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Is Buddhism a religion?

I’ve seen people claim “no, it’s just a philosophy.” I think it’s clearly not theistic, but there are sects that definitely believe in “spooky” forms of karma or reincarnation.

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By DominicShaull5
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I studied Buddhism formally with a Guru who claimed it was a practice not a religion, You can be a Catholic Buddhist or an atheist Buddhist... Just like you can be a gnostic atheist or an agnostic atheist. I still work with meditation, I find it usuful, I’m not praying, there is no god and it’s effects are scientifically testable. I consider myself to be an, Almost Buddhist, vegan, atheist, coffee drinking guitarist . Of these the coffee is the one most like a religion, or is it a practice?

Love your explanation.
I once taught a course in w technique that focuses one's mind on the energy that naturally radiated from a person's heart. It clears the mind and boosts creativity while making it easier to calm down conflict. I was all very scientific and I truly believe the techniques does pretty much what prayer or meditation does for some folks. It can be useful, if the practitioner thinks of it as a scientifically proven technique rather than something mystical.

@MrLizard one of things this Guru would say regularly was, “If science finds Buddhism to be wrong it is Buddhism that much change“

@ArdentAtheist I can appreciate that type of Buddhism.

Coffee is totally a religion. The coffee bean is God who sacrifices itself for us . IT comes down off the tree, is dried & is roasted by fire. Then IT is ground & by mixing & brewing we the take holy coffee communion by which we start our days, end our nights, drown our sorrows, celebrate with family & friend, etc. (Don't get me started on the deep & abiding faith of the dark chocolate covered expresso bean, all hail.)


buddhism is a religion. it contains practices, it contains leadership and it contains preaching. buddhism like every other religion has killed people in the guise of finding the next buddha. there have been monks who were forced into holes and left there because they did something wrong, buddhists have burned themselves alive for their cause and they've got radicals too who harm others. so yeah, it's a religion.

theism isn't exclusive for what makes a religion.

Karma is the most disturbing and disgusting part of that religion and its practices. Karma says that you basically get what you deserve. this idea is fundamental to the religion. to which i respond with the torture and rape of infants. did they deserve it? is it worth it for a future of happiness and comfort? what about the average person who just lives a mediocre life with just enough money, just enough comfort, just a little pain and hardship and everything else, is it all worth it? is it worth saying your next life is going to be dictated by your actions in a previous life? being a human puts us at the top of existence yet buddhism often refers to the next life as one of a lesser lifeform but somehow more pleasant.

buddhism has "answers" to questions nobody can evaluate or demonstrate. it's a religion through and through, like all religions, it's not something to be practiced or adopted. the practices are cherry picked and used when the purpose suits the moment. there is no reason to treat any religion seriously when it's claims are outrageous and crazy. also, like all religions, it has been and will be abused to harm others for one reason or another. religion is constantly in a state of tourettes and will eventually hiccup and do something drastic. remove religions of all kinds and there will be nothing left but reason, knowledge, logic and understanding. religion is just one way of forcing a population to conform as a community via indoctrination, practices and structure. buddhism isn't harm free. buddhism right now is just waiting to be revived or stamped out. it's a nice idea to be humanistic and careful of ones choices, but the reasons for it within buddhism are bad reasons. we should be careful of our choices anyway, there doesn't need to be a religion to dictate the nicer qualities of human beings. be nice for the sake of being nice, buddhism tells you to be nice for a reward, as usual, and that is also despicable.

Keep learning with an open mind! You will find Buddha clearly stated he had nothing to do with Gods or the afterlife. His concern was the relief of suffering. Classifying Buddhism as a religion is an interest of those influenced by religion, and the attending hatreds, ignorance, greed surrounding that activity. Buddha's epiphany under the Bodhi tree was the way to relieve suffering was from within, and not a concern of Godheads of any kind, including himself. He said don't believe anybody, even me - unless you can honestly agree that it is the best thing for yourself..

@jeffy I didn't mention a god.

@WonderlandJail Excuse me, I thought you were implying it was a religion - the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.

Your definition of karma isnt correct. From a buddhist perspective karma is simply the manifestation of cause and effect. Your definition is more a deritive of a pre ordained Destiny type thing. This is more of a Hindu type view. Buddhism would have been a kick back against this view. Buddhism doesn't tell you to be nice for a reward either. The Kalama Sutta makes exactly that point. Being 'nice' is its own reward. In this life, right here right now.

@JimmyM i know, but for brevity i decided to make it more basic.i'm pretty sure that's why i said "basically", otherwise i would have used a more definite word or a more absolute statement.

you are right sort of, but karma is pretty much cause and effect, be it for reincarnation or what comes your way in this life. the idea is still disturbing and shouldn't be spread as a truth.

i'm not nice for a reward, i'm nice and do good things (or resist bad things) because that's the right thing to do. anybody who does anything for a reward is clearly just doing it for themselves, sharing the idea as something to gain because you're nice, is not something we should hold onto and is something we should throw away in the interest of a more attainable sense of morality.

@WonderlandJail but 'basically' what you are saying is wrong. Karma is the result of action. No more, no less. AND this includes the action of others. It's NOT some kind of universal balancing act as you are suggesting that Buddhists beleive.
I'm glad that you are nice and do nice things because you beleive that is the right thing to do. I agree. I think being 'good' is its own reward. However, to me, what's important is that the 'good' gets done. The homeless housed, the hungry fed.... and i don't really care wether the motivation for that is the nasty man in the sky will burn me forever if I don't or the different sky person will make me live again as a cockroach....
I guess what I'm actually getting at here is that your original post was factually incorrect and so misrepresented Buddhism. Which as I'm sure you know is as broad and diverse a religion as any other smile001.gif

@JimmyM broad and diverse? you do understand the meaning of "foundation" right? so regardless of how many different denominations there are, the foundation remains pivotal.

if you purposefully say something, for instance, deliver an order or command, then you are executing the beginnings of karma, the results of which are labelled the fruit of such an action. to refer to karma as a foundation, means you are accepting that once something has begun, it can't be undone and the results must come to fruition. this is why most normal people don't use karma, they accept the advent of human mistakes and they admire the growth in humanity for realising its own mistakes.

there are plenty of issues i have with karma, and it's not just within buddhism i have these issues. pretending that karma is a simple concept to allow to grow, is a horrid idea. humanity made a monumental mistake when the events which sprung world war two into action, were just allowed. it was only the results which caused a reaction. that is karma in a literal sense. being told something and just going along with it.

buddhism is a religion, the foundations of that religion are just as despicable as any other. why else would the swastika be abused by such a dictator if the intent wasn't one of following an ideology and imposing it on his public? Hitler knew what he was doing and he made sure his intentions were wrapped in ideologies which supported his actions.

every single religion has killed someone because of its principles. there isn't a single one without that in their history.

i dare you to tell me i'm wrong again. you were right, karma is the result of action, which includes and isn't just limited to action. words and the things people say are also covered too, along with inaction. the nazi war machine spread propaganda by pretending it was a movement intelligence and mystic guidance, when all it did was reveal the inherent weakness within all religions. most people equate the times of the nazi with christianity, but it doesn't stop with one religion. buddhism is a religion, there is no escaping that fact. the things religions teach, spread and infect us with are not helpful to the welfare of humanity. they are only useful to the individual who is ignorant enough to blindly accept it for a little emotional comfort. pretending you think your view on buddhism is pure and righteous is a fallacy and you should know you're lying to yourself.

i didn't misrepresent anything, i just said something you didn't like. that's a you problem. so do yourself a favour and make sure you know 100% that i'm wrong. i know i'm right, so much so, i don't need to write tons of text which says nothing just to say "you're wrong". instead i tackle the actual bullshit as it stands. the individual pretending to defend it is the one who can't accept the truth of the matter, which is their view on the religion is pointless when history has proven time and again, if it's a religion, it's going to kill someone eventually. no religion is exempt from this realisation. it's unfortunate and i don't like it either, but at least i tell the truth.

being good is not it's own reward. not at all. there is no reward to being good. if you're being good for a reward then you're not being good, you're being selfish. i'm a nice guy because it's the right thing to do. i do what's right, because it's right. expecting anything in return is the sign of a weak fool who can't fathom being alone, depressed, sad, poor, homeless and hungry while holding doors, taking people to hospitals, helping those who are injured, feeding those who are hungry.

i've had one of the shittiest experiences in life. i'm severely depressed. but it won't stop me from buying someone food and putting myself out. it won't stop me walking a stranger 10 miles to a destination to make sure they get there safe despite a fucked up leg or a sickness i have. doing it for something in return, that's just wrong. i don't need to be happy or get shit sent my way because of a nice thing i did. doing it wasn't a reward, it's never a reward, it's just the right thing to do. the lonely walk back, cursing myself for being such a fucking idiot, and for what, someone who can't really speak english trying to show gratitude with a handshake and then they're gone forever, yeah, great fucking reward.

i get to say i helped another human being. language barriers, difference of opinion, culture clashes, none of that matters when the right thing to do is help them.

no fucking wonder you can't help yourself and say i'm wrong and misrepresent some shit you think you know. i hold no respect for any religion, and buddhism is a religion. it's been a documented religion for a super long time. it's not like it propped up in the 1950's, unlike some religions, like, lets say, scientology for one. even then over the past 70 years, scientology has ruined and destroyed lives which lay in conflict or try to expose it. but it's ok if i misrepresent that religion, because most people don't know dick about it and just assume it's kinda right anyway.

the bullshit surrounding karma is disgusting. and how about that, what d'ya know, this is your karma for the things you said. and vice versa for me.... that's how dumb karma is. if you fancy dancing a little more with me, we can do this for hinduism next, or don't you care about their karma? maybe we can discuss the idiocy behind the karma of the jain religion.

karma. what a fucking joke.

@WonderlandJail wow! You're an angry fella and still wrong smile009.gif but I think we may have to let this go. I wasn't arguing whether Buddhism is a religion or not. I think it is too. The Buddhist view of karma differs greatly from the Hindu or Jain version but you don't seem to grasp that. Never mind. It sounds like you've probably got more important things to worry about smile001.gif


It is a religion, but as with any religion one does not have to be a Buddhist in order to gain from aspects of the religion. Buddhism gave me meditation and I have more peace of mind as a result.


There are religions, including most Buddhist sects, that don't have any deities. A religion is a system of observance and practice with rituals, symbols, customs / traditions, usually a priesthood class in some form, and above all religious faith, belief in assertions about the supernatural or numinous with no substantiation and nearly always a discouragement of independent inquiry or thought about the matter on pain of exclusion from the group.

mordant Level 8 Apr 8, 2018

There is no faith in Buddhism, only deep and focused observation of life. The Buddha at all times encouraged people to doubt anything and everything including the things he was teaching.
To answer the original question Buddhism is an energy management system

I like that definition, and I think Buddhism might fall in a grey area because some sects believe supernatural things but others very explicitly do not. If no faith is required I don’t think I would consider it religion.

@Atpeaceone Yes I'm aware of the Buddha saying you should doubt and question even his teaching. The open question is whether in practice this is really adhered to or just given lip service or relative application. Can you really question any group's teaching beyond some point, and still be a member of the group? Inherently, I would say not. It's a noble aspiration, but fundamentally a non-starter IF you are actually wanting to "belong" to the religion and not just practice it on your own. If you're just evaluating and using it for yourself, then it's a different story but then we're not talking about religion then in this sense.

Also as @DominicShaull points out, some Buddhist sects have supernatural beliefs and cosmology. I would argue in fact that teaching about something beyond, above, or outside the natural order is part of the definition of most religions, and if you properly unpack them, maybe of all of them. In the case of Buddhism you have what amount to demigods (ascended masters / Bodhissatvas / hungry ghosts) and a form of cyclic afterlife (cycle of rebirth / karma). These are still magical beliefs asserted without substantiation, and inherently un-falsifiable. It's my personal view that if you have something un-falsifiable on offer, even if that doesn't include a deity or supreme being, you have a magical belief; add a bit of ritual and ceremony and you have a religion.

@mordant To the question of whether or not all Buddhists question all knowledge passed down to them, the answer is of course not. There are fanatics among the Buddhists also. But if they don't are they then still Buddhists, since this seems to be one of the most basic tenets of the teachings? Then follows your question: how much can you question and still be part of the group. In order to determine that there would have to be a centralized "authority" that makes those kinds of decisions like in the Catholic Church, which is my personal experience, but I ma sure all other religions are the same. The Buddhists bicker a lot about this but there is not a centralized panel recognized as such by all. So maybe that is part of why I don't see them as a religion. If the Buddha was here today he would be something like a Tony Robbins smile001.gif But maybe that is a religion

@Atpeaceone I don't think group exclusion necessarily requires a central body. If you attend the local Buddhist temple here, the local Buddhist temple can decide officially or unofficially that you're not to be encouraged or that you're to be outright ostracized because you're too divergent. For example, perhaps you choose not to obey the admonition to take off your shoes for group meditation, or violate some other agreed group convention. It doesn't take a central body to admonish you about not adhering to that. That's what I'm getting it, denying or threatening to deny social reciprocity to you personally, by the people you're trying to be part of a community with, is a strong disincentive to diverge very much. You get away from this only by practicing alone, and then you lose the social benefits.

The local temple actually violated MY beliefs and got MY withdraw of social reciprocity by advertising a beginner's introductory meditation session the first Friday of every month and then repeatedly not actually having them. Their web site hadn't been updated in months, the monks were at a retreat, it was spring break, the barometric pressure was too low, I don't know. I just decided that if they don't care enough about the material world to inform it accurately of their activities then I don't need the aggravation of going to the trouble to make my way down there week after week, phone their office and never get a return call, etc. So it cuts both ways ...


Buddhism itself is no more a religion than existentialism or psychotherapy. However, throw in some men in robes, buildings with statues, bells and candles, et.....voila.

Gareth Level 7 Apr 8, 2018

Depends on which "sect" you're describing. Some forms are mostly philosophical while others have angels demons and an afterlife.


Even though it is nontheistic, it fits a definition of religion that I accept in that it has a set of beliefs and practices that are adhered to by its followers. Buddha wasn't a god but he supposedly had achieved some sort of "perfection." Any kind of talk like that, in my opinion, steps outside the bounds of simple "philosophy."


Think of it as a practice, not a belief. A religion is the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. Buddha specifically said he had nothing to do with that - he was here to talk about suffering caused by hate, ignorance, and greed, and how to end that suffering, that is all. That others have added to this, is apparent, but not what he had in mind.


In Thailand, it's both, with monks, temples, etc. People here venerate Buddha despite his claims of not being a deity.


While a creator God is not a part of Buddhist philosophy, it is classified as one of the largest world religions. This would be a good question for the Dalai Lama.

RDaneel Level 5 Apr 8, 2018

The Dali Lama has put off his reincarnate due to the Chinese influence of attempting to make budda a god. The Dali Lama understands the words of Jesus and others as a reflection to the goal of reaching Dharma, or enlightenment, Seeing oneself in the total singularity of Buddha .


I've always considered it a philosophy of the world instead of a religion.


Don't understand why it wouldn't be a religion,

Because they do not believe in a deity or god. They worship the inner self and strive to be without a god protecting them.

Right - it depends on how you define a religion. In most religion, some greater power/deity is the main focal point. In Buddhism, apparently, the focus is inward.

“The Four Noble Truths are pragmatic rather than dogmatic. They suggest a course of action to be followed rather than a set of dogmas to be believed. The four truths are prescriptions for behavior rather than descriptions of reality. The Buddha compares himself to a doctor who offers a course of therapeutic treatment to heal one’s ills. To embark on such a therapy is not designed to bring one any closer to ‘the Truth’ but to enable one’s life to flourish here and now, hopefully leaving a legacy that will continue to have beneficial repercussions after one’s death. (154)”
― Stephen Batchelor, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist


An odd question. Why wouldn't this major world relgion be called a religion? smile001.gif

It is not a world religion, It is a way of life without a god watching your every move

@EMC2 Actually no, Buddhism is the 5th top world religion and has been so for a long time. Most religions incorporate a "way of life."
And "a god watching over you" is not a requirement for a religion. There are Theistic religions, like the Abrahamiic religions, and also many non theistic religions if you care to check.

What is an example of a non-theistic religion?

If we relax the requirements of religon to not include god, then we allow several "ways of life" that are clearly not religion, like astrology or crystal power.

@TheMiddleWay You and I do not get to make up a new definition for what a religion is. The Oxford English dictionary gives the two main meanings as follows: [[ 1. The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.

  1. A particular system of faith and worship. ]]

The 2 major non-Theistic religions are Buddhism and Taoism. Religion is not defined to require a god concept. Any large organized system of faith and worship qualifies as a religion. Neither astrology nor crystal power have a large organized system of faith or worship or any gods. Astrology and crystal power are just a fake mixture of mysticism and pseudoscience. "A way of life" on its own does not constitute a religion, but many religions, like Buddhism for example have a "way of life" within their teachings. In Buddhism it is the 4 Noble truths and the Eight Fold Path. Perhaps from your name you aim for the Middle Way yourself which Buddha promoted.


I agree. We don't get to make up a new definition so let's use the ones you provided.

a) Taoism has no system of faith nor worship nor gods and thus fails on both primary and secondary definition.

b) the Buddha never asked us to worship him nor to accept things on faith. Thus, it fails on the primary and secondary definition you presented.

Conclusion: by the definitions you provided, neither Buddhism nor Taoism are religions.
Corollary: not every way of life is a religion.

@TheMiddleWay Why are you making up these false ideas? Here are links telling you about faith in both Taoism and Buddhism, where they have religious worship rituals in Temples. []

p.s. We actually do not have ANY proven teachings of Buddha. All that exist are later "Buddhist traditional beliefs" passed down in oral tradition stories that were ascribed to Buddha. That is much like the truth that Christians have no proof for one word Jesus the Nazarene might have really said. And instead they just believe and take on faith words made up in stories by men starting up a new religion many years after the Romans killed Jesus.


From your link:
""Buddhism has no comparable [idea of] pure faith as in Christianity, ... The idea of blind faith, an absolute faith in a master's word, goes completely against the spirit of early Buddhism."

All major religions employ blind faith.
Buddhism does not.

All major religions have gods.
Buddhism does not.

All major religions demand worship.
The Buddha asked us specifically not to worship him.

That people do take him as a god and do worship him means some take it as a religion, as you do, but others do not, as I don't.

No faith as we understand faith in other religions.
No worship "demanded" of the Buddha as worship is demanded by other religions.

You go ahead and consider the Buddha as a god and his teachings as a religion; I have no problems with you doing so.
But I hope you have no problems with me not viewing him as a god and not viewing his teachings as a religion.

@TheMiddleWay Apparently you are arguing just to prove yourself right instead of seeking truth, so this will be my last reply to you. Faith in a God in Christianity is not the same as faith in Buddhism, correct, but I did not claim they were, so that is called a false strawman argument. Buddhists are faithful to their religion which is undeniable. Also the worship in Buddhist is different than in Theistic religions, and again I never claimed they were the same. So again you straw man me, ignoring that Buddhists do have worship. Next you throw in the absurdity that I consider Buddha a god, which is also false. When you let your stubbornness get in the way of resolving the truth, nothing meaningful can come of it. So I am done with you, and I guess your next job will be convincing the half billion people in the religion of Buddhism that they do not have a religion, and also getting all the dictionaries and encyclopedias in the world to change to a new definition to please you. Thanks for your ideas, and i wish you good luck on that big task ahead of you. But you did not fool me with bad reasoning, and I doubt you will fool any others either. goodbye


Good luck convincing us Buddhists that our practice is a religion. smile009.gif

Dalai Lama on Buddhism not as a Religion, but as a spiritual guidence trough life


As I understand it , the original Buddas were non diety and as the Chinese are attempting to control the belief , they are injecting a diety type Buddhism . But I still like very much what they say.

EMC2 Level 8 Apr 8, 2018

Religions are about practices, symbols, beliefs about existence. A deity or deities are sufficient but not necessary conditions.

cava Level 7 Apr 8, 2018

Good point. But I don't think we've agreed upon a working definition of "religion". Many of us require the deity for it to really be considered a religion.

@MrLizard I like the following:
“A religion is a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing those conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”

― Clifford Geertz

@cava This sounds like a definition of a political party

@Atpeaceone Maybe because religion is the existential basis for political ideology.


It is hair splitting nonsense to consider Buddhism different because no deity allegedly oversees it. An 'ism' of any kind that calls upon members to abdicate individual reasoning faculties and accept doctrinal codes established by others, especially sexually sick old men, is functionally a 'religion'. This is why polite people don't discuss any of them in public.

Faith is faith, whether the pathogenic males overseeing it claim to represent gods or not. A herd doesn't cease being a herd because it leaves a corral and gathers in a pasture.

We possess an exploded cerebral cortex differentiating us from all other fauna. There are other strictly individual human attributes and abilities. Playing 'hot potato' with them in fear of freedom and out of mental laziness is the height of ingratitude to Nature itself for our respective natures as creatures.

Atheism is an 'ism'. It's not a requirement of Buddhism that you abandon reason or believe in anything out of the natural order.

@NoTimeForBS That it is an ism to some in the same way as programmed isms, I can't argue. Many atheists imitate their theological and political cousins in trying to hijack the term as one denoting people who are (as a noun) Atheists. I use it more as an adjective a-theist as in un-theist or non-theist. That prefix denoting separation.

Many years ago, the 7up company used a clever marketing term to define their product in the public mind as 'The Un-Cola'. Though being un-cola objectively means a beverage can be understood to be without cola content as description or 'adjective', describing it. In marketing, The Uncola, was a way of claiming the nameas a product with specific definition.

Many atheists of a certain type mind, endeavor to appoint themselves qualifiers or definers of criteria that one must meet to be considered an Atheist. In so doing, they in fact do create an 'ism' in hijacking a term meant to describe those who simply reject gods, setting themselves up as clergy of sorts and disqualifying those who don't subscribe to their respective 'isms' from being true Atheists.

Well, they are right. Those of us who are simply a-theist are not only non-theists we are also non-Atheists as it applies to one of the many franchises.

For personal example, my rejection of notions about gods doesn't automatically place me kneeling in subjection to various forms of thought being called 'science'. Upon examination, I might accept it or reject it and without any necessity of explaining why. I don't, but might believe in ghosts, astrology, Sasquatch or the 'spirit of Santa Claus and STILL be atheist.

By the popery of some officious prigs who take it upon themselves to define both what is a good Atheist and what is good science, I might be disqualified for not measuring-up to their arbitrary and pretentious bars; as one who rejects their 'ISM'.


No. it's not a religion. It's a discipline.


It's a belief system. Basis on respect. Think we all could benefit from the wisdom of those whom preceded. Us...


Biddhism is not limited to being just a philosophy, just as Christianity is not limited to being just a religion (it can also be a philosophy). Deities are not a concern of Buddhism, although the Buddha himself has often been worshiped. I guess another question to throw out there would be: does a religion need a god or gods in order to be called a religion?

Buddha was known to get angry when people tried to deify him.

I just realized I typed "Biddhism" instead of "Buddhism."

@captainphilbo we'll have to declare a Buddhist fatwa against you! smile009.gif
And get a load of monks to come and sit cross legged and chanting outside your house smile001.gif


read sidharta in high school and admired the story. this is a must read before any discussion of buddism

michaelj Level 7 Apr 8, 2018

I think supernatural aspects were added to the story. After all he did nto write his own story, but others wrote it. Much like a lot of miracles were added to the story of Jesus after he died, using familiar themes of the time form other known stories of legends.

But, back to your point, yes, one shoudl be at least somewhat familiar with the subject before one comments about it.

Is that the Herman Hesse one? I enjoyed that book. Especially the bit where he met the Buddha. Thanks for reminding me. I'm going to readit again


It'a major maybe based on Siddartha but he's been elevated to Godhead status..

Charlene Level 9 Apr 8, 2018

“Embrace nothing: If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha. If you meet your father, kill your father. Only live your life as it is, Not bound to anything.”
― Gautama Siddharta


I don't know


The worst part about this question is how it caused people to take sides, disagree, argue, and get into some rather heated debates. While healthy debates can promote intellectual growth, some of what I've seen in this thread leans more towards stubborn anger. Is it really worth it to get so worked up on such a trivial question?






As a Buddhist, imo It is a way of life, a work out for the mind, body and spirit...religions are just excuses to do bad stuff and still think you are 'saved', Buddhism, religion is filled with dogma, fear and a god, not Buddhism. Even the Dalai Lama say's it is not a religion.

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