The Four Main Dharmic Religions

The four main Dharmic religions share many similarities beyond their originating countries. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism are the most popular religions in India today, with a combined two billion followers worldwide. The values that these religions emit most especially is peace, and happiness through self discipline. While they may have a difference of opinion on supreme beings, and very different details in everyday practice, there is no doubt that these religions have found a pathway to harmony. Hinduism is the popular religion of India and Nepal, and worldwide has about 900 million members. It stretches back to about 2000 BCE along the Indus Valley in modern day Pakistan, although the exact timeline appears to be in doubt.

Unlike most religions, Hinduism has no single founder, scripture, or even commonly agreed sets of teachings. Because of this, Hinduism is considered more of a collection or family of religions rather than a single religion. Hinduism believes in a multitude of gods which emanate from a single supreme god. They also believe in a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth regulated by Karma. A person’s Karma dictates what sort of being they would be reborn as, which encourages Hindus to not only be peaceful amongst men, but amongst wildlife and plants as well. The primary religious texts are the Vedas (the four main ones being Rig Veda, Hymn knowledge which is the most important and includes origin of universe; Yajur Veda, chant knowledge; Sama Veda, song knowledge; and Atharva Veda, knowledge from the teacher Atharva).

Unlike Hinduism, Buddhism starts with one man’s quest to alleviate suffering among humankind. About 2,500 years ago in the 6th century (in modern day Nepal), Siddhartha Gautama, a prince, was foretold to be either a very powerful ruler or else an amazing guru. His father did his best to encourage Siddhartha towards his royal duties by confining him within the castle walls, but eventually Siddhartha had enough and left home in order to see first hand what his subjects were going through. It is believed that Siddhartha eventually meditated under the Bodhi tree until he discovered true enlightenment, and henceforth was known as the Buddha. Buddhism differs from most religions in that it does not believe in a god.

The belief if that nothing in permanent and that change is always possible if you can change the way you think. Buddhism is diverse in that it has various schools of training for an aspiring Buddhist. They all share the belief in Four Noble Truths: Dukkha (the truth of suffering), Samudaya (the truth of the origin of suffering), Nirodha (the truth of the cessation of suffering) and Magga (the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering). Jainism is another Indian religion. Like Buddhism, it is a religion without gods. Like Hindu, Jainism also believes in a Karma rebirth system. Jainism has no single founder, but has been revealed at different times by various tirthankara (akin to prophets). Tirthankaras are the most accomplished teachers who teach others how to achieve the highest spiritual goals of existence through practices such as penance and meditation. It is mistakenly believed that Jainism founded by the Tirthankara Nataputta Mahavira around 550 BCE, but followers believe that Mahavira was following a religion already established before him.

There is some historical evidence to support these claims. Evidence suggests there was a Tirthankara who lived about 250 years before Mahavira by the name of Parshva. While Mahavira did not found the religion, he did create various texts (many which had been lost, some which have been preserved). Like Hinduism and Buddhism, Jainism is a very peaceful religion. Sikhism was founded in the 16th century in modern day India and Pakistan. It was founded by Guru Nanak and is based on his teachings, as well as the teachings of the nine Sikh gurus who followed him.

Unlike the other religions mentioned, Sikhism is monotheistic. Their god is genderless, and everyone has direct access to Him. They believe the way to a good life is by keeping God in the heart and mind at all times, by living honestly and working hard, by treating everyone equally, by being generous to those less fortunate, and by serving others. Sikhism is largely community based and had been encouraged by the Gurus to decide issues as a unit based on the values of their scripture. Sikhs also believe in the rebirth cycle, and that cycle is dependant on an individual’s Karma. Sikhs believe that their god asks them to turn away from regular like in order to achieve closeness, rather it demands they use that regular life as a path to that closeness.

Although these religions have a difference of opinion on deities and the pathway to enlightenment. Though they are so closely woven together, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism share many of the same values and strengths. The values of peace and goodwill towards all creatures are staples on their journey towards enlightenment and everlasting happiness.

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