Updated: Nov 16
That's what it is. A practice, not a religion, although some have made it so. There is nothing in the early Pali literature that suggests Buddha was a Buddhist. And there is more than one Buddha, which echoes the idea that everyone can become one. There is no big "E" enlightenment--a plateau from which the enlightened can look down at the unenlightened hoards. There is, in my opinion, a constant small "e" enlightenment--waking up daily to the delusions we've imposed on ourselves or had imposed from without. We are all plain old funky-ass human beings trying to wake up.
There is a lot of conjecture that even the Buddhist scriptures are inauthentic, having been composed sometimes hundreds of years after the Buddha's death. The religion, according to Stephen Batchelor, was then emended by later Brahman sects in India and made "respectable" with its own Hindu beliefs, e.g.; life after death, reincarnation, etc. To me, of all the literature, the statement of the Four Noble Truths seems solid, seems the basis of the practice: we suffer, we suffer because we become attached impermanent things, there is a way out of suffering and that is what is called the eightfold path, which is basically good living, working, practicing. You can find these in other religions however baroque and misunderstood; you can find them clearly expressed in the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous after you've excluded all the God-speak.
One of the Bodhisattvas, Bodhidharma, was said to have said "throw away the scriptures," after which he sat for 20 years in silence. He took Buddhism to China, where it became Chan Buddhism, which became Zen.
Buddhism at its worst is like any other religion; full of dogma and rigidity, its hierarchies full of petty politics and misogyny. I once met a monk who left Shri Lanka because of this and joined a Korean Zen community. I know of a woman glass sculptor who was commissioned to make a glass Buddha for a monastery in Thailand. When she arrived with it, they wouldn't let her touch it--because she was a woman.
There is a Koan, one of the easier ones, that is worded: "If you see the Buddha coming down the road, kill him." What this means, I think, is if you see your own projections of what the Buddha is, if you see what you have made him, kill that Buddha. The same could be said of Jesus: if you see Jesus coming down the road, kill him. This of course would shock the flock. It would mean, in its unadorned sense, "if you see the judgmental, mean, moralistic Jesus the dogmatists have made of him coming down the road you'll know it's not him and don't buy the Brooklyn Bridge.
I believe the Buddhist intention is in one sense to dissolve forms in order to experience what is, to cleanse ourselves of what Blake called "the mind-forged manacles."
Is Doug enlightened? Mostly I'm an angry, hurt, stumbling and creative human being trying to get through one day at a time without succumbing to his delusions, and who has found Buddhist practice to be a refuge from a darkening world, and a means by which to observe how my mind creates suffering. On my best days I'm able to get beyond myself and help others.