Many scholars have tried to define salvation but there has been no outstanding meaning found among the numerous definitions. In his book "Anatomy of the Sacred: An introduction to religion”, James studies different types of religions and bring to our understanding many issues regarding religion. Let first understand what salvation and religion really are. Salvation is a personal cosmic process that is both a present reality and a future hope. Perhaps we can comprehend the definition of Gerardus Van der leew, who defines salvation as the “Power experienced as good” (Pg 6). Salvation is an essential goal to any religion. It is indeed a means to ultimate religion. Religion is that process that frees us from our burdens and all those conditions that threaten our existence. Human are self-conscious and are concerned about themselves and the immediate environment. Unlike other species, humans are religious. Humans tend to reason for their survival and why some things happen in their lives.
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The type and substance of a particular religion is influenced by the environment. It is also clear that once a religion has been embraced in a particular setting, the resultant religious beliefs and values serve as unforeseen forces to social and cultural changes. They are formidable forces that can change the whole social systems. Fortunately, religious ideas and structures are drawn from and mirror social relations. Swanson argues that it therefore becomes familiar with the people and there is little this can cause a change to the same people (Pg 126). The obvious question any one can ask right is how does this change occur? With salvation as an important tool to any religion, it remains that religious conceptions of salvation shape economic behavior and other practical choices and decisions. This eventually will shape up the structure and ethos of these same societies. Religion is a factor for radical social change, and can even revolutionize the whole community.
In effecting change on social systems, religion is not a wholly dependent variable. Weber says that religious ideals and values and socioeconomic structures are interactive (Pg 126). People are the carriers of these ideas and beliefs and they are the same persons who participate in the ultimate change of a society. For instance, in the natural religious communities, there is little differentiation between the religious and socio-cultural life of the community. Religious teachings are therefore based according to the beliefs, norms and ways of life of the people. This brings understanding amongst the individuals in the society. Salvation therefore becomes an important tool for any religion to count.
Human is in need of salvation or liberation. Liberation from physical threats and spiritual need to sacrifice the finite private self to that which is truly supreme and enduring. But how can one attain this salvation? Salvation is a gradual process and requires time and ability. The ways and means of achieving salvation have varied greatly in history of religion. However, there only four paths as observed from history to which an individual can achieve liberation. That is faith, devotion, disciplined action and the way of meditation and insight (Pg 288).
By way of faith, an individual must be totally committed to the unseen reality by heart, mind and will. The believer presents his or her self to the supernatural spirit. The believer is liberated or saved by divine grace through his or her faith. Faith and repentance makes believers righteous, that is, righteousness is the undeserved gift of divine grace which is received by faith alone. It is also important to say that, good works do not make individuals righteous in the eyes of God nor are they a way of attaining salvation. Good works only has a role in the lives of a person and the immediate environment but does not influence personal redemption. According to Martin Luther, a renowned reformer (Pg 290) works and law is “the hammer of God” that breaks human pride and self-reliance, that “rebellious, obstinate, stiff-necked beast”. He adds that God uses the law to teach people how they have failed in keeping his commandments. It is through the heart of faith that an individual will feel blessed and have a feeling that he or she has been relieved of all the earthly burdens. In spite of the inability to do anything on one’s behalf. For instance, according to the Mahayana Buddhism, Buddha is self-compassionate and a savior to people. The Bodhisattva, the previous incarnations of the Buddha who having achieved enlightment and on the brink of Nirvana, return to the world to make salvation possible to all. The religion requires the recitation of Nembutsu while relying on the grace of Amida. This is a form of faith and by doing this individual receive salvation by grace through faith in Amida.
The way of devotion is just pure action or deeds. This way goes in hand with faith, action and insight of the believer. It requires actions for the believer to be driven to salvation. It is more emotional and there is a more personal engagement with the divine power. The person feels totally carried away by the power and his patterned deeds are often out of his or her control. The devotee is compelled to devotion by the joy and feeling of exaltation that accompany the experience of divine grace.
The way of mediation and insight requires much discipline from an individual due to its strict conditions. It requires both physical and mental discipline from an individual accompanied by a set of principles. The Theravada Buddhism is an instance of religion where the individuals meditate in order to receive liberation. Liberation from suffering comes through the cessation of craving (tanha) which is the cause of human unease and pain (Pg 309). Another important teaching taught by the Buddha was the way to cessation of suffering, i.e. “the Eightfold Path “leading to Nirvana. This path consists of eight elements which together promote the three essentials of Buddhist discipline, that is; ethical conduct, mental discipline (sam¯adhi) and wisdom (prajna). Buddha insists on good discipline if one is to seek liberation from his or her burdens. One has to stop associating with bad things and shun away from things that can deteriorate one's spiritual progress. Salvation is a key element of religion make that people identify well with a particular religion.
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