India and China
Religion in India
Religion in India is characterized by a plethora of religious beliefs and practices. India is the birthplace of four of the world's major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Throughout India's history, religion has been an important part of the country's culture. Religious diversity and religious tolerance are both established by law and custom. According to the 2001 census,80.5% of the population of India practise Hinduism, Islam (13.4%), Christianity (2.3%), Sikhism (1.9%), Buddhism (0.8%) and Jainism (0.4%) are the other major religions of India. There are also numerous minor tribal traditions.
Everything in India is permeated by religion in an amorpheous way,all pervasive, the people, animals, trees, plants, the myths, the rivers and mountains.
Kamdhenu the Holy Cow of Indian Mythology.
'All the Deities dwell in the body
of this cow’. Therefore the cow itself is holier, than the
Deities. In Hindu mythology, Kamadhenu is the sacred wish-cow who
grants all wishes and desires. This
divine cow, which lives in Swargalok (Heaven), emerged from the Ocean
of Milk at the time of Samudramanthan. Every part of Kamadhenu’s
body has a religious significance. It’s four legs symbolize the
four Vedas, and its teats the four Purusharthas. It’s Horns
symbolize the Gods, it’s face symbolize the Sun and the Moon.
It’s shoulders Agni and its legs the Himalayas. The worshipper
may keep Kamadhenu at Home or Office.
Quoted from the original creator of the image. Wikimedia
The iconography of popular Indian deities can be overwhelming not only by their numbers but equally by their depiction - pure Kitsch. Let this rather naïve example stand in for their myriad.
3000 BC – present
The precursor of Indian Hinduism was Vedic Brahmanism (1500-500 BC). The Vedic liturgy is conserved in the mantra portion of the four Vedas, later supplimeted by the Brahmanas, Aranyakas and some of the older Upanishads (Bṛhadāraṇyaka, Chāndogya, Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana). The religious practices are centered on a clergy administering rites. This mode of worship is largely unchanged today within Hinduism; however, only a small fraction of conservative Brahmins continue the tradition of oral recitation of hymns learned solely through oral tradition.
Hinduism is often regarded as the oldest religion in the world, with roots tracing back to prehistoric times, over 5,000 years ago. Over time, Brahmanism gradually became Hinduism. Hinduism is "a fusion of Aryan and Dravidian cultures." Among its roots are the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India, but also the mesolithic and neolithic cultures of India, such as the religions of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the Shramana or ascetics of northeast India, and the local traditions and tribal religions of the Austric, Dravidian, and Mongolic people.
The oldest surviving text of Brahmanic
Hinduism is the Rigveda,
produced during the Vedic period and dating to 1700–1100 BC.
During the Epic and Puranic periods, the earliest versions of the
epic poems Ramayana
were written roughly betwen 500–100 BC, although these
collection of stories were orally transmitted for centuries prior to
After 200 BC, several schools of thought were formally codified in Indian philosophy, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta. Hinduism, otherwise a highly theistic religion, tolerated atheist schools and atheist philosophies, e.g., Buddhism.
600 BC-14 cent AD
traditionally trace their history through a succession of
twenty-four propagators of their faith known as tirthankara
as the first tirthankara and Mahāvīra as the last of the
current era. For long periods of time Jainism was the state religion
of Indian kingdoms and widely adopted in the Indian subcontinent. The
religion has been in decline since the 8th century AD due to the
growth of, and oppression by the followers of Hinduism and Islam.
The origins of Jainism are obscure. During the 5th century BC, Vardhamana Mahāvīra became one of the most influential teachers of Jainism. Mahāvīra, however, was not the founder of Jainism which reveres him as their prophet, not the author of their religion. Parsva, the tirthankara predecessor of Mahavira is the first Jain figure for whom there is reasonable historical evidence. He might have lived somewhere in the 9th–7th century BC.
The principle of non-violence or ahimsa is the most distinctive and well known aspect of jaina religious practice. The jaina understanding and implementation of ahimsa is more radical, scrupulous, and comprehensive than in other religions. Non-violence is seen as the most essential religious duty for everyone.
A scrupulous and thorough application of non-violence to everyday activities, and especially to food, is the most significant hallmark of jaina identity. The jaina diet, observed by the followers of jaina culture and philosophy, is one of the most rigorous forms of spiritually motivated diet found either on the Indian subcontinent or elsewhere. It is completely vegetarian, excludes onions and garlic, and may additionally exclude potatoes and other root vegetables, because they may contain worms.
Jains have developed a type of
meditation called Samayika.
The goal of Samayika is to achieve a feeling of perfect calmness,
samaya, and to understand the unchanging truth of the self. Such
meditation is based on contemplation of the universe and the
reincarnation of self. In this Jain has influenced early Buddhism
(Buddha Gautama) and Yoga.
In Jainism, monasticism is a respected discipline for those ascetics who can follow the rules. Rules for monks are rather strict. Digambara-Jain monks walk around stark naked. They have neither a permanent home nor possessions, they are wandering from place to place except during the four months of Chaturmas. The life they lead is difficult because of the constraints placed on them: they do not use vehicles and always travel barefoot from one place to another, irrespective of the distance. They wear face masks to preven them from accidentally swallowing living insects. They do not use such basic services as telephones or electricity and do not prepare food, living only on what people offer them.
There are no priests in Jainism. The Jain monks, whose presence is not significant to most Jaina rituals, should not be confused with priests. Laymen are not subject to the full rules that monks are, but, for instance, they don't practice agriculture. This has led to the situation that many businessmen and bankers are Jains.
The Cast System
The Indian Caste System is a most confusing, yet a contentious subject inside and outside India. Although it is primarily associated with Hinduism it is not a religious system, but is, as the social stratification of Indian society, more important than religious affiliations. For that reason it appears useful to discuss some facts and misconceptions.
Historically, it ordered communities into thousands of endogamous hereditary groups called Jātis. The Jātis were grouped by Brahminical texts under four categories, known as varnas: viz Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, and Dalits. The "Dalits", were excluded from the varna system altogether, ostracized by all other castes and treated as Untouchables. In the course of time inheritable professions became associated with the varnas, hence, Brahmins were priests, the Kshatriya warriors, the Vaishya merchants, and the Shudras artisans, labourers, and farmers.
The British extended the cast system beyond being a hereditary phenomenon. People could apply to be re-classified into a caste they preferred. On the other hand, everyone had to state their cast, and university education and civil service jobs were based on cast, which solidified the system.
Gandhi disagreed with the rationale of the caste system instituded by the British, but claimed that it had saved Hinduism from disintegration. He considered the four Varnas to be fundamental, natural and essential. And having nothing to do with religion, the discrimination and trauma of castes, argued Gandhi, was the result of customs, the origin of which is unknown.
Today the caste system has no legality in India and discrimination against lower castes is illegal under Article 15 of its constitution. Since 1950, the country has enacted many laws and social initiatives to protect and improve the socioeconomic conditions of its lower caste population. The caste classifications for college admission quotas, job reservations, and other affirmative action initiatives, according to India's Supreme Court have been adjusted, but they are still based on heredity. These initiatives, over time, have led to many lower caste members being elected to the highest political offices including the election of K.R. Narayanan, a Dalit, as President of the nation from 1997 to 2002.
A Marginal Comment
Read the BBC News article of 3 March 2014 on the contentious subject female napkins to get an idea of Indian ingenuity and conditions, It has no direct connection with religion, but is highly instructive.-- No malice intended on my part!
The Spirits of Religion in China
To understand what
follows, I recommend reading
Teiser's paper backwards – a mode he could for various
reasons not employ.
By comparison with India where everybody's life is in some way “religious”, the Chinese are a peculiar people, they are very “superstitious” and yet have never developed an own systematic religion, - if one ignores Ch'an/Zen, a most original Chinese variation of Buddhism.
In 1983 I had a serious conversation on “Marxism in China” with a Chinese physicist colleague. On my question how Marx could ever have captured Chinese thinking, he said: “Maybe 5 scholars in China understand Marx, his ideology is un-Chinese. Someday when we have resolved our overpopulation problem and learned how to motivate the masses, we will discard Marxism like we have discarded other Western 'isms',” and continued with quite un-Chinese emotional emphasis. “Go away with your Buddhism, Socialism, Christiansm, Fascism, Islamism. They have not solved our Chinese problems - and then we will teach you.” - He quoted Ch'an as an original Chinese solution for Buddhism's fundamental question, How to reach Nirvana?: “Sit before a wall and count your exhalations. You will surly become enlightened.”
Teiser points out that to call Chinese popular Folk-beliefs (Shenism, Shénjiào, 神教) “superstition” is a 19th-century, arrogant Western misunderstanding. There is no organized “Church”, but there exist many ancestor temples and beliefs in a cosmos, earth and heaven populated by numerous gods which give spiritual meaning to ancestor worship, family relations, death and funeral rites, festivals, agriculture, war, medicine, sex, childbirth, and above all spiritualise natural phenomena. One could call these beliefs “polytheist animism” encompassing man as part of nature. These rituals are very old modalities that go back to neolithic agricultural times.
Chinese folk religion primarily consists in the worship of the shen (神, shén; "deities", "spirits", "awarenesses", "consciousnesses", "archetypes") which can be nature deities, city deities, national deities, cultural heroes and demigods, dragons or ancestors. Deities of kinship. Holy narratives regarding some of these gods are codified into the body of Chinese mythology,
Chinese folk religious beliefs have a common core that can be summarised in four spiritual, cosmological, and moral concepts:
Heaven, the transcendent source of moral meaning;
Qi (气), the energy that enlivens the universe;
Jingzu (敬祖), the veneration of ancestors;
Bao ying (报应), moral reciprocity.
The Chinese traditional belief of bao
ying, moral reciprocity,
assumes that people live in a moral universe that is kept ordained by
good actions, thus moral retribution is in fact a cosmic retribution.
- It determines fate.
As the present-day (2013) government attempts to forcefully “relocate” 250 Mill villagers into the cities – and destroy the villages – the entire foundation of Chinese culture becomes endangered. In June 2013 The New York Times started a multimedia series on the Great Uprooting.
The Triad of Chinese Philosophy
Over the following three millenia two philosophical teaching systems have been developed on and extending these fundamental tenets: Confucianism and Taoism. Both were conceived for and adopted by the literate elite. A third one, Buddhism, was imported from India in the 3rd–9th cent AD. Buddhism became the dominant religion of the common people. Not surprisingly, all three are non-theist! “The Gods are the domain of the priests. I know nothing about them,” said Confucius in his Analects.
Confucianism, (孔教, Kǒngjiào, Teachings of Kong; there is no direct Chinese equivalent for the English term!) was taught by the Chinese philosopher Kong Qiu (孔夫子 Kǒng Fūzǐ, "Master Kong", 551–479 BC), who did not consider himself as the founder of a school of thought, much less as the originator of a religion. What does emerge from the earliest written records is that Kong Qiu sought a revival of the ideas and institutions of a past golden age. Kong Qiu hoped to disseminate knowledge of the rites and inspire their universal performance. That kind of broad-scale transformation could take place, he thought, only with the active encouragement of responsible rulers. The ideal ruler - as exemplified by the legendary adviser to the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC), the Duke of Zhou - exercises ethical suasion, the ability to influence others by the power of his moral example.
Thus Confucianism originated as an "ethical-sociopolitical teaching" during the Spring and Autumn Period (771-403 BC), but later developed metaphysical and cosmological elements in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-260 AD). Following the official abandonment of Legalism in China after the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) Confucianism became the official state ideology of the Han Dynasty. Nonetheless, from the Han period onward, most Chinese emperors used a mix of Legalism and Confucianism as their ruling doctrine, often with the latter embellishing the former. In other words, Confucian values were used to sugarcoat the harsh Legalist ideas that underlie the Imperial system. The disintegration of the Han in the second century AD opened the way for the spiritual and otherworldly doctrines of Buddhism and Daoism to dominate intellectual life at that time.
The core of Confucianism is humanism: "the secular as sacred". Confucianism focuses on the practical, especially the importance of the family. It rests on the assumption that human beings are teachable, improvable and perfectible through personal and communal endeavor especially self-cultivation and self-creation. The basic Confucian ethical concepts and practices are ren, yi, and li. Ren is an obligation of altruism and humaneness towards other individuals. Yi is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good. Li is a system of norms and proprieties that determine how a person should properly act in everyday life. All this applies to the members of the ethnic Han “family”.(汉传, Han chuan), others are “babarians” (野蛮人, Yěmán rén) - and are made to feel it too, even between modern intellectuals....
Classical Texts form the backbone of a Chinese intellectual
education. Knowledge of these texts distinguished a scholar from the
illiterate masses. Written in classical Chinese, which is not
understandable without commentary today, they had to be memorized by
those taking the state examinations. The oldest texts are the Five
The Five Confucian Classics, (五经, Wǔ Jīng), are five pre-Qin (220 BC) Chinese texts that form part of the traditional Confucian canon. During the Western Han Dynasty (app. 100 BC), which adopted Confucianism as its official ideology, these texts became part of the state-sponsored examination system. It was during this period that the texts first began to be considered as a set collection, and to be called collectively the "Five Classics":
I Jing) is a divination system based on psychological correspondences
(before 1000 BC) still widely in use.
The Book of Songs (詩經, Shījīng) is the oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry, comprising 305 poems and songs dating from the 11th to 7th centuries BC. It is one of the "Five Classics" traditionally said to have been compiled by Confucius.
The Book of Documents (书经, Shujing) is a collection of rhetorical prose attributed to figures of ancient China. It served as the foundation of Chinese political philosophy.
The Book of Rites (禮記, Lǐjì) is a collection of texts describing the social forms, administration, and ceremonial rites of the Zhou Dynasty (1000-250 BC).
The Spring and Autumn Annals (春秋, Chūnqiū) is the official chronicle of Confucius' Home State of Lu covering the period from 722 BC to 481 BC. It is the earliest surviving Chinese historical text arranged in annal-form and constitutes the foundation of Chinese historical writing and thought.
A sixth, the Book of Music (樂經, Yuèjīng) was a Confucian classic text lost by the time of the Han Dynasty.
In 1582, the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) arrived in China. An accomplished mathematician and cartographer he learned classical Chinese and with the first European-style map of the world in Chinese attracted the attention of the officials and the Confucian scholars and astronomers. He compiled two Portuguese-Chinese dictionaries, donned Chinese dress, and became completely submerged in Chinese culture and philosophy. Ricci taught the Chinese the Jesuit memorization technique and became the first to translate some of the Confucian classics into Latin. He decided to use existing Chinese concepts to explain Christianity and supported Chinese traditions by agreeing to the veneration of the dead. Dominican and Franciscan missionaries felt he went too far in accommodation and convinced the Vatican to outlaw Ricci's approach. Ricci died in Beijing 1610. In the light of Ricci's contributions to Chinese science, Ming Emperor Wanli granted for him to be buried in Bejing. Meanwhile (2013) the Vatican is considering Ricci's canonization....
Through Ricci's writings the Western Enlightenment (17/18th cent) became familiarized with Chinese Humanism. Translations of Confucian texts influenced European thinkers of the period, particularly among the Deists and other philosophical groups of the Enlightenment who were interested in the integration of the system of morality of Confucius into Western civilization. Confucianism influenced Gottfried Leibniz, who was attracted to the philosophy because of its perceived similarity to his own. Certain elements of Leibniz's philosophy, such as "simple substance" and "preestablished harmony", were borrowed from his interactions with Confucianism.The French philosopher Voltaire was also influenced by Confucius, seeing the concept of Confucian rationalism as an alternative to Christian dogma.
4th cent BC -present
In counter-distinction to Confucianism Taoism, Daoism is a mystical tradition of Chinese origin that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (Dao). The term means "way", "path", or "principle", and can also be found in Chinese philosophies other than Taoism. In Taoism, however, Tao denotes something that is both the source and the driving force behind everything that exists. It is ultimately ineffable: "The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao."
While Taoism drew its cosmological notions from the tenets of the School of Yin Yang, its key work is the Tao Te Ching (道德經, Dao De Jing), a compact and ambiguous text of teachings attributed to the probably legendary Laozi (老子) (5th-4th cent BC). Together with the writings of Zhuangzi (庄子) (369-286 BC), these two texts are the philosophical foundations of Taoism. This Philosophical Taoism (道家, Daojia), individualistic by nature, is not institutionalized.
Institutionalized forms, however, evolved over time in the shape of a number of different schools. Taoist schools traditionally feature reverence for Laozi, immortals or ancestors, along with a variety of divination and exorcism rituals, and practices for achieving ecstasy, longevity or immortality. The clerics of Institutionalised Taoism (道教, Daojiao) usually take care to point out the distinction between their ritual tradition and the customs and practices of Chinese folk religion as these distinctions sometimes appear blurred.
The distinction between Daojia and Daojiao is rejected by the majority of modern scholars. It is, among others, contested by hermeneutic (interpretive) difficulties in the categorization of the different Taoist schools, sects and movements.
Taoism has had a profound influence on
Chinese art and culture. The advent of Buddhist painting from Central
Asia during the Southern
Song Dynasty (4th-5th cent AD) initiated the characteristic,
traditional Chinese landscape painting: Shanshui,
Mountains and Water). It ruened out that “what couln not be
named” could still be painted!
Taoism is the important ingredient of Chinese alchemy, Chinese astrology, Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism, Neija martial arts, Traditional Chinese medicine, feng shui, and many styles of qigong, which have been intertwined with Taoism throughout history.
The most important ethical concept of Taosm is wu wei (无为), an ambiguous term meaning “wihout action”. In ancient Taoist texts, wu-wei is associated with water through its yielding nature.Taoist philosophy proposes that the universe works harmoniously according to its own ways. When someone exerts their will against the world, they disrupt that harmony. Taoism does not identify one's will as the root problem. Rather, it asserts that one must bring one's will in harmony with the natural universe. Thus, a potentially harmful interference is to be avoided, and in this way, goals can be achieved effortlessly. "By wu-wei, the sage seeks to come into harmony with the great Tao, which itself accomplishes everything by nonaction."
Chinese Buddhism has played a prominent, dynamic role in Chinese history. Over the course of approximately two thousand years, Buddhist ideas and practices have shaped Chinese culture in a wide variety of areas, including art, politics, literature, philosophy, medicine, and social culture. (See my chapter on Buddhism, from which I will quote the following updated paragraphs).
In time the translation of a large body of Indian Buddhist scriptures into Chinese and the inclusion of these translations together with works composed in China into a printed canon had far-reaching implications for the dissemination of Buddhism throughout the Chinese cultural sphere, including Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Chinese Buddhism is also marked by the interaction between Indian and Chinese religion. A mixture of foreign and indigenous elements has been important wherever Buddhism spread, but the encounter between Indian and Chinese traditions is especially pronounced. This is because, unlike in most cases in Buddhist history, when Buddhism first arrived in China, China already boasted a rich, sophisticated literary culture that had developed for centuries.
Buddhism first came to Han China
through the Yuezhi
(Parthians) of Gandaharan India (present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan,
and Xinjiang) via the Silk Road. After entering China proper,
Buddhism blended quickly with early Daoism and Chinese traditional
esoteric arts and its iconography.
The first documented translation of Buddhist scriptures into Chinese appeared in 148 AD with the arrival of the Parthian prince-turned-monk An Shigao (安世高). He established Buddhist temples in Luoyang and the translation of Buddhist scriptures into Chinese, testifying to the beginning of a wave of Central Asian Buddhist proselytism that was to last several centuries. An Shigao translated Buddhist texts on basic doctrines, meditation, and abhidharma. Mahāyāna Buddhism was first widely propagated in China by the Kushan monk Lokaksema (支婁迦讖,164–186 AD), who came from Gandhāra. Lokaksema translated Mahāyāna sūtras such as the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra. Another princely Kuchean Buddhist monk, scholar, and prolific translator was Kumārajīva (334–413 CE). A Mahāyāna adherent he settled in Chang'an on the order of the emperor and revolutionized Chinese Buddhism by the clarity of his translations. Among the most important texts translated by Kumārajīva are the Diamond Sutra,(Aurel Stein's complete copy at the British Libary), Amitabha Sutra, and the Lotus Sutra.
Due to the wide proliferation of Buddhist texts available in Chinese, various specific Chinese traditions emerged. Among the most influential of these was the practice of Pure Land Buddhism established by Hui Yuan, which focused on Amitābha Buddha and his western pure land of Sukhāvatī (“Western Paradise”). Other early traditions were the Tiantai, Huayan and the Vinaya school. During the early Tang dynasty, between 629 and 645, the monk Xuanzang journeyed to India and visited over one hundred kingdoms, and wrote extensive and detailed reports of his findings, which have subsequently become important for the study of India during this period.
In the 5th-6th cent (Northern Wei and Sui Dynasties), Ch'an (Zen) "pointing directly to the mind" originated in China. Traditionally attributed to the legendary Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, it is the most ingenious, radical Buddhist teaching method, exemplary Chinese in spirit and form.
Buddhism provided a tremendous influence on Chinese art. The Buddhist cave sculpture of the Yungang Grottoes and the murals of Dunhuang surpass their Indian prototypes. (See the chapter on Buddhism). Their artistic sensibilities, the rivers of color and the Indian style sculpture – originated by the non-Han people of the 4th-9th century and continued in the 13th-14th century during the Mongol Yuan Dynasty – were sufficiently un-Chinese to be rejected later. True Chinese art remained monochrome until the 20th century.
The Buddhist lineage of China (and almost all of Buddhism in China at the time) was nearly destroyed completely by the Tang Emperor Wuzong, an avid Daoist with a strong dislike of Buddhists and other foreign religions, leading to the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution (845 AD). There were several components that led to this opposition of Buddhism. One factor was the foreign origins of Buddhism: "Buddha was a man of the barbarians who did not speak the language of China and wore clothes of a different fashion. His sayings did not concern the ways of our ancient kings, nor did his manner of dress conform to their laws. He understood neither the duties that bind sovereign and subject, nor the affections of father and son." (Han Yu). Other objections included the Buddhist monks' withdrawal from society, since the Chinese believed that Chinese people should be involved with family life not monasticism. Wealth, tax-exempt status and power of the Buddhist temples and monasteries also played a role.
Socialism and Marxism are bound to disappear in the same way, like my physicist friend's prophesy.