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Comparing, Contrasting and Paralleling Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism

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Throughout the world, there are hundreds upon hundreds of religions and faith groups. The beliefs throughout these groups can be quite contrasting and controversial. Most view another’s religion as being completely novel where the other contradicts everything in which one believes. In this, prejudice, racism and discrimination are brought about. Yet, if all religions are carefully scrutinized and studied, one will notice that most world religions are very similar. Creation stories can be paralleled, beliefs can be shared and morality can be communal.

Yes, there are always differences within the religions (laws about food, clothing etc; moral creed; monotheistic vs. polytheistic), because of the person, time, and place in which the religion was born. In this, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism will be scrutinized to show both their similarities and differences, and prove that, no matter how we worship god, or to which god we worship, our values are all parallel. Hinduism: Hinduism, unlike most other religions, was not founded by a specific individual or individuals.

It is a faith that dates back five thousand years to the Indus Valley in Pakistan, making it the oldest of the world religions. When Persian tribes invaded this area, the two groups’ beliefs merged, thus making Hinduism. The most well known thing about Hinduism is that Hindus worship three forms of God in Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the sustainer, and Shiva, the destroyer. Though they worship three forms of god, Hinduism is a monotheistic religion, where all three are part of Brahman, the ultimate reality of good, truth and mercy.

Shiva is the oldest worshipped god in the world, yet most Hindus tend to praise Vishnu, for he has elements of a Savoir. Beliefs from these people were passed down generation to generation and finally written down: poems and hymns were placed in a book called the Vedas, rules for worship in the Brahmanas, stories about heroes and gods in the Great Epics, and the answers to questions of life and death in the Upanishads. They are all written in Sanskrit. The Hindu is a cyclical faith, that is to say it is one that believes in reincarnation of the soul (atman).

They believe that a person’s karma determines the direction in which the soul moves. If one performs good deeds throughout his or her life, he or she will be closer to or unite with Brahman and reach ultimate salvation, Nirvana. If one rests in Maya, the one that clouds the goodness and truth of Brahman (aka evil), the atman will move in the opposite direction of salvation and live a more difficult next life. It is very difficult to reach the ultimate goal in salvation with Brahman, such that it may take lifetime after lifetime to do so.

Some may never reach the afterlife of Nirvana and will be stuck in a constant state of rebirth. This is why all strive to better their karma. The Hindu faith, because of the Aryan Persians, adopted a Caste system, called varna, in which people are ranked by job. Brahmins, the highest caste, are priests and leaders. Next come the Kshatriyas, the soldiers, then Vaisyas, the shopkeepers and farmers, Sudras, the servants and finally Harijans (meaning Children of God – name given by Gandhi), who are the outcasts. This has become quite controversial because it is very misunderstood.

Most see it as negative, where one is higher than another, yet if it is really looked at, one would realize that one could not function without another. Imagine a life without garbage men. They do not have the greatest job nor are they the most highly paid, yet a lot of things would not function if garbage continued to pile up on streets and sidewalks. A society cannot function with only leaders, or without soldiers or without servants. All need each other, which is why the varna is represented as a human body where all sections are paralleled to a specific body part.

At birth, because Hindus are very strict about cleanliness of the body and soul, all perform rituals and prayers to protect the newborn from illness and harmful spirits. Sometimes, the father dips a gold pen into a jar of honey and writes the symbol “Om”, which stands for truth, on the child’s tongue, in hopes that the child will only speak for truth. A week later, a name is given to the child, and within the first few years, all hair is cut as a symbol of renewal and shedding the sins of past lives.

At death, the body of the individual is wrapped in cloth and carried away on a stretcher. The body is then taken to the cremation grounds while family and friends recite prayers for the deceased. Because of the belief in rebirth, the fire symbolizes the cleansing of the soul into new life and a release of evil spirits. After the body has been completely cremated, the ashes are thrown into a river, preferably the River Ganges, in hopes that this, the most sacred river, will cleanse and purify the soul. The marriage ceremony itself is extremely important within the Hindu faith.

Though it is important that a child is happy with their life partner, the parents, early on in life, arrange most Hindu marriages. Specific traditions always differ within weddings, yet it is always bright, colorful and joyous, so much that the festival sometimes lasts up to three days. The marriage ceremony takes place around a fire where a priest chants Sanskrit verses. He then leads the bride and groom to seven significant steps around the fire. This is the most important thing within the ceremony. Bells are then sounded and offerings are made to the fire.

Other Festivals within the faith include Divali, which means “row of lights” and commemorates the Hindu New Year. It is known as the “festival of lights” where people celebrate very vividly in the month of either October or November, because of their following of the lunar calendar. Holi, a spring festival, celebrates the equinox and the coming of Lord Krishna, an avatar of the God Visnhu. It begins in the evening when bonfires are lit, yet in contrast, water then becomes the central theme of the festival. In a playful spirit, coloured water is thrown at each other, in a citywide water fight.

One of the most influential figures throughout the history of Hinduism has to be the mahatma himself, Gandhi. One of his most important teachings that not only Hindus could learn from is Ahimsa: Do no harm; nonviolence; reverence for life. He said, “There are many causes for which I am prepared to die; there is not one for which I am prepared to kill. ” Though he led a revolt, he refused to harm another individual. Though the government tried to hurt him, he never hurt them back. This was his lesson to the world: violence is not needed to make change, only persistence. Buddhism and its parallels to Hinduism:

Buddhism is a religion that actually stems directly from Hinduism because of a certain prince’s strive for enlightenment. This prince’s birth was prophesized and his mother’s impregnation was immaculate. His success was also prophesized by Asita, a holy sage. Siddhartha Gotama, who lived approximately 500 years before Christ, had witnessed three forms of suffering in his life – illness, old age and death – and he searched eternally for a way to end this suffering. He left his life of luxury tried an ascetic lifestyle where he rid his body of food and concentrated only on solitude and meditation, in search for wisdom.

Studying with a group of men who believed denying the body of nourishment and sleep, the body would master pain, the prince found that his search for wisdom was still going nowhere. He then realized that since a life of luxury wasn’t the answer, and a life of denial was not either, he felt complete moderation of everything had to bring salvation. He then sat nourished under a bodhi tree, concentrated on meditation. Though many demons tempted Siddhartha, the prince stayed focused on his goal. Finally under this “Tree of Enlightenment”, he became the Buddha, the enlightened one.

Buddhism was born. Siddhartha is truly the most important figure for the Buddhist religion. In contrast to Hinduism, Buddhists do not worship any gods, though they view the Buddha as the most significant person within their religion. All Buddhists believe in two main things, the Four Noble Truths (their doctrine) and the Eightfold Path (their moral code). The Four Noble Truths state: All life is suffering and pain Suffering is caused by desire To remove suffering, one must remove desire To remove desire, one must follow the Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path states to do these eight things throughout ones life: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. These eight things are grouped into wisdom (the first two), morality (the next three) and meditation/dedication (the last three). If one follows these rules that are laid out, one will reach a state of Nirvana. This contrasts the Hindu view of Nirvana, where they see it as a place that you go after you die. Buddhists believe that Nirvana is a state of mind where you become enlightened and one with the Buddha.

There are also two schools of thought in looking at these teachings of Buddha. There is Theravada Buddhism, which is more conservative, and Mahayana Buddhism, which is more liberal. Theravada, meaning elders, follows the ways of the past and original teachings of Buddha without change. They believe only a select few will ever reach Nirvana and those few will have to do it by themselves. They believe the life of a monk is the best way to live. Meanwhile, Mahayana, meaning great vehicle or big raft, believes that no one person can reach Nirvana by himself or herself.

They can get half way, but will have to turn back to take the rest of humanity with him or her, hence, big raft. Mahayana is open to changes, different forms of worship, elaborate rituals, and broaden Nirvana to anyone. They also find peace in bodhisattvas, those who have reached a state of Nirvana. At birth, just like Hindus, the Theravadin Buddhists have a naming ceremony at a temple. Candle wax is then melted into a bowl of water symbolizing the unity of the four elements: earth, fire, wind and water. The marriage ritual in Theravadin Buddhism very sharply contrasts the Hindu marriage.

In some countries, monks do not even attend, for it is a sign of bad luck. Yet, in most countries, a long string is wrapped around a statue of Buddha, and then passed through the congregation to symbolize the unity of all that are present. Chants and blessings are said, and then the monk ties the string around the groom’s wrist who then in turn ties a string around the bride’s wrist symbolizing their unity. At death, Buddhists do not believe in the reincarnation of individual identities, yet the person’s dharma (balance between good and evil throughout the deeds in their life) moves on in life.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the soul passes through three “bardo” stages. In the first bardo, the dead is not aware of his or her state, yet monks are still able to communicate with the dead through chants and prayers. The deceased then sees a bright light. If the deceased embraces the light, he or she will be free from rebirth, yet however this normally does not happen. In the second bardo, the person then sees events of their life and realizes their state. In the third bardo, the person is free to choose the new identity. There are not very many large festivals within the Buddhist faith.

The month of Vesac celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha, which is celebrated on the full moon in May. Buddha’s birthday, also known as Hana Matsumi, is celebrated on April 8. It is obvious to see, because Buddhism did stem from Hinduism, there are many parallels with the view of the world around them. Yet, when the religions do contrast, it seems like they were never related to begin with. This shows how small differences in opinion, though similar, can cause big contrasts (i. e. death and reincarnation). Sikhism and its parallels to Buddhism and Hinduism:

Sikhism, whose founder also branched from Hinduism, like Buddhism, is a very new religion, which takes refuge in love and sacrifice. Its founder, and most influential and important figure Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539), began at a young age to challenge the Hindu laws set before him. He did not believe in the trinity of God and that he could be incarnated into flesh. He felt the Hindu laws were very binding and had his own view of the world. Early one morning Guru Nanak went to the river for his bath. After going into the river, he did not surface and it was thought to be drowning.

The villagers searched everywhere, but there was no trace of him. Guru Nanak was in communication with God. God revealed himself to Guru Nanak and he had been enlightened. Guru Nanak then said, “There is but One God, His name is Truth, He is the Creator, He fears none, he is without hate, He never dies, He is beyond the cycle of births and death, He is self illuminated, He is realized by the kindness of the True Guru. He was True in the beginning, He was True when the ages commenced and has ever been True, He is also True now. “(Japji). On this note, he began to preach to the people of his Punjab village in Talwandi.

People began to believe the truth he spoke and soon he gained many followers. Guru Nanak truly spoke eloquently about reform and challenged the binding laws of other religion. In this Sikhism was born. The religion of Sikhism is said to be a reflection of perfect and universal love that is free from barriers of colour, caste, creed and status. Basically, as a reform religion, one has the ability to worship as they please. It establishes unity without setting many laws, yet enforces equality under God. Just as in both Buddhism and Hinduism, Sikhs take the birth and naming ceremonies of a newborn quite seriously.

After reading from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh Holy Scripture, a page is chosen at random. The first letter on the page chosen will be the first letter of the child’s name. After a name has been chosen, Kaur, meaning princess, is placed after a girl’s name, and Singh, meaning lion, is placed after a boy’s name. For example, if the first letter is P, then a possible girls name could be Partap Kaur, and a possible boys name could be Puran Singh. One will notice, the naming of children is much more structured than in the other two religions. It is a way of showing unity throughout the religion in a very visible way.

Another ceremony, that is completely novel, is the turban tying ceremony, also known as Dastar Bandhi. At age eleven to sixteen, a boy, in the presence of the Holy Scripture, receives his first turban. It shows a sign of growth in wisdom. Turbans are tied in many different patterns and styles reflecting the wisdom of the specific person. Just like Hindus, Sikhs do believe in arranged marriages. Marriage, called Anand Sanskar, is taken as one of the most important ceremonies, thus making divorce not part of the religion. They do not believe in inter-religious marriages because of the seriousness of the ceremony.

Within Sikhism, you are believed not to marry just your wife, you are marrying the entire family, and thus making arranged marriages more sensible. It is truly “until death do us part” for Sikhs. At a Sikh’s deathbed, family and friends recite from the “psalm of peace”, written by the fifth of the ten great gurus. Following the Hindu patter, the body is cremated after it has been cleaned, for purification of the soul. Also, like the Hindus, the ashes are disposed in the nearest river or sea. If cremation is not possible, the body is placed directly in the river or sea.

The Sikh view of afterlife is, again, similar to the Hindu view of heaven and reincarnation. Being born a human is a sign that the cycle of rebirth is soon ending. God shall judge each soul at death and determine whether it needs to be reborn, or shall rest with him for the remainder of eternity Sikh festivals are similar to both Buddhism and Sikhism where they celebrate Holi and Diwali (similar to Divali), as the Hindus do, celebrate the birth of their founder, as Buddhists do. Sikhs also celebrate the birth of Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, the last of the ten great Gurus.

All are commemorated very similarly with readings from the Guru Granth Sahib, large and colorful celebrations in the streets, and visits to the temples for prayer and reflection. Sikhism, though said to be an escape from Hinduism, seems to parallel it in many different ways. Many festivals are the same, many rules and rites of passages are similar and the belief of after life is quite comparable. Though very new, and still establishing itself, one might feel that Sikhism is on its way to becoming another form of Hinduism instead of a completely different religion. Overview:

It is truly evident that, though having slight differences, the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism can be paralleled on many different levels. Though said to have different sets of beliefs, they can almost all be classified into one. Both Buddhism and Sikhism branched from Hinduism, and they all take on similar characteristics in views on afterlife, cyclical spiritual paths, birth and naming ceremonies, and many others. New ideas and schools of thought are always brought about within these three religions, yet it always seems to come back to the same point: reaching enlightenment with God.

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