It’s Official…on Buddhism

It's official...I cannot write a one-page paper. At least I don't have any sense of "completion".

The assignment: Did the Buddha establish a new religion? Why or why not? The papers (10 in a semester) are to be no more than one page and are not graded - you either turn them in and get full credit or you don't.

Here is mine:

The answer is no…and yes. The Buddha did not…and did…institute a new religion. It all depends on what definition of “religion” you use. Even Buddhists say that Buddhism can be either a religion or a philosophy: “We believe that for those who observe and follow the ceremonies of Buddhism, then it is a religion. For those who observe and follow the morality of Buddhism, then it is a philosophy of life”.

The first definition of “religion” is: “Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe” ( Using this definition, the Buddha did not institute a new religion since the Buddha did not teach about a supernatural power. Buddhism is about ceremony and morality, not about worshipping the Creator. The end of life brings “nirvana” (“extinction” – the soteriological goal of Buddhism; the final cessation of rebirth into suffering existence.”;, not eternity in the presence of the Creator.

The other main definitions of “religion” are: “A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader” and “A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.” Using these definitions, the Buddha did institute a new religion, since he was a spiritual leader who taught beliefs, values and practices with zeal and conscientious devotion. However, since these beliefs and values can be applied to most world religions, it is hard to promote Buddhism as “the way”.

In short, depending on what definitions you prefer and how you use Buddhist teachings, Buddhism can be a philosophy, a religion or both.

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2 thoughts on “It’s Official…on Buddhism

  1. It sounds as if you made an important distinction, explained why the question is ambiguous and thus unanswerable without disambiguating, and then answered it on each disambiguation. This is what good thinking involves. I'd be very excited to see my students more regularly displaying that important skill.

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