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Section 1: South Asian Religions/Philosophies
The belief systems of samsara/rebirth and karma/action came to be very important features of four Indian religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. How the karma concept of rebirth is explained in these traditions? (one paragraph for each tradition).
In Hinduism, the concept of karma can be explained as a set of all actions and their consequences in both present and previous incarnations, which determines the future of people. In each incarnation, a person performs certain actions that affect the fate of other living beings and, ultimately, the state of the world as a whole (Nigosian, 2015, p.91). Every conducted action returns like a reflected ray; thus, what was an act in the past life becomes the destiny in the next incarnation. In other words, human behavior determines the form of the next incarnation. Thus, karma, which the actions of a person shape, defines samsara, which is rebirth.
In Buddhism, only intentional and conscious actions create karma. Every deed carries a certain ethical sense, which can be positive or negative; depending on it, a person will face reward or punishment in this life or the future (Nigosian, 2015, p. 126). Karma, therefore, is something fatal in the sense that a person cannot escape the consequences of his/her own actions. On the other hand, a human can create better conditions for future rebirth consciously. According to Buddhism, reincarnation or rebirth (samsara) occurs due to the law of karma. The chain of rebirths can have an end, which is nirvana.
The Jains elaborated a very detailed concept of karma. They distinguish eight kinds of karmas, which have two fundamental qualities (Nigosian, 2015, p. 163). Evil karmas negatively affect the main properties of the soul, which, according to the Jains, it acquired being perfect in its natural form. Good karmas keep the soul in the cycle of rebirth. Only when a person gradually loses evil and good karmas, he/she can obtain freedom from samsara, which is the endless rebirth in the material world. Asceticism and good deeds are the only ways, which can help the soul to liberate from the negative impact of samsara and karma.
According to the doctrine of Sikhism, karma depends on the quality of a person's life. If one conducts good deeds, his/her karma remains good as well. However, unlike other Indian religions, Sikhism sees no need in following ascetic practices or performing religious rituals for stopping the cycle of rebirths (Nigosian, 2015, p. 171). Even though karma depends on the individual's actions, which define the next rebirth, liberation from the vicious circle of rebirths is possible due to the grace of God.
2. Non-violence (ahimsa) informs every aspect of Jainism, from doctrines to dietary practices and devotional rituals. Explain the concept of ahimsa in these contexts and with some examples.
Jainism is one of the oldest spiritual and religious practices. The main difference between Jainism and other religions lies in the prominent principle of respect to all living beings in the world that the Jains apply. The followers of Jainism believe that the only way to save own soul is to protect every other soul (Long, 2013, p. 34). Therefore, the central teaching of the Jains and the core of Jainism ethics is following the concept of ahimsa, which literally means non-violence. Since ahimsa regulates every aspect of the life of the Jains starting from devotional rituals and ending by dietary practices, one should understand that this concept implies not only the protection of the human soul but also the requirement of not harm any living organism. It is forbidden to kill animals, harm living beings, and even think or speak of the capability of offending any living creature (Long, 2013, p. 65). For a follower of Jainism, the greatest sin is causing living creatures harm (ahimsa). Since non-violence is considered the most important Jainism principle, all Jain ethics focus on its practical implementation. The observance of non-violence practice is essential since it forms the basis of righteous behavior, which leads to the attainment of liberation. Because of the comprehensive nature of the theory and practice of ahimsa in Jainism, the Jain scriptures prescribe a range of detailed rules of behavior. Therefore, the Jains never travel by cars or other transport vehicles. They walk only barefoot and wear bandages on their faces; if necessary, they clear their path using a special broom (Long, 2013, p. 76). In addition, the Jains filter drinking water in order not to swallow any living organism. The Jains do not have the right to participate in hunting, fishing, and cattle breeding. They do not cultivate the land because the living creatures can die during this process. Concerning dietary practices, vegetarianism is an indispensable condition for the Jains. The followers of Jainism do not eat food, which consists of ingredients produced from the meat of dead animals (Long, 2013, p. 80). Some activists of Jainism are vegans since the manufacture of dairy products causes the cows harm. Thus, it is important to state that the concept of ahimsa is not only the basis of the doctrine of Jainism but also the guideline that regulates the everyday life of the Jains.
Section 2: East Asian Religions/Philosophies
6. What are some of the core principles of classical Confucianism? Explain the contribution of Master Confucius to the development of moral/ethical dimensions of Confucianism.
The core principles of classical Confucianism base on virtues and moral behavior. The main ethical concept of this religion is humanity, which is paramount to the family and social life of a person (Littlejohn, 2010, p. 172). It can be achieved through the self-improvement of a human and strict observance of laws and rituals that society adopts. These laws prescribe a respectful attitude to the elder of high social status, courtesy, and devotion to the state. The main purpose of the followers of the Chinese doctrine of Confucianism is to achieve the special state of mind called junzi (noble person) (Littlejohn, 2010, p. 177). According to Confucianism, only noblemen who are the representatives of the ruling class can understand the laws of humanity. This understanding is inaccessible to ordinary people. In Confucianism, the rulers are treated as the messengers of Heaven, and the power itself is divine. Confucianism encouraged the rulers to develop wise management, show an example of nobility, and do not burden people with strict duties and taxes (Littlejohn, 2010, p. 183). As a moral doctrine, it promotes the knowledge of the will of Heaven, reconciles it with the desires of the heart, and strictly enforces the prescribed laws and rituals (Littlejohn, 2010, p. 184). The ethics of Confucianism try to consolidate the principle of justice in relationships between people within the system of public administration.
The ideas of Confucius had a significant influence on the life and consciousness of the Chinese. His teaching became the basis of social stereotypes and moral behavior (Littlejohn, 2010, p. 190). The Master implemented the principle of social harmony, which revealed in the fact that all people had to follow their destiny. Confucius created a standard of moral and ethical excellence within the image of a nobleman. He had formulated the golden rule of ethics: Do not do to a man what you do not want for yourself (Littlejohn, 2010, p. 192). Due to the efforts and contribution of Confucius, Confucianism became the rationalistic religion, which primarily cared about a living person, not about mysterious invisible souls or mythical afterlife. Thus, the teaching of Confucius embraced the social and personal aspects of the individual's life. It aimed to create a virtuous human and thoughtful member of society.
What is the philosophical Daoism (Taoism)? Explain its core features in the context of Laozi's work, the Daodejing (The Classic of the Way and Power)
Taoism is considered one of the oldest and genuine Chinese philosophical traditions. Originally, Taoism emerged as a philosophical trend; it began to absorb religious ideas much later. The book by Laozi titled Daodejing explains the main concepts of philosophical Taoism (Michael, 2015, p. 75). The presented work describes the world structure and defines the concept of Tao as the omnipotent force. With the help of Tao, one can achieve immortality or longevity, which the Chinese highly appreciate. Tao always and unlimitedly rules everything everywhere. Laozi states that Tao has no beginning but everything comes from it (Michael, 2015, p. 80). As the basis of any process, Tao is motionless but it is the beginning of any movement. Being invisible and inaudible, inaccessible to the senses, constant and inexhaustible as well as anonymous and formless, it gives the beginning, a name, and form to everything in the world. In his work, Laozi claims that the real world and social life of people are subject to the natural path of Tao and do not depend on the divine will or any other supernatural force (Michael, 2015, p. 81). Philosophical Taoism, therefore, denies the divine origin of the world and affirms its material nature. The second main category of philosophical Taoism is the principle of Te, which is the form of existence of Tao and its manifestation in concrete things and phenomena (Michael, 2015, p. 82). Te is also the manifestation of Tao in a person. It signifies the moral perfection of the personality, which one can achieve through the constant pursuit of the path of Tao. Te, therefore, is also the main ethical principle of Taoism. Philosophical Taoism examines Tao in terms of nature and human relationships as the greatest mystery, which people can observe. The individuals can feel the manifestations of Tao. Due to watching how Tao manifests itself, a person can learn how to think and act correctly (Michael, 2015, p. 98). From the philosophical point of view, there is nothing divine or mystical in Tao; therefore, there is no reason to worship it.