Eastern and Western Religions — Rituals
One of the great divides and differences — morally and spiritually — between the Western world and the Eastern world is how people worship, what they believe about God and the universe, and what their rituals are. But how much substantive difference can truly be seen between eastern religions and western religions? This paper points to the major differences in terms of the rituals of four great world religions: Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Confucianism.
Eastern Religions: Rituals of Confucianism
Author Jeffrey Richey points out that the oldest ritualistic practice in Confucianism is ancestor worship. This includes the remembering of (and revering of) a person — loved one — that has passed on. The commemoration of and the communication with that deceased person is considered a necessary ritualistic sacrifice, Richey explains. The writer makes clear that commemoration of a deceased person is not unique to Confucianism in East Asian religions; indeed, “one need not identify oneself as ‘Confucian’ in order to practiceâ€¦” ancestor worship (Richey, 2008). That having been said, the roots of ancestor worship are deeply held within the Confucian traditions.
Ancestor worship as a ritual has been part of Chinese life “since prehistoric times,” Richey explains; in fact the rulers of the Shang dynasty (1570-1045 B.C.E.) are known to have practiced ancestor worship. That is known because there are writings that document those details from the Shang dynasty. Meantime, there is a saying (documented by the Lunyu records) that aptly illustrates the importance of reverence for ancestors through worship: “Observe what a person has in mind to do when his father is alive, and then observe what he does when his father is dead.” And, the saying continues, “If for three years he makes no changes to his father’s ways, he can be said to be a good son” (Lunyu 1:11 / Richey). This is a good example of the importance of worshiping those that have gone before — especially a beloved family member.
Other rituals that are part of Confucianism include: bowing and being respectful to older people; taking off shoes before entering a house; and writing thank you notes to those who have helped you (Brockbaker, 2013). Moreover, it should be mentioned that Confucianism does not include worshiping a God or any deity; it is more of an ethical religion than a traditional one.
Eastern Religions: Rituals of Hinduism
The most common religious ritual in the Hindu experience is “â€¦the division between purity and pollution,” according to About.com (references used from the U.S. Library of Congress). There is an assumption in the Hindu faith that believers (or practitioners) have some degree of pollution or impurity in their spirit or their daily habits, and so, those impurities must be “overcome or neutralized before and during ritual procedures” (About.com). Hence, to remove those impurities prior to rituals one must be purified with water. Certain impurities must be removed by water prior to the rituals that will be explained in the next paragraph; those impurities might be eating animal flesh, taking the life of an animal, any association with a dead thing — or with bodily fluids — is considered an impurity (About.com).
So, once the impurity is cleansed with water, daily rituals may take place. Most Hindus practice their rituals at home, not in a building (or church). Typically, at the dawn of a new day, the women in the home “â€¦draw auspicious geometric designs in chalk or rice flour on the floor or the doorstep”; and following a bath, a common Hindu ritual is to worship gods at the family shrine (in the home) by lighting a lamp and offering food items to the gods while reciting prayers in Sanskrit (About.com). According to Religion Facts, Hindus that are more philosophical about their faith seek “Realization of the Self” by the ritualistic practice of “intense meditating.”
Western Religions: Rituals of Islam
The Muslim ritual that stands out as the most recognized ritual in the Islamic religion is the ritual prayer (called salat), which devout Muslims perform five times a day. According to Religion Facts, a devout Muslim prays at dawn, mid-day, in the afternoon, at sunset, and during the nighttime. Part of this ritual is not just getting down on one’s knees to pray, but also to face in the direction of Mecca (in the East).
Prior to the salat, a Muslim must ritualistically wash face, hands, and feet; and when there is no water available to wash hands, face and feet, sand is a worthy replacement (Religion Facts). Through the washing of face, hands and feet, a Muslim is performing the ritual of “ablution” (a kind of purification); and the prayers conducted five times a day are for the individual to glorify God (Religion Facts).
Another important ritual observed by devout Muslims is sawm, or fasting. The ritual of fasting actually is a commemoration of the revelation of the holy book of Islam, the Qur’an. In other words, when the Qur’an was revealed to the Islamic community, it was a time of great spiritual awakening. During Ramadan, which occurs in the ninth month of Islamic year, all adult Muslims are required to “â€¦abstain from food, drink, and sexual intercourse during daylight hours” (Religion Facts). The ritual of fasting is an important part of the Muslim spiritual experience.
Western Religions: Rituals of Judaism
While devout Muslims are asked to pray five times a day, Observant Jews are asked to worship three times a day, and Jews observe the 7th day as the Sabbath, which is the “â€¦epitome of sacred time,” according to Patheos. The Jewish faith has many rituals, and for devout members of Judaism, they are ritualistically obliged to “â€¦constantly remind themselves of God’s presence in their lives,” and they do this through an “â€¦elaborate system of daily prayers, benedictions for all occasions”; and that is done notwithstanding how seemingly ordinary and mundane the reason (Patheos). While the Roman Catholic faith — a Western religion to be sure — and Hinduism, have statues and human-like symbols, Judaism “â€¦vigilantly avoids the use of symbolic representations in worship” (Patheos).
There are other important rituals in the lives of Jewish people. For example, on the first Sabbath following the birth of a child, the father of that child is asked to come forward at the synagogue. When he is at the front of the congregation, he is asked to recite the “aliyah,” and request that the child and the mother be blessed with good health. For baby girls, they are given a name on the first Sabbath following her birth; for baby boys, they are given a name on the eighth day after being born, which is part of the rite of circumcision (Religion Facts).
A ritual for Jewish children that is well-known throughout the West is Bar Mitzvah for boys and Bat Mitzvah for girls. Jewish law does not require children to obey all the Ten Commandments (in the Old Testament); however, when a boy reaches the age of 13, and has his Bar Mitzvah, he is expected to know and understand and obey the Commandments. Likewise, when a girl is 12, and has her Bat Mitzvah, she is fully expected to obey the Commandments.
In conclusion, while there are great differences in the four religions described in this paper, and while the rituals in each of the four are vastly different one from the other, believers in all four of these religions share a common goal: to live up to the values and practices of their faith. Understanding and respecting faiths that are different from one’s own faith is a common human value that should always be emphasized.
About.com. “Hindu Rites & Rituals.” Retrieved December 10, 2013, from http://hinduism.about.com.
Brockbaker. “Confucianism: Practices Rituals and Festivals.” PB Works. Retrieved December
10, 2013, from http://brockbaker.pbworks.com.
Patheos. “Rituals and Worship: Judaism.” Retrieved December 10, 2013, from http://www.patheos.com.
Richey, Jeffrey. “Religion Library: Confucianism / Rites and Ceremonies.” Patheos. Retrieved December 10, 2013, from http://www.patheos.com.
Religion Facts. “Hindu Rituals and Practices.” Retrieved December 10, 2013, from http://www.religionfacts.com.
Religion Facts: “Jewish Life Cycle Rituals.” Retrieved December 10, 2013, from http://religionfacts.com.
Religion Facts. “Sawm: Fasting During Ramadan.” Retrieved December 10, 2013, from http://www.religionfacts.com.
Religion Facts. “Salat: Ritual Prayer.” Retrieved December 10, 2013, from http://www.religionfacts.com.