Religion as a Guide to Living

views updated

Religion as a Guide to Living

The Analects of Confucius...125
Gaina Sutras...137
Dao De Jing...149
The Dhammapada...165
The Hidden Words of Baháʾuʾlláh...175
Avesta, as reproduced in The Divine Songs of Zarathushtra...185
"The Philosophy of Atheism"...193

The Analects of Confucius 125

Gaina Sutras 137

Dao De Jing 149

The Dhammapada 165

The Hidden Words of Baháʾuʾlláh 175

Avesta 185

"The Philosophy of Atheism" 193

Bible 203

Belief in religion has a central role in many people's lives. The existence of a god who may approve or disapprove of their actions may motivate people in their decisions. Belief in God can give people comfort that life has meaning and purpose. Religious figures, both historical and contemporary, can inspire people to find the courage to handle their difficulties and overcome hardship. People may wish to live lives modeled after the teachings of their religion so that they can achieve the rewards that religion offers. For some, that reward is the promise of heaven. For others, it is the possibility of ending the cycle of existence and their achieving Salvation. Each religion makes clear that the way to achieve its promises is to follow its teachings. This requires more than attending worship services at a temple or church. A religion's teachings as they apply to everyday life may have the greatest impact on one's behavior and attitudes.

All religions provide for their followers a moral code, or guideline, that establishes what behavior is acceptable and what is not. They may approach the issue differently, but they all have a common theme of respect for life and upright (honest and respectable) living. Confucianism is a religion built not around a god, but around proper behavior. The Analects of Confucius instruct Confucian followers to have filial piety, or respect for parents, as well as respect for other elders. Among its central teachings is that a person is responsible for his or her own behavior and should act humbly and with moderation.

Like Confucianism, Jainism advises respect for other people and also for all living beings. The Akaranga Sutra in the Gaina Sutras, states that one should honor and respect all life by following the five Great Vows. These vows include not harming any living thing, not lying or stealing, and not becoming too involved with worldly, or material, concerns. The Akaranga Sutra relays the causes of sin so that Jains can avoid it and live a moral (honorable and decent) life.

Moral living is also central to Daoism, where following "the way" leads to an honorable life and spiritual understanding. Daoism's main religious text, the Dao De Jing, emphasizes that all things, living and nonliving, are connected, and that a moral person should live in harmony with them. One of the best ways to do this is to not be too materialistic or aggressive. To be materialistic is to desire objects, such as cars, money, and success, in hopes of having a fulfilling life. A person is aggressive when he or she responds angrily or tries to force things to happen a certain way. This is not harmonious behavior. By following the Dao De Jing's advice on living a good life, a person will gain greater spiritual understanding and become closer to the spiritual center of Daoism, the Dao.

One of Buddhism's major and most referenced sacred texts is the The Dhammapada. This text consists solely of sayings from the Buddha instructing followers on how to live their lives. As with the previously mentioned religions, proper behavior is very important in Buddhism. A Buddhist who lives according to the words of the Buddha will follow the Eightfold Path to enlightenment and achieve nirvana, or the end of suffering. Such a life includes respect for living beings, non-attachment (as in Daoism and Jainism, not being attached to material objects), honesty, and moderation in all things.

Zoroastrianism's Avesta, which contains the Gathas, offers its followers instructions that are quite similar to those of Buddhists, Daoists, and others. The central message of the Gathas is "good thoughts, good words, good deeds." Zoroastrians believe that each person is capable of understanding the differences between good and evil and should strive to do no harm. To live a good life, one must exercise truth, order, tolerance, and discipline. Violence, such as anger, is discouraged as being very harmful.

The founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, believed that following a standard of behavior was not enough. In his Sermon of the Mount from the Bible, Jesus explained that acting honestly and refraining from judging others were important. Equally important, however, were showing love, compassion (sympathy and kindness), and forgiveness to others. According to Jesus, these emotional and spiritual expressions bring one closer to God in a way that simply behaving properly cannot achieve.

The Baháʾí religion also states that there is more to being close to God than living a moral life. The Kalimat-i-Maknunih, or The Hidden Words of Baháʾuʾlláh, tells Baháʾís to be humble and love all of creation, but it also urges them to show their devotion to God by serving others. An example of this type of service is work supporting peace efforts or the elimination of poverty. Efforts to achieve positive results such as peace, education for those who have none, and job training for those who are unskilled are called social justice. This is a central element of the Baháʾí faith.

Social justice is the driving force behind Emma Goldman's atheism. Atheism is the belief that there is no god. In her essay "The Philosophy of Atheism," Goldman states that humankind can only rely on itself. She wrote that the existence of a kind and concerned God was impossible given the injustice and suffering in the world. She urged people to take responsibility and action through social justice to make the changes that would improve the world.

Whether a person chooses to believe the message of atheism or of a different belief system, each offers a message that one must take responsibility for one's life. Respect, honesty, and compassion are key elements in all faiths. Concern with acquiring possessions or winning a certain status are not fulfilling. People seeking guidance in their daily lives can consult with one of these moral codes or those from another religion. The fact that most of these codes have existed for hundreds of years and continue to be followed shows that there is value and inspiration in their messages.

About this article

Religion as a Guide to Living

Updated About content Print Article


Religion as a Guide to Living