What is Buddhism

1. What is Buddhism?

Is Buddhism a Religion?

This may seem like a simple question requiring the simple answer "Yes, it is a religion", like Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. It has followers, a kind of priesthood, elaborate rituals, impressive temples, scriptures and so on. In one sense then Buddhism is a religion. Religion comes from the Latin word "religio" which means "to bind". It implies that we as human beings are insecure about ourselves in this existence and have therefore to "bind" ourselves to an external power which can provide some kind of protection and "save" us from present or future misfortune.

Buddhists do not bind themselves to the Buddha as if he is God, but they do rely on his teachings to help them escape the problems of existence. There is a difference though. Buddhists only use the Teachings and even the Buddha merely as a means to an end, and not as ends in themselves. The aim of Buddhists is not to meet the Buddha in heaven after death.

The Buddha used a famous parable of a raft to explain this point. A man sets out on a journey to get to a certain destination, but on the way he comes to great river which he has to cross. He has two options. The first is he could kneel down and pray for the other bank to come to him, which will never happen. The other option is to apply his energy and resourcefulness to cut down some bamboo, make a raft and row himself across. The raft is a means to cross the river, but the man's destination is elsewhere. Having crossed the river he must continue his journey: there is no need to carry the raft on his head anymore.

What the Buddha means is that he and his teachings are merely the means to reach final deliverance. We use both to get us part of the way, but the journey is completed by ourselves. We employ skillful means to use the raft but in the end we save ourselves. Gathering the bamboo and making the raft refers to the various devices we have created over the years to practice the Teachings, which we recognize as the "Buddhist Religion". As we progress, we rely less and less on those means and finally we arrive at a stage where we are confident enough to continue the journey alone. So in one sense we are "bound" to this religion called Buddhism but in the other sense we are expected to break free and rely on ourselves.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, religion is described as "The recognition of a superhuman controlling power, and especially of a personal God, entitled to obedience"

By this definition Buddhism does not qualify as a religion in the accepted sense, because Buddhists certainly do not accept the concept of a Creator, who is entitled to obedience, and who can reward or punish indiscriminately. The Buddha is seen as a perfect human being who discovered the secrets of the universe and showed humanity the Path to Enlightenment.

Taken from "A Buddhist Reflects on Ten Questions"