Contrary to what I have been taught about Buddhism in the West, the more I grow and learn about the word Jesus asks me to be in, not if, I am discovering that the idea that Buddhism is a religion is mostly incorrect.
I submit this quote from Thich Nhat Hahn as simply food for thought. I do love and respect his perspective, on this matter especially, as a Buddhist monk, and especially his inclusion and explanation of yoga in this way – it is a practice or a philosophy, and not actually a religion.
I don’t practice Buddhism in any sort of intentional way; any traits I might ever possess that could be similar I would credit to the work of the Holy Spirit (though I, too, have met Christians who believe Buddhism has made them a better Christ follower, and I’m inclined to believe them). Please do not misunderstand it before making a judgement call about it.
When I sought out answers for myself about the nature of Buddhism, either philosophy or religion, I found that it largely comes down to how you define “religion.”
You could make a case for it being a religion if you define religion by the addressing of the afterlife, which the Buddha did discuss the concept of rebirth after death. Or even if you definite religion as having sacred texts, which Buddhism does. The Buddha does also address a lot of the big questions many seek out answers to in religion, so it’s easy for people to lump Buddhism in with the other major religions of the world.
However, if you believe a religion is defined by the worshipping of a god or gods, then Buddhism is most certainly not a religion. Being that it has a clear belief system about the afterlife, Buddhism is, I think, a bit more of a way of life and more of a philosophy. One definition of philosophy from is “the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct,” and that seems pretty congruent with what I know of Buddhism.
Buddha’s teachings are called the Dharma, which refers to an ultimate truth, and one of its six qualities is known as Ehipassiko, which roughly translates to “encouraging investigation” or “inviting to come and see for themselves.“ From the Huffington Post, “Not to mention, the Buddha’s teachings emphasized personal practice and adhering to moral principles above any kind of dogma. Even in regards to the Five Precepts, the Buddha doesn’t describe them as divine laws, but as practical guidelines to follow for one’s own happiness in this life and the next. Although he mentions karmic consequences if one chooses to break them, the Buddha provides practical benefits to following them also, such as “freedom from danger… animosity… suspicion,” etc.
“While the Buddha did discuss some metaphysical aspects of reality that people would often associate with religion, he made it clear that the most important aspect of Buddhism is how you practice, not what you know.”
So, for me, with all things considered, I definitely believe Buddhism to be more of a philosophy or practice than an actual true-blue religion. I definitely accept that this one is up for some debate. However, when I look at what the Buddha himself has said in the foundational texts of Buddhism, it appears he intended to develop a practice and help others to do the same, rather than to establish worship of any one thing. So, I absolutely do think Christians, or members of any other religion or lack there of, can be practicing Buddhists without betraying their religious convictions, and I do believe them when they say that it helps them to be better Christians.
I believe God is bigger than it all, God is beyond all of our understanding, and able to use anything to work in the hearts of His children; that would include Buddhism. As someone who has had a yoga practice change the course of my backsliding, and bring me closer to Jesus, I wouldn’t be surprised to know that God used Buddhist philosophy to open our eyes and transform us more into the likeness of Christ.
(you can read more about yoga not being or belonging to a religion here!)