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whiteliondreams's avatar

Is Buddhism a religion?

Asked by whiteliondreams (1717points) June 11th, 2012

I have read that Buddhism is a philosophy and then there is information regarding it as a religion. Finally, there is information regarding it as both. Is religion, in the traditional sense of the word, the system of believing and worshiping a deity? Or, can people change it freely to imply comparability? The second question implies that by making Buddhism similar to deity worshiping that it can be antagonized as being pseudo-theological.

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20 Answers

PhiNotPi's avatar

I consider Buddhism a religion because it requires a certain interpretation of history, such as the existence of the Buddha. A philosophy, while concerned the same things as the relationship between the mind and reality, generally tends to approach the ideas in a rational and systematic approach.

Buddhism is one of the few religions that allows people to believe in other religions without conflicting with Buddhist beliefs (though the other religion may find it conflicting). In this way, it is closer to a philosophy than most religions.

End the end, though, this is merely a debate over terminology. Whether one considers it a religion or a philosophy, or a mixture, it does not affect the reality of what Buddhism actually is.

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thorninmud's avatar

This question only seems to come up in the West, where the idea of religion seems inextricable from theism. In predominantly Buddhist cultures, there is no debate: it’s considered a religion.

One particularly inclusive view of what constitutes a religion stipulates that a religion has four elements:

A body of devotional practices, or ceremony
A body of doctrine
A community of followers
A code of behavior

Various religions may emphasize one or more of these aspects, but all will be represented.

Buddhism definitely has ceremony and devotional practices. Lots of them.

Buddhism has what passes for a doctrine: the Dharma (teaching), though as doctrine goes it is quite “soft” in that it is not to be accepted on faith. Since Buddhism has no unquestioned authority figure, these are all just the observations of practitioners who have trod the path before us. The “real” teaching is to be found through direct experience.

There is a community aspect to Buddhism, the “sangha”, though that too is rather “soft” and can be considered to include not just fellow Buddhists, but all beings.

And finally, there is a code of behavior: the precepts. These were originally the rules that governed life as a monk, but a slimmed-down version is adopted by many lay followers as well. They are there to warn us against behaviors that cause harm or cloud perception of reality.

ETpro's avatar

I love to follow @thorninmud in a thread like this. Doing so always saves me so much writing. Yes, Buddhism is a religion, and what @thorninmud said.

Rarebear's avatar

Of course it is.

Nullo's avatar

Yes. Though it is reasonable to consider religions to be philosophies (or at least philosophical), as well.

bookish1's avatar

Buddhism is a religion. It’s only viewed as a philosophy by Westerners looking for an à la carte “spirituality” that seems radically different from the monotheism or secularism in which they were raised.

LostInParadise's avatar

I only consider a set of beliefs to be a religion if there are statements that must be accepted on faith. If you remove reincarnation from Buddhism, as is done in some westernized versions, then there is nothing that must be accepted on faith

whiteliondreams's avatar

Thank you all. Very insightful and positive posts you have all submitted. I appreciate that. @thorninmud I am familiar with the precepts and I cannot say that I follow through with them not because it is hard, but because of the sufferance I have put myself into. The complication eats at the self and has hooked and baited me for supper. Oh the webs we weave.

bookish1's avatar

@whiteliondreams : Oh the webs we weave indeed!

Do you mind if I ask you to explain your response a bit more? I am curious what you mean about the “sufferance I have put myself into.” I am a former Buddhist, Mahayana. I was quite serious about it for years. But I discovered I ended up using it as a weapon against myself (this was my doing, not Buddhism’s) and I needed to stop thinking about enlightenment and the suffering of other sentient beings in order to work on ending a very direct kind of suffering that could easily have led me to end my life. I was raised Hindu and I feel at home in Hinduism; not sure whether I will return to practicing Buddhism.

thorninmud's avatar

@whiteliondreams We all make a hash of the precepts. They describe the behavior that would come naturally to someone who is free of any delusion, but no one I know meets that standard. Their principle value is in making it painfully obvious to us that we have loads of work yet to do. To use your words, they reveal the “web”, the suffering-producing entanglements of our own making. Only by first seeing our delusion can we begin to begin to address it.

And too, the precepts make it clear that Buddhism isn’t about ideas; it’s got to actually be put to work in a way that affects our comportment in the world. Otherwise, it’s just a mental jerk-off.

whiteliondreams's avatar

@bookish1 The sufferance I have placed myself into relates to the relationships I have with friends, family, my lover, her children. All these attachments and I have no control over my actions, or very little. Hence, the issue lies within the fact that I am attached to worldly obsessions such as emotions and relationships and I fear to lose them; however, knowing very well that I do not exist, then why do I continue to feed into my desires? @thorninmud The worst thing is, I understand the precepts and I would follow them if I wasn’t so attached, but letting go is the hardest thing to do. It’s almost like dying.

minsookie's avatar

It’s honestly both—it depends on the person who practices it. For example I practice Buddhism but I consider it to be a philosophy, not a religion.

thorninmud's avatar

@whiteliondreams Yes, letting go is very much like dying. In Zen, it’s even called “the Great Death”. But let’s get one thing clear: Getting untangled from the web—letting go—does not necessarily mean severing, or even distancing oneself from, relationships and other involvements. Monks and hermits may have done exactly that, but that is only one model. There are plenty of Buddhists who seamlessly blend family, friends,work, study, love and Buddhist practice. There is no inherent conflict in this.

What is to be “let go” is the involvement of self in all this. It’s viewing family, job, emotions,relationships, etc. from the perspective of self that transforms them into a web of suffering. Cutting all of these out of your life doesn’t actually address the core problem, which is how you insert self into all of these situations.

It’s not enough to accept on an intellectual level that the self is just an idea that has somehow hijacked life. There are plenty of philosophers, psychologists and scientists who understand this in principle. But that knowledge alone is incapable of actually transforming life. This is why Buddhism-as-philosophy is impotent. What is required is the actual experience of the selfless reality. That’s the Great Death. Relationships, family, job, even emotions flow all the more freely without the obstruction of the grasping self.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Religion is not about worshiping a deity. It is a social institution that involves beliefs and practices but it doesn’t have to involve a god or gods – there are religions that don’t. Buddhism, to some, is a religion and to others is a philosophy. These things are all subjective anyway so go with what the person tells you.

whiteliondreams's avatar

@thorninmud I am speechless at this moment. Thank you for your words.

bookish1's avatar

@thorninmud: Wow. How can I give you a “Great Answer” x 108? :D

thorninmud's avatar

108 whacks with a stick would be a more apt recompense for mangling the Dharma like this. I’ll even supply the stick

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