Read the following two arguments about the Buddhist response to challenges from secularisation and decide which one is a good example and which one is a poor example. Give reasons to justify your decision, particularly in relation to the use of quotations, references to scholars and the style of reasoning. Then, click on each one to see comments and compare them with your own comments.

Buddhism itself is secular and so faces no challenge from secularisation.

Develop the basic argument below by using any relevant quotes/references to scholars that are listed. You may also use your own. It should not be assumed that all are relevant or required. Then, compare with other people in the class and discuss any differences while assessing the justification given for those differences. Don’t forget to also consider the different styles of evaluation that we have already examined and what you have learned elsewhere in the activities.

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Is Buddhism a religion?

Some would argue that the earliest forms of Buddhism were not religious because they were non-theistic and in addition, some forms of Buddhism, particularly Theravada, still appear to be non-theistic.

Another view is to argue that there is nothing for Buddhism to defend since Buddhism never was, and has never been a ‘religion’ in the sense that the word is commonly understood. The key feature of the teaching of the Buddha and of Buddhism is that from the outset it separated itself from Brahmanism by rejecting belief in Brahman as the eternal and unchangeable constant reality.

However, when the Dalai Lama encountered a series of unfortunate events, it was believed that an evil demon was on the loose and thus monks specializing in exorcism arrived to exorcise the demon and it was ‘sealed with vajras and buried deep in the earth.’ This is clearly a religious interpretation of events.

David Brazier also suggests that Buddhism is ‘the way that we creatures of this relative, conditional world relate to the absolute: to the unconditional, unborn, undying, that we cannot help intuiting.’ One of the titles of the Buddha is Lokavid. The term means ‘knower of the world’ and Brazier suggests that this is entirely apt because the Buddha could see the two realms.

Ultimately, in the discussion of Buddhism as a religion, everything depends on the person who is discussing it and what they want to see.

One way of understanding why this might be so is the tension between the academic who studies the religion from the outside and the believer who follows the religion from within.

This is one way of understanding what Buddhism is. Buddhism is awakening to these two domains. (David Brazier)

The ultimately empirical and the ultimately noumenal are not graspable with words, but they are real intuitions of great moment to our actual lives. Life is lived in the in-between. In that in-between, out of the metaphysical we crystallise ideals, values, and motives. (David Brazier)

I have a feeling that Buddhism should be included in, rather than excluded from, any survey of religions, for if it is not a religion, then what is it? (Trevor Ling)

Most Buddhists throughout Asia are and always have been polytheists. They believe in the existence of a range of spirits and gods whose worlds intersect with our own. These entities do not have a merely symbolic existence; they are real beings with consciousness, autonomy and agency, who can grant favours if pleased and wreak havoc if offended. (Stephen Batchelor)

Looking at a Buddhist text, the Westerner seems not to notice the references to rebirth, to conversations with deities, to supernatural occurrences, to faith, to past aeons, to celestial Buddhas, and to anything else that does not fit into the modernist paradigm. (Brazier)