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This article is about far east and Indian religions. For other eastern religions see: Eastern_world#Eastern_culture

This article is part of the
series on Eastern culture
Culture, Society,
Philosophy, Medicine, Religion, Cinema
Asian art, culture,
Korea, China, Philippines, India, Japan, Vietnam
Taoism, Confucianism,
Buddhism, Hinduism,
Shintoism, Sikhism
West/East distinction

Eastern world, The Orient, Orientalism


File:Museum für Indische Kunst Dahlem Berlin Mai 2006 036 2.jpg

A 13th century Cambodian statue of Vishnu.

Distribution of Eastern religions (yellow), as opposed to Abrahamic religions (purple).

Eastern religions refers to religions originating in the Eastern worldIndia, China, Japan and Southeast Asia —and thus having dissimilarities with Western religions. This includes the East Asian and Indian religious traditions, as well as animistic indigenous religions.

This East-West religious distinction, just as with the East-West culture distinction, and the implications that arise from it, are broad and not precise. Furthermore, the geographical distinction has less meaning in the current context of global transculturation.

While many Western observers attempt to distinguish between Eastern philosophies and religions, this is a distinction that does not exist in some Eastern traditions.[1]

Indian religions

File:Temple hindu1.jpg

A Hindu temple in Sri Lanka.

For more details on this topic, see Indian religions.

Religions originating on the Indian subcontinent include Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.[2] The theologies and philosophies of these religions have several concepts in common, such as dharma, karma, maya and samsara.


Main article: Hinduism
File:Golden Aum.png

OM, a sacred syllable and a quintessential symbol of Hinduism

Hinduism originated on the Indian subcontinent. It is considered by some to be the world's oldest extant religion. Hinduism contains a vast body of scripture, divided as revealed and remembered, expounding on dharma, or religious living. Hindus consider the Vedas and the Upanishads as being among the foremost in authority, importance and antiquity. The Bhagavad Gītā, a treatise excerpted from the Mahābhārata, is sometimes called a summary of the spiritual teachings of the Vedas. It is difficult to identify any universal belief or practice in Hinduism, although prominent themes include: Dharma, Samsara, Karma, and Moksha. Hinduism is sometimes called a polytheistic religion, but this is an oversimplification. Hinduism includes a diverse collection of schools whose beliefs span monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, monism and even atheism. For instance, the Advaita Vedanta school holds that there is only one causal entity (Brahman), which manifests itself to humans in multiple forms, whereas traditions such as Vaishnavism and Shaivism worship Vishnu and Shiva in a monotheistic sense. A number of scholars even consider the Samkhya school of thought to have atheistic leanings.[3]


File:Buddha lantau.jpg

The Tian Tan Buddha statue in Hong Kong.

Main article: Buddhism

Buddhism is a dharmic, non-deistic religion and philosophy. Buddhism was founded around the fifth century BCE in India by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, with the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path as its central principles. According to the scriptures, the Four Noble Truths were revealed by the Buddha in his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. The schools of Buddhism are typically divided into Theravada and Mahayana. In academic circles, Mahayana is further divided into East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism. Buddhism teaches that someone who becomes enlightened without instruction is a buddha. The primary goal of Buddhism is the liberation of the practitioner from samsara. Buddhists hold this to be the solution to the problem of suffering.


File:Jain Prateek Chihna.jpg

This is the holiest Jain symbol.

Main article: Jainism

Jainism is the religion of the followers of Mahavira. He is said to be the 24th Tirthankara, or the 24th in a line of teachers espousing Jain principles. Jains reject the Vedas and highlight the practice of austerity. Jain faith states that the jiva, or soul, can escape the cycle of rebirth and death through strict ethical behavior. When nothing remains but the purity of the jiva, that person is called a jina, or winner, which is the origin of the term Jain. Karma is viewed as an accumulation that burdens the soul, causing attachment and suffering. Ahimsa, or non-violence, is central to Jain faith and practice. It is interpreted very strictly as prohibiting all forms of harm to other living beings. Due to this, Jainism requires a strict vegetarian lifestyle. Ahimsa also applies to speaking, as one's words can cause harm and suffering.[4]


Main article: Sikhism

Sikhism is a religion which began in Northern India. It is founded on the teachings of Guru Nanak Dev and the nine human gurus that followed. He received a vision to preach the way to enlightenment and God in Sultanpur. His views rejected the traditional worships and caste of the Hinduism faith. [5] Freedom from reincarnation is tied to remembrance and repetition on one universal God. God is formless and simultaneously in every form. Sikhs believe that there is one universal God who is the ultimate creater, sustainer, and destroyer. The Gurū Granth Sāhib are the central scriptures intended to preserve hymns and the teachings of the Sikh Gurus and other saints from Hindu and Sufi traditions. Rituals, religious ceremonies or empty worship are considered of little use and Sikhs are discouraged from fasting or going on pilgrimages. The tennents of Sikhism include (1) honest living/earning (2) tithing and giving alms (3) chanting on God. Sikhism also has a strong warrior tradition which arose in defense of religious freedom and human rights from a tyrannical Moghul occupation of India.

East Asian religions

Main article: East Asian religions

The group of East Asian religions or philosophies share the concept of Tao. They may be considered as forming a group within world religions[6] comparable to the Abrahamic or Dharmic groups. The Taoic faiths claim at least 500 million members worldwide.[7]


Main article: Taoism

Taoism is a variety of related religious and philosophical traditions. Categorization of Taoist sects and movements is very controversial. Taoist propriety and ethics places an emphasis on the Three Jewels of the Tao; love, moderation, humility. Taoist theology focuses on doctrines of wu wei ("non-action"), spontaneity, humanism, relativism and emptiness.[8]

Most traditional Chinese Taoists are polytheistic. There are disagreements regarding the proper composition of this pantheon. Popular Taoism typically presents the Jade Emperor as the head deity. Intellectual, or "elite", Taoism usually presents Laozi and the Three Pure Ones at the top of the pantheon. Nature and ancestor spirits are common in popular Taoism. But this sort of shamanism is eschewed for an emphasis on internal alchemy among the "elite" Taoists. Tao itself is rarely an object of worship, being treated more like the Central Asian concept of atman.[9]


File:Priest at Dazaifu Tenmagu shrine 1.JPG

A Shinto priest kneeling before a shrine.

Main article: Shinto

Shinto is an animistic folk religion from Japan. Shinto literally means "the way of the gods". Many Japanese Shintoists also identify themselves as Buddhists. Japanese Pure Land Buddhism is deeply intertwined with the Shinto faith. Shinto practitioners commonly affirm tradition, family, nature, cleanliness and ritual observation as core values. Taoic influence is significant in their beliefs about nature and self-mastery.[10]

Ritual cleanliness is a central part of Shinto life. Shrines have a significant place in Shintoism, reflecting the animistic veneration of the kami. "Folk", or "popular", Shinto places an emphasis on shamanism, particularly divination, spirit possession and faith healing. "Sect" Shinto is a diverse group including mountain-worshippers and Confucian Shintoists.[11]


Statue of Confucius on Chongming Island in Shanghai

Main article: Confucianism

Confucianism is a complex system of moral, social, political, and religious thought, influential in the history of East Asia. It is commonly associated with legalism but it rejects legalism for ritualism. It also endorses meritocracy as the ideal of nobility. Confucianism has a complicated system governing duties and etiquette in relationships. Confucian ethics focus on familial duty, loyalty and humaneness.[12]

Confucianism tolerates the Chinese folk recognition of the existence of animistic spirits, ghosts and deities. It approves paying them proper respect, but at a more fundamental level encourages avoiding them. Confucian thought is notable as the framework upon which the syncretic Neo-Confucianism was built.[13]

East Asian Buddhism

Main article: East Asian Buddhism
Further information: Chinese Buddhism,  Korean Buddhism,  Buddhism in Japan,  Buddhism in Vietnam,  Mahayana,  Vajrayana,  Zen, and Silk Road transmission of Buddhism

See also


  1. Morgan (2001). Pp 9-11.
  2. York (2005). Pg 166.
  3. Bhaskarananda (1994).
    Weightman (1997). Pg 263.
  4. Flood (1996). Pg 76.
    Fisher (1997). Pp 116-117.
    Rausch & Key (1993).
  5. [1] Religions of the World Sikhism
  6. Sharot (2001). Pp 71-72, 75-76.
  7. Religious population statistics. These statistics are limited and do not reflect the full population of Taoic adherents due to complexities in definition and polling.
  8. Leaman (1999). Pg 111.
    Slingerland (2003).
    Sharot (2001). Pg 78.
  9. Segal (2006). Pg 50. Maspero (1981). Pg 41. LaFargue (1994). Pg 283.
  10. Pilgrim (1999). Pg 1.
    Sharot (2001). Pp. 161-162.
    Ono (2004). Pp 97-99, 103-104.
  11. Ono (2004). Pp 12, 51-52, 108.
    Markham (2001). Pp 304-306.
  12. Smart (2000). Pp 66.
    Yao (2000). pp 191-192
    De Bary & Tu (1998). Pg 149.
  13. Sharot (2001). Pp 46, 85.
    Huang (1999). Pg 5.


  • De Bary, William Theodore & Tu, Weiming. Confucianism and Human Rights. Columbia University Press (1998). ISBN 0231109369.
  • Fisher, Mary Pat. Living Religions: An Encyclopaedia of the World's Faiths. I.B. Taurus (1997). ISBN 1860641482.
  • Flood, Gavin D. An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge University Press (1996). ISBN 0521433045.
  • Huang, Siu-chi. Essentials of Neo-Confucianism: Eight Major Philosophers of the Song and Ming Periods. Greenwood Press (1999). ISBN 031326449X.
  • Leaman, Oliver. Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy. Routledge (1999). ISBN 0415173620.
  • LaFargue, Michael. Tao and Method: A Reasoned Approach to the Tao Te Ching. SUNY Press (1994). ISBN 0791416011.
  • Markham, Ian S. & Ruparell, Tinu. Encountering Religion: an introduction to the religions of the world. Blackwell Publishing (2001). ISBN 0631206744.
  • Maspero, Henri. Translated by Frank A. Kierman, Jr. Taoism and Chinese Religion. University of Massachusetts (1981).
  • Morgan, Diane. The Best Guide to Eastern Philosophy and Religion. St. Martin's Griffin (2001). ISBN 1580631975.
  • Ono, Sakyo. Shinto: The Kami Way. Tuttle Publishing (2004). ISBN 0804835578.
  • Pilgrim, Richard B. Buddhism and the Arts of Japan. Columbia University Press (1999). ISBN 0231113471.
  • Rausch, Thomas P. & Chapple, Christopher Key. The College Student's Introduction to Theology. Liturgical Press (1993). ISBN 0814658415.
  • Segal, Robert Alan. The Blackwell Companion to the Study of Religion. Blackwell Publishing (2006). ISBN 0631232168.
  • Sharot, Stephen. A Comparative Sociology of World Religions: virtuosos, priests, and popular religion. NYU Press (2001). ISBN 0814798055.
  • Slingerland, Edward Gilman. Effortless Action: Wu-Wei as Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China. Oxford University Press (2003). ISBN 0195138996.
  • Smart, Ninian. World Philosophies. Routledge UK (2000). ISBN 0415228522.
  • Swami Bhaskarananda. The Essentials of Hinduism. Viveka Press (1994). ISBN 1884852025.
  • Weightman, Simon. Hinnells, John (ed). Handbook of Living Religions. Penguin Books (1997). ISBN 0140514805.
  • Yao, Xinzhong. An Introduction to Confucianism. Cambridge University Press (2000). ISBN 0521644305.
  • York, Michael. Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion. NYU Press (2005). ISBN 0814797083.

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