Images of folks: some children, Islamic boarding school students, Buddhist Sunday school students, men in prayer, and a teacher of Krishnamurti vipassana meditation (Hudoyo Hupodio)
The essence of religiousness is quite difficult to separate from a sense of absolute conviction in a total explanation of things, yet I would argue that such a definition is quite limited, shaped as it is by post-Englightenment Western philosophical concerns with the centrality of rationality in all matters, and failing as it does to account for the richer, more complex and ‘aesthetic’ ways in which humans—traditionally and in postmodernity—actually experience and express religiousness.
Roger R. Jackson, “In Search of a Postmodern Middle” in Buddhist Theology: Critical Reflections by Contemporary Buddhist Scholars
Yes! I am pretty ambiguous in terms of my own identity and yet, I have always confidently asserted that I am religious not spiritual, despite deeply secularist tendencies. And this is the same argument I make for why we can’t force the definition of religion into its Latin roots alone. (Roger was one of my teachers in undergrad.)
Is it a philosophy or a religion?
If Buddhism simply is a set of broadly construed ideas and ideals—the truth of emptiness, the value of contemplation, the cultivation of a compassionate heart and nonviolent action—then to ‘be Buddhist’ in the midst of postmodernity is not difficult at all; what is more, the very generality of these ideas and ideals means that Buddhism itself becomes a virtually unrestricted tradition, such that, as Jorge Luis Borges puts it ‘[a] good Buddhist can be a Lutheran or Methodist or Presbyterian or Calvinist or Shintoist or Taoist or Catholic; he may be a proselyte of Islam or of the Jewish religion, all with complete freedom.’ Conversely, to the degree that he or she values emptiness, contemplation, and compassion, the Lutheran, Taoist or Jew—or, for that matter, the secular humanist—may with equal conviction claim to be a Buddhist. If that is all there is to it, if Buddhism is simply an infinitely protean postmodern philosophy, then it is little more than a cipher, bereft of distinctive content, applicable everywhere, hence nowhere. If, on the other hand, Buddhism is understood as not just an ideology but a religion, then it is not enough simply to subscribe to certain general ideas or values of Buddhist provenance, and declare oneself a Buddhist; rather, one must, to quote Borges again, ‘feel the four noble truths and the eightfold path,’ tell the Buddha’s story, do the things that Buddhists always have done; one must, in short, form one’s life through the myths, symbols, metaphors, and ritual acts of Buddhist tradition. And, to the degree that from a postmodern perspective not just religions, but ideological systems and analytical processes, too, are understood to be human constructions rooted in myths, symbols, metaphors, and ritual acts, philosophy itself never can be self-sufficient, for it turns out to be inextricable from mythopoetic processes fundamental to human language, thought and society. In this sense, being Buddhist in postmodernity begins to look a lot like being Buddhist in a traditional setting — but without the philosophical certainty.
—Roger R. Jackson, “In Search of a Postmodern Middle” in Buddhist Theology: Critical Reflections by Contemporary Buddhist Scholars
(Note: Borges quotes taken from Seven Nights)
[R]eligion comes after [spiritual experiences]. Religion is everything that we do with these moments of intense spirituality in our lives, whether it’s whatever practice we have, whether it’s going to church, whether it’s how we integrate sacred text into our lives. Being religious or taking on some sort of religious elements in your life, you’re not necessarily saying I agree with everything that this religion says. What you are saying is that I have had these incredible experiences in my life of suffering or joy or both, and they have demanded some action of me, and demanded some continuity of me, and the only way that I know to do this is to try to find some form in it, and try to share it with other people.
Christian Wiman, Remembering God (an interview with Christian Wiman by Krista Tippett), On Being
A wonderful poet, a wonderful episode.
Much of the meaning of a religion is conveyed in its symbols, rituals, and myths. Consider how our privileging of rational knowing gets in our way.