In western philosophy the distinction primarily goes like this:

Philosophy - The rational investigation of human reason.

Religion - Similar but has its basis in faith rather than 'rationality'.

What I was primarily wondering was, does Buddhism make the same kind of explicit distinctions like in western philosophy? Do they view philosophy and religion as the same thing? And, if so what do both Buddhist texts and contemporary scholars say about it.

Not asking whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy

  • Is religion an investigation of human reason based on faith, in western philosophy?
    – ruben2020
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 2:59
  • 1
    There are two layers to this question: 1) Does Buddhist vocabulary (e.g. Pali) use words equivalent to "religion" and "philosophy" to define and distinguish those two categories? 2) More practically does Buddhism distinguish whether a action or view is based on "irrational faith" or based on "reason"? I'd propose that an answer might be "yes" to the second question (I could give several examples), but "no not that I happen to know of" for the first.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 7:14
  • @ruben2020 What would be a more sufficient definition in a philosophical context?
    – Paragon
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 19:00
  • 1
    It might be worth noting that the distinction between 'science' and 'philosophy' is recent, dating only to around the early 19th c. In the earlier centuries, what we now distinguish as science, religion and philosophy were all seen as aspects of wisdom and not nearly as sharply distinguished as they have since become. But, that said, there is a distinction in the Mahāyāna between higher (paramatha) and conventional (samvrti) truth which can be mapped against the distinction between revealed wisdom and the empirical sciences.
    – Wayfarer
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 0:11

3 Answers 3


The Buddha once spoke about a philosopher who talked about religions:

AN10.116:3.2: “Mendicants, do you remember this philosopher’s points?”

And the Buddha proceeds to point out the importance of principles in any discussion or lecture:

AN10.116:7.1: Another person rebuts and quashes principled and unprincipled statements with unprincipled statements. This delights an unprincipled assembly,
AN10.116:7.2: who make a dreadful racket:
AN10.116:7.3: ‘He’s a true philosopher! He’s a true philosopher!’

Without a careful discernment of principles, much can go astray:

AN10.116:8.1: Mendicants, you should know bad principles and good principles.

Principles are foundational. Rationality or faith that relies on bad principles is unsatisfactory and unskilled.

Buddhist principles include: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right immersion. The Buddha concludes quite rationally:

AN10.116:12.1: ‘You should know bad principles and good principles.

So perhaps we should all have faith in the rational application of good principles?

  • Is there any more context on what the buddha means when he says "philosopher"
    – Paragon
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 16:13
  • The original Pali has: "paṇḍito", which touches modern English as "pundit".
    – OyaMist
    Commented Dec 30, 2022 at 21:37

Philosophy is a term that really only makes sense in the Western culture or other Greek-influenced contexts. And no, none of the various Buddhist schools make a distinction between the more religious and the more logical parts of their systems.

However, many Buddhist schools incorporate a thorough and nearly "scientific" method of introspection, sometimes combined with quite formal logical reasoning (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_logico-epistemology).


When a "disciple" just cites texts, yet consumes like one who hasn't heard the teachings, then such hasn't taken on a "(re)legion" (bond) but just defents his stand, his home.

What does one go after when asking a philosophical question? What does one maintain when citing deep words yet wearing pyjamas, sitting in his living room?

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