Essential issues for consideration in a study of world religions

denver airport I met with a delightful Professor recently here in Denver, Dr. Don Maloney, who is both the eastern and world religions teacher at Metro State University and University of Colorado in Denver (both share the same large hip campus). He showed me the five core questions that students are asked in these university courses, the “essential issues for consideration” as they embark on a study of the history, beliefs and central practices of world religions; and I couldn’t resist sharing a Buddhist take on them. Don was a Jesuit priest for 30 years, and has an open enquiring mind, so we and his students had some pretty good conversations!

Thought I would jot down some of the ideas here.  You are welcome to contribute more in the comments.

  1. How does one define “religion”? Is the notion of a “God” necessary for a religion? If not, how might one define religion?

Buddhists don’t believe in a creator God, an omnipotent God who created us, because we believe that everything is created by mind. But we do believe in holy beings, and we pray to them for inspiration and guidance. Everyone has Buddha nature, the potential to become a Buddha or fully enlightened being; and there are already countless people who have realized this potential and become Buddhas. They are omniscient, and perhaps we can even say from their own side omnipotent in so far as they have complete control over reality or truth due to their realization of emptiness or the ultimate nature of reality. However they are constrained in the help they can give the rest of us by our own minds and karma. If we want to help someone, and know we can, and indeed have everything required to help them, but they are in no mood or position to be helped, we know how that goes … If we want the Buddhas’ help, it is there for the taking – it is their job, their enlightened deeds, to send blessings, emanations, and guidance our way each and every day, that is part of the definition of enlightenment. So that is why Buddhists pray to them, requesting to become like them by realizing our own pure, transcendent potential. We can tune into their complete purity and, as it were, download it because our minds are not by nature impure or unworthy, but pure. Buddha's blessings

When we experience even slight peace through our delusions subsiding, either naturally or through the force of our effort, we can understand this peace to be our Buddha nature, or Buddha seed, the pure potential of our root mind; and it is not separate from the enlightened mind of all the Buddhas. Our mind is like a boundless clear ocean but most of the time we are entirely unaware of the profundity, clarity, and deep purity we have within – instead we identify with the waves and the froth on the very surface as we spend our lives and thoughts directed outward, not inward, in a massive play of distraction from our source. One etymology for religion is to link back, bond, or connect – return to the truth or source of inspiration. When we connect with our own Buddha nature, the profound clarity and purity of our own mind, this is the source of our inspiration, this is the truth of whom we are; and it is not separate from the inspiration and truth of a Buddha. Continue to grow our Buddha seed and it will become the omniscient wisdom and compassionate bliss of a Buddha.

The only real truth in Buddhism is that nothing is fixed, everything is empty of existing in a solid, substantial, inherently existent way, because everything is imputed or created by mind. Change the mind, and literally change our reality. We don’t just change the way we look at the world, we change the world itself. The Buddhist “religion” links us back time and again on every level, from the simplest to the most profound, to that only truth — the truth of the emptiness of things existing from their own side. The truth which means that everything depends upon the mind — from whether we are happy or sad depending on our mood rather than on what is “going on”, to whether something is ugly or beautiful, to whether something is a problem or not a problem, right up to the ontological status of the tiniest quark of existence that has no power to exist from its own side. (Even the mind depends upon the mind, is projected by the mind!) The truth which means that we can change completely from an ordinary ignorant being into a sacred wise Buddha by changing our mind.

I’ll get to the remaining four essential considerations in the next article … meanwhile, over to you.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

53 thoughts on “Essential issues for consideration in a study of world religions”

  1. I think the definition of religion is an investigation of the source of creation of all things. Technology is how to create something given the foundational understanding of creation. A meaningful life is a question of how to create happiness. I think all religions aim to understand the process of creation in order to create happiness.

    Current science studies the creation of the universe through physical forces, chemical reactions, and mathematical theories, hence, therefore, it is a religion even though it is not called a religion. Current science believes in creating tools to make us happy. Some religions believe in God creating everything, therefore to create happiness they have to please the Gods.

    For Buddhism, the mind creates everything. Lamrim and Tantra are the technology to create happiness.

  2. Beautiful article !! Considering all other religions my idea is that they all have some truths to be found . Interestingly enough when one delves into the root of world religions one comes to the conclusion that the. Essence of them all is love . Many are based on philosophical findings, however looking deeper into what is a religion can only take us to the point of theological or philosophical premises . Nevertheless there is beauty in them all !! Buddhism relates to something beyond our comprehension not scripture or just a philosophical view . It is the essence of truth that lies within us . We don’t need to search through scripture to find it . The purity of mind is always there and the teachings of Buddha ripen those seeds to inner peace . We don’t need to go no where , or search anywhere we are already there .

  3. Buddhism is unique among religions in that it is founded upon philosophy, whereas all other religions either use philosophy post facto to support the ‘revealed truths’ of their scriptures (eg Catholics), or reject philosophy entirely as being in conflict with ‘revealed truths’ (eg Asharites and evangelical fundamentalists).

    In contrast, all the various schools of Buddhism, no matter how different they may appear superficially, are founded on four philosophical observations (the ‘four seals of Dharma’):

    (1) All phenomena lack inherent existence.

    (2) All functioning phenomena are composite and impermanent.

    (3) Failure to understand (1) and (2) leads to delusional attachment, aversion, confusion and suffering.

    (4) A deep understanding of (1) and its full implications liberates us from the unpleasant effects of (3)

    1. Thank you for all your comments and discussions on this article Sean. I’m finding them very interesting and guessing that others are too …

    2. With respect…Wikipedia says “Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems”
      Buddhism is founded on [teaching of] [and experience of] the true nature of reality – its not a philosophy. One have to be so careful with words especially when considering how unclear peoples views are in the west with these types of topic. sorry to appear pedantic but…words are important

      1. With equal respect KL…..If you look into something called Phenomenological Philosophy and it’s offspring, Phenomenological Psychology you will see that the true nature of reality was rather well understood (but not completely) by many western people, academics and authors in those disciplines, and they were able to “illuminate” the true nature of reality without ever benefiting from Buddha’s teachings (in this life). I would recommend, for starters, a book called “The Interpreted World” by an academic/author/psychologist based in England, Ernesto Spinelli. I had the good fortune of being exposed to his views years before Buddhism when I was a practising Psychotherapist and they set me up for receiving my first teachings from Venerable Tharchin who was also an ex psychologist. and an accomplished explorer into the “true nature of reality”. I was once pointed to a book called “The Parallel Sayings of Einstein and Buddha” and this was very helpful for me in understanding that the wisdoms of Buddhism were definitely intuited by western thinkers. This interesting link gives you a taste of what some of those parallel sayings were:

        Sean in Windermere

        1. thanks for the reply sean, you’ve definitely given me food for thought there. There certainly seems a gap in my understanding here. I confess to finding it hard to believe your point that western people well understood the nature of reality, but to be fair, only really based on my understanding that EVEN Shariputra & Maudgalayanaputra, who were some of India’s pre-eminent thinkers in their time didn’t, couldn’t understand/work out Emptiness (until they met one of Budda’s disciples!)
          I could believe though that people you mention were emanations of Buddha though?! 🙂

        2. Having thought about it all day I would still posit that Buddhism is not ‘Founded on’ nor is a philosophy although some people may approach it with a philosophical view.

          Also, I really don’t understand the big deal with or what exactly your point is with the idea of non-Buddhists saying or thinking things that are similar to what Buddha says.
          So what!? 🙂

          Buddha taught the nature of the mind and the nature of reality. [From a Buddhists point of view!] Buddha simply explained the truth of things so of course people with sharp intelligent minds will find similar conclusions.

          I can work out many aspects of flight but without being taught by an experienced pilot there is no way I can travel to a destination by plane.
          In the same way without being taught by a qualified Spiritual Guide there is no way I can arrive at the spiritual destination of my choice.

          If you’re just saying that you were led to Buddhism through what those people had worked out then great…but Im fairly sure with the power Buddha has you would have been led to Dharma anyway!
          Im not trying to have a go at your points – I can recall also getting excited by teachers from other traditions than my own saying similar things and finding that really interesting.
          But, if you discover you have a diamond…its time to let go of the coal
          Ps apologies for my avatar – its in no way related to my replies !!

          1. Hi KL

            Wikipedia may not be the best place to look for the definition of Philosophy, try Oxford, Webster etc. If you trace the root of the word here is what you find:

            Middle English: from Old French philosophie, via Latin from Greek philosophia ‘love of wisdom’

            If Buddhism is not “Love of Wisdom” what is Buddhism? Buddhism is a ferocious insistent surgical miscroscopic and scientific study of all of the wisdoms. The dharma jewel is the direct realization of emptiness (a direct, permanent perception of all knowable truths), no?

            You commented: “what exactly your point is with the idea of non-Buddhists saying or thinking things that are similar to what Buddha says”. I was not implying that we all could/should run off and study conventional Philosophy! Heaven forbid! I was not suggesting either that non Buddhist studies of the truth (Philosophy) will arrive at the same place as our Madhyamika Prasangika path, I was only saying that since non Buddhist philosophers have arrived at very similar understandings of the “truth” to the lesser views within Buddhist schools perhaps Buddhism can be viewed as a type of Philosophy. I guess I am not understanding very well your disinclination to call Buddhism a Philosophy. Perhaps we can back up and explore that issue?

            I guess if philosophy is a love of wisdom then Buddhism is not only philosophy because we would have to find a word for love of love and then we could formulate an equation:

            love-of-wisdom+love-of-love=Buddhism …. or 2 wings = 1 bird 🙂

            Sean in Windermere

    3. On the subject of philosophy, Sean R is right to say that “religions use philosophy post facto to support the ‘revealed truths’ of their scriptures”. In Islam, this played out in the debate between Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Al-Ghazali. Ibn Sina was willing to prioritise the use of Greek philosophy and reason over the revealed text of the Qur’an, but Al-Ghazali argued for the primacy of faith in the Qur’an and the secondary role of reason/philosophy to support the revealed truth.

      Traditional Buddhism also relies upon the revealed truths of scripture and prioritises these over philosophy/reason. For example, in ‘Understanding the Mind’ (1st edition), in the section on inferential cognizers, Geshe-la introduces the subjects of ‘deeply hidden objects’ and ‘inferential cognizers through belief’, saying:

      “deeply hidden objects are phenomena such as the specific workings of the laws of karma that can be perceived directly only by Buddhas . . . Inferential cognizers through belief realize deeply hidden objects such as the specific law of karma that from giving comes wealth and from discipline comes happiness. Sentient beings cannot prove the existence of such deeply hidden objects through their own direct experience or through inferential cognizers through the power of fact. The only way we can know such objects incontrovertibly is by relying upon Buddha’s scriptures, having already ascertained that Buddha is a thoroughly non-deceptive person. For example, to realize that the scripture ‘From giving comes wealth, from discipline comes happiness’ is a completely reliable scripture, we need to use the following reasoning; ‘This scripture is completely reliable because it is free from contradiction by direct perception, free from contradiction by inferential cognizers through the power of fact, and free from contradiction by inferential cognizers through belief.’ In dependence upon this reasoning, we can generate an inferential cognizer realizing that this scripture is completely reliable. Then we can generate an inferential cognizer that realizes that from giving comes wealth and from discipline comes happiness because the scripture that reveals this is completely reliable. This inferential cognizer is an inferential cognizer through belief.”

  4. I was reading Venerable Geshe Kelsang’s “New Heart of Wisdom” last night and came across the following: “The Buddha who is the founder of the Buddhist religion is Buddha Shakyamuni” …page 13

    It seems that Geshe-la is describing Buddhism as a “religion”.

    I checked the old Heart of Wisdom and did not see this description of Buddhism as a religion.

    I was thinking this morning about what religions have in common (I usually focus on the differences). We all seem to be aware that death is not the end of our spiritual path. We share a common launching pad of a certain humility, knowing that we are not the ultimate universal manifestation of perfect existence. It also seems to me that all religions are interested in hidden objects of knowledge. All religions are interested in the mysteries of existence. All religions are interested in increasing wisdom/decreasing confusion, increasing happiness and decreasing suffering. All religions are open to and interested in other realms of existence out of our ordinary appearing conventional reality (This becomes dangerous and problematic for many religions because not all of those realms/beings are virtuous and well-intentioned).

    The pain and mystery of our existence creates a degree of desperation and because of this, haste, questionable/faulty logic and wishful thinking lead many groups of seekers down incorrect paths. Then, once an answer has been formulated to the big questions (whether the answer is right or wrong) that answer is grasped strongly, reified and often imposed on other “disbelievers”, probably out of a desperate fear of losing that “Holy Grail” of certainty.

    It is unfortunate that such shared virtuous motivations can lead to the conundrums of human power and suffering that history reveals and our present civilizations experience. But samsara is thorny, and it rains a lot in England. 🙂

    Sean in Windermere

  5. Thanks for the article Luna. To my mind, the idea of whether something is a religion or not was never really important. It seemed to me that ‘religion’ is just a label or some activity, and like any other conventional truth, simply depends on the view of the observer. As such, although I have asked myself ‘is Buddhism a religion or not’ in the past, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t really mind one way or the other. To me, it is a way of making sense of what happens to me, and gives me a feeling and a confidence that I can make a difference in the world, find happiness myself and help others do the same. That’s enough for me x

    1. It is kind of enough for me also, practically speaking in terms of my daily meditations; but in terms of dialoging with others sharing our modern culture, it can be helpful i think to have some ideas on the subject of what religion is and what bits we share with others. Or perhaps not. Depends!

  6. This is a lovely summary inspired by knowledge of other religions and belief systems. I am doing the same using the Cathars, medieval Christian sect, and by doing so I am finding my clear mind is getting deeper and deeper. After all, we are all aiming at the same goal – enduring human happiness and the eradication of suffering – but we just take a slightly different route to reach it.
    I am certain that I would not be so firmly on the Buddhist path if it were not for my unshakable Christian foundation, upbringing and blessings.
    I am a Nirvana Buddhist practising in Japan, and close friend of NKT. My mission is to reach out to all people of faith in one heart so that we can unite our light and focus! Only this way will we liberate all sentient beings. All rivers of faith flow into the great ocean of Nirvana!

    You may want to know more about Japanese Buddhism, so I would be delighted if you would visit my web site at
    In deepest gassho
    With unconditional love
    Nirvana Linden

    1. Your blog is fascinating! So interesting to read about the mystic Cathars, and you’ve covered some other great subjects with skill and sensitivity. Thank you for sharing this.

  7. Interesting point of Matthew’s regarding Omnipotence of Buddhas. I suppose that Buddhas can manifest any non-inherently-existent
    appearance to any mind but the inability of a Buddha to manifest an inherently existent phenomenon would make a Buddha non-omnipotent….no?

    1. It could possibly be said that this particular non-omnipotence of Buddhas would also be the principal discriminating difference between Buddhism and other world religions which appear to posit a creator of inherently existent phenomena?

        1. I get that, Luna. I was only making the point that the conventional concept of deity “omnipotence” includes doing the impossible…manifesting the inherently existent phenomena (that other religions already seem to believe exist)….I’m imagining horns on a rabbit, I guess. But isn’t this the common denominator for most world religions; an omnipotent being capable of manifesting, from nothingness, inherently existent phenomena/beings, souls etc.?

          1. Yes, i think it is (and i know you get it 😉 I had my eye on other people reading this too). And it seems that Shantideva refutes the idea of a creator God using that line of reasoning in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.

            1. Thank you for engaging with this Sean. Actually, Islam does not believe that sentient beings are inherently existent. According to Islam only God is inherently existent, everything else is impermanent and dependent on God (“everything is perishing save His Face” Q28:88).

              My point was that although a Buddha could theoretically emanate a new universe and fill it with his or her emanations, he or she does not have the power to create new sentient beings and is therefore not omnipotent. One of the miracles of creation is that God has created sentient beings who are utterly dependent on God for every aspect of our existence, yet God has endowed us with free will which allow us to receive God’s blessings or not. This is why creation is not a narcissistic project even though its purpose is for us to recognise God’s beauty in everything and express immeasurable gratitude.

              1. An inherently existing being cannot undergo any change of state, therefore if an inherently existing being created anything, he could never have any memory of it. There’s a similar major conflict between inherent existence and omniscience. To know that things are happenning necessitates a change of mental state, which an inherently existing being cannot do.

              2. And there’s another conflict between inherent existence omnipotence:
                If God were inherently existent, then his existence could not be dependent upon any other factor whatsoever (it could not be ‘contingent’).
                But if he were omnipotent, then he could do absolutely anything, including ceasing to exist, or turning himself into an ordinary contingent being.

                So the continued existence of an omnipotent being would be dependent upon the fact (among many other possibilities) that he didn’t decide to commit suicide in despair at the state of the world, or turn himself into a frog in order to marry a beautiful princess.

  8. Hi Luna, Gen Dornying ( the Monk that guided the retreat in Portugal ) he explained in one of his teachings in Australia a very simple way to define what is religion. And he said that a practice becomes a religion when the practitioners ask help from the holy beings ( for example, from the Buddhas or God). So in Buddhism we ask help from the Buddhas, and that is what makes Buddhism a religion. I hope it is helpful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Love Christi

  9. I would like to examine your interesting use of the word ‘omnipotent’. You describe Buddhas as ‘omnipotent from their own side’, saying that they have the power to do anything except affect existing sentient beings who are not receptive to the Buddhas’ power for various reasons. In your opinion, could these ‘omnipotent’ Buddhas create other universes and new, unique sentient beings if they so wished?

    In Islam the power to create life is reserved for God, which is why God alone can be described as omnipotent and why God alone is suitable to be worshipped.

    To describe other beings as ‘omnipotent’ who do not have the power to create unique life is to commit the cardinal sin of ‘shirk’ meaning associating partners with God. The Quran asks “Do they indeed ascribe to Him as partners things that can create nothing, but are themselves created?” (Q7:191) and reminds us that those whom we call on besides God are just servants of God like us (Q7:194).

    1. There is a major conflict between omnipotence, omniscience and compassion.
      There is much suffering in the world. So God either…
      (1) Doesn’t know about it.
      (2) Doesn’t care about it
      (3) Can’t do anything about it.

      1. Interesting points, Sean.

        Regarding the omnipotence of Buddhas would you say that Buddhas are omnipotent with the exceptions of: creation of sentient beings, creation of inherently existent phenomena and interfering in karma. Therefore one would have to say that they are NOT omnipotent?

        Sean from Windermere

        1. In response to Sean R’s point that “an inherently existing being cannot undergo any change of state”, Islam would agree with this and would not see it as a problem. God is eternal, meaning that God is outside time and therefore not subject to change. From the point of view of eternity there is no past, present or future so God sees the whole of creation in full, as one piece, and from this point of view there is no change of state.

          All of creation is utterly dependent on God and has no reality outside Him. As Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi said, “There is no real but the Real” (meaning God). Referring to the concept of God before creation, a Hadith says “At that time God was in a state such that there was nothing with Him”. The fourth Caliph, Hazrat Ali, qualifies this Hadith by saying “Even at this moment He is still so”. In other words, God = Reality which remains unchanged moment by moment.

          From a Buddhist point of view you might like to consider that emptiness is eternal, not subject to change, and remains the same from moment to moment.

          1. “From the point of view of eternity there is no past, present or future so God sees the whole of creation in full, as one piece…”

            So God sees past, present and future like the frames of a movie, already existing? This means that the universe is pre-ordained, and free will is an illusion. What’s worse, it fetters the hands of God, because if everything is pre-ordained, then God doesn’t have free will either. If God is going to change his mind in the future, then, since he is omniscient, he already knows he is going to change his mind now, so all his actions are already written in stone. This makes God into nothing more than a script for a very large-scale movie. A script that cannot be rewritten.

          2. Thank you for all your contributions on this article Matthew, I am happy to be given more understanding of the Islamic view of God’s nature and function.

            1. Thank you Luna.

              Sean R, your objection to God’s omniscience would also be an objection to the omniscience of Buddhas. Mahayana Buddhism believes that Buddhas are omniscient yet also believes that sentient beings have some freedom to control our own minds and determine our actions and that we have some responsibility for the karma we create.

  10. Love it ! Remember to think about what you think before you think it! Your like one tiny grain of sand and do not want to find your particle washed up in some samsaric land, your a spark! lighting the darkness of ignorance Shine brightly like a diamond they need extream pressure to develope that glow 🙂 blessings Geshe-la xxx

      1. Lol laughter is the key to a happy heart Luna lol lol lol 🙂 yes that too extreme all is like but a dream lol

  11. Hi Luna,I seem to recall Gen la Khyenrab asserting that Buddhism was indeed a religion.
    It seems tho’ that some religions are conventionally defined as such whilst other beliefs followed by people fail to meet the conventional requirements as per the dictionary and legally.So there seems to be a difference between a ‘religion’ and an ‘ideology’ e.g Fascism which is regarded of course as an ideology.People espousing ‘Jedism'(Yoda and all the Star Wars ‘Force’ stuff) have failed to convince the courts here in the UK at least that they qualify for the title of a bona fide religion.Therefore Hitler to my mind was not following a religion per se but an ideology.Of course,Buddhists would just say he was suffering from extremely strong delusions and powerful wrong views which harmed others and himself all of which came from his own mind.
    Which leads us back to the kind Prof’s question!What is the definition of a religion?
    I loved Ven Geshe-la’s Teaching in Portugal and rejoiced that he advised us to check and qualify why we ourselves practice Dharma and rely on Buddha.Not because our Teacher says so (blah,blah,blah!) but because we have checked using valid logical reasoning and our own experience that Dharma is the correct method for fulfilling our own and others’ wishes.Conjoined with this is an acceptance of others’ beliefs without pride in ‘being’ Buddhist.Everyone has choice.
    For my take,any religion has to include some transcendent truths not immediately obvious to ordinary minds and concerns the welfare of future lives of ourselves and others.I wonder what the Prof would make of that?
    I will be interested to read the rest of the series.Jesuits are not known for being intellectually slack and as I recall St Ignatius Loyala(their founder) composed a book of meditation type exercises the practitioner consulted to check their faith and examine the ‘sins’ in their own mind.They are powerful practitioners by any standards.
    (PS Great you are in Colorado..rejoicing you are the RT there) xxx

  12. I just re-read your article and noticed your reference to an alternate definition for “religion” which I like very much…….. “One etymology for religion is to link back, bond, or connect – return to the truth or source of inspiration.. When we connect with our own Buddha nature, the profound clarity and purity of our own mind, this is the source of our inspiration, this is the truth of whom we are; and it is not separate from the inspiration and truth of a Buddha.” ……This is very helpful and useful for Buddhists but I find myself imagining Buddhists being accused of being dangerous and arrogant people with a psychotic “god” complex…self-worshippers in a way. Of course I am imagining the reaction of fundamentalist and inflexible religionists/theists, and not the likes of your new-found Jesuit friend.

    Sean (in Windermere)

    1. Hmmm, I hadn’t thought of that. Do Buddhists get accused of that? BTW, the alternate definition for religion and a lot of what I say in the article has arisen from discussions with our profound friend G, so make sure you talk about all this with him too 😉

      1. I think we Buddhists do get accused of a kind of self-centredness, disconnectedness, a disinterest in the kind of devoted altruism of a Mother Teresa dedicated one’s life to alleviating conventional sufferings in samsara. I have even heard this criticism from practicing Kadampa Buddhists who have leanings towards other traditions. We also believe and take quite seriously Buddha’s admonition that there is no creator other than mind and I suspect this could be a basis for being accused of the “shirking” that Mathew referred to above. The wisdom view of our “religion” is very complex and usually takes years of study to understand well, and it is easy for me to see that it is misunderstood by others whose religious view is founded on an diametrically opposite belief system, that of inherent existence, the absolute extreme of existence. It’s a conondrum.

        1. Except that the Bodhisattva’s way of life is one of complete engagement, viewing others as more important than ourself, which naturally leads to trying to alleviate suffering wherever we see it (to wit, the very practical Bodhisattva vows, going to the assistance of those in need etc.).. Also, although there is no creator other than mind, our mind is not inherently separate from everyone else’s mind, so we are not in some disconnected reality, quite the opposite. Interesting discussion, thank you 🙂

  13. After seeing other comments and reflecting a bit more I think it now seems clear to me that if we are going to discuss the issue of religion with anyone at all it would be wise to establish that person’s (in-the-moment) functional definition of “religion” otherwise we are in danger of having one person talking about apples and the other person talking about oranges, and having a dysfunctional conversation. This seems clear to me in one-to-one discussions but in group or teaching situations within the Buddhist world I wonder whether we need more clarity for ourselves because different teachers are saying different things about whether we are a “religion” or not. As Luna has demonstrated in this article the question is very helpful in synthesizing, succinctly, what Buddhism is and discriminating Buddhism in the conventional world from other “things”.

    Thank you Luna!… (for shedding some moonlight on the issue)

    1. You’re right. The question of whether or not we are a “religion” does come up all the time and you kind of have to know where it is coming from each time. I generally reply, if asked, that Buddhism is a religion, a philosophy, and a way of life, but that is just to try and cover all bases 🙂

  14. The first thing I was taught by the Jesuits in my mandatory freshman year religion class at University was that a person’s “religion” was whatever that person made a priority or driving force in their life and that could even be money, one’s professional accomplishments, their car, watching sports, or any other mundane pursuit. Even during the least spiritual periods of my young adulthood, that definition stayed in my mind and drove me to regularly ask myself, “What am I devoting most of my time and energy toward and is that activity or principal worthy of becoming my “religion?” So grateful to the Jesuits for this and many other contemplations that protected this wound of a mind and helped me use my life in a meaningful way until Kadam Dharma appeared in my life. Love those guys!

    1. That is a pretty useful working definition, if it makes us ask what we are devoting our energy and time toward. We often run on auto-pilot and forget to check. Thanks. (Sort of wondering also if it relates to what Sean is saying below…)

  15. LOVE all you’ve said here. Once heard at a seminar on something else entirely, that religions talk about what happens after you die. (This “something else” said they were not a religion because they didn’t talk about what happened after you die…only how to live your present life better.) I have since then always thought that Buddhism was a religion because they talk about what happens to you after you die. Gen-la Dekyong told us that Kadampa Buddhism is a religion (as opposed to a philosophy.) To me, depends on if you look at / believe the teachings about what happens after death.

    1. Interesting. Taken as a whole, Kadampa Buddhism I would agree is certainly a religion. I am just wondering aloud based on what you say here… Buddha taught methods to gain happiness and freedom depending on our capacities and motivations, from the so-called “small” to “big”, from those only interested in the welfare of this life for themselves alone right up to those interested in full enlightenment for the sake of everyone. These are all Buddha’s teachings, and are all these teachings religious or not?! I don’t know. Just throwing it out there.

  16. Hi L

    Great topic, and one that I can’t say that I have resolved personally. When my firat teacher, Venerable Tharchin arrived in Toronto he expressed his view that Buddhism was not a religion since there was no belief in a creator god which seemed to him to be a defining aspect of religions. This was very good news for me.

    I later heard that according to the Muslims we Buddhists are more feared and hated than Christians and Jews because we are “Atheists”. The Taliban destruction of ancient holy Buddha images and the increasing radical behaviour of Muslims on the world stage has made me slightly nervous, imagining that if they ever did grasp conventional power in the world we Buddhists could be in for a rough ride. The recent conflicts between Buddhists and Muslims in the world underscores this. So I easily lean to the view that Buddhism is not a religion, rather, as Venerable Tharchin pointed out a philosophy and a psychology devoted to understanding, controling and developing the mind.

    Recently I did a personal review of definitions for the word “religion” however, and this review made matters a little more muddy for me:

    … the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods:ideas about the relationship between science and religion
    [count noun] a particular system of faith and worship:the world’s great religions
    [count noun] a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion:consumerism is the new religion

    …. the belief in a god or in a group of gods
    : an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
    : an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group

    So it seems that primarily the world conventional definition is having a belief in god(s) or a belief/pursuit/interest/devotion (shared or individual) that is VERY important to a person or group.

    This would mean that even if one person had a belief (founded or unfounded in conventional reality) then this would qualify in the definition. So Hitler had a religion, Charles Manson, and every person who needs restraining in our conventional society has “got religion”.

    I will be very interested in following this topic

    Sean (in Windermere)

    1. Sort of relates to Rose’s comment above? A religion being merely a driving belief? Useful in some ways to understand it this way, but I still think religion has to have some sense of the sacred and of life beyond death, and also holy beings and minds. Belief alone is not enough, faith is required? (as defined in Transform Your Life).

  17. many thanks dear L for ur clarity so at long last I can see the way forward Tc love k Drama

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