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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Running a Course in Korea and Elsewhere

Posted by David Brazier on August 3, 2018 at 1:40 2 Comments

I am currently leading courses on Buddhist psychology here in Seoul, Korea, but as I am putting the course onto this site as we go along, members of La Ville au Roi (Eleusis) are also responding so it is a bit as though the course is going on in several countries at the same time which is nice.

Varlam Shalamov

Posted by Geeta Chari on July 16, 2018 at 0:00 1 Comment

From The Paris Review:

For fifteen years the writer Varlam Shalamov was imprisoned in the Gulag for participating in “counter-revolutionary Trotskyist activities.” He endured six of those years enslaved in the gold mines of Kolyma, one of the coldest and most hostile places on earth. While he was awaiting sentencing, one of his short stories was…

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The Buddha, Season 1, Episode 1

Posted by Geeta Chari on June 29, 2018 at 9:21 1 Comment

I have been watching The Buddha on Netflix, and although I came well-prepared to scoff, there is a surprising amount of food for thought from a Pureland perspective. What follows is a review of the Pureland touches in the episode, coloured inevitably by my upbringing in India, although I have now lived in Britain for more than half my life.

The scene opens in the republic of Kapilavastu, depicted as a green and pleasant land, with the Himalayan mountains as a backdrop. (I was…

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Nembutsu Question

Posted by Dayamay Dunsby on April 20, 2018 at 8:22 1 Comment

I found this in a book that I'm reading. It has challenged my current "understanding" of the Nembutsu. I tend to think of the name itself as salvation and the bridge to the Pure Land...

"...Nembutsu is not a means to gain salvation but a reflection of it. Shinran acknowledges there is nembutsu without true entrusting because he lived in an environment where nembutsu was recited for benefits and merit. By itself it cannot produce true entrusting. Nevertheless, they are inseparable as…

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