When viewed through a Western lens, Buddhism may seem more like a philosophical system than a religion. With no faith in a higher power, no liturgical prayer, and no weekly worship services, its teachings may appear to focus more on spiritual development and self-help rather than religious devotion. However, in practice, Buddhism shares many of the mystical and transcendent traits found in other world religions.
While it is true that Buddhism is a rich source of philosophical truth, with extensive writings on topics such as the meaning of life, ethics, psychology, human behaviour, the nature of consciousness, and politics, among others, it is also deeply religious. One of the primary goals of Buddhist thought and practice, like that of mainstream religions, is transcendence – achieving a state of being beyond the self. Even if a Buddhist practitioner does not achieve nirvana in this lifetime, they hope to experience greater detachment from selfish impulses and, therefore, less suffering.
Buddhism is also mystical in the sense that practitioners, through studying and meditation, can experience direct communion with the divine or absolute. The Buddha himself experienced this under the Bodhi Tree, gaining insight into the absolute truth of existence. The promise of this same mystical revelation is extended to all who follow the dharma path.
Although Buddhism may seem to lack supernatural elements, like other religions, it has its share of such beliefs. For instance, Buddhist religious texts and folklore include tales of the Buddha overpowering rivals by flying through the air and shooting fire from his head. Monks and enlightened followers could travel anywhere in the universe instantly and pass freely into heavenly realms.
Perhaps the most conventionally “religious” aspect of Buddhism, however, is its preoccupation with the afterlife. While Buddhists do not believe in the traditional heaven and hell of Christianity, ensuring a better rebirth in the next life and avoiding the lowest realms is a central concern of Buddhist practice. Despite its reputation for promoting peace and tolerance, Buddhism also maintains that its belief system is the only path to the ultimate truth.