What Is A Religion, Anyway?

Have you ever considered what a religion might look like if it didn’t have clergy, rules, and buildings that identify it? Before I ran across Nichiren Buddhism, as practiced in the SGI, the international lay organization, I would have said a religion would have a higher power, a priesthood and rules and rituals that set it apart.

A Different Idea of Religion

But this Buddhism turned my idea of religion, on its head.

First: I was taught there was no higher power outside of myself. Instead that energy, an enlightened energy, was seen as being the core of my life. Not only that, I could tap into that level and bring out its attributes, such as a deep wisdom, to handle everyday life issues.

Second: The whole purpose of spiritual practice was for each of us to become unshakeably happy. In fact, the happiness of each person was actually the goal of the whole SGI organization. I felt that was totally unique.

Third: As there is no clergy in the SGI to act as an intermediary between you and that higher energy, it means that you are encouraged to take charge of your life through directly connecting with that universal energy yourself, and taking action towards your goals.

It also means that you are trusted and expected to study and teach what you know in discussion meetings. You have to really think about what you are discussing and make it your own.

Fourth: I always thought religion was separate from daily life. I had always seen a special day set aside as the religious day each week, or you went on retreats and then came back into regular daily life. Not in this religion. Here religion and daily life are seen as one and the same. Here, you take on the daily life challenges to happiness twice a day through religious practice. It is through taking on these challenges by connecting with the universal energy inside you that you develop faith and establish the state of enlightenment in your life.

I had never encountered a religion that was so empowering. I was told that everyone has a beautiful, enlightened core, was competent and able and that our happiness was top priority. I was told, we were Buddhas, that we had our lives in our hands and that the power to create our lives lay within us. If we chanted, using that universal connection, we could create our lives as we wished them. We were  not powerless, dependent on something outside of ourselves.


So, what is religion then? In Nichiren Buddhism, as practiced in the SGI, there is no higher power, priests or clergy, identifying architecture or rules.

Instead that higher energy is seen as residing within the core of your life and you connect with it every day to deal with the issues of daily life. The goal of spiritual practice is to enable each person to become unshakeably happy. Through daily practice and taking on challenges to happiness, you develop faith and take the steps to enlightenment. Having experienced it, I would say that architecture, rules and clergy are peripheral. I would call this Buddhism a religion in every sense of the word