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I have been trying to think about Buddhism, Scientology and Gaia religions. They do not focus on a God but rather the eternal inner spirit and reincarnation. The best so far I have come up with is “Spiritual” or “Letsism” . Letsism is an unspecified belief in an undetermined transcended reality. Or even “Dianetics” a Set of ideals and practices regarding the relationship between mind and body. Not sure yet.

This is a quote from a Quora answer to What is the term for those who believe in God, but not in religion? and it got me curious.

I know this has been asked before in a couple of different ways, but what is Buddhism?

What is Buddhism? tells us that

Buddhism is a nontheistic religion or philosophy (Sanskrit: dharma; Pali: dhamma) that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on teachings attributed to Gautama Buddha, commonly known as the Buddha ("the awakened one").

[...]

The foundations of Buddhist tradition and practice are the Three Jewels:

  • The Buddha – One who attains enlightenment by oneself, then teaches others to become enlightened;

  • The Dharma – the theory and practice taught by a self-enlightened Buddha; and

  • The Sangha – the community who attained enlightenment following the teachings of Buddha.

The answer also points out that Buddhist traditions can incorporate

Devotional practices – non-theistic objects of devotion include the Buddha, past enlightened followers of the Buddha, Bodhisatvas, angels, gods, and living spiritual teachers.

This seems to contradict the Quora quote when it said that Buddhism does not focus on a God.

Is Buddhism a religion? points out through the answers that Buddhism can be seen as a religion, but...

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.

[...]

Most major religions accept testimony of the wise, seers, prophets etc as truths, as well as others from the above link [pramanas]. Buddhism does not.

So, going back to the Quora quote, is Buddhism

  • a form of Letsism — an unspecified belief in an undetermined transcended reality?
  • a ​form of Dianetics — a set of ideals and practices regarding the relationship between mind and body? Or,
  • aside from "new age Buddhism", is it just purely a spiritual teaching based on a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects?

4 Answers 4

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I'd say that "Buddhist" (as an adjective) includes:

  • Doctrines (spoken and written) ascribed to the Buddha -- Buddhavacana -- and derivative works
  • Practices inspired or prescribed by those doctrines -- including the Vinaya and the lay Precepts
  • People -- individuals and societies -- who study or practice the above (and who may self-identify as "Buddhist")

I hadn't heard of "Ietsism" before.

It wouldn't occur to me to describe Buddhism as "unspecified" because it seems to me to be specified at enormous length.

Although, some traditions of Buddhism use the metaphor of a "finger pointing at the moon" to warn against mistaking the finger for the moon, where the "moon" represents nirvana and the Buddha's doctrine represents the "finger" which points to it -- thus Buddhism isn't only doctrine.

One thing it seems to me it has in common with "religions" such as Christianity is some notion of ethics -- Christianity has list of various sins and virtues, and so does Buddhism.

The Buddhist equivalent of "sins" include the Three Poisons, the Hindrances, the Fetters.

And the "virtues" or equivalent include the Perfections, the Heavenly Abodes, the Factors of Enlightenment.

Also I'm not sure that Buddhism teaches "a reality beyond" -- in the way that Christianity seems to me to teach the existence of an unseen God and Heaven. Instead maybe Buddhist doctrine is about what is "without" instead of what is "beyond" -- e.g. without anger, without suffering, without grasping, projection.


Finally I might mention that Buddhism has hard to summarize "in a nutshell" -- partly because it has spanned more than 2000 years and several continents.

One answer on this site says,

What is surprising is that each branch has a slightly different take on what the problem is that Buddhism is meant to solve.

  • Shin Buddhism. The fundamental problem is arrogance, particularly with respect to the idea that we think we can engage in practices to solve our other problems.
  • Theravada. The fundamental problem is suffering, particularly suffering associated with grasping and desiring things... The Dalai Lama sometimes uses this in public speeches to summarize the goal of Buddhism.
  • Mahayana. The fundamental problem is ignorance, particularly with respect to the question of who we are, and that we think our fundamental problem can be solved individually
  • Tathagata-Garba. The fundamental problem is that we think we have a problem
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  • One part of the quote nobody seems to have touched (I may have missed it) is the "Dianetics" part. Would you say a large part of Buddhism involves a form of Dianetics, or is that a small part? Personally, I think it is a small part added to the concept of the 4 noble truths and the 8-fold path. What is your take on it? Feb 15 at 6:45
  • I saw the word "Dianetics" when I was growing up, but I was never interested enough to find out what it means -- invented by L. Ron Hubbard, who invented Scientology, the only stuff of his I might have read was some not-memorable Science Fiction.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 15 at 9:19
  • @ChrisRogers: The definition of “Dianetics” you provided in your question seemed to me so broad as not to be particularly descriptive of the Hubbard concepts. I am not a Scientologist nor a psychiatrist but, in my readings on the subject, I don’t see any connection between the Hubbard concept of “engrams” and the Buddha’s teachings. Could you specifically define your view of how they might be the connected? It might help us in answering your question on the subject.
    – GVCOJims
    Feb 17 at 18:53
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In a nutshell:

  • The Buddha taught that there is suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering and the way to end suffering permanently.
  • Suffering is in the mind and originated by the mind.
  • To permanently end suffering, one must let go of mentally clinging to impermanent and unreliable things that are not you and do not belong to you.
  • The Noble Eightfold Path is the systematic way that leads to the permanent end of suffering.

Formerly and also now, I make known just suffering and the cessation of suffering.
SN 22.86

The noble truths of suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering.
MN 141

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts, suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.

Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts, happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow.
Dhammapada 1-2

“Bhikkhus, suppose there was a mountain river sweeping downwards, flowing into the distance with a swift current. If on either bank of the river kasa grass or kusa grass were to grow, it would overhang it; if rushes, reeds, or trees were to grow, they would overhang it. If a man being carried along by the current should grasp the kasa grass, it would break off and he would thereby meet with calamity and disaster; if he should grasp the kusa grass, it would break off and he would thereby meet with calamity and disaster; if he should grasp the rushes, reeds, or trees, they would break off and he would thereby meet with calamity and disaster.

“So too, bhikkhus, the uninstructed worldling … regards form as self, or self as possessing form, or form as in self, or self as in form. That form of his disintegrates and he thereby meets with calamity and disaster. He regards feeling as self … perception as self … volitional formations as self … consciousness as self, or self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in self, or self as in consciousness. That consciousness of his disintegrates and he thereby meets with calamity and disaster.
SN 22.93

“Bhikkhus, what do you think? If people carried off the grass, sticks, branches, and leaves in this Jeta Grove, or burned them, or did what they liked with them, would you think: ‘People are carrying us off or burning us or doing what they like with us’?”—“No, venerable sir. Why not? Because that is neither our self nor what belongs to our self.”—“So too, bhikkhus, whatever is not yours, abandon it; when you have abandoned it, that will lead to your welfare and happiness for a long time. What is it that is not yours? Material form is not yours… Feeling is not yours… Perception is not yours… Formations are not yours… Consciousness is not yours. Abandon it. When you have abandoned it, that will lead to your welfare and happiness for a long time.
MN 22

For a wise person who has arrived at true knowledge, right view springs up. For one of right view, right intention springs up. For one of right intention, right speech springs up. For one of right speech, right action springs up. For one of right action, right livelihood springs up. For one of right livelihood, right effort springs up. For one of right effort, right mindfulness springs up. For one of right mindfulness, right concentration springs up.
SN 45.1

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  • One part of the quote nobody seems to have touched (I may have missed it) is the "Dianetics" part. Would you say a large part of Buddhism involves a form of Dianetics, or is that a small part? Personally, I think it is a small part added to the concept of the 4 noble truths and the 8-fold path. What is your take on it? Feb 15 at 6:46
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The distinguishing factor of a religion is soteriology — theory of salvation — which has two components:

  • An assertion (or recognition, perhaps) that life in the temporal world contains trials, tribulations, miseries, pains, etc.: an array of unpleasant and (mostly) unavoidable happenings.
  • An assertion that it is possible to reach a place where those unpleasant happenings do not exist, through some particular programme of action.

Religious philosophy, thus, differs from political, moral, or social philosophy because the latter try to make the temporal world a better place, while religious philosophy tries to transcend the temporal world to reach an idealized state.

There are a number of different soteriologies out there in the world, But Buddhism's boils down to the following:

  • The source of human misery is rooted in ignorance — misunderstandings of the true nature of reality — and attachments to the mental fabrications that arise from such ignorance. Our misunderstandings and attachments cause us to constantly recreate the conditions of misery that we are trying to escape. It's a bit like that old saying about how drunks or crazy people keep doing the same thing while expecting to get different results...
  • Through a careful programme of developing awareness (through study, contemplation, and meditation), one will come to understand the true nature of reality, eliminating misunderstandings and obviating any attachments to those misunderstandings. Then one will abide in a state of peace and joy.

I don't see that as 'letsist', particularly, and the term 'spiritual' is too vaguely defined to make many fine distinctions of this sort. Take it as you will...

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  • One part of the quote nobody seems to have touched (I may have missed it) is the "Dianetics" part. Would you say a large part of Buddhism involves a form of Dianetics, or is that a small part? Personally, I think it is a small part added to the concept of the 4 noble truths and the 8-fold path. What is your take on it? Feb 15 at 6:42
  • @ChrisRogers: Dianetics is a form of psychology that would probably fall somewhere between Jungian and Reichian psychology (if it were ever fully developed, which I'm not convinced it was...). As such its goal isn't transcendence, but psychosocial integration. Not even Hubbard himself classed it as religious. DIanetics might be consistent with certain types of Buddhist practice (which isn't surprising, since faith always has to confront psychological distortion), but hoenstly I'd view that as convergence, not canon. EVErything can be seen as Buddhist if one tries hard enough. Feb 15 at 8:27
  • I find or found it hard to understand "ignorance" (or "misunderstanding of the true nature of reality") as the "source of human misery" -- like what does that even mean? Instead, I might more easily/immediately see desire/craving/attachment as the source (conversely I think that Andrei once mentioned, that Mahayana teaches that aversion is the source) -- but then, ignorance is the "root" cause i.e. that's the source of craving and attachment etc., and is what needs to be uprooted in order to uproot the problems of attachment etc.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 15 at 10:08
  • @ChrisW: As a pedagogical issue I agree: It's easier to understand desire/aversion (fight/flight) as the source, because desire/aversion is something we can all identify in ourselves (whereas it's far harder to see our own misconceptions). But philosophically... The problem I see with focusing on desire/aversion is that practitioners only learn to control or short-circuit the reflex; it leads to that trope of Buddhists being static, passive, inactive, or shut down. Overcoming ignorance is an opening (assent), where overcoming desire/aversion a closing (dismissal). Feb 15 at 15:42
  • Pedagogically, I found introductory summaries using words like truth and reality and illusion unhelpful at best (they're not prescriptive) -- and misleading at worst, implying that there's some other reality "beyond" (as it's phrased in the OP), a dismissal of this one (as you put it).
    – ChrisW
    Feb 15 at 17:33
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"The second reason for regarding the scholastic approach as misguided can be seen in all the evidence we have cited that the Buddha was not trying to build a systematic description of reality — or ultimate realities — as a whole. Thus to try to create one out of the raw materials of his words is a misapplication of his teaching — a form of inappropriate attention that distracts from the actual practice of his teachings, and one he would not condone.

Here it’s useful to remember the Buddha’s own analogy for his project as a teacher. From the first day of his teaching to the last, he stated that he was teaching a path. He started not with a first principle, but with a self-evident problem — stress — and then showed a path to its solution. Instead of trying to provide a total account of the world, he was simply showing the route to a particular goal where the initial problem is solved."

~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu "Skill in Questions: How the Buddha Taught" https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/SkillInQuestions/Section0008.html

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