I want to know that what is Buddhism and is it a religion or just a philosophy or a exercise ?

I really want to know more about it , is there a book about learning Buddhism?

  • Depending on the practitioner it can be a religion, a philosohpy or exercise.
    – user4878
    Jan 26, 2018 at 23:22
  • Buddhism is a middle path to live life happily and overcome sorrows or how to prevent sorrows. Buddhism is a only religion which is based on philosophy and science. Buddhism is liberal, equality, humanity.
    – Swapnil
    Sep 19, 2019 at 6:37
  • I find that Buddhism is not a religion, philosophy or science because it has nothing to do with a creator being, nor such in faith, it analyzes ultimate reality rather than conventional like philosophers, and it goes beyond science, combining the empirical with the unempirical, or the mind, which science is only beginning to assess and understand.
    – user16793
    Sep 22, 2019 at 17:48

14 Answers 14


I would say Buddhism is a religion based on this definition of "religion" from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

Buddhism also meets this dictionary.com definition of "religion":

a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects

Buddhism is not a religion based on the definitions of "religion" that depend on God, supernatural power, faith in God or worship.

A classic book for a beginner to read is "What the Buddha Taught" by Walpola Rahula, which can be downloaded here.

Two good beginner articles to read are The Buddha and His Dhamma by Bhikkhu Bodhi and An Introduction to the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

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    The first definition is circular, using the word it's defining in the definition! Jan 27, 2018 at 12:27
  • The supernatural power appears in every Nikaya's Vinaya, not only Theravada? >>> Buddhism is not a religion based on the definitions of "religion" that depend on supernatural power.
    – Bonn
    Sep 23, 2019 at 2:19

The Buddha did not ask for anyone to take his word with respect to Dhamma - things as they are. He asked people to not blindly obey, to not follow ritual, to not ignore or go against what they directly observe. In this respect, Buddhism is at its core a scientific method.

The Buddha's primary insight was acknowledging that all observed phenomena are conditioned and impermanent. This is not a speculation, but an observation. The reasoning then goes through the logical inference of dukkha (unsatisfactoriness, stress/suffering - impermanent things cannot be permanently satisfactory), bringing around the doctrine of non-Self, anatta - which does requires faith in that the direct observation of this truth is only available upon enlightenment, or the ceasing of mental fermentations.

The Kalama Sutta and MN27 offer direct evidence that the Buddha's message was closer to a scientific method than a religion, though one with a soteriological goal.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.'

(the above does still feature the wise, but not as absolute arbiters of right or wrong actions - that arbiter is solely the individual living his own practice, the wise offer previously gained experience, and are more accurately guides)

The similarities or differences between the modern scientific method and religions in general is what sources they accept for stated truths. Pramanas are a helpful guide for Hindu religions, but can be extrapolated to the Judeo-Christian world a bit.

Most major religions accept testimony of the wise, seers, prophets etc as truths, as well as others from the above link. Buddhism does not. Aside from direct perception as in MN27, inference is used in a limited way - as above when going from impermanence to non-Self, an inferred knowledge is gained about the nature of 'things', but this is not directly observed until nibbana, and inferred truths are not given any great weight within the scriptures. In addition, inferred truths can only arise from individually observed principles, so they rest on a base that is less prone to doubt than inferred truths resting on the base of prophetic statements etc.

Faith is required by a person who reads the Dhamma with respect to impermanence, if they at first disagree with it, and later non-Self, because gaining direct insight into this truth takes much more time and practice. Faith, so long as it starts from a verifiable base, is not by definition religious.

If you want the spiritual side, go to the source and read the Pali canon or Agamas (Chinese line), these are the closest you will get to the Buddha's direct words. There is philosophy, to the limit that it is a useful tool for gaining insight into things as they are, more often though it offers more practical lessons helping one aim for pacification of mind.

If you want the philosophy first, read Mulamadhyamakakarika - it is the culmination of Buddhist philosophical analysis. This is written 600-700 years after the Buddha, so is a more rigorous analysis of the above canon's statements on anatta.

It is, of course, possible to elevate Dhamma, 'things as they are', into a religion, and layties that have accepted Buddhism have often merged their cultural identities with the Buddha's message. But, to quote MN22, which sums up the process:

“And how is the bhikkhu a noble one whose banner is lowered, whose burden is lowered, who is unfettered? Here a bhikkhu has abandoned the conceit ‘I am,’ has cut it off at the root …so that it is no longer subject to future arising. That is how the bhikkhu is a noble one whose banner is lowered, whose burden is lowered, who is unfettered.

“Bhikkhus, when the gods with Indra, with Brahmā and with Pajāpati seek a bhikkhu who is thus liberated in mind, they do not find anything of which they could say: ‘The consciousness of one thus gone is supported by this.’ Why is that? One thus gone, I say, is untraceable here and now.

“So saying, bhikkhus, so proclaiming, I have been baselessly, vainly, falsely, and wrongly misrepresented by some recluses and brahmins thus: ‘The recluse Gotama is one who leads astray; he teaches the annihilation, the destruction, the extermination of an existing being.’ As I am not, as I do not proclaim, so have I been baselessly, vainly, falsely, and wrongly misrepres ented by some recluses and brahmins thus: ‘The recluse Gotama is one who leads astray; he teaches the annihilation, the destruction, the extermination of an existing being.’

“Bhikkhus, both formerly and now what I teach is suffering and the cessation of suffering. If others abuse, revile, scold, and harass the Tathāgata for that, the Tathāgata on that account feels no annoyance, bitterness, or dejection of the heart. And if others honour, respect, revere, and venerate the Tathāgata for that, the Tathāgata on that account feels no delight, joy, or elation of the heart. If others honour, respect, revere, and venerate the Tathāgata for that, the Tathāgata on that account thinks thus: ‘They perform such services as these for me in regard to this which earlier was fully understood.’

Religion - more broadly, any ideology - in my mind, ask for blind faith. The Buddha's message was only about dukkha and how be free of it. His method requires each individual to follow their own path, with an observer verifiable rationale behind it - blind faith never features.

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    Well this isn't true many suttas say to have faith and respect the dhamma the Kalama Sutta is often taken out of context since Kalamas were non-Buddhists. "There are five detrimental things that lead to the decline and disappearance of the true teaching. What five? It’s when the monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen lack respect and reverence for the Teacher, the teaching, the Saṅgha, the training, and immersion. These five detrimental things lead to the decline and disappearance of the true teaching." (SN 16.13) Oct 4, 2019 at 1:51

Originally Buddhism is not a religion. Only in the past few hundred years that Buddhism gradually becomes a religion. If we could break from the notions of superstitions, we could actually benefit a lot from learning the teachings of the Buddha, that the principle of Buddhism is to help all beings to resolve delusions to attain happiness and enlightenment, to eliminate suffering, to gain serenity and purity of mind.

Buddhism is the most virtuous and perfect education directed by Buddha Sakyamuni to all sentient beings in the universe. It is an education of the wisdom and understanding of life and the universe. In regards to time, it encompasses the past, present, and future. In regards to space, it encompasses everything from our daily lives to the infinite universe. It is not a religion. If one says the teachings of Confucius concerns one lifetime, then the teachings of the Buddha cover infinite lifetimes.

The Buddha taught us that perfect wisdom and virtue are innate to all beings. The sutras, the recorded teachings of the Buddha, tell us that "all sentient beings can attain Buddhahood." and "every being possess the wisdom and virtuous character of the Buddhas in nature. However, due to our discriminating and wandering thoughts and attachments, which are the root cause of all sufferings and disasters, we have temporarily lost our original Buddha nature. Thus, we continue being born into the endless cycle of birth and death."

The more we rid ourselves of the wandering thoughts and attachments, the more we will experience freedom from suffering, and the more wisdom and enlightenment we will uncover. Once we completely free ourselves from discriminating and wandering thought and attachments (our fixations to certain ideas or objects), we will regain our lost Buddhahood, our original perfect enlightened state, and our self-nature Buddha.

Most importantly, the Buddha introduced to us the Western Pure Land of Amida Butsu (or Amitabha Buddha). This Western Pure Land was created by Amitabha as an ideal place of cultivation for all sentient beings. For those who are born in the Pure Land will no longer be subject to reincarnation within the six realms. This means once we are reborn in the Pure Land, we will be free from the endless cycle of death and birth. Not only that, we will also attain perfect enlightenment and Buddhahood by hearing the teachings of Amitabha in the Western Pure Land. Buddha Sakyamuni has encouraged us numerous times (mentioned in numerous sutras) that we should make a vow to be reborn into the Western Pure Land by practicing the Buddha-name Chanting method. As we are very lucky to learn about the name of Amitabha Buddha and the Pure Land in this lifetime, it is very possible for us to achieve perfect enlightenment and Buddhahood in one lifetime.

For those interested, the goal of Buddhism as an education is well explained on this site of What is Buddhism.

​For those interested in the Buddha-name Chanting, here is the simple practice of Amitabha Buddha chanting explained.


Based on the historical evidence it looks like Buddhism was really the first real complete religion in history contrary to the popular media portrayal or what many of these other answers claim.

There's no scholarly consensus on what defines a religion (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definition_of_religion).

But looks like almost every post-Buddhist religion in the area was heavily influenced by Buddhism (including possibly Christianity and Islam too)...the Sammasambuddha Gautama originated all types of ideas and concepts influencing everyone around.

Sammasambuddhas are fully enlightened and also the best teachers...they seem to originate religions.

Look at history:

  • Buddhism originates around the 6th Century BCE
  • Indo-Greeks (particularly Dharmaguptaka school) spread Buddhism around the world
  • Concepts found primarily only in early Buddhism start appearing in post-Buddhist Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and other post-Buddhist religions

Buddhism probably also influenced many other religions unrecorded the influence is unknown but Buddhist relics have been discovered in Hellenistic Egypt.

The majority of world religions don't have detailed debates, explanations, rules, and more than 10,000 suttas they are more like vague practices or beliefs and leave a lot of questions unanswered whereas in Buddhism only a few things are unclear or unanswered.

So it's debatable if other religions are really religions rather than just vague beliefs or practices.

It seems more rational to argue that almost every other world religion is not really a religion...there's no real detail or explanation in most religions just vague beliefs and ideas.

The Vinaya contains hundreds of rules seems like nothing like that is found in any pre-Buddhist religion so in reality Buddhism is the first real religion!

Remember Gautama Buddha was a Sammasambuddha who is fully enlightened and also a supreme teacher, his promise as stated in DN 16:

‘Evil One, I will not become fully extinguished until I have monk disciples who are competent, educated, assured, learned, have memorized the teachings, and practice in line with the teachings.

Not until they practice properly, living in line with the teaching.

Not until they’ve learned their tradition, and explain, teach, assert, establish, disclose, analyze, and make it clear.

Not until they can legitimately and completely refute the doctrines of others that come up, and teach with a demonstrable basis.’ (DN 16)

A Sammasambuddha is the supreme teacher (the distinction between a paccekabuddha, arahant, and Sammsambuddha).

This is more like the exact opposite of the popular media portrayal clearly showing Buddhism as the first real religion.

This makes Buddhism distinctly different from other religions which aren't really religions but more like vague beliefs or practices...their teachers never claimed to be supreme teachers or to know much and many never explained anything.

The Sammasambuddha Gautama is the real father of all dhammas...you can clearly see from history almost every post-Buddhist religion being influenced by Buddhism.

It amazes me that such a Super-Being existed in human history...


The answer to this q should be short and sweet.

The primary and agreed upon definition is as follows: The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. "ideas about the relationship between science and religion"

If you agree with the Buddhist concept that reality is a democracy, then no Buddhism is not a religion. There is no superhuman controlling power, nor gods/goddesses. Unless you count yourself, because the the world is in your mind, and you in the world, in other words you're literally creating everything perceived. But this is stretching the definition, so let's stick with No.

Moving onto the the next most utilized meaning, we find religion is a "Particular system of faith and / or worship". Again, Buddhism does not require faith or worshiping anything. So again, No.

Finally there's religion's ancillary definition, which reads "a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance". So obviously Buddhism can easily fall under this descriptor, however since the two most popular definitions don't fit in with Buddhism philosophy, the answer remains, No.


The word "religion" in Latin means "to bind" usually in the context of taking up a practice or being under a contract. More generally, it refers to binding as in the act of tying or securing. It's virtually identical to the Sanskrit word "yoga" which literally means to "yoke" as you would yoke an ox to a plow.

Buddhism is almost unarguably a yoga in the Vedic sense. It is a practice and a rule of training. For that reason, I would say it is also faithful to the etymology of the word "religion".


What people regard as "Buddhism" might be a re-ligion, the again and again falling bond by unskilful identification, good householder.

In regard of what the Sublime Buddha left behind, called Dhamma-Vinaya (not Buddhism), this does actually "Legion" and not re-legion (binding again). It's a legion, one which wasn't one bond before. And to be clear, this legion has also a community, the community of Monks of which is the legion, followed and supported by devoted Lay people who kee this Legion present and alive in the world by material needed means. The Legion, Bound, Sangha and the devoted lay follower forn what is called "Buddha-Parisa" the gathering around the Buddha.

Of what vegetates around outside the Legion, the Parisa, being not this Dhamma-Vinaya, but uses much of that for gains, this is common known as Buddhism, one of the never ending Religions, re-bonds, again ad again.

Books, btw., are not really a means of this Legion, as it requires the bond to teacher on stage, the bond to master, to become part of it. So good to look out for a rightly walking Sangha rather to invest time and effort into gain of books.

[Note that this isn't given for stacks, exchange, other world-binding trades, but for an escape from this wheel]


Is Agile Software Development a religion? For some people it may indeed look that way... Do you believe in Agile? Do you subscribe to its system of values, its activities, its daily rituals?

Is Ecology a religion? Do you believe in the global warming?

Is democracy a religion? Do you believe in diversity?

Something may feel like a de-facto religion even without the supernatural stuff. Instead, it seems like every time there's an ethical system of sufficient complexity, some people see it as simply the right thing to do and others see it as a religion.

I suppose it has to do with their level of insight into the principles of that system. The clearer the principles are to someone, the less they see it as a religion, and vice versa.

Which means that to whatever degree Buddhism is lost to confusion and superficial parroting, that's the extent to which it becomes a religion.

Just like Agile Software Development, for some people Buddhism simply makes sense, other people find it puzzling just like the outsiders are puzzled with Agile or with Eco-movement etc., and yet other people happily parrot it at the superficial level, without actually understanding its meaning and purpose. For the first group, Buddhism is not a religion, for the other two, it clearly is.


If following a person 'religiously'(or sincerely) is called religion then Buddhism is a religion. Buddhism is a religion which denies itself. It denies its own existence as absolute just as your existence is not absolute. Buddhism or Dhamma can be 'used' to reach to the shore of Nirvana and then you will have to abandon the religion or dhamma. Most religions follow the guidelines given God. I have generalized the definition of religion by saying following a person's guideline sincerely is called a religion. Under that definition of religion Buddhism stands apart as a religion. BTW , for all practical purposes one can take Buddha as the God, because isn't following such a good person equivalent to following a good God?


Buddhism has now become a religion that is more to do with rites, rituals, icon worship, collection / transference of merits etc., similar to what happens in the sacred places of other religions.

Even whether there is truw interpretation of the true Dhamma contained in the Sutta Pitaka is a question. Buddha Dhamma is more of a clinical evaluation of our existence, a way of life, a philosophy than a religion. So one can say that there is a mundane level and a supra mundane level to it.

It is the same story when it comes to the practice of meditation. There are people who attain ‘anariya jhanas’ or ‘mundane jhanas by focusing the mind on any thought object (vitakka) that come their way. This could be the breath, a kasina object, or any other religious symbol of any religion, and then fixating the mind on this object. This is called ‘vicara’ or sustained application).

For one who contemplates the ‘Tilakkhana’ of anicca, dukkha, anatta at least to some extent, it is possible to attain Ariya jhanas. It is because this contemplation gives rise to ‘niramisa sukha’ or a ‘cooling down’ over time. When one has arrived at such a stage, one can use it in a ‘kammatthana’ to cultivate jhana. These ‘kammatthana’ are PALI phrases such as “Ethan santhan ethan paneethan, …….” . The thing is one has to know the meaning of these Pali phrases. These phrases cannot be used just as a chanting object without understanding what is meant by it. Even the accepted meaning of the words anicca, dukkha, anatta is questionable.

If one makes a break through and grasp the true meaning behind these words, then the Dhamma would help beings to make a stop to the continuation in Samsara. That is why there is no other philosophy or religion that can be compared with the Dhamma taught by the Gautama Buddha.


Are you listening and practicing it or is it applied as state of thinking?

The physical aspects of it as a religion are very real but buddhism is uniquely awake to the problem with organized religion. people come to believe then their fate is a fact and shouldn't be questioned. Logic says if they are doing right and that indicates others do wrong. You also keep people organized under a United front as an organization. Well if it's organized it must have guidelines well those guidelines provide powers and powers tend to corrupt. Also those rules or documents are eventually going to format as valuable information. But that information stands in front of the point.

if you find Buddha you should kill him or see the god kill him. It gets in the way. There's no way to have the cake at eat it too. So no, it a religion but not a religion. Ask a Buddha. If you're looking at Buddha as a god that is not his aspect. There are others for that and that's part of the point. He knows only what you don't that's the only difference. So if you know what he does who does that make you? How do you learn what Buddha knows?


Buddhism is not a religion. And it has not become a religion. But people have label it as a religion due to the misunderstanding and lack of wisdom within them to understand the core of buddhism.

If I ask you Is Newton's law of universal gravitation, a religion? The answer would be No. Same goes with Buddhism. And in buddhism the complex law of the nature is explained. And also Buddha has found the problem of this world and also the way to exit from it. So Buddhism is not a religion but for the people who is lack of wisdom it is.


The essential teaching of Buddhism is to make us experience who we really are. Experience is Primary. The Buddha having experienced for himself who he really was, gave us the Method, to enable us to follow the Path he took.

The Vision behind the Method is called Nirvana, or Nibbana or Enlightenment. This is what we need to experience. In order to reach this Vision, the Buddha gave us many Missions to accomplish. These Missions are technically referred to as the 37 x Aids to Enlightenment. There are countless books on the internet and videos on youtube to show you the 'theory and practicals' that go to make the Method. It is the Method that makes Buddhism unique. If not for the Method, Buddhism would perhaps be like most other religions. What is unique about the Method is that at its deepest level, it is always one step ahead of the world of Science or more specifically of Quantum Physics. Thus Buddhism is also a Science because, with the help of the Higher Doctrine called Abhidhamma, it can spell out scientifically how each benchmark on the way to Nibbana could be reached. For a non-Seeker Buddhism has become a religion. But for a genuine Seeker it will remain a philosophy that shows you THE WAY.


There is a karmic flow here that we should all pay attention to. Allow me to put some words to it, even though the words are imperfect...

  1. Philosophy: Someone comes along who attains a deep understanding of the world, and tries to convey it to others. This may start as an insight or a revelation, but ultimately what this person tries to convey is a philosophy of living.
  2. Faith: This philosophy attracts followers, who don't (at least initially) share the originator's deep understanding, but believe in it wholeheartedly. These followers develop the three jewels: a reverence for the teacher (who slowly passes into memory), a community of believers, and a set of teachings and practices meant to bring the believers to understanding. That is the heart of a faith.
  3. Religion: This faith develops ever more followers, ever more remote from the original teacher. They create rituals, songs, temples, works of art; they make orders and hierarchies and modes of authority; they embellish the teachings and practices, solidifying them as forms without living their substance. That is the essence of religion: a formalized and stylized exposition of the faith.
  4. Culture: The religion dissipates to such an extent that its teachings are mere dogma and its structures and rituals are superficial badges. We say we are 'this' religion or 'that' religion because that's what our parents and friends are, and we do battle with others because they say they are something else (because of their parents and friends). To paraphrase the daodejing, this state is the empty husk left behind as a religion dries up and dies.

Of course, anyone can work their way back up this chain, swimming against the karmic stream in an effort to recapture the original philosophical understanding. That is the meaning of dharma. While religions may die and faiths may weaken and fade, understanding is eternal, and it is always possible to reach for it. But regardless, we will always find people at every stage, engaging the understanding in the best way they now how (however limited that might be).

  • For many people, Buddhism is just a part of the culture: a voice in that background of noise that fills their minds.
  • For many others, Buddhism is a religion: they pray to the Buddha, light incense, ring bells; they chant and sing and prostrate themselves to the altar.
  • For a few others, Buddhism is a faith: they diligently work the practices, devote themselves to the teachings, and strive for the understanding.
  • For a very few, Buddhism is a philosophy: it is something they understand and live; not something they know and do.

The question is, which of these do we want to call 'Buddhism'? Are all of them Buddhism, or none of them? How we answer that question says more about us than about Buddhism, I suppose, so I suggest we take it as a koan.

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