Buddhism is a teaching
which has spread worldwide
absorbing the culture of each country it arrived in,
which has resulted in many expressions of Buddhism.
Each strand, no matter how varied in nature and
practice, holds a common emphasis on the
impermanence of human life.
The worldwide spread of
Buddhism means that it is now practiced by over
three hundred million people worldwide, and thus, is
generally considered to be a world religion.
authenticity as a religion has often come under scrutiny by
intellectuals in the Western world.
To explore whether
Buddhism can in fact be counted as a religion we must
acknowledge that the main problems arise when looking for a
definition of what a religion is. Either, definitions have
proved too narrow excluding many belief systems which people
believe are religious, or they become too broad which means
that any structure can be counted. When applying varying
definitions of religion to Buddhism we come up with some
very contradictory answers; some which say that Buddhism is
simply a philosophy or teaching, whilst others will prove
that it is in fact, a religion in practice.
determine whether Buddhism is a religion or not,
we must also note that we, as Westerners will have
different views and concepts of religion to those
practicing in the East.
must ask the question, is it even possible for Westerners to
understand the religious life of Asia' What we view as Asian
religion and religious activity is for most of the people
practicing it a natural part of daily life; our ideas and
concepts vary so
greatly that perhaps someone observing
Buddhism from a Western perspective may never truly grasp
the religiosity of the group.
For one attempting to provide a definition of religion
practices would need to be described in a manner which did
not exclude one religion from the definition. There needs to be one thing that is attributed to all
religions, a common factor. For many, the common factor is
God. However, if we conclude that God is the focus of all
religion then much of the material found in Asia must be
excluded because there is no God here, and occasionally not
even Gods. From the perspective that religion entails belief
in a God, Buddhism is excluded from having the title of
religion. Many outsiders to the Buddhist tradition may claim
that the Buddha held some divinity and is elevated to a
Godly position, but the Buddha himself refused to be
regarded as divine. For the Buddha, humanity is here to
improve ourselves and achieve liberation rather than
worrying about ultimate questions. Buddhists would argue
that knowledge of a God or the afterlife does not matter as
neither help in the quest for nirvana. If Buddhism is not
counted as a religion then what is it' Buddhism can be
thought of as a way of life, a philosophy, a psychology, a
way of thinking through which we can take responsibility for
our present life and lives.
Like all major religions Buddhism contains a morality,
rituals and behaviors, certain ethical values and an origin
of existence, yet because Buddhists do not believe in an all
knowing creator God some claim that Buddhism fails to be a
religion. The large variety of definitions of religion shows
that we can never give a solid, one answer description of
what it is that religion is and does.
We must remember that previously Buddhism has many names
such as the Buddha's teaching or message, or the Buddha's
way or the path of attainment.
Although the religious status of Buddhism has come
under constant attack, we could argue that the
questioning is in fact, not necessary. If we were
able to ask the Buddha if Buddhism was in fact a
religion or not he would probably answer with the
response that it does not matter. To the Buddhist,
their beliefs are essentially a philosophy by which
individuals can attain release from the world of
karma and rebirth. Knowing whether or not Buddhism
is a religion or not cannot lead to salvation, only
through practice and understanding can one be led to
a happiness which is not transient
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About the Author
Helen Wyre writes regularly for the daily updated Buddhism
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