new age spirituality

Religion and Spirituality

From his earliest origins conscious man has felt the need to believe in superior forces and entities that somehow controlled his destiny. As these belief systems became shared and organized so religions began. Religions involve not only the belief in and worship of unseen powers and beings but in most cases a philosophy for our earthly existence.

Even in our technologically sophisticated world religion continues to play a major role in the lives of many. According to the top four organized religions - Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism - claim followers numbering in excess of three quarters of the world's population. Heads of state openly worship and the UK head of state also heads the Church of England.

This article surveys the key beliefs of the leading religions and considers their significance from a Spiritual perspective.


The central belief of Christianity is that by faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, individuals are saved from death - both spiritual and physical - by redemption from their sins (i.e. faults, misdeeds, disobedience, rebellion against God). Through God's grace, by faith and repentance, men and women are reconciled to God through forgiveness and by sanctification or theosis (ie becoming holy) to return to their place with God in Heaven.

Crucial beliefs in Christian teaching are Jesus' incarnation, atonement, crucifixion, and resurrection from the dead to redeem humankind from sin and death; and the belief that the New Testament is a part of the Bible.

The emphasis on God giving his son, or the Son (who is God) coming down to earth for the sake of humanity, is an essential difference between Christianity and most other religions, where the emphasis is instead placed solely on humans working for salvation.

The most uniform and broadly accepted tradition of doctrine, with the longest continuous representation, repeatedly reaffirmed by official Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant definitions (although not without dissent) asserts that specific beliefs are essential to Christianity, including but not limited to:

  • God is a Trinity, the single eternal being existing in three persons: Father, Son (Divine Logos, incarnated as Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit.

  • Jesus is both fully God and fully human, two "natures" in one person.

  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, bore in her womb and gave birth to the Son of God (who is, himself, likewise God), who although eternally existent was formed in her womb by the Spirit of God. From her humanity he received in his person a human intellect and will, and all else that a child would naturally receive from its mother.

  • Jesus is the Messiah hoped for by the Jews, the heir to the throne of David. He reigns at the right hand of the Father with all authority and power forevermore. He is the hope of all mankind, their advocate and judge. Until he returns at the end of the world, the Church has the authority and obligation to preach the Gospel and to gather new disciples.

  • Jesus was innocent of any sin. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, believers are forgiven of sins and reconciled to God. Although virtually all Christians agree on this, there are a variety of views on the Significance of Jesus' resurrection. Believers are baptized into the resurrection and new life (or death in some groups) of Christ. Through faith, they live by the promise of resurrection from death to everlasting life through Christ. The Holy Spirit is sent to them by Christ, to bring hope and lead mankind into true knowledge of God and His purposes, and help them grow in holiness.

  • Jesus will return personally, and bodily, to judge all mankind and receive the faithful to himself, so they will live forever in the intimate presence of God.

Many believe the following quote from Jesus to be central to the Christian faith:

Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
Matthew 22:37-40

A more detailed exposition of the Christian doctrine as presented by Jesus is given in the Sermon on the Mount.

Over two millennia the Christian faith has become fragmented into numerous denominations, the three major branches being Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy (with the latter two containing various sub-branches).


Six articles of belief

There are six basic beliefs shared by all Muslims:

  • Belief in God, the one and only one worthy of all worship.

  • Belief in the Angels.

  • Belief in the Books (sent by God).

  • Belief in all the Prophets and Messengers (sent by God).

  • Belief in the Day of Judgment (Qiyamah) and in the Resurrection.

  • Belief in Fate (Qadar)1

The Muslim creed in English:
I believe in God; and in His Angels; and in His Scriptures; and in His Messengers; and in The Final Day; and in Fate, that Good and Evil are from God, and Resurrection after death be Truth. I testify that there is nothing worthy of worship but God; and I testify that Muhammad is His Messenger.


The fundamental concept in Islam is the unity of God (tawhid). This monotheism is absolute, not relative or pluralistic in any sense of the word. God is described in Sura al-Ikhlas, (chapter 112) as follows: Say "He is God, the one, the Self-Sufficient master. He never begot, nor was begotten. There is none comparable to Him."

In Arabic, God is called Allah, a contraction of al-ilah or "the deity". Allah thus translates to "God" in English; it is not grammatically a proper name, unlike the Israelite divine name Yahweh or the Christian usage of Jesus as a personal divine name. The implicit usage of the definite article in Allah linguistically indicates the divine unity. In spite of the different name used for God, Muslims assert that they believe in the same deity as the Judeo-Christian religions. However, Muslims disagree with the Christian theology concerning the unity of God (the doctrine of the Trinity and that Jesus is the eternal Son of God).

Although no Muslim visual images or depictions exist of God (because artistic depictions are considered idolatry), Muslims define God by the many divine attributes mentioned in the Qur'an, also commonly known as the 99 names of Allah. All but one Surah (chapter) of the Qur'an begins with the phrase "In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful". These are consequently the most important divine attributes in the sense that Muslims repeat them most frequently during their ritual prayers (called salah in Arabic).

The Five Pillars of Islam

The Five Pillars of Islam is the term given to the five most fundamental aspects of Islam. These five pillars are different in the Shia and Sunni sects.

For the Sunni sect, the Five Pillars are the five most important obligations of a Muslim under Sharia law, and which devout Muslims will perform faithfully, believing them to be essential to pleasing Allah.

The Five Pillars of the Sunni sect are:

  • The Testimony that there is none worthy of worship except God and that Muhammad is his messenger.

  • Establishing of the five daily Prayers (salah).

  • The Giving of Zakaah (charity), which is 2.5% of the net worth of possessions kept for more than a year, with few exemptions, for every Muslim whose wealth exceeds the nisab, and 10% or 20% of the produce from agriculture. This money or produce is distributed among the poor.

  • Fasting from dawn to dusk in the month of Ramadan (sawm).

  • The Pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca during the month of Dhul Hijjah, which is compulsory once in a lifetime for one who has the ability to do it.

For the Shia sect, the Five Pillars, or more correctly translated "the principles of religion", are the five fundamental principles of Islam; no more, no less. The Shia sect consider the Sunni five pillars to be merely the most important obligations rather than these being the Five Pillars of Islam.

The Five Pillars of the Shia sect are:

  • The Oneness of God (tawhid).

  • The Justice of God ('adl).

  • Prophethood (nubuwwah).

  • The Leadership of Mankind (imamah).

  • The Resurrection (me'ad).


The Eternal Way

"The Eternal Way", or the "Perennial Philosophy/Harmony/Faith", is the one name that has represented Hinduism for many thousands of years. According to Hindus, it speaks to the idea that certain spiritual principles hold eternally true, transcending man-made constructs, representing a pure science of consciousness. But this consciousness is not merely that of the body or mind and intellect, but of a supramental soul-state that exists within and beyond our existence, the unsullied Self of all. Religion to the Hindu is the native search for the divine within the Self, the search to find the One truth that in actuality never was lost. Truth sought with faith shall yield itself in blissful luminescence no matter the race or creed professed. Indeed, all existence, from vegetation and beasts to mankind, are subjects and objects of the eternal Dharma. This inherent faith, therefore, is also known as Arya/Noble Dharma, Veda/Knowledge Dharma, Yoga/Union Dharma, Hindu Dharma or, simply, the Dharma.

What can be said to be common to all Hindus is belief in Dharma, reincarnation, karma, and moksha (liberation) of every soul through a variety of moral, action-based, and meditative yogas. Still more fundamental principles include ahimsa (non-violence), the primacy of the Guru, the Divine Word of Aum and the power of mantras, love of Truth in many manifestations as Gods and Goddessess, and an understanding that the essential spark of the Divine (Atman/Brahman) is in every human and living being, thus allowing for many spiritual paths leading to the One Unitary Truth.

An example of the pervasiveness of this paramount truth-seeking spirituality in daily life is the bindi (seen left), which is a common marker for Hindu women. It symbolizes the need to cultivate supramental consciousness, which is achieved by opening the mystic "third eye." Hindus across the board stress meditative insight, an intuition beyond the mind and body, a trait that is often associated with the ascetic god Shiva. Men, too, will bear on their foreheads the equivalent tilak mark, usually on religious occasions, its shape often representing particular devotion to a certain main deity: a 'U' shape stands for Vishnu, a group of three horizontal lines for Shiva. It is not uncommon for some to meld both in an amalgam marker signifying Hari-Hara (Vishnu-Shiva indissoluble).

Yoga Dharma

Hinduism is practiced through a variety of Yogas (spiritual practices), primarily bhakti (loving devotion), Karma Yoga (selfless service), Raja Yoga (meditational Yoga) and Jnana Yoga (Yoga of discrimination). These are described in the two principal texts of Hindu Yoga: The Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras. The Upanishads are also important as a philosophical foundation for this rational spiritualism.

The four goals of life

Another major aspect of Hindu dharma that is common to practically all Hindus is that of purushartha, the "four goals of life". They are kama, artha, dharma and moksha. It is said that all humans seek kama (pleasure, physical or emotional) and artha (power, fame and wealth), but soon, with maturity, learn to govern these legitimate desires within a higher, pragmatic framework of dharma, or moral harmony in all. Of course, the only goal that is truly infinite, whose attainment results in absolute happiness, is moksha, or liberation, (a.k.a. Mukti, Samadhi, Nirvana, etc.) from Samsara, the cycle of life, death, and existential duality.

The four stages of life

The human life is also seen as four Ashramas ("phases" or "stages"). They are Brahmacharya, Grihasthya, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa. The first quarter of one's life, brahmacharya (literally "grazing in Brahma") is spent in celibate, sober and pure contemplation of life's secrets under a Guru, building up body and mind for the responsibilities of life. Grihastya is the householder's stage, alternatively known as samsara, in which one marries and satisfies kama and artha within a married life and professional career. Vanaprastha is gradual detachment from the material world, ostensibly giving over duties to one's sons and daughters, spending more time in contemplation of the truth, and making holy pilgrimages. Finally, in sanyasa, the individual goes off into seclusion, often envisioned as the forest, to find God through Yogic meditation and peacefully shed the body for the next life.

Views of God

Within Sanatana Dharma, or Hinduism (as it is commonly called), a variety of lesser gods are seen as aspects of the one impersonal divine ground, Brahman (not Brahma). Brahman is seen as the universal spirit. Brahman is the ultimate, both transcendent and immanent the absolute infinite existence, the sum total of all that ever is, was, or ever shall be. Brahman is not a God in the monotheistic sense, as it is not imbued with any limiting characteristics, not even those of being and non-being, and this is reflected in the fact that in Sanskrit, the word brahman is of neuter (as opposed to masculine or feminine) gender.

Vedanta is a branch of Hindu philosophy which gives this matter a greater focus. Yoga is the primary focus in many ways of a Hindu's religious activities, being somewhere between meditation, prayer and healthful exercise.

Some of Hinduism's adherents are monists, seeing in multiple manifestations of the one God or source of being, which is often confused by non-Hindus as being polytheism. It is seen as one unity, with the personal Gods different aspects of only one Supreme Being, like a single beam of light separated into colours by a prism, and are valid to worship. Some of the Hindu aspects of God include Devi, Vishnu, Ganesh, and Siva. Hindus believe that God, in whatever form they prefer, (or as monists prefer to call, "Ishta Devata,", i.e., the preferred form of God) can grant worshippers grace to bring them closer to Moksha, end of the cycle of rebirth. The great Hindu saint, Ramakrishna, a monist, was a prominent advocate of this traditional Hindu view. He had experienced many other religions besides Hinduism, such as Christianity and Islam and came to the same conclusion as said by the Vedas, "Truth is one, the wise call by different names."

The Four Major Sects of Hinduism

Contemporary Hinduism is traditionally divided into four major divisions, Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and Smartism.

Hinduism is a very rich and complex religion. Each of its four sects shares rituals, beliefs, traditions and personal Gods with one another, but each sect has a different philosophy on how to achieve life's ultimate goal (moksa, liberation) and on their views of the Gods. Each sect fundamentally believes in different methods of self-realization and in different aspects of the One Supreme God. However, each sect respects and accepts all others, and conflict of any kind is rare.

Vaishnavism, Saivism and Shaktism, respectively believe in a monotheistic ideal of Vishnu (often as Krishna), Siva, or Devi; this view does not exclude other personal Gods, as they are understood to be aspects of the chosen ideal (e.g., to many devotees of Krishna, Shiva is seen as having sprung from Krishna's creative force). Often, the monad Brahman is seen as the one source, with all other gods emanating therefrom. Thus, with all Hindus, there is a strong belief in all paths being true religions that lead to one God or source, whatever one chooses to call the ultimate truth.


The Three Jewels

Buddhists seek refuge in what are often referred to as the Three Jewels, Triple Gem or Triple Jewel. These are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the "noble" (Sanskrit: arya) Sangha or community of monks and nuns who have become enlightened. While it is impossible to escape one's karma or the effects caused by previous thoughts, words and deeds, it is possible to avoid the suffering that comes from it by becoming enlightened. In this way, dharma offers a refuge. Dharma, used in the sense of the Buddha's teachings, provides a raft and is thus a temporary refuge while entering and crossing the river. However, the real refuge is on the other side of the river.

To one who is seeking to become enlightened, taking refuge constitutes a continuing commitment to pursuing enlightenment and following in the footsteps of the people who have followed the path to enlightenment before. It contains an element of confidence that enlightenment is in fact a refuge, a supreme resort. Many Buddhists take the refuges each day, sometimes more than once in order to remind themselves of what they are doing and to direct their resolve inwardly towards liberation.

It is important to note that in Buddhism, the word "refuge" should not be taken in the English sense of "hiding" or "escape;" instead, many scholars have said, it ought be thought of as a homecoming, or place of healing, much as a parent's home might be a refuge for someone.

In the 11th century, Lamp for the Path by Atisha, and in the subsequent Lamrim tradition as elaborated by Tsongkhapa, the several motives for refuge are enumerated as follows, typically introduced using the concept of the "scope" (level of motivation) of a practitioner:

Worldly scope is taking refuge to improve the lot of this life
Low scope is taking refuge to gain high rebirth and avoid the low realms
Middle scope is taking refuge to achieve Nirvana
High scope is taking refuge to achieve Buddhahood
Highest scope is also sometimes included, which is taking refuge to achieve Buddhahood in this life.

The Four Noble Truths

The Buddha taught that life was dissatisfactory because of craving, but that this condition was curable by following the eightfold path. This teaching is called the four noble truths:

  • Dukkha: All worldly life is unsatisfactory, disjointed, containing suffering.

  • Samudaya: There is a cause of suffering, which is attachment or desire (tanha) rooted in ignorance.

  • Nirodha: There is an end of suffering, which is Nirvana.

  • Marga: There is a path that leads out of suffering, known as the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path

In order to fully understand the noble truths and investigate whether they were in fact true, Buddha recommended that a certain lifestyle or path be followed which consists of:

  • Right Understanding

  • Right Thought

  • Right Speech

  • Right Action

  • Right Livelihood

  • Right Effort

  • Right Mindfulness

  • Right Concentration

Sometimes in the Pali Canon the Eightfold Path is spoken of as being a progressive series of stages which the practitioner moves through, the culmination of one leading to the beginning of another, but it is more usual to view the stages of the 'Path' as requiring simultaneous development.

The Eightfold Path essentially consists of meditation, following the precepts, and cultivating the positive converse of the precepts (e.g. benefiting living beings is the converse of the first precept of harmlessness). The Path may also be thought of as a the way of developing sila, meaning mental and moral discipline.

The Five Precepts

Buddhists undertake certain precepts as aids on the path to coming into contact with ultimate reality. Laypeople generally undertake five precepts. The five precepts are:

  • I undertake the precept to refrain from harming living creatures (killing).

  • I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not freely given (stealing).

  • I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.

  • I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech (lying, harsh language, slander, idle chit-chat).

  • I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness.

Religion and Spirit

That religion has held, and continues to hold, such a significant influence over human existence is strongly suggestive that it encapsulates essential truths concerning the purpose of our very being. Religious teachings have been brought to mankind by highly advanced souls. Why, therefore, do they differ?

We are each of us individuated Spirit clothed in flesh, journeying upon the earth and distant from our home. Whilst in this feeble condition we lack the ability to fully grasp the true nature of ourselves or the reality we inhabit. At various times and in various places Spirit has sought to help us by sending guides. Their impact and messages have been so profound that they (messenger and message) continue to be idolized by most human beings alive.

Some on this path possess a kind of twisted cleverness. The messages brought by the advanced ones had been hijacked by these lesser beings for their own ends. Thus we see the wonderful teachings of Jesus shattered as a mirror smashed on the ground. And we see the tragic Christian-Islamic conflict causing such suffering for so many. Surely not what Jesus or Muhammad intended be done with their teachings.

So which religion, if any, is right? The answer is that they all are. The more we study different religions the more we realise they are complementary rather than contradictory. They describe different parts of the same whole. Should any mortal tell us they hold a monopoly on truth we should treat that soul with great suspicion.

Lets take an analogy. If we have to travel from place A to place B there may be various options. We may choose to drive, or take a bus or train, or a plane. We may choose the quickest route, the most scenic route, the easiest route, or the most challenging. We may choose to stop off at place C (or D or E or F.....) en route. And we might each choose differently.

There isn't just a single way to place B, there isn't only one way to the truth. Religions provide a choice of tried and tested ways that we can follow, or learn from in planning our own route. We just need to be aware that some of the road signs may have been turned around along the way.

Religion is a cause of both encouragement and frustration. Encouragement that so many find something of value in religious teaching. Frustrating that on the whole we remain unable to recognize the kernel of truth in all faiths and to respect and co-exist those who tread different, but equally valid, paths to ourselves.

This article uses material from the Wikipedia articles: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism. It is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.