There is four main religions in Sri Lanka; Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. The maps on the right hand side show where, and percent proportion of each religion in Sri Lanka.
Buddhism: Theravada Buddhism is the majority religion in Sri Lanka, with about 70% of the country’s population as followers. Around 200 BC, Buddhism became the official religion of Sri Lanka. However, later on, Hindu and European colonial influences contributed to the decline of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. By the mid 19th century, a Buddhist monk started a revival movement in Sri Lanka. This movement eventually helped to return Buddhist dominance in Sri Lanka.
Buddhism is a religion based on the teaching by Siddharta Gautama (Buddha). There are three different schools in Buddhism: Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. In Sri Lanka they practise Theravada. Theravada means “the Teaching of the Elders” or “the Ancient Teaching”, and is the oldest of the schools. It is relatively conservative, and generally closest to early Buddhism. In Theravada Buddhism Buddha is above all an enlightened teacher which can show you the path to Nirvana. The monks have a high status, and are the only ones who can accomplish full enlightening. The religious ideal is Arhat, which is someone who has gained full enlightening and can thereby reach Nirvana. Nirvana is the contradictory of affliction. The word means “to die out” and that hatred, desire and ignorance takes an end. Nirvana denotes the condition that takes place when all karma is exhausted. First and foremost, the Theravada philosophy is a continuous analytical process of life, not only a set of ethics and rituals. The ultimate theory of Theravada uses the Four Noble Truths; these can be described as the problem, the cause, the solution and the pathway to solution. The Noble Eightfold Path, the fourth of the Buddha’s Noble Truths, is the way to the cessation of suffering. 1. Viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be. 2. Intention of renunciation, freedom and harmlessness. 3. Speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way. 4. Acting in a non-harmful way. 5. A non-harmful livelihood. 6. Making an effort to improve. 7. Awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness; being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion. 8. Correct meditation or concentration.
Buddha lived a life filled with love, compassion and charity. He formed five maxims to guide the people: 1.) I shall not kill any living being. 2.) I shall not steel. 3.) I shall not abuse sexually (only one partner). 4.) I shall not speak untrue. 5.) I shall not use drugs.
Hinduism: Hindus make up 16% of Sri Lanka’s population. As Buddhism, it experienced some decline during the European colonization. In modern times the religion is still dominant in the Northern and Eastern provinces. The most important Hindu religious figure in Sri Lankan modern history is, Satguru Siva Yogaswami of Jaffna. One of the greatest and most profound mystics of the twentieth century, Yogaswami was the official satguru and counseling sage of Sri Lanka’s several million Tamil Hindu population. Satguru is a true guru, a master. Hindu practices generally involve seeking awareness of God. At home, Hindus often create a shrine with icons dedicated to their chosen form of God. Temples are usually dedicated to a primary deity along with associated subordinate deities. Visiting temples is not obligatory, and many visit temples only during religious festivals. Today three Gods are widely seen as all powerful: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma is regarded as the ultimate source of creation; Shiva also has a creative role alongside his function as destroyer. Vishnu is seen as the preserver or protector of the universe. Out of these three, Vishnu and Shiva are far more widely represented and have come to be seen as the most powerful and important in the belief of Sri Lankan followers.
Islam: Today, about 8% of Sri Lankans handset to Islam. By the 15th century, Arab traders had controlled much of the trade on the Indian Ocean, including that of Sri Lanka’s. Many of these traders settled down in Sri Lanka, encouraging the spread of Islam. However, when the Portuguese arrived at Sri Lanka during the 16th century, many of their Muslim descendants were persecuted, thus forcing them to migrate to the Central Highlands and to the east coast. In modern times, Muslims in Sri Lanka are handled by the Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs Department, which was established in the 1980s to prevent the continual isolation of the Muslim community from the rest of Sri Lanka.
There are two major denominations of Islam, the Sunni and Shia. The schism developed in the late 7th century following disagreements over the religious and political leadership of the Muslim community. Roughly 85 percent of Muslims are Sunni and 15 percent are Shia. Muslims believe that God revealed the Qur’an to Muhammad, God’s final prophet, and regard the Qur’an and the Sunnah (words and deeds of Muhammad) as the fundamental sources of Islam. The Five Pillars of Islam is the term given to the five duties incumbent on every Muslim. These five practices are essential to Muslims: 1. Shahadah (profession of faith) 2. Salat (prayers) 3. Zakat (giving of alms/charity) 4. Sawm (fasting, specifically during Ramadan) 5. Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca)
Christianity: Christianity make up 8% of Sri Lanka’s population, most are Catholics. Christianity first came to Sri Lanka upon the arrival of the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. Under their rule, Roman Catholicism was spread out on the Island with many Roman Catholic schools for the Sinhalese and the Tamils. When the Dutch took control of Sri Lanka, they encouraged their own missionaries of the Dutch Reformed Church. Under their patronage, 21 percent of the population in the low country was officially Christian by 1722. The relative number of Christians in Sri Lanka has declined steadily since the end of colonial rule.
The Catholic Church holds that there is one eternal God, who exists as a mutual indwelling of three persons: God the Father; God the Son; and the Holy Spirit. There are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church that the Catholics go after: – Baptism: is the ritual act, with the use of water, by which a person is admitted to membership of the Christian Church, – Confirmation: is one of the seven sacraments through which Catholics pass in the process of their religious upbringing. According to Catholic doctrine, in this sacrament they receive the Holy Spirit. – Eucharist: refers to both the celebration of the Mass, that is, the Eucharistic liturgy, and the consecrated bread and wine which according to the faith become the body and blood of Christ. – Penance (confession): is the method given by Christ to the Church by which individual men and women may be freed from sins committed after receiving Baptism. – Anointing of the Sick: is the ritual anointing of a sick person. – Holy Orders: includes three orders: bishop, priest, and deacon. – Matrimony: catholic marriage.