What is religion?

‘A life that accords with the highest good.’

There, that’s my answer. I’ve been thinking about this for some time, and it always comes back to this.

As I’ve said earlier, I am uncomfortable with the way that secularists use the word ‘religion’: it confuses me, because it doesn’t seem to relate with what religion means to those who practice it. The secularist, disparaging use seems to means something like ‘irrational dogma and superstition’. Of course, these things are found in religion (as elsewhere) but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any religionist who thought of religion in that way.

In some sense, religion serves to orient our life for what we see as ‘better’, even ‘best’. Our ideas of what is best surely differ: but these are just ideas, not the thing itself.

Perhaps it would be clearer if I expanded the definition:

‘Religion is a relatively organized system that typically includes such things as beliefs, doctrine, scriptures, ritual, contemplation, institutions, and communities, all of which are intended to orient or guide the religious practitioner to live in accord with that religion’s conception of the highest good.’

There you have it, the unanswerable has been answered. What do you think? Is this what religion means for you?

4 thoughts on “What is religion?

  1. Dear Bhante,
    Your definition does seem to describe in broad outline the basis of organised religions, regardless of what level of organisation is involved or how they define “the highest good”.
    What is also nice about it is that it emphasises what religions have in common, rather than what separates them – at least from their own points of view.
    My only concern is that the definition is also capable of describing organisations which would not normally be considered religions at all. For example, a large corporation has its own beliefs, scriptures (well “policies” etc.), rituals (well “meetings” etc.), institutions, and communities, all of which work towards what it sees as the highest good i.e. making profits.
    So, I suspect there is an element missing from the definition that would help eliminate such extraneous bodies. Perhaps you could give some thought to this, or correct me if I have misunderstood.
    In Metta,
    Greg.

    • Well, this was what I was getting at with the idea of the ‘highest good’. Most non-religious organizations or movements have more humble – perhaps more realistic? or just less exalted? – aims and frames of value. Even though you say, for example, the profit motive, is seen as the ‘highest good’ in corporations, I don’t really think this is the case. The corporation may have profit as the goal of the company, but I think most people in the company would agree that it is not really the highest goal of life.

      Incidentally, I think it’s a fallacy to say that the profit motive is the highest goal in companies. It is, I believe, derived from a simplistic assumption of economic theory, rather than from actual understanding of the motivations of people and corporations at work. There are many goals involved, such as security, reputation, development of skills, belonging, and yes, even contributing something worthwhile to the world. These play out and interrelate in various ways in different situations. Here’s an article that discusses this idea in more depth.

  2. ‘Religion is a relatively organized system that typically includes such things as beliefs, doctrine, scriptures, ritual, contemplation, institutions, and communities, all of which are intended to orient or guide the religious practitioner to live in accord with that religion’s conception of the highest good

    I think that is all well and good but what happens if this so called highest good is forced on people.. is it still good; or if this highest good is synthetised into worshipping and obedience to Guru’s or Gods and this is forced on people.

    What if in this type of religion people with certain spiritual powers constantly do practises that kind of invade your consciousness in an attempt to force you into that religion…is this still good? are there avenues for people to say well that is good but it is illegal in this country to do secret practises on others unless they have agreed to take part.

    It is like if your boss was a Christian and believed this was the highest good and forced you to pray to God; or say you had been in contact with certain groups who go to certain practises and they use these on you .. I mean are there any ways of stopping this.

    I mean what if a lama gives an empowerment to some kid or something and they use this on others,; just the other day i had a women tell me how after a so called empowerment her friend started telling her and others what to do, she beleived she was in controll of the other .. now they don’t talk, they are no longer friends.

    When does good actually become bad and are there any laws of ways of stoping people using these practises on other people or forcing religion onto others?

  3. I don’t mine say .sending lovingkindness prays or praying for people who are sick but other practises that are used to by certain cults that are intended to forceable takeover or get rid of things people or whatever..I don’t really consider this good personally.

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