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Evolution of religions
Choten Dorji, May 22, 2013
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Religion is the cornerstone for the ‘sacralization’ of time and space in the human civilization. The life of people around the world is significantly determined by the religious beliefs and values. Their involvement in the religious proceedings on a daily, monthly and yearly basis forms an integral part of their way of life. Ritual performance, recitation of sutras, and the location and structure of the different religious monuments mark the ‘sacralization’ of time and space respectively.

MirceaEliade’s book ‘The Sacred and the Profane’ reads: The sacred always manifest itself as a reality of a whole different order from natural realities. Man becomes aware of the sacred because it manifest itself, shows itself, as something wholly different from the profane. Thus, the history of religions from the most primitive to the most highly developed is constituted by a great number of hydrophanes, by manifestation of sacred realities. But in contrast, sacredness doesn’t remain in tack if the propitiator is contaminated with the burning of desire and anxiety. All the elements are beyond our inheritance and we are confronted by some mysterious act, the manifestation of something of a wholly different order, a reality that does not belong to our world. In fact, reality is beyond our conceptualization and just forms a basis of an integral part of our natural profane world.

So, every religion has its components to either mark or make something sacred depending on time and space. During this time, the god and gods or deities are invoked and praised to bring blessing and good fortunes. This is essentially aimed at creating and developing ourselves into persons who can fulfill our social obligations and imbue our life with peace and joy

In Japan they have a tradition of striking the temple gong hundred and eight times before the dawn of the New Year. The communities join the function and take turns to strike the gong. According to some priests, the people hit the gong to remind and cleanse themselves of the misdeeds committed and to motivate the mind for a better and meaningful life from then on. Likewise, the famous Matsuri Festival has a deep significance and strong influence on Japanese people. A local Kami is ritually installed in a mikoshi (a palanquin) and paraded through the streets to bring peace and happiness to the localities.

Other festivals like Sabbath and Christmas in Judo-Christianity too have significance based on time.

Erecting Rock-deities at the outskirts of a village is a common sight in the Japanese culture and religious beliefs. It is a designated place of residence for the deities or the kami so that it becomes a place of reverence for generations to come.

In Buddhism, apart from the Theravada sect, it accepts all forms of reforms and recommendations depending on the individual’s capability to imbibe.

Though Buddhism negates that happiness comes from pleasing the Buddha and suffering from displeasing him it provides some inspiring measures for the beginners to discard the demotivated mind and persevere towards the achievement of merit. Thus, for a Buddhist the day begins with the offering of seven cups of pure water and lighting of a butter lamp. The day becomes sacred until the water is decanted and disposed off in a clean place before dusk. The benefits from the offerings are to discard the defilements and to awaken in the self the qualities of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas.

The entrance and walls of any Buddhist Monastery has a display of wall paintings depicting the life of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas and other great sages with prayer wheels on the outer side for devotees to circumambulate and recite prayers. The melancholyic rhymes, rhythmic music and melodious chimes of the religious instruments can be heard from the temples and monasteries appropriated for different situations. These sounds awaken the people from their deep slumber of ignorance and urge them toward compassion and some higher accomplishments.

Personal experiences 

Visualization is a key practice in every religion. In my daily practices I select an object to visualize such as the Buddha, bodhisattvas, mandalas (cosmic diagrams of the spiritual realm) or other sacred objects and concentrate on that image in the image space of my mind. Wherever I am, my visualization is not simply for the self but for all beings who suffer due to the evil deeds performed out of ignorance.

In these practices, rather than letting the imagination run wild into the past and future, it is focused to aid the practice. Visualisation can help you achieve mindfulness and spiritual empowerment by taking on the qualities of the imagined deities, changing habits of mind and so forth. The individual faith of practices will never change with the change of meditation venue. I visualise and pray on my own concepts and methods of establishing the highest realisation inside the church or shrine, despite differences in religious beliefs. However, some tantric practices have vows to be observed.

Whenever I meditate, I focus on the precepts of Mahayana methods. The methods recommend us to live in equanimity without accusing other practitioners and discriminating other religions.

In fact enlightenment is something all beings and individuals can achieve, but it depends on the individual’s efforts. The ultimate wisdom of practices can be invested into our own civilisation, there by building and transforming into profound a achievement. In this context, I strongly hold upon my own conceptualisation towards balancing the western and eastern consciousness.

Religion if not practiced in a right manner, will take us to a dangerous precipice. So have some thinkers said. With changing times contaminated by material cravings and the cultural imperialism, individual motivation has been impaired which has resulted in emergence of chaos and violence. All these, we often blame on different religious beliefs. With declining individual virtues and belief systems, religious differences arose. In reality, religions do not create this nuisance, it is our ignorant mind that drags into believing the goodness and richness of one religion from the other.

There is nothing worse than undermining the other religions. If practised rightly, every religion is a good companion until one attains enlightenment.

Like a drop of water in the ocean that never dries unless the ocean dries up, merit accumulated from practising and being religious will never fade away unless one is liberated.

Choten Dorji is a lecturer in Buddhist Studies at Lekshed Jungney Shedra in Punakha.

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