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1. The Holy Bible, the Holy Book of the Christians (Christianity - 30+ CE) Christianity started out as a breakaway sect of Judaism about 2000 years ago. Jesus, the son of the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph, but conceived through the Holy Spirit, was annoyed by some of the practices within his native Jewish faith and began preaching a different message of God and religion. During his travels he was joined by twelve disciples who followed him in his journeys and who learned from him. He performed many miracles during this time and related many of his teachings in the form of easy-to-understand "parables". Among his best known sayings are to "love thy neighbor" and "turn the other cheek." At one point he revealed that he was the Son of God sent to Earth to save humanity from our sins. This he did by being crucified on the cross for his teachings. He then rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples and told them to go forth and spread his message. Since Christianity and Judaism share the same history up to the time of Jesus Christ, they are very similar in many of their core beliefs. There are two primary differences. One is that Christians believe in original sin and that Jesus died in our place to save us from that sin. The other is that Jesus was fully human and fully God and as the Son of God is part of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit. All Christians believe in heaven and that those who sincerely repent their sins before God will be saved and join Him in heaven. Belief in hell and satan varies among groups and individuals. There are a multitude of forms of Christianity which have developed either because of disagreements on dogma, adaptation to different cultures, or simply personal taste. For this reason there can be such a great difference between the various forms of Christianity that they may seem like different religions to some people.

2. The Torah, the Holy Book of the Jews (Judaism - 2000 BCE) Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Baha'i faith all originated with a divine covenant between the God of the ancient Israelites and Abraham around 2000 BCE. The next leader of the Israelites, Moses, led his people out of captivity in Egypt and received the Law from God. Joshua later led them into the promised land where Samuel established the Israelite kingdom with Saul as its first king. King David established Jerusalem and King Solomon built the first temple of God there. Jerusalem and the first temple were destroyed and the Jews taken into captivity in Persia. When they were later set free by the Zoroastrian King Cyrus of Persia to return home and rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God, they glorified King Cyrus and assimilated some of the Zoroastrian faith, especially monotheism, into their own. In 70 CE the temple was again destroyed and the Jews were scattered throughout the world until 1948 when the state of Israel was formed. Jews believe in one creator who alone is to be worshipped as absolute ruler of the universe. He monitors peoples activities and rewards good deeds and punishes evil. The Torah was revealed to Moses by God and can not be changed though God does communicate with the Jewish people through prophets. Jews believe in the inherent goodness of the world and its inhabitants as creations of God and do not require a savior to save them from original sin. They believe they are God's chosen people and that the Messiah will arrive in the future, gather them into Israel, there will be a general resurrection of the dead and the Jerusalem Temple destroyed in 70 CE will be rebuilt.

3. The Glorious Qur'an, the Holy Book of the Moslems (Islam - 622 CE) Islam was founded in 622 CE by Muhammad the Prophet, in Makkah (also spelled Mecca). Though it is the youngest of the world's great religions, Muslims do not view it as a new religion. They believe that it is the same faith taught by the prophets, Abraham, David, Moses and Jesus. The role of Muhammad as the last prophet was to formalize and clarify the faith and purify it by removing ideas which were added in error. The two sacred texts of Islam are the Qur'an, which are the words of Allah 'the One True God' as given to Muhammad, and the Hadith, which is a collection of Muhammad's sayings. The duties of all Muslims are known as the Five Pillars of Islam and are: 1. Recite the shahadah at least once. 2. Perform the salat (prayer) 5 times a day while facing the Kaaba in Makkah. 3. Donate regularly to charity via the zakat, a 2.5% charity tax, and through additional donations to the needy. 4. Fast during the month of Ramadan, the month that Muhammad received the Qur'an from Allah. 5. Make pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in life, if economically and physically possible. Muslims follow a strict monotheism with one creator who is just, omnipotent and merciful. They also believe in Satan who drives people to sin, and that all unbelievers and sinners will spend eternity in Hell. Muslims who sincerely repent and submit to God will return to a state of sinlessness and go to Paradise after death. Alcohol, drugs, and gambling should be avoided and they reject racism. They respect the earlier prophets, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, but regard the concept of the divinity of Jesus as blasphemous and do not believe that he was executed on the cross.

4. The Bhagavad-Gita, the Holy Book of the Hindus (Hinduism - 4000 to 2500 BCE) The origins of Hinduism can be traced to the Indus Valley civilization sometime between 4000 and 2500 BCE. Though believed by many to be a polytheistic religion, the basis of Hinduism is the belief in the unity of everything. This totality is called Brahman. The purpose of life is to realize that we are part of God and by doing so we can leave this plane of existance and rejoin with God. Ghandi referred to this ideal state as "selflessness". This enlightenment can only be achieved by going through cycles of birth, life and death known as samsara. One's progress towards enlightenment is measured by his karma. This is the accumulation of all one's good and bad deeds and this determines the person's next reincarnation. Selfless acts and thoughts as well as devotion to God help one to be reborn at a higher level. Bad acts and thoughts will cause one to be born at a lower level, as a person or even an animal. Hindus follow a strict caste system which determines the standing of each person. The caste one is born into is the result of the karma from their previous life. Only members of the highest caste, the brahmins, may perform the Hindu religious rituals and hold positions of authority within the temples.

5. The Guru Granth Sahib, the Holy Book of the Sikhs (Sikhism - 1500 CE) The Sikh faith was founded by Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the Punjab area, now Pakistan. He began preaching the way to enlightenment and God after receiving a vision. After his death a series of nine Gurus (regarded as reincarnations of Guru Nanak) led the movement until 1708. At this time these functions passed to the Panth and the holy text. This text, the Shri Guru Granth Sahib, was compiled by the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh. It consists of hymns and writings of the first 10 Gurus, along with texts from different Muslim and Hindu saints. The holy text is considered the 11th and final Guru. Sikhs believe in a single formless God with many names, who can be known through meditation. Sikhs pray many times each day and are prohibited from worshipping idols or icons. They believe in samsara, karma, and reincarnation as Hindus do but reject the caste system. They believe that everyone has equal status in the eyes of God. During the 18th century, there were a number of attempts to prepare an accurate portrayal of Sikh customs. Sikh scholars and theologians started in 1931 to prepare the Reht Maryada -- the Sikh code of conduct and conventions. This has successfully achieved a high level of uniformity in the religious and social practices of Sikhism throughout the world. It contains 27 articles. Article 1 defines who is a Sikh: "Any human being who faithfully believes in: One Immortal Being, Ten Gurus, from Guru Nanak Dev to Guru Gobind Singh, The Guru Granth Sahib, The utterances and teachings of the ten Gurus and the baptism bequeathed by the tenth Guru and who does not owe allegiance to any other religion, is a Sikh."

6. The Zend Avesta, the Holy Book of the Zoroastrians and Parsis (Zoroastrianism - 1000 BCE) Zoroastrianism was founded by the great Iranian prophet, Spitaman Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) in Persia which followed an aboriginal polytheistic religion at the time. He preached what may have been the first monotheism with a single supreme god, Ahura Mazda. Zoroastrians believe in the dualism of good and evil as either a cosmic one between Ahura Mazda and an evil spirit of violence and death, Angra Mainyu, or as an "ethical dualism" within the human consciousness. The Zoroastrian holy book is called the Avesta which includes the teachings of Zarathustra written in a series of five hymns called the Gathas. They are abstract sacred poetry directed towards the worship of the One God, understanding of righteousness and cosmic order, promotion of social justice, and individual choice between good and evil. The rest of the Avesta was written at a later date and deals with rituals, practice of worship, and other traditions of the faith. Zoroastrians worship through prayers and symbolic ceremonies that are conducted before a sacred fire which symbolizes their God. They dedicate their lives to a three-fold path represented by their motto: "Good thoughts, good words, good deeds." The faith does not generally accept converts but this is disputed by some members. Zoroastrianism has had a great impact in shaping and refining of other religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam and even Hinduism, even though the latter is much older.

7. The Tripitaka, the Holy Book of the Buddhists (Buddhism - 560 to 490 BCE) Buddhism developed out of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama who, in 535 BCE, reached enlightenment and assumed the title Buddha. He promoted 'The Middle Way' as the path to enlightenment rather than the extremes of mortification of the flesh or hedonism. Long after his death the Buddha's teachings were written down. This collection is called the Tripitaka (3 baskets). Buddhists believe in reincarnation and that one must go through cycles of birth, life, and death. After many such cycles, if a person releases their attachment to desire and the self, they can attain Nirvana. In general, Buddhists do not believe in any type of God, the need for a savior, prayer, or eternal life after death. However, since the time of the Buddha, Buddhism has integrated many regional religious rituals, beliefs and customs into it as it has spread throughout Asia, so that this generalization is no longer true for all Buddhists. (The Mahayana school of Buddhism found in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam do believe in a personal creator God or Supreme Being.) This has occurred with little conflict due to the philosophical nature of Buddhism.

8. The Teachings of Mahavira, the Sacred Text or Holy Book of the Jains (Jainism - 3500-3000 BCE) Jainism traces its roots to a succession of 24 Tirthankaras or Jinas ("those who overcome", or conqueror) in ancient East India. The first Jina is traditionally believed to have been a giant who lived 8.4 million years ago. The most recent and last Jina was Mahavira (a contemporary of the Buddha, with somewhat comparable life). He was born in 550 BCE) and was the founder of the Jain community. Each Jina has "conquered love and hate, pleasure and pain, attachment and aversion, and has thereby freed `his' soul from the karmas obscuring knowledge, perception, truth, and ability. There is a recorded history of Jainism since about 3000-3500 BC. The sacred signs of swastika are found engraved on a number of seals. About 600 years after Mahavira’s death, a schism due to a disagreement regarding the monastery discipline occurred and two major sects were formed: the ‘Schvetambara’ (white-clad) and the ‘Digambaras‘ (unclothed like Mahavira). Jainism teaches that the way to liberation is to live with respect for all beings, including animals and concern for the welfare of every being in the universe and for the health of the environment. (A lesson still to be learned by other religions.) Jains believe any action has consequences that necessarily follow the embodied soul, but the worst accumulations of matter come from violence against other living beings. The three guiding principles of Jainism, the 'three jewels', are right belief, right knowledge and right conduct. Jainism celebrate the five major events in the life of Mahavira: conception, birth, renunciation, enlightenment, and final release at death. It is a syncretistic religion, combining and containing many elements similar to Hinduism and Buddhism. Jainism incorporates the traditional Hindu concepts of karma and reincarnation, but rejects the Veda scriptures, castes and the idea of a creator god. The goal of life is to reach liberation by a life of purification and discipline as taught by the tirthankaras. The unique emphasis of Jainism is on peaceful, disciplined living. Jains are responsible for building some of India's greatest architectural wonders. The Jain community, with its long scriptural tradition and wealth gained from trade, has always been known for its philanthropy and especially for its support of education and learning. Prestigious Jain schools are located in most major cities. Typical of original Indian religions, Jainism is very tolerant of other religions.

The foregoing overview of these religions is very superficial, only a trivial amount to serve as an introduction. There is virtually an endless amount of further in-depth information available on the internet, a lifetime of reading if one has the time and interest or the need to know more.

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thank you for your interest and patience ~ htm, stp, htma
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