The Bahá’í Faith was founded by Bahá’u’lláh in the 19th century. Bahá’ís, who are followers of Bahá’u’lláh, strive to apply His teachings to their daily lives. Bahá’ís believe Bahá’u’lláh to be a Divinely Inspired Educator, entrusted by God to deliver His message to all of humanity for today.
Throughout history, God has sent to humanity, according to the needs of the time, a series of Divine Educators, known as Manifestations of God. These Divine Educators include Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. Their distinct social and spiritual teachings have guided humanity’s efforts to advance civilisation.
Both the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh are considered by Bahá’ís to be Manifestations of God, perfect beings whom God sends to humanity to reveal His will and purpose. Although we can never know the essence of God, through the Manifestations, we can discern His qualities and attributes. The writings of Bahá’u’lláh provide a wealth of spiritual teachings that assist us in progressing on this path towards maturity, and in building a peaceful and unified world.
Buddhism is a path of practice and spiritual development leading to Insight into the true nature of reality. Buddhist practices like meditation are means of changing yourself in order to develop the qualities of awareness, kindness, and wisdom. The experience developed within the Buddhist tradition over thousands of years has created an incomparable resource for all those who wish to follow a path — a path which ultimately culminates in Enlightenment or Buddhahood. An enlightened being sees the nature of reality absolutely clearly, just as it is, and lives fully and naturally in accordance with that vision. This is the goal of the Buddhist spiritual life, representing the end of suffering for anyone who attains it.
Because Buddhism does not include the idea of worshipping a creator god, some people do not see it as a religion in the normal, Western sense. The basic tenets of Buddhist teaching are straightforward and practical: nothing is fixed or permanent; actions have consequences; change is possible. So Buddhism addresses itself to all people irrespective of race, nationality, caste, sexuality, or gender. It teaches practical methods which enable people to realise and use its teachings in order to transform their experience, to be fully responsible for their lives.
Hinduism is not a monolithic tradition. There isn’t a one Hindu opinion on things and there is no single spiritual authority to define matters for the faith. There are several different denominations, the four largest being Vaishnavism, Saivism, Shaktism and Smartism. Further, there are numberless schools of thought, or sampradayas, expressed in tens of thousands of guru lineages, or paramparas. Each is typically independent and self-contained in its authority. In a very real sense, this grand tradition can be defined and understood as ten thousand faiths gathered in harmony under a single umbrella called Hinduism, or Sanatana Dharma. The tendency to overlook this diversity is the common first step to a faulty perception of the religion. Most spiritual traditions are simpler, more unified and unambiguous.
One way to gain a simple (though admittedly simplistic) overview is to understand the four essential beliefs shared by the vast majority of Hindus: karma, reincarnation, all-pervasive Divinity and dharma. One could say that living by these four principles is what makes a person a Hindu.
Christians are a worldwide movement of people inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, a 1st century Jewish religious teacher. The movement became known as ‘Christianity’: a distinct religion which became separate from its origins in Judaism.
Christians currently number about 2.4 billion people, about 33% of the world’s total population. They are spread through every continent. They form the predominant religious movement in Europe, North America, Central and South America, and Southern Africa.
Over the centuries the movement formed itself into a variety of organised bodies or institutions, called churches. Historically the three main bodies have been the Roman Catholic Church (in Latin and Eastern rites), the Orthodox Churches which separated from the wider Catholic Church after the Great Schism of 1054, and the Anglican and Protestant Churches which emerged from the reformations of the sixteenth century. There are also many groups and individuals who identify themselves as Christians without belonging to any of the historic established churches.
At the core of Christian belief is an objectively real personal God uniquely revealed in the life of Jesus Christ. Christians understand the nature of this God especially through stories told in the Bible (a collection of early Jewish and Christian writings). Prayerful reflection on these writings, and on wider experience of the world, continues to shape Christian beliefs.
When Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) first received revelation from Allah (God) through the Angel Gabriel in about 570 CE, he became the final prophet; the culmination of a line stretching back to the first human being, Adam, which included Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus, to name just a few. Thus began the final revelation to humanity, ending almost 23 years later with the verse cited above.
Together with account of Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ sayings and actions (known as the Sunnah), they define Islam, the religion and complete way of life that God has decreed for humanity for the rest of time.
Islam means submission to the Will of God. The root of the word also means peace. A person who follows Islam is known as a Muslim – one who submits.
There are five essential ‘pillars’ in Islam:
- Shahadah: bearing witness that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad is His messenger.
- Salah: performing the compulsory prayers.
- Zakah: paying a portion of wealth for the poor and needy.
- Sawm: fasting in the month of Ramadan.
- Hajj: undertaking the Pilgrimage to Makkah at the set time (if one has the means).
A Jain is someone who accepts the teachings of the Jinas. A Jain believes in Jain principles and tries to act by them in everyday life. These principles form the religion called ‘Jainism’. Most Jains are of Indian ethnicity. The word ‘Jaina’ is an alternative spelling which is less used nowadays in common parlance.
Jains believe that the only way to be rid of the karma that traps the soul in the endless cycle of birth is to follow the teachings of the Jinas. They hold that the path to liberation involves the ‘three gems’:
- the proper view of reality – samyag-darśana
- the proper knowledge – samyag-jñāna
- the proper behaviour – samyak-cāritra.
The proper view of reality demands belief in the truths – tattvas:
- the sentience of the soul, which is found in many physical forms – jīva
- that some things do not have souls – ajīva
- influx of karma to the soul – āsrava
- binding of karma to the soul – bandha
- stopping the influx of karma – saṃvara
- separating existing karma from the soul – nirjarā
- liberation of the soul – mokṣa.
Jains hold that each person is responsible for his or her own spiritual condition. The teachings of the Jinas help those who want to listen to progress towards spiritual enlightenment. Lay people can only advance to the fifth of 14 stages – guṇa-sthāna – while monks and nuns – who renounce the world, as the Jinas did – can progress further.
he earliest of the three major monotheistic religions, Judaism believes in an incorporeal God who is the universal creator of all that exists. Orthodox Judaism believes that God revealed both the text and the oral interpretation of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, to Moses, and has communicated with the Jewish people through inspired prophets, as recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. Judaism does not distinguish between the status of ethical and ritual obligations, seeing both as mandated by God, and actions are regarded as being more important than personal beliefs. Judaism believes in a force of evil, generally conceived as an individual’s ‘evil inclination’, but also that people have freedom of choice, and will be rewarded or punished by God according to the manner in which they exercise it.
The Torah tells of the Divine promise to the Jewish people of the land of Israel, and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty and the ingathering of the exiles to Zion are central to Jewish prayer.
Judaism accepts but does not seek converts, believing that non-Jews should follow their own path. Tradition identifies 613 commandments in the Torah for Jews to follow, of which only seven, including obligations relating to social justice, sexual morality, and animal welfare, are regarded as applying to non-Jew.
Sikhism, the youngest of the world’s religions, is barely five hundred years old. Its founder, Guru Nanak, was born in 1469. Guru Nanak spread a simple message of “Ek Onkar”: we are all one, created by the One Creator of all Creation. He expressed the reality that there is only one God with many paths that lead to Him, and that the Name of God is Truth, “SatNam”.
Guru Nanak’s followers were Sikhs (seekers of truth). He taught them to bow only before God, and to link themselves to the Guru, the Light of Truth, who lives always in direct consciousness of God, experiencing no separation. Through words and example, the Guru demonstrates to followers how to experience God within themselves, bringing them from darkness into light.
Guru Gobind Singh was the last Guru of the Sikhs in human form. He created the Khalsa, a spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood devoted to purity of thought and action. He gave the Khalsa a distinctive external form to remind them of their commitment, and to help them maintain an elevated state of consciousness. Every Sikh baptized as Khalsa vows to wear the Five “K’s”: