Is Buddhism a philosophy or a religion?

Several people asked me whether or not Buddhism, a popular belief system in Asia, can be consider as a religion. Several high profile academics from both the East and the West argued one way for the other. Some even called in a cult not because they hate Buddhism, but because it is a heated debate how you place Buddhism in this well organized educational structures. I used to have several documents on my website on Buddhism. After I enrolled in university, I decided to distance myself a bit from Buddhism because while I agree with the psychology and psychotherapy side of Buddhism, I do not agree with the social practice of Buddhism in Asia. I do not consider myself as a Buddhist, but if I have to pick a so called “religion”, it would be Buddhism.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Zoroaster, the Buddha, Plato and Aristotle were the first people in history to talk about mind and behaviors. The Buddhist logical operation is one of the first records on clear set of principles outlined for the study of the mind. In fact, several Western scholars including Albert Einstein and Dr. Sir Arthur C. Clarke were drawn to Buddhism because of the similarities between scientific philosophy and the Buddhist logical thinking. For hundreds of years some academics has identified Buddhism as a religion without dogmas and theologies. Both Einstein and Clarke thought that if there is a future for religion in this increased scientific world, it would most likely be Buddhism. The reason behind this is Buddha encouraged logical reasoning over beliefs, constructive thinking over blind faith and real world testing of Buddhist concepts over theoretical Buddhism. This is where Buddhism become no longer a religion, but rather an educational system open to anyone who are willing to learn and use the tools for good use.

Buddhist logic, the Eight Fold Paths, Five Precepts and Buddhist karma define the core elements of Buddhism. This article will not describe these in details, but will use them to prove that Buddhism is more of a philosophy or an educational system than a religion.

Buddhist logic is famous being one of the first ever structured logical thinking system in human civilization. The very idea that a seed has to planted in order for a tree to grow and in order for a tree to exist, a seed has to be part of the cycle, is used to explain how the mind works. In Buddhist psychotherapy, the controlling the seed is given priority. Similar to Western philosophers and scientists after the Age of Enlightenment, Buddha also promoted free independent thinking. Instead of depend on religious rules or regulations, Buddhists promotes logical reasoning to establish connections between dharma, the teaching of Buddhism, and real would applications. Unlike religion, where re= attachment, gion=to god, Buddha told his followers that he is not a god and Buddhist is not be followed blindly. This is the driving force that set Buddhism apart from conventional religions.

The Eight Fold Paths mimic scientific processes and logic. It is well explained and broken down so everyone has the opportunity to test it. It is divided into three main divisions; wisdom, ethical conduct and concentration and further broken down into factors. (more info) This striking similarity between a well written scientific research paper or lab reports and Buddhist layout of the Eight Fold Paths makes Buddhism a unique religion, if one must categorize Buddhism as a religion.

The Five Precepts(more info) set up guidelines for layperson, but not set up in a way to promote religious rule. In fact, very few people in Buddhist countries are pure vegetarians. Most, even some Buddhist monks, eat fish or some type of meat. Is this against Buddhism? Yes and no. If you need meat to survive and live a healthy life, then no it is not against Buddhism. But if you are consuming meat because you like it, yes it is against Buddhism. However, according to Buddhism, no one can claim to be a Buddhist nor clam to be a non-Buddhism. Therefore, it is up to you to decide what is right and what is wrong. The guidelines on Five Precepts are not rules, but just guidelines. They are tools, not rules to make your life better and happier.

Now add to the confusion, Buddha also said that it is petitioner’s job to learn, try and test theories of Buddhism before accept them as facts. This is great for person like me. While I accept some ideas on Buddhism like mediation and taking control of my own mind, I do not believe in karma or rebirth. I cannot test it nor prove it. No, it is not invalid since I cannot test it nor prove it. However, since Buddha said if you disagree you are feel free to take what you like and leave what you don’t like, most Buddhist and non-Buddhists don’t see a problem in accepting some parts of Buddhism while rejecting others. Buddhism encourages middle path where even extreme Buddhism is consider as a negative social issue to Buddhism itself.

Having said that, Buddhism still has some mythical stories as well. Buddha talked about heavens and gods. He also said, you are your own god because the gods in other dimensions have no power over humans. While the belief in mythical heavens contradicts modern philosophy and science, having no faith or trust in any almighty god(s) and trust in self god contradicts the very definition of religion. This is an another reason why it is extremely confusing to identify Buddhism as one way or another.

As a final note I would like to add, out of all the religions out there Buddhism has the least conflict with modern science and engineering. This is why people like Albert Einstein and Dr. Sir Arthur C. Clarke were drawn to Buddhism. Over the years Western scholars stole Buddhist teachings and rewrote the same Buddhist concepts in their own words and marketed it out as their own. Most Western clinical psychologists use their knowledge in Buddhism to help their clients without admitting they are using Buddhism right out India. One of the great example of this scam would be Eckhart Tolle (more info). In addition to this, Buddhist teachings has been introduced to Christianity in a disguise of Christian meditation. I came across several so called NGO, which I look at NGO companies that repackage Buddhist teaching and selling it to the general public. I don’t mind people selling Buddhism for their benefit given the credits to Buddhism. This is why I like organizations like EnCognitive, where they openly admits they use Buddhism.

At the end of the day, it is a personal choice to define Buddhism as a religion or a philosophy or both. You will hardly offend any Buddhist no matter how you spin Buddhist principles to fit your needs.

Please watch this YouTube video. It has some great information on why it is hard to classify Buddhism as a religion.

Video and transcript credit, source | EnCognitive: [Is Buddhism a religion?
Albert Einstein once said this of Buddhism, “The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both natural and spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual and a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.”

But is Buddhism a religion? Buddhism may qualify as a religion, depending on ones point of view. If you define religion as “a system of worship or devotion to a deity,” than no, it would not be a religion; however, if you define religion as “a system of spiritual beliefs, rituals, and morals,” then Buddhism would be a religion.

There is no messiah, no prophet, and no deity in Buddhism. The basic premise of Buddhism is about a prince who lived a hedonistic life, then became enlightened and decided to live an ascetic life.

Since there is no deity, messiah or prophet in Buddhism, you can be a Christian and a Buddhist, Muslim and Buddhist or Jew and Buddhist. And there would be no conflict.]

Buddhism should NOT be fall under religions:

Also read: Buddhism- Major Differences