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Journal Article

Buddhism and the Definition of Religion: One More Time

William Herbrechtsmeier
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Vol. 32, No. 1 (Mar., 1993), pp. 1-18
DOI: 10.2307/1386910
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1386910
Page Count: 18

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Topics: Buddhism, Christianity, Dharma, Phenomena, Mahayana, Theravada, Judaism, Islam, Concept of being, Humans
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Buddhism and the Definition of Religion: One More Time
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Abstract

This paper argues that the belief in and reverence for superhuman beings cannot be understood as the chief distinguishing characteristic of religious phenomena. The consideration of Buddhism has always been central to the discussion of what religion is, and this paper focuses on the limitations of the human-superhuman dichotomy as it might be used to apply to Buddhist traditions. The argument makes three points: a) There are important sects of Buddhism that do not rely on reverence for superhuman beings, and the concept "superhuman" is difficult (if not impossible) to use in cross-cultural studies because of cultural variations in what it means to be human; b) the insistence that "philosophies" should be systematically distinguished from "religions" is arbitrary and culturally biased; and c) Buddhist doctrines that assert that reality is ultimately "nondual" provide the conceptual context for understanding superhuman beings in Mahayana, and this conceptuality is not consonant with superhuman definitions of religion.

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