Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Is Buddhism a religion ? II

The subject matter of Buddhism is this entire phenomenon that we call 'our life', 'existence', 'reality' etc. As such, it includes all particular values or beliefs - one god, many gods or no god; good and evil; religion and non-religion; Materialism and Idealism; Dualism and Monism; spiritual and non-spiritual; existence and non-existence; unity and multiplicity; the all and the individual. Nothing is excluded. How can we say it is any particular thing?

Yet when we practice by sitting we are still sitting and when we practice by walking we are still walking. So, when we practice by practicing Buddhism we are still practicing Buddhism and Buddhism is generally regarded as a religion. So, at a conventional level it seems acceptable to refer to Buddhism as a religion of sorts.


At May 30, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

I think another title for this same debate could be "What does the word religion mean to you, and what does the word Buddhism mean to you?" It's just semantics, isn't it?

The 1913 Webster's Dictionary defined religion as:
"Conformity in faith and life to the precepts inculcated in the Bible, respecting the conduct of life and duty toward God and man; the Christian faith and practice.

Obviously that definition has been updated in the dictionary, but a lot of people still think that way, that their way is the One True Religion ( hi Brad :-) ) and all other ways are false religion.

The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48 defines religion like this:
1) The outward act or form by which men indicate their recognition of the existence of a god or of gods having power over their destiny, to whom obedience, service, and honor are due; the feeling or expression of human love, fear, or awe of some superhuman and overruling power, whether by profession of belief, by observance of rites and ceremonies, or by the conduct of life; a system of faith and worship; a manifestation of piety

And from Dictionary.com:
1a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
1b. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
2. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
3. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

My own understanding of the word religion lines up pretty well with Dictionary.com's #3 above, except that brings up the question of what 'spiritual leader' means... This starts getting pretty silly.

And which Buddhism are we referring to? Pure Land? Theraveda? Zen? If you begin a conversation with some random person in the US, they're likely to think that all Buddhism is Tibetan Buddhism, if they have given it any thought at all.

At May 30, 2006, Blogger earDRUM said...

Yeah, sometimes I just like to say that "I like Zen", since the word "Zen" doesn't conjure up all of the crazy images that the word "Buddhism" does for most people.
But then, Zen has been interpreted a million different ways too. I don't like being lumped in with the flaky, "butterfly zen", new age types either.
So I try to be more specific, and say that I like "Soto Zen Buddhism".

Recently I went to the hospital, and they asked what religion I belong to. At first, I wondered what business that was to them. Then I realized. So I said, "Soto Zen Buddhism". The lady probably wrote down, "Buddhism".
Later, I was imagining laying in a hospital bed someday, dying of something or other, and some Tibetan Buddhist guy talking to me about the bardo. And I figured that at least it would be better than some Catholic priest or Baptist minister trying to convert me.
So I realized that I didn't mind being lumped in with all of the Buddhists so much after all. As far as "religions" go, (and some versions of Buddhism are most definitely "religions") there are worse ones around.

At May 30, 2006, Blogger Jinzang said...

Religion? I only care if I get to deduct my donations on my tax return.

I was imagining laying in a hospital bed someday, dying of something or other, and some Tibetan Buddhist guy talking to me about the bardo.

Some of those Tibetan guys are pretty powerful people. You could do a lot worse.

At May 31, 2006, Blogger earDRUM said...

I agree. That was my point.


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