Eastern Religious Traditions
PAUL J. GRIFFITHS
When we speak of “Eastern religions, ” we are talking about religions that originated, roughly, east of Baghdad. Religions from this part of the world have contributed significantly to the development of Western religious thought and practice. Christianity, for instance, owes a debt to religious movements from Persia and India: the first mention of the Buddha in a Christian text is from the second century ce. Indeed, the Mediterranean area always has been a place where East meets West: during some periods, the West was markedly influenced by the East (e.g., during the later days of the Alexander the Great's empire, there was much contact and influence with Persia; during the Crusades, there was Muslim influence as far west as Spain). Some of the most important of the Eastern religions are Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism (also known as Taoism), Confucianism, and Shintoism. These five religious traditions together command the devotion of a significant proportion of the human race (Littleton, 1996, p. 6).
Hinduism1 which is most easily thought of as India's traditional religion or family of religions, a family to which perhaps 70% of contemporary Indians would say they belong, can be traced back almost 5,000 years (to the third millennium BCE) and has profoundly influenced the religious and philosophical traditions of almost every civilization in Asia. Indeed, although the large-scale practice of Hinduism is confined largely to the Indian subcontinent and to emigrant communities of Indians elsewhere, Buddhism, the “daughter religion” of Hinduism, spread the fundamental ideas of Hinduism—profoundly modified, of course—in much the same