Compare and contrast the views of Tylor-Frazer, Marx-Freud, and Durkheim-Geertz
Religion, according to Tylor and Frazer, consisted of the belief of individuals in the existence of supernatural beings who wielded incredible power; they believed it was a rational and conscious decision to believe. Marx believed that alienation was the primary cause of religion, as it helped to keep classes apart, and said it was the "opium of the people," while Freud thought it was an illusion that people wished to believe in to simply have something to believe in. Durkheim and Geertz, however, believed that religion itself was based around the sacred - in symbols, or totems, that had either good or evil purposes; furthermore, religion also acted as cultural and social systems that promoted unity, provided a sense of order to life and made them seem factual and true.
Tylor and Frazer believed that religion was a means to explain away world phenomenon through the use of deities and myths. In essence, Tylor believes that belief and one's thought processes are the same in the past and the present, and our beliefs just get more complex, from religion to science. Karl Marxsaw the role of religion as the "opium of the people," and did not really separate its nature from its role; he was a materialist, and saw religion as an economic factor that served to help the masses feel better about themselves while the bourgeoisie benefited from economic wealth. Freud thought the role of religion was also for the purposes of personal comfort, and was completely irrational. Durkheim-Geertz saw the role of religion as helping to inspire motivations and concepts in men that were long-lasting, and also instilled group attitude in its followers.
Which of the pair of views, if any, sees religion in the most positive light?
If one were to examine each of these pairs of views to see who had the most positive outlook on religion, Durkheim and Geertz may look at the concept with the highest level of respect. According to them, religion is an intensely multifaceted and useful way to examine cultures and societies, and very effective in providing a positive framework for a society. By both identifying symbols and determining their use, Durkheim and Geertz see religion and the sacred as an inexorable part of society. Geertz' adherence to Parson's method of analyzing a society places religion on individual, social and cultural levels, allowing for the system of religion to affect different people in different ways. By taking this functionalist approach, Durkheim-Geertz notes that religion is a way to deal with concerns a society has, and this has a very real value in creating a civilization.
In terms of my own views on religion, I would have to say the most accurate approach lies with Marx-Freud. Their perspectives distinctly favor religion as the aforementioned "opium of the people," acting almost purely as a system to help mask systemic problems within a society or an individual's life. Marx believes that religion is a tool used by the elite to fool the poor into thinking their lives are valuable and well cared for, when the opposite is often true. Freud, at the same time, believes that religion is often used by people to mask uncomfortable truths that they are not ready to face yet (e.g. the inevitability of death, the lack of divine purpose). While religion can be a welcome comfort, it should not be used to mask hard truths in both individual and communal life that must be dealt with.
What are the paths to salvation in the Bhagavad Gita?
Krishna dictates that, in order to reach salvation, or moksha, the self must be broken down completely through the yogas. Selflessness is the absolute key to enlightenment or the fulfillment of the eternal self. Krishna states that, in order to realize the Truth of the universe and of the self, Karma yoga must be performed - selfless action. The concept of karma revolves around sacrificing time and energy for the Supreme, for doing things for others without thought of gaining on an individual level. "To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction" (2.47). Actions taken must never be done purely for the sake of the self; at the same time, action must be taken if it is needed. The Bhagavad Gita does not allow the individual to shirk their responsibility to the whole, nor does it reward cooperative action for selfish reasons.
Next Bhakti yoga must be attained; in this yoga, God must be loved and remembered with unflinching loyalty and devotion. By surrendering oneself completely to God through intense worship and meditation, one can achieve the next step on the path to salvation according to Krishna: "Keep your mind on Me alone, your intellecy on Me. Thus you shall swell in Me herafter" (12.6). Finally, Jnana yoga is the path to knowledge, in which wisdom is emphasized to the point of rejecting action and desire. "Those who see with eyes of knowledge the difference between the body and the knower of the body, and can also understand the process of liberation from bondage in material nature, attain to the supreme goal " (13.35).
I believe that, when examining the paths in the Bhagavad Gita, the truth is somewhere in the middle regarding the motives and reasons for their creation. The creation of the yogas go a long way toward supporting either perspective; either these paths to salvation further entrench conservative worldviews of the Vedics, or they help to enlighten the individual in a very freeing and invigorating way. My preference, however, lies slightly toward the Gita's re-establishment of the Vedic rules that de-emphasize reform by making the path to salvation so personal and noncommunal. By turning the focus onto the self, it makes it much more difficult to change the world as a means to freedom.
In the path of karma yoga, action is shown to be necessary, as it is sometimes almost impossible to avoid action; however, these actions are meant to be conducted without an expectation of results or success. Describing this as "inaction in action and action in inaction" (4.18), one can easily argue that this gives the illusion of action while trying to make adherents avoid sufficient action to make real changes; if people are not as invested in the results of an action, they may not be as inclined to do it. This emphasizes personal freedom, which is both freeing and confining; it discourages people from changing their environment and makes them much more inclined to be accepting of the status quo. The somewhat-troubling principles of surrendering one's agency to a God can also be easily interpreted as giving up individualism in favor of a more conservative outlook.
What are the Four Noble Truths and what role do they play in the Buddhist religion?
The Fourth Noble Truths in Buddhism are essential to the function of this religion, and are the means by which enlightenment and true happiness are found for Buddhists. Dukkha is the first noble truth; in essence, this relates to the suffering of mankind, as people are incredibly dissatisfied with their life and its impermanence. We always feel as though our lives do not match our expectations, and this causes suffering.
The second Noble Truth explains where dukkha comes from; the reasons for our dissatisfaction come from our needs and cravings - to have sensual pleasures, to be part of something, and at the same time to be nothing. These three distinct needs inform our ignorance of our own suffering; this, along with attachment and aversion, are the three primary emotions that bring about suffering. Because we do not understand the nature of reality, we become too attached to pleasure, and we are afraid that we will not get what we want, we suffer greatly.
The third Noble Truth is ceasing one's dukkha. Stopping the cycle of dukkha that causes our unhappiness is the overall goal of Buddhism and its spiritual practice; this is what ties the Noble Truths to the religion itself. In order to find happiness and true comfort, the sources of dukkha must be acknowledged and stopped.
The fourth Noble Truth is the path of this cessation, called the Eightfold Path. Once one understands why they are suffering and unsatisfied, the path itself is the practical means by which to achieve enlightement and rid oneself of dukkha once and for all.
I believe that the existence of the Four Noble Truths identify Buddhism as a philosophy first and foremost; it does not necessarily have to be the end of the religion, but philosophical Buddhism can be separated from its religious component. By framing the Noble Truths in a framework of essential unhappiness with the self, and making the solution about personal enlightenment rather than fealty or belief in something outside oneself, it has the capability to function perfectly adequately as a secular philosophy. Since cessation is such a personal experience, it does not need those connotations of religion attached to it in order to work. Without believing in Buddha as a spiritual figure, it is still possible to follow his teachings and go along the same path; this is not the same as following a spiritual figure or having faith in something or someone, as it is purely experiential.
In order to reconcile religious Buddhism with philosophical Buddhism, one must look at philosophical Buddhism as an extractable but necessary part of religious Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and more are fully capable of being implemented outside the confines of their religious connotations, but can still be placed in that context. Religious Buddhists can engage in these practices as a means to achieve nirvana, while philosophers can still enjoy the tenets of recognizing the sources of one's unhappiness and searching for enlightenment in their own way. By making the Truths to multipurpose, philosophical Buddhism can be used in either a religious or secular context.
Franklin Edgerton, Bhagavad Gita, Harvard University Press, 1972. (9780674069251)
Thomas J. Hopkins, The Hindu Religious Tradition (Wadsworth, 1971) (9780822100225).
Daniel Pals, Eight Theories of Religion (Oxford, 2006) (978-0195165708)