Is Buddhism a religion, philosophy, way of life, or science of mind?

I’m confused. Buddhism is considered one of the world’s five great religions, but some people say it’s not a religion at all, but a philosophy, way of life, or science of mind. Which is it? We answer your questions on Buddhism and meditation.

Lion’s Roar
26 December 2018
Illustration by Nolan Pelletier.

The answer is really about how you define religion. On one hand, Buddhism looks a lot like every other religion, with monastics, temples, sacred texts, rituals, congregations, etc. So by the “if it quacks like a duck” sociological definition, it’s a religion. On the other hand, most people define religion as believing in some sort of God or Creator, which Buddhism does not. They consider the concept of “nontheistic religion” a contradiction in terms, so they label Buddhism as a philosophy, way of life, or science of mind (and many Buddhists in the West agree). We would like to offer a third definition: religion is that which posits a nonmaterial spiritual reality (whether God or mind) and asserts we continue in some way after death. By that definition, combined with the sociological and historical realities, we come down on the side that Buddhism is a religion—and all those other things too.

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Lion's Roar

Lion’s Roar

Lion’s Roar is the website of Lion’s Roar magazine (formerly the Shambhala Sun) and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, with exclusive Buddhist news, teachings, art, and commentary. Sign up for the Lion’s Roar weekly newsletter and follow Lion’s Roar on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.