I was discussing some ideas for my potential PhD proposal with a potential supervisor in the spring of 2012 via email. I outlined the general points of what I intended to address in my research in our correspondence. I was not able to meet in person as I was still overseas at a training centre, but I wanted to discuss those ideas early on with someone who knew his stuff. I was afraid I might have had my own blinders on.
I quite stubbornly refused to go too narrow with the questions in my head at first, and hence I ended up also writing down one of the big questions surrounding Buddhism in that letter. He called it a “bearded question” 🙂 In my native language this implies something that can be endlessly pondered upon without any reasonable result. “Bearded jokes”, where this expression really originates, tend to be jokes of questionable taste, hidden in sometimes very serious contexts, as behind a beard; or are simple unintended outcomes of a faux pas. I suppose he was right as it really becomes a question of semantics once you look deeper into it. I have worked in the field of communication during most of my professional career and due to this I still hold my ground that when it comes to discussing this stuff with scientific materialists, atheists and hyper-seculars of the North, this “little” semantic detail will change the whole game. Should your discussion partner happen to be a tad narrow-minded, a defensive or even offensive position could be provoked if wrong words were to be used. And words there are many.
An excerpt from that text: “In my experience, people who say Buddhism is a philosophy and not a religion usually mean it as a compliment. They are trying to say, I think, that Buddhism is something other than the superstitious rubbish they believe religion to be.
In this* view, religion is a jumble of primitive folklore that humankind drags through the ages like a cosmic security blanket. Religion is passionate and irrational and messy. But philosophy is the flower of human intellect. It is reasonable and civilized. Religion inspires war and atrocity; at worst, philosophy incites mild arguments over coffee and dessert.
Buddhism — some Buddhism, anyway — is a practice of contemplation and inquiry that doesn’t depend on belief in God or a soul or anything supernatural. Therefore, the theory goes, it can’t be a religion.”
* The oposing view is stated prior to that in the original article