A common debate among people in modern times, especially among Westerners, is that Buddhism is not a religion. But, philosophy or way of life. This, of course, is something people are divided on.
Well, it all really depends on various procedures in which one defines religion. However, the majority of the public still tend to consider Buddhism as one of the religions of the world. So, clearly, there have to be reasons for this consideration also.
Contained in this page are the reasons, why people say that Buddhism is a religion. However, “Is Buddhism a Religion” for real?
But you may ask…
What is Religion?
Religion is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe. Especially, when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies. Which usually involves devotional and ritual observances. And, often contains a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
So what are the arguments for Buddhism being a religion?
They include the following reasons:
Buddhism Has a Centralized Belief System
Unless one defines religion as having a centralized belief system based on a god. Or, set of gods. Which is not the definition used by everybody. Thus, Buddhism does have religious aspects.
Hence, the most “religious” aspects of Buddhism are probably the Buddha’s discussions of the afterlife. And also, the various realms of existence.
Moreover, the Buddha does mention the Thirty-One realms of existence that one can be reborn in after death. He taught this throughout many of his sermons. More so, he used references to supernatural beings. And, the other realms can even be seen in his first, and most famous discourse, i.e the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.
Most often, those who advocate Buddhism as a philosophy overlook these aspects of Buddhism. Well, it is quite understandable since knowing details about the Brahma and Deva worlds is not particularly useful for most people. However, whether you find it useful or not, the Buddha did mention them. Hence, such details are still parts of Buddhism.
Buddhism Has a Similar Purpose To Other Known Religions
Buddhism mainly serves a similar purpose to most people in the world as (other) religions such as Christianity. As a result, whether it is technically a religion or not, it is just easier for everyone if it is under the umbrella of religion. Although, this may not appear so scriptural. But, it is much easier for keepers of religion statistics to classify Buddhism as a religion. Thus, they do not need to ask people what either their “religion or philosophy is.”
Buddhism is an Offspring of Hinduism
The Buddha was born into a Hindu family. Moreover, during the time of the Buddha, Hinduism was the dominant religion in India. As a result, today some teachings and practices of Buddhism still have a link to Hinduism.
Of course, if Hinduism is one of the recognized religions of the world, how then can Buddhism that came from it not be? This is why most people say Buddhism is a religion.
Buddhism has evolved so much. However, for scholars who really wish to understand Buddhism for what it truly entails also study Hinduism. As such, an explanation of some Buddhist practices is found in Hindu texts.
Buddhism Has a Belief System
Beliefs make a religion. Hence, you do not need to believe in a god to have a religion. Despite our general perspective of a place of worship. And, of course, a god of some shape or form. Basically, religion is at its base a system of faiths, beliefs, and morals.
Actually, it does not have to praise a separate deity for being a religion. Buddhist temples, governments, tax organizations, etc., all recognize Buddhism as a religion. Why in the world would anyone debate it is not?
Although, People will always say, “Buddhism is not a religion. It is a philosophy.” Well, for whatever reason they give, it is also a religion. In general, it is a belief system. Therefore, it is a religion.
It Has a Set of Rules
Religion does not need to have an all-powerful god, or creator to be considered as one. Buddhism has many gods and set standards and ways of life. Furthermore, it is a system of faith and worship. Thus, that is what defines religion for philosophy. More so, Buddhism has sacred texts, temples, leaders, teachers.
Buddhism is Not a Theistic Religion
Yes, Buddhism is a religion. However, it is not a theistic religion. Buddhism is a religion as it is faith-based. Again, it does have things that known religions have. For example, teachings, doctrines, reincarnation, worshiping, prayers, and so forth. However, it is not like most religions which have a creator or God. Hence, it is not a theist religion. Therefore, one can conclude that Buddhism is a non-theistic religion.
Buddhism Also Has Dogma
Buddhism may not be precisely as rigid or dogmatic as any other religion would be. But, it is a religion nonetheless, complete with its book. In addition, it teaches morals and ways of living. This can be found in the Five Buddhist Precepts which serves as the Buddhist commandments. There is also the Noble Eightfold Path that Buddhists follow to enlightenment. Although, people may not look at it as they would Christianity, Islam, or other popular religions. Still, it has its own share of followers as the others do.
Buddhism Also Teaches the Path to Freedom
The goal of Buddhism is to make the mind free. And, subsequently, liberating human beings from the bondage of suffering. On the other hand, other religious bodies teach the way to salvation. Thus, Christians pray to God in the church to save them from hell. As such, Muslims pray to Allah in a mosque as well for salvation.
Even while Buddhism may appear unique in its path in that you work your way toward your liberation, the end goal is similar. That is, be free from suffering and stay happy afterward.
Some Forms of Buddhism Today Practices Just Like Known Religions
Buddhism has similarities to other organized religions. In the sense that, there are places of worship, sacred texts, monks. And, most of all, regular worship services just like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism.
Buddhism is one of the largest religions in the world with many Asians ascribing to its tenets. Basically, several forms of Buddhism exist, one with gods and goddesses. Another that conforms to meditation and a way of being. And, other forms of Buddhism that worship the ascended master, his wife, and other deities such as a devil-like creature.
This may be as a result of Buddhism mixing up with other traditions. But, then, they are all referred to as Buddhism still.
Buddha’s Teachings Are Not Really Philosophical
The Buddha himself said his teachings are not philosophy as he felt philosophy was too constricting and narrow-minded. Hence, the concept of Buddhism as a philosophy comes from modern-day atheists. Thus, they want to have a religion that makes them seem exotic. As such, they do not actually want to commit spiritually to a religion.
Buddhism is Not Controversial
If you do not follow the faith, you would never know. We are Buddhist, and there are certain religious aspects to it. Generally, people think Buddhism is not a religion because it has a lot of philosophy. Or, because Buddhists do not solicit for followers. And, on the other hand, because it does not cause as much conflict as the other religions. But no, we are ambassadors of peace and not war makers. More so, religion should be for peace.
Buddhism Has a Peaceful Ideology
What if you are asked why you chose Buddhism? We guess you would seem to target this religion because of its peaceful thinking and mental training through meditation practice. That, however, is not the reason that you were drawn to Buddhism. Nor, the reason you stayed with Buddhism. Thus, you stayed because of its peaceful practices and rituals. Of course, they seem to be comfortable to all and sundry who comes in contact with it.
It Has School Similar to Catholicism and Protestantism
In accepting the Buddhist path, it is essential that one understands the teaching(s) of the Buddha concerning its fundamental four truths. Most likely, the understanding could mean the difference in accepting and practicing and staying with it.
Certainly, the two main schools of Buddhism are:
- Mahayana Buddhism (Sanskrit) Great Vehicle), and
- Hinayana (Sanskrit)/Theravada Buddhism (Lesser Vehicle).
Therefore, to a Christian perspective. This would closely resemble the similarities between Catholicism and Protestantism (or Catholics and Protestants). Of course, one adopted and continued with the original teaching whereas the other accepted to evolve.
Many Countries Adopted Buddhism as a Religion
Many countries, which equates to many cultures, practice Buddhism. Most of all, they integrated their culture into the practice of Buddhism. These include religious practices. And, the reason for this is that Buddhism appeared more like a religious practice to them.
However, understanding the teachings of the Buddha is to be able to differentiate between what was taught by the Buddha, and the cultural beliefs of the country. Especially, as they adopted Buddhism as their dominant religion. Then, mix it with their traditional practices.
Buddhist Accepts Ritualistic Methods
In Buddhism, there is the practice of various rituals. Some Buddhist ceremonies involve rituals. In general, rituals are practices common with various religious bodies. As a result, if Buddhism accepts rituals, then they may as well add up as religion. A known ritualistic practice in Buddhism is the burial ceremony. There are several other ritual practices. However, most are obtainable with the monastic orders.
Buddhism is One of the Various Paths To Liberation
The path of Buddhism provides one with a means to discover one own self or idea of self. But, Buddhism is not the only road or path to Enlightenment. Surely, Anyone can become enlightened without ever having been introduced to or subjected to the teachings of the Buddha. Even, the Buddha himself acknowledged this fact. Therefore, other religious practices could still be a means to attain liberation.
Indeed, the teachings of the Buddha are for those who do not know where to begin. Or, who knows something is not right. And, have a strong desire to correct the problem. That is to say, a starting point.
Hence, one does not become a better person or such because of Buddhism. Instead, they become a better person or such because of themselves. Much like they become a bad person because of their actions. Or, an unhappy person because of their desires. Therefore, Buddhism does not make you a better person. Instead, you make yourself a better person by practicing the teachings of Buddhism.
Buddhism Tends to Encourage Personal Views
Religion is not meant to belittle others personal opinions and practices. In the Buddhist system of belief, there is no imposition of beliefs. You accept because you want to.
But then, if a religion seems to fall short of this teaching, it is not the religion that actually falls short. Instead, it is the understanding of the one who practices that religion. And, in some instances, this may result from the teachers of that religion not correctly teaching the tenants of that religion.
Hence, if Buddhism supports the view of personal principles, it satisfies the definition of religion. Thus, religion is a particular system of faith.
Buddhism Has a Community Growth Mindset
Most known religions of the world encourage worshipping together. Generally, this is to promote a communal growth of the practice. As such, Buddhism also promotes communal growth. They encourage the lay community to visit the Temples. More so, Buddhists organize retreats and share things in common.
Most importantly, Buddhists help new members to grow in practice. All of these are communal growth practices. Hence, Buddhism and other known religious bodies meet at this point. Thus, one can say Buddhism is a religion.
The Teachings of Buddhism are Transparent
The teachings of Buddhism are clear enough for anyone who wants to take a chance in the practice. As such, the teachings of other religious groups are also clear enough. Hence, they are embedded within the pages of their various sacred books. This gives Buddhism the identity of religion. Of course, you can learn Buddhism just like other religions.
Buddhism Does Not Say Other Religions Are Wrong
In the Buddhist view, we are all damned already by our happiness-desiring egos. But, luckily we are all fundamentally fit to attain liberation. Thus, we can relax and (through meditation, study) begin to be our truly happy selves. Then, we can serve others in suffering by helping them get better. In the end, the result is, we will all start being happy.
We know there is strife among various religious groups. Basically, this causes struggles and unhealthy competition. But, then, all religion fundamentally teaches we should never criticize other religions. Thus, they are unique in their way. Hence, all religions including Buddhism tolerate each other.
Buddhism is of the World
Awesomely, Buddhists are wildly enthusiastic about money, sex, family, business, sports, books, education, politics. Of course, as long as these things are being used to help people. As such, others wake up and be of benefit, it is all good.
Buddha Guarantees No Refuge
This is one of the teachings while many people say Buddhism is not a religion. However, we can simply see it as the Buddhist unique means to liberation. Of course, if every religion teaches the same method, what would be the essence of the various types of religion?
A Buddhist does not seek refuge in the Buddha with the hope that he will be saved by his (i.e., the Buddha’s own) personal purification.
Unquestionably, the Buddha gives no such guarantee. It is not within the power of a Buddha to wash away the impurities of others. As a result, one could neither purify nor defile another.
Accordingly, the Buddha, as a teacher, instructs us. But, we are directly responsible for our purification. Although a Buddhist seeks refuge in the Buddha. He does not make any self-surrender. Nor, does a Buddhist sacrifice his freedom of thought by becoming a follower of the Buddha. He can exercise his own free will and develop his knowledge even to the extent of becoming a Buddha himself.
Buddhism Offers a Wealth of Skilful Means for Different People’s Needs
Religion should be able to cater to the needs of various types of people. Especially, people affected by their various backgrounds.
Buddhism is not a one-path-fits-all religion. However, it is highly pragmatic because it goes about whatever helps reduce suffering. Other religions may be strict about their teachings. But, letting people choose what works best for their liberation is the Buddhist way. It does not make Buddhism less of a religion.
Hence, beings are infinite. So are their problems and states of mind. Buddhism offers a wealth of skillful means to meet their different needs. If people are not ready for the ultimate truth, but a partial truth will help, that is no problem as long as it helps.
Therefore, the problem is that things that feel helpful. Like going along with our usual tricks can sometimes make things worse. So, the Buddhist teachings are gentle. But, they can also be severe. Hence, we need to face the ways we cause ourselves and others suffering.
There are those who firmly believe Buddhism is a religion. And those who firmly believe it is a philosophy. Some are casual about it. While some are quite meticulous about it. Believe it or not, Buddhismzone has encountered people who put in the effort to carefully look for details. And technicalities in how people talk about Buddhism. Or how things are run at some Buddhist organizations for the sole purpose of criticizing Buddhism among themselves.
In the end, each side has their points, and it is a legitimate debate with solid arguments both ways depending on how one defines religion. However, the lesson of the Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta mentioned earlier is that one should focus more on personal practice above any shallow concept or decisive knowledge.
Buddhism cannot, therefore, strictly be called a religion. Because it is neither a system of faith and worship. Nor “the outward act or form by which men indicate their recognition of the existence of a God or gods. As such, supernatural beings have power over their destiny. And, to whom obedience, service, and honor is due.
In summary, whatever answer you seek, you will find. Therefore, ask yourself “Is Buddhism a Religion?”