The first thing the professor approached was to define religion.
He listed five attributes:
1) belief in the divine
4) salvation or liberation doctrines—going to heaven, achieving nirvana, etc.
5) beliefs about good and evil.
While not all religions have all five, all have a majority. This definition explains why baseball is not a religion—it lacks several of the elements, no matter what Red Sox or Cardinal fans believe.
The lectures started with the oldest of the remaining major religions, Hinduism, and then to Buddhism and other Asian religions before sliding over to the western monotheistic religions, which is where I am in the overview lecture series.
The thing I thought was really interesting was the version of Buddhism called “Pure Land,” which originated 200 years before Christ in India. Some of its tenets are from a BBC article located here:
The Pure Land sect emphasises the important role played in liberation by Amitabha (which means Immeasurable Light) who is also called Amitayus (which means Immeasurable Life).
People who sincerely call on Amitabha for help will be reborn in Sukhavati – The Pure Land or The Western Paradise – where there are no distractions and where they can continue to work towards liberation under the most favourable conditions.
Shin Buddhists say that faith in Amitabha Buddha is not something that the believer should take the credit for since it’s not something that the believer does for themselves. Their faith is a gift from Amitabha Buddha.
And in keeping with this style of humility, Shin Buddhists don’t accept the idea that beings can earn merit for themselves by their own acts; neither good deeds, nor performing rituals help.
This has huge moral implications in that it implies (and Shinran quite explicitly said) that a sinner with faith will be made welcome in the Pure Land – even more welcome than a good man who has faith and pride.
A precursor to Christianity?
Food for thought anyway.
The picture is from here