Is Buddhism a religion, or a philosophy? It is possible to say that Buddhism is either, or both, but the debate misses the most important way to define Buddhism.
Buddhism is medicine.
First and foremost, whether it is a religion or a philosophy, Buddhism is medicine for the mind. It recognizes suffering in the world and prescribes a way to heal this suffering.
The Four Noble Truths are the basis of Buddhism as Medicine:
1. Life involves suffering. There is war, sickness, old age, and death. Happiness based on anything in the world does not last. Everything is impermanent and ephemeral.
2. The cause of suffering is clinging and desire. We want to hold on to what cannot be held, and we base our happiness on achievement instead of on who and what we really are.
3. There is a way to lessen, heal, and escape suffering. Buddhism is pessimistic about the world, but not about the human mind. We are not helpless. We can heal ourselves.
4. The way to decrease suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path of right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
Buddhism is a prescription for psychological and spiritual healing given by a man called Buddha, the Awakened One. He had Awakened to a treatment for human suffering.
By practicing Buddhist principles, ethics, and meditation, we can begin to cure the psychological “dis-ease” which afflicts us all and improve the quality of our lives.