East vs. West (Dharmic vs. Abrahamic)
We don't have the time or space in a single blog post to really dive into any of the big four "Eastern Religions", Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, or Sikhism, but we will attempt a broad overview of some key concepts. It is my hope that this post will highlight some of the major differences between these religions and Abrahamic religions, specifically Christianity, as well as some common ground that we share. I also hope that your curiosity will be sparked, prompting further reading on the subject of what are commonly known as "Eastern Religions". (I have not included some religions commonly classified as "Eastern" that are highly divergent in theology and philosophy. Some of these include the Taoic religions, such as Taoism and Confucianism and animistic folk religions, such as Shinto.)
"Eastern" religions could be more accurately categorized as "Dharmic Religions". A few key examples of Dharmic Religions are:
"Western" religions are more accurately categorized as "Abrahamic Religions". The largest of the Abrahamic Religions are:
Some examples of less common Abrahamic Religions would include:
- Baha'i (some would classify Baha'i as "syncretic", but it is technically "Abrahamic")
The concept of "Dharma" can best be defined as the “path of righteousness” or "duty". Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism emphasize following this path. Although they approach of each is very different, there are some strong commonalities in core areas, such as the concept of universe and our role in it and the nature of time.
The Dharmic approach says that time is cyclical, while the common Abrahamic view of time is linear. While there are many Christians who will posit cyclical theories of time or certain aspects of it, these theories are almost always hypothetical or figurative in nature.
Self and the Concept of SalvationAbrahamic
- Judaism - We are sinful and the only way to salvation is obedience to the Law of Moses.
- Christianity - We are “born in sin” and the only way to salvation is through faith in Jesus.
- Islam - We are sinful and the only way to salvation is obedience to Allah.
- Hinduism/Jainism/Sikhism - The prevailing concept of self in Dharmic religions is that we are born divine, but there is a consequence to every action (karma).
- Sikhism - The idea of karma and reincarnation is central, but there is an element of “God’s grace” in attaining “liberation”.
- Buddhism - Reincarnation and karma are important aspects of Buddhism, but there is no “self”. The challenge for Buddhists is to realize that there is no self and live beyond the realm of desires to achieve Nirvana.
- Islam - One God - “There is no god but God.”
- Judaism - One God - “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” ~ Deuteronomy 6:4
- Christianity - One God - Even Trinitarians, when describing the “triune” nature of God, will answer, “One” if asked “How many Gods are there?”
- Hinduism - One Supreme God with over 330 million other (often competing) gods.
- Sikhism - One God (Waheguru) - Sikhs believe that this is the God of all religions and the various religions are different paths to the same God.
- Jainism - Inumerable - Adherents of Jainism believe that beings can achieve a God-like state and become Jinas (conquerors) or Kevalin (omniscient beings) by overcoming the karmas, so the number of “gods” will continually increase.
- Buddhism - No God - While Buddhists do not have a “Buddhist God”, they do not necessarily say that there are no gods.
All major religions focus heavily on being a good person, albeit for very different reasons. A good example of this is found in Buddhism, in the form of “The Noble Eightfold Path”:
- Right understanding- knowledge of the Buddha’s teachings.
- Right resolve- good will in thought.
- Right speech- speaking kindly (without lies).
- Right conduct- caring actions (without harm).
- Right livelihood- earning a living without harming others.
- Right effort- working hard to do good.
- Right mindfulness- thinking before speaking or acting.
- Right concentration- meditating to achieve mental calm.
Check out the previous posts:
(Un)Common Ground - Week 1: (Un)Comfortable Christianity
(Un)Common Ground - Week 2: The Wolves and the Sheep
(Un)Common Ground - Week 3: Connecting with the Unchurched and Non-Religious
(Un)Common Ground - Week 4: Connecting with Atheists, Agnostics, and Anti-Theists
(Un)Common Ground - Week 5: Connecting with Muslims