Improving Buddhism

Is it Possible?

Philosophy Underlying Improved Buddhism

Buddhism in its original form is sometimes referred to as a philosophy rather than a religion, as it has no gods. It does have some legacy spiritism, with reincarnation being the main element used to drive individuals to follow the guidelines for life it provides, and the sutras have mention of the commonly held ideas of a spirit world, full of demons and witches, as well as benevolent entities. It simply doesn’t have any highly powerful figures that some believer is supposed to subjugate himself to in order to gain benefits, either in the real world or in some imaginary place with imaginary creatures. The lack of any top-level god figures doesn’t mean it is not a religion, but the point made that there is much like a philosophy about Buddhism is very important for an improved Buddhism, without the legacy spirit world.


Philosophy, the science or art of knowledge, has several branches which are fairly distinct. Most of these branches have little direct contact with religion, but the one which does is ethics, or moral philosophy. Ethics is about rules for living, which are compact and concise statements, general in nature, which mandate or prohibit certain actions or behavior. The Eightfold Way is an example of a collection of ethical commandments. There is more to ethics than simply the choice of a set of commandments. One aspect is motivation. Why should someone choose to follow these guidelines, rather than some other set, or none at all?


Spiritualism is one of the methods used in earlier eras to compel or induce individuals to follow one of these sets of guidelines. It is applicable to an adult, as an adult can understand consequences of actions, and can be informed, by someone in whom trust or confidence has been developed, that the following of these guidelines will lead to some non-immediate and non-verifiable benefits, which must be of great importance. The designers of religions obviously have to give great thought to what benefits to list as coming from their guidelines, as they must be universal and compelling. The positive side of the benefits do not have to be deterministic, but can be probabilistic, as long as the negative part is deterministic. Fear and reward both make excellent motivators.


The coming of science, especially since the twentieth century, has undermined all the bases of spiritualism, leaving that motivational tool useless for those educated in science. Science is the study of nature, and no spiritualism can be invented that does not have some connection to nature, and that connection allows the hypotheses to be shown to be impossible. Even in the nineteenth century there were beginnings of this conflict, when bits of science began to impinge on the details of the lore associated with spiritualism. By late twentieth century, the main tenets of spiritualism were demolished, or at least the tools to do so existed.


Back in the nineteenth century, there was a concern among some ethical philosophers about how humans would or should govern their own behavior. With no spiritualism behind ethical guidelines, what would steer human decision-making on a path which would lead to further economic and technological progress, rather than have various factions of civilization dissipate themselves in ways not consistent with an organized society? This is the topic of nihilism, which is a set of comments on how to behave in a non-spiritual world.


Science in the nineteenth and twentieth century had not progressed far enough along, or had not broadened its scope enough, to sufficiently explore the other main method for motivating humans. That method is to program young children with the general guidelines while they are still too young to question them, and to program them deeply into the subconscious mind so that they would be difficult to uproot at later times. The result of this type of programming is to have adults who naturally follow the guidelines, and consider them to be the right thing to do. Adults will come up with their own justifications for following them, depending on their level of critical thinking. Those with a low level will simply remember slogans or phrases to justify their choices, made on the basis of the early life programming. Those with the highest level might spend their careers writing deep and involved tracts justifying the behavior from some set of hidden assumptions. Either way, the problem of how to have a society which has members who live according to rules which make the society capable of progressing is solved.


The sets of rules cannot be wholly arbitrary, despite the inability of children to reason about them. An adult should not be frequently hit with conflicts between programmed rules, so they should be as consistent as possible. Common situations need to be thought through by the designer of the religion so that there will be none of these conflicts between guidelines, or at least as much as possible.


There is one other crucial aspect of the rules. To understand that, one simple observation about a religion, successful in its operations, has to be made. If the religion has adherents, but they do not add anyone else to the list of adherents, it will die out when the adherents do. No religion is successful unless it promulgates itself to successive generations. A successful religion will have built into itself, as a very important feature, this successive promulgation of the religion. The population that supports it cannot allow itself to die out.


The population that adheres to a religion can be added to by either converting adults from some other set of beliefs or from no set of beliefs at all to the religion. This is the only way that a new religion can be started, and exactly how that is to be done can be referred to as the initiation problem. But once it is going, the religion must continue to maintain the population of its adherents, and for a religion that has no spiritualism to motivate members, young children are the principal pool from which adherents can be drawn. Young children are, in current society, largely in the control of their parents, which means that only those children of existing members are likely to be potential adherents. That means that the religious guidelines must include two things, the having of children and the programming of one’s own children not just to follow the guidelines, but to program their own children to follow them, which includes programming the following generation. For this reason, a good name for this philosophy, one incorporating this method of preserving the progress of society, would be ‘Recursive Philosophy’.


The children of adherents of this religion, or followers of recursive philosophy, need to be cared for well, as children who are not properly nurtured, trained, educated and motivated to fit into society as productive members will not be a basis for the continuance of the religion. Prior to the invention of contraception and other technology which reduces child-bearing, normal sexual impulses would tend to make an increasing population as long as there was a means of sustaining it. After these technologies started to be invented and distributed, that ceased to happen, and the concept of having children and raising them needs to be an inherent part of the guidelines of the religion. This is another reason why the name ‘Recursive Philosophy’ is appropriate. One of the principal goals that is delivered to adherents, as children in later stages of the religion, is the procreation and preparation of the next generation. This goal has to be raised higher in the religion than any other goals which might compete with it. A religion than becomes extinct because it has no adherents is a failure.


The religion must program adherents with the idea of recursion in that each generation has its main goal centered around the next generation. But there is more to it than this. The adherents must be directed toward the benefits of their own children, as they are the ones who will become future adherents and keep the religion alive and burgeoning. If the guidelines are sloppy and simply direct adherents to help children in general, they might divert their resources and efforts towards children who will become adherents of another religion. There must be a fence drawn around the members of the religion, not an impermeable fence but one which slows down any flow of resources and effort outside the band of adherents’ children to a level where it will not interfere with this part of recursion.


The second part of recursion is the construction of a set of guidelines that will be understandable to children and memorable as well. Anything too complex will fail, as children will not remember it correctly and therefore it will grow confused with successive generations. The material used for the programming of children must be suitable for a span of ages, as it would be expected to take years to complete the programming, and therefore this material must be suitable for ages from the very young to those almost to the age of reason.


Children learn because they grow up with parents who encourage it, so one aspect of the religion which uses a recursive philosophy to maintain its existence is that there must be knowledge spread through generations of how to raise children who would be amenable to learning what is being taught to them with the programming material. This and many other details of the second method of preserving a religion, without spiritualism, have to worked out quite competently. The science of neurology might be an aid in this direction.

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