Is Buddhism a Religion or a Philosophy?

#1
Is Buddhism a Religion or a Philosophy?

"When looking at how Buddhism is practiced in most Asian countries, one can find many traits of a religion. People are engaged in religious rituals and practices such as giving flowers and incense as offerings to the Buddha. Moreover, some forms of Buddhism which are highly popular in Asian countries are very similar to theistic religions, for example the veneration of Amithaba Buddha in Pureland Buddhism or of Avalokitesvara as part of many Buddhist schools.

However, the oral teachings given by the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, which are handed down in the sutras of the Pali canon, paint a very different picture of Buddhism..."
#3
(Oct 7, 2014 05:04 PM)C C Wrote: Is Buddhism a Religion or a Philosophy?

Just as there isn't any sharp distinction between Philosophy and Science, there doesn't seem to be one between Philosophy and Religion either.

Quote:"When looking at how Buddhism is practiced in most Asian countries, one can find many traits of a religion. People are engaged in religious rituals and practices such as giving flowers and incense as offerings to the Buddha.

I think that's true almost universally in Asia. One observes devotional and liturgical practices everywhere, in all varieties of Buddhism.  

Quote:Moreover, some forms of Buddhism which are highly popular in Asian countries are very similar to theistic religions, for example the veneration of Amithaba Buddha in Pureland Buddhism or of Avalokitesvara as part of many Buddhist schools.

That's true too, though I'm a little uncomfortable with defining whether something is 'religion' by how closely it resembles theism.

Quote:However, the oral teachings given by the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, which are handed down in the sutras of the Pali canon, paint a very different picture of Buddhism..."

Maybe...

I'm inclined to think of the Buddhism of the Pali canon as religion as opposed to philosophy.

Most importantly it's a soteriology, a path to salvation.

That path to salvation isn't discovered by reasoning, as it would be in philosophy. (Nor is it a matter of faith.) It isn't a matter of inference at all. It's something directly experienced in ethical and meditative practice.

Which means that early Pali Buddhism is most concerned with what people spend their time doing, as opposed to the doctrinal propositions that they understand or believe. It's an endlessly complex performance by the Buddhist sangha (community) and especially by its monastics.

Buddhism doesn't deny the existence of the supernatural. There are no end of suttas referring to gods and to heavenly beings. There are references to paranormal powers. Miracle stories aren't uncommon. These texts don't reject devotion, whether to gods or to the Buddha himself. The gods themselves are said to have come down from the heavens to honor and to learn from the Buddha. The Buddha and the earliest community seem to have pretty much accepted the religious beliefs prevalent in India of their time.

When Buddhism spread into China, Japan and Southeast Asia, it tended to syncretize with the religious ideas already prevalent in those places too. So today we commonly find Chinese Buddhists with many Daoist beliefs and practices. In Myanmar, many Buddhists still worship local spirits (Nats).  

What the Buddha did teach (and it's an extremely radical innovation) is that none of the traditional religious stuff is really essential or even all that relevant to salvation. Heavenly divinities can't save you, they are in need of salvation themselves. Salvation is something that one can only experience for one's self, and everyone's path to salvation is a road that only they can walk.

That in turn makes early Buddhism consistent with atheism and with naturalism as well. As European scholars studied Buddhism in the 19th century, many of them created, adopted and promoted a modernist form of Buddhism that pretty much eliminated the supernatural aspects and kind of reinterpreted Buddhism as a spiritual psychology. And as Asians themselves adopted modern scientific thinking and industrial civilization, this modernist sort of Buddhism has been flourishing there too, especially among the university educated population.


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