What is religion?

We need to get beyond mindless stereotypes about religion if we are to deepen our understanding of this important dimension of human life. One definition of religion is a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion. In Old French, or from Latin - ‘religio’ means: obligation, bond, reverence. There is the Latin word: ‘religare’ (to bind). Buddhism is pursued by many with great interest and devotion. Therefore, it is a religion for those who relate to it in this way.

As a consequence of this relationship to Buddhism we can become ‘bound to’ (religare) various teachings and practices. We need to give attention to the nature of the relationship. If it is a fanatical relationship we develop it is going to lead to dukkha - just like any other form of mania we may succumb to.

To be fanatical about any teaching or philosophy - or anything - is going to create a sense of the ‘wrongness’ of those who do not ascribe to the fanatics belief system. The belief system may be secular or based on any kind of ideology. We are all victims of our own delusional systems until we find the clarity and care that wakes up, lights up, in ‘this life’ - despite what we think about ourselves, others or, anything else. In-groups create out-groups!

We come out of dukkha by holding things lightly, gently, with kindness and, with presence of mind. The purpose of Buddhism is to help us to realise our freedom - to inquire into the nature of our tendency to become ‘bound to’ anything! Therefore, Buddhism is only a skilful means for ‘crossing over’ the stream of the world to the safety of being human - without needing anything from the world for our sense of self worth - our inner peace, joy and deep abiding care.

We cannot be bound to the truth that liberates because there is nowhere to tether ourselves - and attach. All bonds can - and will - be broken. Existence is self-liberating! We only need to avoid getting in the way. Who is it that attaches and ties itself to freedom without measure - without conditions? To discover this ‘freedom’ (unbinding) we need to start somewhere. We require a heart-felt interest in finding out what is going on with us that makes us suffer without good reason. The true goal of religious inquiry - religious practice - is to let go of the religious inquiry. It is not required when we find the answers we need - and live them without reservation.

Letting go does not mean throwing away - it means holding lightly with care and wisdom. We don’t need to throw away anything that serves a useful purpose for ourselves - or anyone else. Any ideology that divides people and prevents them meeting with care and mutual respect should be let go of without hesitation.

All formations arise and cease by themselves. Sometimes, when we struggle to be free of things they are kept alive beyond their natural ‘used by’ date and they follow us and intrude on our sense of wellbeing - like ghosts in the night. We need to give up fighting ghosts and embracing apparitions. Direct seeing/feeling is the catalyst that remedies our faulty perceptions and ideas - the misunderstandings, problems and torments they give rise to.

Religious inquiry is of great benefit. It is a process of healing and renewal. Fanatical ideology is a real danger to our welfare - not the religious or spiritual impulse that many of us feel and respond to. Clinging tenaciously to dualisms of light versus darkness, knowledge versus ignorance, truth versus superstition is not a waking up to anything that is truly liberating - it does not free the heart from dukkha.

If one is committed to being a believer/non-believer you are wasting your time in a useless pursuit. These are assumed identities that we cling to! They are persona’s (masks) that cover and hide our simplicity of being. They obscure the process that drives us to despair and they prevent us from realising those shifts in consciousness that make a real difference in life and living - freeing us from self-centred love and our futile attempts to control the uncontrollable.

In caring for and understanding ourselves properly we can then benefit others in ways that are meaningful and deeply transformative. We are really nobodies going nowhere! We are not what we take ourselves to be! We are not who we think we are! Our thoughts - out of which we create the stories we live by - are just passing clouds without substance without essence - let it all go. Waking up is not an imaginative exercise.

“Do not be a bodhisattva, do not be an arahant, do not be anything at all.” - Ajahn Chah


But there is a path to follow. I do not agree with do not anything at all idea. We can’t burn the raft before we cross the river.

enjoy the walk - happy boating

Then you are a walker.

“Suffering exists, but no sufferer can be found.
Actions exist, but no doer of actions is there.
Nirvana exists, but no one who enters it.
The Path exists, but no traveler can be seen.”
(Visuddimagga, 513)

We are the door through which we must walk.

An open heart and an open mind makes for free movement. Once we get out of the way it is easy travelling - nobody going nowhere.

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” - T. S. Eliot

Getting out of the way looks like this:

“Ananda, as long as I had not attained & emerged from these nine step-by-step dwelling-attainments [including Nirodhasammapati] in forward & backward order in this way, I did not claim to have directly awakened to the right self-awakening.” - AN9.41

Phalasamapatti is attained by each of the four kinds of noble beings just after attaining the knowledge of the path, and it can be cultivated and extended by them as well. Nirodhasamapatti however, can only be entered by non-returners and arahats.

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You might relate to some of what Ajahn Brahm mentions in a recent debate he participated in at Cambridge. I found his perspectives on faith and Buddhism really interesting! (AB is last speaker for proposition)


thanks yes i have been tracking the release of this video and watched it earlier on.

labelless label❗️

a sign without a signified


Philosophy of Religion:

Philosophy of religion is the philosophical examination of the central themes and concepts involved in religious traditions. It involves all the main areas of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics and value theory, the philosophy of language, philosophy of science, law, sociology, politics, history, and so on. Philosophy of religion also includes an investigation into the religious significance of historical events (e.g., the Holocaust) and general features of the cosmos (e.g., laws of nature, the emergence of conscious life, widespread testimony of religious significance, and so on).

The Epistemology of Religion:

Contemporary epistemology of religion may conveniently be treated as a debate over whether evidentialism applies to religious beliefs, or whether we should instead adopt a more permissive epistemology.

Phenomenology of Religion:

This entry examines the relevance of phenomenological considerations for the concept of God (or the sacred otherwise characterised) and the question of what sort of rational sense is implied in the adoption of a religious point of view. The discussion distinguishes various perspectives on the subjective character of religious experience, and examines the relation between religious experience and experience of the material world. It also considers the interaction between experience, conceptual framework (including religious doctrine) and practice, and the contribution, if any, of emotional feelings to the epistemic significance of religious experience.


(maybe mindless stereotypes of science could be addressed alongside:

Religion and Science:

To what extent are religion and science compatible? Are religious beliefs sometimes conducive to science, or do they inevitably pose obstacles to scientific inquiry? The interdisciplinary field of “science and religion”, also called “theology and science”, aims to answer these and other questions.


In a way, religion is “technically” the rites of the state. But etymology is not meaning.

I am entertained by religious beliefs - some of them are interesting in a number of ways. I keep an open-mind and I don’t pretend to know things that I do not know.

The only thing that should constrain or inhibit scientific inquiry is when it serves unethical and harmful purposes.

Special attention needs to be given to experimental procedures. There are ethics committees and advisory bodies that try to provide oversight when it comes to research. I think the role of ethics in science should be extended. Particularly, in relation to the welfare of sentient beings and consideration of long-term impacts.

I am not advocating religious beliefs as they are not necessary in religious inquiry. However, they are commonplace in organised religious groups. They range from the sublime to the ridiculous - and many are dangerous. I feel the same way about secular belief systems (see below).

I prefer to participate in disorganised religious groups - I have in mind the BSWA. However, some may ‘believe’ the BSWA is not religious and, is increasing in its organisational efficiency. This could all be ‘smoke and mirrors’? This goes to the heart of the question: what is religion?

The Buddha would often question the religious beliefs and practices that were commonplace at the time. Sometimes, he would redefine their meaning in order to improve them and make them more skilful - making use of expedient means. This is a timely discussion given Ajahn Brahm’s recent participation in a C.U. debate. It is unfortunate that - in that debate - no one asked a question about ‘saddha’ (faith/confidence) in Buddhism? If someone would like to expand on this theme - @Brahmali or @sujato - it would be helpful?

My favourite form of interaction within groups is in an informal, friendly and cooperative manner where everybody is valued and treated equally. I am suspicious of hierarchies as they can easily be corrupted. I prefer friendship, love and respect as the guiding principles of human interaction.

I began my inquiry into the question: ‘what is religion’ by looking at the root of the word. What does it actually mean and not how it has been corrupted by ideologues. That which talks to me in religion is not incompatible with secular ideals. However, it is incompatible with religious and secular ideologies.

Regarding your comment: “maybe mindless stereotypes of science could be addressed alongside” - absolutely! I also think its wrong to ‘believe’ that any particular group have a monopoly on mindless stereotypes. There are many so-called religious people who embody mindless religious stereotypes - and promote them. They are ‘aided and abetted’ by secular ideologues. There are many religious practitioners who celebrate science and would never seek to perpetuate mindless stereotypes about science. We need to get a clearer picture of what is actually going on and not just stick to the party-line - religious or secular - and regurgitate preset conclusions. Critical inquiry is indispensable around these issues.

There is a form of deception that needs to be challenged by all those who love science and free-inquiry. There are secular ideologues who intentionally mix their ideology with science and then pretend that they are essentially the same thing. I believe this is a pernicious problem that should be recognised and addressed in Secular Buddhism.

The historical Buddha required a very high standard of integrity among his students. He provided them with the groundwork that they could build upon. After completing this initial training and undertaking research they would then have enough raw-data to draw their own conclusions. They were assisted in reaching a stage in their practice where they could ‘realise’ - for themselves - the profound subtlety of his teachings. We have a high-standard to live up to if we wish to call ourselves Buddhists - IMO.

When secular ideologues claim that religious people - en masse - seem to lack critical thinking skills and worse, reject science, this has to be challenged! Many religious people have made stunning breakthroughs in the evolution of science and they continue to make major contributions.

Regarding the question: are religious inquiry, scientific inquiry and, secular ideals mutually exclusive or incompatible? I do not ‘believe’ they are - I think we are in desperate need of all 3. But, we need to have the findings and the ideals of secularism put into practice - universally - without further delay. The clock is ticking and its close to midnight!

It is the belligerent insistence that there is certainty where ‘there is none’ that undermines free and (open inquiry) - this includes science and the Buddha-Dhamma. This is why I oppose secular ideologies - not secularism - and religious fundamentalism.

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