Barbara O’Brien is one of my favorite Buddhist writers. She has a remarkable ability to cut through the mystic fog that so many practitioner-writers seem to weave about the Dharma, which is very much the way I try to look at it. When we get right down to it, the Buddha didn’t really say all that much, he merely said it over and over, in a number of different ways. Since his time, as Mark Twain famously remarked, “Many commentators have shed much darkness upon this subject, and it is believed that if they continue we shall soon know nothing about it at all.”
Barbara is not one of those commentators. While I don’t entirely agree with her thesis about Buddhism as a religion, hers is the most lucid discussion I’ve run across. I commend it to your attention on the presumption that, having considered the issue carefully, you can make up your own mind.
“In many ways, the “religion versus philosophy” argument is an artificial one. The neat separation between religion and philosophy we insist on today didn’t exist in western civilization until the 18th century or so, and there never was such a separation in eastern civilization. To insist that Buddhism must be one thing and not the other amounts to forcing an ancient product into modern packaging. …” Buddhism, Religion or Philosophy