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World Religion Magazine~

An Inspiring Magazine About God s Messengers and their work in the World Today!



Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is frequently expressed, as San tana Dharma (a Sanskrit phrase meaning "the eternal law", "the eternal law that sustains/ upholds/ surely preserves"), amongst many other expressions, by its adherents. Generic "types" of Hinduism that attempt to accommodate a variety of complex views span folk and Vedic Hinduism to bhakti tradition, as in Vaishnavism. Among other practices and philosophies, Hinduism includes a wide spectrum of laws and prescriptions of "daily morality" based on the notion of karma, dharma, and societal norms such as Hindu marriage customs. Hinduism is formed of diverse traditions and has no single founder Among its roots is the historical Vedic religion of Iron Age India, and as such Hinduism is often called the "oldest living religion"or the "oldest living major religion" in the world. A large body of texts is classified as Hindu, divided into ruti ("revealed") and Smriti ("remembered") texts. These texts discuss theology, philosophy and mythology, and provide information on the practice of dharma (religious living). Among these texts, the Vedas are the foremost in authority, importance and antiquity. Other major scriptures include the Upanishads, Pur as and the epics Mah bh rata and R m ya a. The Bhagavad G t , a syncretistic treatise from the Mah bh rata, is of special importance. It combines Vedanta, Yoga, and some Samkhya philosophy into its discussion of good conduct and life.

The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, the historic local appellation for the Indus River in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent. and is first mentioned in the Rig Veda The word Hindu was first used by Arab invaders and then went further west by the Arabic term al-Hind referring to the land of the people who live across river Indus. and the Persian term Hind referring to all Indians. By the 13th century, Hindust n emerged as a popular alternative name of India, meaning the "land of Hindus". Originally, Hindu was a secular term which was used to describe all inhabitants and cultures of the Indian subcontinent (or Hindustan) irrespective of their religious affiliations. It also occurs sporadically in Sanskrit texts such as the later Rajataranginis of Kashmir (Hinduka, c. 1450), some 16th-18th century Bengali Gaudiya Vaishnava texts, including Chaitanya Charitamrita and Chaitanya Bhagavata, usually to contrast Hindus with Yavanas or Mlecchas.It was only towards the end of the 18th century that the European merchants and colonists referred collectively to the followers of Indian religions as Hindus. Eventually, it came to define a precisely religious identity that includes any person of Indian origin who neither practiced Abrahamic religions nor nonVedic Indian religions, such as Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, or tribal (Adivasi) religions, thereby encompassing a wide range of religious beliefs and practices related to "San tana Dharma". The term Hinduism was introduced into the English language in the 19th century to denote the religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India.

About Dharma~
This "power" that lies behind nature and that keeps everything in balance became a natural forerunner to the idea of Dharma. The idea of rta laid the cornerstone of dharma's implicit attribution to the "ultimate reality" of the surrounding universe, in classical Vedic Hinduism the following verse from the Rig-Veda is an example where rta is mentioned: O Indra, lead us on the path of Rta, on the right path over all evils. - (RV 10.133.6) The transition of the rta to the modern idea of dharma occurs in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The Upanishads saw dharma as the universal principle of law, order, harmony, all in all truth, that sprang first from Brahman. It acts as the regulatory moral principle of the Universe. It is sat (truth), a major tenet of Hinduism. This hearkens back to the conception of the Rig Veda that "Ekam Sat," (Truth Is One), of the idea that Brahman is "Sacchidananda" (Truth-Consciousness-Bliss). Dharma is not just law, or harmony, it is pure Reality. In the Brihadaranyaka's own words: Verily, that which is Dharma is truth, therefore they say of a man who speaks truth, "He speaks the Dharma," or of a man who speaks the Dharma, "He speaks the Truth", Verily, both these things are the same.

The earliest evidence for prehistoric religion in India date back to the late Neolithic in the early Harappan period (55002600 BCE). The beliefs and practices of the pre-classical era (1500500 BCE) are called the "historical Vedic religion". Modern Hinduism grew out of the Vedas, the oldest of which is the Rigveda, dated to 17001100 BCE. The Vedas center on worship of deities such as Indra, Varuna and Agni, and on the Soma ritual. Fire-sacrifices, called yaja were performed, and Vedic mantras chanted but no temples or idols are known. The oldest Vedic traditions exhibit strong similarities to the pre-Zoroastrian Proto-Indo-Iranian religion and other Indo-European religions. For example, the gvedic deity Dyaus, regarded as the father of the other deities, is linguistically cognate with Zeusthe king of the gods in Greek mythology, Iovis (gen. of Jupiter) the king of the gods in Roman mythology, and Tiu/Ziu in Germanic mythology. Other Vedic deities also have cognates with those found in other IndoEuropean speaking peoples' mythologies; see Proto-Indo-European religion and Comparison of Greek and Hindu Gods. The major Sanskrit epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, were compiled over a protracted period during the late centuries BCE and the early centuries CE. They contain mythological stories about the rulers and wars of ancient India, and are interspersed with religious and philosophical treatises. The later Puranas recount tales about devas and devis, their interactions with humans and their battles against demons. Three major movements underpinned the naissance of a new epoch of Hindu thought: the advent and spread of Upanishadic, Jaina, and Buddhist philosophico-religious thought throughout the broader Indian landmass. Mahavira (24th Tirthankar of Jains) and Buddha (founder of Buddhism) taught that to achieve moksha or nirvana, one did not have to accept the authority of the Vedas or the caste system. Buddha went a step further and claimed that the existence of a Self/soul or God was unnecessary. Buddhism peaked during the reign of Asoka the Great of the Mauryan Empire, who unified the Indian subcontinent in the 3rd century BCE. After 200 CE several schools of thought were formally codified in Indian philosophy, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta. Charvaka, the founder of an atheistic materialist school, came to the fore in North India in the sixth century BCE. Sanskritic culture went into decline after the end of the Gupta period. The early medieval Puranas helped establish a religious mainstream among the pre-literate tribal societies undergoing acculturation. The tenets of Brahmanic Hinduism and of the Dharmashastras underwent a radical transformation at the hands of the Purana composers, resulting in the rise of a mainstream "Hinduism" that overshadowed all earlier traditions. Though Islam came to India in the early 7th century with the advent of Arab traders and the conquest of Sindh, it started to become a major religion during the later Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent. During this period Buddhism declined rapidly and many Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam. Numerous Muslim rulers or their army generals such as Aurangzeb and Malik Kafur destroyed Hindu temples and persecuted

non-Muslims; however some, such as Akbar, were more tolerant. Hinduism underwent profound changes, in large part due to the influence of the prominent teachers Ramanuja, Madhva, and Chaitanya. Followers of the Bhakti movement moved away from the abstract concept of Brahman, which the philosopher Adi Shankara consolidated a few centuries before, with emotional, passionate devotion towards the more accessible Avatars, especially Krishna and Rama. Indology as an academic discipline of studying Indian culture from a European perspective was established in the 19th century, led by scholars such as Max Mller and John Woodroffe. They brought Vedic, Puranic and Tantric literature and philosophy to Europe and the United States. At the same time, societies such as the Brahmo Samaj and the Theosophical Society attempted to reconcile and fuse Abrahamic and Dharmic philosophies, endeavouring to institute societal reform. This period saw the emergence of movements which, while highly innovative, were rooted in indigenous tradition. They were based on the personalities and teachings of individuals, as with Ramakrishna and Ramana Maharshi. Prominent Hindu philosophers, including Aurobindo and Prabhupada (founder of ISKCON), translated, reformulated and presented Hinduism's foundational texts for contemporary audiences in new iterations, attracting followers and attention in India and abroad. Others such as Vivekananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, B.K.S. Iyengar and Swami Rama have also been instrumental in raising the profiles of Yoga and Vedanta in the West. Today modern movements, such as ISKCON and the Swaminarayan Faith, attract a large amount of followers across the world.


The Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple in Delhi, according the Guinness World Records is the Worlds Largest Comprehensive Hindu Temple.

Hinduism as it is commonly known can be subdivided into a number of major currents. Of the historical division into six darshanas, only two schools, Vedanta and Yoga survive. The main divisions of Hinduism today are Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Smartism and Shaktism. Hinduism also recognizes numerous divine beings subordinate to the Supreme Being or regards them as lower manifestations of it. Other notable characteristics include a belief in reincarnation and karma, as well as in personal duty, or dharma. McDaniel (2007) distinguishes six generic "types" of Hinduism, in an attempt to accommodate a variety of views on a rather complex subject:

y y y y y

Folk Hinduism, as based on local traditions and cults of local deities at a communal level and spanning back to prehistoric times or at least prior to written Vedas. Vedic Hinduism as still being practiced by traditionalist Brahmins (for example shrautins). Vedantic Hinduism, for example Advaita (Smartism), as based on the philosophical approach of the Upanishads. Yogic Hinduism, especially that based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. "Dharmic" Hinduism or "daily morality", based on the notion of Karma, and upon societal norms such as Hindu marriage customs. Bhakti or devotionalism, especially as in Vaishnavism.

Hinduism does not have a "unified system of belief encoded in declaration of faith or a creed", but is rather an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena originating and based on the Vedic traditions. The characteristic of comprehensive tolerance to differences in belief, and Hinduism's openness, makes it difficult to define as a religion according to traditional Western conceptions. To its adherents, Hinduism is the traditional way of life, and because of the wide range of traditions and ideas incorporated within or covered by it, arriving at a comprehensive definition of the term is problematic. While sometimes referred to as a religion, Hinduism is more often defined as a religious tradition. It is therefore described as both the oldest of the world's religions, and the most diverse. Most Hindu traditions revere a body of religious or sacred literature, the Vedas, although there are exceptions. Some Hindu religious traditions regard particular rituals as essential for salvation, but a variety of views on this co-exist. Some Hindu philosophies postulate a theistic ontology of creation, of sustenance, and of destruction of the universe, yet some Hindus are atheists. Hinduism is sometimes characterized by the belief in reincarnation (samsara), determined by the law of karma, and the idea that salvation is freedom from this cycle of repeated birth and death. However, other religions of the region, such as Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, also believe in karma, outside the scope of Hinduism. Hinduism is therefore viewed as the most complex of all of the living, historical world religions. A definition of Hinduism, given by the first Vice President of India, who was also a prominent theologian, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, states that Hinduism is not "just a faith", but in itself is related to the union of reason and intuition. Radhakrishnan explicitly states that Hinduism cannot be defined, but is only to be experienced. Similarly some academics suggest that Hinduism can be seen as a category with "fuzzy edges", rather than as a well-defined and rigid entity. Some forms of religious expression are central to Hinduism, while others are not as central but still remain within the category. Based on this, Ferro-Luzzi has developed a 'Prototype Theory approach' to the definition of Hinduism. Problems with the single definition of what is actually meant by the term 'Hinduism' are often attributed to the fact that Hinduism does not have a single or common historical founder. Hinduism, or as some say 'Hinduisms,' does not have a single system of salvation and has different goals according to each sect or denomination. The forms of Vedic religion are seen not as an alternative to Hinduism, but as its earliest form, and there is little justification for the divisions found in much western scholarly writing between Vedism, Brahmanism, and Hinduism. A definition of Hinduism is further complicated by the frequent use of the term "faith" as a synonym for "religion". Some academics and many practitioners refer to Hinduism using a native definition, as San tana Dharma, a Sanskrit phrase meaning "the eternal law", or the "eternal way".

Hinduism refers to a religious mainstream which evolved organically and spread over a large territory marked by significant ethnic and cultural diversity. This mainstream evolved both by innovation from within, and by assimilation of external traditions or cults into the Hindu fold. The result is an enormous variety of religious traditions, ranging from innumerable small, unsophisticated cults to major religious movements with millions of adherents spread over the entire subcontinent. The identification of Hinduism as an independent religion separate from Buddhism or Jainism consequently hinges on the affirmation of its adherents that it is such. Hinduism grants absolute and complete freedom of belief and worship. Hinduism conceives the whole world as a single family that deifies the one truth, and therefore it accepts all forms of beliefs and dismisses labels of distinct religions which would imply a division of identity. Hence, Hinduism is devoid of the concepts of apostasy, heresy and blasphemy. Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include (but are not restricted to), Dharma (ethics/duties), Sams ra (The continuing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth), Karma (action and subsequent reaction), Moksha (liberation from samsara), and the various Yogas (paths or practices).

Temple carving at Hoysaleswara temple representing the Trimurti: Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu.

Concept of God~
Hinduism is a diverse system of thought with beliefs spanning monotheism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism, monism, atheism, agnosticism, gnosticism among others; and its concept of God is complex and depends upon each individual and the tradition and philosophy followed. It is sometimes referred to as henotheistic (i.e., involving devotion to a single god while accepting the existence of others), but any such term is an overgeneralization. The Rig Veda, the oldest scripture and the mainstay of Hindu philosophy does not take a restrictive view on the fundamental question of God and the creation of universe. It rather lets the individual seek and discover answers in the quest of life. Nasadiya Sukta (Creation Hymn) of the Rig Veda thus says: Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen? Most Hindus believe that the spirit or soul the true "self" of every person, called the tman is eternal. According to the monistic/pantheistic theologies of Hinduism (such as Advaita Vedanta school), this Atman is ultimately indistinct from Brahman, the supreme spirit. Hence, these schools are called non-dualist. The goal of life, according to the Advaita school, is to realize that one's tman is identical to Brahman, the supreme soul. The Upanishads state that whoever becomes fully aware of the tman as the innermost core of one's own self realizes an identity with Brahman and thereby reaches moksha (liberation or freedom). Dualistic schools (see Dvaita and Bhakti) understand Brahman as a Supreme Being who possesses personality, and they worship him or her thus, as Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, or Shakti, depending upon the sect. The tman is dependent on God, while moksha depends on love towards God and on God's grace. When God is viewed as the supreme personal being (rather than as the infinite principle), God is called Ishvara ("The Lord"),Bhagavan ("The Auspicious One") or Parameshwara ("The Supreme Lord"). However interpretations of Ishvara vary, ranging from non-belief in Ishvara by followers of Mimamsakas, to identifying Brahman and Ishvara as one, as in Advaita. In the majority of traditions of Vaishnavism he is Vishnu, God, and the text of Vaishnava scriptures identify this Being as Krishna, sometimes referred to as svayam bhagavan. There are also schools like the Samkhya which have atheistic leanings.

Krishna displays his Vishvarupa (Universal Form) to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

Devas and avatars~

The Hindu scriptures refer to celestial entities called Devas (or dev in feminine form; devat used synonymously for Deva in Hindi), "the shining ones", which may be translated into English as "gods" or "heavenly beings". The devas are an integral part of Hindu culture and are depicted in art, architecture and through icons, and mythological stories about them are related in the scriptures, particularly in Indian epic poetry and the Puranas. The choice is a matter of individual preference, and of regional and family traditions. Hindu epics and the Puranas relate several episodes of the descent of God to Earth in corporeal form to restore dharma to society and to guide humans to moksha. Such an incarnation is called an Avatar. The most prominent avatars are of Vishnu and include Rama (the protagonist in Ramayana) and Krishna (a central figure in the epic Mahabharata).

Krishna, the eighth incarnation (Avatar) of Vishnu or svayam bhagavan, worshiped across a number of traditions.

Karma and samsara~

Karma translates literally as action, work, or deed, and can be described as the "moral law of cause and effect". According to the Upanishads an individual, known as the jivaatma, develops sanskaras (impressions) from actions, whether physical or mental. The linga sharira, a body more subtle than the physical one but less subtle than the soul, retains impressions, carrying them over into the next life, establishing a unique trajectory for the individual. Thus, the concept of a universal, neutral, and never-failing karma intrinsically relates to reincarnation as well as to one's personality, characteristics, and family. Karma binds together the notions of free will and destiny. This cycle of action, reaction, birth, death and rebirth is a continuum called samsara. The notion of reincarnation and karma is a strong premise in Hindu thought. Samsara provides ephemeral pleasures, which lead people to desire rebirth so as to enjoy the pleasures of a perishable body. However, escaping the world of samsara through moksha is believed to ensure lasting happiness and peace. It is thought that after several reincarnations, an atman eventually seeks unity with the cosmic spirit (Brahman/Paramatman).

The ultimate goal of life, referred to as moksha, nirvana or samadhi, is understood in several different ways: as the realization of one's union with God; as the realization of one's eternal relationship with God; realization of the unity of all existence; perfect unselfishness and knowledge of the Self; as the attainment of perfect mental peace; and as detachment from worldly desires. Such realization liberates one from samsara and ends the cycle of rebirth. Due to belief in the indestructibility of the soul, death is deemed insignificant with respect to the cosmic self. Thence, a person who has no desire or ambition left and no responsibilities remaining in life or one affected by a terminal disease may embrace death by Prayopavesa.

Objectives of human life~

Classical Hindu thought accepts the following objectives of human life, that which is sought as human purpose, aim, or end, is known as the puru rthas :
y y y y

Dharma ("righteousness, ethikos") Artha ("livelihood, wealth") K ma ("sensual pleasure") Mok a ("liberation, freedom (from samsara)")

The vast majority of Hindus engage in religious rituals on a daily basis. Most Hindus observe religious rituals at home. but observation of rituals greatly vary among regions, villages, and individuals. Devout Hindus perform daily chores such as worshiping at dawn after bathing (usually at a family shrine, and typically includes lighting a lamp and offering foodstuffs before the images of deities), recitation from religious scripts, singing devotional hymns, meditation, chanting mantras, reciting scriptures etc. A notable feature in religious ritual is the division between purity and pollution. Religious acts presuppose some degree of impurity or defilement for the practitioner, which must be overcome or neutralized before or during ritual procedures. Purification, usually with water, is thus a typical feature of most religious action. Other characteristics include a belief in the efficacy of sacrifice and concept of merit, gained through the performance of charity or good works, that will accumulate over time and reduce sufferings in the next world. Vedic rites of fire-oblation (yajna) are now only occasional practices, although they are highly revered in theory. In Hindu wedding and burial ceremonies, however, the yaja and chanting of Vedic mantras are still the norm. The rituals, upacharas, change with time. For instance, in the past few hundred years some rituals, such as sacred dance and music offerings in the standard Sodasa Upacharas set prescribed by the Agama Shastra, were replaced by the offerings of rice and sweets. Occasions like birth, marriage, and death involve what are often elaborate sets of religious customs. In Hinduism, life-cycle rituals include Annaprashan (a baby's first intake of solid food), Upanayanam ("sacred thread ceremony" undergone by upper-caste children at their initiation into formal education) and r ddha (ritual of treating people to a meal in return for prayers to 'God' to give peace to the soul of the deceased). For most people in India, the betrothal of the young couple and the exact date and time of the wedding are matters decided by the parents in consultation with astrologers. On death, cremation is considered obligatory for all except sanyasis, hijra, and children under five. Cremation is typically performed by wrapping the corpse in cloth and burning it on a pyre.

Traditional diyas and other prayer items during a Hindu wedding ceremony.


Hinduism has many festivals throughout the year. The Hindu calendar usually prescribe their dates. The festivals typically celebrate events from Hindu mythology, often coinciding with seasonal changes. There are festivals which are primarily celebrated by specific sects or in certain regions of the Indian subcontinent. Some widely observed Hindu festivals are
y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y y

Maha Shivaratri Pongal Holi Vasant Panchami Thaipusam Ram Navami Krishna Janmastami Ganesh Chaturthi Shigmo Dussera Durga Puja Diwali Gudi Padwa Ugadi Bihu Bonalu Rath Yatra Guru Purnima Raksha Bandhan Onam Gowri Habba Chhath

Hinduism is based on "the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times". The scriptures were transmitted orally in verse form to aid memorization, for many centuries before they were written down. Over many centuries, sages refined the teachings and expanded the canon. In post-Vedic and current Hindu belief, most Hindu scriptures are not typically interpreted literally. More importance is attached to the ethics and metaphorical meanings derived from them. Most sacred texts are in Sanskrit. The texts are classified into two classes: Shruti and Smriti. Shruti

The Rig Veda is one of the oldest religious texts. This Rig Veda manuscript is in Devanagari.

Shruti primarily refers to the Vedas, which form the earliest record of the Hindu scriptures. While many Hindus revere the Vedas as eternal truths revealed to ancient sages ( is), some devotees do not associate the creation of the Vedas with a god or person. They are thought of as the laws of the spiritual world, which would still exist even if they were not revealed to the sages. Hindus believe that because the spiritual truths of the Vedas are eternal, they continue to be expressed in new ways. There are four Vedas (called g-, S ma-, Yajus- and Atharva-). The Rigveda is the first and most important Veda. Each Veda is divided into four parts: the primary one, the Veda proper, being the Sa hit , which contains sacred mantras. The other three parts form a three-tier ensemble of commentaries, usually in prose and are believed to be slightly later in age than the Sa hit . These are: the Br hma as, ra yakas, and the Upanishads. The first two parts were subsequently called the Karmak a (ritualistic portion), while the last two forms the J nak a (knowledge portion). While the Vedas focus on rituals, the Upanishads focus on spiritual insight and philosophical teachings, and discuss Brahman and reincarnation.

A well known shloka from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is:



Lead Us From the Unreal To the Real | Lead Us From Darkness To Light || Lead Us From Death To Immortality | OM Let There Be Peace Peace Peace.|| Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.3.28.

Smritis Hindu texts other than the Shrutis are collectively called the Smritis (memory). The most notable of the smritis are the epics, which consist of the Mah bh rata and the R m ya a. The Bhagavad G t is an integral part of the Mahabharata and one of the most popular sacred texts of Hinduism. It contains philosophical teachings from Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, told to the prince Arjuna on the eve of a great war. The Bhagavad G t , spoken by Krishna, is described as the essence of the Vedas. However Gita, sometimes called Gitopanishad, is more often placed in the Shruti, category, being Upanishadic in content. Pur as, which illustrate Hindu ideas through vivid narratives come under smritis. Other texts include Dev Mah tmya, the Tantras, the Yoga Sutras, Tirumantiram, Shiva Sutras and the Hindu gamas. A more controversial text, the Manusmriti, is a prescriptive lawbook which lays the societal codes of social stratification which later evolved into the Indian caste system. A well known verse from Bhagavad Gita describing a concept in Karma Yoga is explained as follows : To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; Let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction.


The Vaishnava Tirumala Venkateswara Temple the most visited and richest Hindu temple in the world.

Hinduism has no central doctrinal authority and many practising Hindus do not claim to belong to any particular denomination. However, academics categorize contemporary Hinduism into four major denominations: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism. The denominations differ primarily in the god worshipped as the Supreme One and in the traditions that accompany worship of that god. Vaishnavas worship Vishnu as the supreme God; Shaivites worship Shiva as the supreme; Shaktas worship Shakti (power) personified through a female divinity or Mother Goddess, Devi; while Smartas believe in the essential oneness of five (panchadeva) or six (Shanmata, as Tamil Hindus add Skanda) deities as personifications of the Supreme. The Western conception of what Hinduism is has been defined by the Smarta view; many Hindus, who may not understand or follow Advaita philosophy, in contemporary Hinduism, invariably follow the Shanmata belief worshiping many forms of God. One commentator, noting the influence of the Smarta tradition, remarked that although many Hindus may not strictly identify themselves as Smartas but, by adhering to Advaita Vedanta as a foundation for non-sectarianism, are indirect followers. Other denominations like Ganapatya (the cult of Ganesha) and Saura (Sun worship) are not so widespread. There are movements that are not easily placed in any of the above categories, such as Swami Dayananda Saraswati's Arya Samaj, which rejects image worship and veneration of multiple deities. It focuses on the Vedas and the Vedic fire sacrifices (yaja).


A sadhu in Madurai, India.

Some Hindus choose to live a monastic life (Sanny sa) in pursuit of liberation or another form of spiritual perfection. Monastics commit themselves to a life of simplicity, celibacy, detachment from worldly pursuits, and the contemplation of God. A Hindu monk is called a sany s , s dhu, or sw mi. A female renunciate is called a sany sini. Renunciates receive high respect in Hindu society because their outward renunciation of selfishness and worldliness serves as an inspiration to householders who strive for mental renunciation. Some monastics live in monasteries, while others wander from place to place, trusting in God alone to provide for their needs. It is considered a highly meritorious act for a householder to provide s dhus with food or other necessaries. S dhus strive to treat all with respect and compassion, whether a person may be poor or rich, good or wicked, and to be indifferent to praise, blame, pleasure, and pain.

Varnas Hindu society has traditionally been categorized into four classes, called Varnas :
y y y y

the Brahmins: teachers and priests; the Kshatriyas: warriors, nobles, and kings; the Vaishyas: farmers, merchants, and businessmen; and the Shudras: servants and labourers.

Hindus and scholars debate whether the so-called caste system is an integral part of Hinduism sanctioned by the scriptures or an outdated social custom. Among the scriptures, the Varna system is mentioned sparingly and descriptively, apart from a single mention in the late Rigvedic Purusha sukta, the rigid division into varnas appears to be post-Vedic, appearing in classical texts from the Maurya period. The Bhagavad G t states that the four var a divisions are created by God, and the Manusm iti categorizes the different castes. However, at the same time, the G t says that one's var a is to be understood from one's personal qualities and one's work, not one's birth. Some mobility and flexibility within the varnas challenge allegations of social discrimination in the caste system, as has been pointed out by several sociologists.

Ashramas Traditionally the life of a Hindu is divided into four shramas (phases or stages; unrelated meanings include monastery). The first part of one's life, Brahmacharya, the stage as a student, is spent in celibate, controlled, sober and pure contemplation under the guidance of a Guru, building up the mind for spiritual knowledge. Grihastha is the householder's stage, in which one marries and satisfies k ma and artha in one's married and professional life respectively (see the goals of life). The moral obligations of a Hindu householder include supporting one's parents, children, guests and holy figures. V naprastha, the retirement stage, is gradual detachment from the material world. This may involve giving over duties to one's children, spending more time in religious practices and embarking on holy pilgrimages. Finally, in Sanny sa, the stage of asceticism, one renounces all worldly attachments to secludedly find the Divine through detachment from worldly life and peacefully shed the body for Moksha.

A Balmiki Ashram.

Ahimsa, vegetarianism and other food customs Hindus advocate the practice of ahi s (non-violence) and respect for all life because divinity is believed to permeate all beings, including plants and non-human animals. The term ahi s appears in the Upanishads, the epic Mahabharata and Ahi s is the first of the five Yamas (vows of self-restraint) in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. In accordance with ahi s , many Hindus embrace vegetarianism to respect higher forms of life. Estimates of the number of lacto vegetarians in India (includes adherents of all religions) vary between 20% and 42%. The food habits vary with the community and region, for example some castes having fewer vegetarians and coastal populations relying on seafood. Some avoid meat only on specific holy days. Observant Hindus who do eat meat almost always abstain from beef. The cow in Hindu society is traditionally identified as a caretaker and a maternal figure, and Hindu society honours the cow as a symbol of unselfish giving. Cow-slaughter is legally banned in almost all states of India.

There are many Hindu groups that have continued to abide by a strict vegetarian diet in modern times. One example is the movement known as ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), whose followers not only abstain from meat, fish, and fowl, but also avoid certain vegetables that are thought to have negative properties, such as onion and garlic. A second example is the Swaminarayan Movement. The followers of this Hindu group also staunchly adhere to a diet that is devoid of meat, eggs, and seafood. Vegetarianism is propagated by the Yajur Veda and it is recommended for a satvic (purifying) lifestyle. Thus, another reason that dietary purity is so eminent within Hinduism is because the idea that food reflects the general qualities of nature: purity, energy, inertia It follows, then, that a healthy diet should be one that promotes purity within an individual. Based on this reasoning, Hindus should avoid or minimize the intake of foods that do not promote purity. These foods include onion and garlic, which are regarded as rajasic (a state which is characterized by tension and overbearing demeanor) foods, and meat, which is regarded as tamasic (a state which is characterized by anger, greed, and jealousy). Some Hindus from certain sects - generally Shakta, certain Shudra and Kshatriya castesand certain Eastern Indian and East Asian regions; practise animal sacrifice (bali). Although most Hindus, including the majority of Vaishnava and Shaivite Hindus abhor it.

Rajasthani thali.

An Introduction to Buddhism~
To do no evil; To cultivate good; To purify one's mind: This is the teaching of the Buddhas. --The Dhammapada

The Buddha was born Siddhartha Gautama, a prince of the Sakya tribe of Nepal, in approximately 566 BC. When he was twenty-nine years old, he left the comforts of his home to seek the meaning of the suffering he saw around him. After six years of arduous yogic training, he abandoned the way of self-mortification and instead sat in mindful meditation beneath a bodhi tree. On the full moon of May, with the rising of the morning star, Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha, the enlightened one. The Buddha wandered the plains of northeastern India for 45 years more, teaching the path or Dharma he had realized in that moment. Around him developed a community or Sangha of monks and, later, nuns, drawn from every tribe and caste, devoted to practicing this path. In approximately 486 BC, at the age of 80, the Buddha died. His last words are said to be...

Impermanent are all created things; Strive on with awareness.

Life of the Buddha~

Ascetic Gautama with his five companions, who later comprised the first Sangha. Wall painting in a Laotian temple.

The evidence of the early texts suggests that the Buddha was born in a community that was on the periphery, both geographically and culturally, of the northeastern Indian subcontinent in the 5th century BCE. It was either a small republic, in which case his father was an elected chieftain, or an oligarchy, in which case his father was an oligarch. According to the Theravada Tipitaka scriptures (from Pali, meaning "three baskets"), the Buddha was born in Lumbini in modern-day Nepal, around the year 563 BCE, and raised in Kapilavastu. According to this narrative, shortly after the birth of young prince Siddhartha Gautama, an astrologer visited the young prince's fatherKing uddhodanaand prophesied that Siddhartha would either become a great king or renounce the material world to become a holy man, depending on whether he saw what life was like outside the palace walls. uddhodana was determined to see his son become a king so he prevented him from leaving the palace grounds. But at age 29, despite his father's efforts, Siddhartha ventured beyond the palace several times. In a series of encountersknown in Buddhist literature as the four sights he learned of the suffering of ordinary people, encountering an old man, a sick man, a corpse and, finally, an ascetic holy man, apparently content and at peace with the world. These experiences prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest. Gautama first went to study with famous religious teachers of the day, and mastered the meditative attainments they taught. But he found that they did not provide a permanent end to suffering, so he continued his quest. He next attempted an extreme asceticism, which was a religious pursuit common among the Shramanas, a religious culture distinct from the Vedic one. Gautama underwent prolonged fasting, breath-holding, and exposure to pain. He almost starved himself to death in the process. He realized that he had taken this kind of practice to its limit, and had not put an end to suffering. So in a pivotal

moment he accepted milk and rice from a village girl and changed his approach. He devoted himself to anapanasatimeditation, through which he discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way (Skt. madhyam -pratipad) : a path of moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. Gautama was now determined to complete his spiritual quest. At the age of 35, he famously sat in meditation under a sacred fig tree known as the Bodhi tree in the town of Bodh Gaya, India, and vowed not to rise before achieving enlightenment. After many days, he finally destroyed the fetters of his mind, thereby liberating himself from the cycle of suffering and rebirth, and arose as a fully enlightened being (Skt. samyaksa buddha). Soon thereafter, he attracted a band of followers and instituted a monastic order. Now, as the Buddha, he spent the rest of his life teaching the path of awakening he discovered, traveling throughout the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent, and died at the age of 80 (483 BCE) inKushinagar, India. The above narrative draws on the Nid nakath biography of the Therav da sect in Sri Lanka, which is ascribed to Buddhagho a in the 5th century CE. Earlier biographies such as the Buddhacarita, the Lokottarav din Mah vastu, and the Mah y na / Sarv stiv da Lalitavistara S tra, give different accounts. Scholars are hesitant to make unqualified claims about the historical facts of the Buddha's life. Most accept that he lived, taught and founded a monastic order but do not consistently accept all of the details contained in his biographies. According to author Michael Carrithers, while there are good reasons to doubt the traditional account, "the outline of the life must be true: birth, maturity, renunciation, search, awakening and liberation, teaching, death." In writing her biography of Buddha, Karen Armstrong noted, "It is obviously difficult, therefore, to write a biography of the Buddha that will meet modern criteria, because we have very little information that can be considered historically sound... [but] we can be reasonably confident Siddhatta Gotama did indeed exist and that his disciples preserved the memory of his life and teachings as well as they could."

History of Buddhism~
The history of Buddhism religion dates back to the year 580 BC, which started with the birth of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama. Born in the Lumbini, Southern Nepal, Siddhartha left his home at a young age of 29 years, in search of enlightenment. After going through a life of self-denial, discipline and meditation, he attained enlightenment, which resulted in the alleviation of all his pain and suffering. He then set on a journey of teaching people the path to enlightenment that would liberate them from the cycle of life and death. Gradually, Buddhism spread to numerous countries of the world, which resulted in development of the religion. The original Indian foundation was expanded by the inclusion of Hellenistic as well as Central Asian, East Asian, and Southeast Asian cultural elements. The history of Buddhism also witnessed the development of numerous movements and divisions, such as Theravada, Mahayana. The First Council The first council of Buddhism Sangha was organized a few months after Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana. It was held in Rajagaha, with the aim of developing an agreement on his teachings. However, the teachings of Buddha were not written down even then. The Second Council The second council took place around 100 years after the Mahaparinirvana of Lord Buddha. The aim of the council, held at Vesali, was to settle a conflict over the nature of the arahant (or Buddhist saint) and monastic discipline, which had arisen between Mahasanghika majority (Great Assembly) of eastern India and Sthavira minority (the Elders) of the west. The Era of Asoka the Great Asoka, the first Buddhist Emperor, was the ruler of the Magadhan empire. Initially a ruler obsessed with the aim of expanding his empire, he changed after witnessing the brutal carnage at the battle of Kalinga. This event led him towards Buddhism and he built his empire into a Buddhist state, a first of its kind. He laid the foundation of numerous stupas and spread the teachings of Lord Buddha throughout the world.

The Third Council The third council of Buddhism Sangha was held under Emperor Asoka, in Pataliputra. The reason for the council was deterioration in the standards of the monks. The consequence of the council was exclusion of numerous bogus monks from the Sangha. Spread of Buddhism in Sri Lanka Emperor Asoka sent his son, Mahindra, to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism in the state. He succeeded in converting the King of Sri Lanka to Buddhism and soon, Buddhism became the state religion of the country. The Fourth Council The Fourth Council took place in Sri Lanka, in the Aloka Cave near the village of Matale. It was in this council that decision was taken to write the teachings of Lord Buddha for the first time. The entire writing was collected in three baskets and given the name of Tipitaka or the Pali Canon. It comprises of three Pitakas, namely Vinaya Pitaka (the rules for the monks and nuns), the Sutta Pitaka (Buddha's discourses) and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (philosophical and psychological systemization of the Buddhas teachings). Another Fourth Buddhist Council (Sarvastivada tradition) was held around 100 CE at Jalandhar or in Kashmir. It is said to have been convened by the Kushana king, Kanishka, Mahayana Buddhism and New Scriptures Mahayana Buddhism emerged and grew between 150 BCE and 100 CE. With the rise of this sect, new sutras emerged. The most significant ones are the Lotus Sutra, the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra. Tantra The period between third and seventh century CE saw the establishment of a new form of Buddhism, which emerged out of the Mahayana sect. This form came to be known as Tantra, Mantrayana and Vajrayana. Tantras emphasized on the bodhisattva ideal and empathy for all beings. At the same time, it also laid stress on drawing of mandalas or 'magic' circles, symbolic hand gestures known as mudras, the recitation of phrases known as mantras and visualizations. It was also believed that one needs an experienced teacher or guru to learn the teachings of Lord Buddha. Decline of Buddhism in India From the seventh century, Buddhism went on a downward spiral in India, because of growth of Hinduism, decline of Buddhist universities and Muslim Turk invasions of northwest India.

Spread of Buddhism in China Buddhism started gaining entry into China around 1st century CE. Spread of Buddhism in Japan Fourth century CE saw Buddhism gaining ground in Korea and from there, religion spread to Japan in 538 CE. By the end of the century, Buddhism had become the state religion of the country. In 8th century CE, the religion further spread under the patronage of Emperor Shomu. Six schools of Chinese Buddhism, namely Sanron, Jojitsu, Hosso, Kusha, Kegon and Ritsu, were also introduced during this period. Later, Tendai and Shingon schools developed in Japan. Spread of Zen Buddhism Zen Buddhism, based on Chinese Ch'an Buddhism, started evolving in Japan around the 12th century. Founded by Esai Zenji, it came to be known as Rinzai School in the country. Soto School of Zen also developed there in the 13th century, with its base in Chinese Ts'ao-tung School. Spread of Buddhism in Tibet The arrival of an Indian tantric master, known as Padmasambhava, was instrumental in the spread of Buddhism in Tibet. Spread of Buddhism in the West The efforts towards spread of Buddhism in the western countries were made in the 19th and early-20thcentury. T W Rhys Davies laid the foundation of the Pali Text Society there, towards the end of the 19thcentury. Other names worth mentioning in this context are those of Edward Arnold, a poet; Christmas Humphreys, an English barrister; Alan Watts and Dennis Lockwood; founder of the Friends of Western Buddhism Order (FWBO). Buddhism started spreading amongst the native population of America in the 1950s. Presently, one can find all schools of Buddhism in the USA. Current Status of Buddhism Today, Buddhism has spread to almost all the countries of the world, with the population of Buddhists estimated to be around 350 million. Out of these, almost half the number practice Mahayana tradition. The largest population of Buddhist is in China, while, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar have the highest proportion of Buddhists in their population. The religion is also becoming quite widespread in America, Australia and United Kingdom.

Buddhist concepts~
Life and the world

Traditional Tibetan Buddhist Thangka depicting the Wheel of Life with six realms.

Karma Karma (from Sanskrit: "action, work") in Buddhism is the force that drives sa s rathe cycle of suffering and rebirth for each being. Good, skillful deeds (P li: "kusala") and bad, unskillful (P li: "akusala") actions produce "seeds" in the mind which come to fruition either in this life or in a subsequent rebirth. The avoidance of unwholesome actions and the cultivation of positive actions is called la (from Sanskrit: "ethical conduct"). In Buddhism, karma specifically refers to those actions (of body, speech, and mind) that spring from mental intent ("cetana"),and which bring about a consequence (or fruit, "phala") or result ("vip ka"). In Theravada Buddhism there can be no divine salvation or forgiveness for one's karma, since it is a purely impersonal process that is a part of the makeup of the universe. Some Mahayana traditions hold different views. For example, the texts of certain Mahayana sutras (such as theLotus Sutra, the Angulimaliya Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra) claim that reciting or merely hearing their texts can expunge great swathes of negative karma. Some forms of Buddhism (for example, Vajrayana) regard the recitation of mantras as a means for cutting off previous negative karma. The Japanese Pure Land teacher Genshin taught that Amida Buddha has the power to destroy the karma that would otherwise bind one in sa s ra.


Two Tibetan Buddhist monks in traditional clothing.

Rebirth refers to a process whereby beings go through a succession of lifetimes as one of many possible forms of sentient life, each running from conception to death. Buddhism rejects the concepts of a permanent self or an unchanging, eternal soul, as it is called in Hinduism and Christianity. According to Buddhism there ultimately is no such thing as a self independent from the rest of the universe (the doctrine of anatta). Rebirth in subsequent existences must be understood as the continuation of a dynamic, everchanging process of "dependent arising" ("prat tyasamutp da") determined by the laws of cause and effect (karma) rather than that of one being, transmigrating or incarnating from one existence to the next. Each rebirth takes place within one of five realms according to Theravadins, or six according to other schools. These are further subdivided into 31 planes of existence : y y y y y y Naraka beings: those who live in one of many Narakas (Hells). Preta: sometimes sharing some space with humans, but invisible to most people; an important variety is the hungry ghost. Animals : sharing space with humans, but considered another type of life. Human beings : one of the realms of rebirth in which attaining Nirvana is possible. Asuras : variously translated as lowly deities, demons, titans, antigods; not recognized by Therav da (Mahavihara) tradition as a separate realm. Devas including Brahmas : variously translated as gods, deities, spirits, angels, or left untranslated.

Rebirths in some of the higher heavens, known as the uddh v sa Worlds (Pure Abodes), can be attained only by skilled Buddhist practitioners known as an g mis (non-returners). Rebirths in the arupa-dhatu (formless realms) can be attained only by those who can meditate on the ar pajh nas, the highest object of meditation. According to East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism, there is an intermediate state (Tibetan "Bardo") between one life and the next. The orthodox Theravada position rejects this; however there are passages in the Samyutta Nikaya of the Pali Canon (the collection of texts on which the Theravada tradition is based), that seem to lend support to the idea that the Buddha taught of an intermediate stage between one life and the next.

Sa s ra Sentient beings crave pleasure and are averse to pain from birth to death. In being controlled by these attitudes, they perpetuate the cycle of conditioned existence and suffering (sa s ra), and produce the causes and conditions of the next rebirth after death. Each rebirth repeats this process in an involuntary cycle, which Buddhists strive to end by eradicating these causes and conditions, applying the methods laid out by the Buddha and subsequent Buddhists.

Suffering's causes and solution

The Four Noble Truths

According to the Pali Tipitaka and the Agamas of other early Buddhist schools, the Four Noble Truths were the first teaching of Gautama Buddha after attaining Nirvana. They are sometimes
Polish Buddhists

considered to contain the essence of the Buddha's teachings : 1. Life as we know it ultimately is or leads to suffering/uneasiness (dukkha) in one way or another. 2. Suffering is caused by craving. This is often expressed as a deluded clinging to a certain sense of existence, to selfhood, or to the things or phenomena that we consider the cause of happiness or unhappiness.

3. Suffering ends when craving ends. This is achieved by eliminating delusion, thereby reaching a liberated state of Enlightenment. 4. Reaching this liberated state is achieved by following the path laid out by the Buddha.

This method is described by early Western scholars, and taught as an introduction to Buddhism by some contemporary Mahayana teachers. According to other interpretations by Buddhist teachers and scholars, lately recognized by some Western non-Buddhist scholars, the "truths" do not represent mere statements, but are categories or aspects that most worldly phenomena fall into, grouped in two : 1. Suffering and causes of suffering 2. Cessation and the paths towards liberation from suffering.

Thus, according to the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism they are : 1. "The noble truth that is suffering" 2. "The noble truth that is the arising of suffering" 3. "The noble truth that is the end of suffering" 4. "The noble truth that is the way leading to the end of suffering"

The traditional Theravada understanding is that the Four Noble Truths are an advanced teaching for those who are ready for them. The East Asian Mahayana position is that they are a preliminary teaching for people not yet ready for the higher and more expansive Mahayana teachings.

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Paththe fourth of the Buddha's Noble Truthsis the way to the cessation of suffering (dukkha). It has eight sections, each starting with the word "samyak" (Sanskrit, meaning "correctly", "properly", or "well", frequently translated into English as "right"), and presented in three groups known as the three higher trainings. (NB: P li transliterations appear in brackets after Sanskrit ones):  Praj is the wisdom that purifies the mind, allowing it to attain spiritual insight into the true nature of all things. It includes: 1. d i (ditthi): viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be.

2. sa kalpa (sankappa): intention of renunciation, freedom and harmlessness.  la is the ethics or morality, or abstention from unwholesome deeds. It includes: 3. v c (v ca): speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way 4. karman (kammanta): acting in a non-harmful way 5.  j vana ( j va): a non-harmful livelihood

Sam dhi is the mental discipline required to develop mastery over one's own mind. This is done through the practice of various contemplative and meditative practices, and includes: 6. vy y ma (v y ma): making an effort to improve 7. sm ti (sati): awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness, being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion 8. sam dhi (sam dhi): correct meditation or concentration, explained as the first four jh nas

The practice of the Eightfold Path is understood in two ways, as requiring either simultaneous development (all eight items practiced in parallel), or as a progressive series of stages through which the practitioner moves, the culmination of one leading to the beginning of another.

The Dharmachakra represents the Noble Eightfold Path.

Nature of existence

Buddhist scholars have produced a remarkable quantity of intellectual theories, philosophies and world view concepts (see, for example, Abhidharma, Buddhist philosophy). Some schools of Buddhism discourage doctrinal study, and some regard it as essential, but most regard it as having a place, at least for some persons at some stages in Buddhist practice. In the earliest Buddhist teachings, shared to some extent by all extant schools, the concept of liberation (Nirvana)the goal of the Buddhist pathis closely related to the correct understanding of how the mind causes stress. In awakening to the true nature of clinging, one develops dispassion for the objects of clinging, and is liberated from suffering (dukkha) and the cycle of incessant rebirths (sa s ra). To this end, the Buddha recommended viewing things as characterized by the three marks of existence.

Three Marks of Existence

The Three Marks of Existence are impermanence, suffering, and not-self.

Impermanence - expresses the Buddhist notion that all compounded or conditioned phenomena are inconstant, unsteady, and impermanent. Everything we can experience through our senses is made up of parts, and its existence is dependent on external conditions. Everything is in constant flux, and so conditions and the thing itself are constantly changing. Things are constantly coming into being, and ceasing to be. Since nothing lasts, there is no inherent or fixed nature to any object or experience. According to the doctrine of impermanence, life embodies this flux in the aging process, the cycle of rebirth (sa s ra), and in any experience of loss. The doctrine asserts that because things are impermanent, attachment to them is futile and leads to suffering (dukkha).

Suffering - is also a central concept in Buddhism. The word roughly corresponds to a number of terms in English including suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness, sorrow, affliction, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, and frustration. Although the term is often translated as "suffering", its philosophical meaning is more analogous to "disquietude" as in the condition of being disturbed. As such, "suffering" is too narrow a translation with "negative emotional connotations which can give the

impression that the Buddhist view is one of pessimism, but Buddhism seeks to be neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic. In English-language Buddhist literature translated from P li, "dukkha" is often left untranslated, so as to encompass its full range of meaning.

Not-self - is the third mark of existence. Upon careful examination, one finds that no phenomenon is really "I" or "mine"; these concepts are in fact constructed by the mind. In the Nikayas anatta is not meant as a metaphysical assertion, but as an approach for gaining release from suffering. In fact, the Buddha rejected both of the metaphysical assertions "I have a Self" and "I have no Self" as ontological views that bind one to suffering. When asked if the self was identical with the body, the Buddha refused to answer. By analyzing the constantly changing physical and mental constituents (skandhas) of a person or object, the practitioner comes to the conclusion that neither the respective parts nor the person as a whole comprise a self.


Nirvana (Sanskrit; Pali: "Nibbana") means "cessation", "extinction" (of craving and ignorance and therefore suffering and the cycle of involuntary rebirths (sa s ra), "extinguished", "quieted", "calmed"; it is also known as "Awakening" or "Enlightenment" in the West. The term for anybody who has achieved nirvana, including the Buddha, is arahant. Bodhi (P li and Sanskrit, in devanagari: ) is a term applied to the experience of Awakening of arahants. Bodhi literally means "awakening", but it is more commonly translated into English as "enlightenment". In Early Buddhism, bodhi carried a meaning synonymous to nirvana, using only some different metaphors to describe the experience, which implies the extinction of raga (greed, craving), dosa (hate, aversion) andmoha (delusion). Therefore, according to Mahayana Buddhism, the arahant has attained only nirvana, thus still being subject to delusion, while the bodhisattvanot only achieves nirvana but full liberation from delusion as well. He thus attains bodhi and becomes a buddha. In Theravada Buddhism, bodhi and nirvana carry the same meaning as in the

early texts, that of being freed from greed, hate and delusion.The term parinirvana is also encountered in Buddhism, and this generally refers to the complete nirvana attained by the arhat at the moment of death, when the physical body expires.

Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, India, where Gautama Buddha attained Nirvanaunder the Bodhi Tree.

Theravada In Theravada doctrine, a person may awaken from the "sleep of ignorance" by directly realizing the true nature of reality; such people are calledarahants and occasionally buddhas. After numerous lifetimes of spiritual striving, they have reached the end of the cycle of rebirth, no longer reincarnating as human, animal, ghost, or other being. The commentaries to the Pali Canon classify these awakened beings into three types:

Sammasambuddha, usually just called Buddha, who discovers the truth by himself and teaches the path to awakening to others. Paccekabuddha, who discovers the truth by himself but lacks the skill to teach others. Savakabuddha, who receive the truth directly or indirectly from a Sammasambuddha.


Bodhi and nirvana carry the same meaning, that of being freed from craving, hate, and delusion. In attaining bodhi, the arahant has overcome these obstacles. As a further distinction, the extinction of only hatred and greed (in the sensory context) with some residue of delusion, is called anagami.

Mahayana In the Mahayana, the Buddha tends not to be viewed as merely human, but as the earthly projection of a beginningless and endless, omnipresent being beyond the range and reach of thought. Moreover, in certain Mahayana sutras, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are viewed essentially as One: all three are seen as the eternal Buddha himself. Celestial Buddhas are individuals who no longer exist on the material plane of existence, but who still aid in the enlightenment of all beings.
The Great Statue of Buddha Amitabha in Kamakura, Japan.

Nirvana came to refer only to the extinction of greed and hate, implying that delusion was still present in one who attained Nirvana. Bodhi became a higher attainment that eradicates delusion entirely. Thus, the Arahant attains Nirvana but not Bodhi, thus still being subject to delusion, while the Buddha attains Bodhi. The method of self-exertion or "self-power"without reliance on an external force or being stands in contrast to another major form of Buddhism, Pure Land, which is characterized by utmost trust in the salvific "other-power" of Amitabha Buddha. Pure Land Buddhism is a very widespread and perhaps the most faith-orientated manifestation of Buddhism and centres upon the conviction that faith in Amitabha Buddha and the chanting of homage to his name will liberate one at death into the "happy land" ( ) or "pure land" ( ) of Amitabha Buddha. This Buddhic realm is variously construed as a foretaste of Nirvana, or as essentially Nirvana itself. The great vow of Amitabha Buddha to rescue all beings from samsaric suffering is viewed within Pure Land Buddhism as universally efficacious, if only one has faith in the power of that vow or chants his name.

Devotion is an important part of the practice of most Buddhists. Devotional practices include bowing, offerings, pilgrimage, and chanting. In Pure Land Buddhism, devotion to the Buddha Amitabha is the main practice. In Nichiren Buddhism, devotion to the Lotus Sutra is the main practice.

Yoga Buddhism traditionally incorporates states of meditative absorption. The most ancient sustained expression of yogic ideas is found in the early sermons of the Buddha. One key innovative teaching of the Buddha was that meditative absorption must be combined with liberating cognition.
Amit bha Buddha meditating, sitting in the lotus position. Borobodur, Java, Indonesia.

The difference between the Buddha's teaching and the yoga presented in early Brahminic texts is striking. Meditative states alone are not an end, for according to the Buddha, even the highest meditative state is not liberating. Instead of attaining a complete cessation of thought, some sort of mental activity must take place: a liberating cognition, based on the practice of mindful awareness. Meditation was an aspect of the practice of the yogis in the centuries preceding the Buddha. The Buddha built upon the yogis' concern with introspection and developed their meditative techniques, but rejected their theories of liberation. In Buddhism, mindfulness and clear awareness are to be developed at all times, in pre-Buddhist yogic practices there is no such injunction. A yogi in the Brahmanical tradition is not to practice while defecating, for example, while a Buddhist monastic should do so. Another new teaching of the Buddha was that meditative absorption must be combined with a liberating cognition. Religious knowledge or "vision" was indicated as a result of practice both within and outside of the Buddhist fold. According to the Samaaphala Sutta this sort of vision arose for the Buddhist adept as a result of the perfection of "meditation" coupled with the perfection of "discipline".

Some of the Buddha's meditative techniques were shared with other traditions of his day, but the idea that ethics are causally related to the attainment of "transcendent wisdom" was original. The Buddhist texts are probably the earliest describing meditation techniques. They describe meditative practices and states which had existed before the Buddha as well as those which were first developed within Buddhism. Two Upanishads written after the rise of Buddhism do contain full-fledged descriptions of yogaas a means to liberation. While there is no convincing evidence for meditation in pre-Buddhist early Brahminic texts, Wynne argues that formless meditation originated in the Brahminic or Shramanic tradition, based on strong parallels between Upanishadic cosmological statements and the meditative goals of the two teachers of the Buddha as recorded in the early Buddhist texts. He mentions less likely possibilities as well. Having argued that the cosmological statements in the Upanishads also reflect a contemplative tradition, he argues that the Nasadiya Sukta contains evidence for a contemplative tradition, even as early as the late Rig Vedic period.

Refuge in the Three Jewels

Footprint of the Buddha with Dharmachakra and triratna, 1st century CE,Gandh ra.

Traditionally, the first step in most Buddhist schools requires taking refuge in the Three Jewels as the foundation of one's religious practice. The practice of taking refuge on behalf of young or even unborn children is mentioned in the Majjhima Nikaya, recognized by most scholars as an early text. Tibetan Buddhism sometimes adds a fourth refuge, in the lama. In Mahayana, the person who chooses the bodhisattva path makes a vow or pledge, considered the ultimate expression of compassion. In Mahayana, too, the Three Jewels are perceived as possessed of an eternal and unchanging essence and as having an irreversible effect: "The Three Jewels have the quality of excellence. Just as real jewels never change their faculty and goodness, whether praised or reviled, so are the Three Jewels (Refuges), because they have an eternal and immutable essence. These Three Jewels bring a fruition that is changeless, for once one has reached Buddhahood, there is no possibility of falling back to suffering."

The Three Jewels are:

The Buddha. This is a title for those who have attained Nirvana. See also the Tath gata and Gautama Buddha. The Buddha could also be represented as a concept instead of a specific person: the perfect wisdom that understands Dharma and sees reality in its true form. In Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha can be viewed as the supreme Refuge: "Buddha is the Unique Absolute Refuge. Buddha is the Imperishable, Eternal, Indestructible and Absolute Refuge."

The Dharma. The teachings or law of nature as expounded by the Gautama Buddha. It can also, especially in Mahayana, connote the ultimate and sustaining Reality which is inseparable from the Buddha. Further, from some Mahayana perspectives, the Dharma embodied in the form of a great sutra (Buddhic scripture) can replace the need for a personal teacher and can be a direct and spontaneous gateway into Truth (Dharma). This is especially said to be the case with the Lotus Sutra. Dr. Hiroshi Kanno writes of this view of the Lotus Sutra: "it is a Dharma-gate of sudden enlightenment proper to the Great Vehicle; it is a Dharma-gate whereby one awakens spontaneously, without resorting to a teacher".

The Sangha. Those who have attained to any of the Four stages of enlightenment, or simply the congregation of monastic practitioners.

According to the scriptures, Gautama Buddha presented himself as a model. The Dharma offers a refuge by providing guidelines for the alleviation of suffering and the attainment of Nirvana. The Sangha is considered to provide a refuge by preserving the authentic teachings of the Buddha and providing further examples that the truth of the Buddha's teachings is attainable.

Buddhist ethics
la (Sanskrit) or s la (P li) is usually translated into English as "virtuous behavior", "morality", "ethics" or "precept". It is an action committed through the body, speech, or mind, and involves an intentional effort. It is one of the three practices (sila, samadhi, and panya) and the second p ramit . It refers to moral purity of thought, word, and deed. The four conditions of la are chastity, calmness, quiet, and extinguishment.

la is the foundation of Samadhi/Bh vana (Meditative cultivation) or mind cultivation. Keeping the precepts promotes not only the peace of mind of the cultivator, which is internal, but also peace in the community, which is external. According to the Law of Karma, keeping the precepts are meritorious and it acts as causes which would bring about peaceful and happy effects. Keeping these precepts keeps the cultivator from rebirth in the four woeful realms of existence. la refers to overall principles of ethical behavior. There are several levels of sila, which correspond to "basic morality" (five precepts), "basic morality with asceticism" (eight precepts), "novice monkhood" (ten precepts) and "monkhood" (Vinaya or Patimokkha). Lay people generally undertake to live by the five precepts, which are common to all Buddhist schools. If they wish, they can choose to undertake the eight precepts, which add basic asceticism.

The five precepts are training rules in order to live a better life in which one is happy, without worries, and can meditate well: 1. To refrain from taking life (non-violence towards sentient life forms) 2. To refrain from taking that which is not given (not committing theft) 3. To refrain from sensual (including sexual) misconduct 4. To refrain from lying (speaking truth always) 5. To refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness (specifically, drugs and alcohol) The precepts are not formulated as imperatives, but as training rules that laypeople undertake voluntarily to facilitate practice. In Buddhist thought, the cultivation of dana and ethical conduct will themselves refine consciousness to such a level that rebirth in one of the lower heavens is likely, even if there is no further Buddhist practice. There is nothing improper or un-Buddhist about limiting one's aims to this level of attainment.

In the eight precepts, the third precept on sexual misconduct is made more strict, and becomes a precept of celibacy. The three additional precepts are: 6. To refrain from eating at the wrong time (only eat from sunrise to noon) 7. To refrain from dancing and playing music, wearing jewelry and cosmetics, attending shows and other performances 8. To refrain from using high or luxurious seats and bedding

The complete list of ten precepts may be observed by laypeople for short periods. For the complete list, the seventh precept is partitioned into two, and a tenth added: 6. To refrain from taking food at an unseasonable time, that is after the mid-day meal 7. To refrain from dancing, music, singing and unseemly shows 8. To refrain from the use of garlands, perfumes, ointments, and from things that tend to beautify and adorn (the person) 9. To refrain from (using) high and luxurious seats 10. To refrain from accepting gold and silver

Monastic life

Buddhist monks performing a Ceremony in Hangzhou, China.

Vinaya is the specific moral code for monks and nuns. It includes the Patimokkha, a set of 227 rules for monks in the Theravadin recension. The precise content of the vinayapitaka (scriptures on Vinaya) differ slightly according to different schools, and different schools or subschools set different standards for the degree of adherence to Vinaya. Novice-monks use the ten precepts, which are the basic precepts for monastics. Regarding the monastic rules, the Buddha constantly reminds his hearers that it is the spirit that counts. On the other hand, the rules themselves are designed to assure a satisfying life, and provide a perfect springboard for the higher attainments. Monastics are instructed by the Buddha to live as "islands unto themselves". In this sense, living life as the vinaya prescribes it is, as one scholar puts it: "more than merely a means to an end: it is very nearly the end in itself." In Eastern Buddhism, there is also a distinctive Vinaya and ethics contained within the Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra (not to be confused with the Pali text of that name) for Bodhisattvas, where, for example, the eating of meat is frowned upon and vegetarianism is actively encouraged. In Japan, this has almost completely displaced the monastic vinaya, and allows clergy to marry.


Buddhist monks praying in Thailand

Buddhist meditation is fundamentally concerned with two themes: transforming the mind and using it to explore itself and other phenomena. According to Theravada Buddhism the Buddha taught two types of meditation, samatha meditation (Sanskrit: amatha) and vipassan meditation (Sanskrit: vipa yan ). In Chinese Buddhism, these exist (translated chih kuan), but Chan (Zen) meditation is more popular. According to Peter Harvey, whenever Buddhism has been healthy, not only monks, nuns, and married lamas, but also more committed lay people have practiced meditation. According to Routledge's Encyclopedia of Buddhism, in contrast, throughout most of Buddhist history before modern times, serious meditation by lay people has been unusual.

Sam dhi (meditative cultivation): samatha meditation

In the language of the Noble Eightfold Path, samyaksam dhi is "right concentration". The primary means of cultivating sam dhi is meditation. Upon development of sam dhi, one's mind becomes purified of defilement, calm, tranquil, and luminous. Once the meditator achieves a strong and powerful concentration, his mind is ready to penetrate and gain insight into the ultimate nature of reality, eventually obtaining release from all suffering. The cultivation of mindfulness is essential to mental concentration, which is needed to achieve insight. Samatha meditation starts from being mindful of an object or idea, which is expanded to one's body, mind and entire surroundings, leading to a state of total concentration and tranquility. There are many variations in the style of meditation, from sitting cross-legged or kneeling to chanting or walking. In Buddhist practice, it is said that while samatha meditation can calm the mind, only vipassan meditation can reveal how the mind was disturbed to start with, which is what leads to knowledge and understanding, and thus can lead to nirv a. When one is in jhana, all defilements are suppressed temporarily. Only understanding eradicates the defilements completely. Jhanas are also states which Arahants abide in order to rest.

Praj (Wisdom): vipassana meditation

Praj (Sanskrit) or pa (P li) means wisdom that is based on a realization of dependent origination, The Four Noble Truths and the three marks of existence. Praj is the wisdom that is able to extinguish afflictions and bring about bodhi. It is spoken of as the principal means of attaining nirv a, through its revelation of the true nature of all things as dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), anicca (impermanence) and anatta (not-self). Praj is also listed as the sixth of the six p ramit s of the Mahayana. Initially, praj is attained at a conceptual level by means of listening to sermons (dharma talks), reading, studying, and sometimes reciting Buddhist texts and engaging in discourse. Once the conceptual understanding is attained, it is applied to daily life so that each Buddhist can verify the truth of the Buddha's teaching at a practical level. Notably, one could in theory attain Nirvana at any point of practice, whether deep in meditation, listening to a sermon, conducting the business of one's daily life, or any other activity.

Zen Buddhism ( ), pronounced chn in Chinese, seon in Korean or zen in Japanese (derived from the Sanskrit term dhy na, meaning "meditation") is a form of Buddhism that became popular in China, Korea and Japan and that lays special emphasis on meditation.[94] Zen places less emphasis on scriptures than some other forms of Buddhism and prefers to focus on direct spiritual breakthroughs to truth. Zen Buddhism is divided into two main schools: Rinzai ( greatly favoring the use in meditation on the koan ( on shikantaza or "just sitting". Zen Buddhist teaching is often full of paradox, in order to loosen the grip of the ego and to facilitate the penetration into the realm of the True Self or Formless Self, which is equated with the Buddha himself. According to Zen master, Kosho Uchiyama, when thoughts and fixation on the little 'I' are transcended, an Awakening to a universal, non-dual Self occurs: ' When we let go of thoughts and wake up to the reality of life that is working beyond them, we discover the Self that is living universal non-dual life (before the separation into two) that pervades all living creatures and all existence.' Thinking and thought must therefore not be allowed to confine and bind one. Nevertheless, Zen does not neglect the scriptures. ) and S t ( ), the former

, a meditative riddle or puzzle) as a

device for spiritual break-through, and the latter (while certainly employing koans) focusing more

Schools and traditions~

Buddhists generally classify themselves as either Theravada or Mahayana. This classification is also used by some scholars and is the one ordinarily used in the English language. An alternative scheme used by some scholars divides Buddhism into the following three traditions or geographical or cultural areas: Theravada, East Asian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. Some scholars use other schemes. Buddhists themselves have a variety of other schemes. Hinayana (literally "lesser vehicle") is used by Mahayana followers to name the family of early philosophical schools and traditions from which contemporary Theravada emerged, but as this term is rooted in the Mahayana viewpoint and can be considered derogatory, a variety of other terms are increasingly used instead, including r vakay na, Nikaya Buddhism, early Buddhist schools, sectarian Buddhism, conservative Buddhism, mainstream Buddhism and nonMahayana Buddhism. Not all traditions of Buddhism share the same philosophical outlook, or treat the same concepts as central. Each tradition, however, does have its own core concepts, and some comparisons can be drawn between them. For example, according to one Buddhist ecumenical organization, several concepts common to both major Buddhist branches:

Both accept the Buddha as their teacher. Both accept the Middle way, Dependent origination, the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path and the Three marks of existence. Both accept that members of the laity and of the sangha can pursue the path toward enlightenment (bodhi). Both consider Buddhahood to be the highest attainment.

Theravada school
Therav da ( Doctrine of the Elders or Ancient Doctrine) is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. It is relatively conservative, and generally closest to early Buddhism. This school is derived from the Vibhajjav da grouping which emerged amongst the older Sthavira group at the time of the Third Buddhist Council (c. 250 BCE). This school gradually declined on the Indian subcontinent, but its branch in Sri Lanka and South East Asia continues to survive. The Theravada school bases its practice and doctrine exclusively on the P li Canon and its commentaries. After being orally transmitted for a few centuries, its scriptures, the Pali Canon,

were finally committed to writing in the 1st century BCE, in Sri Lanka, at what the Theravada usually reckon as the fourth council. It is also one of the first Buddhist schools to commit the complete set of its canon into writing. The Sutta collections and Vinaya texts of the P li Canon (and the corresponding texts in other versions of the Tripitaka), are generally considered by modern scholars to be the earliest Buddhist literature, and they are accepted as authentic in every branch of Buddhism. Therav da is primarily practiced today in Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia as well as small portions of China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Bangladesh. It has a growing presence in Europe and America.

Mahayana traditions

Blue-eyed Central Asian and Chinese Buddhist monks. Bezeklik, Eastern Tarim Basin, China, 9th10th century.

Mahayana Buddhism flourished in India from the 5th century CE onwards, during the dynasty of the Guptas. Mah y na centres of learning were established, the most important one being the N land University in north-eastern India. Mahayana schools recognize all or part of the Mahayana Sutras. Some of these sutras became for Mahayanists a manifestation of the Buddha himself, and faith in and veneration of those texts are stated in some sutras to lay the foundations for the later attainment of Buddhahood itself. Native Mahayana Buddhism is practiced today in China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, parts of Russia and most of Vietnam. The Buddhism practiced in Tibet, the Himalayan regions, and Mongolia is also Mahayana in origin. There are a variety of strands in Eastern Buddhism, of which "the Pure Land school of Mahayana is the most widely practiced today." In most of this area however, they are fused into a single unified form of Buddhism. In Japan in particular, they form separate denominations with the five major ones being: Nichiren, peculiar to Japan; Pure Land; Shingon, a form of Vajrayana; Tendai; and Chan/Zen. In Korea, nearly all Buddhists belong to the Chogye School, which is officially Son (Zen), but with substantial elements from other traditions.

Vajrayana traditions

Bodhnath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

The Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism spread to China, Mongolia, and Tibet. In Tibet, Vajrayana has always been a main component of Tibetan Buddhism, while in China it formed a separate sect. However, Vajrayana Buddhism became extinct in China but survived in elements of Japan's Shingon and Tendai sects. There are differing views as to just when Vajray na and its tantric practice started. In the Tibetan tradition, it is claimed that the historical kyamuni Buddha taught tantra, but as these are esoteric teachings, they were passed on orally first and only written down long after the Buddha's other teachings. N land University became a center for the development of Vajray na theory and continued as the source of leading-edge Vajray na practices up through the 11th century. These practices, scriptures and theories were transmitted to China, Tibet, Indochina and Southeast Asia. China generally received Indian transmission up to the 11th century including tantric practice, while a vast amount of what is considered to be Tibetan Buddhism (Vajray na) stems from the late (9th12th century) N land tradition. In one of the first major contemporary academic treatises on the subject, Fairfield University professor Ronald M. Davidson argues that the rise of Vajrayana was in part a reaction to the changing political climate in India at the time. With the fall of the Gupta dynasty, in an increasingly fractious political environment, institutional Buddhism had difficulty attracting patronage, and the folk movement led by siddhas became more prominent. After perhaps two hundred years, it had begun to get integrated into the monastic establishment. Vajrayana combined and developed a variety of elements, a number of which had already existed for centuries. In addition to the Mah y na scriptures, Vajray na Buddhists recognise a large body of Buddhist Tantras, some of which are also included in Chinese and Japanese collections of Buddhist literature, and versions of a few even in the Pali Canon.

Christianity (from the Ancient Greek word

, Khristos, "Christ", literally "anointed one")

is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings. Adherents of the Christian faith are known asChristians, and also the Jewish sect of the Nazarenes. Christianity teaches that Jesus is the Son of God, God having become human and the saviour of humanity. Because of this, Christians commonly refer to Jesus as Christ or Messiah. The three largest groups in the world of Christianity are the Roman Catholic Church, theEastern Orthodox churches, and the various churches of Protestantism. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox patriarchates split from one another in the EastWest Schism of 1054 AD, and Protestantism came into existence during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, splitting from the Roman Catholic Church. Christianity began as a Jewish sect in the mid-1st century. Originating in the eastern Mediterranean coast of the Middle East (modernIsrael and Palestine), it quickly spread to Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and Egypt, it grew in size and influence over a few decades, and by the 4th century had become the dominant religion within the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, most of the remainder of Europe wasChristianized, with Christians also being a sometimes large religious minority in the Middle East, North Africa, Ethiopia and parts of India. Following the Age of Discovery, through missionary work and colonization, Christianity spread to the Americas, Australasia, sub Saharan Africa and the rest of the world. In order to follow Jesus' command to serve others, Christians established hospitals, churches, schools, charities, orphanages, homeless shelters, and universities in the areas in which they spread Christianity. Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, referred to as the "Old Testament" in Christianity. The foundation of Christian theology is expressed in the early Christian ecumenical creeds which contain claims predominantly accepted by followers of the Christian faith. These professions state that Jesus suffered, died, was buried, and was resurrected from the dead to open heaven to those who believe in him and trust him for the remission of their sins (salvation). They further maintain that Jesus bodily ascended into

heaven where he rules and reigns with God the Father. Most denominations teach that Jesus will return to judge all humans, living and dead, and granteternal life to his followers. He is considered the model of a virtuous life, and both the revealer and physical incarnation of God. Christians call the message of Jesus Christ the Gospel ("good news") and hence refer to the earliest written accounts of his ministry as gospels. As of the early 21st century, Christianity has approximately 2.2 billion adherents. Christianity represents about a quarter to a third of the world's population and is the world's largest religion. Christianity is the state religion of several countries.

Though there are many important differences of interpretation and opinion of the Bible on which Christianity is based, Christians share a set of beliefs that they hold as essential to their faith.

Creeds (from Latin credo meaning "I believe") are concise doctrinal statements or confessions, usually of religious beliefs. They began as baptismal formulae and were later expanded during

The Sermon On the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch, Danish painter, 1890.

the Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries to become statements of faith. Many evangelical Protestants reject creeds as definitive statements of faith, even while agreeing with some or all of the substance of the creed. The Baptists have been non-creedal in that they have not sought to establish binding authoritative confessions of faith on one another. Also rejecting creeds are groups with roots in the Restoration Movement, such as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Evangelical Christian Church in Canada and the Churches of Christ. The Apostles' Creed remains the most popular statement of the articles of Christian faith that are generally acceptable to most Christian denominations that are creedal. It is widely used by a number of Christian denominations for both liturgical and catechetical purposes, most visibly by liturgical Churches of Western tradition, including the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, and Western Orthodoxy. It is also used by Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists. This particular creed was developed between the 2nd and 9th centuries. Its central doctrines are those of the Trinity and God the Creator. Each of the doctrines found in this creed can be traced to statements current in

the apostolic period. The creed was apparently used as a summary of Christian doctrine for baptismal candidates in the churches of Rome. Its main points:

belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Holy Spirit the death, descent into hell, resurrection, and ascension of Christ the holiness of the Church and the communion of saints Christ's second coming, the Day of Judgment and salvation of the faithful.

The Nicene Creed, largely a response to Arianism, was formulated at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in 325 and 381 respectively and ratified as the universal creed of Christendom by the First Council of Ephesus in 431. The Chalcedonian Creed, developed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, though rejected by the Oriental Orthodox Churches, taught Christ "to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably": one divine and one human, and that both natures are perfect but are nevertheless perfectly united into one person. The Athanasian Creed, received in the western Church as having the same status as the Nicene and Chalcedonian, says: "We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance." Most Christians (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Rite and Protestants alike) accept the use of creeds, and subscribe to at least one of the creeds mentioned above.

Jesus Christ
The central tenet of Christianity is the belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah (Christ). The title "Messiah" comes from the Hebrew word translation "Christ". Christians believe that Jesus, as the Messiah, was anointed by God as saviour of humanity, and hold that Jesus' coming was the fulfillment of messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The Christian concept of the Messiah differs significantly from the contemporary Jewish concept. The core Christian belief is that
A depiction of Jesus as a child with his mother, Mary, the Theotokos of Vladimir. 12th century, Russia.

(m i ) meaning anointed one. The Greek (Christos) is the source of the English word

through belief in and acceptance of the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God and thereby are offered salvation and the promise of eternal life. While there have been many theological disputes over the nature of Jesus over the earliest centuries of Christian history, Christians generally believe that Jesus is God incarnate and "true God and true man" (or both fully divine and fully human). Jesus, having become fully human, suffered the pains and temptations of a mortal man, but did not sin. As fully God, he rose to life again. According to the Bible, "God raised him from the dead," he ascended to heaven, is "seated at the right hand of the Father" and will ultimately return to fulfill the rest of Messianic prophecy such as the Resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment and final establishment of the Kingdom of God. According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin Mary. Little of Jesus' childhood is recorded in the canonical Gospels, however infancy Gospels were popular in antiquity. In comparison, his adulthood, especially the week before his death, is well documented in the Gospels contained within the New Testament. The Biblical accounts of Jesus' ministry include: his baptism, miracles, preaching, teaching, and deeds.

Death and resurrection of Jesus

Christians consider the resurrection of Jesus to be the cornerstone of their faith and the most important event in human history. Among Christian beliefs, the death and resurrection of Jesus are two core events on which much of Christian doctrine and theology is based. According to the New Testament Jesus was crucified, died a physical death, was buried within a tomb, and rose from the dead three days later. The New Testament mentions several resurrection appearances of Jesus on different occasions to his twelve apostles and disciples, including "more than five hundred brethren at once," before Jesus Ascension to heaven. Jesus' death and resurrection are commemorated by Christians in all worship services, with special emphasis during Holy Week which includes Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The death and resurrection of Jesus are usually considered the most important events in Christian Theology, partly because they demonstrate that Jesus has power over life and death and therefore has the authority and power to give people eternal life.

Christian churches accept and teach the New Testament account of the resurrection of Jesus with very few exceptions. Some modern scholars use the belief of Jesus' followers in the resurrection as a point of departure for establishing the continuity of the historical Jesus and the proclamation of the early church. Some liberal Christians do not accept a literal bodily resurrection, seeing the story as richly symbolic and spiritually nourishing myth. Arguments over death and resurrection claims occur at many religious debates and interfaith dialogues. Paul the Apostle, an early Christian convert and missionary, wrote, "If Christ was not raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your trust in God is useless."

Paul of Tarsus, like Jews and Roman pagans of his time, believed that sacrifice can bring about new kinship ties, purity, and eternal life. For Paul the necessary sacrifice was the death of Jesus: Gentiles who are "Christ's" are, like Israel, descendants of Abraham and "heirs according to the promise". The God who raised Jesus from the dead would also give new life to the "mortal bodies" of Gentile Christians, who had become with Israel the "children of God" and were therefore no longer "in the flesh". Modern Christian churches tend to be much more concerned with how humanity can be saved from a universal condition of sin and death than the question of how both Jews and Gentiles can be in God's family. According to both Catholic and Protestant doctrine, salvation comes by Jesus' substitutionary death and resurrection. The Catholic Church teaches that salvation does not occur without faithfulness on the part of Christians; converts must live in accordance with principles of love and ordinarily must be baptized. Martin Luther taught that baptism was necessary for salvation, but modern Lutherans and other Protestants tend to teach that salvation is a gift that comes to an individual by God's grace, sometimes defined as "unmerited favor", even apart from baptism. Christians differ in their views on the extent to which individuals' salvation is pre-ordained by God. Reformed theology places distinctive emphasis on grace by teaching that individuals are completely incapable of self-redemption, but that sanctifying grace is irresistible. In contrast Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Arminian Protestants believe that the exercise of free will is necessary to have faith in Jesus.


Three angels hosted by Abraham by Ludovico Carracci: The three angels represent the three persons of God.

Trinity refers to the teaching that the one God comprises three distinct, eternally co-existing persons; the Father, the Son (incarnate in Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Together, these three persons are sometimes called the Godhead, although there is no single term in use in Scripture to denote the unified Godhead. In the words of the Athanasian Creed, an early statement of Christian belief, "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God". They are distinct from another: the Father has no source, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father. Though distinct, the three persons cannot be divided from one another in being or in operation. The Trinity is an essential doctrine of mainstream Christianity. "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" represents both the immanence and transcendence of God. God is believed to be infinite and God's presence may be perceived through the actions of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. According to this doctrine, God is not divided in the sense that each person has a third of the whole; rather, each person is considered to be fully God (see Perichoresis). The distinction lies in their relations, the Father being unbegotten; the Son being begotten of the Father; and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and (in Western theology) from the Son. Regardless of this apparent difference, the three 'persons' are each eternal and omnipotent. The word trias, from which trinity is derived, is first seen in the works of Theophilus of Antioch. He wrote of "the Trinity of God (the Father), His Word (the Son) and His Wisdom (Holy Spirit)". The term may have been in use before this time. Afterwards it appears in Tertullian. In the following century the word was in general use. It is found in many passages of Origen.

Trinitarianism denotes those Christians who believe in the concept of the Trinity. Almost all Christian denominations and Churches hold Trinitarian beliefs. Although the words "Trinity" and "Triune" do not appear in the Bible, theologians beginning in the 3rd century developed the term and concept to facilitate comprehension of the New Testament teachings of God as Father, God as Jesus the Son, and God as the Holy Spirit. Since that time, Christian theologians have been careful to emphasize that Trinity does not imply three gods, nor that each member of the Trinity is one-third of an infinite God; Trinity is defined as one God in three Persons.

Nontrinitarianism refers to beliefs systems that reject the doctrine of the Trinity. They are a small minority of Christians. Various nontrinitarian views, such as adoptionism or modalism, existed in early Christianity, leading to the disputes about Christology. Nontrinitarianism later appeared again in the Gnosticism of the Cathars in the 11th through 13th centuries, in the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century, and in some groups arising during the Second Great Awakening of the 19th century.

Christianity, like other religions, have adherents whose beliefs and biblical interpretations vary. However, this article's purpose is to describe those distinctive that set Christianity apart as a unique belief group. Christianity regards the Bible, a collection of canonical books in two parts (the Old Testament and the New Testament), as the authoritative word of God. Christians believe the Bible was written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. These variations are a reflection of the range of traditions and councils that have convened on the subject. Every version of the complete Bible always includes books of the Jewish scriptures, the Tanakh, and includes additional books and reorganizes them into two parts: the books of the Old Testament primarily sourced from the Tanakh (with some variations), and the 27 books of the New Testament containing books originally written primarily in Greek. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox canons include other books from the Septuagint which Roman Catholics call Deuterocanonical. Protestants consider these books to be apocryphal. Some versions of the Christian Bible have a separate Apocrypha section for the books not considered canonical by some Churches or by the groups publishing them.

Catholic and Orthodox interpretations

The inside of an Eastern Orthodox church

In antiquity, two schools of exegesis developed in Alexandria and Antioch. Alexandrine interpretation, exemplified by Origen, tended to read Scripture allegorically, while Antiochene interpretation adhered to the literal sense, holding that other meanings (called theoria) could only be accepted if based on the literal meaning. Catholic theology distinguishes two senses of scripture: the literal and the spiritual. The literal sense of understanding scripture is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture. The spiritual sense is further subdivided into:

the allegorical sense, which includes typology. An example would be the parting of the Red Sea being understood as a "type" (sign) of baptism. the moral sense, which understands the scripture to contain some ethical teaching. the anagogical sense, which applies to eschatology, eternity and the consummation of the world


Regarding exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation, Catholic theology holds:

the injunction that all other senses of sacred scripture are based on the literal that the historicity of the Gospels must be absolutely and constantly held that scripture must be read within the "living Tradition of the whole Church" and that "the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome".

Protestant interpretation
Clarity of Scripture Protestant Christians believe that the Bible is a self-sufficient revelation, the final authority on all Christian doctrine, and truth necessary for salvation. This concept is known as sola scriptura. Protestants characteristically believe that ordinary believers may reach an adequate understanding of Scripture because Scripture itself is clear (or "perspicuous"), because of the help of the Holy Spirit, or both. Martin Luther believed that without God's help Scripture would be "enveloped in darkness." He advocated "one definite and simple understanding of Scripture." John Calvin wrote, "All who...follow the Holy Spirit as their guide, find in the Scripture a clear light." The Second Helvetic (Latin for "Swiss") Confession, composed by the pastor of the Reformed church in Zurich (successor to Protestant reformer Zwingli) was adopted as a declaration of doctrine by most European Reformed churches.

Original intended meaning of Scripture Protestants stress the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture, the historical-grammatical method. The historical-grammatical method or grammatico-historical method is an effort in Biblical hermeneutics to find the intended original meaning in the text. This original intended meaning of the text is drawn out through examination of the passage in light of the grammatical and syntactical aspects, the historical background, the literary genre as well as theological (canonical) considerations. The historical-grammatical method distinguishes between the one original meaning and the significance of the text. The significance of the text includes the ensuing use of the text or application. The original passage is seen as having only a single meaning or sense. As Milton S. Terry said: "A fundamental principle in grammatico-historical exposition is that the words and sentences can have but one significance in one and the same connection. The moment we neglect this principle we drift out upon a sea of uncertainty and conjecture." Technically speaking, the grammatical-historical method of interpretation is distinct from the determination of the passage's significance in light of that interpretation. Taken together, both define the term (Biblical) hermeneutics.


The Holy Eucharist

In Christian belief and practice, a sacrament is a rite, instituted by Christ, that mediates grace, constituting a sacred mystery. The term is derived from the Latin word sacramentum, which was used to translate the Greek word for mystery. Views concerning both what rites are sacramental, and what it means for an act to be a sacrament vary among Christian denominations and traditions. The most conventional functional definition of a sacrament is that it is an outward sign, instituted by Christ, that conveys an inward, spiritual grace through Christ. The two most widely accepted sacraments are Baptism and the Eucharist, however, the majority of Christians recognize seven Sacraments or Divine Mysteries: Baptism, Confirmation (Chrismation in the Orthodox tradition), and the Eucharist, Holy Orders, Reconciliation of a Penitent (confession), Anointing of the Sick, and Matrimony. Taken together, these are the Seven Sacraments as recognized by churches in the High church traditionnotably Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Orthodox, Independent, Old Catholic most Anglicans, and some Lutherans. Most other denominations and traditions typically affirm only Baptism and Eucharist as sacraments, while some Protestant groups, such as the Quakers, reject sacramental theology. Most Protestant Christian denominations who believe these rites do not communicate grace prefer to call them ordinances.

Liturgical calendar
Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Eastern Christians, and traditional Protestant communities frame worship around a liturgical calendar. This includes holy days, such as solemnities which commemorate an event in the life of Jesus or the saints, periods of fasting such as Lent, and other pious events such as memoria or lesser festivals commemorating saints. Christian groups that do not follow a liturgical tradition often retain certain celebrations, such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. A few churches make no use of a liturgical calendar.


The cross, which is today one of the most widely recognized symbols in the world, was used as a Christian symbol from the earliest times. Tertullian, in his book De Corona, tells how it was already a tradition for Christians to trace repeatedly on their foreheads the sign of the cross. Although the cross was known to the early Christians, the crucifix did not appear in use until the 5th century. Among the symbols employed by the primitive Christians, that of the fish seems to have ranked first in importance. From monumental sources such as tombs it is known that the symbolic fish was familiar to Christians from the earliest times. The fish was depicted as a Christian symbol in the first decades of the 2nd century. Its popularity among Christians was due principally, it would seem, to the famous acrostic consisting of the initial letters of five Greek words forming the word for fish (Ichthys), which words briefly but clearly described the character of Christ and the claim to worship of believers: Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter, meaning, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. Christians from the very beginning adorned their tombs with paintings of Christ, of the saints, of scenes from the Bible and allegorical groups. The catacombs are the cradle of all Christian art. The first Christians had no prejudice against images, pictures, or statues. The idea that they must have feared the danger of idolatry among their new converts is disproved in the simplest way by the pictures, even statues, that remain from the 1st centuries. Other major Christian symbols include the chi-rho monogram, the dove (symbolic of the Holy Spirit), the sacrificial lamb (symbolic of Christ's sacrifice), the vine (symbolising the necessary connectedness of the Christian with Christ) and many others. These all derive from writings found in the New Testament.

Jesus' teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount displays a distinct lack of interest in the external aspects of prayer. A concern with the techniques of prayer is condemned as 'pagan', and instead a simple trust in God's fatherly goodness is encouraged. Elsewhere in the New Testament this same freedom of access to God is also emphasized. This confident position should be understood in light of Christian belief in the unique relationship between the believer and Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In subsequent Christian traditions, certain physical gestures are emphasized, including medieval gestures such as genuflection or making the sign of the cross. Kneeling, bowing and prostrations (see also poklon) are often practiced in more traditional branches of Christianity. Frequently in Western Christianity the hands are placed palms together and forward as in the feudal commendation ceremony. At other times the older orans posture may be used, with palms up and elbows in. Intercessory prayer is prayer offered for the benefit of other people. There are many intercessory prayers recorded in the Bible, included prayers of the Apostle Peter on behalf of sick persons and by prophets of the Old Testament in favor of other people. In the New Testament book of James no distinction is made between the intercessory prayer offered by ordinary believers and the prominent Old Testament prophet Elijah. The effectiveness of prayer in Christianity derives from the power of God rather than the status of the one praying. The ancient church, in both Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity, developed a tradition of asking for the intercession of (deceased) saints, and this remains the practice of most Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and some Anglican churches. Churches of the Protestant Reformation however rejected prayer to the saints, largely on the basis of the sole mediatorship of Christ. The reformer Huldrych Zwingli admitted that he had offered prayers to the saints until his reading of the Bible convinced him that this was idolatrous. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God." The Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican tradition is a guide which provides a set order for church services, containing set prayers, scripture readings, and hymns or sung Psalms.

History and origins~

Early Church and Christological Councils
Chapel of Saint Ananias, Damascus, Syri a, and an early example of a Christian house of worship; built in the 1st century AD

11th century Icon of Jesus from Greece.

Kadisha Valley, Lebanon, home to some of earliest Christian monasteries in the world.

Christianity began as a Jewish sect in the eastern Mediterranean in the mid-1st century. Its earliest development took place under the leadership of the Twelve Apostles, particularly Saint Peter and Paul the Apostle, followed by the early bishops, whom Christians considered the successors of the Apostles.

According to the scriptures, Christians were from the beginning subject to persecution by some Jewish religious authorities, who disagreed with the apostles' teachings (See Split of early Christianity and Judaism). This involved punishments, including death, for Christians such as Stephen and James, son of Zebedee. Larger-scale persecutions followed at the hands of the authorities of the Roman Empire, first in the year 64, when Emperor Nero blamed them for the Great Fire of Rome. According to Church tradition, it was under Nero's persecution that early Church leaders Peter and Paul of Tarsus were each martyred in Rome. Further widespread persecutions of the Church occurred under nine subsequent Roman emperors, most intensely under Decius and Diocletian. From the year 150, Christian teachers began to produce theological and apologetic works aimed at defending the faith. These authors are known as the Church Fathers, and study of them is called Patristics. Notable early Fathers include Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. State persecution ceased in the 4th century, when Constantine I issued an edict of toleration in 313. On 27 February 380, Emperor Theodosius I enacted a law establishing Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. From at least the 4th century, Christianity has played a prominent role in the shaping of Western civilization. Constantine was also instrumental in the convocation of the First Council of Nicaea in 325, which sought to address the Arian heresy and formulated the Nicene Creed, which is still used by the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglican Communion, and many Protestant churches. Nicaea was the first of a series of Ecumenical (worldwide) Councils which formally defined critical elements of the theology of the Church, notably concerning Christology. The Assyrian Church of the East did not accept the third and following Ecumenical Councils, and are still separate today. In 395, the most Christianized regions of the world were Crete, Cyprus, Anatolia, Armenia, the Nile delta, and Numidia (present-day Tunisia and Algeria). The presence of Christianity in Africa began in the middle of the 1st century in Egypt, and by the end of the 2nd century in the region around Carthage. Important Africans who influenced the early development of Christianity includes Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria, Cyprian, Athanasius and Augustine of Hippo. The later rise of Islam in North Africa reduced the size and numbers of Christian congregations, leaving only the Coptic Church in Egypt and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in the Horn of Africa. The History of Christianity in Africa began in the 1st century when Mark the Evangelist started the Orthodox Church of Alexandria in about 43 AD.

Early Middle Ages

With the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in the west, the papacy became a political player, first visible in Pope Leo's diplomatic dealings with Huns and Vandals. The church also entered into a long period of missionary activity and expansion among the various tribes. Whilst arianists instituted the death penalty for practicing pagans (see Massacre of Verden as example), Catholicism also spread among the Germanic peoples, the Celtic and Slavic peoples, the Hungarians, and the Baltic peoples. Around 500, St. Benedict set out his Monastic Rule, establishing a system of regulations for the foundation and running of monasteries. Monasticism became a powerful force throughout Europe, and gave rise to many early centers of learning, most famously in Ireland, Scotland and Gaul, contributing to the Carolingian Renaissance of the 9th century. From the 7th century onwards, Islam conquered the Christian lands of the Middle East, North Africa and much of Spain, resulting in oppression of Christianity and numerous military struggles, including the Crusades, the Spanish Reconquista and wars against the Turks. The Middle Ages brought about major changes within the church. Pope Gregory the Great dramatically reformed ecclesiastical structure and administration. In the early 8th century, iconoclasm became a divisive issue, when it was sponsored by the Byzantine emperors. The Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (787) finally pronounced in favor of icons. In the early 10th century, western monasticism was further rejuvenated through the leadership of the great Benedictine monastery of Cluny.

High and Late Middle Ages

In the west, from the 11th century onward, older cathedral schools developed into universities (see University of Oxford, University of Paris, and University of Bologna.) Originally teaching only theology, these steadily added subjects including medicine, philosophy and law, becoming the direct ancestors of modern western institutions of learning. Accompanying the rise of the "new towns" throughout Western Europe, mendicant orders were founded, bringing the consecrated religious life out of the monastery and into the new urban setting. The two principal mendicant movements were the Franciscans and the Dominicans founded by St. Francis and St. Dominic respectively. Both orders made significant contributions to the development of the great universities of Europe. Another new order were the Cistercians, whose large isolated monasteries spearheaded the settlement of former wilderness areas. In this period church building and ecclesiastical architecture reached new heights,

culminating in the orders of Romanesque and Gothic architecture and the building of the great European cathedrals. From 1095 under the pontificate of Urban II, the Crusades were launched. These were a series of military campaigns in the Holy Landand elsewhere, initiated in response to pleas from the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I for aid against Turkish expansion. The Crusades ultimately failed to stifle Islamic aggression and even contributed to Christian enmity with the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. Over a period stretching from the 7th to the 13th century, the Christian Church underwent gradual alienation, resulting in a schism dividing it into a so-called Latin or Western branch, the Roman Catholic Church, and an Eastern, largely Greek, branch, the Orthodox Church. These two churches disagree on a number of administrative, liturgical, and doctrinal issues, most notably papal primacy of jurisdiction. The Second Council of Lyon (1274) and the Council of Florence (1439) attempted to reunite the churches, but in both cases the Eastern Orthodox refused to implement the decisions and the two principal churches remain in schism to the present day. However, the Roman Catholic Church has achieved union with various smaller eastern churches. Beginning around 1184, following the crusade against the Cathar heresy, various institutions, broadly referred to as the Inquisition, were established with the aim of suppressing heresy and securing religious and doctrinal unity within Christianity through conversion and prosecution.

Protestant Reformation and Counter-Reformation

Opening of Luther's 95 Theses

The 15th-century Renaissance brought about a renewed interest in ancient and classical learning. Another major schism, the Reformation, resulted in the splintering of the Western Christendom into several Christian denominations. Martin Luther in 1517 protested against the sale of indulgences and soon moved on to deny several key points of Roman Catholic doctrine. Others like Zwingli and Calvin further criticized Roman Catholic teaching and worship. These

challenges developed into the movement called Protestantism, which repudiated the primacy, the role of tradition, the seven sacraments, and other doctrines and practices. The Reformation in England began in 1534, when King Henry VIII had himself declared head of the Church of England. Beginning in 1536, the monasteries throughout England, Wales and Ireland were dissolved.

Two priests demand a heretic to repent as he is tortured.

Partly in response to the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church engaged in a substantial process of reform and renewal, known as the Counter-Reformation or Catholic Reform. The Council of Trent clarified and reasserted Roman Catholic doctrine. During the following centuries, competition between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism became deeply entangled with political struggles among European states. Meanwhile, the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492 brought about a new wave of missionary activity. Partly from missionary zeal, but under the impetus of colonial expansion by the European powers, Christianity spread to the Americas, Oceania, East Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. Throughout Europe, the divides caused by the Reformation led to outbreaks of religious violence and the establishment of separate state churches in Western Europe: Lutheranism in parts of Germany and in Scandinavia and Anglicanism in England in 1534. Ultimately, these differences led to the outbreak of conflicts in which religion played a key factor. The Thirty Years' War, the English Civil War, and the French Wars of Religion are prominent examples. These events intensified the Christian debate on persecution and toleration.


A Christian cross in Grense Jakobselv,Norway.

With an estimated number of adherents that ranges approximately around 2.2 billion, split into 3 main branches of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, Christianity is the world's largest religion. The Christian share of the world's population has stood at around 33 per cent for the last hundred years, which says that one in three persons on earth are Christians. This masks a major shift in the demographics of Christianity; large increases in the developing world (around 23,000 per day) have been accompanied by substantial declines in the developed world, mainly in Europe and North America (around 7,600 per day). It is still the predominant religion in Europe, the Americas and Southern Africa. In Asia, it is the dominant religion in Georgia, Armenia, East Timor and the Philippines. However, it is declining in many areas including the Northern and Western United States, Oceania (Australia and New Zealand), northern Europe (including Great Britain, Scandinavia and other places), France, Germany, the Canadian provinces of Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec, and parts of Asia (especially the Middle East, South Korea, Taiwan and Macau). The Christian population is not decreasing in the United States and Canada, but the percentage is decreasing. However, there are many charismatic movements that have become well established over large parts of the world, especially Africa, Latin America and Asia. A leading Saudi Arabian Muslim leader Sheikh Ahmad al Qatanni reported on Aljazeera that every day 16,000 African Muslims convert to Christianity. He claimed that Islam was losing 6 million African Muslims a year to becoming Christians, including Muslims in Algeria, France, India, Morocco, Russia, and Turkey. It is also reported that Christianity is popular among people of different backgrounds in India (mostly Hindus), Malaysia, Mongolia, Nigeria, North Korea, and Vietnam. Christianity also lose some adherents to Islam. In the United States, for instance, 20,000 people convert to Islam each year, but not all of them are Christians. In most countries in the developed world, church attendance among people who continue to identify themselves as Christians has been falling over the last few decades. Some sources view this simply as part of a drift away from traditional membership institutions, while others link it to signs of a decline in belief in the importance of religion in general.


The Christian Flag displayed next to the pulpit on the chancel of a church sanctuary.

Most churches have long expressed ideals of being reconciled with each other, and in the 20th century Christian ecumenism advanced in two ways. One way was greater cooperation between groups, such as the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of Protestants in 1910, the Justice, Peace and Creation Commission of the World Council of Churches founded in 1948 by Protestant and Orthodox churches, and similar national councils like the National Council of Churches in Australia which includes Roman Catholics. The other way was institutional union with new United and uniting churches. Congregationalist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches united in 1925 to form the United Church of Canada, and in 1977 to form the Uniting Church in Australia. The Church of South India was formed in 1947 by the union of Anglican, Methodist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches. Steps towards reconciliation on a global level were taken in 1965 by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches mutually revoking the excommunications that marked their Great Schism in 1054; the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) working towards full communion between those churches since 1970; and the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches signing The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999 to address conflicts at the root of the Protestant Reformation. In 2006, the Methodist church adopted the declaration. Another example of ecumenism is the invention of and growing usage of the Christian Flag, which was designed to represent all of Christendom. The flag has a white field, with a red Latin cross inside a blue canton.