Giving customers what they want

If Buddhist bhikkhu(ni)s are dependent on lay people, how much would they be willing (or need) to change Buddhism to suit the popular views and desires of lay people, in order for the Sangha to survive?

Is this how things like protective chants/icons, Buddha as God, softening or ignoring the Vinaya rules, the Advaita Vedanta-type views in Mahayana, the many nation and ethnicity specific versions of Buddhism, etc. have worked their way into Buddhist traditions over the millenia?

What are the differences between humans and apes? Not many.

When I watch documentaries like these, I see beings who have cultures, languages, families, communities with both internal and external social structures and conflicts, technologies/tools, educational techniques, personal desires and attachments, who mourn their losses, and who have substantively the same body configurations as we do. There are a few key things they haven’t developed yet (e.g., preserving knowledge using artifacts, and using cooking to increase their calorie intake (hence brain neuron density) and to give them more free time), but those developments seem quite minor, and probably just a matter of time and opportunity, to me.


Why do you believe?

There are so many (often-conflicting) philosophies and religions in the world. Why is yours the right one? Have you taken the time to really study and practice the world’s philosophical and religious traditions, to find the one(s) with which you actually most agree and feel are true, or do you just believe what your family or society tells you to believe? Similarly, do you believe what you want to be true, or what you think is most likely to be true?

Have we missed historical religious figures’ authenticity safeguards?

During his 50-year-long walking lecture tour, and especially if he had super-human mental powers (e.g., remembering the distant past, predicting the future, reading minds, and teaching devas), why did it not occur as worthwhile to the Buddha to write something down during his life, either himself or to have his closest disciples do it? He was supposedly a well-educated prince, and he lived in an area with plenty of trees and textiles. He easily could have written on leaves, bark, cloth, etc., and given what he wrote to local people to safeguard. People around India probably would have treasured and preserved what he wrote; they might have etched it in stone, as Emperor Ashoka later did, as the original documents degraded. Did no one, including any of the kings the Buddha visited, who probably had royal scribes and messengers, in any of the probably thousands of cities and towns he visited, take notes?

The Buddha must have known that people would use memory devices (e.g., repetitive stanzas in suttas) to remember what he said, and that memories change and get distorted over time. Fifty years is a long time to think about a problem. Even without super-human powers, he probably could have imagined the Sangha splitting, which it has many times, and unscrupulous people later writing new suttas and attributing them to him, which many people apparently have done. Yet he apparently did not create any mechanism for verifying suttas’ accuracy, completeness, or authenticity (e.g., using complex codes, signatures, or checksums). If he was relying on Ananda and his other close disciples to preserve everything after he passed into nirvana, why did he not ask them to incorporate such mechanisms into what they preserved. Or, did he do that, but we just have not yet discovered them? Was he not very concerned about precisely preserving the exact words/terms he had used and the rules he had made? Or did he actually write documents, but were they destroyed/replaced with documents that later traditions wanted to attribute to him?

Similar questions can be asked about other large religions’ central figures. If these people were so connected to universal powers and truths (e.g., God(s), karma, etc.), did it occur to any of them to include non-corruptible authenticity verification mechanisms into their teachings, so that later peoples would always know what they had truly taught?

Ships passing in the night

When I look at the people who come to America from South Asia, I often feel like we are ships passing each other in the night. They usually seem to come here because they want lots of money/power, children, indulgence, etc. People I have met in South Asia have told me that the money that their countrymen make in America, as well as the people themselves, usually don’t come back to their homeland much or at all. By comparison, I’ve long wanted to be a South Asian bhikkhu, to have few possessions, and to work to explore and keep-relevant an old tradition.

Idea: family journals

Something I wish would exist, or become more organized, is a tradition of families making and passing down records of the views and wisdom that individuals in the family had, and the reasons why certain family members made certain important decisions. It wouldn’t need to be lengthy autobiographies — just a journal that preserves important insights. Personal letters and diaries often don’t survive, possibly because individuals might not want their private thoughts, romantic letters, etc. shared so broadly. But a family journal could preserve a less intimate or embarrassing, yet still insightful, account. If every family kept more-or-less the same kind of journal, the tradition might become more organized than the proverbial shoebox of photos and recipes that many families hand down now. History records migrations, wars, social movements, etc., but individuals are not necessarily/completely defined by society. What kinds of people were my ancestors, and why did my family do what they did?