Ppppp… That was the horse-like sound of my mostly closed lips flapping as I forced a forceful exhalation through them.
There’s no definitive right or wrong answer to this question; it solely depends on how a person approaches the Dharma.
If you have a skeptical and analytical mind, then Buddhism’s a science. If you take things on faith and enjoy rituals, then it’s a religion. If you have a speculative mind that enjoys pondering metaphysics, then Buddhism’s a philosophy. If you’re creative or rely on intuition a lot, then it’s an art. It could even be all of those at the same time.
Howard Gardner introduced the theory of multiple intelligences. How someone practices and classifies Buddhism is determined by their intelligence, by the realm of understanding they’ve got a handle on.
Our intelligence, capacities and abilities influence the way we view ourselves and the world. They influence the way we learn; they influence the subjects we’re interested in learning.
An architect and a poet experience reality in different ways. The architect sees all things as geometry and dimensions; the poet sees all things as symbols and allusions. A poet might get a feeling from a shape, an architect might see whether the shape is stable or unstable and how it can support other structures.
This is why Buddhism uses upaya, or skillful means, to reach people. There’s a different type of Buddhism for each intelligence. The Buddhadharma also influences us as we practice it. It can round us off a bit—even us out.
Someone might begin Buddhist practice and consider it a religion, then an art, a science, or maybe something mystical or metaphysical.
Many practitioners don’t allow this process to occur, instead opting to settle into one school and one view for the rest of their lives. To me, that’s pretty much anti-Dharma. How can we truly understand and accept impermanence if we don’t allow ourselves and our practice to change?
That said, Buddhism isn’t anything to me. It isn’t an art, a religion, a science, a philosophy… It isn’t anything in particular to me because it can be any of those things. Whenever something’s open to interpretation, that means it isn’t ontologically real.
It’s like that old elephant parable that’s been used so many times it could probably use a good wash. To the blind man feeling the trunk, the elephant’s a hose; to the guy feeling the tail, the elephant’s a rope. Neither the trunk nor the rope are absolutely real, only phenomenally or subjectively real. The ontic reality is the elephant.
I’ve always been after that damn elephant, I won’t settle for anything else. To me, Buddhism is…
It’s just life, just living. It’s a science, but not solely a science; it’s an art, but not solely an art. Buddhism permeates all aspects of my life, it’s present in all the various mental compartments I’ve devised that structure the world. It’s my work, my play, my struggle and my leisure. It’s deadly serious, and wholly irreverent.
So I can’t see it as anything in particular, because it’s everything in general.