Religiosity in Buddhism

One common tendency of Western Buddhism is that we pick and choose: “I think meditation is useful, but I don’t believe in karma. I like the Buddha and all, but I don’t know why we need to bow at him all the time. I’ll wait ’til I’m enlightened, then I’ll worry about virtue. I practice in the real world, not on a cushion. Right Speech is, like, so dualistic, man.” We can call this Checklist Buddhism.

A particular kind of checklist defines what has been called “Secular Buddhism,” “Buddhism without the religion part,” or “Non-Devotional Buddhism,” often with the implicit or explicit assumption that Buddhism has been somehow tainted by devotional and ritual practices that make it look appallingly like (other) religions, and sometimes, further, that this is somehow a corruption or the Buddha’s original pure intention. In fact, I know of no convincing evidence that the Buddha promoted anything like a Secular Buddhism, nor that there has ever been such a thing until recent Western times.

Buddhism is a flower. The problem with Checklist Buddhism is that a flower is an organic whole, a system of interrelated inter-functioning parts that is much greater than the sum of the individual parts. Each part has a function and, regardless of whether or not you recognize at first what that function is, the whole flower would die if it were missing just one major part.

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