There is much controversy and debate about whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy. The first inclination is to say that Buddhism is both a religion and a philosophy. However, after further exploration into Buddhist beliefs, one can conclude that Buddhism can be classified as a religion. Buddhists believe in a higher power and life after death, they have a moral code of ethics, and they perform rituals; these things are the definition of established religion.
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One of the biggest problems in defining religion is that there are multiple sources and definitions of religion. Some definitions support Buddhist views; some do not. A compilation of ofvarious definitions regarding religion include the belief in a higher deity, and the implementation of values, traditions, or rituals.
Religion also involves a code of ethics, a common group view of an object or a being, a belief in supernatural powers, and a desire to better oneself. When the definitions are generalized, more facets of Buddhist beliefs can relate to religion. The confusion classification often arises among individual understanding; everyone is entitled to their own personal interpretation of religion (Robinson).
Although Buddhists do not worship a supreme being, they do seek enlightenment. They strive to emulate a set example or a set belief system. Buddhists follow the historical path of enlightenment set by Buddha. His example is a guide for Buddhists personal behavior. Buddhists do not worship Buddha; they strive to be the type of person he once was. Even though Buddhism lacks specific or established rules, guidelines, and historical figures, it emphasizes the need for informed decisions and personal responsibility.
Religion is supposed to be a positive experience. Positive experiences form the basis of a Buddhist belief system. In religion, personal standards are what matter most. The biggest difference between the western idea of religion and Buddhism is that Buddhists believe that an individual is the best indicator of what is good for them personally (Buddhism Beliefs).
Buddhists believe in life after death. They believe that life is a continuous predestined circle, created to reach enlightenment. They strive for their personal best. After death, the Buddhist’s next life will be chosen as a reward or a punishment for their previous life’s actions. When an individual reaches their highest potential, they can reach Nirvana. Nirvana is similar to the Christian view of Heaven.
When an individual becomes the best they can, they will be rewarded with peace and happiness in their next life. Religion is characteristically based upon the belief of a reward system. One difference is that Buddhist’s strive for greater personal happiness, not necessarily the happiness or expectations of others. They believe that the way they live has consequences, good or bad. The consequences are karma; karma is their fate. Karma will be a determining factor in their next life (Buddhism Beliefs).
Buddhists believe in a code of ethics. Buddhists are taught to encourage peace, justice, and love. They are to delight in themselves and are required to treat others the same way. They are not supposed to harm any living thing. This is similar to the Christian idea of doing unto others.
There is a code of morality and a belief in non-violent behavior. Compassion is encouraged in all aspects of life. The rules of conduct, morality, and virtue are based upon the belief of equality. Every living thing is equal and should be treated so; Buddhists are not to harm others or themselves(Robinson).
As another religious similarity, Buddhists have the guidance of the Five Precepts;the content is similar to the Ten Commandments. These precepts are called the rules to live by; they include not killing or harming others, not stealing or lying, not misusing sex, and not consuming drugs or alcohol.
The difference between the two guidelines is that the precepts are meant to be a guide. The precepts are a suggestion for a better life, not an actual requirement of the religion. The precepts are strongly suggested, but there are situations where the details become clouded; people must still have the freedom to do what is right for them and those around them (Robinson).
Buddhism has been called contemplative wisdom.This is because meditation plays a large role in Buddhist beliefs. Meditation is a ritual, a defining factor of established religion. Meditation calms and clears the mind and allows for personal reflection and inspiration. As another religious comparison, meditation is similar to prayer.
Buddhists also pray, but meditation is a deeper look into their soul. Buddhists believe that the mind holds all power; it controls individual thoughts and actions. The mind effects karma, it can heal and strengthen. Self-exploration can lead to increased wisdom and compassion. Nothing in life happens by itself; life is faith (Lewis).
In reality, it does do not matter if Buddhism is labeled as a religion or a philosophy. What is important is that Buddhist followers can strengthen their faith and live their lives in a manner that pleases them. Buddhism has many characteristics of religion; there are enough similarities that it can rightfully be defined as a religion. The belief in a higher power, life after death, a moral code of ethics, and the performance of rituals all combine to create an established religious entity.
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Buddhism Beliefs, 2008.
Lewis, G.R. “21 Shin Buddhist Beliefs.” Buddhist Beliefs, Practices and Experiences.
Robinson, B.A. “Buddhism: Comparison of Buddhism & Christianity.” Religious Tolerance.org. 2009.