Since the beginning of time humans have endeavoured to explain the causes and reasons behind their existence. As a result of this thirst for knowledge many different beliefs and values have been formulated with the aim of explaining this age-old question. Most of these beliefs are prevalent today in the form of institutionalised religions. In order to gain an understanding of the word 'religion', we need to fully analyse and compare the components of religions in order to gain a more cultivated understanding of this enigmatic term. An extremely valuable way of classifying religion and its many aspects is through the Seven Dimensions, developed by Ninian Smart. (See Appendix 1) These dimensions explore the many aspects of religion in a systematic and logical way. This theory of classifying religions can be lucidly applied to the Buddhist tradition in order to gain a wider understanding. The core element of Buddhism is the Experiential Dimension, as the ultimate goal of all Buddhists is to attain Enlightenment or Nirvana. The other aspects of the faith all concern the achievement of this experience. However, in stating this, the other dimensions are still important to Buddhists but exert less significance.
The Experiential Dimension of Buddhism is essentially the most important of all the dimensions as the core belief of Buddhism concerns obtaining the experience of Enlightenment. " The Buddha's personal experience of gaining enlightenment is the bedrock of the entire Buddhist tradition." (Keown, 1996: 7) Enlightenment is achieved by an adherent realising the truth by expelling all suffering. "Indeed the simplest definition of nirvana-in-this-life is as the end of greed, hatred and delusion." (Keown, 1996: 7) The way an adherent goes about expelling all suffering is contained in the Buddhist doctrines. However in stating this, Buddha warned that doctrines, without being validated by personal experience, are of little value therefore indicating that the experience associated with the religion is central to all other aspects. In conjunction with this, Buddhists regard life as a course in self-metamorphosis through the attainment of wisdom and experience, which is gained through methods such as meditation. This in turn indicates that a large emphasis is placed on experience within the Buddhist faith with the other dimensions being merely a means to achieve such experience. (Mudge et al, 1993) The Experiential Dimension of Buddhism is essentially the main focus of the adherents thus making it the central, and consequently the most important, of all the dimensions.
The Doctrinal Dimension of Buddhism is a fundamental aspect of the faith, which exerts great importance as it is through the following of doctrines that the experience of Nirvana is obtained. The ideals central to the doctrinal aspect of Buddhism is contained in the ' Dharma', which essentially is comprised of Buddha's teachings. The four elements upon which all Buddhist doctrines and teachings are based include: the Four Noble Truths, (See Appendix 2) the Anatman or doctrine of denying a permanent soul, Karma the belief that through rebirth a person is rewarded or punished for their good or bad actions and Nirvana the achievement of enlightenment or pure bliss by expelling all suffering. (Maguire, 2001) These elements all concern themselves with the three universal Buddhists' truths "impermanence (anitya), suffering (dukkha), and non-substantiality or no-soul (anatman)" (Encarta, 2000) The observance of these doctrines along with specific rituals are the keys to Buddhists acquiring enlightenment. Whilst these aspects of the religion are of immense importance, they still deal with the ever-present issue of gaining enlightenment. This would therefore suggest that the Buddhist doctrines are merely a means by which members attempt to achieve Nirvana. As a result, the Doctrinal Dimension of Buddhism is significant as it through the observance of doctrines that the...
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