One City

One City


Buddhism is Not A Religion Pt. 1: Buddhists on a Plane

posted by Jerry Kolber

In today’s post I’m going to continue explaining why Buddhism, despite there being religious organizations called Buddhism, is not inherently a religion and is a technique and way of living that is applicable to anyone, EVEN IF they choose to continue identifying with a religion.  I cannot think of a more important use of my time here at Beliefnet.com and for the Interdependence Project.  If I believe, as I do, that the Buddhist way of being is one that fosters compassion, kindness, and cooperation in myself and others, I should want it to be as widespread as possible. And if a condition of being “Buddhist” is that you must forsake your religion (Christianity, Muslim, Jewish, or otherwise) for something called a “Buddhist religion”, the chance of Buddhism spreading wide becomes exponentially slimmer and I would have sorely misunderstood what the four noble truths mean. I’d like to explain today at least part of why I do not believe this is the case.


The main issue I’d like to focus on in today’s brief post is that
Buddhism, as a path to liberation from dissatisfaction, does not
condone war and killing others on the way to your own liberation. 
Buddhists do not defend physical or mental territory with knives, guns,
and bombs. Although religions like Judaism, Christianity, Muslim, and
others all have beautiful teachings and have been engines of
civilization at various points in history, each of them also succumbs
to combat when their geography or beliefs are challenged. There is a
whiff of the primitive origins of religion that makes itself known
whenever religious organzations (or governments claiming divine right)
kill other people for not believing in the spiritual or physical
boundaries that they have drawn.

When I hear of wars being conducted with the blessing of Christ, or a
Jewish God, or a Fatwah, or in the name of a Mormon divinity, I cannot
help but picture a caveman with a stone in his hand standing outside
his rock house bashing in the head of a threatening neihbor going “Me
mine, no come here.” Spiritual teachings that are truly based in
compassion and interdependence, and offer those who follow the path the
tools to actually manifest compassion, do not require guns, knives, and
bombs to defend. They simply are. 

Because war, murder, and bloodshed are a common  feature of every major
world religion (even to the point of being included in the texts that
form the basis for these religions), and Buddhists  (with a very few
exceptions) do not engage in killing others to prove that Buddhism is
the best way, on this point it seems quite different from other
religions.  Furthermore, while religious war is justified in major
world religions as different from teachings against killing as
justified by “divinity”; Buddha made no such distinction, making us
responsible for our own decisions rather than giving responsibility up
to a deity.  On this point as well, Buddhism diverges sharply from
other religions which each offer some version of “because God willed
it” when it comes to killing in the name of God.

Buddhism also does not require any kind of conversion process or ritual
in order to follow the teachings, as compared to the conversion
processes one must go through to go from being a Jew to Christian or
vice-versa, and the empahsis in most religions on birth (bloodlines) as
a signifier of belonging. One needs simply to have a dedicated
contemplative practice and ideally study with a sangha (or on your own
if no community is available) and you are on the way..

In this sense, I would say that American Democracy is more of a
religion than Buddhism, with its requirements of birth as signifier of
belonging, elaborate conversion process for those who were not born
here, invokation of God as divinely ordaining war, money, and
allegiance, and defense of geographical and philosophical boundaries
through guns and bombs.

Finally, a thought experiment. A spaceship leaves Earth on a five year
journey to a distant galaxy. On this ship are 500 people – 100 Jews,
100 Christians, 100 Muslims, 100 Atheists, and 100 Buddhists. Within
each of these groups are varying degrees of religious moderation,
though each of the 500 has been profiled for having high tolerance of
others views.

Two years in, the ship loses contact with Earth and is adrift in an
inky black galaxy.  Decisions must be made about resources, the
direction of the ship, and how to run things on board. Each week, a new
section of the ship must be shut down as power, water, and food is
dwindling.

 The most devout members of each religious group (the Orthodox Jews,
the Evangelical Christians, etc) naturally become increasingly sure
that it is they who have divine authority in this situation, as their
faith requires (to not claim divine authority would be to betray their
faith).  They try to hoard resources for “their people”, and
increasingly try to defend smaller and smaller pieces of territory.

What do the Buddhists do? Who starts killing who first?  Do the
Buddhists defend themselves, if attacked? If all the other religious
become increasingly devout, but the Buddhists simply continue to be,
what does that mean?  What does it mean if people from some of the other religions begin meditating with the Buddhists?



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Damaris

posted September 16, 2009 at 12:47 pm


wow. Okay Jerry “Springer”.
Do you really mean that?



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gza

posted September 16, 2009 at 12:56 pm


Nearly all Buddhist traditions have central elements that are undeniably what most people would consider “religious.” Whether or not one has to believe them call oneself a “Buddhist” is another matter.
I think it would be much more effective in making the world a better place if mindfulness meditation in particular finds a place in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other religions. That seems to be both more likely and more effective than getting them to identify with a watered down “Buddhism.”
Buddhism generally has a better record than other religions, its true, but Buddhists also have a 2,500 year old record of getting blood on their hands in the name of religion – in India, Japan, Tibet, Sri Lanka, China – everywhere, basically.



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pablo das

posted September 16, 2009 at 1:29 pm

gza

posted September 16, 2009 at 2:14 pm


Harris writes:
“While it may be true enough to say (as many Buddhist practitioners allege) that ‘Buddhism is not a religion,’ most Buddhists worldwide practice it as such, in many of the naive, petitionary, and superstitious ways in which all religions are practiced.”
This is just the latest iteration of an argument white men have been making for a hundred years. It is essentially a racist argument: “for centuries hundreds of millions of Asians have misunderstood and perverted the True Buddhism Which is Not a Religion. Thank goodness, we Westerners are finally here to set the record straight.”



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Matt

posted September 16, 2009 at 2:18 pm


I think in that situation, the Buddhists would just fix the bloody spaceship.
Really, isn’t the question of whether a belief system is a “religion” or not just a waste of time? What does it really matter whether a religion is or isn’t a “religion” if it teaches a set of beliefs and principles?



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Alex

posted September 16, 2009 at 3:02 pm


I run into a lot of folks in academia who also pretend Buddhism is ‘only’ or ‘really’ a way of thinking, rather than admitting it is a full-blown religion with a history of being used as the state religion of imperialistic regimes.
Christians can claim the same thing as Buddhists; many so-called ‘house Christians’ eschew any kind of organized worship and treat their lifestyle and salvation as a personal affair between them and their God.
Try being a religious minority in Thailand, or read one of the thousands of whacked-out Buddhist texts in any Buddhist tradition before foisting Buddhism on the thinking world as something it’s not.
(And what wars in the name of a ‘Mormon divinity’? All bloodshed that could possible be credited to any type of Mormon group wouldn’t add up to two years worth of Buddhist-state-sponsored violence in SE Asia!)



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theo

posted September 16, 2009 at 3:13 pm


This reads like the same sort of tribalism that you appear to be assigning exclusively to all those nasty OTHER religions. You haven’t even tried to show that Buddhism is not a religion – you’ve simply argued that it’s the BEST religion, because its adherents are so peaceful, accepting, non-dogmatic, etc. (which is a case you haven’t actually made, only asserted). I’m not even going to try to figure out what your thought experiment is supposed to prove.
Religion, of course, is primarily a social entity (like nationalism or political party affiliation) rather than a personal one. The Buddhisms of Asia – supported by ancient social networks, rituals, holidays, and national governments – are absolutely religions. Since this kind of Buddhism (whether Thai or Tibetan) is absolutely defined by its context, it can’t be transplanted to the West and remain the same. It might be fair to say that Western Buddhism is not a fully-fledged religion YET, but to make this claim on the basis of some kind of objective superiority, rather than the simple fact that it just hasn’t yet developed the unique ‘trappings’ that (most) Western Buddhists reject, is wrong.
If you were arguing that plain old meditation is not a religion, then I’d agree with you. But “Buddhism” in any of its flavors includes a complete moral system, the unprovable claim that meditation can bring spiritual enlightenment, and claims about the supernatural or unknowable. It’s a faith, and, given a society and a bit of time, it’s a religion as well.



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SG

posted September 16, 2009 at 3:24 pm


What is the point of this article? Buddhism isn’t a religion, and pluto isn’t a planet. I call it this, you call it that. All that matters is that you live a good life and be kind to others. That’s it.



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Ethan

posted September 16, 2009 at 3:27 pm


Beyond historical interest in culture and sociology, I have very little personal interest in Buddhism as a religion.
As a practitioner, I am unable to relate to Buddhism as a religion.
As a linguist (or someone interested in the meanings of words), I still don’t have a good definition of religion.
As a teacher, I would say–anecdotally–that the vast majority of students I work with are not interested in Buddhism as a ritualistic religion, but rather as psychology, ethics, philosophy, wellness practice, or community.
GZA is absolutely right-if I told anyone who did view it as a religion that they were “doing it wrong” that’d be the most arrogant thing I could do.
At the same time, I took a vow to help all beings, not a vow to promote Asian history.
From my personal perspective, I can’t find a single thing that would be helpful in my PROMOTING Buddhism as a religion. I can’t relate to it that way, and it doesn’t seem helpful to perpetuate it that way.
So, by ALL means, to each their own, but if you tell me that I’m doing something religious with Buddhism, that’s when I start arguing and pushing back hard.
Buddhism is my ethical/psychology system, and the main tool I use to help build community, something so lacking in American culture.
Whatever it is to you, that’s awesome. But if you come to my class, you’re not going to get much of a religious lecture.



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Steve

posted September 16, 2009 at 3:28 pm


Once again, this One City blog is complete crap. Stop trying to draw a wedge in people’s lives. I don’t go to McDonalds and yell “That’s not REALLY food you’re eating, I don’t care what you say.” Try writing a positive blog for once. Something pertaining to Buddhism in a constructive light, might do wonders. I’ve heard enough about what president did what to who, and “I’m better than you because you believe in a religion.” It’s sickening.



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Ethan

posted September 16, 2009 at 3:30 pm


@ SG: That’s a great way of putting it.
However, when a Christian says: Can I study Buddhism if I have another spiritual tradition? or when an atheist says: Can I study buddhism if I think religion is poison?
Then we have to address this issue. But ultimately, Pluto’s a planet if we call it one.



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SG

posted September 16, 2009 at 3:36 pm


@Ethan: Although I’m just a Buddhist, I do believe that you can be a Christian and a Buddhist. My roommate’s parents are of two different religions (Christian and Muslim) and he believes in both. I don’t quite understand it, but for some people it works.
And to the atheist, yes, he can study if it is a religion. By definition athiests don’t believe in a god. Buddhism has no gods.
That’s my two cents on the matter.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted September 16, 2009 at 3:48 pm


@Steve: Perhaps this just isn’t the blog for you. A lot of people really enjoy these discussions. No worries. I don’t think anyone who writes for us is trying to draw a wedge.
Seems like we aren’t your cup of tea. No worries.
Be well and enjoy whatever media you find worthwhile!



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 16, 2009 at 3:57 pm


@Matt- true, the Buddhists would probably fix the spaceship! The reason it matters whether you call Buddhism a religion or not is that the techniques and philosophies that the Buddha taught are urgently needed in 21st century society, and defending the idea that it is a religion means that a vast majority of people will not/cannot practice the techniques (i.e. they already have a religion that they aren’t about to give up!!)
@gza – agree – the Sam Harris article (http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2903&Itemid=0) makes a lot of great points but also resorts to a bit of borderline racist imperialism.



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Jaime McLeod

posted September 16, 2009 at 4:18 pm


Personally, I don’t care whether someone wants to call Buddhism their religion or not. The Dharma is available to everyone, all of us can wake up.
While I applaud your goal of wanting to make sure the Dharma is accessible to as many people as possible – including those who already have a religion, or don’t want one – I find your line of reasoning flawed. You present a very narrow-minded picture of what religion is, and I think it’s grossly unfair to people who identify with one religion or another. Not every religious person feels the need to propagate his/her religion, nor do all believe they have a monopoly on truth. And the clannishness that you describe is an unfortunate and universal human trait that is neither confined to religious people nor encouraged by most religious systems.
Yes, all religions (including Buddhism – do your homework!) have unfortunately been used to justify violence and jingoism. That says more about human nature than it does about religion, though. When you go deeply enough into any of the major religions, you’ll find that they all point to intimacy, unity and, yes, awakening.
I suggest you spend some time in dialogue with devout members of various faiths before you paint them all with such a broad brush. You may be surprised by what you find.



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gza

posted September 16, 2009 at 4:21 pm


One of the primary indicators to me of “what makes a religion” is the answer to the question:
Does this belief system/religion/whatever provide guidance on what one can expect to happen after one dies?
And the objective truth is, Buddhism most definitely provides answers to this question. Personally, those answers are of great value to me.
I think it is a mistake to assume that this is not something that appeals to modern people.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 16, 2009 at 4:48 pm


@Jaime – Thanks for the admonition to do my homework on the fact that even Buddhism has been used as an excuse to propagate violence, but I made the same point in my original article.
I’m always fascinated by the way people converse in blog comments – I’m pretty sure that the level of discourse in person would be far more respectful and polite, and not so smug. Or at least I sincerely hope so.
That said, Jaime I have spent a lot of time with devout people of many faiths. And I have found many of them to be compassionate, kind, selfless folks regardless of what religion they follow. I have also found some of them to be narrow-minded, prejudiced, discriminatory against those who don’t follow their faith, and sometimes dangerous. As you say this is a human trait, but the fact remains that some systems of thinking (be they religions or philosophies or systems of politics) lend themselves more easily to fanning the flames of the less compassionate human emotions than do certain others. I’m assuming you know that, but making the point anyways.
It’s my personal experience that the Buddhist teachings have helped me, and the people I am learning and discussing them with, deal in a more constructive and inclusionary way with all those issues (selfishness, narrow-mindedness, prejudice, dissatisfaction) than any of the other thought systems or religions I’ve had the opportunity to personally investigate or learn about.
@Steve I dont understand the reference to McDonald’s – but in terms of what I’m saying, I’ve absolutely never said I’m better than anyone because I don’t have a religion. I’ve never even said I don’t have a religion – that’s an assumption you’ve made. And I’ve taken pains to acknowledge all the benefits of religion, as well as the unassailable fact that religion used as justification for murder borders on primitive tribalism. That doesn’t negate the benefits of religion, nor does it make Buddhism “better”, it’s simply a fact I have become aware of on my own spiritual path. That is no judgment about myself, or those who do or do not have a religion, or those who feel compelled to call whatever philosophy or belief system works for them a “religion” or “not a religion”.
All I’m trying to point out is that Buddhist techniques of mindfulness training and the four noble truths are incredibly valuable to anyone who practices and studies them, they have nothing to do with any God or Gods, and my observation that when these techniques are labelled religion a lot of people who could benefit shy away from them.
I am sorry that my words caused you a sickening feeling. That was not my intention.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 16, 2009 at 4:54 pm


GZA-
Regarding this question as a test for what constitutes a religion:
“Does this belief system/religion/whatever provide guidance on what one can expect to happen after one dies?”
Does the test only apply to belief systems that promise some sort of afterlife? Or does it include belief systems like science, that propose a very specific view of what happens to you after death?



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gza

posted September 16, 2009 at 5:11 pm


Science does not particularly provide guidance on what one can expect to happen after one dies. This question is beyond the scope of science, notwithstanding the fact that some neuroscientists (but certainly not all) identify the mind entirely with the brain. They can’t prove their beliefs, though, and they never will.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 16, 2009 at 5:29 pm


@GZA
I find the path proposed by Buddha to be incredibly useful in developing my own compassion and understanding and making me less anxious and self-centered. I do not find what the Buddha proposed to be religious in the slightest, by any criteria of religion, and I hope that my evolving experience helps others feel comfortable exploring what the Buddha taught, whether or not they also have a religious affiliation.



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JDD

posted September 16, 2009 at 6:00 pm


“When I hear of wars being conducted with the blessing of Christ, or a Jewish God, or a Fatwah, or in the name of a Mormon divinity…” Yeah, cause Mormons have caused a whole bunch of wars lately… right??? … wait…



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gza

posted September 16, 2009 at 6:09 pm


“All I’m trying to point out is that Buddhist techniques of mindfulness training and the four noble truths are incredibly valuable to anyone who practices and studies them, they have nothing to do with any God or Gods, and my observation that when these techniques are labelled religion a lot of people who could benefit shy away from them.”
That’s cool. I fully support that. But there is more to Buddhism than that, including much that is “religious” by many reasonable definitions. And many people want the religious stuff! So I think when you make the categorical statement “Buddhism is not a religion” you do those people a disservice.
That is why, in my opinion, for the benefit of both those people who want religion AND those who don’t, it is best to be very precise in talking about the aspects that are not religious and can benefit everyone widely.



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Jake

posted September 16, 2009 at 6:13 pm


Don’t other religions provide ethical, psychological, community, and wellness benefits based on their own systems?



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gza

posted September 16, 2009 at 6:21 pm


@Ethan
“I can’t find a single thing that would be helpful in my PROMOTING Buddhism as a religion. I can’t relate to it that way, and it doesn’t seem helpful to perpetuate it that way.”
This is true, but Philip Morris also found that it wasn’t helpful to promote cigarettes as causing cancer. That doesn’t change the reality.
I just don’t think it is right to promote Buddhism as not a religion, only to have them go to Shambhala, for instance, and maybe eventually go to Vajrayana seminary. Where they will read in the seminary transcripts that Trungpa Rinpoche says that Vajra Hell is a real place, and anyone who breaks samaya will spend eternity there. It is simply not fair to people to do things that way.



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theo

posted September 16, 2009 at 6:26 pm


“All I’m trying to point out is that Buddhist techniques of mindfulness training and the four noble truths are incredibly valuable to anyone who practices and studies them, they have nothing to do with any God or Gods, and my observation that when these techniques are labelled religion a lot of people who could benefit shy away from them.”
I agree! The thesis (and title!) of your blog post, though, is “Buddhism is Not A Religion,” not “Mindfulness training and the four noble truths are Not A Religion.”



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 16, 2009 at 6:43 pm


@GZA – Just because some people choose to deepen their practice to something that can be called religion does not mean we should post a warning on the door “Caution: Some of your may find the religious manifestation of Buddhism appealing at some point down the road, so do not enter unless you are comfortable with that possibility.”
@theo: I’m glad we finally agree. Now please tell me: Exactly, precisely, in a definition that encompasses all Buddhists around the world and does not exclude any of them, what is the common thread among everyone who practices Buddhism besides Mindfulness Training and study of the four noble truths and the eightfold path?



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gza

posted September 16, 2009 at 7:01 pm


Jerry, there doesn’t need to be a warning. But there should not be a bait and switch, and that is what’s happening.



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dana c.

posted September 16, 2009 at 7:03 pm


Jerry, who are you and why are you stuck on what you call “buddhism” not being a religion?
Why is that important – or is it just to stir up an interesting blog discussion?
You strike me as being quite stuck on an idea, a concept of what people need, or of yourself as spokesman for what people need/want. Where does that come from?
Are you a “buddhist?”
What does that mean?
Did you take refuge vows? If so, you’ll have found some very religious content.
Do you have a teacher, or are you a buddhisty freelancer?
What’s YOUR lineage?
Honestly, it strikes me as silly, claiming that your argument is helpful to the hordes of religion-averse would be meditators, especially on a Buddhist blog that’s going to be read by Buddhists!



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theo

posted September 16, 2009 at 8:46 pm


“I’m glad we finally agree. Now please tell me: Exactly, precisely, in a definition that encompasses all Buddhists around the world and does not exclude any of them, what is the common thread among everyone who practices Buddhism besides Mindfulness Training and study of the four noble truths and the eightfold path?”
I’m not sure if there’s any common thread that includes every person who calls themself a Buddhist, no exceptions, but I would argue that there are some definite religious elements common to almost all Buddhists: the faith that meditation will bring enlightenment, adherence (to some degree) to a moral code, belief in the law of karma, and support for some brand of renunciation (whether full-on monasticism or weekend retreats). Our argument on this point may be semantic – you have a broader definition of “Buddhism” which occasionally falls outside the boundaries of religion, while I have a narrower definition in which simply practicing insight meditation does not make one a “Buddhist.”
However, your central claim that “Buddhism is not a religion” is a distortion of the much smaller truth of “Some Buddhist practices, separated from their religious matrix, can be beneficial to people of other religions or who do not consider themselves religious.” Claiming that Buddhism itself is not a religion – period – because meditation is a useful technology and because Buddhists are so dang nice is ignoring the millions of very religious people who practice Buddhism and doing a disservice to the religious aspects of the tradition.



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Marc Grambo

posted September 16, 2009 at 9:53 pm


I do follow Buddhism as my religion. I have always been somewhat resistant to claiming a religion at all; especially if that assumes any level of blind faith. I do believe that devotion to my teacher, adherence to my vows, and refuge in the three jewels are not optional. I am currently a practicing Vajrayana Buddhist and to me it is quite clearly a religion. My teacher teaches both a non-buddhist curriculum and a separate path for his Buddhist students. But there is a clear distinction between the two.
I don’t think, however, there is any necessity for a non-buddhist to accept or reject any belief system and agree that this only serves to alienate folks those that would otherwise find benefit from the Buddha’s teachings. There are many places for non-buddhists to participate in secular teachings and practices nowadays. I started out exploring mediation at Shambhala before I decided I was open to finding a teacher and taking refuge as a Buddhist.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 16, 2009 at 10:00 pm


@Dana – I do have a teacher, I study with Ethan Nichtern at the Interdependence Project. I’m not sure what a Buddhisty freelancer is but that sounds like a pretty neat job. I have not taken refuge vows because I am aware of what they are, and feel strongly that my personal commitment to my practice and my community and the teachings is quite sufficient for now.
Dana, as I said in the article, and last week’s article, and several times in the comments – and now will say again – the reason I am focused (not stuck) on defining Buddhism as a philosophy, path, and set of teachings and techniques is that defining it as a religion, by definition means that nearly everyone who currently practices a religion will not take up study of Buddhism.
I can’t imagine a time in the history of the world when we more badly needed as many people as possible to become more compassionate and interdependently aware than now, given how simultaneously interconnected and capable of grave damage (consciously or not) we all are. The path the Buddha proposed provides an incredibly useful set of tools to develop these skills and levels of awareness, without stepping on the toes of any deities.
Dana I do not refer to myself as Buddhist, because I am still not clear what Buddhist means. I’ve met so many people who call themselves Buddhists, some of whom have devoted their lives to the teachings and personal and communal liberation from dissatisfaction; and others who went on one weekend retreat, bought some mala beads, and never meditated again. So I don’t know if I’m Buddhist or not. Maybe if I get enlightened I will find out.
@Theo – Unfortunately at this point you’ve so completely manipulated my theory to fit your admittedly well-written and thoughtful argument that there’s nothing much I can say in response, other than to apologize as follows: If, as you sa, my blog post about how the Buddha’s teachings (not JUST insight meditation, but also the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path) might appeal and be useful to people who already practice a religion did do a disservice to the religious aspects of Buddhism, I do apologize.



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DD

posted September 16, 2009 at 10:02 pm


Amen.
To the posters that seemed defensive to this idea and that asked what’s the point of labeling something a religion or not…
Call me a Sam Harris-ite but the point is that once something has the label religion our culture places it in a rational-thought-free-zone. You are now allowed to question the ideas that underpin a religion no matter how whacky. You are not allowed to question the methods that people use to pursue their religion, no matter how outdated. You are expected to just smile politely and appreciate their beliefs, even if they are irrational to the point of being a threat to the long term survival of humanity.
So long as we allowed people to hide behind the label religion and divide the world into use/them we allow the worst in society to take whatever actions they wish in the name of their tribes fairy tale. Humanity is too technologically advanced and spiritually retarded to survive much longer believing fantastic tales invented by people in the bronze age.
As Buddhists I would think you would appreciate the importance of critical thinking and self honesty.
Down with religion, up with humanity.



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LAV

posted September 16, 2009 at 11:47 pm


this topic always stirs the defensive streaks in individuals.
it strikes me that we are so concerned with creating categories that this debate has succeeded in what Buddhist teachings warn against – that of creating “otherness”. do some need to say Buddhism is not a religion because we are afraid of being in the same group as “those” people? what is the seed of your (collectively) own discontent?
however, i do think it is important, Jerry, that you go back to the history books and understand that, yes, even Buddhists have killed in the name of their “religion” or lineage of practice. think Burmese in Ayutthaya, or even the Gulupas in Tibet. So, even when we decide to take refuge, or practice meditation, or whatever level we are at, we still might not want to claim righteousness in the face of other’s preferred devotion. potential for non-virtuous actions abounds.



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theo

posted September 17, 2009 at 3:20 am


Jerry – I feel like we’re running into an is-ought problem. Your post is titled “Buddhism is not a religion,” but your argument seems to be “Buddhism shouldn’t be a religion,” which is another thing altogether. I can’t agree with the first, but I’m undecided about the second, which I think is a much more interesting argument anyway. It brings up all sorts of questions: is there anything divine about the Divine Abidings? Does elaborate ritual serve a purpose or is it a waste of time? Can we follow a moral code while believing that existence is annihilated after death? What parts of Buddhism (and which Buddhism?) should be preserved, and which stripped away, in this new ecumenical version? Is this practice a form of cultural imperialism? Are there any problems (practical or ethical) with dabbling in Buddhist philosophy, ethics, and meditation while remaining a devotee of a different faith?
I want to hear more about questions like that, rather than bizarre thought experiments about whether Buddhists are fanatical enough to kill.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 17, 2009 at 6:42 am


@LAV _ Respectfully I point you to my original post as a point of departure, rather than creating a different meaning so that you can respond thoughtfully to an argument I did not make. That is, there is no fear of otherness in my desire to present Buddhism as a non-religious set of teachings and techniques; on the contrary it is a desire for inclusion of everyone, that these teachings might be available to anyone regardless of whether they currently practice a religion.
@Theo_All great questions, some of which are making me consider some of these issues, and I answer below in CAPS. In terms of calling “Buddhists on a Plane” a bizarre thought experiment- it’s neither really bizarre or an experiment. Consider the last one hundred years of Buddhists, Israel, Palestinians, Americans, etc (the latter three each claiming a particular divinity as giving them the right to expand and protect) and how each of them has responded to attacks on geography or ideology or dwindling resources, and I think we get a clue to the answer to the thought experiment. Interesting that you use the word fanatical; I find that a scary word.
My answers to your questions below in CAPS (all of which continue to evolve but I can only answer where my mind is at this moment):
is there anything divine about the Divine Abidings? I DON’T KNOW
Does elaborate ritual serve a purpose or is it a waste of time? RITUAL, ELABORATE OR SIMPLE, SERVES THE PURPOSE FOR SOME PEOPLE OF ANCHORING SPIRITUAL PRACTICE IN PHYSICAL REALITY. RITUAL CAN BE RELIGIOUS OR NON-RELIGIOUS, PERSONAL OR COMMUNAL, I DON’T THINK IT’S A WASTE OF TIME NOR DO I THINK IT ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.
Can we follow a moral code while believing that existence is annihilated after death? ABSOLUTELY. BELIEF IN HEAVEN/HELL/OTHER SHOULD NOT BE A PRE-REQUISITE FOR MORAL BEHAVIOR, NOR IS IT.
What parts of Buddhism (and which Buddhism?) should be preserved, and which stripped away, in this new ecumenical version? DEPENDS ON THE CULTURAL CONTEXT. AT CORE I DON’T THINK YOU CAN CALL WHAT YOU DO “BUDDHISM” WITHOUT AT LEAST ADHERING TO WHAT THE BUDDHA TAUGHT – CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE, FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS, EIGHTFOLD PATH AT LEAST – WHICH SHOULD KEEP ANY CURIOUS BUSY FOR QUITE A WHILE.
Is this practice a form of cultural imperialism? NOPE. I’M ASSUMING YOUR ASKING “IF PEOPLE IN AMERICA CHOOSE TO PRACTICE BUDDHISM WITHOUT ALSO CHOOSING ONE OF THE MYRIAD WAYS THE TEACHINGS HAVE BEEN TURNED INTO A RELIGION, ARE THEY TAKING OVER A CULTURE?” NOPE. IT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SHARING TOOLS WITH MY NEIGHBOR AND BREAKING INTO HIS HOUSE TO STEAL THEM. CULTURAL IMPERIALISM IS THE LATTER; I PREFER THE FORMER.
Are there any problems (practical or ethical) with dabbling in Buddhist philosophy, ethics, and meditation while remaining a devotee of a different faith? NO, OTHER THAN THE USUAL CHALLENGES YOU’LL FACE AS YOU ACTUALLY BEGIN TO SIT WITH AND EXAMINE YOUR OWN MIND. A GOOD TEACHER, OR A RABBI OR PRIEST OR OTHERWISE WITH THEIR OWN CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE OR AT LEAST A HEALTHY CURIOSITY, CAN HELP ALONG THE WAY.



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Ethan

posted September 17, 2009 at 8:04 am


@GZA You are right that Vajrayana, Shambhala, etc, pose a special problem as you go deeper along those paths, especially if you define religion the way you did and say that it must propose an explanation of post-death experience (note: many people don’t define it that way, and we still are running into major semantic problems because everyone defines religion differently).
However, Vajrayana is based on the Yogachara/Mind-Only philosophy that states that our minds collectively and individually create the projections that constitute reality, and we can work with and even rewrite those projections. So it does say things like “Vajra Hell” is a real place, but it also says that the human realm is only as real as we all make it. At the point where one practices Vajrayana (hopefully, not usually, I know), the student has internalized this philosophy at least conceptually to the point where the dichotomy between metaphorical hell and real hell has collapsed into the knowledge that “hell is what we project.” If we project it strongly, then it’s real, vajra-like. This must’ve been what Trungpa Rinpoche meant, otherwise all his extensive talk of Buddhism as nontheism was a charade, and I don’t believe he’d mislead people that way. Thus, I don’t think, if one has a good understanding of Mind-Only, the Tantric path really poses any threat to an atheist.
A Christian/Jew/Muslim might have another problem in studying Vajrayana, when the Mind-Only pantheon of tantric deities collides with their pre-existing “sacred canopy.” But this is also-I believe-workable.
In the larger world of spreading Buddhist mindfulness, the ethics of interdependence, and the techniques of Buddhist psychology to the ipod generation, this seems a very small and specific issue. For 99% of everyone else, Buddhism as Religion in our messaging is doomed to be a massive fail.



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Ethan

posted September 17, 2009 at 8:27 am


Irony of Ironies: Jerry’s work on Buddhism not being a religion got a pretty big shout-out in USA Today’s Religion Section:
http://content.usatoday.com/communities/Religion/post/2009/09/inner-peace-ditch-the-buddha-buy-the-t-shirt/1



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Dharmakara

posted September 17, 2009 at 8:43 am


I would tend to agree with Jerry that there is no problem with dabbling in Buddhist philosophy, ethics, and meditation while remaining a devotee of a different faith, no sooner than there would be a problem with doing so without being a devotee of any particular faith or rejecting the objects which define what is or is not a “religion”.
Does it really even matter if one rejects taking refuge in the Triple Gem and instead takes refuge in the Dharma (and only the Dharma)? Herein lies the difference between institutionalized Buddhism as a religion and the practical application of the Dharma as a philosophy or way of life.



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SG

posted September 17, 2009 at 9:08 am


I friend of mine made a comparison I thought I’d share with you. This back and forth on here (according to him, and he’s a pastor so I’m gonna take his word on it) is similar to the Catholic/Protestant thing. They took the ritual out of their beliefs, and tried to get to the core of their belief, according to him. But at the end of the day, both groups are still Christian, even though they do it in different ways. I believe the same thing applies here.
It doesn’t matter if you use a GPS, or print off directions on mapquest, you’re still ultimately trying to get to the same place.



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Lia White

posted September 17, 2009 at 9:38 am


I must take brief issue with violence being conducted “In the name of a Mormon diety”. First, there never has been such a thing. In the 1800s Mormons had militias (like every other community) but never used them to attack anyone. At one point in their history, Mormons formed a battalion to try to go defend others of their faith who were being attacked in another state, but the battalion never arrived and the members returned home without having fought anything but contaminated water. The infamous “Mountain Meadows Massacre” was committed by a tiny group of isolated Mormons who were acting against orders. In actual fact there has been no organized Mormon violence against anyone, ever.
Second, there is no other Mormon diety than that of all other Christian religions. Mormons worship God, Jesus Christ, and nothing and no one else.



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Stuff and Fluff

posted September 17, 2009 at 9:43 am


“Buddhists do not defend physical or mental territory with knives, guns, and bombs.”
That isn’t really true, and is a very shaky argument. World War 2, of what religion were the Japanese? Buddhist (and Shinto, but I digress), do you see Hindus doing these things? No? Then can we surmise it’s a cultural thing? The same culture you’re saying we need to get rid of and replace with the Western culture, the culture of knives, guns and bombs?



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Dharmakara

posted September 17, 2009 at 10:01 am


Stuff n’ Fluff: Really? Are you aware of Ayodhya dispute where Hindu and Muslim devotees didn’t seen any problem spilling blood over a piece of real estate and probably still don’t?
Of course, one can put blinders on and ignore history, but please don’t blame it on a Western culture of knives, guns and bombs… Asia has never had problem creating suffering in and of itself alone, regardless of spiritual tradition.



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gza

posted September 17, 2009 at 10:05 am


Ethan, sure. But Rinpoche also says that Vajra Hell seems so real that there is virtually no chance of ever getting out of it. So essentially you are there for eternity. And yes, it seems as real as our present lives do to us now. Which is plenty real for me, whatever intellectual ideas I may have about how “nontheistic” it all is on an ultimate level.



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gza

posted September 17, 2009 at 10:24 am


There is also the risk of distorting Buddhism in the effort to avoid “stepping on the toes of any deities.”
As Nyanaponika Thera writes, “from a study of the discourses of the Buddha preserved in the Pali canon, it will be seen that the idea of a personal deity, a creator god conceived to be eternal and omnipotent, is incompatible with the Buddha’s teachings.”
It is instructive to imagine right wing evangelicals taking up Jerry’s argument and saying, “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior is not a religion. I can’t imagine a time in the history of the world when we more badly needed as many people as possible to accept the love of Jesus Christ. If making Christianity a religion means it can’t be taught in public schools, then it is not a religion.”
They have already done this with “intelligent design.”



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loveben

posted September 17, 2009 at 10:55 am


I am new to buddhism, and thoroughly surprised that practicing thoughtful, mindful people could be so mean-spirited. It is unbelievable how many of you threw insults at the author!
Sorry to say that but WOW!



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David Farnsworth

posted September 17, 2009 at 10:58 am


Oh please. No territorial aspirations? No wars on behalf of Buddhist belief?
Arthur C. Clarke wrote the same thing about Buddhist belief (even in his stories). But he was blinded to what was going on in his own adopted country of Sri Lanka. Buddhist suicide bombers were an integral part of the Sri Lankan civil war. And Buddhist monks were enthusiastic in promoting vengeance on the Hindu Tamils.
These are just the modern examples. Premodern examples abound… In Tibet, in Japan, and elsewhere.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 17, 2009 at 11:00 am


@GZA – Dude. Are you really comparing contemplative practice and the Buddha’s proposed path to liberation with Evangelical Christian acceptance of Jesus Christ as your personal savior and “intelligent design”?
Political correctness demands that we consider evangelicals viewpoint as equally valid and relevant as a more rational viewpoint.
I am not politically correct. I do not agree.
see DD comments above : “You are expected to just smile politely and appreciate their beliefs, even if they are irrational to the point of being a threat to the long term survival of humanity.”
no thanks.



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gza

posted September 17, 2009 at 11:20 am


Jerry, what I am comparing is the impulse to spread a religion that one genuinely feels will benefit others and the world. So yes, I am comparing your well-intentioned effort to spread Buddhism by claiming it is not religious with their well-intentioned effort to spread Christianity by claiming intelligent design is not a religious. One opens the door to the other.



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Rob

posted September 17, 2009 at 11:23 am


First, I’d have to say that Stuff and Fluff posted just that, no real substance, and very little resemblance to fact.
Japan at the time of WW2 was a State Shinto. Shinto is native to Japan, Buddhism is not. There are vast differences between the two, particularly in reference to the political leadership of the country, and the violence and war it spawned.
I would also disagree with the author. Let me play devil’s advocate. The author claims:”Buddhism also does not require any kind of conversion process or ritual….” Then what is the significance of taking refuge? The author also claimed:”invocation of God as divinely ordaining war,” to which I would say that there is a small minority if Americans in that boat. The “divinely ordained” Iraq/Afghanistan wars didn’t receive a unanimous vote in Congress, and as the continued protests would reveal, especially among the public. That sort of rhetoric exists among the religious and political fringes of this country, which does not enjoy a majority position in America.
My point is that making sweeping generalizations is hardly conducive to proving a statement. If you consider the definition of the word “religion,” you have a better place to start.
That might make your thought experiment a better experiment. Otherwise, mental hypotheticals become a waste of time. Why not confine our thoughts to the space ship we live on, and how to reconcile the issues that face our planet?



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Jen

posted September 17, 2009 at 11:29 am


Buddhism requires faith, i.e., belief in something that is not apparent to the five senses. It requires faith in past and future lives, faith in karma, faith that people before you have, in fact, rid their mind completely of all delusions and attained liberation and enlightenment. In my view, anything that requires faith is a religion.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 17, 2009 at 11:35 am


@Rob I wish I could agree with you that America is not aligned with a Christian God and that I had accidentally made a sweeping generalization. However, that is not the case. The Christian Bible is used for swearing in elected officials and for swearing in people in our halls of justice. Politicians routinely engage in Christian prayer both on and off government premises. Nothing wrong with this, in theory, except for when God is used as an excuse for war (not getting into it here, but you can easily research the ways that religious groups carefully work with politicians to further religious ends through military and monetary policy. This is not conspiracy; it is open public knowledge).
@GZA As you know I respect you as a thinker and a friend. So with all due respect I ask you to point me to any credible source that suggest Intelligent Design is not a religious position advocated by a fringe faction of Christian evangelicals who go by the umbrella term Creationists? Conversely, do you not believe that there are many credible people who feel that Buddhism is a philosophy and way of life, rather than a religion, or are you suggesting that anyone who takes this position is as much on the fringe as the Creationists?
I feel on the verge of understanding your position but I don’t quite yet.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 17, 2009 at 11:36 am


@Jen – If anything that requires faith a religion, is love therefore a religion?



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Dharmakara

posted September 17, 2009 at 11:51 am


Jen: Not extactly… while institutionalized Buddhism requires faith, the practical application of the Dharma does not, no sooner than the practical application of the Sermon of the Mount requires one to be a Christian.
This also applies to your misguided belief that one’s practice requires faith in past and future lives, when it requires neither accepting nor denying such because it is of no consequence when one’s practice is firmly grounded in the present moment, the here and now.



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Mitsu

posted September 17, 2009 at 11:52 am


Ah, this discussion again!
@gza I don’t think “saying something about what happens after we die” is necessarily the quintessential definition of religion, and I’d say that despite all the talk about it within Buddhist tradition there’s a very important sense in which it is not central to Buddhism: Shakyamuni explicitly said that metaphysical speculation (including speculation about what happens after we die) is *not* central to his teaching, nor is it particularly important, because the answer to that question has little bearing on the fundamental questions of suffering, the origin of suffering, and liberation from suffering. Regardless of this you’re certainly right that Buddhism, like most spiritual traditions, has accumulated a lot of trappings of what people call “religion”, including elaborate belief systems and so forth. But, thankfully, Buddhism is rather unique in that it emphasizes realization as opposed to mere belief. The idea of treating a spiritual tradition as primarily about believing in a set of tenets I think is, as I’ve said before, a primarily Western (or at least non-Buddhist) idea. Buddhism as a tradition has beliefs but the status of belief in Buddhism is quite different from other religions — which is to say, it’s neither a requirement nor is it considered central in the way it is in other religions.
To my mind, this is something that truly sets Buddhism apart from other religions; it’s rather unique.
As for what unites all Buddhists, I’m not sure I would even say “mindfulness” training is shared by all Buddhists; if what you mean by “mindfulness” is the specific practice of Theravada insight meditation. Zen meditation and Vajrayana practices are quite different, even though of course both schools have sitting meditation as a practice, the context and approach is quite different (as we’ve discussed before). The emphasis in Zen and in the Vajrayana, and Dzogchen approaches is on “attaining” non-effort, whereas in the Theravada it is on attaining realization by steps (these are not necessarily entirely contradictory, but they are certainly different emphases). As Trungpa put it, of course one has to make some sort of pantomime of realization before one is able to truly relax one’s effort (which is why these approaches aren’t entirely contradictory), but nevertheless the view is different. As Trungpa put it in _Journey Without Goal_:
“Student: You said that at the end of this journey, there is the realization that there was never a need to make this journey at all. But at the same time, isn’t the journey absolutely necessary?
Trungpa Rinpoche: It is necessary in order to realize that your journey was futile. It is called a path, but it is not really a path, because you are really neither coming nor going. But still there is an illusion of a journey. That’s why the various levels are called yanas, which means ‘vehicles.’ You think you are moving. But maybe it is the landscape that is moving.
….
Student: It seems to me that some act of surrendering is definitely necessary. But is that something you can try to do, or do you just have to wait and let it happen? Is it something you have to stop trying to do?
Trungpa Rinpoche: The general policy seems to be that you have to surrender artificially to begin with. You have high ideals, some inspiration about what the possibilities might be, but you can’t quite click into those possibilities spontaneously at the beginning. So you have to start by creating artificial openness, by surrendering artificially. This is precisely what taking the refuge vow or the bodhisattva vow is. It is artificial actually—you are not up to it. But the commitment involved begins to have an effect on your state of being, for the very reason that you cannot wipe out your past. That artificial gesture becomes part of the landscape of your life; then something there begins to ferment, begins to work.”
As for things like vajra hell; the interesting thing about the way Trungpa describes vajra hell is it is like being surrounded by a prison of Vajrayana teachings. But in a way this is a lot like the idea of “believing” in one’s initial ideas of what the teachings mean or in metaphysical speculation while not really paying attention to what the teachings are actually pointing at, which is far more vast than any belief one might have at the outset, and certainly more vast than all the traditional metaphysical ideas in Buddhism and every other tradition combined. Belief is a paltry substitute for the true meaning of the teachings; it’s not the point at all, except as a sort of preliminary stance or initial starting point; if one merely believes something before one is, as Trungpa says, “up to it”, and thinks that’s the end point, then one becomes trapped by the teachings themselves, because then all we are doing is projecting our own ideas about what the teachings mean onto the words. Realization is far more than this. In a sense, breaking shamatha with a realized teacher as Trungpa describes it is stopping at a preliminary idea of the teachings without following through on what the teacher is actually asking you to do, which is to say, to break past all your ideas about it and actually realize your true nature (which involves, ultimately, seeing that the journey was not needed in the first place). And that is, paradoxically, an extremely difficult thing to do. “Believing” in things and using that to stand in for realization is easy, and it is a trap.



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DD

posted September 17, 2009 at 11:52 am


Jen,
IMHO that’s exactly the problem.
Insisting that for someone to be “a Buddhist” they must put their faith in things that can not be tested, and that they are expected to accept simply because someone tells them to or because it feels good to believe it, divides us and prevents people from benefiting from the Buddhist principles that could be helping to heal humanity.
I wonder if the fundamental teachings of the Buddha could have survived in the marketplace that was humanity’s search for cultural cohesion had it not had layers of faith-based dogma applied to it very early on. Are the faith-based aspects required in this day and age?
Dare I mention the term “Agnostic Buddhist” on this forum?



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gza

posted September 17, 2009 at 11:57 am


Jerry, they are a fringe fraction, yes, but they have had a lot of success pushing “creation science” into the public discourse.
When it comes to “Buddhism as religion” I certainly agree that there are nuances to the discussion, and in many regards Buddhism is remarkably different from other religions. But no, I don’t think there are many credible people who would say categorically that “Buddhism is not a religion.”
I certainly agree that many central elements of Buddhism can be presented in an unambiguously nonreligious context, and that it is a good idea to do that. But if an evangelical woman objected to the four noble truths being taught in a public school, I would support her objection.



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KC

posted September 17, 2009 at 12:01 pm


@Jen – I appreciate your comment regarding faith being a necessity to practice Buddhism, but I have found quite the opposite to be true. While many Buddhists do have faith in the literal concepts of past and future lives and that of karma, I don’t think that a faith-based belief in these things is necessary or helpful in the practice of Buddhism.
I practice Buddhism, but I don’t necessarily “have faith” in reincarnation or karma — in other words, I don’t feel I have to believe they are true. What I do believe is that understanding the concepts of reincarnation and karma helps me act differently, more compassionately and with greater understanding of others suffering (and my own). To me, it doesn’t matter if these things are true in the literal sense, it matters how understanding the concepts modifies my personal behavior in a positive way. Maybe that is having faith in how the concepts motivate me, but it falls short of being an evangelical faith that expresses these things as the “truth”. In many ways, I see these as similar to Biblical parables. I think what matters is how a story helps one understand something and how it positively effects their behavior, while a more strict religious approach would require one to confess they believe the story actually happened. Sometimes meaning can get lost in belief.



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Mitsu

posted September 17, 2009 at 12:03 pm


I hasten to add, by the way, in my tirade against relying on “belief” — “believing” that the journey wasn’t necessary is also, of course, a trap. No mere belief is really adequate here… while it is *true* that the journey in some sense isn’t necessary (or it’s better to say that there is no journey per se in the first place), it isn’t possible to just “believe” this and be done with it. Realization is about something far beyond believing in things, no matter how amazing and wonderful they may sound, and it’s also beyond not believing in things. It’s about something inconceivable, yet, strangely, possible for all of us to access, directly, here and now.



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Mitsu

posted September 17, 2009 at 12:11 pm


Sorry, wrote a “wordo” (my term for when my brain substitutes an entire word instead of a wrong letter as in a “typo”), meant to write “breaking samaya” not “breaking shamatha”, above, of course! Though in a way one is kind of similar to the other, I suppose…



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Dharmakara

posted September 17, 2009 at 12:11 pm


gza: The United Nations’ International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010) is actually grounded in mindfulness, where they have even unilaterally supported educating school children in the practice of the five precepts, borrowing a page from Thich Nhat Hahn.
Clearly, the United Nations is not advocating one particular religion over another, but recognizing the practical application of the Dharma, where it transcends all religions and “isms”, including this creature called “Buddhism”.



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gza

posted September 17, 2009 at 12:26 pm


Like I said, I think that some elements of Buddhism would be appropriate for public schools. The five precepts being one possible example. But, again, if an evangelical woman objected to the four noble truths being taught in a public school, I would support her objection.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 17, 2009 at 12:30 pm


Four noble truths:
You’re dissatisfied, but you’re not alone – so is everyone else.
There’s a reason you are dissatisfied – it’s because you are attaching to outcomes and things that are going to, by definition, go away – rather than being present right now.
Oh, by the way there’s a way to stop being dissatisfied, and it will probably make you a more compassionate and aware friend, neighbor, and human being. At the very least, you’ll get to know yourself more intimately.
There’s eight basic ideas you can study that will help you understand your dissatisfaction, and they are all pretty common sense stuff – study, moderation, not lying, stuff like that.
not sure what in there would be offensive to anyone. Unless you also make me wear a robe, ring a bell, burn incense, and say some of it in Sanskrit. Then it starts to feel religioso.



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Mitsu

posted September 17, 2009 at 12:42 pm


The irony of this discussion is that, on the one hand, Westerners who have an allergic reaction to religion want to define Buddhism as not a religion, but at the same time, there are Westerners used to the Western idea of religion who want to project onto Buddhism an idea of what it is (a religion in which beliefs are important) which isn’t what Buddhism is, either. In both cases I think there is perhaps an overreaction or a bit of a Western cultural lens being placed onto a tradition which has its own internal structure and deep meaning which goes beyond either category.



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gza

posted September 17, 2009 at 12:46 pm


Jerry, because she could say, dissatisfaction is not relieved by the Noble Eightfold Path, it is relieved by accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior. And it is her right not to have her child taught otherwise in public school.



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Dharmakara

posted September 17, 2009 at 12:47 pm


Jerry: Many speak of relative truths, but you hit it on the head, the only “Absolute Truth” available in the present moment and it’s twofold: (1) the cause of suffering and (2) the means to bring about an end to that suffering.



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Mitsu

posted September 17, 2009 at 1:00 pm


@gza Well, of course, one might say that teaching psychology might be objectionable on those grounds, as psychologists might say they are talking about a way of relieving suffering. One could get around the objection to teaching the Four Noble Truths by rephrasing it in terms of “here are some things you can try or consider” rather than calling them “Noble Truths” or something ultimate…
Buddhism is certainly not a “religion” if one defines religion in Western terms as being primarily about believing in certain metaphysical ideas. It is a religion if you say that talking about metaphysics, having teachings about various phenomena that are about an unseen world of spiritual significance, etc., makes something a religion. So in essence I think both can be said to be right: it is a religion if you take the term to include more Eastern definitions of what spirituality or religion is about; it isn’t if you take the definition that tends to be prevalent in the West.



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ellen9

posted September 17, 2009 at 1:17 pm


I just can’t care whether buddhism is a religion or not.
From early Christian medievalists (“The Cloud of Unknowing”) to Sufis to Zen masters to Kabbalah writers, no one who meditates and contemplates consistently really comes up with startlingly different conclusions about what it is that is going on. And tho their “sacred canopies” are vividly and beautifully different, they don’t seem to me to be maps of different places.
When I read “Lovingkindness requires that we shall not inflict pain upon any living being, even an animal,” it could be Thich Naht Hahn (20th c Vietnamese Zen master), Sharon Salzburg (20th American Insight Meditation society founder) or Moses Luzzatto (18th c European Kabbalist). Yes, their conceptual frameworks and “sacred canopy” are entirely different, but the practice of life they come to is similar. That’s fine by me.
I just can’t care whether something is a religion or not. Just can’t. There are lots of religions. When their practice leads to “treat one another as oneself” it’s hard to argue best, worst, etc. When their practice leads to “I will kill you because you are different from me” it’s easy to argue. Every religion seems to produce some who see the nature of reality as interconnected interbeing, and every religion includes believers who don’t see reality that way at all.
I’ll go with the interconnected interbeing. Buddhist meditation and practice seems like a good highway, but there are others. Okay.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 17, 2009 at 1:44 pm


@Ellen I know officially want us to get tee shirts that say “Interconnected Interbeing”. that’s awesome. truly deeply. That’s one I might even wear to the 24 hour sit.



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dana c.

posted September 17, 2009 at 2:20 pm


has anybody in this discussion read Dzongzar Khyentse’s book What Makes YOu Not a Buddhist?



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Ethan Nichtern

posted September 17, 2009 at 2:27 pm


@Dana,
at Dana: I have. I think it’s an okay book, but I think he takes some major liberties defining the three (four) marks of existence that are pretty…um..unhelpful. Especially his radical and strange reinterpretation of the pervasiveness of suffering as “all emotions are pain,” a view that doesn’t really come through anywhere else in Tantric Buddhism.
I thought the book was confrontational and not incredibly precise in terms of its terminology.
Do you like that book?
Rinpoche himself is a very cool guy. His second movie Travelers and Magicians was great. But that books seems gimmicky to me. To each their own.



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Rob S.

posted September 17, 2009 at 2:46 pm


I’ve never posted here before and I’m VERY new to Buddhism. I find this topic that Jerry has put forth, and all of the other opinions here, to be endlessly fascinating. There are a lot of well-informed ideas and stances being put forth. Because I’m so new to this, I’m a little hesitant to join the fray, but here’s my two cents:
I grew up in a very conservative Christian family. Since my late teens, I’ve rejected all forms of religion and God. Oddly enough, I’ve never considered myself an atheist, though. If pressed, I’ve always put the matter to rest by saying I’m “agnostic.”
Over the last few years I’ve felt the desire to pursue a spiritual path, because I felt very “out of sorts,” unhappy and had a general sense of disconnect with life. I was introduced to meditation. Not Buddhist philosophy or psychology…..just meditation. Just sitting and watching the breath. I found it very simple….and very powerful. I found that it filled that dark hole with goodness.
Once I started doing this, I started to very slowly become interested in Buddhism, because I was practicing one of the foundations of the path. I read a few books here and there and attended a few meditation/dharma talks. I’ve been “allergic” to religion pretty much my entire life. If I felt in any way that I was joining a religion, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable going to a dharma talk. As it is, I never felt any pressure to join anything. I was simply listening to people speak, hearing some good things, and trying to apply them to my life. No one at these dharma talks cared if I identified myself as Buddhist or not. In fact, no one even asked. The fact that I was present, listening, and taking what worked for me and feeling happy….that was good enough.
Now what would happen if I tried to do the same thing in a Christian church? Could I go to a church, strip away what made me uncomfortable (God, Jesus…or whatever), and take home what I could work with and made me happy? The answer is…yes, I could do that. But would the other people in the church let it stay at that? No way. Or at least not in the church I grew up in. They would try to convert me. They would tell me, that while it may be all good that I’m taking home teachings that make me feel happy, if I’m not baptized, if I don’t turn my life over to Jesus, if I am not saved…..I’m going to hell. It’s a very fundamental part of the religion. Therefore, I would never be able to attend church and feel comfortable because there is always this overriding fact that I am not saved. (I don’t want to say that all churches and all Christians are this way…remember….I grew up in a conservative evangelical household.) But, unless I have it wrong, it’s pretty black and white.
The point of all this, is that I don’t think that we need to strip away any kind of label from Buddhism…or even work hard to define it. It is what it is. Buddhism already does an excellent job of attracting people to meditation without any pressure whatsoever to adhering to a path, taking vows or joining a religion. If people want to practice meditation and mindfulness without delving in to Buddhist philosophy there are many avenues for that. If people want to practice meditation and dabble in Buddhism by listening to dharma talks, they can do that too. If people what to extend the practice by joining a sangha, attending retreats, taking refuge, or even becoming a monastic……that is their path.
In my opinion, no label is necessary. It will be a religion to the people who want it to be so. It will be just a “way of thinking and being” to some people. It will be “just meditating” to others. And for a lot of people it might just be a pop-culture curiosity….
Either way….it’s all good.



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Ethan

posted September 17, 2009 at 3:07 pm


Welcome Rob S.! Hope you post comments more often. that was a really informative one.



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Nitebug

posted September 17, 2009 at 3:55 pm


That’s deep Rob S. I myself an Atheist since high school have leaned toward Buddhism in my later years. I’m 48 now and found thru another on the Internet that one can be Atheist yet still spiritual so I call myself a Spiritual Atheist.



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Kate

posted September 17, 2009 at 4:36 pm


I have a gut feeling on the “is it or isn’t it a religion” question as well as the question of what religion’s precise definition is. This is my feeling: it’s subjective. Both questions are endlessly arguable. Religion is an academic subject, but it’s also deeply personal, and on some level I really feel it’s impossible to say what it IS or ISN’T with finality and complete distinction. Here’s the background on my gut feeling: I grew up Catholic, with the Bible stories, Mass, Eucharist and confession a central part of my life and imagination. My family was religious in the sense that they attended church, believed in the doctrine and followed the rules laid out in our church. My religious upbringing colors how I see many things, whether it’s my history in making art or being a progressive teacher. I lean towards making things religious or devotional. So I don’t have a problem with relating to Buddhism as a religion, because I’ve got that code in me. But I also grew up with parents who ultimately left the Catholic church when they felt the organized Catholic church was no longer spirit-oriented. As my mother said, “I’ve always been a God-chaser.” As I grew up, I found this was something I had in me too; something in me was religious, but it was something very personal that was seeking a home or container out in the world.
When I was looking for a community in which to learn a spiritual practice that worked for me, my mother suggested the Episcopalians. (That’s where she eventually landed.) I said to her, “I know I’m not a Christian.” She asked me to describe what I wanted in a relgious philosophy, and so I did. “Youve just described the main tenets of Buddhism,” she said. So that’s how I found Buddhist practice; through my Christian upbringing and thoughtful religious mother. For others who didn’t have this kind of flexible religious upbringing, I’m sure things are different. One person’s nurturing structure is another person’s cage. I do think that it’s helpful to have Buddhism (and any other religion, for that matter) written about and talked about and practiced in ways that are inclusive of people who feel caged-in by typical religious discourse. As a matter of fact, I know several Catholic priests who do this very well. They are able to talk about their religion in a way that gets to the personal, subjective level. So, my larger point, is that it’s a personal thing, and the best way to spread Buddhism’s wisdom and appeal is to have more good teachers who are able to embody Buddhism in new ways and, by example, get people into personal relationship with practices like mindfulness meditation in a committed way.



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gza

posted September 17, 2009 at 6:35 pm


@Mitsu – the difference between Buddhism (and Christianity) and psychology is, psychology doesn’t seek to relieve the fundamental suffering of the human condition.



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Mitsu

posted September 18, 2009 at 12:12 am


@gza Of course. And I do think that Buddhism does address something one could call “fundamental” about the existential situation of sentient beings. But, one could present Buddhist teachings without calling attention to that claim (i.e., that it addresses something one could call “fundamental” about the existential situation). It would be more difficult to do the same with other religions (unless one is talking about their contemplative wings), since they tend to couch their teachings more primarily in terms of belief.



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Anan E. Maus

posted September 18, 2009 at 12:38 am


The 2500 year history of Buddhism really does not need folks to come in and form yet another sect in order to reform some path that has gone off the deep end.
Why? Because it has not gone off of the deep end?
Why? Because the various sects already represent this very spirit of reform!
The entire purpose of the Zen path is the very reform that is being mentioned here. It is religion, without the religion! That is it’s entire purpose. And its long history is filled with constant reforms of the practice going stale…here and there.
The Quakers reform of ritual is so profound, that there service is…no ritual at all. It is just one long silent meditation. With people getting up to share.
If a path has already spoken greatly and deeply about the cautions of getting attached to forms and rituals…which Zen has, extensively, what kind of reform is needed beyond that.
Say this was the 1950′s and a social reform movement was trying to free people from the stagnation of the rat race life. The Beatniks.
Trying to further reform Buddhism, would be akin to going to the Beatniks and talking about how they were attached to form. Well, maybe they weren’t perfect, but they were the response to freedom from the conformist life.
Zen would be that very reform that answers the question posed here.
So, it already happened. And centuries ago. I don’t know that it needs to happen again.
Zne



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Dharmakara

posted September 18, 2009 at 1:56 am


Apply your Beatnik logic and there would be no Generation X and, by the way, no sect or branch of the Buddhist tradition has ever been stagnant, but a constant renewal in flux, whether Mahayana or Theravada.



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Your Name

posted September 18, 2009 at 4:23 am


Buddhism is certainly not a religion. It has been made into one. I am from Nepal and its most famous son Siddhartha Gautam (Shakyamuni Buddha) refrained from making it a religion, organized or otherwise. I practice Lazy-Yoga, the same yoga which he is supposed to have practiced after coming to Swayambhu in Kathmandu. And I am proud to say I am neither religious nor atheist.



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Christopher Mohr

posted September 18, 2009 at 8:42 am


Buddhism most certainly IS a religion, and it was always so. No matter what your Vipassana teacher would have you believe. In general, Westerners who happen to be more liberal have a completely irrational fear of religion, without even knowing what one is. While there are lots of different definitions of what a religion is, the characteristics of one are easy to list. A religions is a body of teachings containing a moral structure combined with a set of philosophical, psychological, and/or spiritual propositions (aka beliefs) which is practiced in a community by means of ritual(s).
Buddhism in all its forms exhibits each of these characteristics:
Body of teachings: suttas, sutras, historical/biographical treatises, etc.
Moral structure: the eightfold Noble path, the four noble truths, the vinaya, etc.
Set of philosophical, etc. propositions: meditation and following the eightfold noble path will lead to enlightenment/Nibbana/Nirvana.
practiced in a community: the Sangha in all cases qualifies, be it monastic or lay or a combination of both.
Ritual: meditation is a ritual, chanting is a ritual, taking of the Precepts and the Three Refuges is a ritual. rituals are everywhere in Buddhism and have been since the Buddha first set the wheel of Dhamma in motion. Things only got more elaborate from there.
So Buddhism most definitely IS a religion. If you have to claim that religions require a god or creator, Buddhism has that too. In the Dhammapada, the BUddha himself addresses the creator saying, “O builder, never again will this house be built. The ridgepoles are snapped, the rafters are shattered.”
Trying to make Buddhism more accesible is a worthwhile goal. Diluting Buddhism to the point of non-recognizability, or making false claims about Buddhism is not a worthwhile goal. Besides, we Buddhists already have a teaching in our body of teachings concerning that – upaya, or the skillful means doctrine. In order to help those who might be turned off by a religion, why not stop this useless approach of misrepresenting Buddhism and start using upaya to bring people into Buddhism and let them accept or reject it as they will?
Every time I hear the “Buddhism isn’t a religion” argument, I think back to the earliest use of it – by the British as described to them by Sri Lankans in order to keep their beliefs intact. From there it spiraled and people came to think Buddhism was just a philosophy, when it wasn’t/isn’t.



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Ethan Nichtern

posted September 18, 2009 at 9:01 am


@Christopher, by this definition, America is a religion. We got rituals, laws, and a moral structure. By your definition, any community is a religion. hmmm…
That reference to the dhammapada is not a reference to god (not that it matters if it were), It’s a reference to habitual mind. The builder is the builder of confusion. That is what the Buddha is claiming will never be built again.



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Evelyn

posted September 18, 2009 at 9:50 am


I’ve been in a workshop all week and I’ve got a retreat coming up this weekend so I’ve been totally missing this whole debate. That’s probably for the best because its given me a chance to read and really consider Jerry and Ethan’s views on the matter before I stick my foot in the muck. My initial reaction to this question is always: “yes, it’s a religion, let’s drop this already.”
But, as I read and understand where you guys are coming from, I think I see your point. You basically want to open up the Buddhadharma to everyone, including people who shy away from religion and people who are extremely devout in their own religion. As you see it, one of the the best ways to do this is to remove the religious overtones and open up the dharma to everyone. I can certainly appreciate this effort.
Allow me to share a little story that will help illustrate the value in this approach. We once had a person visit our sangha on beginner’s night who said that s/he was interested in meditation as a way to deal with his/her anger (I don’t want to give any indication about this person’s identity, so you’ll have to suffer through the gender ambiguity). After the instruction, this person told us that s/he had basically snuck out of the house to visit our group. You see, the members of his/her family are very conservative Christians who would basically cut him/her off from all support if they found out that s/he had visited a Buddhist group. This person was clearly filled with fear, almost as if he/she was breaking the law. The look in his/her eyes was more like a person who was hiding contraband than someone who was simply visiting a meditation group. I’d never seen anything like this before.
I think this highlights the issue that Jerry is trying to get at with his posts. If this person’s family did not view Buddhism as a religion opposed to their own but as a simple self-help exercise like yoga, that person would not have had to lie about where they were going at night.
I agree that there is definitely some value in promoting the Buddhist teachings sans-religion. I do think that it would open up the dharma to people who would never have access to it otherwise and I do believe it would help those people immensely.
On the other hand, I also have a great appreciation for Buddhist history and tradition and so I also think that some form of Buddhist religion can and should be retained intact. So, how do you have your cake and eat it too? I’m not sure but I do think centers like the ID project are a definite start. In my “perfect” world, I’d like to see non-religious centers that teach Buddhist techniques without the religious aspects AND other groups that continue the more religious traditional practice. Ultimately, I think we’d have to re-name the non-religious teachings. I just think the word “Buddhism” already has too many connotations in enough minds. I think it’s just too late for us to just suddenly proclaim in the Monday paper: “Newsflash: Buddhism isn’t a religion! Come get it while the meditation is hot!”
Congrats on making the USA Today, Jerry. Great post, great discussion.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 18, 2009 at 10:15 am


Thanks Evelyn and thanks for sharing that story about your sangha, and for considering our viewpoint. And have a great retreat! Jerry



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Guru

posted September 18, 2009 at 11:08 am


Buddhism is not a religion; Well it is quite debatable. If you follow the principle of Buddhism as taught by Tathagata. It is a way of life. Everybody would accept that. However, if you follow the priciple of living as taught by Tathagata, then the same becomes a religion.
Religion in plain dictionary meaning is a faith, belief in something. However, when some lifestyle or sorrounding influence our lives and we beleive in following the same, then it becomes religion for a broader terms. Buddhism in all respect is a way of life we try to practice. Under the circumstances, to call Buddhism not a religion does not make complete sense.
People who says so beleives that Buddhist are atheist. This also is debatable. Buddhism has gone a huge evolution over the time. Today many buddhist follows Vajrayana form of Buddhism, which is a form buddhism propagated by Guru Padmasambhava. These buddhist follows and worship many Buddhist Gods. In this form of Buddhism, Teachers are revered as God. When you worship God, it is a religion. In fact most of the religion in the world are started by some teachers only. Then to say,”Buddhism is not a religion”, also brings other religion of the world in the same line.
Thanks



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Dharmakara

posted September 18, 2009 at 11:31 am


Guru: In essense you are saying that the practitioner makes it into a religion, which I agree with, though it’s questionable if this was the historical Siddhartha Gautama’s intent.



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Mitsu

posted September 18, 2009 at 4:27 pm


>water down
Talking about Buddhism as though it is a “religion” in the Western sense *is* actually watering it down, because it isn’t a religion in the Western sense. It simply isn’t (that is, most versions of Buddhism aren’t). This is the view of many high lamas and teachers, not simply the view of Westerners. To conflate Buddhism with Western-style religion is to essentially take a misunderstanding of Buddhism (admittedly, one which is common at early stages of practice) and turn it into the entirety of Buddhist teaching. At the later stages of practice, however, Buddhism becomes less and less like a Western-style religion. This is not to say that it “isn’t a religion” because one could redefine religion to include whatever Buddhism is — but it’s certainly not a religion in the Western sense and to claim that it is is to fly in the face of the Dharma and the teachings of many lamas, enlightened masters, and other teachers, over centuries.
Yes, Buddhism has rituals, ideas about unseen realms, and many structures which look exactly like other religions. But, unlike most religions and certainly unlike the Western idea of religion, Buddhism is explicitly not based on the idea of a definitive text (i.e., there’s no Buddhist Bhagavad Gita, Bible, or Quran, the Pali Canon notwithstanding). It does not base the legitimacy of its teachings on dogma. “Believing in” Buddhism is not what defines a Buddhist. Rituals, precepts, and so forth are not commandments from God, but simply helpful structures meant to aid one in realization.
But most importantly Buddhism is about realization, in some very important sense. Realization is inconceivable and vast, and it is in some sense beyond any tradition. It transcends culture and tradition, in other words. One doesn’t have to be Buddhist to be realized. Buddhism doesn’t set itself up as the only path to realization. All of these things set Buddhism apart, quite radically, from other religions.
This is not to say that Buddhism is or is not a religion. It depends on your definition. But if one is to call it a religion it is certainly very different from other religions in many crucial ways which must not be forgotten, otherwise you really are watering down the Dharma.



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gza

posted September 18, 2009 at 4:49 pm


What I was calling watering down the dharma is not *failing to present Buddhism as a religion in the Western sense.* What I would call watering down the dharma is deliberately removing or explaining away everything that isn’t fully compatible with the conventional western one-life, no-unseen-beings worldview.



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Ethan

posted September 18, 2009 at 5:12 pm


GZA: I really think that when one begins to (conceptually) understand the Mind-Only perspective, where metaphor/symbolism and reality are inseparable, then there isn’t any problem, and it’s not possible to water things down. One great example is how Mark Epstein or Chogyam Trungpa speak of the Six Realms in their writing. Are the realms real? Are they metaphor for mind states? It doesn’t matter from the full Yogachara perspective. Because mind states and reality are inseparable. Is it religion or science of mind? Also, from the full Yogachara perspective, this is a non issue for the same reason.
The issue is how you describe dharma to folks who don’t get Mind-Only on an intellectual level (yet).
And then I think (@Evelyn), you understand my view spot on, we have to think in terms of both atheists and those with a pre-existing spiritual tradition. For neither of these groups is “Buddhism as religion” helpful. Part of the problem (and maybe Jerry is feeling this too) is this current conversation is mostly limited to westerners who have already gotten into Buddhism. We are a very small group, and our aversion to Buddhism as religion was comparatively small.
I really think if we spoke to more people who are turned off by how Buddhism is traditionally presented (as I have the occasion to every day, including in my home :~)), we’d see the presentation of Buddhism as religion appeals to an incredibly small percentage of people we know (the ones who are still into religion and willing to accept Buddhism as such, but just somehow aren’t into the religion they grew up with). To get the atheists and religious-practitioners interested in America, Buddhism as religion is a non-starter, or at best a major aversion to overcome. Why throw that major hurdle at people? the practice is hard enough as psychology, and deep enough as science, to attain enlightenment.
And when you get to the point of belief in unseen beings in Buddhism, you have to view them as inseparable from your own mind, or else the positive transformation of such practices is lost.



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Dharmakara

posted September 18, 2009 at 6:33 pm


Another part of the “religion” aspect is that the same rule applies to Buddhism as it applies to Hinduism… Buddhists will quickly claim that Hinduism didn’t exist as a religion during the Buddha’s lifetime, correctly so, but fail to apply the same rule of evidentiary record to Buddhism.



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gza

posted September 18, 2009 at 10:53 pm


>Are the realms real? Are they metaphor for mind states? It doesn’t matter from the full Yogachara perspective.
It does matter. Because when people ask if they are “real,” they don’t mean “are they truly existent in the madhyamaka sense?” They mean, can I experience them as an external reality that SEEMS just real as the one I SEEM to be experiencing now? And the answer, according to Yogachara, is unambiguously yes.
If that turns people off, then they have a right to be turned off! I don’t think it is right to distort it to make it more palatable. The truth will come out sooner or later anyway, when people read the texts for themselves and see that they were misled. And then there is an enormous amount of confusion.
Or, alternately, if we don’t want to do that, then we should be honest right off the bat that what we are teaching is a sort of “Reformed Buddhism.” And I don’t necessarily think there is anything wrong with that option, if it is done openly.



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Jerry Kolber

posted September 18, 2009 at 11:37 pm


@Everyone: Or you can just meditate, spend a lifetime trying to understand the four noble truths, trying to follow the eightfold path, fail miserably, try again, and meditate some more, and live your life in between, or the other way around.
If it works for you to call that a religion, or if you do more than that and call it a religion, rock out. If it works for you to do that and NOT call it religion or even follow some other thing you call religion, or you call it a philosophy, or a mind science, or a bag of marbles, rock out.
If either position pisses off someone who calls themselves Buddhist, just ask them respectfully why they are so attached to an impermanent label applied by an impermanent person to an impermanent practice, and go from there.



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Dharmakara

posted September 19, 2009 at 12:22 am


Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!



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Christopher Mohr

posted September 19, 2009 at 8:07 am


@ Ethan.
Actually, that reference is to Brahma, and it does matter to those who feel that Buddhism has no connection to Gods or other divinities. You find further discussion in the Samyuta and Digha Nikayas, for starters. Second, it is actually a parable for the four noble truths. The comment on the builder in Pali does NOT denote confusion, but creation.
A good number of Atheists look, misguidedly, at Buddhism as a non-theistic tradition, and then take the teachings and abuse them in fromt of the general public, hampering efforts to help others using Buddhism. That is why it matters to discourage false notions of what Buddhism is. Such as your own which dotes heavily on the philosophical construct which is a small part of the Buddhist tradition and ignores the moral, ethical, and religious constructs without which the meditation you want to help people learn has no merit.
I understand that for you it is important to keep Buddhism and religion separate, but it is not a valid separation. I understand what you stand to gain and lose from allowing that Buddhism is a religion. That much is clear from your website. And again, while I support spreading the Dhamma, it need not be without the religious nature of Buddhism included. Why is Buddhism one of the fastest growing religions in America? Because of its religious nature, not because of its meditation which gets ridiculed by pretty much anyone outside of a major metropolitan area. My own temple has, within the last 20 years, seen the ability to construct and maintain temples in nearly a dozen countries in this hemisphere. Why? Because, as a religion, we offer a spiritual and religious home that people never knew they had. Which brings up another point: this dilution of Buddhism seems to be a strongly elitist, almost class-based concept. It says, people are not smart enough or good enough for full on Buddhism, so we’ll give it to them as a Buddha Lite (more taste, less filling TM).
As to the comment that America is a religion, you are not far from wrong. Back in the first world religions course that I took, that actually was the example the professor used to describe a religion. There are many, many books on the topic of the American religion. Religion is everywhere, especially in Buddhism. Get used to it. That goes for Mr. Kolber as well.
If the Buddha hadn’t intended to set up a religion, he would not have
a) created the Sangha
b) sent monks out to teach the Dhamma
c) given enough sermons to fill 40+ volumes
d) given instructions for monastics that did not apply to the householder.
e) systematized his belief structure into his teachings
f) utilized vedanta (the Upanishads) in formulating his own teachings.
g) stuck around to teach it himself. he had that chance, and according to certain suttas, Indra had to come and convince him not to just go on, but to stay back and transmit his wisdom.



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Ethan

posted September 19, 2009 at 9:07 am


@Christopher: there are different interpretations of that dhammapada quote. Also, by the very definition of Brahma from a Vedic perspective, if Buddha was saying it was possible to break the structure of Brahma’s creation, then Buddha is proposing that Brahma does not exist as the Creator defined by the Vedas (because if you can alter the creation, then the creator is not omnipotent). If you believe in a separate creator, you can’t snap his ridgepoles. Buddha is saying Brahma is not the real creator, by the definition of Brahma in the Vedas. This is why this statement is interpreted more generally as “the creator of confusion” which is the mind. So either way, I think it’s a most non-theistic statement.
Also, re: what the Buddha did and established: The founder of ANY organization does these things in one form or another. Was the founder of my elementary school the founder of a religion? I would say no. Again, I haven’t heard a definition of religion yet that secular institutions do not fit into (except for GZA’s about proposing what happens after death – however, again, from the mind-only perspective, this dissolves as well, because death is always happening NOW).
Again, to each their own – I’m just telling you how I find most helpful to people to present the dharma, and I think it is fully in line with tradition.



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Dharmakara

posted September 19, 2009 at 9:46 am


Sacred Path Fixation: Dharma-jock(ette); Dharma-Nazi
Source: Addictions and Cravings Index
Michael J. Lincoln, PhD



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James Xavier

posted November 29, 2011 at 5:07 pm


Online Registration, Payment Management, and Marketing Tools for Faith Based. From collecting donations and recurring tithing payments to fostering growth in your private community network, Acteva is the clear choice for your faith-based organization. In addition, Acteva’s software provides an objective, third-party audit trail of all financial activity.



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