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Contrary to Popular Opinion: Buddhism is a Religion

I have been to several predominant Buddhist countries, I live in a place with Buddhism being a predominant worldview (with a large Dharma center being less than a 40 minute drive from my home), and so this compels me to help people to see Buddhism for what it is. Many people like to say that Buddhism is not a religion, because of the negative connotations that the word “religion” has with it today for several ridiculous and poor reasons, but also because many emphasize the philosophical nature of Buddhism so much that it blinds some from seeing it for what it really is, and not seeing how it falls short of offering hope to the world.

    Consider with me, if you will, the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. The first is the idea that suffering exists. The second is that we suffer because we are attached to people, places, animals, and things (basically, nouns). The third noble truth is that if we release the attachment to people, places, animals, and things, then we will be free from suffering. This makes sense because if we are unattached to everything, then nothing will affect us mentally or emotionally.

Before we get to the fourth noble truth, it seems that up to this point when someone makes the argument that Buddhism a philosophy and not a religion, they are correct. Up to this point, we cannot treat Buddhism like a religion. The first three noble truths seem to be completely sound, logically, and not only that but almost helpful. For instance, it is likely good advice that if I had no attachments, I would never be bothered by my friends and family dying, or if I was attached to my car and someone crashed into it, or if my beloved pet died, it would not really affect me emotionally or mentally. The problem that I see with this, is that maybe we are supposed to be attached to some things. For instance, shouldn’t we be attached to our children? It seems like a depressing world to grow up thinking that our parents are trying to eternally detach themselves from us. Not only depressing, but lonely. Similarly with husbands and wives. If we are constantly trying to detach ourselves from our spouses, not only is it lonely, but it seems that something reasonable to ask is how two people came together in the first place.

Buddhism seems to violate the principle of livability in this, and in similar regards. What I mean by this is that it might be a nice idea to emotionally and mentally detach for some, but to actually be able to live it out causes deep conflict and inconsistencies. Conflict in the sense that I really feel like I am supposed to care for my child and through caring I might become more attached, yet I should remain unattached. So then how can I Love anyone without being attached to him or her? It seems that living in this manner will only cause internal conflict, which is the exact opposite of the goal that Buddhism is trying to reach.

Living with a Buddhist perspective is also inconsistent. On one hand, I say that I must be unattached to people, places, animals, and things, yet if Buddhism is a thing, then I must be attached to it in order to be unattached. In other words, “I desire to rid myself of all desires.” But to do this, the desire to rid oneself of all desires still exists, and one has not rid one’s self of all desires.


Perhaps the better way is not to give up all of our desires, but to have the right desires.


Consider the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Here we find several examples of having the right desires. Jesus says in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” We are to desire to do good works in order to give glory to our Father who is in Heaven.

In Matthew 5:44-46, Jesus says, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” If we love our enemies, wouldn’t that likely help them become better people as well? This seems far better than a Bodhisattva
helping a person becoming enlightened (more on this below). 

In chapter six, verses five and six, Jesus says, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” This is a classic example of not having wrong desires but having right desires. The only desires we should be giving up are the desires that are wrong. It is not evil or bad or wrong to have good desires, is it?

Finally, we will discuss the Golden Rule, which Jesus says in Matthew chapter seven, verse twelve: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” What Jesus is saying here is that we measure the way we should treat someone else by the way we desire to be treated. Clearly, it is not wrong to have good desires, but Buddhism teaches that all desires are wrong or bad in the sense that being attached to something is what causes the suffering in the first place.

After we have discussed the first three of the four noble truths, and how they are philosophical in nature (yet not without their own problems), we now move to the fourth noble truth, which is where Buddhism becomes a religion. The thing is, without the fourth noble truth, Buddhism is incomplete. Without the fourth noble truth, could it rightly be called Buddhism? It seems like this is not so, since the third noble truth requires the fourth noble truth.

The fourth noble truth is that we are able to release the attachment to things by following the noble eight-fold path. In other words, in the third noble truth, we discover that we become free from suffering by detaching ourselves from people, places, animals, and things. The way to do this is to follow the eight-fold noble path, which again is the fourth noble truth.

Interestingly and ironically, the eight-fold noble path seems to enforce “right” desires:


1. Right View

2. Right Intention

3. Right Speech

4. Right Actions

5. Right Livelihood

6. Right Effort

7. Right Meditation

8. Right Concentration


By following the noble eight-fold path is how a Buddhist will ultimately reach enlightenment, which is basically, insight into transcendent reality. The question here seems like it should again be, “Does the Buddhist desire to become enlightened?” It seems that again, if the person does not desire to become enlightened, then he or she is not following true Buddhism. In order to release oneself of suffering through the act of detachment of people, places, animals, or things, one must religiously follow the noble eight-fold path. If that isn't clear, the fourth noble truth is what makes Buddhism a religion. It would not be Buddhism without the fourth noble truth.


The consequences of Buddhism being a religion


If there are a bunch of religions that all say that they are the correct way (which is the case, even in Hinduism, which claims that all religions are true), then they cannot all be true. In fact, just because there are a bunch of religions that claim to know and show the truth about reality does not even mean that any of them are absolutely (or as Buddhists like to say, “ultimately”) true. Either all of the religions are wrong or only one of them is correct. The reason for this is because by claiming that they are the one correct way to understand the truth of reality, they are claiming exclusivity. In other words, simply by their existence, every religion disagrees with the other religions that are not themselves. For instance, if Hinduism agreed with Buddhism on all parts, how would one be able to tell them apart?
What would be the difference if there were no differences? The fact is, these religions do disagree with one another, which is why we know them separately as Hinduism and Buddhism, and not simply one or the other. The major consequence of Buddhism being a religion then, is that it finds itself in the long list of religions that claim to know the truth about reality, but is Buddhism the one true reality? I think that we have already seen above that Buddhism ultimately fails under its own weight and so it cannot be true.


An example of exclusivity


Christianity claims exclusivity in that Christ rose bodily from the grave, and that the only way to be saved is by confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and by believing that God raised Him from the dead (See Romans 10:9). Many religions disagree with this claim, and the fact of the matter can only be one of two options. Either the claim “Jesus rose again bodily from death” is a true claim, or it is a false claim. This claim either reflects reality or it does not. There are no other alternatives. As we see from Romans 10:9, mentioned above, we find that Christianity is based on historical fact. If it is true that Jesus rose from the dead (which is what this author holds), then Christianity is true because this is the event in history that Christianity hangs its hat on. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19,


“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”


In this passage, Paul says that Christianity is fake if Christ is not risen from the dead (I say this in on-going terms because He is still risen! He defeated death!). If Christ is not risen from the dead, then “your faith is futile.”

I encourage you to look at the evidence of the Resurrection. Buddhism has nothing on Christianity. Nor does any other religion. There can only be one true religion (if any), and Christianity is it. The reason we know this is because God became a man and came to earth in the body of Jesus Christ who proved who He was through His miracles and through the things He said. For instance, in John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” Imagine your neighbor saying this. Would you take him seriously? Obviously not. But why do we, and billions of other people throughout history, take it seriously when Jesus says it? Because He proved who He was through the things that He did. Your neighbor never walked on water, changed water to wine, healed the sick, made the blind see, raised the dead to life, and the list goes on and on and on (see John 21:25).

You might wonder how we can know that these things are actually historical themselves, and it seems that there are many things which are convincing, but the fact that the Apostles of Christ literally died for what they saw, is convincing enough in itself to believe that what they actually saw Christ do with their own eyes, is true. If it were all a joke, they would have recanted. They would have backpedaled. If the Romans found the body of Jesus, they would have paraded it around to please the Jews who were against Jesus at that time in fear of a revolt. If the Jews found the body of Jesus, they would have done the same thing. The problem is they never produced a body because Christ is Risen.


You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.

Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus 

© Nace Howell, 2022


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