his wealth, or sometimes, even his daughter to be married to one of the priests. Having drunk the invigorating soma, the worshippers saw visions of the gods and experienced sensations of power. They even identified themselves with the gods.

H orse Sacrifice The second sacrifice and most impressive of the Vedic rituals was the horse sacrifice (ashvamedha). This was a demonstration of triumph in which a King indulged, thereby manifesting his royal authority. The sacrifice itself lasted for three days, but the preparatory ceremonies took a year or two. After preparatory oblations, a consecrated horse was set at liberty, and left to run at large for a year while further preparatory activities took place. During this time, the king and his army followed the horse, claiming all the territory transversed by the horse as the realm of the king. At the end of the year, the horse returned and was sacrificed by strangulation. Needless to say, the horse sacrifice occasioned considerable political dispute. It was, however, a popular festival by which prosperity was acquired for the kingdom and for the subjects.


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D om estic Sacrifice Apart from these public sacrifices, there were also private or domestic ones. Domestic rites consisted of a series of small sacrifices with simple ceremonies which involved offerings of a vegetable nature, and only rarely involving animals. The head of the house performed these rites and it was his responsibility, along with his family and his pupil, to maintain the fire.


12 CLASSICAL HINDUISM E.M. Kasiera Introduction In the last chapter we saw how the successive stages of Vedic Hinduism combined different ideas of gods with a variety of sacrificial practices some of which, such as the killing of animals, are not compatible with mainstream Hinduism today. We also saw that these practices brought about or reinforced social groupings. In this chapter we shall see how classical Hinduism developed, and gained expression in philosophical and devotional terms. This chapter will highlight some of the main concepts in classical Hinduism.

Challenges to Vedic Hinduism From the sixth century BCE, Vedic religion came to face very serious challenges from various quarters. In spite of the refinements in the Upanishads, which are the final products of the Vedic tradition and which represent an adverse reaction to sacrificial Brahmanism, the message of the Upanishads came to be challenged by materialistic, Jain, Buddhist, devotionalist, and other religious views. The entire Vedic tradition of shruti came to grow through commentaries and manuals of instruction. Hindus refer to these materials collectively as Smriti (memory or tradition). Some Hindus remained loyal to the early Vedic gods and sacrifices. The strong challenges did, however, decisively change the religion of the majority. As a result, Hinduism became an umbrella religion sheltering a great diversity of beliefs and customs. The challenging forces of materialism, Jainism, and Buddhism are dealt with elsewhere. We are concerned here with movements which forced changes from within Hinduism.

Salvation by Devotion These movements are collectively known as Bhagavata (devotionalism), which connotes an emotional attachment to personal gods like Krishna and Shiva.

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Devotees (Bhaktas) continue to claim that such devotion is a way of salvation or self-realization that is superior to sacrifice or intellectual meditation. In other words, bhakti (devotion) is higher than external observances and activities, and higher than philosophical meditation. And since it involves submission on man's part, it also implies divine grace. Bhakti is classified as lower or imperfect if it is motivated by worldly concerns like sickness, danger or the desire for some favour such as the birth of a male child. In addtion to imperfect or lower bhakti there is a higher bhakti. This is completely selfless and involves single-hearted attachment to God, all other affections having been destroyed. Higher bhakti is the result of pure grace and it is liberation. It has been argued that the concept of bhakti, the way of salvation by devotion to God, either predates Buddhism or began within Buddhism itself. Regardless of when the system began, it has been observed that a devotion to Buddha developed almost immediately following the death of Buddha. This came In attain its fulfilment in the Mahayana systems of grace and the attaintment of salvation by faith in Amitabha Buddha. Our scope here, however, does not cover the Buddha bhakti, but the bhakti systems in Hinduism. These are the Krishna bhakti, Rama bhakti, Vishnu bhakti, Shiva bhakti, and Shakti bhakti.

The Krishna Bhakti It is unclear on the origin of the devotion to Krishna. The cult was widespread in the Punjab in the fourth century BCE. It has been suggested that the origin of the Krishna bhakti lay in the veneration of a historical figure who had become a legendary hero and around whom a copious Krishna mythology developed. In the Mahabharata, a great epic which started to be written and edited from 400 BCE, Krishna is presented as a human hero. In the Bhagavad Gita, which forms only a small portion of the Mahabharta (and which is complete in itself), Krishna is represented as a Supreme God, who, if made the object of devotion, will save men. Krishna is also said to be an incarnation (avatar) of Vishnu. The Gita offers ways of salvation to all types of persons, but bhakti appears to be its highest teaching. In it, there is a progressive instruction to a pupil called Arjuna by his guru god called Krishna. The Gita begins by placing Arjuna on the battlefield and successively teaches: (a) (b) (c)

The ethical problem of war; one must do one's caste duty, and there must not be the killing of the soul; The valid ways to wisdom and realization, which are sacrifice, meditation, and action without attachment to its results; The divinities unveiled countenance, the devotee Arjuna is given a mystical vision of Lord Krishna who tells Arjuna that the best way (marga) is love of Krishna and that he, Krishna, loves his devotees in return.

Classical Hinduism


The Rama Bhakti The second cult is the Rama bhakti. The story of Rama is told in the second Indian epic, besides the Mahabharata, the Ramayana. Rama is said to have married Sita after an archery contest. They got separated while in exile when a demon king, Ravana, carried Sita away. Rama's bravery in hunting and killing Ravana and finally rescuing his wife Sita is what endeared him to the hearts of many Indians. They see Rama and Sita as the ideal divine couple, and hence are led to Rama worship.

The Vishnu Bhakti A third movement is the Vishnu Bhakti. The cult of Vishnu came to be known in the Brahmanas. By the period of the Puranas (300-1200 BCE) Vishnu had expanded his scope and dominance, mainly through the doctrine of avataras. Theistic trends were commonly found to grow outside the influence of the Brahmans. When a local deity became sufficiently prominent, the Brahmans would attempt to bring such worship into their orbit of influence, either by indicating that the local deity was really Vishnu under a different name, or that he was an avatara (incarnation or descent) of Vishnu. These incarnate deities both extended the worship of Vishnu and expanded understanding of his nature. The traditional list of ten avataras, which include both human and animal forms, are: matsya (The Fish); kurma (The Tortoise); varaha (The Boar); narasimba (The Man-Lion); vamana (The Dwarf); parashurama (Rama with the Ax); Rama Krishna, Buddha and Kalki.

The Shiva Bhakti A fourth cult is the Shiva bhakti. Shiva, meaning "auspicious" was a euphemistic epithet given to the god Rudra of the Rig-Veda. As Rudra, Shiva inspires more fear than love. He is conceived as the destroyer when in the company of Brahma and Vishnu. Shiva is often depicted with a garland of skulls and surrounded with ghosts and demons. He is also the lord of animals and the lord of dance. The devotees, Shaivities, identified him with local deities as Vaishnavites had done with their god Vishnu. Whereas the followers of Shiva had a greater tendency towards advaitin views, there were those whose message was devotional and emotional. Their hymns are an account of their vivid experience.

The Shakti Bhakti A fifth cult is the shakti bhakti. Shakti worship is the worship of the power of the deity in the form of his consort. This takes various forms, from simply


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representing the deity with his consort, to singling her out as the chief object of worship. Erotic practices are naturally to be expected, but not all Shaktism is erotic. Some forms are highly philosophical. The texts which describe the elaborate rites and theories connected with Shaktism are called Tantras.

M edieval Hinduism The period between 500 and 1500 BCE in the history of Hinduism has broadly been called the medieval period. It is the period when thinkers and various movements criticised or amplified the Vedic heritage resulting in full reform of Hinduism. We have so far looked at the bhakti movements which represented popular religion and which introduced new elements in the Vedic tradition. The distinction in the various Indian thought system is between those who reject the Vedas, called nastikas, meaning "those who say no", and those who accept the Vedas, called astikas, meaning "those who say yes". The systems of the Jainas, the Pali Canon, and the Carvakas (materialists) were seen as "heterodox" because they were originated by nastikas. The "orthodox" thought systems of philosophies, called darshanas, meaning "points of view" originated with the astikas. The "orthodox" Darshanas were seen to be so because they relied on the authority of the Vedas; they were conceived as explanations of shruti (revelation). There are six such philosophies or schools of thought: Nyaya, Vaishesika, Sankhya (Samkhya), Yoga, Purva Mimamsa (Mimamsa), and Uttara Mimamsa (Vedanta).

Nyaya and Vaishesika N yaya, meaning "analysis" and Vaishesika, meaning "individual characteristics" are logical and pro to-scientific in character. Nyaya is devoted mainly to an investigation and listing of logical arguments. It maintains that the existence of an external world is independent of the mind, and it sought to establish this by means of reasoning. Vaishesika is principally ■ theory of atomism. It holds that the universe consists of five elements, namely air, earth, fire, space and water, each of which is composed of a number of atoms. The two schools came to coalesce, and later acquired the doctrine of a personal creator who arranges the atoms which are the basic constituents of the cosmos.

Sankhya and Yoga In the same way Nyaya and Vaishesika are related so are Sankhya and Yoga a closely related pair. Sankhya provides the metaphysical basis which is the background against which the devotee practises Yoga. Sankhya (school of count) is based on the Bagavad Gita. It holds that the universe was derived from, or reality consists of, two principles.

Classical Hinduism


On the one hand is Purusha, a spirit of a unitary being that evolves into the many forms under which we perceive it. On the other hand is Prakrti the principle of Becoming. From it, all the elements in human nature and the natural world were derived, consisting of innumerable eternal souls. These souls are associated with psychophysical organisms, and are, therefore, entangled in the round of reincarnation, hence the need for Yoga. Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual technique; it is a system of practical philosophy, whose purpose is to teach the way Purusha from Prakrti in order to attain M o ksh a (liberation). The aim of the yogi is to attain disentanglement. By virtue of the fact that the empirical world is full of suffering, the only way to get peace is by being liberated from the world. This can be attained by observing the following steps: yama (restraint) niyama (observances) asana (posture) pranayama (breath control) pratyahara (control of senses) dharana (attention), dhyana (meditation, and samadhi (concentration)

Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimmamsa As the names indicate, the last two darshanas, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa (Vedanta) were also related. These schools were concerned exclusively with the interpretation of the Vedas. In this regard, they were systems of a very different kind. Mimamsa started as an attempt to bring order into the principles of interpretation of the Vedic scriptures. It was based on the Brahmanas. The Vedic hymns did not have a doctrine of rebirth and salvation was conceived in them in terms of a heavenly existence. By virtue of this, the Mimamsa school resisted the idea of moksha as the goal of religion. It conservatively kept to belief in heaven as the reward for piety. By means of a system of appropriate sacrifices, a person was able to assure himself of heavenly rewards. According to this school, therefore, religion centred on dharma, the laws of sacrifice and duties of religion; ritual was regarded as efficacious in itself. The last of the schools is Uttara Mimamsa (Vedanta). The Vedanta was the most celebrated darshana. This was based on the Upanishads, and later used for philosophical schools which were based on those Upanishads. The school was concerned with the interpretation of the Vedas not as a way of action (Karma) but as a way of knowledge (Jnana). The school came to be divided into a number of i sub-systems which differ markedly from one another. In some cases, the difference j between them is greater than that found between the six schools recognized as contituting the orthodox Hindu tradition. The diverse doctrinal views within the Vedanta darshana had their roots in divergent sorts and combinations of religious j experience. We look at the divergent views within the school by looking at the key i teachers or interpreters of the Vedanta.

Comparative Religion


Vedanta Thinkers

The greatest of the Vedanta thinkers and interpreters was Shankara. He was bom in the Malabar, Kerala, in South India and lived between 788 and 820 BCE. As the son of Shiva guru, he was a follower of Shiva and was considered an avatar of Shiva. His chief theological and philosophical concern was ■ consistent, interpretation of the Upanishadic writings. He became an ascetic at the age of eight and he is reported to have written his commentary on the Brahma Sutras at the age ; of twelve. In his travels in India, he established four monasteries (maths) which still exist; Badarinath in the Himalays; Dwanaka on the west coast; Puri on the i east coast and Shringeri in Mysore state. Shankara tried to systematize the Upanishads in terms of the doctrine called advaita, meaning "unqualified nondualism”, in opposition both to Buddhism and to the excessive devotionalism of the popular cults, bhakti movements. He tried to explain the basic Upanishadic concepts of Brahman and atman, whereby he concluded that the immortal element within man and the divine absolute are one. In summary, we can identify seven basic principles which provide the pillars of Shankara's metaphysical system: (a) The eternal, impersonal Absolute (Brahman) is the only ultimate reality; (b) Maya (illusion) is the power by which the Absolute appears to us in a transient universe of time and space; (c) Causality explains the universe but not the nature of the Absolute; (d) Man’s spirit is identical with the Supreme Spirit; (e) Sin and suffering originate from our failure to realize our essential oneness with the Absolute; (f) Liberation can not be achieved by action (Karma) or devotion but only by means of illumination (jnana)\ (g)

It is solely because of our ignorance that we see diversity, multiplicity, and finiteness, where in reality exists only the oneness of Brahman

From the time of Shankara, bhakti was forced to develop a theological defence and exposition of its principles because Shankara's teaching was seen to be a threat to the devotional cults and the principle of bhakti and also to Buddhism. Shankara relegated bhakti to the lower level of appearance. Bhaktas did not, however, find such a preliminary role for Bhagavan (the personal God and object of devotion) acceptable to them. The strongest opposition to Shankara's system came from Ramanuja, who also came from near Madras South India, and lived between 1017 and 1137 BCE. As a follower of Vishnu, Ramanuja did not accept the relegation of the personal aspect of the godhead to a lower level of reality. Ramanuja's main accomplishment was elaborating upon the Upanishadic doctrine in such a way that he made divinity compatible with human love. In so

Classical Hinduism


doing, he opposed Shankara's doctrine of advaita and developed his own of vishishtadvaita, meaning "nondualism qualified by difference". For Ramanuja, Brahman consisted of three realities: (a) achit (matter), the unconscious universe of matter (b) chit (soul) the conscious community of finite selves (c)

Ishvara (God), the transcendent lord called Ishvara According to Ramanuja, while all three are real, the first two are dependent on God. Ishvara is Brahman. God manifests himself in various forms for his devotees: as the immanent soul of the universe; as the transcendent personal Lord; as creator, destroyer, or preserver; as avatar in human or animal form; as images enshrined in temples so that his devotees can see him physically. To Ramanuja, bhakti (devotion to the personal God) was superior to metaphysical illumination. And, rather than mystical absorption, the final goal of man is personal bliss with God. The highest way to liberation was, therefore, loving devotion to the highest Lord who represented Brahman. Ramanuja accepted that knowledge (Jnana) and pure action (Karma) were good paths in themselves, but love was better. By substituting Vishnu or Krishna for Brahman or Ishvara, the Vaishavites made Ramanuja a philosophical defender of their bhakti. Ramanuja's attempt to harmonize philosophical monism with theism went too far in the direction of monism to be accepted by some devotees of the bhakti cult. Conversely, if Ramanuja had distanced himself from Shankara by teaching the distinction between God and the world and between God and souls, this was not far enough for some of the bhaktas. One such unconvinced bhakta was Madhva. He was bom in a village near Udipi in the thirteenth century and died there after founding a new order called Brahma Sampradaya. He was trained in Shankaras advaita, but he broke away and developed his own system of dvaita (dualism). Madhva utilized the Vedas and Brahmanas more than his predecessors and he made great use of the Puranic literature. Like Ramanuja, Madhva was a devotee of Vishnu, but more particularly of Vayu, the son of Vishnu. Madhva was considered an incarnation of Vayu, which would seem to indicate that, when he held that liberation could only be acquired through Vayu, he meant that liberation could be acquired through himself. Like Ramanuja, Madhva held that there are three realities: God, souls, and matter. Each soul is distinct in its nature from the natural world which he sustains and recreates at the beginning of each time cycle. For Madhva, there were five distinctions: (a) (b)

God is distinct from the individual souls; God is distinct from non-living matter;

(c) (d)

One individual soul is distinct from another; Individual souls are distinct from matter;


When matter is divided, its parts are distinct from one another. What Madhva stresses, therefore, is not unity but duality.


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Reform in Hinduism Ram Mohan Roy In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Hinduism came to be purified by the influence of learned and saintly Hindus. One of the organizations which has tended to favour more radical changes is the Brahma Samaj. Brahma is an adjective formed from Brahman of the Upanishads, and samaj means society. The organization was founded by Ram Mohan Roy, a Bengali Brahmin who lived between 1772 and 1833. He was deeply influenced by Islam in his early life. He studied Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. He also studied Islam, Vaishnavism, Trantrikism, Jainism, Buddhism and Christianity. Mohan Roy developed ■ school of rational theism, in defence of monotheism. His efforts were directed at freeing Hinduism from polytheism and image worship in order to advance pure monotheism in the light of Christian and Muslim doctrine. Ram Mohan Roy contemplated a universal religion which he thought might some day have universal acceptance. The universal religion would include all that is common to all religions, omitting the divisive elements. Since the Upanishads taught monotheism, he was convinced that the notion of the one true God would be part of his common faith. This emphasis on the fundamental unity of all religions was later stressed by Ramakrishna, Vivekanda, Tagore, and Radhakrishna, even though the nature of extent of that unity is diverse.

Dayananda Saraswati One of the people to put into practice Ram Mohan Roy's idea of a universal religion was Mula Shanker, who lived between 1824 and 1883. In his early years, he left his family to live the life of a wandering monk. He was initiated into the' Saraswati order of Sannyasins, as a result of which he took the name which he is commonly known, Dayananda Saraswati. In 1875, he founded the Arya Samaj as a universal religion open to anyone, regardless of caste or nationality. Dayananda held to the infallibility of the Vedas. He rejected the polytheism and idolatory of the texts of the later Indian tradition such as Puranas, holding they were immoral. Dayananda limited his authority to the Vedic Samhitas and apposed the ritual of the Brahmanas and the advaitiu tendencies of the Upanishads.

Ramakrishna A further reform on Hinduism was carried out by Gadadhar Chetterji of Bengal, who lived between 1836 and 1886. He is known by the name he took as a sannyasin, Ramakrishna. Sometimes he is known by his title Para(ma)hamsa, which means "the Highest Swan". As early as the age of six Ramakrishna was prone to mystic visions, thus at seventeen, he went to live with his brother who

Classical Hinduism


was a priest in Calcutta. When his brother died, he became the priest, and spent considerable time in loving devotion to the goddess Kali, the consort of Shiva. He was frequently in ecstacy and sometimes passed into states similar to those achieved in Yoga. After ■ time, he found an explanation of these events in terms of the nondualistic Vedanta of Shankara. He seemed to have a passion for as wide a variety of religion experiences as possible. It is in this regard that other religious traditions impinged upon him, and in his personal life he followed both Muslim and Christian observances. He finally came to the conclusion that all faiths point to some goal; a belief that all religions are one.

A ctivity (1)

(2) (3) (4)


Find out, from books or from discussion with practising Hindus, what difference devotion to a particular god makes to the worshipper’s daily life. Can you find a parallel between the use of different aspects of divinity in other religions? What is the meaning of avatar? What is the significance of Brahma? Write notes on the impact of: » (a) individual thinkers (b) different scriptural texts on the development of Hindu belief. Explain Ramanuja's idea of God.

Further Reading Carmody, D.L. & Carmody, J.T. Ways to the Centre: an Introduction to World Religions (Belmont: Wadsworth, 1981) p. 114-142. Comstock, W.R. Religion and Man: an Introduction (New York, Harper Row, 1971) p. 257-271. Smart, N. Religious Experience of Mankind (New York, Scribner, 1969 Collins Fontana 1971) p. 168-186.


13 ORIGINS AND TEACHINGS OF JAINISM S.G. Kibicho Introduction Historical, theological, political and social factors can either singularly, together or in various combinations contribute towards the rise of a new religion. The factors that gave rise to Jainism and Buddhism are similar. Jainism and Buddhism rose in the sixth century BCE (Note Sikhism arose in the 16th century AD and will be dealt with later). This was a time of sudden disintegration of society, especially in Northern India, namely invasion and subsequent subjection brought about by powerful, autocratic monarchies from further north. The people of this previously stable, old republic found themselves thrown into unfamiliar structures of the new order. As a result of the political changes of the sixth century BC, there was ■ wide spread feeling of uprootedness - being lost and insecure - both socially and morally. The situation has important parallels with the experience our forefathers went through when they became subjugated and colonized by powerful European powers at the turn of the century. In this kind of situation many more questions were now being asked than before, touching on the nature of the soul; the destiny after death; why men suffer, especially the innocent; how one may escape from suffering; what is the supreme good in life and how can one attain it. As a result of the combination of Vedic and non-Vedic cultures, new view points or schools of thoughts arose, some challenging the accepted vedic doctrines taught in Brahmanism on the above and related questions. For instance, one school (Lokayata) rejected doctrines of the after life and reincarnation, and taught that men should enjoy themselves to the full in this life because it is all there is. (Sen pp 63/4). Both Mahavira and Gautama were among those who found the philosophy taught by Brahmanism inadequate and unacceptable. The interpretation of the human predicament, and the method of redemption found in Brahmanism (especially through sacrificial rituals) were inadequate and unconvincing to many. Jainism and, a generation later, Buddhism, arose as offering mare adequate and satisfying ways of redemption.


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The central problem was how to find release or be liberated from Karma and from the consequent rounds of rebirthJ Jainism offered the way of extreme asceticism and austerities, while Buddhism offered a moderate way which Gautama called the "middle way".

The Character of Jainism Jainism is ■ religion which takes its place mid-way between Buddhism and Hinduism. It shares with Hinduism the belief in rebirth and in the desirability of escaping from the suffering and privations of all transient existence into the freedom of nirvana. It rejects the Hindu caste system, especially that of the Brahmin caste having authority in religious matters. In a nutshell it differs from Buddhism in the extreme severity of its moral codes and in the veneration for 24 prophetic personalities who appeared on earth to found the faith. Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, was the last of them. He lived b little before Buddha and probably died around 480 BC. He restored and reformed a very old religion. Jainism also carries with it special veneration for life, probably dating back to early Hinduism. Jains take extravagant precautions against destroying life of any kind. The name Jainism is from the word jinas, meaning the victorious ones or "conquerors". The Sanskrit root Ji means to conquer. The Jinas are the Jain saints, its teachers and leaders. They have attained liberation or nirvana and are in that sense conquerors. They are also referred to as Tirthankaras, or Ford - finders. They have found the way of salvation, and by their teaching and example they lead others to find the way to attain salvation.

Before Mahavira The 23 prophetic personalities before Mahavira were called Jinas. Rishabha is claimed to have been the first Jina. He lived millions of years ago. Some temples (e.g. at Mt. Abu) are dedicated to him. Parsva - the 23rd Jina - was the immediate predecessor of Mahavira. He is believed to have been a historical figure; he had died 246 years before the birth of Mahavira, that is about 848 BC. Traditions say that he had been living in heaven until time came for him to descend to the earth, he entered the womb of queen Vema and was bom. Parsva later renounced his father's throne to which he was the heir, with his parents reluctant agreement, and became a recluse, mostly in the forest. It is from here through thé practice of extreme austerity and yoga, he finally attained

Noss, J.B . M an's R eligion s, p. 141.

Origins and Teachings of Jainism


liberation (moksha), and omniscience (perfect knowledge of the true nature of reality and of self). Parsva became a Jina, a great teacher of mankind on the way of salvation, and founded a monastic order which was called by his name. At death, his soul is believed to have ascended to the 'summit of the cosmos', above even the place of the gods, where it remains in a state of perfect bliss and peace.

Mahavira Mahavira is regarded as the 24th, and the last Jina, and as the founder of Jainism in the present age. According to Jain tradition, he lived in the period 599­ 468 BC. Mahavira was bom in East India (in modem Bihar). He was of the Kshatriya caste: his father was a Rajah. Mahavira was therefore ■ prince. From childhood, he was brought up in luxury. It is said that as a baby, he had five nurses; these included a "web" one, one to bath him, one to dress him, one to play with him and one to cary him! He was married early to a princess, and they had a daughter. Mahavira, however was not contented with this princely life with all its luxury. But out of respect for his parents, he waited until his parents died before he renounced the world. His parents died when he was thirty years old. He then resolved to renounce the world, leaving his family under the care of his brother, he withdrew from the world to become a religious ascetic or wandering monk, an old Hindu way of seeking liberation. He joined a body of ascetic monks, of the order of Parsva outside his town. In joining them, he had to take off all his clothes and ornaments, remaining only with one simple robe; he also had to give away all the property that he possessed. He then took the vow of austerity: (that he would "with equanimity bear, undergo, and suffer all calamities arising from divine powers, men, or animals"). He also plucked out his hair.^ After several months with this body of monks, Mahavira left them and went out on his own as ■ mendicant monk. For twelve years, he wandered through the villages and the countryside of central India practising extreme asceticism, in quest of release from the endless cycle of rebirth. We should pause here to note the two basic, underlying convictions in this quest which were also shared by other Jains: (1) For anyone to gain the liberation of his soul, one must practise the severest possible asceticism and austerities.

2 Noss, J.B. M an’s R eligion s, p. 144.


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To keep one's soul uncontaminated and pure - which is an essential condition for gaining liberation - one must practice ahimsa (i.e. non­ violence or non-injury of any life). Mahavira lived by these convictions with the greatest faithfulness and strictness. He would never stay in one village for more than one night to avoid forming attachments. In the four rainy months, however, he had to stay in one place to avoid killing or injuring unawares some of the numerous creatures which filled the roads and paths. When walking, he carried ■ soft broom to sweep the path of insects, and before lying down to sleep, outdoors or indoors, he would inspect the place and clear it of any creatures which might be there. At times, as he meditated, walking or sitting, all kinds of creatures would crawl on his body, and he would refrain from scratching himself even when they caused him pain. Before drinking water, he would strain it with a piece of cloth he carried with him for the purpose. He begged for his food, and would only accept food which had been prepared for somebody else, i.e. the left over food, to make sure he was not responsible for any killing which may have occurred in the process of preparing the food. Also he would not accept any raw food. Before eating, he had to inspect the food and clear it of any living things, including sprouts, cobwebs, eggs, or worms. Mahavira's practice of extreme asceticism is illustrated by the following things which traditions claim he did or endured: going about without anything or in very cold windy weather and in very hot weather; denying himself any sleep for days (or months according to some traditions), refraining from speaking to or greeting or answering anyone, and thereby arousing villagers' ill-will and hostility, sometimes leading to abuse and beatings and torture. It is said in the traditions that at times dogs would run at him and biie him, and the people would strike him and set the dogs on him. At one time, as he sat meditating, completely motionless, some curious wicked villagers cut off some of his flesh, pulled out some of his hair and put dust on him. They then lifted him, and threw him up letting him fall on the ground. At another time as he sat in a field contemplating, naked and completely motionless, some villagers lit a fire between his feet, and drove nails into his ears. Mahavira's self-control was such that he was unaffected by all such acts however painful they were and he would continue with his contemplation as if nothing was happening. He practised perfect indifference and unattachment to everything, good or evil, pleasurable or painful, love or hate. During Mahavira's 13th year as a mendicant monk practising extreme asceticism and austerity the experience he had been seeking came. He was sitting in a squatting position close to a tree his head bowed low, meditating. He achieved omniscience and moksha (liberation), and thus attained Nirvana. "He thus became

Origins and Teachings of Jainism


the Jina (the conqueror), having achieved "a complete victory over his body and the desires that bind one to this world of matter and sin".3 Mahavira then began his mission of seeking people and teaching them the way to salvation which he had found, and organizing his followers. He spent thirty years on this mission, and was quite successful. It is claimed that he attracted a "50,000 monks and 500,000 lay followers particularly among non Brahmins"^ The followers attracted to his teachings, included four kings ^

The Basic Teachings of Jainism The Jain doctrines continued to retain some similarities with those of Hinduism from which it broke, otherwise Jain doctrines have their own distinctness from those of both Hinduism and Buddhism, particularly on such basic questions as the universe, Karma, soul, matter and liberation of salvation.

1. The Universe is believed to be uncreated and eternal. This means among the Jains there is no speculation about a creator, beginning or end. Its history consists of long eras, each with a period of improvement followed by one of decline. The present one is of serious decline; the religion will die out to be restored in the next era.

2. The Jiva and the Ajiva All things which constitute the universe are grouped into two broad categories. The first of these is that of the Ajiva or dead, lifeless matter. The second category is that of the Jiva, or living things. These consist of an infinite number of living souls and constitute what may be described as the spiritual as opposed to the material realm. These souls are here in the world as we know it only because of being involved in matter. As we shall see when we discuss the Jain concept of Karma matter (ajiva) when it attaches itself to a soul (jiva) constitutes an impurity in the soul which holds it down here in the world of matter. Otherwise, it their uncontaminated, perfect state, they are perfect, omniscient and blissful. At their final liberation from the flesh, being perfectly weightless, they rise to the summit of the universe-(Isatpraghbara) joining the other liberated souls. The relevant Jain text describes the liberated soul in Isatpraghbara as follows: The liberated is not long nor small; neither heavy nor light; he is without body, without resurrection, without contact with matter; he is

3 Ibid, p. 146 4 Parrinder, E.G. African Traditional Religion, p. 55. 5 Hume, R.E. The World's Living Religions, p. 47.


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not feminine, nor masculine, nor neuter, he perceives, he knows, but there is no analogy (whereby to know the nature of the liberated soul)."®

3. The Jain Concept of Karma As in Hinduism, Karma in Jainism may be translated as deed or action and the effect of such ■ deed on the soul concerned. Besides this basic meaning, the Jain give Karma a distinctively Jain interpretation. The Jains view it as a kind of very thin material substance which attaches itself to a soul as a result of it activity thus making it impure and heavy, and bound to the material world and its concerns and attractions. Karma may be likened to soot or very fine dust. Similarly, it is as if desire and evil deeds, make the soul sticky so that Karma matter sticks on it. Injuring life or killing (himsa) is the worst kind of action and brings on the soul the highest amount of bad Karma matter; non-injury or non-violence is the highest virtue, and its practice results in preventing further infestation with Karma-matter, and also in the reduction of the Karma - matter which is already on and in the soul. At the end of each existence the soul rises or sinks in the scale of the hierarchical forms of life according to the amount of Karma - matter it has. Thus, those with the least amount of Karma - matter may rise to the level of the gods (fully liberated souls are at the highest level, higher than the gods), while those with great amounts of Karma - matter sink to the level of carnivorous beasts, or to hell. Those souls which are completely free from Karma - matter, which are thus pure souls, rise like finest feathers or bubbles to the summit of the universe (Isatpragbhara) where they remain eternally with other liberated souls in perfect omniscience and bliss.

4. Liberation Liberation or salvation is attained wholly through the efforts of the individual soul. There is no supreme divine being in Jain beliefs who gives assistance to any beings. The gods, as conceived of in Hinduism, are not denied, they are seen as higher beings existing in the higher levels of the cosmos. But they are finite, subject to rebirth and in need of attaining full and final liberation when they too can rise to the summit of the Universe. Mahavira rejected other methods of salvation taught in Hinduism such as through the priests and any rituals, or through trusting in the Vedas as sacred scriptures which can miraculously effect

® Noss, J.B., M an's R eligion , p. 149.

Origins and Teachings of Jainism


release from the cycle of rebirths. One of Mahaviras' sayings states: "Man ... thou art thine own friend. Why wishest thou for a friend beyond thyself? The way to salvation through one's efforts was shown by Mahavira in his experience of liberation which came after ■ long seeking, with the practice of extreme asceticism and austerity. Release (Moksha) - from the cycle of rebirth, such as Mahavira attained, is achieved through what is known in Jainism as the three jewels (triratna): (i) Right faith, that is, unshaken faith in the teaching of the Jains; (ii) Right knowledge, that is, true understanding of their principles and doctrines; (iii) Right conduct, that is living one's life following those principles. Right conduct involves strict observance of prescribed rules of conduct. These are summed up in the Five Great Vows for monks. The first of these is the vow to observe Ahimsa, renoucning all killing or injury of living beings, and pledging never to cause others to kill or injure, nor to consent to any killing or injuring. To observe this vow of Ahimsa means one has to walk carefully and lightly, at times sweep one’s path to clear it of any creatures, avoid any action or speech which may cause quarrels or pain or injury to others, inspect one’s food or drink before taking it to avoid hurting, injuring or killing any living being. The principle of Ahimsa which also applies to non-monks, leads the Jains to avoid occupations which would involve injuring or killing any living beings such as Agriculture, Military work, or Butchery work. They therefore concentrate on such other occupations as business, banking and industry, where they are very successful. Many successful businessmen and industrialists of Asian origin in Kenya are Jains. The second vow binds the Jain never to lie even in jest or in anger, nor to cause another to lie nor consent to another's lying. The third vow binds the Jain never to take nor cause another person to take, nor consent to taking of anything not given. This means a high degree of self­ restraint from any form of dishonest or unlawful acquisition of anything, and from any form of greed. The fourth great vow is a renunciation of "all sexual pleasure" and sensuality. As in other vows, it includes pledging not to cause other to engage in these activities nor to consent to them.

7 Noss, J.B. Man's Religion, op.cit. (Noss Quotes from Sacred Books o f the East, Vol. XXII - Jaina Sutras, Translated by Herman Jacobi, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1884 p. 152.


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The fifth great vow is a renunciation of all attachments to anything small or great living or non-living. It also includes vowing not to cause others to have attachments nor to consent to others doing so.

A ctivity 1. 2. 3. 4.

Discuss the basic teachings of Jainism. What are the developmental stages of Jainism? Discuss the life of Mahavira. What is the Jain concept of Karma?


14 THE LAY ASPECT OF JAINISM S.G. Kibicho The Ethical Codes for Jain Lay Adherents In the previous chapter we dealt with the history and beliefs of Jainism. Here we shall deal with the practice of religion by the devout layman and its significance in Kenya and the modem world. Only the monks could strictly keep the five Great vows; they were actually meant for the monks or Jaina ascetics. The rules for the lay people are modified and much less severe. They are contained in twelve simpler vows. These include the vow of Ahimsa. The vows also prohibit lying; stealing or taking what is not given; unchastity or unfaithfulness or impurity of thought and desires in matters of sex; greed (one should put a limit to ones wealth and give away the excess). The last seven vows enjoin the lay-adherents: to avoid activities which may lead to temptations to sin, such as unnecessary travel; to practice daily meditation at set periods; to have special periods to practise self-denial; to attempt living temporarily as a monk occasionally; -

to practise giving of alms especially for the support of monks and ascetics. In sum the vows, especially those of the Monks (the Five Great Vows) - are in one respect vows of right conduct; they involve self-restraint, and this helps to check further influx of Karma. The other aspect of the vows involves strict self-discipline, both ethical and spiritual; this helps to shed karma-matter already acquired by the soul. At this stage, which can normally be reached by monks only, rebirth ceases and one experiences a preliminary form of liberation, that is enlightment, omniscience and complete freedom (non-attachment) from the phenomenal world. Such a liberated one (like Mahavira when he attained enlightment) continues to live in the world serving humanity and teaching others the way to liberation. However, the final liberation (of which one gets assurance at the time of enlightment) comes at death, as described in the previous lecture.


Comparative Religion

Thus, Jainism teaches self-salvation through and through. The gods as found in Hinduism are recognized but they are regarded as lower than the Jain saints who are thus the highest beings. The gods are still caught up in the transmigration of souls. To gain the final liberation, they have to be reborn as monks and live ■ severely ascetic and self-denying life.

Temple W orship and Veneration of the Jinas at a Later Period Jain temples are world-famous for magnificance. Images of some of their great saints (Tirthankaras) usually made of white marble (symbolising purity) are placed in the temples. Worship is offered by the priests, and includes, beside other things, cleaning of these images, and offering rice after washing it thoroughly three or four times. It is offered in "a tray marked with a swastika, a symbol of well­ being and consecretation."^ The Sthanakrasi sect has neither temples nor idols. Worship is everywhere, chiefly through individual meditation and contemplation. Individual devotions of ■ lay Jain adherent include repeating a mantra (a sacred text) and addressing salutations to "five classes of saintly beings" while telling prayer beads. This devotional exercise should be performed early in the morning; one has therefore to get up around 4-5 a.m. Also in the evening, before retiring to bed, the telling of beads and the salutations to the five categories of saints are repeated. If he has the time, one should also go to assist in temple worship and read sacred texts. The twelve vows form the lay person's code of conduct.

Jain Sects Early in its history and after Mahavira's death, the Jain community split into several sects. There are two important groups of those still surviving. These are: i) (ii)

The Digambaras (sky-clad, or atmosphere-clad, i.e. nude) and the Svetambaras (white-clad) The Digambaras are the conservative group, and hold that nudityfor monks is the ideal symbol and mark of complete selflessness (no self-consciousness), of complete renunciation of wordly things and possessions. They point out that Mahavira went about without clothes. Their holy men therefore go without clothes whenever they feel that some religious reason or duty demands it. Their images are also nude. In Shravana, Belgola, South India, there is a 60ft tall naked image of a saint.

^ Parrinder, E.G. The World's Living Religions, p. 53.

The Lay Aspects of Jainism


This sect is believed to have been started about 310 BCE by a group of Jains who migrated to the warmer southern parts of India, under the leadership of Bhadrabahu. Another main difference from the Svetambaras is that the Digambaras hold on strictly to Mahavira’s view on women - that they are "the greatest temptation in the world" and the "cause of all sinful acts". Women are therefore not admitted into their temples, or to monastic life. This means that a woman's only hope for salvation (entry into Nirvana) is for her to be reincarnated as a male. The Svetambaras are regarded as the liberal group. They do not believe in the ideal of nudity; (originally they were in the colder northern parts of India). Their monks wear at least one white robe. The Svetambaras also believe that women too have ■ chance to enter Nirvana, and they admit them into their temples and to monastic life.

The Jains Today Jains today number around l | and 2 million and are mostly found in India. Their magnificent temples and sculptrure (for instance at Mount Abu in northern India, and at Gwa Lior) remain some of the most outstanding architectural works in the world. As a community, the Jains are known as a very hard-working, prosperous group, especially in commerce and industry and for their commendable involvement in the promotion of education, through establishment of educational institutions. One quite remarkable irony of Jainism is that it is a strictly ascetic and world-renouncing religion; yet its adherents are among the most economically prosperous group in India as well as in some other countries to which they have migrated.

Jainism in Kenya It is reported in the Kenya Churches Handbook that there was about 40,000 Jains in East Africa in 1972; of these, 30,000 were in Kenya, 20% being Kenya citizens. We would expect these numbers to have risen since then. About 80% are of the Svetambara sect. The Visa Oshwals are the largest of the several communities and castes which comprise the Jain community in Kenya (Note that a few Visa Oshwals are non-Jain). Due to their place of origin in India, Gujarat, most Jains in East Africa are Svetambaras, a few are Digambaras; Haria, Dodhia, Gudka and Shah are some of common Jain surnames you may come across in Kenya. Jains are among the most successful and prosperous businessmen in Nairobi and other bigger towns. In 1972 there were 18,000 Jains in Nairobi, 6,000 in Mombasa, 2,500 in Thika and 2,000 in Kisumu. They have fifty or more community centres. There are about five Jain temples in Nairobi; one being Sthanakasi, one Digambara and two or three Svetambara. The Visa Oshwal Jain

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Community recently completed a new, quite impressive temple in the Parklands area. The Jains of Kenya are actively involved in commendable educational and social relief work, especially through the Visa Oshwal Education and Relief Board, started in 1941. The Visa Oshwal primary and secondary schools in Westlands are good examples of such work. In the latter, they have a small prayer-house in which they have put some sacred images or pictures, from Jain, Hindu, Moslem and Christian religions, reflecting the great religious tolerance of Jainism and Hinduism.

Influence of Jainism Beyond the Jain Community Even though small in numbers, Jainism is one of the most ancient of all living religions, having emerged clearly about 500BCE. It has strong religious and ethical principles and values which are of universal appeal. Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy and revolutionary movement of non-violent resistance to colonialism was inspired mainly by the Jain principle of Ahimsa. (Gandhi was a Hindu). Dr. Martin Luther King got the Ahimsa principle and the philosophy of non-violent resistance from Gandhi, and used it (in combination with his Christian faith) with great success in Civil Rights movement in the U.S.A. Many Jains who are concerned about peace in the world, believe that the doctrine of Ahimsa can make much contribution in the modem quest for world peace. A modern Jain movement, the world Jain Mission, has been trying to propagate the Jain faith and its spiritual and ethical principles - especially Ahimsa in and outside India especially through pamphlets and booklets and other forms of publications. A text (from the Mahabharata) often found incribed over the doors of Jain temples reads: "Non-violence is the supreme religion"^.

A ctivity 1.


"Jainism is an essentially world renoucning religion; yet the Jains are often among the most economically prosperous communities wherever they happen to be." W hat, in your opinion, leads to this paradoxical situation? Define the Jain idea of God.

^ Parrinder, E.G. What World Religions Teach, p. 44.

The Lay Aspects of Jainism


Further Reading Day, T. "Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism in Kenya", Barrett, D.B. (ed.), Kenya Churches Handbook, Kisumu Evangel Press, 1973, pp. 307-309. 1973 p. 307-309. • Braden, C.S. The World's Religions, A History (Nashville: Abingalon Press, 1954) p 102-108. Ling, T. A History of Religion East and West (London: MacMillan, 1968) p. 98-101: 143-144. Noss, J.B. Man's Religions (New York: Collier-MacMillan, 1974) p. 141-154. Parrinder, E.G. The World's Living Religions (London: Pan 1964) p. 53-57. Parrinder, E.G. What World Religions Teach (London: Harrap, 1963 & 1968) p. 38-45. Smart, N. Religious Experience of Mankind (New York, Scribner, 1969) p. 100-109.


15 THE ORIGINS OF BUDDHISM S.G. Kibicho The Early Life of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha Buddhism emerged in the sixth century BCE, a generation later than Jainism. In the section on Jainism we already saw that this was a period of social disintegration and religious questioning. Many people felt that their life was meaningless and had lost direction. There was widespread dissatisfaction with the ritualism which Brahmanism was offering as a way of salvation. Gautama (Buddha), like his predecessor Mahavira, was one of the teachers who offered an alternative way of liberation. Although the stories about his birth and life are full of mythical and legendary materials, there is no doubt that Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was a historical figure. There is disagreement about the dates of his life. Western scholars give 563­ 483 BCE, Southern Buddhists place him in the period 624-544 BCE, while Chinese Buddhists push the date back to about 1000 BCE. Gautama was bom in northern India, near Nepal, of the Sakya clan; he was therefore often called Sakya-Muni (that is, the sage of the Sakya clan) especially in China. Siddhartha and Gautama were his given and family names respectively. His father, Suddhodana, was a king or, according to other traditions, a local chieftain, (raja). His mother was queen Maya. Gautama therefore belonged to the ruling, warrior caste: he was a Kshatriya. According to traditions, the child Gautama, who was to be the Buddha, was conceived miraculously. He was in one of the heavens when he saw that the time had come for him to descend to the world to proclaim to many people the teaching which they needed for their salvation. He entered the womb of queen Maya and was thus born a human being about 563 BCE (according to Southern Buddhism traditions) at Kapilavastu, the capital of the Sakyas, in what is now Southern Nepal. His mother was in the Lumbini Park when the time came for the Saviour of the world" to be bom; she was holding a tree branch and her baby was received into a golden net by the gods who had assembled around for the purpose, and they worshipped him. After a quick survey of the whole world, the baby "took seven steps across it, and cried in the voice of a lion, 'I am the ch.ef of the world, this is


Comparative Religion

my last birth, there is now no existence again'.* The mother died a few days later and her sister took care of the child with great love. In his childhood and youth Prince Gautama was brought up in great luxury and pleasure. At the age of nineteen he got married to ■ princess of exceeding beauty and charm. Her name was Yasodhara. After ten years a son called Rahula was bom to them. In his youth, Prince Gautama showed great wisdom. His father, King Suddhodana, had been told by seers that Gautama would renounce the world and become a recluse if and when he saw four signs: a decreipt old man, a miserably sick man, a dead person and a calm religious ascetic. The king therefore made sure that the young prince was confined much of the time within the palace and its beautiful gardens, and was kept happy with every possible delight made available to him. Nothing repulsive or ugly in any way was allowed to come into his sight. Whenever it became necessary for him to go out of the palace, the streets would be cleared of everything which showed signs of age, ill-health, sickness, ugliness, death, poverty or any other form of affliction.

The Four Signs Inspite of all these precautions, however, the prince did finally see the four sights from which he was being guarded by his father. According to Buddhist traditions, the gods from their heavenly abode, aware of what was happening, sent one of their number to bring the four sights which represent the fate that awaits all humans. So one day, as the prince was riding along the streets (cleared of everything and everybody that could suggest misery or mortality) the god appeared suddenly in the form of a very old man, extremely weak and miserably worn out with age. The prince, shocked by this strange and pathetic sight, ordered the charioteer to stop and asked what it was they could see. It was explained to him that it was an old man whose strength was failing him, that all human beings grow old and that he himself would grow old one day. From then on, Gautama became lost in deep thought, with sadness and a form of depression creeping over him. Another day, the second sight - of a miserably sick person - appeared in a similar manner, and on another day the third sight - of a dead man being carried through the streets on a bier. As a result of these three sights, the prince became increasingly troubled; he had no peace of mind at all. All his father's efforts to cheer him up with the most attractive entertainments were in vain. Finally, the fourth sight appeared, that of a calm ascetic in a yellow monk's robe. Gautama came to where he sat under a tree. From the ascetic he learned how

* Parrinder, E.G., The W orld’s Living R eligions, p. 75.

The Origins of Buddhism


one can gain liberation from the miseries and pains of life represented in the three earlier signs he had seen.

The Great Renunciation Buddhist legends go on to tell how, after the prince had seen the fourth sight - of the calm ascetic - he made the Great Decision to renounce home and his princely life and become a homeless ascetic. It was not at all easy. The leading evil spirit, Mara, brought great temptations to hinder him from putting into effect this great decision. The king, his father, was much troubled about his son, and he arranged the most delightful entertainments for him, including beautiful dancing girls. But all this proved of no avail. Gautama overcame all the temptations. So, one night, he got up, went to his wife's apartment where she and their baby son, Rahula, were asleep. He bade them a silent farewell, then rode off on his white horse, escorted by his faithful charioteer and accompanied also by the gods. He rode to i place far away from his home. There he cut off all his hair and beard, took off his rich princely clothes and put on instead the monk's simple yellow robe. He then bade his charioteer and horse farewell who went back home while he entered the forest to begin his new life as a recluse.

The Great Quest for Salvation and Enlightment Gautama spent six years of intensive search for enlightment and liberation, trying various ways available then. He first tried the way taught by Brahmaanism, combining its speculative philosophy of oneness with Brahma with yoga disciplines and asceticism. He became a disciple, successively, of two ascetic Brahmin philosophers living in caves. The highest goal their method led to ("nothingness") did not, however, satisfy Gautama: it did not give him the enlightenment and liberation he was seeking. Next he tried the way of extreme physical asceticism which was being taught by Jainism and some other sects. He practised excessive self-mortification and fasting and became extremely emaciated. Five other ascetics in the same forest joined him in the hope that they might benefit from his knowledge and out of admiration. Gautama felt that the way of extreme asceticism was not leading him to enlightment and liberation, and that there must be another path. He gave up, took food and resumed life as a mendicant recluse and his search for enlightment. The five ascetics, greatly annoyed at his "backsliding" abandoned him. But he continued his struggle and search.

A ctivity Tradition puts the early life of Gautama in a fairy-tale situation. How can you compare the impact of the Four Sights on him with their impact on people who have been less sheltered?



THE ENLIGHTENMENT OF THE BUDDHA S.G.Kibicho The Great Enlightenment In the preceeding chapter we saw how Gautama came to understand the nature of the spiritual quest and embarked upon it. In this chapter we shall study the nature of the Enlightenment which came to him and its immediate results in his own life and in society. One day in the sixth year of his wandering and search Gautama went into ■ grove near a Hindu sanctuary at Gaya, not far from the town. He sat down under a sacred fig-tree, which came to be given the name Bodhi-tree or Bo-tree, that is, the tree of enlightenment or knowledge. Traditions say that Gautama resolved to sit there in meditation until he received Enlightenment. He sat there in deep meditation for one whole day and one night, and he went through the eight stages of meditation (dhyana). While he was in the highest stage, of ecstatic trance, a great light came on him. He saw in vivid recollection all his past successive reincarnations; next he was endowed with the perfect, heavenly eye, with which he was able to scrutinize the whole world clearly as if in a wonderful mirror. He was able to see the nature and the goal of all existence, past, present and future. He saw the cause of all suffering and pain and how it can be done away with. At that moment he had attained perfection and Enlightenment and perfect pcace. While still in this present life he attained Nirvana, a state where all desires have been rooted out, and rebirths have therefore ceased. He became a Buddha, the Enlightened One. It was now close to day-break and he had gone through the stages of dhyana in twenty-four hours. This was a great event and according to the scriptural accounts, there was great rejoicing, both in heaven among the gods and on earth. Only Mara, the great tempter, was unhappy, as this portended his sure and final defeat. He tempted Gautama to keep the truth he had attained to himself. Another possibility open ic the Buddha was, if he had wished, to depart this world and enter the final Nirvana. However Gautama, now the Buddha, overcame these temptations and decided to teach the truths he had attained to men so that many might also attain enlightenment and liberation.

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The Buddha's First Sermon Gautama Buddha left the paric where he had attained Enlightenment and went into the holy city of Benares close by. On his way, still within the park, he met the five ascetics who had deserted him earlier when he gave up the way of extreme asceticism. At first, they were still bitter against him and were inclined to show him no respect nor acceptance. But as he approached them, there was an irresistable radiance on him, and great calmness and they were thus attracted to him and they became his first disciples. It is here, in the Deer Park a few miles from Benares, the Buddha delivered his first sermon to the five ascetics. The sermon is known as the sermon in "the Deer Park at Benares."^ In the sermon he explained the right way of salvation or the way to attain enlightenment and liberation. He showed two extremes to be avoided - a life given to pursuit of pleasures and lusts; and a life of extreme asceticism and mortifications. He admonished his disciples, to follow the path which he himself had followed, "the middle path" which leads to perfect peace, Enlightenment and Nirvana. The sermon went on to expound on the Four Noble truths and the Eightfold path which we shall examine below.

The Establishm ent of the Sangha The five ascetics became converted to Gautama’s doctrine and believed in him as the Buddha, the Enlightened one. They formed the nucleus of the Sangha, the order or community of Buddhist monks. The first community was formed when the new converts joining the order reached an adequate number. Many of Gautama's own caste, the Kshatriya, joined the Sangha, but the order was open to all castes and even many Brahmins joined. The number of monks grew fast and Buddha was busy organizing the life of the order, teaching and preaching. He went out with the monks to preach in the dry season and in the three month rainy season they would live in small monastic communities where they received instruction and practised self-discipline and mutual service. (i) (ii) (iii) (iv) (v)

The essential common marks of the Buddhist monk were: the yellow robe they all wore; the shaven head; the begging-bowl they all carried; the daily meditations; the short creed they all had to subscribe to: "I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the Dharma (the law or truth as taught by Buddha); I take refuge in the Sangha";

^ Noss, J.B. M an's R eligion s, p. 163.

The Enlightment of the Buddha


(vi) the ten precepts which all pledged to observe.

(1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

The following is a summary of the ten precepts. They pledged: not to destroy life; not to take anything not given; not to engage in any form of unchastity; not to lie or deceive; not to take any intoxicants; They further pledged:

(6) (7) (8) (9) (10)

to eat moderately and only before noon, and also; not to watch dancing, singing or dramatic spectacles; not to make use of ornaments, perfumes or garlands; not to use high or broad beds; not to accept gold or silver.

It should be noted that the first four of these precepts are the same as the first four vows taken by Jain monks. But, while clearly rejecting any form of self­ indulgence and sensuality, the Buddhist precepts do not espouse extreme ascetic practices such as are found in Jainism. Breach of any of the precepts had to be confessed at an assembly of one's chapter. Lay people could become associates to the order. Such lay associates had to have a keen interest in the order. They had to pledge to obey the first five precepts and to do what they could to promote the growth and ideals of the order. Thousands of people, both men and women, joined as associates, which strengthened the order: lands, parks and monasteries were donated to the order by some of the wealthy lay members. An order of nuns was later on established. Although Buddha was at first reluctant, his aunt pleaded with him. Buddha's wife joined the order of nuns, and many other relations, including his own son Rahula, became monks or nuns. Ananda, the chief disciple among the monks, was a cousin of the Buddha. He was very close and faithful to his leader and, according to traditions, carried on the teaching work after his master's death. Buddha taught his monastic follower's to beg for food. They brought the food so collected to the monastery and from it the one meal of the day would be prepared for all.


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The Significance of the Sangha Besides its other uses, the Sangha provided ideal conditions to help the monk realise his goal of getting rid of the illusion of the self and its cravings. The only things he was allowed to possess individually were the yellow monastic robe, begging-bowl, razor, needle and water-strainer. Otherwise their way of life had no private or personal possessions, a life in which the monk had to subject himself to the communal will, judgement and discipline of the Sangha. The monastic life provided ideal conditions for the prescribed regulations and meditations. In this sense the Sangha is considered along with the Buddha and the Dharma - as one of the three essential refuges of the Buddhist monk for the attainment of Nirvana. In Southern Buddhism these are called the Three Jewels. Although the order of monks and nuns may be said to represent the core of Buddhism, it should be noted that the Sangha is not wholly isolated from the rest of society. There was provision for lay associate memebrship. Lay people are generally free to enter the monasteries, while the monks have the function of teaching the young and of being religious leaders in Buddhist societies. In Burma and Thailand every body is supposed to enter the order for at least six months and many do so. In Burma, laymen enter monastic life for brief periods.^ Vows are not necessarily for life, and at the end of his vow-period, the lay person may marry. Others enter the Order after having been householders. In northern Buddhism (Japan and China), the monks marry and work in the fields. Wherever the Order is close to the laity as in Southern Buddhism, it becomes a source of strength to Buddhism. Wherever this is not the case, the Order becomes weak or destroyed, and Buddhism cannot survive. This was perhaps one reason why Buddhism finally died out in India. As Parrinder observes "it was too monastic and so more easily destroyed because it was not sufficiently rooted in the popular religion."^

Buddha's Death Buddha continued with his work of preaching, teaching and organizing the Buddhist Order for forty or forty five years. Then, at the age of about eighty, he fell sick. Traditions say that it was as a result of eating some pork for his mid-day meal in the house of a certain metal-worker, Chunda Shah, who was his follower, that the fatal stomach ailment came on him. (It is believed to have been dysentery). As the illness got more severe, he lay down in a grove and finally died peacefully, surrounded by weeping disciples.

2 Hume, R.E. The World's Living Religions, p. 77-88. ^ Parrinder, E.G. What World Religions Teach, p. 62.

The Enlightment of the Buddha


Ananda had asked him before he died how they were to carry on after his death. Buddha answered that they should follow the doctrine he had taught them. His last words are reported to have been: "All composite things are doomed to extinction. Exert yourselves in wakefulness.”^

A ctivity Discuss the aspects of Buddhist teaching which give you a clue to the sense of "composite things" and "wakefulness" in this final message.

^ Parrinder, E.G. The W orld's Living R eligion, p. 77.


17 THE PHILOSOPHICAL FOUNDATION OF BUDDHIST TEACHING S.G. Kibicho The Teaching of Buddha Buddha's sole interest was to find a way to gain insight into the human predicament and how people could obtain liberation from it. Another way of putting it is to say that from the time of his Great Renunciation he set out with determination in search of Enlightenment We have seen how in his Great Quest he tried the paths that were then current, the Brahmin way of speculative philosophy, jinana manga, combined with yoga discipline and the Jain way of extreme asceticism and mortification. Neither of these ways led to liberation and so he abandoned them. The Enlightenment and liberation which finally came to him as the culmination of deep meditation gave him perfect insight into the nature of reality, with particular reference to the human predicament as it is actually experienced and the way of salvation from it. His teachings are therefore based on his own experience. This chapter will explain Siddharta Gautama's experience of the quest for, and attainment of Enlightment as the foundation of his teachings. According to Buddhist traditions Buddha made it clear in his teachings, that he had not "elucidated" whether or not the world is eternal, nor whether the world is finite or infinite, nor whether "the soul and the body are identical" nor whether or not the Arahat (the monk who has attained enlightment) continues to exist after death. He went on to explain that the reason why he did not care to give elucidation on these and related questions (as some other current teachings were doing) was that such an exercise was useless and unprofitable. Consequently, he went on, what he had elucidated was: "misery" and its origin, its "cessation ... and the path leading to the cessation of misery".


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He had elucidated this because this is what is profitable and has to do with fundamentals of religion, and tends to absence of passion, to knowledge, supreme wisdom, and Nirvana." ^ According to Buddhist traditions, Buddha expanded his teachings immediately after his Enlightenment experience, in his first sermon. The teachings are summoned up in what he called the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path (the latter is given as one of the four noble truths).

The Four Noble Truths (i) The Noble Truth of Suffering (Dukkha ) This States that all existence is permeated with misery or suffering. Birth decay - sickness - death - encounter with objects we hate - separation from those we love - failure in getting what we desire - all these, and other related experiences, are suffering.


The Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering

This states that the origin and root cause of suffering is thirst, desire or craving (tanha) which leads to rebirth. This desire is threefold - for pleasure (lust), for existence, for prosperity.


The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering

This asserts that suffering can cease with the complete rooting out and destruction of all desire.


The Noble Truth of the Path Which Leads to the Cessation of Suffering This path is declared as the Noble Eightfold Path which is constituted by: Right Belief (or view) Right Aspiration (or resolve) Right Speech Right Conduct -


Right Means of Livelihood Right Endeavour

Noss, J.B. Man's Religions, quoting Warren, H.C. Buddhism in translation, Harvard University Press, 1922, p. 122.

The Philosophical Foundation of Buddhist Teaching -


Right mindfulness Right Meditation

The Noble Eight-fold Path To develop this theme briefly, the eight essentials of the path listed above can be grouped into three sections.



This is made up of Right Belief and Right Aspiration. This means that the first step on this path to the cessation of desire and consequently of pain is la have the right understanding of reality as taught in the Four Noble Truths and the second is to resolve to follow them.



This section is made up of the next three essentials on the list, namely Right Speech, Right Conduct and Right Livelihood. These are practical ethical demands which must be met. The Five Precepts which we noted earlier elaborate further on these ethical demands.



This section is composed of the final three essentials on the list, Right Endeavour, Right Mindfulness and Right Meditation or Ecstasy. The focus at this stage is on the improvement and purification of the seeker's mind and psyche, which should culminate in the attainment of complete liberation from any form of attachment or egoism, and Anally in Enlightenment Right Endeavour or effort is directed to mind control, emptying the mind of thoughts and attachment to any objects, and then getting it to the Right Concentration in a state of perfect freedom and pure consciousness. At this stage one has reached the stage of the highest control of body and mind, and it leads to the final form of meditation in which all sense and thought experience ceases and one achieves the final state of Ecstasy - and experience of being outside of oneself and outside of phenomenal existence as a whole. In this state one gets perfect knowledge of reality or Enlightenment and attains Nirvana. Consequently rebirth ceases for the seeker. This was the path Buddha had travelled to his Enlightenment and the attainment of Nirvana and Buddhahood. Examples of Buddha’s Reinterpretation of Basic Ideas Current in His Time (i)

We have already noted his interpretation of Salvation and the way to attain it.

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Karma Buddha gave this term a psychological reinterpretation. It is regarded as psychological force arising from desire and wrong attitudes and leading to a rebirth of a new life-entry.

The Non-existence of the Soul and the Impermanence of all Things. Buddha denied the existence of souls whether bodied or incorporeal, including the so-called Supreme Soul or God. For Buddha impermanence (anicca) is one the three marks of all existence. The second, related to the first, is the absence of a permanent self (anatta). The third mark of all existence, as we have already seen, is suffering (dukkha). Anicca means that every existing thing, including a human being, is nothing but an impermanent grouping together of various states of being. The human person, for instance, is a union of five such states of being (skandhas), -

the Body the feelings conceptual knowledge resulting from sense-perception the subconscious, including the instincts

reason or faculty of value - judgement Each of these is itself in a state of constant change. What we perceive as one and the same entity (a human self continuing) is not real, it is only apparent, analogous to the man we see in ■ movie picture, who is actually nothing but innumerable still pictures projected in quick succession onto the screen.



In view of the doctrines of anicca and anatta which we have explained above, combined with the doctrine of non-existence of souls, the obvious question here is: What then is re-born? The answer, according to Buddha's teachings, is that nothing actually goes over from the former life to the next life-entity, except the Karma-force. This forms the link from one life-entity to another, as it is the force which leads to rebirth. Karma itself is created by desire. In a monk who has attained Nirvana there is no desire, and therefore no karma, and at his death there is rebirth. As there is no belief in souls or permanent selves, it means that we cannot talk here of transmigration or reincarnation.

The Philosophical Foundation of Buddhist Teaching



Nirvana (spelt Nibbana in Southern Buddhism)

The term ’Nirvana' is derived from the Sanskrit root va meaning "blow". Nirvana may be translated literally as extinguishing or blowing out, as of a candle. It is the ultimate goal of the Buddhist religious life. It is a state of supreme spiritual insight, perfect body and mind-control and peace, the experience of Enlightenment and ultimate release as Buddha attained it We have already seen that the way to attain Nirvana is through the Noble Eight-fold Path. In theory anybody, regardless of caste, can attain Nirvana in this life as Gautama did. But in practice only monks of the highest rank (in terms of advancement in monastic discipline) can attain it. Gautama himself had gone through 547 births before he finally attained Nirvana. The monk who has attained Nirvana while still living this life, is called an arahat ("worthy one"). His life is one marked by perfect wisdom in the sense of true insight into the nature of reality, a state of complete cessation of desire, egoism, and related attitudes and illusions. He enjoys perfect peace, and confidence that there would be no more rebirth for him at death. The second and final phase of Nirvana is attained at death. It is the Nirvana without the body and the mind, the Nirvana of no return, Parinirvana, such as Buddha attained at his death. This leads to a common question. Is there an element of such an arahat who has thus attained parinirvana which goes on? Otherwise why talk of attaining this final phase of Nirvana? The answer to this and related question is that Nirvana is like the blowing out of a candle: the former life-entity ceases and there is no more rebirth. (Even in circumstances where there is rebirth, as we have noted, nothing substantial passes on from the former to the new life-entity: only the karma-force forms a linkage from the one to the other). Ultimately, Nirvana is indescribable, yet it is neither annihilation, nor nothingness. On the question of whether the arahat who had attained the final Nirvana continued to exist in Nirvana, Buddha answered that it is wrong to say either that he continued to exist or he did not, or that he did and did not. It is like when you blow out a candle flame, for instance: it would be an absurd question to ask whether the flame has gone north or south. On the other hand for the Buddhist, the fact that there is Nirvana has been shown to be true through the experience of Buddha himself and other arahats after him. They have attained it while still in this life, as ■ perception and experience of a subline and transcendent realm in which cessation of rebirth is assured. Again, we should not forget that the main emphasis and focus is on the seeker's hope to attain Nirvana in this life, as the Buddha did.


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A ctivity The teaching of Buddhism as "the middle way" has been emphasised. Does it look like a "middle way" in your view? What elements make it acceptable or unacceptable?


18 THE SPREAD OF BUDDHISM, AND ITS SCRIPTURES S.G. Kibicho Introduction Very little is known about the earliest period of Buddhism. This is largely due to lack of written records from that period. However, it is known that divisions appeared among Buddha's followers immediately after his death. These were due to different traditions and interpretations of his teaching. Since Buddhism was from its beginning a missionary religion, other differences are the result of its wide geographical spread. However, attempts to reconcile remembered traditions started early, and a body of Buddhist scriptures has emerged. Differences of opinion among Buddha's followers emerged soon after his death, since nothing had yet been written about his teaching. Various councils were held at which, in addition to other business, attempts were made to resolve the conflicting views and varying traditions.

The First Buddhist Council This is recorded in Buddhist traditions as having been held at Rajagriha immediately after the Buddha's death. There were five hundred monks with Ananda, the Buddhas chief disciple, as the leader. They met in a cave and there recited and chanted together the precepts which make up the chief discipline for monks. In this way they checked together the contents of the discipline and these were later put down in writing as part of the Theravada Buddhist scriptures. They were known as the vinaya pitaka "the basket of discipline for monks".

The Second Buddhist Council The second Buddhist Council was held a century later at Visali and disputed over the question of relaxing the severity of the discipline for monks. A good number of monks wished for changes and some relaxation of the rules, including: private confessions instead of the bi-monthly public confessions which were the practice at chapter meetings; more comfortable beds;

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an additional meal after midday as well as the single morning meal; permission to accept alms of gold andsilver, permission to take liquor.

The M ahayana-Hinayana Split Out of the 12,000 monks at the conference, 10,000 broke away and formed new orders. It is likely that there were other factors as well as discipline which led to the schism. Eventually the liberal group which broke away came to assume the name Mahayana, The Greater Vehicle. This designation was a reflection of the way of salvation they taught, which was more liberal than the old order and more accessible to all men rather than to the monks only. Accordingly they named the original conservative school, the Hinayana, the lesser vehicle, since their way of salvation was tailored for the monks only. The latter disliked the name Hinayana, which was derogatory and called themselves Theravada, meaning followers of the "traditions of the elders". Theravada Buddhism is found mostly in south east Asia, particularly in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Burma, Thailand Cambodia (Kampuchea) and Laos. It is therefore also referred to as Southern Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism, on the other hand, is found mostly in the north, particularly in China, Japan, Korea and Tibet. It is therefore known as Northern Buddhism. •

Other Buddhist Councils to the Sixth Other Buddhist councils followed. The third one, according to Theravada traditions, was held about 250 BCE under King Asoka. The fourth one met a century later, in Ceylon while the fifth one was held in 1871 at mandalay in Burma. One important action of this council was to have the Theravada sacred texts in scribed on 700 marble slabs. The sixth council (of Theravada only) met in Rangoon, 1954-56. Besides other things, the council celebrated the 2500th anniversary of Buddha's attainment of Pari-Nirvana in 544 BCE and the completion of 2500 years of Buddhism. Thus, the meeting of this council marked the end of one era and the inauguration of a new era and some expected the appearance of a new Buddha. Revision of the scriptures was also carried out at this 1954 council and arrangements made for them to be translated into many languages especially English-1

1 Parrinder, E.G. The W orld's Living R eligion s , p. 55.

The Spread of Buddhism, and Its Scriptures


Buddhist M issionary Expansion in India and South East Asia From the beginning, Buddhism was a missionary religion. In one of Theravada scriptures (also called the Pali Canon because it is written in the Pali language) there is what has come to be termed the "great commission of Buddhism". This is in Vinaya Pitaka 1-12 where Buddha is reported to have sent out his disciples with the following words; "Go forth, disciples, and wander, to the salvation and joy of much people, out of compassion for the world, to the blessing, salvation, and joy of gods, and men. Go not two together on the same way. Preach the doctrine which is salutary in its beginning, in its course and in its consummation, in the spirit and in the letter; proclaim the pure way of holiness-^ As we have already noted, beginning with the five ascetics, the teachings of Buddha attracted many followers from all the castes. The number of adherents grew steadily, both monks and lay followers, especially in the Ganges basin. One man who played a big role in the early spread of Buddhism was Emperor Asoka.

Emperor Asoka's Great Contribution Emperor Asoka did more than anyone else before or after him (except the Founder) to promote Buddhism in India and to spread it beyond India. He reigned over an extensive empire embracing most of northern and central India, from 270 BC, and he is famous as one of the greatest rulers not only in India, but in world history. He was a great soldier, and conqueror. His grandfather Chandragupta had halted the advances of Alexander the Great's successor (Seleucus) south beyond the Indus river. Early in his reign, emperor Asoka had apparently come under some influence of Buddhism, which by this time had expanded quite a lot, especially in northern and central India. At one time, he led a successful battle against a neighbouring Kingdom which he conquered and annexed. But thousands died in the process. The bloodshed, loss of life and suffering which accompanied this conquest filled the emperor with great remorse and repentance, and he embraced the Buddhist Dharma, and resolved to renounce violence and the taking of life. Het set out to promote Buddhist doctrine and morality throughout his empire. He made decrees forbidding killing of animals, even for sacrifices and feasts. He exhorted his subjects to live peacefully respecting law and order and all living creatures, to speak the truth and to show reverence to priests, to religious ascetics and monks, and to parents. Asoka's decrees and exhortations were carved on rocks and stone pillars for his peoples instruction, and many are still found in north and central India. 2 Braden, G.S. The W orld's R eligions: A H isto ry , p. 125.

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Asoka made pilgrimages to the important places connected with Buddha's life, and built memorials in some of these sacred places. All this did much to promote and strengthen Buddhism among his subjects. Asoka sent out emissaries and missionaries to spread the Buddhist gospel beyond India. The places they reached included Ceylon, Syria, Burma, Afghanistan, parts of Europe, Egypt and Tibet. According to Buddhist traditions, Asoka's son, Mahinda, went to Ceylon as a Buddhist missionary, and his work was very successful: a King of one of the areas became converted to Buddhism. Among the other things Asoka did was to call the third Buddhist council in 250 BCE. Unity and reform of Buddhism were two things he was much concerned about at this time. Although Buddhism has almost died in India, where it originated, its influence is clearly in evidence in South East Asia among both monks and lay people. Apart from the actual temple buildings, the morality of the people and their practice of meditation is clearly Buddhist in character.

Buddhist Scriptures The main Theravadan scriptures are in three collections, and are given the name Tripitaka, (in Sanskrit; Tipitaka in Pali) which means the three baskets (or collections). They are written in the Pali language. The religion of Pali to Sanskrit may be compared with the relation of Italian to Latin. The modern language is obviously a colloquial form derived from the ancient one. For quite some time, the scriptures were preserved and transmitted orally. The compilation was completed by 247 BCE but they were not put into writing until the first century BCE. The three baskets which make up the Theravada or the Pali Canon are as follows: (a) (b)

The Vinaya Pitaka or simply Vinaya, the "basket of Monastic Rules".

The Sutta Pitaka, or Sutta ("Basket of Teachings"). This contains records of Buddhas discourses, stories about his life, as well as about some of the earlier Buddhas. It tells of Buddha's previous births and his descent from heaven for his last birth here. Other things this basket contains include his dialogues with Brahmins, his arguments against speculations of heretics, theories about the self and of rebirth, the refuge formula and moral precepts which were binding on monks and laymen. This basket is the most important and the biggest.

The Spread of Buddhism, and Its Scriptures



The Abhidhaimma Pitaka The "Basket of higher doctrine" or the "metaphysical basket". This contains a commentary on the teachings, seeking to bring out, through the analytical method, Buddha's teaching on ultimate reality. It therefore tends to be philosophical and speculative.

The Dhammapada One other important scripture, not included in the three baskets, is the Dhammapada, the "way of virtue", or the "way of Buddha's Teaching". This is a short book of 423 verses; it is known by heart by many Buddhists. It contains many useful teachings on practical morality and self-discipline, the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eight-Fold Path. One verse reads: "By calmness let a man overcome wrath, and vanquish evil with good."^

A ctivity "Buddhism was continuous with, even though transcendent to, the world about it" (Smart p. 130). Discuss what this means.

3 Parrinder, E.G. The W orld's Living R eligions, p. 83.


19 THE ORIGIN OF SIKHISM S.G. Kibicho Kabir and his Influence on Nanak Sikhism arose in the sixteenth century and drew heavily on Hindu and Muslim antecedents. In this chapter we shall study its original form as received in visionary experience by Guru Nanak. Although Kabir was not the founder of Sikhism, he is important when we think of the emergence of Sikhism because of his great influence on its founder, especially his teachings on ethical monotheism which Nanak continued and expanded. Kabir (1440-1518) was one of the most outstanding Hindu reformers. The reformers without any thought of founding a new religion, sought to purge Hinduism of what they regarded as unworthy beliefs and practices. Kabir had been a disciple of another important reformer, Ramananda. Ramananda had established a Vishnuite sect which did away with the Hindu ban on social contacts across the caste lines, and the prohibition of meat-eating. Moslem influence was quite evident in the teachings of these two (and other) reformers of this period. Some of the teachings of Kabir included the following: (i) He condemned idolatry and empty ritualism in both Hinduism and Islam (such as veneration of scriptures, rituals, pilgrimages, asceticism and ritual bathing in the Ganges). He said that such practices were useless unless accompanied by inner sincerity and ethical uprightness in one's life. (ii)

He taught the sufficiency of God's love to effect liberation of any person, whatever his race or caste, from the law of Karma and the endless cycle of rebirths. One is drawn by God’s love into union with Himself, thus bringing an end to rebirths. (iii) He denied special authority of the Vedas; he himself wrote in the vernacular, not in Sanskrit. (iv) He stressed the essential role of the Guru (spritual leader) (v) He asserted that there is truth in all religions: God is one and his self­ manifestation in his creation is universal; he is only known by names in various religions. He was greatly distressed by the Hindu-Moslem hostilities


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over trivial externals. In his poems, and hymns he stressed need for reconciliation. Though he was only a weaver (in Benares) and unlearned, he was a great poet. Many of the beautiful songs he composed were incorporated in the Sikh scriptures. He was loved by both Hindus and Moslems, and was claimed by both groups for burial when he died. (It is said that there are two adjacent tombs where he was buried). There are some Hindu sects called by his name and which regard themselves as his followers, (Kabir-Panthis). They sing the songs he composed and follow his teachings.

Guru Nanak (1469-1538) Early Life Nanak was bom at the village called Talwardi (later named Nanakari in his honour), about 30 miles from Lahore capital of the Punjab. His parents were Hindu of a fairly high caste (locally known as the Khati caste, descended from the ancient Kshatriya caste), but were not well-to-do: his father was a village accountant and farmer. From his youth, Nanak was very religious, had the gift of poetry and was much given to meditation. He married early, at twelve, and had two children. At one time he worked as manager of a state store. He spent evenings singing hymns to God, his creator; a group of seekers joined him, including Mardana.

His Call One day, after bathing in the river, Nanak disappeared in the forest, and was taken in a vision into God's presence. He was offered a cup of nectar which he gratefully accepted. God said to him: "I am with thee, I have made thee happy and also those who shall take thy name. Go and repeat mine, and cause others to do likewise. Abide uncontaminated by the world. Practise the repetition of my name, charity, ablutions, worship, and meditation. I have given thee this cup of nectar, a pledge of my regard". Nanak then sang beautiful hymn of praise to God, the True name, and there was heavenly music accompanying his own singing-^

^ Noss, J.B. M an's R eligion s, p. 34.

The Origin of Sikhism


Nanak's response to God in this vision forms the first two sentences of Sikh scriptures, and is to be recited by the devout Sikhs as a morning devotional rite; they should be the first words ■ devout Sikh utters every morning. There is but one God, whose name is True, Creator, devoid of fear and enmity, immortal unborn, self-existent, great and bountiful. The true One was in the beginning. The True One is, was, and also shall be.2 When Nanak finally emerged from the forest after three days, he remained silent for one day. On the next day he declared: "There is neither Hindu nor Moslem".

His Ministry Convinced that it was the One True God who thus called him to be the Guru (Spiritual Leader and Teacher) to his people, and that He is the one behind Islam, Hinduism and other religions, Nanak set out on a kind of evangelistic mission. He toured northern and western India emphasizing the unity of the two religions, visiting the main places of Hindu pilgrimages, singing and preaching in towns, villages and market places and in the streets, and making converts. Later, Mardana the musician joined him in his wanderings. He had marked success only in the Punjab where groups of disciples (Sikhs) began to form. The Punjab still remains the stronghold of Sikhism, with about 8 million adherents today. According to tradition, Nanak later toured Moslem strongholds and pilgrim centres, including Mecca, Medina and Bhagdad. One story, illustrating his disregard of trivial customs and beliefs of both Hinduism and Islam, relates how while in Mecca in the Great Mosque, he lay down to sleep with other pilgrims at night. His feet were facing the Kaaba (the cube-like holy shrine honouring the sacred black stone given to Abraham by Gabriel). An angry Arab priest kicked him, saying: "Who is this sleeping infidel? Why hast thou, o sinner, turned thy feet towards God?" The Guru answered "Turn my feet in the direction in which God is not". The priest seized the offending feet and dragged them in the opposite direction-^ While in Bhagdad (medina, according to others), he made the following statement which well sums up his religious view-point. He said, "I have appeared

2 op.cit, p. 278 3 Ibid, p. 279.


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in this age to indicate the way unto men. I reject all sects, and know only one God, whom I recognize in the earth, the heavens and in all direction"-4 After this, he went back home to India, where he finally died in 1539 at about 70 years of age.

The Teachings of Nanak Nanak combined in his teachings ideas from both Hinduism and Islam. This makes Sikhism a deliberate syncretism but having its central and unifying base in its inspired founder and his original revelation, and thus making it a distinctive religion in its own right. (1)

The following is a summary of his main teachings: The central doctrine which gives his teachings consistency and simplicity is the oneness of God the Creator and his sovereighnty and omnipotence (mainly from the Moslem influence). He called God the True name (Sat Nam), to avoid the other limiting and divisive names. He is one, and the only God, but manifest throughout his creation in all ages in different ways and known by many different names (Allah, Krishna, Brahma, Rama and others).


God ordains each creature his place; man has been given the highest place, and allowed to be served by the lower creatures, (Nanak thus rejected the Hindu prohibition against meat-eating and the tendency to equalize all manifestations of life).


He accepted the Hindu doctrine of Maya (the illusion-creating power), and the illusionary, and transient nature of the world. But Maya itself was created by God. The chief way of achieving liberation or salvation is to think of God only, letting nothing distract you, and constantly repeating His name, and finally attaining absorption into God, The True name. In this absorption or union with God to which God's love draws the genuine, faithful seeker, individuality is extinguished. (This is similar to the Nirvana of Hinduism rather than the paradise after final judgement of Islam).


Many may have to pass through many lives before final liberation. Nanak stressed the essential need of a Guru to teach the right life - attitude and way to attain liberation. Self-purification, morally and in one's heart and thought, is also essential alongside meditation for the final attainment of liberation or salvation in the form of absorption into God. (Note here there is a strong Hindu element).

4 Ibid, p. 179

The Origin of Sikhism (5)



Nanak denounced empty ritual and ceremony in both religions, not accompanied by moral purity and where no place is given for meditating on the reality of God. He stressed moral purity and uprightness as marks of a good disciple (Sikh); purity of motive and action; service and honour U* those superior to you; desiring the Guru's word "as one craves for food"; love and faithfulness to wife; avoiding quarrelsome topics; humility; being considerate; forsaking evil company and associating only with the holy.

It should be noted that Sikhism at the beginning was a religion stressing quietistic holiness, honesty, humility, concern for others, and meditation. Through the years, due id various circumstances and influences, it changed to include strong activistic political elements and militancy.

A ctivity

Identify and discuss important factors which contributed to the rise of Sikhism.



SIKHISM AFTER NANAK S.G. Kibicho Introduction We saw at the end of the previous chapter that major changes have occurred in Sikh attitudes since Nanak's time. We shall see how these changes came about, and how some of the original doctrines absorbed by Sikhism from Hinduism and Islam have persisted. This chapter will discuss Sikhism under the Guru's who followed Nanak. Before he died, Nanak appointed one of his disciples, Angad, as his successor. (Neither of his two sons was suitable: they had been disobedient to him). Angad therefore was the second Guru, 1539-52. There were nine Gurus altogether after Nanak. The first four were noted for their great humility and pacificism; Sikhism, during their period, continued as a quietistic religion, stressing holiness, humility and peace as in the time of Nanak. Guru Amar Das (3rd. 1552-74) is reported to have taught: "Let no one be proud of his caste.... The world is all made of one clay". The accepted guiding pacifist rule to the time of the fourth Guru was: "If anyone treat you ill, bear it. If you bear it three times, God Himself will fight for you the fourth time."^

Guru Arjan: 1581-1606 His time marks the transition of Sikhism from a pacifist to a militant religion. This was partly due to growing suspicions and hostility of some of the new Moslem rulers against the Sikh community. Arjan's character also had a contribution in this: he was vigiorous, activitist and attractive, and he cut the figure more of a prince than of a religious l e a d e r - ^ Besides other things, he is remembered for the following:

^ Noss, J.B. M an's R eligion, p. 286. ^ Smart, N. R eligiou s E xperience o f M ankind, p. 178.

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120 (1)

He completed the construction of the artificial Lake at Amritsar and the Golden Temple on the Island of that Lake. (2) He compiled the Sikh Bible - the Granth: (he brought together collections of writings and hymns of Nanak, Kabir, the four earlier Gurus and some of his own). It was recognized as of great significance even by non-Sikhs: some of the Moslem leaders, however, saw it as "a dangerous infidel work" and it added to Moslem hostility towards the Sikhs. The current Moslem Emperor (Akbar) was known for his tolerance, and did not see anything dangerous in its teachings. (3) He started a system of religious taxes from all Sikhs. (4) He propagated the Sikh faith vigorously. (5) Akbar's son and successor turned out to be a fanatical Moslem and cruel ruler in great contrast to his father. He charged Arjan with political conspiracy, arrested him and tortured him to death. Before he died, Arjan left an injuction to his son and successor, Har Govind, to "sit fully armed on his throne and maintain an army to the best of his ability."^

Guru Har Govind (sixth guru) 1606-45 Guru Har Govind obeyed his father's injuction, and took the sword as his badge of leadership. He soon built up a strong army. Moslem hostility had continued to grow all round. The Sikhs on their part were developing strong nationalistic and militant feelings, now strengthened by possession of a capital city (Amritsar), and a rich, beautiful Temple - the Golden Temple. War between the two groups started at this time. The Sikhs, though greatly outnumbered, were brave fighters and were able to hold their own. The struggle went on intermitently until the period of the tenth Guru, Govind Singh.

Guru Govind Singh (tenth guru) 1675-1708 The name of this Guru before becoming a Singh was Govind Rai. The Sikhs were desirous now to establish their own military state, autonomous and free from Moslem rule. Govind proved to be the right guru for the hour: he was a brave and militant ruler, and also a wise religious leader and teacher. He composed hymns specially meant to stir up and strengthen a strong religious and military spirit. In doing this, he believed himself to be directly inspired. The preface of one of the hymns reads: Hail, hail to the Creator of the world, the saviour of creation, my cherisher,

® Noss, J.B. M an's R eligion s, p. 283.

Sikhism After Nanak


hail to Thee, O sword....^ Govind's hymns were later compiled to form "The Granth of the Tenth Guru, added to the first scriptures and regarded as equally authoritative. One tradition explaining why it was necessary to have this supplementary Granth - says that Guru Govind Singh discovered that the reading of the first Granth made the Sikhs "very feeble hearted". He therefore decided to compose another one the reading of which would help them to "become fit for fighting."^

The Baptism of the Sword In his efforts to increase the militancy of the Sikhs, Govind introduced a rite which has come to be known as the Baptism of the Sword. Noss describes it as Govind's "greatest innovation."® He first administered the rite to five of his disciples, whom he had tested thoroughly for their sincerity. He put water in an iron basin, added a sweetening ingredient (Indian sweetmeat) stirring with a sword. He then gave five palmfuls to each of the novices to drink, then sprinkled the solution on hair and eyes of each five times. Finally, he made them repeat what later became the Sikh war cry: "The pure are of God, and the victory is to God". They were thus initiated into a new order of life, the Khalsa or the Pure, or the Elect and each was given the name Singh or Lion. Govind then got the five to administer the rite to him, and he too became a Singh. The Singhs were commanded always to wear the 5 K’s (the names of the five things all begin with K): (1) Long hair on head and chin (kesh); (2) Comb (kangha); (3) Short underpants (kachk); (4) (5)

A steel bracelet (kara)\ A steel dagger (khanda).

The hair and the turban are outward marks, while the comb is to keep the hair clean and tidy. The short underpants is a symbol of chastity, the steel bracelet a symbol of God's omnipresence, and the steel dagger a symbol of resistance to evil.

4 Fieid, D. The Religion of the Sikhs, p. 106. 5 Hume, R.E. The World's Living Religions, p. 103. ® Noss, J.B. Men's Religions, p. 285.

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(1) (2) (3)

In addition, they pledged to: worship the one invisible God; honour the Gurus; reverence only one visible thing, the holy Granth;

abstain from intoxicants and stimulants, especially alcoholic beverages and tobacco. Meat-eating was commended and encouraged. Guru Govind Singh then opened the new order with its call to other men of any class or caste. Many from the lower castes, including the Pariahs, joined. The cult’s discipline, good diet and good leadership and the confidence and healthy self­ pride all these inspired, transformed the Singhs (and indirectly the Sikhs) into strong, courageous and well-disciplined soldiers (a Nation of Warriors) - a reputation they have maintained. It should be noted that not all Sikhs are Singhs. Other groups include the Nanakpanthis (followers of the path of Nanak, and non-militant). Some of these have almost been absorbed back into, and are hardly distinguishable from, Hinduism. (4)

Sikh Sciptures We have seen how Guru Arjan compiled the Granth (which gets into name from the Sanskrit term for book) on a basis laid down by the second guru, Angad, and how Govind Singh added to i t Govind did more than that. Having lost his two sons in war, he instructed that, after his death, the Granth was to be the Sikhs' only guru. It is regarded as the embodiment of the Gurus, and is accorded great reverence. In the Golden Temple at Amritsar, the Granth is covered with a rich cloth, then placed on a low throne under a richly embroidered canopy. In the evening it is removed reverently and put into a golden chamber. The Granth is written mainly in Punjabi and is chanted daily to the accompaniment of classical Indian music in all Sikh temples.

The Sikh Religion Today Although adherents are found in other parts of India the Punjab in northern India continues to be the homeland of Sikhism. Recently there has been much agitation for the secession of the Punjab from India to form a separate Sikh state. Small communities of Sikhs have formed in many other parts of the world through migration. For instance, there are more than 100,000 Sikhs in the UK, more than 20,000 in Singapore, more than 10,000 in Malaysia, more than 7,000 in Canada, more than 5,000 each in Burma and USA, more than 4,000 in South Africa, more

Sikhism After Nanak


than 2,000 in Iran and more than 26,000 in East Africa. In Kenya, the Sikhs number more than 13,000. There are over twenty gurdwaras (i.e. worship places with hostels) in the country, nine of these being in Nairobi, one in Makindu and two each in Kisumu, Kitale, Mombasa, Eldoret and Nakuru. Sikhs in Kenya as in India, have adopted Sunday as their special day of worship when they attend worship in their gurdwaras. Other special days of worship in the gurdwaras are the feastdays of the 10 Gurus. The language used is Punjabi: otherwise the gurdwaras are open even to non-Sikhs to attend. Sikhism is open to anyone to join, although there have been few non-Indian converts.

Sim ilarity and Difference with Hindusim and Islam (a) 1.

2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Similarities with Hinduism The view of the empirical world in relation to God: although the unity and personality of God are stressed (as in Islam), God’s immanence and mystical pervasiveness are also emphasized as in Hinduism. Absorption into God as man's ultimate destiny. Salvation by faith in God's grace, as in Hindu Bhakti movements. The doctrines of Karma, rebirth, and the need for liberation from the endless cycle of rebirths. Religious rites at birth, marriage and funerals. Great importance attached to the repetition of prescribed prayers or formulas (imarntras).

Differences from Hinduism 1. 2.

The notion of Avatars (divine incarnations). Castes.


Idols and idol worship: Nanak is reported to have said: "The Hindus have forgotten God, and are going the wrong way.... The ignorant fools take stones and worship them. O Hindus, how shall the stone, which itself sinketh, carry you across"?^

4. 5. 6. 7.

Hindu Polytheism. Hindu pilgrimages, ritualism and individualistic asceticism. Hindu scriptures. Hindu vegetarianism.

^ Hume, R.E. The W orld's Living R eligion , p. 108.

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(b) 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.


Similarities with Islam Some basic features of the concept of God, e.g. His oneness, personality, sovereignty, omnipotence, mercifulness, providence, incomprehensibility. Salvation through submission to God. Emphasis on the repetition of (i) God's name in worship; (ii) prescribed prayers. Devotion to the founder as God's prophet. Great reverence for the sacred scriptures, but with notable differences: The Adi Granth Sahib is regarded as the final guru and the embodiment of all the gurus. A line of religious leaders following the founder and regarded with great honour next to the founder.


A militaristic church-state, or religious community, which has endured to the present. 8. A remarkable unity of believers despite sects. 9. A strong denunciation of idolatry. Points of difference with Islam are found mainly where Sikhism has retained views from Hinduism as with the Sikh doctrine of absorption into God, or union with God as the ultimate destiny of man, is in great contrast with the Moslem doctrine of final judgement leading to either hell or paradise.

A ctivity Discuss the place of sacred writings in Sikhism as compared to the scriptures of other religions.



21 Confucianism 22 Taoism 23 Shintoism 24 Mahayana Buddhism 25 The Spread of Mahayana Buddhism to Northern Lands 26 Some of the Main Sects of Buddhism in Japan 27 Buddhism in Tibet



CONFUCIANISM D.W. Waruta Introduction In this section we are going to investigate the ancient Religions of China and Japan. These Religions are: Confucianism, Taoism and Shintoism. The three religions and Buddhism have occupied the centre of Chinese and Japanese culture for about twenty five centuries. Because of the special importance and expanse of Buddhism, it will be investigated separately.

Confucianism and its Position Today 1.

Confucianism : A definition

The term Confucianism is used to mean the religious and ethical ideas believed to have their origins on the teachings of Confucius and held by the Chinese people for over twenty five centuries. The term is derived from the Latinization of K'ung fu-lze (K'ung the Philosopher or Sage). It is believed that the Jesuit Missionaries who went to spread Christianity in China in the 19th Century were the first to use the term in its Latinized form - Confucius and Confucianism. Although Confucianism is studied and considered as a Religion, some authorities claim that it does not qualify to be classified as a religion. Because of its emphasis on the ethical and moral aspects of man and almost a total neglect of the supernatural and the life-aftcr-dcath aspect of religion, Confucianism as a religion is a matter of some controversy. However, there arc elements in Confucianism that would be employed to classify it as a religion.



There are at least 300 million people who consider themselves Confucianists although the exact figures cannot be ascertained. Confucianism permeates much of Chinese culture, and therefore difficult to determine the extent of the religion in the lives of the people. Confucianism is considered one of the 'three ways' that teach Too (the way), accepted by Chinese people. The other 'ways' being Taoism and Buddhism. It is therefore difficult to determine how many

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Chinese people are followers of one of the three religions without falling into the danger of duplication.


Present Status

Since the Communist revolution in China under Mao Tse Tung in 1949, Confucianism has been weakened if not destroyed in Mainland China. However, Hong Kong and Taiwan have developed as centres of Confucianism and have become the new centres of Chinese intellectualism and culture. A New Asia college was founded as the headquarters for Confucianism and A Manifesto to the world on behalf of Chinese culture was published. Resurgence of Confucianism has been seen in the forms of movements to promote the Chinese culture and heritage.


Sacred Books

The most important are the Analects and the Five K'ing of Ch'ing and they contain the basic teaching of Confucian ethics.

Confucius : The Great Teacher Confucius was bom as Chiu K'ung in the state of Lu about the year 551 B.C. He died not far from his birthplace about the year 479 B.C. He was raised by his mother, his father having died while he was still a child. As a young person, Confucius showed great interest in teaching and observing the traditional religious rites of his people. Bom and raised in poverty, at a time of great despair and hopelessness in China, Confucius felt a special desire to study how a just, honest, and peaceful government might be attained. From very early in his life, Confucius believed the solution to the problem of poverty and oppression in the China of his day was through proper education. If the ignorance of the people could be eliminated, he believed, all these problems would disappear, and the people would be able to live in honour and dignity. He therefore devoted his life to the education of the people, both poor and the nobility. Confucius also believed that constructive moral insight and a just and ■ sound political strategy may be discovered in the meticulous study of the history of the Chinese people. He held with austere idealism to the traditions of his fore­ fathers and attached great significance to the preservation and imitation of their ceremony and ritual. He once said: True filial piety consists in successfully carrying out the unfinished work of our forefathers and transmitting their achievements to posterity... In most ways, Confucius desire was the revitalization of the ancient Chinese values which he thought had been corrupted. His commitment to harmonious relationships among persons, and particularly between the family and the ruler ruled relationships, formed the central part of his moral teachings. He loved and



practised Chinese cultural traits, such as a sense of humour, love of music and accepting all persons as members of his family. He hated hypocrisy and insincerity and promoted the dignity of each person. Confucius was married and had one son whom he hoped to bequeath his teaching.

Confucianism : A World View 1.

The Religious View

There has been considerable debate on the religious cosmology of Confucianism. Confucius himself showed very little interest in the supernatural aspects of life. On one occasion he is reported to have given this response to one of his disciples who wanted to know how to serve the spirits of ancestors: "You have not learned how to serve man well, how can I teach you how to serve the spirits?"


The Scriptures

One important set of writings on the teachings of Confucius are called the Analects. In these writings, there are several mentions of Heaven (Tien). During the days of Confucius, there was general belief in ■ divine power, T'ien, and Confucius seems to have employed this belief in his approach to religious ideas. While he did not seem to understand T'ien as a personal reality, it does appear that he regarded it as a universal spirit that inspired and directed him. He is reported to have said "Heaven (T'ien) begat the virtue that is in me". Confucius had considerable interest in the ritual and insisted on the correct performance of the ceremonies in honour of the dead, and the veneration of the ancestors. Confucius acknowledged and included in his heart the presence of something greater than himself.


The Moral Philosophy

The central teaching of Confucianism is not religious but moral, although it can be argued that the distinction between the two in Confucianism should not be exaggerated. In one of the four books of Confucianism, the Chung yung, which became the basis of Confucian moral philosophy, it is explicitly stated that the sage, having realized true integrity (ch'eng), becomes one with Heaven and Earth. Confucian moral metaphysics reaches over into the religious quest for unity with the ground of being. Confucianism gave primary emphasis to the ethical meaning of relationships. Confucius is remembered as the model of a great teacher on the concept of order and harmony between the various segments of the society - parents to the children, ruler to the ruled, old to the young. Confucius defined the ideal


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man or Gentleman as one governed by propriety (//) serious in personal conduct, deferential to superiors, just and benevolent to all people, particularly the poor. He observed 'filial piety', which is the duty of sons to care for their parents, and the veneration of ancestors as prescribed by tradition. Confucius is best remembered for being the first to use the 'Golden Rule', albeit in negative form - "What I do not wish others to do to me, that also I do not wish to do to them”. The central Chinese concept of Tao (The way) which later was interpreted as harmony with the way of nature, was applied by Confucius to mean the 'way of action’, the practical performance of morality and social living. The Chung-yung claims that this harmony puts a person in touch with the cosmic processes of life and creativity. Confucianism was advanced more through the works of his later disciples, the best known being Mencius and Hsun-tzu. Mencius or Meng Tse (the old sage) (371-289 B.C.) became the best exponent of the teachings of the master. Mencius was very successful in influencing the rulers of his day to administer the people according to the teachings of Confucius, whom he always called 'The Master'. Mencius was very successful in influencing the rulers of his day to administer the people according to the teachings of "The Master". Asked by one Duke how a good ruler should rule the people, Mencius responded: "By following the Five constant virtues of Confucianism which are Benevolence, Righteousness, Propriety, Wisdom and Sincerity". Due to his persistence and ability to communicate, Mencius moved from one province to another propagating the teaching of Confucius.

The Developm ent o f Confucianism After Confucius and Mencius, other notable Confucianists have appeared. Hsun-tzu (298-238 B.C.) popularized the doctrine of ritual action, Li, and provided a model for daily life which support the religious and ethical teachings of Confucius and Mencius. In the course of time, the word Heaven (T'ien) started to shift in meaning and came to represent an early idea of a supreme deity in Confucianism. However neo-Confucianism continued to become more and more Pantheistic (belief that the divine is everything, i.e. the universe is divine). A later Chinese philosopher, Chang Tsai (1020-1077 AD), developed a mystical vision of the unity of the world expressing it as one perfect family. His vision was that the world was united to him as members of his own family. Other Confucian philosophers continued to provide life-models for those seeking Confucian sagehood. The thrust of their teaching can be summed up as the quest for a moment when the mind of man, in its tendencies to do good or evil, would be transformed into the mind of Heaven, and attain the state of perfect excellence.



In past and recent times, Confucianism has gone through one crisis after another - the influence of Buddhism, the recent assault from the communist ideology (the teachings of Mao Tse-Tung) and the new trends in secularism have not extinguished the deep influence Confucianism has had on the Chinese people for over 25 centuries. An authority in Chinese society has said that while Confucianism has been under attack, particularly during the last fifty years, much of it is alive in Chinese morality, benevolence, respect for family and state, and even belief in the way of Heaven. No one can conceive of Chinese culture without the influence of Confucianism.

A ctivity (1) Some authorities have found it very difficult id classify Confucianism as a religion. Give some reasons why this is so. (2) Confucianism is best known for its moral philosophy. Describe the basis and implications of this moral philosophy. (3) In what ways does Confucianism compare with the African Traditional Religion in the belief and veneration of the ancestors?

Further Reading Yang, C.K. Religion in Chinese Society. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1961. Hume, Robert E. The World's Living Religions. New York: Charles Scribcr, 1959. Bradley, David G. A Guide to the World’s Religions. Englewood Cliffs: PrenticcHall Inc., 1965. The World's Religions - A Lion Handbook, Herts, England: Lions Publishing House, 1982. Thomson, Laurence G. Chinese Religion, an introduction. Los Angeles: University of South California Press, 1969. Earhart, Byron, J. Japanese Religion: Unity and Diversity. Belmont, California: Dickson Publishing Company Inc. Parrinder, G. The World's Living Religions, London: Pan Books, 1964.



TAOISM D.W. Waruta Introduction This chapter covers the second of the religions of China, Taoism. Tao means a path or a way, and so it becomes a way of acting or a principle or doctrine. The Tao of heaven describes how the universe works; the Tao of man describes how man may live in harmony with the universe. In Taoism, and this is true of Chinese world view, Tao is the ultimate reality and unity behind the diversity of things; it is that by which men live and in losing which they die. Tao Te Ching is the basic Book of Taoism and may be described as the most original and influential Chinese Book. The book defines Tao the way and its power. The Books authorship has been in dispute although legends have it that it was written by Lao Tse (The Old Master) who is claimed to be the founder of Taoism. Recent studies have not only questioned the stories and legends about the life of Lao Tse but also cast doubt as to whether he really existed. Traditional legends say that Lao Tse was bom in 604 BC and lived for over 160 years. The legends say he spent sixty years in his mother's womb before he was bom. He was therefore bom with white hair and a beard, the old baby was named Lao Tse - The Old Master. Legend tell of how Lao Tse met Confucius and tried to tell him to abandon his arrogant ways and many desires which were not worthy of a sage. Confucius, in turn, is said to have heard of this Old Master, Lao Tse, and described him as a dragon. The legend may have been necessary at least to explain the origins of the Book, although even the best of Chinese historians have claimed that they cannot tell fact from fancy in these legends. It can be argued that the Tao Te Ching as a book was compiled about the 3rd century BC by an anonymous author. Compared with the writings of Confucianism, the Tao Te Ching does seem to be aware of the teachings of Confucius and may have been written to provide an alternative world view, to Confucianism. There are about 50 million adherents of Taoism although this number cannot be ascertained because one who is a Taoist may also be a Confucian or Buddhist


Comparative Religion

The Basic Teaching of Taoism Tao is the Way, the unchanging, indescribable, and nameless way. It is a mystery of darkness, the source and doorway from which all the creatures of the earth have come. It is a mysterious and quiet way; yet powerful and eternal. It is symbolized by water, for water is soft, does not scramble, is content with the lowest place yet it gives life to all creatures and finally overcomes all. This quietness, naturalness, and power of Tao must be reflected by all who follow it, who therefore became 'quietists'. The sage does not struggle or push himself to the front, but his water - like behaviour gives him fulfilment and long life. The sage seeks this 'actionlcss activity’ (win wei) and teaches by example rather than by words. In this manner he is able to control all things including himself. By moving, towards the void and holding fast to quietness, one is in Tao and survives death. Morality and ethics, with their artificial rules and regulations, do not make anyone moral but only give rise to theft and profit-making. If people stopped to worry about secular law and wisdom, they would be more compassionate and dutiful to ethics and their own nature. This applies to teachers and rulers. The Tao opposes all warfare for it brings but devastation and decay. To delight in weapons means to delight in death which can never achieve peace but only suffering and misery. Tao is therefore the original, the One uncarved block, the unity behind all multiplicity and the basis of being for all that is. Tao, like a drifting ship, goes where it will, covering all creatures without dominating them, great and lowly in its manifestations and will sharpen without cutting. The sage who is in Tao does without doing and speaks in silence, for those who speak do not know and those who know do not speak. The way of the sage is to act without striving. Taoism may appear as a religion of passive contemplation and laziness. This emphasis on quietness and inactivity was, however meant to assist the religious minded people to a way by which they may transcend the limited conditions of human existence. This desire was "to steal the secret of Heaven and Earth" and to unite themselves with the mystery of life itself in order to fulfil their desire for immorality. In many ways, Taoism taught the very opposite of Confucianism. Confucianism attempted to make people perfect and taught them how to live in harmony with the world and with each other. Confucianism started with man and his society. Taoism however seeks to turn man away from society to the contemplation of the mysteries of the universe. Fulfilment in Taoism is spontaneous and trans-ethical and cannot be accomplished by following certain rules or guidelines. The Tao became the metapjiysical absolute, which only requires that each person be placed within its currents. Taoism may have emerged to offer an alternative way of life to the constraints of the authoritarian Chinese State established on the Confucian moral demands. It may have been an escape from from a too-this-worldly approach to life. Confucianism had popularized a quest for immortality and union with the all­



embracing reality, the Tao. Within this new quest for authentic living, the Chinese people found the power to live in ■ spontaneous fashion. Probably the most famous statement of the freedom of the Taoist immortal is that ascribed to Lao-Tse where he said: "The ways of men are conditioned by those of Heaven, the ways of Heaven by those of the Tao, and'the Tao came into being by itself'. Taoism is a religion that claims that life is beautiful but a frightening series of transformations. By this, Taoism evoke a sense of awe and wonder which these transformations give to mankind. Taoists have been the best poets of nature as they seek to celebrate life with serene resignation and hope: "Just surrender to the cycle of things. Give yourselves to the waves of the Great change. Neither happy nor yet afraid and when it is time to go, then simply go, without any unnecessary fuss".

Taoism Today Due to great revolutionary changes in China, Taoism as a religion is not as apparent as it used to be. However, a Taoist association has been established to revive the functions of the religion and to claim its part in the making of China's great history. Taoism has always been at odds with the government due to its emphasis on freedom from traditions and restrictions. Yet it has survived and will continue to make its own contribution within the Chinese culture and even beyond. Taoism as one of the 'Three ways’ accepted by the Chinese is an integral part of the great Chinese heritage. For centuries, it has been accepted in the 'Three are one' system of the Chinese culture. A syncretic religious culture of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism has become a basic component of the Chinese mind and no modern movements of change will ignore that very foundation of the Chinese personality. The 'Three ways' will continue to influence the Chinese culture in the future as in the past.

A ctivity (1) Define the concept of Tao and describe its religious aspects. (2) Taoism has been described as being the very opposite of Confucianism. Give reasons.


23 SHINTOISM D.W. Waruta Introduction In this chapter we move to Japan and see how the idea of the Tao has taken a distinctive form. We trace the development of Shintoism, the Japanese national religion, and examine its beliefs and practices. The name Shinto is of Chinese origin, Shen-tao, and means the Tao or the 'way of the Gods'. The Japanese have an equivalent to this term - Kami no michi. The word Kami means 'gods' in Japanese but may also mean any divine power manifested in great rocks, trees and other natural phenomena. Shintoism has roughly 30 million followers but, as with Confucianism and Taoism, the followers may be identified with other religions such as Buddhism or even Christianity. This religion is found mostly in Japan although some pockets of it may be found elsewhere in Asia.

Shintoism - Its developm ent and teachings The stories of the Shinto gods are collected in the Nihongi and Kojiki (chronicles of Japan). These contain lists of names and traditional stories rather than religious devotional writings. After many names of ancient deities with roots in prehistoric Japan, two of these deities emerge. One is called the Male-whoinvites, the other is the female-who-invites. These two are the primordial pair that gave birth to the Islands of Japan. From the pair came the chief deity of Japan, the sun-goddess, Amaterasu Omi Kami, or the 'Heaven illuminating goddess'. She rules the light and the day, wisely and kindly, giving peace and order and protecting the food supply. But her brother, Susa-no-wo (swift impetuous) the storm god, destroyed her domains and polluted her shrines. Amaterasu escaped to a heavenly cave and plunged the world in total darkness. All the other gods assembled outside the cave, uttered magical words and performed a ceremonial dance which made Amctcrasu look outside the cave, only to see her image in a mirror they had placed there. As she attempted to reach for her beautiful image, the other gods pulled her out and light came back to the world. The gods banished Susa-no-wo to a sanctuary in Zumo on the north coast of Japan. Susa-no-wo belonged to the domain of the invisible, magic and exorcism and is believed to be the cause of pestilence and disaster unless he is propitiated through ritual during times of calamity.


Comparative Religion

Amaterasu is thus the chief of the Shinto gods and her shrine at Ise is the holiest of all shrines. A special imperial symbol, a mirror, a sword and a bead which are believed to have been hers are kept there. Amaterasu sent her son Ni-mgi to rule over the Japan Islands. He married the daughter of Mount Fuji, and their grandson, Jimmu Tenno is said to have been the first emperor of Japan,. The supremacy of Amaterasu is thus maintained by the imperial line. The emperor of Japan is therefore believed to be a descendant of Amaterasu and given divine quality. The Japanese therefore say that 'There is one supreme deity, Amaterasuomi-Kami, the Heaven-shining-August-Goddess'. However, according to other myths, there are also other gods, at least 800,000 of them. These are the spirits of wind, rain, earthquake, sea, trees, healing, purification, family and so on. Some Japanese heroes are also deified and they may be referred to as Kami. From the Yamato period, the imperial household has taken a central place in Japan and Shinto religion. From about 1868 when the monarchy was returned to the central position in Japanese politics under emperor Meijji, up until the end of the second world war in 1945, the Shinto religion was tied up with the Emperor cult and the shrine at Ise. After the humiliation of Japan at the end of the war, the Emperor’s semi-divine status was officially denied and Shinto lost its dominant position. Since then, the observance of Shinto practices has become a voluntary matter. However, the imperial family still enjoys very high and probably sacred esteem by many of the Japanese people and leading Shinto shrines still remain important symbols of Japanese nationalism.

Shinto Practices and Influence Shinto religious practices are usually restricted to individual observances at one of the many shrines in Japan. People visit the shrines to offer their own requests - before a journey, before an examination, before any major undertaking and sometimes because one happens to be passing by the shrine. Family occasions also include a visit to the shrine; prayers are said there for the health of a new baby or during weddings. Shrines are visited by large numbers of people, particularly during the New Year from January one to three. Some people go to the shrine just after midnight on December 31. At the new year visits, people buy feathered wooden arrows meant to drive off evil, protective charms and strips of paper bearing the name of the shrine visited (Fuda). These are taken home and placed on the family mini-shrine or kami shelf. Through Shintoism the Japanese people have developed a culture that loves nature and beauty, while emphasizing the virtues of family unit, diligence at work and a sense of duty. They have learnt the love of learning from Confucianism and the spirit of self-sacrifice from Buddhism. However, there is no religious sect or influence in Japan that is not affected by, Shintoism. There has been considerable growth in Shinto sects such as Tenri-kyo (the religion of heavenly wisdom) and Konko-yo (the religion of the Golden light). These new sects are organized like churches, providing security and fellowship amid the changing social conditions of



modem Japan. Shintoism therefore continues to have significant influence on the Japanese people. In spite of the industrialization and secularization of modem Japan, it may continue to be the unifying factor in Japanese culture and nationalism, Shintoism and Buddhism seem to have fitted well in the culture and religious panaroma of the Japanese people and still control the lives of the majority of the approximately one hundred million Japanese people. Western religions such as Christianity are also gaining limited acceptance. In the final analysis it is Shinto, the native religion of the Japanese, that still has the control of the people of the Islands of the rising sun.

A ctivity (1) Shintoism is a religion of many gods, spirits and shrines. Explain whether and why you think it may be classified as Polytheistic (belief in many gods) or Pantheistic (belief that god is in everything). (2) Describe the cult of the Emperor and its role in the development of Japanese nationalism. (3) List some reasons the Japanese people have for visiting the Shinto shrines.


24 MAHAYANA BUDDHISM S.G. Kibicho Introduction Very early in the history of Buddhism in India, Buddhism split into two divisions, the Theravada and the Mahayana Buddhism. The former bccame established in Southern Countries while the latter spread in the Northern Countries. The Theravada and Mahayana branches of Buddhism both began in India. The difference between the two branches which, led to the schism, centrcd around the doctrines of salvation; the way to get it and how the Buddha and other related divine beings should be viewed. The school of thought which eventually split to form the Mahayana branch of Buddhism came to hold the view that Salvation was not something which could only be achieved by self-effort, and which therefore only monks could attain, as taught in Theravada Buddhism. Rather, it was something attainable by faith in and devotion to one or the other numerous heavenly beings (Buddha and Bochisattvas) contained in the Mahayana mythology. As such, Salvation or Buddha-hood was accessible to all human beings. It was mainly for this reason that this new, liberal school of thought called itself Mahayana ("the great vehicle") while they named the older, conservative school of thought Hinayana ("the lesser vehicle").

Characteristics of Mahayana Buddhism 1.

Salvation through faith

The Mahayana school taught that salvation could be attained through faith in the power and compassion of some heavenly beings (Buddhas and Bodhisattvas). This doctrine has already been touched on above. It was in sharp contrast to the teaching of Buddha which had no place at all for a saviour or saviours; and no place for prayers. Salvation was wholly one’s self-effort: accepting and meditating on four Noble Truths, and following rigorously the Noble Eight-fold path, until one got release (Moksha) from desire and subsequently attained Enlightmcnt and Nirvana; and this was a path only the Buddhist monk (the Arhat) could walk.

Comparative Religion


By contrast, as already noted, Mahayana offered in its mythology and doctrine many divine saviours who had the compassion and the power not only to assist the believer to attain enlightment and Nirvana, but also to meet the mundane needs of life. All that was required of the believer was to have faith in and devotion to one or the other saviour Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and to call to him for help. In the doctrine of universal salvation by faith in and devotion to some divine beings, Mahayana has similarities with the Hindu Bhakti (i.e. devotional) cults. It is likely that these Hindu Bhakti cults had some influence on Mahayana Buddhism.


The doctrine of many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

Another notion which developed in Mahayana Buddhism and helped to strengthen its devotional Bhakti features, is the idea of many Buddhas, past, present and future, besides Gautama and Bodhisattvas. They are regarded as heavenly, divine beings and saviours. They are three kinds:


Manushi Buddhas (past Buddhas)

Manushi Buddhas appeared on earth like Gautama, that is, as human beings. They attained enlightenment, but in their great compassion, they postponed their entry to Nirvana so they could teach others the true way of life (Dhamma), which leads to enlightenment. They then finally entered Nirvana. Prayers cannot reach them; they remain primarily teachers of Dhamma.



They are beings who have attained enlightenment and therefore can enter Nirvana, but out of their great compassion, have postponed entering Nirvana so that they may help others in their suffering and in the ultimate achievement of enlightenment. Bodhi means "enlightenment" or "wisdom" while sattva means "being" or "cssence”. Thus Bodhisattva may be translated as "being of enlightment" or "wisdom". Bodhisattvas are also properly thought of as Buddhas of compassion. Prayers are said to them; they are objects of love, loyalty and devotion. In the Theravada scriptures, only two beings are recognized as Bodhisattvas. These are Gautama before his enlightenment, and Maitreya (the next Buddha). But in Mahayana there are innumerable Bodhisattvas. Another popular Mahayana belief is that a Boddhisattva, in his long and perfectly holy life, has accumulated a great deal of merit which, in his compassion, he distributes to suffering human beings who are otherwise unworthy, but who in faith call on his name. The most popular Bodhisattva is Avalokitesura or Lord Avalokita. He has ■ special interest in the present age. Seen as the "personification of divine compassion", he watches over all inhabitants of the world. He has come to earth in human form more than 300 times and once in the form of a miraculous

Mahayana Buddhism


horse to rescue humans in various kinds of danger, who have called upon him. Besides helping devotees overcome moral problems (anger, greed, lust, etc..), he also rescues from other evils and calamities, such as robbery, and violent death. He gives children to childless women who pray to him. He is usually represented in images dressed finely. Noss describes him as a: "great prince, with high headdress, carrying in his left hand a red lotus..., and extending his right hand with a gracious gesture. Frequently he is shown seated on a large lotus, and called with poetic devotion, "The Jewel in the Lotus”. Sometimes he is given four or many more arms all laden with gists to men'O In Tibet, Lord Avalokita is represented as having ■ spouse, Tara, while in China he is a female, with the name Kivan-yin, the goddess of mercy, and very popular. In Korea, she is called Koan-Eum, and in Japan, Kwannon. She is compassionate, and is often represented with a child in her arms. Another popular bodhisattva is Ti-Tsang in China (Jizo in Japan). When grieving persons pray to him on behalf of their deceased relatives in hell, he descend there and rescues them. He also helps women at child birth.

iii) Dhyani Buddhas The term is from Dhana, meaning contemplation. Dhyani Buddhas are also called Buddhas of Contemplation. They are heavenly beings who achieved Buddahood but, unlike Gautama and other Manushi Buddhas, not in human form. Out of their great compassion for suffering humanity, they put off their entry into Nirvana. From their heavenly abode, they continue to minister to men's needs. Their images show them in the form of a monk in deep meditation and great calm, with a quiet smile. Among the many Dhani Buddhas, the three most outstanding are Vairocana, Bhaisajaguru and Amitabha. Vairocana is associated with the sun (a solar Buddha) and occupies an important place in Java Buddhism. In Japan, the sun-goddess Amaterrasu is regarded as a manifestation of Buddha Vairocana. Bhaisajyaguru is a 'Buddha of healing' and has many devotees in Japan, Tibet and China. Amitabha is also known as O-mito in China, and Amida in Japan and Korea. Devotees who call his name in faith are, at death, reborn into his wonderful paradise which he created for this purpose. This paradise is also known as Western Paradise, or the Pure Land of the West. From this paradise, the devotee eventually enters Nirvana, all with the assistance of Buddha Amida.

Noss, J.B. M an's R eligion s, pp. 200.


Comparative Religion

3. The doctrine of compassionate Buddhas and Bodhisattvas Another important characteristic of Mahayana is the ethical inspiration of the doctrine of the compassionate Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The devotees are encouraged to follow their examples. Any person can make a vow to be a Bodhisattva, and everyone is a potential Buddha. It may take a long time to realize this ultimate goal. But the devoteees are urged that taking the first step is the most important thing. Then they will be set on the path of potential Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, following their example and with their ready assistance. This doctrine therefore is a source of great inspiration to the devotees towards moral excellence, and with great emphasis on compassion and unselfish concern for others, especially those in need. The notion of being ■ potential Buddha also gives the devotee a great sense of worth.

4. Openness to new ideas A fourth important characteristic of Mahayana is that, in contrast to Theravada Buddhism, it is more open and accommodating to new and non-Buddhist ideas, beliefs and religious practices in the new areas of its spread, that is from Brahmanism, Shintoism and Taoism. It was therefore able to absorb gods and practices of popular religions in the new areas, for instance, from Shinto. The opposite, however, also happened sometimes, for instance Mahayana became re­ absorbed into Hinduism in India. This is one of the factors that contributed to the virtual disappearance of Buddhism in India.

The Scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism The scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism are known, collectively, as the Great Vehicle canon. They are written in Sanskrit and include in their contents much of the original Theravada canon. But they also have additional writings. The most important of these is the Lotus Sutra, or Lotus of the Wonderful Law. The work was first written in Sanskrit about the second century A.D. It was then translated into Chinese, and later into Japanese. The English translation of the Lotus Sutra is about 400 pages. It is in the additional writings that the fundamental additional Mahayana doctrines, not found explicitly in the original Theravada canon, are given their authoritative basis, as coming from the glorified Buddha in a new revelation. The Buddha in the Lotus Sutra is portrayed as a heavenly being proclaiming eternal truths to thousands of gods, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from past ages. Most important, the Buddha declares ■ new revelation of a wider way of Salvation by faith in which all men are called to become Buddhas, with the ready assistance of the countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. All this, by the Mahayana scriptures, was in accord with Buddha's plan; he had intended that the old "narrow way" revelation of Theravada Buddhism should

Mahayana Buddhism


be superseded by the new revelation of the wider way of salvation, when the disciples are ready.

A ctivity (1) Explain the main factor which led to the rise of Mahayana Buddhism?. (2) Explain what you understand by 'Salvation through faith' in Mahayana Buddhism. (3) Discuss the practical importance of the doctrine of compassionate Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, to the adherents of Mahayana Buddhism. (4) Why did the new schismatic branch name themselves the Mahayana and the other branch Hinayana? (5) Explain some main similarities between Mahayana Buddhist ideas and practices and those of the Hindu bhakti cults. (6) Explain briefly the difference between Bodhisattvas, Dhyani Buddhas and Manushi Buddhas.

Further Reading Ling, T. A History o f Religion East &. West, London: MacMillan, 1968. Noss, J.B. Man's Religions. New York: Collier-MacMillan, 1974. Parrinder, E.G. The World's Living Religions. London: Pan, 1964. Smart, N. Religious Experience of Mankind, New York: Scribner 1969/Collins, Fontana, 1971.




Buddhism in China This chaptcr will trace briefly the spread of Mahayana Buddhism to northern lands: to China, Korea and Japan. Buddhism seems to have been introduced into China from India in the first century AD. Chinese historians relate how Emperor Ming Ti, (58-75 AD), became interested in Buddhism because he had seen the golden image of the Buddha lying in his room, with the head glowing like the sun in a dream (Noss 192). According to the ancient legend, Emperor Ming Ti sent his envoys to northwest India to get more information on Buddhism. They brought back many sacrcd books and statutes, and two Buddhist monks as missionaries who began the task of transplanting the Buddhist sacred literature into China. It is likely that the Emperor did not become a Buddhist, but seems to have been positively inclined in its favour. He allowed the erection of a statue of Buddha, and the spread of Buddhism. At first, Buddhism met resistance and made little progress. This was because some of its teachings (especially the Hinayana Buddhism which came first) threatened some important Chinese traditions and beliefs or were incompatible with the Chinese world view and temperament. For instance, the doctrines of rebirth and nirvana were incompatible with the Chinese ancestral cult; the ideal of monkhood threatened to break the Chinese ideal of the family; it would also take away sons from the performance of filial duty. Some Buddhist doctrines were pessimistic and world-denying: the transitorincss of the world, the unreality of worldly activity, the non-existence of the ego, and the need of salvation from the misery of existence. These contrasted sharply with the Chinese optimistic and dynamic affirmation of this present life. On the other hand, there were some similarities with Taoism, for instance, both traditions shared love of quiet and meditation. Also, Buddhist ritual and imagery were attractive. Gradually Buddhism, especially the Mahayana school took root. By the end of the second century AD Buddhism seems to have been adequately established on parts of China that border India.


Comparative Religion

One event which helped the establishment and spread of Buddhism in China was the disintegration of the Han Empire in the latter part of the second century AD as a result of the incursion of nomad tribes from central China. It was a period of social and political disintegration and civil wars, unrest and misery. The Chinese intellectuals as well as the ordinary people stood in need of a faith with a message of personal salvation, giving meaning and hope to life. The Mahayana message of salvation for all through faith in the Buddha, was attractive to many at this time. The idea of monkhood continued to receive opposition and it was not until the 4th century that Chinese were allowed to become monks. From time to time, especially during the reigns of anti-Buddhist Emperors, there was Buddhist persecution. For instance, Noss tells us that: 'Wu Tsung of the Tang dynasty, in 845 AD, destroyed 45,000 Buddhist buildings, melted down tens of thousands of Buddha images and sent over 400,000 monks, nuns and temple servitors back into the w orld.H ow ever, emperors hostile to Buddhism were usually followed by others who favoured Buddhism and, during their reigns the damaged physical facilities would be restored, and more added. The period from the 6th to the 9th century AD was one of Buddhism's most glorious periods in China. It became well established and indigenized, and (with Confucianism and Taoism) one of the three Chinese religions, or what are referred to as 'China's three ways.' A number of sects flourished, according to tradition ten were introduced into China. Two of these came to be dominant. These are the Ching-tu or the Pure Land Sect and Chan Buddhism.

The Ching-tu or Pure Land Sect This was founded in China in the latter part of the 4th Century. Tradition says that the founder was ■ converted Taoist (Hui-Yuan). It teaches salvation to everyone who calls with unquestioning faith on the name of the great Buddha Amitabha (Ami in Chinese, Amida in Japanese, or the Buddha of Boundless Light). Its doctrine of salvation is based on the idea that merit, especially that of Buddha, can be transferred to ■ Buddhist devotee who is otherwise unworthy and who would have no hope of gaining salvation on his own. Thus salvation here is not by self-effort as taught by Buddha Gautama, but by faith in the power and merit of another, - ■ heavenly being. \ Here Buddhism comes close theism, and we said earlier, has affinity with the Bhakti cults in Hinduism. The good which the devotee of the Pure Land Sect seeks is to enter Amitabha's paradise, the Pure Land of the West, from which he is sure ultimately to enter Nirvana. All this occurs through the assistance of Buddha Amitabha. The Pure Land of the West is represented as a kind of Garden of Eden paradise of incomparable beauty, peace and joy. By the power of Amitabha, the

^ Noss, J.B. M en's R elig io n s , p. 194.

The Spread of Mahayana Buddhism to Northern Lands


devotee who calls on his name in unshakable faith is reborn, at death, into this paradise, and from there eventually he enters Nirvana. All a devotee needed to do was repeat the name Amitabha in devotion and in unquestioning faith, especially using the formula Namu Omito Fo (Hail, Amitabha Buddha). The Chinese have called this way of salvation taught by the Ching-tu sect, the ’short-cut'.

Chan Buddhism The name, Chan, is said to have been the Chinese corruption of the Sanskirt term dhyana or contemplation; when the Chinese tried to pronounce dhyana, they came out with Chan. In Japan, Chan is known as Zen. The sect is said to have been founded by Bodhidharma, Indian Scholar and teacher, in the 6th century AD. Its teaching emphasizes that salvation comes not by rituals or by scholarly reading and knowledge, but by an inward look into one’s heart, by meditation and intuition or inward vision. Some Chinese saw similarities between Chan and Taoism. There is emphasis on effortlessness and passivity as one meditates, and a strong feeling or realization of oneness with nature, or rather allowing nature to flow into one, so that the two (the mediator and nature) merge into one. This is nature mysticism. In contrast to the Pure Land School, the Chan school also emphasises the master-pupil relationship, as well as the important role of the Sanga and spiritual effort and discipline for the attainment of enlightment.

Buddhism in Korea We shall confine ourselves only to a brief statement on Buddhism in Korea, then move on to its spread in Japan where it next moved from Korea. Buddhism was introduced into Korea from the 4th century AD and it spread and found acceptance quite fast in the whole country. Tradition (or legend) relates that Chinese monk called Sundo, with the encouragement of a Buddhist ruler of a small state in north China, crossed over into Korea, carrying with him images of Buddha and Buddhist sacred books and with much missionary zeal. The introduction of Buddhism into Korea may have been more involved than the story of the monk Sundo portrays. But there seems to have been a ready acceptance of Buddhism and its accompanying culture by the Koreans. By the middle of the 6th century AD it is said that a certain king of one Korean state was already sending Buddhist missionaries, images and sacred books to the emperor of Japan.

Buddhism in Japan Buddhism reached Japan through Korea in the 6th century AD and later influence came from China. There was resistance from some noblemen, and later from militant tradionalists. But by gradual infiltration it eventually established


Comparative Religion

itself there. By 593 AD Prince Shotoku who had studied Confucian classics and Buddhist scriptures, and who had like his parents became a Buddhist, did a lot to spread and strengthen Buddhism in the country. He is reputed to have founded an important multipurpose Buddhist institution incorporating within it a religious centre, an orphanage, an old people's home, a hospital and a dispensary. Under Shotoku's patronage, Buddhism became virtually the state church. Because of his important role in establishing Buddhism in the land, Shotoku is regarded as a great Boddhisattva of compassion, a saviour, greater even than the Buddha of India. At Mara, the imperial capital and palace which became ■ Buddhist Centre, there is a 50 foot bronze statue of Buddha. To meet the resistance of native Japanese religion (now given the name of Shinto to distinguish it from Buddhism), the chief Shinto goddess Amaterasu was at one stage identified with one of the Buddhas. Other ancient Japanese gods were in a similar manner absorbed into the Buddhist system of heavenly beings, as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Buddhism also took over or dominated most Shinto Shrines, by introducing Buddhist rituals and images., The period of this mingling of the two religions, 800-1868, when it was at its peak, is referred to as the period of two-gold Shinto or Double Shinto. Shinto was in danger of being fully submerged in Buddhism and losing its identity. This danger was averted when the separation of the two religions was forcibly carried out by imperial order in 1868 at the start of the Meiji period. Shinto, now purified of Buddhist syncretistic incursions, was made the state religion. Buddhism suffered some persecution and suppression in the process of the cleaning and restoration of Shinto. But largely due to the fact that it was deeply rooted in Japanese lives, through its ideas, and practices which were long established, it survived and eventually regained its status as one of the main religions of Japan, a status it has continued to hold to the present.

A ctivity


(1) How was the disintegration of the Han Empire a help in the establishment olf Buddhism?. (2) Explain why the Chinese called the way of salvation taught by the Ching-ti sect the "short-cut".

(3) Explain the way Mahayana Buddhism used to overcome the resistance to ij from the Japanese ancient religion, Shinto. j

(4) Explain why monkhood initially received so much opposition in Chins when Buddhism was being established there. |j (5) What are some of the main teachings of the Ching-tu sect of Chan Buddhism |



SOME OF THE MAIN SECTS OF BUDDHISM IN JAPAN S.G. Kibicho Signs of Buddhism in Japan In the previous two chapters, we discussed the rise of Mahayana Buddhism in India, and its spread to China, Korea and Japan. In this chapter we look in more details at Buddhism in Japan. Mahayana Buddhism is most advanced and most active in Japan. Its influence and presence are manifest in most aspects of Japanese life. There are many Buddhist temples, both in the towns and in the countryside, and most Japanese visit them. They also visit Shinto shrines. Many have s Buddhist altar at home where the head of the family makes offerings and says prayers. The priests are married. Besides conducting congregational worship at the temples, which includes preaching of sermons, they also help at funerals and memorial services. Sometimes they are invited to homes to officiate at some of the ceremonies performed at the home shrines. These days, there arc Buddhist Sunday Schools, youth associations and so on similar to those in Christian churches.

Some of the main Japanese Buddhist sects Japanese Buddhism is divided into a number of sects, most of which had their origin in China.

The Pure Land Sects The Pure Land Sects are the most popular and the largest. Their main feature is belief in the Buddha Amida as the only saviour. Any one who calls on him in faith is liberated and reborn at death in Amida's paradise known as the Pure Land of the West where one is certain to enter nirvana eventually. The Pure Land of the West is described as a kind of Garden ef Eden paradise, of incomparable beauty, peace and joy. There are two main Pure Land Sects, Jodo 1 Buddhism and the Jodo Shintu Sect

Comparative Religion



Jodo Buddhism

Jodo Buddhism known as Ching-tu in China; it is also called Amidism. Jodo is the Japanese rendering of the Chinese term Ching-tu. Jodo Buddhism was founded in Japan by a Japanese scholar by the name of Genku. He was later known as Honin Shonin or Saint (St.) Honen (1133-1212). Honen's father died in his boyhood as a result of being attacked by gangsters. His last instructions to his son just before he died were that he should not seek revenge for his death, because violence breeds violence. He advised him to become a monk. Honen followed his father's advice and entered a Buddhist monastery at Hiei. Here he excelled in the mastery of Buddhist teachings, rituals and monastic disciplines. But he continued to feel a deep spiritual dissatisfaction. He kept seeking liberation and peace for quite a long time through the traditional Buddhist way of self-discipline and contemplation, but without success. Then, one day while in a library, he read in a Chinese commentary of the Amidist school, the following words, which helped him to gain the enlightenment and liberation he had been seeking for so long. "Only repeat the name of Amitabha with all your heart, whether walking or standing, whether sitting or lying: never cease the practice for a moment. This is the very work which unfailingly issues in salvation.^ Honen believed this and accepted the salvation thus offered, by grace through faith. He attained release, enlightenment and peace and the assurance of being bom into Amida's paradise - the Pure Land of the West. In this conviction that salvation was not by works but by grace through faith alone, Honen left the monastery and went to live in a hermitage (i.e. secludcd dwelling of a hermit). His fame spread, and many came to hear him. He taught that the repetition with faith of the formula 'Namu Amida Butsu' or 'Nembutsu (which means ’Reverence to the Buddha Amida' or 'I fly to the Amida’) was sufficient to gain one salvation and the assurance of being bom into Amida's Pure Land paradise. Honen stressed that although good works did not bring salvation, yet salvation by its very nature must manifest itself in good works as its unfailing effects. The saved or enlightened one is filled with Amida’s love, and this love must flow through the life of the enlightened one, in works of love and mercy and in related practices and dispositions towards all living beings. This compares well with the Christian teaching on the fruit of the Holy Spirit which must flow from one who has experienced salvation by grace through faith in Christ. J.B. Noss, M an's R eligion s, p. 209

Some of the Main Sects of Buddhism in Japan


Honen's teachings posed a real threat to monastic life, and to ecclesiastical power and authority. This was so because salvation by grace alone meant that it was no longer necessary to become a monk and to follow the rigorous life, meditation and ceremonial to obtain release (moksha) or salvation. This resulted in the undermining of the authority and influence of the temple. Honcn was exiled by the state to a small island in the sea. He was allowed to return after four years and ended the last years of his life in great peace, exhorting his disciples on the efficacy of the devoted practice of "Nembutsu". He died in 1212 at the age of 79. In 'a last testament' which he left to his disciples he reiterated: 'Our practice of devotion does not consist in that of meditation as recommended and practised by sages of the past. Nor is our "calling the name.." uttered in consequence of enlightment in truths attained through learning and wisdom. When we invoke (the) Buddha and say Namu Amida Bulsu with the firm belief that we shall be bom in (the) Buddha's paradise, we shall surely be bom there". He also counselled even the most learned in the teachings of Gautama Buddha (Sakya Muni) to 'put his faith in (the) salvation' of Amida, and to 'regard himself as an equal with the most ignorant and they should whole-heartedly practise Nembutsu... in company with many simple folk, entirely giving up the demeanour of a wise man.2 The Jodo or the Pure Land Sects have the largest number of followers in japan.


The Shin Sect

The Shin Sect is also known as the Jodo Shinshu Sect or the True Pure Land Sect. This sect was founded by Honen's disciple Shinran Shonin (1173­ 1263). Shinran carried Honen's teaching of salvation by grace through faith alone further, by teaching that even the repetition of the Nembutshu formula was unnecessary. He asserted that simple faith in Amida, even without repeating the Nembutshu formula was sufficient to get saving grace. That monastic and acclesiastical restrictions are unnecessary. Therefore, Shinran left the monastery, married and raised a family. He de-emphasiscd the distinction between the life style of priests and monks on the one hand and the secular life on the other. He henceforth worked as a simple preacher, independently of ecclesiastical authority, and lived the life of an ordinary man. Although Shinron went further than Honcn, his teaching can be regarded as the logical conclusion of Honen's teaching. ^ Smart, N., R eligious E xperience o f M anKind, p. 267-8.


Comparative Religion

The Shin sect is the most powerful of Buddhist sects in Japan, with more temples, priests and teachers than any other. Noss observes that: The cheerful, world-accepting nature of the Shin sect has had a natural result; emotional and religiously easy-going persons have found it a highly attractive faith (Noss, p. 200).

Zen Buddhism Zen Buddhism is another of the major Buddhist sects in Japan. It was introduced from China, where it was known as Chan, in 1191. Zen means meditation. Zen Buddhism teaches that enlightenment comes as a flash in insight, without study, preparation or strife. Yet, the mind has to be trained for the Zen devotee to get to the point where enlightenment can come. As Parrinder points out, 'Novices in Zen monasteries spend hours every day in meditation, kept awake by novice-masters with c l u b s . ^ Zen emphasizes the use of 'graceful arts’ for religious purposes. These include archery, sword-play or fencing, tea drinking ceremonies, and flower arrangement. All these demand concentration and body and mind control, but a person engaged in them is not directly thinking of enlightenment as the immediate goal of his performance. But while one is immersed in any of these and similar activities, including day-to-day activities, enlightenment may come, as a flash of insight.

A ctivity (1) In what ways do the two main Japanese Pure Land Sects differ? (2) Give two major characteristics of Zen Buddhism. (3) Explain 'graceful arts' and their role in Buddhism.

3 Parrinder, E.G. What W orld R eligion s Teach, p. 121.


27 BUDDHISM IN TIBET S.G. Kibicho The Introduction of Buddhism in Tibet In this chapter we shall examine the development of Buddhism in Tibet, and describe the two main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. We shall then consider the virtual disappearance of Buddhism from India. The first effort to introduce Buddhism into Tibet was made in early 7th century AD. The efforts met with little success. Greater success was achieved from the 8th century with the introduction of the Tantric form of mahayana Buddhism. There was great resistance from the traditional Tibetan religion, known as Bon, which was mainly polytheistic with strong magical and animistic elements. It was not until the 11th century that Buddhism (of the Tantric form) bccame well established. This was mainly through the work of a reformer monk from Bengal (India) by the name of Atisha.

Tantric Buddhism The Tantric form of Buddhism had been developed in north-eastern India, particularly in Bengal and Bihar, especially from the 6th century AD. Tantrism had its roots in Hinduism. Its basic doctrines, which underline some of its practices, included the following as given by Noss: That the human being is the universe in microcosm, that just as nature is pervaded by hidden energy (shakii), so the human being has secret stores of energy coiled up in him (at the base of the spine... where it can be roused by the proper physical and psychic self-discipline); that certain sounds and groups of words or letters, accompanied by movements of the hands, can be used to rouse or induce Shakti in the body or avert evil influences of every kind from oneself.*

^ Noss, J.B., M an's R eligions, p. 216.


Comparative Religion

Thus, one of the main features of tantric Buddhism is the use of sacred chants, incantations and gestures believed to have mystical power, as a means of achieving logical trance and enlightenment here and now. This makes enlightenment a possibility even for lay people. Tantric ritual is also used to achieve lower goals, for instance, exorcism, causing prosperity, finding a lost thing or winning a woman's love. At this level, magical spells, charms and incantations were a prominent feature of the tantric variety of Buddhism. Another feature of the tantric form of Buddhism was the importance of the female consorts of the various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. This doctrine also led to sexual symbolism and sacred sexual rituals, of which very little is known. Atisha opposed the crude form of magical and pagan ideas and practices in the tantric form of Buddhism - the form he otherwise favoured.

The Two Main Schools of Tibetan Buddhism A number of schools of Tibetan Buddhism developed after Atisha's time. There are two prominent ones: Gelugpa the virtuous ones or the Yellow Hats; this school was founded by Atish but later reformed with magical practices discouraged; and Nyingma-pa the old ones or the Red Hats; this was the old unreformed school in which magical practices continued. Gelugpa or as it is more popularly known, the Yellow Hats, is the dominant sect. The sect was further reformed in the 14th century by the great Tibetan monk Tsong-kha-pa. Its monks wore yellow hats and a yellow girdle, hence the name Yellow Hats. Tsong's reforms included stricter monastic discipline and Qre-introduction of celibacy. The chief or higher grade monks of the Yellow Hat school are known as Lamas (i.e. superior); hence the term Lamaism to refer to Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama is the head of the lamas and the executive head of the Yellow Hat branch of Tibetan Buddhism. He also exercised temporal powers especially from the 13th and 14th centuries. Many of the Grand Lamas of the great Yellow Hat monasteries are called 'incarnation Lamas', as they arc believed to be reincarnations of some great Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. For instance, the Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of Buddha Chcnresi (also known as Avalokita, or Kwanyin), while the Panchcn Lama is the reincarnation of Buddha Amitaabha (known as Amida in Japan). When a Lama dies (e.g. the Dalai Lama), it is believed that he is reincarnated in a child bom at that time. A thorough search has therefore to be made by the religious leaders for that child, who should have some marks of his predecessor - some secret body marks, and other signs. The search has sometimes» taken several years.

Buddhism in Tibet


It should be noted that the Dalai Lama was originally the grand Lama at Lhasa (an early centre and stronghold of Buddhism). He was given the title Dalai (meaning 'the sea', conveying the sense of the measureless and profound by a powerful Mongol chief who had invited him to Mongolia to revive Buddhism. He went as an incarnation of Buddha Avalokita. This was in the 16th century, and marked the introduction of Lamaism in Mongolia; it soon took roots and became the dominant religion. Tibet is a deeply Buddhist country, and there are signs of great religious devotion in the people's lives; for instance, most Tibetans go to temples and shrines daily, especially after the day's work; there is much chatting and murmuring of texts and prayers, kneeling and bowing before the images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Major ceremonies in monasteries attract large crowds. Buddhism was suppressed by the Chinese communist regime when it took control of Tibet in 1959, and the Dalai Lama had to flee to India. However, Buddhism was deeply a part of Tibetan life, and it is therefore likely to continue to survive. Recently, there have been signs of relaxation on religious restrictions, and consequently, some signs of increased religious activities especially in China.

The Virtual Disappearance of Buddhism from India While Buddhism continued to expand and spread outside India, it was slowly disappearing from India, the country of its origin. Its decline was observed and commented on by Chinese Buddhist pilgrims in the 6th century AD, such as Hiuen Tsiong. By the 9th century, it was very weak, and by the 13th century it had practically disappeared from most of India. Today, very few Buddhists are to be found in India, and these few are mainly in the border section of the country, for example at the foot of the Himalayas. The causes of this decline are many and complex; a few can be mentioned. a)

Buddhist religious institutions were centered on the Buddhist order (the Sangha) and its monasteries. These suffered more than the Hindu and Jain religious systems during the Turkish Muslim invasions of India from the 12th century AD. The Muslims plundered and destroyed the monasteries which they regarded as pagan shrines. Since Buddhism was basically ■ monastic religion, not really rooted in the lay people, this destruction of the Sangha spelt a death blow to the religion.


Loss of royal patronage and support after the imposition of Turkish Muslim rule, contributed to weakening Buddhism. Note, however, that in some other areas such as Ceylon, Buddhism had developed the capacity to survive without such royal or government support.


Monastic life, which was the basic pillar of Buddhism, tended to be concentrated in certain major centres (e.g. Nalanda). These large centres were the main targets of Muslim attack and their destruction meant destruction of

Comparative Religion


the faith. At ihc same time, there was a decline of local monasteries where the study of the faith used to be carried on. The result was that large areas were now left without a local Buddhist centre to continue giving guidance to the lay community. cj)

Another contributing factor was an extensive assimilation or rcabsorption of Mahayana Buddhism into Hinduism, especially Hinduism of the popular devotional (bhakti) type, which had gone through revival in the early medieval period. This rcabsorption was made possible mainly by similarities of some basic Mahayana beliefs and practices, with those of the bhakti form of Hinduism - for example, its devotional cults and magical practices. Because of this, Mahayana Buddhism eventually lost its identity and distinctness; it had nothing to offer the people which the revived bhakti Hinduism was not offering, perhaps in a better way. Thus, Muslim attack was only the final death-blow to an already ailing Buddhism.


The difficult situation created by Muslim invasions forced many faithful and committed Buddhist monks to leave India and settle in other places, where they could continue the practice of Buddhist monasticism more freely. Some migrated to Nepal, others to Tibet, China or Burma. Others remained in the border areas, such as East Bengal and Assam, where monastic life had not been completely wiped out. It is in these areas that small Buddhist populations have continued to the present, while signs of growth has been noted in recent years.

Buddhism in Modern Times The last four chapters have looked at different forms of Buddhism in several countries. Both types of Buddhism, mahayana and Theravada, continue to be strong in the respective countries already indicated. Mahayana in countries of northern Asia, and Theravada in the southern countries.

A ctivity (1) Identity and briefly comment on the main characteristics of the tanlric form of Buddhism. (2)

What arc the differences of Tibetan Buddhism?

between the Red Hats andthe Yellow Hatsbranche ■


Comment on what youregard as the three most important causes of the decline of Buddhism in India.


Discuss the doctrine of incarnation lamas.

(5) Explain what you understand by the statement "Muslim attack was only the final death-blow to an already ailing Buddhism in India."



ZOROASTRIANISM Chapters 28 The Rise of Zoroastrianism 29 The Teachings of Zarathustra

JUDAISM 30 The Evolution of Judaism 31 Basic Teachings and Practice of Judaism

CHRISTIANITY 32 The Religions and Cultural Background of Early Christianity 33 Christ and the Church He Founded 34 Growth and Spread of Christianity

ISLAM 35 The Religious Heritage of Arabia Before and During Muhammad's Time 36 Muhammad as the Founder of Islam 37 Islam: A Living World Religion


28 THE RISE OF ZOROASTRIANISM D.W. Waruta Introduction In the next two chapters we are going to study Zoroastrianism. Of the four near-eastern religions which we shall consider in this unit, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Zoroastrianism is the second oldest, next to Judaism. It has had an important influence on the other three religions. Zoroastrianism originated in Iran or Ancient Persia. Ling describes ancient Persia as: "the true Middle East..., the meeting ground of East and West, the bridge between the culture of the Mediterranean world and that of India, the link between two widely differing civilizations" (Ling, p. 76). However, the inhabitants of ancient Persia (Iran) were closely related to the Aryan invaders of India, and thé early settlers of Greece and Rome. It is thought highly likely that they all had a common origin. This is suggested by the correspondence of the names Iran and Aryan, by the similarity of their gods, and similarities in their languages.

Pre-Zoroastrian Religion The pre-Zoroastrian Iranian religion was very much like the religion of the Aryans who invaded India in the second millenium B.C. and which is reflected in the Vedas. The religion was basically polythestic. There were also numerous spirits both good and evil. The popular gods were mainly personifications of prominent natural phcpomena or powers such as the sun, the moon, stars, the sky, the earth, fire, water, winds and storm. The gods were known as the dacvas. Some of the prominent daevas included: Intar or Indara, (rain-god and dragon-slayer); Mithra (god of war and light, perhaps also a sun-god, and supporter of treaties and pacts widely known among peoples of Aryan origin); Vayu (the wind-god); Yima (the ruler of the underworld of the dead believed to have been the first man to die); Fravashi or Fathers (the benevolent, protective ancestral spirits). These Persian gods corresponded, respectively, to the following Vedic gods of the Indian Aryans; Indra; Mitra; Vayu; Yama and Pitaras.


Comparative Religion

Ahura Mazda became supreme over the other gods of Persian religion and corresponded to the vedic sky god Asura Varuna. The latter, however, did not become the only god as Ahura Mazda did after Zarathustra’s teachings. Parrinder points that: "Cyrus, the Persian ruler who conquered Media in 549 BC and captured Babylon and its empire, including Palestine in 538, was a worshipper of Ahura Mazda, 'Lord Wisdom*. But his devotion to Ahura Mazda does not seem to have come from Zarathustra's teaching. Also, he seems to have recognized the Babylonian gods as well as the Israelite God (see the book of Ezra).1 The worship of pre-Zoroastrian Persian gods involved numerous sacrifices to them, offered in open spaces as well as at altars, with priests as officiators. An intoxicating beverage from the sacred plant Laoma (Vedic soma) was taken by the worshippers. Fire worship or adoration was practised (compare the worship of Agni, the fire-god, in Vedic religion). The fire was lit ceremonially, the grass around the altar was sprinkled with Laoma juice, then portions of the burnt sacrifice were placed there for the gods. Before the sacrificial animal was slaughtered, it was touched with a bundle of certain sacred leaves or broughs; the worshipper held these before his face during the adoration of the sacred fire. Fire adoration has continued to be an important feature of Zoroastrian worship all through its history to the present day. At the time of the rise of Zoroastrianism, the way of life and the economy of the ancient Iranians had gone through significant changes. The people were no longer purely nomads; they were mostly settled pastoralists and agriculturalists. As Noss observes, the old religion was 'ill suited to their mode of life and developing economy. Its animal sacrifices were becoming increasingly burdensome.^

The Founder: Zarathustra or Zoroaster The name of the founder of Zoroastrianism was Zarathustra. But he came to be more popularly known by the Greek version of the name, Zoroaster, from which the religion got its name. The overwhelming tradition and view is that he was a historical and not a legendary figure, although our knowledge about him (mostly from the portion of Zoroastrian scriptures known as the Gathas) is scanty. He was bom and worked in Iran, which was part of ancient Persia. He was doubtlessly a great prophet, sometimes referred to as the Prophet of Iran.

1 Parrinder, E.G. The World's Living Religions, p. 63. ^ Noss, J.B. Man's Religions, p. 436.

The Rise of Zoroastrianism


His time has been given variously, between the 10th and the 5th century BC. But the weightier evidence seems to favour the 6th or 5th century BC. The date of his death is given by some traditions as 547 BC at the age of 77, although one scholar, Braden, given the 7th century as the date thought most probable by many. Zarathustra's father was a priest of ■ pastoral tribe. According to later traditions, this great saviour’s birth had been prophesied 3000 years earlier, and then again 300 years before it took place. His birth was miraculous: the glory of Ahura Mazda came down onto his mother-to-be (a fifteen year old unmarried girl). At birth he laughed. His life was miraculously preserved many times. From early youth, Zarathustra showed great compassion and concern for others; he also showed great interest in finding out religious truth. He wandered about making enquiries from those wise people who cared to answer his questions. He would also spend long periods in seclusion in meditation. Some Greek sources say he lived as a recluse in a mountain cave for a number of years, and that he remained silent for seven years.

The Prophetic Call At around 30 years of age, he had a moving religious experience which constituted his divine prophetic call. The archangel called Vohu Manah (God Thought) who was a gigantic figure as big as nine men, appeared to him. He questioned him, then took him up in spiritual form to the presence of god (Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord). Ahura Mazda was holding assembly with his attendant angels, and all of them shone with extremely bright light. He purified Zarathustra and appointed him his prophet. He also gave him instructions in the doctrines and duties of the true religion. For the next eight or ten years, he continued to have vision-meetings with the other six archangels who gave him further instructions. He also had seven further conferences with Ahura Mazda. All this helped to strengthen his original revelation and his prophetic call. The true religion which Zarathustra felt divinely called to preach and teach was the doctrine and the worship of the one true and only God, the Supreme Being whose name as Ahura Mazda (wise Lord) in opposition to existing polytheism. He also believed that he was divinely appointed and sent to convert all living men to this true religion and to make this world progressive.

Zarathustra's M ission Zarathustra set out on his divine mission of preaching and teaching the true faith in the one God, Ahura Mazda, and denouncing the current polytheism, idolatry, and evil living.


Comparative Religion

He met great opposition, especially from the numerous priests who resisted reform in their religion; for many years he had hardly any success. He resisted great temptations from the evil spirit, Angra Mainyu, who wanted him to give up his faith in and worship of Ahura Mazda. He conquered these temptations by use of appropriate sacred texts. He was also strengthened and sustained by his unshakable conviction in the divine mission for which Ahura Mazda had called, appointed and sent him. After ten years of preaching and teaching he won his first convert, his cousin. Later, in eastern Iran, he converted King Vishtaspa but only after two years of hard effort and great struggle with the numerous priests who surrounded and dominated the King. With their many animal sacrifices and magical rituals for all kinds of purposes, these priests are presented in the Aveshba as a greedy lot. Vishtaspa's conversion marked the real beginning of the establishment and growth of Zoroastrianism in Iran. Members of the King's court and family followed him into the new or rather reformed faith. Vishtaspa then used his power to propagate Zoroastrianism, which became the religion of the state. Later Vishtaspa was defeated in a war and his capital was occupied. According to tradition, Zarathustra was killed during that war, at the age of 27. By the time of his death, the new (or rather reformed) faith was sufficiently well established and rooted among the Iranians to enable its continued growth and expansion.

A ctivity (1) At the time Zoroastrianism arose, there were already among the ancient, Iranians a feeling of dissatisfaction with existing religion. Why was this? (2) Describe Zarathustra's prophetic call. (3) Explain the main difficulties Zarathustra met at the start of his mission. (4) List and comment on some important similarities between the religion of the ancient inhabitants of Iran, and that of the early Aryan invaders of India.

Further Reading Braden, C.S. The World's Religions, a History, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1954. Hume, R.E. The World's Living Religions, Edinburgh: T.T. Clark, 1959. Ling, T. A History o f Religion of East and West, London: Macmillan 1968. Parrinder, E.G. The World's Living Religions, London: Pan, 1964 and 1974.


29 THE TEACHINGS OF ZARATHUSTRA D.W. Waruta The teachings of Zarathustra are found mainly in the Gathas. In later writings in the history of Zoroastranism, as happens with most religions, there were some changes in the teachings, but all the same Zarathustras teachings have continued as the basis and foundation of the teachings of Zoroastrianism.

Ethical M onotheism The religion Zarathustra taught was not a completely new religion; it was rather a religion based on the old religion of his people, but which he reformed so radically that it had now important elements and teachings deriving from his prophetic genius. First and foremost, in opposition to the polytheism and ritualism of the old religion, Zarathustra taught a unique ethical monotheism.1 He declared Ahura Mazda as the one and only true God. This deity was already known in the old religion, and was paid a special allegiance by Zarathustra's own clan; and in comparison to other deities he was regarded as highly ethical. Ahura Mazda seems to be identical with Varuna, a sky god of vedic religion, who was similarly regarded as a very ethical god. Ahura Mazda then, is the one who called Zarathustra to his presence, who revealed himself to him as the one and only true God, who instructed him on the true religion appointing him his prophet and sending him to teach men that true religion which was "the final and perfect religion."^ Among his other attributes, Ahura Mazda is the creator and sustainer of all things, he is supreme in all things, he is perfect truth, goodness, justice and wisdom. He is also omniscient, all seeing and most mighty. The Avesta, later writings of Zoroastian scriptures, describe Ahura Mazda "the creator, radiant, glorious, greatest and best, most beautiful, most firm, wisest, most perfect, the most bounteous spirit."^

1 Noss, J.B., Man's Religions, p. 440. ^ Ibid, p. 441. 3 Hume, R.E., The World’s Living Religions, p. 209.


Comparative Religion

Zarathustra denounced all other gods (daevas) of the old religion as devils and deceivers who, in alliance with Angra Mainyu (evil spirit) seduce people to do evil and turn them away from the true religion of the worship of Ahura Mazda alone. Ahura Mazda, later known as Ormazd, is one. But he also has another divine being, very closely associated with him and through whom he expresses and accomplishes his will and purposes. This is Spenta Mainyu (Holy spirit). Besides Spenta Mainyu, other divine agents of Ahura Mazda are mentioned in Zarathustras teaching as presented in the Gathas. The most important of these are the Amesha Spenta (the immortal Holy ones). Six principal ones are mentioned: Vohu Manah (Good thought), Asha (Right), Kshathra (Power or Dominion), Hauvatat (Prosperity), Armaiti (Piety) and Ameretat (Immortality). As is clear from the translations, the first two can be regarded as Ahura Mazda's attributes, while the other four are his gifts to men. But in Zarathustra's thought, they seem also to be personified and represented as divine forces with the possibility of personal relationship with them. As such they have also been referred to as Ahura Mazda’s archangels. Vahu Manah, for instance, was the archangel who appeared to Zarathustra in his initial revelation and conducted him to Ahura Mazda's presence. This doctrine of divine beings who are however not separate and independent of Ahura Mazda but are rather his agents and modes of his self-expression, makes Zarathustra's conception of God a monotheism with rich diversity within it. Ahura Mazda is one, but with various and diverse modes of self-expression and activity.

Zarathustra's dualism Besides his unique ethical monotheism, Zarathustra taught at the same time a dualism which is seen as a more special characteristic feature of his teaching than his monotheism. He taught the existence of two powerful rival cosmic spiritual principles right from the beginning of the universe, one good the other evil. These were Spenta Mainyu (Holy spirit) and Angra Mainyu (Evil spirit). They are represented in later Zoroastrian scriptures as having been twin spirits. Zarathustra seems to have regarded them as having originated from Ahura Mazda (perhaps as two sons of one father). Their great opposition of nature and character originated in the exercise of their power of freedom of choice. Spenta Mainyu chose good, truth and right - that is he acted according to the will of Ahura Mazda, who is himself perfect wisdom and goodness. Spenta Mainyu is pictured as having a very close relationship with Ahura Mazda. For this reason, in later tradition we find him identified with Ahura Mazda, called also Ormazd. Angra Mainyu (also called Ahr fiman later) on the other hand chose evil, untruth and falsehood, that is, acted in complete opposition to Ahura Mazda and his will. There is thus right from the beginning of the universe a cosmic, spiritualethical struggle between Ahura Mazda (or Ormazd) with his Holy Spirit, Spenta Mainyu (and these two came to be identified later as already noted), on the one

The Teachings of Zarathustra


hand, and Angra Mainyu (who also has allies in the daecas or evil spirits) on the other. This cosmic conflict between good and evil, truth and untruth light and darkness and order and chaos which originated in the spiritual realm is characteristic of nature and existence, and is especially significant in man's soul. However, there is no idea of the fall or corrupted human nature as in Christianity. Rather, the greatest emphasis is laid on freedom of choice both in the spiritual realm and in the human realm. It is true that Angra mainyu and his allied evil spirits (the daevas) are always busy seducing men and persuading them to depart from the true religion of Ahura Mazda and the moral life and to follow false religion and evil ways of life and conduct. Yet man still has complete freedom of choice. Again Ahora Mazda through his Holy Spirit (Spenta Mainyu) and his other divine agents, especially Vohu Manah (Good thought), always shows and guides them to know what is right, good and true. The wise choose what is right, and thus ally themselves with Ahura Mazda in this spiritual-ethical cosmic conflict which will go on until the end of times, when Ahura Mazda will completely overcome Angra Mainyu (Shaintam or Satan) according to some later traditions) and his allied evil forces. It should here be noted that Zoroastrian dualism is unique, especially when we examine it in contrast with the other major form of dualism, Manichaeism. This was a dualistic system or religion founded by a Babylonian named Mani (or Manes) 216-276 AD. It taught that matter or the material world is inherently evil and the seat and source of evil, the realm of satan as opposed to the spiritual realm. There is an eternal cosmic struggle between the two realism, and salvation of the human soul or spirit is seen in terms of liberation and escape from entanglement with and domination by the material - physical aspect of reality. Asceticism is one of the main ways of achieving such liberation and salvation. In the Zoroastrian dualism on the other hand, the spiritual realm is not wholly good just by virtue of being spiritual. Indeed, it was in the spiritual - moral choice of the original spiritual beings, Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu, that evil originated, as already noted, as also did the dualism and the cosmic spiritual- ethical conflict. Thus in Zarathustra's teaching the material or physical world (as well as the spiritual world) is inherently good, being Ahura Mazda's creation. The material aspect of reality therefore is not despised and evil, as is the case in Manichaeism, and there is no asceticism. Rather, as Ahura Mazda's creation, the material aspect of reality is regarded with reverence and respect and is to be used and enjoyed wisely and responsibly.

Ethics in Zoroastrianism It should be clear by now that Zarathustra's teaching's constituted ■ highly ethical religious system. The underlying principle of Zoroastrian ethics (which are elaborately worked out later after Zarathustra's death) is the teaching that in the spiritual-moral struggle between good and evil, true and lie, light and darkness, a


Comparative Religion

struggle which extends into man's heart, man has complete freedom of choice. The wise person will choose good and not evil; he will thus side with the forces of good and with Ahura Mazda against the forces of evil and Angra Mainyu. It is in this way that every person should play his part in this cosmic struggle, by always thinking good thoughts, speaking good words, and doing good actions. Accordingly the highest virtue in Zoroastrianism is purity, of thought, words and deeds, as well as ceremonial purity. The latter was important particularly in relation to the ceremonial of the adoration of the sacred fire (Zarathustra had done away with most of the ceremonial aspect of the old religion). It was a gift of Ahura Mazda to mankind and symbol of him as god of light, as well as a symbol of purity and grateful warmth. The sacred fire had to be kept burning and should not go out. Nothing polluted or impure was to come close to it. "At every offering to thy Fire, I will bethink me of Right so long as I have power. "4 Another point stressed in Zarathustra's ethics is that the good man (of good thoughts, good speech and good deeds) also recognises and accepts the good and true religion which the prophet Zarathustra preached. In addition the good are willingly engaged in practical activities which promoted the welfare and progress of the people, for example in good progressive agricultural activities.

Zoroastrian Scriptures Zoroastrian scriptures are known as the Avesta (perhaps meaning knowledge). Of the many different writings which make up the Avesta, four important parts are still extant. These are described below: a) The Yasna: a collection of liturgical writings. The Gathas are the most important and perhaps the oldest of the Yasna collection. They are hymns and poems, written in the first person, in an ancient dialect. They are believed to have been spoken by Zarathustra himself. Besides other things, they contain his prophetic call, and his revelation from Ahura Mazda. They are the most important source of information on Zarathustra's life and thought. b) The Visparad: invocations to the various Lords, used at festivals. c) The Yasts or Yashts: a collection of sacrificial hymns of praise to specific spirits or divinities. d) The Vendidat: law of ritual purification.

^ Noss, J.B., M an's R eligion s, p. 445.

The Teachings of Zarathustra


Zoroastrian Ideas of Death At first Zarathustra seems to have entertained a hope of the final history of the forces of good over evil and the establishment of a Kingdom of righteousness here on earth. But later he saw this final triumph of good over evil as taking place in the next world, beyond death and at the end of the present world order. Three saviours are mentioned, who would come before the end, at intervals of 1000 years. These are Aushedar, then Aushedar-Mah, and finally Saoshyant. Each would be a supernatural descendant of Zarathustra and would like him have miraculous births with a 15 year old virgin mother. The last of the saviours, Saoshyant, would prepare for the final victory over forces of evil, and for the resurrection of the dead which would then take place. Judgement of the individual takes place not long after death, and one's fate is then fixewd until the general resurrection at the end of the present world order. The judgement takes place at the Bridge of the Separator (the Chinvat Bridge) which crosses over the abyss of Hell to Ahura Mazda's paradise. Here at this bridge, the soul's record is read, and one's deeds weighed, the good deeds against the bad. If the good deeds outweigh the bad, the soul, guided by Zarathustra, crosses the bridge without difficulty to Ahura Mazda’s paradise, ■ place of eternal spiritual bliss, joyous companionship and songs. The soul whose evil outweighs the good is not able to cross the bridge and falls over into hell below, a most foul-smelling place, without light, with frightful noises, yet terrible lonelines and other types of punishments. These ideas were not fully formulated until after Zarathustra's death. However, their roots and basic thrust were contained in Zarathustra's teachings. These and related Zoroastrian teachings had an important influence on corresponding ideas in Judaism, especially when the Jews were under the rule of Persians and Greeks, and when Zoroastrianism (or the Religion of the Magi as it was also called) was the dominant religion in the Persian Empire. Mainly through Judaism, Zoroastrian influence later found its way into Christianity, and later still into Islam.

Modern Zoroastrianism : The Parsis As a result of Muslim conquest of Persia and neighbouring areas, Zoroastrianism was much weakened although it continued to be tolerated as one of the religions of 'a Book' (along with Christianity and Judaism). Later, problems seem to have increased, probably from Muslim pressures, and many Zoroastrians migrated from Persia. They finally got to India, where other emigrants joined them later. They settled in Bombay and western India, where the greater percentage of present-day Zoroastrians called the Parsis (earlier spelt Parsees) are still to be found.


Comparative Religion

Their total number is about 150,000. About 30,000 remain in Iran, known also as Gabars. In Kenya, there were about 270 Parsis in 1972.5 The Parsi religion is no longer missionary, and does not allow non-Parsi visitors into their place of worship. The places of worship are called doors of Mithra, or fire temples. The sacred fire is always kept alight in the inner chamber of the temple. Worshippers bring offerings and receive ashes from the sacred fire. Prayers are also made at home, early in the morning and at night. The Parsis have a unique way of disposing of their dead. The corpses are not buried or cremated as this would desecrate the earth which is holy. Corpses are therefore placed on slabs high up in tall circular towers (Towers of Silence); where vultures lick them clean; the birds then drop the bones on lime below. The Parsis are known for their industriousness, a high ethical sense and social concern. The religion is showing signs of seeking to introduce some reform to keep up with modem changes.

A ctivity (1) Describe the nature of God in Zarathustra's thought (2) Discuss the notion of divine agents and their relation with Ahura Mazda. (3) Give the main differences between Zarathustra's dualism and that of manichaeism. (4) Comment on what you understand to be two cardinal principles of Zoroastrian ethics. (5) Comment on the characteristics and significance of the Gathas. (6) Discuss the salient features of Zoroasian eschatology. (7) Give some illustrations to show that Zarathustra's religion was not a complete innovation on his part. (8) What do you understand by the daevas? (b) Explain the meaning and significance of Spenta Mainyu and Angra Mainyu in Zarathustra's thought. (9) Explain the role of man in the cosmic struggle between Good and Evil in Zoroastrian ethics. (10) What do you understand by Saoshyant?

^ Kenya Churches Handbook, p. 314.


30 THE EVOLUTION OF JUDAISM B .J. Ekeya Introduction The main religious heritage of the Jewish people where ever they happen to be in the world is Judaism. It is an ancient religion with 4000 years of history. It has given rise to Christianity and Islam but has remained distinct and separate from its daughter religions. In this chapter we shall outline the first phase of the historical development of Judaism. Judaism cannot be studied in isolation from the Jewish people. It is the religion of Judaism that gives the Jewish people their distinctive character. The word "Judaism" has two meanings: (1) It denotes the entire civilization, past and present, of the Jewish people. By the entire civilization is meant all the secular and sacred elements of the culture, history and social institutions of the Jewish people. (2) It also denotes just the religion of the Jewish people.

The Land and Its People Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jewish people, is also called Canaan, the land of promise or Israel, the Holy land. The people are called Israelites, Jews, Hebrews. At present, this land is mostly in the modem Jewish state of Israel. To the religion of Judaism, Palestine and the Hebrew language are sacred. The reasons for this regard are as follows: (1) It was in the land of Canaan and in the Hebrew language that God's revelation was given to the people of Israel through the prophets. (2) Hebrew language dominates in the worship of the Jewish people. For the strict traditionalist, all worship is done in Hebrew, for the modernist, worship is done in part Hebrew. (3) Jewish religious rites and observances were formed in the Holy land. The consciousness of Canaan pervades every phase of the religious life of the Jews where ever they happen to be.


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(4) There is a strong belief among Jews everywhere that Israel and Hebrew have a role to play in the destiny of the world and of all nations. The belief is that, when all the Jews dispersed all over the world have been repatriated into the Holy land, it will bccome the centre from which all the nations of the world will be taught the Law of the Lord and how to live in peace.

The Historical Development in Judaism There are two phases which can be considered as distinct in the development of Judaism: the pre-christian and post-christian phases.

The Pre-Christian Phase The earliest phase of the rise and development of Judaism can best be understood by identifying the people who were ancestors of the Jewish people. Table 2 gives a comprehensive summary of theis history. FromTable 2, we can deduce the historical development of Judaism, from its earliest times to the dawn of the Christian Era. About 2000 years before the Christian Era, Abraham, the founder of the Jewish people, migrated from Mesopotamia to Canaan, the land which later came to be called the land of Israel or Palestine. Jacob, also called Israel, a grandson of Abraham, migrated to Egypt with his twelve sons, to escape a famine. They multiplied while there, and were enslaved probably by Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II. Moses one of their own, who had received an Egyptian Nobleman’s upbringing and education, led the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai. There, God entered into Covenant with the whole people. From that time on the people of Israel knew the God of their ancestors by the name of Yahweh. There on Mount Sinai, the people received the core of the law, and their religion was historically launched. It was on Mount Sinai too that Moses became the historical founder of their religion. The wanderings, wars, errors and settlement of the Israelites became an expression of their relationship with God. They bccame conscious of themselves as a people chosen by God, not because they were in any way superior to other peoples, but in order to fulfil a particular mission which God has chosen for them. They were to make known the one God to all the nations. Moses died in the desert. Joshua led the people to conquer Canaan. In time they settled and mingled with the indigenous inhabitants of Canaan. David and Solomon welded them into monarchy after conquering the Philistines, their most troublesome enemies. Solomon ambitiously increased their wealth and greatness, by use of forced labour, which fermented dissent among some of the tribes which made up the nation. Solomon built the first Temple in Jerusalem, thus making the capital the centre of worship.

The Evolution of Judaism


After the death of Solomon, ten tribes led by Jeroboam I, a man in charge of Solomon’s forced labour, broke away from the tribal confederation to form a Kingdom, the northern Kingdom, also called the Kingdom of Israel. The Southern Kingdom, also called the Kingdom of Juda, remained loyal to the House of David with Jerusalem as their capital. The two kingdoms never became united as one again. In the 8th century BC, Assyria invaded the northern Kingdom and transported the best of its citizens to Assyria as exiles. They never really returned. In their place, other peoples were brought in. These people were later known as Samaritans. In the 6th century BC the Southern Kingdom, Judah, was invaded by the Babylonians and the best of the citizens were taken into Babylon as exiles. The Babylonian Exile was a period when the religion of the Jewish people was purified. Before the Assyrian and Babylon Exiles in 722 and 586 respectively, great prophets arose in Israel. They were the nation's great religious leaders and teachers. They endeavoured to teach the people the true religion of Yahweh, their God. In their own times, the prophets were not listened to. Their writings, however, were preserved. When later the destruction of the nation and subsequent loss of political autonomy vindicated the teachings of the prophets, the Law of Moses along with the prophetic utterances and teachings, were used by the teachers who came after the exile, Ezra and Nehemiah, to instil a new chart into the people, The Persian Empire which conquered the Babylonian, freeing the exiled nations to return to their own homelands, was in turn conquered by the Greeks. Greek civilization and religion were imposed upon all the conquered peoples. Under the leadership of the Maccabees, the Jews fought against the Hellenization and the threatened destruction of Judaism. Despite the Greek threat, on the whole, Greek influence opened the Jewish people to a much wider view of the world. For one thing, for the first time, their sacred literature was translated into Greek, the Septuagint version of the Bible. The Roman empire conquered the Greek empire in 63 BC, towards the close of the first century BC. Rome appointed puppet Kings, the Herods, to rule Palestine which had become i Roman Province. These puppet Kings were under the direct control of Procurators, the most notorious of whom was Pontius Pilate. It was during the Roman domination around 6 or 7 BC, that Jesus Christ was bom and was later killed by crucification under Pontius Pilate around AD 30. In AD 70 the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed under the emperor Titus. This ended for all time the Jewish worship centre at Jerusalem. In AD 135, the Bar Kochba revolt was crushed under emperor Hadrian. The Jews were led to Rome in chains and scattered all over the world. It was the final dispersion of the Jewish people and the end of the first phase of the development of their religion, Judaism.


Comparative Religion

Table 2 History of Judaism from 2000 BC - 30 AD Dates BC

General Historical World Context

Hebrew Personalities and movements

Sacred Literature

4000 - 2000

Stone Age. Writing Invented : Egypt-Old Kingdom Palestine Early Bronze Age Egypt-middle kingdom. Egypt controls SyroPhoenician coast not interior 1st Babylonian Dynasty (Amorite)

Abraham's ancestors as nomads in Mesopotamia

Bible Popular account of creation

Amorites growing importance Abraham arrives into Canaan

Genesis 12 Akkadian poems of creation and of the flood. Emmuma Klish and Gilgamesh Epic Law Code of Hammurabi Genesis 12-50 Exodus, Numbers Deuteronomy, Joshua




Ramses II Pharaoh in Egypt


Philistine occupy Palestine coast Rise of Assyria under Tiglethpileser I

1200-1010 1010-970

970-931 931-721 722


Resin King in Damascus Continued rise of Assyria : Invades Israel and deports its inhabitants. Decline of the Assyrian power and the Rise of Babylonian Power.

Hammurabi and His Code. The patriarchs in Egypt Hebrews in forced labour. Moses and Exodus. The Law recieived on Sinai Joshua Invades Palestine Judges. Saul becomes King of Israel conquers Jerusalem and establishes it as capital Solomon builds the temple Kingdom divided into Judah and Israel. Prophets Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah active Activities of the Prophets Zephaniah, Nahum, Habbakkuk, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jerusalem is captured by Nebuchadnezzar and the people deported into Babylon

Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, I Kings 1-11, 1 Chronicles 1 -9

1 Kings 12-22, 2 Kings 1-17, 2 Chronicles 10-28, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah. 2 Kings 18 -25, 2 Chronicles 29­ 36 Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah 40 - 55

The Evolution of Judaism 555-336




7-6 ca AD 30

Exiles return from Babylon and start the Building of the second Temple, led by Nehemiah and Ezra. The prophets Hagai Zechariah, Malachi and Joel are active Rise of the Greek Alexandria was Empire ad Hellenistic founded later to conquest under become an important Alexander the Great Jewish settlement Spread of Greek Translation of the Law into Greek Civilization Palestine under the Antiochus IV Seleucids. The Great Epiphanes in Power Persecution of the Jews and their resistance led by the Maccabees. The rise of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Sectarian Sect of Qumran. The rise of the Pompey conquers Roman Empire under Jerusalem. Palestine Pompey and later, becomes Roman Julius Ceasar. Province, ruled by the Herods , puppet kings appointed by Rome. Rise of the Zealots who try to overthrow Roman rule. Birth of Jesus Christ Death of Jesus. Rise of Cyrus King of Persians. He conquers the Babylonians and issues an Edict of all Exiles back to their homelands.

175 Ezra-Nehemiah, Zachariah, Malachi, Job, Proverbs, Songs of Solomon, Ruth, Psalms, Joel

Jonah, Tobit

The Septuagint or Greek translation of Hebrew sacred writings, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Ecclesiasticus, I Macabees 2 Macabees Daniel, Judith The Qumran manual of discipline

Book of wisdom

Table 2 (cont.)

The Post-Christian Phase of the Development of Judaism The final destruction of the Temple in AD 70 was a decisive event in the life of the Jewish people and Judaism. The destruction of the Temple affected the newly formed Christian faith. Each had to discover alternative ways of worshipping God without the Temple.

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The destruction of the Temple left the Jewish nation in a state of deep despair. The question many asked was: Why did God permit this to happen to His people? Jews, Christians and the Romans all gave one answer: Israel as a nation had sinned. They could not, however, agree on the nature of sin. . The Romans described the Sin as the inconvenient rebellion against imperial Rome. .

The Jews said that Israel's sin was the war itself.


Christian Jews of Jerusalem held that the destruction of the Temple was God's punishment for the people's rejection of Jesus Christ.

The Jews needed something to fix their mind onto in recompense for the tragedy. Jewish Apocalyptists promised a speedy intervention by God to redeem His people; for just as surely as he had permitted the catastrophe, He would redeem. Meanwhile, what should the people do while awaiting God's redemption? In AD 425, the emperor Theodosian II abolished the office of Patriarch, thus bringing to an end whatever was left of Jewish autonomy as a nation within their own homeland. The centre of Judaism shifted to Babylon where quite a large population of Jews, who had not returned to Palestine after the Babylonian exile, had established itself. Jewish scholarship continued and the Gemara and Babylonian Talmud were produced. The Talmud is the accumulated wisdom of the Jewish people over many centuries. The 7th to 9th centuries saw the rise of Islam. When Mohammed founded Islam in AD 622, he hoped that the Jews, many of whom lived in Arabia, would support him. When they remained aloof, he drove them out of Medina. Those who remained had to pay a heavy tribute to him. After Mohammed's death in AD 632, his immediate successors, The Caliphs, expelled all the Jews and Christians from their territories. When the Arabs under Omar embarked on their conquest of the Mediterranean world, the attitude of Islam to the Jews changed. They were allowed to exist and could practise their religion. In the 10th and 11th Centuries, Islam Conquered Spain. Jews followed at the foot of the Arab conquerors and established themselves there. There followed z golden time for the Jews when Spain became the centre of Judaism. From the middle of the 10th century until the middle of the 11th, AD 1075-1141, persecution of Jews by the Berbers occurred. In 1492, Jews were expelled from Spain. They sought refuge in Italy, France, England, Germany, Poland and other European countries. Wherever the Jews migrated and settled, they brought with them their distinctive religion and civilization. Their adherence to the tradition of their ancestors made them distinct and separate from the rest of the people with whom they lived and interacted.

The Evolution of Judaism


Neither persecution nor threatened annihilation induced them to abandon their religion and civilization. In Europe they suffered numerous indignities and persecutions, but always they remained distinctly Jewish. For ■ time during the 13th to the 16th centuries Poland was tolerant towards the Jews. Here Yiddish, which is a mixture of Polish, Germany and Hebrew, developed as a language commonly spoken. Poland became, during this time, the centre of European Judaism. It was here too that Hasidism arose. Hasidism was the movement of those Jews characterized by a particular dress and custom. They believed in their leader, the Hasid, whom they regarded as a very holy man, a direct mediator of Grace to his people. Hasidic worship is characterised by joy, song and dance as a celebration of God's goodness. Antisemitism, the animosity that non-Jews have towards the Jews, has dogged their steps during the many centuries of their stay in Europe. This antisemitism flared up in persecutions, mass murders, segregation into ghettos and expulsions. Jews have always been a minority, distinguished by their religion and culture. They formed a vulnerable scapegoat, on which rulers conveniently directed the wrath of their subjects. Christians have not been exempt from anti-semitism. The llth-13th century crusades are marked by gross indignities and persecutions of Jews by Christians. Whenever Crusader zeal burned in Europe and Palestine, Jewish blood flowed. The exterminators felt that they were doing Christianity a noble duty by exterminating its oldest opponents, the Jews. The inquisition was another such example of misdirected Christian zeal against the so-called enemies of Christianity. Whenever the atmosphere permitted it, the Jews developed in the arts and sciences happened to be prevalent at the time. The Enlightenment of the 18th century, with its emphasis on Reason, challenged Judaism. It caused its adherents to subject it to reason. One result of this is Moses Mendelssohn's translation of the pentateuch and Psalms into German, the language of culture and learning at the time. Within Judaism itself, there were movements to update it. Reform Judaism, a movement started by Abraham Geiger, was an attempt to hold back Jews from defecting (under the influence of the French revolution) in the early 19th century. Some people within Judaism felt that the Reform Judaism was watering it down, so Orthodox Judaism was re-emphasized. The leader of this movement was Rabbi Raphael Hirsch. After the discovery of America in 1492, Judaism went to the New World along with everyone else who was seeking a new homeland. There too Jews established distinctive Jewish Communities. Great migrations to the US occurred before World War I. The persecution of Jews continued. In world war I it was the Jews of Russia who suffered the worst massacres. The number of Jews in Russia was greatly reduced. Henceforth the greatest number of Jews were to be found in America after world war I.


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1860-1904 saw the rise of Zionism. Spearheaded by Theodore Herzl, Zionism was conceived to be the answer to anti-semitism. Herzl became convinced that anti-semitism was not just religious prejudice, but racial as well. The one answer he could see was to reorganize the Jews into a nation with an autonomous centre of their own. This centre was to be Palestine. Resettlement of the Jews into their ancient native land began. Hebrew was resurrected by Eliezer ben Yehuda as the official language of the new settlers. There was divided opinion about the idea of settlement even among Jews, particularly among those who held on to the view that Palestine should not be settled before the Messiah returns. Hitler's massacre settled the issue. Everyone saw the creation of a Jewish homeland as the only hope for the continued and future survival of the Jewish people. In AD 1948 the Jewish state of Israel was created. In Israel Judaism in its various forms continues to thrive in orthodox, conservative and reformed movements.

A ctivity (1) Outline the historical development of the religion of Judaism. (2) Do you think that Christians are justified in their claims that Judaism has outgrown its purpose? (3) What is the significance of the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel for the world and for the Jewish people? (4) Examine carefully Table 2 on the history of Judaism and make sure you can follow it.


31 BASIC TEACHINGS AND PRACTICE OF JUDAISM B.J. Ekeya Introduction In the preceeding chapter on Judaism, we explored briefly, its 4000 year history. We ended the brief exploration by asking why Judaism has endured as a religion distinct from Christianity. In this chapter we shall try to answer that question by outlining the central beliefs of Judaism, including its worship. We shall conclude by discussing its continued relevance and importance in the world of religion.

The essential Features of Judaism Although Judaism shows a unified and continuing spiritual pattern throughout its history, it is not a simple and homogenous entity. In his book: Basic Judaism, Milton Steinberg lists the following seven strandsthatare woven together: (1) A doctrine concerning God, the universe and man; (2) A morality for the individual and society; (3) A regimen of rite, custom and ceremony; (4) A body of law; (5) A sacred literature; (6) Institutions through which the foregoing find expression; (7) the people, Israel - central strand out of which and about which the others are spun. The seven strands are closely intertwined to form one organism: Judaism.1 Today, there are two distinct versions of the Jewish religion: the strict traditionalists and modernists. They differ in their interpretation of Judaism,

1 Milton Steinberg, Basic Judaism, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1947, p. 3-4.

Comparative Religion


although they have more in common than apart. They agree on what constituted Judaism in its very beginning. What brought it into existence was a particular conception of God and it is that conception of God which has kept it alive ever since.

Assertions About God The fact of God's existence is assumed, it is given. God is not demonstrated. God is understood to be ■ person with attributes which can be expressed as: (1). God is one, not many, not two, not three not none. By this affirmation of the oneness of God, Judaism from very early in its history declared war against idolatry in all its forms. It has maintained this declaration down the ages by refuting: i)

the deistic quality of Zoroastrianism;


the trinitarian idea of Christianity, particularly its incarnation doctrine of the God-man;

iii) the atheism of modem society. (2) God is the creator of all things through all time. God's creative activity is not viewed as an action that took place once in the past, but as a continuing reality. God continues to give life to all the universe, sustaining it and calling forth newness. (3) God is spirit, that is, at one and the same time, He is a Mind that thinks and ■ power at work, a Reason and ■ Purpose. (4) God is lawgiver in that He is the source, not only of the natural law to which the whole universe conforms, but also of the moral law which regulates human existence. (5) God is the Guide of History. God directs and works in human history to realize His will and purpose for humanity. (6) God is humanity's helper. God is humanity's helper through: i)

the resources of the physical world which are considered dependable;


the sum total of all that makes up the human personality;

iii) the medium of other people and all their achievements and inventions; iv) the inspiring, meaning- giving, hope - inspiring thought of Himself; by the strength He gives humanity. (7) God is Liberator of human beings and their societies. He is the power which works in individuals and nations and will not permit them to acquiesce in servitude of their own making or that of other people's making. (8) God is the Saviour of souls. Judaism understands salvation as humanity's victory over its limitations such as ignorance and insensitivity. Salvation is

Basic Teachings and Practice of Judaism


understood also to be the conquest of sinfulness and evils within the person, such as pride, selfishness, hate, lust, cynicism and deliberate rejection of goodness and truth. God saves human beings from these and other perversions by helping to free the human spirit from all that restrains and frustrates it. These assertions about God have not led Judaism into formulating any creeds or dogmas which people confess as such. The main reason for lack of dogmas is that the Jews whose religion is Judaism are members of a religious community, a historic people and participants of a culture. In its origins and growth, Judaism started first with a people, then with a religion. The religion rates the good life higher than doctrines. Moreover, Judaism cherishes and encourages freedom of thought. Creeds and doctrines would restrict free thought. This is not to say that freedom of thought in Judaism is unlimited. Certain standards have been set to which ideas and speculations about God must conform, if they are to be acceptable. The idea of God as being transcendent or immanent, for example, is freely discussed, reflected and demonstrated by Jewish philosophers. The individual is left free to decide just how God should be envisaged. The very first of the commandments of God to Israel forbids making images of God. There are no pictorial representations of God in Judaism. God is understood to transcend the universe and to be independent of it. He is understood to be all good. Like all religions in the world, although God's being and presence are affirmed, as His goodness and benevolence, there is the ever­ present shadow which evokes the question: If God is, why is the world spoilt and weighed down with so much disorder and suffering, as if it were not the hardwork of b God of goodness? Theories have been advanced to account for the presence of evil in the world, some of which are: i) Evil may be the result of the sin of the one on whom it is visited, and its visitation is ■ chance to expiate that sin; ii)

Evil is a necessary aspect of life, for if humans are moral beings, evil enables them to choose the good.

iii) The existence of evil is a necessary opposite of good. iv) Evil is illusory in that it is merely an absence of good. v)

Evil is temporary. After this life humanity will be compensated for the evil they suffered.

vi) Evil represents a lower aspect of the human character which has survived. Time will erase it as human nature develops further. vii) Evil is an incomprehensible enigma, whose unravelling is God's alone.

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Despite all these theories which are advanced to account for evil, Judaism makes no effort to attain conformity on the issue. Each person is encouraged and expected to recognize evil as something to be fought by: i) Caring for the victims of evil: those who mourn, who are hungry, the naked, the sick, the ignorant, the oppressed, the enslaved. ii)

Rooting out evil from the world of nature, oneself, and society.

iii) Enduring those evils which cannot be fought,with dignity and courageous faith, and refusing to be demoralized by evil however large or grim it is. Judaism affirms the goodness of life when lived properly. Each person stands directly under God's gaze. Judaism does not advocate vicarious salvation. Each person must redeem his/her soul. One way by which a person is enabled to do this is by the observance of the commandments, the Torah.

The Importance of the Torah-Book After the destruction of the temple in AD 70, the synagogue replaced the temple as the centre of Jewish of worship. The distinctive features of a synagogue are: i) the ark which houses the Torah - book; ii) a lectern from which the Torah - book is read; iii) an ever burning lamp; iv) a congregation made up of a minimum of 10 men; v) the Torah-book. Judaism is a scriptual religion. It derives from, centres about and make explicit the contents of a sacred document. The most sacred of the scriptures of Judaism is the Torah. The Torah-book which is used in the Synagogue for worship services is a succession of parchments sewn together breadthwise and rolled about two wooden poles, making twin cylinders. The parchments contain a hand-written, painstakingly edited (for absolute accuracy), Hebrew original of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These books contain an account of the world from creation to Moses. Besides this, the Torah - book contains: i)

A doctrine or teaching about one universal God who is understood to be the Creator of all things, the Lawgiver, Liberator and Redeemer of all people.


An outline of the ethic of justice and loving kindness.

iii) A prescription of rituals, holy days, festive seasons and pertinent forms of worship and observance.

Basic Teachings and Practice of Judaism


iv) An ordinance of religious, domestic social, philanthropic and political institutions. v)

An explanation of the Jewish people as a Kingdom of priests, a holy nation through whom all families of the earth are to be blessed.

The Torah-book is the source of all that a Jew is as a religious person and as a member of the Jewish nation. The traditionalist Jews differ in their understanding of the significance of the Torah-book from the modernists. Both agree on the understanding of the Torah as teaching, guidance for the life of the Jewish people. The teaching originated with Moses on Mount Sinai and was carried on by the prophets, sages and poets who composed the various parts of the Hebrew bible. All the latter books of the Bible were composed in the Torah spirit. The extra-biblical literature of the classical rabbinic age (3rd-5th centuries BCE) that is, the Mishnah, Talmud, Gemara, Halakha consolidated, expounded and advanced the Torah. They all form the vastness of Jewish Tradition. The following table gives the different interpretations of the significance of the Torah in Judaism according to the traditionalist and modernist views. Despite the differences that exist between the traditionalist and modernist interpretation of Torah, both revere it, each in their own way, and both look to it for guidance and inspiration; the two share a common purpose.

W orship Judaism recognizes the need for an individual to address God in prayer. In individual prayer, a person enters into a one-to-one dialogue with God, laying bare before God all the needs and moods of daily life. As social beings, humans need to worship in a group or community. There is a schedule of times and seasons laid down in Judaism when people should get together as Jewish people to worship God. Particular rituals have been worked out for weekdays, sabbaths, festivals and holy days. In the Torah, the seventh day, the sabbath is a day of rest and of worshipping God in community. Sabbath worship is carried out in the synagogue and is characterized by a festive air.

The Synagogue The Synagogue can be square or an oblong building, with the Ark to the east All worshippers face the Ark. In older orthodox (traditonalist) synagogues, there is a gallery which is reserved for women. In reform or modernist synagogues men and women sit together. The Ark containing the Torah book is draped by a curtain or grille, in front of which hangs on ever-lighted lamp. The reading desk or pattern from which prayers and the law are read is directly in front of or facing the Ark. Some modem synagogues have pipe organs with a choir behind a grille.


Table 3 Interpretations of the Torah Traditionalist Interpretation of Torah

Modernist Interpretation of Torah

1. The whole Torah, every word and letter 1. The Torah is inspired to the extent was God revealed directly to the to which truth and goodness are whole community of Israel on Mt. present in it. Torah is tested Sinai, or indirectly through Moses. against the standard by which Every part of it is completely true everything else is judged. It is not and good. The nature of revealetion the work of a single person or and inspiration guarantees its period, but is a composite of several absolute intellectual and moral documents written by different validity.

authors and put together by unknown editors. 2 Judaism was revealed completely on Mt. Sinai and cannot change. Under all the various ways it has been restated down the ages it has persisted as one and the same from Moses to the present time.

2. The law of change is universal and Judaism has been no exception. It continues to grow.

3. The revelation of the Torah

3. Accepts the rest of scripture and Tradition as generally inspired. It is not regarded as beyond criticism , but the natural unfoulding of a particular people's pilgrim age from darkness to perception. It is a record of how that people face and tried to answer the deepest questions of human existence.

overflows into the rest of scripture and into classical Talmudic literature, and in diminishing degree into later rabbinic writings. Both the Torah-book and the Torah Tradition are divinely inspired.

The interior of the synagogue has no pictures although it can be decorated with stained glass windows, hanging candelabra, decorated crowns to the scrolls or Torah and panels containing the 1st words of each of the ten commandments. Synagogue Attire: Men wear hats or skull caps and white prayer shawls round their shoulders. Women can wear hats but no prayer shawls.

Basic Teachings and Practice of Judaism


Synagogue officers: A synagogue is usually headed by a rabbi who is ■ teacher and lawyer (in Torah). He need not be the worship leader, although he may preach in a service. In large synagogues, he is the minister and he preaches, assisted by the reader. The reader is the chief officiant at the synagogue worship service. He reads lessons and recites prayers. He must have a good voice and be musically trained in chant and song.

Order of Service In orthodox (traditionalist) synagogues the service starts at 8.30 a.m. on Saturday morning (sabbath) and lasts three hours. In Reform (modernist) synagogue, it starts later and lasts 1^ hours. The order of the service is as follows: i)

The Reader in a black robe, hat and prayer shawl recites, from the lectern, a prayer of praise to God, praising His unity and providence. This is followed by 18 blessings in which God is praised for His goodness and care for Israel. Tiiese prayers and blessings are recited in Hebrew in orthodox synagogues and in part English, part Hebrew in Reform synagogues. The congregation sits during most of the service.


The Shema is recited in Hebrew. It is the prayer which all jews must recite daily. It goes like this: "Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy might" (Deut. 6.4-5).

iii) The Ark is then opened and the Torah-book is carried round the synagogue in procession. As it passes the people they turn towards it and bow. The congregation keeps their faces turned towards the Torah-book as it makes its way round the synagogue. When the holder of it reaches the Lectern, he unveils it for all to see, places it at the desk and unrolls it to the lesson prescribed for the day. iv) The Reading of the law follows. Any lay man may read the lesson. In some reform synagogues, women too may read the lesson. The law is read in Hebrew and may be followed by an English translation. This is followed by a lesson from Prophets from a printed book. v)

After reading, the Torah-book is rolled up, veiled and returned to the Ark in procession as when it was taken out.

vi) A short teaching follows, then traditional hymns, prayers and blessing. After this, the congregation may disperse. vii) Special services may be held, followed by a sanctification of a cup of wine and two loaves which are blessed and later eaten by all present.


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viii) No collection is taken during the service because the handling of money is forbidden during the sabbath, as are mourning and fasting. Regular and special donations are promised and the names of donors are announced at the lectern. ix) The worship service at the synagogue is concluded at home by the family meal which is eaten in an atmosphere of festivity. At Passover, this meal is called the seder. The table is lighted with candles and wine is drunk. The food consists of unleavened cakes, dishes with egg, roast sheep bone, nuts, raisins, salt water and bitter herbs to commemorate the bondage in Egypt. Songs and hymns are sung. Strangers and non-Jews are welcome. A special cup of wine is set aside for Elijah and the door left open in case he comes in to announce the day of the Lord.

Festivals and Their Significance The Jewish tradition orders that a number of Festivals be observed throughout the year. The Sabbath commemorates the creation and the Exodus from Egypt It is a day of rest for man and beast; a day to lay aside striving and anxiety so that all may enjoy a foretaste of the world to come. The sabbath institution answers the human need for recreation. Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, is, according to Jewish legend, the anniversary of the creation of the world. On this day, God's sovereignty is reaffirmed as is the quest for the regeneration of the heart. Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement. On this day all in Judaism fast from evening to evening in atonement for all the sins each has committed in the past year. Each person scrutinizes his or her life, confesses the evil done and seeks to be regenerated in God and His goodness. The Pesach-Passover commemorate the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. It is also the spring festival in which the whole nation awaits expectantly for the deliverance of the whole of humanity. Purim • the Day of Lots commemorates Israel’s deliverance from the hands of Haman. On this day, the nation also renews its faith in its ability to outlive the hamans of other times. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, commemorates the victory Judaism won when it faced extinction at the hand of Antiochus Epiphanes IV. The Maccabees led in this struggle. Tish’a B'Ab - the nith day of the month of Ab, when the nation mourns over the destruction of the Temple. These are the principal religious festivals which adorn the year, each with its particular ritual and prayers. Through these rituals and many others, the Jew affirms certain things about human life and the place of God in it.

Basic Teachings and Practice of Judaism


(1). For the traditionalist, the various rituals and observances are revealed and so ordained by God. This alone justifies their observance. (2). Judaism is understood to be more than just a church, a community of people, but rather a way of life, full and complete. Ritual is the instrument which moulds the beliefs, morals and worship of the Jew, making religion penetrate every aspect of life. (3). Judaism seeks to sanctify life. Ritual enables the ordinary person to be constantly aware of God. This awareness is also encouraged by the various rituals that govern all aspects of life.

The Continuing Relevance of Judaism Judaism has survived as a distinct religion chiefly because of the way it understands itself in relation to other nations. To speak of Judaism, as we have tried to show, is to speak about the Jewish people: (1). Judaism came into existence because the people of Israel accepted God's choice of them at the beginning of their history. (2). Having accepted God and His Torah, Israel accepted the responsibility, the mission God gave them for the rest of the world. Judaism has not yet fulfilled this mission and continues to believe that the future of the whole of humanity is closely tied up with that of Israel. (3). Judaism dreams of the Kingdom of God, ■ perfected world where all people are regenerated. This Kingdom of God will be brought about by the Messiah, a human being especially appointed by God and equipped by Him with the power and authority to cleanse the world of its evils and to establish good in unshakable foundations. The Messiah will usher in this golden Messianic age, during which time God’s sovereignty over all the nations will be established. : This is the torch of hope that Judaism holds for the rest of humankind. Judaism will exhort all people meanwhile to do whatever they can in preparation for the advent of this cosmic redemption. Each person should hope, pray and await the coming of the Messiah.


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A ctivity Read the following Biblical passages and discuss their implications for the claims which Judaism makes of being a religion revealed by the One God for the regeneration of the rest of humanity. Gen. 12: 1-3 Deut. 7: 1-15; 32: 45-47 Isaiah 49: 18-23 60: 1-22 62: 1-12 66: 5-13 Joshua 23: 6-4: 28.

Further Reading Roth, C. A History of the Jews From Earliest Times Through the Six Day War, New York: Shocken Books, 1961. Neusner, J. Judaism in the Beginning of Christianity, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. Steinberg, M. Basic Judaism, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1947.


32 THE RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL BACKGROUND OF EARLY CHRISTIANITY G.E.M. Ogutu Introduction The next three chapters discuss Christianity, one of the religions of mankind. Religion can be a social cement and an impulse towards renewal; it can intimidate people and force them to reform, or it can help them to act independently. It is in the light of these functions of religion that we shall present Christianity in world history. Early in January 1964, Pope Paul VI visited Jerusalem for three days. What amazed the onlookers and those who followed that trip through radio and television was the wild enthusiasm which greeted the Pope. People had come from all over the world and more from the Near East and the Mediterranean lands to join the pontiff in his historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Via dolorosa was so crowded that His Holiness could not pause at the stations of the Cross but had to force his way to the place of the skull. We cannot adequately comprehend that narrow way along which Jesus fell seven times carrying his cross until he reached the site for crucification, without first talking about the world in which Christianity emerged and the social aspects of the community in which it sprang up. These are the concerns of this chapter. The chapter will look into: (1). The Jewish and Graeco-Roman worlds in which Christianity emerged; (2). the political climate in Palestine at the time; (3). the social and religious characteristic of the people among whom Jesus found his followers; (4). the reasons why the founding of what turned out to be a major world religion was inevitable in Palestine at the time.

The Jewish World Christianity arose in Palestine among Jewish people, where Jesus lived and died. It is within the framework of Jewish world-view that the teachings of Jesus were delivered. The disciples of Jesus also received the teachings as Jews. We find that when Paul was going about preaching to the Gentiles he often started at the


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Jewish synagogues in the towns he visited. This explains why we need to understand the social and religious situation of the Jews inorder to understand the founding of Christianity. Palestine, the promised land of the Jews, lay at the cross-road between Egypt and Assyria and between Arabia and Asia Minor. Because of its position, Palestine was annexed by almost every nation that came to power in the region, for example, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Macedonian Greeks and finally the Romans. In 63BC the Romans took Jerusalem and are said to have defiled the temple. It was under the Roman rule that we find Palestine at the time Christ was bom and right through his life on earth. Historical records tell us that the Jews were not an easy people for the Romans to govern. This was because of their exclusive religion which gave no room for other religions except the Lord of Hosts. In order to rule these people the j Romans had no choice but to respect their religion centered on the Law, or Torah. In the course of their history, the Law became the symbol of Jewish national spirit. Their strong desire to study and interpret the law accurately led to the emergence of the scribe or teacher of the Law, who had the responsibility of both preserving and interpreting the law. We need to emphasize that, for the religious world of the Jews, the Torah gave Judaism its identity, defined the privileged position of the Jews as a chosen people and gave them their self-awareness. But their contact and interaction with the gentiles (non-Jewish people) led to uncertainity, calling for a re-examination of their attachment to the Torah. Like any conquered people, the Jews insisted on intensification of the norms of the Torah. It is because of this problem that we find the role played by the Essenes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees of special significance. The Essenes were concerned about priestly purity, which they sought to realize in the wilderness. They shrank from contact with the world and practised strict observance of the laws of the Sabbath.

The Pharisees, unlike the Essenes, practised the observances in everyday life, seeking to put the Torah into effect in normal life. This was not practicable in the eyes of the Essenes. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were from the priestly caste and were liberal in both political and cultural matters. This made them different from the Pharisees who were enemies of anything foreign. Sadducees respected the written law only. Thus, the common denominator to the Jewish understanding of their world was that their history was a gradual revelation of the purpose of Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts. Conquests, famines, and whatever calamity that befell the land was , divine punishment. By the time of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Jews were found in various cities of the Mediterranean world. These Jews of the diaspora (scatter) erected synagogues wherever they settled. It was at these synagogues that they taught the

The Religious and Cultural Background of Early Christianity


Law and the prophets. These synagogues played an important role in the spread of the Christian faith.

Greco-Roman W orld The Greeks were a very proud people. To them, the Greek was the only man. They produced such great philosophers as Plato (427-347 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC). Their thought pattern based on the Greek city state, was aristocratic and racist To them all non-Greeks were barbarians (inferior). However, all this changed with the conquests of Alexander the Great between 334 and 323 BC. As a result of the establishment of Greek empire incorporating Palestine, a consmopolitan society emerged. The Greek found himself lost in the immensity of the empire, while their gods found themselves in competition with other gods including the Lord of Hosts. Their rules of conduct also conflicted with the customs of others, including Jewish Torah. In spite of these conflicts, the teachings of Greek philosophers, particularly Plato, contributed to the evolution of some of the Christian ideas. It was Plato who evolved the idea of two worlds - the material and the immaterial. He also talked about immortality and the pre-existence of the soul, as well as the idea of the good. His teaching about the divine artisan who took formless matter and gave it form runs through the teachings of the Christians centuries later. When the Greek empire declined, the Romans took over. As we have indicated, the Romans did not impose their religion on the Jewish people. They were known for their wise administration, unity of the empire and ease of communication. Their legal code and interest in practical works, moral behaviour and human acts were crucial. Records tell us that millions of people enjoyed the benefits of Roman rule and Roman civilization; and the chief of these benefits was the Roman Peace, the Pax Romana. However, from the religious point of view, the Roman religion was no more than a collection of superstitions, combining gods from Italy, Greece, Egypt and elsewhere. For most people, religion was a matter of guarding against misfortune by offering prayers and sacrifices to a variety of divine and semi-divie figures including the Roman Emperor. It is in this kind of empire that Christianity emerged.

Social Aspects o f Christianity (This section makes references to the New Testament You may like to have a Bible beside you as you read). Christianity is sometimes referred to as one of the renewal movements within Judaism which existed in Syria and Palestine between AD 30 and AD 70. The pillars of early Christianity were travelling apostles, prophets and disciples who moved from place to place and who relied mostly on groups of sympathizers;


Comparative Religion

it was these wandering, homeless charismatics that handed down what later became Christianity. Their role as charismatics - that is, people with a special charisma that draws others to them - was grounded in a call over which they had no control. The people who followed Jesus are identified with homelessness, lack of family, lack of possessions and lack of protection. Those who were called left home (Marie 1:16,10:28) followed Jesus, and like him became homeless. They not only left their families behind but also hated them (Luke 14:26). Lack of possession was a normal thing (Matthew 6:25-32). The charismatics had no protection but relied on the Holy spirit (Matthew 10:17). The picture that we see of these people is that they were people released from the everyday ties of the world. They had left home, wives and children, left their families to bury their dead, and who took the lilies and the birds as their model of ideal way of life. These were outsiders: the sick and crippled, prostitutes and good for nothings, tax collectors and prodigal sons. From the foregoing, four factors make up the social aspect of Christianity, namely socio-economic, socio-ecological, socio-political and socio-culturai. Social rootlessness was ■ key socio-economic factor. This was a normal phenomenon within Judaism found among the prophetic movements, the Essenes and followers of Jesus. Therefore, at the time of Jesus there were many socially rootless people in Palestine. The socio-ecological factor comes in to play when we consider the fact that the movement founded by Jesus was basically a countryside movement. Jesus is found in the countryside of Galilee (Mark 14:70), the village of the Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27), the region of Tyre (Mark 7:24) and the country of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1). It is only towards the end that we find this renewal movement heading for Jerusalem. The Jewish community was a theocracy that is it was subject to the rule of God. The movement founded by Jesus was also a radical theocracy which proclaimed the imminent rule of God, which could be interpreted to mean the end of all other rules, including that of the Romans and the priests. The tensions between earthly structures of government furthered the longing for the Kingdom of God. The final factor is the socio-cultural. We said earlier in this chapter, that the Torah gave the Jews their identity. The interpretation of the Torah led to tensions between Jewish and Hellenstic culture. The Jews resisted assimilation by foreign cultures and this is what led to strong resistance to domination. The crisis in Palestinian Jewish society led to the search for new patterns of religious and social life. It was such a pattern that early Christianity attempted to provide.

The Religious and Cultural Background of Early Christianity


A ctivity (1) Explain how Judaism and Greco-Roman ideas influenced the development of Christianity. (2) Describe in your own words the social aspects important in the development of Christianity.


33 CHRIST AND THE CHURCH HE FOUNDED G.E.M. Ogutu Introduction Many centuries before it happened, the prophet Isaiah had foretold the coming of the Messiah, his passion and final triumph. From the readings of Isaiah's prophecy we hear of the redeemer, innocent, persecuted and martyred and finally lifting himself from the depths of suffering to the heights of glory. By the time Jesus was Ascending into heaven he had a band of just about a hundred and twenty followers. However, in spite of the small numbers, Jesus had predicted the miraculous and permanent growth of the church. In this chapter we shall address ourselves to Jesus Christ, his first band of followers and the church which Jesus founded.

W ho was Jesus Christ? The question as to who Jesus was has occupied the minds of men and women for centuries. In a comparative study like this one, this is a question we must raise, if we are to relate Christ to Gautama (Buddha) (567-487 BC) and the religion which he founded, the never ending Brahman of the Hindu religion, Confucius (551-479 BC) and Confucianists after him, the Shinto or the way of the gods in Japan, and Taoism. To Christians, the human being had body and soul. The body was made up of senses while the soul had mind and will which gave man mental knowledge. God increased man's knowledge by a special power called Grace. Without the power of Grace, which came directly from God, everything else was impossible as man could not know either the natural or the supernatural things adequately. God who created the world and mankind wanted men to be happy for ever. Man sinned and this sin prevented him from receiving the Grace of God. And so, God the son took human form in the womb of Mary, was bom and called Jesus, lived and preached, died on the cross, was buried, rose after three days and departed from this world leaving behind a group of followers to preach salvation. These arguments about the person of Jesus took years to evolve and were later summarised in what came down to us as the Nicene Creed which runs as follows:

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I believe in one God, the Father almighty Maker of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God. Bom of the Father before all worlds, God from God, light from light, true God from true God. Begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father: by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the virgin Mary: and was made man. He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried. He rose again on the third day according to the scriptures; and ascended into heaven: and is seated at the right hand of the Father. And he will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. And of his Kingdom there will be no end. The main role of Jesus was saving men from sin and enabling them to enter heaven. It is in the light of all this that we must understand Jesus humanity, His suffering in the body, His condition after resurrection, His return to heaven, His presence in the Eucharist preserved by the Christian churches, His delegation of power to His disciples and their representatives, His actions in human history and His expected return to the earth at the Last Day. In summary, Jesus was the promised Messiah of Isaiah 53 and 61- a claim that was never accepted by the other renewal movements in Palestine which we considered in the previous lecture. In Jesus Christ a preparatory history both divine and human came to a close. In him all the revelations which God had made to both Jews and Gentiles are fulfilled and the redemption of mankind realised. In his divine nature, as Logos - the word (John 1:1), He is the eternal son of the Father who was an agent in the creation of the world and remains an agent in the preservation of the world. And so his incarnation, his being bom of a woman, was a fulfilment of the manifestation of God. In his human nature, as Jesus of Nazareth, he is the fulfilment of the religious growth of humanity, with an earthly ancestry traced to Abraham by Matthew the evangelist of Israel and to Adam by Luke the evangelist of the Gentiles. In him is solved the problem of religion, the reconciliation and a fellowship of man with God.

Early Life of Jesus Jesus Christ was bom in Palestine at the little town of Bethlehem in Judaea by the betrothed (engaged) Virgin Mary. The land was generally peaceful at the time of his birth. The early life of Jesus is veiled in mystery. All we hear of him is that, when he was a boy of twelve, he astonished the Rabbis in the temple by his questions. Jesus grew up quietly and unnoticed in a Galilean mountain village in a lowly carpenter’s shops away from Jerusalem, from schools and libraries. His main instruction came from the beauties of nature, the services of the synagogue, the



secret of the communion of the human soul with God, and the scripture of the Old Testament which prophesied his own character and mission. Jesus had no contact with Essenes and could only provoke the hostility of both Pharisees and Sadducees. He began his ministry at the age of thirty following baptism by John the baptist and probation in the wilderness where he was tempted. The ministry only lasted three years, during which time he chose twelve apostles and seventy disciples. In his teaching he announced the founding of a spiritual kingdom which should grow from the smallest seed (Mustard seed) to the mighty tree, and working like leaven from within, should gradually pervade all nations and countries. His teachings were punctuated by miracles and signs. He was hated and persecuted by the Jewish hierarchy. He was betrayed by one of his chosen ones, Judas, was condemned by the Sanhedrin rejected by the people and denied by Peter. Surrounded by his weeping mother and faithful disciples, he prayed for his murderers, and, finally committed his soul to his heavenly Father and died with the exclamation: "It is finished". Thus, Christ died, was buried and rose again from the dead on the third day and ascended into heaven.

The Pentecost and the Founding of the Church Before Christ ascended into heaven, he told his disciples to go and wait in Jerusalem until he sent the Holy Spirit to give them power. The descent of the Holy spirit upon earth took place ten days after Christ had ascended into heaven. It could not take place without the preceding resurrection and ascension. The Passover festival was very important in the Jewish religious calendar. It reminded them of how Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts, had delivered them from bondage in Egypt. It was a time of great joy. It was ■ Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the passover festival, when the apostles and disciples were assembled that: 'A Supernatural sound resembling that of a mighty rushing wind came down from heaven and filled the whole house where they were assembled. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit'. Following the descent of the Holy Spirit, the disciples spoke in tongues. People thought they were drunk, but Peter preached a sermon that led to the conversion of three thousand people. These events commented the foundations of the Church, which we shall define simply as: the community of believers in the risen Lord. After this, the believers returned to their homes and villages - this marked the beginning of the spread of the church which Christ founded by the pouring of the Holy Spirit. But this birthday of the Christian church was only the beginning of a greater spiritual harvest that the prophet Joel talked about when he said that the Holy spirit shall be poured out on all flesh, and all the sons and daughters of men shall walk in the light, and God shall be praised with new tongues of fire for the completion of his wonderful work of redeeming love.


Comparative Religion

From Jerusalem to Antioch

The church which was founded at Jerusalem was a purely Jewish institution. It was first led by Peter and later by James, the Lord's brother. Soon the Jews who were living in the Hellenistic world joined the infant church and developed a missionary spirit. As a result of the new missionary zeal, the gospel was preached in Syria among the gentiles (non-Jewish people) who also joined the community of believers. The Christians at Antioch were very keen to have preachers sent to them. Barnabas and Paul (a persecutor converted to Christianity) were sent to them. This marked the beginning of Gentile Christianity. By the close of the Apostolic period j churches had been founded in most parts of the Roman Empire. The step from Jerusalem to Antioch led Christianity from the sphere of Palestinians Judaism to that of Hellenisic culture. The gospel was not only taken over in different languages but was also expressed in a different thought system. Among the people who were joining the church were jews who had accepted j1 the teachings of the Pharisees and who regarded the religion of Christ as an extension of Judaism. According to these peoples, converting people to Christianity was seen merely as increasing the number of adherents to the Laws of Moses. As a result, these Judaizers insisted that the gentiles had to be circumsized, according to the Law, when they become Christians. This position led to a controversy which forced Paul, Barnabas and Titus to travel to Jerusalem to consult the elders there.

The Apostolic Council of Jerusalem The church was already twenty years old when the agitation of the Judaizers brought it to the brink of a split which would have seriously impeded its progress and threatened its final success. The subject of the consultation at Jerusalem was two fold: to settle the personal relations between Jewish and gentile apostles and to divide their field of work; to decide the question of circumcision and to define the relation between Jewish and gentile Christians. The resolution was the recognition of Paul and Barnabas and their spheres of influence among the gentiles. On the question of circumcision, it was resolved that gentile converts to Christianity were not to be forced to observe the Laws of Moses provided they abstain from meat offered to idols and from strangled animals and from blood. TTiey were to beware of heathen life. The meeting in Jerusalem was the first church council in Christianity history. It's importance was categorical to the future of the faith. If it had not taken that decision, perhaps the church would not have reached us, as the gentiles could have rejected the Jewish practice and blocked the way for the spread of the faith. On the other hand, we have to bear in mind that circumcision is widely practised.



The Characteristics of the Apostolic Church Christianity as understood by the Apostolic church was not merely a doctrine but a total way of life: a new moral creation, a saving fact which was initially embodied in Jesus Christ and later released by him to embrace the entire human race and bring it into fellowship with God. Thus, membership of the Apostolic Church came as a new life: a regeneration, a conversion and sanctification, restoring harmony and peace to the soul. The entire substance of the apostolic teaching was the witness of Christ, the gospel and the free message of the divine love and salvation which appeared in the person of Christ. Salvation was seen to be secured to mankind by the works of Jesus, calling for the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth. That salvation was to be completed at the second coming of Christ which the Apostolic church expected to be very soon. The New Testament tells the story of the life and mission of Jesus and the consequence; the teaching of one mind, the mind of Christ. He gave to his disciples the words of life which the Father gave him, and inspired them with the spirit of truth to reveal his glory to them.

A ctivity (1) Describe the development of the Christian church, from Pentecost to the Council of Jerusalem. (2) Explain the importance of the Council of Jerusalem. (3) What is meant by the statement that the Christianity of the apostolic church was not merely a doctrine but a total way of life? (4) Give an account of Jesus meeting with his disciples after his resurrection.


34 GROWTH AND SPREAD OF CHRISTIANITY G.E.M. Ogutu Introduction The story of the growth and spread of Christianity is an amazing story. It is a story that portrays the assurance, command and promise that was made to the disciples by the founder of the church himself. According to Matthew it runs like this: And Jesus came and said to them, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.1 In the previous chapter we looked at Christ and the church he founded. We traced the story of the primitive church upto the Apostolic council of Jerusalem. In this chapter we want to look at the church and the Roman world, medieval Christianity, the crisis of the reformation and Christianity in the modem world. It is importan to note that the ground covered by this chapter is very wide. What you have here will be a summary of the key issues involved. The chapter will look at:(1) The spread of Christianity into the other parts of the Roman Empire and the relationship between that empire and the Christian church; (2) Circumstances that led to Christianity becoming the religion of the Roman Empire; (3) Medieval Christianity and the rise of the crusades; (4) The internal problems of the church that led to Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation; (5) Nineteenth century missionary zeal and the rise of modem Christianity; (6) Christian unity in diversity and the role of ecumenical movements.

1 Matthew 28: 18-20.


Christianity in the Roman W orld Following the Council of Jerusalem and it's decision, that non-Jewish people did not have to obey the Laws of Moses in order to be Christians, Paul and his team went back to Antioch eager to preach the gospel even further afield. Just before the Council, he had completed his first missionary journey (AD 45-49) which started at Seleucia (the nearest port to Antioch), on to Salamis, Paphos (both in Cyprus), Perga, Leonium, Derbe, back to Perga and on to Seleucia and Antioch. After the issues had been cleared Paul decided to visit the churches he had founded. The second missionary journey (AD 50-53) was ambitious. Taking off from Antioch he visited Tarsus, Derbe, Iconium, Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, across the sea to Caesarea, down to Jerusalem and back to Antioch (Acts 15: 36-18:22). The third missionary journey (AD 53-58) took Paul to most of the places he visited during the second journey. The only difference is that the third journey ended in Jerusalem where he was warmly received by James but arrested, tried and imprisoned. Paul, being a Roman citizen appealed to Caesar for a proper trial. It was therefore decided that he be taken to Rome. On the journey to Rome, Paul, accompanied by Luke, was well treated. Their ship was wrecked off Malta but no life was lost. On reaching Rome, they found there was already a Christian Church. Paul was warmly welcomed and in spite of being under guard, was given a house where people visited him. He spent time writing to friends (Philemon) and to communities (Colossians, Ephesians and Phillipians) whom he had left behind. Paul's appeal was unsuccessful and was he put to death. The persecutions by Emperor Nero, following the fire of Rome, which the Christians were blamed, led to the martyrdom of St. Peter as well. From historical records we learn that Apostolic Christianity spread very rapidly through the Roman empire, reaching places like Judea, Italy, France and North Africa, following the strong roots it had taken in Asia Minor. The circumstances which favoured the rapid spread included the unification brought about by the Roman Empire, the common language and the influence of the Jews and of the Synagogue. But these were just general causes. More specific causes included: a)

the force of the Christian truth as opposed to the myths and fables of other religions;


the high moral standards of the Christians - their integrity and charity attracted many;


their doctrines, particularly integrity and dignity of all men in the sight of God;

Growth and Spread of Christianity



miracles and wonders which abounded were seen as signs of God’s good pleasure and support; e) the examples of the martyrs showed that here there was something which the faithful believed was worth dying for. It also showed a strong belief in the reality of the next life. The church suffered persecutions under the Roman Emperors Nero, Domition, the Antonine Emperors (Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus, Marcus, Aurelius and Commodus) Septimus Severus, Maximian of Thrace, Decius, Valerian and Diocletian. The severity and extent of the persecutions varied from one emperor to the next. Diocletian died in AD 305 and there was a lot of rivarly between his successors. This rivarly ended on October 28, 312 when Constantine defeated Maxentius, his rival, at the battle of Milvian Bridge. While preparing for the battle, Constantine is said to have had a dream in which he saw the sign of the first letters of Christ’s name in the Greek alphabet, that is: With this sign were the words: "With this sign you will conquer". So Constantine painted the swords and shields of his army with the sign and approached Maxentius whom he met on the Milvian bridge. Maxentius lost his life and most of his army. Constantine was convinced that it was the dream, the sign and his strong belief in the Christian sign that led to his victory. So, when he became the sole Emperor he not only stopped persecution of Christians but later (AD 323) declared Christianity the sole religion of the Empire.

The Threat of Islam Christianity spread fast in Mediterranean Europe, Northern part of Africa, west, Northwest and Northern Europe. Within a few centuries the whole of Europe was Christian. To the East it spread to India as far as China, Japan and Korea. Founded in Arabia, Islam quickly spread to those parts of the Middle East and Mediterranean lands where Christianity had found roots. This affected Palestine, Asia Minor, North Africa, Spain and Portugal. While the Muslims organised Jihads (Holy Wars) to fight and convert the areas which had taken to Christianity, the Christians, under the guidance of the Popes, organised the Crusades to recover those Christian lands which were rapidly falling to Islam. The first crusade (1099) captured Jerusalem. The second crusade (1144) was a complete failure, the third crusade (1189) was not very successful either. The forth crusade (1261) was directed to Constantinople. The crusades did not achieve much, but they exposed the Christian west to the cultural treasures of the East. The Medieval Church was riddled with problems, some of which centered on the office of the Pope. There was general decline in the papal power because of corruption and immorality. There was also the problem of rivarly between church and state as to who had the final say, the Pope represented by the Bishops, or the Emperor of a given area. In spite of these problem the rise of ascetic living and monasticism, that is, living in monasteries, consolidated the power of the church.


Comparative Religion

The monasteries, as centres of learning, produced the great scholars and theologians of the middle ages. It also produced the wealth and expensive material culture of the church of the time.

The Crisis of the Reformation Until the beginning of the sixteenth century, there was only one Christian church although there were doctrinal differences between the mainstream Roman Catholic Church in the west and the Orthodox Xhuyrexh in the East. However, these differences only centred on what theologians of these churches had to say about Jesus, particularly, his being both God and Man.

The main crisis in the church came when money was being raised for the 1 building of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome and people were called upon to pay | indulgences (money paid for the remission of sins). Some of the monks and friars objected to this. One of them, Martin Luther, a German, went a step further and posted 95 propositions at the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. The propositions led to a crisis which Luther never anticipated. Luther was followed by Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin. There was a total rift between those people who demanded reforms in the church and the mainstream church. Because these people protested against what they thought was going wrong in the church, they are popularly known as Protestant reformers and the churches they founded, like the Lutheran church, are referred to as protestant churches. But there was indeed something wrong in the church. Those like Luther, Zwingli and Calvin, who did not run away continued to insist on the need for reform within the church. This movement calling for internal reformation is also known as the Catholic Reformation or Counter Reformation. The crisis of the reformation led to the emergence of protestant churches as we know them today and also to the emergence of missionary orders among the Catholics, the first of which was the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) which did alot of missionary work in the far east. In spite of the differences, both the Catholic and Protestant Christians saw their mission as making disciples of all nations and teaching them to observe what their Lord and master had taught them.

M odern Christianity The fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were centuries of exploration and discoveries. This is the time we find the Portuguese and Spaniards in the American and Far East. These places were not only discovered but also conquered and settled by the European Christian nations. As a result we find Christianity eventually spreading to the Americas, Canada, Australia, the Far West and Africa

Growth and Spread of Christianity


The nineteenth century brought in a new impetus to the general spread of Christianity. This was the century of colonization, when the Christian countries of Europe sent their men out to found colonies. It was also the period when there was serious demand for raw materials to keep the European industries running. It was the period when the philanthropic explorers sympathetic with Africans who were being sold and exploited as slaves, decided that there was a need to bring the slave trade to an end. It was the age when the Europeans thought it wise to introduce their form of civilization to their colonies. It was the century that saw the partition of Africa. On the Christian scene, this is a century marked by what one would call nineteenth century missionary zeal, because of the speed with which the Catholic Church founded missionary societies and the Protestants also founded missionary societies in Africa. For the Catholics we can mention the Holy Ghost Mission, White Fathers Mission, Mill Hill Fathers, Verona Fathers and the like. For the Protestants one could mention Baptist Missionary Society, London Missionary Society, Church Missionary Society, Church of Scotland Mission, Seventh Day Adventists, American Society for Foreign Mission, and the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel Among others. In the mission fields these societies had their spheres of influence. They build colonies or setdements for freed slaves. Their evangelistic approach included literacy education, production of literature, running hospitals and introducing industrial activities. There was a genuine imperial race for Christ. There are many different brands of Christianity. There are hundreds of denominations and societies. All of them have one thing in common: that Jesus Christ was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament and that he is the Saviour of mankind. This therefore marks their unity in spite of their diversity. To enhance that unity, there have been organisations within church aimed at bringing the differing groups. Collectively, these efforts are referred to as Ecumenical movement. Examples of such are World Council of Churches, the All Africa Conference of Churches and the National Council of Churches. We need to stress that Christianity is ■ missionary religion, propagated by those who have received the faith. They have strong belief in life in the next world where they are led by the Saviour Jesus Christ. They believe Jesus is alive and that he will come again to judge the living and the dead. Their mission is to reach all comers of the earth before the Saviour comes at the end of this "age".

A ctivity (1) Explain why Christianity spread rapidly in the Roman world. (2) What is the Reformation? Explain why some Christian denominations are called Protestant. (3) Why was Christianity brought to Africa?



35 THE RELIGIOUS HERITAGE OF ARABIA BEFORE AND DURING MUHAMMAD'S TIME J.N.K. Mugambi Introduction The chapter will discuss another of the religions originating in the Middle East - Islam. This religion was established in the middle of the 7th century AD by Muhammad of Arabia. It will be worthwhile to consider the cultural and religious background within which Muhammad proclaimed his message. The chapter will describe the cultural and religious background within which Islam arose.

Geographical Context The Arabian Peninsula is the desert region between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Apparently, there used to be a prosperous civilization in this region as evidenced by a disused irrigation dam at Marib in the southern part of the Peninsula, where the Sabean Kingdom had once flourished. In the north of the Peninsula the Romans had destroyed the Arabian culture which had built the centres of Petra and Palmyra. By the sixth century AD, the majority of the Arabian population was nomadic, surviving on camels, dates and long distance trading. There were three important settlements in the north-west of the Peninsula at Taif, Mecca and Medina. The latter two towns (Mecca and Medina) became the focal points of Islam. They are still considered to be the most important centres of worship in Islam - especially Mecca. The trade routes extended across the Arabian desert to Damascus in Syria. Large caravans of camels carrying dates and other goods would travel to Damascus and return with ornaments and other goods from the north. Muhammad in his youth became associated with this trade, as a anager of one of those caravans.

Arabian Religious Heritage Polytheism was one of the main features of the Arabic religious heritage before and during Muhammad's time. Many gods and goddesses were worshipped. Among these were the following:


Comparative Religion


- The creator of the world, and the lord over all things.


- Allat was a moon goddess, apparently adopted from Syria through the continuing cultural and commercial interaction. The attributes of Allat were similar to those of Mother Goddesses who were worshipped amongst the peoples of the Middle East.

Al-Uzza - Al-Uzza was Venus, worshipped as the goddess of fate. All fortunes were believed to depend on the whims of al-Uzza. Owing to this belief, there was a strong sacrificial cult associated with al-Uzza. Apparently, even human sacrifice seems to have been included in this cult, according to the interpretation of archaelogical discoveries of human remains in the region. There was also e cult of venerating stone pillars which symbolised natures fertility. One of the cults associated with these deities was a ritual conducted around the Kabah, a cube-like building without any external decoration containing a sacred black stone towards which all Muslims must face when they pray.

The Kabah The cult associated with the kabah was incorporated into Islam. In the building there were as many as 360 gods worshipped by the Arabs. Muhammad's concern was to eliminate this polytheism and idolatry. He wanted to lead the Arabs towards strict monotheism. The Kabah cult included a ritual in which all the fighting would be stopped for four months in order for the worshippers to visit the shrine every year. The pilgrims would move around the Kabah chanting prayers, and run a sacred race between two hills near the Kabah. This ritual is still an integral part of Islamic practice during the pilgrimage to Mecca. It is worthwhile to consider why Muhammad decided to incorporate this ritual into Islam. In the other religions we have studied so far, it was shown that some of the old practices and beliefs were carried over when a new religion was formed. In most cases, a religion is established as an improvement or alternative to an existing religion. Thus the founder has to convince his prospective followers, that the new religion is better, or helps them to meet their social and religious needs more fully. Many aspects of Hinduism were carried over into Buddhism. Likewise, many aspects of Judaism were carried over into Christianity. When Christianity spread amongst Romans and Greeks, many aspects of the Fraeco-Roman heritage were incorporated into European Christianity. Christianity will no doubt incorporate some aspects of the African heritage, if it is to become firmly rooted in Africa. Islam, as a religion established to purify the Arabian religious heritage had to ensure continuity with the tradition it sought to improve. The Kabah ritual,

The Religious Heritage of Arabia Before and During Muhammad's Time


which was central to Arabian religious practice, was an effective choice to enhance continuity between the old and the new religion.

Influence of Judaism on the Establishment of Islam A study of the Quran, Islamic traditions and practices will show a very close association between Islam and Judaism. Jewish communities had settled in the Arabian Peninsula since the sixth century BC particularly in the northern part. In Yemen (southern part of Arabia) there was a large Jewish settlement since the 4th century AD. These Jewish communities were relatively wealthy in comparison with their Arab neighbours. Moreover, they maintained the Jewish way of life, as was required, since the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC. The Jewish way of life was centred on strong monotheism, in contrast with the Polytheism of Arab communities. It was easy to infer that the distinct and unified Jewish identity was rooted in the strong monotheistic faith. Muhammad could see the possibility of uniting the Arabs through strong monotheism, similar to that of the Jews. Another factor that gave the Jews a strong sense of unity, was their common history. This history, traced from the legendary founder of the community (Abraham) in the 3rd millenium BC, enabled all Jews everywhere to regard one another as members of the same community, with a common origin and a common sense of destiny. The Jews also had one set of scriptures which provided the source of reference in any controversial questions. Although Rabbis could disagree on the proper interpretation of the Torah (Hebrew sacred scripture), they could not disagree on the divine inspiration and authority of these scriptures. In addition to all these aspects, the Jews had a distinct way of organising their community, including rules and regulations on how to deal with and relate to non-Jews. All these characteristics of the Jewish community were admirably effective in distinguishing the Jews from other peoples. Muhammad endeavoured to build a new community comparable to but clearly distinct from Jews.

Influence of Christianity on the Establishment of Islam Muhammad was also acquainted with monophysite Christianity. As early as the 4th century AD Christianity had suffered doctrinal schism, over the question of the relationship between God and Jesus. The Ecumenical Council of Nicea (AD 325) had tried to resolve that question. The Nicene creed was formulated to express the official position of the church as agreed upon by the majority of church leaders present in the council of Nicea. This official view was that Jesus was of two natures, one human and one divine. Thus Jesus was fully man and fully God. This was the Diophysite view.


Comparative Religion

The Monophysite view was that Jesus was divine, and that his humanity was a manifestation of his divine character. Monophysite Christianity was prevalent in the eastern part of the Roman Empire - in Egypt, Syria and in Arabia. It was strongly rooted in the local cultures, and was established in rural areas. In contrast, diophysite Christianity was strongly Roman both in doctrine and also in practice. One of the weaknesses of Christianity before 6th century AD was its internal division. There were many sects, each of which claimed to be faithful to the true teaching of the founder, Jesus. Although all Christian churches affirmed their faith in Jesus, they differed from one another in their understanding of his personality, and of his relationship to God. Owing to this doctrinal incoherence, it appeared as if Christianity had compromised over the issue of monotheism. In this respect, Christianity was no better than the Arab heritage which Muhammad wanted to purify. Another weakness of Christianity at that time was that its scriptures had not stabilized. There were many versions of the teachings and achievements of Jesus. The authenticity of these versions had not been settled. Muhammad could appreciate that too much emphasis on human intellect could undermine the unity of the religious community. In his movement, he was to insist on divine inspiration, so that the scriptures of Islam were revealed to him as the word of God which he was commanded by God to recite. Thus the Quran, the word of God, was dictated to Muhammad, and Muhammad recited it. There is therefore no possibility of error, or debate about its authenticity. Such a strong view of revelation and inspiration was a response to the relative uncertainty concerning the inspiration and authority of Christian scriptures.

Muhammad - Reformer or Revolutionary In view of the foregoing observation, we can raise the question: Was Muhammad a Reformer or a Revolutionary? According to Islamic doctrine, Muhammad was neither of these. He was the prophet or Messenger of God. His role was to proclaim a new message to the people of Arabia. This message would purify the Arabian religious heritage. It would also be the foundation of a new community, whose mandate would be to practise the will of Allah and ensure that other people would practise it everywhere and at all times. Thus we can say that, doctrinally, Muhammad was a prophet. Culturally, he was a reformer because he reformed Arabian culture. Politically he was a revolutionary because within a short time his movement totally overshadowed all political and military establishments in Arabia, then began to spread its influence to other parts of the world. Today Islam is one of the most influential religions in the world.

The Religious Heritage of Arabia Before and During Muhammad's Time


A ctivity (1) Try to acquire a copy of the Quran, and read it. (An authoritative English translation can be purchased at Quran House, next to Bible House, Nairobi). (2) Read Smart Ninian, The Religious Experience o f Mankind chapter 8. (3) Read Kateregga, Badru, and Shenk, David W. Islam and Christianity: A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue, Nairobi; Uzima Press, 1980. (4) Writing Exercise: Write notes on the differences and similarities between Christianity and Islam.

Further Reading Smart, Ninian The Religious Experience o f Mankind, Glasgow: Collins Fontana, 1969. Kateregga, Badru and Shenk, David Islam and Christianity: A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue, Nairobi; Uzima Press, 1980. Hugh, Kennedy The Prophet and the Age o f the Caliphates: The Islamic Near East from the sixth to the Eleventh Century, London: Longman, 1986. Tames, Richard The World o f Islam: A Teacher's Handbook, University of London, Extra-Mural division, School of Oriental and African Studies, 1977. .


36 MUHAMMAD AS THE FOUNDER OF ISLAM J.N.K. Mugambi The Life of Muhammad Muhammad was bom about 570 CE (Christian Era) in Mecca, among the Quraysh people. His father Abdallah died before he was bom, and until he was two years old he was brought up in his grandfather's home. Then his grandfather also died. His mother died when Muhammad was six years old. As an orphan, his uncle, Abu Talib, son of Abdul-Muttalib, brought him up and took care of him. At the home of his uncle, Muhammad worked very hard, and his uncle loved him very much. He mended the clothes and shoes of his uncle. He also looked after sheep, goats and camels. In his youth Muhammad travelled to Syria two times, he was twelve years old on the first trip . Muhammad did not receive any formal schooling. He could neither read nor write. However, he distinguished himself as a respectable and trustworthy person. His uncle enabled him to find employment as a manager of a caravan of camels belonging to a wealthy widow, Khadija, who later became his wife. The lady had two previous husbands, she was fifteen years older than Muhammad. When they married, Muhammad was twenty-five and Khadija was forty years old. Muhammad used to lead the caravan as far as Damascus from Mecca. During these trade journeys, he must have come into contact and possibly debated with, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians. It was after his marriage that Muhammad began to take religion seriously. He used to go for meditation and prayer to the hills and caves near Mecca. During one of those nights, he heard a call commanding Him to recite in the name of Allah, the message that was later recorded in the Quran. * Muhammad began proclaiming the message, first to his wife, then to his cousins and close friends. In three years he had won only a small number of converts: (1) Khadija (his wife) (2) Ali (his young cousin) (3) Abu Bakr (his friend)

* Kateregga, Badru and Shenk, David Islam and Christianity, Chapter 7


Comparative Religion

(4) Uthman (his friend) (5) Talha (his friend) With these converts Muhammad began to preach publicly, denouncing Meccan polytheism and corruption, and warning of eternal punishment to all those who would not purify their religion and submit to strict monotheism in the name of Allah.

M uhammad's Teaching (a) God and Angels Initially, Muhammad's emphasis was on the power and uniqueness of Allah as creator of all things. This teaching was a radical departure from Meccan religion, which recognised more than 360 deities, all represented in the kabah. Muhammad also taught about angels, who were creatures above human beings but below Allah. Amongst the angels was Jibril (Gabriel) through whom the first revelation was sent by Allah to Muhammad. Thus one of the roles of angels was to serve as the direct messengers of Allah to the prophets. One of the angels disobeyed God, and has been responsible for causing evil and suffering since creation. This is Iblis, or Satan. Iblis is the greatest enemy of humanity, because of laying temptations and misleading men and women into sin. Muhammad taught that evil only overcomes those who yield to temptations. Therefore, the duty of every Muslim is to submit to the will of Allah, and reject all distractions.

(b) Prophets Muhammad taught that Allah had made his will known through individual prophets, of whom Muhammad was the last. The following are the prophets mentioned in the Quran: Quran Biblical Equivalent

(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9)

Adam Saleh Lut Hud Y’acub Ibrahim Yunus Musa Daud

Adam Lot Jacob Abraham Jonah Moses David


Muhammad as the Founder of Islam (10) (11) (12) (13) (14) (15) (16) (17) (18) (19) (20) (21) (22)

Al-Ya'sa Zakara Dhul-Kifl Isa Nuhu Shu'aib Ismail Yusuf Ishaq Harun Sulaiman

Elisha Zachariah Ezekiel Jesus Noah Ishmael Joseph Isaac Aaron Solomon John the Baptist

Yahya Ayub Job Elijah Ilyas (23) Idrees (4) (25) Muhammad Muhammad is the last prophet according to the teaching of Islam. Note that Jesus is recognised as one of the prophets superseded by Muhammad. The prophets receive Allah's instructions through the angels, especially through the archangel Jibril (Gabriel). According to Islamic tradition, there are as many as 124,000 prophets.

(c) Last Judgement The consequence of disobedience, according to Muhammad's teaching, would be eternal punishment while the reward will be eternal joy in paradise. Both Islam and Christianity lay heavy emphasis on a last judgement at the end of history. This is a doctrine which is aligned to traditional African religious thought and belief. In Islamic teaching both hell and paradise are explained in detail, such that one would prefer paradise rather than hell. In the book of Revelation such descriptions of heaven are presented, but Christian theology takes these symbolically rather than literally.

The Five Pillars of Islam Islam as a religion is founded on obligatory rituals beliefs and practices which every Muslim must abide by. These obligations are in five categories:


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(a) Submission to Allah Every Muslim must declare that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is his special messenger. This declaration carries with it the requirement that every Muslim prostrates before Allah and avoids the worship of any idol or representation of Allah. This pillar portrays Islam as a strictly monotheistic religion.

(b) Prayer Every Muslim is required to pray five times ■ day facing Mecca. This is a ritual which unites all Muslims universally. Even mosques are constructed facing Mecca, to facilitate the correct practice of this obligation. The times for prayer are: (i)


(ii) noon; (iii) mid-afternoon; (iv) sunset; (V)

dusk (onset o f darkness).

Friday is the day set aside for weekly prayers in Islam. The prayers are centred in the Mosque, and led by the Imam whose role is to recite the words from the Quran while the faithful prostrate themselves rhythmically and in unison. The prayer leader also expounds Islamic doctrine.

(c) Alms Giving It is an obligation for every Muslim to give alms to the poor. These alms should be at least one-fortieth of the believer's income. In the earlier days of Islam the alms used to be collected for redistribution in the community, but today they are given according to the wish of individual believers.

(d) Fasting During the Month of Ramadhan For twenty eight days every year Muslims are required to fast during the month of Ramadhan. This practice is intended to encourage self-discipline among the faithful. Nothing should be eaten or drunk from sunrise to sunset. Eating is permitted at night A great deal of effort and determination is needed to ensure full adherence to this practice. Since the month of Ramadhan is declared universally, this ritual portrays the universality of Islam as a living world religion.

Muhammad as the Founder of Islam


(e) Pilgrimage to Mecca This is the ritual which most dramatically portrays the unity of all Muslims in worship. It is expected that every Muslim should go on pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime. In the past this used to be a very perilous undertaking. Today it is very expensive, relative to the distance between the believer's country and Mecca The rituals performed in Mecca date from pre-islamic times. It is interesting and curious that Muhammad chose this as the means to maintain continuity between the Arabian religious heritage and Islam. The centre of the rituals is the Kabah, which houses the sacred black stone. The pilgrims walk around the kabah seven times, kissing the black stone every time. Then they run seven times between two nearby hills. On the eighth day they move to mount Arafat, twelve miles east of Mecca. Where they spend one day meditating on the plain. On their way back to Mecca they stop at Mina, where they participate in the ceremony of 'Stoning the Devil’. This is followed by sacrifices, and meat is distributed among the brethren. Pilgrimage is characterised by both seriousness and festivity. Before the ritual is concluded the pilgrims go around the Kabah once more. Throughout the pilgrimage fasting is practised from dawn to dusk, and sexual abstinence is observed. The pilgrims are expected not to cut hair or trim their nails.

The Islamic Way of Life Islam is much more than a religion. It is a total way of life. The Quran prescribes how the faithful should conduct themselves in all circumstances. It also regulates how society should be organised. The effect of this is that in countries where Muslims have become a majority, there is a tendency to declare an Islamic state. This is the case in most countries of the Arabian peninsula, and North Africa. The regulations of Islamic life is based on the following sources of authority: 1.


This is the major source of authority, since it is the revealed word of Allah.



The word Shari'a means 'the Trodden Path'which leads to submission under Allah. Through Shari'a Muslims are instructed on how to regulate every aspect of life. The Shari'a binds Muslims into one community (Umma). Shari'a may lead to socio-political problems as was the case in Southern Sudan in the 1970s.

Comparative Religion

218 3.


These are the writings which record all the sayings, instructions and activities of Muhammad. They were collected, edited and preserved by Muslim scholars to provide a source of reference for the Islamic way of life.

The Launching of Islam as a Movement Muhammad started proclaiming his message around 610 CE in Mecca, when he was 40 years old. Within twelve years, Muhammad disturbed the Meccans so much that they organised themselves to eliminate him and this followers. In September, 622 CE he fled to Medina, where the people were willing to receive him. From Medina he organised his followers to reconquer Mecca. Several battles were fought between Meccans and Muhammad's followers based in Medina. Mecca finally submitted in 630 CE. On February 23rd 632, Muhammad with 14,000 followers went on his final pilgrimage to Mecca and three months later he died on Monday June 8th 632 CE. His followers carried on his work, and within a short time the movement spread across the Red Sea to North Africa, to become one of the most influential movements in history. This expansion will be discussed in the next chapter. It is important to note that the majority of Muslims today are not Arabs. The nations which have the largest Muslim populations are not in the Arabian peninsula. For example, there are twice as many Muslims in India as there are in Egypt. Although Arabic is the language of Islam and Arabia is the birth-pace of the religion, it is now in every continent. In terms of numbers the countries with the largest Islamic populations are: (1) Indonesia (2) Bangladesh (3) India (4) Pakistan Some non-Arabic countries in Africa have large Islamic communities- such as Nigeria, Senegal, Niger, Chad, Upper volta, and so on.

A ctivity Write notes on the differences and similarities between Christianity and Islam. If you can, read the explanations provided by Badru Kateregga and David in Islam and Christianity.


37 ISLAM : A LIVING WORLD RELIGION D.W. Waruta Introduction Islam is the youngest of the world's major religions. Its phenomenonal expansion has made Islam one of the biggest religions of mankind with millions of adherents all over the world ranging from countries which are wholly Islamic to those with only small Muslim communities. In this chapter, we shall see how Islam has come to be a global religion and how its influence has become a force to reckon with in our modem world.

The Expansion of Islam in the Early Years After the death of Muhammad in 632 AD, his first disciple and successor, Abu Bakr, challenged the small Muslim community to take seriously the task of spreading the faith to all who did not have it. When Muhammad died, he left not only a religion but a federation of states that had come to accept the Islamic faith. The head of the state was known as 'Caliph' (khalifa) or the 'successor' of Muhammad. From Medina, the Caliphs embarked on raids on the neighbouring tribes and states with sweeping successes. Because of the decline of the empires of Byzantium and Persia, the forces of Islam rose quickly to fill the power vaccum. After their new conquests, the Islamic caliphs did not return to Medina with their spoils, but used the new territories as forward base camps for more expeditions into new territories. They used this strategy, to occupy Egypt,-Syria and Iraq within twelve years after the death of Muhammad. From where they advanced westwards into Libya and eastwards into what is now Iran. The areas which surrendered to the forces of Islam were given the status of 'protected minorities' as long as they agreed to pay tax to their new Muslim rulers. The status of protected minorities was given to the so called 'people of the Book' that is any people who believed in one God and possessed a written scripture such as Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians. All the other peoples were considered pagans, to be converted to Islam by any means.


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The Expansion of Islam During its First Century Islam continued its westward expansion, occupied all of North Africa to the Atlantic, entered Spain in Europe and for some years held the southern area of France, particularly around Narbonne. Muslim advance in France was halted by the famous battle of Tours in A.D. 732, although this did not mean Muslim defeat in Europe, especially in Spain. Northward, the Islamic forces advanced as far as Constantinople (modem Istanbul, Turkey) but were unable to occupy Asia minor (Turkey) Eastward. The Islamic forces occupied the whole of Persia (modem Iran) and Afghanistan, crossing the Indus river into Pakistan in Asia. Upto AD 750, the Umayyad dynasty ruled this entire region and continued in its Islamization. The inhabitants of these territories did not become Muslims at once but at first were required to become 'protected minorities’. While it is not quite correct to say that Islam only won converts through force (Jihad or Holy War), the so-called minorities found themselves becoming second class citizens in their own countries and quite often opted to become Muslims. The Islamization of these peoples continued in the entire middle Eastern region until what once had been the original home of Christianity became almost Muslim. In the seventh century, too, Zoroastrianism, which was the official religion of the Persian Empire was on the decline and so conversion from Zoroastrianism to Islam was accomplished easily and fast. By A.D. 750, Islam had become the religion of all North Africa, the middle eastern lands of Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and stretched even across the Indus river into what is now Pakistan.

Islamic Consolidation During the Abbasid Dynasity From Baghdad, Iraq, the Abbasid dynasty embarked on its rule of the entire Islamic world (with the exception of Spain) after over-throwing the Umayyad dynasty based in Damascus, Syria. . The Abbasid dynasty was preoccupied not with Islamic expansion but with Islamic consolidation. Many of the cultural characteristics of ■ great Islamic empire flourished. Islamic law, the Sharia was developed and formed the basis of Islamic social structure. The Sharia was derived partly from rules extracted from the Quran but also from stories about Muhammad's example. These stories about Muhammad were known as the Hadith (sometimes translated traditions) and were mainly about his deeds and sayings. The compilation and development of the Sharia became the basis of Islamic higher education. The text of the Quran, its interpretation and the development of doctrine was also accomplished during this period. Islam became interested in the 'sciences' of other traditions, such as Greek philosophy, medicine, mathematics, and natural sciences. These were translated into Arabic and as a result Islam advanced in sciences, literature and the arts of government and administration. This period of consolidation strengthened Islam as a faith and made it attractive and worthy of

Islam: A Living World Religion


those interested in learning and cultural advance. Islam was able to absorb and use the cultural heritage of the people it conquered which in turn transformed it, creating a viable, all-embracing culture of great excellence.

Islamic Expansion After AD 750 There was no dramatic expansion of Islam into new territories after AD 750. An attempt to enter India was unsuccessful due to the fact that the majority of the peoples of India were Hindus, considered by Islam as the people of the book, and so India remained predominantly Hindu. In other parts of the world, Islam spread mainly through peaceful means. Muslim traders with their camel caravans took Islam into West Africa and sea traders by way of their dhows, carried Islam to the East African coast. Islam was carried by traders as far as Malaysia and Indonesia and the Philippines. Local people from these places were usually impressed by the apparent sophistication and excellence of Islamic culture and attracted to the religion. Muslims were also not unwilling to intermarry with the local populations, where-ever they went, and in such ways won many to Islam. Muslims did not require the new converts to discard their customs at once but allowed ■ slow Islamization that took several generations to develop to universal islamic standards. The numbers of Muslims kept increasing whenever such communities were established. Almost everywhere that Islam was established, it continued to grow, with the exception of Spain where military efforts by Christian troops were eventually successful in pushing the Muslim out of Europe. In 1492, the last Sultan of Granada surrendered, thus ending Muslim control of any European territory. The Muslims who were left in Spain were slowly exterminated either by executions or by being driven out by the Inquisition, carried out by the Church through local rulers and princes, meant to destroy all heretics and infidels.

Islam in the Modern World Around AD 1500, European powers began to become a challenge to the expansion of Islam. In 1498, the Portuguese traveller Vasco da Gama reached Inida after sailing round the Cape of Good Hope at the Southern tip of Africa, through East African Ports to Inida. This was the beginning of the impact of European intervention in areas where only Islam had hitherto touched. Christian missionaries accompanied European explorers and the era of countering Islam with the Christian religion and European cultural expansion had dawned. The impact of European civilization on the Islamic world, particularly in Asia and Africa, was many-sided: economic, political, intellectual and religious. Beginning as legitimate trade, it led to colonization. By the 19th century, European technology had developed ahead of the other parts of the world. Modern communication systems, telephones, trains, electricity and military hardware attracted non-European, including Muslims, in their desire to benefit from the new


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technology. Westem-type education was introduced in these areas to train artisans and junior administrators. By the early 20th century, European dominance in Muslim areas had become an acknowledged fact While Christian missions did not win many converts in the areas that were predominantly Muslim, western ideas and technology could not be resisted. Many Muslim countries adopted an essentially European educational system. The discovery of large quantities of oil in predominantly Muslim areas of the Middle East has given the area some considerable importance in the morden world. Though Muslim countries were united to resist European colonialism at the end of second world war, to-day Muslim countries are divided between "progressive" and "conservative" countries. Muslim fundamentalism demanding a return to the traditional Islamic law, the Sharia, has been gaining strength in many Muslim countries. On the other hand, modem life demands a world where religious intolerance is not internationally acceptable, and many Islamic governments oppose the strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia with its insistence on the concept of Jihad (holy war) against all non-Muslims and particularly the infidels they consider hostile to Islam. However,Islamic fundamentalists have the upper hand only in Iran and are active in a few other Muslim countries. In many Muslim countries Islamic fundamentalism has been discouraged.

Future Prospects Today Islam has achieved the self-confidence of a major world faith with Muslim communities all over the word. The challenge to Islam is no longer Christianity but the increasing secularization of humanity and ideologies such as Marxism. Many Muslim countries have secularized their laws and economy contrary to the requirements of the Sharia, while others have introduced radical ideologies to guide their national policies. What seems likely for Islam in the modern world is a return to its primitive past, as fundamentalist would like, nor the extreme secularization which has swept the western world, but rather to evolve and adapt itself to the demands of the modem world while rediscovering its heritage of the past. As the second largest religion of the modem world, Islam deserves the attention of all involved in the study of mankind history. In East Africa, where Muslims comprise a formidable segment of the population. The understanding of Islam is indispensable. The importance of Islam as a global faith, demands a sympathetic understanding and a place in the panaroma of human progress for harmonious progress of all.

Islam: A Living World Religion

A ctivity (1) List the methods employed to spread Islam in its early years. (2) Write notes on the following aspects of Islam: Quran Hadith Sharia (3) Why did Islam not succeed in spreading into Europe? (4) How did Islam reach the coast of East and West Africa.



CHAPTERS 38 Creative Act of God 39 Forms of Theism 40 Models of Relationship 41 The Nature and Destiny of Man 42 Good and Evil 43 Salvation 44 Death 45 Immortality of the Soul


38 CREATIVE ACT OF GOD J.J. Ongong'a Introduction One common belief among human beings is the awareness of having some particular origin and that of dependence. Human beings success and achievement need or presuppose the cooperation of others. They are not exactly autonomous like a machine made by an engineer and left to operate on its own. The same can be said of the world around. The wonder, order and unity of nature keep us suspecting that there may be further explanation for such marvels. But from the religious point of view we do not need to look and suspect an explanation. Religious language makes it clear that the universe and all that is within it is created by a supernatural being, God. Belief in the creative act of God is a common phenomenon among religions. For many of these religions, it is proof of Gods power and reason for his worship. The doctrine of creation is not necessarily the primitive account of how the universe began, but about who brought all visible and invisible things to be. The chapter will establish that the kingship of God is based in the belief that he still rules over whatever he brought into existence and that he continues to uphold all that he created by the word of his power. He continues to be active in the world, causing to be what comes into existence, all things, all time. The chaptcr will avoid speculations about how the world began and concentrate on the continued creative act of God and not just the totality of the world, namely passive creation. To facilitate the example of faith in such an act, we shall examine God's creation as given and taught in some religions. The chapter will look into and discuss the creative act of God in the following religions: (1) African religion; (2) Islam; (3) Christianity.

African Religion We have purposely avoided the term African traditional religion. The term is theologically inaccurate and confusing. One reason being that we are not studying the history of the religion, but what those who still profess it accept as truth about


Comparative Religion

it. The Africans, like the Hebrews of old give names a wonderful significance. Names for those people are not just labels meant to distinguish one person from another or one object from another. Names reveal the essence of beings or the beholder. They say something intrinsically unique about a person. In brief names bring out not only the character of the individual but what people think about him through various names they give him. This is why African Religion is known for its use of names and symbols. African religion is unique, in that it has been effective among Africans without any set of dogmas that have to be accepted by every believer. This is probably why it does not send out missionaries to other parts of the world to proclaim it to new converts. Each ethnic group has its own religious belief and practices. It is not our concern to argue about the viability of such beliefs and practices. What we know is that in some events which require deep religious faith a number of people turn to these practices. One of the unifying factors of African religious practices is the belief in the creative power of god. God in African religion is mainly known through what has been termed natural revelation, that is, God reveals himself or is known through his activity in creation. The Africans do not speculate about the origin of the universe; they believe it is created by God. Nor is God conceived only as the originator of the universe, but his continued activity is seen in almost every aspect of life. This is why they say that the universe "is created" and not "was created" by God. A deistic theism, that is, a school of thought which advocated the idea that God created the universe or the world and then left it on its own to carry on, cannot find a hearing in an African religious system. In African religions almost everything has a supernatural explanation. They believe that nothing happens without being included within divine providence and prudence. How can it be otherwise? By accident! No. There is no such thing as an accident in a typical African cosmology. Others may label such religious rooted beliefs as superstitious, but they may not be so! We want to bring out strongly in such faith that God is still active in the world. He provides for all that he made and sees to it that life continues to be and go on as he ordained it to be. This is why, even for those events which might need human explanation, God's power is believed to be behind them all. The African religion beliefs that it is God who gives life and prosperity, He so sustains life that without him nothing could survive. Names that are given to God reveal the African people's deep belief in both the creative and sustaining power of God. He is known as maker, creator, pastor, provider, healer, king, ruler, power, a guide, father and rain-maker. The names and concepts are supported by individual mythical explanations from each group. The Africans, from these myths, do not represent some vague philosophical attitudes about the ultimate origin of the universe or the beginning and essential nature of man; nor are these fanciful explanations of how the universe came into existence. The African mind considers that things are as they are because they have been so

Creative Act of God


created and ordained. It is stressed that the spoken word is an oracle and that the "repetition" of the word sets free the creative and recreative power with which it is replete. This is why African society fear a curse. The Religious conviction convinces of the power of the word, especially if spoken by somebody with authority over us. To end the discussion of belief in creation in African religion, it would help to mention that the problem of ultimate origin and the idea of creation ex nihilo, (creation out of nothing), is not discussed in African creation stories. What cosmological myths reveal is that all things are assumed to have been created from an existing order which is not uniform and outside the range of the Africans' concern. What is important is that God is the sovereign creator who is actively involved in his creation and yet transcends it. The example of God's continued creative act is evident from human procreation. Africans put much emphasis on God’s power over procreation. You have probably heard an African ask a friend "has God given you any child?" or "God has not remembered them"; meaning they have not had a baby. A unique concept of God among Africans is that though God is actively involved in his creation he still remains distinct from it, Africans are not pantheists.

Islam Islam, Arabic for submission to God, began in the seventh century AD, and thus is the youngest of the world's great religions. Today most of North Africa, Asia Minor, and Southwest Asia is predominantly Muslim after the religious wars which almost reduced to nothing religions like Christianity, Zoroastrianism and ■ number of traditional religions which previously had strength in those areas. To this date only parts of Lebanon, where there are active pockets of Christians, and the republic of Israel are free from Muslim influence in this region. In sub-sahara, Africa, the presence of Islam is felt strongly and, to a large extent, the monopoly of Christianity is being questioned. Islam seems to appeal to Africans because culturally it tends to put up with some practices that are akin to the African way of life. For example polygamy and circumcision and the stress on the sovereignty of God is not far removed from the African emphasis. Islam is monotheistic, it holds that there is one God. The concept of the one God is an important element in Islamic faith. The circumstances under which Islam developed as a religion underscore this monotheistic faith. Islam started among a group of people who worshipped ethnic gods and idols. Accordingly, in the core tradition of Islam, Allah, the one God is the sole reason for existence. He is ■ supreme diety, God of creation, judgement and retribution. He creates what he wishes by his command. He is the bestower of all good.


Comparative Religion

Apart from being the sole originator of the world, God sustains and governs it, that is to say he manages human history because he is the Lord of the World. Muslims believe that God is continually involved in his creation; they are concerned to enter into a moral relationship with him and other human beings. This is because they believe that human beings are the pinnacle of creation who are at the same time endowed with the capacity to know and worship the creator. Surrender, which actually express well humanity's proper response to the obligation of serving God. It may be pointed out that Islam is not particularly concerned to produce elaborate account or doctrine of creation. The emphasis seems to be on the response, following the acceptance of the sovereignty of God. This is why serving God is seen as the authentic way of realising his absolute authority over creation. Surrendering to the creator is offering him recognition. And therefore establishing a continuous relationship between the creator and his creatures. This is probably why Muslim mystics, the Sufis, have often suggested that God 'needs’ creatures for self expression. Of course God can do without his creatures, but what the Sufis apparently mean is that a ruler is rarely a ruler without his subjects. The existence of subjects bespeaks the presence of a ruler. This perhaps explains the austerity of prayer or worship in Islam. The role of worship is more highlighted than in any of the other monotheistic religions of Judaism and Christianity. The profound profession of faith, the daily ritual prayer, taxation to help the poor, annual fasting in the month of Ramadhan and a possible pilgrimage to Mecca; all underline the believers recognition of God's power. Because Islam originated from idol worshippers there is an utter abhorrence of images or anything that might savour of idolatory. The idea of surrender to God's will permeates everything in a Muslim's life and even suffering is accepted as God's irrevocable decision. Islam as a religious faith sees God as the sovereign ruler, a transcendent and yet a very active God that continues to be involved in his creation without necessarily being part of that creation. A relationship where God merges with the world and the world with God cannot tally well with the doctrine of monotheism.

C hristianity The doctrine that God has creative power unites almost all the religions of the world. There is hardly any religion which outrightly deny the creative power of God. Christianity, a society centred on the worship of one God revealed to men through Jesus of Nazareth, gives a special place to this doctrine. However, in Christianity, this doctrine is not necessarily a proof of the existence of God. It is based on knowledge that God lives derived from the history of salvation. The Christian understanding of God cannot be satisfactory unless it speaks of God's relation to the world. The God of Christians is not a remote unconcerned Being. Even judging from what has been said about both African and Muslim God, such a nonchalant God may not be worthy of the name God. It would infact be difficult to know anything about him. You must have heard of rulers who never left the palace to meet their subjects; such rulers mean very little to those under them, and most

Creative Act of God


subjects die without ever having any viable relationship with them. The God of Christians is known as a dynamic God who goes out to meet his creatures at different levels of existence. John Macquarrie calls this continuous involvement of God with his world the "letting-be" of God, which moves out from primordial Being through expressive Being to bring into being a world of particular beings. This "letting-be" God spells out the manner in which God relates lo the world. That creation did not happen once and for all, because it would rule out God as a creative God. He is creative because he is all the time involved in creation.1 The Book of Genesis introduces two accounts of creation. Apart from recognising the sovereignty of God, it is important to know that this came as a result of God's direct involvement in the history of creation. The creative act of God simply goes on to testify God's saving act. Creation, like the moment when God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, testifies to the power, the goodness and the fidelity of God. To understand the relation of God la the world and the world to God, we must look seriously at creation. It is within creation that the power and fidelity of God are realised. The two accounts of creation reveal the following to underline the type of relationship we are talking about: (i) The transcendence and immannance of the creator as juxtaposed; (ii) How God relates U; the world as the author of it all; (iii) God's unique communion with man; (iv) Man's special role among other creatures. A better understanding of the creator-creature relationship brought about by looking at man. What does it mean to be a creature? What does it mean to believe that both we humans and the world are creatures of God. The Study of both African religions and Islam reveal that the concept of a creature includes an idea of dependence. To know ourselves as creatures is to see ourselves in the light of God and not autonomous beings, but beings who are at once answerable for their existence. This awareness can help one to understand what it means to say that nature too is creation. Notwithstanding its wonders nature contains lower grades of existence namely, beings that have a narrower range of participation in God's life than man. It is only man who is created in the image of God. Even those animals with which we may claim affinity to are not like ourselves -responsible and answerable for their existence. Accordingly, there is in nature a form of creature in which answerability for the existence conferred is missing, and instead there is notable dependence and contingency.^

1 Genesis 1: 1-2; 49 2 Genesis 1:27; 2:7-25


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A Christian doctrine of creation which put much emphasis on or how things began cannot do full justice to this doctrine. Creation is concerned with the language of dependence.

This creates a basis for arguing that the creator must be distinct from the creature and yet be at the same time involved with its existence. The notion of dependence spells out the need for a sovereign creator. For Christians God is therefore not only a transcendent, self sufficient, self-existent being, but also a: sovereign God. He is a God who is actively involved in his creation, and sustains and rules it. It is only those who sincerely recognise their dependence and nature's dependence upon God for everything in life, including their own breadth, can truly call God their creator. With this understanding there can be no doubt that God cannot be a part of his creation in the sense of pantheism, but rather a distinct creator who only relates to the world actively for its continued existence.

Making and Emanation Before we conclude, let us mention that apart from the two accounts of creation given in the Bible, Christian Theologians have developed two other models of creation. The aim is not to examine them in detail, but to make aware of their existence. They are "making" and "emanation". The first of these was developed from the Biblical account where the writer frequently uses the expression "God made this and th a t..." The image associated with the notion of making is like that of a painter or carpenter producing a painting or a piece of furniture. The problem with this analogy is that it presents the relations between God and the world as a relation between creatures, it fails to express the idea that God created his universe from nothing. A painter and a carpenter, use material that are already there. And both the producers and products are beings which are historical since they have a beginning and an end. However the idea of "making" stress the transcendence of God who makes the world either directly of indirectly through the power of his word and so underlines the difference between God and the creatures. The second school of thought developed by theologians is emanation, which means an act of coming or flowing forth, that is something that issues from a source. This school of thought developed in order to give a more balanced view of the creative act of God than that offered by the making theory. It explains certain expressions and introduces insights that are not obvious in the scripturally oriented school. It, for example modifies that idea of an immanent presence of God in his creation. It emphasises (like the Aristotelians) the affinity between cause and effect, even though it does not suggests that the effect shares substantial being with the cause. It insists however too much in the idea that God does really put Himself into his creation, to the extent that he is fully involved and concerned with every part of creation. The problem is that if pushed too far it may lead to pantheism. Pantheism, is a form of theism which argue that things are part of God and that even the human soul is a divine spark. This should not, however, blind one to the authentic contribution of imanation. The stress that it has placed upon the

Creative Act of God


immanence of God in the creation is a unique form of balancing the doctrine of the theory in regard to God's relation to the world.

A ctivity 1. Find out from your own people the mythical account of creation. What is a myth? Why is it such an important dimension in religious studies? 2. How does the Islamic recognition of God's sovereignty differ from the African one? 3. Creation should be understood as b free act of God determined only by his sovereign will, and in no way a necessiary act. Discuss.


39 FORMS OF THEISM J.J. Ongong'a Introduction The problem of God's presence in the world, of the relationship of God to the world, has constantly given birth to many philosophical and Theological discussions. These discussions in turn have led to the emergence of diffemt forms of theism. Theism is derived from a Greek word Theos which means God. Forms of theism therefore mean various systems of belief in God. For example, deism is a system or form of theism which gives the impression that the universe is like a machine made by God and then left to function on its own. The chapter will not examine all the various forms of theism, but confine to those relevant to the topic pantheim and Dualism.

The Notion of Pantheism The term pantheism is made up of two Greek words; pan meaning all, and theos, god. Pantheism therefore literally means 'all god'. It is a view of reality which attempts to identify the world with God or God with the world. Pantheism primarily concerns itself with the immanence of God and tries to reduce the transcendence over the world. It denies this most fundamental view common to all form of Theism, namely, that God is a transcendent reality distinct from the world. Pantheism is found both in oriental and occidental forms of theism.

Pantheism in India In their quest for the changcless self, trying to answer the questions "who am 1?", "What is the universe?" the Indian Philosophers gradually developed Pantheistic ideas. Probes into both these questions uncovered a hidden treasure that is non-material. The sages conceived that the real self and the real universe, since they possessed the same qualities, were identical in essence. The Vedic Literature therefore conveys a notion of a purely immanent deity described as the whole of reality. In the Upanishads, the notion of Brahman and Atman are proposed as manifestations of the absolute, Brahma being the objective evolutionary manifestation of Atman, the self-conscious or subjective manifestation. Brahman is in fact viewed as being one throughout the universe; it makes the universe one. To underline this reality, the idealistic interpretation of Upanishadic literature


Comparative Religion

portrays the world as an illusion, a mere appearance, because everything else is ever changing except the fine essence called Brahma. Both Jainism and Budhism fall under the category of pantheistic interpretation of the universe. Like other oriental religons they identify the absolute with the world.

Pantheism and Platonic Ideas In the western world the pantheistic interpretations of the world was mainly highlighted by platonic teaching and the exaggerated ideas of the stoics. Plato's interpretation of the relation between the doctrine of the one and that of ideas had similarity with the Hindu doctrine of maya. According to the doctrine the only reality is God, the absolute reality. Everything else is an appearance. The stoics are known for their insistence on the primacy of matter. Although they recognise God as the creator of the world, they nevertheless maintained that the material alone is real. God to them was simply the animating principle of the world, but the way of describing God as air,fire, clear sky, or a combination of these, reduce and restrict him to this world. It is therefore difficult to see how the stoics could accept and maintain the transcendence of God.

Pantheism Today Recently, some contemporary philosophers have shown that pantheistic influence can still be traced in western thought. Von Hartmann stated that the absolute is both the unconscious and the principle of vitality as well in all things. Bradly adds that the absolute is the reality of things in their psychical existence. The definition of Pantheism does not include the metaphysical reality of the human individual. It is opposed to the spiritual aspect of the human soul and personal fulfilment through immortal union with God as an infinite and distinct personal being

Significance o f Pantheism Pantheism negates or limits the excellence of God to the point where he does not seem to be a special and distinct Being. Pantheism developed through consideration of certain problems raised by philosophy and theology. First, the harmony and order in the world provokes man to wonder and question the origin or explanation of such harmony. Second, it is difficult to admit from experience that nature is autonomous and that it is guided from without. People have assumed two things: that there must be a principle immanent to nature which is responsible for all the harmony and order in the world and that within nature there is an innermost being. Such an innermost principle is, in pantheism, identified as God. Pantheism suggests the idea of the possible existence of a dynamic absolute that may explain the contingency and temporality of nature. We are all aware of the continuous change around us. Nothing seem to be permanent. Such contingency can only be explained from the religious point of view by suspecting an existence of an absolute principle or reality which is not subject to change or temporality of life.

Forms of Theism


The monotheistic concept of the universal presence of God has a lot to do with pantheistic trends of the world view.

Panentheism Pantheism attempts to identify God with the world, but embodies some limitations that effectively negate complete identification between God and the world. In this part we intend to look at one such limitation, namely panentheism. Panentheism is made up of three Greek words: Pan mean all, en mean in, and theos mean god. It is a branch of the pantheistic school which views all things as being in God without exhausting the infinity of divine nature. This form of theism distinguishes a metaphysical essence of God from his existence and sees him as having accidents in relation to his being in the world. It comes very close to process Theology when it underlines the unique relationship between God and his creation, namely that creation depends on God, as God depends upon creation. This then is what makes the world or creation a manifestation of God. The world becomes an actual fulfilment of God's creativity insofar as it tells us something about God. The actuality of God too is made possible by his creation.

Philosophical Developm ent of Panentheism The whole philosophical meaning and approach of panentheism is based on the reciprocal relation of dependence between cause and effect.1 One of the contemporary names associated with panentheism is Charles Hartshome. He underlines the dependence referred to above between cause and effect. This is something that can be seen in everyday experience. Take for instance a rather crude example: If you put up a hut, you certainly caused it to be. But to see to its proper existence you must plaster it and keep on thatching it to stop it from breaking down. Each time you are home you will depend on it for your shelter. This is not a good example because you can actually do without it. But that is what we wanted you to note, like when some philosphers restrict God, as it were, to depend on what he has caused to be. However, Hartshorne has given panentheism some kind of formal expression as a view of God. He secs in God's nature and existence a kind of causality that includes a convertible relation of dependence between cause and effect so that, a cause depends upon its effects, and effects upon their cause. Hartshome adds that God is more of the supreme stream of causation rather than the first cause

1 Read Aristotle's Metaphysics, Book VI in the works of Aristotle Vol 1, by William Benton, or any other translation. Make notes on the relationship between cause and effect.


Comparative Religion

who was yet to be fully realized. You can see that this interpretation does not level well with other Theisms, especially those of monotheistic religions. The difficulty concerning the panentheistic approach is also enhanced by the insistence in presenting polarities which hold that contraries may be true without one excluding the other. Such an idea is very hard to support. Even in the traditional Aristotelian logic both contraries cannot be true. Although both of them can be false, it is difficult to see how they can all be true. The very fact that they are contraries immediately suggests an exclusion of one by the other. For example if A is the father of B, we may say that the relation is based on father and son relationship. For such relationship to remain true A must remain the father and H remains a son. In other words the fatherhood must exclude sonhood. However, panentheism insists that one set of contraries always implies the possibility of the other. This is why in their application of the notion of polarity to causality, they place a real reciprocal relation of dependence between cause and effects. If such interpendence is granted the whole idea of causality would have no meaning: causality does not demand reciprocity. Occasionally lower orders of causes are more involved with their effects through the principle of reaction; for example, we often see to it that whatever we bring into existence succeeds in accomplishing it's purpose. But in panentheism God is the first cause who even though He may be involved in the activities of the world, is nevertheless not limited to such activities. His involvement simply goes to affirm his transcendental perfection over the universe.

Notion o f Dualism The existence of pairs in the universe is captivating. Some of these sets of pairs are taken for granted until something special draw attention to them. We often wonder how the same person can do something pretty laudable and at another time do exactly the opposite. For example, animal sacrifice is essentially a process by which life is given and returned. 'Procreation on the other hand requires two parents of opposite sexes. And man is said to be good and bad. These are just a few examples of ’twoness* or dualism in the universe. The term dualism or duality is derived from a Latin noun duo, two. It is a name given to any theory, whether general or limited, that is used to describe the view which reduces reality to two equally primordial and mutually opposed principles. In other words dualism is primarily concerned with some particular aspect of reality that postulates the existence of two heterogenous and irreducible principles, for example, good and evil, God and the world, matter and spirit, the sacred and the profane, being and thought, certitude and opinion, and mind and body. The belief in dualism stresses not the dissimilarity but the irreducibility of the difference. The main cause of dualism is the difficulties posed by moral and physical evil, even though today the discussion has extended to include the problem of knowledge as well.

Forms of Theism


Dualism in Comparative Religion Even though all religions have some kind of dualism, because of their belief in the sacred and the profane, Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism seem to have set the pace in the argument of dualism. Zoroastrianism cosmology, the theory of the origin of the universe, explains dualism back to the very beginning of existence. It says that there was a meeting of two spirits, Spenta Mainyu the wise, and Angra Mainyu, the destructive spirit, who were free to choose life or not life. According to Zoroastrianism, dualism is the result of this free choice of the two supernatural beings. From their choice arose two coetemal principles of good and evil; one is good by the virtue of his very mode of being, the other is evil. One is the creator, the incamator of truth and righteousness; one is unrighteous and lord of destruction and disorder. Accordingly, we have here two kingdoms: the kingdom of truth and order and the kingdom of lies and disorder. However, the followers of Zoroastrianism argue that the concept of monotheism, that is, one single all powerful God as we find in Judaism, Islam and Christianity has prevailed. This is because Ahura Mazda, the father of the two spirits, allowed them to split into opposing principles now evident in the universe. Manichaeism, a religion which became an important spiritual force advocating dualism in the West, was founded by Mani. Mani was a wandering preacher from Mesopotamia who taught an extreme form of dualism. He strongly believed that there were two opposing coetemal forces in the universe, the forces of light and the forces of darkness. The forces of light are God's kingdom and those of darkness, Satan. His teaching was in effect a combination of late Mazda dualism concepts of Buddhist and Christian origin. Later on the Christian church had to declare the teaching of Mani heretical. This should not give the impression that Christianity does not believe in evil forces but disclaims their coetemal existence with God. In Chinese cosmology too, we come across this dualistic concept. The YinYang may be understood as a very early form of dualism. Yin represents the feminine, passive and negative principle, while Yang is the masculine, active and creating principles. The interplay of these contrasting but complementary forces engenders and sustains the universe. Once more the problem of pairs or duality in the universe can be detected behind this mythical explanation. Myth here should not be understood to mean falsehood in historical studies of religion is a sacred story, a narrative account of human-sacred relations and symbolic transformation. The concept of dualism did not escape India either. Both Prakrti and Purasa are two coetemal principles. Prakrti is the dynamic and creative substance while Purasa is the autonomous and transcendent self. According to Indian philosophers these are real principles of existence explaining the prevalent growth of Sankhya and Yoga systems. The two systems have up to now remained the basis for very radical and coherent dualism. Judaism and Christianity are not free of dualism either. Antithetical terms such as New and Old, the inner and outer man, the pneumatic and psychic body are


Comparative Religion

common phases in the history of Salvation. In the New Testament in particular, Paul repeatedly talk of the law and the promise, work and faith, the opposition between light and darkness is a common theme in John's gospel, grace and law, life and death, truth and lie, to mention a few. However, despite such dualistic expressions, Christian dogma denounce dualism as heresy. Christianity accept a radical difference between good and evil, but rejects a metaphysical dualism as other religions. Their faith in one God, who is creator and lord of history, does not permit on principle any chance for an absolute form of dualism in either the Old or the New Testament. The problem posed by the existence of good and evil, life and death is not easy to resolve. The tension is real and sound. How can the apparent injustice of life, and the undeserved suffering which we all experience, be explained if the one God who does as he pleases, is to be thought of as morally good? The Hebrew people struggled with this question and finally looked to the book of Job but the solution was only theological. Their faith in the one absolute God had to reign. Dualism in its essence is a protest against this monotheistic belief; for it is after accepting one omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent, and sovereign creator and ruler of the Universe, that the question arise as to how evil came into the world. In conclusion there is within man an existential dualism which affects man to his very core, because it is dualism of personal relationship and of the will. Such individual dualism is the most radical of all forms of dualism. Man cannot hide from it, in his deliberate self contradiction as a sinner, namely a contradiction between what is and what ought to be. It is a strong contemporary theological stand among some religions. However considering Man is a creature, we must fall back on the same conclusion. Dualism is difficult to hold to because God, if he is worthy of that name must be the sole author of the universe.

A ctivity (1) Why is it important to study forms of theism? (2) Find out from your elders the mythical explanation of the origin of evil in your community. (3) Discuss why you think the philosophical Panentheistic explanations of God's relationship to the world is detrimental to monotheistic religions. Give an original example to support your decision. (4) Manichaeism was condemned by the Christian church for its heretical teaching? Can African religion have heretics. Explain your answer with original examples. (5) Give a definition of Panentheism?


40 MODELS OF RELATIONSHIP J.J. Ongong'a Introduction The two previous chapters discussed the doctrine act of three different religions. It came out from such discussion that God is the sole creator of the world and that everything else depends on him. This is why we did not stress other forms of theism even though we did not ignore their contribution altogether. The pantheistic interpretation insist that God is distinct from the world and is prior to its being. We found it hard to accept the dualistic view on the ground that if we assert the existence of coeternal principles advocated by dualism, then our monotheistic interpretation of one sole creator would be difficult to comprehend. This chapter will push further the search for the answer to the question of God’s relationship to the world. Is god and the world two distinct realities or one? There are various ways of tackling this question and the solution is not a simple one.

M onarchical Model It has been said that throughout history God has always revealed himself to man through creation. In fact it would be a mistake for anybody to imagine a group of people with no concept of deity or deities of some kind. The idea of God does not only come to man through the revelation found in monotheistic faiths , as recorded in the Bible and Koran. What has actually captivated man is that the world tends not only to convey a meaning but also to be dynamic. Throughout history, people have been pre-occupied by the thought that the world possesses a power which extend beyond the realm of the ordinary mind, a power that is effective also in the spatial and the material world. Even without further revelation, it would sound rather anomalous to talk of more than one such power. If there are more than one, then common sense would suggest that they cannot be equally powerful at the same level. Emmanuel Kent, one of the modem philosophers, affirmed this sentiment in his works. He expressed his belief in a transcendent God who did more than just put the universe in motion, more than just start it off, as it were and then stand aside. The notion of monarchical or transcendent model comes from this belief. The monarchical model is commonly used by current theologians, especially John Mcquarrie. It is just another word for transcedence, the more traditional term with a biblical background. Monotheistic religions emphasise that a transcendent being is


Comparative Religion

that which is beyond anything else. Accordingly a transcedcnt God is independent of his creation and stands above and apart from that creation. Monotheistic theologians have tended to use this model to explain God's relation la the world. In Islam for example, transcendence of God over the world and over men is sharply emphasised. Allah demands acknowledgement of his ordinance. Islamic theology underlines further the divine attributes of sovereignty, or power, though without forgetting the compensating attributes of mercy. Instead of many powers previosuly recognised and worshipped by pegan Arabs. Mohamed proclaimed a unique God who created the universe and establishes its order.1 From the Christian point of view, God's transcedence include his being independent and prior to the world. From this context his creation of the world is something he did not need to do. He created simply out of love. This belief complicated the relation between God and the world. On the one hand the world needs God. It depends upon him and owes everything to God. But on the other hand God has no need of the world. He affects the world, but the world cannot affect him. This idea sometimes lead to accusations that the Christian God is remote. The advocates of this view say he is a God whose power over the world diminishes and give the impression the universe might have been the work of other powers possibly hostile to God. The monarchial model has been given too much importance. Its stress on God's absolute authority as all knowing, all powerful, all seeing pervades Christian language.In the book of Genesis in the story of Adam, the writer takes the pains to potray God's authority. The prohibition placed upon the fruit of the tree of Tcnowledge of good and evil and the tree of life' is not explained. But complete obedience is expected from man. Until now the same authoritative language is used by preachers. Preachers are hardly aware that in the face of God's sovereignty, the words used to describe the human relationship to God often put him further from man. Such expressions as: complete submission, (as we saw in Islam), complete obedience, allow God to control your life, accept your situation in life patiently: are phrases which underline the extent to which Christian theologians have given importance to the monarchial model. In this century these expressions and the attitude of the God they portray are being questioned, especially by those who are politicaly oppressed. The impression given is God is powerful, unchangeable and unmovable, so that even if the world was breaking into pieces he would not mind. The monarchial model indicates not only God's distinction from the world but also his 'wholly other' character as over and against whatever is within the world. This notion of transcendence of God is not restricted only to his relationship to the world but to distinguish him from any other gods, of non-monotheistic origin. In Judaism, for example, Gods transcendence is meant to reveal the gaping gulf between him and the gods of the neighbours of Israelite communities. He is

1 Koran 112:1-4; 52:56-57

Models of Relationship


conceived of as an absolute ruler, above the world, who controls the world without necessarily being affected by it.^

Organic Model Apart from the monarchical or transcedent model theologians have developed a description of another form of relationship between God and the world. The model tries to introduce balance and qualify the monarchical model. It is known as the organic model. To a large extent, the organic model brings God nearer to his creation than the monarchical model. It shows how God is continually involved in creation. We mentioned already that even the monarchical model realises the need for God to continue being involved in his creation, even though he is distinct from it. The organic model not only supplements this, but goes a little further. It says, for example, using God's own attributes, that God as self-giving love, cannot refrain from reaching out to share his love. And if he is a dynamic God, then the more he must be involved in creating and sharing his being. In the doctrine of creation we learn that God is the originator of the world but we can hardly conceive, from the same doctrine, of a time when God was on his own before there was a world. In the monarchical model creation is an arbitrary act on Gods part. It would make no difference to Him whether He had created or not. In the organic view, this does not tally well with our description of God as an outgoing love. If He is, then it is fitting to add that it is His nature to create. Creation underlines His being as love. This belief makes the monarchical view, with all its stress on biblical and traditional backing, rather inadequate. The relation between God and the world must be understood as an organic one, that is a relation in which God is affected by the world as well as affecting it. True love is ■ matter of give and take. This re-affirms what was apparently denied in the preceding chapter. It argued against the panentheistic emphasis on ■ reciprocal relationship between cause and affect to illustrate God's relation to the world. Our argument then was based on the monarchical view and on the fact that this kind of panentheistic interpretation is philosophically oriented. Philosphcrs and theologians who support this view are influenced by philosophical speculation. Yet such an observation should not blind one from appreciating the contribution of organic relation as a balancing factor of the traditional view. However, as mentioned at the beginning of last paragraph, it is difficult to love without becoming vulnerable to that which is loved. In like manner, God takes a risk when he creates. There is ■ possibility that not all of creation may be

^ Exodus 20:1-8


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perfect and achieve the intended goal,some of it may even turn against God. In this way God limits his own power of creation.^ The organic model gives a different picture of God's omnipotence from the monarchical model. In this model God can do anything. But if he is a God of love and not a dictator, then it is hard to see how He can act against his own creatures. That is, what he does cannot go against love, or truth; it will not wipe out the liberty he has conferred on his creation. In the organic view God's omnipotence makes him the source of all existence and energy. Such omnipotence is not taken in the arbitrary sense of the ability to do anything. It has to work within divine providence and wisdom.

The Biblical Basis for the Organic View The monarchical model predominates in the Old Testament. However, there are parts of Old and New testament which seem to support the organic view as well. The first example of these references may be taken from Hosea's marital symbolism. The prophet refers to God as a faithful husband and the Israelite community as an unfaithful wife. Obviously there is bound to be a reciprocal relationship here, a give and take kind of t h i n g - 4 In the New Testament God comes down to earth through the doctrine of incarnation. Here God takes the human body and so decides to subject himself to his creatures and live a human life. He proved his humanity further when he allowed himself to be judged and condemned to death under a Roman Governor: nowhere is the necessity of the two models, transcendent and organic more amply symbolized than in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The two poles certainly re-affirm God being a God of Love, a God who risks participation in his own creation by becoming man and suffering as a man only to be triumphant as God. God is condemned to suffer with and for his creatures at the cross, yet in the resurrection he re-affirms his power and opens up a new way foreward for his creation. Yet in both the events of the cross and the resurrection, He remains the same God. He reveals that it is part of his nature as God to suffer with and for his creation and yet remain sovereign and victorious. It is pretty hard for such a God to be external to history and time. The two events are subject to both history and time. As was pointed out earlier, the world is the theatre where God's power is manifested. If this is so then history is also the medium in which God's purposes are realised-^

3 Genesis 3: 1-24 4 H oseal:2-3:3 5 John 1:1-18; 3:13-21 and Ephesians 2:3-10

Models of Relationship


God cannot be indifferent to history, it matters to him as the medium of manifestation. He is not simply above it, unaffected and unmoved by it. Again he cannot simply be within history as a kind of evolving being. He is rather actually affected by what is going on there. Paul the apostle gives a good example of the organic model of God's relation to the world in the letter to the Ephesians. In this passage the apostle uses the model of the head and the body to express the intimate relationship between Christ and the Church. From our own experience we know how much the head need the body, how it is impossible to talk of the body without the head. The Church in this illustration exists only through Christ, and to understand who Christ is one must turn to the Church. Yet from the Christian faith Christ is complete and prior to the church. He must be, because he founded it. He transcendes it and keeps it going by his active presence in church. He promised that he would be with his church thoughout. This, from the human point of view is the furthest we can go in our attempt to explain God's relation to the world. What comes out repeatedly is the fact that God is not the world, yet it is hard to talk effectively about God without the world - his creation. We continue to affirm that God is both above and within history-^

God's Language There are three factors in every saying: the person who does the saying, the person to whom something is said and the matter about what something is said. Look in the figure below, A is saying something to B about C.


---------► / /


/ Language becomes the link that combines together the three factors. In this way language reveals personal factors of evaluation, feeling; in other words language is emotive, divorced from claims of truth or falsehood. When this model is used for theological or God’s language, then it is a language of faith, that is, an attitude of the individual in the presence of God. This is why it has been difficult to speak of being neutral where God's language is concerned. Nevertheless, this should not give the impression that God's language is unreal. What is clear is that this language is unique and can hardly fail under the category of everyday life. Even when anthropomorphic expressions are used, we


Comparative Religion

still realise our inability to speak adequately about God. What we can use are images that may illuminate (though not completely) the mystery that surround God. What is important is that we can talk about him, granted that such expressions and inquiries will remain analogous. We must use this method o expression to talk about God's relation to the world. Macquarrie has suggested a number of analogies to solve the problem of God's relation to the world. First, he conceives God as being, and his relation to the world as that of being to being. This analogy is rather difficult. It needs prior understanding of the philosophies of being. Second, he thinks of God’s relation to the world as like that of a meaning to a process of series of events. In this way, God is seen as an ultimate context of meaning that gives sense to the world as opposed to chaos and absurdity. This came out in true discussion of the creative act of God. Third, he thinks of God as form and his relation to the world as analogue to that of form and matter. Form is used in the Aristotelian sense where the soul is the form of the body. Form informs the body and expresses itself in and through the body. Analogously, God is the form of the world; this notion has been mentioned in the chapter. It is, however, worth emphasising that God in Christian theology is more than an immanent world-soul, because he does not only inform the world but brings it into existence, that is, he is a creative form. This is the basis for our frequent insistence throughout about the intimacy of God's relation to the world - 'a creative living form, a dynamic reality being, direction and intelligibility to the world'. If we take God to be the form of the world in explaining the God-world, relation, we depart from the monarchical model which emphasise complete independence of God that creation is an act of arbitrary will. We still accept that God is actually inseparable from the world, yet we cannot annex God to the world nor can we identify the two in a pantheistic formula. However, we have to fall back on the Judaic acknowledgement, where it is accepted that there is within creation a form of directedness which is responsible for righteousness and which explains the meaning and dignitity of man's life. In one way God is hidden within creation and, in another, God is a partly revealed dynamic form that comes real in the process of creation.

Models of Relationship


A ctivity ¿(1) In what way does political understanding of the Africans help in their relationship to God? (2) How would you convince a pantheistic student who insists that God and world are not two distinct realities but one? (3) Why do monotheistic religions stress monarchical model of relationship in preference to any other? (4) Explain fully why a South African theologian would be uncomfortable with the Christian presentation of God as: omnipotent, omniscient, supreme authority and white male.


41 THE NATURE AND DESTINY OF MAN J.J. Ongong'a Introduction This chapter brings up another common theme among religions. It is the most celebrated theme and deals with the centre of creation, a being who participates actively in creation and therefore is ■ co-creator with God in that he can make use of other parts of creation for his own benefit. This is no other than Man the human being. The topic is divided into; (1) Nature of Man and Destiny. (2) The Problem of Good and Evil.

The Nature of Man Almost every religion takes it for granted that there is only one creator responsible for the entire universe. Man is almost universally believed to be different from all other creatures. He is the only being believed to be endowed with intellect. The only creature that is able to make and use tools. It is man that is concerned with his origin and destiny. The only being that expresses his longings, wishes and fears through a system of belief called religion. There is no doubt that human beings are in ■ different category from the other members of creation. Human beings even see their own nature, destiny and position in the world in a mirrow, as it were, of the divine power which they adore. Man's nature must be examined differently from that of other beings and from the view point of this divine - human relationship. This relationship actually points to the unique position of man. However, we must admit that the majority of religions are concerned more with how man can keep viable such a relationship with the creator than with an elaborate account of the theology of man's nature.1

The Distinctive Place of Man in Nature The old problem of knowing who man is, thas often disturbed mankind over the centuries. It is perhaps easier to talk and find out about other creatures but it is 1 Rahner K. The Dignity and Freedom of Man, p 262-264.


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not easy to know who man is. This is why today there are conflicting understandings about what man really is or what constitutes man. To be unbiased, we must examine man from the way he presents himself and then give an interpretation to such phenomenon. Man is a creature; he exists. But his existence is different from that of other creatures because he is aware that he is, and to a large extent man can say who he is. He is able to distinguish himself from nature. But over and above man can relate to himself and even criticise himself. This is because man has a unique sense of direction. For example, how do we explain man's reaction when he says: "I should not have done that". "I did not believe myself when I said or did that". Such statements like these reveal that man is the only animal we know of who can distinguish the "I" from "myself". This realisation is unusual among, other creatures. Such self-criticism reveals an important fact; that man is not given as ■ complete thing, but rather his existence is a potentiality that he must develop or mould.2 Jean Paul Sartre, the celebrated existentialist Philosopher, would to a large extent, agree with Mbiti. The purpose of Kinship is to show that man depends on others. He has to learn who is from the family in which he is bom. Mbiti puts it that the Africans asserts "I am, because we are, and since we are, therefore I am". Sartre adds that man is not bom complete, he makes his own essence. Through experience we agree that man has the capability to go beyond any given situation of his condition, to transcend it. Unlike other creatures man is made up of spirit, commonly called the soul. This is a psychological totality, signifying the entire psychic reality of man, a self or consiousness. For the Greek thought man is an incarnated spirit. The Judaic interpretation upon which Christianity is built does not, however, make a distinction, between the soul and the flesh as if they were two opposed principles. For them therefore, man is animated body. Whatever the argument raised by scholars, consciousness is diffused through the flesh rather than seated in a particular organ. This is u unique characteristic of a human being. He is endowned with spirit which distinguishes him from other levels of nature.^ The elements in human life that are normally called polarities of the human existence. They sound like apparent contradictions and are not easy to comprehend, especially when found in the same human being as the case is. They are possibility and facticity, rationality and irrationality, responsibility and impotence. Possibility and facticity underline the vast potentiality laid before man. He has enough chance to try so many openings before him. Man has the duty to 2 Mbiti, J. African Religions and Philosophy', p 135-142. 3 Genesis 2: 7-8.

The Nature and Destiny of Man


actualize ■ number of possibilities laid before him. Actualization means doing or becoming, performing not just being aware of the possibilities. This is called facticity. Man must pick and choose and then act, this is what bespeaks man's freedom. He does not act out of instinct like the other creatures. He has a chance to determine his activities they are not done for him even though he may be given direction, but such directions will remain mere potentialities.4 Rationality has been used as an aspect of man that separates him from other lower levels of nature, and reveal ■ different dimension of his nature that associates him with his creator, God. Judaism and Christianity refer to this as the image of God. There seem to be something unique in man that makes him participate in unique types of freedom. He can reason things out, find out reasons for their being and even argue out reasons for his particular action. For example, it would be unthinkable for you not to know why you are reading this page. Yet on other occasions you may perform some acts which are incompatible with your status as a student. You must have remarked several times that A is acting irrationally and at another time lauded A profusely for something he did. So, despite the fact that human beings can judge, discriminate, change motives, interpret and understand a situation, they can still do the opposite of what reason tells them. Accordingly we must admit that there is a tension set up in our human existence.^ Responsibility and impotence further the awareness of tension in human existence. There may be clear desire to do a particular thing, to actualize a desired potency, yet we may not bring ourselves to it at all. The inability, impotence simply overpowers us.^ The main contradiction which seems to be u concern for everybody is that human existence end in death. Death seems to be the most painful aspect of human existence. Modem Philosophers like Sartre refer to it as absurdity. Yet in the face of death what Edward Sapir, an American Anthropologist calls the breaking point, man still looks beyond. He has a capacity to push forward and see more in existence than a disaster prompted by death. There is a force within man's nature that makes this hope possible, a likeness of God, may be something akin to what Hinduism call atman. If this were not the case he would collapse into nothingness. Death would be the end in every aspect of the word.

4 Mcquarrie J. God, the World and E vil. 5 Genesis 3:1-19 and 2 Samuel 11:2-17. 6 Romans 7: 14-25.


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However, despite this feeling of a path beyond the limited situation, a contrary tension or anxiety stands side by side with hope. Anxiety is important in human life: it underlines our dependence; the confrontations of what we meet in life help us to search further. The anxiety whether we shall actualize our potentialities helps us to make genuine choices whenever we can. The belief that we can manage that there is a chance to try again explains the importance and rationale for talking of hope. Almost all religions tend to agree in their consoling attitude that there can always be hope even when everything seems desperate. This is why we can characterize all religions as methods of pushing man beyond the present physical reality to the spiritual realm. Even philosophers would find it difficult to categorically deny the presence of hope at the limit situation.^

The Basis for M an's Uniqueness We have used a phenomenological approach to investigate the polarities of human existence. It is now time to examine our common theological basis for placing man in a special place among creatures. Looking at man it is possible to hazard a conclusion that he has not only dealt with tangible things, actual circumstances and processes; but has also been conscious of failing certain invisible powers on which the success or failure of his life depend. He has accordingly tried to know the character of these powers which are beyond him and to enter into some relation with them. This is the basis of religious knowledge and worship, an ultimate concern with man's participation in the glory and power of the gods or God.** In the human act of making up a worshiping community, man becomes a client and companion of the divine power which he adores. Tlie awareness of a power beyond, and being able to communicate to such power, used to give more meaning to man's life. Today, however, people are no longer conscious of such power and mystery within nature. Technology has given the impression that man can scientifically investigate and understand creation on his own. In other words, man has tried to remove God from the world and taken over the control. Unfortunately, for the critics, this mastery of the world by man is in fact part and parcel of biblical faith that man is made in the image of God. Man and God are not rivals at all. Man can never acquire divine status as our study of the polarities in human life has indicated.^ Indeed there must be something in man which makes him desire to relate intimately to God. It is not just fear as Freud has attempted to conclude. Why for

^ Mcquarrie, J. God, the World and Evil, p. 64-66. 8 Mbiti, J. African Religions and Philosophy, p 75-79. 9 Genesis 1: 26-27.

The Nature and Destiny of Man


example should human beings be so preoccupied with the need for perfection and eternity? Almost all human beings would aspire to live for eternity. The absurdity of death is based on the fear that death stops this desire at its infancy. The inclination to fight for perfection and live for ever points to a prior tendency in man that is more than incidental. It shows nothing more than a unique solidarity of God and human beings as portrayed in the life of the religious. It is the foundation of all human attempts to desire God's attributes.10 The basis of man’s uniqueness rests on the fact that he is the highest point, the apex of creation. He thus stands out from the background of nature. Man is the only creature who has been shaped by nature and in turn proceeds to shape nature and to extend his control over it. This is why man is able not only to marvel, to appreciate and admire nature but he can manipulate it for hjfs own benefit and satisfaction. That is, man can chose to be either a guardian of the created world or a destroyer, an exploiter. The save-this-and-that species associations and movements of this century are examples of the fear that results from the reckless abuse of the universe by man. Often the technocratic development of man makes him ignore the fact that he too is a creature who must respect the law of nature. The uniqueness of man, his responsibility and culpability for the abuse of the world, stem from the fact that man is created in the image of God. Even though this does not in any way contradict his creatureliness, it nevertheless, places him on a different platform from the rest of created beings. I* Because man is created in the image of God, he has an openness, and the sense and taste for the infinite. What non-Christian religionists call immortality finds its basis on this belief. A Christian theologian, Augustine of Hippo, once remarked: "Man’s heart is restless until it finds rest in God" Augustine might have said this from the experience of his disturbed life prior to his conversion. Nevertheless, the interpretation goes deeper to include a general inclination in man. Man's destiny is to participate in the fullest and most conscious way possible in God. But to participate freely, gladly, responsibly and to become a co-worker with God in creation, a guardian to whom God has entrusted power to give meaning to creation. I 2 All religions are in one way or another concerned with the destiny of man. Destiny, if seen from eschatological view-point included the entire creation. But here we shall restrict our study to man. A concern with human destiny reveal a further conviction that man’s existence has more to it than the eye can see. Hinduism for example, insists on the reincarnation, being bom again after death. Mbiti, J. African Religions and Philosophy, p. 186-189. 11 Mcquarrie, J. God, the World and Evil, p. 226-233. Genesis 1: 26-30 and 2 : 19-20.

Comparative Religion


Such rebirth is seen to depend on what an individual does during his life time. That is, it is connected very much with the exercise of freedom. Someone’s behaviour now determines what he will be after death. In this religion the concern for human destiny is given a central place. The followers or believers are reminded to rely on themselves to seek the moral elevation that will save them from the domination of matter. They must be guided along the right path. The problem of destiny is originated by the fact that creation is temporal, that it is moving to perfection and not a static perfection. And that man, though a creature, does not find completion or satisfaction in creaturely goods. He has within his being a taste for the divine. Destiny is therefore an end towards which existence is moving for e complete realization of its potentialities. Paul Tillich has used a dialectical approach to explain this destiny, just a little differently from that of John Macquarrie. Tillich sees destiny as a polarity of freedom. He says that man is man because he has freedom only in polar interdependence with destiny. Seen from this point of view then, only he who has freedom has destiny, because destiny is the basis of freedom.

Destiny as a Future Fulfilment Freedom has a lot to do with the human destiny. The word destiny points to something which is going to happen to us, a future fulfilment. It certainly points to the idea of freedom, the notion of choosing between two alternatives. You may not be aware of it, but to have a human act, we must go through three separate but related activities: deliberation, decision and responsibility. In deliberation an individual reviews, examines, studies and weighs the pros and cons of his arguments or motive for performance or refusal. He then reacts to the possibilities before him. This reaction, whatever form it may take, is called decision. Decision is the actual selection, putting aside or excluding certain possibilities anticipated in the act of deliberation. And the act of excluding certain possibilities rests on consequent responsibility, the obligation of the person who has freedom in excluding and cutting down possibilities. He has to be ready to accept that his action has been determined by him and him alone, and not by someone else. It is on this understanding that the actual meaning of destiny and what it entails as a future fulfilment, becomes clear as that out of which decisions arise. Destiny is the broad basis of true humanity. What all this means is that a true human decision should reflect on our destiny. If it takes us away from it then there

Tillich, P. The Courage to Be (London: Collins Fontana, 1962) p. 182-186.

The Nature and Destiny of Man


is something radically unusual. To lose our destiny is to lose the meaning of our being, destiny is necessity united with meaning. 14

A ctivity (1) Why would you say that man is different from other creatures? Give original examples to support your answer. (2) Do Africans in their traditional way conceive of destiny? Explain. (3) Distinguish the Hindu concept of destiny from the Christian notion. (4) Why would you think it is necessary to refer again and again to the early chapters of Genesis in studying this part of the topic? (5) Why do you think you have this duality or rationality and irrationality? (6) Why is freedom seen to be part and parcel of human destiny? What is freedom?

Mcquarrie, J. G od, the W orld and E vil, p. 357-362.


42 GOOD AND EVIL J J . Ongong'a Introduction One of the natural human inclinations is U> find out why things happen the way they do. Human curiosity is in fact enhanced when we feel that the incident could be diverted by some other power. Then we cannot help but turn around and ask: but why was this left to happen the way it did? We ask the same question almost all the time whenever we see what is happening in the world despite faith in a good and powerful God. Religions take different attitudes to the fact of suffering and evil. The problem of evil is seen differently in different religious contexts. Accordingly each religious faith has a different explanation of the origin of evil. However it would probably be helpful to identify and confirm areas and moments when we are actually confronted with realities that bespeak the presence of evil.

Disorderliness in the Human Existence Some monotheistic religions have given the impression that the universe was created in an orderly manner. Unfortunately, experience seems to indicate the opposite. For example man, the most celebrated creature, has a lot of disorderliness and apparent contradictions in his life. Each human being is a responsible and intelligent being, a person who acts for a purpose in life, and who has many possibilities open to him or her. To be truly human they must bring to actualities these possibilities or potentialities according to a particular standard. But whether at community or individual level people do not act to the satisfaction of their status. Their possibilities are often distorted. For example, take the human hunger for power, pride, selfishness, envy, greed and anger which do not seem to reveal orderliness in life. ^ It would seem that disorderliness come as a result of the human retreat from the expected possibilities, responsibility and even rationality. Both society and its individual members equally notice and acknowledge the imperfections that surround our existence. At times we are bom into such inhuman surroundings, and so we

1 Genesis 4: 1-13.


Comparative Religion

find ourselves falling away from our intended personality. Disorder is indeed a universal experience, a straying away from the proper possibilities.^ Macquarrie has tried to emphasise man's tendency to alienate himself from certain aspects of human life. This nonchalant attitude may lead to aloofness, or a feeling of being cut off from others either by one's own activities or through the negligence of the group. The experience of falling, alienation, lostness are common phenomena in every human existential situation. They are matters of concern for any theological school.

Natural Evil It is one thing to laud the creator for his unique universe. But it is another thing to be part of that creation. This may sound like an empty tautology because to appreciate God's creation we must be part of it. However, what we want to emphasize here is the fact that the universe seems to be a mysterious entity despite our technological know how. For example, what can be said about earthquakes which rock the earth and consume hundreds of people? A storm tossing a vessel left and right and finally emptying its passengers under water? Famine and drought? We have not forgotten the shocking experiences in Ethiopia during the 1980s. And then diseases, AIDS, malaria, cholera, small pox have continued to claim lives day and night. Natural evil is nothing more than these enemies of life that are not attributed to man as the sole agents, but mainly, if not wholly, arise from natural factors. It is nevertheless difficult to refer to them as natural because their repercussions afflict human beings as well. In this way they are not purely natural evils.^ Other types of evil include moral evil, that is evil that we human beings are responsible for; for example injustice, being cruel, viciousness, pride and perverse thought and deeds. Along with these must be mentioned Satan, the personification of evil in Christian doctrine. It would be incomplete to talk of evil without including such supernatural forces that harass the human mind. Finally the evil that arises from the basic fact of finiteness and limitation. Our retreating from our possibilities is based on this limitation. We can never view the whole situation at once let alone the absurdity of death.

2 Mcquarrie, J. God, the World and Evil, p. 66-68. 3 Mbiti, J. African Religions and Philosophy, p. 125-127.

Good and Evil


Different Religions and the Problem of Evil (a)

Non Theistic Religions

Even though the problem of evil is universal among religions, each religion seems to conceive it and treat it differently. To avoid a long listing of various religions we shall divide them into broader sense as non-theistic and theistic religions. This type of division is important because not all religions put much emphasis on the questions provoked by the presence of evil in the world. Buddhism which has very little to say about the gods, acknowledges that life is indeed suffering, but suffering is due to craving or desire. This craving can be eliminated, and this teaching stresses a methodical manner in which such elimination is possible. For example the supreme Eightfold Path is shown to be a means to tranquility, through meditation and concentration. The Buddhists, therefore, do not concern themselves with the why questions of seeking for the original explanation of evil. Closely related to this faith is Taoism. This religion does not emphasise the nature of evil in the universe. Taoists believe in an eternal principle that underlies nature. For men to be peaceful they have only to yield themselves to its harmony.^ One of the common elements in African religion that connected it to other religions of the world is its stress on the belief that things do not just happen by chance. If something goes wrong it is attributed to the malevolence of some agent exercising some hidden powers, be it a fellow human being, one of the ancestors, or perhaps some spiritual power reacting against human negligence. The Africans, therefore, attribute goodness to a supreme being and evil is seen as the work of lesser divinities. Theistic arguments that evil is man's doing with no other forces beyond would therefore sound strange to the African. Mbiti has pointed out that apart from the African's personification of evil, they strongly believe that the spirits are either the origin of evil or agents of evil.^

D ualistic Views Even though dualism was discussed in the forms of theism, we shall look at it again in relation to evil. In most religions, attempts to find ultimate meaning behind the inscrutable phenomenon of nature and human experience have occupied a great portion of their history. One common solution has been to see two equally ultimate principles behind the problem of good and evil.

4 Idowu, B. African Traditional Religion: A Definition (London: SCM Press, 1973) p. 155-164. ^ Mbiti, J. A frican R eligion s and P hilosophy, p. 266-274.

Comparative Religion


Zoroastrianism is the chief example of religions which explain the existence of evil as one uncreated spiritual force working against another, an uncreated spiritual creator responsible for good. The source of evil is the battle between these two co-etemal powers. This reduces the world into a battle ground of good and evil. However, the followers of Zoroastrianism still hold that in the end the principle of good will finally win over evil. This dualistic explanation is found among some groups in Hinduism. The followers of Lord Shiva, believe that he is both creator and destroyer, now blessing and now cursing or frustrating. And that this god is frequently accompanied by his consort Kati who represents the negative side of divine power. To Hindus Shiva is a paradoxical figure, reflecting the ambiguities of creation and destruction in human life and experience. The Shiva cult believes that the present ambiguities between good and evil are included within one single divine source, while Zoroastrianism locates the problem in the struggle between two ultimate principles. Nevertheless, both religions locate the origin of evil in the ultimate nature of the things.

T heistic R eligions Judaism, Islam and Christianity along with the Vaishnavite form of Hinduism, do not appeal to dualism to explain the problem of evil. Instead, they believe that the problem lies with man himself. Their reasons are both theological and philosophical. Theologically, it is hard to reconcile a belief in two equally ultimate independent powers, as this does not affirm the belief in one omnipotent all-knowing God. Philosophically on the other hand, the inner drive towards the recognition of an infinite source of everything that exists in the universe does not permit the existence of ultimate dualism. It is these two views that have led and confirmed the theistic religious doctrines of creation as being dependent wholly on the creative power of God.^

The Problem of Theodicy The depth of the problem of the presence of evil in the good universe can be seen in the Christian theodicy. The term theodicy is a technical term made up of two Greek words "theos" and "dike", meaning God and justice. It stands for the defence of the justice and righteousness of God in the face of evil. This question had bothered the Greek thinkers as well. We read Hick’s version of Fletcher's quotation of Lactantius as follows: If God is perfectly good, He must want to abolish all evil; if He is unlimitedly powerful He must be able to abolish all evil: but evil exists;

6 Mcquarrie, J. G od, the W orld and Evil. p. 211.

Good and Evil


therefore either God is not perfectly good or He is not unlimitedly powerful. (Hick, 1966:5). This is the basis of Christian theodicy. It was Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430) that strongly developed theodicy. He rejected dualism and strongly affirmed the goodness of all creation. He defined evil as "privatio boni", the denial or negation of good. In this way evil is destructive and an enemy of being or existence. It is a reversal of the positive affirmation of being. This is why monotheistic religions hardly recognise evil as being a substance on its own right but rather a corruption and perversion of what is inherently good. Evils for these faiths may result from a clash between elements each in itself good7 Another thing that enhances the question of theodicy is that much preoccupation with the presence of evil may lead to the risk of raising evil's status over and against the sovereignty of God, as in Zoroastrianism. On the other hand, an emphasis on divine independence may minimize the actual presence of evil, to which both Old and New Testament clearly point through the warnings of the prophets and through the teaching and healing activities of Jesus. To Theologians, however, evil is the process of lapsing into nothing, ceasing to be. This is a threat to creatures because all beings desire to be and see their proper fulfilment A failure in a being to actualize the possibilities open to him is equivalent to slipping back into nothing. It is a straying away from the path for which beings are intended to follow towards their actualization of possibilities. Such turning away is a defeat of creative process.** Why does God allow this process of straying away to happen? The answer is not simple. However, we conceive God only as God because he can create. He is known through his creation. But creation is a risk, because it means letting be, and it is done out of love; this in turn bespeaks self-giving. But in the act of creating, letting-be, God pours himself into being which until then was nothing, he thus takes a risk that the creature may be dissolved into anything. What constitutes a particular being is that it is this and not that: It has a determinate nature. Your pen is a pen and not a book; it still has its determinate character from the factory. The determinate character of a being may remind you of the importance of freedom in relation to human destiny. It is this process of straying away to be nothing or turning away from the being we are expected to be what make Christians speculate that evil is man's not God's responsibility.^

7 Mcquarrie, J. God, the World and Evil, p. 255-256. 8 Genesis 3: 1-7. 9 Mcquarrie, J. God, the World and Evil, p. 256-258.


Comparative Religion

Evil in the Fall of Man The frequency of sin in the world reveals the actual presence of evil in the world. Sin is a religious language. It goes beyond a mere guilt or wrong doing, even though, these are parts of sin. Our discussion about the disorderliness in existence enhances this presence of sin. Sin is nothing more than a refusal of responsibility, co-responsibility, lack of growth towards social integration and common good. It is a process of falling away and isolating oneself from one's original question. Why should there be such inclination : Is God not responsible? The belief in devil is an obvious explanation of sin. There is a common explanation of sin in some religions, namely that there are evil spirits responsible for moral and physical suffering. To avoid dualistic explanation which this belief portrays, monotheistic religions treat the devil as a creature, s fallen angel or spirit who deliberately strayed away from God. This to a large extent reconfirms the monotheistic denial of dualism. The devil is deemed as originally being good like other parts of God's creation and only after his revolt did he become what he is now. But what worsens the Christian claim more formidably is its teaching that the devil is incapable of redemption. This belief does not help the denial of dualistic existence. It still leaves open the question of a dualistic element in creation.1® The problem is a difficult one. It even bothered the Jews. But what is even harder to comprehend is the impression given in the book of Job that Satan or the devil could converse and argue with God in the heavenly court and be given authority to tempt mankind, and later on the son of God himself. The Jews even argued and pointed out to Jesus that the powers of Satan were behind his exorcism.11 In Christian Theology, Augustine of Hippo is referred to as having developed the idea that the fallen state of the world from which Christ came to redeem man was as a result of the fall of man after temptation in the garden of Eden by thé devil. This first sin, straying away from God, marked the separation of man from God and is the origin of many other aspects of suffering terminating in death. Therefore the world must be under the influence of the power of the devil until something is done. The idea of some angels falling away from God is also found in Islam. The Quran speaks of the angel Iblis who resented the place of Adam in creation. The leader of the fallen angels together with his followers were allowed by God to remain in being as tempters to test men here on earth. However, the strong Muslim faith in the sovereignty of the one God did not permit Islamic theologians

^ Job 1: 6-12; Genesis 3: 1-6. 11 Matthew 4: 1-11; Mark 3: 20-27.

Good and Evil


to develop the concept of this rebellious force to the status in which it is recognised in the western Christian theology. ^ The problem of the evil spirit remains a thorn in the flesh for the Christian church even today. It is hard to treat it simply as a myth especially as it is presented in the scriptures. However, some of the experiences that brought about the phenomena of demon possession are now explained as psychological problems or treated medically. It is not easy for people, even in the absence of monotheistic religion, to conceive two ultimate principles.

A ctivity (1) Find out your own people's traditional way of explaining the existence of evil in the world. (2) 'Natural and moral evil are not the same thing'. Discuss. (3) In your own opinion what would you say is a good example of the presence of evil in the world? Give original examples to support your answer. (4) What is the danger of the monotheistic emphasis on the omnipotence and sovereignty of God?

1(5) What does it mean to be ■ human being?

12 Genesis 3: 14-19.


43 SALVATION J.J. Ongong'a

The topic can hardly be complete without the theme of salvation. We have concluded already that man is a unique responsible creature with a special destiny. We also affirmed that life is not a smooth straight road. There are disorderliness and shortcomings which contradict any belief in a good comfortable universe. In other words, in creation there are to be found both good and evil existing side by side. But since man, the most celebrated creature, is intended for a destiny to ;which he must reach to reflect his true humanity, and since experience reveals that there are apparent contradictions to such destiny, we must now investigate what other options there are for man. What can he do in the face of all these contradiction and signs of irresponsibility and alienation? Can man still arrive at a meaningful destiny amidst such uncertainity? The question brings us face to face with the three aspects of human finality, namely, salvation, death and immortality.

M eaning

; The word salvation is used quite often in everyday expressions. For example one is prone to say after an accident "The driver's salvation was his scat belt" or "the patient's salvation was the immediate arrival of the doctor". And recently we have heard it remarked: "Ethiopians’ salvation has been the generosity of other nations especially the Christian world". I The word salvation is derived from the Latin word "salus" meaning health or wholeness and can be applied to any act of healing. This is meant to underline the fact that the word salvation apply to hopeless situations. It presupposes the [abnormality of a situation, the need to rectify that which may not help itself unless somebody else does something from without. However, when the word is used within the context of religious themes it means more than a mere healing from dehumanizing conditions. It means a healing from demonic possession and from servitude to sin and to the ultimate jpower of death. It is a transformation of experience, a process that goes on in time and space and within a human community and in the individual life.

Common Concern Like the idea of evil, salvation is a common concern for most religions. All the religions that recognise that man has a unique destiny in creation and that


Comparative Religion

he lives in ■ world where good and evil coexist, take the idea of salvation equality seriously.1 The understanding of this salvation is explained differently by each religion. But the concept is there. The Buddhist recognise rebirth and the notion of salvation as a release. Every Buddhist must strive to follow the path which leads to a true release. And the only obvious way to do this is through the process of individual self effort involving moral discipline, the practice of meditation and the attainment of insight. Some Buddhists, however, emphasis external activities in place of internal personal transformation. Hindusim points out that ignorance is the obvious hindrance to salvation. All religious effort should therefore be directed towards dispelling this ignorance, sometimes known as avidya, within ourselves. All effort in life should be the desire and the longing for a moment when avidya along with attachment to the things of this world will vanish forever. The human hope to attain such liberation is only attainable when people are wiling to renounce all other desires and to adopt the arduous world - renouncing life to strive for salvation through the path of knowledge: To ensure this salvation, Hindus go through ■ rigorous self­ mortification as preparation for meditations, and are seen as direct means of salvation. Whereas Buddhism and Hindusim emphasise meditation and mortification, Islam underline endless good work as the means for achieving salvation.

Judaic-C hristianity and Salvation Nowhere within thè world religions is salvation more deeply discussed than in Christianity. The concept of salvation is central to the Judaic tradition and Christianity.^ The God of the Bible was first known as a saving God before being celebrated as the Creator. The story of God saving the Israelites from dangers, from slavery in Egypt to the obstacles they met in the desert on their way to the promised land, occupies numerous pages of the Bible. The Bible conceives salvation as a deliverance. The Israelites were delivered from bondage without war, delivered from the Red Sea without boats or canoes and delivered from numerous enemies without army. When the Israelites had reached the promised land and settled, they became so much aware of sin. And because they had faith in God, they knew he could redeem them from sin as well. Whenever any one fell he or she had to try to create a proper relationship with God. God's redemption, however,

1 Psalm 106: 2, 7, 21. 2 Psalm 44:1, 26, Genesis 12:1.



still remained a sign of God's power, in that he often made the initiative while the Israelites could do nothing on their own p o w e r - 3 Sin appears in different ways in the Bible. It appears as a reversal of the good. Whereas good is thought of as the fulfilment of self, sin is falling short of this fulfilment. The good is seen as the fulfilment of the law, sin is a transgression. The good life from the Biblical point of view is, therefore, communion or fellowship with God.4 Sin estranges us from God. It breaks our fellowship with Him and as the Bible clearly shows, it earns his wrath, darkens our soul, makes us aware of our rebellion against God. It is only God who can restore this lost fellowship. Man cannot move nearer to God on his own effort, he does not even have a claim on him. The remedy from this point of view can only come from God and only in a new kind of relationship, namely forgiveness. This is the basis of salvation in Christian theology. Salvation is a healing process, a renewal which can only be effected from without. It does emphasises that something has gone wrong. That good which bespeaks fulfilment has been interfered with.5

Salvation in Christianity The meaning of salvation in the Christian religion takes its basis from the Bible. Throughout the centuries all kinds of controversies about salvation have emerged. There was even an argument as to whether those who are not Christians could be saved. Nobody takes such argument seriously anymore especially if it started without proper theological qualification.^ The emphasis on salvation only within the church is basically an Augustinian interpretation. Anyone who has studied the long and tumultuous life of Augustine of Hippo can indeed understand why he took the type of interpretation he did. The early church took up the monarchical idea of God as the Bible. There the notion of man's wretchedness and sinfulness was profoundly underlined. Later the early church Fathers added the concept of the fall, meaning that men lost all power to do anything good. Man is essentially evil, and all that he wills and does is sinful or evil. This belief reduced man to a humble and base creature, a being who only deserves the penalty for his wickedness. The emphasis on evil as a reality from which man needs to be saved made the idea of salvation a central topic in religion. Whether it was by Buddha, Zoroaster, Paul the Apostle, Martin Luther,

3 Jeremiah 17: 1-11 4 Genesis 5: 22-24; 3: 6-143. 5 Psalm 51: 1-17. ^ Vatican II, The Church, Art 16.


Comparative Religion

the Hebrew prophets, or Muhammad, the need for salvation has been variably stressed While it is essential to point out that man cannot save himself by his own efforts, it would be unrealistic to ignore the fact that man has a role to play. He is not saved as a passive being. As already mentioned, self-mortification is emphasised in the oriental religions. And we must add the human freedom. The divine initiative and the need for man's wills to be aided cannot be questioned. Yet this can only be meaningful if man is fully human being. In other words, without freedom and responsibility man would remain at the level of other lower creatures. To merit salvation, to make it a gift of his own, that is, to accept it, he has to make a commitment of faith. He has to be freely conscious of it and accept it7 From the Christian point of view salvation is found within the event of Christ. One must be drawn into the life of faith and recognise the element of grace, the divine initiative of God in Christ and of God in his spirit that finally opens man's eyes to the importance of Christ. To do this one must enter into the Christian life. Such entry takes place in four stages apart from baptism. These strategies include: i) The conviction of sin ii)

The need for repentance

iii) The moment of choice iv) The moment of justification Once more the stress is on the relationship between salvation and the reality of sin. It is when one is aware of sin that he is willing to ask for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness presupposes deep sorrow, a willingness and readiness to divorce from the life of sinfulness. But all this cannot happen without divine initiative to enable one to see the separating factor of sin. The moment of choice is followed by justification, that is, we become what we should be before God through his free gift of grace in one as we co-operate in suppressing that which has power to tear down and jeopardise the fellowship with God.^ Salvation is a historical event which takes place in time and space. It is final, complete and unchangeable, as a revealing and saving event. When someone has been grasped as it were, by divine spirit the centre of his personality actually changes and is transformed. He has within him the saving power. He must be in a position to remind himself of the possibility of being rejected, because this is a central and decisive step towards salvation, a basic part of its process. The type of salvation we have been discussing all along from the Christian point of view

7 Philippians 2: 12-18. 8 Mcquarrie, J. God, the World and Evil, p. 337-343.



suggests an ultimate salvation which cannot be lost because it is a reunion with the author of creation, the vision of God himself, it is a universal fulfilment even though we must be individually prepared for it. It is a complete unity that is finally achieved at death. This is what makes Christian hope an eschatological one, in that it looks forward to the consumation of the divine work in creation and reconciliation. The fulness of this salvation is realised at death.

A ctivity (1) Compare the Hebrew concept of God as a saving God to the traditional African belief in God. (2) If salvation is a free gift from God as the Christians insist, what then would you say about the self-mortification emphasised in Hinduism? (3) In your own words what is salvation? (4) "Too much emphasis on the fall of man as a humble and base creature may jeopardise the concept of salvation" Explain to what extent you agree or disagree with this statement.


44 D EATH J.J. Ongong'a Introduction Death is a very difficult topic to handle. It is the most universally central concern of the religions of the world. It is one subject that is relevant to the experience and reflections of all human faiths and cultures. It is not only an appropriate topic for trans-confessional agreement but for trans-cultural study as well. This is probably why philosophers and theologians have both attempted an explanation of death. It is a universal concern for everybody, believers and non­ believers alike. All tend to ask the same questions: Why should man die? What happens to him after death? Is death the end of everything? These questions were probably asked by our forefathers who were not technologically oriented; as much as they are being asked by today's technocratic society. However, religious talk about death rarely gets to the end without making reference to belief in immortality. This is why the chapter will link the topic with a discussion of immortality.

Meaning of Death Have you ever been to a funeral? Have you lost any of your friends or ■ member of your family that you will never meet again here on earth? If you have been to a funeral, you were there because someone had died. And if you have lost any member of your family that you will never meet here on earth, it is because he/she is dead. Death is a reality amidst human existence. All other realities can be doubted. But one reality which we have not personally experienced yet we are pretty sure of is death. We are all mortal, human beings as well as brute animals. Death indeed is part and parcel of life, a mode of existence, a way of living. It cannot be avoided. It is probably easier to talk about the reality of death than to discuss its meaning. In western thoughts the definition of death has been based on Greek dualistic understanding of a human being. For the Greeks man is double, he is made up of the body and the soul, this is the principle


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of life. At death the soul leaves the body. Accordingly, death is the separation of the soul from the body.1 But biologically death is said to be a dissolution an occurrence to be endured, a deprivation of consciousness and therefore a destruction. Today, medical people talk of brain death in which the human brain stops functioning while the heart is still beating. Theologians, on the other hand, apart from accepting the traditional definition speak about theological death or the death of the soul. This means a separation of the soul from God, it means dying in mortal sin. But whatever meaning or definition of death that may be appropriate, one thing remains obvious. Namely at death, the human being stops breathing he stops being called ■ human being. Before his burial, he is referred to as a body, a corpse which cannot function as human beings do. He becomes a mystery. People find it hard to know and to explain what happened, where his life has gone to. This is why the reality of death makes us all that helpless. In the presence of death we are all equal, all ignorant, all powerless, and, concerned with our own death more than the one before us. Indeed death provides an occasion for self-awareness and introspection. Thanatology is the scientific study of death.2 The Africans in their traditional religions are more courageous in their faith before death than is usually suspected. Their death is viewed as one of rites of passage that an individual must pass through. In this belief death is described as a natural phenomenon that one must go through. A passage that is inescapable. It is a state of spiritual growth, a moment when the individual has to separate himself from the earthly group in order to be united with the ancestors. Van Gennep, in his book The Rites of Passage, summed up what most Africans think about death and life as a whole. He says that for groups as well as for the individuals, life means to separate and to be re-united, to change form and be re-bom. It is to act and to cease, to wait and rest, and then to begin acting again, but in a different way.^ The Africans therefore conceive death as a transaction of life to a different and supernatural state, as a beginning of ■journey to the land of the ancestors. Yet it still remains ■ mystery more than ■ natural phenomena; a strange intrusion in the normal sequence of events due to violence, hatred, grudge or malpractices of sorcery which reveal man’s failures. The common meaning of death from the African's point of view is contained in their proverbs and mythologies. This religious languages on the one hand blames man for being responsible for the advent of death and on the other hand explains death as a natural phenomenon. Such apparent contradictions therefore underlie the mystery that surround death. But one thing that is clear from these expressions is that death does not annihilate

1 Hertz, R. Death and the Right Hand p 27-29. 2 Mbiti, J. African Religions and Philosophy, p. 149. ^ Van Gennep, A. The Rites of Passage, p. 189-199.



life. Indeed at death something happens to man. The man we really know ceases to be at death.

The Fear o f Death For man to know and love life, there must be death. The two go together. But the fact that death can strike at any time without choice or warning makes it almost always a dreaded event. It arouses many emotions, the most common being thanatography and sorrow. Death tears people away from all that they love and know in this world. The scandal of death is one of the greatest wicked aspects of life.4 It is difficult not to think and be concerned about death at least after a certain age. At such time the death of a beloved one carries more sorrow than usual. Such preoccupations explain why it is extremely difficult to persuade most adults to make sacrifices for future generations. Because when an elderly person makes plans for the future he is at the same time confronted by the fact that he has very little time to carry them out. Death is the ultimate end of life. But despite the great fear in the face of death it seems to be a necessity in a world that is in a continuous state of becoming or creative evolution. How can one think of the evolutionary process without the existence of death. Death creates the indispensable conditions for subsequent generations to be bom. It can therefore be said that biologically the destruction of the living is a necessary condition of the evolution of life. Only life which keeps thus renewing itself may be considered mortal in the biological plane. Death and birth are correlative, they both imply a mutation of an essential state. To abolish death would mean abolishing birth. Unfortunately these rational considerations can hardly abolish the scandal of death. This is why philosophers in particular, have seriously questioned death throughout generations. Because of certainity and inevitability of death they wonder and question the meaning of life. Most of these philosophers, especially from this century, have seen life as merely an absurd agitation. To bring out the apparent vanity of everything that humans, Heidegger defines man as a being toward death. Camus in his novel The Stranger, shares this position by saying that destiny condemns us all to death. In his other work, the Myth of Sisyphus, he speaks of death as a fundamental crime that supersedes all crimes that a human being could commit. Despite the realisation that human condition is the summit of evolution, it is nevertheless fragile and constantly unhappy because it inevitably implies consciousness of death. Our striving will always end in death. Andre Malraux, a French novelist, sees the world as a gigantic prison in which those who are condemned to death can find deliverance only in death itself. The present consciousness of humanism enhances man's awareness of his mortal condition and

4 Mbiti, J. op. cit. p. 158


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makes him far more unhappy than he has ever been. Despite his progress in hygiene and medical science, man can only postpone death. But again whether one dies at the age of forty or ninety does not alter his mortal condition, it still remains a reality. He is dead.^ Modem man is nevertheless so concerned with postponing death as long as possible and at any cost. In the hospitals attempts can be made to artificially prolong the lives of the dying even if it is only for a few days. In fact most of the activities that people engage in are geared to either postponing the fateful moment or attempting to distract one's mind from it and so forget all about it for a while. This is what a French psychologist, Ignance Lepp, underlines when he says that the frantic persuit of pleasure, sensual as well as aesthetic and intellectual, is for many people an unconscious flight from their anxiety about death. But the rationalization, meditation and avoidance or postponement of death remain futile. We are going to die. And we are going to die alone, each one individually. This is because death cannot be gotten from the outside, each and every human being must accept it absolutely alone, must and can meet death only once. For other crimes things can be done differently. An appeal can be made, a fine may be subscribed and responsibilities may be transferred or even shared. But when it comes to death we must face it alone.6 We achieve very little by repressing the thought of death or attempting to drown it in a sea of distractions. It is better to confront the reality directly and openly admit that death is both an intellectual and emotional human experience. Running away from death is like running away from God. He is, whether we recognise Him as God or not, the inescapable factor in every human action. He stands at the end of each road a man may decide to pass through. Flight from him is merely another form of running towards him and falling into his hands. In the same way we can never escape death. Meditation on death is recommendable if only to help one to transfigure death and give it a positive meaning like that of the believers in Africa religion.^

Death is a Transformation of Life Life and death are inseparable. To have life is to begin dying and the end of life is death. But if our thesis underlining and emphasising the reality and fear of death in human existence is true, then how can one survive amidst such thanatography. The answer is, we must turn to religion. We must look upon our life as a mirror of what lies beyond death. Modem man has today changed his attitude. Traditional images rarely make meaning to him. A mere quotation of 5 Baros, L. The Moment of Truth, p. vii-viii. 6 Genesis 3: 19. ^ Mugambi, J.N. & Kirima, N. African Religious Heritage p. 99-100.



heaven and hell is not sufficiently convincing. No one is ready to ignore the temporal in favour of the eternal. The now is important and unavoidable, to get beyond death we must look at life; this life that you and I are leading.^ The Greek philosophers often quoted the nobility of good life and the transcendental nature of a human hope. Socrates, one of the ancient philosophers, was neither a Muslim nor a Christian to count on eternal life. Yet death for him was simply a transitional moment, not the end of life but its boundary, a horizon rather than purpose. Socrates even cracked a joke before his death, and the peace with which he died, showed that dying was not the end, but a moment which has its time and placed People throughout history have admired those who have faced death fearlessly. It is proof that there are values which are important than life itself, that the kernel of life is its transcendental dimension. We already mentioned i^i the discussion of the destiny of man about the need for total fulfilment. Such {total fulfilment calls for a physical destruction of the individual, this takes place ¡with death. Death is the destruction of the individual, but it is the supreme fulfilment of the person. Christian martyrs are said to have died courageously because of their total belief that death would never end the memory of their courageous life. In the same manner those who die for reasons of patriotism, freedom and justice are aware that their own lives will be proof that those who live this life properly know that it is b bridge; a means of transformation to ■ beyond. If they had no transcendental hope they would not end their life. Resistance to death is one of the normal reactions of the life instinct. No one can die bravely without a deep conviction that such death is not the end.1® Our study of the process of evolution enables us to see that human consciousness has much accepted the final and definitive failure of man himself. In the same way the individual fear of death is reduced by a common conviction that all will not end with death. Fear of death as we have it today has been exaggerated by the denial of immortality, namely man's intuition that he is more than a biological entity, that he is in additional a soul and a spirit. Plato explained the existence of the soul's immortality by emphasizing its metaphysical extrinsic relation to the body. Christian preachers enhanced this concept when they despised the material to elevate the spiritual. Such belief was entirely foreign to Judaism. Today man is viewed as a total being; he is truly his body. And his true fate must be examined as such, not as a divided entity. However, this does not eliminate or deny the basic intuition, anterior to all rational constructs, that teaches us that we

^ Mbiti, J. op. cit. p. 161-162. 9 Mugambi, J.N. & Kirima, op. cit. p. 101-102. 10 Acts 7: 54-60.


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are something other, and more, than our bodies. This belief in man's consciousness of being more-than-a-body, the soul which is not limited by space and time, leads us to the next discussion of immortality.

A ctivity (1) Find out from your community the traditional explanation of the origin of death. (2) Discuss the Christian belief about the origin of death? (3) "Life and death are so intimately related that it is impossible to establish the sense of one without being confronted with the meaning of the other". Discuss. (4) How would you convince a student of Albert Camus who insists that death is the end of everything and that there is nothing beyond life?


45 IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL J.J. Ongong'a Introduction All along we have emphasised the uniqueness of man. He is the most celebrated being among creatures. That he has a different kind of affinity to his creator that make him participate differently in creation. That he has freedom which relates him to his destiny. And that man not only knows about his death but fears to die. Even though he knows that he cannot escape his fate he is not ready to accept it freely. He tries all he can to avoid it altogether. At his death, when this finally comes man wonders whether that is the end of life. We concluded that there is an intuition in man which tells him that death is not the end of everything.

Early Concepts of Immortality As far back as history can go there are traces of man's uniqueness in so far as the way in which he has treated his dead brothers and sisters goes. He either buried their corpses or disposed of them in a very deliberate and planned manner. This means that he treated death and the dead in a special manner: at least he refused to throw away the corpses carelessly, as he did with other animals, thereby indicating his inner feeling that death is not the end of life. There arc utensils dug up by historians near burial places indicating that good-stuffs were placed near graves. During the New Stone Age, neolithic men buried their dead in the contracted posture and apart from food-stuffs, slaves and even wives were buried along with their masters or husbands especially the rulers as evident among Egyptians.1 Most African communities do not only have elaborate systems of burial, but are very conscious of the feelings of the dead. It is believed that the dead can inflict punishment upon the living and have to be placated. Otherwise they may remain a constant threat to the living. Howevere, this apparent revelation docs not prove a concept of eternal life or immortality: it is what we may refer to here as ghostly survival. It was strongly believed that death did not end life but the idea

1 Mbiti, J. African R eligion s and P hilosophy, p. 158.


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and belief in positive immortality was not immediate or obvious at this early stage. ^

For Africans, death is an intrusion in nature, it is caused by other inimical! agents, people do not just die but are killed. Such feeling might have developed from the fact that at this stage man's life span was very low owing to myriads oi inimical forces that interrupted and harassed life at will. However, myths and legends were used to explain the evidence of death. Man who had been conceived to be immortal had become mortal, according to myths, because of his own failure or jealousy of some supernatural f o r c e s . 3 Today, some scholars reduce the initial belief in life after death to man's own inability to conceive the idea of and remember his fellow beings (assisted by dreams) and yet regard them as non-existent. It is from this first belief, in a sort of undesired survival that first prepared the ground for ■ belief in immortality.4 Apart from Fraser's positive explanation for the origin of the belief, there are also negative theories. Such negative explanations are derived from the difficulty of thinking of oneself as non-existent. It is much easier for the human mind to assume a kind of continuation after death than to suppose that the individual, who actually was still in his or her friend's memory and in dreams, had ceased to be altogether. This negative approach can be found in Freudian psychoanalysis which considers the unconscious to be convinced of its own immortality.^ With these positive and negative conjectures we can evaluate immortality as it is believed in todayP

Development and Proof of Immortality

The belief in the type of immortality that people discuss a lot today is said to be based on the value of the human individual and on a knowledge of a higher i reality that is superior to the power of death. This is ■ theological notion.7 Western philosophers like Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant and others proved the immortality of the soul on the basis of its substantiality; unity and spirituality. The central argument is based on logic. The problem that we encounter in such

2 Mugambi, J.N. & Kirima, African Religions and Heritage, p. 101-102. 3 Ibid p. 99-100. 4 Frazer, Sir James, Belief in Immortality and Worship of Dead, Vol. I p.27. ^ Freud, S.Collected Papers, Vol. IV p. 305, 313 . 6 Mugambi, J.N. & Kirima, op. cit. p. 111-114. 7 John 11: 20-27.


Immortality of the Soul


logical argument is that it is not easy to discuss successfully transcendental truths on the basis of logic. In view of this doubt, Bergson has gone further to attempt ■ scientific method in which he has talked of the irreducibility of the human spirit to bodily organs. Since he argues, man's soul is the principle of intelligence, memory, freedom and love, in the exercise of such faculties, it enjoys an undeniable independence from the body, it is therefore proper to suppose that it does not perish along with the body. Apart from this philosophical proof, we also have arguments from daily human experiences. We have already made reference to communication with the dead in dreams during the early stages of history. Today this is achieved through mediums. The fear of ghosts is a common phenomenon among modern man as it was among their ancestors. People have claimed all kinds of communication with the dead. Some scholars, especially musicians, have argued that they wrote certain pieces of their work under the inspiration of dead musicians or scholars. It is not a strong argument to take these revelations at face value but they nevertheless suggest something.** One obvious conclusion that may be drawn from both spiritualist communications and parapsychology, is the fact of telepathy which goes to prove that the spirit can actually act independently of the body and the laws which regulate its activity. We may still reject these experiences as final proof for the belief in immortality of the soul, but we cannot negate the probability of such belief. This is why Ignace Lepp has concurred with Bergson's opinion that since ¡the soul can in certain circumstances act independently of the body, nothing ¡obliges us to think that it must perish with the body.

Belief in Imm ortality as a Theological Fact Until now we have not come up with any convincing proof about immortality. But no matter which stage of human history ventured to look at, this belief has persisted in the mind of people. The more people have attempted to ignore it altogether the more the belief has continued to be discussed. However, we must admit that despite our technological progress, we can hardly explain ¡everything from practical scientific knowledge. There are certain concepts and ideas ¡that need their own language different from scientific one. The existence of the .human soul as distinct from the body and a belief in its immortality are examples ‘of such knowledge that falls not within scientific argument but theological languages. It is a matter of faith. Even great scientists are today accepting that scientific method cannot disclose every reality. Take for example, ideas which cannot be demonstrated scientifically like immediate experience, our knowledge of our real existence and the immortality of the soul.9

| 8 Malinowski, B. Magic Science and Religion p. 47-53. ¡9 l Corinthians 15: 12-58.


In India, it would be considered awkward to dispute a belief in immortality because death is the object of the Buddha's revelations. The way people have been concerned about their own fate at death, and even go as far as making arrangements for their own burial, cannot be dismissed as empty expressions of thanatology. This is why Ignace Lepp has rightly suggested that one should not feel and entertain frustration simply because belief in immortality cannot be proved scientifically. He adds: "Instead of asking those who believe in immortality to prove it, we might with equal justification ask those who do not believe to justify their unbelief scientifically."1® I At death something radically significant happens to human beings. We believe without any scientific proof that at death a person is transported beyond the, dimension of our physical world of which we are used. It is not the empirical person, the known physical figure that you can touch and feel, that is immortal,! but the principle of personality. It is the spiritual reality which as usual is invisible and difficult for us to conceive scientifically. We shall conclude this section by making reference again to Africanj traditional religion. African peoples look upon death as a transition, a passage, a bridge and a linking line between the physical and the spiritual world. The African j consciousness of the presence of the dead, the veneration and continued relationship with the dead, is not an empty belief. It seems that human beings are totally rooted to their belief in the immortality of the soul so that no scientific or philosophical speculation can convince otherwise. Death does not end life. Humanity has immortal soul and at death, from the religious point of view, this soul transcends its association with the body. It is hard to think of religion which does not remind its adherents of the survival of the soul at the event of death.11

A ctivity Immortality is a very relevant issue in this technocratic society. Students of religion should be properly acquainted with it and be able to discuss it maturely with students of other disciplines. Study it properly and refresh your mind by discussing the following: (1) Using as many examples as you can, show how the belief in immortality evolved. What reasons, would you give for its survival in the world influenced by technological achievement?

^ Lepp, I. Death and Its Mysteries, p. 163-166. 11 1 Corinthians 15: 35-55.

Immortality of the Soul


(2) Why is it easier for an African traditionalist to accept immortality than an urbanite? (3) In what way could one argue that without a belief in immortality religions would stand little chance of survival? Give examples to support your arguments. (4)

What would be your response to an atheist who denies that all communities have treated the dead with reverence, on the ground that there are people who cremate corpses and those who left ill people to die alone in the bush?.



CHAPTERS 16 The Present State of Religion in the Contemporary World. VI The Future of Religion.


46 THE PRESENT STATE OF RELIGION IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD J.N.K. Mugambi Introduction The contemporary period is normally regarded as beginning around AD 1850. By that year European influence had spread to all the six continents and to most islands in all the oceans. This chapter will explore and discuss the various challenges faced by religion as an aspect of life in the contemporary world.

Characteristic Contemporary Ideas Ideas characteristic of the contemporary period were beginning to make a strong impact in Europe and North America and later in other parts of the world. The following are examples:

E volu tion ism Charles Darwin published his book The Origin of Species in 1859. The following year his views were the subject of heated debate in the Royal Society. Some people, such as Thomas Huxley supported Darwin very strongly, but others vehemently opposed him. However, by the beginning of the 20th century evolutionism was very widely accepted, not only by natural scientists but also by anthropologists and some Christian theologians. Today, the theory of evolution is taken for granted in the teaching of biology, even though some people refuse to accept it on religious, rather than scientific grounds.

Em piricism Many scholars were becoming increasingly skeptical of religious doctrines on the ground that such doctrines could not be supported by empirical evidence. This skepticism challenged Christian scholars to embark on research which could win respect among scientists and philosphers. The disciplines of biblical archaelogy, historical criticism and literary criticism were motivated by the response of Christian scholars to empiricist skepticism.


Comparative Religion

Relativism Another characteristic of the contemporary world, is Relativism. The theory of Relativity is associated with Albert Einstein (1879-1955), a Jewish physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. The impact of the theory of Relativity on physicists was as great as that of Evolution on biologists. Isaac Newton's (1642-1727) laws of motion had been taken for granted until Einstein revolutionised physics with his discovery that duration, substance and space are associated in relative, rather than absolute or predetermined relations. Just as had happened with evolutionism, the theory of relativity was extended from Physics to social relations and ethics.

Secularism The growing impact of evolutionism, empiricism and relativism led many thinkers, including statesmen, to advocate the view that Religion and Politics should be separated, so that the modem state should be independent of interference from religious authorities and institutions. Most constitutions of modem nations today are secularist, in the sense that they relegate religion to private, individual interests. Some of them are overtly anti-religious, such as marxist constitutions, whereas others take a neutral position with regard to organized religion. Freedom of worship is today considered one of the basic human rights, guaranteed in most constitutions. The recognition of this right is derived from social relativism and political secularism - it is recognised that the citizens of a religiously pluralistic state can affirm their common nationality without conforming or adhering to one organised religion. It is also rccogniscd that each organised religion deserves as much respect and protection from the state as any other religion within the same state. In a totally secular state, it is not significant whether one is an active member of an organized religion, whether one is indifferent to religion, or whether one is antagonistic to religion - any religion. Some social analysts suggest that a totally secular state is quasi-religious, in the sense that its institutions are set up in such a way as to provide an alternative to organized religions. Marxist states have sometimes been discredited by their critics on this argument. It is important to emphasise, however, that secularism as ■ doctrine has no room for organized religion.

Ecum enism The word 'Ecumenism' is derived from the Greek term Oikoumene, which means 'the whole inhabited world'. It is most commonly used amongst Christian theologians, referring to the endeavour of various Christian denominations to promote mutual understanding, respect and co-operation in the hope of promoting unity among Christian churches and individuals.

The Present State of Religion in the Contemporary World


Ecumenism is a significant characteristic of the contemporary world, and is observable in all aspects of life at the international level. Politically, the League of Nations, and the United nations organisation, are manifestations of this characteristic. The various agencies and secretariats of the United nations Organisation have been funded to promote these concerns for mutual recognition, understanding, respect and co-operation. At the religious level, the Modem Ecumenical Movement has since the last quarter of the 19th century sought to promote these concerns among protestant Christians and churches. The World Council of Churches, with its headquarters in Geneva, co-ordinates this effort at the international level. The All Africa Conference of Churches, based in Nairobi, serves a similar role for the churches in Africa. The National Council of Churches of Kenya, serves the same function at the national level. There are other Christian associations which seek to promote fellowship among churches and groups with common orientations, but these tend to be restrictive in their qualifications for membership. Ecumenism has also been extended to interaction between people of different religions. Efforts to promote such interaction are sometimes initiated within particular religions or denominations. For example, some Christian churches have programmes to promote 'dialogue' with people of other religions. The World Council of Churches, for example, has b department for Dialogue with people of 'Living Faiths and Ideologies'. Such programmes, however, tend to be one-sided, because they are not based on a neutral foundation. If the initiative is Christian, it is unlikely ¿hat people of the other religions will join the dialogue whole-heartedly. The same problem is encountered if the initiative comes from people or organizations of other religions. The Unification Movement, founded, funded and patronised by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, claims to overcome this problem of partisanship by providing a neutral forum for people of all religions to interact. However, Rev. Moon is also the founder of the Unification Church which is a new syncretistic organisation endeavouring to blend together theological insights and cultural practices from the major religious traditions of the world. Nevertheless, the Unification Movement can be grouped together with similar movements which claim to provide neutral meeting points for people of all religions, while at the same time denying that they are new religions. These include the Bahai Movement, and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness - Hare Krishna Movement.

Impact o f These Ideas on Religion in the Contemporary World Each of the five ideas has had a profound impact on religion in the world today. This section shall explore how these ideas have influenced religion in general, giving examples and illustrations where appropriate.


Comparative Religion

Hierarchy of Religions? Evolutionism has led some people to believe that the religions of the world can be categorised in ■ hierachy, such that some are considered higher or more developed than others. Many European and American anthropoliogsts hold this view, and consider Christianity to be the most developed of all religions. Their view, however, cannot be supported with observable facts. For example, it used to be taught that the African religious heritage is 'primitive' in contrast with Christianity which was supposed to be one of the 'higher' religions. According to this view, the African is supposed to be 'animistic'. Animism is the belief that everything in the universe is inhabited by spirits which are 'worshipped' by the animists. However, it is now recognized that African peoples are not animists they have concepts and names for God which is impossible in animism.1 Ninian Smart is one of the contemporary Western scholars who rejects this hierarchical categorisation of religion, and suggests that religions should be studied in terms of the common aspects which are to be found in each and every religious tradition, with varying emphasis.

Quantitative Evaluation Owing to over-emphasis on empiricism in the 20th century, there has been ■ tendency to compile and contrast religions in terms of quantitative indicators, such as the number of followers, the historical data such as the dates when the religions were founded, the services rendered to members and to society in general, the number of missionaries, the size of annual revenue and expenditure, and so on. Critics and skeptics also tend to question the validity of religious claims on empiricist grounds - for example, arguing that the existence of God cannot be proved, that Heaven and hell do not exist, and so on. The problem with relying too much on quantitative indicators, is that the primary concern of religion transcends empirical verification. Thus a religious person is likely to continue upholding his beliefs, irrespective of empirical evidence concerning those beliefs. The theory of evolution, for example, is accepted by scientists who are also Christians. As Christians they uphold the doctrine of creation, but as scientists they accept the theory of evolution. This position should not be seen as a contradiction. A scientist can appreciate poetry, music and art, while at the same time he holds formal scientific reports in high esteem. The doctrine of creation is in the literary category of poetry, not in that of a documented scientific experiment.

1 Mbiti, J. C oncepts o f G od in Africa.

The Present State of Religion in the Contemporary World


Secularization and Contemporary Religion Secularism is a set of ideas which interprets reality in non-religious terms, secularization, however, is a sociological process in which religion becomes increasingly incorporated in social, economic and political life at a particular historical situation. The response to secularization is often mixed. Some people welcome this process as a positive and constructive opportunity for religion to influence the entire society socially, economically and politically. They take advantage of this process, and make religion an instrument to influence social transformation. Other people in the same religion are alarmed by secularization, and may flee from society because they regard it as profane. One interesting illustration of this contrasting response, is in the early church. The monastic movement was promoted by Christians who were convinced that the world of ordinary people was unholy and sinful. However, while the monks, nuns and hermits isolated themselves in their convents and monasteries, there were many ordinary Christians who mingled with non-Christians in the daily life of the society. The continuing debate today about the involvement or non-involvement of religious people in political activities is another illustration. Some people believe that such involvement is unavoidable in contemporary secular society. Others believe that religious people must keep aloof in their own cults to avoid being polluted by politics. Non-religious people also have their views, which are very often based on their personal interests - they tend to support the position which they think will be most advantageous for themselves.

Are all Religions of Equal Validity? Relativism has brought about a serious crisis in the contemporary world. The breakdown of hierarchical authority tends to promote fragmentation. Some people take advantage of this breakdown to satisfy their ego by establishing their own religions or denominations. How can we decide as to which religions are authentic in such a situation? The problem is made more complex by the fact that some of the new religious movements are founded, funded and patronized by individuals or organizations with much money and other resources at their disposal. Truth and validity cannot be determined by the amount of money that a believer has. Nevertheless, a wealthy patron may sway many believers to his persuasion, through inducement. This is one of the most serious challenges in the contemporary world. When evangelization deteriorates to propaganda, then religion deteriorates into an ideology.

C om petition Between Religions Although ecumenism promotes initiatives towards unity, competitive tendencies also prevail; some people think of their relationship with those in other


Comparative Religion

religions only in terms of conversion and competition. For example, some Christians would like to convert the whole world to their own denomination. Some Muslims think in similar terms. The problem with this attitude is that outsiders are viewed with prejudice and disrespect, as people who are somehow abnormal. Such an attitude is dehumanizing even on the part of the people committed bi it. Is there not a possibility that someone may be converted to the other religion while he is trying to convert a non-believer? If the interaction is humane and genuine, this remains an open possibility.

Is Religious Commitment Increasing or Decreasing? Another question arise "whether religious commitment is increasing or decreasing in the contemporary world". Some people would answer this question affirmatively, while others have a negative answer to it. The affirmative view that religious commitment is increasing - is based on statistical data which show the numerical increase of adherents of various religions in the world. It is claimed by some scholars, such as David Barrett, in The World Christian Encyclopaedia, (Nairobi, Oxford University Press, 1981) that by AD 2000 Africa will be the most Christian continent in the world numerically. According to such scholars, religious commitment in Europe and North America is declining, whereas it is increasing in the predominantly Islamic countries. The negative view - that religious commitment is declining - is based on the observation that the process of secularization is spreading to all parts and all countries of the world, with the effect that piety is generally declining.


47 THE FUTURE OF RELIGION J.N.K. Mugambi Introduction The accuracy of projections and forecasts cannot be guaranteed. This is because each projection or forecast presupposes a combination of conditions whose occurrence, simultaneously or in sequence, cannot be predicted with certainty. This observation applies in all aspects of research, the sciences and the humanities. It is worthwhile, to explore a variety of possible futures, because such exploration facilitates a wider understanding of the phenomenon being studied. The topic will explore and discuss the future prospects of religion in the contemporary world.

Factors that Hinder Reliable Projections and Forecasts We will start by considering five factors that hinder reliable projections of the future of religion.

Complexity of religion Religion is such a complex phenomenon that no forecast can reliably take full account of all its dimensions. * (i)

The most important dimensions are: The Ritual Dimension

(ii) The Mythological Dimension (iii) The Doctrinal Dimension iv) The Ethical Dimension (v) The Social Dimension (vi) The Experiential Dimension Each religion has all these dimensions, and when all religions of the world are considered, generally and collectively, the complexity is immense. It is already quite difficult to project the future of one religion, considering all its dimensions. 1 Smart, N. The R eligious E xperience o f M ankind , Chapter 1.


Comparative Religion

Religious Plurality It would be easier to propose a forecast if there was only one religion in the world. However, there are numerous religions with a wide variety of teachings, practices, rituals and organisational structures. This plurality makes generalisation about religions difficult, although the religious concern may be observed in all cultural traditions.

R eligious Schism Within each religion there are tensions which threaten to undermine its internal coherence and harmony. These tensions sometimes explode into open conflict, leading to division. Christianity, for example is one religion, but with many divisions. There are more than six thousand 'independent churches', established by African Christians as a result of tensions in the churches to which they originally belonged. The phenomenon of division in religions is called schism. It is difficult to predict with certainty when mild tensions in a religion might deteriorate into open schism. A study of the Reformation in Christianity is a relevant illustration of this point. An example of schism can be noted in Judaism during the time of Jesus. There were several parties each of with a distinct identity - The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, the Zealots, the Essenes, etc.. When Jesus started his public Ministry, it was at first thought that his movement was another schism in Judaism. However, it evolved into a distinct religion, which challenged both Judaism and other religious traditions. Islam also has schism, the main ones being Shia and Sunni orientations. Schisms in Hinduism led to the establishment of such oriental religions as Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Buddhism also has two main orientations, Mahayana and Theravada. These examples show that forecasting the future, of religion in general or of any particular religion, is made difficult by our inability to determine whether and when exactly, another schism is likely to occur.

Independent variables There are many factors which are not directly related to religion in a particular society, but which would greatly affect the future of religion in that society. For example, a change of a national constitution, in favour or against the practice of religion, may greatly affect the future of that religion. Take the case of religion in Ethiopia, for example. During the reign of emperor Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church enjoyed preferential treatment in Ethiopia. The overthrow of Haile Selassie and the establishment of a Socialist republic completely changed the future of religion in that country. The fall of Haile Selassie came as a surprise to the world, and it is unlikely that any earlier forecasts of the future of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church would

The Future of Religion


have anticipated a situation in which the church was no longer a privileged social ' institution. I

Another example is that of Catholicism in the former Portuguese colonies in Africa - Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau. Portuguese colonial rule in those countries came to an end abruptly and unexpectedly in the mid-1970s. The liberation movements had been fighting for many years, and were prepared to struggle for national liberation for many decades to come. But, owing to political t changes in Portugal, national support for Portuguese colonialism in Africa collapsed, and the soldiers retreated back home. The Catholic church as an institution had not supported the liberation movements in these countries. When j these movements took over Government the social status of the Catholic Church I was reversed. It was difficult to anticipate such reversal, because many observers thought Portuguese colonialism in Africa would survive for a long time to come.

The Dynamism o f Religion Religion is ■ social phenomenon, and in a dynamic society, religion tends to be dynamic. Many changes occur whenever the society changes while adjusting to new conditions. The degree to which religion change in often directly related to those other social adjustments, which may be difficult to predict. For example, economic adjustments in society may lead to corresponding adjustments in religious practice. In Europe, church-attendance has greatly declined. People prefer to spend their Sunday mornings in other forms of recreation. However, without viable alternative, church attendance would probably not have declined. Thus in USA, despite industrialization and considerable secularisation, church jattendance has not correspondingly declined.

Observations About the Future of Religion in General Modem Nationalism and the Future of Religion Generally, modern nations are secular. There is a distinction between political rulers and religious functionaries. National structures in which religious leaders wield executive and legislative powers are on the decrease. Today, only a few Islamic countries include the word Islam in their self-identification. Even fewer, have the Quran as the constitution. In South East Asia, Thailand is officially a Buddhist state. Today, only Vatican City is strictly a Christian state. Israel is also a religious state, with Judaism as the official religion. The tendency, however, is towards secularization of national politics, and a time may come when there will be no nations declaring themselves to have an official national religion.


Comparative Religion

Individualism and the Future o f Religion

Another tendency is towards increasing freedom of individuals from famil; and communal ties. This process is facilitated by increased mobility as a result o changing working and settlement patterns and also because of a new emphasis 01 individual human rights. This emphasis on the individual, rather than 01 community or family, is likely to greatly affect religion in future. If socia sactions based on family and community collapse, religious leaders will have ti find new ways of convincing individuals to conform to the institutional beliefs practices and traditions of established religion.

Cults and New Religious Movements


Closely related to individualism, is the tendency for new cults and religiou movements to arise in societies all over the world, especially those going throug rapid social change. Such cults and movements serve ■ variety of needs for thei adherents. In a rapidly changing society, where the sense of community i breaking down, individuals with common interests tend to join together fc fellowship, service, company or mutual strengthening. Many of the new religion begin in this way. It is likely that cults and new religious movements will increase. Howevei there is no guarantee that the new movements will be sustainable, because they ar primarily concerned to provide the needs of individual persons in transition; periods of self-adjustment. An example of such groups are religious studer associations, whose leadership is always changing because young people remai students at particular institutions only for short periods.

Commercialisation of Religion


With the increasing synchronization of the monetary economy on | universal scale, life is becoming relatively more expensive. Very rarely do( money appreciate. More often, national currencies are devalued, and evei devaluation makes valuable property more and more expensive. Religion has traditionally been conducted on a voluntary basis. Howeve commercialisation's is rapidly increasing as a means of raising money to sustai religious institutions. Another reason for the commercialisation of religion is thi business and industrial organizations find it relatively easy to advertise goods an services which are directly commited with the religious beliefs, practices ar traditions of a religious community. The commercialisation of the Christian feasts of Christmas and Easter a significant examples. Pilgrimage to Israel, especially to Jerusalem, is also commercially viable enterprise in some countries, such as USA. Amor Muslims, Pilgrimage to Mecca is not only an important religious observance is a major commercial operation. Pilgrimage is one of the significant means