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Using the reading below, First, opine your view if religion can be divided into elite and popular types. If true, then there will be no Buddhists or Hindus or Christians or Muslims, but “religious elites” and “religious commoners.” In other words, there are only two religions in the world, that is, elite religion and popular religion. Second, write if the elites can only obtain salvation/liberation (assume that the divine reality like Dharma or God exists) because the religious commoners have a mistaken understanding of and belief in the divine reality. Write in no more than 400 words but no less than 300 words. Popular Religion vs. Elite Religion A good comparison can be made between the historical development of Buddhism and that of Hinduism in terms of their core tenet, salvation/liberation from life’s suffering. While the philosophical, Brahmanian Hinduism of which root is found in the formation of the Upanishad scripture understands liberation/salvation (moksha in Sanskrit language) as a human soul’s metaphysical union with the ineffable divine reality or God; the popular, devotional Hinduism which can be phrased as “bhakti Hinduism” believes that moksha is a paradise of a Hindu God or gods/goddess that the worshippers of the God or gods/goddess can enter. These different understandings of moksha result in different techniques to reach the respective liberations. For the philosophical Hindus, the way to attain moksha (that is, yoga) is jnana yoga and/or raja yoga which require intense intellectual and/or psychosomatic meditative practices. However, for the devotional Hindus, the right types of yoga to practice must be karma yoga and/or bhakti yoga. So, you need to act morally (to accumulate karmic credits) and do puja (the act of showing reverence to gods or goddesses by pouring milk on religious icons, changing foods, singing, etc.) to get to moksha or, at least, get a better rebirth. The same thing occurs in Buddhism. The philosophical Buddhism is found mostly in the belief of Buddhist monastics (monks and nuns) and scholars (theologians). Theravada Buddhism is explicit about its philosophical ideal, while the Mahayana Buddhism whose predominant denomination is Zen Buddhism tries to embrace both philosophical and devotional beliefs in harmony. In Vajrayana Buddhism, the case is little messy but tries to maintain a similar structure to that of Mahayana Buddhism on this matter [Note that Vajrayana Buddhism emerged out of Mahayana Buddhism]. For these philosophical Buddhists, liberation (nirvana in Pali language) is understood as the ineffable metaphysical reality devoid of anthropomorphic rendering in it, and the way of achieving the liberation is to get enlightened in Truth. So, you become a Buddhas yourself! Meanwhile, the popular, devotional Buddhism particularly thriving in the Mahayana and Vajrayana lay people, the believers are encouraged to engage in the diligent performance of devotional practices whereby they could land in the heavenly paradise. While the nature of the paradise is interpreted differently depending on the secs and denominations, for many lay practitioners, the paradise can be nirvana itself or the runner-up to nirvana. They believe that their favorite Bodhisattvas or Buddhas created the paradise for them so that they can enter it by worshiping them. For many Buddhist lay people, the notion of nirvana is too difficult to understand, so the vast majority of the believers prefer a better rebirth. The striking similarity between Hinduism and Buddhism in the soteriological affair makes us wonder what religion is by reference to “human nature.” It seems as if a better way of explaining this phenomenon would be to think that the philosophical Hindus and Buddhists are the same religious people while the devotional Hindus and Buddhists belong to the same category. This applies to the Western religions like Christianity and Islam as well. For many Christians and Muslims, going to the heaven or paradise, as Prothero says, is like entering “Disneyland at closing time.” For many American Christians, the heaven is the place where American capitalism meets its culmination. It’s a better version of Beverly Hills if not Disneyland. For contemporary Muslims, their version of paradise is not much different from the Christian one. Especially for the young Muslim suicide bombers who allegedly claim that they have sacrificed their lives for Allah, it is difficult to deny, as many psychologists point out, that they are deeply motivated by their imagination of the paradise, that is, a perfect Arabian oasis where they enjoy sexual fantasies with the beautiful 72 virgins under palm trees. On the other hand, for most university Christian and Muslim theologians, the paradise cannot be a place of materialistic perfection. For example, the 20th-century Christian theologian, Paul Tillich, says that God is not a being among many beings that exist in the world, but the Being on the ground of which all beings exist. Thus, salvation is entering the sheer mystery of God, the Ground-of-Being, which human mind cannot comprehend. This is highly similar to the philosophical Hindu and Buddhist understanding of moksha or nirvana. One way of understanding this religious phenomenon that occurs alongside the philosophical and devotional line is to understand religion under the two divisions: “elite religion” and “popular religion.” The term, “popular religion” was first coined and popularized by the early 20th-century religion scholars and religious anthropologists, as they tried to label the indigenous belief systems of some primitive tribes as opposed to higher religions like Christianity. Thus, the term was used synonymously with “folk religion.” But the popular religion is used more commonly today to explain two opposing dimensions that exist in any religious group. It is considered that the elite or intellectual form of religion is practiced mostly by the clergy and scholars while the popular or common type is typically by the lay congregation [note that some lay people are intellectuals]. The elite members of the religion are interested in a philosophical breakthrough that their religion can provide as they encounter the philosophical seriousness of the problem of human existence and life. But the popular members seek materialized comfort, blessing, and ease that the religion can bring them as they struggle with their lives.


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