Indian Religions | Far Eastern Relogions | Semitic Religions | Mythology

The main Indian religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism are linked by a belief in karma. Life is regarded as a continual cycle of birth, life and re-birth (samasara) and that the deeds or desires of part lives determines ones fate in this and future lives (karma).  The karmic cycle can be broken by adherance to the doctrine preached by each religion.


origin. North India, 5th century BC, a Hindi protest group.

originator. Prince Siddhartha Gautama (563-483BC), Buddha.

main text. Three pitakas (baskets) called vinaya, dharma and abhidharma (discipline, doctrine and further doctrine).

followers. 307 million.

divisions. The main divisions are Theravadan in SE Asia, Mahayanan in N Asia, Lamaism in Tibet and Zen in Japan.

deity. None although Mahayanan Buddhists believe in buddha as a spiritual being.

The teachings of Buddha reveal that there is no permanent 'self' and suffering is caused by a desire for that which is impermanent. These beliefs are expressed in the nobel truths:

 Dukkha, to exist is to suffer.

 Samuddaya, suffering is caused by desire, the cravings for pleasure and possessions.

 Nirodha, detachment from desire will end suffering.  Magga, there is a Way to achieve detachment.

The 'Way' varies between the buddhist divisions but the central theme is of meditation to acheive enlightenment or nirvana (the blowing out of desire).


origin. Indus valley, about 1500BC.

originators. Persian settlers influenced by Aryan invaders.

main text. Collectively known as the Veda. The earliest, Veda Rig, dates from before 1000BC. The most popular is the Bhagavad Gita.

holy city. Varanisi, on the river Ganges.

followers. 650 million. About 80% of all Indians are Hindi.

deity. See below.

Hinduism is a multitheistic religion in which the many gods and goddesses are worshiped in the home and by the numerous sects. The caste system is strictly enforced and all Hindi's are expected to make an annual pilgrimage to a holy centre such as the Ganges, for cleansing. To die in a holy place ensures re-birth.

The Veda Gods: Indra (thunder god), Varuna (divine arbitrator), Agni (god of fire) and Surya (the sun).

The Hindu Gods: Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver), Shiva (destructor), Gamesh (remover of obstacles) and Hanuman (warrior god). There are also the 10 Avatars of Vishnu which include Krishna and Buddha.


origin. 6th century India.

originator. Break away group of Hindus led by Mahavira.

main text. Siddharta.

followers. 4 million.

divisions. Digamaras and Swatambaras.

deity. None.

The central theme is of non-violence, an idea that has influenced other religions. Jains see the world as a place of misery and suffering and most are monks or nuns each seeking the way to personal liberation (moksha).


origin. India 16th century.

originator. Guru Nanak (1469-1539).

main text. Guru Granth Sahib.

holy city. Amritsar in the Punjab.

followers. 16.5 million.

deity. God, the immortal creator.

The central lesson is that a good and contemplative life will achieve unity with God. Sikhs also believe in reincarnation. Sikh history revers the first 10 Gurus the last of which, Gobind Singh, developed the Sikh community. The five Sikh symbols are: kesh, kangha, kara, kachh and kirpan (beard and uncut hair with a turban, comb, metal bracelet, knee-length shorts and dagger).

Sikhs have a wide influence in India and there is increasing demand for a separate homeland in the Punjab (North India).

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