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Improving Buddhism

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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.

What Can Be Learned From Marcus Aurelius?

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor in the 100's, and ruled when the Roman Empire was still very powerful and controlled the lands around the Mediterranean Sea, stretching well into Asia Minor and up to England. It was the tradition at that time that the emperor's oldest son would succeed him as emperor, and that tradition was often fulfilled by a childless emperor, or one whose sons had all died young, by picking a successor and adopting him. This happened with Marcus, as it had with his adopted father and his father's adopted father. Marcus' biological father died young and he was raised until the age of sixteen by his biological grandfather, who was a wealthy senator and quite able to raise the boy with the best tutors available. After he was adopted by the emperor-to-be, this continued and thus Marcus had the best education possible in the empire, with esteemed Greek and Roman philosophers and thinkers as his tutors.

 

Some time after Marcus became emperor, he began writing notes to himself about his philosophical knowledge and thoughts, and, as luck would have it, these notes happened to be preserved through the centuries and are now available in book form, known as 'Meditations'. Multiple editions have been printed over the last few centuries, along with translations into many languages from the original Greek. They contain an excellent, but very informal, description of the philosophy he accepted, which was a Roman version of Stoicism. This book has inspired many people, and might serve to inspire any new or improved religion. The points it makes have to be interpreted in the light of when and where Marcus lived, so that unconscious assumptions can be made explicit. These assumptions might differ from the unconscious assumptions we make today, 1900 years later and in a more technological society.

 

Marcus did not originate the points he wrote about; his job was to be the Roman emperor and philosophy was one tool he used to help himself make decisions, and in fact it was a very important tool. This particular philosophy was common in the Roman ruling classes, but it was certainly not the only school of philosophy that was common there. Two of the common schools had quite opposing viewpoints, Marcus' Stoicism and Epicureanism. Stoicism in Rome taught that individuals were not important, but what was important was 'logos', the order of the universe. Everyone had a role and being a good person meant following the requirements of your role. Furthermore, reason was to be kept as the dominant mode of action and interaction with others, and equanimity was one of the principal virtues. Marcus wrote much about ignoring pain and pleasure as much as possible, and instead concentrating on the principal goal of following nature and helping others. These are two of the main contentions of the philosophy of Stoicism.

 

The label 'philosophy' is probably best thought of as a misnomer: philosophy has no starting point; one must be provided by psychology. There is nothing in the universe to tell man his purpose, no matter whether it is a time of only beginnings of science and technology or a time when a grand scope of all of science is in view. Purpose comes from upbringing and the neural programming that a child receives before he is able to obstruct it.

 

Philosophy is a form of logic, with some science, or nature as Marcus would say, thrown in. Logic is a tool for starting with some assumptions or axioms or postulates or other beginnings and deriving some conclusions from them. These start points must come from somewhere, and in ancient times and some more modern times they come from the psychological impact of a child's rearing. What he heard at age four is what his truth is at age forty.

 

Culture provides a great amount of influence on the rearing of a child, both the culture that the family rearing the child experiences and the wider culture of the locale that the child lives in. This means that what a child learns from his parents is largely what his parents learned from their parents, and so on, with changes happening every generation, but not great ones. Over many generations, culture can change, and it usually does, but between two adjacent generations, there is not too much change within a certain class of society in a certain nation, or empire.

 

Stoicism, a philosophy from Greece, fit well into the culture of the upper classes in Imperial Rome. They had a culture which said the same things as the Greek originators did, who probably extracted it from the very similar culture in their city-state in Greece from earlier times, before Rome conquered them. This culture was one that allowed Rome to expand as it did, conquering much of the world around it, and ruling it for several centuries. That culture had the concept of duty, which meant in Roman Stoicism, doing what was ordered by superiors for the good of the state, and the strong connections between virtue and duty, between goodness and obedience, between choosing what was good for Rome and its people and obeying the rules of nature and the wishes of the gods, whoever they might be. Marcus believes that there are gods, but no soul that reincarnates or persists in any way after death. This is one of his main tenets, that everything in life is fleeting and therefore not worthy of great effort. He even foresees the end of his empire, but still feels that while it exists, it is his duty and that of all who obey him to work toward its benefit.  

 

Stoicism was appreciated by some fraction of the upper classes, perhaps most of them, and the ideas that emerged from it could propagate downward to the lower classes, meaning the population largely held the beliefs that duty to the empire was a moral good. Of course, epicureanism ate away at these beliefs, more and more as continued affluence permeated the upper classes and the even parts of the lower classes. The lessons that improved Buddhism can take from Marcus Aurelius and the Roman version of Stoicism involve the realization that selflessness among the leaders of the religion will preserve it, and the opposite is true as well. Marcus took some things from his upbringing to make him accept these beliefs as revealed truth, while they do nothing more than reveal what his earliest teaching consisted of.

 

One of them is quite curious. Marcus was raised to be emperor by those who understood the emperor to be the one who preserves the power and majesty of the empire, and as such, he was trained to plan. Planning tilts one's values toward the future, strongly among master planners, and so it was easy for him to make statements that since everything was temporary and ephemeral, it was worthless. This included his life, and Marcus often wrote how every individual's life is soon ended and soon forgotten, meaning it was without value. Such future-oriented valuation is not what an epicurean has; that would be present-oriented valuation, where something has value according to the feelings it generates in the individual making the valuation, at the present time or at most in the near future.

 

When Marcus wrote about the main goal of life being helping others, he did not mean what we might think of as helping others today. Marcus believed, as did other Stoics, that what had happened already was what nature intended, and so there was no point in mourning or pitying or even empathizing with others because of their state. Instead, Marcus believed that individuals had a natural state, and helping them meant two things: accepting Stoicism and reducing their emotionality, and, perhaps as part of Roman Stoicism, to fill the role they were born into or grew into, which includes service to the empire. There was nothing about freeing slaves, of which there were countless numbers in the Roman Empire. Instead, it was to help such a person accept their role in life, without emotionalizing and without aggression either passive or active, and to perform the requirements of that position. Neither was there anything in his writing about inverting the order of society or leveling social status. Instead, there was again the possibility of helping someone in a lower status to accept that and to live their life fulfilling the customary and exceptional tasks of such a position, as well as the individual could. Sympathy was certainly present and necessary, but it emerged for reacting to personal tragedies, such as because of the death of someone important, and even further, sympathy was directed toward helping those experiencing the loss to accept it more easily with a strong dose of the fatalism that characterizes Stoicism.

 

Things that Marcus could not know about were necessarily missing from his writing and from his understanding of the world, such as genetics. There was only a crude understanding at that time of genetics, even cruder than our current knowledge, and so he includes nothing about the importance of genetics in the permanence of civilization. The ancients' understanding of psychology was also limited in the neural details, although Marcus may have had a better intuitive understanding of the categories of individuals and how they tended to behave than almost anyone else. Being a manager teaches one this, and no one managed more than Marcus.

 

Stoicism's main points can serve as important components of an improved Buddhism, specifically, the emphasis on rationality instead of emotional reaction, the correct application of sympathy, and one thing that Buddha himself would have appreciated: the concept of the inevitability of suffering and death and that choices can be made which reduce the anguish and anxiety that come from them. Marcus went further than Buddha in understanding the liability of these emotions, as his goal for individuals was to fill the tasks necessary to maintain society at as high a level as possible, whereas Buddha was content with simply stabilizing the internal thoughts of individuals. Buddha had little interest in a macroscopic view of society, which Marcus certainly did, in a great amount and with implicit emphasis. Buddha was also born to be a ruler, but he left behind the role of rulership, while Marcus accepted it and used it to further the benefits of the individuals in the empire, in accordance with how he and other Stoics measured benefit. This was an omission in Buddha's teaching, and Marcus' writing can be used to help fill that gap.

Dominant and Submissive Personalities in Improved Buddhism

Unfortunately, there is no clear definition of personality in psychology; the variety of human behavior has befuddled the profession of psychologists for over a century. One of the early attempts at classifying people by their personality was done by Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs, who developed a questionnaire designed to slot people into sixteen polar categories, along four dimensions first created by Karl Jung. Alternatively, one could use the questionnaire to deduce four variables, ranging from minus one to one, along Jung’s four dimensions, which more accurately describes the distribution of questionnaire answers, which are bell-curves, rather than bimodal. Jung’s dimensions were quite simple to understand: 1) Introversion/Extroversion, 2)Sensing/Intuitive, 3) Thinking/Feeling, and 4) Judgmental/Perceptual. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator guidelines were first published in 1944, and were merely the first one of very many personality type categorizations.

 

Answering a questionnaire is more likely a mirror of what a person sees in himself, as opposed to what actually exists within their mind. Personality typing is not very useful if it is restricted to one’s internal self-view. The utility would come if there were a way to extrapolate this internal self-image into operational terms, in other words, into a means of deciding how a person would act in a well-defined situation. This latter approach is how people seriously judge other people, by what actions they take, despite whatever they might say.

 

In the operational categorization of people, again the result is that there are bell-curves along most invented dimensions. People do not tend to extremes, but to some middle choices, acting sometimes one way and sometimes another, depending on a host of factors. This also means that preferences for a particular type of behavioral responses can be affected by what is asked for, by what is encouraged, by what is supported, by what is rewarded, by what is appreciated, and this in turn means that Improved Buddhism is not just an observer of personality traits, but an influence on their expression, hopefully for the betterment of the individuals involved, and of the organization itself. Personalities are plastic, and can be molded by circumstances and surroundings.

 

In building up the staff for a religion, even a non-supernatural one such as Improved Buddhism, it is important to provide guidance so that, in situations where there is a choice, the most appropriate person can be invited into the position. Experience is the best guide for that, which is why most hierarchies, in governance, corporations, military organizations and so on, promote upward in a gradual manner.

 

Success in a hierarchy is not seemingly dependent on the four characteristics that Jung initially devised, and which Myers and Briggs turned into a questionnaire, but on something else which might be called the dominant/submissive category, following the manner of inventing personality dimensions these pioneers devised. Another labeling might be leading/following as a preference, just as the four previous choices can be described as preferences for actions. This fifth preference is largely independent of the other four, which can be described as the preferences one has for making decisions. The first dimension, Introversion/Extroversion, is not explicitly whether a person is gregarious or not, but whether they seek to gain information by themselves or by asking others. The other three are even more clearly dimensions of thinking preferences, which makes sense as Jung invented these as a profound thinker, rather than as a sideline after being a great general or politician. A general might not have missed the leadership dimension.

 

Leading/following in an operational sense means that in a group, a person can have a preference to lead the group to a decision or a way forward. The Jungian dimensions might describe how the person might seek to have the group come to a decision, and the fifth one involves something different: taking responsibility for seeing that the group comes to a consensus. Leadership in a military hierarchy simply means making decisions based on higher level decisions, an implementation so to speak, and then ensuring that lower levels in the hierarchy follow through. Leadership in a political caucus means seeing that all members of the caucus, or as many as possibly, have their own opinions consulted and any decision made is one which has some reason for all or most to join in. Leadership in a religious hierarchy has some of both of these modes, and there are certainly more variations possible.

 

Consider the bell curve of leadership preferences. At one end are those individuals who want to be a leader, and will do whatever necessary to achieve this. In the hierarchy, the task of those above such a person is to guide them into preferred ways of leading, or interacting with others in their domain of activity. Recall the overarching goal of any religion, including Improved Buddhism, is self-preservation. This means that interactions between a member of the hierarchy and any other member should be designed to ensure that both members benefit in such a way that they wish to continue their activities within the religion. Obvious negatives include having a hierarchy member who does not understand how to best relate to other members, but instead is so far at an extreme of one of the Jungian personality types that he cannot adapt to the interactional needs of other members.

 

At the other end of the leadership spectrum are those who avoid any responsibility for ensuring a group comes to a decision, and who do not take any action whatsoever to see that it does. This means no facilitating agreement between factions, no demonstration of decisiveness, no persuasion to come together, in fact nothing at all which would make a group come to an almost-universally accepted plan for further action. It is important not to misclassify individuals into this extreme, by not recognizing the sixteen personality types would attempt to help the group cohere in very different ways. Someone who was very decisive might see a person who was a consensus-builder as one who was not trying to get the group to unity, as they would evoke different opinions for discussion. Yet this is certainly one mode of attempting to get a group to act as one or to follow some coordinated plan.

 

Those who enter leadership positions definitely need some instruction, if they have not had it already, about the differences in personality types, and the ways that these different types of people fulfill tasks, including those involving group activities. Improved Buddhism has a very important community element, and this community element is only going to grow if the leaders in the organization understand the total dimensionality of contributions that individuals can make, tempered by their personality type. It would not be a bad thing if such teaching were universal, so that any member of the religious community understood the different modes of thinking and reaching decisions, and became after this more tolerant of people in different modes. Some individuals with strong feelings of self-confidence may assume that their way of behavior, alternatively their personality type’s way of proceeding, is better or indeed the only effective way, and these individuals are among the group who would most greatly benefit from universal teaching of the different types of personalities.

 

The large bulk of the population of members lie near the middle of the leader/follower dimension, and therefore have the ability to comfortably take either a leadership role or a follower role, depending on what is needed for the task at hand. They represent a resource which is often untapped, when religious leaders are only chosen from the group who strongly wish to be leaders and may make their preferences heard. In Improved Buddhism, there must be a place for almost everyone, including those all along the leader/follower dimension, but since there are no professional leaders, people who devote their careers to being an official in the religion, but instead with few exceptions, only lay people who temporarily fill in one position or another, the huge resource of the middle of this dimension represents something which must be tapped. Taking a leadership position within the religion is a growth experience, as is learning of all kinds and apprenticeships and many other opportunities, and it should be represented as such. Rotating the leadership positions to as many as possible broadens the benefits of the religion to the members, and provides the community with members whose experiences have been strengthened, perhaps in unexpected and unplanned ways.

 

Thus guidance for leadership choices for Improved Buddhism must be based on potentialities of people, rather than by their stated preferences. It must be accompanied, if personality type training is not a universal part of the religion, by this training, so that anyone stepping up to become a temporary, short-term or long-term, leader in Improved Buddhism will have the basis for interacting with all members. Of course, there must be much more training involved in Improved Buddhism, as there is in all religions. Education in how to live is a lifelong adventure, and the quality of Improved Buddhism’s training will be one factor which determines its acceptability and success.

Community in Improved Buddhism

Recall that the main purpose in designing an improvement for Buddhism is to make the resulting system enduring, in other words, each factor should be considered to see if it will tend to make the religion more permanent and stable, and that should be one of the major metrics for deciding on specific choices.

 

The nature of a religion involves a community of believers, and the constitution of that community is one of the principal factors that decides if the religion will exist after a few generations. It is certainly not the only factor, as the supernatural promises that can be made and were made in early Buddhism certainly would tend to keep the unsophisticated in the religion, and would also tend to draw in other unsophisticated individuals. But Improved Buddhism makes no supernatural promises, but is based instead on scientific fact and derivation, so community will be relatively more important. Thus the concept of an Improved Buddhism community needs to be created wisely.

 

Perhaps a way to start thinking about an Improved Buddhism community is to list the important features. One feature is the openness of the community to outsiders who wish to join. When the community starts, all members will be converts in a sense, either from an existing form of Buddhism or perhaps a generic believer in Buddhist concepts, or even from some other religion. Even a totally non-religious person might join. But after it is started up, there is the question of how someone might join it: what is necessary? A very open religion might allow anyone who is interested to join the community, and a very closed religion might put several barriers up, such as mandatory education, contributions, sacrifices, probation, or approval by some group. More or less information might be demanded before a prospective convert is allowed to participate, or there could be levels of participation with the higher ones being restricted to converts who had undergone some processing.

 

Once an individual decides to join the religion, and therefore the community, there needs to be some substance to the community that reinforces that decision. In a typical religion, this means that there is interaction between members of the community, socially, and often also via assistance and cooperation. Socially, there are activities, such as communal meetings, which are designed to reinforce participation. Assistance can involve mentoring, financial support under limited conditions, or financial cooperation in various ways, all done with good financial sense, but with preference given to other members of the community. Other ways of support are often present in a successful community, such as help with physical activities, such as moving or delivery, transportation, sick care, repairs and maintenance of any property or possession, and of course more. These activities tend to bind the community members to one another in a trust relationship, but they also allow higher level community members to more carefully know a probationary member. There can also be advisory assistance, if a member is in a difficult situation and has little experience in it, or if it is psychologically numbing and interpersonal support and reassurance would help. All of this involvement takes time from members, but it also gives back assistance in various ways, so it is not necessarily a negative cost. It is even possible to maintain that the community is an asset for its members, and these activities tend to build it and preserve it.

 

Location is another variable in the equation of the community. Living and working in close proximity to other members allows all the interactions of the community to be facilitated, and increases the number of informal interactions that also tend to build the community and the trust that is involved with it. There are really two levels of closeness. One is the radius dictated by a few minutes driving or using public transportation, and the other is the radius dictated by a few minutes of walking. In general, closer is better. Having a region where a significant percentage of the residents are adherents to the religion is likely ideal. This allows community activities to be done more efficiently, but more importantly it allows interpersonal interaction between members to occur with greater frequency. Again, this is a trust-building factor.

 

If there is a community, there is also a non-community, meaning individuals who are not members. Just as there are rules for how a member should interact with and cooperate with a member, there must also be rules as to how a member should interact with a non-member, including groups of non-members. The fundamental goal of the religion is self-preservation, and therefore there should be clear distinctions made between the ways in which members interact with one another and how they behave towards the outside world. Trust is a key element in intra-community interaction, and suspicion is the opposite of trust. In order for there to be a strong division between the community and the non-community, members should have a clear understanding that the trust that is developed between members cannot be duplicated between a member and a non-member. There might temporarily be good relations between a member and a non-member, but not to the degree that they should exist between members. There might be trust between a member and one or more non-members, but the rules of the religion or the customs should attempt to maintain some degree of suspicion.

 

Inside the community, there should be rules or customs that assist those who have tendencies to not follow the rules of the religion to change these patterns and to better be able to follow them. The behavior of a member is not simply a matter of concern for the member or his immediate family, but also for the community as a whole. The response of the community could be both support, in other words encouragement and attempts at understanding the difficulties which cause the errant behavior, and pressure, in which the community as a whole attempts to provide a cause for the member to want to change this behavior. The extreme instance is when the member is de-legitimized, in other words, barred from community activities and interaction and support, or even removed from the religion's roll of members.

 

Another factor in trust-building within a community is the permanence of membership. Is there a high degree of mobility where members leave one locale and move to another? If trust is created on a person-to-person basis, then mobility is the antithesis of trust. If trust is based on membership credentials, then mobility can be tolerated to a larger extent. The movement of people is hard to completely extinguish, so the question is more of how much tolerance of mobility should be built into the rules and customs. This might be looked at as a question of prioritization. Much mobility in our modern world comes from employment options. And employment options come from a prioritization of personal goals. Is having more money worth sundering trust ties with the local community and rebuilding them elsewhere? Or should the priority be based on remaining local, and seeking employment within a reasonable radius from the community? Obviously, these are not either-or questions. In a situation where employment is shrinking in one location, there might be no options possible for members to stay locally. In the opposite situation, where there are many options in the location where the member is, then an increment in income or responsibility should not overwhelm the desire to stay in the community where a person's history has been developed.

 

One of the causes of a breakdown of trust within a community is when members take community roles or roles within the religion as personal goals, and strive to achieve these. This competition would tend to degrade the trust relationship between members, as it makes them competitors instead of cooperators and supporters. This means that the choice of roles within the community and within the religion, if they are different, are important choices in the design of Improved Buddhism. Not only are the choices of roles important, but how an individual comes to serve in one, and how long they would stay in such a position are important.

 

There are two choices at the outset: is everything local, to the maximum extent, or is there a hierarchy from some top leader down to the lowest level of local leader? What functions might be performed by a hierarchy that would recompense the membership for the cost of having one, if there are costs, or would justify the loss of personal time taken for volunteer participation in the hierarchy?

 

One purpose of the hierarchy is the preservation of itself, by either electing members at a level for positions in the next higher level, or by members at one level appointing others at the next level below. This also extends to removing members from positions. As noted elsewhere in this blog, most of the functions of a member in the lower levels of a hierarchy have been specialized away. The role of the hierarchy member as a psychological counselor has been diminished by the emergence of an entire profession of psychologists and similar, less formally trained, advisors. Mediation has also become professionalized. Enforcement of laws for at least petty offenses might have been done by a hierarchy member in the past, but now has been taken over by the official government establishment. Business arrangements are still done on a private basis, but this conflates business leadership with religious leadership, and the two have distinct roles to play in the community. Interpretation of rules into specific instances might be done within the hierarchy, as there would be no one else able to do this on the outside. Thus, the hierarchy is certainly less relevant now. Most likely, in the modern era, a substantive hierarchy can be dispensed with, meaning there would be less cost to members, in money or time, to keep one in place and functioning well. This would mean that for Improved Buddhism, only a local level hierarchy would be necessary.

 

There are many other questions related to how a community might be established, what rules should govern it, and how it might grow, and these are best left to another post.

Improved Buddhism's Behavioral Code and Deception

Two of the things which a religion can still give to individuals in the twenty-first century are a behavioral code and a set of goals. To try and understand the details of how the first one might work, consider one activity which is usually considered deplorable, except by those who do it professionally, but is widespread in its extent and variety. That is deception.

 

What should a behavioral code say about deception? Not lying is an important rule of conduct in many religions, for example, the Inca code had only three precepts, but one was not lying.

 

A behavioral code needs at the top level, a set of principles that can be elaborated into many diverse situations. In the original Eightfold Path of Buddha, one of the principles is 'Right Speech', which means not only not lying, but speaking the truth, as well as knowing when to say what needs to be said, to avoid gossip and chatter, and to speak primarily about obtaining the goals of the speaker, which are supposed to be taken from another spoke of the eightfold path.

 

Buddha in his teaching years, would explain what right speech meant in the context of some scenario. These are still interesting and relevant, but today we have both an elaboration or generalization of speech and a widening of its scope. In Buddha's time there was no writing, only speaking, and so there would be no way for him to add 'right writing' as another prinicple. This must be obtained, if one takes 'right speech' as a tentative commandment for improved Buddhism, by elaborating on the reasons behind the choice of 'right speech' as one of the spokes of the Eightfold Path. The general concept employed here is communication. 'Right speech' needs to be parlayed into something like 'right communication', meaning there is no exception given for communicating the right things via texting, video call, radio performance, TV presentation, Netflix movie, advertising billboard, or any of the other means that our society uses.

 

Things have gotten so much more complicated. Back in Buddha's day, there was certainly an advantage to be gained by deception, but it was miniscule compared to what exists today. A farmer at a market might misrepresent the condition of some goods or an animal, in order to gain something more in exchange, but this was limited by the long-term local residency of the people involved, meaning they lose something in reputation if they gain something by deception. There is less reputation loss today, owing to the chaos in most marketplaces, although some electronic forums provide a substitute for it.

 

The elaboration of the precepts of a behavioral code is analogous to the task of elaborating laws based on a nation's constitution. The constitution, like the behavioral code, contains some general principles, and how they are applied depends on the decisions made in legal suits and elsewhere involving them. There are two extremes to the methodology by which this happens, and neither extreme works well by itself – always there is a compromise. One of the extremes is to allow precedent to be dictatorial. Once someone in authority makes a decision, that holds unless some exceptionally unusual situation arises and precendent is overturned. The other one of the extremes is to reason directly from the constitution for each situation, and re-think how it should be applied. In the former extreme, there is often contradictory precedent, if one digs deep enough, and then this allows some latitude toward making new decisions based on the perceived principles in the constitution. In the latter extreme, going through the effort to rethink the derivation of special cases, which are often repetitive, from the constitution is hardly worth the effort, when written explanations are available with previous derivations.

 

Unfortunately for static beliefs, there are many interpretations of any collection of general rules, involving different definitions of the words involved, different contexts in which they can be applied, different imputations of the ideas of the original writers of the principles, which might be used to better understand the implications of them, and then there is also the idea that there is some obsolesence in the principles and they need to be updated to better serve in modern times. The writers of constitutions sometimes write explanations of the meanings behind the principles, and sometimes these are as amenable to multiple explanations as the constitution itself. Thus, writing general principles is a risky business, if one wants to try and create something that accomplishes a goal over a long period.

 

Military organizations have the same problem. A general or admiral can give orders, and as these orders are filtered down through the military hierarchy, many more details need to be added to them in order to make them complete enough for successive levels to obey and implement. Lower ranks are supposed to be trained to make these elaborations properly, but judgement always intrudes into it, meaning there is no exact method for carrying out a general high-level order. The implementations are sometimes very important, as the results of a battle could depend on the details of them. This is similar to the interpretation of constitutions, where serious civil and criminal results might depend on just how a particular phrase or sentence is interpreted. Corporations are little different, in that decisions made at high levels need to be implemented properly down to the lowest level.

 

Given all this possible variance between the initial ideas of the founders of a religion and the authors of the behavior code, it would seem to be an excellent idea to define just what is to be accomplished by the behavioral code, perhaps, principle by principle. For the 'right speech' one, what is the benefit that is to be received by someone committing to following it, and as a question lying behind that one, what are the benefits that fall to society when the large majority follows the rule, and exactly who does 'society' represent.

 

In fact, if following a rule directly and immediately benefits the individual doing it, there is no reason that any behavioral code is needed, simply allow the individuals to pursue their own benefit. So the question about a behavioral code is are the benefits to the individual in some delayed, and possibly amplified fashion, or are the benefits to the individual of a different type, perhaps difficult to quantify? Or is the behavioral code for the purpose of dragooning individuals into following rules against their own benefits, either immediately or postponed, so that some group referred to as 'society' might benefit?

 

Consider advertising, so as to narrow the diverse possibilities of fraud and deception. Should a new Buddhist who has influence on advertising follow some specific rules that differ from the ones followed now? Advertising has at least three functions, one is to provide information to a potential buyer, another is to indicate the availability of a product or service from a particular seller, and a third is to induce an individual to purchase the product or service, possibly in the absence of justification, or despite objections, better choices, alternatives, different sellers, and many other reasons why it might not happen. The first one is where the usual and obvious forms of deception occur. In providing information, if there are misrepresentations, this can lead to the reversal of any arrangements so that the misrepresentations, if discovered, will not lead to gains. Factual errors, if stated explicitly, are the easiest types of fraud to discover.

 

A somewhat worse problem lies in the non-explicitly presented information. If something is hidden, a particular fault, then this might be grounds for a contract or agreement to be abrogated. However, if something is simply not stated, or words are used to indicate that some particular fact is true without explicitly stating it, then these grounds often do not exist. Thus, this is the area in which elaboration about 'right speech' is needed.

 

Buddha's and later teachers' instructions in this regard were more clear: not only do not lie, but tell the truth and do not misrepresent. These instructions also cover the area of the third type of false advertising: one where the goal is to induce purchase on the basis of emotional projections, rather than a sound basis. There is an advertising industry component that is built on inducing sales, for example by showing a happy group of people consuming something for sale, either implying they are happy because they consume this particular item, or that people who are happy consume it and they serve as examples of how to be happy.

 

An improved Buddhism version of 'right speech' would include strictures against false presentation of this nature. There might even be a substantial dialogue or document on what type of advertising conforms with Buddhist teaching and what does not. The advertising industry would have to change its methods if it chose to act along with improved Buddhist principles.

 

Advertising is simply one example, perhaps the most blatant and obvious one, about the intersection of 'right speech' and modern life. There can be many more. Some require deep thought and consideration, for example, fiction. Fiction plays a role in modern society and affects it, and what guidance might be given to a prospective author of a fiction masterpiece-to-be? Law provides a dilemma. Can a lawyer for a indicted individual lie to gain an innocent verdict, if the person indicted is actually guilty? There is a division here, in that, at least in some legal traditions, everyone deserves to be fairly heard, with the assistance of a legal expert, a solicitor or lawyer, if necessary. But can that expert state falsehoods, ones he knows to be false? It is not part of the legal tradition that guilty parties be falsely exonerated, but somehow the tradition of having representation has been reduced to that.

 

To develop a behavioral code for improved Buddhism that is appropriate for the twenty-first century involves first deciding on the fundamental basis for the code, meaning who does it benefit and how. Then it involves going through a list of behavioral categories, such as 'right speech', and determining how they operate in this modern world. Each of these categories will probably have multiple subcategories, and parables or scenarios or other easily-understood discussions need to be created for each of them. Then the body of the behavioral code will be complete.

 

One item about a behavioral code should be mentioned. If there is no supernatural rewards for following it, what methods need to be used to ensure that it is followed to a large extent? Buddha's example of making false promises, involving some unknown future existences, is actually a violation of 'right speech', in today's view, but of course it was not during his era. Obviously, much care needs to be taken to avoid something similar.

 

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