Improving Buddhism

Is it Possible?

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.

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