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Asian Religions: An Outline

by Barnhill, David L. last modified Nov 21, 2010 07:03 PM

A ridiculously brief overview


•      General belief among the masses that the world is full of spirits who interact with humans.

•      Certain natural objects (waterfalls, mountains, huge trees) are deities.

•      Nature, then, is considered to have spiritual value.

•      Humans interact with the spiritual world, especially through shamans.



•      Native religious tradition of India. No real founder: began before historical records.

•      Vast in complexity and diversity: no single thing “Hinduism.”

•      Mystical tradition focuses on liberation from suffering through spiritual disciplines such as meditation and yoga.

•      Ideals include radically new view of the self and a state of tranquility.



•      Began in India around 500 bce with the Buddha (the Awakened One).

•      A kind of reformation of the existing “Hindu” mystical tradition.

•      Continues focus on spiritual discipline that cultivate a new sense of self, tranquility, and detachment from normal desires.



•      One branch spreads through India and Southeast Asia.

•      Another branch, “Mahayana,” spreads into China (200 ce), Tibet, Korea, and Japan (500 ce).

•      Mahayana includes many different schools with diverse characteristics, including the salvation oriented Pure Land Buddhism.

•      Zen focuses on the meditative, mystical tradition.



•      Native Chinese tradition, began to develop around 500 bce.

•      Focus on being in harmony with the cosmos and with one’s inner nature. Thus, nature is valued highly and spontaneity is prized.

•      Skeptical about the reliability of human intellect, will, desires, and our normal view of the self.

•      Social ideal is a simple communal society, or solitude.

•      Blended with Buddhism after its arrival (200 ce).



•      Native Chinese tradition, which began with Confucius around 500 bce.

•      Focus on ethics, the family, and social harmony.

•      Develops a strong view of the goodness of  human nature, and thus morality is natural.

•      Influenced by Daoism and Buddhism, developing a complex view of nature and an emphasis on spontaneity, while continuing a concern with ethics, family, and society.



•      Native religious tradition in Japan. Began as indigenous animism and shamanism among various clans in different regions.

•      When Chinese religions came to Japan (ca. 500 ce), the native traditions were given a single name: “The Way of the Gods.”

•      Nature highly prized and considered spiritual.

•      Ideal is harmony with the spirit world and purity in living one’s life.


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by Barnhill, David L. last modified Nov 21, 2010 07:03 PM