Friday, 22 May 2015

Is it correct to call the Buddha’s Teaching a religion?

From The Sunday Times Sri Lanka 
By Dr. Primrose Jayasinghe

"Having just ushered in a traditional new year, swiftly to be followed by the most important Buddhist celebrations, it seems an opportune moment to take stock of what one has learned during the past year, especially any ‘new revelations’. My thoughts were mixed as I had done only a few important things, but the one thing that kept recurring was the thought that Buddhism is not really a religion after all! Let’s consider if this might be valid:

To my mind, Buddhism is a doctrine that surpasses the narrow confines of a ‘religion’. These are my own inferences, having read some of the salient features of Buddhist Teaching.

‘Although there are places of Buddhist ‘worship’ that one could visit in order to contemplate His Teaching (The Dharma or The Doctrine), there is no compulsion to attend these temples’

Buddhism is very well established throughout the world, more particularly in the East, and still continues to offer solace, without distinction, to the millions who have followed Buddha’s Teaching for over 2,600 years. Although there’s no convention for an institutionalisation of Buddhism as a ‘religion’, as found in the various other popular religions of the world, the Buddha’s Teaching swept far and wide merely by word-of-mouth, encompassing the Middle East, ancient Greece and parts of Europe (including Russia), on its way to becoming a world ‘religion’. Presently, however, while it persists in the East, Buddhism has dwindled elsewhere, as newer religions have become established. ‘The Teaching of the Buddha’ or Buddhism, in commonly parlance, is generally practised as a ‘religion’, with all the trimmings associated with that word. I cannot help but wonder whether this is truly the right thing to do. It is possible that some readers concur with my line of thinking, but let me present my case anyway, about why I think ‘religion’ is a misnomer here.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘religion’ as a “belief in, and worship of, a superhuman controlling power – a God or Gods”. Thus, it is obvious that Buddhism cannot be defined as a ‘religion’ in these conventional terms. The very first fact we accept is that Buddha is not a God; hence there is no compulsion to ‘worship’ him. There is no acknowledgement of a super-being in heaven, with an omnipotent presence and power over beings on Earth. The Buddha is human, with no ‘controlling power’. Therefore, the use of the word ‘religion’ is already questionable. Buddha is not derived from a ‘powerful spiritual being’, so He is not a ‘messenger’ from heaven; neither has He described Himself as a ‘God’. Though there is no coercion to worship Him, all Buddhists will invariably show Him respect as acknowledgement of His status – as a Buddha or “Enlightened One” – by bringing their palms together. This is not only a mark of reverence but also an expression of gratitude for the incomparable Teaching He has placed before us. According to the Mangala Sutta, to ‘venerate’ those who deserve to be venerated, is a ‘blessing’. So to Buddhists, the Buddha is a ‘special human being’ suitable to be revered and venerated..."   more


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