Religion is a belief system based on faith in a supernatural being, power or entity, or the plurals thereof, which is usually regarded as omniscient, omnipotent and the creator or originator of all that we perceive.
These attributes imply that everything, our every thoughts and deeds, are under the scrutiny of this supernatural agency.
This leads to a prescribed set of conduct for the faithful to follow, and to the ceremonial worship of this deity, to please and appease it through rituals and practices.
Through the supernatural properties attributed to them, these deities acquire the exalted status of being considered divine, infallible, sacred and sacrosanct.
All this formalizes and institutionalizes the belief system into a religion, where followers have a prescribed framework of spiritual practices, beliefs, set of answers, and a code of conduct to lead their lives by.
Followers of religions usually find that their practise provides a measure of solace, succour, belonging, direction and meaning to their lives. And this is probably the core essence most followers would derive and behold of religion, though this may not necessarily concur with the intended function by the originator(s) of the religion.
Inherent in any belief system is the implicitly assumed quality of intrinsic wisdom, truth or knowledge it contains and provides.
Though some religions go beyond the simple prescription of dogma and explicitly claim exclusive rights to such ‘truths’, and also concurrently create demarcations for their followers from ‘non believers’, brandishing the latter as “infidels, heretics, judases, godless, agnostics, or any such label designed to denigrate non followers and to elevate their own flock.
One of the definitions of a meme/cult is the explicit insistence of exclusive tenure to the truth; in whatever guise this truth may manifest itself with the religion in question.
This is manifested in circulatory self attestation; a train of reasoning reliant on acceptance, at blind faith, of any one of the arguments in the circle.
One other defining notion for a cult is the portrayal of their dogma as being the true, primary essence of the core religion it derives its canon from; i.e. fundamentalism.
A third element employed by cults is fear; if a member does not wholly acquiesce and dedicate his life to, and faithfully follows the dogma, wrathful vengeance will be incurred.
Most religions contain elements of circulatory reasoning, fundamentalism and fear, so there is a fine borderline between a religion and a cult.
Belief systems and religions per se, and cults in particular, have a tendency for their followers to acquire traits of self righteousness, exclusivity, condescension and derision.
Their religion/belief becomes an all consuming aspect, point of reference, and the meaning of life itself.
Nothing has any meaning until we, us sentient beings, attach any such meaning to it.
And this really is the essence.
To make sense of, or understand anything with our ordinary mind, meaning thereof can only be derived through reference to past experiences, acquired knowledge, or accepted truths at faith.
As per the last point, belief in any religion or dogma literally is a leap of faith; for to believe is to subordinate logic, reason and analytical thinking to faith in the veracity of prescribed answers and meaning. Answers which are readily provided and enshrined in organized religions.
Now what if there were a framework which dispensed with prescribed dogma, would negate the existence of intrinsic truth, and would not even tender prescribed tenets unless they could be verified as bona fide by the practitioner itself?
A framework where the practitioner is the discoverer, judge and verifier of truths him, or herself all in one, and progress on the ‘spiritual path’ is not advanced unless such verification has been accomplished at each step along the way.
Where referential thinking quintessentially is anathema, and deemed an encumbrance, and contrary to arriving at the truth.
Where in fact the conquest, and escape from the tyranny of the genes and memes is the prime, and quintessential focus of the practice.
Now, such a framework would in fact have to liberate the mind, allow unconditioned, analytical investigation and examination of any issue concerning mankind.
It would facilitate unprecedented personal growth, for humanity to achieve a new level of comprehension, interaction and approach to dealing with hitherto intractable problems besetting humanity.
If practised universally, this framework could even lead to mankind achieving a harmonious existence; humanity living in peace with itself, and in harmony with nature!
Buddhism is fundamentally at variance with the accepted definitions of religions.
It is indeed all of the above, and more.
• Non theistic; there is no supernatural, almighty being commonly referred to as God, Allah etc.
• Unquestioning faith is anathema to Buddhism. (see above)
• One’s fate is the result of one’s own actions: karma. There is no fate in the sense of punishment or reward dished out by a benevolent or vengeful deity.
• There is no surrender to any god, dogma or practice. It is in fact unconditioned, single pointed, mindful practice which is required.
• There is no dogma, word of god, or holy scripture transmitted through any agency, such as a prophet. The Dharma exists independent of any framework, it may be discovered by any sentient being.
• It is not enough to just do good with reward in mind. Compassionate deeds require true altruistic motivation for merit to arise. Attachment to good deeds defiles the actions and their karmic dividends.
• Buddhist compassion and considerations extend to all sentient beings; animals are part of our ambit of compassionate responsibility.
• Buddhism has neither heaven nor hell. The various realms described in Buddhism are the result of karmic effects. Just as this incarnation is a mind attached to a biological body, the mind can undergo experiences in different realms, hellish or heavenly, according to one’s karma. (dreams are but an indication of these realms the mind can undergo)
• Buddhism is not prescribed as a doctrine or dogma one needs to follow for ‘salvation’, and if a practitioner strays from the path there is no revenge or retribution.
• No almighty god is enacting upon, or interfering in our lives, or the universe. Dependent Origination, or Conditioned Arising explains all physical and psychological phenomena in scientific terms.
• No concept of blasphemy, desecration, sin, or infidel, for there is no sacrosanct dogma, relic or sacred deity.
Taking all the main points of difference into account, Buddhism in essence is diametrically opposed to religion.
Buddhist practices explicitly involve:
• The abandonment of all referential thinking. No truth to be accepted unless it is personally experienced and verified.
• The training of the mind to conquer the tyranny of the memes and genes; to be one’s own master; be in control of one’s destiny.
• Take responsibility for one’s own actions, for karmic effects will ensue from every thought, pronouncement and deed. There is no escape from karma. No vengeful god, fate or bad luck.
• The training of the mind to abandon all attachments and aversions, and pursue compassion with indiscriminate detachment. The four Immeasurables: Love, Compassion, Equanimity, Joy are a practice to clear the mind of preconditioned and ingrained desires and disdains arising from conditioned and referential thinking.
Buddhism in essence is the anti religion ‘Religion’ (or ‘Framework’, for want of a better expression), the Science of the Mind, and the tool for the liberation of one’s mind.
Alas, it seems that humanity is not ready to have that comfort soother religion pulled out just yet.
And the practice of Buddhism is, by any measure, but iron discipline & self control, and extremely diligent, arduous practice!
Buddhism is self deprecating in the sense that it lays no specific claim to any truth or knowledge. In fact it describes itself as merely being the finger pointing at the moon, and once the moon is spotted the finger becomes redundant.
The appearance of Buddhism as a religion with ritualized worship, ceremonies and offerings by the masses is merely superficially valid.
Buddhas are the liberated minds of Buddhist practitioners having attained enlightenment; the objective of Buddhism. They chose to remain in this realm to assist and guide other sentient beings through their endless cycle of incarnations.
The reverence paid to the Buddhas is an expression of gratitude, as in the case of Buddha Sakyamuni for the discovery and dissemination of the Dharma, and Buddhas generally are revered for their guidance and compassion. Of course there are many variances in the many different traditions, but on the whole all the above points are applicable to Buddhist traditions in general.
It is apparent that Reincarnation, and the realm of Becoming, the state in between incarnations, has amply been validated through scientific research. Jim Tucker is but one such exponent, and has made his research available in his book ‘Life before Life’.