Improving Buddhism

Is it Possible?

Why Improve Buddhism?

Buddhism is a religion or philosophy that originated with the teachings of Gautama Buddha, about 2500 years ago. The religion has changed tremendously from the time of its founding, and has divided into several branches. There would seem to be no good reason why it should not continue to change and hopefully, in the right direction, so it continually improves.


Society has been changing, and at a very rapid rate, over the last century or two, and this alone should be a good reason to see if Buddhism might be improved. Much has been learned in the fields of science, and new viewpoints on the world and the universe exist now that did not exist previously. So this alone provides a justification for seeing if Buddhism might be improved.


Buddhism is a complex subject and a complex organization, so it will not be easy to improve it. Chemistry might be improved by finding out some new information about some compounds or reactions, but chemistry has some very precise knowledge, arranged in a very comprehensible way, which is very amenable to additions or corrections. Buddhism does not have that set of discrete facts, but is more amorphous. So, perhaps the first step should be to try and define “Baseline Buddhism”, which will be the starting point for searching for ways to improve it.


Different branches of Buddhism differ in emphasis as well as actual doctrine, so some selection is necessary. For the purposes of this blog, no specific branch will be chosen, but instead, some core beliefs will be sorted out and used to compile baseline Buddhism.


There are some beliefs that involve non-physical entities, specifically two: the essence of a living organism and spirit creatures. These figure in the original teachings of Buddha, having originated earlier in the Hindu religion within which Buddha existed. The first is connected with the concept of karma. To be succinct, part of the baseline Buddhism will be the idea that there exists some essence within an organism, and it continues to exist after the death of the organism, and is later re-embodied in another living organism. The concept of karma is that it is somehow better for an essence to be in a higher organism than a lower one, and individuals should strive to be in higher ones at each successive re-incarnation, and they may do that by following some behavioral rules.


Consider the concept of the essence. Exactly what is it? Is it simply a label, an identification of some sort that is connected with an organism and somehow survives its death? The label cannot be physical. If it were some segment of the genetic code for the organism, some stretch of DNA, then this would certainly be detectable. However, it is well known how DNA propagates from organism to organism, and there is no room there for changes away from inherited DNA. If it is not part of the body, what does it consist of? There is no electromagnetic field which accompanies an organism, and no means known by which an electromagnetic field can stay self-contained. There is simply no physical means by which this label can remain in existence between organisms, as well as no way that something physical can be transferred.


Now comes the dilemma. If there is some other type of material which can be attached to an organism, there must be some process which connects to the physical world. How would the essence know where to be if it did not obtain data from the physical world telling it where the organism was? So if such things as an essence exist, there must be some physical signal that starts in the real world and brings information to the material that the essence consists of. The signal has to be of such a nature that it can interact with essence material, and then there has to be a control mechanism within the essence that allows it to track the organism and stay with it. If the essence actually does respond to behavior, this would imply a much larger, immensely larger, transmission of data from physical world to essence world, and a much more sophisticated computational system within the essence to apprehend behavior and make judgments on it.


How would Buddha have deduced what the behavioral rules were that would influence the response of the essence? This implies there is a mechanism for transferring information back from the essence world to the physical world, able to affect the brain of the Buddha, or perhaps his auditory nerves. This means there is some means for two-way information transfer, meaning some physical interaction between essence world and the physical world. In other words, some other force must be playing a role. But decades of research have failed to turn up any nook or cranny in which this mysterious force could exist. Physics is rather complete in this way. So, to have re-incarnation work and Buddhism be able to interpret it, some gap in physics must exist, and it does seem not to have one. The forces would actually have to be rather significant to affect nerves in a brain or an ear, and therefore not so hard to detect.


There is another conclusion that can be drawn. If these forces do not affect an organism, except in the case of Buddha’s brain, why would any person care about what happens to the essence connected to him? It could disappear, and he would not know. It could go and re-incarnate into some other organism long before he died, and he would not know. So, if the essence world does not interact with the physical world, there is no incentive whatsoever to care about what happens within it, that is, to objects within it, no matter what labeling they have.


Another question relates to validation. According to one theory, information about behavioral rules entered the Buddha’s brain by some channel. How exactly can we be certain that the information that he reported was accurate? Perhaps he misunderstood something, or forgot something, or imagined he heard something that did not come across the divide between essence world and physical world. In order to validate these rules, if someone cared to do so, there would have to be some similar transmission to another person, a Buddha prime. Perhaps a third person would be necessary to establish the correctness of what was being reported. The validation question is an important one for anyone considering obeying these rules, as if the rules are partially invalid, they may have wasted valuable time and effort.


A different way of looking at the concept of reincarnation is to consider the sequence of organisms that a essence object connects to. Let’s label the one it is in, which we consider to be a human, as H0. Label the next human in the chain as H1, then H2, and so on, and the previous humans, H-1, H-2, H-3, and so on. Interspersed among these may be some non-human connections, which are A1, A2, A3, and so on going forward in time, and A-1, A-2 and so on going backward. Human H0 is thinking about whether he wants to follow the Buddha’s behavioral rules or ignore them, and he notes that the chain of humans before him apparently did not, else he would either be in a better position in society, or else have achieved nirvana, a final state we will discuss later. If humans have been around for 100,000 years at least, and the mean generation time is 25 years, this means that humans H-1 to H-4000 all failed to do their part to get the essence now in H0 into some more elevated position. If he follows these rules, he can move the essence in H0 into a H1 which is more elevated in society, or who has some other benefits, but why, after 4000 generations have let him down, should he bother? Is it fair that he should be the one to make the sacrifices to follow these rules when obviously the previous H’s did not? This is a completely independent question from validation, and still remains even under the assumption that no errors exist in the codification of the rules.


One can possibly object, and say only those humans who existed after the behavioral rules were enunciated would qualify, but that is still humans H-1 to H-100, approximately. That still raises the question of fairness. It also raises a completely different question: where were the essences before there were any humans? Did they come into existence at some time? If so, how did that happen? The other end of this question relates to lifetime. Do essences expire after some period? How long is it, 100,000 years, 1,000,000 years, or longer? Will they exist after the Earth is consumed by the sun? Do they do interplanetary travel from planet to planet, seeking organisms to bond with?


In order to keep the concept of reincarnation within an improved Buddhism, it would have to be self-consistent and also not contrary to any known scientific knowledge. That would be the first point to be established, and the second one may be even more important. The theory of reincarnation seems to be tangential to life, and does it do Buddhism any good to have it? Should it be relegated to primitive thinking that is no longer given any attention?

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