Is Buddhism a Religion?
It has been a long lasting debate among the people around the world about Buddhism being a religion in itself or just a philosophy which describes about the way of life or living. Over this long period of time, no one can really explain this - Buddhism being a religion or a philisophy. Different people, different perspective and different opinions.
We can not come to a conclusion without going through the argument for Buddhism being what? - Religion or Philiosophy.
Buddhism as a Religion
Around the world there are a majority of people who believe it to be a RELIGION – and of course there should be some reason for them to claim it as a Religion.
What makes people debate Buddhism being a religion? As we know religion is defined as a belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or god. Buddhism has been here since a long time and people were practicing it for nearly 500 years before the birth of Jesus. Since the start of modern time, Buddhism has been spread all over the world and today we can see Buddhists are around every continent. It is a belief in Buddhism that has made it popular in all over the world and to believe in Buddhism makes it a religion in itself. Like every religion, Buddhism has a philosophy and like every other religion, when practiced it becomes a philosophy, a way of life. When we say Buddhism is a religion, it means to understand its art, literature, rituals and mythology and not only philosophy and practices.
To stress Buddhism as a religion, we should remember the discussion of afterlife and the various realms of existence by Buddha. Buddha had mentioned the Thirty-One realms of existence that one has rebirth after death in many of his sermons. There were other references of supernatural beings and other realms in his first and most famous discourse The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. Most of the people debating about Buddhism as a Philosophy often forget these aspects.
"A belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or god!"
Buddhism as a Philosophy
Like white is to black, there are counter people who believes Buddhism as a Philosophy than a Religion. Buddhism is often regarded as “a way of life” but for it is more than just a lifestyle. So how do we define Philosophy to strengthen the argument of Buddhism being Philosophy? Philosophy means the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct. This definition more accurately fits into Buddhism. From the teachings of Buddha which we often regard as the Dhamma or Dharma which when translated means the ultimate truth or the truth about reality. Buddha, in his teachings, has always supported all of his followers to go for deeper research for his teachings for themselves which can give them better idea and understanding. In one of his Sutta, he mentioned that nobody should believe in what they hear, either from their masters or as a part of tradition as they might not be the real truth unless they investigate themselves deeper.
Buddha always emphasized upon practicing the moral principles rather than believing into them through his teachings. Buddha had never described his teaching, in regards of the Five Precepts, as a rigid law but only as guidelines which can be followed for own happiness in this or next life.
Buddha always discussed about metaphysical aspects of life or reality which would often be relate to religion, but he always made it clear that Buddhism was always about practicing but not about what one knows. To make this argument stronger, there are quite a number of cases where Buddha was asked with a series of metaphysical questions to which he answered by saying that such questions are not important. Such questions are just a waste of time and should be avoided.
What can we conclude?
At last, we can see that each of the side has their own belief to debate. We can never come to a conclusion about what Buddhism is in real. We all know all of the religion, at one time, was a Philosophy which in a long run became a way of life. Even Buddha told to all of his disciple not to do idol worshipping. But since ages after the death of Buddha, people are being ignorant and praying Buddha Statues which was not meant to happen. But this doesn't affect the belief of people. And there are people who took the word of Buddha and used Buddha statues as a medium of inspiration for practicing meditation. In both of the scenario, people are idolizing Buddha for their own belief; praying and meditation.