In ancient times the word religion was linked to mythology, but it really has more to do with how the world was created, what exactly a human’s place in this world is, what happens after death, and how you get through this experience and the next life without having to suffer. No matter what the religion, the people who follow it have created a god that reflects their own image and likeness. But which is the oldest religion?
The Oldest Religion—Hinduism
The religion of Hinduism began more than 5,000 years ago. There is a river in northern India called River Indus. At the time it was called the Sindhu. There was an influx of Persians into India and they called the river Hindu. They referred to the land as Hindustan and the people who lived there Hindus. This created the shift from Sindhu to Hinduism.
At one time, it was thought that Hinduism was based on the beliefs of the Aryans who found their way to the Indus Valley Civilization around 2000 BC. This was later attributed to be a myth. The three phases of Hinduism are the ancient times (6500 BCE to 1000 AD), medieval times (1000 to 1800 AD) and the religion as it is followed today, considered the modern period.
The scriptures that make up Hinduism are called “Shastras.” They are a group of spiritual rules that were created by several different sages and saints over the history of its inception. Long before the tenets of this religion were documented, the beliefs were considered heard, of Shruti, and memorized, or Smriti. As time went on, they were written in Sanskrit. Currently the religion follows the Bhagavad Gita, the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the Upanishads.
The main tenets of Hinduism have to do with reincarnation, dharma, moksha, karma, and idol worship. The ideals of which this religion is based upon is truthfulness, compassion, self-control, non-violence, generosity, fortitude, and purity.
Some of the phrases that help to depict the major truths of Hinduism are bhakti, or devotion, yoga, which means discipline, and dharma, which translates to what is right. There are four stages of human life in Hinduism with the appropriate rituals and rites that go with each stage.
There are two lifelong dharmas in traditional Hinduism: Grihastha Dharma which means domestic religion and Sannyasin Dharma, or ascetic religion. There are four goals of the Grihastha Dharma and they include sensual pleasure, the laws of life, liberation from the cycle of births, and wealth and prosperity.
There are nine beliefs that Hindus adhere to. They are:
They believe in one Supreme Being who is the Creator of things and one who unmanifests reality.
The Hindu religion follows the “divinity of the four Vedas” which is considered the oldest scripture in the world. They consider this the word of God and the basis of the eternal religion, Sanatana Dharma.
It is believed by followers of this religion that the universe goes through many phases of preservation, creation, and dissolution.
Karma is one of their main beliefs which has each person being responsible for his or her destiny based on their words, thoughts, and actions.
Another strong belief has to do with reincarnation. All beings go through reincarnation until they have resolved their karma and arrive at the point where they have been freed of being born again.
It is believed that there are divine beings living in other worlds unseen. Worshipping in the temple, certain rituals, personal devotionals, and sacraments help them work together with these beings.
You must become enlightened in order to be familiar with the Transcendent Absolute. The traits required to become enlightened include good conduct, personal discipline, meditation, purification, self-inquiry, pilgrimage, and surrender in God.
All Hindus respect life and feel that all life is revered and sacred. This is why they practice to not injure anyone with their words or actions. This is called ahimsa.
It is the Hindu belief that there is no religion that is superior to another. They feel that all roads lead to God and that each one is a reflection of God’s light and should be respected and tolerated.
Other Oldest Religions
This religion is based on the existence of gods and goddesses. Their deities included mother goddesses, water deities, creator deities, and love deities. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, and Chinese followed this religion during ancient times. Each practiced a little differently, but there was a common thread that brought it all together.
Judaism is still practiced today and has a history that spans more than 4,000 years. This religion believes that there is one God. Followers go by the first five books of the Old Testament and recognize it as the Torah. The tenets of this religion encompass family relationships, criminal justice, social responsibility, and personal values. It is referred to as Halachah.
As an offspring of Hinduism, Buddhism was founded in the 6th century BCE by Siddhartha Gautama, one of the oldest religions. He is referred to as the awakened one. Divided into two groups, Buddhism has a conservative branch called Theravada and a more liberal branch called Mahayana. The tenets include the Four Noble Truths – suffering, the cause of suffering being desire, the end to suffering, and the existence of ending suffering.
Jainism is also from the 6th century BCE. Their main tenet is that every living things has a soul and everything should be done to not cause injury to any life form. There are two groups – the Svetambaras, who wear white clothing, and the Digambaras who wear no clothing at all. The monks that belong to this religion wear pieces of cloth across their mouths so they do not accidentally cause any harm by breathing in.
The origins of Taoism date back to the 3rd or 4th century BCE which is when the main tenets of Taoism were dated. The tenets behind this religion are for followers to live in the flow of everything. Living in accordance of “the way” effortlessly and in conjunction with humility, compassion, and moderation is what is expected of those who live by the Tao.
- The word religion means different things depending on the interpretation. In Latin it is Religio, which means “restraint.” According to Cicero, it is Relegere and means “to repeat and to read again.” But out of all of them, religion probably is the closest to the real meaning, “to show respect for what is sacred.” In today’s society the word religion describes an organized group of practices and beliefs that are based upon a spiritual experience. There has never been a time in history where people have not followed some type of religion.