First and foremost the Buddha taught a method (“dharma practice”) rather than another “-ism.” The dharma is not something to believe in but something to do. The Buddha did not reveal an esoteric set of facts about reality, which we can choose to believe in or not. He challenged people to understand the nature of anguish, let go of its origins, realize its cessation, and bring into being a way of life. The Buddha followed his reason as far as it would take him and did not pretend that any conclusion was certain unless it was demonstrable. Dharma practice has become a creed (“Buddhism”) much in the same way scientific method has degraded into the creed of “Scientism.”
Just as contemporary agnosticism has tended to lose its confidence and lapse into scepticism, so Buddhism has tended to lose its critical edge and lapse into religiosity. What each has lost, however, the other may be able to help restore. In encountering contemporary culture, the dharma may recover its agnostic imperative, while secular agnosticism may recover its soul. An agnostic Buddhist would not regard the dharma as a source of “answers” to questions of where we came from, where we are going, what happdns after death. He would seek such knowledge in the appropriate domains; astrophysics, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, etc. An agnostic Buddhist is not a “believer” with claims to revealed information about supernatural or paranormal phenomena, and in this sense is not “religious.” An agnostic Buddhist looks to the dharma for metaphors of existential confrontation rather than metaphors of existential consolation. The dharma is not a belief by which you will be miraculously saved. It is a method to be investigated and tried out. It starts by facing up to the primacy of anguish, then proceeds to apply a set of practices to understand the human dilemma and work toward a resolution. The extent to “which dharma .practice has been institutionalized, as a religion can be gauged by the number of consolatory elements that have crept in: for example, assurances of a better afterlife if you perform virtuous deeds or recite mantras or chant the name of a Buddha.