Saturday, February 13, 2010

Is Buddhism a Religion?

 Are these monks praying, and does it matter?

When filling in a census form, under the section 'Religion', I write 'Buddhism.' This may not, to the general reader, be much of a surprise, considering the fact that I am a Buddhist, and yet, many Buddhists would themselves feel uncomfortable with classifying Buddhism as a religion. Why? Well, if we take a typical dictionary definition of religion, we usually come up with something like the following (taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, in this case): 'the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods/a particular system of faith and worship.' If we examine this description of what religion is, and then compare it to our own understanding of Buddhism, do we find that the former sums up the latter or not?

First of all, is Buddhism 'the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power?' If we define the law of karma as such, then the 'superhuman controlling power' bit works, albeit loosely. However, look at those two words 'faith' and 'worship' - is Buddhism primarily a form of faith and worship? I've certainly never read of Buddhists having faith in or worshiping karma! However, for many Buddhists around the world, of whatever sect, faith in the Buddha, his disciples, the Teachings, gurus and teachers is an important aspect of Buddhism, expressed in acts of worship. And yet, others - in my opinion a small minority - would balk at the suggestion that they either have faith in the Buddha or worship him, let alone any of the other aforementioned objects of devotion.

This minority does appear to be predominant amongst Western Buddhists, not surprisingly given their rejection of faith-based religions such as Christianity and Judaism, along with the anti-superstitious feeling that the sciences promote in the Occident. In the Orient, where Buddhism has been practiced for the past two-and-a-half thousand years, such rejection of faith and worship is much rarer, although it is widely documented, due to the high-profile academic positions held by many of its proponents. In Japan, for example, the famous writer on Zen Buddhism D. T. Suzuki presented Buddhism as a fusion of spirituality and psychology, whilst his compatriots in the 'Kyoto School' of philosophy, including Nishida Kitaro and Nishitani Keiji, also described Buddhism in rationalistic and scientific ways.

But what of the second part of that Dictionary entry on religion above? It defined 'superhuman controlling power' not as the Buddhist notion of karma, but as 'especially a personal God or gods.' Even if we allow for faith and worship to be considered 'genuine' Buddhist practice, surely neither a god nor gods would be the object of such devotion? Well, again, the way that Amitabha Buddha is viewed and worshiped seems little different to a god, and even in the Pali Canon we find the Buddha acknowledging the existence, and sometimes the contemplation, of gods (although not the adoration of them). Again, modern-minded Buddhists might interpret the various non-historical buddhas, bodhisattvas, gods, and spirits described in traditional Buddhist circles in mythological or psychological ways, but for most Buddhists such beings are believed in literally, making their experience of Buddhism very much a religion, not a philosophy or 'way of life.'

In the last part of the dictionary definition of religion cited above, we find 'a particular system of faith and worship.' We've already examined the use of the words 'faith' and 'worship' in relation to Buddhism, but what of the idea of it being a system? Well, this would appear to fit in with the philosophy and practice of the Noble Eightfold Path, with a fair definition of it as 'a system of spiritual/psychological liberation.' This would appear to offend few modern-minded Buddhists, but doesn't really begin to acknowledge the other more religious beliefs and practices found within Buddhist communities. We seem split between very different interpretations of what Buddhism is, all rooted in long-established scriptures and traditions, but diverging dramatically when present practices are examined.

So, is Buddhism a religion? Or, is it a 'system of liberation from suffering', or a complex set of philosophies, or a set of cultural practices? Maybe it's all of the above, and more. Perhaps this is the beauty of Buddhism, that we can experience it in the way that suits us best, depending on cultural, individual, and temporal conditions. The Buddha is seen to teach different 'levels' of Buddhism to different people in both the Theravada and Mahayana scriptures, and within the living traditions of both major branches of Buddhism we find multiple forms of belief and practice. It is the conclusion of this writer - for the time being at least, for all things are impermanent - that Buddhism can be described as a religion, with some reservations regarding theistic terminology, as well as a branch of philosophy, and, most crucially, a way of life intended to end suffering. What do you think, dear reader?


Adam said...

I believe that Buddhism is absolutely a religion, but is able to be practiced as a philosophy or "way of life" as many people choose to do just that. I also feel that it is important that we define Buddhism as a religion here in this country, so that those that practice Buddhism are afforded the same protections under the constitution as those of other faiths.

I guess it also depends on which dictionary you use for your definiton of "religion".

"1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion."

Barry said...

The translator Red Pine has said that early Buddhist monks - and perhaps the Buddha himself - used the term "shiksha" to refer to the Buddha's teachings. This term means "system of training" - indicating that the Buddha's teachings offered a systematized way of developing . . . something. Training for enlightenment, most likely.

I've also wondered about the term "Buddhism" itself. It appears to be a coinage of Western scholars and anthropologists, dating to around 1750-1800 CE.

But I can't be certain of this - I haven't found any good studies of the term. I wonder how 15th century Thai practitioners referred to their practice. Did they consider themselves "Buddhists" who were practicing "Buddhism?"

I've read that when Buddhist teachings first came into China, they were known under many different names, including "Indian Taoism" and "Emptiness Tradition."

Someone has to have studied this stuff, but I haven't seen it...

Thanks, Gary!

Unknown said...

Everything using the English language is usually tainted with a Western viewpoint.

I have to laugh at the word 'superhuman', this is like super cockroach, super demonic, super drunkard, super corrupted.

When you are near the the toilet-end of existence then calling anything 'super' doesn't amount to that much. Even the best of us can only manage to be normal human beings free from greed, anger, and delusion.

Buddhism is not a religion in practice, however society has made it one as many people like to worship things due to their primitive ignorance.

The big mystery for a lot of people is simply how to be polite.

G said...

Good points, Adam, taking a pragmatic approach to the question of whether Buddhism is a religion or not. When referring to "here in this country", you mean America, do you? Most nations have constitutions, so it isn't clear which country you're living in.

Yes, different dictionaries do have varied definitions of religion, and the one you quoted is less theistic than the OED's - which dictionary is this description taken from, Adam?

G said...

Thanks for the informative comments, Barry. Not familiar with the term 'shiksha', so did a quick search on the Net and found it to be an Indian term relating to the pronunciation of Hindu hymns. It seems unlikely that the Buddha would have used this exact word as it is not Pali in appearance, looking more Sanskrit with its two 'sh' clusters. (And the earliest Buddhist texts are in Pali, not Sanskrit.) Perhaps he used a similar word...

The term 'Buddhism' is of course Western in origin, with the suffix 'ism' being common in European languages. ('Ism' doesn't solely pertain to religions or other belief systems, of course, hence, 'barbarism'.) Asian languages do have their own equivalents for the term, however: 'Fojiao' in Chinese, 'Bukkyo' in Japanese, and 'Sasana-Phut' in Thai, the latter of which is derived from the Pali 'Buddhasasana'. Etymologically, many of these terms originally meant 'Teaching of the Buddha', but have come to indicate everything pertaining to Buddhist beliefs and practices, including the more religious aspects. In the Pali Canon, the most common terms equivalent to 'Buddhism' seem to be 'Dhamma ca Vinaya' ('Doctrine and Discipline'), 'Majjhima Patipada' ('the Middle Way'), and the above-mentioned 'Buddhasasana', none of which particularly indicate a religion, as such.

Traditionally, many Buddhists didn't consider themselves as 'Buddhist' and therefore different to non-Buddhists, hence in Tibetan the word for 'Buddhist' can be translated as 'internalist', or someone whose main concern was looking inwards. This is related to the recent Buddha Space article called 'There's No 'Us' & 'Them' in Buddhism.

And, in agreement with Red Pine and yourself, the early texts indicate that the Buddha did indeed teach a way of life geared towards looking inwards and "training for enlightenment", as pointed at in the term 'Dhamma ca Vinaya' (usually shortened by modern Buddhists to 'Dhammavinaya' or 'Dharmavinaya'.)

G said...

Yes, Gladstone, English language is indeed "tainted" with Western viewpoints. Great reference to "super cockroach" - sounds like a new cartoon super hero for the kids! And a nice way of highlighting the anthropomorphic tendencies of human concepts. As to "super drunkard", I used to be one of those many, moons ago, so I'll swiftly move on!

Living at the "toilet end of existence" has its more nauseating aspects for sure, but to be free of greed, hatred, and delusion is something worthwhile, isn't it? Then, even when answering nature's most "primitive" callings, we will do so in the Noblest Way.

Unknown said...

As for the language that The Buddha actually used, then it was supposedly a local Bihari dialect, not Pali.

There was no vinaya in The Buddha's time, probably because he was aware that many monks would just hang around inventing new rules rather than practicing.

As he initially taught fellow yogis, coming up with a set of rules covering things outside of the mind would have made him a laughing stock.

In the present day we now have complete obsession with rules in some quarters and some monks devote their whole life to the vinaya, what a joke! Neanderthals in robes.

As for the photo, definitely cultural but nothing to do with Buddhist teachings. I know of one monk in Thailand who was often given small plaster Buddha images (3/4 inch) while collecting food to take back to the Wat to perform puja.

Did he actually perform puja? No, he says he used to walk back to the Wat discretely snapping their heads off and throwing them into the ditch.

Some years ago a Western monk went on a puja tour of Bihar, he ended up being robbed of everything by local bandits, even the robes he was wearing. So much for puja.

G said...

Very good, Gladstone, I've also read somewhere that the actual spoken language of the Buddha was a dialect of Magadhi, an ancient precursor of modern East Indic languages such as Bihari. Traditionally, Pali is considered a written equivalent of that ancient spoken Magadhi tongue, hence it is considered the language of the historical Buddha. Whether it actually is the same language in written form is (at present) unprovable, and so we can accept the traditional view or reject it, but ultimately none of this really matters as the Buddhadharma is a living tradition not a dead one, as your comment points out, Gladstone.

As to worship, or puja, it can encourage both a communal spirit amongst otherwise selfish people, and help those amongst us that are of a more arrogant nature to cultivate some humility. When it is performed purely for self-benefit or to 'do one's duty', then it may well deteriorate into pointless ritual, but this isn't always the case. The story of the monk on pilgrimage in Bihar sounds similar to the tales told by Ajahn Sucitto of his travels there in the Nineties. He, at least, retained his robes!

As Buddhists, with compassion as well as wisdom in our hearts, we can look at those that practice Buddhism as a superstitious religion with a degree of goodwill and not appear arrogant in our views, can't we, Gladstone? Being Buddhist (or being Buddha, for that matter) is about seeing through the ridiculousness of human foibles, but it's also about understanding them, both intellectually and emotionally. Talking with (and about) peoples' weaknesses with a warm wisdom is surely superior to calling them names!

Unknown said...

Being warm and compassionate is an interesting point. When it comes to ordinary lay people then they can be as weird and superstitious as they like and no one says anything.

However, when it comes to monks they are expected to practice what The Buddha taught.

I remember the case of one Western monk in Thailand who didn't want to stay at his Wat in Thailand and practice so he went to stay at another Wat and began learning to recite the precepts in Pali.

His Ajarn rang the Wat where he was staying and told the abbott to kick him out, which is what happened. Then, when he returned to his original Wat and would not practice the Ajarn disrobed him.

This may seem severe, but a monk has to follow his original Ajarn for five years, and in his opinion anyone could learn to recite the vinaya and it wasn't really Buddhist practice, even though many monks do the same, and it is also useful in Wat life.

If monks just concentrate on the discipline, then that is the end of Buddhism.

This issue has surfaced several times in the history of the Thai Sangha, and the disciplinarians end up hating the real Dhamma because they no longer recognize it.

They also tend to go around persecuting those who do practice correctly and thus become dangerous, vindictive bigots.

At the present time some monks, both Thai and Western, consider those monks who do not share their views on the discipline to be inferior, and will not allow them to stay in their Wats (as if anyone would want to stay with them anyway).

Such a practice is against Sangha rules as monks don't own the Wat, The Sangha as a whole owns it and anyone is free to visit and stay at any Wat.

Their type of Buddhism is dead-end Buddhism, going nowhere, and although they have large support from rich and ignorant laypeople and beautiful shrine rooms with wall to wall carpets one may well question whether they deserve to be called names for their corruption of what The Buddha taught.

Handsome B. Wonderful said...

Perhaps this is the beauty of Buddhism, that we can experience it in the way that suits us best, depending on cultural, individual, and temporal conditions. The Buddha is seen to teach different 'levels' of Buddhism to different people in both the Theravada and Mahayana scriptures, and within the living traditions of both major branches of Buddhism we find multiple forms of belief and practice."

Well said. This was a great post and I enjoyed it a lot. Thank-you friend. Bowing...

G said...

You make some good points about wayward monks, Gladstone. Living in Thailand has been a real eyeopener with regards to the behavior of many monks. The problem in Thailand seems more to be with monks not keeping the patimokkha (monk's rules). So many times 'monks' are exposed having sex (sometimes with 'lay' followers, sometimes with boy-monks, and sometimes with each other), taking intoxicants, stealing (this usually entails embezzling donations from the laity), and even committing murder! Minor rules are broken openly, of course, sometimes backed by the monkish hierarchy, the handling of money being an example.

Rules for rules sake are indeed a waste of time and damaging to the quest for enlightenment, but a life without any discipline can be just as harmful. True freedom is not physical freedom to do whatever one's desires are driving one to do, but is a quality of mind. This quality can be realized and cultivated in any situation if it is genuine, and no matter how many rules a monastic is expected to keep in any given tradition, if he or she is awakened, he already free.

In Traditional Buddhist teaching, clinging to rules and rituals is a sign of not being a Noble Person, so your right in that those monks that are obsessed by rules to the exclusion of all else are indeed not only unenlightened but are potentially barring others from awakening too. However, if we imagine monks and nuns without any rules, behaving however their egos direct them, this will not be a good example for laypeople to observe, and will not lead to enlightenment but to rampant egotism.

Viewing monkish disciplinarians as inferior is no better than considering non-disciplinarian monastics as inferior - both are extreme views. In reality, there are good monastics and laity of both types that are awakening to the Dharma in their own ways. That some monastics are obsessed by rules to the point of blinding their Dharma Eye, that is to be expected, just as there are monastics that stop themselves from awakening due to self-indulgence. May we all find the balance between being fixated by rules and lost in egoistic impulses!

G said...

Thank you for your wonderful words, Handsome. (And, looking at your profile picture, you are indeed handsome!)

Unknown said...

All of this comes back to whether Buddhism is a religion or a practice. If it is regarded as a practice and people do practice then Buddhism follows The Buddha. The problem arises when monks get carried away with a religious establishment view and begin to regard their position in society and their authority within The Sangha as The Dhamma, rather than taking The Dhamma as their authority.

This type of thing arises in all religions, look at the shameful persecutions that have occurred within Western religions over the years, and at the present time some people in Iran have been declared ‘enemies of god’ and executed.

The problem within the Thai Sangha regarding those who cling to the idea of superiority due to their supposed discipline is because the monks get closer to the social view of Buddhism, Buddhism as a religion, and become too closely entwined with influential lay people, ranks and titles.

Following a discipline is part of being a monk, and as these monks come from a deteriorating society then naturally some of them will break rules or occasionally commit crimes. Corruption has always existed, and one old saying goes, ‘Wat krang neung, gammagarn krang neung,’ meaning half of the funds for the Wat and half for the committee.

The important point is what direction to take. Do you want to enforce the rules even more and form a Sangha Police (as they have now) and become like a bunch of present day Iranian mullahs or do you take the sensible view and focus on getting people to practice.

One interesting comment came from my own teacher, he said that when two monks went to see the Ajarn because one of them accused another of breaking rules the Ajarn would say that they were both at fault because they had stopped practicing.

Burma was for a long time considered lax on discipline but high on Dhamma. Not that the monks would be very bad but they would occasionally go to the movies. Thailand, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. Human beings are always going to break rules, and being really strict is not the solution and in the end makes the situation even worse.

I never said that I regarded the disciplinarian monks as inferior, or that monks should not have discipline, I simply called them Neanderthals because they follow the views of society rather than what The Buddha taught and in their ignorance are attempting to turn something special into sophisticated garbage.

G said...

...and I never wrote that you regarded disciplinarian monks as inferior, Gladstone. But, by calling them 'Neanderthal' is suggesting that they are indeed inferior to the non-disciplinarian monastics as this term is used as an insult meaning "uncivilized or uncouth" (OED) or stupid, unless you actually believe that such monks are a species of humans previously considered extinct!

One question: How do you know that the Buddha didn't teach the 227 rules that constitute the Patimokkha, as written in the Pali Canon? If we take the Pali texts as the written evidence of what the Buddha taught, then this includes all the monastic rules as being part of the Buddha's Dharma & Vinaya. And, if we take Theravada Buddhist monks as the source of our knowledge of the Buddha's teachings - whether from Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka or elsewhere - where do they take their knowledge of the Buddha's teachings from but the very same Pali Canon that includes all the monkish rules and regulations?

In truth, no one knows what Shakyamuni Buddha taught or even if he actually existed. The Pali Canon is just one source of ancient Buddhist writings, along with other complete and incomplete Tripitakas. It's all a matter of faith, in the end. What we can test the truth of is the efficacy of the various Buddhist systems of Doctrine & Discipline that exist today. Do they do what they claim to do - lead to the end of suffering?

This reflection is also usual when looking at our own behavior and the motives behind it - are these thoughts, words, and deeds coming from or leading to enlightenment, or are they coming from attachment to views? When considering a question like 'Is Buddhism a Religion?', it's the nature of the mind to reduce the investigation into a battle of opinions. The more challenging and transcending approach is to see such a question as an opportunity to reflect not simply on the question itself, but to observe the mind's reaction to it, and learn from the experience.

Thank you for sharing this opportunity for reflection, Gladstone. May we all learn wisdom from the dialogue.

Unknown said...

Usually I try to be polite, so my use of the word Neanderthal is an example of this, and I would say that it is extremely polite. I am talking about monks who slandered other monks and used their influence to have them arrested, disrobed, and imprisoned without trial for periods ranging from several years to six years. They arrested novices, junior monks, and some senior monks, accused them of sexual misconduct, hoarding weapons, trying to overthrow the government, and in some cases tortured them into signing false statements. Eventually the truth came out and they were all released but they certainly created a lot of suffering, not only for the novices and monks but also for Thai society, so much so that all monks in Northeastern Thailand (including Ajarn Chah), of which you should be familiar, were even going to leave The Sangha and set up their own. Other senior monks did of course protest, but they were kicked out of their posts.

This was the last time these people raised their ugly heads, at the moment this same group (living in around 40-50 Wats in Thailand, and probably a dozen or so overseas, some of whom happen to be in the same grouping as Ajarn Chah’s Wats but I wouldn’t exactly call them students of his as they now support the same group that slandered Ajarn Chah) is confined to pointing out their superiority and slandering those not in their group, even writing letters to well-known Ajarns at times telling them how they are destroying Buddhism (Thailand’s equivalent of the crazy Hindu group in India, Shiv Sena).

Most of these Wats are of the Dhammayut sect, who now control Thai Buddhism and have held practically all of the high administrative ranks since their founding (by a member of the Thai royal family). It would be unfair to include all Dhammayut Wats in this grouping as even Ajarn Buddhadasa, a Dhammayut monk not particularly concerned about the different sects, and many Mahanikai monks who stayed at his Wat weren’t even aware that he was Dhammayut, was also slandered by them as not teaching The Dhamma and banned from public broadcasting at one time; so they even slander Arahants. Their Sangha police is the equivalent of the Iranian mullahs.

These 40-50 Dhammayut Wats are part of around 200 such Wats, out of a total of around 20,000 Wats in Thailand. Doesn’t that strike you as being a little unbalanced? Sure they may not touch money (a somewhat inane declaration), but they still collect it, still go shopping, so what’s so holy about that?

I have talked to other (non-Dhammyut) monks about the vinaya, and they have said that it is merely an aid. All of them said that at times they have had things stolen from them by other monks (usually visiting monks), like robes and books, but they never once reported it. Their reasoning is compassion and common sense. If they report something then the monk gets disrobed, whereas if you just let it go maybe he will become a better person later on by being able to remain a monk.

As for the Vinaya, according to the Pali Canon The Buddha forbade the formulation of any rules while he was alive. The problem with these people nowadays is that they put into Buddhism whatever they want and say that The Buddha made these rules, which is completely untrue.

Adam said...

G- sorry, yes, I was referring to the US. What, is the internet global or something now? lol

And that definition is from the random house dictionary, though the American Heritage dictionary supplies a similar meaning.

Knowing how the word religion got into the OED, it doesn't surprise me that it would be a heavily theistic one.

G said...

Certainly the incidents that you write of are most disturbing, Gladstone, and not at all surprising as Buddhism has long been an institutionalized religion in Thailand and power corrupts. I agree that such behavior is most regrettable, and lay Buddhists should endeavor not to support such actions where we encounter it.

The vinaya is an integral part of the Pali Canon, forming the Vinaya Pitaka, the first of the three parts of it. The Buddha did not forbid "the formulation of any rules while he was alive" - he made the monkish rules! If you reject this, then you may as well question the validity of the whole of the Pali Canon. (On the other hand, if you do both, then any claim to know what the Buddha did or didn't teach is as empty as all other phenomena.)

In truth, no one knows what Shakyamuni Buddha taught or even if he actually existed. The Pali Canon is just one source of ancient Buddhist writings, along with other complete and incomplete Tripitakas. It's all a matter of faith, in the end. What we can test the truth of is the efficacy of the various Buddhist systems of Doctrine & Discipline that exist today. Do they do what they claim to do - lead to the end of suffering?

This reflection is also usual when looking at our own behavior and the motives behind it - are these thoughts, words, and deeds coming from or leading to enlightenment, or are they coming from attachment to views? When considering a question like 'Is Buddhism a Religion?', it's the nature of the mind to reduce the investigation into a battle of opinions. The more challenging and transcending approach is to see such a question as an opportunity to reflect not simply on the question itself, but to observe the mind's reaction to it, and learn from the experience.

G said...

Thanks for the information, Adam.

Yes, the Internet went global not long after Barak Obama became president of the world, er,I mean the U.S! :-)

Unknown said...

Part 1

You are entitled to think that the patimokka was written by The Buddha himself, but just to give an idea of what it was like in The Buddha’s time I will give you what was recorded in the Vinaya of the Pali Canon itself.

‘Many of those who began to follow The Buddha renounced the world under the stress of necessity, like runaway slaves, domestic servants, army deserters, debtors in distress, criminals, bankrupt businessmen and harassed householders.

Not all the worthy brethren had the prefect deportment of the elder Assaji, whose decorous walk and looks and motion of the arms had made such a deep impression on Sariputta’s mind. In fact most of them were rather uncouth and noisy fellows who paid little heed to the rules of decorum and decency. They left doors and lattices in the monastery open, left bathrooms in a filthy condition, behaved rudely towards householders when they went out to beg alms, entered dwellings roughly and left them roughly. They wrestled and held boxing bouts and rubbed their bodies with oil as though they were going to take part in some physical culture championship. They ate their meals noisily and carelessly, walked on couches with unwashed and dirty feet, and broke furniture belonging to the Order to light bonfires.

Some rose up in the night towards dawn, and putting on wooden shoes walked up and down in the open air, talking in tones high, loud and harsh, and in so doing they both trod upon and slew all kinds of insects and disturbed bhikkhus in their meditation. They would often get heavily drunk and then lie about the monastery, unmindful, and displaying their nakedness. When the female order was introduced the number of serious misdemeanors increased, and bhikkhus and bhikkhunis frequently misconducted themselves together. Bhikkhunis on their part did everything to set men’s hearts ablaze, and would bedeck themselves with frills, fringes, and girdles, and the living together of men led to a certain amount of homosexuality. Factions, rivalries, petty jealousies and quarrels were rife, and there was constant friction between the novices and elders.’

They obviously didn’t have the discipline at that time, although people may believe whatever they like, and it was created much later when you could actually write things down.

Another interesting quote of The Buddha comes from the Brahmajala Sutta where he declares quite frankly that those who praise him on account of his morality praise him for the wrong reason. ‘It is in respect only of trifling things, of matters of little value, of mere morality, that an ignorant man, when praising the Tathagata, would speak.’

Unknown said...

Part 2

The patimokka has been around for a long time, whenever it was written, and as for the actual time then it depends upon what version of several versions of the Vinaya you read, not simply the English version, or the Thai version for that matter.

It is not possible to force purity on human beings by imposing strict rules, they have to come to realize it, and the only way is from the practice. Thus, Buddhism is originally a practice and not a religion.

Over the years in Thailand, attachment to the vinaya has become a tainted ideology, where elite members of society and scholastic monks end up using it as a weapon against those who follow The Buddha in their devotion to the practice.

It actually first surfaced long before the formation of the Dhammayut sect, but it is not recorded in the history of The Sangha because these same ideological scholars control such history. Interestingly, in doing so they haven’t succeeded in clearing out those who do break the rules, but have simply succeeded in terrorizing those who don’t.

Therefore, if people want to be strict in their discipline, then that is fine, their business. However, it is not their business to start looking around at those who are not so strict and then start discriminating against them.

I remember one interesting story that my own teacher passed on to me regarding Dek Wat; young people who end up staying in Wats for free food and accommodation.

He says that the Dek Wat who came to stay at his Wat were from Nakorn Sri Thammarat in the south of Thailand, well known as a crime city. They were basically young thugs whose parents had sent them to stay at the Wat in desperation. At the Wat they lived in their own section and nobody bothered them, and the police were generally scared of them. The Ajarn at the Wat gave them no special instructions or rules and they did not have to practice or attend meetings. Occasionally they would threaten a monk or two, who would just laugh at their thuggery, but nothing bad ever happened. What did happen was that over the years they all became gentle people, started studying at university, and eventually got good jobs and left the Wat.

There were no words, no rules, which brought about this change, just the pure mindedness of the Ajarn and the other monks. This, I strongly suspect, is how The Buddha dealt with such things; teaching by example.

G said...

Thank you for your dogged arguments, Gladstone.

As previously written, the Patimokkha is found in the Vinaya Pitaka, the first of the three major divisions of the Pali Canon - there are even suttas named after it. So, if you refer to the Canon (as you do) for your opinions about the Buddhadharma, it is inconsistent to ignore an important part of it. According to the Vinaya Pitaka, the Buddha introduced each rule as a response to a monk or nun behaving against the spirit of Buddhism, gradually building up a large collection of monastic rules (and, hence, introducing rules to deal with the misbehavior that you write of.) A balance between Sila (moral ) discipline and samadhi (meditative practice) is required to develop living wisdom (panna), which is found in the teachings ascribed to the Buddha in the various schools of Buddhism.

In truth, no one knows what Shakyamuni Buddha taught or even if he actually existed. The Pali Canon is just one source of ancient Buddhist writings, along with other complete and incomplete Tripitakas. It's all a matter of faith, in the end. What we can test the truth of is the efficacy of the various Buddhist systems of Doctrine & Discipline that exist today. Do they do what they claim to do - lead to the end of suffering?

This reflection is also usual when looking at our own behavior and the motives behind it - are these thoughts, words, and deeds coming from or leading to enlightenment, or are they coming from attachment to views? When considering a question like 'Is Buddhism a Religion?', it's the nature of the mind to reduce the investigation into a battle of opinions. The more challenging and transcending approach is to see such a question as an opportunity to reflect not simply on the question itself, but to observe the mind's reaction to it, and learn from the experience.

Unknown said...

What is interesting is that the sorry state you describe in Thailand in the present day is exactly how it was in The Buddha's time.

Obviously, the vision of members of The Sangha walking around on lotus leaves is pure myth, and as far as I know it has always been the same in Thailand, but Buddhism has survived because the instances of a serious lack of discipline have always been in the minority.

The tainted scholastic ideology has always been to try to make the external Buddhist world perfect, the perfect Wat, perfect behaviour, nice robes, and lots of candles and incense, whereas real Buddhism is concerned with making the mind perfect.

Interestingly, this tainted ideology never clamped down on such things as fortune telling, because this brings in lots of money, is popular among elite society, and as long as everything looked perfect then there were no complaints.

Such a state of affairs prompted some Ajarns to avoid establishing a Wat altogether, and they opened a Samnak, or branch Wat, where the usual rules of the more recent hierarchy did not apply. These samnaks were practice only, and as they dispensed with the normal pujas and festivals a lot of the time they could carry out their 'illegal' activities freely, even though they did end up being labeled 'enemies of Buddhism' by some scholars.

When I was first taught about Buddhism by Thai monks in Thailand they told me that the patimokka was a later creation, and this appears to be the general view among Thai monks, not all of course but I suspect the majority.
On this there appears to be some disagreement between the scholastic side and the practitioners.

Therefore, I suspect that there is a little of the Catholic church in some scholars in the selection of texts concerning what is supposedly real.

I can understand the reasoning behind being very strict, but if you were an abbot of a Wat and proceded to throw everyone out who broke rules then it wouldn't be very long before you were staying alone.

This is why people become members of The Sangha, to learn how to live with discipline and improve their mind, and in this learning process they are certain to break rules, so why make a big deal when they do break them.

Wanting to get rid of or ostracize anyone who breaks the rules is exactly like executing someone who commits a serious crime; it is driven by ill-will and in the end serves no beneficial purpose.

If I were an abbot I would probably be by myself within a few days, that's why you need someone in charge who can see beyond mere morality. If you kick everyone out then no one learns anything, but if you can be a little more compassionate, pureminded, and detached then people will begin to learn from you.

The Buddha accepted murderers, and I doubt that such people began to live a disciplined life overnight, and it probably took years before they became tame beings. The general idea among the good abbots is that their students actually learn something and improve themselves before they throw them away. There is no point in throwing them away before they have improved.

Buddhist_philosopher said...

Great post, Gary :) I'm sad that I've been away for so long!

Sad to say I can't offer too much in response to the main question or even get through all the great comments, but I did find this:

shiksha = sikkhā :) as in sikkhāpadaṃ.

This term is part of the formula of precepts "I undertake the training rule (sikkhāpadaṃ)..."

However, I haven't come across this term used to describe Buddha's teachings per se. The two terms for this that I know are simply Dhamma and sasana.

And 'Buddhism' is indeed an early 19th century British invention (cf. "The British Discovery of Buddhism" - Almond).

Oh, and I'll second Adam's (American) response. Damien Keown, my most wonderful advisor, also considers Buddhism a religion, following the criteria of Ninian Smart.

G said...

Great to read your words, Justin. I've been reading 'American Buddhist Perspective' recently, too. I like the post about Zen that you recently posted. (If anyone wants to visit Justin's blog, it's linked to under the above name in Buddha Space's Blog List.)

Thanks for clearing up the Shiksha thing. Should have worked it out, really, looking at the two words, but there you are! Yes, Buddhism is a religion as experienced by millions of people around the world. It is, as discussed above, many other things as well. Lately, I've been viewing it as a radical form of applied psychology (that can end suffering). However we view it, Buddhism is amazing, isn't it?

Buddhist_philosopher said...

Thanks for the kind words Gary. I guess when asked the question, "Is Buddhism a Religion" we should ask back, "to who?" :)

G said...

LOL,Justin...and essentially the consensus of this little inquiry we've conducted here.

Adam said...

"However we view it, Buddhism is amazing, isn't it?"

That works for me!

stay fit said...

Hello i really like the Buddhism for my is a religion cause you need to have faith .

G said...

Faith is an important part of the Buddhist Way, 'Stay Fit.' To be truly fit in the Buddhist sense of the word does involve direct experience of awakening, too, of course. Nevertheless, faith is needed to support the practice.

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting indeed and I actually believe that Buddhism is and should be considered a religion. Its always important to recognize practises that are in fact cannonized.

G said...

Canonized; "cannonized" would mean to have large artillery, if such a word exists. ;-)
Thanks for the comment, Saniya.