Is Buddhism Religion or Philosophy?

It has been over a year since I started learning Tibetan Buddhism. Initially it was just out of curiosity: I was thinking of Buddhism as a philosophy integrated with traditional Asian culture such as meditation, healthy diet, and relaxation. I focused on the intellectual aspect of Buddhism, telling myself that I wasn't into organized religions; I was too comfortable positioning myself as agnostic, because (1) it sounded less offensive than being an atheist and (2) honestly, I had no idea if God exists. (I still don't know.)

A few months after I started visiting the dharma hall I realized my life was turning around in a better way when I caught myself during a burst of anger. I felt strange because the angry emotion was so…intense, despite the source incident being relatively minor. Then I noticed that I was upset for the first time in two weeks. I used to get upset on a daily or even hourly basis. It was like having a shot of whiskey after staying away from alcohol for months: the intoxicating effect is much stronger when you are usually sober. But what’s more important in this case was that being angry was no longer a part of my daily routine.

I checked what has changed, and studying Buddhism was the most probable cause of my improved calmness. I was sold, and have started practicing it, not merely learning about it.*

Now that I claim myself to be a Buddhist, it is time to do a reality check. How I would look to my old self two years ago (pre-Buddhism)? That self would ask me these two questions:

  • Am I getting religious (which I had always avoided like a plague)?
  • Have I changed fundamentally?

To the first question, my current attitude is: Whatever. Religion is just a label (or as a smart friend of mine told me, it is the believers who create religions[SLX1]  to control whatever they wish to control). I believe what I believe, and now I put less emphasis on how others would think of me than how I can be myself, or who I want to be.

Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy? It does not matter what you call it. Buddhism remains what it is whatever label you may put on it. The label is immaterial. Even the label 'Buddhism' which we give to the teaching of the Buddha is of little importance.
What the Buddha taught, Walpola Rahula

To the second question: No, I haven't changed. Instead, I might be turbo-charging my focus on life, which might come across as "change," though. I have always been fascinated about knowing the deeper truths in our lives, and Buddhism just came at the right time, because it is all about realizing the truth. The truth about what? Again, whatever.

Almost all religions are built on faith–rather 'blind' faith it would seem. But in Buddhism emphasis is laid on 'seeing,' knowing, understanding, and not on faith, or belief.
What the Buddha taught, Walpola Rahula

To summarize, I guess I am getting better at being myself, after all this year of meditating, practicing qigong, reciting mantras, and reading sutras. And now I am starting to think about all the "life change" people talk about: isn't it all about getting better at being ourselves?

*My anger management is getting better. For minor issues, now I can predict how my anger would grow, and how long it would take until it disappears. It is a weird but refreshing feeling to know something before it actually happens, because my relationship with anger had been in the line with this:

I store my sip of coffee before I swallow it, like a chipmunk. This is something I know I do but I can't stop doing because I don't notice I am doing it until after I've done it.
Jill Soloway, Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants

P.S. This is where I practice: EWCP.