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Is Buddhism a philosophy or a religion?

buddhism philosophy religion

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#1    Frank Merton

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 03:19 PM

Buddhism is in many ways a philosophy.  It is mostly agnostic or atheistic about God and gods, it has a rational ethical structure and a basic view of the nature of the world and the human place in it -- all philosophical views not unlike those of other religions.

It is also the daily religious practice of large numbers of people mostly in Asia.  It has rituals, worships, prayers, Temples, a huge sacred scripture, and many other characteristics people associate with religion.


#2    Toadie

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 03:23 PM

Originally it wasn't a religion. Didn't people turn it into a religion?


#3    wolfknight

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 03:23 PM

I think it is a religion. Like you said Frank many people practice it . I always thought is was a religion.


#4    OverSword

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 03:27 PM

I understood it to be a philosophy until I got to know some actual buddists.


#5    Frank Merton

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 03:32 PM

View PostToadie, on 07 March 2013 - 03:23 PM, said:

Originally it wasn't a religion. Didn't people turn it into a religion?
You are talking about a time and place where no one could imagine "philosophy" by itself.  That is largely a Greek invention.

The basic Buddhist message is not religious or "spiritual" except the teaching of Samsara, that we reincarnate in life after life in a near-eternal trap of suffering and the teaching of Karma, which can be interpreted in non-spiritual ways but is usually interpreted as a sort of running total of merits and demerits based on your life choices and that has effects on things like luck and destiny.  There is also the notion of Enlightenment, which is widely seen as a spiritual achievement.

It is widely thought that the Buddha himself was not dogmatic about reincarnation, but maintained that even if it is false, his teaching is an excellent way to live.  It consists of the Eightfold Noble Path, which you may want to look up to see what is teaching on how to live is expressed.

One of the main "philosophical"aspects of Buddhism is its reliance on reason and evidence, not faith or creed.  If something turns out to be false, no matter who taught it, abandon it.

Edited by Frank Merton, 07 March 2013 - 03:33 PM.


#6    eight bits

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 04:00 PM

"Is ___ a religion?" is not a "truth question," but whether the category is useful to convey some idea about what occupies the blank. That may be true sometimes but not other times.

Compare "Is ________ a sport?"

Is hunting animals a sport? Is using animals to hunt other animals a sport (e.g. falconry or using dogs in various roles)? Is fishing a sport? Is fishing still a sport if you practice catch-and-release? Is fishing only a sport if you practice catch-and-release? The American term  sporting goods usually includes hunting and fishing equipment, but rarely includes falcons or dogs.

Is target shooting or skeet shooting a sport? Archery? Dog training?

Is chess a sport? It's been written about in Sports Illustrated, but then again, so has women almost wearing bathing suits. Poker, bridge, backgammon...?

Is boxing a sport? Mountain climbing? Technical rock climbing?

Forms of both walking and bicycle riding are Olympic sports. Are other forms of walking and bicycle riding sports? Luge racing is also an Olympic sport. Is automobile racing a sport? Demolition derby? Roller derby?

Carrier pigeon racing? Is horse racing a sport? It's nickname is the sport of kings. Is polo a sport? What about the ancestral form of polo, played in Central Asia with an animal carcass as the play piece?

As far as I can see, the only difference between "sport" and "religion" as categories is that almost nobody is offended if you call something they do which faces avoidable challenges with enthusiasm their sport, but Richard Dawkins is offended if you call what he believes about God his religion.

Edited by eight bits, 07 March 2013 - 04:02 PM.

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#7    Frank Merton

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 04:14 PM

That was a good discussion that I agreed with until you got to Dawkins.  I don't think what Dawkins is up to is religion.  It may be a religious belief, but it is not a religion.

How does this differ from Buddhism, which also is often said to be atheistic, although not in the "in your face" way that Dawkins is said to be?  Well, let me say this -- there are certain days when I don't eat any flesh -- no meat, poultry or fish.  Why do I abstain?  That is a good question -- it is because traditionally on those days you don't.  I doubt there is a Buddhist text to the effect, but it has always been that way and I prefer it.  Now I don't know if eating meat on such a day would bring me bad Karma -- that would strike me as superstitious -- and I have on occasion to avoid giving offense eaten meat when it is served me as a guest (which, by the way, is a clear instruction from the Buddha that one does not refuse meat when it is offered you as a guest).

To the point -- surely anyone will call all this religion and not philosophy.


#8    third_eye

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 04:31 PM

The religion was based on the philosophy of Gotama, before Gotama a form of religion was practised and Gotama started his path according to that religion.

Gotama found his own path and the Buddhism practiced today is based on his teachings on his discovery of the path but the religious aspects like Nirvana, Samsara etc were prevalent even before Gotama achieved enlightenment.

They are some that regard Gotama as 'god' but that is not what Gotama and his teachings would have encouraged.
So to me it is a philosophy with religious inclinations.

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#9    Frank Merton

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 04:35 PM

I would endorse that; the Buddha's teachings and those of other religions from India have cultural ideas that were at the time widely believed in common.

The big break in the Buddha's teaching, besides his view that gods, if they exist, are irrelevant to our personal destinies, is his profound break with the idea that people have souls or are selves.  The "no-self" teaching.


#10    Mr Right Wing

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 04:49 PM

View PostFrank Merton, on 07 March 2013 - 03:19 PM, said:

Buddhism is in many ways a philosophy.  It is mostly agnostic or atheistic about God and gods, it has a rational ethical structure and a basic view of the nature of the world and the human place in it -- all philosophical views not unlike those of other religions.

It is also the daily religious practice of large numbers of people mostly in Asia.  It has rituals, worships, prayers, Temples, a huge sacred scripture, and many other characteristics people associate with religion.

To understand Buddhism you need to first understand what reality is.

Nothing you experience in reality is objectively real. This is because reality is actually a collection of perceptions constructed by your mind. The colour blue is as fake as the atom or your body.

Those who see their perceptions as being real are unable to see that only their mind exists. There is no seperate me, you or even a God figure. There is only one mind with awareness which experiences the illusions called perceptions.

This is also how karma works. You experience a reality which you see as seperate from you when it is you. Therefore when you violate some aspect of reality its you that you're doing the damage too. You cause your own suffering.

So to sum it up there is not God figure in Buddhism as a God figure violates oneness. It is what you call a non-theistic religion based on the philosophy of non-dualism.

Edited by Mr Right Wing, 07 March 2013 - 04:51 PM.


#11    third_eye

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 04:58 PM

What ye seek is within , what ye find must be from within

If you see the Buddha on the road ... kill him

Buddhism evolves

Sometimes Buddhists I meet or befriends are offended because I don't go to temples for the idols and statues ... or I meditate under trees in the forests or just inside caves
They think that Buddha is that gold statue in a temple ...

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#12    Frank Merton

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 05:05 PM

Your post was a pleasant surprise, although I suspect you leave a lot of people who might read it kinda in the dust.

I would emphasize the difference between illusion (as exemplified by our view of "reality") and delusion.  Illusions do have something real "out there" that generates the illusion, even though our mind is the biggest actor in the creation of the illusion of the external world.

I appreciate your comment about karma. I usually express it as having the effect of changing your nature to the good or otherwise.

There is not too much emphasis on non-dualism except in reaction to Western dualism of body and soul.


#13    Frank Merton

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 05:07 PM

View Postthird_eye, on 07 March 2013 - 04:58 PM, said:

What ye seek is within , what ye find must be from within

If you see the Buddha on the road ... kill him

Buddhism evolves

Sometimes Buddhists I meet or befriends are offended because I don't go to temples for the idols and statues ... or I meditate under trees in the forests or just inside caves
They think that Buddha is that gold statue in a temple ...
They want your company; temple is a nice place to go in a group.


#14    third_eye

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 05:27 PM

View PostFrank Merton, on 07 March 2013 - 05:07 PM, said:

They want your company; temple is a nice place to go in a group.

You are much too kind, I on the other hand sees the Maya drown in their eyes

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#15    Frank Merton

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 05:40 PM

That's an awful lot to see in someone's eyes.





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