Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Casual discussion amongst spiritual friends.
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zavk
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Re: Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Post by zavk » Thu Jan 22, 2009 3:29 am

I believe a willingness to investigate this thorny issue of religion vs. philosophy is vital to the future of Buddhism. This religion/philosophy dichotomy which we take for granted is a relatively recent invention of the West. The separation between the two really only developed in about the 16th or 17th century. It is this separation between religion and philosophy that allowed for reason and rational (scientific) thought to reign supreme. The religion/philosophy dichotomy also ushered in secularism. And it is through the filters of this religion/philosophy dichotomy that the West discovered a 'universalist', 'rationlistic', and 'pragamtic' Buddhism in the around 19th century. Needless to say, such an understanding of Buddhism persists today.

So, it seems to me that we contemporary Buddhists are in an interesting position to see how our understanding of Buddhism is made possible by a certain development (i.e. the separation of religion/philosophy) that didn't exist in both the Buddha's culture and other Asian cultures where the dhamma took root. This doesn't mean that it is 'wrong' to read the dhamma through a rationalistic or 'scientific' viewpoint. Rational inquiry is important and it has certainly helped us understand the dhamma in new ways. But given how such a viewpoint is not absolute but conditioned (conditioned but not without merit), then, I think it behooves us to reflect carefully one how we approach the dhamma so that we do not pigeonhole it in some category or the other, and hence, foreclose its possibilities.

To give an example: I'm sure we’ve all encountered debates where people try to argue for the absolute certainty of certain doctrines. These people might hold the conviction that doctrines like dependent origination, karma, rebirth, etc, are true/false propositions and that there is no other way to accept such doctrines except on the basis of 'yes' or 'no'. But such an approach to Buddhism has its limits, shaped as it is by post-Enlightenment Western philosophical concerns with the centrality of rationality on all matters, and failing as it does to account for the richer, more complex and 'aesthetic' ways in which humans experience and express life. I don't know about others but I'm unable to express the profound effects that Buddhism has had on me solely in rational terms. There is for me a whole affective or emotional dimension that is beyond rational explanation but equally powerful and valid. I think we could do worse than prevent this dimension of Buddhism to express itself. And one way of doing this is, I think, is too let go of this religion/philosophy dichotomy.
With metta,
zavk

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zavk
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Re: Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Post by zavk » Thu Jan 22, 2009 3:33 am

I apologise for the mental diarrhea—bad habit. But like Ben I too prefer to think of the dhamma as ‘an art of life’. I’m not suggesting this simply because I’m a student of Goenka. But because I do think that the notion of ‘an art of life’ allows for a more inclusive approach to the dhamma. Some people might take issue with the idea of ‘art’ but I am not using the word in the narrow sense to refer to lofty ideals or aesthetic evaluations. I invoke the word ‘art’ in a broader sense: as a certain ongoing process of thinking and doing that requires creativity and fluidity. So in this sense, religion and philosophy (and even science) are forms of ‘art’. I take ‘art of life’ to refer to a certain attitude not unlike a craftsperson’s attitude towards raw materials. In this manner, I think it is very apt that some of you evoke the Noble Eightfold Path to describe the dhamma. For as I’m sure we’ll all agree, the path is not a linear or rigid one, but one that requires us to live creatively and dynamically—this is a path that brings the religious, the philosophical, the aesthetic, the scientific, and the ethical into mutually supportive (rather than dominative) inter-relationships.

Best wises,
Zavk
With metta,
zavk

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mikenz66
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Re: Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Post by mikenz66 » Thu Jan 22, 2009 4:15 am

Buddhism may not fit neatly into particular Western categories. However, it seems to me that to argue that it is not a religion in some sense would be inaccurate. I take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. I can't prove that the Buddha was perfectly enlightened and so on. I can see improvements in my life due to practice, but of course so do practitioners of other faiths...

In my view, denying that Buddhism has anything to do with religion falls into the sort of self-importance trap that the practise seeks to avoid.

Bhikkhu Bodhi, Tolerance and Diversity
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ay_24.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
To the extent that a religion proposes sound ethical principles and can promote to some degree the development of wholesome qualities such as love, generosity, detachment and compassion, it will merit in this respect the approbation of Buddhists. These principles advocated by outside religious systems will also conduce to rebirth in the realms of bliss — the heavens and the divine abodes. Buddhism by no means claims to have unique access to these realms, but holds that the paths that lead to them have been articulated, with varying degrees of clarity, in many of the great spiritual traditions of humanity. While the Buddhist will disagree with the belief structures of other religions to the extent that they deviate from the Buddha's Dhamma, he will respect them to the extent that they enjoin virtues and standards of conduct that promote spiritual development and the harmonious integration of human beings with each other and with the world.
Metta
Mike

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pink_trike
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Re: Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Post by pink_trike » Thu Jan 22, 2009 4:31 am

zavk wrote: This religion/philosophy dichotomy which we take for granted is a relatively recent invention of the West.
The separation between the two really only developed in about the 16th or 17th century.
Greek philosophy was separate from "religion" significantly earlier than this.

It seems to me that it is the _concept_ of "religion" ( not the mind-experience of "religiosity" ) that arose in the West relatively recently (but I think much earlier than the 16th/17th century).
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.

pererin

Re: Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Post by pererin » Thu Jan 22, 2009 4:36 am

pink_trike wrote: It seems to me that it is the _concept_ of "religion" ( not the mind-experience of "religiosity" ) that arose in the West relatively recently (but I think much earlier than the 16th/17th century).
Yes - not everyone means the same thing by 'religion'.

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Re: Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Post by pink_trike » Thu Jan 22, 2009 4:41 am

"Religion" to me is in the mind of the beholder...a belief in an experiential state of religiosity that is applied to the teachings. Of key importance to this debate is whether religion as a categorizing concept existed at the time Buddhism was conceived, or if it is a concept that has been layered onto the Dharma by people who have experiences of "religiosity".

Much of what is is regarded as "religion" in Buddhism by Westerners seems to me to be simply "paying respect" where respect is due...acknowledging universal truths.
mikenz66 wrote:Buddhism may not fit neatly into particular Western categories. However, it seems to me that to argue that it is not a religion in some sense would be inaccurate.

In my view, denying that Buddhism has anything to do with religion falls into the sort of self-importance trap that the practise seeks to avoid.
[/quote]
Last edited by pink_trike on Thu Jan 22, 2009 4:46 am, edited 1 time in total.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.

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zavk
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Re: Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Post by zavk » Thu Jan 22, 2009 4:45 am

Nice quote Mike!
However, it seems to me that to argue that it is not a religion in some sense would be inaccurate.
Yes, yes. I agree that to 'be Buddhist' is to be religious--but, I would maintain that it requires us to be 'religious' in a way that both follows and goes beyond the notion of religion as it is conventionally understood--that is to say, we need to approach religion in a way that does not pit it in strict opposition to philosophy, science and what not, as we have in recent history. Or to put it another way, I wonder if we can be 'religious' in a way that is beyond the terms set by the religion/philosophy dichotomy. I do not know exactly how this is going to unfold but I think it is something worth exploring. Perhaps I could evoke the metaphor of middle path here, or more specifically, the ongoing search for the middle path.

pink_trike: Yes, you're right. I believe the Greeks in Antiquity did distinguish between religion and philosophy, but yet somehow interrelated the two in a way that was lost by the middle ages. The Ancient Greek understanding of the cosmos, as far as I understand (I am by no means well-versed in Ancient Greek thought or history, btw), involved a dimension of 'the sacred' that was later banished to the periphery, made irrelevant, with the rise of secular philosophy in around the 17th century. So yes, it might be better to speak of 'religiosity'. But all in all, my point was that we need to be reflexively aware of how our understanding of religion and philosophy has been conditioned, and how such conditioning in turn shape our understanding of Buddhism, so that we may allow for more expansive understandings of those concepts (and Buddhism) to express themselves.

:namaste:
With metta,
zavk

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pink_trike
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Re: Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Post by pink_trike » Thu Jan 22, 2009 4:49 am

zavk wrote: But all in all, my point was that we need to be reflexively aware of how our understanding of religion and philosophy has been conditioned, and how such conditioning in turn shape our understanding of Buddhism, so that we may allow for more expansive understandings of those concepts (and Buddhism) to express themselves.
Agreed.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.

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jcsuperstar
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Re: Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Post by jcsuperstar » Thu Jan 22, 2009 5:08 am

i say religion. it's not a philosophy as one can take up any philosophy one wishes to and it means nothing in terms of one's daily life.

for example: i subscribe to certain anarchist philosophies, yet i live in a capitalist society and i function in ways that are purely capitalist. so what am i? capitalist or socialist?
i can use a philosophy to inform certain choices i make and thats about it unless i wanna start lobbing bombs or some other absurd BS.

religion on the other hand isnt bound like this, its not some intelectual "game". it defines who i am on a deeper level, both rational and irrational.
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Re: Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Post by piper » Thu Jan 22, 2009 6:00 am

jcsuperstar wrote:it [religion] defines who i am on a deeper level, both rational and irrational.
Existential reasoning would be philosophical. Irrational, in a religious sense, would be trans-rational.

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Rui Sousa
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Re: Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Post by Rui Sousa » Thu Jan 22, 2009 6:40 pm

The word Religion comes from the latin religio, which no one knows exactly what it meant, but most believe it is from the verb ligare, that means to connect or to bind, and the prefix re- wich indicates an idea of repetition. The romans had period events in which they would pay homage to the deities (devas ? ) that were associated with water streams, fountains and woods, and also deities associated with human activities. Religio may indicate the repetitive aspect of these moments in which men connects to the deities.

Philosophy as clearer meaning ("love for wisdom") and as a greek root.

I don't think you can put the Dhamma in either, but at the same time it includes both. The recollection of the Devas could be interpreted as carachteristic of a religion,and the task of removing ignorance from ones minds can be seen as an act of a philosopher.
With Metta

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bodom
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Re: Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Post by bodom » Fri Jan 23, 2009 3:22 pm

I believe the Dhamma is beyond both of these concepts.

:namaste:
To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With no struggling, no thinking,
the mind, still,
will see cause and effect
vanishing in the Void.
Attached to nothing, letting go:
Know that this is the way
to allay all stress.

- Upasika Kee Nanayan

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Ngawang Drolma.
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Re: Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Post by Ngawang Drolma. » Wed Jan 28, 2009 4:26 am

"Religion" to me is in the mind of the beholder...a belief in an experiential state of religiosity that is applied to the teachings. Of key importance to this debate is whether religion as a categorizing concept existed at the time Buddhism was conceived, or if it is a concept that has been layered onto the Dharma by people who have experiences of "religiosity".

Much of what is is regarded as "religion" in Buddhism by Westerners seems to me to be simply "paying respect" where respect is due...acknowledging universal truths.
:goodpost:

I have a lot of philosophies that I ascribe to but they don't have nearly the place in my life that Buddhism does.

:buddha2:

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Jason
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Re: Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Post by Jason » Wed Jan 28, 2009 4:38 am

clw_uk,
clw_uk wrote:Just wanted to see what peoples take is on the Buddhas Dhamma. Do you consider it a religion, philosophy or something else?
Buddhism is a word that is used to describe a predominately Eastern philosophy, religion and ethical way of life, but it can also be used as a word to describe a rigorous mental discipline designed for a very specific purpose, the end of suffering. That is why I tend to view Buddhism as a pragmatic approach to suffering rather than as an abstract philosophy, religion, etc.

Jason
Last edited by Jason on Wed Jan 28, 2009 5:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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dhammatrophic
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Re: Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy

Post by dhammatrophic » Wed Jan 28, 2009 4:52 am

Since becoming a Buddhist,
Sometimes my head spins
and
Sometimes my stomach gets in a knot.

But then again,
these things happen less often
since I became a Buddhist.
-trophic
1. turning, changing, or reacting in a particular way
2. attracted to, having an affinity for, or moving toward a particular thing
3. acting on something specified, or in a particular way
4. relating to a specified kind of nutrition.

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