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Buddhism Posted on: 2004/3/20 15:04
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Quotation:
"Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: it transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural & spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity" Albert Einstein



Overview:
Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world, being exceeded in numbers only by Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. It was founded in Northern India by the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. He was born circa 563 BCE in Lumbini which is in modern-day Nepal. At the age of 29, he left his wife, children and political involvements in order to seek truth. It was an accepted practice at the time for some men to leave their family and lead the life of an ascetic. He studied Brahmanism, but ultimately rejected it. In 535 BCE, he attained enlightenment and assumed the title Buddha (one who has awakened).

He is also referred to as the Sakyamuni, (sage of the Sakya clan). He promoted The Middle Way, rejecting both extremes of the mortification of the flesh and of hedonism as paths toward the state of Nirvana. He had many disciples and accumulated a large public following by the time of his death in his early 80's in 483 BCE.

Two and a half centuries later, a council of Buddhist monks collected his teachings and the oral traditions of the faith into written form, called the Tripitaka. This included a very large collection of commentaries and traditions; most are called Sutras (discourses).

As Buddhism expanded across Asia, it evolved into two main forms, which evolved largely independently from each other:

Theravada Buddhism (sometimes called Southern Buddhism; occasionally spelled Therevada) "has been the dominant school of Buddhism in most of Southeast Asia since the thirteenth century, with the establishment of the monarchies in Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and Laos."
Mahayana Buddhism (sometimes called Northern Buddhism) is largely found in China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Mongolia.

To which might be added:

Tibetan Buddhism, which developed in isolation from Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism because of the isolation of Tibet.

Since the late 19th century:

Modern Buddhism has emerged as a truly international movement. It started as an attempt to produce a single form of Buddhism, without local accretions, that all Buddhists could embrace.
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Confucian Posted on: 2004/3/20 15:00
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History:
K'ung Fu Tzu (commonly pronounced Confucius in English) was born in 551 BCE in the state of Lu (modern day Shantung Province). He lived during the Chou dynasty, and era known for its moral laxity. Later in life, he wandered through many states of China, giving advice to their rulers. He accumulated a small band of students during this time. The last years of his life were spent back in Lu, where he devoted himself to teaching.

His writings deal primarily with individual morality and ethics, and the proper exercise of political power by the rulers.

In China, and some other areas in Asia, the social ethics and moral teachings of Confucius are blended with the Taoist communion with nature and Buddhist concepts of the afterlife, to form a set of complementary, peacefully co-existent and ecumenical religions.

There are approximately 6 million Confucians in the world. About 26,000 live in North America; almost all of the remainder are found throughout China and the rest of Asia.



Beliefs:
Confucian ethical teachings include the following values:

Li: includes ritual, propriety, etiquette, etc.
Hsiao: love within the family: love of parents for their children and of children for their parents
Yi: righteousness
Xin: honesty and trustworthiness
Jen: benevolence, humaneness towards others; the highest Confucian virtue
Chung: loyalty to the state, etc.



Practices:
Confucianism does not contain all of the elements of some other religions, like Christianity and Islam. It is primarily an ethical system to which rituals at important times during one's lifetime have been added.

Since the time of the Han dynasty (206 CE) four life passages have been recognized and regulated by Confucian tradition:

birth: The T'ai-shen (spirit of the fetus) protects the expectant woman and deals harshly with anyone who harasses the mother to be. A special procedure is followed when the placenta is disposed of. The mother is given a special diet and is allowed rest for a month after delivery. The mother's family of origin supplies all the items required by the baby on the first, fourth and twelfth monthly anniversary of the birth.
reaching maturity: This life passage is no longer being celebrated, except in traditional families. It takes the form of a group meal in which the young adult is served chicken.
marriage: This is performed in six stages: Proposal: the couple exchange the eight characters: the year, month, day and hour of each of their births. If any unpropitious event occurs within the bride-to-be's family during the next three days, then the woman is believed to have rejected the proposal.
Engagement: after the wedding day is chosen, the bride announces the wedding with invitations and a gift of cookies made in the shape of the moon.
Dowry: This is carried to the groom's home in a solemn procession. The bride-price is then sent to the bride by the groom's parents. Gifts by the groom to the bride, equal in value to the dowry, are sent to her.
Procession: The groom visits the bride's home and brings her back to his place, with much fanfare.
Marriage and Reception: The couple recite their vows, toast each other with wine, and then take center stage at a banquet.
Morning after: The bride serves breakfast to the groom's parents, who then reciprocate.

death: At death, the relatives cry out aloud to inform the neighbors. The family starts mourning and puts on clothes made of a coarse material. The corpse is washed and placed in a coffin. Mourners bring incense and money to offset the cost of the funeral. Food and significant objects of the deceased are placed into the coffin. A Buddhist or Taoist priest (or even a Christian minister) performs the burial ritual. Friends and family follow the coffin to the cemetery, along with a willow branch which symbolizes the soul of the person who has died. The latter is carried back to the family altar where it is used to "install" the spirit of the deceased. Liturgies are performed on the 7th, 9th, 49th day after the burial and on the first and third anniversaries of the death.



Schools of Confucianism
There are six schools: Han Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism, Contemporary Neo-Confucianism, Korean Confucianism, Japanese Confucianism and Singapore Confucianism.



Sacred Texts
These were assembled by Chu Hsi (1130-1200 CE) during the Sung dynasty. They include:

The Si Shu or Four Books: The Lun Yu the Analects of Confucius
The Chung Yung or the Doctrine of the Mean
The Ta Hsueh or the Great Learning
The Meng Tzu the writings of Meng Tzu (371-289 BCE) a philosopher who, like Confucius, traveled from state to state conversing with the government rulers

The Wu Jing or Five Classics: Shu Ching or Classic of History: writings and speeches from ancient Chinese rulers
The Shih Ching or Classic of Odes: 300 poems and songs
The I Ching or Classic of Changes: the description of a divinitory system involving 64 hexagrams. The hexagrams are symbols composed of broken and continuous lines; one is selected to foretell the future based on the casting of 49 sticks.
The Ch'un Ch'iu or Spring and Autumn Annals: a history of the state of Lu from 722 to 484 BCE.
The Li Ching or Classic of Rites: a group of three books on the LI the rites of propriety
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Norse Posted on: 2004/3/20 14:54
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History:
Asatru is frequently regarded as one of the Neopagan family of religions. That family includes Wicca, Celtic Druidism, and re-creations of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and other ancient Pagan religions. However, many Asatruers prefer the term "Heathen" to "Neopagan" and look upon their tradition as "not just a branch on the Neopagan tree" but as a separate tree. Unlike Wicca, which has gradually evolved into many different traditions, the reconstruction of Asatru has been based on the surviving historical record; it has been maintained as closely as possible to the original religion of the Norse people.

Some sources state that Asatru or Įsatrś is an Icelandic word, derived from the Danish word Asetro. Others state that it is a Norse word. It was "first seen in 1885 in an article in the periodical "Fjallkonan". The next recorded instance was in "Heišinn sišur į Ķslandi" by Ólafur Briem (Reykjavķk, 1945)." The title means "Heathen traditions in Iceland."

In Scandinavia the religion is called Forn Sišr (which means the Ancient way or tradition), Forn sed (the Old custom), Nordisk sed (Nordic custom), or Hedensk sed (Pagan custom). The religion's origin is lost in antiquity. At its peak, it covered all of Northern Europe. In 1000 CE, Iceland became the second last Norse culture to convert to Christianity. Their prime motivation was economic. Sweden was ruled by a Pagan king until 1085 CE.

Icelandic poet Gothi Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson promoted government recognition of Asatru as a legitimate religion; this status was granted in 1972. Since the early 1970's, the religion has been in a period of rapid growth in the former Norse countries, in Europe and North America.

It is not unknown for otherwise decent religions to become corrupted by incorporating racist, sexist, anti-semitic, and homophobic beliefs. For example, the Christian Identity movement is one wing of the Christian religion which has adsorbed such beliefs. During the early part of the 20th Century, The National Socialist Party in Germany under Adolf Hitler attempted to pervert Asatru by grafting parts of the religion onto the Nazi racist beliefs. This blasphemy died by the end of World War II, although some neo-Nazi groups -- largely in the U.S. -- are now attempting to continue the practice. This activity is in no way related to the restoration of Asatru as a legitimate Heathen religion. There is a very strong anti-racist, anti-Nazi stance among national Asatru groups in the Scandinavian countries. This is also found in almost all Asatru groups in English speaking countries. They typically have a clear rejection of racism written into their constitutions. Unfortunately, some anti-racism groups like the Southern Poverty law Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (in its Megiddo report) have mistakenly accused the entire religion of racism.

Many people are exposed to the name "Asatru" through role playing games, such as Mage: The Ascension. Unfortunately, the Asatru of these games bear little resemblance to the real religion.



Asatru Beliefs:
Asatru is a polytheistic religion. There are three races of Deities in the Norse pantheon. They are all regarded as living beings who are involved in human life: The Aesir: These are the Gods of the tribe or clan, representing Kingship, order, craft, etc.
The Vanir: These represent the fertility of the earth and forces of nature. They are associated with the clan but are not part of it.
The Jotnar: These are giants who are in a constant state of war with the Aesir. They represent chaos and destruction. At the battle of Ragnarok, many of the Gods will die, the world will come to an end and be reborn.

Specific Gods: Some of the more important are: Thor is the Thunderer, who wields Mjolnir, the divine Hammer. His chariot racing across the sky generates thunder. Thursday (Thor's Day) was named after him.
Odin is the one-eyed God; he gave up one of his eyes in order to drink from the Fount of Wisdom. He is a magician and wise one. He learned the secrets of the runes (Northern European alphabet) by hanging himself on the tree Yggdrasil for nine nights.
Frey is the God of Yule (born on the Winter Solstice, typically December 21). He is a God of peace and plenty who brings fertility and prosperity. His father was Njord.

Specific Goddesses: Some important ones are: Freya (aka Freyja) is the Goddess of love, beauty and sexuality, and perhaps a dozen other attributes. She leads the Valkyries who take the souls of slain soldiers to Valhalla (Odin's great hall).
Frigg is Odin's wife. Her name has been secularized to a slang term which refers to sexual intercourse. She is the patroness of the household and of married women.
Skadi is the Goddess of independence, death, hunting and skiing. Scandinavia was named after her; the English words shadow, skullduggery and shade came from her name.
Ostara, is a Goddess of fertility who is celebrated at the time of the Spring equinox. She was known by the Saxons as Eostre, the Goddess of Spring, from whom we have derived the word Easter. Ostara's symbols are the hare and the egg.

Other Entities Other Deities are Aegir, Balder, Bragi, Forseti, Heimdall, Loki, Njord, Ran, Tyr, Ull and Vithar. They also honor the Landvaettir (land spirits) of the forest, earth and streams.
Life Values: They follow the Nine Noble Virtues: Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Industriousness, Self-Reliance and Perseverance. The family is greatly valued and honored. They reject any form of discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, language, nationality, race, sexual orientation, or "other divisive criteria".
Origins: Humanity is literally descended from the Gods. Three brothers, Odin, Vili, and Ve created people from two trees and gave them the names Ask and Embla. One deity, Rig visited the earth and established the social classes.
Od: This is the gift of ecstasy provided to humans by the Gods. It is what separates humanity from other animals, and is our eternal link with the Gods.
Creation Story: A poem Voluspa (Prophecy of the Seeress) contains an Asatru story of the creation of the universe. Between Muspelheim (The Land of Fire) and Niflheim the Land of Ice was an empty space called Ginnungigap. The fire and ice moved towards each other; when they collided, the universe came into being. Odin, Vili and Ve later created the world from the body of a giant that they had slain.
After death: Those who die in battle will be carried to Valhalla by the Valkyries. There they will eat Särimner (a pig that is daily slaughtered and resurrected) with the Gods. Those who have lived very evil and treacherous lives go to Hifhel, a place of torment. The remainder go to Hel. This is a place of calmness and peace, and is unrelated to the Christian Hell.



Asatru Rituals and Practices:
Their local religious communities are called Kindreds, Hearths, or Garths. Priests are called Gothi; priestesses are Gythia
The Blot: (pronounced "bloats") This is their most common religious ritual; it is a sacrifice to the Gods. In olden days, as with almost all ancient religions, an animal was consecrated to the deities and then slaughtered. This was not seen as a bribe or as a method of capturing the power of the dying animal. It is simply the way in which the ancient Norse shared their bounty with a gift to the Gods. Currently, the animal sacrifice has been replaced by the offer of beer, juice or mead. Afterwards, those present are either sprinkled with the liquid, or drink it in sequence.
The Sumbel: This is a ritual drinking celebration, in which a horn filled with a drink is passed around the group. Each person delivers a greeting; a toast to the Gods, ancient heroes, or one's ancestors; or a story, song or poem. He or she then drinks from the horn.
Profession or Adoption: This is the act of making a commitment to Asatru to the exclusion of other faiths, by solemnly giving an oath of allegiance and kinship to the Gods of Asgard, the Aesir and Vanir. It is a simple ceremony usually done in the presence of a Gothi or Gythia and the rest of the Kindred, Hearth or Garth. It is taken on an oath ring or some other sacred object.



Seasonal Days of Celebration
In common with most Neo-Pagan faiths, their main holy days are:

Summer Finding, at the spring equinox, typically March 21. This is dedicated to Ostara.
Winter Finding, at the fall equinox, typically September 21
Midsummer, at the summer solstice, typically June 21
Yule, which starts on the winter solstice (typically December 21) on the Mother Night of Yule. It lasts for 12 days or more. This is the most important day of the year. Many Norse symbols have been adsorbed by the Christian celebration of Christmas: evergreen trees, Yule logs, holly, etc.

Many also celebrate days between the solstices and equinoxes. Various traditions within Asatru observe them on different dates:

The Charming of the Plow on February 1st weekend, a celebration of Freya and the Disir
Merry-Moon on May 1st weekend, celebration of spring dedicated to Njord and Nerthus.
Harvest or Freyfaxi on August 1st weekend, the first harvest and celebration of Frey and his horse
Fogmoon on November 1st weekend, a celebration of war-dead and Ragnarok Dedicated to Odin and Freya.

Einherjar is held on November 11 and coincides with Armistice or Veterans Day. It honours those who have been killed in battle and have joined Odon's warriors in Valhalla. Some groups hold a feast on the 9th of each month to honor Norse heroes. Other groups hold rituals at full moons. Additional days are celebrated at other times during the year by different traditions.
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Zoroastrianism Posted on: 2004/3/20 14:50
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Posts: 2008
Quote:
"Zoroastrianism is the oldest of the revealed world-religions, and it has probably had more influence on mankind, directly and indirectly, than any other single faith." Mary Boyce.



Introduction:
Zoroastrianism is a small religion with about 140,000 members. Yet its importance to humanity is much greater than its current numbers might suggest, because:

Their theology has had a great impact on Judaism, Christianity and other later religions, in the beliefs surrounding God and Satan, the soul, heaven and hell, savior, resurrection, final judgment, etc.
It is one of the oldest religions still in existence,
It may have been the first monotheistic religion.

The religion was founded by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster in Greek; Zarthosht in India and Persia). Conservative Zoroastrians assign a date of 6000 BCE to the founding of the religion; other followers estimate 600 BCE. Historians and religious scholars generally date his life sometime between 1500 and 1000 BCE on the basis of his style of writing.

He lived in Persia, modern day Iran. Legends say that his birth was predicted and that attempts were made by the forces of evil to kill him as a child. He preached a monotheism in a land which followed an aboriginal polytheistic religion. He was attacked for his teaching, but finally won the support of the king. Zoroastrianism became the state religion of various Persian empires, until the 7th Century CE.

When Arabs, followers of Islam, invaded Persia in 650 CE, a small number of Zoroastrians fled to India where most are concentrated today. Those who remained behind have survived centuries of persecution, systematic slaughter, forced conversion, heavy taxes, etc. They now number only about 18,000 and reside chiefly in Yazd, Kernan and Tehran in what is now Iran. The 1991 census counted 3,190 Zoroastrians in Canada. The actual number is believed to be much higher.



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Zorastrian Sacred Text:
The Zorastrian holy book is called the Avesta. This includes the original words of their founder Zarathushtra, preserved in a series of five hymns, called the Gathas. The latter represent the core text of the religion. The Gathas are abstract sacred poetry, directed towards the worship of the One God, understanding of righteousness and cosmic order, promotion of social justice and individual choice between good and evil. The Gathas have a general and even universal vision.

At some later date (most scholars say many centuries later), the remaining parts of the Avestas were written. These deal with laws of ritual and practice, with the traditions of the faith. The Zoroastrian community is sharply divided between those who would follow mostly (or exclusively) the teachings of the original Gathas, and those who believe that the later traditions are important and equally divinely inspired.



Zoroastrian Beliefs:
Beliefs include:

A single god Ahura Mazda who is supreme. Communication between Himself and humans is by a number of Attributes, called Amesha Spentas or Bounteous Immortals. Within the Gathas, the original Zoroastrian sacred text, these Immortals are sometimes described as concepts, and are sometimes personified.
One school of thought promotes a cosmic dualism between: An all powerful God Ahura Mazda who is the only deity worthy of being worshipped, and
An evil spirit of violence and death, Angra Mainyu, who opposes Ahura Mazda.

The resulting cosmic conflict involves the entire universe, including humanity who is required to choose which to follow. Evil, and the Spirit of Evil, will be completely destroyed at the end of time. Dualism will come to an end and Goodness will be all in all.

Another school of thought perceives the battle between Good and Evil as an ethical dualism, set within the human consciousness.
Asha is a form of righteous, all encompassing, natural law.
Legends, which are probably not those of Zarathushtra's original teachings are: After death, the urvan (soul) is allowed three days to meditate on his/her past life. The soul is then judged by a troika Mithra, Sraosha and Rashnu. If the good thoughts, words and deeds outweigh the bad, then the soul is taken into heaven. Otherwise, the soul is led to hell.
The universe will go through three eras: creation;
the present world where good and evil are mixed. People's good works are seen as gradually transforming the world towards its heavenly ideal;
and a final state after this renovation when good and evil will be separated.

Eventually, everything will be purified. Even the occupants of hell will be released.

A Saoshyant (savior) will be born of a virgin, but of the lineage of the Prophet Zoroaster who will raise the dead and judge everyone in a final judgment.




Zoroastrian Practices:
Their worship includes prayers and symbolic ceremonies.
The rituals are conducted before a sacred fire. Some believe that they actually worship fire. This is not true. They regard fire as a symbol of their God.
Zoroastrians do not generally accept converts. One has to be born into the religion. This belief is disputed by some members.
Members are dedicated to a three-fold path, as shown in their motto: "Good thoughts, good words, good deeds"
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