Why Buddhism is fundamentally different from other religions

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What is Buddhism? In Chinese, the word Buddhism is literally “the teachings of Buddha.” I like that meaning better than the alternative meaning of “the Buddhist religion.” Buddhism is not a religion in the Western sense. If we understand its founding spirit, based on what Buddha taught in the Kalamas Sutta, it is a form of education. Such education is not indoctrination. It is not the transmission of dogma because free inquiry, debates, and questioning are encouraged in Buddhism. I see Buddhism as the education of the heart, with a focus on the nature of human suffering and the ending of it.

The teachings of Buddha are different from the teachings of other religions in this crucial way: Buddha did not regard any of his teachings as some kind of absolute truth. Buddha compared his teachings to a raft. A raft is for helping us solve a certain immediate problem — to cross over some waters. The value of a raft is provisional and transitory in nature. It is not for holding on to. In fact, a major theme of Buddha’s teaching is that nothing should be clung to. Such clinging is a source of suffering. This teaching is paradoxical in nature because it applies also to Buddha’s teachings. The Diamond Sutra says, “Even the Dharma should be let go, save the non-Dharma.” No teacher in the world has ever taught like that.

I conclude that Buddhism is a non-religion. However, if we regard it as a religion, it has the potential for being a non-dogmatic and non-toxic religion. Historically speaking, Buddhism is one of the least violent religions. This is understandable — it never claims to teach any kind of absolute truth.

Published author, Zen teacher, professor, scientist, philosopher, social commentator, socially-engaged human

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