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Thich Nhat Hanh On "Is Buddhism A Religion"

DakiniDakini Veteran
edited December 2018 in Buddhism Today

TNH has an interesting take on Buddhism. He's one of few Asian Buddhist leaders, who says it's not a religion, and adds, that it's compatible as a combined practice with the world's religions.
https://themindsjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Buddhism-Is-A-Religion-758x758.jpg

nakazcidShoshinFosdickKeromeKundoZazen1lobsterBuddhalotustom_hitt

Comments

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Notice he states categorically, that "You can be a Christian and practise Buddhism".

    I often affirm that this is the case. But I also maintain that you cannot be a Buddhist and practise Christianity (not in the fullest and most complete sense. I know, I've been there... But that is just my truth. Just as there are many Scientists who believe in God, so too I may be wrong about my conviction).

    DakiniBuddhalotustom_hitt
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    I think it depends very much on what kind of Christian you choose to be. If you are a Catholic and you are asked to affirm the infallibility of the Pope, you may get into difficulty with Buddhist beliefs. Similarly if you are an Evangelical and are talking about how religion should be presented to others, Buddhism may give you a different opinion than some of your fellows.

    You can combine them, but then your Buddhism will shape your Christianity along certain directions. And as Thich Nhat Hanh’s priest acquaintance says, you may find yourself thinking that you’re a better Christian for going through that.

    lobsterShoshin
  • KundoKundo Sydney, Australia Veteran

    I think we as a whole spend too much time giving an opinion on what others can or can't do rather than working on ourselves.

    This is a generalised statement, not aimed at anyone here. I learnt this about myself the hard way. 🙏🙏🙏

    Jasonlobster
  • KundoKundo Sydney, Australia Veteran
    edited December 2018

    @Kerome said:

    You can combine them, but then your Buddhism will shape your Christianity along certain directions. And as Thich Nhat Hanh’s priest acquaintance says, you may find yourself thinking that you’re a better Christian for going through that.

    I think you've misunderstood the priest. It's not an ego thing, it's more about understanding your faith more deeply or from a different viewpoint. I often said this about Judaism 🙏🙏🙏

    Then again perhaps ive misunderstood you and if so, I apologise.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    I've had Buddhists tell me I can't be Christian, and Christians tell me that I can't be a Buddhist, yet here I am. 🤷‍♀️

    I was once very much in the same category, and was critical of those who double-belonged. I've since learned to see a shared wisdom among religious traditions that others may not, and now seek to offer alternative yet complimentary approaches for those with 'little dust in their eyes' who will recognize and appreciate the Dhamma regardless of the cultural and linguistic differences in how it's presented.

    DakiniKundo
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Jason said:
    I've had Buddhists tell me I can't be Christian, and Christians tell me that I can't be a Buddhist, yet here I am. 🤷‍♀️

    I hope you do not perceive my viewpoint as a criticism. <3

    And I think, along similar lines to @kerome's thoughts, it very much depends on how you view, perceive or personalise God for yourself.

    @kerome is right in the fact that a strict adherent of Catholicism is bound and instructed that certain matters of Doctrine are indisputable facts and that they cannot be denied (on pain of excommunication - yes, I have met such a person!) but I feel someone who can gain a foothold in both Christianity AND Buddhism is very much their own person and self-governed authority on their parallel practices. And that's for the good, I believe.

    And I personally think taking note of the benevolent words and intentions of Christ is a very different thing to adhering to God's word, no matter how much The Church might insist the three in one.

    I Just feel Christ was a great guy on his own merits, without living life in the shadow of his Father...
    Both TNH and HHDL speak of Christ, not God....

    Kundo
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    @federica said:

    @Jason said:
    I've had Buddhists tell me I can't be Christian, and Christians tell me that I can't be a Buddhist, yet here I am. 🤷‍♀️

    I hope you do not perceive my viewpoint as a criticism. <3

    And I think, along similar lines to @kerome's thoughts, it very much depends on how you view, perceive or personalise God for yourself.

    @kerome is right in the fact that a strict adherent of Catholicism is bound and instructed that certain matters of Doctrine are indisputable facts and that they cannot be denied (on pain of excommunication - yes, I have met such a person!) but I feel someone who can gain a foothold in both Christianity AND Buddhism is very much their own person and self-governed authority on their parallel practices. And that's for the good, I believe.

    And I personally think taking note of the benevolent words and intentions of Christ is a very different thing to adhering to God's word, no matter how much The Church might insist the three in one.

    I Just feel Christ was a great guy on his own merits, without living life in the shadow of his Father...
    Both TNH and HHDL speak of Christ, not God....

    No, I don't. I also realize I'm a weird duck. I'm a Buddhist who's also Catholic and enjoys going to a Lutheran church.

    Kundo
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited December 2018

    As a side note, papal infallibility was only codified in 1869–1870, so I don't put a lot of stock in that particular Catholic doctrine. I think it was instituted more to help consolidate power and authority and deflect dissent than it was a reflection of divine truth.

    lobsterZazen1federicaBuddhalotus
  • Cod is Great as we unbelievers and atheists say. Bless us Dalai Lama for we Theravadins have been wheel turning ...

    When I say 'Cod', I mean Flying Speghetti Bodhi ...

    Sure Buddhism is a religion in some regions with pagan, magical, puritanical, intellectual etc, etc modifications. For example Pureland Buddhism was used in some areas to counter the foriegn growth of heaven based Christianity ...

    Yoga can be a religion and football ...
    "Some people think football's a matter of life and death. I can assure them it is much more serious than that"
    Bill Shankly

    Practice as you will. Use available tools. End ignorance. Hail Santa. 🎅🏼🤶🏾🧜‍♂️

    ... and now back to the True Homeless Path ..

    Zazen1DakiniBuddhalotus
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    Hmm...Buddhism is a practice not a religion....
    Christzens are Christians who practice Buddhist "Meditation" AKA "Zen"
    Yep I guess this will work for some...

    Buddhalotus
  • there are two sayings (in this regard) that help me stay in the middle of the path and out of the ditch: 1) the saddest thing i ever saw is a god who has just learned s/he is not immortal; 2) if a thing is true, it's true all over. to me, these sum up an ability to live with uncertainty and a certainty that it is possible to know "Truth" or the Darma.

    Shoshin
  • BuddhalotusBuddhalotus Here and now Explorer
    edited December 2018

    Personally, I shun abrahamic religions.
    I suppose it has to do with the fact that I need to embrace an outlook on reality and life from a logical point of view, and belief in a God simply does not add up in my calculations.

    I agree Buddhism may be a practice rather than a religion.
    But my Buddhist practice has deepened my belief in Buddha Dharma and steered me even farther away from my Catholic upbringing.
    Buddhism simply makes sense, requires that I engage intellectually with it and can be verified through personal experience.
    Full stop.

    Traditional abrahamic religions suspiciously ask me to accept, to believe, to have faith, not to question...
    This mindset is pretty convenient in countries where religions are also an affair of state: we begin by not questioning the nuts and bolts of our religious belief, and we end up accepting paternalistic rulings at face value.

    person
  • KundoKundo Sydney, Australia Veteran
    edited December 2018

    @Buddhalotus said:

    Traditional abrahamic religions suspiciously ask me to accept, to believe, to have faith, not to question...

    Orthodox Judaism does not. In fact, it's very much the opposite (which is why I can "debate" so well LOL).

    This mindset is pretty convenient in countries where religions are also an affair of state: we begin by not questioning the nuts and bolts of our religious belief, and we end up accepting paternalistic rulings at face value.

    Agree. Separation of state and church/synagogue/mosque/temple is always a good thing.

    BuddhalotusZazen1person
  • @Kundo said:
    I think we as a whole spend too much time giving an opinion on what others can or can't do rather than working on ourselves.

    This is a generalised statement, not aimed at anyone here. I learnt this about myself the hard way. 🙏🙏🙏

    Ah ha!
    Can it be true gentle reader? We have to work on ourselves? Who guessed? o:)

    oooohhhhhh ...
    It is so much easier to sort out everyone elses behavour ... 🙃
    Oh well ... better start before it is too late ... 🤓

    BuddhalotusZazen1
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Buddhalotus said:
    Personally, I shun abrahamic religions.
    I suppose it has to do with the fact that I need to embrace an outlook on reality and life from a logical point of view, and belief in a God simply does not add up in my calculations.

    I suppose it also depends how you personally define 'God'. Being an ex-RC myself (and trust me, being Italian, immersion wasn't debatable!) and having come across several in my lifetime, you'll be hard-put to find even two devoted hard-line Christians coming up with the same definition.

    I agree Buddhism may be a practice rather than a religion.

    I'm not entirely certain all those Monks and nuns dedicated to their calling, would entirely agree... Many rituals would say otherwise...

    But my Buddhist practice has deepened my belief in Buddha Dharma and steered me even farther away from my Catholic upbringing.

    It's actually helped me understand it more and separate the wheat from the chaff.
    To steal a line... ;)

    Buddhism simply makes sense, requires that I engage intellectually with it and can be verified through personal experience.
    Full stop.

    There are still aspects of Buddhism which cause me to pause and ponder (re-birth, the workings of Kamma, those kinds of things...) and just as there are many followers of God ho decide to accept everything without question, just because "it is written" so there are many Buddhists who do the same because "The Buddha taught this". I'm in the camp of "Ehipassiko" and Kalama Sutta mind-set, meself. Which is kinda the mind-set that got me into scrapes at my RC Convent school...

    Traditional abrahamic religions suspiciously ask me to accept, to believe, to have faith, not to question...

    Actually, they don't. Imposed Human Doctrine asks you that. There's the teachings of Christ, then there's the Thought-Police Authorities that pick and choose and mould and manipulate... It's important to separate the two... Men are such control freaks... :D

    This mindset is pretty convenient in countries where religions are also an affair of state: we begin by not questioning the nuts and bolts of our religious belief, and we end up accepting paternalistic rulings at face value.

    Yeah, agreed. That is really a "don't even go there" matter....!

    BuddhalotusKundoZazen1
  • BuddhalotusBuddhalotus Here and now Explorer

    @adamcrossley said:
    For a Buddhist, the teachings are empowering. The only covenant we have is with our own collective and individual happiness: “If you do this, you’ll find it leads to your long term happiness.”

    What makes Buddhism so hard to pin as religion is the fact that it is not a theistic spiritual practice.

    That renders a covenant with a supreme creator being whatsoever impossible.
    And honestly, wholly unnecessary.

    Without any gods playing dice nor sorting out fates, the only choice we have is to become accountable for our own actions.
    Our choices have consequences, and the responsibility lies in myself.
    Which yes, is in itself empowering.

    Zazen1adamcrossleypersonFosdick
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    The word Religion comes from the Latin, to bind one's self, to commit, to adhere.

    It has nothing to do with a Theistic or non-theistic devotion.
    We commit ourselves to a particular calling, and devote ourselves to a Practice that involves discipline, restraint, skilful behaviour, abstinence and Concentration.

    PETA is petitioning to have Veganism granted the status of a Religion, because those who devote themselves to Veganism vow to do no harm to any living animal.
    Veganism has no God, and its only commitment is to not use animals for purposes that would demand their death or suffering. They won't even wear wool.

    So 'Religion' actually doesn't HAVE to involve a deity at all.

    Zazen1adamcrossleyperson
  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran
    edited December 2018

    I mostly agree, @federica. But I would say, as an ex-English student, that words as they’re used today don’t always honour their etymologies.

    I think Robert Wright defines Buddhism as a religion, based on its proposition of an underlying truth to reality, which begs the question: is “reality” the Buddhist equivalent of God?

    From Domyo Burke (Zen Studies Podcast):

    Even without a deity, Zen Buddhists get everything else a major religion offers: Traditional spiritual teachings and practices, scriptures and literature collected over the course of millennia, ritual and ceremony, religious community, mythology and iconographic imagery, initiation rites and clergy, and moral guidelines.

    [...]

    While we don’t conceive of, or worship, an omnipotent personification of the Divine, at the heart of our tradition is the teaching that reality itself is luminous, precious, and infused with compassion. We don’t ascribe an agenda, personality, or gender to That-Which-Is-Greater, but we long to live in harmony with It, and personally experience intimacy with It. These longings infuse our spiritual practice with meaning.

    https://zenstudiespodcast.com/zen-god/

    Buddhalotus
  • KundoKundo Sydney, Australia Veteran
    edited December 2018

    @Buddhalotus said:

    What makes Buddhism so hard to pin as religion is the fact that it is not a theistic spiritual practice.

    But honestly, does theism define religion? I have a few friends who are zealous atheists and are just as evangelical about God not existing as some theists are about God existing. I would hazard a guess that it's the enthusiasm (for lack of a better word) that makes any belief a religious one rather than the content.

    But I'm willing to be corrected :)

    Zazen1
  • BuddhalotusBuddhalotus Here and now Explorer

    Buddhanet still defines Buddhism as not being a religion because of its lack of association with a creator God:

    http://www.buddhanet.net/nutshell03.htm

    An interesting article on Lion's Roar presents a debate weighing why it could be considered a religion or not:
    https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&amp;source=web&amp;cd=&amp;ved=2ahUKEwipgaG_pbbfAhXJs48KHfVXCRYQzPwBegQIARAC&amp;url=https://www.lionsroar.com/is-buddhism-a-religion-november-2013/&amp;psig=AOvVaw1eKE4k3ByIr8f7CzR_3Dpj&amp;ust=1545666216058162

    I am not an expert in semiotics nor feel willing to start a debate on the subject, but I still think that Veganism or Atheism can hardly be defined as coming close to the concept of religion as it is traditionally understood.

    I am mainly vegetarian and an enthusiast atheist, but I view both as lifestyle and belief choices.
    Naturally, to each his own.

    Zazen1Kundo
  • @Buddhalotus said:

    What makes Buddhism so hard to pin as religion is the fact that it is not a theistic spiritual practice.


    Without any gods playing dice nor sorting out fates, the only choice we have is to become accountable for our own actions.
    Our choices have consequences, and the responsibility lies in myself.
    Which yes, is in itself empowering.

    Yes; it doesn't involve faith, except for faith that the practice will work. Like having faith in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy isn't a religion.

    I've always loved the accountability in Buddhism. You don't get off Scott-free on your deathbed, if you "repent". You've already created the karmic seeds. If you've lead a life victimizing others, you're stuck with those seeds, no matter what. That makes more sense.

    Great post. :)

    Zazen1KundoBuddhalotus
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    Thich Nhat Hanh On "Is Buddhism A Religion"

    Buddhism is whatever a practitioner would like to call it ie a religion, a way of life, a system, a method etc etc...not that name calling will make any difference to the experience understanding gained from practice ( however for tax purposes...well that's a different story :) )

    Zazen1KundoBuddhalotuslobster
  • KundoKundo Sydney, Australia Veteran

    @Dakini I had feared TNH had passed when I read your comment. I see he has returned to Vietnam to remain at his root temple.

    You are right in stating we were lucky to have him teach as long as he did. I have learnt so much from him 🙏🙏🙏

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited December 2018

    This may sound stupid, but in Thich Nhat Hahn, I see the Buddhist version of Thomas Merton. By that I mean someone steeped in their own particular religious tradition who, nonetheless, sees the wisdom, vision, commonalities, and value in others and seeks to build bridges between them. In addition, he points to the heart of religion, the image of which is a finger pointing towards the moon. The moon represents truth and the spiritual goal we wish to achieve, which is love and wisdom and peace. Nibbana. Heaven. Whatever else you want to call it. And his words speak to me, as do Merton's and the Buddha's and Jesus' and so many others. Like the best teachers, he's trying to point our gaze in the right direction. It's not about who's better or more right and deserving; it's about being better and becoming more wise and opening our arms and hearts to absolutely everything. It's a distinction most fail to see, which is why the Buddha says it goes against the flow of the stream and Jesus says the gate is narrow. Like Ajahn Chah once said, the only book we need to read is our heart. All the answers are there. Our heart is the moon, and all these teachings are pointing there.

    personKundolobsteradamcrossley
  • BuddhalotusBuddhalotus Here and now Explorer

    @Dakini said:
    The Buddha didn't teach ritual and ceremony, though. He taught, that those are forms of attachment. He also prohibited portrayal of himself as any human likeness; referring to him in symbols was ok. He never conducted any initiation rites. He had no clergy, except himself as teacher, and on his deathbed, he told his monks that no teacher was necessary. They already had his teachings, which they could follow without a teacher. He built no temples.

    Yes, attachment to rites, rituals and ceremonies is one of the ten hindrances.
    Somewhere in the SN, when referring to the tradition of sacrifices in his times, the Buddha was quoted as saying: "I lay no wood, brahmin, for fire on altars"

  • LotusMindLotusMind San Francisco Explorer

    Kindness is my religion. I believe it was the Dalai Lama said this.

    KundoShoshinlobster
  • herbieherbie Veteran
    edited January 5

    @federica said:
    Notice he states categorically, that "You can be a Christian and practise Buddhism".

    I often affirm that this is the case. But I also maintain that you cannot be a Buddhist and practise Christianity (not in the fullest and most complete sense. I know, I've been there... But that is just my truth. Just as there are many Scientists who believe in God, so too I may be wrong about my conviction).

    Hi @federica,

    in another thread your wording is:

    I am of the opinion that:
    You can practise a Theistic religion fully, AND incorporate Buddhist practice as much as >you want.

    You CANNOT practise Buddhism fully, and incorporate a Theistic religion as a >fundamental and significant part of that practice."

    I think that your wording 'Buddhist practice as much as you want' is more appropriate than the categorical statement attributed to Thich Nhat Hanh above because 'practise Buddhism' seems to imply all of Buddhism and its practices but your wording seems to take into account that there may be buddhist practices a Christian wouldn't want to apply. From my perspective there certainly are buddhist practices that go against Christian beliefs and a Christian wouldn't want to apply.

    As far as the question "Is Buddhism A Religion?" is concerned I'd say: It can be practiced as a religion but it hasn't necessarily to be practiced as a religion.
    However I have to immediately correct myself since: What's the basis of buddhism? It's the buddhist scriptures! And from that perspective buddhism is a religion.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Exactly. I'm sure there is much in Buddhism that a Christian may find difficult to accept, WITHOUT abandoning some of the Doctrine they are taught in a Theistic religion. However, the majority of Basic Buddhist principles are universally practicable and the 4 Noble Truths inarguable.

    I had a brilliant discussion on the 4NT, about 10 years ago with two Jehovah's Witnesses which basically (amicably) ended with 'Senior' stating that he had better remove 'Junior' because he could see some doubts creeping in, and he would obviously need further Instruction (also known, in my book, as "indoctrination".) I did see them off to the door, telling 'Junior' to 'call round, any time' but I never saw them again.
    I have occasionally wondered whatever became of Junior....

    Kundo
  • herbieherbie Veteran

    @federica,

    sorry I've edited my post while you replied: I've added that last paragraph starting with 'As far as the question' and ending with 'buddhism is a religion'. So your 'Exactly' does not necessarily include this added paragraph.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    That's ok, I agree with it.

    (I think that's what might be called a '1st World Problem... :D )

  • herbieherbie Veteran

    @federica said:
    That's ok, I agree with it.

    (I think that's what might be called a '1st World Problem... :D )

    Just wanted to make that transparent for any reader.

    Anyway ... could you elaborate on the expression in brackets? My mind/brain isn't able to synthesize a consistent meaning for that.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    I was just kidding.
    The addition of a paragraph didn't pose me any problem or second thoughts on what I'd posted.
    I was merely blowing it up into a humorous 1st world problem, akin to a typical airhead teen breaking a nail or not being able to post her lunch photo on facebook.... We're big on humour here.... Don't worry, stick around you'll see a lot of that, frequently! )

  • DavidDavid some guy Veteran
    edited January 5

    I dig what he means but at the same time some sects have their beliefs and there are prayers, shrines, monks, nuns, precepts... even gods.

    I think the word "religion" itself sometimes scares away potential students.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @David said:
    I think the word "religion" itself sometimes scares away potential students.

    "I ain't afraid of no holy ghost."
    (Catholic Ghostbusters) :3

    Kundo
  • SE25WallSE25Wall London Explorer

    what i have noticed since practacising for a few years is there is not really a single leap of faith i have had to make. there is no "faking it to make it". it's just following instructions. i guess this is the waterd-down piss easy form of buddhism, but if the ultimate goal is to end suffering (that's mine - to end mine, and to help others end theres by ending mine), then i don't really care if what form of buddhism it is (and i lean toward the idea that the buddha wouldn't eitehr). no leap of faith at all. i thought religion was all about faith?

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @SE25Wall There's Theistic Faith, which is just Hope in evening dress, and there's Buddhist Faith which is more along the lines of Confidence.

    Christians have faith in Their Souls going to Heaven, which if they're really honest, is conjecture....
    Buddhists have Faith in Nibbana, which, if they're really honest, is there but tough going.

    SE25Walllobster
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