QUESTION: Is Buddhism a religion or a psychology?

SHORT ANSWER: Both and more, but religion firstly.

LONG ANSWER: Buddhism is first and foremost a religion, and as such it has given rise to culture and civilisation, including systems of education, psychology, community building, politics, arts, literature, poetry, and so on. If Buddhism were not a religion then it is rather unlikely that it would still be in existence today, or that it would have come into existence in the first place. One would not go through what Siddhartha went through simply for the sake of an academic or professional discipline.

Similarly, Dr. Ambedkar was the leader of the untouchables in India. He saw that the caste system was (and is) deeply embedded in Indian society. He tried to get rid of it through politics and failed. In the end he decided that only a change of religion would be sufficiently fundamental to bring caste to an end so he converted to Buddhism. Religion is most fundamental. People dedicate their whole being for religion and that vis what Buddhism takes. You can take it as only a psychology, or only an education, or only a culture, but you will not get the heart of it that way.

Buddhism has come to the West through a variety of channels, but it is often appreciated here for its psychological aspect. Of course, we also appreciate its arts and its influence for peace in the world and other fruits that it has borne. However, none of these would exist if it were not fundamentally a religion because only a religion leads people to dedicate their whole lives in the way that Buddhist monks, nuns and priests do. They are not just doing a job. Thinking of Buddhism as psychology may well help a Western person to understand some important aspects of it. It can be a way in, but that way goes a lot further if one is willing to follow it all the way.

Modernism has given us much, but it also has some pernicious aspects. One of these is its tendency to fragment and then asset strip. It tends to plunder rather than deeply appreciate the culture it encounters and turn their fruits into consumer goods. People who are only casually interested may well appreciate Buddhist art or may well benefit from the latest meditation exercise without having to make any serious commitment of their life, but if nobody makes such commitment then the wonderful fruits of Buddhism will soon not be there for the picking because the root and trunk of the tree will be dead.

In my own life, Buddhism has always been firstly a religion. I became a social worker in order to practise ‘right livelihood’ because I was Buddhist. I got involved in various forms of social action for similar reasons. That led me into psychotherapy and, naturally, I wanted to apply my Buddhist principles in my work. That led me to write books about Buddhist psychology. Foremost, however, I am Buddhist and that is what I teach and advocate and that is what has provided the inspiration for all my most important work. Namo Buddhaya. Namo Dharmaya. Namo Sanghaya.


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ITZI Conference 2017

Blog Posts

Shinran and Ippen

Posted by Dayamay Dunsby on April 16, 2018 at 8:00 0 Comments

On Saturday evening our regular study group met on Skype where we looked at and discussed material from "No Abode", a beautiful book about the life of Ippen, ancient Japanese Purland master and "The Essential Shinran" which documents the life of Shinran Shonin, one of Honen's most famous disciples. We had a very stimulating discussion which I enjoyed greatly. We will be meeting again on Saturday 19th May at 9pm British time. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to join us.…

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Buddhism Day

Posted by Andrew Ralph Cheffings on March 28, 2018 at 15:46 1 Comment

I wasn't getting as much done as I intended to or 'needed' to in my previous mode of moving between lots of different activities, so I decided to devote one day a week to a particular activity, and this week I'm doing a Buddhism day. I've finally managed to get started on Vow 22, then I did some online research and catching up with mostly Buddhist emails, then I wrote a dharma talk. I plan to do a service run-through later. It's certainly easier for me to get things done this way. Namo Amida…

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REMEMBERING SAIKO SENSEI

Posted by David Brazier on March 19, 2018 at 21:43 1 Comment

Today is the fourteenth anniversary of the death of Gisho Saiko. Sensei Saiko was the founder of Shinshu Counselling. He wrote a number of books and presented his ideas at international conferences as well as through his university and Buddhist organisations in Japan. He referred to my work in his books and when I visited Japan a few months before his death, he took on to invite me to a number of gatherings and hosted my wife and I in royal fashion. He was enthusiastic that I should play a…

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Bombu Magic.

Posted by Dayamay Dunsby on March 14, 2018 at 10:31 0 Comments

''The lotus does not grow in the solid ground of lofty plateaus, but in the muddy ponds of lowland marshes. This is an analogy meaning that foolish beings, while in the mud of blind passions, put forth the blossoms of the Buddha's perfect enlightenment; This indicates the inconceivable power of the Tathagata's universal Primal Vow.''

From ''The Essential Shinran.''

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