Ancient Greeks and ancient Asia represent two strikingly different civilizations with their distinct cultures, world outlooks, religions, and moral codes. Numerous ideas about ancient Greeks’ cultural life and religion can be found in myths, tragedies, and poems, while ancient Asia’s religious life can be primarily traced in Vedas or Upanishads. This reflection essay aims at examining and comparing Ancient Greeks and ancient Asia’s views on the significance of religion. The paper will also discuss the role of religion nowadays and its difference from ancient times.
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Religion played an enormous role for the Greeks since no people in the world had such gods that were immensely alike to man. Twelve main gods personified the natural forces and differed from people by their infinite superiority in intelligence, knowledge, and strength. For instance, Dionysus was a god of wine and intoxication and embodied human instinct, while Apollo was a god of prophecy, light, health, and the creative arts (Apollonian vs Dionysian). Gods also are immortal and can be instantly transported from place to place.
Nevertheless, despite their supernatural qualities, gods were endowed with all human weaknesses, virtues, and passion; that is, they could be enviable, cruel, generous, and just like people. Moreover, based on Homer’s poems Iliad and Odyssey, it can be inferred that gods often condescended to poor humanity and took an active part in its fate. It is worth noting that the Greeks had no holy or spiritual texts similar to Hinduism’s Vedas and Judeo-Christian Bible (Apollonian vs Dionysian). The myth was the literary cornerstone of Greek civilization, creating a holistic image of the poetic and allegorical world where everything had its own meaning, place, and explanation. Thus, in ancient Greeks, their god did not represent ultimate truth or absolute morality as it usually was in other religions.
In India, there are many religions, the main of which include Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, founded by the great sages and updated in the course of time. Hinduism was grown based on Vedas, the most ancient sacred Indian scripture consisting of four collections of hymns and mantras: the Samhita, the Brahmana, the Aranyakas, and the Upanishads (Reading the Upanishads). The Vedas call people to perform sacrifices, prayer, and obedience, arguing that through such acts, a pious person can propitiate the gods and thereby reach salvation, which is similar to Greeks’ beliefs. However, the last book, Upanishads, opposes the ritualism of the Vedas, especially against the notion that external works of piety can bring final liberation. According to the Upanishads, salvation is executed via a journey into the depths of oneself and the eventual cognition of Brahman (the origin of all reality) and union with him.
The central idea of Jainism’s doctrine, adopting the concept of karma and final liberation – nirvana, is the self-improvement of the soul. In Jainism, the creator god is not recognized, like in western religions, and the soul and the world are regarded as eternal substances. Through cultivation, the soul can attain omniscience, omnipotence, and eternal bliss. A similar idea, that is, achieving nirvana, is pursued in Buddhism. Nirvana is the highest state of spiritual activity and energy that is free from karma and base attachments. Karma is a concept stating that the “doer of good becomes good. The doer of evil becomes evil;” namely, persons determine their destiny by actions, thoughts, and words (“Buddha and Ashoka” 00:04:37 – 00:04:41). This idea contrasts with the Greeks’ view on people’s fate, where there were notions of doom and fatality.
On the contrary to the ancient world, the present role of religion has become inferior and lost its previous importance for individuals’ lives and the comprehension of the world. Many people are atheists or do not adhere to various religious customs and rituals as it was before. Greeks consider human fate intimately connected to gods’ will, ultimately determining persons’ happiness, misery, glory, or disgrace. In Vedic religions, believers assume that the primary goal of an individual’s life is to attain calmness and tranquility, not pursuing material aims, such as money or recognition.
“Apollonian vs Dionysian.” HUM1020 Foundations of the Humanities.
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“Buddha and Ashoka: Crash Course World History #6.” YouTube, uploaded by CrashCourse, 2012.
“Reading the Upanishads.” HUM1020 Foundations of the Humanities.