Buddhism is not a religion, but an experiential philosophy. It consists of a moral code, a philosophical view, and a set of meditative practices based upon the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (480 BCE – 400 BCE), also known as the Shakyamuni Buddha, or simply the Buddha. While it’s true that many branches have taken on religious trappings, the original teachings of the Buddha are not at all religious in nature. Here are nine reasons why Buddhism is not a religion.
- God is not required.
The path to liberation doesn’t require the existence (or nonexistence) of one or multiple gods in order to apply to our lives. Thus, we’re empowered to help ourselves.
- The Devil is not required.
Buddhism doesn’t require a devil, because our own ignorance and negative emotions are enough to explain the evil and suffering in the world. Thus, it holds us responsible for our own actions.
- Worship is not required.
Buddha never claimed to be a prophet or a god, only a truth seeker and a human like the rest of us. Thus, Buddhists merely express gratitude for the teachings instead of worshipping Buddha as a lord and savior.
- The afterlife is not required.
The path to liberation is about living in freedom and happiness right here, right now. There is no need for heaven, hell, or reincarnation to exist in order for Buddhism to be useful to us.
- Supernatural phenomena are not required.
Although Buddha makes some claims about supernatural phenomena, these are not essential to our understanding of liberation. In fact, they are viewed largely as distractions to be avoided. Kamma as well is not supernatural, but a physical law of nature based upon the concept of nonduality.
- Belief is not required.
The teachings of the Buddha do not require faith, belief, or superstition. Instead, they are completely based on abandoning belief and directly experiencing truth for ourselves. This is why the Buddha said, “Don’t accept anything on the basis of reports, legends, traditions, scripture, conjecture, inference, analogies, agreement with views, probability, or the authority of your teacher. You must know for yourselves.” (Kalama Sutta).
- Buddha is not required.
Mathematicians don’t need to exist for two plus two to equal four. In the same way, the Buddha doesn’t need to exist in order for us to benefit from the path to liberation.
- Existence is not required.
You don’t even have to believe in the existence of material reality or even the soul in order to take the path to liberation. In fact, the path teaches that there is no such thing as an everlasting self. Just as mass and energy in the universe are constantly being transformed, we, too undergo constant change. Coming to terms with that is one of the steps to ending suffering.
- Absolutely everyone can become liberated.
Everyone–from Hitler to Gandhi, from the smallest fly to the largest whale, from Shakti to Shiva to Buddha–is absolutely equal in our desire to be free from suffering and hatred, in our wish to be happy and peaceful, and our ability to gain liberation.