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  • In all times and places in our history,

  • human beings have wondered,

  • "Where did we come from?

  • What's our place in the world?

  • What happens to us after we die?"

  • Religions are systems of belief

  • that have developed and evolved over time

  • in response to these

  • and other eternal mysteries,

  • driven by the feeling that some questions

  • can only be answered by faith

  • and based on an intuition

  • that there is something greater than ourselves,

  • a higher power we must answer to,

  • or some source we all spring from

  • and to which we must return.

  • Hinduism means the religions of India.

  • It's not a single religion

  • but rather a variety of related beliefs

  • and spiritual practices.

  • It dates back five millennia

  • to the time of Krishna,

  • a man of such virtue

  • that he became known as an avatar of Vishnu,

  • an incarnation of the god in human form.

  • He taught that all life follows karma,

  • the law of cause and effect,

  • and our job is to do our duty, or dharma,

  • according to our place in society

  • without worrying how things turn out.

  • When we die, we are reincarnated into a new body.

  • If we followed our dharma

  • and did our proper duty in our past life,

  • we get good karma,

  • which sends our soul upward in the social scale.

  • Our rebirth into the next life

  • is thus determined by what we do in this one.

  • The wheel of rebirths is called samsara.

  • It's possible for a very holy person

  • to lead a life with enough good karma

  • to escape the wheel.

  • This escape is called moksha.

  • Hinduism teaches that everything is one.

  • The whole universe is

  • one transcendent reality called Brahman,

  • and there's just one Brahman

  • but many gods within it,

  • and their roles, aspects, and forms differ

  • according to various traditions.

  • Brahma is the creator,

  • Vishnu is the preserver

  • who sometimes takes on human form,

  • and Shiva is the transformer,

  • or Lord of the Dance.

  • Durga is the fiercely protective divine mother.

  • Ganesha has an elephant head

  • and is the wise patron of success.

  • Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world.

  • And although most Hindus live in India,

  • they can be found on every continent,

  • one billion strong.

  • Now, let's travel west,

  • across deserts and mountains

  • to the fertile crescent about 4,000 years ago.

  • Judaism began with God calling

  • Abraham and Sarah to leave Mesopotamia

  • and migrate to the land of Canaan.

  • In return for their faith in the one true God,

  • a revolutionary concept

  • in the polytheistic world of that time,

  • they would have land and many descendants.

  • From this promise came the land of Israel

  • and the chosen people,

  • but staying in that land

  • and keeping those people together

  • was going to be very difficult.

  • The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt,

  • but God freed them with the help

  • of the prophet Moses,

  • who received the Ten Commandments

  • and later hundreds more.

  • They conquered the Promised Land,

  • but could only keep it for a few hundred years.

  • Israel sits at a crossroads

  • through which many armies

  • marched over the centuries.

  • And in the year 70,

  • the Romans destroyed the temple

  • in their capital, Jerusalem.

  • So, the religion transformed itself

  • from a temple religion

  • with sacrifices and priests

  • to a religion of the book.

  • Because of this, Judaism is a faith

  • of symbolism, reverence, and deep meanings

  • tied to the literature of its history.

  • The many sacred scriptures make up

  • the Hebrew bible, or Tanakh,

  • and hundreds of written discussions and interpretations

  • are contained in an expansive compendium

  • of deeper meanings,

  • called the Talmud.

  • Jews find rich, symbolic meaning in daily life.

  • At the Passover meal,

  • every item on the menu symbolizes

  • an aspect of the escape from slavery.

  • The importance of growing up

  • is emphasized when young people

  • reach the age of bar and bat mitzvah,

  • ceremonies during which they assume responsibility

  • for their actions

  • and celebrate the weaving

  • of their own lives

  • into the faith, history, and texts

  • of the Jewish people.

  • There are 14 million Jews in the world today,

  • 6 million in Israel,

  • which became independent

  • following the horrors of genocide in World War II,

  • and 5 million in the United States.

  • But now let's go back 2500 years and return to India

  • where Buddhism began

  • with a young prince named Siddhartha.

  • On the night he was conceived,

  • his mother, Queen Maya,

  • is said to have been visited in her sleep

  • by a white elephant who entered her side.

  • Ten months later, Prince Siddartha was born

  • into a life of luxury.

  • Venturing forth from his sheltered existence

  • as a young man,

  • he witnessed the human suffering

  • that had been hidden from him

  • and immediately set out to investigate its sources.

  • Why must people endure suffering?

  • Must we reincarnate through hundreds of lives?

  • At first he thought the problem

  • was attachment to material things,

  • so he gave up his possessions.

  • He became a wandering beggar,

  • which he discovered certainly made him no happier.

  • Then he overheard a music teacher telling a student,

  • "Don't tighten the string too much, it will break.

  • But don't let it go too slack,

  • or it will not sound."

  • In a flash, he realized

  • that looking for answers at the extremes

  • was a mistake.

  • The middle way between luxury and poverty

  • seemed wisest.

  • And while meditating under a bodhi tree,

  • the rest of the answer came to him.

  • All of life abounds with suffering.

  • It's caused by selfish craving

  • for one's own fulfillment at the expense of others.

  • Following an eight-step plan

  • can teach us to reduce that craving,

  • and thus reduce the suffering.

  • On that day, Siddhartha became the Buddha,

  • the enlightened one.

  • Not the only one, but the first one.

  • The Buddhist plan is called

  • the Eightfold Path,

  • and though it is not easy to follow,

  • it has pointed the way

  • for millions to enlightenment,

  • which is what Buddhahood means,

  • a state of compassion,

  • insight,

  • peace,

  • and steadfastness.

  • From the time he got up from under that tree

  • to the moment of his death as an old man,

  • the Buddha taught people how to become enlightened:

  • right speech,

  • right goals,

  • a mind focused on what is real,

  • and a heart focused on loving others.

  • Many Buddhists believe in God or gods,

  • but actions are more important than beliefs.

  • There are nearly a billion Buddhists

  • in the world today,

  • mostly in East, Southeast, and South Asia.

  • 2,000 years ago in Judaism's Promised Land,

  • Christianity was born.

  • Just as Hindus called Krishna "God in Human Form,"

  • Christians say the same thing about Jesus,

  • and Christianity grew out of Judaism

  • just as Buddhism grew out of Hinduism.

  • The angel Gabriel was sent by the God of Abraham

  • to ask a young woman named Mary

  • to become the mother of his son.

  • The son was Jesus,

  • raised as a carpenter

  • by Mary and her husband Joseph,

  • until he turned 30,

  • when he began his public career

  • as the living word of God.

  • Less interested in religiousness

  • than in justice and mercy,

  • Jesus healed the sick in order to draw crowds

  • and then taught them about his heavenly father --

  • affectionate, forgiving, and attentive.

  • Then, he would invite everyone to a common table

  • to illustrate his Kingdom of God,

  • outcasts, sinners, and saints all eating together.

  • He had only three years

  • before his unconventional wisdom

  • got him into trouble.

  • His enemies had him arrested,

  • and he was executed by Rome

  • in the standard means

  • by which rabble-rousers were put to death,

  • crucifixion.

  • But shortly after he was buried,

  • women found his tomb empty

  • and quickly spread word,

  • convinced that he had been raised from the dead.

  • The first Christians described

  • his resurrected appearances,

  • inspiring confidence that his message was true.

  • The message: love one another as I have loved you.

  • Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus

  • in December at Christmas,

  • and his suffering, death, and resurrection

  • during Holy Week in the spring.

  • In the ceremony of baptism,

  • a washing away of sin

  • and welcoming into the Christian community,

  • recall Jesus's own baptism

  • when he left his life as a carpenter.

  • In the rite of Communion,

  • Christians eat the bread and drink the wine

  • blessed as the body and blood of Jesus,

  • recalling Jesus's last supper.

  • There are two billion Christians worldwide,

  • representing almost a third of the world's people.

  • Islam began 1400 years ago

  • with a man of great virtue,

  • meditating in a mountain cave

  • in the Arabian desert.

  • The man was Muhammad.

  • He was visited by a divine messenger,

  • again the angel Gabriel,

  • in Arabic, Jibril,

  • delivering to him the words of Allah,

  • the one God of Abraham.

  • In the next few years,

  • more and more messages came,

  • and he memorized and taught them.

  • The verses he recited were full of wise sayings,

  • beautiful rhymes,

  • and mysterious metaphors.

  • But Muhammad was a merchant, not a poet.

  • Many agreed the verses

  • were indeed the words of God,

  • and these believers became the first Muslims.

  • The word Muslim means one who surrenders,

  • meaning a person who submits to the will of God.

  • A Muslim's five most important duties

  • are called the Five Pillars:

  • Shahada, Muslims declare publicly,

  • there is no other God but Allah,

  • and Muhammad is his final prophet;

  • Salat, they pray five times a day facing Mecca;

  • Zakat, every Muslim is required