Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Comparative Theologies

After having visited numerous mosques, shrines, and Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu temples in India, along with a few churches I am struck by the various similarities and differences I am noticing within both the practices and reasoning. We have learned that in both Islam and Christianity there is an overarching belief in monotheism and the common perception of Buddhism and Hinduism is that they are pagan or polytheistic. However, this is not necessarily the case and I am finding more and more pieces of each religion and theology fit together yet differ in stark ways.

Buddhism is either more of an art of living and finding a sense of oneness with all that is around you or it is the actual worship of Buddha as a god. My perception is that the difference between these two types of Buddhism is that one seeks to attain liberation by looking within to find a sense of heaven; the other seeks to appease an actual idol by doing good works shown through compassion to achieve an external and more material heaven. Jainism, a branch off of Buddhism, seeks oneness and liberation by becoming completely detached from all that is physically of this world. Each practice mentioned here is concerned with removing suffering by detaching from all selfishness and relinquishing desires. This is done by strengthening the mind through meditation and living many lives that lead to one in which nirvana (salvation) is finally realized.

Hinduism is also concerned with achieving liberation, salvation, but in a different way. They believe that by living a good life based on good intentions that follow you all your lives and into death (Karma), the knowledge of God, and complete surrender to the will of God one can get to heaven. Although it seems as if there are many gods in Hinduism this is a misconception because God is found in nature and has been re-born many times in many forms of life. Thereby, all living things are worshipped as literal manifestations of God themselves (hence the term “holy cow”) and humans are no exception. Humans are simply the most advanced reincarnation of God and thereby it is within them to achieve salvation through the tree ways listed above. In my mind this is different from Buddhism because it teaches that good individual interactions with the world around someone can help them to reach the liberation from suffering where the Buddhists try to reach liberation through detachment and/or compassion that acknowledges oneness. Both philosophies are the same in that they same in that they acknowledge the power within human beings to achieve salvation and create their own fate.

Within Islam, the ability to attain salvation is somewhat limited yet not completely outside the realm of a person’s capacity. Like in Hinduism, there is an emphasis put on doing good deeds with one of its core beliefs being compulsory monetary charity and its emphasis on living a good life. Muslims believe that when a person commits a bad deed they need to ask for mercy from God and try to do better as a pre-requisite for attaining liberation and going to heaven. This theology is similar and different from the Christian view of attaining salvation. It is similar because Christians also believe that when a person sins they must ask for God’s mercy and forgiveness and thereby be liberated. It is different because Christian theology says that a person is not able to independently come to God and attain salvation, but rather they must surrender to God and allow God come to them with his grace, pardoning their sins with the blood of Jesus. In this way, attaining salvation is a gift which people are incapable of earning whereas, from what I have learned, all the other religions we have been learning about see themselves as having the power to liberated themselves. If people have the power to achieve their own liberation, creating our own fate, then what is the use of having a god? On the other hand, I believe in a loving god that allows people to have free will, so is there maybe a combination of achieving your destiny by choosing to surrender to God and life is all a test of just this?

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