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Different Interpretations Of Religion

“Nearly everyone has some conception of religion. In fact, sometimes it appears that there are as many definitions of it as there are people” (Schmidt 9). Not only does each person have his or her own way of defining religion; each person has his or her own way of practicing religion. Studying these different practices can be difficult. There have been many people who have studied religion and through many different methods. While some people share similar findings, each person has his or her own interpretation of religion.
Michael Malloy found three major patterns in his studies of religion. These patterns can be seen in many religions, especially Hinduism. The first pattern Malloy describes is the way each religion contacts the sacred. There are two ways that Hindus contact the sacred. One is through the Vedic Hinduism sacrifice, and the other appears in Upanishadic Hinduism, which is through mystical orientation, where a person “seeks union with a reality greater than ones self” (Burke 11). The sacrifice follows a scheduled routine in which many priests are present to ensure the event’s accuracy. The sacrifice is used to contact the gods in an attempt to please them so that they improve relations with the gods. This will help the sacrificer receive things from the gods that he asks for. “Usually the sacrificers praised the god for deeds they wanted the gods to repeat, such as the release of rain on the earth” (Srauta Sacrifice 76). Often sacrifices dealt with the natural aspects in life, the things the people could not control on their own.
In The Katha Upanishad, Nachtketa asks the King of Death for the secret of morality. “Ask for cattle, elephants, horses, gold,” says the King of Death (Burke 39). Nachtketa declines these offerings so that he may obtain the knowledge of immortality. The King of Death tells him to know Brahman. Brahman is sacred to the Hindus. Through mystical orientation Hindu’s try to reach this knowledge of Brahman. “Often techniques for lessening the sense of one’s individual identity (such as seated meditation) help the individual experience a greater unity” (Malloy 11). Hindu’s use seated meditation, yoga, to control the body, senses, breath and mind to reach a state where they can find Brahman.
The second pattern Malloy describes is the importance of worldviews in a religion. Each religion has a different way of seeing the world and interpreting experiences. Worldviews include all aspects of life, especially; the nature of sacred reality, morality, and a view of time. Hindu’s Brahman is an example of sacred reality. They believe Brahman is everywhere and in everything. The True Self is the Brahman that is found in every person. “The Self…It is indestructible, for it is never destroyed. It is not for the love of the husband that a husband is dearly loved. Rather it is for the love of the self that the husband is dearly loved” (Burke 20,21). Hindus look for the True Self in every person. Because Brahaman is found everywhere, liberation can be found everywhere.
Hinduism’s view of morality includes the Law of Karma. This is an impersonal law that regulates morality throughout time. “To reward the good and punish the wicked” (Burke 22). The Law of Karma plays a role in Hindu’s view of time. They believe that people are born and reborn during this cycle of Samara and the class, high or low, that a person is reborn into is determined by the Law of Karma. Karma exists constantly because to the Hindus time is on going. Life is an endless cycle that can only be escaped by the knowledge of Brahman.
The third pattern is the role of male and female, and how each sex plays a role in the religion. In Hinduism there are male and female gods and they both play a significant role in the beliefs of Classical Hinduism. The god Shiva is the god of destruction, who destroys ignorance and gives Hindus mystical knowledge. Kali is the wife of Shiva, the goddess of time. She is the great mother who creates life only to later destroy life. For each male god there is a female counterpart, and the union between them, sex, is valued as the highest union that people can have. Hindus simulate this union through sexual acts, or Kama Sutra. The valued idea that the god Khrishna made love to 16,000 women in one night demonstrates the Hindu’s goal of union. The union of being and togetherness, the union of god and goddess, is what Hindu’s want to simulate because they want that same union with god. The patterns Malloy describes are very evident in Hinduism. Other people have also found commonalities among religions.
Sigmund Freud, a psychologist, has his own views of the patterns he has found in religion. Hinduism contains the belief of kathenotheism, which means Hindu’s believe in many gods, but only one god is supreme at a time. Many of the gods represent aspects of nature that the Hindu’s believe those gods control. Hindu’s believe that Agni is the god of fire, Varuna is the creator of the cosmos, Rta controls the seasons, and Tvashtri is the god of the volcano. Freud believes that the people prayed to these gods to protect themselves, “against the dangers and nature of Fate”(Freud 110). Freud feels that this is and illusion, for example the god Tvashtri does not control volcanoes, a volcano has a scientific reason for erupting. Freud believes they created the gods for comfort and to explain the things in nature that they did not have enough scientific knowledge to explain. Therefore Freud does not blame these people for their ignorance, but he feels that they need to be taught the scientific reasons for why things happen. He recognizes that people are afraid of these elements and that they use gods to comfort their fears. “Men are not entirely without assistance. Their scientific knowledge has taught them much” (Freud 114). Freud believes if men use the knowledge of science to calm their fears of nature then they would not need religion.
T. Patrick Burke along with Malloy and Freud found commonalities amongst the religions of the world. Burke describes a formula for religion. “Each of the major religions has a message about human condition; each points to something that it views as fundamentally wrong an unsatisfactory about our existence; each offers a diagnosis of the cause of that unsatisfactoriness and points to a possible remedy” (Burke 2). This describes the idea that each religion has a problem, path, and a solution. Taoism and Confucianism share this structure. Confucianism’s main problem is the lack of harmony in society. If there is no harmony, then society does not run smoothly and people do not develop to their full potential as human beings. The belief is, “Our relationship to Heaven is governed by how we conduct ourselves” (Burke 107). The solution for people who believe in Confucianism is harmony amongst the people. The path in Confucianism includes four main issues: the rectification of names, having strong leaders, Li, and Jen.
The rectification of names refers to clear language. Words must be correct and people must understand them without confusion. “We must see it that the reality lives up to its name…Human beings should be in harmony with their natures” (Burke 114). The clarity of words brings about the clarity of actions, which helps to create harmony among the people. Strong leaders are an important part of any society. People will follow any way a leader leads them. Li is the proper way of conduct, a set of moral guidelines. People need to know the rules so that they can stay in harmony with society. If people are not respectful them society will be off balance. Along with respect is Jen, meaning human heartiness. “It is the highest perfection of goodness, a sublime moral ideal beyond the reach of ordinary morals” (Burke110). Confucianism believes that by following these characteristics and this path they with create harmony in civilization and with Heaven.
Taoism also has a problem, path, and a solution. Taoists believe that the problem is that people are not empty, which does not allow them to be in harmony with nature. Their minds are not empty and accepting of other things. Taoists do not trust words; they believe that words are problematic. Once a word is used to define something it closes all opinions of thought. A common idea in Taoism is; who is to say what is right and what is wrong. “The wise man makes room in his mind for both the acceptable and the unacceptable, for what the people consider right and also what the people consider wrong” (Burke 138). Taoists also find many problems with rules. They feel that rules are as problematic as words are. The more rules a society has, the more rules there are to brake. Then the solution is emptying the mind and allowing many ideas to come and go. This concept is known as Tao. “To respond properly to Nature we must give up all conventional value judgments, abandon all our usual likes and dislikes, and simply accept what Nature gives us” (Burke 137).
The path one must take in Taoism is that of wu wei, inactive action. Wu wei is action that follows the way of Tao. Tao is an element that exists throughout the world. It is an element that exists in all things and it is also a way of understanding of life. There is no good and there is no bad in Tao. Taoists believe that good things come from bad things, and that bad things come from good things. They see the unity of all things. “Things can achieve success, not in spite of their limits, but because of them” (Burke 136). Because a person stays empty, that person is open to accepting the natural structure of life. He or she has no predetermined ideas, therefore they do not argue with what occurs. “There is a thing inherent and natural, which exists before Heaven and Earth. Motionless and fathomless…I do not know its name. If I am forced to give it a name, I call it Tao” (Burke 149). Tao’s characteristics are most commonly associated with water. Tao like water is bending, yielding, it moves around other things, and it lies the lowest to the ground. Through inactive action the man of Tao, the Sage, allows nature to take its course thus creating harmony with nature. Inactive action wu wei means, “There are times when it is better to do nothing, when action, however well intended, will do more harm than good” (Burke 141). By embracing these concepts of Tao and selflessness, the Taoists believe that they will achieve the solution to their problem of a lack of harmony in nature. If they accept nature and Tao then they do not put boundaries on their thoughts and are therefore open and in harmony with nature and the world around them.
Karl Marx was an economist who also wrote about religion. Marx did not find religion to be a positive contribution to society. He felt that religion produces a false since of illusionary happiness that causes difficulty for people to accurately evaluate their surroundings. Marx called religion the opiate of the people. He believes that it produces fantasies, it is addictive, and that it removes pain. Marx’s Theory applies to Taoism. Marx’s ideas say that Tao is a fantasy, which keeps people from progressing in their lives. Taoism’s concept of no good and no bad keeps people from trying to improve their lives in society. If people accept the bad things that happen to them, and never try to change them because they believe that good will eventually come out of bad due to the cycle of Tao, then they will never act to improve their lives. If people never try to improve their lives; then people will continue to suffer.
Taoism is addicting because every time something goes wrong people resort to it, instead of trying to fix what went wrong. Marx believes Taoism becomes an excuse and it is easier to excuse problems than it is to solve problems, and that is how it becomes addicting. Taoism removes pain because the Taoist belief is that there is no good or bad. If there is no bad, then people do not feel pain. Marx believes that if people do not feel pain then they will not act to rid the pain, and again no progression is made in society. To Marx, all religion must be destroyed, this way people will solve their problems instead of turning towards religion. By solving problems instead of masking them with illusory happiness, the people may truly be happy. “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed people…the abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness” (Marx 41).
For all people religion provides something different. To some, living by way of religious practices is the only way they see fit to live. Religion is an explanation that comforts them. Other people find religion as a paralyzing element in the world, which holds back the cognitive development of people and the development of society. There are no certainties, except that there are no right or wrong views in terms of religious opinions, because every person has his or her own opinion.

Works Cited Burke, T. Patrick. The Major Religions. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc, 1996. Freud, Sigmund. “Religion As a Wishful Fulfillment.” Issues in Religion. 2nd ed. Ed. Allie M. Franzier. New York: D. Van Nastrand Co, 1975. Malloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions. California: Mayfield Publishing Co, 1999. Marx, Karl. “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.” On Religion. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1955. Schmidt, Roger. Exploring Religion. California: Wadsworth Publishing Co, 1988.

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