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Readers Respond: Does Buddhism Have to Be Religious?

Responses: 37


From the article: Secular Buddhism
"Secular Buddhism" is a hot topic in western Buddhism. But what is Secular Buddhism? And is it really a good idea? Have Your Say!

What is in a name?

The problem with language is that to be meaningful there must be agreement on word meanings before any discussion can be fruitful. 'Secular' has become an ambiguous word. For me, secular Buddhism adopts the outer world view, but is suspicious of the inner world view which often seems to conflict with the principles learned from the philosophical or outer world view. Rather than being a tool to obtain insights, meditation has become 'Buddhism' for many, using the addictive illusions of self hypnosis as an drug rather than a remedy. 'Religion' implies an organization, but for myself, I work to find which of the 84000 Dharma doors will open for me. I think this was the Buddha's preference, who, while not favouring ceremony , knew that a more religious approach would appeal to many. In the end it is the ideas in the Dharma that count, not the packaging.
—Guest Ian Macmillan

secular Buddhism

"Secular Buddhism" to me needs quite a bit of explanation. Secular indicates the predominance of ordinary social experience, verifiable experience. There is some of that in Buddhism but also something a lot more. As a religion Buddhism posits an absolute. An absolute is a mental construct,. the experience something beyond sensual experience, that which has form or content. Call the absolute God, pure consciousness, existence itself - some entity which is not contaminated by our conditioned mind. In its insistence on the need for the relative Buddhism is secular but in its equal insistence on the absolute Buddhism is a religion. That's howI see it.
—Guest George Deane


Myself, being a human being, believe in humanity. sticking to the humanity doesn't need to take a side of either group--- Congress or Communist or anything else i.e., I don,t necessarily be a of a member of either group, except remaining as a true human being. Like that nobody,I think, has to brood over religion and philosophy except over Lord Buddha's invaluable Teachings. Thanks !
—Guest Madan gopal Pradhan

When Buddhism joins scientific reason.

Yes and no. Yes for some types of minds and No for others, less trusting or independent minds. All paths can lead to liberation yet start from different places and at different times in life. There is much that like Christianity has been added too and much in the way of incorporating other beliefs, such like the Bon religion of Tibet. So if Buddhism is to take root in the west, it must incorporate western scientific reason and logic, the real Yin and yang, as much as our western science based societies must balance technology with the natural world and Spirituality-philosophy-Psychology. So if were talking about secular Buddhism, I think we are really talking about the dawn of Western Buddhism, where whether we like it or not, carry some of our old and valued Christian notions of liberation for all and some modern humanist ones too boot. Its all depends on how you read the Buddha teachings, I like to remind people of the Kalama Sutra, the sutra for Beginners.
—Guest Dharma Barddas.


So tell me, what is best book on buddhism (secular).


I think of Buddhism as an active practice of a philosophy which was first described orally by Shakyamuni Buddha. This active practice of Nichiren Buddhism has changed me, I have become a happier person mainly because I seek to change myself first and foremost. I am a human being and do not always succeed in my aspirations but that it is why it is called a practice, a daily focus. I was attracted to the practice because there is no god and I remain a practitioner because it works for me, I am happy no matter what life throws at me. We are also taught to do our best to create value in our daily lives.
—Guest Liz Jones

Define religion...

The definition of "religion" is as important in this conversation as the definition of "secular". Sometimes I think "religion" means the dogmatic belief in anything, whether it's Jesus as savior, atheism, nihilism or that my local sports team deserves to win. Sometimes it means any belief taken on faith - or without much evidence. Other times I think of religion as any organized belief in the supernatural; by supernatural I mean anything which cannot, even in theory, be understood through scientific method. Too much depends on semantics... Secular Buddhism seems to take buddhist practices and apply them as a form of self psychotherapy. For me, this is interesting to explore. Whether or not it leads to some understanding or faith in the supernatural (e.g. my own soul) is TBD.
—Guest Dan

I may be a secular Buddhist

With no intent to disparage anyone who practices Buddhism in any form, I find many Buddhist beliefs esoteric. They are opaque to me and do not increase my understanding or desire to practice compassion. That said what I do find superior is Buddhist compassion in the since of trying to understand another's view and then acting to lessen pain caused by that view or meet needs within that view. To me this form of compassion sets Buddhism apart from all other religions. The other great thing about Buddhist compassion as I understand it is I am free to practice in as great or small increments as I choose. I can hold open a door, let a car into my lane, wave back at a small child waving at me or give $100000 to charity. Assuming I am doing each with the pure intent of easing suffering or meeting need they all count yet there is no one keeping score, no one judging my actions as good or bad. I simply have the peace of knowing I have done what feels right.

Which door to enter

I don't know about all the 84,000 doors. For me the door was Wholesome view and intention for life following experience of deep dukkha. I contemplated three marks of existence. oracticed five precepts and metta or loving kindness to overcome fear. Faith in triple gems came from Kalama sutta and ehi passiko and of course direct meditative experience of four brahmaviharas, seven factors of enlightenment and listening and absorbing the energy of Maha-satipathhana sutta or four-foundations. I have profound gratitude for Buddha Dharma as it transformed my life in ways I did not imagine possible 9 years ago. So blessings to all who follow the dharma.
—Guest Door-enterer

Buddha Not Buddhist, Dharma No Religion

Religion is about creating separate exclusive collective identity wego (self as soul, God, surrendering as followers to external god) and institutional religion wanting to make things permanent and solid. Dharma has six characteristics, religion do not. Buddha did not ask for blind faith in anything including a belief in permanent soul, self or god or that we blindly follow or worship Buddha (pointing to the way of Dharma). Those who correctly sees dharma sees Buddha. It is about waking up and realizing the selfless empty nature of all existence and phenomena. Aim for the highest liberation, peace and happiness of Nibbana. Also secular means belonging to the generation or age. We could aspire to develop correct understanding of basic Dharma and practice Noble eightfold path that leads ultimately to supreme knowledge and ultimate liberation from conditioned cycle of existence. Peace http://www.seek2know.net
—Guest mita101

The question doesn't really matter...

..the Buddha said there were 84,000 Dharma doors so simple pick the one that suits you best. It's easy.
—Guest Mike

Buddhism is what it is

The way I see it, there are three types of reality: 1) reality of actuality, as things and all things have occurred, are occurring, and will occur 2) reality created by mind and all aspects of mind and 3) realities created by others of through experience, which is unique from the reality you may have created of the same phenomena. So to answer the question, is Buddhism a religion: 1) it is what it is, the nature of Buddhism and the teaching of Buddhism is what it is, without the distortions created by the people over time 2) the individual makes Buddhism whatever and however she wants to make it to be through mind and experience. This view may or may not be what the original teaching was and 3) even among Buddhism there are many different schools of Buddhism like zen, etc., that have evolved over time due to the fact that different people may not necessarily see the same phenomena or thing the same way. Ultimately, there is no answer: an answer itself is empty of intrinsic identity.
—Guest Jon

How's this?

If Buddhism were religious, there would be postings on here by hate-filled, self-righteous assholes!
—Guest Softland

Secular huh !

This continuous debate reminds me of the following little story. "Once upon a time there were four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was once an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, But Nobody did. Somebody got angry with that because it was Everybody`s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn`t do it. Everybody blamed Somebody and Nobody accused Anybody. Everybody got very upset when Somebody accused him of shirking. Nobody wanted a fight, but Somebody started one, Everybody got hurt, Nobody apologised and it was Anybody`s guess what would have happened if Somebody hadn`t made them all see reason ! "
—Guest Paul

Not Culturally Buddhist

I'm a Westerner who was raised in an atheist family. I'm just not capable of taking the concepts of "faith," as used by most religions, or "salvation" (by some invisible Personage walking around the sky) with any seriousness. No two Buddhist countries' versions of Buddhism are the same: Buddhism has always changed shape a bit to fit a new culture. Belief in gods and rebirth is not necessary to keep the precepts or purify the mind. Re: TM - there are two types of meditation, not one. While TM will work fine as *shamatha*/calming, it has nothing to do with *vipassana*/insight. To me, Buddhism is fundamentally neither a religion nor a philosophy: it's a system of training in Advanced Humanity. Deity neither included nor required.
—Guest Rational Pilgrim

Have Your Say!

Does Buddhism Have to Be Religious?

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