• Wayfarer
    8.6k
    That is why, in the case of Buddhism, I feel more inclined to view it as a philosophy, because, in studying Buddhism, I could never detect anything supernatural in it, especially if one goes back to its original ideas in Theravada which is most probably the closest you can get to the Buddha's teachings.Daniel C

    There's a kind of modern myth that Buddhism is a naturalistic or scientific religion. This was especially popular during the early 20th Century, through a movement that came be called 'Protestant Buddhism'. This corresponded to some of the early Buddhist outreach efforts to the West, some of which originated in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) with a monk by the name of Anagarika Dharmapala who presented at the World Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 1880's. Meanwhile there was also an English translator, T W Rhys Davids, active around the same time, who founded the Pali Text Society, which undertook translations of the Buddhist Pali scriptures into English. He likewise presented Buddhism as a religion compatible with science - indeed it was his idea to translate the Buddhist term 'bodhi' as 'enlightenment', at least in part because it suggested the European enlightenment.

    So, early in the 20th century it was popular to say that Buddhism was founded by a human, as distinct from a God, and even that 'the law of karma', as 'the law of action and reaction' was itself like a scientific principle comparable to Newton's laws of motion.

    But regrettably, it's not actually true. There are indeed supernatural elements embedded in the Buddha's life story from the beginning. At the time of the enlightenment, he was said to have recalled the exact details of thousands of previous lives, right down to names, relatives names, and occupations. Furthermore, having become enlightened, he was designated 'lokuttara', which literally means 'world-transcending' (and if that's not a synonym for 'supernatural', then I don't know what is.) The Buddha and his mature disciples were always regarded as possessing the supernatural powers ('siddhis') that Indian lore associates with holiness, although he was always extremely reticent about talking of them and strictly forbade the monks from displaying such powers.

    The inconvenient truth is that us moderns are generally prejudiced anything that is regarded as supernatural. The reasons for that are complex and mainly historical. But that's enough out of me, I'm hogging the thread.
  • praxis
    1.6k
    It rather seems to be some kind of misguided western idea that Buddhism revolves around a "Buddha". Seriously, it doesn't.alcontali

    I suppose we got the silly notion because it’s called Buddhism and not, say, Tom, Dick, or Harryism.
  • praxis
    1.6k
    The Buddhist attitude of ‘take it or leave it’ leaves no room for questioning, critique, or least of all, reform.
    — praxis

    Buddhism has been in a continuous state of evolution and reform since its inception.
    Wayfarer

    So has every other religion.

    If you read the Buddhist suttas, many are in question-and-answer format.Wayfarer

    Indeed, and the Buddha supplies all the answers.
  • praxis
    1.6k
    you've also got those people in old Greek temples reciting prayers to the Form of the Good, doing ritual shadow puppet shows to reenact the Allegory of the Cave, and listening to sermons that recite passages from the Republic... in that world, is Platonism a philosophy or a religion?Pfhorrest

    In this case it sounds like it’s functioning like a religion.
  • Pfhorrest
    159
    For those people it certainly is, but in that world there is also a philosophical tradition like our, which includes a Platonism like ours. So in that world, it’s also a philosophy, to some people.
  • praxis
    1.6k


    Your point is unclear.
  • Pfhorrest
    159
    My point is that the same beliefs or texts can be simultaneously treated as religious by some people and philosophical by others. It is not the content of them but the approach to them than constitutes either philosophy or religion. A critical, fallibilist acceptance of some belief or text is philosophical; acceptance by faith of the same belief or text is religious. And there can be people doing both things simultaneously.
  • praxis
    1.6k
    there can be people doing both things simultaneously.Pfhorrest

    That’s easy to say, but what does it mean exactly?
  • Pfhorrest
    159
    That the same set of beliefs can be philosophy to some people and religion to others, at the same time, depending on how and why they believe them? I'm not sure how I can be more clear here.

    So case in point, Buddhism can be a religion to some people, but a philosophy to others. Not because some people interpret "the" practice of Buddhism to be a philosophy and others interpret it to be a religion, but because some people practice it religiously and other people practice it philosophically.
  • NOS4A2
    1.1k


    Even anthropologists cannot agree on what a religion is, but dependency on ritual and a belief in the supernatural suffices. Buddhism, at least now, has rituals such as mantras, meditation and prayer wheels.
  • praxis
    1.6k


    It wasn’t clear if you meant that one individual could do both simultaneously. It appears that you don’t.
  • praxis
    1.6k


    We all have rituals. It’s also common to have explanations for things that can’t be scientifically proven.
  • Daniel C
    67
    Wayfarer. I want to thank you - for bringing the "supernatural" element in Buddhism to my attention. It is, alas, the case that the existence of these elements cannot be denied. You know, in the academic study of this religion the emphasis is so strong on its philosophical aspects: themes such as the "emptiness" of all things, the no soul doctrine, the reconciliation of the "no soul doctrine" with the need for liberation from "samsara", the interdependence of all things and others. This involvement in the "higher levels" of Buddhism unfortunately leads to a neglect of aspects which belong to the level of personal "spiritual" experience which is also important, because of its providing us with a fuller picture of the true nature of this religion. I, therefore, have to change my position as far as Buddhism is concerned and view it as a religion. But, we are still in the process of seeking criteria which can be used to distinguish a philosophy from a religion. Perhaps you have more ideas in this regard which you want to share.
  • Wayfarer
    8.6k
    . I, therefore, have to change my position as far as Buddhism is concerned and view it as a religion. But, we are still in the process of seeking criteria which can be used to distinguish a philosophy from a religion. Perhaps you have more ideas in this regard which you want to share.Daniel C

    1. In respect of Buddhism (and Indic as opposed to Semitic religions generally) - they see themselves in terms of 'dharma', as mentioned above. Dharma is one of those many Indian terms for which there isn't a direct English equivalent but it contains elements which are both religious and philosophical. Dharma could be translated as duty, law or principle; it is both the underlying principle of the Universe (somewhat similar to the ancient Greek 'logos'), and also the individual's duty, path or way of life in recognition of that principle.

    Another point about Buddhism, is that its model is one of 'imparting an understanding' rather than 'laying down the law'. The first element in the Buddhist eightfold path is 'samma ditthi' meaning 'right view' or 'right understanding'. That is subtly different to the Christian 'orthodoxy' which means 'right belief' or 'right worship'. This is because it contains a cognitive element, i.e. the aspirant needs to arrive at a correct understanding, not simply recite articles of faith and believe in them (although in practice there are many convergences). But Buddhism has, for example, the concept of 'dharma gates' meaning that the Buddha teaches differently to different kinds of beings depending on their aptitude - and I don't think there's anything similar in Christian teaching.

    So, Western religions formed around very different principles, especially in respect of authority. This is one of the reasons that the comparison between Christianity and Buddhism is so difficult. It means that the answer to the question 'is Buddhism as religion?' can only be 'in some ways, yes, in other ways, no' - because the understanding of what 'religion' means is itself different.


    2. As we all know, the Christian Church takes the saying 'no-one comes to the Father but by Me' (John 14:16) as an indication of the exclusiveness of the Christian revelation i.e. that Jesus Christ is the only avenue to salvation, and the Incarnation a one-time event that could only ever be repeated as the literal 'second coming'.

    But, for our purposes, suffice to note that in Christianity itself, there has always been a tension between the Greek philosophy which was incorporated into theology, and the 'messianic' authority of the Bible. This is even found in the Bible itself, in such sayings as 'foolishness to the Greeks' and 'what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?'

    Quite a bit, it turns out. Many of the early Greek-speaking philosophical theologians sought to harmonise Platonist (including Aristotelian) principles with the revealed 'Word of God'; this is the source of the idea of the virtuous pagan, and 'Christians before Christ' (along with the basics of Christian philosophical theology). This synthesis gave rise to Christian Platonism, which can accommodate religion, science and philosophy without seeing them as contradicting each other, and which was preserved to some degree in Aquinas.

    But Luther condemned Aquinas as 'doing the devil's work'. And Platonism was gradually eliminated or suppressed from Christianity over the course of the late medieval and early modern periods. This is why, I think, there became such an emphasis on fideism, 'salvation by faith alone' and unquestioning submission to authority.

    Deep historical questions, of course, but that's the general thrust.
  • unenlightened
    4k
    It might be useful to turn the philosophical eye inwards for a moment and ask what is philosophy. And in doing so, one must look at philosophy as it occurs rather than as one would like it to occur according to some principle.

    And when I say 'must' I am of course declaring a principle of my own philosophy, that one aim to be unbiased. And the discerning inquirer will have noticed that there is a radical circularity here, and I will admit that it is unsettling, but also declare it as a widespread feature of philosophy.

    So looking around, there is a tradition, or several traditions, with a canon of works, and a practice of study contemplation and dialogue. There are buildings that house schools and libraries, there are teachers and students. And there are factions, 'isms, and sects, great and small, that have disputes and conflicts and more or less contempt for each other.

    Do we members of this forum all agree what is this 'philosophy' that we discuss together? It seems to me that we do not, and that philosophy is almost as varied and conflicted as religion, and indeed that it cannot be entirely distinguished from that religion that it opposes (in this thread at least). As a matter of fact, philosophy is a tradition, with a practice that develops from principles, and principles developed from practice. It is an institution, a way of life, a discipline ... much like any religion; and some factions of philosophy have a somewhat religious devotion to denying any resemblance to a religion. As if this could ever be anything other than an article of faith and dogma.
  • praxis
    1.6k
    Another point about Buddhism, is that its model is one of 'imparting an understanding' rather than 'laying down the law'. The first element in the Buddhist eightfold path is 'samma ditthi' meaning 'right view' or 'right understanding'. That is subtly different to the Christian 'orthodoxy' which means 'right belief' or 'right worship'. This is because it contains a cognitive element, i.e. the aspirant needs to arrive at a correct understanding, not simply recite articles of faith and believe in them (although in practice there are many convergences).Wayfarer

    There’s no difference because in both the Eastern and Western traditions the subjects of ‘understanding’ cannot be understood. No one can explain how rebirth works, for example. There are countless questions that you could ask about it that no one could answer. It must be taken on faith, and only a religious authority can say what needs to be believed. It’s excusable that they don’t know because they’re just the middleman, not God, Buddha, or whatever.
  • praxis
    1.6k
    some factions of philosophy have a somewhat religious devotion to denying any resemblance to a religion.unenlightened

    The God Punishers, I think they’re called.
  • 180 Proof
    105
    For some time now I've been thinking about whether it is possible to indicate specific criteria to be used in determining if a "coherent set of ideas" is to be classified as a philosophy or a religion. — Daniel C

    The degree to which "a coherent set of ideas" is dogmatic - appeals to Mystery (Ignorance) / Authority / Tradition / Popularity / Emotion - is the degree to which I'd classify it as belonging to religious discourse, or "a religion". Likewise, the degree to which "a coherent set of ideas" is aporetic - consists in rational grounds for doubt, and therefore, reflective inquiry - is the degree to which it belongs to philosophical discourse, or "a philosophy".

    (Both dogmatic & aporetic: whichever frames, or sets priorities, is primary, or the defining characteristic of the "set of ideas" at issue.

    Neither dogmatic nor aporetic: such "a set of ideas" are, it seems, merely customs, conventions, norms, etc.)

    What brought me to this is the case of Buddhism. — Daniel C

    To my mind, Buddhism (theravada? mahāyāna? vajrayāna?) is more religious than philosophical, that is, its doctrines are more dogmatic than aporetic in practice.
  • I like sushi
    1.3k
    Nihilism equates to religious attitudes. Meaning they both belittle the corporeal and reduce Earthly existence to being either ‘illusionary’ or ‘hellish’ - the effect is that people taking these seriously have a low opinion of Earthly existence (which as far as I know is all we have so why not hold it in the highest regard rather than make out this is some kind of ‘trial’ or ‘test’?)

    That said I do think both nihilism and religious views can be a useful, and necessary, path for most people along their journey through life. They do offer something that tips towards humility even if it is often construed as something other than ‘humility’. It’s certainly a complex area and that is obvious enough in how people rage and war about these very ideas and likely will for centuries to come.
  • TheMadFool
    4k
    For some time now I've been thinking about whether it is possible to indicate specific criteria to be used in determining if a "coherent set of ideas" is to be classified as a philosophy or a religion. What brought me to this is the case of Buddhism. When you start doing only a little research on this matter, the division in opinion regarding Buddhism is immediately apparent. Even among scholars of philosophy and religion there is no consensus as far as Buddhism's position is concerned. This leads me inevitably to ask about the possibility of distinguishing such criteria and to what extend consensus on their validity is possible.Daniel C

    What is religion? What is philosophy?

    Religion, if I may say so, concerns itself with morality which itself is based on the suffering-happiness dichotomy. It maybe that not all religions have these as a central theme but the big-wigs among religions seem united in both moral prescriptions, the alleviation of suffering and creating/perpetuating happiness.

    Philosophy, it seems to me, is about rational analysis of all things under the sun, religion included.

    If there's anything remotely close to religion in philosophy then it's ethics and if there's any philosophy in religions then it consists of argumentation, attempts at rationality, to support their doctrines/dogmas.

    As you can see religion is quite narrow in scope - confining itself to morals and suffering/happiness. However, what is relevant for philosophy is religion's need to monopolize truth which is, quite obviously, a major roadblock for philosophy or anything else for that matter.

    As for Buddhism, in my humble opinion, it too focuses on morality and it's conjoined twin suffering/happiness. However, in contrast to other religions, it identifies what could be called real causes for suffering and what is most applauadable about it is that it specifically singles out IGNORANCE as the most deplorable vice.
  • 180 Proof
    105
    My sketchy sketch ...

    What is religion? What is philosophy?TheMadFool

    A religion Justifies - exegetes, preaches, proselytizes - its fundamental sine qua non claims (i.e. doctrines, rites) primarily via appeals to ignorance, etc, thereby reinforcing incorrigibility in its adherents. Re: dogmatics, mysteries ...

    A philosophy, however, Critiques (our) Ignorance Of (our) Ignorance preliminarily via corrigibly avoiding formal fallacies in reasoning & informal fallacies in discursive engagement (i.e. dialectic, lecture, writing). Re: aporetics, problematiques ...
  • TheMadFool
    4k
    :up: :up: :clap: :clap:
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