As a kid and growing up, all of my friends never knew what Buddhism was. Even I barely knew what Buddhism was. All I knew and all they knew was Buddha seemed to look like based off my necklace. This always left the question in my head: What exactly is Buddhism? I began asking my family members what Buddhism was really about and they all responded that Buddhism was a religion. Later to find out is that they never really knew what Buddhism was, they were just told that is was a religion and just went along with it for the rest of their lives.
When the 8th grade came along, we were doing a research paper and I chose my to do mine on Buddhism but all I learned was the basics of it and eventually I forgot everything I learned before which picked up my interest as I now reached college. All of my experiences led to the question, taken in perspective of the concepts, purposes and point of views of Buddhism, does Buddhism fall under as a religion, philosophy, or way of life?
According to statistics, “The percentage of total world population following Buddhism is at 6%… he number of people following Buddhism is 360 million” (Statistics of Buddhism). Regarding the statistics surrounding Buddhism in the perspective of the world, the percentages seem to get even slimmer when it comes to the United States. According to statistics conducted in the United States, “The percentage of Americans who know members of smaller religious groups varies widely… Buddhists comprise of 1% of the U. S population but many Americans say they know a Buddhist (23%)” (Lipka).
As a citizen of the United States and given these statistics, I find it significant that the majority and nearly all of the US population do not have any knowledge about what Buddhism is about and has to offer. Everyone should have the opportunity to have a general knowledge of what Buddhism is, the history behind it, and take into consideration of taking the concepts and purposes of Buddhism and insert it into their lives. However before this idea can be taken into action, everyone should know what Buddhism categorizes under, either a philosophy, religion or way of life.
For centuries leading up to today, there is a strong debate on whether or not Buddhism falls unders these three definitions. During the Meiji era, “ Inoue Enryo interpreted Buddhism usually as a ‘religion based on philosophy’… Some prominent Buddhist modernizers disagreed with the trend of turning Buddhism into a philosophy… we see figures like Ou-yang Ching-wu declaring that Buddhism was ‘neither a religion nor a philosophy’ (Godart). Even in the Meiji era dating back to the late 19th century, many different point of views altered what Buddhism should fall under as.
An individual has the right to their own point of view of Buddhism although one must first understand what a religion is, what philosophy is and the concepts and purposes of Buddhism. To developing a perspective on Buddhism one must understand what a religion is, “a religion is a conceptual system that provides an interpretation of the world and the place of human beings in it, bases an account of how life should be lived given that interpretation, and expresses this interpretation and lifestyle in a set of rituals, institutions, and practices” (Yandell).
A religion is basically a system in which people have faith in and worship a particular God or gods. In addition to developing that perspective one must understand what philosophy is, “Philosophy, study of the ultimate reality, causes, and principles underlying being and thinking” (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia). Philosophy is the understanding what you know, and the study of reality and existence. Lastly, one must know the background information, and concepts and purposes of Buddhism.
Buddhism was formed by a man called Buddha orginally named Siddhartha Gotama around twenty-five centuries ago. At the age of 29, “he realised that wealth and luxury did not guarantee happiness, so he explored the different teachings religions and philosophies of the day, to find the key to human happiness” (White). After years of study and meditation, he found enlightenment and began to teach the principles of Buddhism called Dhamma for the rest of his life. Buddha taught many things although his teachings can be described in the concepts named the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Four Noble Truths is the recognition that life is suffering, suffering is caused by craving and aversion, suffering can be overcome by and happiness can be attained. The Noble Eightfold Path is the focus on the mind to be fully aware of our thoughts and actions, and developing compassion for others. He was a man who never claimed he was a God, he was just an individual who taught the path of enlightenment from his own experience (White). Individuals from all over the world who study Buddhism all have their own point of views of how Buddhism should be perceived as, whether it be a philosophy or religion.
One individual see Buddhism as not a religion, “Going by the actual definition of the terms, Buddhism is no religion, it is a philosophy. This is because of one main reason- there doesn’t exist a deity that we need to bow down before in Buddhism” (Abhishek). This individual believes Buddhism is a philosophy because unlike religions they have to bow down to praise and worship a certain God whereas Buddhism is just empowering one’s self to understand the truth and purpose of existence. Another individual does not believe Buddhism is a religion defends her argument by comparing philosophy and religion in relation to Buddhism.
She states that philosophy is like a “flower of human intellect” and more “reasonable and civilized” whereas religion as she describes as “passionate, irrational, and messy” because it inspires war and violence. She finishes her statement by saying, “Buddhism is a practice of contemplation and inquiry that doesn’t depend on belief in God or a soul or anything supernatural. Therefore, the theory goes, it can’t be a religion” (O’Brien). This individual believes that Buddhism can never be considered a religion because the intentions and history of Buddhism never show any signs of creating violence or wars unlike some religion have.
However despite those who believe Buddhism should not be considered a religion there are some who actually think otherwise. For example this individual states that Buddhism is in fact a religion because “A religion is a philosophy that posits an ultimate reality, a path towards experiencing ultimate reality, and the potential for personal transformation. Buddhism checks all those boxes” (Prebish). He defends his position by stating what the goals of a religion has to offer for an individual and clarifies that Buddhism indeed checks of into these goals based off the concepts and purposes Buddhism leads to.
Since it isn’t focused on worshiping a God, it doesn’t fit the standard western definition of ‘religion. ’ That means it must be a philosophy, right? But in truth, it doesn’t fit the standard definition of ‘philosophy,’ either” (O’Brien). Through all the point of views and perspectives of what Buddhism should fall under, I have come to a conclusion that most significant answer to my question is that, the sole purpose and goal of Buddhism surrounded by the teachings and concepts makes Buddhism more of a way of life rather than a philosophy or religion.
It is a more of a way of life because unlike religion and philosophy, Buddhism is not about worshiping a certain superhuman and the study of reality and existence. It is about making your own decisions as a individual and setting yourself into the right path to obtain happiness and end suffering. “Buddhism is a righteous way of life for the peace and happiness of every living being…. It is a Teaching for the entire universe. It is a Teaching for all time. Its objectives are selfless service, good-will, peace, salvation and deliverance from suffering” (Dhammanada).
Buddhism fits under a way of life more than it will as a religion or philosophy. From these discoveries, they have altered my point of view of how I look at life and how I make my decision from here on out. I tend to use the concepts and purposes of Buddhism and try to insert them in my life for as long as I live. Given the information, I hope others will take in consideration of developing their own point of view on Buddhism, give Buddhism the opportunities to change their lives and spread this information to others.