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Primary Eastern Religions
Eastern religions originate in east, south, and southeast Asia.
They can be sub-divided into two categories:
Indian Religions
East Asian Religions
Hinduism (1,500 BCE)
Jainism (6th BCE)
Buddhism (6th BCE)
Sikhism (15th CE)
Taoism (6th BCE)
Shinto (6th BCE)
Confucianism (6th-5th BCE)
East Asian Buddhism
(1st BCE-1 CE)
Indian Religions
Like eastern religions in general, Indian religions exhibit a
diversity of belief and practice. For example, not all
Indian religions accept the existence of God (in the
western sense) – a supreme personal being.
“In Indian religion, you do have God. The idea of God
is incredibly prevalent. At the same time, India has
significant forms of religion in which there is no God.”
– Nick Sutton
This is true of Indian religions, and the Hindu or Vedic
traditions in particular.
Sanatana Dharma
“The Eternal Law”
The term “Hindu” is Persian, derived from
the Sanskrit term Sindu, for the Indus River.
It was coined in the first millennium BCE.
The term originally designated the IndoAryans who lived in the Indian
subcontinent east of the Sindu River.
In contemporary scholarship “Hindu”
refers to a person who follows one of the
indigenous religious traditions of India,
where this includes the acceptance of the
sacred scriptures known as the Vedas
(circa 1750 - 600 BCE).
“Hinduism” designates a set of religious ideas
originating in a particular geographical region, but
it has no structure similar to the western religious
•  Hinduism has no specific founder or date of
origin, though the earliest texts date to the
second millennium BCE.
•  Hinduism has nothing resembling an
ecclesiastical or church structure
Hinduism is not properly speaking a
particular religion at all.
“Hinduism” is an umbrella term that designates a
variety of different religions that share certain
features, but their differences in belief and
practices are significant.
Hinduism includes the religions of Vaishnavism,
Shaivism, Shaktism, and Smartism.
Theistic vs. Non-Theistic Hindu Traditions
Theistic Traditions:
Devotion to a Supreme
Personal Being (God)
•  Vaishnavism (worship of
Vishnu or Krishna)
•  Shavism (worship of
•  Shaktism (worship of the
•  Smartism (worship of
one’s “chosen deity”)
Non-Theistic Traditions:
Devotion to Self-Inquiry
and Self-Knowledge
Yoga (Patanjali’s Yoga)
Advaita Vedanta
The Evolution of Hinduism
Buddhism Christianity Islam
Vedic Period Pre-Epic Epic
Period Period Common Era Renaissance
Bhagavad Gita Vedanta Philosophy
The Vedas
• Composed in Sanskrit beginning as early as
1,750 – 1,500 BCE
•  Veda – Knowledge
•  Hymns and mantras to various deities
viewed as controlling forces of nature
•  Directions for sacred rituals, especially
sacrifices to the gods
•  Outline of moral codes
The Concept of God in
the Rig Veda
The Rig Veda depicts the divine in several
different ways.
Monism (one absolute, impersonal being)
Monotheism (one single personal supreme being)
Henotheism (many gods, but some central deity)
Naturalistic Polytheism (many gods = forces of nature)
The divine is sometimes represented as a
particular personal deity and at other times as an
impersonal absolute being, the Supreme God.
•  These differences may reflect the historical
development of the idea of God in India.
•  The movement towards monotheism and
monism may have been motivated in part by
the concept of rita (law or order).
Diversity in the universe
Unity in the universe
Many gods
One God
•  Polytheistic and monistic/monotheistic
elements are preserved together within
portions of text that date from the same
time period.
Ekam vipra sat bahudha vadanti
“That which exists is One: sages call it
by different names.”
~ Rig-Veda I.164.46
The Upanishads
•  Composed between 600-300 BCE by
various rishis (seers)
•  Added as the final sections of the divisions
of Vedas. (Vedanta = end of the vedas)
•  Upanishads are classified as sruti (“that
which is heard”) and are authoritative.
•  Philosophical commentary on the early
portions of the Vedas, but is grounded in the
direct experiences of the rishis.
Upanishad (Sitting Near the Teacher)
upa- (near) + ni- (down) + sad (to sit)
Influence of the Upanishads
•  Authority for all Hindu or Vedic traditions,
especially Vedanta philosophy and many
Vaishnava devotional traditions.
•  Upanishads have influenced Jainism and
Buddhism (in the east), and Islam and
Christianity in the west.
•  There are similarities between the
Upanishads and Neoplatonism in western