Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy? This depends on how you define those terms. An important factor is the idea of faith. Buddha Shakyamuni famously cautioned his disciples: ‘Do not accept my teachings simply because I am called Buddha’. Time and time again he reminded his disciples not to accept his teachings out of blind faith, but to test them as thoroughly as they would examine gold. It is only on the basis of valid reasons and personal experience that we should accept the teachings of anyone, including Buddha himself. Having said this, faith is vital to Buddhist practice. The special function of faith is to induce virtuous aspirations. Without faith in a particular practice we shall have no wish to engage in it; and without such a wish we shall not put any effort into the practice and so we shall not accomplish any results. Faith is the root of all virtuous attainments. If we have faith in Buddha we shall develop the aspiration to become a Buddha, which will encourage us to practice the Mahayana paths continuously and joyfully. What is Kadampa Buddhism? How does it differ from other types of Buddhism? Buddha’s teachings can be divided into the Hinayana, or Lesser Vehicle, and the Mahayana, or Greater Vehicle. In the Hinayana teachings Buddha explains how to attain liberation from suffering for oneself alone, and in the Mahayana teachings he explains how to attain full enlightenment, or Buddhahood, for the sake of others. Both traditions flourished in Asia, at first in India and then gradually in other surrounding countries, including Tibet. Now they are beginning to flourish in the West. Kadampa Buddhism is a Mahayana Buddhist school founded by the great Indian Buddhist Master Atisha (AD 982-1054). It was first established in Tibet, where it flourished for hundreds of years, and now it has spread throughout the world. There are currently around 800 Kadampa centres worldwide. Each centre practices Kadampa Buddhism in their own language and within their own society. Based on a special presentation of Buddha’s teachings known as ‘Lamrim’, Kadampa Buddhism sets out the complete path to enlightenment as explained by Buddha. Kadampa Buddhism is renowned for its accessibility; people of all backgrounds can easily understand and practice it. Kadampa Buddhism follows a lineage of teachings as passed down from Buddha Shakyamuni through various Teachers to Atisha, Je Tsongkhapa and finally our present Spiritual Guide, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. What relevance does Buddhism have today? Although Buddhism first appeared in India over two and a half thousand years ago, it has a timeless and universal relevance. Buddha explained that all our problems arise from confused and negative states of mind. He taught methods for ridding the mind of these destructive states and thereby realizing true happiness and fulfilment. These methods just as effective today as they were in Buddha’s time. Do Buddhists pray and if so, to whom? Buddhists pray to Buddhas. They believe that Buddhas bestow blessings, transforming the minds of living beings from negative to positive states. For this reason, prayers form an important part of the Buddhist path to happiness. However, Buddhists do not believe in a creator God.
For more answers to questions about Buddhism see Introduction to Buddhism, by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.