Spirituality and Sacred Texts Journals:

  • Hinduism and Buddhism

1. What is the dilemma faced by Arjuna, the warrior, in the Bhagavad Gita? Who shows him the way out of the dilemma? What is the advice Arjuna receives? Is this advice satisfying to you? Why or why not? 

         Arjuana in the face of war is torn between attacking the opposing army and backing down from the charge.  Upon seeing that some of his relatives would be fighting against him, he no longer feels that he can hurt them.  Krishna, who is the Supreme Being, tells him about self.  This new knowledge of self presents a solution to his inability to continue on with the war.  “The self does not kill, nor is it killed.  For the self is never born and never dies, nor may it ever become non-existent.  This unborn, everlasting, abiding self is not slain when the body is slain.  Knowing the self to be unborn, imperishable, everlasting, changeless.”  This excerpt from page 843-844 in The Dhammapada, is Krishna explaining to Arjuna that by killing the bodies of the men he knows he will not actually be killing them, because their self will still live on.  If self can never be killed, since it has always existed then Arjuna should not feel remorse from the war.  “Knowing that the soul is immortal and unalterable you should not grieve, Arjuna.” (Pg. 844)  This advice is satisfying to me on some levels and on others it is not.  If I put myself in Arjuna’s shoes, in the midst of war, where if I do not attack first sooner or later they will, then yes it is satisfying.  His compassion is getting in the way of him preforming an act.  By knowing that his friends and families self will live on the knowledge satisfies his compassion.  In another circumstance besides war, or besides a situation where it is kill or be killed I do not think one should just kill because the others self will stay strong.  

2. The Hindu and Buddhist religions single out one common thing that is the root of all human problems. What is that thing? How do each of these religions separately address that thing? What do they have to say about it and how do they suggest alleviating the problems that arise from it? [In your answer please provide your assessment, and supporting quotations/page numbers that support it. Remember: the Hindu documents are the Bhagavad Gita (Buh hag ah vad Ghee ta) and the Upanishads (Ooh pan ee shahdz) and the Buddhist documents are The Gospel of Buddha and the Dhammapada (daama pah da). 

             Desire is the root of humankind’s problems according to Hinduism and Buddhism.  The desire of humans is what drives us to be evil, greedy, and selfish.  Material gains are seen in the eyes of human’s as being the key to happiness, when really this desire for possession brings out the worst in people.  Hinduism tells that desire makes a person evil.  “As a person acts, so he becomes in life.  Those who do good become good; those who do harm become bad.  Good deeds make one pure; bad deeds make impure.  So we are said to be what our desire is.  As our desire is, so is our will.  As our will is, so are our acts.  As we act, so we become.”  This section from The Upanishads, page 849, illustrates how our actions and desires will make us either good or evil.  According to Hinduism in order to escape the evil you must come to realization with your self.  By realizing self and being happy just with ones self, you will free yourself of desire and then be able to live with true happiness.  Unlike Hinduism, Buddhism does not see desire as evil but sees desire as a hindrance from reaching enlightenment.  In order to reach enlightenment you must live your life on the middle path.  Which means you are no longer obsessed with objects and sensual desire, but you also aren’t tormenting yourself.  As described on page 863 in The Buddha’s Path to Enlightenment, “And what is that middle way?  It is simply the noble eight fold path, that is to say, right view, right intention; right speech, right action, right livelihood; right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.”  By letting go of longings and desires Enlightenment can be achieved.  If you want to reach enlightenment and rid yourself of evil desires Buddhism simply instructs to do good things.  “Having done something evil, Don’t repeat it, Don’t wish for it: Evil piled up brings suffering.  Having done something meritorious, Repeat it, Wish for it: Merit piled up brings happiness.” (Pg 869, The Dhammpada)

3. How are the ideas you encountered in the eastern religions this week similar to or different from ideas you've encountered before in other religions or others systems of ideas. [In your answer be specific about what ideas/concepts and how those relate to specific ideas/concepts from other areas. You do not have to confine yourself to religious teachings - hint: psychology, ecology, physics, etc.].

            Buddhism and Hinduism like Christianity teach to do good, make good choices, and to avoid making evil, bad choices.  Unlike Christianity, in Hinduism and Buddhism you do these things and make choices to better yourself.  By living a good life, free from desire you get good karma or you obtain enlightenment.  As said in The Dhammapada on page 867, “One who recites but a few teachings yet lives according to the Dharma, abandoning passion, ill will, and delusion, aware and with mind well freed, not clinging in this life or the next, attains the benefits of the contemplative life.”  Living your life this way benefits you and your self.  In Christianity you make good choices because punishments and consequences come from doing the opposite.  The choices you make as a Christian are more about what would please God and what will get you into heaven.  Christianity holds such a high place in Western culture’s religion and tends to cast a negative shadow over the Eastern religions.  When really there mantras of peace and self-enlightenment would be very beneficial to people in the West.  Humans need to do good and live peaceful lives free of desire because it will help them to be content with themselves, rather than only doing good to please their God.  Making a decision based on the desire to get into heaven will not free you and let you obtain peace with yourself. 

  • Maimonides

1. What do you think Maimonides' main thesis might be in the writing "The Thirteen Foundations of Jewish Belief" and "The Laws Concerning Mashiach"? [In other words what point is he trying to make you understand as a reader. Don't just look for one or two ideas, but consider the whole of the two works. One hint is to reflect upon the titles, which convey much about what he's trying to do]. Upon what are you basing this assessment? [In other words, what about the work leads you to this conclusion? What evidence is there that your idea about this work is a correct interpretation of what Maimonides is saying to the reader?]

              Having not had much exposure to religious texts in my lifetime I truly was viewing these works without any prejudices, I do not associate myself with a certain religion so there was no bias in what I felt the thesis was or if I felt the thesis was correct.  The works of Maimonides were completely new to me.  I gathered that the main point of these works was and still is, to show and teach the reader that Judaism is above all the correct religion.  Under the First Foundation in The Thirteen Foundations of Jewish Belief, page 905, “for He needs nothing else and is sufficient unto himself.  He does not need the existence of anything else.  All that exists apart from Him, the angels, the universe and all that is within it, all these things are dependent on Him for their existence.”  The Thirteen Foundations tell how God is above all else, that his prophets speak the truth, and that if you follow the Torah you will be rewarded.  Even though Christianity uses part of the Torah in their Old Testament, Maimonides goes on to prove this thesis further in The Laws Concerning the Mashiach.  This tells of how the Messiah has not yet come.  People of Jewish faith do not believe Jesus is the Mashiach promised by the Torah.  “If he did [these things] successfully (and defeated all the nations around him), built the Sanctuary on its site and gathered the dispersed of Israel-he is definitely Mashiach! He will [then] correct the entire world to serve G-d in unity”, this is found on page 911 in The Laws Concerning the Mashiach.  The Foundations and laws of Judaism show to their followers and to non-believers the structure that their religion is founded upon.  Like all others who truly and whole heartedly believe in something the thesis of these works is to convert others to the religion that they feel is above all correct in Gods eyes.  “The Torah is from Heaven.  This means that we must believe that this entire Torah, which was given to us from Moshe our Teacher, may he rest in peace, is entirely from the mouth of the Almighty” (Pg. 907)

2. Reflect upon the historical period in which Maimonides was living and where he was living [some of this information is in the introduction to the piece]. How might historical events or the location have affected how he chose to make his point? [In other words in what way do you see the author responding to something happening at that time; if you are unfamiliar with the history of the times, please use an encyclopedia or timeline like that found at].

             After researching in to Maimonides life I found that he grew up in Spain.  During the time he lived in Spain the dominant religion was Muslim, closely followed by Catholicism.  He was very interested in the sciences and learning about Islamic culture, although he was Jewish and studied the Torah.  I feel that through his exposure to different religions he became to have strong opinions about Judaism.  When exposed to different things it seems people either are very open to new ideas and do not set their heart on one particular thing.  In Maimonides case he grew to hold strong feelings about Judaism.  When writing The Thirteen foundations of Jewish Belief and The Laws Concerning Mashiach, he was influenced by his strong beliefs.  Even though he felt so strongly at the time of writing and even though today The Thirteen Foundations are widely accepted at the time the principle were controversial even in Judaism.

3. What social groups (for example: age group; educational group; economic group; religious group; political group; ethnic/linguistic group; gender group) do you think Maimonides is addressing in these works? Why do you think so? What evidence is there for your assessment? How do you think Maimonides wants these groups to respond. [Remember, with all artists/writers there are "intended primary" audiences as well as intended secondary audiences. You should think about both.]

            Maimonides is addressing all people, for he wants everyone to follow.  More specifically his target audience would probably be middle and upper class Jews, who have some influence on those around them.  He would want to pinpoint this group of people because in that time period they would be the ones most likely to be able to read his works.  Most lower class citizens at the time were not taught to read and write so they would be an unlikely audience for his literature.  As well as being able to read and write, middle and upper classes would be more likely to influence others around them to follow.  If Maimonides was able to get influential people in a community to agree with his words then they could tell not only their equals but also those under them.  This way those who cannot read and write would still gain access.  Maimonides would want these groups to respond positively and with enthusiasm.  He feels that the Thirteen Foundations of Jewish Belief and The Laws Concerning Mashiach, show the way God wants everyone to live and worship.  So in his eyes he would feel he is showing others the right way.  A positive response from others would solidify his belief. 

  • Quran

1. What is the purpose of the Quran? What does the work say about the fundamental relationship between man and Allah?  What is mankind’s responsibility to Allah?

            The Quran’s purpose is to tell people how to live their lives.  Allah through the Angel Gabriel told the prophet Muhammad the words that are in the Quran.  These messages from Allah give divine guidance to the people of Earth.  Those who follow Islam believe that all of the answers to their earthly problems lie within this book. It tells what to do and what not to do to stay in the lord’s good graces.  If you want to live your life how Allah intends you to, then you must follow the Quran.  “And they have been commanded no more than this: To worship Allah, offering Him sincere devotion, being true (in faith); to establish regular prayer; and to practise regular charity; and that is the Religion Right and Straight.”  These are the basic ways in which The Holy Qur’an says all should live their life on page 980.  Allah created people to love him and to follow him, he wants all of mankind to worship and follow his ways.  The relationship between Allah and his followers is complex, because he does not love all of the people of the Earth equally only those who follow his ways.  While he wants everyone to follow and believe not everyone does, so his attention is focused on those who have proven to be true followers.  On page 952 it shows how Allah says he is close to his people, “When my servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: Let them also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way.”  He does not want the people he created to stray.  Those who stray will be punished, but those who love him will be rewarded.  Since Allah see’s humans as his greatest work he wants to be able to reward them all.  Since Allah created man to know and love him, their greatest responsibility is to love him and not stray towards the devil. 

2. Why should one accept this revelation according to the text? What is the evidence given for this being a work of revelation?

            A revelation is defined as something revealed, or disclosed, that no one knew before.  In the Quran the actual reciting of the revelation is told in great detail, it tells of the actual recitation that took place over twenty three years and of the actual experience of the revelation being told.  Due to this in depth account Muslims believe that this is the real and last revelation. Allah told his revelation to Muhammad to share with all the people of the world.  Although some of the accounts in the Quran have also been told in Christian and Jewish books, the way Allah accounts these things and the new rules on living your life are revelations.  On page 949 it says “None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest though not that Allah Hath power over all things?”  This shows that Allah is above all else; if he chooses to change his revelations you must follow.  “Those who reject (Truth), among the People of the Book and among Polytheists, will be in Hell-Fire, to dwell therin (for aye).  They are the worst of creatures.”  This excerpt from page 980 of The Holy Qur’an shows why all people should accept this revelation.  If you do not believe in Allah or follow the Quran your punishment will be Hell.  According to the Quran all the evidence needed to prove that this is a work of revelation comes from Muhammad.  Allah directly told the prophet Muhammad the words of the Quran.  So to reject Muhammad’s word you are rejecting Allah.  The prophet Muhammad tells that the Quran is the truth so those who believe him will be saved.  Page 975 states “But those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and believe, in the (Revelation) sent down to Muhammad-for it is the Truth from their Lord-He will remove them from their ills and improve their condition.”

3. What are the “people of the book” and what is their relationship to the revelations of Allah and to those who accept Islam? In what ways does Islam resemble Christianity and Judaism?

            The “people of the book” according to the Quran are those of Christian and Jewish faith.  Many of the same figures appear in Islam and religions of the book.  In Islam God is referred to as Allah.  Jesus Christ is not the Son of God but is just another messenger of Allah.  The Virgin Mary according to Muhammad will be one of his wives in paradise.  The Angel Gabriel came to Muhammad to tell him Allah’s words.  According to the Quran Allah also gave the revelations that appear in Christian and Jewish faith and that those “people of the book” are wrongfully refusing to believe that it was Allah who told those revelations.  “We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of apostles; We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit.  Is it that whenever there comes to you an apostle with what ye yourselves desire not, ye are puffed up with pride?-Some ye called imposters, and others ye slay!” This explanation of Allah being the one God is told on page 949.  If the other religions of the book believed as Muslims do, that Allah is indeed the one to have given those revelations then they would also believe in his final revelation, which is the Quran itself.  “And when there comes to them a Book from Allah, confirming what is with them, -although from of old they had prayed for victory against those without faith, -when there comes to them that which they (should) have recognized, they refuse to believe in it but the curse of Allah is on those without faith.” (Pg. 949) So although the three religions contain some of the same figures, they are represented differently in Islam.  Where Judaism and Christianity feel their revelations have already came or are yet to come, Islam feels that the others revelations just lead up to this larger and most important one. 

4. What is the role of the prophets in general and of Muhammad in particular?

The prophets are to listen to Allah’s words and spread the message to all.  They have been chosen for the special mission of spreading Gods word and guiding the other humans in life.  The prophets were all sent at different times in the past to preach Allah’s message.  All of the prophets spread the same basic message to the people, that is that Allah is the one and only divine creator, all should worship and acknowledge him, all must live by his way, and avoid committing a sin. In spreading Allah’s word hopefully the prophets can convert wrong doers.  “And they say: (Allah) Most Gracious has begotten offspring.  Glory to Him! they are (but) servants raised to honor.  They speak before He speaks, and they act (in all things) by His command.”  This passage from page 968 describes the prophets.  The prophets mentioned in Islam are also the prophets in Christian and Jewish religions.  “Not an apostle did We send before thee without this inspiration sent by Us to him: that there is no god but I; therefore worship and serve Me.” (Pg. 968) The prophet Muhammad is the most important prophet in Islam.  He was the final prophet and brought the people the Quran.  To not believe Muhammad’s word is to not believe in Allah as shown on page 975 and as previously stated in a prior response, “But those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and believe in the (Revelation) sent down to Muhammad-for it is the truth from their lord,-He will remove from them their ills and improve their condition.” Muhammad was given the most important message from Allah to teach to the people.  It is by Muhammad’s word that the religion of Islam was created.  He is the founder of the religion but does not have any divine powers; Allah is the only God so therefor the only one who holds any powers.

 5. How are women to be treated? Why? In what ways can the work be used to liberate? In what ways could it be used to oppress?

            According to the Quran women and men are equal in Allah’s eyes, women are not to be ill treated by men. “O ye who believe!  Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will.  Nor should ye treat them with harshness……. On the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity.”  This is stated on page 957 in The Holy Qur’an. It is also said on page 958, “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means.  Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard.”  So in marriage the men are given superiority over the women. Even though the Quran stresses the equality of men and women in their religious duties and in the afterlife it puts women under men in many aspects.  This is not to mean women as a whole are inferior but can be interpreted that way.  Although the Quran says women are not to be mistreated, parts of the Quran could be interpreted to oppress women and others to liberate them.   Even though it was previously stated that the Quran says women are not to be treated with harshness another line from the Quran on page 958, gives permission to beat your wife if she misbehaves, “(And last) beat them (lightly)”.  Being given the power to beat your wife greatly oppresses women of Islam. The Quran does say that women can leave their husbands if they feel that they are being mistreated.  This is said on page 958, “If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husbands part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves.”  In this way women are somewhat liberated.

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