All About religion Buddhism

This article is the fifth in the Tricycle blog series 10 Misconceptions about Buddhism with scholars Robert E. Buswell Jr. and Donald S. Lopez Jr.

The Buddhist philosophical literature produced over the last 2, 600 years is so astounding in both breadth and depth that it is little wonder Westerners have often claimed that Buddhism is a philosophy, not a religion. Scores of different philosophical schools have developed within Buddhism, from the Abhidharma schools of Burma, with their careful analysis of the constituents of reality (dharma); to the Huayan school of China, with its elaborate outline of a universal causality in which all things are creating, and being created, by all other things (shishi wu’ai fajie); to the Gelug school of Tibet, with its precise delineations of the relationship between emptiness (sunyata) and dependent origination (pratityasamutpada). The sophistication and rigor of Buddhist philosophical analysis rival that of any philosophical school that developed in Europe. Indeed, The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism is replete with entries on the ideas and terminology of these many philosophical systems.

Despite this wealth of philosophy, Buddhism is also a religion by any definition of that indefinable term—unless one narrowly defines religion as belief in a creator god. Magic and miracles, which we often associate with religion, fill Buddhist texts. As we wrote the dictionary, we were continually surprised at how central magic and miracles were to the biographies and legends of the Buddha, his disciples, and their eminent successors throughout history. Of eight major pilgrimage sites in Indian Buddhism, which commemorate important events in the Buddha’s career, four are concerned with miracles he performed. Among these sites is Sravasti, where the Buddha performed the “dual miracles” (yamakapratiharya) to vanquish a rival group of yogins by flying into the air and releasing fire from his head and water from his feet, and vice versa.

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