Improving Buddhism

Is it Possible?

Sources of Joy in a Religion

A new religion, or an improved variant of a very old one, must bring joy to the members if it wants to remain popular and be supported. With joy, there is no token membership, where a member is a member in name only, and does not want to participate in the activities of the religion, nor serve in any roles it may have, nor follow the moral code it advises, nor seek to interact with it on questions within the proper realm of religion, nor assist in other tasks. 


Joy is really the emotion of choice for a religion in the modern world. In former eras, when people believed in supernatural entities who would give orders, or need to be pleased with certain activities or gifts, or who had given instructions related to a moral code, or were simply capricious and to be avoided, fear was a powerful tool for cementing a religion together and keeping the members seriously involved. By convincing the members that the only way they could appease the spirits and have a better life, or have a new and better life after reincarnation or some other after-death transition, the religion could corral them into doing what was desired by the religious hierarchy. But that era started to phase out a century or more ago and the number of people who can be made to believe these supernatural stories grows less and less as education and rationality grow stronger. This leaves joy alone.


Joy is a bit understood in neurology. It involves the member being in a situation where some of the surroundings or actions or other memorable components or his current experience resonate with his pleasant memories and cause a bit of stimulation to the positive neuro-chemical sources. This is the microbiological understanding of happiness, and joy is simply short-term, strong but not intense happiness. When members find joy in participating in activities with other members, or even in tasks which are solitary, there is a neurological reinforcement which occurs to make this activity preferred, and therefore the member is likely to do it again, or something similar. Similar things resonate the same way with the memories of past happiness, as the matching in the brain is not exact, but even vague. Matching is also reinforced, so a member finding happiness and joy in one sort of activity will be more likely to want to do other similar ones.


Joy also comes from contemplation, or remembering previous activities that brought joy. The brain recalls activities, but when it does so, the same neural connection to those prior activities which brought happiness brings a shadow of it, not the joy, but a good but weaker feeling similar to it. This is simply how the human brain works to cause the person involved to want to repeat things which produced good results, ones which generated joy in the past, or at least some happiness. Furthermore, repetition strengthens the neural links between the original activities and the neurons directly connected with generating the proper neuro-chemicals. The neurons actually grow in size and develop stronger walls; they likely also conduct a bit faster.


There are two original nexuses which can serve to start the connection between religious activities and membership participation. One is that the member's brain can connect to childhood experiences which brought happiness, and second, it can connect with other adult experiences not directly religious, but which also brought joy. Clearly the first are things which are generated by parental actions, or perhaps by guardians or teachers, which the child is young or even in middle years. As noted elsewhere, a modern religion needs to be oriented principally toward future generations, starting with the very next one. Parents need to understand how to help their children have joyous experiences as adults, which are partially based on what they do in the religious vein, and how they do them. Children imitate parents, and that sets up a fount of joy in the child's brain, so that parents participating in activities within the religion that brings them joy, in the presence of their young children, is one of the better modes of helping a child learn about joy in a religion. Children also learn from their parents' instruction, and this is a weaker but also useful mode of helping one's children find joy in later religious experiences.


As children grow older there is a transition in how the human brain develops. In early years, it is mostly selection and die-off of non-productive neurons. But after about three or four, the processes that occur in adults, the strengthening of connections which produce joy or avoid trauma are reinforced, and reinforcement, at least of the joy connections, brings a kind of happiness to the child or adult. This means that a child should be introduced to religion early in life, and then kept involved as he grows older. Here is where a new improved religion comes strongly into play. Children in the contemporary era also learn some knowledge about the world, and it is not commensurate with any supernatural entities or spirit creatures. Instead, it is commensurate with a scientific view of the world. Older legacy religions will continue to be eroded by this unstoppable change, but a new religion, which is based on a scientific derivation of a meaning of life and a moral code which is derivable, logically, from this meaning of life, will be exactly well-suited for the older child's learning. The religion should be wholly compatible with a scientific world-view, and should be a scientific religion. 


This is not a supernatural religion dressed up in words stolen from some field of science. The supernatural part is not compatible with science, and there is no place for it in a modern religion. Improved Buddhism must not make use of the antiquated belief structures from twenty-five centuries ago, but must be based on modern science, and not be contradicted by it in any way. 


The other category of joy originating in a religion and its activities are those relating to adult interactions. A religion is a community and except for extreme introverts, the community interaction provides a source of joy to the members. These activities need to be chosen to be compatible with the new point of view of the religion, that it is modern and based on science, rather than some re-treads of old supernatural viewpoints. There is no place for worship type activities where the community holds gatherings and some sort of ritualistic processes are followed, for example, singing songs that praise supernatural entities or doing some unreasonable activities, such as burning incense before an idol or some object formerly said to be revered by the spirits. 


On the other hand, a complete tabla rasa is not necessary either. Activities such as singing together can certainly be a source of joy for the members involved, but the songs should reflect something relevant to the religion itself, the basis for life, the moral code, the history of their region, their religion, their ancestors, or other elements that connect to the religion. Discussion groups related to solving personal or group problems work, as long as the members involved or in authority are well-educated and know how to facilitate meetings. Discussion groups among senior members on some questions related to the direction of the local community are certainly relevant. Teaching activities are to be preferred as well.


Work teams, such as might be involved with the local facility where meetings are held, are another source of community joy, as long as they are led by non-fractious members, who also have a good understanding of the physical nature of the work to be done, and have some knowledge of how to be a good leader. Work teams might have a larger scope as well, doing something to assist individual members who have suffered disabilities or hardships of other kinds. This type of work serves to bind the community together even better than many other types of activities. 


Passage of life ceremonies should not be abandoned, but well-supported. Passage of life ceremonies involve births, passing certain thresholds in a child's age, marriage, anniversaries and death. Each of these represents major changes in a member's life, and the community should recognize that and have some sort of ceremonies, adjustable to match the member's preferences, that celebrate them. There needs to be a framework for each of these, specific people involved in specific roles, and perhaps symbolic items to be exchanged, presented, or displayed. Death has always been a significant ceremonial event, in most countries and in most times, and it is so significant to members, sometimes many of them, that it might be one of the largest and most extensive ceremonies of all the passage of life ones. In some countries, there is a specific ceremony to be held on certain anniversaries of death as well, and this would be an excellent idea to incorporate. In fact, there might even be a place for recalling ancestors within Improved Buddhism, as happens in some other religions, as long as the reasons for it are sensible and scientific.



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