Understanding World Religions

Religion is the driving force behind much of what happens in the world today -- particularly when it comes to the "big three" religions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Religious differences have and continue to spark wars, create nations, and spawn ongoing conflict down through the centuries. No matter what religion you adhere to (or even if you claim that you don't adhere to any religion at all), you need to have a basic understanding of the world's religions in order to understand what is happening in the world today so that you can be better informed and a more useful citizen of your nation and of the world. Without some knowledge of religion, you will not understand the underpinnings of what is happening in an increasingly global society.
RSS Feed
Understanding World Religions




All Episodes
Now displaying: Page 2
Nov 12, 2015

Our quote for today is from Lao Tzu [LAH-O-ZAH]. He said, "In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don't try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present."

In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day." 

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "Taoism"

Because Taoism and Confucianism are so opposite in philosophy and concept, they're commonly treated as separate religions. Also, combining them would result in a very lengthy chapter, so the usual custom has been followed here. This is somewhat artificial, however, since Chinese religion as it is actually practiced combines these along with ancient polytheistic religions, including ancestor veneration and Buddhism. This is a community religion, and a traditional temple in Taiwan or rural China frequently contains statues of Confucius, Lao-tzu, Buddha, and many traditional deities all together.

Taoism takes its name from the title of the book "Tao Te Ching," or "The Way of Nature." In modern slang we might call this philosophy "It is what it is." This brief work—its length is about the same as five chapters of this book—rivals the "Analects of Confucius" as the most influential literature in Chinese history. Only the Bible has been translated more times than the Tao Te Ching, and more than a thousand commentaries have been written about it.

The man traditionally credited with having written it and with starting Taoism was named Li-poh-yang, but he is better known by the title given him by his disciples, Lao-tzu, meaning "Old Master." In China, where age is highly revered, this title of respect even gave rise to a legend that he was born old. There is less historical information about Lao-tzu than any other founder of a world religion. Some scholars even doubt that this historical person ever existed. Confucian sources say he was born about 500 BC, and that the two shapers of Chinese life met in person. Many literary scholars believe the Tao Te Ching was compiled from multiple sources over several centuries.

Nov 5, 2015

Our quote for today is from Confucius. He said, "Never impose on others what you would not accept for yourself."

In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day."

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "Confucianism"

Many people would describe Confucianism as a philosophy or ethical system rather than a religion. This is probably what Confucius himself intended. His writings teach about how to live and conduct oneself in this life here and now. He was personally agnostic, if not atheistic; while not directly challenging belief in gods and the supernatural, he was indifferent as to their existence—as far as he was concerned, they were irrelevant to what's really important.

But in the centuries after his death, his followers gradually folded his memory and image into the religious practices already existing in China. The Chinese prefer the term veneration rather than worship to describe the rituals connected with their ancestors. To the outside observer, though, the rituals would look very similar to the worship practiced by other religions. It is the inward intent that distinguishes the two concepts.


Jul 29, 2015

Our quote for today is from Buddha. He said, "There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting."

In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day."

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "Tibetan Buddhism" 

Tibetan Buddhism may be best known in the West because of the international popularity of its leader, Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama. Tibetan Buddhist monks are called lamas, meaning "superior ones." There are two orders of lamas, which the West labels the Red Hats and the Yellow Hats. The Yellow Hats are the larger group and their leader is the Dalai Lama. 

Buddhist missionaries entered Tibet from both India and China in the seventh century AD, at the Tibetan king's invitation. The new religion was quickly adopted and had government support. By the fourteenth century, the monks had become so powerful they took over rule and held it until the 1950 Chinese invasion. At this time, the current Dalai Lama and many followers escaped to India, where they currently live in exile. Unlike his predecessors, Tenzin Gyatso has traveled widely as a spokesman for human rights and international harmony. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace. 

When a Dalai Lama dies, monks thoroughly search Tibet, checking all boys born within a certain date range to see which might have the traits of the deceased leader. Further tests and divination will be carried out to select which child is the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama. Then he will be taken to a monastery and given years of special training to prepare him to take over leadership of the Tibetan community. The death of this Dalai Lama will produce a special challenge, since the Tibetan community is now scattered around the globe and a search of Tibet would be hindered or forbidden by the Chinese authorities. Also, the Chinese government has said China will choose the next Dalai Lama, which most Tibetans are sure to reject. Sadly, the effort to replace a Dalai Lama noted for peace efforts may be marred by violence. 


Jul 23, 2015

Our quote for today is from Buddha. He said, "There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting."

In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day."

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "Mahayana Buddhism" 

Early in Buddhism's development, disputes about the correct meaning of Gautama's teaching divided his followers into various schools of thought. Within ten years of his death, there were sixteen different factions. Several councils, one convened by Emperor Asoka, attempted to bring unity but failed. Over the next several centuries, these groups organized themselves, elaborated on their doctrinal views, and deepened what became permanent divisions. 

The Hinayana ("exclusive way") groups were more conservative; today Theravada is the only remaining Hinayana branch. The Mahayana ("expansive way") schools, largely because of their flexibility in accommodating other religions, were more successful in their missionary efforts and now are Buddhism's largest branch. Various types of Mahayana Buddhism are found in China, Korea, Japan, and other parts of Asia. 

Central to the Mahayana system is the belief that in addition to what he taught publicly, the Buddha gave a number of secret or hidden teachings to a select and qualified few. This idea gave authority to additions and changes as the movement spread and developed. One of the first was that Gautama was more than a man. This deification of Buddha as an eternal being who came to help humankind led to Buddhism's decline in India, even while helping it spread elsewhere. Hindus simply adopted Gautama as one of Vishnu's ten avatars, and by encouraging his worship, drew devotees back into Hinduism. 


Jul 16, 2015

Our quote for today is from Gautama Buddha. He said, "A man is not called wise because he talks and talks again; but if he is peaceful, loving, and fearless then he is in truth called wise."

In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day."

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "Theravada Buddhism" 

Buddhism is the fourth largest of the world's religions, with about 350 million followers, and like Hinduism, its influence extends far beyond the actual numbers. Theravada, the most traditional, conservative form today is found primarily in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Although some of its followers intermingle animistic beliefs and practices, Theravada is essentially nontheistic, believing that enlightenment must be achieved by one's own efforts, without supernatural assistance. Since Theravada is closest to the original, Buddhism's beginnings will be described in this chapter. 

Buddhism began in India, though now it is a tiny minority there. Like Jainism, which began at about the same time, it started as a reform movement within Hinduism but developed into a separate religion. Siddhartha Gautama, its founder, was born into the family of a Kshatriya raja (minor ruler). Many legends have developed regarding his life, and sorting fact from later additions is difficult. Generally accepted dates for his life are 560-480 BC. 

According to tradition, at his birth it was foretold that if he saw only beauty and youth he would become a great king, but if he saw disease and death he would become a religious teacher. Since his father preferred the former outcome, Gautama grew up in an extremely sheltered environment, rarely leaving the walls of his palace. He married and had a son, but around age thirty became restless with his confined life. He slipped out and, deeply disturbed by seeing sick and dead people in the area, left his family and took up the life of a wandering monk. He tried philosophy, then the most extreme form of asceticism. One legend claims that during this period he lived on one daily grain of rice. However, even this did not bring him the answers he sought. He gave up asceticism, ate a meal, and sat under the shade of a tree to meditate. Finally, through meditation, Gautama found enlightenment and became the Buddha, meaning "Enlightened One." 


Jul 8, 2015

Understanding World Religions #27

Our quote for today is from Guru Granth Sahib. He said, "I didn’t ask for it to be over. But then again I didn’t ask for it to begin. For that’s the way it is with life, as some of the most beautiful days come completely by chance. But even the most beautiful days eventually have their sunset."

In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day." 

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "Sikhism" 

Traditional Sikh men are recognizable by their starched, symmetrical turbans and full beards. Because Sikhs are not to cut their hair, older men’s beards and hair are piled on top of the head, under the turban. A few Hindus and some types of Muslims also wear turbans, though of a different style. This led to a tragic case of mistaken identity in the first reprisal killing after September 11, 2001, when an enraged American murdered a Sikh store owner in Phoenix, assuming anyone wearing a turban was Muslim. 

The Sikh religion is unique in attempting to synthesize one religion out of two very different ones. Nanak, its founder, was born into a Hindu family during the late fifteenth century in the Punjab region of northwest India. This was during the period of the Moghul Empire, when a Muslim minority ruled over the Hindu majority. 

Besides his Hindu upbringing, Nanak was highly influenced by a Muslim teacher. He apparently had a contemplative personality and spent much time reflecting on religion. At about age thirty, he claimed to receive a revelation from God while meditating. He was called to be a prophet of the true religion and preach the message of the essential unity of Islam and Hinduism. 

For the next several decades, Nanak wandered India, teaching his concepts and organizing communities wherever people accepted his message. These followers were called Sikhs, a Punjabi word meaning “disciple.” Nanak taught that there is only one God, called The True Name. Hindu polytheism, he said, just sees many different facets of this one God. Also similar to Islam, he believed in the duality of the universe, the reality of both the material and spiritual worlds. The earth was created by God; humans are the pinnacle of that creation. From Hinduism, Nanak retained the concepts of karma and reincarnation and taught that The True Name would eventually free humans from the cycle of rebirths. He also taught very simple forms of worship, rejecting most of the rituals of both religions. 


Jun 11, 2015

Our quote for today is from Marcus Aurelius. He said, "It is a ridiculous thing for a man not to fly from his own badness, which is indeed possible, but to fly from other men's badness, which is impossible."

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "Jainism" 

Jainism, little known in the West, had a significant role in shaping post-classical Hinduism. And although today it has barely four million followers, Jainism continues to have an impact on modern India because its adherents are among the wealthiest and most influential of the country's businessmen. 

The founder was a man named Mahavira, born somewhere around 590 BC into the Kshatriya caste. As a young man, he abandoned his life of wealth and ease and joined a group of Hindu ascetics in search of answers to life's deep questions. He found even their self-deprivation insufficient and set out on his own course of extreme asceticism, seeking the most difficult and painful circumstances to free his soul from the bonds of reincarnation. After twelve years, he claimed to have achieved moksha (release) and spent his remaining thirty or so years teaching others about the path he had discovered. 

Unlike the monistic concept of Hinduism, Mahavira taught the dualism of body and soul. Somewhat like the ancient Greek philosophers, he saw the body, or material universe, as evil and the soul as good. Karma holds the soul onto the wheel of reincarnation "like mud clings to a wheel." If this is so, the only solution is extreme asceticism, depriving the body to weaken its grip on the soul. The goal becomes complete detachment from worldly things. 


Jun 4, 2015

Our quote for today is from Robert Hugh Benson. He said, "The Church must be intelligible to the simple as well as to the shrewd."

In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day."

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "Hinduism Today" 

We've already seen that Hinduism displays tremendous variety even in India. India's place at the forefront of twenty-first-century globalization and modernization has impacted religious practice, as well. Rural life mostly has gone on as it has for centuries, despite the introduction of radio and television, but in cities, a burgeoning middle class is being changed by the secularizing influences of Westernization. India, a nuclear power, is noted for its progress in science and technology. It's also the world's largest democracy, and the political aspirations of its people sometimes clash with Hindu values. 

This clash is most evident today in the social and economic aspirations of the Dalits (Untouchables). For centuries given the lowest jobs, they achieved legal rights at India's independence from Great Britain in 1947. Mahatma Gandhi called them ha-ri-jan, "children of God," and India's constitution outlawed the caste system, but just as 1960s Civil Rights laws didn't eliminate racial prejudice in the U.S., discrimination against Dalits has continued. India has a form of affirmative action that has guaranteed a percentage of university admissions and government jobs to each caste, and there are Dalits who have earned PhDs, but they are still denied entry into many hotels and restaurants (the upper castes believe their presence would bring defilement). 

For devout Hindus, the Dalits are born into their state due to karma from a previous life—to seek improvement is to only make things worse next time around. Some Dalits have protested against Hinduism entirely by formally and publicly converting to Christianity or, more recently, Buddhism. The caste issue is still challenging traditional Hindu beliefs, and change is slow. Cross-caste marriages are slowly being accepted among the educated, urban population, but in rural areas they can still result in so-called honor killings. 


May 28, 2015

Our quote for today is from Buddha. He said, "There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting."

In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day."

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices" 

As mentioned in our last episodes, Hindu practice involves the worship of a vast multitude of deities. Worship consists primarily of prayers (usually chanted) and praise songs, plus offerings of food, milk, or money placed in front of a statue or idol of the god being worshiped. Worship, both corporate and individual, may take place in a temple. Some temples are dedicated to one god while others contain statues representing a number of gods. Most Hindu homes have shrines as well, with pictures or smaller statues to represent the gods chosen for worship by that family. No one attempts to worship all 330 million gods; people choose a few that are important to a person’s family, caste, occupation, or circumstances. 

Hinduism has an elaborate hierarchical structure for both gods and humans. At the top are Brahma, the Creator (different from Brahman, ultimate reality); Shiva, the Destroyer (also the god of fertility); and Vishnu, the Preserver. These three together are called the Trimurti, which some Hindus believe represents three facets of Brahman and thus sometimes mistakenly equate it with the Christian Trinity. 


May 21, 2015

Our quote for today is from the Indian philosopher and religious teacher Swami Prabhavananda. He said, "The little space within the heart is as great as the vast universe. The heavens and the earth are there, and the sun and the moon and the stars. Fire and lightening and winds are there, and all that now is and all that is not."

In this podcast, we are making our way through Garry R. Morgan's book, "Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day."

Our Understanding World Religions topic for today is, "Hinduism" 

Hinduism, the world's third largest religion, has about 850 million followers. Most Hindus live in India, although the Indian diaspora has taken the religion around the globe. (Indians joke that the country's biggest export is people.) Sizeable Hindu populations live in the United Kingdom, Canada, the U.S., East Africa, and on the island of Bali in Indonesia. 

Unlike most religions, Hinduism has no identifiable founder or "starting point." The available evidence suggests it has developed out of one or more ancient indigenous religious systems in India, plus outside influences brought by invaders who called themselves Aryans, meaning "noble ones." They entered India from what is now Iran, about 1500 BC. Even within India, the religion exhibits tremendous variety. In some ways, the label Hinduism is a convenient Western term, now adopted by India itself, for the great variety of Indian religious expressions. Hinduism also gave birth to three additional religions: Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. 

Religious expression is influenced not only by the underlying belief system but also by the culture in which it develops. This is most clearly seen in comparing faiths that began in the Middle East (Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam, and Baha'i), which are all monotheistic, with those that began in India (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism), which are, with the exception of Sikhism, polytheistic or agnostic, and far more contemplative. With Sikhism again as the exception, the monotheistic faiths believe humans live once and are judged by God after death; the others believe in reincarnation, giving humans multiple tries to improve their spiritual condition. 

Hinduism is probably best known for its many gods and goddesses, represented by a huge variety of colorful statues, sometimes called idols. But this is just the surface of Hindu worship. The core beliefs that underlie all the various Hindu expressions are karma and reincarnation. 

« Previous 1 2 3 4 5 Next »