Religious rituals

When posed with a question about life, we must first ask ourselves what life is. To analyse this point I will be focusing on Buddhism and ethics, but I will also be pulling in other world religions. If looked at from a Buddhist point of view, the answer would be, that this life is simply a means by which to get to the next life, and in the process tying to breaking the causal chain of suffering to eventually reach enlightenment and move on to nirvana. Yet if you ask a Christian or even a Jew your response would be totally different.

Life is god given and according to Aquinas there are five points to fulfil in life. They are; to live, to reproduce, to learn, to worship God and to order society. Aquinas said “For a Christian, God who created all things and gave everything its pattern and purpose, is the “highest good”. God, therefore, is the goal and destiny of every human being, even if everyone does not acknowledge this”. Aquinas’s theory is a development of Aristotle’s natural law theory. Aristotle proposed that the purpose of life was to aim for the “highest good”, being happiness.

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He believed that everything done by an individual or group of individuals aims at some purpose or other, whether good or evil, as we can never do something for no reason. He stated that there were “higher” and “lower” aims in life. We undertake an act with a lower aim in order to fulfil a higher aim. And in saying that, all things we under take are done in order to achieve the aim above all others that is “happiness”. Aquinas’s development on this theory led to the belief that every human being wanted what is good, since every person has a human nature, created by God.

This is an “ideal” human nature to which each person can be true or of which they can fall short. All our moral acts are central in relation to this human nature. This leads to the next point I wish to discuss, sin! Aquinas again defined sin as “falling short of the good, being less than God intended us to be, seeking false good rather than the truly good”. For Christians the greatest sin would be to break one of the ten commandments, given by God (exodus 20). Where as in Buddhism it could be said that sin is caused by craving, for example craving of food or sexual urges, or breaking the rules which can be found in the Vinaya Pitaka.

When looking at life we must look at some of the major rights of passage in my religious peoples live. Firstly lets look at the Jewish, there are two major writes of passage to be undertaken first to show they are Jewish second to accept them as an adult into the Jewish community. Lets look first at the first right of passage this being Brit Milah or circumcision and this is taken when the male child is just 8 days old. The covenant of circumcision can be found in Genesis 17;10-14 and Leviticus 12;3. the covenant was originally made between Abraham and God and is said to be the first commandment specific to Jews.

Due to this fact it is the most universally observed. Circumcision is an outward physical sign of the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people. If a father does not have his son circumcised, the son is obligated to have himself circumcised as soon as he becomes and adult. Circumcision is performed on the eighth day of the child’s life. The day the child is born counts as the first day. Circumcisions are performed on Shabbat, even though they involve the drawing of blood which is ordinarily forbidden on Shabbat.

The circumcision is performed by a Mohel, who is a pious observant Jew educated in the relevant Jewish law and in surgical techniques. The child is held by a Sandek, who is usually the grandfather or the family rabbi. A chair is set aside for Elijah, who presides over all circumcisions. Lastly blessings are recited, the Kiddush is said over wine, and a drop of wine is placed in the childs mouth, this is when the child is given a formal Hebrew name. This could be compared with the baptism or christening of a child into the Christian or Catholic faith.

A local vicar told me “Baptism is not to be regarded merely as a ceremony devised for the Christian naming of infants. It is a sacrament, in which the children are brought publicly to be Baptised, and to be received into the Church of Christ; and in which they are brought into the Spiritual Presence of God, in order that they may receive His Holy Blessing. It is a service of consecration and dedication, of faith and thanksgiving and worship of God”. From this we can see that in many religions the act of bringing a child into the world and naming the child is very important and similar.

Both ceremonies symbolise the child being accepted into the religious community and naming the child under Gods eyes. The next major right of passage is for Jews a Bar or Bat Mitzvah which can be compared to a confirmation as they both symbolise a child becoming an adult in Gods eyes, and showing they are ready to take responsibility for their actions. It could also be said the equivalent of this for Buddhists is entering into the monasteries, although a more server way to show your faith, many children enter in to the monasteries at young ages to train to become monks.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah means Son/Daughter of the commandments and these services take place when the child is 13 years old for a boy and 12 years old for a girl. At this point the children are not obliged to observe the commandments, but they are encouraged to, to learn the obligations they will have as adults. This service gives them the right to take part in leading religious service, to count in a minyan, to form binding contracts, to testify in a religious court and to marry (although they still like the child to be 18 or older to marry). The Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the celebrants first aliyah.

It takes place during the Shabbat service after the child’s birthday. The celebrant is called up to the Torah to recite a blessing over the weekly portion. It is common for the celebrant to learn the entire haftarah portion, including traditional chant, and recite that. They read the entire weekly torah portion, or lead part of the service, or lead the congregation in certain important prayers. They will then make a speech saying “today I am a man/woman” and the father thanks God for removing the burden of being responsible for their son’s/daughter’s sins.

As I said one of the most important things in the life of a Buddhist would be to become a monk. Becoming a Buddhist monk dates back thousands of years and the service itself is very similar. First ill tell you the history behind the ordinations. The Buddha ordained the first monks himself, granting permission for them to leave their homes and join the order. Ordination was by a simple command to come and hear the dharma and make an end to anguish.

As monks began to travel the country they ordained suitable candidates by shaving the candidates head, the wearing of the distinctive yellow robe, and by hearing a declaration of the Three Jewels of Buddhism. The Buddha encouraged would-be initiates to leave their homes and traditional Brahmanic roles in order to devote their future lives to the search of personal truth. They would henceforth live within the protective community of the Sangha, rather than the household, and would forsake their former religious rituals and family expectations.

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