Updated 31 August 2011
Regardless of whether China is more practical, materialistic and down to earth than India or India is more philosophical, religious and transcendental than China, both have a long tradition of religions and philosophies.
Indian religions, philosophies and healthcare
Of the religions practised in India Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism originated there. Up to around the 7th century CE, Hinduism was not uniform and there were many conflicting sects and schools. Buddhism was gaining ground.
Adi Shankaracharya through meditation, study of the Vedas and the Vedanta and widespread discourse with proponents of various sects and schools, unified Hinduism and founded four monasteries. These have continued to today and the heads of each is entitled Shankaracharya. They are sort-of like the Archbishops of York and Canterbury in the Anglican Church, though there is no allegiance to the state as is the case in the Church of England. In fact, when India became independent, the constitution specifically defined India as a secular state.
Partly due to this consolidation and reform of Hinduism, Buddhism started to decline in India. Fortunately, through Asoka and his successors Buddhism had been spread to both the south east and the west of India, Buddhism thrives
today in much of SE Asia. It was the western spread that reached Gandhara, then a Grecian remnant of Alexander’s empire – in today’s north-east Pakistan and southern Afghanistan – from where the Grecian-style of hair was adopted for statues of Buddha, with frizzled hair. The real Buddha was a monk with a clean-shaven head! Interestingly, the Buddha in his sermons did not preach about a deity. Despite that, today, although many Buddhists adhere to his original teaching, many more have turned him and some of his key disciples into heavenly beings.
Hinduism is both a religion and a philosophy. One of the best books about Hinduism is The Hindu View of Life by Dr S Radhakrishnan, one of India’s greatest philosophers. He was a scholar and then professor at Oxford University and later was appointed President of India in 1962. One of the central beliefs of Hindus is moksha which is the idea of release or liberation of one’s soul from the cycle of rebirth and the losing of one’s self into the Self.
Another concept is dharma which refers to duties that have to be performed at different stages of one’s life. These must be completed without a thought of possible rewards or benefits and should also be accomplished to the best of one’s ability. They are responsible for the prevailing social order in the world.
All four Indian-originated religions subscribe to the belief in karma - put simply a law of cause and effect, a “reap as you sow” or “every force has an equal and opposite reaction”. The main distinguishing aspect of karma is that, with the belief in reincarnation, the effect may take place a few lifetimes later than the cause. Sometimes, karma is used as an excuse for one’s misfortunes, blaming some past incarnation. If one does enough good deeds for long enough over several lifetimes then eventually one will achieve nirvana or enlightenment. And according to Buddhist teachings one will no longer have to come back into this karmic cycle of suffering.
Incidentally, India has nearly as many Muslims – 150m, as Pakistan – 160m.