In today’s world, especially in Western Europe, religion can often be viewed negatively. Religion is thought of as irrational, polarising and not equipped for the modern world. Yet for many around the world, religion remains central to their lives. Whatever one’s thoughts about religion, what is true is that religion has survived in various guises for thousands of years and across hundreds of cultures today. Given this, there must be something within religions that provide time-tested practical benefits to people. From my exposure to various multiple religions, I’ve identified 5 practises that all religions seem to share and persists to this day. One could call these the 5 ‘eternal’ life hacks….
Almost all religions have some version of fasting. In Christianity, there is Lent, when Christians abstain from certain types of food for 40 days in the run up to Easter. Islam, perhaps, is the one where fasting plays the most central role. Fasting for one month of the year is one of the five pillars of being a Muslim (the others are faith in God, giving charity, praying five times a day and performing a pilgrimage to Mecca). In the Islamic tradition, Muslims have to refrain from all food and drink during daylight hours for one whole month. While that may be extreme for the body, especially the lack of water, there is increasing evidence that some form of sustained fasting (but with the ability to drink water) can extend your life.
In the Jewish tradition there is the concept of ma’sar kesafim, which is to give away 10% of your income to charity. This is based on references in the Hebrew Bible to the tithe (‘…you must present a tenth of that tithe as the G*d’s offering.’ Numbers 18:26). In Hinduism, there is the concept of Dāna which is the virtue of generosity and charity. In the Hindu sacred text, Rigveda, it reads ‘Let the rich satisfy the poor implorer, and bend his eye upon a longer pathway, Riches come now to one, now to another, and like the wheels of cars are ever rolling,’. This neatly captures the religious view that if one comes upon wealth, one should give some of it away in charity. So the wealthy are those that give away, not the ones that hoard.
3) Respect for elders
There is saying in the Islamic tradition that ‘your heaven lies under the feet of your mother’. In Confucianism, there are books devoted to respect for parents and elders. In the Xiaojing (Classic of Filial Piety), Confucius said: ‘In serving his parents, a filial son reveres them in daily life; he makes them happy while he nourishes them; he takes anxious care of them in sickness; he shows great sorrow over their death that was for him; and he sacrifices to them with solemnity.’ In our societies that obsess about youth, it’s quite refreshing to honour our elders.
Buddhism has taken mindfulness and meditation to whole other level. In the Satipatṭhāna Sutta (The Discourse on the Establishing of Mindfulness), the Buddha identifies four domains to be mindful on: body, feelings, mind, and Buddhist teaching. Within these, there are guidelines on how to breathe, how to hold posture, how to sit with negative and positive feelings, reflecting on hate/non-hate, arrogance/non-arrogance and much much more. As it happens, mindfulness has become part of everyday culture with numerous apps, classes and books on the topic.
5) Connection with nature
While most religions have some commandment on not killing another human, Jainism, the ancient Indian religion, extends this commandment to all living things. In a core Jain text, the Acharange Sutra, it asks for adherents to pronounce ‘… that nothing which breathes, which exists, which lives, or which has essence or potential of life, should be destroyed or ruled over, or subjugated, or harmed, or denied of its essence or potential’. You can see Jain monks wearing face masks to prevent accidently killing flies and sweeping the floor as they walk to prevent standing on ants. While this may be too much for many of us, this respect for animals permeates all religions. Many faiths like Hinduism and Buddhism favour vegetarianism. While others like Islam and Judaism that allow meat have special rituals when slaughtering animals to ensure continuing human contact to the animals. The tendency of all these injunctions is to keep people grounded and connected with the natural world.