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Improving Buddhism

Is it Possible?

Relations between Religions

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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