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Improving Buddhism

Is it Possible?

Goals and Improved Buddhism

Let’s clearly define what is meant by goals. When the founder of a new religion puts the time in to record or spread his teaching, he is doing it for some personal goal. It could be benevolent or malevolent, rational or irrational, selfish or altruistic, clear or vague. He may know it or not know it. Let’s call that the founder’s goals. Of course, a religion can be founded by a group, but that’s not an important detail. No need to distinguish founders’ goals.

 

The founder doesn’t get the religion started by himself. There has to be a flotilla of early adopters, who have their own reasons or goals. They are not simply adherents to the religion, but of course there may be many of them. The adherents are simply there for the ride. The early adopters who make it their business to lay the groundwork for the religion, nail down details of doctrine, figure out how to make it self-propagating if the founder didn’t do that, start expanding the circle of proselytes, and maintain the headquarters of the whole shebang are the important people. Each of the early adopters has goals, personal ones, that are supported by the spread of the religion. Let’s call this collection the motivators’ goals, as their task is to ensure that some huge number of people will be motivated to both join the religion, however that is designed to happen, and to spread it to others. Motivators might sign onto the religion at different times during the founder’s career or visibility, or even shortly afterwards, but they are all working toward the goal of turning the founder’s ideas and sayings into something that is understandable by large numbers and which will cause them to spread it further.

 

The motivators are not shoe-leather types, but thinkers and planners and writers and organizers. One of their tasks is to enlist some devotees. These are the shoe-leather types, who don’t just say, “What a fine religion, count me in” but instead “This is the most important thing in my life, what should I do to help?” They are ready to spend their lives spreading the message because their goals are quite different from the founders and the motivators. The motivators did their job quite nicely, and there is a certain class of individual with whom their ideas take deep root. The devotees can be people with no goal in life, and the motivators give them one. They can be people who considered themselves unimportant, and becoming a devotee is their first and maybe only chance to become someone important, to be listened to, to be appreciated.

 

Motivators and devotees are not people who were successful or happy with their pre-conversion existence. They may have been externally happy, but they were looking for a new role to play, and the founder’s ideas provided that. Devotees’ goals are clear. They are to become somebody important, by sharing a message that has a great appeal to a particular class of people. The class depends on the religion, but it must be a substantial fraction of the population. Being a devotee has some sort of aura, and may lead others to adopt the creed and become devotees as well. This is an important part of the motivators’ message: “Help others to become like you!” which is what a devotee has been longing to hear.

 

Outside the devotees’ circle are less involved adherents. These are people who feel good thinking about what the motivators’ message is, and sign up to be supporters of the new religion. The message has to be appealing to those who already have normal lives, but who have been seeking something beyond their own activities to become part of. They have goals, and they might be social, such as seeking to be a member of an enthusiastic band of others, or philosophical, in an escape from nihilism and materialism, or many other things. Someone has to be the leader of the adherents, and these people should be called the hierarchy of the new religion. There only needs to be one level to start, but any organization needs a structure, and if the numbers involved keep growing, one will have to be invented. The motivators might do this, or some adherent might just see how to take on the role himself.

 

So, when we talk about the goals of the religion, we need to be careful and talk about the goals of the religious. An organization does not have a brain, and a thing without a brain cannot formulate goals. Averaging out over all the types of people within the organization does not produce any useful results, at least not compared to understanding the roles involved and what the spectrum of goals are for the people in each of the roles. That collection will allow us to understand how the religion functions and how it might be changed or improved.

 

The founder’s goals, if there is one and if there are any, do not represent anything other than one small piece of the goals of the people in the organization. The founder could simply be someone who spouts off curious sounding things, which are modified by some motivators into a serious belief system. The founder could be a historical figure or an imaginary figure or a remote figure, and if the motivators know how to do their job correctly, that will not matter. Alternatively, the founder could be one of the motivators, switching roles after developing the insights he wants to promulgate.

 

Later on in the history of a successful religion, there can be figures akin to the founder, but who serve to modify the teachings, either explaining them better, or adding new components, or perhaps devising a scheme to eliminate some contradictions and inconsistencies. This can happen over and over again. These modifiers, to give them a name, can have regional effect, or can affect the whole religion, depending on the communication methods used. Modifiers need motivators and devotees in order to get their teachings spread widely. A modifier could be simply an intelligent devotee, who transforms from someone who chose to spend his life aiding the religion, to a person higher or lower on the hierarchy, in either a leadership or a staff position. Intelligence and a commanding personality might be necessary in order to be heard and listened to, and remembered. A modifier might be schismatic or simply keep in line with the existing hierarchy. Modifiers have goals which are unlike those of the founder. The founder comes out of nowhere, but a modifier is typically deep within the religion, having put much of his life into it.

 

The most interesting figures in this whole process are the motivators, principally the founder’s team, but also those of modifiers to a lesser extent. The founder’s motivators pick up the message of the founder because they have some goal to satisfy, and the goal is not the goal of the founder necessarily. The motivators might speak as if they had the goals of the founder, in order to obtain closeness with the founder, but they did not come from the same background except coincidentally, and have developed their own goals independently. These goals caused them to want to push the religion from one person’s ideas into a widely accepted belief system. They have a high degree of flexibility, as the body of statements from the founder’s life might have inconsistencies and they can choose the desired option. There may have been gaps, and after the death of the founder, who could say what was in the private conversation between the founder and a motivator? The meanings of somewhat vague pronouncements can be clarified in the direction desired by the motivator, in order to accomplish what they hold as hidden goals, or goals only shared with other motivators.

 

We also have some imputed goals that can play a role in the religion. The founder may have foreseen that some goals that his devotees and adherents had were not spoken of, or even recognized, and lay under the surface of consciousness. He and his motivators can have addressed these goals, to make the religion even more appealing. It is certainly true that many people do not enunciate their goals, but simply operate with them, leaving them only discoverable through intuition or clever observation.

 

Buddha was a unique figure, certainly historical, and he produced a voluminous body of oral teaching, which, after five centuries or so, became recorded. In the hierarchy of this very early Buddhism, there must have been some leaders who emphasize some teachings and downplayed others. There is no way to go back and try to figure out exactly what was said. What was recorded was recorded, and that is all there is.

 

To improve Buddhism, there would have to be a good understanding of what the goals, explicit and imputed, that potential members of a new sect might have. These would have to be answered. To adopt a founder’s position or a modifier’s position, and just produce some body of literature is likely to end with no result other that some written words, soon forgotten.

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