The question on whether Buddhism is actually a religion or not became prevalent as the western world started developing an interest in Buddhism. This is so because most of the teachings of Buddhism lacks the fundamental ideas of other notable religious bodies. For example, the non-existence of a supernatural being that is meant to be worshipped.
As a result of these teachings, some people now believe that Buddhism is more of a philosophy or a way of life rather than a religion. However, you cannot just conclude because on the other side, others still strongly believe that Buddhism is a religion.
Come to think of it, if you just look up the religions of the world in any search engine, definitely Buddhism will pull up as one. But, does that make Buddhism a religion?
To answer the question of the religiosity of Buddhism is something you have to do on your own. That is to say, you have to define your own understanding of Buddhism. After all, that is what attaining enlightenment is about – Having to seek out the truth yourself without attaching to any laid down belief system.
As a result, in this article, we are going to see the various reasons why people think that Buddhism is a religion, a philosophy, or just a way of living.
However, before going to the beliefs of others, let us see what the Buddha himself said about Buddhism.
The Truth Of Goals Of Buddhism As The Buddha Taught
The Buddha made it clear that Buddhism is all about focusing on the means to end human sufferings. As a result, he instructed the followers of his teachings to not just accept things from mere hearsay. That is to say, they should avoid believing things because they probably have heard it from people for a long period of time.
Similarly, he further rejected the idea of accepting things because they came to us by tradition. That is, accepting assertions because the generations handed them down to us.
In addition, the Buddha also pointed out other reasons why one should not accept things. Thus, if you follow the teachings of the Buddha, then do not accept things out of a
Also, do not just accept even by merely assuming it is the fact, or by simple inference. Most importantly, avoid accepting things because they appear acceptable. That is to say, maybe because the person that presented it is good, then you just accept it for that, no! And, do not accept thinking that you should always respect the ascetic and believe all his teachings.
Consequently, the Buddha pointed out that Buddhism started with Samma Ditthi (Pali). Translated as understanding and reasoning. As a result, the Budhha subsequently pointed that to believe or not believe anything lies in your personal understanding of the notion.
The Buddha said that things are worth accepting when only you have examined it carefully. And, found by yourself that it is moral and without fault. Also, it is accepted and commended by those you consider wise. And, when you live by the view, it brings about happiness and general well-being of both you and others. As a result, when you find these qualities, do not only accept, but, live it out also and accordingly.
For Not Accepting
On the other hand, the Buddha also said that one should not accept things when after examining the view, he finds that it is immoral and has faults. Also, it is neither accepted nor commended by those you consider wise. And, when you live by the view, it causes ruins and sorrows to you and others. Therefore, when you find all these, do well to reject such views and stay away from them.
Now, it is clear that there is no blind faith in the practice of Buddhism. As a result, in as much as Buddhists turn to the Buddha for refuge, they do not self-surrender to him. Also, more of the reason the followers of the Buddha do not worship him. Instead, they only pay respect to him.
On the same note, Buddhists do not go to the Buddha so that he could save them because he is pure himself. The Buddha never acknowledged something like this. Therefore, to wash others from their impurities is not within the power of the Buddha. Therein, no one can make the other pure nor defile another. As a matter of fact, even as the Buddha teaches his followers, they are still fully responsible for their purification.
That is to say, the race to enlightenment is particularly dependent on the individuals. Moreover, everyone has the right to live freely in his own will and build his knowledge and reasoning.
The Stand Of Buddhists On The Worship Of Images
The truth remains that the followers of the Buddha do not worship his image or any other image. However, they pay reverence to the representation of the images.
That is to say, although a Buddhist burns incense and offers flowers in front of an image of the Buddha. He is only trying to create an atmosphere that will make him feel in the presence of the living Buddha. By so doing, he draws inspiration from the life of the Buddha. And, he focuses on the examples that the Buddha left. Also, he feels boundless compassion of the Buddha as he continues his journey towards awakening.
In addition, there are many other external symbols of reverence used in Buddhism. But, these are not totally necessary to get attached to in the practice of Buddhism. Hence, as long as the teachings of the Buddha is concerned you will likely miss the reality. However, they are still useful especially to help one to focus his attention.
Moreover, persons with higher understanding can easily maintain their focus without the external symbols. In addition, the Buddha instructs his followers to pay more attention to his teachings. This is because paying obeisance to the external objects does not truly represent an observance of the Dharma.
In summary, Buddhists can pay respect to external objects. But, for their own good in terms of maintaining focus. Also, it is a sign of gratitude to the Buddha for introducing his teachings (the Dharma).
The Stand Of Buddhists On Intercessory Prayers
In Buddhism, there is no prayer for intercession. That is to say, even if you pray to the Buddha for decades, no one is coming to save you. Moreover, the Buddha neither answer prayers nor grant prayer requests for the people that pray to him.
As a result, instead of praying to the Buddha for favors or purification, one can choose to meditate. The Buddha introduced meditation as a practical tool for self-control and awareness. Most importantly, meditation involves putting in your efforts and not just a mere daydream. Certainly, meditation can go a long way to revitalize your mind and enhance your understanding.
On the other hand, the Buddha noted that praying will produce a futile result. Also, one can liken it to mental slavery. As a result, every Buddhist should be aware that his salvation depends not on prayers or anyone else other than him. And, he has to fight for it to obtain his freedom.
Buddhism And The Existence Is Of A Supreme Being
Other religious practices recognize the existence of a God or gods. But, there is no such belief in Buddhism. Moreover, these other religions teach the omnipresence and omniscience nature of an almighty God. Also, they tag Him the Supreme leader of the universe and the possessor of all powers.
However, on the contrary, the Buddha does not believe in divine leadership. Or, the existence of an all-powerful being. As a result, in Buddhism, there is no divine messenger that is coming with any message revealed by a God.
Therefore, the followers of the Buddha’s teachings are not obsequiously submissive to the notion of a supernatural being. On the same note, they do not believe that any being has the power to reward or punish their actions.
Buddhism recognizes the existence of the limitless capacity of man to save himself from suffering. Consequently, it teaches that even without divine interference and mediation of a divine messenger, one can still attain salvation. And, this is through his own struggles.
These are the fundamental beliefs of the Buddha in which Buddhism is found. And, we have now seen the teachings of the Buddha regarding divinity and worship. Therefore, we are going to use it as a benchmark as we go through the reasons why some people say that Buddhism is a religion. And, others say it is a philosophy.
Why People Think That Buddhism Is A Religion
A lot of people will stand on this side of the argument that Buddhism is a religion. Consequently, they suggest several similarities of Buddhism to the very many religious practices.
Thus, the argument follows:
From The Definition Of Religion
The definition of religion can differ as much as the scholars of religious studies. As a result, it depends on the definition of religion that best appeals to you. There is a possibility to have Buddhism meet with the definition.
For instance, when you define religion in the words of Frederick Streng the author of the book Understanding Religious Life that “Religion is a means to ultimate transformation”. Then, you might as well see Buddhism as a religion.
When you take a look at the definition presented by Streng, it appears simple and straightforward. However, a deeper look will present a deeper meaning. That is to say, in the definition, there is no conclusion on the superiority of any value on theology, ethics, and practice. As used in the qualification of a religion.
As a result, the definition did not promote any style of practice above the other. Therein, both theistic view and non-theistic view have the same slot. Similarly, prayer and meditation have equal recognition. Therefore, no matter the means posited for ultimate transformation, for as long as that is the goal, it is a religious practice.
In summary, it all depends on the definition of religion most acceptable to you. As a result, if you agree with Streng, then you might as well be saying that Buddhism is a religion. Hence, the means to ultimate transformation is the same. Of course, not minding the practical differences.
From The View Of Ultimate Reality
When you look at the ultimate reality as the goal of any religion. Then, you might be proving a point. Most importantly, Streng’s definition of religion also recognized the ultimate reality as the same. That is, whether the reality is a God, gods, self-awareness, a natural force, or any other experience or entity.
As long as the practice suggests a clear and unique ultimate reality, then you may as well refer to it as a religion. But, on the other side of it, if there is no attainable ultimate reality, then certainly the practice is not a religion.
In addition, when one attains the ultimate reality in any religion there is also a personal transformation coming with the experience. Most of the times, the personal transformation comes in the form of high moral standards. And, a form of ascetic lifestyle, showing of love and compassion. In general, living a simple life free from wrongdoings.
Summarily, you can consider Buddhism in the view of ultimate reality and personal transformation. Then, you may say Buddhism is a religion. This is because, in Buddhism, there is an ultimate reality called nirvana. Here, one is free from any sort of human suffering. On the same note, when a person attains nirvana, his attitude to the world changes in a moral way. And, one can assume that he becomes a better person.
Through The Application Of Faith
Faith is a very important part of every recognized religion. Most importantly, the religious faith system involves believing that a notion is true without a doubt. Even while there is no direct evidence of it. For example, to believe in the existence of God a supernatural being and his divine messengers requires faith.
On the same note, Buddhism when compared to recognized religions also has a faith system. And, this is evident in the Buddhist taking refuge in the Triple Gem. The triple gem includes the Dharma – the teachings of the Buddha, the Sangha – the community, and the Buddha.
In Buddhism, for official recognition as a Buddhist, you have to take refuge in the triple gem or jewel. Taking refuge is simply faith in them. Moreover, during the ceremony of taking refuge, one has to vow to uphold rightly the five Buddhist precept.
As a result of this, the argument goes, “if Buddhism requires faith just like other recognized religions, then how is it not a part of them?”.
Of course, if Buddhism is to be a lifestyle then there is no need for the initiation ceremony. Not to say in which you will be found worthy as a Buddhist. Instead, you become one once you find for yourself a truth in the teachings of the Buddha and live it out.
After all, that is what the teaching of the Buddha is all about. However, on the contrary, the practice shows otherwise. Hence, with the practice, one can say Buddhism is a religion.
From The Metaphysical Aspect Of Reality
During the time of the Buddha, he pointed to some aspects of reality which is beyond the physical. You can acknowledge these in the afterlife belief of Buddhists. This includes the several realms in which one can exist.
Although, the Buddha said little on these because he focused more on the physical reality. This is so because the Buddha believed that the physical reality is more important than that which we cannot see.
However, for as long as he mentioned it at all, it is still part of his teachings. Therefore, one can say Buddhism is a religion. Since metaphysical reality is common with recognized religions. Of course, this is another similarity of Buddhism to known religions.
The Buddha also taught about Karma. He used the Karma in explaining the reason why people may suffer ill luck and others good fortune. And, that karma must manifest on its own without any physical interference. This does not sound like a style of living but a kind of predestined effects on life. And, in line with religious beliefs.
The Buddhist metaphysical aspect of reality is an important class of Buddha’s teaching. And, it is a part of the Buddhist literature Abhidharmakosa.
The view of Buddhism as a religion presented a good reflection point. Especially for those who see it as a philosophy and a way of life. This is because with the angles and practice of Buddhism discussed above, one is likely to just confirm Buddhism a religion.
But, it is quite impossible to just declare. Well, not without seeing the reasons why others still say that Buddhism is not a religion.
Why People Think That Buddhism Is Not A Religion
So many other people who study Buddhism stands on this side of the argument. Most importantly, they have also presented valid points to support their stance.
These points include:
There Is Buddhism Without The Buddha
The Buddha is a human just like every other person. Moreover, his real name is Siddhartha Gautama. He just devoted his life seeking for the truth on how to liberate man from suffering.
Subsequently, as he found the truth through awakening, he let the world share in his findings. He encouraged everyone to also seek out the truth for themselves. And, not just blindly follow his findings.
This is on the contrary to the teachings of notable religions. Here, most religion teaches the truth that they believe is from a supernatural being. Or, at least revealed to a prophet who serves as an intercessor between man and the divine.
The Buddha is neither a god nor a prophet. He only became aware, which every human can possibly achieve. Therefore, “Buddha” is just a title given to Gautama as he attained awakening. As a result, anyone can be a Buddha once he becomes enlightened.
Summarily, if everyone can be a Buddha, this means that even without Gautama, Buddhism will still be in existence. And, this is in direct contrast with the views of known religions.
As a result with this notion, one cannot possibly say that Buddhism is a religion.
Buddhism Is Not Compelling
For as long as the teachings of the Buddha stands, the goal of every Buddhist is to find the truth. To clarify, though Buddhists believe that the Buddha found the truth as he awakened. However, they do not blindly follow the findings he presented as the ultimate.
Instead, each person is still seeking to find the same truth that the Buddha found. As a result, if at any point anyone finds a fault in any of the Buddha’s teachings, then the ideology will have to change.
This is the major reason why the beliefs of Buddhists across various cultures differ. As it is in agreement with the already existing tradition. That is to say when any country or culture adopts Buddhism, they tend to modify it to their tradition which they believe is true.
Summarily, Buddhism is not a rigid system of practice in any way. And, this is contrasting when compared to notable religions. That is, in a recognized religion there is mostly a single divine truth. And, no one has the right to alter. Instead, you just follow it through believing it will lead your salvation.
With this view, Buddhism can be personally defined. Consequently, one cannot necessarily say that Buddhism is a religion.
Buddhism Does Not Care Much About Human Origin
Buddhism is based on the present and now. That is to say, what matters most in the practice of Buddhism is what we experience and do at the moment.
Most importantly, the good or bad we do at the moment can be measured by the impact of our actions. These can be upon ourselves or on other people around us as well. As a result, the goal is to become better than we were.
Buddhists do not try to propose the origin of man or the future of man. That is why the Buddha said little about these views. However, he only laid emphasis on the present condition and life of man. And how to bring suffering to an end.
In summary, a well-stated origin and end of man is found in many religious teachings. But, Buddhism does not pay much attention to these because it is of less importance.
Therefore, Buddhism did not really meet up with the views of recognized religions in this aspect. And, consequently did not qualify as a religion here.
No Preternatural Beings That Controls Human Sufferings
Buddhists believe that human sufferings result mainly from cravings. That means that as humans continue to desire for possessions, there would still be sufferings abound.
This is another notion more practical than the views of many religions. Therein, most religions recognize the existence of an ultimate perpetrator of evil. And, he brings sufferings upon man. For example, the concept of Satan who can even push people to do evil.
Or, the concept of a divine being who can help you prevent suffering or fight the ultimate evil perpetrator. So, he cannot inflict you with sufferings.
These views are not common with the practice of Buddhism as found in many religions. As a result, Buddhism is not a religion with this point in mind.
Summarily, in Buddhism, you can only measure evil by the amount of suffering it brings about. Consequently, one’s actions are evil when it causes suffering to himself or other beings.
Is Buddhism A Religion – The Judgement
Finally, we have taken a look at the teachings of the Buddha. Also, why people think that Buddhism is a religion, and why others think that Buddhism is not a religion. All these in the attempt to answer the question “Is Buddhism a religion?”
Now, let us pay close attention to the arguments on why people consider Buddhism a religion. You will find that they are focused on the practice of Buddhism in a strict manner.
That is to say, the argument comes from the fact that if it is so with any sect of Buddhism then you can say it for Buddhism in general.
Well, take a look at the practice of Buddhism in various sects. It may appear contradicting to the actual beliefs in which Buddhism has its foundation.
However, we know this is so due to the intertwining of Buddhism with various cultures. Moreover, Buddhism is all about searching for the truth.
And, if in any way the practice of Buddhism in any culture relates to that of a known religion, then that might be the truth they found for themselves.
Conclusively, all I am saying, in essence, is that it is needless arguing whether Buddhism is a religion or not. This is because since Buddhism is seeking the truth, and truth can be relative, then whatever you find for yourself to be the truth is the answer to your question.