August 06, 2010
One year ago I wrote a post I called, "Is Buddhism a Religion? The Question that won't go away." I think it's clear now that the question will come round again and again. Along with "religion vs. spirituality," it seems to be a perennial favorite. Now, the esteemed Buddhist teacher Ponlop Rinpoche takes on the question in his recent Huffington Post column "Is Buddhism a Religion?" What he describes (as opposed to Stephen Batchelor's "Buddhism without beliefs") is a "Buddhism beyond religion." Since I tend to think of Buddhism as religion, I was very interested in reading his post and found it useful. What's not clear to me, though, is whether a "Buddhism beyond religion" would include rebirth, let alone reincarnation, and other elements based on belief rather than science. My impression from Ponlop Rinpoche's post is that reincarnation isn't a Buddhist sine qua non, but I can't be sure. Bhikkhu Bodhi, among others, is clear that without a belief in rebirth, one cannot properly call oneself a Buddhist.
I'm not so interested in defining who's a Buddhist and who's not, but I do think if we include in our worldview ideas like rebirth (or, in Tibetan Buddhism's case, reincarnation), it would be difficult to argue that Buddhism is not a religion.
Great post, I'd love to hear more.