Do I have to be religious to be a Buddhist?

That depends, of course, on what “being religious” means to you, but the short answer is no. For many people, concern about the term stems from negative experiences with the religion they grew up with and the assumption that being religious entails an unquestioning faith in dogmas, customs, and traditions.

The Buddha encouraged his disciples to test out his teachings for themselves. In a famous teaching known as the Kalama Sutta, he advised a group of people that believing in traditions or dogmas for their own sake doesn’t fly. As he explained, the value of a teaching can be authentically apprehended only when we put its lessons into practice and see how they play out in our own lives. In addition, we should measure our own findings against the experience of people we consider wise and honorable.

Through this process, a genuine, self-tested realization of the Buddhist teachings develops. You can call it what you want: religion, spirituality, philosophy. The labels are not what matters; as the Buddha would tell you, it’s your actions, and the fruits of your actions, that count.


Tricycle is more than a magazine

Gain access to the best in sprititual film, our growing collection of e-books, and monthly talks, plus our 25-year archive

Subscribe now