Salvation is an integral concept in the mature world religions East and West. Christianity and Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, contain salvific mechanisms, although their methods differ. In early religions, salvation is ambiguous because afterlife is ambiguous. The ancient Greek Hades presented a murky underworld, and the Jewish sheol was a vague state of unclear lingering below, which evolved into hell in Christian thought. Vedic Hinduism, too, did not evolved a notion of salvation because it had no clear views on afterlife but, like Judaism, concentrated on correct ritualism. Corrupted overworlds like the Norse Valhalla, or the literalist pleasures of Christian heaven or Muslim Jannah full of gold, foods, and triumphalism are of little persuasion to the wise.
Salvation itself is a tenuous element even in religious vocabularies because there can be no definite description, only desire. In Western thought, salvation is the product of divine intercession because of this tenuous status of will and grace, wherein salvation cannot be achieved by personal effort. The figure of Jesus as divine intercessor parallels the prophetic intervention of Muhammed. In the East, salvation is mediated in part by the Buddha, but the entire salvific mechanism in Mahayana Buddhism especially is made more tenuous by the absense of true divinity or theism as regulatory intercession.
What is the need for salvation if not afterlife and perpetuation of integral being? — a proposal about which mechanism so little can be said even by religionists? In the East, the mechanism of karma absorbs the moral justification for perpetuation, but cannot retain individual identity because there is no self in Eastern thinking. Instead, the karmic element transmigrates to another person, and while this mechanism preserves some of the moral persuasion of the religion, it is comparable to the shade of the Greek underworld in its viability.
Salvation in the East consists of retaining moral elements to pass on to strangers, which is for the individual an ineluctable process with no particular individual reward. The Mahayana tradition of Buddhism in particular presents the work of bodhicitta as exemplary, the work of saving all sentient beings even if the effort means postponing all reincarnation or nirvana, the latter being dissolution of the cycle of life and death. The Boddhisatva, therefore, like the Muslim martyr or Christian saint, dedicates a life to salvific work, perpetuating religious viability through the lives of witnesses and the people they influence — a very social undertaking. Hinduism, more traditional in its karmic cycle, has no such role except, perhaps, within the person’s defined caste. Karma cycles serendipitously, like the later Christian election based on good works but not on priesthoods or castes or the prayers of others, where grace falls like rain where it may.
Where the point of view of observers today lies in reviewing these cultural interpretations of salvation is squarely within personality and culture. Someone raised within a religion and not given to social change will likely remain within their traditional beliefs, nor can it be argued that intelligent religious believers are few. But anyone with a critical faculty and a modicum of curiosity will review these world responses to life, death, and afterlife, and consider where the notion of salvation falls. Does a person need to be saved? Late post-Christian sects such as Unitarians proposed universal salvation, which begs the question of any efficacy to having a moral criteria and designing the nature of afterlife. The premisses of afterlife govern many people’s moral compass, and salvation is for them a necessity of authority and behavior.
The hermit of every world tradition, including religious hermits, do not view the issue of salvation in terms of a personal goal or mandate. The hermit recluses from the world specifically to avoid the mundane debates about what it takes to be better or worse and to merit salvation or not. Similarly the hermit avoids the social functions of salvation, and the presumed necessities of pursuing social activities that justify salvation.
The hermit, including the religious hermit, has insight into the human condition and the folly of deriving a philosophy of life based on the mass sentiment for ameliorating sin and evil, the inevitability of fall and grace, the vicious cycle of act and regret. The hermit has dropped all of this and does not act, does not impose, interpret, seize, desire, or persuade. The hermit’s solidarity is with the permanence of whatever cycle he or she has identified and detailed, however consciously, and it is in the eremitic life that the hermit finds salvation.