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Spotlight on Religion: Zeroastrianism June 22, 2013

Hi everyone! I know it’s been a while since our last Spotlight on Religion, but now it’s time for the next one — Zeroastrianism! (I have no idea how to pronounce that, by the way.)

Religion: Zeroastrianism is considered one of the oldest monotheistic (which means you believe in only one God) religions. It was founded before Islam and Christianity in the sixth century BC, though it holds many of the same beliefs. It was founded by a prophet who, like most prophets, thought he saw visions of God (or, as he called it, Ahura Mazda). His name was Zarathustra. Zeroastrianism used to be a huge religion, one of the largest in the world, but in recent years the number of followers has dwindled down, now at only 140,000.

Where it is Practiced: Zeroastrianism was founded in Persia, but over the years it has made its way down to India, where the religion is called Parsiism and the majority of the followers live. Now, besides India, people practicing Zeroastrianism can be found in Iran, the US, Afghanistan, the UK, Canada, Pakistan, Singapore, Azerbaijan, Australia, and New Zealand.

Beliefs: The core of Zeroastrianism is good and evil. The two representatives of these concepts are Ahura Mazda (good) and Aura Mainyu (evil). If you spend your life doing good and being good, you will go to heaven with Ahura Mazda and you will be guided there by a beautiful woman. If the bad you have done in your life outweighs the good, you will be taken to hell, guided by an ugly old woman. There are many different levels and degrees of hell depending on how good you’ve been during your lifespan. In Zeroastrianism you are given free choice, and you will either be rewarded or punished for what you chose to do. All of these beliefs and more can be found in their sacred texts, the Avesta, which translates to “The Book of Law.”

Practices: Today, the practices of Zeroastrians (or Parsis) have several important practices, including a coming of age ritual, penance, ceremonies, sacred objects, festivals, burial rites, and much more. In the coming of age ritual, children are either 7 or 10 (depending on whether they study the form from either India or Persia). They are initiated into the religion and receive either a shirt and a girdle which they are supposed to wear their whole life. Penance is very much like the Catholic version of confession, where you confess to a priest, but first must recite the patet, whereas Catholics recite the Act of Contrition. The chief ceremony is known as the Yasna, which is basically a sacrifice of sacred liquor and celebrated before the sacred fire (which is left burning at all times), and recitation of large portions of the Avesta. There are six seasonal festivals in Zeroastrianism, the most important of which is the New Years Festival. Lastly, burial rites are very important to Parsis. A “four-eyed” dog (a dog with spots above each eye) is brought before the corpse and brought back five times a day, which goes on for three days. This is thought to expose the dead.

References: I got my information from these places: http://www.religionfacts.com/zoroastrianism/index.htm and http://globalgoodgroup.com/blog/2011/12/17/three-awesome-world-religions-you-didnt-know-existed/

 

Religious Literacy June 12, 2013

You probably know somebody from a different culture or set of beliefs. They may not celebrate the same holidays as you or have the same customs as you. You know the name of their religion, maybe some of the holidays they celebrate, but you probably don’t know the basis of their beliefs, their practices, or what higher being they worship, if they believe in one. And that’s where religious literacy ties in.

While looking for images that showed a diversity of religious standpoints, I found a lot of thought-provoking things that are sometimes tread lightly around, but I think I'll make posts on those later.

While looking for images that showed a diversity of religious standpoints, I found a lot of thought-provoking things that are sometimes tread lightly around, but I think I’ll make posts on those later.

What is religious literacy?

It’s knowledge about the different religions of the world and their practices. This includes the holy text, the laws that they live by, if they believe in a deity or god, and which one or ones they do, as well as other important facts. Someone who is religiously illiterate isn’t culturally enlightened, and may have trouble being open-minded. A lot of religion-based prejudice comes from a lack of understanding, therefore creating a lack of acceptance. Stephen Prothero wrote a book about it’s importance that inspired this post, which I plan to read sometime.

 

Why is it important to be religiously literate?

Not only will you be able to better understand the people around you, you will have a greater acceptance of people who believe different things. It will increase your cultural knowledge, and people will thank you for understanding and accepting their religion. As you learn more about different religions, you can help to erase the misconceptions and narrow-mindedness. You will also be able to get in touch with your own spirituality (or lack thereof) and learn things about your religion’s history that you never knew. Or, you may decide that you do not want to be part of any category. It is an internally rewarding journey as well as one that will help you and others to understand.

 

How can you improve your ‘religious IQ’?

I’m taking a religious study class over the summer because I’m required to. (But seriously, I think it will be a very good opportunity for me to become more religiously literate, and the class is actually very interesting! Yes, though, I am required to by my school.) You can search online about different religions, purchase a book or check one out from your library, ask your friends about their individual customs, or attend a talk or workshop. I promise it will make a difference!

 

And finally, a shout out to the Bonsai ruler of religious literacy…

That’s right, Mary, I’m talking to you! We can’t thank you enough for inventing and taking on the project of Spotlight on Religion. It’s definitely enlightened us and the readers, and we eagerly await all the posts from that category!

 

Ceej

 

Spotlight on Religion: Jainism May 8, 2013

It’s been a while, but it’s finally time for our third spotlight on religion. This time, as you can tell from the title, we’re going to be talking about is Jainism.

Religion: Jainism is a religion that believes in non-violence to all living things, and one of the oldest religions on the planet. The founder is unknown, but the beginning of this religion has been traced to the Indus Valley Civilization, though nobody knows for sure.  Jainism used to have a great many worshipers, but now there aren’t as many (only 4.2 million) because of the growing popularity of Hinduism.

Where it is Practiced: Jainism, as I mentioned before, has been traced to have started somewhere in the Indus Valley Civilization, which was in current-day India. It is now mostly practiced in India, but immigrants have spread/now practice it in countries like Belgium, the US, Canada, China, Japan, and Singapore.

Beliefs: Jainism’s main belief (or, as it are more commonly referred to, principle) is non-violence (ahimsa). Non-violence is seen as the biggest religious duty for all Jains, which means that it is the most important thing for them to follow/do. Jains strictly hold in place this view, which means that they are vegetarians, pacifists, and don’t fight each other with fists — ever. They also try not to injure plants more than they have to, and consider arguments and harsh words another form of violence. However, Jains know that they cannot go through life without hurting anything, so they rate the thing from 1 to 5 based on how many senses they have. Things with more senses are valued more and they do their best not to hurt them more than  those with less senses.

Practices: Jainism has many rituals and practices. The Navkar Mantra is one of their most important prayers. They do not mention names or ask for favors, but they do try their best to respect all beings with the prayer. They may thank them for what they have done or compliment them or something like that. Jains preform prayers like this so that they can break barriers of worldly desires/attachments and therefore help to liberate their soul. They also follow six rituals to liberate souls, as well. Some important festivals in Jainism are Paryushana, Mahavira Jayanti, and Diwali. During these festivals, Jains don’t really party like you’d expect — they mostly fast and meditate and pray. Meditation and fasting are a huge part of the Jainism practices, which also, I suppose, helps them to liberate their souls. In that way, they are similar to Hindus — they try to be good in this life so they can reach nirvana, or the point where they don’t have to do life over anymore and can simply be with God.

If you want to find out more about Jainism, I used this Wikipedia page to do my research:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jainism

 

Spotlight on Religious Holiday: Christian Easter March 31, 2013

Today is Easter, and it’s time to welcome the Easter bunny! Most of you probably eat chocolate rabbits and jelly beans on Easter,  but do you know the religious background to it? Do you know why some people complain about Easter, even if they get a ton of candy, because they have to go to church for two or more hours on Saturday night or Sunday and about an hour and a half on the Friday before?

In the Christian religion and all of its branches, Easter is the most holy day of the year.  You probably know about Jesus and God from just living. They’re also the reasons why we celebrate Christmas and everyone looks forward to that.

Easter is when Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, after he was crucified to save us from our sins. It’s the last day of Holy Week, where Christians celebrate The Last Supper, where Jesus gave his body and blood to his followers and celebrated the first mass, Good Friday, when Jesus was crucified, and Easter Sunday, when Jesus was found to be gone from his tomb and alive again.

For Christians, Easter represents hope, a long journey, and miracles. It also shows them that God has the ability to do anything.

So where did the Easter Bunny and colored eggs and chocolate and peeps come from? Where did hunting for Easter eggs and candy evolve from? I have no idea, but it’s a nice way to celebrate what some people think is the most holy day of the year, don’t you think?

 

Spotlight on Religion: Spiritism March 29, 2013

Now it’s time for our second religion, I know you were waiting ages for this. So, what’s this one called? Spiritism.

Religion: Spiritism is a religion that isn’t really a religion like any other, sort of blending Christianity and some other Western religions to form its root. It was started by a French educater in the mid 19th century, and now has spiritism39 representive countries.

Where it is Practiced: As mentioned, 39 countries officially represent it, but the countries where it is most practiced are Brazil, Phillipines, and the UK. Some others are the US, France, and Spain.

Beliefs: Spiritism uses a book similar to the bible called the Spiritist Codification. In it there are five books: The Spirits’ Book, which covers subjects like God, Religion, Society, Spirit, Universe, Man, etc.; The Mediums’ Book, which covers things like how to channel spirits, the process done by mediums, etc.; The Gospel According to Spiritism, which has comments on the gospels of the world, highlighting passages that have ethical things shared by all religions and philisophical systems; Heaven and Hell, which has interviews with dead people and trying to come up with a corrolation between Heaven and Hell; and the Genesis According to Spiritism, which shows how spiritists think the world started and such. People who study spiritism believe in God, spirits, Nature, reincarnation, ghosts, and aliens. They also have karma, which is similar to the karma used in Hinduism, and mediumship, people who communicate with spirits (or ghosts).

Practices: Spiritism is not actually seen as a religion by most of its followers, and actually more of a way of life. Therefore, it doesn’t require frequent adoration or masses that other religions need. Spiritists think their religion has three parts: science, philosophy, and religion. Spiritism does have orginization, though. There’s something like a church system for it in Canada, and these can have a local, regional, or national scope.

If you want to find out more about spiritism, I did my research from these places:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritism,   http://akorra.com/2010/03/04/top-10-lesser-known-religions/, and http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Which_are_the_countries_where_Spiritism_is_most_practiced

For more information, you can also go to:

http://explorespiritism.com

Mary

 

Spotlight on Religion: Haitian Vodouism March 17, 2013

Hi, everyone! Bonsai will be coming out with several short posts (since it isn’t charity or anything like that) about different religions throughout the world. It will help educate people on other religions and hopefully make them more accepting. Now, they won’t necessarily be lartge religions like Catholicism (though they may be), but instead a lot of the time they will be out of the way religions you may have never even heard of before.

So, our first religion — Haitian Vodouism.

Religion: A form a Vodouism, but from Haiti and with a French version, originally transferred from Africa.

Where It is Practiced: Hmm…let’s look at the type of religion. Hmm…let’s guess. This is hard. Um…I’ve got it! Haiti! Yes. I am smart. And so are you.

Worshippers during a service (though not in the place, probably from older times).

Beliefs: In Haitian Vodouism, the believers have a deity called Bondyè. Bondyè is a god found in many religions from West African religions, though Haiti in’t from Western Africa. Still. Though they worship him/believe him to be the deity much like god, he is “unreachable” so they pray to lesser gods for their prayers to be heard. These are known as loas. Many of these have their own names and even family trees. Their moral code focuses on the badness of being greedy/dishonorable. There is no central authority like the pope in Vodouism, and that counts for Haitian Vodouism, as well.

Practices: A temple for this religion is known as a Hounfour. Much like in Christian masses, their are songs and prayers done here, though they are all in French. They also pray prayers derived in Africa, since that is where vodouism originates. There are normally drums, songs for individual spirits, and songs for different loa families. Practicers think that the spirits they are singing/praying about actually come into their bodies and, in a way, possess them, while they do this. Those who were possessed are benefited and if they lie, it is believed to take away their luck. Priests can be male or female, and are known as either Houngans (male) or Mambos (female) and are chosen by dead anscestors. There are also bokors who preform spells upon request. They’re kind of like the chapel magicians.

I hope you liked our first spotlight on religion!

 

Mary

 

 
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