Is Buddhism a Religion, Philosophy, Superstition, Psychology, etc?

Terminus, God of Boundaries.  Concedo nulli.
A 16th century image of Terminus, the Roman God of Boundaries. Concedo Nulli is Latin for 'yield no ground'.

Recently, just before my last trip to Japan, I re-read an old, obscure, but excellent novel by Roger Zelazny named Jack of Shadows, which explores an Earth whose rotation has stopped, and Earth is divided into a “light” side and a “dark” side. It’s one of those classic science fiction novels from the 1960’s and 1970’s that were full of imagination. Anyway, there is one quote I wanted to share with folks (it’s a bit long, sorry):

Morningstar the demon: “I know many things, not all things. There is a difference.”

Jack: “Then tell me some things. I have heard daysiders say that the core of the world is a molten demon, that the temperature increases as one descends toward it, that if the crust of the world be pierced then fires leap forth and melted minerals build volcanoes. Yet I know that volcanoes are the doings of fire elementals who, if disturbed, melt the ground about them and hurl it upwards. They exist in small pockets. One may descend far past them without the temperature increasing. Traveling far enough, one comes to the center of the world, which is not molten—which contains the Machine, with great springs, as in a clock, and gears and pulleys and counterbalances. I know this to be true, for I have journeyed that way and been near the Machine itself. Still, the daysiders have ways of demonstrating that their view is the correct one. I was almost convinced by the way one man explained it, though I knew better. How can this be?”

“You were both correct,” said Morningstar. “It is the same thing that you both describe, although neither of you sees it as it really is. Each of you colors reality in keeping with your means of controlling it. For if it is uncontrollable, you fear it. Sometimes then, you color it incomprehensible. In your case, a machine; in theirs, a demon.”

Jack: “The stars I know to be houses of spirits and deities—some friendly, some unfriendly and many not caring. All are near at hand and can be reached. They will respond when properly invoked. Yet the daysiders say that they are vast distances away and that there is no intelligence there. Again…?”

Morningstar: “It is again but two ways of regarding reality, both of them are correct.”

Jack: “If there can be two ways, may there not be a third? Or a fourth? Or as many as there are people, for that matter?”

“Yes”, said Morningstar.

Jack: “Then which one is correct?”

Morningstar: “They all are.”

Jack: “But to see it as it is, beneath it all! Is this possible?”

Morningstar did not reply.

“You,” said Jack, “Have you looked upon reality?”

Morningstar: “I see clouds and falling stones. I feel the wind.”

Jack: “But by them, somehow, you know other things.”

Morningstar: “I do not know everything.”

Jack: “But have you looked upon reality?”

Morningstar: “I—once… I await the sunrise. That is all.”

So, when I see yet another article arguing about whether Buddhism is a religion or philosophy, or whether it’s superstitious or not, I find this quote somehow appropriate.

P.S. Thanks to a certain reader who posted the Guardian article on Twitter. 🙂

P.P.S. Various articles on the subject…. but probably the most important one as well as this.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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