It is one of the oldest monotheistic religions of the world and both Christianity and Islam developed from Judaism. Basic belief of the Jews is that God has promised to bless Abraham and his descendents if they remain faithful to him and God repeated the same to son and grandson Jacob or Israel of Abraham. This is the reason that all Jews are called children of Israel. Their basic teachings come from Torah or the first five books of Hebrew bible. Ten Commandments that god gave to Moses on Mount Sinai are principles that should govern the way of life of Jews.
India has two Jewish communities – the Malyali speaking Cochinis and the Marathi speaking Bene Israel.
The Parsi or Zoroastrian religion was founded by Zarathustra or Zoroaster, in the eighth century BC. He preached monotheism in the region now known as Persia (modern Iran).
He taught the worship of fire and the presence of good and bad in the form of Ahura Mazda and Ahura Man. He also taught the ethical doctrine of kindness and charity. These doctrines are enshrined in the Zend Avesta.
The Zoroastrian religion spread over the whole of Persia and remained the dominant religion till the eighth century AD when Muslims conquered this region. Most of the Parsis migrated to different parts of the world. They also came to India and settled at Navsari in Gujarat, and later on spread to almost all parts of India. Zoroastrianism is not a proselytizing religion and no new entrants are accepted into its fold under any circumstances.
They don’t bury or burn their dead as according to them dead matter pollutes all, so they put their dead in open to be eaten by vultures. Tower of Silence in Mumbai is one such place.
Both Buddhism and Jainism emerged in background of rising orthodoxies in Hinduism and as a reaction and alternative to it. Both rejected caste, rituals, polytheism and even notion of God. Buddha as well as Mahavira challenged the authority of Vedas.
- Buddha emphasized on moral progress which was independent of any creator of the universe. Buddha was younger to Mahavira and was his contemporary.
Greeks, Kushans and Shakas embraced Buddhism rather than Hinduism because Buddhism rather than Hinduism provided easy access to Indian society and Buddhism was open to all castes, creeds, nationalities, races and so on while Hinduism was strictly ascriptive and one could be a Hindu by birth only. Both Gautama Buddha and Vardhaman Mahavira preached their doctrines during the reign of Bimbisara.
The Buddha belonged to a small gana known as the Sakyagana, his father was Suddhodana. His mother Mahamaya died 7 days after his birth and he was brought up by his step mother Gautami (that’s why he is called as Gautam Buddha also). The site of nativity of Gautama Buddha is marked by the celebrated Rummindei Pillar of Ashoka.
- He enjoyed married life for 13 years and had a son named Rahula.
After seeing an old man, a sick man, an ascetic and a corpse, he decided to become a wanderer.
His chariot was Chann and Kanthaka was his favorite horse. His leaving of palace life is called ‘Maha- Bhinishkramana’ at the age of 29. Initially he practiced severe asceticism, but found it of no use.
He attained Nirvana six years later at the age of 35 under a peepal tree known as Bodhi Tree. According to him Nirvana is not extreme asceticism, but it is a state of bliss and peace of mind. After that enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, he was known as the Buddha or the Wise One.
He then went to Sarnath, near Varanasi, where he delivered his first sermon which is called Dhamm- Chakra-Parbartana or turning the wheel of law. He was also called Gautam or Sakya Muni or Amitabh or Tathagat also.
He spent the rest of his life travelling on foot, going from place to place, teaching people, till he passed away at Kusinara.
- According to Buddhist philosophy, the world is transient (anicca) and constantly changing; it is also soulless (anatta) as there is nothing permanent or eternal in it. Within this transient world, sorrow (dukkha) is intrinsic to human existence. He considered the world as full of misery. Man’s duty is to seek liberation from this painful world.
- The Buddha taught in the language of the ordinary people, Prakrit, so that everybody could understand his message.
- Buddhism was atheistic, in as much as God was not essential to the Universe.
- The acceptance of nuns in the Buddhist monasteries was a revolutionary step from the point of view of the status of women.
- The doctrine of karma was essential to the Buddhist way of salvation. Unlike the brahmanical idea, karma was not used to explain away caste status, since Buddha rejected caste.
Buddhism stands on three pillars –
- Dhamma – His teachings
- Sangha – Order of Buddhist monks and nuns
TEACHINGS of BUDDHA
He called for a ‘middle path’ – neither extreme indulgence nor self-mortification. He showed way for self-restraint instead of self mortification and right action instead of inactivity.
His teachings are –
Four Great Truths (World is full of sorrow; cause of all pain and misery is desire; Misery can be ended by controlling desire; desire can be controlled by 8 fold path)
Eight Fold Path or Ashtangika marga (Right faith, right thought, right action, right livelihood, right efforts etc)
The doctrine of karma was essential to the Buddhist way of salvation. Buddha didn’t recognize god or soul unlike Jaina.