Top Religions in Asia

Dec 29, 2018 | Asia, Culture, India

by Rej Jaen

How Asia Became the Birthplace of the World’s Culturally Diverse Religions

Asia, being the largest continent in the world, is culturally and ethnically diverse. Almost in every culture, there is a particular religion that comes with it. The most practiced religion in Asia is Islamism followed by Hinduism. Other religions evolved as well such as Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto, Jainism, and Sikhism. The common characteristic of all of these religions is that their birthplace is in Asia.

In this article, we’ll talk more in-depth about Asia’s top religions that are still practiced by millions of people today.

Hinduism

With approximately 900 million followers, Hinduism is the second largest religion on the continent. It’s also the third largest in the world. The roots of Hinduism can be traced back as early as the Indus Valley Civilization. It is often believed that not one person founded Hinduism, and is known to be the mother of other religions such as Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism.

Since it’s a vast religion, it often tends to be practiced differently in different parts of the globe, and different cultures. One of the main concepts of this faith is that Hindus pray to their gods and goddesses for more fruitful and prosperous lives. Each culture, country or community has their way of worshiping and giving homage.

Hindus acknowledge the sovereignty of the ancient scriptures, also known as the four Vedas. It encompasses the division of the society into four caste systems- the Brahmins or priests, warriors, artisans, and lastly, the peasants. There are also the “untouchables,” known as the Dalits ‒ people that often do “unclean” work or jobs.

The highest goal of people who practice this religion is the state of moksha or liberation. It is where they undergo a cycle of reincarnations until they finally unite with their god. It’s also one’s ultimate reality ‒ wherein one identifies their own soul, from the universal soul.

Sikhism

As mentioned earlier, Sikhism is another form of religion that was born from Hinduism. First founded by Guru Nanak Dev, it’s the fifth largest religion in the world.

Sikhism first started in the territories of Pakistan and India like the Punjab and Sindh areas. The holy book of the religion is the Guru Granth Sahib and is based on the teachings of the Sikh Gurus. Gurmat is their system of religious expression, and followers pray to the gurus in Gurdwaras.

Just like the Hindus, the Sikhs, otherwise known as students, surmise that there is a cycle of reincarnation that ultimately ends with the unification of their god. Their focus is on human action as a means of escaping the cycle of rebirths. In a Sikhs’ perspective, salvation can be obtained by avoiding immoral acts and other evils, and by living a moral life.

Jainism

Jainism is a relatively small religion that exists in India. The religion follows the tradition and teachings of Vardhaman Mahavira and other gurus. Mahavira and his followers reject the idea of the Vedas; wherein there is a creator god as well as a caste system. Through the right behavior, faith, and total non-violence, they believe that everyone can be liberated from having to be reborn again.

Surprisingly, Jainism has one of the largest libraries in the world. Practitioners consider non-violence as the central encompassing principle of their religion. Jains are also vegetarians. Their monks tend to wear cloth on their mouths so that they can avoid harming any living creature that may exist in the air.

The religion itself provided a vast number of contributions all over India, from the political, economic, and ethical perspective. Although this religion is still largely predominant in India, it is quickly growing across the globe.

Confucianism

Confucianism is first founded by Confucius and is an ancient Chinese religion. The religion strongly believes in hierarchy, family, and integrity. Other central values are righteousness, sincerity, morality, compassion, and wisdom. The doctrine teaches that although one is not inherently born with these traits, they can be acquired through constant practice.

An individual, family and society’s well-being is entirely dependent on one’s moral values. Through a noble person’s moral actions, he can serve as a role model to other people with his actions.

The primary source of Confucianism teachings is based on the Lunyu, a collection of sayings. Today, people from Vietnam, Korea, China, and Japan practice this religion.

Taoism

First founded by Laozi, Taoism puts a  lot of focus on harmony with nature. Some scholars argue that it can be considered as China’s original religion.

Essentially, the word “tao” means the “way.” There’s also a cosmic order with the forces “yin” (female) and “yang” (male.)

Being a school of thought, Taoism is the polar opposite of Confucianism. Taoism doesn’t believe in gods. Instead, it believes in a world without force, brought about by wu wei, or inaction.

Practitioners avoid unnecessary intervention, and only those who are ignorant can intuitively understand. They believe that understanding the truth in all underlying things can be achieved in one’s complete harmony with nature. Moreover, they practice meditation techniques which are often believed to increase longevity, even immortality.

Shintoism

Shinto is the largest, and often the most prevalent religion in Japan, with approximately 80% of the country’s population practicing it. However, only a small population identify it as an organized religion.

Shinto was first established in the early 7th and the 8th century. As of the present, the religion is a unified account of Japanese mythology, that is strongly marked by Buddhist influence.

The Shinto faith is primarily rooted in animism. Practitioners believe that the kami, or gods, inhibit trees, mountains, stones, and the sun. Thus, these elements are to be worshipped. There is no sacred scripture nor founder of this faith.

However, it emphasizes strong personal intercessions and social rites in the day to day activities. Shintoism isn’t dogmatic. As a result, it co-exists with other religions.

Islam

Islamism is the largest religion in Asia and the second largest in the world. It was first founded in the 7th century by Muhammad. The faith is monotheistic. All teachings and belief come from the holy book Quran, which is believed to be spoken to Muhammad through the angel Jibril. Likewise, believers of the said faith are called Muslims. Muslims view Muhammad as the messenger of the word of Allah.

First originating in the middle eastern part of Asia, Islam is becoming widespread all over the world, only in different forms. Islam’s place of worship is called a mosque.

Is Buddhism an Actual Religion?

It was Gautama Buddha, an Indian prince, who first founded Buddhism. He believed in the philosophy that everything would be solved through peace and love. A lot of people supported the teachings of Gautama Buddha, as the practice became widespread in most parts of Asia (before Islamism took over.)

Most of the teachings of Buddha revolve on the principle that inner peace can be the solution for everything. Buddhism neither believes that there is a god or a creator, unlike other eastern religions. People practicing it think that worldly pleasures can make inner peace go away, causing a person not to function correctly. Also, although every Buddhist is grateful for the message Buddha has brought to them, they understand that he is also a man, just like them.

In the 1950s, Buddhism experienced intense opposition from most of the communist countries in Asia. During the Chinese occupation in Tibet, it has been trying to wipe out, if not restrict, the principles and teachings of Buddhism. Buddhism still managed to survive in China, but it is still subject to the control and regulation of the state.

In today’s modern times, Buddhism has been subject to debate whether it’s an actual religion or not. Many people argue that it is simply a way of living ‒ a philosophy. Although a lot of people are divided over this fact, it usually depends on the various technicalities of how one defines religion.