Written by Paul Schingle
To give a buddhist or zen type of answer to this question, I would say the answer is yes. Buddhism can be a religion. Buddhism can be a way of life. In short, Buddhism is whatever you make it or whatever you want it to be. Now, before anyone goes on to say that this is a cop-out answer, I’d like to go a little further. I submit that the same can be said for any religion or philosophy. It’s all a matter of interpretation, and how one chooses to practice the discipline.
I once took a comparative religions course in college. My professor was a practicing methodist minister. However, he was very well-versed in many of the religions of the world. He once told us that a true Christian could never be a Buddhist, but that a true Buddhist could subscribe to the teachings of Christianity. At the time, I didn’t really understand what he meant, but I think I do now. In his mind, a true Christian was someone who believes that Jesus Christ was the embodiment of God on earth. If you have that faith, then any other religion would be nothing more than heresy.
There is one basic tenet to Buddhism. That core belief is that this material world that we now live in is, essentially, meaningless. The goal in Buddhism is Nirvana. Now, Nirvana, as opposed to the Christian (and others) belief in the physical paradise called “Heaven,” is enlightenment. It is the understanding of all things in the universe. It is essentially becoming one with the universe. It is a state of being in which all things are understood. In order to achieve this goal, one has to “let go” of the material world.
Now, if a Buddhist wants to let go of the material world, he can do this any number of ways-and that would include following the teachings of Jesus. Whether or not Jesus was God on earth would be irrelevant. The point is, listening to Jesus’ teachings and following them may well assist one with attaining Nirvana. Here is one example.
Now, I’ve never heard of Jesus saying explicitly that man must let go of the material world. But, Jesus did once say, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than it is for a rich man to find Heaven.” In short, the more a man pursues material gain, the further he removes himself from the important things, such as understanding God. While not choosing Siddhartha’s (Buddha’s) exact words, essentially the philosophy is the same. At some point, one must come to the realization that the things of this material world are, in the grand scheme of things, worthless. In the end, one must find God (or understanding or Nirvana or whatever you want to call it). This is one example of a Buddhist following the teachings of Jesus and still maintaining a Buddhist outlook.
So, is Buddhism a religion or a way of life? Good question. Whether useful or not, the only good answer I can come up with is “yes.”