Buddhism is a religion
Editor’s note: It is a great honour to introduce this essay by Dharmavidya, Dr. David Brazier. As regular readers will know, I am interested in the question of concepts and how they are used in our study of things (or processes?) like Buddhism. When we call Buddhism a “philosophy”, what does that mean? Well, what do we mean by “philosophy” and what do we mean by “Buddhism”? I explored the question last fall in and returned to some of the central issues in my recent post about the Owen Flanagan talk, the Stephen Batchelor and Ajahn Brahmali debate, and the first week of Buddhism and Modern Psychology course. This piece challenges a lot of the lean I often have toward Buddhism as a philosophy, or perhaps rather complements that lean with an appropriate lean in the opposite direction, toward all of the things and people I sometimes look past an around in my search for the meanings of Buddhist terms and concepts. So, without further adieu, I give you, Buddhism is a Religion:
Buddhism is a religion. It has beliefs, rituals, altars, offerings, bells, candles, metaphysics, clergy, devotees, prayers, meditation, visions, visitations, celestial beings, other worlds, other lives, moral law, and salvation. All these are found in Zen Buddhism, in Theravada Buddhism, in Tibetan Buddhism, in Pureland Buddhism, in the other schools of Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhism, in fact, in all of Buddhism all over Asia. Buddhists probably burn more candles and incense than the Catholic Church. These are not degeneration or cultural accretions. The founder himself gave us robes, taught ritual and contrition, revealed other lives and worlds, and spoke with the gods. Secularised and rationalised variants of Buddhism exist, but it is these that are partial forms and cultural products of later derivation.
Sometimes it is said that Buddhism is scientific. This assertion would put Buddhism somehow within the frame of science, but Buddhism has much that would not fit into that frame. However, although we cannot really say that Buddhism is scientific, science is Buddhistic. Science is Buddhistic in that science is a way of knowing some things. Buddhism can accommodate everything that science perceives, but science can only perceive a fraction of what Buddhism encompasses, the fraction that appears within the frame that the restrictive rules of science impose. Distinct from science itself, there is also scientism, which is a modern philosophy. Scientism is not Buddhistic because it is the attempt to make the restrictive rules of science into the dogmas by which the whole of life should be governed. Scientism is a different religion and a rather narrow one and it would be a tragedy if Buddhism in the West were reduced to it.
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Buddhism is a religion born in ancient India in which meditation is a central tenet.
Is Buddhism not a religion?
Someone just commented on another person's question saying that Buddhism isn't technically a religion; is this true and why?
Buddhism is both a religion and not a religion. Some Buddhists believe that the Buddha became a "god" after his death. That makes Buddhism a religion to them.
Others believe that Buddha was just a teacher in life, and died like a normal human. These Buddhists dont worship him as a god. This type of Buddhism is often paired with another religion, where you may believe in god(s) and still follow the teachings of Buddha.