Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy?

Religion and Buddhism

Religion today represents a group of dogmas (unquestionable truths) and rituals. To be part of a religion a person must believe in a certain belief system which drives him to behave in a certain expected way.  Buddhism on the other hand is not a religion. It has no dogma. Everyone is encouraged to ask their own questions and follow their own path. 

The word religion comes from Re-Ligare, re – connect. When it comes to Buddhism, since it is not a theist religion, the reconnection is representative of the one we try to establish is within our inner selves. Buddhists don’t refuse the idea of God, they are not Atheists, they are non-theists, which means their beliefs do not focus on a God, or a multitude of Gods.

Buddha is not seen as a God, there is no such figure for Buddhism such as the creator. The philosophy doesn’t concern itself with the existence of God. Buddha is only a reference, a role model. He was the first to walk the walk, and he transformed it into teachings that allow others after him to do the same successfully.

Philosophy

Buddhism may be considered a philosophy, here not only in the meaning of love for wisdom, but also as a way of life. The wisdom sought by the Buddhist philosopher is that of finding light and as Buddha taught, through an internal journey.

Some people may not stop to think about their life philosophy, but we all have one. It may not fit into any traditional philosophical school, or it may also fit into more than one of those schools. However, the way we organize our priorities, the value we attribute to things, the way we manage events in our life and deal with circumstances, reveal our life philosophy.

The reason behind our behaviors are even more revealing. I will use two examples to explain this further.

The vegetarian doesn’t eat meat because he’s worried about animal suffering, or because he’s worried about global warming, and because he worries about his health. The reasons are many, even when the result is the same

The other example would be related to parenting. You may teach your children to take daily showers because that’s what society expects from you, or because there is some concern related to hygiene, or because you want them to develop self-respect. Many different reasons again, but same goal.

There is no right or wrong here. I’m just showing you that there’s some sort of philosophy guiding your life. If you become aware of it, you may change it. You may even still do the same things as before, but for a different reason. This may seem strange to others, but at the end of the day, doing this because you believe it is the best way to be.

Method

It seems that Buddhism can also be seen as the vehicle for awakening. We can even simplify it, like we did in the chart below. It’s the result of the great work developed by the Buddha. Buddhism is not just an ideology, it is a way of life that gives us the tools to overcome each part of our suffering. It has  rituals, meditation, and prayer, and other methods of transformation, that lead us to enlightenment.

This methodological aspect of Buddhism explains why it’s so comprehensive, so tolerant. People are led to experience, to seek, to live for their own selves, not because someone else did it before.

I must end this piece by quoting André Migot, who has approached this question in his book The Buddha.

André says “there has been a lot of discussion about whether Buddhism is a philosophy or a religion, and the question has never been decided one way or the other. In these terms this is a question that only makes sense to a westerner”.

André explains that it is so because westerners admit that it’s possible to teach something without living in accordance with it. He uses the philosophy professor, who teaches philosophy within the classes of a University but back home he doesn’t even remember it.

If you live as you teach. If your life becomes an example of your beliefs, you then profess a religion. You become reconnected, and that’s the meaning of religion. The question should not be “Is Buddhism a religion?”, but rather it should be “what is reconnecting the ones practicing it”.