Improving Buddhism

Is it Possible?

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Phases of Religion-Building

In an earlier post, the term architheology was coined to represent the study of how religions are formed. There seem to be four distinct stages that must happen for a successful religion to achieve prominence. This might be called phases of religion-building, as in each of the four phases different people must perform different tasks in order to result in the final product of a religion.


The first phase is accomplished by the parents of the future religious founder, and by others who serve as guardians, trainers, mentors and educators. They must take the infant founder, and provide him with all the necessary motivation and knowledge to enable him to perform the next phase.


The science of raising children is somewhat below water level, in that there is a great amount of controversial and mostly incorrect or dubious material purporting to tell people how to raise their children. The field suffers from a lack of understanding of what a parent might want their child to become, what traits he should have and what capabilities would be emphasized. With no clear goal for child-rearing, there are no metrics which might enable the erroneous material to be isolated and discarded. Instead, people write guidebooks on child-rearing based on their own emotions and feelings, much of it inherited from their parents or other examples, rather than upon some science-based knowledge of how the young mind absorbs knowledge, what are the different portions of the brain and how they work independently and in connection with other portions, how neurochemicals function within the brain and the role they play in learning and training, and how various environmental factors affect the outcome. The influence of peers at different ages, experiences of different types, the variety of ways that a parent might interact with a child and the effects, the hierarchy of skills that grow, first in an infant, then in a toddler, and then in a young child, and many other factors are as opaque now as they were two thousand years ago, and perhaps more so. Back then, there was a good amount of observation of children and rearing practices, and knowledge was handed down, and in fact became a part of culture. Everyone who grew up in a village knew how to raise their child; it may not have been the best way, nor destined to come up with certain outcomes, but at least there was less of a chaos of possible methods and variations.


Neither do we yet understand the influence of genetic and epigenetic factors in creating dominant personality types, of influencing the goals that a young adult will adopt, and how much success they might find. Our knowledge of genetics is quite primitive, as even a categorization of which genes affect which traits is lacking; indeed, a listing of which traits are affected by genetics and which are not is missing as well. The genome is slowly being mapped and translated into functions, but it appears it will be a long and laborious process and the data will not be available in the near future. So only generic guidelines are possible, which is what virtually all commenters on child-rearing do.


The parents and other influencers of the new human do something which emphasizes their ability to think clearly and analytically, which allows them to learn several key skills, including persuasion, trait recognition in others, empathy or its conscious display, organization and management, and politeness and humility, and which provides them with a motivation to accomplish some particular goal that has as a side effect, the foundation of a religion and the formation of a group to manage it. We cannot describe what the parents must do, as we do not understand how to accomplish virtually anything in child rearing, but we can describe the necessary outcome.

The second phase of religion-building involves the religion's founder. He was, in his infancy and youth, motivated to become a teacher, to find joy in leading others, to have both personal empathy and what might be called social empathy or empathy for a group, the capability to creatively come up with all the rules and fables and principles and entities that would comprise the religion, and the desire to leave a legacy. We do not know how exactly to do this, but we do know that it has happened. The founder then devotes the next part of his life to preparing himself, and then begins his foundational work. A wide variety of skills are necessary, but they do not all have to be present in the founder when he begins, provided he possesses the desire to learn and train himself, and he can foresee what he needs to be able to do to leave his legacy.


The self-preparation involves creating a set of messages or teachings for different elements of society, or perhaps just clarifying and completing a set of messages created when younger. This can only be done by someone who has a good picture of the different elements of society and of different personality types as well. Someone who has never had access to one group, say the upper strata, can not expect to be able to devise some message that would appeal to them. Thus, the founder has to have, in his background, contact with all kinds of people and not just contact, but an ability to understand them, and what they respond positively to. A third dimension of his social knowledge involves how these different people, different social levels and professions and different personalities, react in situations, more specifically, how they respond to different stresses that life poses, such as losses of various kinds, illness, old age, and personal conflicts. People are more open to a new religion when they are in the midst of troubles rather than when everything is rosy. For some, achieving success is a stress, as their goals have been met and they face the void of not knowing what to turn to to again achieve the thrill of working to accomplish their goals. The founder should understand as much of these situations as possible, and have a repertoire of concepts which can be transformed into personal guidance. Again, this is a learning experience, and having the ability to instantly recognize what is providing a person relief and what is not would be essential in accelerating the founder's learning how to be this sort of universal advisor.


The founder needs to make sure his highest level concepts are conveyed in a memorable way, both that they contain some elements that make people want to remember them, and that there is some method by which they might be remembered after he has finished teaching them. In ancient times, this meant relying on the memory of followers, or on some primitive writing system, which might have to be highly maintained to remain useful. This set of high level concepts does not have to be more than self-consistent and not too novel compared to the cultural learning that each person absorbs just by being born into the society and by keeping their eyes and ears open. The high level concepts cannot simply clash with and deny the large body of cultural learning that individuals in the society receive, but must instead build on it, and create changes by subtly adding to it.


The third stage of religion-building involves the successive generations of followers of the founder. Initially, the closest followers need to codify his teachings and principles, concepts and rules, as well as his biography, and ensure that it is remembered accurately. This may not be possible, leading to schisms and differences of opinion within the religion. There would need to be some sort of hierarchy of decision-making, so that these differences can be sorted out as much as possible, and some sort of general acceptance of the rules by which the hierarchy is formed, to prevent as much of the power struggles for higher levels of control that arise in almost any hierarchy.


The development of the hierarchy and the codification of the body of knowledge that constitutes the religion would receive much less public attention that does the words and actions and life of the founder. The founder is the image of the religion that receives all the public attention, even though there may have been individuals involved in the religion's development as talented and creative and decisive as the founder, or even more so. They receive recognition, but at a lesser level and scale that the founder does. These followers also need to devote much of their effort to proselyting and continuing to spread the messages of the founder. There should be many who have this singular talent, that of understanding the three dimensions of their audience and of being able to provide the right response at the right time. Someone with different talents, those for organization, needs to be able to recognize the abilities of the followers, one by one, and then fit them into the structure in the most useful way. The chief organizers need to be able to recognize both the obvious developed talents, and also the latent talent that the people available to them have.


The other activity that needs to be organized is that of support for the religion, in a financial way or the equivalent. This needs to have been started by the founder, who would have used his interpersonal talents to develop a set of donors, both incidental ones who provide something when asked and a repeated one, who provides much more and in a continuing fashion.


The last step is done by those in the hierarchy of power in the regions where the religion operates, and most specifically, by the individuals at the summit of power. These, and to a lesser extent, donors and non-involved followers who are the celebrities of the region, provide examples to others of their choice of which religion to support. This is another source of followers, and can be a decisive one in making the religion a dominant one. If the king or emperor or chief general accepts a religion and indicates that he will prefer to be with others who do the same, it is like a great wind blowing through society. And of course, this decision made by a top leader is not done because of the clarity of the message of the religion, but because of the utility of the religion in consolidating his power and preventing rebellion and uprising, secession and revolt. The founder would have needed to understood this final step and have prepared for it, or otherwise have been a very lucky person to have happened to have chosen just the right concepts to appeal to a top leader seeking to preserve his position.


It would be most interesting to examine a wide variey of religions, those extinct and those just beginning, as well as existing ones, to see if the above breakdown holds for each of them, and if not, how exceptions were formed.

Relations between Religions

Any new religion will have few members and each will be surrounded by members of other religions, as well as non-religious people. There needs to be some thought given as advice as to how a member of the new religion, such as Improved Buddhism, should interact with all these non-members.


A new religion must grow, and grow rapidly, and grow for a long time, in order to not become extinct. Whom should be designated as the proper group to be proselyted? Should only the non-religious be spoken to, or should nominal members of other religions be included? By nominal, we mean those who provide a name of a religion when asked what do they belong to, but lack some of the attributes of members. They may not believe in the supernatural part, or in selected components of the supernatural part, or otherwise have an agnostic viewpoint on these elements. They might simply never associate with other members in any religion-based activities, or at all. Alternatively, they might only be members of the religion because of the community that exists around a locality for that religion.


The other obvious alternative is to proselyte anyone and everyone, no matter what their existing or prior religious beliefs are. There may certainly be members of other religions who are involved with their religion, for some reason, but do not feel that their choice is the best for them. They might be interested in hearing about something different.


It is more a question of how proselyting is done, rather than to whom, that creates dissension between religions. Aggressive courting of another religion's members, in a way which criticizes the other religions beliefs or activities, is likely to cause conflict, and may not be the best way to recruit new members. Some sort of a combination of a mild outreach, and open door policy, and teaching members how to gently proselytize might be the best solution. Mutual respect might be a good way to describe the relationship in the area of recruiting new members.


Recruiting those people who can assist the new religion, ones capable of large donations, others who have high status within the society, influential authors and media experts, specialists in useful occupations, and others, might be sought after with more vigor than ordinary individuals. There can be no general guidelines for such persons, as each case is unique, and depends on what benefits the religion and the person involved might receive if the person decided to join the new religion.


Another quite different area of potential conflict involves debates or other public competitions between religions. Since Improved Buddhism is a modern religion, based on contemporary science, and many other popular religions are legacy religions from times when science was a pale shadow of what it is now, debates might arise. Should a new religion encourage or discourage such debates? With equally skilled presenters, the legacy religions would lose if they attempted to debate Improved Religion on scientific grounds, so this territory would be avoided in all debates. Legacy religions depend on other factors to maintain their membership, and these involve local communities, family ties, internal feelings of correctness, amelioration of intrinsic fears such as of death, and other elements, and so it would not necessarily be a good choice for Improved Buddhism to encourage such debates. Science does not appeal to everyone, and some cannot understand scientific thinking, and disregard it. Thus, with the exception of special audiences, debating should be discouraged until such time as science becomes more prominent and general audiences more educated.

This general discouragement of debates does not extend to public statements entirely. The realm of political discussion is certainly open to all, and there are some points that those in Improved Buddhism should argue for. First and foremost is the improvement of education, and the routing of education more into the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM subjects.


This support for STEM teaching should only start with the backing for formal education stress on these topics. The new religion should support the provision of materials so the general public can improve their capabilities and knowledge in these areas. One side effect of the emphasis on STEM subjects is that what might be called scientific thinking would become a tool for a larger and larger proportion of the public. Scientific thinking is almost a panacea for some of the ills of society, and if it grew in extent, ills such as corruption, deceptive advertising, business fraud, overpricing, oppressive regulation and so on would become harder. Thus Improved Buddhism would not only improve the individual lives of those who adopt it, but also improve the society in which it was embedded.


Other religions cannot easily make this claim, as theology has been the associate of unpleasant government for millennia. Most older religions have been in a symbiosis with government, making the continuation of government structures which tend to misallocate the benefits of society to a smaller minority than deserve them. For example, the “divine right of kings” and similar theological contentions served to support monarchy, even when the monarchy was not being a beneficial government form, but was a vehicle for the enrichment of a small subset of the population. By stating that kings rule by divine right, it makes revolution and replacement of a poor king more difficult. By concentrating the attention of many people on some supernatural benefits they receive after death, they reduce the demand for benefits to flow widely to them while they are alive and contributing to their production. Improved Buddhism does nothing to render unjust governance more tenable and long-lasting, and, if widespread education is improved, it might even work to do the opposite.


The implication of this is that those within Improved Buddhism who spend time advocating for more STEM education for both young people and adults are not likely to find agreement from other religions' leadership, and are likely to find opposition, overt and covert, to this. The symbiosis between religion and government is far from extinct.


Buddhism has supported passivity concerning social arrangements since it was founded, and this is not necessarily something that should be carried over into Improved Buddhism. There may be a clash on this topic and others between the original form and a new form. Buddhism became very popular in India when India's first emperor, Ashoka, adopted it after he had conquered all the regions of India that interested him, which amounted to most of India. It makes sense that supporting passivity regarding governmental structure would assist an empire in staying whole and in avoiding revolutions and rebellions. This passivity comes because Siddhartha concentrated his attention and set the focus of his religion on mental calmness, which is certainly not conducive to any objections to some form of government or some particular governmental action. He taught not to pay attention to 'grasping', which is the desire to acquire worldly goods or other worldly items, and this certainly supports those who have already acquired a large amount of goods and do not want them taken away by an uprising of the more deprived. This partially explains why Siddhartha was the darling of the rich during his life, and why his religion was supported so heartily for the next few centuries.


Improved Buddhism does not pander neither to those who have acquired much nor those in power, but takes a neutral stance. It is not a religion of revolution, either theologically or politically, but supports Siddhartha's pattern of living, in making changes calmly, gradually, and correctly. Siddhartha's definition of correctness, meaning passive acceptance and the seeking of benefits through meditation and self-control, does not have to be preserved and replicated, but there can be some modification of that. ''Grasping” is not supported, but it is not wholly necessary to support and allow the excessive “Grasping” of others. This is a change that can be done in a peaceful and moderate way, so that the society in which the religion lives is not disrupted.


Siddhartha's message can be interpreted to support this view as well. By preaching that 'grasping' leads to unhappiness and mental suffering, and by preaching it to the most inveterate 'graspers', he is attempting to lead them to a better choice, and therefore might be said to have supported the same goals as Improved Buddhism does. Similarly, there is no need to delegitimize the government, but just to work to improve it by reaching out to those in the government, and to those who are governed. Giving one's consent to corrupt government can be considered to be a message of Siddhartha, although not expressed so blatantly. Perhaps now, after twenty five or more centuries, it is time to make a slight tilt toward a slow withdrawal of consent from corrupt government forms and organizations. Again, this would represent a conflict with those religions who are part of the integrated and complex system of concepts and structures which make up a modern society, and so Improved Buddhism, and any religion which also shares its beliefs in this area, will face attempts at erosion of membership and disputes over theological precepts from other religions. This is part of the challenge of improvement.

The Middle Way was Middle to What?

Buddha's most highly condensed rules for living are sometimes called the Middle Way. In ancient Greece and Rome, there were two opposite poles of thought about how to behave and what to direct one's life towards. One pole was the Epicureans, who believed that life was a search for pleasure. In other words, they were hedonists. The other pole was the Stoics, who put pleasure aside as being non-important, and felt that there were honorable ways to live, and one should strive to do that. 


Someone with a background in these two opposite schools of philosophy, or the meaning of life, might think that the Middle Way was a compromise between these two points of view: pleasure versus honor, and that the Middle Way supports some pleasure seeking, but having it limited by the sense of honor, and doing what is right and just. Hedonism can exist as an extreme, where there is no consideration of justice or honor or anything else, only pleasure in whatever ways the individual prefers.


These viewpoints started early in Greece, perhaps twenty three centuries ago, and have become very well known throughout the world, as they were expressed well, and continued to be followed for the next six or so centuries. Much of the writing from that time is lost, but enough exists so that those who learn Greek and Roman philosophy have a clear idea of these two opposites.


In North Central India twenty-five centuries ago, there were different extremes. Siddhartha in his early years experienced both, first the hedonism that is possible to the heir to a king of a nation, and then the asceticism that was practiced as the only way to free oneself from bad karma, which is the accumulation of the values of the good and bad deeds done in previous lifetimes, some sort of very long period integral over time. People grew up there believing in reincarnation as the mandatory route of their essence, which was something like their intelligence or personality but not including memory.

For some reason, stemming likely from the tales told by the priestly class of that region, everyone was given the task of improving their karma by good deeds in the present life. It is easy to see how this can be exploited, but the point is that there were many preachers who taught that doing good deeds is not enough, one also had to punish one's body through various deprivations or degradations. Only then could karma be erased and one's next reincarnation designated as one with a higher station.


Hedonism in India was not much different from hedonism elsewhere.


The Middle Way was not between Stoicism and Epicureanism, but between asceticism and hedonism. More specifically, it was very akin to Stoicism. There are varieties of stoicism, some have asceticism included in it, but mostly it evolved into a life of honor, following the proper rules for conduct. Pleasure and pain as well were not particularly sought after or avoided, respectively, but simply accepted as a transient part of life, not to be paid too much attention. This mainline stoicism is quite akin to the Middle Way. They differ in the choice of behavioral rules, but the idea is the same, that things of the world involving pleasure are not worth much effort to obtain, and there are higher goals that are much more preferable.


Stoicism and the Middle Way also had one very important feature in common. They were designed to preserve the existing social order. Stoicism propounded that one should fulfill one's role in society as best as possible. Society had a complex structure, and many different roles in it. But if there were no rapid changes, it would be clear just what each person should do by looking at his position in the structure. The idea was not to advance one's position, except if that were the usual method by which promotion was obtained. One should instead concentrate on understanding what tasks were necessary for the position one held, and how to do them better. A businessman would concentrate on how to perform his business as best as possible, not seeking profit at all costs, but not refusing or dissipating profit that came from successful operations. A government official should try to do whatever his position demanded, keeping in mind the interests of the various groups that might be affected by it. A farmer should grow crops and try to maintain his agricultural output as best as weather would allow. A slave should attempt to follow his master's commands, and to even anticipate them if allowed. Everyone should understand their role and do it well, and then, according to the Stoic philosophy, everyone would benefit according to their station.


The Middle Way preaches that believers should adopt certain attitudes and certain practices. Siddhartha taught that becoming a monk is the only way to avoid the otherwise perpetual cycle of reincarnation, and the monk would have to follow the Eight-fold Way, which is a more detailed listing of the proper behaviors. Lay people who could not or chose not to become monks or nuns had analogous rules to follow. These lay people were the large majority of the population, and the rules told them not to be acquisitive, to be content, to recognize one's life as just one episode of the eternal sequence of death and rebirth, and otherwise to live a compassionate life, avoiding certain prohibited professions. There was not the Greek and Roman twist toward making society work well for all, but the effect of the Middle Way was to keep things going as they were.


Meditation is one of the three categories into which the eight behavioral injunctions are divided, and meditation is not a avenue for promoting revolution in society, but instead accepting it for what it is. Neither of the other two categories involves striving for some higher station or some acquisition of goods. Thus, those who were involved in accumulating wealth would certainly welcome the presence of Buddhist thought as it led to little or no disturbance of existing social roles and activities. It would have been the same for Stoicism.


This is an essential fact of religion. In order for a religion to receive the support it needs to become widespread, it must provide some benefits to those who control that support, such as monarchs, wealthy landowners or traders, and upper class individuals. The basic desire of this collection of people, in any society, is that things go on as they were, which allows them to live at the peak of society. Any religion will have to provide some mechanism for ensuring that the large fraction of the population, those not in this collection of people, remain content or calm or non-resentful to a large degree. Supernatural benefits are one of the two principal means by which this is achieved. Supernatural here refers to benefits that will be received by something connected to an individual which survives death. Thus there must be a promise which will never be paid that allows the hierarchy in society to continue. The other means happens in earlier forms of religion, not the most primitive, but what might be called the second stage, where there are recognizable gods who have supernatural powers, and who have to be placated. Typically that is by making sacrifices and donations to a priestly class, but also by not espousing rebellion and inversion of the social order.


It is thus no surprise at all that both Stoicism and Buddhism promote preservation of the status quo.


Stoicism had an origin in the second stage of religion, and the gods provided a respected audience where honor was important and whose various behavioral rules could be understood and followed. Thus, one accepts the status quo under Stoicism because the gods, who are more important that normal humans, believe in some sort of acquiescence in certain areas of society, while channeling an individual's striving in other directions. Under Buddhism, one accepts the status quo for personal benefit, as this is supposedly the only route by which one's mystical essence can be delivered from immortality of a sort, which is considered to be a bad thing to have, as it includes suffering of various types, such as repeated episodes of old age and disease.


Reincarnation overwhelmed the older form of gods with honor and behavioral rules in India, indicating that it must have been more attractive to some group involved in the acceptance of the concept, either the average individuals who might like another chance at life, the priestly class who now had a better weapon in their armory to control individuals, or the upper classes, who could recognize that this concept was even better than the honor of the gods in promoting the continuation of the status quo. The concept spread widely throughout Asia, displacing the old god system, but the largest thrust of expansion came not from the original Vedic concept, but on Siddhartha's modification of it whereby immortality of the essence might be curtailed by putting it in some sort of blissful state, called nirvana.


Just next door to North India was Persia, where Zoroastrianism had spread to cover first the state and then the whole Persia Empire. Zoroastrianism was perhaps the first to use the idea of a blissful eternity for an essence, and there were certainly wandering believers who might have been proselytizing for it in India, traders and simply travelers. There is no indication whatsoever that Siddhartha had any dealings with Persian devotees of Zoroastrianism, but the concept could have come second-hand or third-hand, given the large number of wandering religious seekers at that time. Certainly, since there were rules in Zoroastrianism as to how one could gain access to this blissful extension of life, it had the ability to conduct social control as well. So perhaps there is a hierarchy of successful religious concepts to preserve the status quo, starting with the honor of a pantheon of gods, moving to an essence which returns to the world with its fate partially decided on the last tour, and finally to the idea of a blissful eternity for the essence.


Primitive people might not have much conception of eternity, so the latter two concepts might simply be “a long long time” instead of eternity, but that would make little difference in the ability of the concept to spread and become the reason for living. The economics of religion may have played the dominant role in the selection of which concept continues and which dies out.  But it must be asked, is such a situation mandatory for a new twenty-first century religion?  Should Advanced Buddhism be designed to placate society and preserve the status quo, or can a completely different, wholly novel source of support for the religion be sought?


Learning from the Founders

Is the key to founding a new religion secret? It could be that the founder of the religion is actually, in terms of what choices they made to secure the religion's future, secondary to what the first or second and tenth generation of leadership does. The leader is the one whose biography is memorized, whose everyday preferences are lionized, whose insights are used as the basis for the doctrine and whose rules are the starting point for how followers of different classes are supposed to behave. But suppose these are rather arbitrary choices, certainly within limits and constraints, but arbitrary and the religion could have been quite different and still been wildly popular among some population, for centuries. 


Everyone focusses on what the founder did or said, how he meditated or achieved insights or traveled or taught himself, or many other things, and these are treasured as the jewels of the religion. It is a form of celebrity worship. Magical stories are made up about the founder; his biography is embellished; his mistakes are forgotten forever; his countenance, poses, attitudes, likes and dislikes, and everything else are recorded and taught to followers. Without these there would be no substance to the religion. But suppose it makes little difference as to what these are, as long as the initial generations of the chief followers, monks or whatever name they have, do certain things which lead to popularity and longevity of the religion. Is this possible, that for millennia scholars have not appreciated how little the founder's specifics meant, as long as there were some, and how much the actions of the early generations of leadership dictated the future of the religion?


It may be analogous to how one regards one's parents. The parents have particular habits, preferences, histories, and everything else connected with a human being, and the children know these things, and remember them. The relationship between a parent and child is unique and as strong as human instincts can be. There is likely a particular part of the brain that is utilized by very young children in relating to their parents, and as we know memories are never erased, merely added to, this instinctual behavior is present in us all. It may have been cauterized in some instances of parental neglect or abuse, but for most people, there were countless instances of caring and nurturing that are among the deepest of all memories, hidden by the more rational ones experienced later in life. If the stories about the founder are used to evoke this feeling among the followers, a hugely strong effect can be created, upon which the religion can be built.


If this emotional connection, between the average follower and the real or mythical founder of the religion can be established, by the leadership of the religion, they will have done the majority of the work necessary to ensure its survival and propagation. This is the task of the founder when he lives, and after he is deceased, it is the task of the religion's leadership. It may be the make-or-break task.


What are the essentials of an abstracted parent-child relationship existing with a religion? The founder-figure must have admirable traits, modeling after the way a child limitlessly admires his parents when very young, unaware of the values of the adult world. The founder-figure must provide some benefits, mythical, supernatural, supportive or anything, and the more the better, just as parents provided for their children. The father-figure may make sacrifices of some sort for the followers. The father-figure must give rules for behavior, much like parents set rules for their children. There may be goals set as well. The child, or rather the follower, must know how to be a good child, or rather a good follower, and then the feelings of making the parent, rather the founder, happy will also contribute to the happiness of the follower inside the religious framework. And if the followers are very happy to be in this relationship, cast as a religion but really as an imitation of the parent-child relationship, they will stay in it and seek to bring others into it, as proselytes, to share their happiness.


In the first days of religion, this did not exist. Instead, religions started with many natural phenomena being endowed with gods behind them. Gods needed to be propitiated, and this meant sacrifices, not necessarily behavioral choices. This early religious activity was meant to provide an explanation of how the world worked, so early men, with little capability for thinking, could relate to it and deal with it. It was both the dawn of thinking as well as the dawn of religion; they evolved together. Later, the huge reservoir of parent-child memory might begin to intrude into this, as individuals took some god or demi-god as their principal object of worship, sacrifice, propitiation, and so on, and this began to ooze over into a parent-child model. But the officials in the religion did not promote this, but instead kept their special territory as the intercessors with the gods, which served as a barrier to the personal god idea and its simulation of a parent-child relationship.


In these early days, the gods were like a separate society, living and interacting with each other, and with humans through some special devices or times or places. Learning about their history, or rather the history invented by the religious leadership class, was like hearing stories about the former members of the clan, who also may have been upgraded to something like a demi-god. These early religions might be thought of as having a society of gods who interacted in a limited way with the society of humans.


Around three thousand years ago, there started to be a change in the type of religion. Zoroaster might have been the originator of the first religion based, not on a dual society view of nature, but on an weak abstraction of the parent-child relationship. He preached that there was a single creator, Ahura Mazda, who laid down rules for followers. All rules sets say “Do good”, but good is defined a bit differently in different religions, according to the preference and priorities of the founder. They need to be simple and easy to remember, such as child might learn. Zoroaster's 'Good' involved good words, good thoughts, and good deeds, each of which was elaborated. He stressed charity and doing good without seeking a direct reward. There were still official worship rites and temples, as virtually all religions have, no matter how modern. The adoption of a single entity instead of a society of gods allows a modeling of the parent-child relationship instead of the somewhat chaotic relationship with multiple gods of a diverse pantheon, as existed in early religion. With the single god, there is nothing to prevent a follower from evoking the parent-child memories, and hope for favor from the god for doing what the god commanded, just as a naive child hopes for a parent's favor if they can figure out just what the parent thinks is good. In Zoroastrinianism, there is no more confusion as to what the god wants. Zoroaster expressed everything as a battle between good and evil and told his followers they had free will and could take either side, in a simplistic way such as one would use with a child.


One other thing a religion must do is to provide an explanation of death. Aside from the earliest religions, there have been two choices, one being that there is an essence to an individual, and at some time they will be reconstituted and go and live in some happy place of the religion, or that they will be reincarnated into a newly born body. Early religions stress a place for high-ranking people to go, but Zoroaster gave reconstitution to everyone, albeit at the end of time when the messiah would arive. In India, the Vedic tradition was reincarnation. Both of these serve to eliminate some of the fear of death that human instincts give us.


For the next few centuries, at least in India, there was a ferment in the area of religion, with a large number of individuals breaking loose from the Vedic traditions, which were based on the earliest type of religion with a society of gods, and concocting novel religious belief systems. The more popular ones, called sramanas, those who neither love or hate, formed groups of followers, and in some the parent-child instinctual relationship was evoked, to a lesser or greater degree. Two of the most well-known sramanas were Siddhartha Gotama, founder of Buddhism, and Mahavira, founder of Jainism. They both, as well as many other sramanas, came up with rulesets for followers to obey, a package of theological assumptions about the world and human essences and even the nature of truth, and a strategy for organizing their followers into a leadership and wholly devoted followers, all called monks, and a larger number of lay followers. They both had personalities which could inspire child-like devotion, and they both had leaders among their followers who understood well how to take advantage of the parent-child relationship which may have wholly underlaid the new religions of that time.


Thus, if the hypotheses discussed in this post are valid, seeking to found a new religion or a variation of an existing one leads to an early choice: will it be based on the deeply buried instincts we all have, which allowed us to survive as babies and toddlers, concerning the parent-child relationship, or will it be based on something different? If the choice is made to use it, does this undermine the modern conception of a philosophical religion, based on scientific principles to the extent possible, and instead using what might be called the exploitation of human psychology for a basis.


Buddha's Environment

One of the things that Buddha taught is that cause and effect are universal. Every effect has a cause. Following this prescription, we can ask what was the cause for Buddha living the life he did and creating the teaching he did, which later became one of the world’s leading religions. Perhaps the best place to start is with his environment.


Buddha grew up in what is now northern India, northeast of modern Delhi, near or possibly across the current Nepal border. He was born as first son to the king of the Sakyas, who occupied a former republic there which had been conquered by the Gosala Empire and remained its vassal; we are not too sure how large it was, but it was certainly large enough to support the young Siddhartha and a large number of relatives in very lavish conditions. Very likely there were many more people being supported by what we now call taxation. The area was large enough to have supported a million people, but there may not have been that many.


The population in the area has some linguistic links to Iranian people of the time and those in the north of Iran, and there is some controversy about an invasion from the northwest starting about 3500 years ago, first into the Indus River valley, and then east to the territory to the east, which later, around 3300 years ago, became the Paurava Empire, occupying what later became the Sakya kingdom. These invaders established themselves as rulers of the land in this area.


Religion in that area was in a state of flux at the time of his birth, about twenty-five centuries ago. About a half millennium earlier before his birth, the Vedas were written, India’s oldest religious texts. They included a procedural code for sacrifices and a group to perform them, the brahmans, in order to gain favor from the gods, who were anthropomorphic creations in charge of weather, animals, and virtually everything. The Brahmans had likely been present for many centuries before the Vedas were written, as were the Khastrias, the warriors and rulers.


About three centuries before Siddhartha’s birth, the Paurava Empire broke up, and many smaller states were formed. This was a time of great religious creativity, and the Upanishads were written. These further developed new religious ideas, and contained the concept of the atman, or the individual essence of a person, as well as of karma and reincarnation, or samsara. These concepts became widespread, and fulfilled a great role in helping society remain stable and productive. The idea was that there were four castes, the Brahmans, the Khastrias, another of merchants and peasants, the Vaisya, and menial workers, the Sudras. Those who wanted to have a better life were told that they could have one if they fulfilled all the requirements of those in the caste and profession, and then died to be reborn in a better situation. This obviously was a theological system that induced productivity and maintenance of the existing social structure.


Each caste and profession within a caste had duties to fulfill. The Brahmans lived a life of four stages, one of youth and education, another of a married householder, performer of necessary rites, advisor, and more, then the third as a hermit in the forest, and lastly, still as a hermit but meditating and seeking insight into the universe. Some of those who sought insight into the nature of life and the universe became wandering teachers, and by the time Siddhartha was born, there were multiple teachers who had gained popularity among the higher castes. They proposed different views and included those from the brahmanic system, recommending the four stages of life, and those disagreeing with the current thinking, called the shramanic block. Some of the more famous of these included something like Calvinism, where predestination was believed and consequently there was no use in following the dictates of the Upanishads, another sect something like Epicureanism, which rejected samsara and sought to enjoy the pleasures of the world as much as possible as there is no future life, another which has become the Jain religion present in India today and believed in samsara and karma and practiced severe asceticism, and another sect which believed in what is today called agnosticism. Undoubtedly there were many others, less well recorded.


Most of the teachers of these sects were itinerants, wandering from village to village, kingdom to kingdom, and certainly Siddhartha would have been exposed to a variety of belief systems. He would also have been witness to the economic changes happening in his kingdom and neighboring ones. Private property had been an institution for centuries, but the rise of crafts, trading and the merchant profession led to the accumulation of huge fortunes on the part of some individuals. The forces of government sometimes fought back, with taxes or other means of re-balancing the wealth of the rulers and the merchant class.


The general view of the world that the Upanishads proposed and which was widely accepted, was that the world was a place of suffering, which was typically listed as death, grieving, sickness and old age. Following the karmic path would eventually lead someone to better living standards, but they would still be subject to these other types of suffering, which could only be alleviated by continuing up the spiral of lifeforms until one became something of a godlike spirit creature. This theology made the theocratic system of the time quite stable as it quelled resentment for one’s living standards by informing that person that those who were better off or higher in caste had become this way because they worked their way up, by performing the lower roles fully and energetically, and this was exactly what it took to keep the society functioning and prosperous, at least for the upper castes and some of the merchants.


Siddhartha grew up immersed in this political, economic, and theological system of castes, karma, atman, and samsara, and did not speak about changing it ever in his life, and on some instances talked about restricting his disciples to only higher castes, and on other instances opening discipleship to all, perhaps only in theory but perhaps also in practice. Like in any society, there would have been individuals who strongly believed in everything that kept society going, and those who saw its flaws and objected to one or more aspects. This was a time where ideas flowed freely, meaning it was certainly a time when someone could perform the role of founder of a new sect. It was a time when abstract ideas could be conceived of and communicated.


In much earlier eras, religious teaching was done by means of stories, usually involving some anthropomorphic god interacting with some ordinary people. The three main gods at the top of the pantheon were Brahma, the creator of the universe and what is in it, Vishnu, the preserver of life and society, and Shiva, the destroyer of that which needs destroying. The last two, in some stories, could take on human or almost-human appearance, or other forms as needed, in their battles with demons and monsters of animal or chimeric form. As time went on and the society became more prosperous, individuals capable of logic, reasoning, abstraction, and other critical thinking skills arose and produced religious teachings in a less simplistic mode. But the philosophical equipment that is necessary to clearly think about these concepts critically, as well approaching them from a more quantitative or scientific viewpoint, had not arisen in this region of the Indian Subcontinent and would not do so for millenia. This means that while many interesting-sounding ideas could be proposed, there was little capability for comparing them or validating them. Much space for creativity and little for analysis. Thus it is no surprise at all that many religions and sects rose up in this time and place. This situation also explains why mercantile wealth should suddenly start accumulating in great quantities: much creativity and naivety, and little quantitative and analytical understandings.


The position of a person in Sakya society was determined by who his parents were. There was no mechanism within the Upanishads or other religious teachings for switching castes. In fact, there were subcastes or family groupings which even more tightly constrained one’s role in society. Siddhartha never introduced any idea of caste migration during a single life, perhaps because ithe caste system was such an ingrained part of society that it was never questioned. There are some quotes in his history where he talks about lower castes being allowed to be disciples, but they never would be able to alter their caste by joining his or any other sect. Nor was there much thought about the gender roles that were set out in society. Siddhartha grew up knowing the proper roles for men and women of each caste, and had no qualms about that structure continuing. He instead was fascinated by the novel abstract concepts which had become prevalent at that time among the different mendicants that he undoubtedly encountered within the palace he lived in, and these abstract concepts related to mental states, not to physical states. Thus it is also not surprising that he became Buddha, a leading mendicant and persuader of others to adopt his ritualistic relationships between these abstract concepts of mental states. Various types of yogas had been invented long ago, and these involved abstract concepts as well, leading to another influence on the young Siddhartha.


What was necessary for a brilliant communicator to found a new sect was readily available, as were inspirations from other who had done this and yoga masters as well. Siddhartha turned out to be the person whose teachings attracted the most adherents, and that is what we need to remember him for, rather than for any specific teachings, which are all someone vague and outdated. Instead, we use him as a shining example of how to found a religion which met the current needs of the population, at least in spiritual themes.


Parenting in Improved Buddhism

If the overarching goal of a new religion, such as Improved Buddhism, is the preservation of the religion through generations, then the most important goal for those working to preserve the religion is the education of parents for the task of training their children. Since it is the most important area of education that a person can receive, it should start at an early age and proceed continuously even during the time when parenting is taking place.


Parents are not the only individuals who train children, although they are the dominant influence at the earliest ages. Other individuals in the household might have a role in the training process, such as grandparents. These individuals also need to be properly trained to do their roles as well. Their training is a branch of the training given to parents, except for professional educators whose role starts with formal education.


The need for training in parenting is highly under-appreciated, and is almost completely neglected in modern life. How this came about might be discussed at length, but one factor is that while the effect on children's lives that parenting has is widely appreciated and noticed, the idea that parents can be educated, and each generation improved on the last has not been. There is, in general, little appreciation of the progress of society from generation to generation, and rather the focus of most individuals is on their current lives. No one can go back and rerun the training that their parents have given them, so there is the feeling that this is just some part of a person's circumstances or environment, as opposed to something that is modifiable and improvable over decades and longer periods of time. Such short-run thinking undermines the ability of any group to improve itself gradually and should be avoided.


The material used to train children has two purposes, or rather sets of purposes. One might be called recursive, and involves that training which is directed toward keeping the child, over his adult life, involved in the religion and especially in training his own children to do the same. The other is everything else, and might be described as setting the basic rules for living. The latter are not a modern equivalent of Asoka's rules which were stringent rules on things that should or should not be done. They are a much, much broader set of rules or guidelines which cover most aspects of a person's character and how they interact with other people. In this viewpoint, a religion is like a design for a society, in which members of the religion interact with each other and with non-members.


The actual training material, consisting of guidelines for parents on what to train their children on, at what time, and how to do it, must have feedback consciousness in it. In other words, children are very strongly individualistic, and perhaps more so than adults, as adults have learned some rules of society, which tends to channel their behavior in recognizable directions. Children are not yet programmed as rigorously, although programming of child behavior does happen in most training situations. Parents need to learn how to recognize if a child is able to learn something, and what difficulties are present. They do this by being attuned to the signs a child gives off, which are usually more blatant that those of an adult, but much less verbal.


The parents also need to understand the prioritization of training, so if the amount that can be done is limited, what is the most important portion. Training by parents is limited in both directions, by the available time of the parents and the limits on the ability of the child to learn. Parents whose lives are close to sustenance, in other words, those whose time is largely consumed by the need to support the living standards of the family, do not have much time for individual training. Of course, an older generation member would be highly useful in this situation. The other side of this is that some children, for some periods, are unable to devote unlimited blocks of time to being trained, and grow frustrated by it. They exhibit this by various behaviors, but the point is that their brains have a limit on the rate of learning, and until they progress past this limitation, prioritization of training will have to be done.


Children come into the world with brains designed to seek training and to accept it. Their immediate goal is to understand themselves, starting with the basics of how to move and sense and interact, and to understand the world, meaning how do things in the world behave and what can be done with them. The internal learning, involving how to move and touch and so on are largely carried on within the cerebrum and cerebellum of the child, and can only slightly be assisted by parents at the earliest ages, except for safety considerations.


Children learn through neural feedback loops within their brains, which teach them to use their muscles in a coordinated way to accomplish actions which are desired, and how to use their senses to inform them about their immediate environment. The child's brain is strongly reacting to this self-training, and neurons are growing and dying in huge numbers during the first few years of a child's life, which must be the fastest way a brain like a human’s can learn to absorb information and to structure itself to accomplish things. Children learn from examples, such as by seeing the parents walk, but there are differing degrees to this information absorption. The child's time might be more watching and observing, followed by experimentation, or the experimentation might be done with only minimal observation. If the parents interact with the child a great deal, the former might happen, and if the child has a great deal of alone time, the latter. Which way is best is debatable at this point, as there is so little knowledge about the training of children available. Any religion should be very careful about promulgating one way over the other, as the consequences might be quite extensive, quite diverse, and quite delayed in their effects. Data is needed desperately for this branch of science, the training of very young children.


First off, the religion should stress the importance of parents devoting time and attention to their task of training their children. Second only to the goal of having the right children, training is of paramount importance both to the preservation of the religion and the raising of children able to be successful in their lives. Failure is to be expected, but not to be readily accepted.


Providing the right environment for a child to self-train is an important aspect of parental activity. The idea should definitely not be to make the child live in a sensory overload situation, and in fact, the opposite might be superior. For example, what does it benefit an adult to have a highly developed sense of color, of taste, of sound, of material properties, based solely upon their own ability to observe and physically interact? There should not be a basic tenet that all capabilities are good capabilities, or to be expanded up, but instead a higher-order question needs to be asked, and that is, what is the utility of improving a child's ability to perform accurate or diverse sensing? There are certain professions which can take advantage of it, but the large majority cannot. A child's brain is finite, and the various lobes and crevasses can be used for different things. Taking a large part for sensory measurement means that less is available for other tasks and other types of mental ability, for example logical thinking or creativity. Creativity is not only something present in an artist or writer, but is useful for most adults in their lives, and in many ways. Artistic creativity might involve the ability to carefully sense the environment, but this type of creativity is rare and giving a child a part of artistic capability, the part which demands a large portion of the brain be grown to use it, might be a completely wrong decision.


The same thing goes for athletic prowess. While it is a nice thing for parents to say that their child excels at some sports or other physical talent, they might be not appreciating the costs in development of more general and more useful skills that had to be foregone to stress physical activity. There are some specialized roles in society for people with this prowess, but these roles are few and most adults do not benefit from them. In short, the religion's educational materials about the training of small children should stress the consequences of stressing either kinesthetic sensing and physical activity or specific sensory ability, and how these consequences might be more detrimental that advantageous to the adult's ability to function in the world, to contribute to it, to help regulate it, and to improve each successive generation's abilities. Perhaps having a wide range of capabilities, none developed to the extreme, is the best a typical parent can give to his children.

Giving Purpose to Members in Improved Buddhism

It is quite easy to say to someone what they should do. Just say whatever comes into your mind. It is much harder to come up with a method for figuring out what to tell someone to do, or to assist them in determining for themselves what direction to follow in their life, their career, their health choices, their relationships, or any other component of their existence. In order to produce correct advice, some procedure needs to be involved. A quick guess from one's intuition might be right or might be wrong. Rationality can be applied to improve the chances of a good suggestion.


To come up with some rational advice, one must start with some basic facts or postulates, and then reason from them to the specific situation being analyzed. If someone wants to know what choice to make in a situation, or what rules to follow in general, there needs to be some body of information from which it can be derived. At the top, for making human choices, is the extremely controversial question of the so-called purpose of life. If some purpose of life is assumed, then with luck and diligence, how to implement that purpose in a specific situation might be figured out. But the result is only as good as the assumption.


Improved Buddhism has thrown out all supernatural concepts, such as reincarnation, bodhisattvas, spirit creatures, and any other such baggage that was part of the culture in which Buddhism was started twenty-five centuries ago. Such concepts can easily be used as a starting point for rationally analyzing a situation and recommending choices within it This is the usual process for legacy religions, but if there are no such concepts to use as starting points, something else must be done.


Non-supernatural religions have to choose a starting point. They might choose some nice-sounding precepts and pretend they come from somewhere, but omit to mention their derivation. These precepts might be the things that parents teach their young children so they will play with other children calmly, or so they will be obedient, or so they will develop good character habits. This early child teaching sinks deeply into the brain, is hardly remembered as to the source, but does link to similar things and makes them seem right. This is an emotional reaction, based on infant and toddler teaching or example or something else which these young humans use to learn from. Such primitive precepts don't work well in the world and are only suitable for children's play groups, but they sound correct and real to those who were brought up with them.


To come up with something more realistic and complex than this, which can handle situations beyond the schoolyard, we can look at life itself, as humans are undeniably a part of it. Asking about the purpose of life is something of a misnomer, as purpose is given by someone to someone else, and there is no one in a non-supernatural religion to give purpose to anyone or anything. So it is better to ask about the tasks of life, which are generalizations of what we see living organisms doing. One way to categorize them is to divide them into fundamental tasks, of which five stand out: survival, reproduction, adaptation, evolution and dispersion. Different species fulfill these in somewhat different ways.


Survival includes collecting energy and materials necessary to sustain activity and to repair the organism if it is capable of that. Such activity might mean growing photosynthetic cells, moving to an area where food exists, breathing, or any of a myriad of activities that living organisms perform. Reproduction means budding or spreading roots which will turn into whole plants or exchanging genes with another bacteria or animal or plant sexual reproduction. It includes pollination or mate competition and many other possibilities. Adaptation means changing following a change in the surroundings or the environment that the organism inhabits, and might include, as an example, a diet change due to a food species being competed out of existence. Evolution means changes in the genetic structure due to the processes within cells affecting their DNA, specifically the nuclear DNA in a bacteria or the DNA in the reproductive cells of species which reproduce sexually. This is contingent on the fact that no life has been discovered which does not use DNA for their genetic coding, and no life lacks DNA. Dispersion means a spread of life from the area it currently inhabits to a different one, typically nearby. It might also mean from a type of environment to a different type, for example, when an inland species spreads out to the coast. There are encyclopedic amounts of details on all these activities, but having them categorized at high level allows some conclusions to be drawn which the details might otherwise obscure.


Buddha's first precept in his teaching was about not killing animal organisms. There is nothing in any of the tasks of life just enumerated that involves not killing of animal life in general, any more than there is about the killing of plant or bacterial life. It is said that this precept encourages compassion and kindness. It might be that the direction of effect is the opposite of that. Buddha, for some reason, took his personal goal to be the reduction of suffering or rather of the mental consequences of suffering, teaching people, for example, to not want material possessions to avoid the suffering caused by not having them. Some people grow up with an attachment to animals, or a diffuse sympathy for them. To avoid causing such people mental anguish, the first precept prohibits killing animals. A better approach might be to understand where such sympathy arises, and to stop it from being induced in young people, rather than by imposing the first precept as it now stands.


It is common nowadays for mothers to engage their children with stories about animals, or take them to zoos, or buy them stuffed animals or to do other activities which induce a small child to develop sympathy for some mental concept involving animals. That induction goes deep into the mind of the child and manifests itself years later as an emotional and non-rational sympathy for animals. The concept of animal which links with these feelings can be quite broad. Buddha did not work on the problem of the irrelevant and non-useful induction of these sympathetic feelings in the minds of very young children, and if he had, banning it, it might have done more toward alleviating the anguish some of these victims of child programming experience when animals are slaughtered or hunted or imprisoned or otherwise badly treated. One of the most important parts of Improved Buddhism involves great care over the training of young children, as unpleasant consequences can certainly arise when it is done without much planning or careful thought.


This misdirected sympathy for animals induced in young children is just one example of how Buddha's purpose of reducing mental suffering and anguish might be better accomplished by dealing with the actual source of it, knowledgeably, rather than using meditation or other tools to try and build barriers so these child-originated feelings will not cause emotional reactions in adults. Feelings do not spring into existence by magic, and babies are born with very few capabilities, but instead have a whole blank neural slate upon which likes and dislikes, positive and negative feelings, and loves and hates get written, mostly inadvertently, by those responsible for their training.


What are to be the new precepts of Improved Buddhism and how are they to be communicated to infants who cannot understand spoken words and toddlers whose learning consists mostly of imitation? The five activities of generic life certainly make a good starting point, but they need to be translated into something like precepts. One concept that can be included is the realization that human beings are part of life, and just as every other of the billions of types of living organisms follows these five activities, so also should humans in general, and each human in particular. However, rationality is only possessed by humans, so this tool, like the physical tools that technology provides, needs to be put in service of the generic life activities.


An umbrella concept is that life, almost by definition, is all about making ready for the next generation of life. Mankind's tremendous change from animals, in that humanity makes use of the resources of the planet in a more extenuous way than any other organism, means that resource usage needs to be considered, in light of future generations as well as in connection with the current one. Perhaps Buddha's first precept should be reinterpreted not as prohibiting the taking of life, but on the preserving of life, but life in general and over time, not for any specific animal at some crucial time. The fourth activity of life is evolution, meaning that entire species cease to exist and are replaced by others. Any actions taken to reverse this, and cast in concrete the existing set of species now living, would be very anti-life and should be anti-Buddhist as well.


Some very careful thought needs to be given to the concept of using generic life activities as the only foundation for revising Buddha's precepts, and once that is solidified, to figuring out how to do it. Once that is done, determining how to translate that into useful plans, both for dealing with adults and for training children, can be accomplished next.

Ancestor Worship and Improved Buddhism

The words 'ancestor worship' bring to mind some oriental practices that involve some formal methods of venerating ancestors, mostly recently deceased ones. This post is about the general concept of venerating or honoring ancestors, which seems to be a very universal phenomena. The exact words themselves refer to the traditional, thousands-of-years-old Chinese practices relating to the deceased members of a clan. There are specific burial rites, mourning practices, praying rituals, and other activities that connect the living with the dead, and these differ according to the social rank of the deceased person. On the supernatural side, some commentators talk about everyone having two souls, one of which departs for some blissful region after death, while the other soul stays behind to monitor what goes on near their former living area.


Virtually all cultures have elaborate ceremonies involving the dead, usually not just for burial, but for remembrance. Mexico is home of the world-famous “Dia de Muertos”, the day of the dead, an official Mexican holiday. This tradition grew from an Aztec one, existing long before Spanish conquest, and this in turn seems to have originated with the Mayas. No doubt there is a longer lineage. The “Dia de Muertos” happens nowadays around November 1st, which is the same day the Spanish and other Europeans used for Halloween, when departed spirits came back to visit the Earth, which is actually an ancient European tradition. 


Other cultures do not use the annual calendar to mark the time of venerating and remembering the dead, but instead fixed periods after the date of death. In the Russian Orthodox tradition, and older Russian culture itself, commemoration of the dead occurs on the third, ninth and 40th days after death. Relatives and friends gather together on these days to dine together and talk about their memories of the departed. Forty is a special number in Russian, and it has a special word for it, unlike those for 30, 50, 60 and so on, probably indicating it was regarded as special for centuries before the language was codified. It is a special word in some other languages as well, implying some commonality.


Since Buddhism has absorbed the concept of reincarnation from the predecessor Indian religions, there are not rituals embedded in it for tending to the deceased, or commemorating them. Instead, regional rituals prevail. For example, in Laos, there is a 'ghost month', when departed spirits come back to the Earth and have to be catered to.


The common explanation of these rituals, including burial ceremonies, cemeteries, commemorative dates, annual events and more is that they are to help the dead's spirit find peace or move on to a better life when reincarnated, as well as to help those left behind to weather their grief. But there is undoubtedly more to it.


Any cultural tradition, including elements of religions, has to have a means of reproducing itself from generation to generation. These rituals are things that children can be exposed to, and learn about, and participate in. The rituals become part of their own history, and will possibly become part of their own habits. A ritual which is performed before a child's eyes may be performed by that child when he becomes an adult. It can become a goal of the child to know how to do it and how to do it well. There is also a great amount of novelty in it for a child, which appeals to them, and a bit of excitement as well. It is beyond obvious that if a cultural tradition has persisted for hundreds or thousands of years, over many generations, it has to have built within it the means for transmitting itself to the young in a way that a significant number of them will accept as their own. Any tradition which does not have this reproductive component will disappear, and we would never hear of them. Thus, everything which exists today has mastered the art of inter-generational propagation.


In all these rituals, children are present, at least as observers and often as participants. They might have a special role to play, or else are guided into copying the behavior of the adults. This serves as another aid to acceptance and preservation of the tradition.


There is something more subtle. Of all possible traditions and traditional rituals, ones associated with death and remembrance are very common, virtually universal, and prominent. For a tradition to take that role, it does not only need to preserve itself by indoctrinating a young generation, but it has to provide a benefit to the society that maintains it. If it was detrimental, or did not provide a benefit exceeding its cost, it would disappear as the society would falter in comparison with those societies that do have have it. What is the benefit?


One not discussed is that the rituals serve to buttress the behavioral code that regulates the culture. There are behavioral codes which are written down, such as the Inca's three line rules of life and Ashoka's script inscribed on steles throughout his kingdom. But there is much more to behavioral rules than what can be written down in a short table. They are transmitted through oral teaching, but also through role models. The dead serve as role models, and the commemorations serve to remind the living of how the deceased conformed to certain aspects of them in exemplary fashion, or perhaps did not. Every child has to figure out how to live, as there is nothing genetic which conveys this; it is all learning. Ancestor worship, and all the many ways in which the preceeding generations can be remembered for the good deeds they did, or should have done, go into the memory of children so they can have a subconscious set of guidelines for situations they find themselves in.


There is both a clan-level collection of methods of commemoration, but also those of wider scope, where monuments are built by others to commemorate an individual who made great contributions to the society. Statues are common, as are obelisks or other columnar shapes. Posthumously naming things after an important individual, from cities down to parks, is another way of doing this.


Behavioral rulesets that work, and which are passed down through commemoration of ancestors as well as more explicit ways, help the society transmitting them to survive and prosper. Faulty rulesets, or ones which become outdated and non-helpful, lead to the breakup of the society which tries to preserve and implement them. Improved Buddhism is an example of a deliberate creation of a ruleset for our period of history, one which will allow its followers to prosper and to transmit the ruleset, and other knowledge, onward in generational time.


What this means is that Improved Buddhism must have its own kind of ancestor worship, specifically the local and immediate type. Let's think about what this should be. The goal of the Improved Buddhist equivalent of ancestor worship is to provide those comfort mechanisms which assist the living to cope with the loss caused by someone's passing away, but also to provide children with another assist in staying within the religion and also to provide them with a repetition of examples of behavior of role models. There is probably nothing new that has not been already devised by multiple cultures around the world, so a list would be in order. First, there are burial ceremonies and practices. As long as there is a time, or multiple times, when people gather together with children to remember and discuss the good deeds and successes of a deceased individual, the remaining activities can be quite varied, and the more memorable the better. Second, the Russian tradition of having three times for commemoration has the benefit of allowing people an interval of time in which to more carefully remember the passed person, and then to bring up these memories when the group convenes.


Third, the idea of a stele in a cemetery, alternatively called a gravestone, is also a good one for increasing the impact of the role model's example on the minds of children. This is something which has a cost, so somehow budgeting for it needs to be done.


Fourth, for longer term remembering, the Asian tradition of having a place in a home where mementos of the deceased are collected and displayed is also a worthwhile idea. Pictures, awards, possessions, artwork, and adornments are possible choices. The existence of a place for remembrance is of no use unless there are periodic times when the commemoration is done, and this has to be set; perhaps once a month is enough to instill the virtues of the role models into the children of the home.


Fifth, an annual holiday, such as Mexico has, is also a splendid idea, but one which cannot be done within the confines of a religion. The choice of such a day should therefore be on a weekend, so celebrations within the religion can be conducted without disturbing the worklife of members. The celebration needs to remind members to visit the cemeteries of their parted ancestors, at least for a generation or two back, and to participate in the proper burial ceremonies and commemorations, and to ensure a place in the home is set aside for commemoration and it is visited. Absorbing and taking over an existing holiday might be an excellent idea.


All in all, the importance of instilling good feelings about good behavior is so important for a religion that it deserves all the effort described here. A religion which does not assist its children in this way simply cannot survive.

Other Religions are Good Precursors to Improved Buddhism

Improved Buddhism has a great appeal intellectually, as it dispenses with mysticism, supernatural phenomena or creatures, spirituality and spirits in general, as well as all non-scientific concepts. As knowledge of science becomes more and more widespread, and deeper and deeper on an individual basis, this appeal will heighten and the attractiveness of Improved Buddhism will increase. However, there are more subtle appeals that can cause certain individuals to want to follow its precepts.


Someone who was raised in a religious household, or was nurtured or trained by a religious person, has deep subconscious memories of the procedures and teaching that were demonstrated by the household members or by the religious individual who played a large part in the earliest years of the individual's life. Memories do not go away with time, but simply lie dormant or get connected to new experiences. Recall that good feelings, meaning positive neurochemicals and brain activity in certain small centers, arise when familiarity happens, and the familiarity hooks up with some elementary, even instinctual, good feelings from the past. This is the origination of 'liking', when it is authentic and not simply repetition of the comments of others. Authentic 'liking' comes when an experience, such as a taste or a view or a comment by others or a face or anything else triggers a subconscious recall of some other taste or view or whatever else, which was in turn already connected by the brain's neural network with those neurons which generate the positive neurochemicals or trigger activity in the reward centers of the brain.


This means that, for example, an individual who was raised in a pleasant household with religious people, and the religious activities were observed, will find some subtle enjoyment from doing activities which are reminiscent of those he observed. Some legacy religions involve praying or meditating, and in this situation, meditating in the Improved Buddhism method should invoke this happy feelings, most likely mild but still definite. There is a multitude of possibilities for this connection back to pleasant experiences, most of which might not be recallable consciously. People who have this might report that they feel something is right, that they just know it is correct without having any scientific or other proof of it.


This is how the brains of mammals work; they are born with some instinctual activities that are basic to life support and the growth of capabilities, and these are gradually linked to external experiences to broaden their ability to support themselves and later reproduce. Humans are no different, perhaps with less instincts, but certainly enough to initialize these linkages to external experiences. This linkage happens most strongly with very young children, as their brains are largely empty slates waiting for information input to fill them. Conscious memory comes later.


During the next stage of development, from ages around three to six, there is more learning from experiences but also coupled with some vague ability to recall it, and even to verbalize it. Positive experiences from this time include those similar to the earlier ones, but there is also the beginning of verbal teaching or rather training, and these lessons sink deeply into the brain. At this time, behavioral rules are put in place, which cover a gamut of activities and relationships. Someone in their later life may completely depart from his childhood religion, but will still feel that there are rules he should follow and further that there should be rules of behavior and everyone should follow them. Improved Buddhism has some logical rules for behavior, and they are likely strongly overlapping with any other sets of rules that individual learned in his early years. Philosophers might dispute the existence of any such rules, as it is a controversy stretching back thousands of years, but this has no impact on virtually all humans. They instead have feelings generated by their early experiences.


Early experiences are not necessarily based on pleasurable experiences, but may involve the fear that a young child feels when threatened or worse. Fear experiences also write deeply into the brain, and an individual might feel behaioral rules are necessary because of them, or because of both pleasurable and fear experiences working together. Fear might be an even stronger indoctrinator than instinctual pleasure, and the human mind is built to cope with it and to adapt to reduce any threats to well-being. Young children have few options but to obey, and so the adoption of a rote behavior in different situations will be something that buries itself deep in the brain, leading eventually to an adult who feels strongly about rules of behavior of different types.


When a child reaches the age when reasoning starts, the mysticism and supernatural phenomena that were part of these legacy religions may serve as good exercises in reasoning, and this would gradually diminish the attractiveness of them. This leaves something like Improved Buddhism standing upright and able to meet any standards of reasoning the individual can reach. So, that part of Improved Buddhism which is related to feelings is similar to the legacy religions sufficiently to produce some of the same feelings, pleasure by association with family connections or reduction of fear, while that which is amenable to reason is able to get through the gates of logic.


Someone who was not raised with any religious influences around, at least directly, may have secondary influences that also might propel them to Improved Buddhism. If an individual is parented by people who have no religious adherence, but who were raised by people who did, they would still have some derivative feelings that there is a moral code, a code for behavior for oneself and for interacting with others, even though they have no solid background which would lead to it. These second generation partially religious people might produce the same early childhood experiences as those who were within a religion. The young child hears how there are rules for behavior, without hearing any supernatural threats or promises to back them up. A child of this age does not question things from a causal point-of-view however, but is just satisfied to hear things to memorize and act upon from his guardians. Even a third generation religious person, for whom two generations have passed since religion played a role in an direct way in someone's belief system, there could be the feeling that there should be a moral code, or that some specific forms of behavior are mandatory.


These people, one, two or three generations removed from an actual believer in a legacy religion, are still eminent candidates for becoming members of Improved Buddhism. They would have some feelings that the existence of a behavior code is obvious, while abstaining from any supernatural justification for it.


The other strong drawing point for bringing formerly religious people into a new religion might be community. Many legacy religions have communities associated with each local branch. What community means here is a group of people who are frequently in contact with each other on the basis of shared tasks. Other legacy religions might just be constituted out of neighbors but not friends, and lack such a community.  These would not produce any feelings on this supplemental basis.


For a person who grew up in a situation where there was a community, especially a strong community which involved the children in any of a variety of ways, there is an undercurrent of feeling that such communities are desirable and proper. When a novel religion re-creates such communities, they provide a linkage back to the buried memories that bring familiarity, a sense of correctness, and some happiness. Even for people who were in no religion at all when young, but were part of a community, the new religion's communities may serve as a draw.


The negative side of linkages back to the activities of legacy religions is that some people may have not have received friendly interactions within them, but instead, they could have been unhappy to be involved or could have had specific unpleasant situations occur, either involving themselves or involving their guardians or friends. This leads to a need for carefully orchestrating community activities, so that no interactions reminiscent of previous unpleasantness arises, as much as possible. Consequently, this means that Improved Buddhism should have strong direction as to how community activities should occur and how interpersonal relations within the community should be conducted.


Someone who has current involvement in a legacy religion, and is looking for some other religion which is an improvement on that would be an excellent candidate for Improved Buddhism. So would someone who has previous experience as a child with a legacy religion, or even those one or two generations removed from it, where some lingering traces exist and are passed down through the generations, such as the belief that there should be a behavior code, or where the concept of a community was preserved and lingered in a form which could affect a child. These candidates would have different reasons from someone who had spent time thinking about the utility of religion, either on a personal or a macro scale, and was looking for a religion which would match what his reasoning drove him to. The first type of candidate should be introduced to the activities of Improved Buddhism, as there they will find the positive feelings that might bind them to it. The second type of candidate should be introduced to the intellectual structure of it, the lack of mysticism, the adherence to known science and the sociology that holds it together. Both of these types can become adherents and might even provide useful additions to it.

Counseling About Motivation

One of the important roles of a higher level individual in a modern religion can be counseling. As noted elsewhere, counseling can be done by professionals in the field, but this type of counseling is done without knowledge or involvement in the religious aspects of life. Is that an important aspect?


Religion sets goals for its members, and it also sets behavioral norms or standards, among other things. A person outside the religion might envision that individuals should have completely different goals and behavioral norms than someone inside the religion. Then the side effect of professional counseling from someone outside the religion would be to erode the religious teaching that the individual being counseled had received, perhaps weakening it to the point where it no longer plays a large role in that individual's decision-making process. So, counseling within a religion can be a beneficial task for those in the hierarchy.


Counseling deals with solving personal problems of an individual. It is not the same as teaching someone how to deal with problems in general, before they occur. It is directed at an existing problem which should be solved in the short-term. Furthermore, counseling is a one-on-one activity, whereas teaching is more efficiently done one-on-many. The benefits of good counseling are typically higher that those of the same effort in teaching, at least in the short-term. Teaching is directed at a more long-term horizon, for situations which might arise in the future. There is, especially at the younger ages, one-on-one teaching which is directed at either short-term behavior or at long-term planning and activity. Perhaps a better word for this very early teaching is training, as it is done for a pre-rational child, whereas teaching extends well past the arrival of rational capabilities in the student.


In parallel with this division, counseling for a young child is likely indistinguishable from training, especially when it is directed at child behavior. Thus, counseling for older children and especially adults deserves to be in a separate category.


Adult counseling can be further broken down by the nature of the problem that is being addressed. A good way to classify the problems is by the specific role that is being played by the person being counseled in connection with the specific problem. Roles include spouse, parent, worker, member of the religion, protector, hierarchy member, and leader, to name some of the most important. Classification by roles enables the counseling to connect with the teaching basis of the religion, as that is also classifiable by roles.


Consider the role of worker. In Improved Buddhism, as in certain other religions, as well as philosophies which substitute for religions, work is an important means for furthering the overall goal of the religion, which is self-preservation and preservation and improvement of the membership. At the very top of the issues that can arise regarding the role of worker is that of motivation. The teaching of the religion strives to motivate all members to work toward useful ends, but there are other factors which can serve to debilitate that motivation. One of the factors involves the proper appreciation of status, and it may very well be that a counseling opportunity arises because of lack of this appreciation.


Status here is meant the level achieved in a hierarchy of an organization, or the level of rewards received, or the level at which a person's value to others, mostly others in the religion or others closely connected to the individual, is perceived by others. Motivation is negatively affected when an individual sees himself at a status below his own desired status, and he is blocked from achieving any upward change, either by psychological factors or by situational ones. Consider first the psychological factors. As is well known, early life has a large effect on later self-confidence, and a difficult environment as a youth can lead to a self-opinion which includes negative or very negative self-views. The brain does not force all effects from one's past into a cohert and organized mixture, but instead it is a collection of possibly discordant experiences which are never forgotten and never combined. Thus, when memories of the negative experiences arise, the member of the religion might experience a loss of motivation, or much worse, a motivation in the wrong direction, toward failure and subsequent despair.


Every experience that a young person has is a teaching experience, because everything is remembered and nothing is erased or overwritten, according to the human brain's operating mechanism. This means that, even though the teaching done within the religion promotes positive self-image, full motivation to work in a useful manner, and a desire to improve one's status and that of others, experiences outside the religion can be just the opposite. These opposite experiences give rise to one type of status and motivation problem.


Counseling a person with this type of problem might be much more common than with other types of work-related problems, except perhaps interpersonal work-related ones. The obvious, but eventually ineffectual method of dealing with it is to provide encouragement toward more positive experiences, to keep trying and to gradually build up enough self-confidence that the childhood negative experiences cannot overcome them. This might work, if they are not so strong as to insert themselves into any new activity so as to ruin the chances of it becoming a full-blown success. In this case, very large amounts of counseling might be needed, to continually steer the person away from self-destructive activities. Maintaining this level of counseling is possibly too demanding over the long term that it is necessary, and so it is diminished, giving the negative youth experiences time to overcome the positive ones achieved initially.


The other solution is to provide an introspective capability to the person being counseled. In someone whose mental abilities are sufficient to understand the workings of the human mind, insights into how their past affects their future can be given. If this is done effectively, then there can be formed a kind of feedback, so that when these negative times lead to a de-motivation or a desire to fail, this can be observed, and possibly corrected before they have an opportunity to de-rail progress toward sufficient self-confidence and the ability to progress as well as their capabilities permit.


Meditation is a critical tool in allowing this self-monitoring to occur. One of Buddhism's strong points is the teaching of meditation, of the correct form. Meditation can be designed to provide a reinforcement of positive feelings and of positive expectations of the future, which is a vital role, and it can also be used to quiet negative feelings, as well as to notice their occurrence and their origins. These two reactions to negative experiences bubbling up in subconscious ways are not completely different. Meditation toward positive experiences inevitably serves to suppress negative past experiences and it is something which does not demand resources from a counselor or anything except time from the individual being counseled. Meditation to comprehend the origins of negative experiences can work for experiences which did not happen at such a young age that the brain could not store them in a rememberable fashion. For those earliest ones, only positive meditation works. For the later ones, a quieter, less enthusiastic version of positive meditation can provide a mentally quiet background in which memories of the negative times can be viewed, without them leading to the negative feelings which might otherwise debilitate the individual. Thus, teaching and supporting meditation is an effective and cost-effective way to do counseling for status and motivation problems.


Thus, counseling can be divided out among contributors, provided that there has been enough preliminary one-on-one counseling done to support meditation to cure the status problem. The other contributors can recognize that the person's negative experiences will tend to make mediation fail, just as they tend and have tended in the past to make other goal-oriented activities fail, and the task of the contributors is to encourage the individual to continue meditating. This might be done by involving the individual in group meditation, which is almost always part and parcel of any Buddhist sect's activites. It can also be done by volunteering for one-on-one meditation, where two people do it, the extra contributor to counseling and the person with problems. The same goes for where there is no group, but a pair or trio of contributors to the other person's future success involve him in mediation, for the purpose of seeing that it continues at a sufficient pace to keep overcoming the past negative experiences, certainly long enough to start building up the positive ones to counterbalance the negative early ones and certainly long enough to allow the introspection mode of mediation to have an effect, if it can.


Meditation can be used to help individuals with many other types of problems. Some are quite congruent with the work status type of problem. For example, if an individual's history is such that all interpersonal relationships fail, perhaps in disasters, it might be that these negative experiences overwhelm any new attempts at positive relationships. The analogy is obvious, and the solution is as well: mediation following counseling on the problem. There may be others similar to these two as well.

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