Buddhism IS a religion – or not

In Mandalay, a 33 old young lady, who converted from Islam to Buddhism 10 years earlier, made an insightful comment “My Buddhism is like the Buddhism of Americans, I learned it from a book, not from my parents.”

The point she was making is when you learn religion from your parents, it is entangled with ritual and customs that may even pre-date the religion. I would assert the same is true of Christianity and other religions.

The devotion of Myanmar people to images of the Buddha in temples, the procession of the five Buddha images across Inle Lake, the festival of Lighting at full moon, and offerings to monks/images, all suggest an approach to living that goes well beyond a man who said do not do what even I say. The rituals of Christianity with its Greek “cultural appropriation” go well beyond what Jesus said, as well.

Religion can be approached as a ritual prescription or an insight into moral living, narrowly defined by written words, or as interpreted by wise people and spoken traditions – the choice is yours.

That said, if there ever was an opt-in religion, it is Buddhism, and that is one of the reasons the young lady converted. But westerners should not be confused, for many in the “east”, Buddhism is a religious experience.

[note: for countries like Vietnam that have been influenced by both communist and capitalist materialism, there is less widespread devotion]

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