Pronounced “uh-PAHK-ruh-fuh.” The Apocrypha are Jewish writings that are included in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian Old Testaments but excluded from most Protestant ones. Some Protestant Bibles include the Apocrypha as noncanonical writings, though, at the end of the Old Testament or in a separate section. (Note: Apocrypha is not a term used by Catholics for these texts. Instead, both Roman Catholics and the Orthodox generally refer to them as deuterocanonical books.) The additional books, which are not part of the Hebrew Bible, come from the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Orthodox regard them as occupying a lesser place than the rest of the Old Testament. The Orthodox also include several texts that are not part of the Catholic collection.
The word apocryphal (Greek for “things hidden”) is generally used to describe many early Christian and Gnostic works, such as the gospel of Thomas, that were never included in the official canon of Scripture. The New Testament canon is the same for all Christians.
Beatitude is a formal title of respect for a Catholic patriarch or an Orthodox metropolitan. It should not be used except when it appears in quotations. The Beatitudes is the name given to a well-known portion of the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the Gospels of Matthew (5: 2-12) and Luke (6: 20-23). In this section, Jesus describes the qualities of citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Capitalize when used as a title or when referring to the Beatitudes, but lowercase in other forms of reference. Beatitude means “blessed” but can also be translated as “happy.”
It has become a blanket term for various, mostly mystical religions and sects. Comes from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis. Also refers to pre- and early-Christian teachings that there is a higher understanding that can be possessed by only a few. Generally, Gnostics believed that all matter was evil, but that humans carried a divine spark that fell from the Source from which all things came. Through esoteric or secret knowledge, the divine spark could be reunited with the Source. There is debate among biblical scholars about how much influence Gnosticism had on the New Testament. In 1945, a cache of fourth-century Gnostic texts was discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt.
Pronounced “HA-rey KRISH-na.” This Hindu term can refer to a worshipper of Krishna or a mantra to him. It also can refer to a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), which was founded in 1966 by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and is a sect that focuses on the worship and understanding of God as Krishna.
Pronounced “HA-ree-jun.” The term literally means “people of God” and was popularized by Mahatma Gandhi to refer to those in the untouchable subcastes. Today, Hindu members of these jatis identify themselves by their sectarian affiliation or with the terms Harijan or Anasuchit Jati (“Scheduled Caste” in Hindi). See caste system.
Pronounced “JI-niz-um.” A sect established in India in the sixth century B.C. as a revolt against Hinduism. It teaches that the way to bliss and liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth is to live a life of harmlessness and renunciation. Jains do not believe in a creator god; God is any soul who has been liberated from the cycle of birth and rebirth. The supreme principle is nonviolence; Jains believe plants and animals have souls, just as people do, and should be treated with respect and compassion.
Pronounced “muhd-YAA-mih-kah.” A Mahayana Buddhist sect based on the third-century teachings of Nagarjuna. It focuses on the emptiness (shunyata) of the cycle of worldly existence (samsara) and nirvana. It rests on the scripture known as the Prajnaparamita Sutra.
Pronounced “Ma-haa-BHAA-ra-ta.” The world’s longest epic poem is longer than the Iliad and Odyssey combined. The Bhagavad Gita is one section of it. Known as the “Great Epic of India,” the Mahabharata was written by the sage Ved Vyas and revolves around the conflict between two kingdoms and their great battle more than 3,000 years ago.
Pronounced “muh-hah-YAA-nah.” Literally “great vehicle,” it is one of the two main forms of Buddhism, along with Theravada. Its traditions emphasize the Buddha-nature of all beings; the ideal is the bodhisattva, one who works for enlightenment while delaying personal attainment of liberation in order to help others, and realization is as much a goal for lay adherents as for monastics. Its followers are called Mahayanists. Mahayana has many sects in China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Mongolia including the Madhyamika, Yogachara, Nichiren, T’ien-t’ai, Zen, Pure Land and Vajrayana schools. Mahayanists see Buddha as more than a man who was a great spiritual teacher; they believe he is also a universal spiritual being to whom (in his various forms) prayers may be effectively directed. Mahayana schools use different scriptures, such as the Lotus Sutra (Nichiren and T’ien-t’ai schools) and the Heart Sutra (Zen schools).
A widely accepted term that describes religious groups outside the mainstream. These fringe groups often have roots in Christianity, Judaism or other major faiths but have beliefs and practices that are rejected by mainstream organizations. Some New Religious Movements are not new, and a few eventually evolve into mainstream religious groups. Cults, which are generally considered groups with overly controlling leadership or dangerous practices, are included in this category. New Religious Movements are sometimes called NRMs, but journalists should avoid using the abbreviation. See cult and sect.
One of four scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is church founder Joseph Smith’s translation and revision of several Bible sections, including parts of Genesis. It also contains Smith’s personal story, his explanation of Mormon beliefs known as “Articles of Faith” and translations of Egyptian papyri Smith purchased. Mormon scriptures also include the Bible (King James Version), the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.
Refers to a group that has broken off from another. Avoid this label unless you are sure it fits; it often carries negative connotations.
Pronounced “SOO-trah” and “SUHT-ta.” In Buddhism, a sutra is a text containing the Buddha’s discourses. Sutras have been preserved in Sanskrit and Pali and in Chinese and Tibetan translations. The scriptures of Theravada Buddhism — the Pali canon, which are in the Pali language – include a collection of such texts, which are called suttas. They are subdivided into sections called Nikayas. These texts are said to have been transmitted from Ananda, the Buddha’s closest disciple. The schools of Mahayana Buddhism base their teachings on the interpretation of any of a number of other sutras originally written in Sanskrit. These are known by the Sanskrit term sutra. Individual Mahayana schools base their teaching on specific sutras.
Pronounced “oo-PAAN-ish-ud.” The Upanishads are the final sections of each of the four Vedas, or Hindu scriptures. These texts are spiritual dialogues in which teachers and students discuss ultimate questions of human existence.