Is Buddhism a Religion
The question of whether or not the following of Siddhartha Gautama, who is better known by those who follow his teachings as the Buddha, is a religious venture has plagued many great minds. In order to properly answer this loaded question, there must be an answer to the question of what a religion is. To determine whether or not Buddhism is a religion, the definition of what a religion is will be determined.
One reason for why it is so hard for even the brightest minds to make a case one way or another on if Buddhism is a religion or not is because these great minds have failed to reach on consensus on the definition of a religion. There are many scholars who think that a religion is something where there is a belief or faith in a higher order. Something normally superhuman that has controlling power over the universe. This is often called a God by most western cultures. In buddhism there is no God figure. And the very idea of a universal controlling power is vague or metaphysical at best. The teachings of the buddha can easily be taken as a guide to life. Taught by a nobleman who has experienced many ways of living. Therefor it would be smart to listen to the teachings and stories about a wise man who has lived more than us. It is the basis of an archetypal story to have the classic hero’s journey mixed in with the highs and lows that entail the long and strange trip we all as humans travel. Now is that a ‘religious’ story? Similar figures such as jesus or moses and just about any character from the bible can be regarded as a archetype. So since we can safely say that Christianity and Judaism are religions, does that mean Buddhism is one too? I would posit not. While there are certainly archetypal stories and messages curtailed within the buddha's teachings, that is about all they are. Archetypes. That is not to say that an archetype is not spiritually loaded. In fact it is very spiritually loaded and it is for this reason why many mistake the revelations and experiences that many archetypal tales induce are sometimes thought to be religious experiences. They very well may be religious experiences, that is sort of how it is known if something is a heavy archetype or not. The great psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, was one of the first to formally describe the idea of a collective unconscious. It is in this collective unconscious that all of the culture and archetypes are spread from generation to generation within a community. Very easily archetypes can be used as a means of controlling people an often this happens to communities. It can be seen in the catholic church and just about every other religious institution. This institution is what separates a archetypal story from a religion. With the exception of Tibetan Buddhism, those who follow the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama do so outside of a powerful institution. It is also common to see an identification and almost a tribalist mentality within religions. Even within Christianity the number of separate tribes is amazing. Each one with their own institution and their own culture. Buddhism has some of these tribes but they are mostly geographically locked. For instance Zen Buddhism has been locked on the island of japan for hundreds of years. It is understandable to believe that this isolated population would be capable of morphing into its own flavor over that much time. Even then there is a constant lack of explanation of the reason or creation of Being. Religion must appear to answer the unanswerable questions of life. To give the soul peace. Buddhism, while a great self help school of thought, is not a religion. At least not by the definitions outlined throughout the above text. There is a lack of a strong institution, answers to the unanswerable, and it is too real. There is a lack of so called leaps of faith required in order to believe and follow the buddhist mode of Being.