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Salt Lake Community College

All Religions are Ultimately the Same

Thitirat Pongprajuc

World Religions RELS 2300

Suzanne Jacobs

December 5, 2018
At the beginning of this semester, a question was asked to students, “what is a religion?”

The class was silent for seconds before some students tried to clarify a definition. All answers

had some similarities and differences depending on criteria that the definers understood. Some

may connect religion to a religious structure, while some may value the spiritual connection

between a person to his/her god more than any other element. If the same question were asked to

other people outside the class, the definition of religion would vary as much as it did in the class.

The Definition of Religion

Religion is a word that is hard to define because it contains many elements, both tangible

and intangible. Religion is made up of rituals, symbols, myths, ethics, doctrines, social and

emotional engagement. These elements can be synthesized into an agreed definition which is,

“religion is a system of symbols (creeds, codes, cultus) through which an individual or group

orients themselves toward ultimate reality” (Jacobs, “Religious Responses” slide 20). Since all

religions can share the same definition, they must have some things in common. For example, all

religions are seeking liberation from mortal imperfection, but they have their own paths to get to

the same goal. These different paths create unique characteristics for each religion, which

contribute to diverse perceptions toward different religions. Among the unique characteristics all

religions share is the religious core which expresses a connection to a supreme being, belief

system about karma and afterlife, and similar principles and ethical guidelines for their followers

to be considered righteous human beings.

Connection to a supreme being

Hinduism, oldest living religion, has a belief of monism which God exists in different

forms. However, some may confuse about Hinduism’s ultimate reality, because there are many

deities to worship. So, Hinduism must be a polytheistic religion. In fact, the Brahmanic tradition
believes that Brahmin creates everything, and he manifests in different forms which means he

exists in every single element that exists in the world ranging from a divine being to a nonliving

thing such as a rock. Trimurti, the triple supreme deities which are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva

are the same God Brahma, but Vishnu and Shiva have different responsibilities from Brahma.

Moreover, humans are created from Brahma’s organs, and each individual contains atman or

soul from God. This God’s soul creates a special connection between their God Brahma and

Hindus.

Not only does Hinduism believe in a creator god, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam also

believe that there is one supreme being who has created the universe. However, they do not

recognize Brahma as their god. These Abrahamic religions share the same God which even

though each religion has different names to refer to this supreme being. Judaism believes that

“only one God is real and other gods are false” (Fisher, section 8.1). Likewise, Islam worships

the same God, but whose name is Allah in Arabic (Fisher, section 10.3). Christianity also

believes in the same God, but Christians view God as the Holy Trinity in which God, Jesus

Christ, and the Holy Spirit become one (Fisher, section 9.3).

To the contrary, Buddhism does not recognize God or god as a creator of the world

(Fisher, section 5.2), but Buddhism does not deny the existence of God and other deities.

Evidence can be seen in some Buddhist texts saying that God or god does not exist to assist

people to achieve enlightenment (Fisher, section 5.2). Buddha acknowledged that God or god

existed, but the existence of this being did not affect the humans’ liberation. Buddha suggested

that god and other deities are not superior to other creatures because deities are also born in the

“six deva heavens” realm of samsara (Harvey, p. 35-36), a wheel of rebirth which all Buddhists

aims to be free from by achieving Nirvana.


Belief System of Karma and Afterlife.

Although each religion has its own teachings, the ultimate goal of all religions is to seek

for liberation. However, the differences that differentiate one religion from another may cause

form the different beliefs in karma and afterlife. The eastern religions, Hinduism and Buddhism,

recognize karma, the law of cause and effect, but afterlife of these two religions are the door to

the next life. Moreover, Hindus and Buddhists believe that their present life is the consequences

of a previous life. If a person has so much pain and suffering in this life, it is because that person

has committed bad actions in a previous life. The goals of Hinduism and Buddhism are the same,

which is to become free of the cycle of rebirth. However, the solutions to the endless deaths and

rebirths of both religions are different.

Western religions view karma and the afterlife differently from eastern religions. Judaism

does not mention the word karma, but human actions whether good or bad will be judged by God

who will reward good deeds and punish the wicked ones (Fisher, section 8.3). However, the

Jewish view of the afterlife is vague. According to Rabbi Barry Leff from the Neshamah Center,

there is a place where the dead go called Sheol, and the notion of Sheol has changed overtime

from a place where the dead dwell to a place where good deeds will be rewarded, and

wickedness will be punished (Leff, n.p.).

Christianity confirms the existence of Heaven as a place where Jesus ascended after the

crucifixion, and Heaven is the place where Christians who live a moral life or repent their sins

will receive forgiveness from God and will be given an eternal life in Heaven on the day of

judgment (Fisher, section 9.2). On the other hand, Hell is a place for people who are not obedient

to God by not believing in one God and not repenting their evil actions (Fisher, 9.3). Actions

whether good or bad will affect in the reward or punishment which corresponds with karma.
Similarly, Islam believes in the last judgment when all humans will be resurrected for the

final accounting of their actions when they were alive (Fisher, section 10.4). Qur’an emphasizes

that Hell is a place for nonbelievers and those who do not maintain Salat and Zakat, praying to

God and giving to charity, respectively (Fisher, section 10.4). On the other hand, the faithful

Muslims will be located in a paradise called the Garden of Bliss where promised delights such as

“castles, sweetmeats, honey, and beautiful virgin women are provided for them. According to

Fisher, “Muslim thought says that what we experience in the afterlife is a revealing of our

tendencies in this life” (section 10.4). Does not this statement have the same implication as

karma?

The western religions do not recognize reincarnation of creatures like the eastern

religions do because Judaism, Christianity, and Islam believe that there is only one life for

everyone. The decision of God is not exactly equivalent to karma because karma, itself, can

designate an individual’s next life without the intervention of a supreme being. However, the

outcomes of the judgment are similar to the law of cause and effect.

Principle and Ethical Guidelines

Hinduism’s principle and ethical guidelines is dharma (moral orders, duty, and

righteousness) (Fisher, section 3.2). Hinduism implements the caste system to divide people into

four occupational castes, and each caste has its responsibility in Hindu society. Every single

caste also has four different stages of life (student, householder, hermit, and renunciant).

Hinduism believes that Hindus must have responsibilities in social and cosmic order, having

wealth and power, enjoy worldly and aesthetic pleasures before they enter the path of attaining

moksa, a liberation of the soul from illusion and suffering (Fisher, section 3.5).
Moreover, the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali emphasizes specific moral and ethical principles

which are “truth, non-violence, non-stealing, continence, non-covetousness, cleanliness,

contentment, burning zeal, self-study, and devotion to God” (Fisher, section 3.4) that Hindus

must do as one of eight limbs of the yogic path to attaining highest consciousness.

Also, Buddhism has its moral and ethical principles that one included in the practice to

achieve liberation, but Buddhism does not value much on worldly pleasures like Hinduism does.

Firstly, Buddhism encourages its followers to acknowledge that nothing is permanent. Buddha

emphasized that life is suffering through the teaching of the Four Noble Truths, and he provided

the Eightfold Path to liberation for his followers in order to achieve Nirvana (Fisher, section 5.2).

In the Eightfold Path, there are three paths that emphasize on the ethical guidelines that

are Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood. These paths are connected to the Five

Precepts – which are required for all Buddhists – including no killing, no stealing, no sexual

misconduct, no lying, and no intoxicants (Jacobs, “The Dharma” slide 6). Buddhists who are

seeking for higher religious experience take more than five precepts. For example, Buddhism

requires eight precepts for Buddhists who are in the intensive meditation practice (“The Eight

Precepts,” n.p.), ten precepts for novice monks and nuns, 227 precepts for fully-ordained monks,

and 317 precepts for fully-ordained nuns (“The Ten Precepts,” n.p.). These precepts are the

guidelines for being a righteous person as a Buddhist walking on the path to Nirvana.

While Buddhism has two to three hundred of precepts required for a person who lives in

monkhood, Judaism requires its people to follow 613 commandments including general ethical

guidelines and laws concerning all aspects of life. The most well-known Jewish laws is the Ten

Commandments. The laws do not only emphasize obedience to God and religious matters, but

also general ethics that prevent Jews from committing murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false
witness, and coveting other’s possessions (Fisher, section 8.1). Practicing these rules generally

constitutes a righteous person.

Along with Judaism, Christianity has its Ten Commandments. Because Christianity and

Judaism have the same root and belief system, Christianity adopted Judaism’s Ten

Commandments, but the English version of Christianity does not use exactly the same words as

Jewish tradition when they translate the Ten Commandments to English. However, the meaning

of the Ten Commandments still emphasizes the same things which are loyalty to God and ethical

rules for all Christians. Not only does Christianity adopts other religious law as its own law, but

Christianity is well known as a religion of love in which Jesus taught his followers to love God

and love their neighbors as themselves (Fisher, section 9.2). Moreover, Jesus taught his followers

to maintain their righteousness in order to seek for spiritual assistance from God (Fisher, section

9.2). Christians should collect as many good deeds as they can because Christians will be granted

at eternal life on the Last Judgment based on righteous behavior.

Islam is another religion that has the same root as Judaism and Christianity, but it does

not teach the Ten Commandments as Islamic law. Instead, Islam creates it owns legal and ethical

code called Shari’ah which is derived from the Qur’an. For Muslims, Shari’ah constitutes

“divine guidelines for how Muslims ought to live their lives” (Fisher, 10.7). Shari’ah covers all

religious and social aspects of a Muslim life. For example, it contains specific praying patterns of

worship, guidelines for social conduct such as no intoxicating drinks, no gambling, no adultery,

no stealing, no slander, no consumption of certain meat (Fisher, section 10.7 and Kabbani, n.p.).

Shari’ah also encourages Muslims to do good deeds such as “commanding justice, kindness, and

charity” (Fisher, section 10.7). Islamic ethical law prohibits Muslims from committing crime
and/or distressing others. Therefore, Islam is one of the living religions that wants its followers

to be a righteous person.

Conclusion

Religion is generally a refuge for humans, but it also contains many elements that were

added to make one religion different from one another. The common criteria that are used to

differentiate religions are a connection to God, a belief system about karma and afterlife, and the

principles and ethical guidelines for its followers. From these criteria, one can take a glance at

every single religion and conclude that all religions are different. It may be true that every

religion has its uniqueness, but the uniqueness does not always define religions as being the same

or different. If one looks closer, all religions are ultimately more alike that they are different. All

major religions recognize God or a god, believe in the law of cause and effect, and have similar

ethical guidelines. At the bottom line, all religions teach their believers to exercise righteousness,

concern for others, contributing good deeds and discourage hatred toward others. Therefore, I

believe that all religions are ultimately the same. Another important question to consider at

another time is that as humans living in a world of diversity, what does religion need to do more

than it is doing now to meet the needs of the diverse global population?
Works Cited

Fisher, Mary Pat. Living Religions. Pearson, 2017.

Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge


University Press, 2013.

Jacobs, Suzanne. “The Dharma.” Buddhism. 26 Sept. 2018, Salt Lake City, Room AAB 325.

Jacobs, Suzanne. “Religious Responses.” Introductory. 27 Aug. 2018, Salt Lake City, Room
AAB 325.

Kabbani, Muhammad Hisham. “Understanding Islamic Law.” The Islamic Supreme Council of
America, The Islamic Supreme Council of America, www.islamicsupremecouncil.org/
understanding-islam/legal-rulings/52-understanding-islamic-law.html.

Leff, Barry. “Summary of Jewish Views of the Afterlife.” The Neshamah Center, 2018.

“The Eight Precepts: attha-sila”, edited by Access to Insight. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition),
30 November 2013

“The Ten Precepts: dasa-sila”, edited by Access to Insight. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 17
December 2013