She said “it doesn’t matter what religion you are, they are all the same”. I wanted to scream…
When I decided to follow the Eternal Path, or in other words leave Christianity to formally became Hindu I didn’t tell anyone for about a year and a half or so. I didn’t intentionally hide it as much as I wanted to make certain I was actually convinced of my decision.
All the studying, praying and questioning of myself and anyone else who would be patient enough to listen had let me know that I was well on the way to what is the right path for me. Needless to say that was a time of deep reflection and meditation. I was feeling good about my choice. It was the kind of satisfaction that comes once you realize your comfort with a decision that will change your life. It was the same feeling I got when I decided to get commissioned in the army, and when I finally decided to marry my beautiful wife.
Once I finally broke the news to friends and family, the majority were supportive and wished me well. One however managed to give a response that galls me every time I hear it. She simply said “oh it doesn’t make any difference because they’re all the same anyway.” I started to challenge her but I was really in a peaceful and contented place and did not want to let this ludicrous quip upset my serenity.
She is not alone in her sentiments and it is one of the ways in which those for whom “religion” has little or no meaning have of dismissing those of us for whom it does.
As most of us spiritually inclined realize, there are many differences between religions, and though we all think our paths will lead us to God, there are some vastly different ways in how they get us there. If we compare each sect within a given religion we may not notice vast differences, such as between two protestant factions in Christianity, but that hardly renders all of them unilaterally indistinguishable from one another.
However when we look geographically we see larger differences both superficially and intrinsically. For instance, some scholars contend that there are few similarities between Western and Eastern religions other than there are some people who live in the west and have Eastern religions, and there are those who live in the East have western beliefs.
Eastern religions are generally thought of as Dharmic. Dharma is the path of righteousness and living one’s life according to the codes of conduct as described by the Hindu scriptures. Moral Law of the World. Western, or Abrahamic religions, are more dogmatic, which means they operate on principles or sets of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. These beliefs, or set of beliefs, are accepted by the members without being questioned or doubted. The term Abrahamic comes from the man (in the Bible, the Quran and the Torah), who is said to be the father of Christians, Muslims and Jews.
The religions of the Eastern hemisphere include Hinduism and some of its derivatives Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism (see chart). The religions of the Western include Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Each of which has sects and denominations within. Each that are more like each other than they are all other religions in the world.
One major difference between the two groups is in how they view and perceive reality. The Western world contends that there are two kinds of reality, material and non-material while their Eastern counterparts hold that there is one kind of reality. The eastern view is called monism, the western one is called dualism. This is not be confused with monotheism in the west which is the belief in one God.
In Eastern religions, all sentient beings have value, since it is possible that they are reincarnated souls. However their separateness is illusory. In the west, humans and the rest of the world are different from animals and plants as well as other spirits such as angels and demons.
The Western supreme being is one, the creator, who is separate from the created. The Eastern divine is immanent not apart from creation although some Saivite Hindu sects consider God as imminent and transcendent, meaning God is within and out.
One well-known distinction that marks the two hemispherical differences is the view on the afterlife. A widely held Dharmic view is that of karma and reincarnation. Humans store up karma for good or bad and reincarnate according to their accrued merits or lack thereof. (For a better explanation of karma see http://theinvisiblehindu.com/hi-im-karma-how-well-do-you-know-me/). Each one will continue to reincarnate until all karmic debts are paid and the soul has reached Moksha which is freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth. Buddhists call it Nirvana.
The Abrahamic view is that each soul collects its rewards after death where it will be decided where that soul will spend eternity. “You only go around once.” The problem of evil is thus HUGE in the Western philosophy of religion. Also, sin is a much more serious matter, since you get only one chance at life. Heaven is for humans only, so the Western view is “speciesist”. Animals don’t get saved, nor do their interests matter much, whereas for non-Western religions, every sentient being eventually gets released.
Eastern beliefs are that there are many paths to enlightenment. Much spiritual practice is aimed at quieting the mind to allow this to happen. The source of enlightenment and liberation is within the individual. Although there are gurus and scriptures for guidance.
In Western religions, prophets, popes, mullahs, etc. convey God’s word to ordinary people. Some forms of Protestantism, however, (e.g., Quakerism) emphasize looking within. Spiritual practice is often aimed at developing and maintaining personal relationship with God.
Those are some of the basic theological differences. Of course there are also material or superficial differences. For example, Hindu’s worship at home alters or shrines many on a daily basis. When they go to worship with the community we do so in a temple. Jews go to synagogues, Muslims to mosques, Christians to churches and when Catholics get to a certain size it is a cathedral and Buddhists to Pagodas. Christians read The Bible, Hindus have The Vedas, Jews the Torah and Janis, The Agam Sutras.
No, all religions are not alike, they are alike in the sense that they aspire to help us humans navigate this path called life. They help us realize that there is something more to our existence than this earthly sojourn. In fact, most Dharmic adherents don’t consider their beliefs religion at all, but a way or a path. Hinduism for example is Sanata Dharma, the eternal path.
Abrahamic Christianity Judaism Islam Zoroastrians
Dharmic Hinduism Buddhism Shinto Baha’i Jainism Sikhism
Confucianism* Taoism* (Pronounced Dow-ism)
There are the twelve classical world religions—those religions most often included in history of world religion surveys and studied in world religions classes.Information from http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0113529.html
*Confucianism is Eastern but not exactly Dharmaic in the strict sense of the word *Taoism is a Toic religion
There are other beliefs such as African and Chinese traditional religions, and Humanism, however their specific philosophies were not considered here.