Religion is a set of organized systems, practices, and beliefs that relate to the worship and belief of a controlling force, including a supernatural being or a personal god. It entails cultural beliefs, texts, prophecies, worldviews, morals, and revelations with a spiritual meaning to members of a specific faith. In addition, religion can encompass various practices such as prayers, rituals, meditation, trances, feasts, holy places, and symbols. There are many other ways that religion can be defined. However, not all religions are centered on gods, believing in a god or supernatural forces. Many religions include Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Shinto, and traditional African religions.
Defining religion depends on the purpose for which it will be used in various ways. According to Kessler (2007), there are innumerable ways that religion can be defined. The theory of essentialism has commonly used substantive and functional definitions (Kessler, 2007). The substantive definition of religion states that it is a set of beliefs and practices related to worshipping a supernatural being who cannot be scientifically defined. According to Max Weber, a belief can be considered religious or not, depending on the substance being believed (Lewin & Ergas, 2018). As such, I do not agree that Buddhism and Hinduism are religions.
Buddhism is a religion that was discovered by Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, in India more than 2500 years ago. Buddhism is a known world religion with nearly 470 million followers (Lewin & Ergas, 2018). It has been known to be one of the world’s major religions across the globe. However, its practices have been prominent in Southeast and East Asia, with the influence growing towards the west. Most Buddhist’s ideas and teachings often overlap with those from other faiths. Buddhism is not considered a religion due to its beliefs contrary to the substantive definition of religion.
First, Buddhism followers do not acknowledge the presence of the supreme God. Instead, they have their focus on ensuring they are enlightened by attaining wisdom and inner peace. Followers who attain spiritual stratum have experienced nirvana (Lewin & Ergas, 2018). Moreover, their religion’s founder is considered an extraordinary being rather than a god. Thus, the word Buddha means enlightenment. Enlightenment is achieved through utilizing meditation, morality, and wisdom. Buddhists practice meditation since they believe it awakens the truth.
Secondly, philosophers’ interpretation of Buddhism makes it an evolving and tolerant belief. As such, scholars have not recognized Buddhism as an organized religion. They describe it as a way of life and a spiritual tradition. Buddhism encourages individuals to avoid self-indulges but advocates for self-denial (Lewin & Ergas, 2018). Thirdly, certain concepts in Buddhism contradict those in other religions. For instance, Buddhists believe in the law of cause and effect, and the term is karma. Other religions believe it is ethical to do good and wait for blessings to accompany them even when a person cannot appreciate and replicate back.
Dharma, the teachings of Buddha, mean truth about reality or the ultimate truth. According to Buddha’s teachings, he encouraged his followers to find a deeper meaning beyond what he told them. According to him, this gave them a better idea and understanding of the world and its surroundings (Lewin & Ergas, 2018). In addition, he mentions that no one should believe in what they hear, even from their master, since they might be false until proven correct (Lewin & Ergas, 2018). Buddha also emphasized practicing moral principles than believing in them by only learning. Regarding the five precepts, he never described his teachings as a rigid law but as guidelines that can be followed for happiness, proving that Buddhism is philosophical rather than a religion.
Finally, life-related to religion and metaphysical aspects are great consideration. Buddha discussed the metaphysical aspects of reality and life-related to religion but clarified that practicing was more essential than someone knew (Lewin & Ergas, 2018). There are numerous questions that Buddha periodically answered by mentioning they were unimportant. He noted that this was a waste of time and must be avoided (Lewin & Ergas, 2018). On the contrary, the substantive view of religion mentions that it offers answers to most questions through scriptures and readings.
According to most scholars, one of the world’s oldest religions is Hinduism. It has customs and roots that date back more than 4000 years (Lewin & Ergas, 2018). Hinduism is the third most worshipped religion in the world, with more than 900 million followers after Islam and Christianity. More than 95 percent of Hindus live in India (Lewin & Ergas, 2018). The religion lacks a specific founder, making it difficult to trace its history and origins. According to the substantive definition of religion, Hinduism is the completion of philosophies and traditions that make it unsuitable to be categorized as a religion (Lewin & Ergas, 2018). The Hindu philosophy is ambiguous and stands for a tradition of Indian philosophical reasoning. Hinduism can be interpreted as a comprehensive doctrine that Hindu thinkers incorporate.
Hinduism cannot be regarded as a religion. It embraces spiritual ideas from other doctrines. Thus, Hinduism is considered a “family of religions” and “a way of life.” (Lewin & Ergas, 2018). On the contrary, a single organized religion has its ideas to follow. The substantive definition mentions that a religion recognizes only one God, even if they have a single deity (Lewin & Ergas, 2018). There is only a single path, mostly through prayers, that followers believe can attain their path to God. Moreover, Hindu doctrines such as karma and recantation create doubt about whether Hinduism is a religion. Like Buddhism, Hindus believe that people’s actions determine their future and current lives. Thus, they follow their teachings for guidance rather than for spiritual nourishment. Hinduism and Buddhism are related since they are both Asian religions.
Most Hindu philosophers have varied opinions about the Hindu religion as it is regarded as borrowing beliefs from other religions. Some philosophers have been questioning the nature of God as people have different viewpoints towards religion. They are yet to agree and validate the nature and scope of the epistemic Vedas, and basic questions such as axiology are yet to be answered. The explanation proves that the substantive definition disregards Hinduism as a religion.
The substantial definition is more precise and valuable concerning religion. The considerable definition is narrow yet helps illustrate points by understanding religion’s exact meaning. It can be difficult to conclude whether Hinduism and Buddhism are categorized as religions. However, according to the substantial definition, the two are more philosophical than religions with a set of beliefs to follow. Even after being cautioned against idol worship, followers of the two religions still became ignorant and embraced the practice. Despite being two of the major religions worldwide, I believe they can only be categorized as philosophical due to the ” way of life” they offer humans.
Kessler, G. (2007). Studying religion: An introduction through cases (3rd ed.). McGraw Hill.
Lewin, D., & Ergas, O. (2018). Eastern philosophies of education: Buddhist, Hindu, Daoist, and Confucian readings of Plato’s cave. In International handbook of philosophy of education (pp. 479–497). Springer, Cham.