Religions in Asia
Asia is the largest of the seven continents in the world. It is also the birthplace of most of the world’s major religions – Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. These combined religions have spun off other forms of religious traditions. On the Asian subcontinent alone there are over three billion religious adherents.
Hinduism is one of the major religions in India that has spread around the world. Of India’s approximate billion people 80% are Hindus. Hinduism is said to have originated in the Indus Valley. India’s sacred books the Vedas are considered eternal in time. Hindu’s religion has to do with the ordering of life according to dharma that will lead to a favorable rebirth. A Hindu’s life which is expressed in the division of labor is reflected in a caste system. Brahman – Hindu’s major deity is the producer of all things, but there exists in Hindus an underlying self or soul. It is this soul that continues to be reborn (samsara) at different levels as animals as well as humans. This process is governed by the natural law of karma. In Hinduism God is manifested in different forms, so there are many gods. But these have been classified in a threefold manner in the form of Brahma – as creator, Vishnu – preserver, and Siva – destroyer. But a Hindu’s worship begins by evoking the specific presence of a deity at a temple or shrine. On India’s Independence in 1947 the nation was designated a secular state and all religions were recognized. Religions like Sikhism and Jainism could trace their origin from Hinduism. Hinduism is the main religion in Nepal and Bali. It is practiced in other countries outside the subcontinent by predominantly Indian expatriates.
Buddhism – Gautama Buddha, “Awakened One” was born (c. 563–483 BCE). He was the founder of Buddhism, one of the major religions and philosophical systems of southern and eastern Asia and of the world. Buddhist traditions are Theravada – adheres to the orthodox teachings of Buddha, Mahayana – its schools appeal to all followers regardless of class, and Vajrayana (Tibet) – takes on an esoteric form. Samara (Cycles of Rebirth) is the ever-changing state of things from which Buddhists desire to be liberated. While Moksha is Buddhists’ final liberation where with nirvana they reach an unperturbed state that is the essence of liberation. Buddhist populations live in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion. Guru Nanak (1469–1539) was the first Sikh Guru and founder of the Sikhism religion. He was born in Talwandi, west of Lahore. Nanak travelled throughout the Indian countryside to Assam, around Panjab, and to Sri Lanka. He visited Ladakh, and went all the way to Mecca, Medina, and Baghdad. In every place he taught, sang hymns, held discussions with Hindus and Muslims, and established a dharmsala as a worship center. India has c.14 million Sikhs, most of them live in Panjab.
Christianity (c.4 CE) has the largest number of believers in the world. Judaism (c. 1800 BCE), that is the religion of Abraham and Hebrews’ offshoot is Christianity and Islam. In Christianity Jesus Christ - a Jew is the Son of God. God the Father and Holy Spirit complete the Trinity. Christianity’s major problem is “sin.” It’s a religion with angels, demons, and saints. Believers use the Bible – Old and New Testament, as its sacred text. Christ came to earth, died, and resurrected to save mankind. Christian practices include baptism and the Eucharist (communion). Since the 20th century a number of Asian Jewish sects have lived in Israel.
Islam is a monotheistic and Abrahamic faith tradition, with Allah as God and Muhammad (c.570–632 CE) as its Prophet. Muhammad’s revelations are recorder in the Qur’an – the sacred book of Muslims. Muslims believe in the Five Pillars – repeating the creed, reciting prayers in Arabic, giving to the poor, fasting from sunrise to sunset, and making a pilgrimage (hajj) in one’s lifetime to Mecca. The two major Muslim sects are the Sunni and Shi’ite. The Sunnis comprise about 80% of the Muslim population. Sufism is another mystical sect. There are over twenty major Muslim countries in Asia that dot the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. Some Islamic nations outside the Middle East are India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.
Taoism - Laozi Tzu (601 BC–531 BC) is traditionally regarded as the foremost founder of Taoism, and is associated with the ‘original’ or ‘primordial Taoism.’ The work written on bamboo tablets attributed to him is Tao Te Ching dated in the 4th century BC. Taoism or Daoism is a Chinese religious and philosophical system which is inextricably intertwined. It has come to influence China’s main beliefs, viz. Confucianism, Buddhism, and Shamanism. Tao is ‘the way’ of living in harmony with ‘human virtue.’
Shinto - Modern Japan has seen the growth of different types of Shinto. Shinto has no organized doctrine or tenets. It is considered a religion of participation at the shrines in the traditional Japanese rites and festivals. The ideal setting for Japanese practitioners is at a precinct an enclosed sacred area with a gate, ablution area, sacred buildings of the main sanctuary that houses kami (spirits), and a worship area.
More than one-in-five people in the Asia-Pacific region does not identify with any religion (21%). The share of people in the region who are followers of folk or traditional religions – including Chinese folk religions and Australian aboriginal religions – is 9%. Christians comprise 7% of the region’s population, while Jews and adherents of other religions each make up less than 1% of the population.