Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism

The four major religions of the Far East are Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism.

Hinduism

Hinduism, a polytheistic religion and perhaps the oldest of the great world religions, dates back about 6,000 years. Hinduism comprises so many different beliefs and rituals that some sociologists have suggested thinking of it as a grouping of interrelated religions.

Hinduism teaches the concept of reincarnation—the belief that all living organisms continue eternally in cycles of birth, death, and rebirth. Similarly, Hinduism teaches the caste system, in which a person's previous incarnations determine that person's hierarchical position in this life. Each caste comes with its own set of responsibilities and duties, and how well a person executes these tasks in the current life determines that person's position in the next incarnation.

Hindus acknowledge the existence of both male and female gods, but they believe that the ultimate divine energy exists beyond these descriptions and categories. The divine soul is present and active in all living things.

More than 600 million Hindus practice the religion worldwide, though most reside in India. Unlike Moslems and Christians, Hindus do not usually proselytize (attempt to convert others to their religion).

Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism

Three other religions of the Far East include Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. These ethical religions have no gods like Yawheh or Allah, but espouse ethical and moral principles designed to improve the believer's relationship with the universe.

Buddhism originates in the teachings of the Buddha, or the “Enlightened One” (Siddhartha Gautama)—a 6th century B.C. Hindu prince of southern Nepal. Humans, according to the Buddha, can escape the cycles of reincarnation by renouncing their earthly desires and seeking a life of meditation and self‐discipline. The ultimate objective of Buddhism is to attain Nirvana, which is a state of total spiritual satisfaction. Like Hinduism, Buddhism allows religious divergence. Unlike it, though, Buddhism rejects ritual and the caste system. While a global religion, Buddhism today most commonly lies in such areas of the Far East as China, Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Burma. A recognized “denomination” of Buddhism is Zen Buddhism, which attempts to transmit the ideas of Buddhism without requiring acceptance of all of the teachings of Buddha.

Confucius, or K'ung Futzu, lived at the same time as the Buddha. Confucius's followers, like those of Lao‐tzu, the founder of Taoism, saw him as a moral teacher and wise man—not a religious god, prophet, or leader. Confucianism's main goal is the attainment of inner harmony with nature. This includes the veneration of ancestors. Early on, the ruling classes of China widely embraced Confucianism. Taoism shares similar principles with Confucianism. The teachings of Lao‐tzu stress the importance of meditation and nonviolence as means of reaching higher levels of existence. While some Chinese still practice Confucianism and Taoism, these religions have lost much of their impetus due to resistance from today's Communist government. However, some concepts of Taoism, like reincarnation, have found an expression in modern “New Age” religions.