Zen isn’t bound by rules, punishments, “shoulds,” or any external parental figure, making it the perfect “religion” for people who aren’t interested in religion in the classic Western sense.
-Eve Adamson and Gary R. McClain, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zen Living
Is Buddhism a religion?
The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, was a product of Hinduism, so it stands to reason that the pervading beliefs of his culture would have been a part of his thinking. Nevertheless, his own teachings seem to many to be more philosophy than religion.
Wherever Buddhism went, it seemed to meld with existing beliefs and, as a result, it often looks like a religion. But the historical Buddha never claimed to be anything other than a man, nor did he purport to have had divine revelations or to have had “supernatural” powers.
It seems that, to those who seek or prefer “religion,” Buddhism can serve; yet for those who are agnostic or otherwise disinclined toward belief, it is a philosophy, a tool-kit, a way of life.
Regardless of one’s approach, most – if not all – Buddhists, Zen or otherwise, would agree with the above quote. Buddhism is without dogma, without promises of heaven or threats of damnation, and does not demand belief; it makes observations about life, tells us how we can change our lives, and simply encourages us to walk the path for a while and judge the results for ourselves.