Nobody can truly say what Buddhism is. A true Buddhist does not see Buddhism as anything with independent existence. Buddhism is a path that leads beyond the concepts of the world, including the concept of Buddhism.
In its beginning stages, Buddhism is a path that leads its practitioner out of the cyclic existence of suffering called samsara. Buddhism identifies the nature of embodied existence as suffering and then provides a clear path beyond the cycles of birth, sickness, old age and death. Unlike Western religious documents, Buddhism is more than an epic. It is not about acquiring land and animals through crooked means or increasing one's population through inbreeding to raise large armies in order to commit genocide on another culture. It is about how a magnificent being took birth 2500 years ago and provided 45 years of teachings, most of which survive complete today. These teachings adamantly teach non-violence as one of the means for attaining true and eternal inner peace.
The beginning stages of Buddhist education can be defined easily enough as a path leading out of suffering. But the advanced stages are so fulfilling and of such immeasurable benefit that they are beyond description or concept of any kind. But this does not mean the ultimate experience is inaccessible to anyone seeking it. By following the path one step at a time, all beings can easily and quickly return their mind to its true and pure state.
Buddhism is not religious in the sense that you rely on an external being to take on all your negative behavior. A Buddhist does not wantonly cause harm to others during the middle of the week and then ask a sacrificial figure to accept all his errors on the given day of worship. Buddhism is a daily and hourly practice that merges with the complete life of the individual. It is a clear effort and intent to calm the mind and to bring benefit to all living beings at all times. To become a Buddhist means to take charge of your own life, take the initiative for accepting responsibility for all your own mistakes, and to directly avoid causing harm to others at all moments of your existence.
The Mosaic religions worship a once local god, Jehovah, whose original home according to the Bible was on Mt. Horeb, which was owned by a priest named Jethro. In these times the Pagan beliefs attributed a god to each mountain throughout the land. This god was packed into a golden ark, carried into battle, and worshipped as the cause of Moses' strength in destroying all the inhabitants of Canaan. Later a temple was built and Jehovah then lived in the Holy of Holies, a temple built just for him. Later this god's domain was given to the Universe and it can be assumed that the entire story of creation as given in the Bible (encompassing just 12 paragraphs in Genesis) was printed after Moses had already lived his battles.
In Buddhism, gods are recognized as beings living in a different realm from humans. Like Jehovah, these gods are not always perfect and sometimes exhibit human qualities such as anger, jealousy, and vindictiveness. There are also other realms recognized in Buddhism including the hell realms and hungry ghost realms. The inhabitants of these realms are beings who are trapped in certain types of negative thought patterns arising from ignorance.
Buddhism does not attribute a human form or personality to the true, enlightened source of all life. The goal is merely to return each living thing to the complete state of enlightened mind from which all life came. As stated already, the Path is not one of asking for an invitation into heaven from some higher source but of taking responsibility for our current condition and the initiative to do something about it.
Whereas the Western Bibles can easily be held in the hands of a child, the Buddhist Canon is so vast as to fill the volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica several times over. Where Christ's teachings were preserved in about 12 lines in the New Testament, the Buddha's vast teachings of 45 years have been handed down for 2500 years in near complete form. The teachings of Buddhism include an in-depth understanding of the mind surpassing modern psychological understanding, a complete description of the dying and birth processes from an experiential perspective, intricate cosmologies showing how each part of our environment is related to the other, and a medical system that is both inexpensive and actually works.
Are there disembodied teachers in Buddhism? Yes, there are literally thousands of them. Since Buddhism actually works, there are an increasing number of enlightened beings whom we can call upon for assistance in our own spiritual practice. The Buddha spoke of thousands other Buddhas from times before and times yet to come. Many of the Buddha's disciples reached enlightenment through slightly different paths, opening yet greater understanding and wider views leading to liberation of the mind. As a result, Buddhism has both retained its basic nature and also evolved to maintain relevancy in modern times.
Buddhism teaches that all existence is of the mind, for the mind and through the mind. The body and world it perceives is just a mirror the mind reflects itself through. Beyond the body and this material world are more levels of reality invented by the mind. While living in this world it is possible to visit the other realms. It is also possible to create forms in this world that reflect the enlightened qualities of mind and thus assist us in our practice of liberating the mind. All these Buddhist techniques and tools have been tested and tried over millenniums with consistent and beneficial results. The forms created for Buddhist practice are not idols to be worshipped, but gateways and signposts left by those who found the way for those seeking the way. Ultimately all the teachings and forms of Buddhist practice must be abandoned. Attachment to the teachings and tools of Buddhist practice is inconsistent with the Buddhist teachings.
Because of the cult-like religions that insist on blind faith and strict adherence at the penalty of fear and violence, Buddhism has been portrayed as the antithesis of other religions. Nobody is even allowed to explore Buddhism while being the disciple of a Mosaic religion. Yet Buddhism does not teach exclusivity. You do not have to renounce Judaism, Islam or Christianity or any other religion to become a Buddhist or even practice its teachings. Buddhism is tolerant, patient and kind to all faiths and even to atheists. The Buddha taught that we should not believe a word he said but that we should apply the teachings ourselves and see if they work. If they don't work we shouldn't be wasting our time with a charlatan. In spite of this candid challenge, the fact that Buddhism exists 2500 years later is profound testimony of what millions of practitioners found to be the truth.
We are not asked to come with faith or hope, waiting our entire life to see whether or not, in the end, we will be lifted from the earth and whisked into a new heaven and earth. Buddhism offers a path that has immediate results. You do not have to wait until the moment of death to find out if this will work or not. Buddhism is based upon the truth. The truth, being true, is self evident. Buddhism does not ask for worshippers or followers, it merely offers the truth, with no strings attached. You, the practitioner, have only yourself to rely on and that's the way it should be. For if as Buddhism teaches, that the true nature of your mind is complete omniscient enlightenment, then the truth must be within you. The answer you seek is not in a book about land grabbing, it is not in a preacher telling you how sinful you are, and it is not in any external object outside of your direct experience. The answer you seek is your true self, beyond all concepts, beyond all form, and beyond all suffering. Because of what Buddhism has to offer, only you can determine whether it offers the truth or not.