Gudo: Ah… It is very good to think about whether religion is necessary or not. There are so many people who simply believe in some religion without questioning, or who dismiss all religions as foolish out of hand, all without really examining this very important question. Truly, I believe that all human beings, almost without exception, have a religion, that all men and women are religious … even those who think that they are not religious, or describe themselves as agnostic, atheistic, ‘anti-religious’ or such.
Sekishin: Why do you think that, Roshi?
Gudo: Well, for me, if I am going to ponder that question, there is another necessary question to address first.
Sekishin: And that is….?
Gudo: That is the question of what ‘religion’ is in the first place..... [M]y definition of a ‘religion’ is a bit different, and is something that virtually no human being can avoid to have.
WHAT IS A ‘RELIGION?’
Sekishin: So, Roshi … You have said that you have your own, rather different definition of a ‘religion.’ What do you think of as being a ‘religion?’
Gudo: Well, that is terribly difficult, yet an extremely important problem, and we could fill hours and hours in talking about it. However, since we could go on and on discussing this before arriving at any conclusion, I will just move directly to stating my own conclusion, which is that there are two elements central to a religion: The first is that there is some way of thinking or ideology believed true concerning the meaning and workings of the world and humankind’s place in it, and the other is that the actions of the individual are sought to be regulated in accordance with that way of thinking believed true. Namely, one aspect of the content possessed by something which constitutes a ‘religion’ is a faith in some ideology which is a world-view, and the other aspect is a discipline and regulation of the faithful’s actions to accord with the ideology thought proper in that faith. It is by this definition that I believe that all men and women, almost without exception, have a religion.
Sekishin: So are you saying that, likewise, in the cases of Christianity and Buddhism and such other religions practiced today in so-called ‘developed’ societies, one center point of the content of each is their particular ideology concerning the true nature of the world and mankind’s place in the world, the way of thinking which they respectively possess and which is acted upon by the upholders of the ideology in their lives?
Gudo: That is correct. The basis for answering the question of what constitutes any religion is determined by looking at the way of thinking which that religion upholds in its faith.
THREE TYPES OF ‘RELIGION.’
Sekishin: Might I ask you now to describe your impression of various specific religions that are currently widely active and popular. What are there respective good points and bad points?
Gudo: Well, to speak about those respective religions properly it is necessary, I would think, to demonstrate plentiful knowledge and experience with each such particular religion. As you know, I am a Buddhist priest and, therefore, perhaps I may rightly claim to have some knowledge about Buddhism. But, I can only speak as an outsider with regard to other religions. Thus, if someone who is an outsider, as I am, were to self-righteously assert his opinions regarding some other religion, I believe that act would be very insulting to the followers of the other religion, and further, would run the great risk of mistake and misstatement on a number of points. Thus, I do not wish to speak about such things.
However, instead of doing what you asked me to do, I would like to discuss just a little, as a general, abstract description, my idea of the three types of religion which exist.
Sekishin: What do you mean by ‘the three types of religion?’
Gudo: By this, I mean that, if we attempt to classify, based upon their content, the religions found in this world in which we live, they can be divided generally into three types.
Sekishin: Please tell me about each of the three types.
Gudo: The three types consist of those religions which set high store on the ideal, those that venerate the material, and those that emphasize ‘action.’ By the latter term, I mean a religion which simply tells us to live, to ‘act’ here and now, in this world just as it is. Thus, I call it a religion of ‘action.’ Buddhism, I believe, falls within this last category.
Sekishin: I think that this is the first time that I have heard such a classification ….
Gudo: Well, perhaps it contains within it my own particular view of religion. A few minutes ago, I expressed my idea that, if we consider ‘religion’ as commonly understood and ‘Buddhism,’ they are really quite different in their content with regard to the four characteristics that stand for a religion in ordinary definition, and the categories of religion which I want hereinafter to describe are related to that fact.
Sekishin: To begin … the first type, those religions that set high value on ‘the ideal,’ are what kind of religion?
Gudo: Those are what we usually think of as ‘religions’ in common understanding. For example, in most ‘religions,’ the central focus of the teaching is the idea of a super human, ideal entity such as a ‘god,’ whereby each such religion is formed having as its centerpiece a belief in that ‘god.’ It is this type of religion which is most like what we usually bring to mind as being a ’religion,’ and thus is the most conventional. If we ask the true nature of the entity represented by these anthropomorphic, human like ‘gods,’ we can say that it is actually a concept of the ‘ideal’ which we human beings each carry within our hearts.
We human beings are the animal, among all animals, that has developed the highest ability to think. Accordingly, each moment of each day, we think that we wish circumstances to be ‘like this,’ or to be ‘like that,’ or that things ‘should be like this’ or ‘should be like that.’ We contrast this with the state of the world before us, the state of circumstances we see around us, that are just as they are with all their seeming imperfections. In such manner, the state of the way that things ‘should be’ that we human beings have the capability to envision within our heads is typically called the ‘ideal.’ Those religions that arose centered upon such higher ideals, images of the ‘ideal,’ and setting high value on the ideal, are in reality those religions that we most usually think of as being ‘religions.’ Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, and many others …. most belief systems that these days we commonly call ‘religions’ belong to this category. They each hold up some perfect, idealized state or other world, in the light of which this world we live in is just a shadow … some other state of being, or some heaven, toward which we aim, but in contrast to which human beings and the unsightly human world fall far, far short.
Sekishin: And those religions that worship the ‘material’ are what type of religion?
Gudo: Those are religions that we usually do not think of as, or call, ‘religions.’ Because religions that place importance on the ‘ideal’ have been so successful, with so many people belonging to such religions, regulating their lives in accordance with the beliefs and tenets thereof … the result has been that a skeptical portion of such believers have come to feel certain contradictions in their religion, certain dissatisfactions with traditional, idealist religions leading them to doubt the dogma of the religion. The reason is that the ideals commonly upheld by the religion, and the explanations it will give for why the world functions in the way it does, will seem to diverge from the actual realities of the world in which we live, will not always mesh and be in accord with our understanding of how the world really functions .….With regard to those problems regarding which the two disagree with each other, or point in very different directions, people will suffer the dilemma of whether they should carry through with the ideal, or act in the manner that reality seems to indicate. They will be greatly frustrated by how our day-to-day world seems constantly to fall short of the religious ideal, and by how the explanations of the idealized religion seem to offer but fanciful stories to explain the way the world is ….. fanciful stories which require a good deal of faith to be believed.
Thereby, from such experience, people will start to doubt the ideals that their religion seems to uphold, which may lead them to begin to criticize those ideals as such, which then may lead to such people beginning to separate themselves from the religion, perhaps to ultimately come to follow beliefs and tenets fully the opposite of what the religion upheld. Such a position is commonly called ‘anti-religious,’ which is a belief system usually viewed as not itself being a ‘religion.’ But if we look at what I described earlier …. that the content of a religion is, first, a belief in some certain way of thinking or ideology concern the true nature of the world and mankind’s place in it, and second, action in accordance with that believed certain way of thinking or ideology …. we see that ‘anti-religion’ is itself clearly but a form of ‘religion.’ In addition, such a way of thinking, because it intentionally seeks to deny the ‘ideal,’ and because it seeks to remove the ideal from its importance and position in the ‘real world,’ with a tendency to define the ‘real’ as only those material phenomena and events which can be grasped and perceived by the eye and ear and the other physical sense organs … such a way of thinking can be described as a viewpoint which places central importance upon, that venerates the ‘material.’ It is a religion which worships the material.
Sekishin: Can there really be such religions?
Gudo: ... In the 19th Century, via Feuerbach, Marx and other materialists, religions placing importance upon the material became most strong.
Sekishin: So, Roshi … You think of Marxism as a religion?
Gudo: Yes I do. Its arising out of a belief that all that this world contains was born from a foundation in the physical and material, its construction of an intricate system of thought and ideology, and the efforts of its followers to reform society using, as a basis therefor, that system of thought and ideology …. these can all be said to be clearly one type of religious behavior. I also believe that ‘science’ can be a religion for some people to the extent that it is viewed … not merely as a tool for understanding aspects of this world in which we live … but as the ‘be all’ and ‘end all’ perspective for the way this world is, that nothing is ‘true’ except as it has a basis in the material universe, seemingly harsh, cold and blindly operating …. that, perhaps, the universe is nothing more than an equation, for example. It is not just a faith in the utility of ‘Scientific Method,’ but a faith expounding that nothing has value, nothing really is ‘true’ … be it ‘love,’ ‘poetic truth,’ ‘artistic truth,’ the subjective truths of the heart … unless it can be tested and proven by ‘Scientific Method.’ That is a perspective now very common in our world.. Right or wrong, to the extent that such beliefs constitute a world-view, an ideology, to which people conform their lives …. a faith in ‘science’ is another religion.
Sekishin: So next, what do you consider those religions that emphasize ‘action?’ What do you mean by that?
Gudo: This refers to those religions that just call for us to ‘be,’ to ‘live’ and ‘act’ here and now, while simultaneously accepting this world ‘as it is,’ just ‘as it is’ here and now … without appeal to some ‘other world’ that is somehow better, more ‘ideal.’ Because all they ask of us is to ‘be,’ to ‘act’ here and now, in this very world in which we are living here and now, I call such philosophies ‘religions of action.’ Buddhism is such an existential religion. On the other hand, although Buddhism calls upon us to fully accept, to merely observe without judgment this world in which we are living … still, Buddhism need no be thereby a philosophy of passivity. We need not but sit in bliss upon our lotus leaf, watching life pass us by. While fully accepting the world, while fully not wishing that the world were any other way than just the way it is …. simultaneously and from yet another perspective, we are most free to act, to live and choose as we think best. We need not be passive, but can live our lives abundantly, moving forward …. all the while as we know that we are always just ‘here,’ that there is no place ultimately to go other than where we are… In this way, it is a ‘religion of action.’ ….. And again, equally important is the further perspective that in our acting, in our living … it is but the world which acts and lives as we act and live, for we are each but a facet of the world, but an expression of the whole of Reality without separation. In this stance, all concepts of ‘subject’ and ‘object’ are put aside, and our lives and the functioning of all Reality constitute a single Great Activity, one Great Functioning. Thus, because we view the world as acting by and through each of us without separation or division …. for this reason as well, it is a ‘religion of action.’ So, just ‘being,’ ‘living’ and ‘acting’ is sacred, a sacred act, in and of itself. We can even try to better the world as best we can, while hand in hand recognizing the world as perfectly just what it is. Because we can live, must live and act even as we accept …. So, it is a religion of ‘action.’
I believe that religions of ‘action’ are not included in the categories of religions which worship the ideal and those that focus on the material, but transcend both. I think that almost all of this world’s religions fall into one or the other of the previously described two categories. But, although their numbers are small, there do exist in this world religions not falling into one of those two categories, philosophies which can be said to transcend and swallow whole both the ‘ideal’ and the ‘material.’ Buddhism is an example. Buddhism possesses nothing within it equivalent to a ‘god.’ Further, it does not discount and reject the world of the physical, of the flesh… In fact, it honors the world we find before us. It does not recognize souls and spirits. Even if we just think alone about its characteristic of not denying or rejecting this actual world in which we live, we find thereby that it is certainly not a religion which worships the ‘ideal.’ On the other hand, if we think about it as a religion which seeks for the ethical, warns against our drowning in the senses, which is a viewpoint that does not see the total of Reality only in the empirical or physical, which places importance on actions and seeks for a unity of the objective and the subjective, Buddhism, from any viewpoint, is not a religion of the ‘material.’ Thereupon, if we then ask what is the real centerpiece of the teachings of Buddhism, it is not the ideal, not the material, but in reality its central focus is the actions of human beings, of being and doing here and now. So, when we encounter a religion such as Buddhism which has been created placing central importance on the actions of human beings here and now, that is called a religion which places highest value on ‘action,’ a ‘religion of action.’