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Judaism: Basic Beliefs

Jewish people believe in the Torah, which was the whole of the laws given to the Israelities at Sinai. They
believe they must follow God's laws which govern daily life.

How did Judaism begin?

Judaism began about 4000 years ago with the Hebrew people in the Middle East. Abraham, a Hebrew man,
is considered the father of the Jewish faith because he promoted the central idea of the Jewish faith: that there
is one God. At the time many people in the Middle East worshipped many gods. It is said that Abraham and
his wife Sarah, who were old and childless, were told by God that their children would be as plentiful as the
stars in the sky and that they would live in a land of their own -- the Promised Land. This gradually came true.

Abraham's son, Isaac had a son, Jacob, also called Israel. In this way the descendants of Abraham came to
be known as the Israelites. God promised the Israelites he would care for them as long as they obeyed God's
laws. While still traveling, the Hebrews lived in Egypt where they were enslaved. Moses, a Hebrew, was chosen
by God to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt. Moses led the Hebrew people out of the Sinai Desert toward
the promised land. At Mt. Sinai, God gave Moses the Law which would guide the Israelites to today. The laws
were called the Ten Commandments and form the basis of the Torah, the book of Jewish law.

It took many years for the Israelites to finally get to what they thought was the Promised Land - Canaan. After
some fighting the Jews established the Israelite kingdom. After many years, Canaan was conquered by the
Assyrians, the Babylonians and then eventually the Romans. The Israelites once again found themselves
enslaved, this time by Babylonians. The Israelites were then taken over by Romans who destroyed much of
what had been built in Jerusalem by the Israelites. Most of the Jews were scattered all over the region and
eventually moved from place to place to avoid persecution which continues to this day. The dispersion of the
Jews is called the Diaspora.

The worst persecution of the Jews was during World War II by the Nazis who murdered more than six million
Jews or a third of the world's Jewish population. This was called the Holocaust. Beginning in the 1880's Jews
began returning to their homeland in growing numbers, this time to avoid persecution where they lived. After
World War II, many Jews believed that for the Jewish people and culture to survive, Jews needed to live in their
own country where all Jews from anywhere in the world would have the right to live and be citizens. In 1948,
Palestine was divided up and a Jewish state of Israel was formed in the land that was once called Canaan,
surrounded by countries with predominantly Muslim populations. Since Muslims also claimed rights to the land
where the Jews were living, there was conflict, which continues to this day in the Middle East.

8. talmud

Today nearly fourteen million Jewish people live all over the world. Approximately half of them live in the United
States, one quarter live in Israel, and a quarter are still scattered around the world in countries in Europe, Russia,
South America, Africa, Asia and other North American and Middle Eastern countries. Anyone born to a Jewish
mother is considered a Jew.

What do Jewish people believe?

Jewish people believe in the Torah, which was the whole of the laws given to the Israelities at Sinai. They
believe they must follow God's laws which govern daily life. Later legal books, written by rabbis, determine the
law as it applies to life in each new place and time.

The Ten Commandments, as written in the Torah, are:

1. Worship no other God but me.

2. Do not make images to worship.
3. Do not misuse the name of God.
4. Observe the Sabbath Day ,Keep it Holy.
5. Honor and respect your father and mother.
6. Do not murder.
7. Do not commit adultery.
8. Do not steal.
9. Do not accuse anyone falsely. Do not tell lies about other people.
10. Do not envy other's possessions.

There are three basic groups of Jewish people who have a different understanding of
the interpretation of the Torah.

Orthodox Jews believe that all of the practices in the Torah which it is practical to obey must be obeyed without

Conservative and Reform Jews believe that the ancient laws and practices have to be interpreted for modern
life with inclusion of contemporary sources and with more concern with community practices than with ritual

Reform Jews also allow everyone to sit together, men and women, and both Hebrew and the local language
are spoken in services.

What are the sacred texts of the Jewish people?

The Tenakh is the ancient collection of writings that are sacred to the Jews. They were written over almost a
thousand years from 1000 to 100 BCE. The word Tenakh comes from the three first letters of the three books
included in this text: the Torah, plus the Nev'im (prophets) and the Ki'tuvim (writings, which include histories,
prophecies, poems, hymns and sayings).

The Torah is written on scrolls and kept in a special cabinet called the aron hakodish, the holy ark, in
synagogues. The Torah is read with a pointer called a yad (hand) to keep it from being spoiled. Each week,
one section is read until the entire Torah is completed and the reading begins again.

The Talmud is also an important collection of Jewish writings. Written about 2000 years ago, it is a recording of
the rabbis discussion of the way to follow the Torah at that time. Later texts, the Mishnah Torah and the Shulhan
Aruch, are recordings of rabbinic discussions from later periods.

The Torah scrolls contain the Jewish bible.

This nine-branched candlestick is a special kind of menorah used during Hanukkah, the festival of lights.

In Judaism, justice is held in high respect. These are the scales of justice. 9 synagogue 10

The Jewish house of worship is called a temple. During Rosh Hashanah, the shofar, or ram’s horn, is blown to remind
people to prepare themselves to lead better lives.

Many Jewish mean wear a skull cap or 11 kippah when praying. Some wear it all the time. It is a sign of being in the
presence of God.

God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone to pass on to the Israelites.

This plate contains the ritual foods that are part of the 12 seder meal, an important ceremony on the first night of
Passover celebrating the escape of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The egg symbolizes a new beginning. The
roasted lamb bone is a reminder that God told the Israelites to put blood on their doorpost so that the angel of death
would “pass over” their home. The horseradish, which tastes bitter, is a reminder of the Jewish people’s time in slavery.
The salt water symbolizes tears.

The 13 Tallit, or prayer shawl, is used in worship. The fringe on the shawl reminds Jewish people to obey God’s law.

The 14 six-pointed Star of David is an important Jewish symbol said to be from the shield of King David, the Israelite
king who established Jerusalem as the capital city of the Israelites.
c. Judaism: Celebrations and Festivals

Jewish festivals and celebrations center around important events in the history of the Jews.

15. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year festival which usually takes place in September or October.

16. exudus

17. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement during which Jewish people fast, pray, and atone for their sins, asking
God for forgiveness. This happens ten days after Rosh Hashanah.

Passover or Pesach is in the Spring and marks the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, the giving of
the ten commandments and the journey to Israel. The Hagaddah, which is the story of the exodus from Egypt,
is read at this celebration, which takes the form of a ritual meal. There are many ritual objects which enable the
family to experience the Exodus as they sit around the dinner table.

18. Hanukkah is the festival of lights. It is held in late November or December. When the temple was
rededicated after a period of persecution, the eternal light was rekindled but there was only enough oil for a few
days. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, until more oil could be found. The Menorah, a candelabra with
eight candles representing the eight days, plus an additional candle to light the others, is a central focus for
prayers said during the nights of Hanukkah.

Important passages in Jewish life are marked by special observances. There are specific traditions for the birth
of a child and for when someone dies.

Bar mitzvah and Bat mitzvah ceremonies mark a child's thirteenth birthday (in some traditions, a girl's twelfth
birthday). The first act of adulthood is reading from the Torah scroll during services.

All Jewish holy days begin at sundown and end at sundown. The 19.Shabbat begins at sundown each Friday
and lasts until dark on Saturday. There is a special Sabbath meal which includes special foods, songs and
readings and prayers. Families hold this ceremony together, beginning with the blessing of Shabbat candles,
wine and bread (challah).

d. Judaism: Sacred Spaces and Places

Israel itself is a very sacred place to Jewish people. Jews who do not live there try to visit at some point in their
lives. In particular, Jerusalem is important because it is the ancient capital of Israel and the site of the original

The Western Wall of the ancient temple remains. This is where the tablets that Moses brought down from Mt.
Sinai with the Ten Commandments were stored in a golden box called the 20. Ark of the Covenant. Jewish
people make pilgrimages to this wall. It is also called the Wailing Wall because people grieve the destruction of
the temple and other persecution of the Jews.

Jewish people worship in synagogues. A synagogue is a center for Jewish life - not just worshipping, but
education and community.

Synagogues, of course, vary in style around the world, but all contain certain features:

 The Holy Ark with one or more Torah scrolls, covered by curtains.
 A six-pointed star, the Star of David, is often found both inside and outside synagogues.
 An eternal light in front of the ark, which represents the light which led the Hebrew people through the Sinai
and was in the original temple, is kept lit at all times.
 A reading table, at the front or in the middle of the sanctuary, sometimes on a stage, or bimah.
 A replica of the Ten Commandments.
 A special seat for the rabbi.
 No images of God, since images are forbidden in the commandments.

Synagogue services are led by a rabbi and usually a cantor, who sings traditional and contemporary melodies.
There are prayers, songs, chants and readings, as well as a sermon or discussion by the rabbi or members of
the community.

Some Jewish people go to the synagogue daily, some weekly on Shabbat, and some periodically on Shabbat
and on special holy days. Some rituals, like the blessing said at the Shabbat meal and the observance of
Passover, take place in Jewish homes.

Islam: Basic Beliefs

Islam is an Arabic word which means "surrender, submission, commitment and peace." Thus, Islam can be
defined as a path to attain complete peace through voluntary submission to the divine will.

How did Islam begin?

Islam is a monotheistic faith centered around belief in the one God (Allah). In this regard, it shares some beliefs
with Judaism and Christianity by tracing its history back to the patriarch Abraham, and ultimately to the first
prophet, Adam. All the prophets preached the same universal message of belief in one God and kindness to
humanity. The last in the series of prophets, according to Muslims, was Muhammad. Muhammad was born in
Mecca, Saudi Arabia around 570 CE. He worked first as a shepherd and then as a merchant. He was not
happy with the people around him because of superstitions and social and economic injustice. The people
were worshipping many gods and had forgotten the message of prophet Abraham to worship one God.
Muhammad loved to pray and meditate in the mountains. On one of those occasions, in the year 610 CE,
when he was about 40 years old, he received a revelation from God through the angel Jibril (Gabriel). He
continued to receive messages from God throughout his life and he began preaching to others what he had
learned. His main message is that there was no other God but Allah and that people should lead their lives in
a way that was pleasing to Allah.

How many Muslims are there?

Islam spread quickly first throughout Arabia and surrounding countries and then throughout the world. There
are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world with 7 million in the United States. Only about 18% of Muslims are Arabs
and live in the Middle East. The countries with the largest Muslim populations are Indonesia and India. There
are two basic groups of Islam: the Sunnis (about 80% of the world's Muslims) and the Shi'ites (about 20% of
the world's Muslims). Although they share the same basic beliefs, they disagree on who was the rightful leader
of Islam after Muhammad's death.

What does Islam mean?

Islam is an Arabic word which means "surrender, submission, commitment and peace." Thus, Islam can be
defined as a path to attain complete peace through voluntary submission to the divine will.

Who is Allah (God)?

"Allah" is simply the Arabic word for God. He is the same universal God worshipped by people of all faiths. The
word "Allah" is sometimes preferred over God because it is neither masculine nor feminine. Also, there is no
plural for "Allah."

What do Muslims believe?

Muslims have six major beliefs:

 Belief in one God (Allah)

 Belief in the Angels
 Belief in the holy books sent to all the prophets including Torah that was revealed to the prophet Moses, Bible
that was revealed to the prophet Jesus, and Qur'an (Koran) that was revealed to the prophet Muhammad
 Belief in all the prophets sent by God including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Jesus and
Muhammad. Although Muslims believe in Isa or Jesus they don't think of Jesus as the Son of God the way
Christians do.
 Belief in the Day of Judgment and life after death. The best reward for performing good deeds is getting closer
to God.
 Belief in divine decree. This means that God is all-powerful and nothing can happen without His permission,
however, he has given human beings freedom to choose whether to be good or bad. In the end, everyone will
be questioned about how they lived in this life.

What are the Five Pillars of Islam?

These are guides for daily life for putting the beliefs of Muslims into practice:

 Shahadah (declaration of faith)—to bear witness or testify that there is no god except one God (Allah) and
Muhammad is His prophet or messenger.
 Salat (ritual prayer)—the five daily prayers are performed at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and night. The
prayers are offered in Arabic language and facing the direction of Mecca.
 Zakah (alms tax) –Giving 2.5% of one's wealth to the poor and needy.
 Sawm (fasting)—Muslims fast during the daylight hours in the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar called
Ramadan. The purpose is to remind people of the goodness of what they have and to show equality with the
poor. Ramadan is a time for study and self-discipline.
 Hajj (pilgrimage): Muslims believe in making a pilgrimage to Mecca to the Ka'bah at least once in their lifetime.
The kA'bah is believed to have been built by Ibrahim (Abraham) and one of his sons. Muhammad restored it
to worship Allah. For this reason it is a very sacred place to Muslims.

What is the final revealed scripture (a sacred text) for Muslims?

Muslims believe that the last revealed scripture sent by God is the Qur'an or Koran. It is the speech of God
revealed in the Arabic language to Muhammad during his mission of twenty-three years. The Qur'an was
written down by scribes and memorized during the lifetime of Muhammad. The Qur'an emphasizes moral,
ethical and spiritual values with the aim of establishing justice for everyone. Many Muslims try to learn to read
the Koran in its original language, Arabic. It is not uncommon for Muslims to memorize whole chapters of it.
They read part of it every day. The Sunnah is a record of Muhammads words and deeds. The Sunnah is used
to help interpret the Koran. There is also instruction in it on belief, worship and behavior.

Islam: Imagery
The Qur’an or Koran is the holy book of Islam. The original was written in Arabic.

Muslims stop to pray five times a day. If they are not in a mosque, they pray in a clean place or spread a prayer mat on
the floor. The prayer position represents submission to God’s will or obedience to Allah.

Both Muslim men and women try to dress modestly. Some women cover their entire bodies when outside the home.

The crescent moon and stars are symbols associated with Islam. Islam has a lunar calendar, hence the crescent.
Stars are signs of Allah.

A mosque is the house of worship for Muslims. The worship of images of Allah, people, or animals is forbidden in Islam.
For this reason, Islamic art and architecture uses geometric shapes and patterns.

The tower of a mosque is called a minaret. A muezzin calls Muslims to prayer from the minaret.

Islam: Celebrations and Festivals

Id ul-Fitr

This festival marks the end of the month of fasting, Ramadan. It ends with the sighting of the new moon in the
sky. Muslims visit their mosque to say special prayers, visit friends and relatives, eat special feast foods and
exchange gifts and cards. It is a time of thankfulness for Allah's blessings which are better appreciated because
of the experience of fasting during Ramadan.


This is the pilgrimage to Mecca to worship in the Ka'bah. Muslims try to do this at least once in their lifetime.
Pilgrims wear plain, identical clothes to show that all are equal in Allah's eyes. They walk around seven times,
counterclockwise. They they walk or run seven times between two hills followed by a 16 mile walk to Mount
Arafat where Muhammad preached his last sermon. On the way back to Mecca, Muslims throw stones at three
stone pillars which represent Satan. Then they make a final seven circles around the kA'bah.

Id ul-Adha

The Hajj, whether on pilgrimage or at home, ends with the festival of Id ul-Adha in which a sheep or goat is
sacrificed. This is a reminder of the sacrifice Ibrahim (Abraham) was asked to make of his son, Isma'il (Ishmael).
When Ibrahim was just about to sacrifice his son to show his obedience to God, God provided a lamb instead.
The festival celebrates God's mercy and Ibrahim's obedience. This story in different versions is in the Koran,
the Bible, and the Old Testament which shows the common heritage of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Id Ul-Ghadir

This festival in Shia communities around the world celebrates the anniversary of the Holy Prophet
Mohammed's completion of his final message to humankind with regard to his succession. Ghadir-e-Khun is
the famous place where this event took place during the month of Hajj in the 10th year of the Hijra, or migration,
of the Prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Medina.

Milad an-Nabi (birthday of the Holy Prophet)

Muslims celebrate this occasion with great rejoicing. Muslims gather to narrate the stories of the Prophet's birth,
childhood, his character, manhood and his mission.

Lailat al-Qadr (Night of Power)

The night in which the prophet Mohammed received the first revelation from God. The Night of Power is one
of the odd-numbered nights of the last ten days of Ramadan. A portion of this night is spent reading the Qur'an
and making special prayers.

Islam: Sacred Spaces and Places

Although Muslims pray five times daily in their homes or wherever they are, in fact even in the streets, Muslims
also worship in mosques.

Mosques can be very elaborate, large structures or very simple ones. However most have these common

Sahn - a courtyard surrounded by arcades called riwags. There are fountains of water inside the courtyard to
symbolize purity and where worshippers can bathe before entering the mosque.

Minaret - a tower from which the muezzin calls Muslims to prayer. The minaret looks down on the sahn.

Mihrab - an empty arch which indicates the direction of Mecca.

Minbar - a pulpit from which the imam (prayer leader) gives the sermon and leads prayers.

Zulla or prayer hall off the sahn.

Mosques are decorated with a special kind of art. Muslims do not believe in making images of Allah,
Muhammad, any other prophets, or any person or animal. There are two reasons for this. One is that the
worship of images is forbidden in Islam. The other reason is that no artist's representation of Allah's creation
would be able to show its true beauty. It is a way of honoring Allah.

So, instead, Islamic artists use geometric shapes and patterns on their walls, floors, in their holy books, and on
other decorative items. Islamic mosques are known for incredible complex mosaic work. This medium suits the
geometric nature of Islamic art. Stars and crescents are also found on mosques and are symbols associated
with Islam. The crescent comes from the fact that Islam has a lunar calendar. In the Koran, stars are often signs
from Allah.

Christianity: Basic Beliefs

Christians believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God – fully human and fully divine – and that through
believing in him and following his teachings they can inherit eternal life.

How did Christianity begin?

Christianity traces its beginning to the miraculous birth, adult ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of
Nazareth, known as Jesus Christ. Over 2000 years ago in Palestine (today's Israel), Jesus was born into a
humble Jewish family. His mother was a young peasant woman named Mary.

Christians believe that his father was the Holy Spirit of God, making Jesus both fully human and fully divine. His
earliest followers came to believe that he was the Messiah, or messenger, sent by God to free God's people
from slavery, sin, and death. God sent his son Jesus in human form so that people would better understand
God as a caring and loving parent.

Jesus lived and experienced the suffering of humans. Jesus healed the sick and told stories, or parables, and
preached sermons that taught what God wanted people to do – to love God with all their hearts and love their
neighbors as themselves. Jesus taught by example. By being loving and forgiving himself, Jesus taught others
to be loving and forgiving - especially toward those who were considered outcasts in society. This is the central
message and style of Jesus' teaching.

During his adult ministry, Jesus built up a loyal following, led by his twelve disciples. But Jesus also made
enemies among the religious and political leaders of his time. In the end, these powerful leaders were so
threatened by Jesus' growing following that the Roman governor sentenced Jesus to death and had him
crucified. The third day after Jesus' death, his followers found his tomb empty and discovered that he had been
raised from the dead. Christians believe that the painful sacrifice of Jesus' life on the cross shows how much
God loves God's people. Jesus paid with his life on Earth for the sins of the world.

Christians believe that in raising Jesus' from the dead, God showed that Jesus' message of love and
forgiveness was more powerful than death, and that believing in Jesus and following the example of his life and
his teaching would lead to eternal life after death. The resurrection (rising from the dead) is the sign of God's
salvation offered to all people.

After his resurrection, Jesus Christ's followers spread his message throughout the world, creating the Christian
Church. Today there are about two billion Christians living all over the world.

What do Christians believe?

Christians believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God – fully human and fully divine – and that through
believing in him and following his teachings they can inherit eternal life. Christians believe that Jesus died for
humanity, that God raised him from the dead, and that Jesus will come again at the end of time. In addition,
Christians believe in the Trinity, or the three parts of God: God the Father or Creator, God the Son (Jesus) or
Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit or Sanctifier. The Holy Spirit is God's presence in the world.

The essence of Jesus' teaching comes from his summary of the Jewish law he grew
up with:

 Love God with all your heart, soul and mind.

 Love your neighbor as yourself.
 Christians also seek to follow the ten commandments God gave Moses to give the Israelites:
 Worship no other God but me. Do not make images to worship.
 Do not misuse the name of God.
 Observe the Sabbath Day (Sunday, for Christians).
 Keep it Holy.
 Honor and respect your father and mother.
 Do not murder.
 Do not commit adultery.
 Do not steal.
 Do not accuse anyone falsely.
 Do not tell lies about other people.
 Do not envy other's possessions.

What are the sacred texts of Christianity?

The sacred text of Christianity is the Holy Bible. The Christian Bible has two parts: the Old Testament which is
essentially the Hebrew scriptures of Jesus' time; and the New Testament which contains writings about Jesus
Christ and about the early church. The four gospels (a word meaning ‘good news') of the New Testament are
accounts of Jesus' life and teaching, of his death and resurrection. The New Testament also contains the Acts
of the Apostles, which describes the early growth of the Christian church; the letters of Paul and other important
leaders in the early church; the Letter to the Hebrews; and the Book of Revelation. The New Testament teaches
that salvation comes through believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in following his
teachings. It teaches that salvation is a gift God extends freely through Jesus Christ to all people.

Why are there so many different kinds of Christians?

From its beginning with a tiny group of Jesus' followers, Christianity has spread all over the world. Today, it is
practiced by two billion people. As with any large group, Christianity has experienced many different
interpretations, disagreements and struggles for power over the centuries. These have led to the growth of
many different branches of Christianity interpreting the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in different ways.
There are three basic streams of Christianity: Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic.

Christianity: Imagery

 The dove is a symbol of peace and hope. God sent a dove with an olive branch to Noah after the great flood as a sign
that the flooding was over and a sign of new life and a new chance.
 Light is an important symbol in Christianity. The sun is a symbol of Christ, the son of God, who brought light into the
 During Holy Communion, Christians share bread and wine, spiritual food symbolizing the body and blood in Christ.
 The cross is a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion. It is a reminder to Christians that Jesus died so that others may live.
 A nativity scene: the birth of Jesus as the Son of God.
 The Easter lily is a sign of rebirth symbolizing Christ’s resurrection from the dead, just as a lily grows from a seemingly
dead bulb under the ground into the daylight as a new and glorious flower.
 The Bible is the holy book of Christians. The Old Testaments of the Bible is the same as the Jewish Torah, as it is the
story of the Hebrew people.
 God gave Moses the Ten Commandments to pass on to the Hebrew people.
Christianity: Celebrations and Festivals

Christian celebrations and festivals center around important dates in Jesus' life.

Advent - the four-week season of preparation for the birth of Christ, and for the Second Coming. Often an
Advent wreathe is used as a focus for prayer during Advent.

Christmas - Jesus' birth - often celebrated with nativity scenes, stories, pageants recalling the story of Jesus'
humble birth in a stable surrounded by animals.

Epiphany - the visit of the three wise ones to Jesus just after his birth and their subsequent spreading of the
news of his birth throughout the world.

Lent - the period leading up to Easter commemorating the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert fasting and
praying. A time for personal reflection and improvement through prayer, fasting, and study.

Holy Week - the last week of Jesus' life, including Palm Sunday, which celebrates his triumphal entry into
Jerusalem the week before he was crucified; Maundy Thursday, a remembrance of the Last Supper with the
disciples; and Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified on a cross, which is the most recognized symbol of

Easter - Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Eggs are a major symbol of Easter since they symbolize new life.
Crosses are often covered with flowers to symbolize Jesus' victory over death.

Ascension Day - when Jesus' ascended into Heaven.

Pentecost - the gift of the Holy Spirit, God's presence in the world, to Jesus' followers in the form of a mighty
wind and tongues of fire.

Saints' Days - official days, recognized by many Christians, especially Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican,
celebrating people who have lived particularly holy lives and are recognized as official saints.
In addition, certain passages in an individual Christian's life are marked by celebration and special services.
These include Baptism, or birth into the Christian church; Confirmation, an informed commitment to
membership in the church; weddings; and funerals.

Christianity: Sacred Spaces and Places

Christians worship in churches. It is customary to worship on Sunday, the Sabbath, and on other special
festivals and celebrations. Some people, especially monks and nuns, attend church daily. In addition, most
Christians pray or worship at home through individual or family devotions.

Church services are most often led by an ordained priest or minister. Often there is also lay (non-ordained
minister) leadership in a service. The services usually include participatory prayers and hymns, readings, and
a sermon. For most Christians the primary service is the Holy Eucharist, also known as the Holy Communion
or the Mass. The center of this service is the sharing of bread and wine, representing Christ's body and blood,
which he sacrificed for God's people on earth. The model for the Holy Eucharist is the Last Supper, Jesus' last
meal with his disciples. At this meal, Jesus instructed his disciples to share bread and wine together as a way
of remembering him.

What do Christian churches look like?

Since Christians were often persecuted in the early days of Christianity, the first churches were simply people's
homes, or any other safe gathering place, often indicated by the secret sign of a fish. Just as there are many
forms of Christianity, there are many forms of churches today. However, they usually share some features in
common. These features tend to date back to churches of the Middle Ages. Churches from this point on tended
to be built in the shape of a cross.

Common features include:

 Bell tower
 Nave or seating area
 Altar where the gospel book and the bread and wine for the Eucharist are placed
 Pulpit for sermons
 Lectern holding a Bible for the readings
 Choir loft or seating for the choir
 Stained glass windows
 Candles, incense burners
 A precious cross over or on the altar Baptismal font for baptisms (holds the water)

Churches are generally built with the best the particular community has to offer as a way of showing respect
and praising God. Churches are supposed to be inspirations for worship.

Buddhism: Basic Beliefs

Buddhists look within themselves for the truth and understanding of Buddha's teachings.

How did Buddhism begin?

About 2500 years ago, a prince named Siddhartha Gautama began to question his sheltered, luxurious life in
the palace. He left the palace and saw four sights: a sick man, an old man, a dead man and a monk. These
sights are said to have shown him that even a prince cannot escape illness, suffering and death. The sight of
the monk told Siddhartha to leave his life as a prince and become a wandering holy man, seeking the answers
to questions like "Why must people suffer?" "What is the cause of suffering?" Siddartha spent many years
doing many religious practices such as praying, meditating, and fasting until he finally understood the basic
truths of life. This realization occurred after sitting under a Poplar-figtree in Bodh Gaya, India for many days, in
deep meditation. He gained enlightenment, or nirvana, and was given the title of Buddha, which means
Enlightened One.

What did Buddha teach?

Buddha discovered Three Universal Truths and Four Noble Truths, which he then taught to the people for the
next 45 years.

Three Universal Truths

1. Everything in life is impermanent and always changing.

2. Because nothing is permanent, a life based on possessing things or persons doesn't make you happy.
3. There is no eternal, unchanging soul and "self" is just a collection of changing characteristics or attributes.

Four Noble Truths

1. Human life has a lot of suffering.

2. The cause of suffering is greed.
3. There is an end to suffering.
4. The way to end suffering is to follow the Middle Path.

Buddha then taught people not to worship him as a god. He said they should take responsibility for their own
lives and actions. He taught that the Middle Way was the way to nirvana. The Middle Way meant not leading
a life of luxury and indulgence but also not one of too much fasting and hardship. There are eight guides for
following the Middle path.

The Eightfold Path

1. Right understanding and viewpoint (based on the Four Noble Truths).

2. Right values and attitude (compassion rather than selfishness).
3. Right speech (don't tell lies, avoid harsh, abusive speech, avoid gossip).
4. Right action (help others, live honestly, don't harm living things, take care of the environment).
5. Right work (do something useful, avoid jobs which harm others).
6. Right effort (encourage good, helpful thoughts, discourage unwholesome destructive thoughts).
7. Right mindfulness (be aware of what you feel, think and do).
8. Right meditation (calm mind, practice meditation which leads to nirvana).

What is meditation?

Meditation is an essential practice to most Buddhists. Buddhists look within themselves for the truth and
understanding of Buddha's teachings. They seek enlightenment, or nirvana, this way. Nirvana is freedom from
needless suffering and being fully alive and present in one's life. It is not a state that can really be described in
words -- it goes beyond words.

Meditation means focusing the mind to achieve an inner stillness that leads to a state of enlightenment.
Meditation takes many forms:

 It can be sitting quietly beside a beautiful arrangement of rocks, contemplating beauty.

 It can be practicing a martial art such as karate or aikido since they require mental and physical control and
strong concentration.
 It can mean focusing on a riddle such as "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"
 It can be contemplating a haiku or short poem that captures a moment in time.
 It can be in a meditation room of a monastery.
 It can involve chanting.
 It can involve the use of a mandala to focus attention to the invisible point at the center of interlocking triangles.
 It can involve quietly noticing one's breath as it goes in and out It can happen anywhere at any time.

Where are Buddha's words written down?

After Buddha died, his teachings were gradually written down from what people remembered. The ripitaka, or
The Three Baskets, is a collection of Buddha's sayings, his thoughts about them, and rules for Buddhists
monks. The Ripitaka was first written on palm leaves which were collected together in baskets.

If Buddhism began in India, why is it all over some many eastern countries?

There are over 500 million Buddhists today. After Buddha's death, some of his followers had some differences
of opinion which eventually led to their breaking away and forming separate kinds of Buddhism. There are two
main types, Theravada, which spread to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, and Mahayana
which spread to Nepal, Vietnam, China, Korea and Japan. Mahayana took on aspects of the cultures where it
was practiced and became three distinct branches: Vajrayana Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism, Pure Land
Buddhism and Zen Buddhism.

The Five Precepts

Even though each form of Buddhism took on its own identity, all Buddhists follow a set of guidelines for daily
life called the Five Precepts. These are:

1. Do not harm or kill living things.

2. Do not take things unless they are freely given.
3. Lead a decent life.
4. Do not speak unkindly or tell lies.
5. Do not abuse drugs or drink alcohol.

Buddhism: Imagery
 The eight-spoked wheel represents the Eightfold path, steps to enlightenment, which teach a way of living that lead
to nirvana or enlightenment. The center symbol suggests the lotus follower. The lotus flower.
 Buddha, whose name means ‘awakened one,’ discovered and taught his followers the path to enlightenment.
 The foot symbolizes the teaching of Buddha, following in his footsteps so-to-speak.
 A Buddhist temple in Japan is called a pagoda. Pagodas have five tiers representing, Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and
Emptiness. The spire at the top symbolizes wisdom reaching above the physical world. Buddhism spread east from
India to China and Japan.
 Monks lead simple lives, living in the sangha, or community of monks. The conical hat provides shad from the sun.
Meditation is a central part of the life of a monk. Monks beg for food and alms as they have given up worldly possessions.
In some Buddhist countries, it is customary for young boys to spend some time living in a monastery as part of their
training and education.

Buddhism: Celebrations and Festivals


This is the celebration of Buddha's birth. For Theravada Buddhists, it is also the celebration of Buddha's
enlightenment and death. During this celebration, statues of Buddha are decorated. Offerings are taken to
monasteries, and sometimes there are fireworks.


This is a time to meditate and study. In Buddha's time, it was during the rainy season which meant it was hard
to travel and teach so it was a good time for meditation and study. During Vassa, a meditation retreat, all
Buddhists are supposed to set aside some time for study and meditation. At the end of Vassa, people bring
new robes to monks.

Other Festivals

Different countries have different Buddhist celebrations. For example in Japan, Buddhists celebrate the flower
festival, or Hana Matsuri, to honor Buddha's birthday. Temples are decorated with cherry blossoms and
children pour scented tea over statues of the baby Buddha. In India, Buddhists celebrate the Festival of the
Sacred Tooth in honor of Buddha's first teaching. One of Buddha's teeth is paraded around in the streets as an
expression of this celebration.

Buddhism: Sacred Spaces and Places

Sacred Spaces

Although worshipping in a temple is not essential for worship, Buddhists do visit shrines and temples to pay
their respects to Buddha and to meditate with other Buddhists. Going to a worship space is not essential
because Buddhism is a way of life, a way to act all of the time. Some Buddhists also have shrines in their
homes, allowing practitioners to pray at the most convenient times for them.

Buddhist shrines and temples take many different forms depending on where they are built. The first Buddhist
shrines were ten dome-shaped mounds, or studpas, which were built to hold Buddha's ashes. Then more
stupas were built to hold sacred items. Some stupas are bell-shaped. Visitors walk around the stupas as a way
of paying their respects to the Buddha.

In Japan and China, Buddhists built pagodas as sacred temples. These are towers with various numbers of
tiers, usually five. The five tiers represent the five basic elements of the Universe -- earth, water, fire, wind, and
emptiness. The height represents reaching out of the physical world towards wisdom.

Sacred Places
Buddhists go on pilgrimages to places associated with Buddha's life. These places include his birthplace,
Lumbini Grove, the place of enlightenment, Bodh Gaya, the place of his first sermon, Sarnarth, and the place
he died, Kusinara.

In addition there are other sacred places, special to the various branches of Buddhism. For example, since the
Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, was exiled from Tibet when the Chinese army invaded
in 1959, he has been livng in Dharamsala, India. This has become a special place for his followers who go
there to study and hope for an audience with the Dalai Lama.

Some Buddhists want to practice Buddhism more strictly and with less distraction. These monks and nuns form
communities and live in monasteries. A religious community of Buddhists is called a Sangha. In some countries,
young boys and girls spend part of their education living as monks. Buddhists use monasteries as places of
refuge for meditation and to refocus on a simpler, less worldly life. Monasteries are important places to

Hinduism: Basic Beliefs

The fundamental teaching of Hinduism, or Vedanta, is that a human being's basic nature is not confined to the
body or the mind. Beyond both of these is the spirit or the spark of God within the soul.

How did Hinduism begin?

Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma ("eternal spiritual path") began about 4000 years ago in India. It was the religion
of an ancient people known as the Aryans ("noble people") whose philosophy, religion, and customs are
recorded in their sacred texts known as the Vedas. These texts were initially handed down by word of mouth
from teacher to student. It was not until much later that they were actually written down. Archeological evidence
from the Indus Valley civilization of northwestern India helps to establish Hinduism as the world's oldest living
religion. Today, worldwide, there are almost one billion people professing some aspect of Hinduism. The
fundamental teachings of Hinduism, which form the foundation of all its different sects, are contained in the
concluding portion of the Vedas, and are therefore known as the Vedanta (the "end or concluding portion of
the Vedas"). This part of the Vedas is also known as the Upanishads.

What do Hindus believe and practice?

The fundamental teaching of Hinduism, or Vedanta, is that a human being's basic nature is not confined to the
body or the mind. Beyond both of these is the spirit or the spark of God within the soul. This spirit is within us
and also within everything we see. All beings and all things are really, in their deepest essence, this pure or
divine spirit, full of peace, full of joy and wisdom, ever united with God. This is not just theory, but it can actually
be experienced. Anyone who takes the trouble to undergo the necessary training to purify and refine the mind
and senses can begin to feel the truth of this. This training can take various forms and is known as yoga ("union"-
union of the individual self with this inner spirit).

There are four main types of yoga, meant for the four main types of human

Karma Yoga or the discipline of right actions is for those of active temperament, striving to eliminate
selfishness, and to cultivate universal sympathy by seeing the divine reality in all.

Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion to God whose presence can be felt in all things. God can be worshipped
as present in an image in a Temple. God can be worshipped also as present in suffering humanity by service.

Jnana Yoga, preferred by those of analytical bent of mind, is the discipline of trying to see the divine reality
within all things directly, by mentally brushing aside all the obstructing physical and mental coverings that hide

Raja Yoga is the process of mental control, purity, and meditation to make the mind very calm and quiet. In
that profound quiet, the inner divine light reveals itself.
What are the manifestation(s) God in Hinduism?

What are the different sects of Hinduism? The general name for God in Hinduism is Brahman. The name of
the divine essence within us is Atman. They are one and the same, infinite and eternal. However, God is also
present in all creation. God's manifestation in creation goes by many names. It is the one infinite, eternal, Divine
Being that is manifesting in countless ways. It is like a person at the same time being called "father" by his son,
"friend" by his friend, "son" by his own father, "husband" by his wife, etc. A special relationship goes with each
name. So the same Divine Lord has been addressed as Shiva, Vishnu, etc and as Divine Mother, Kali, Durga,
etc. God can also manifest as an extraordinary being in human form, who is then known as an incarnation of
God, such as Krishna, Rama, etc. Since it is the one infinite God alone that is being looked at in different ways,
all these manifestations can be prayed to for help and protection. This is the underlying principle behind all the
different sects of Hinduism. Those who prefer a particular manifestation of the divinity will form a sect devoted
to the contemplation and worship of that manifestation. All the sects, however, will accept the ancient teachings
of the Vedas and the Vedanta as the foundation of their practice.

What is reincarnation?

In this world every cause must have its effect. We are responsible for the results of our actions. Long ages ago,
human beings first asked themselves, why are some people born in happy circumstances, whereas others are
born to suffer all their lives? The events of this present life are not enough to account for such suffering. To
reasonably explain an excess of suffering or of enjoyment in this life, it was assumed that we all have had
previous existences, and that we are now reaping the results of those previous actions. It must also be true
then that we can take charge of our destiny right now. We can create a better tomorrow by resolving do better
actions today. However, as long as desires remain in the mind, the tendency toward rebirth will exist.

What is Maya?

In this life we do not see things very clearly. We are constantly faced with contradictions. Though we know what
is right, we have trouble doing it. Our thoughts soar high, but our actions cannot rise to the level of our thoughts.
The world is full of misery and injustice; as quickly as we remove some, more seems to rush in to take its place.
We are told by the saints, and we also feel, that a loving God is at work in this creation, but we cannot reconcile
this with what we see around us. This complex situation in which we find ourselves is called Maya.

The way out of this, according to Hinduism or Vedanta, is that we are not really seeing the world properly. If we
saw it properly, we would see that it is God alone before us. Instead, we superimpose all this complex world on
that divine reality.

The illustration given is that of a rope, mistaken in semi-darkness for a snake. The snake of this world frightens
us. What is the solution? Bring a light and you will see its real nature. It is only a rope. Likewise, the real nature
or essence of this world is divinity alone. Bring the light of spiritual wisdom through yoga, and you will see God
alone everywhere. This is what constitutes spiritual freedom or liberation, Moksha. When this knowledge
dawns, there is complete satisfaction; no desire remains in the mind, and no further impulse for rebirth remains.

What code of behavior do Hindus follow?

The code of behavior is one's dharma. This is determined by the place in society and the duties associated
with it. There are four main social positions or varna; Brahmins (priests and teachers) Kshatriyas (rulers and
soldiers), Vaishyas (merchants) and Shudras (workers).

There are four ideal stages of life described in Hindu scriptures: the student, the family man, the recluse, and
the wandering holy man. For most Hindu people these represent a metaphorical path, not an actual path.

What are the Hindu sacred texts?

Hindu ancient, sacred texts were written in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. The Vedas are the oldest -
about 3000 years old. They are a collection of hymns, prayers, and magic spells. The Upanishads are stories
and parables told by gurus (teachers) to their students The Mahabharata is a story of a war between two royal
families. The Bhagavad Gita is a very popular part of this text. The Ramayana is a story of the god Rama and
the rescue of his wife Sita from Ravana, the evil demon king.

Hinduism: Imagery

 Shiva, one of the trinity of principle Hindu gods; Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the protector, and Shiva, the destroyer.
Hindus worship many gods and believe all represents different aspects of Brahman. Shiva represents samsara, the
basic Hindu belief in the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The flaming torch, the serpents, and the skulls are symbols of
destruction. Shiva’s third eye is a symbol of higher consciousness.
 The goddess Shiva is said to ride on the back of Nandi the bull. Cows are sacred in Hinduism. Cows provide milk,
butter, and dun for fuel, but are not killed for beef.
 A Hindu holy man is practicing yoga. Hindu holy men give up family and possessions in order to be free to wander
and to seek union with Brahman.
 Followers of Hare Krishna, a Hindu group formed in the Western world, worship of a God called Krishna by chanting,
meditating, singing, and dancing.
 Yoga is an important part of the practice of Hinduism. Yoga promotes self-discipline of the mind and body.

Hinduism: Celebrations and Festivals

There are three main yearly festivals. All major festival celebrations include visiting a temple, eating special
foods and exchanging gifts.

Diwali is the festival of lights. Light represents knowledge. It is celebrated in late October or early November.
This is the Hindu New Year.

Holi is the festival which marks the coming of spring. It is held in March or April. There are processions and
people light bonfires and cover each other with colored water and powders.

Dussehra is the festival which marks Rama's triumph over the evil Ravana. It is held in September. There are
dances and plays with events in the life of the god Rama depicted.
Every twelve years in January or February:

Kumbha Mela: This celebration is a huge bathing affair. Millions of Hindu pilgrims go to the River Ganges at
Allahbad for this festival.

Hinduism: Sacred Spaces and Places

A Hindu place of worship is called a mandir or temple. A temple is dedicated to a particular god or goddess
(deity). The temple is the god's home on earth. The most holy part of the temple is an inner shrine called a
garbhargriha with a statue to the god or goddess. This inner shrine is under a towering roof called a sikhara.
The four corners of the temple then have smaller shrines. The temple is entered through the ardhamandapa
or entrance porch. Hindu temples are often decorated with the figures of gods and goddesses. Outside Hindu
temples you can often buy gifts or prasad to give the deity honored in the temple.

There is no set schedule for visits to a temple. Worshippers go when they want. When entering a temple,
visitors must take off their shoes and women cover their heads to show respect. The ceremony that follows is
called puja. It includes prayer and a viewing of the statue of the god or goddess honored. Offerings of fruit,
flowers and incense are made to a priest who presents them to the deity. After the deity blesses the gifts they
are returned to the worshipper and their heads are marked with a red dot or blessing called a tilaka.
Worshippers then circle the inner shrine with their right hand raised in respect to the deity.

It is also very common for Hindus to worship at a home shrine, often as a whole family. There might be a statue
or just a picture of the god or goddess. The shrine also contains things which represent the five senses. The
idea is to draw the whole person into worship through the image or statue and the senses. The goal is to get
beyond self to Brahmin. A bell is also often rung to help focus the mind.

The Ganges River is a very sacred place to Hindus. It is a place to go on pilgrimage to bathe in sacred waters.
Hindus also like to have their ashes scattered in the Ganges after cremation.

Other World Religions and Spiritual Traditions

The Bahá'í Faith

Bahá'í believe that all religions are divine and that the great prophets were servants of the same God and
preached the same message.

How did the Bahá'í faith begin?

It began in 1844 in Persia which is now Iran. It began when a man named Siyyid Ali Muhammad who is also
called the Bab predicted that a man would come after him who would become one of the great prophets as
were Adam, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Zoroaster and Mohammed. This new prophets name was
Baha'u'llah. his message was that he and his followers should try to unite the people of the world by bringing
the religions together in peace and harmony. This then would lead to a new world age where there was more
peace and justice. It would lead to a time when there would be no religious or racial prejudice.

Bahá'í were persecuted in Iran by the Muslim leaders and so many left which spread the Bahá'í Faith all over
the world. Today there are over five million.

What do Bahá'í believe and how does this affect the way they behave?

The Baha'is sacred text or Most Holy Book, contains the laws for behavior, both personal and public. Bahá'í
believe that all religions are divine and that the great prophets were servants of the same God and preached
the same message. For this reason, Baha'is are very accepting of all religions. They have a commitment both
to bettering themselves and the world. Bahá'í see themselves as World Citizens. Prayer and fasting is required
by all, they strongly encourage marriage, and don't believe in drinking alcohol. Baha'is believe in holding
discussions and conferences on issues of world unity. They believe in meeting with many different people of
different cultural and religious backgrounds to work toward world peace and religious harmony.

Where do Bahá'í's worship?

They worship in homes and temples. The House of Worship in India is built in a nine-sided shape after a lotus
blossom. There are no priests in the Bahá'í Faith. That is because they believe all are equal in the eyes of God.


Confucianism teaches its followers that your well-being depends directly on the well-being of others. This
principle stresses the importance of showing courtesy and loyalty to other people.

How did Confucianism begin?

A Chinese philosopher named K'ung Fu-tzu or Confucius, the Westernized version, believed that a society
could become perfect, if the people who lived in it exhibited "beautiful conduct." Confucius was born in 551
B.C.E. He had a government job which he gave up to devote his life to teaching people how to behave. Today
over five million people, mostly in China and the Far East, practice Confucianism.

What did Confucius teach people?

Confucius taught people five basic ideas about behavior:

1. Always be considerate to others.

2. Respect your ancestors.
3. Try for harmony and balance in all things.
4. Avoid extremes in behavior and emotion.
5. If you live in peace and harmony, then you will be in contact with the spiritual forces of the universe, including

Confucius taught five basic virtues:

1. kindness
2. righteousness
3. sobriety
4. wisdom
5. trustworthiness

Confucius also taught that your well-being depends directly on the well-being of others. This principle is called
Jen. Jen stresses the importance of showing courtesy and loyalty to other people.

Those who practice Confucianism also believe the family and family values are very important. Children are
taught to be very respectful of their parents and are taught to obey their parents.

Where are Confucius' ideas written down?

There are five texts which contain Confucian scriptures. These include poems, history, rituals, and sayings.

Where do Confucians worship?

Some say Confucianism is more a description of how to be a good person than a spiritual practice. However,
after Confucius's death, people built temples in his honor. There are ceremonies that take place in these
temples. Confucius believed that "Heaven is the author of the virtue that is in me." He meant that he saw heaven
itself as a kind of god, the god or supreme being who created virtue in us. This helps show how Confucianism
is more than just a code of behavior. Also, over time aspects of Buddhism and Taoism have influenced
Confucianism. Many people practice a combination of these religions.

Indigenous Traditions

Some spiritual practices are so much a part of the culture of a particular geographical area, and always have
been, that they can better be described as a tradition.

Indigenous peoples' spiritual practices are based on nature -- the spirits that live in animals, trees, the
landscape. They are the spirits that govern the weather, the hunt, the crops -- anything that is life sustaining.
They are in the heavens and on earth - so much a part of all that is that they are more than a religion -- they are
a sustaining and integral part of life. They answer basic questions about life, death, nature, and medicine. They
are pre-scientific in the modern sense of the word. Often spiritual traditions have been taken over by conquering
religions, coloring the practice of those who conquer, but lost in their original indigenous form. Today there are
still indigenous traditions in the more remote areas of the world - the rain forests of South America, the
reservations in North America, far north in Canada and Alaska, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.


Jains believe that every living thing, no matter how small, has a soul and should not be harmed.

Jainism began in India and is one of the oldest religions of the world. Its origins date back to 3000 BCE. Jain
history can be viewed as a cycle. A period of rising called an Utsarpini in which human and natural conditions
improve followed by a period of decline or Avasarpini in which things gradually get worse, weaken and corrupt.
During the period of decline twenty-four persons are born who are unlike others of their time. When they see
the suffering and misery in the world they renounce it and lead a path to perfection. They are called Crossing
Makers or Tirthankaras and are born for the improvement of all living things. Their job as Jinas or Conquerors
is to teach people how to follow the noble path of the Three Jewels or Triranta --right faith, right conduct and
right knowledge." Jains do not believe in god but rather use the Tirthankaras as guides for their daily lives.

Mahavira (599-527 BCE) is perhaps the most important figure of Jainism. He is the last Crossing Maker of the
present declining era. He was born ion India to the warrior caste but he left home as a young man to become
a monk. He fasted and meditated for twelve years. gradually he feed himself from the concerns of the world. I
doing so he gained enlightenment. From this point on, as a Jina or Conqueror, he began preaching and
teaching. This process of first gaining enlightenment then teaching is the process by which the twenty-four
spiritual guides have helped Jainism evolve. Mahavira gained many followers. This is how Jainism spread.
Today there are about ten million Jains around the world, but most live in India.

The Jains believe in rebirth of the soul. That means they believe that when a living being dies the soul is born
in another body. Eventually Jains hope to break free of the cycle of birth and rebirth and gain salvation. By
leading a good life, Jains believe they will have a better rebirth and move closer to salvation. The code of
conduct for leading a good life is truthfulness, not stealing, not being possessive, non-violence, and chastity.

From the beginning, Jainism has been based on the concept of non-violence or ahimsa. Jains believe that
every living thing, no matter how small, has a soul and should not be harmed. This is why Jains are strict
vegetarians. This is also why you might see a very devout Jain sweeping the ground in front of him to avoid
stepping on insects and wearing a mask of fabric over his/her mouth to avoid swallowing them.

Jain temples are beautiful structures to show the holiness of the sacred images inside. In each temple are
twenty-four statues of the Tirthankaras. Worshippers stand in front of each statute and bow and pray. Then he
or she pours an offering of the five nectars --milk, yogurt, butter, sugar and flowers -- over the statues.
Here are the words of Lord Mahavira as found in A Source Book for Earth's Community of Religions, p. 63.

Ahimsa Parmo Dharma

Nonviolence is the Supreme Religion

Know other creatures' love for life, for they are like you.

Kill them not; save their life from fear and enmity.

All creatures desire to live, not to die.

Hence to kill is to sin.

A godly man does not kill.

Therefore, kill not yourself, consciously or unconsciously, living organisms which move or move not, nor cause
slaughter of them.

He who looketh on the creatures of the earth, big and small, as his own self, comprehendeth this immense

Among the careless, he who restraineth is enlightened.

A Jain prayer (taken from p. 64 of A Source Book for Earth's Community of Religions)

May I always have a friendly feeling towards all living beings of the world and may the stream of compassion
always flow from my heart towards distressed and afflicted living beings.

New Age

New Age practitioners attempt to get in touch with the spiritual world and the forces of the universe.

The new age movement includes a variety of groups and beliefs.

The ideas and teachings for this movement come from many different religious traditions --drawing on what is
appealing and relevant from old and newer traditions.

New Age groups sometimes include the use of crystals, astrology, and healing rituals. Rituals often include
dancing, prayer and meditation.


Rastafarians believe in some of the Bible mixed with some African beliefs and traditions.

How did Rastafarianism begin?

Rastafarianism is a very new religion. It began in 1930 in Jamaica. Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican, predicted there
would be a black messiah in Africa. As it turned out Ras Tafari, a prince, became Emperor of Ethiopia in 1930.
As emperor he was called Haile Selassie but the name Rastafarianism comes from his name, Ras Tafari.
People believed he was the black messiah Marcus Garvey was talking about.

What do Rastafarians believe?

Rastafarians believe in some of the Bible mixed with some African beliefs and traditions. Rastas believe that
they are one of the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. They believe that Ethiopia is their promised land. hey hope
one day to return there just as the Israelites returned to the promised land after being slaves in Egypt and
Babylon. Rastas believe that God took human form first as Christ the messiah then as Ras Tafari, the black

What is the Rastafarian code for behavior?

Rastas believe in living close to nature. They are vegetarians and ideally, they grow their own food. They do
not believe in smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol or coffee. Interestingly enough, however, they do believe
in smoking marijuana or cannabis, since this is to them a natural and beneficial herb. They smoke it as part of
their worship.

Where are Rastafarians today?

Most are in Jamaica but it has spread to other Afro-Caribbean communities in Europe and the United States.
It especially appeals to young African Americans. The image of the black messiah and the positive message
about being black and seeking freedom are very compelling. Although not a large group, perhaps 100,000, its
influence has spread beyond its followers through the dress and reggae music of Rastas. Reggae was
developed by Rastafarians in Jamaica as an important part of worship. Today you hear it all over the world.

Why do Rastafarians or Rastas wear dreadlocks?

Rastas wear dreadlocks because they do not believe in cutting or combing their hair. This comes from a
passage in the Bible. It is also the way some ancient African priests and Israelites wore their hair. Sometimes
you see a green, red and yellow colored hat over a Rasta's hair. These are the colors of the flag of Ethiopia.


The followers of Shintoism believe that spiritual powers exist in the natural world.

What does Shinto mean?

What do its followers believe? Shinto means the way of the gods. Shintoism is an Ancient religion of Japan. It
started at least as long ago as 1000 B.C.E. but is still practiced today by at least five million people. The followers
of Shintoism believe that spiritual powers exist in the natural world. They believe that spirits called "kami" live in
natural places such as in animals, plants, stones, mountains, rivers, people and even the dead.

Where do Shinto followers worship?

Shinto places of worship are called shrines and are usually found in beautiful natural settings. The shrine
contains an Inner Hall which is only entered by Shinto priests since it is believed kami are present. Shinto priests
can be either male or female. Purity is important to Shinto followers and therefore they rinse their mouths and
wash their hands and hang up wooden tablets with prayers on them before entering the prayer hall. Once
inside, the kami is summoned with a bell and offered rice or money. After which the worshiper bows twice and
claps twice to welcome the kami then bows again.

Shinto shrines are marked by a special archway called a torii. This archway is believed to separate the sacred
world of the shrine from the world outside. There are about 80,000 shrines all over Japan. Each shrine has a
yearly festival in which people pay their respects to the kami and celebrate with food and drink.

Worship also happens in homes and at work through simple offerings of rice and tea and prayers. The rice and
tea is placed on a special shelf called a "godshelf" . Prayers are often addressed to the family ancestors.

Who is the most important kami?

The most important kami is Amaterasu, the sun goddess. She is believed to be the ancestor to the emperors
of Japan. Her shrine is at Ise and is the most important shrine in Japan. Inari, the rice producer, is also an
important kami since rice is such an important food in Japan.

Is it possible to be practice both Shintoism and Buddhism?

Yes, it is and many Japanese people practice both. The beliefs are very compatible and not contradictory.


Sikhs believe in one God, and that everyone is equal in God's eyes.

How did Sikhism begin?

The Sikh religion began about 500 years ago in the Punjab region of India. Today there are about twelve million
Sikhs living in the Punjab region. It was started by a man called Guru Nanak. The title Guru means teacher. He
was born at a time in India when Muslims and Hindus were living in the same region but did not get a long well
at all. Some people felt left out of both religions. When Guru Nanak began preaching to others that there should
be tolerance of other faiths, it made sense to some some people. he taught people that the outward differences
in people's religions were not important in God's eyes. After Guru Nank's death the leadership of the Sikhs was
passed down to nine more gurus. The tenth guru decided that it was important for the Sikhs to be able to defend
their faith and he formed a brotherhood called the Khalsa of devoted Sikhs who are willing to defend the faith
even at the expense of their lives. Men and women may join. If they do they take part in the Amrit ceremony
held by five exemplary community members who represent the original "beloved Five" or first five who brave
men who joined the Khalsa. There are five symbolic aspects of the dress of members of the Khalsa: uncut hair
which symbolizes the belief in not disturbing nature anymore than necessary; a wooden comb for neatness;
white shorts to wear under clothes for purity and modesty; a steel bangle for strength and eternity; and a short
sword as a reminder to defend the truth and what is right.

Why are there no more Sikh gurus?

After the death of the tenth guru, it was decided that the Sikh Holy Book itself would serve as the Guru or
teacher. It is called the Guru Granth Sahib. The hymns and writings in it serve as the teacher of the Sikhs.

What do Sikhs believe?

Sikhs believe in one God. They believe they should remember God in everything they do. This is called simran.
Sikhs believe everyone is equal in God's eyes. For this reason Sikh men all are given the surname Singh which
means lion and the women are given the surname Kaur which means princess. Sikhs believe that to worship
is to live an honest life and care for others. Sikhs believe they should hold jobs which help others and society.
This service to others is called sewa. In addition Sikhs believe in giving a tenth of what they earn to others. The
work Sikhs do to help others is organized through the temples they belong to. They do not believe in drinking
alcohol or smoking.

Where do Sikhs worship?

Sikhs worship in a temple or gurudwara. This word means"gateway of the guru." When entering a temple,
Sikhs take off their shoes and cover their heads. They bow in front of the Holy Book or Guru Granth Sahib.
Hymns and prayers are said and then the worshipers share karah prasad which is a food offering made of
sugar, butter and flour.


Taoists, also known as "Daoists," believe that good actions will mean a better life for their soul so Taoists follow
rules and guides for living.
What does Tao mean?

Tao means "Way." It is pronounced dow. The Way, according to Taoists, is the spiritual force that underlies the
universe and is found in all things. Even though it is a part of all things, it is greater than all things. It is the ultimate

How did Taoism begin?

Taoism was started by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tze,the Supreme master, in the 6th century BCE. Tao
lived in the same time as another ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius. It is said that one day Lao Tze left
his job and rode off west on an ox. At a mountain pass the guardian asked him to write down his teachings.
This is how the sacred book of Tao called the Doodejing came to be written. It is also why you see statues and
figures of Lao Tze in an ox. Today Taoism is practiced by about five million people in China, Japan, Malaysia,
Hong Kong, Taiwan and Viet Nam. It is not uncommon for Taoism to be combined with Confucianism and

What do Taoists believe?

Taoists believe that that they should live in harmony with the Tao or Way. If they do this they will merge with the
Tao, free their soul, and become one of the Immortals. In the beginning Taoists believed there were no gods
or goddesses only the Tao but over time people began worshiping Lao Tze and other important Taoist
teachers. They also began worshiping forces of nature such as the sun, moon, stars and tides.

What is the code of behavior for Taoists?

Taoists believe that good actions will mean a better life for their soul so Taoists follow rules and guides for living.
They are not allowed to tell lies, steal, commit adultery, commit murder or drink alcohol. They also have a list of
good deeds to further guide they way they live. They are encouraged to obey their elders, love their parents,
be tolerant, help others act, stay in excellent physical and mental shape, practice self control of mind and body,
and act without thinking of themselves, in other words act selflessly.

What does T'ai Chi Ch'uan have to do with Taoism?

T'ai Chi is a set of very controlled, slow-moving exercises that discipline the body and the mind. It is both a form
of physical exercise and a kind of meditation. It was invented by a Taoist. Millions of people today, especially
Chinese, still practice T'ai Chi.

What does the Yin/Yang Tao symbol stand for?

It represents the harmonious interaction of the two opposing forces in the Universe, male or yang and female
or yin.


Wiccan spirituality is focused on the earth and its seasons and the forces and rhythms of nature and human

Its roots are in the ancient pre-Christian indigenous religions of Europe. Wiccan festivals include the solar and
lunar cycles. Wiccans see divinity in all living things and see divinity as being both male and female. All of life is
perceived as sacred and interconnected. Nature is an important spiritual teacher to Wiccans. Modern Wiccan
practice is a creative and dynamic force. Spiritual insight is achieved through living in harmony with the earth.

Wiccans do not follow a particular sacred text. There is no special leader or prophet. Wiccans who practice a
priest or priestesshood go through years of practice and life-changing rituals. Priests and priestesses are
respected as teachers helping others to experience the sacred mystery that gives life true meaning. Wiccans
believe all are capable of achieving this goal.

Zoroastrians believe in one God, and that one day the forces of good will defeat the forces of evil and restore
the world to the state of perfection it was originally.

How did Zoroastrianism begin?

Zoroastrianism began in Ancient Persia (what is now Iran) when the prophet Zarathustra or Zoroaster was
inspired to teach and preach to others when his peaceful society was being torn apart by warring tribes. He
saw this as a struggle between good and evil. His followers are called Parsis. This name was given to the
followers of Zarathustra when they had to flee Persia to avoid persecution by Muslim rulers in the ninth century

The Parsis went to India which is where most of the Zoroastrians are today (about 150,000).

What do Zoroastrians believe?

Zoroastrians believe in one God called Ahura Mazda. They believe Ahura Mazda created the world and
everything in it. The enemy of Ahura Mazda is the evil spirit Angra Mainyu. It is believed that one day the forces
of good will defeat the forces of evil and restore the world to the state of perfection it was originally.

It is believed that people have to choose between good and evil. If the good deeds outweigh the bad they
believe they will go to heaven by way of crossing a bridge. If the evil outweighs the good, they believe they will
fall off the bridge and into hell.

What symbols are of great importance to Zoroastrians?

Fire is the most sacred symbol. It is at the center of Zoroastrian worship. Places of worship are called fire
temples. Fire represents righteousness and truth. In Zoroastrian temples, a fire is always kept burning by priests
who watch over.

Purity is also very important to Zoroastrians. White is used as a symbol for purity. Zoroastrians pray with a
special white belt called a kustis. It symbolizes being bound to their religion and their community. Zoroastrians
always where a white undershirt called a sudreh as a symbol and reminder of purity. When Zoroastrians die
the kustis and the sudreh are placed on top of their bodies on a white sheet, another symbol of purity. Any form
of decay like rust or rotting is avoided since this is the opposite of purity. For this reason Zoroastrians do not
cremate or bury their dead. They do not want to pollute or add decay to the earth. Instead they place dead
bodies in circular stone towers called "towers of silence". The birds of prey come and eat the decaying bodies.