Am I A Religious Person?

Via Daniel Scharpenburg
on Nov 6, 2013
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I identify as a Buddhist.

I attend a Buddhist Temple and actually teach others. I meditate every day. I also read something about Buddhism every day and often I write about it too. My Buddhist name means Dharma Zeal and it seems pretty accurate. If it were a hobby, I would say it’s my only serious one. It’s a path of spiritual awakening that involves the cultivation of mindfulness, insight, and compassion.

It’s my way of life and it influences how I interact with the world often.

But is it my religion? I’ve heard it said that religion is having someone else’s spiritual experience and spirituality is having your own. It’s certainly true that some Buddhists venerate the Buddha or other teachers to such a high degree that they are just having the Buddha’s experience and not their own. I don’t do that. The Buddha warned us against doing that. He said, “Don’t worship me,” and right after his death, people started doing it.

I really don’t think the Dharma of the Buddha is a religion—at least not as I practice it.

I don’t really think it’s a philosophy either. It’s a lot more about what you do than what you think.

The Dharma Teacher Stephen Batchelor described Buddhism as “an evolving culture of spiritual awakening.” I like that definition a lot. In the West we tend to think of religion in really narrow terms that most of the ‘religions’ of the east don’t fit into very well.

To me, the word ‘religion’ conjures connotations of dogma and authority. I don’t think either of those things are helpful on the spiritual path. I don’t believe in God. Belief or lack thereof in a deity is not considered an important thing in the path of Buddhism.

Maybe I am a spiritual person?

I think we’ve all heard people say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” I’ve always thought that was a little weird, but it’s probably relatively accurate.

I believe in spiritual awakening. If I have a religion, maybe spiritual awakening is what it should be called.

The Way of the Bodhisattva is the path I’ve chosen to walk, but I think it’s important to note that many people throughout history have probably realized their true nature without being Buddhist. That’s kind of part of it being our true nature.

Fundamentally, I don’t think Enlightenment, Buddha nature, Liberation, Self-Realization, becoming one with the Tao, Nirvana, etc are really the different things. They’re just labels.

I said Buddhism is a path of spiritual cultivation and gradual attainment. I do believe that. Several other religions are paths of spiritual cultivation as well. Only in the west does religion exist without spiritual cultivation.

Paths of spiritual cultivation are important. They are useful and helpful and wonderful.

But in the end they’re all just fingers pointing at the moon.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise












About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg lives in Kansas City with two kids and two cats. He teaches classes in Buddhist studies at the Rime Buddhist Center, where he's starting a Zen meditation group in the near future. He's studied with a wide variety of different Buddhist teachers and is a dedicated follower of the Zen tradition. He received personal instruction from Shi Da Dao, in the Caodong (Soto) tradition, and he has served as jisha (personal attendant) to Karen Maezen Miller on a Zen retreat. He's the writer of Notes from a Buddhist Mystic Find out more about Daniel on his blog and connect with him on Facebook and  Twitter.


4 Responses to “Am I A Religious Person?”

  1. Abby says:

    good words here and I had an awakening moment as I was reading Dan, so thank you.

  2. Bodhi Sattva says:

    You view religion in a misinformed light Daniel. Religion is from the latin, religio, to bind. To bind with the one, ones real nature. Therefore anyone who walks the path of dharma is religious. Due to the strictures of the established churches with their dogma people view religion with suspicion these days. As you progress, you will come to realise this.

  3. danielschar says:

    Bodhi, I prefer the description of religion that you have explained, but that's not one that most people are aware of.