When classifying the world’s major religions they can easily be split up into two groups: Eastern religions and Western religions. The Eastern religions consist of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. The Western religions consist of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Almost all of these religions have come about within existing religious frameworks. Eastern and Western religions share many qualities while differing in many as well.
Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism are monistic, meaning they see god in all things. The Eastern mind sees God everywhere, in all things, and sees everything as sacred. Their ultimate reality is an entity and not necessarily a god. “God” is not personal and not to be thought of as a brother or father, but as so much more. Eastern religions see one kind of reality. They view all beings as equal in value. The individual is not actually real and the separateness of humans from creation and from one another is an illusion to be overcome.
Human nature is viewed as naturally ignorant and we better ourselves by being enlightened. Following dharma is the good life, which is being in harmony with universal order through personal duty. In Eastern religions, enlightenment is attained within the individual. In Buddhism, it is nirvana; In Hinduism, it is the yoga; In Taoism, it is wu wei. Reincarnation is a central belief; so some things are not that big of a deal, such as justice or injustice. They believe there is one true god and all religions speak of him. There are many paths to god.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are monotheistic faiths, which mean they believe in one god. The Western mind considers it heresy to believe that God pervades all things, and makes a strong difference between what is sacred and what is profane. The god of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is a god of history not of nature, the world reflects him but he isn’t to be found in it. God is personal and tended to be thought of in terms of what we know, such as a father figure, etc. Western religions are dualistic, meaning there are two kinds of reality, material and non-material. It is viewed as heaven and hell. Each of these western religions believes that humans are here to submit themselves to god. There are sharp distinctions made between humans and the rest of the natural world.
The individual is the same throughout eternity, and the separateness of humans from creation and from one another is real and permanent. Human nature is viewed as sinful and we become better by taking control of our sinful nature. The good life is obeying the laws of god. In Western religions, enlightenment is attained through significant people conveying god’s word to the ordinary people. This occurred through the prophets Adam, Abraham, Moses, Muhammad, Jesus. There is only one chance at life, and this is probably why Western religions seem to have more emphasis on justice. They believe there is only one true god and one true religion and all non-believers will spend eternity in “hell.”
Eastern and Western religions also share many traits. Each of the groups has come about within other religions. Buddhism grew out of Hinduism, and Christianity and Islam grew out of Judaism. Each believes there is more to reality than what we experience with our senses. Eastern and Western religions alike have specific creeds, guidelines, doctrines or orderliness. Hinduism has the Bhagavad-Gita; Buddhism has the four noble truths; Christianity has the Bible; Judaism has the Hebrew Bible and the Torah; and Islam has the Koran. In the texts of these religions, many of the stories are moral stories meant to help us and not always factual. In these Eastern religions, they all meditate and reach a state of enlightenment. These Western religions all pray to god and have faith that god will help and have mercy on them. Each gains a better sense of self although by different means. They each teach to have compassion, love your fellow man, help those less fortunate, and live the best life you can.
The most important similarities would be the thought and knowledge of existence outside of our realities. Morals are also where they balance with each other. Man’s destiny is viewed by both groups as lying in his own hands. Man can choose to enlighten himself or save himself, or choose not to. These are the most significant views shared. This is where they share the most common ground.
The most important differences would be that eastern religions see truth in all religions and western religions see truth only in their religion. The way natural things are viewed set the groups apart significantly. Eastern religions see everything having value and western religions see only people having value and nothing else. Western religions have had prophets to speak god’s word. Eastern religions say everyone can reach ultimate reality. These are the ideas that separate eastern religions and western religions so greatly.
There are some common themes in all religions. All religious beliefs allow us to understand and categorize our world and our place in it. There is value in all religions that honor life and individuals potential. They are all concerned with ultimate reality, only seen from different angles. A common theme is charity. All religions emphasize charity and helping out those who need it. Happiness is a common theme, which is what is drawn together from religious experience. Wisdom is attained as a result of religion and its practice.
The Eastern religions could teach the Western religions tolerance. Western religions only see themselves as “right” and dismiss all other views. This is not easily justified and just reaffirms eastern thought that humans are naturally ignorant. So that alone discredits the assumption on the western part that they are “right.” The Western religions could teach Eastern religions about dualism. One could say that although this reality is a certain way, who is to say that the next or continual one will be similar? They could see dualism within the reality.
My approach to religion was greatly affected by my upbringing. I was raised as a Baptist. I blindly followed just as all children do. When I reached the “Age of Reason”, I took a serious look at the faith and came to my own conclusions. I figure that if the way I learned it is the way that it is, then there is no use in practicing it. If god is vengeful and could damn me to hell for eternity, then I don’t want anything to do with him. That certainly does not sound Supreme to me. I have a hard time believing the doctrine that we were created for the sole purpose of serving him and fighting down the human spirit. I would rather try to see life as being something to enjoy and make the most of it. I am considered “agnostic” and do not know where most men are sure. I feel that most organized religion has been around to control and limit people. Eastern religions appeal to me because they are not necessarily based on doctrine. I view all beings as equal, try to live a good life, and don’t attempt to speak of things that I cannot conceive.
Religion is definitely becoming more of a tolerable subject among those who are intolerable. The persecution of religious groups seems to be slowing down, very slowly. The future of religion is identical to the future of human existence. As long as human beings are around, they will use religion to place themselves in this world and understand themselves. As humans, we tend to be very self-important and make ourselves feel better about ourselves, and give ourselves meaning so we do not feel that we do not have a significant place in the world.