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Why Buddhism is called a protestant religion?

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December 29, 2009 12:56AM

The phrase or term "Protestant" has been applied to Buddhism for a variety of reasons. There are certainly many explanations, depending on the context in which it is offered or who is doing the labeling. In modern application it is largely an academic term which arose around the turn of the last century. As such it is often attributed to a scholar named Gananath Obeyesekere in observing events affecting Buddhism as it unfolded in response to the colonialism of Sri Lanka.

"Protestant", as an adjective, may be used to represent different forms of Buddhism which developed in response to criticisms of the traditional role of Bhikkhu's and the Fourfold Sangha of those ordained. Examples are present in lay-lead communities of Buddhists and national reform movements (ie. Thailand). Occasionally it is used to describe "individualized", "internalized" or self-practicing Buddhism. Further, it may be heard to be voiced in connection with groups of Buddhists who broke with, or became separated from their meditation lineages to return to a practice based on the Pali Canon, Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path (for example: concentrating on re-learning the path based on scripture); a type of Buddhism without "credentials", perhaps.

Buddhism (as a whole) is sometimes referred to as a protestant religion because it is portrayed as a protest against the practices and teachings of Brahmin leaders of the day.

Many times taken as a derogatory reference, it can be that Buddha's teachings even promoted "protest" or "dissent", where justified, among adherents and disciples in a well-known sermon (Kalama Sutta).

Interestingly as well, it may be we are observing one such movement in its infancy and regarding the ordination of Bhikkuni's which recently took place in Australia which has resulted in a largely lay Buddhist petition (or protest) against those leaders in the Theravada Forest Tradition who nullified or disavowed the action and expunged a popular Ajahn, under whose auspices the ordination of females took place.

There is no intention here to hijack a phrase more commonly used in reference those in Christianity who once felt a need to strike out on their own and separate paths. "Protestant" actually only refers to a person or movement of persons protesting something or some things.