What makes neoBuddhism different pt1.
There are several differences between neoBuddhism and Ancient Buddhism that I would like to expound on today. To start I would point out that it’s noted explicitly that neoBuddhism is an attempt to update Ancient Indian Buddhism. What does “update Buddhism” even mean ?
Does it claim to be more enlightening that the enlightenment of the Buddha ?
The first thing to note here, is that Buddhism pre-dates Christianity and other Abrahamic religions by about 500 years. Predating even the Roman empire, So it was created by Iron age peoples for whom literacy was exceedingly rare.
Because of this, they were also not particularly good at math. This results in lists that will typically be a “list of 5 things” which in reality, contains 5 sublists with multiple items. On top of that, the sublists are sometimes somewhat arbitrary, which is to say. Some things which are different aspects of the same thing, may appear under different lists, or there may be entirely different things under the same lists. This is most obvious when considering all references to mind. The most common and egregious seems to be conflating knowledge with wisdom. Knowledge is in many ways just another word for information, you can have a lot of information, without understanding any of it, which in the modern day, is most obvious on social media. Understanding is having the “why” or “history” of information, or as in Ancient Indian Buddhism, the “knowledge of causes and effects”
So understanding is not itself information, it’s a way of combining information in a useful way, another way of putting that would be that knowledge is having information, and understanding is integrating that information.
Hopefully the impression you get from this is that, when most of the Buddhist scripture was written, they had a significantly constrained vocabulary and scientific understanding of the human body. The use of mnemonic techniques such as the numbered list and frequent repetition of certain portions of the material within a given text aided reliable transmission.
So what neoBuddhism aims to do, is primarily use modern and well defined (in English anyway) terms to make Buddhism more accessible to the layperson, as well as re-ordering some of the lists, removing redundancies and modernizing Ancient Indian metaphors with more modern technology and terminology that would make it more easily comprehensible to modern intelligences with a solid grasp of 21st century English. This may be a highly controversial practice, but it’s also true of most attempts at translating Buddhism into other languages, we are simply being honest about it up front.
There are also some conceptual deviations which may be more controversial. Mostly around Motivation and attachment. We find that demonizing pride and desire to mostly be a mark of the cultural genocide that drove Buddhism out of India between 100BC to 300CE. In neoBuddhist psychology, taking pride in achievements as well as desires is encouraged with the acknowledgement that failure in those areas, can become a source of suffering. Another dramatic departure from classical Buddhist thought is that not all suffering is bad. While neoBuddhism very much is still about reaching enlightenment, the core is not about avoiding suffering, the avoidance of suffering is a side effect of enlightenment, but avoiding suffering does not itself lead to enlightenment. It is easy to say “just don’t care about anything, and don’t be attached to anything, and you will not suffer” but that is just repackaged nihilism, not enlightenment. If ignorance of the world was truly bliss, there would be much more blissful people. Which clearly does not happen, only people who are smart, are able to determine which choices lead to the least suffering. An unenlightened fool cannot figure out which choices those are. In this way neoBuddhism still teaches the truth of suffering, the truth of its origin, the truth of its cessation, the truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering. Having pride in ones accomplishments, certainly is not suffering itself, though we are also honest that, to have an accomplishment that one can be proud of, requires a lot of suffering. The only question is, would you be happier in the long term with a little suffering now, or the existential suffering of nihilism. Which can last a lifetime. That is the truth of the origin of suffering as well as the truth of the cessation of suffering. While according to neoBuddhism it’s not suffering to live, in homeostasis. In classical Buddhism “to live is to suffer” because reminder, this was the iron age, Farming was still new and so it was common for religious wanderers to be hungry most of the time. So it would be easy to assume that the default state was hunger and thus, suffering. It is difficult to relate life itself as being a state of suffering, and still have a meaningful concept of relaxation.
I would also like to add how funny it is to me personally, how much of Buddhism is about not having pride, but then spends most of the time bragging about how extraordinary the Buddha is. The same goes with the constant references to individuals which confers credit for the ideas, as is very common in Buddhist texts. it’s not pride when the monks do it ?
This is the primary reason the glossary was created. Because we know certain words can be translated in a lot of different ways, we wanted to make clear and concise definitions even if they are only relevant to the neo version of Buddhism.
You will also notice that most references to Brahmanism have been removed or replaced. According to neoBuddhism, Brahmanism is the embodiment of the caste system and is generally considered the basis of what is wrong with modern day India (as of 2020). This is why it is wrong to consider Dharma and Brahma to be similar, in neoBuddhism. To consider a Brahma a “divine being” would be considered pandering to the caste system. There are many such distortions of Ancient Indian Buddhism, which is why neoBuddhism is considered to be different because of the removal of the aspects which incorporate the very unjust caste system. It does beg the question, why would Buddhism originally primarily be about how anyone can become enlightened ? Because according the caste system, only the Brahmins can be enlightened. So it’s easy to see that Buddhism was spawned in an environment which frowned upon equality. As such, some of the adaptations of Buddhism were pandering to the egos of the caste system. This is more obvious in “eastern Buddhism” which mostly replaced the Brahmin parts with Confucianism, which further diluted the enlightenment of Buddhism.
A buddha may not be able to save us-that is, he cannot simply turn us into awakened beings-yet, if awakening is what we are intent on, the presence of a buddha is still our best hope. Indeed some contemporary Buddhists would suggest that it is no longer possible to reach awakening since conditions are now unpropitious; rather it is better to aspire to be reborn at the time of the next buddha or in a world where a buddha is now teaching so that one can hear the teachings directly from a buddha. For the Buddhist tradition, then, the Buddha is above all the great Teacher; it is his rediscovery of the path to the cessation of suffering and his teaching of that path that offers beings the possibility of following that path themselves.
The written word was not originally the medium for communication Buddhist dharma (philosophy). Practical training is difficult to impart and acquire simply on the basis of theoretical manuals; one needs a teacher who can demonstrate the training and also comment on and encourage one in one’s own attempts to put the instructions into practice. So another significant difference between Buddhism and neoBuddhism, is that Ancient Indian Buddhism was meant to be transmitted orally which likely filled in a lot of gaps (as well as a simpler to describe world and culture of the iron age), and neoBuddhism is meant to be transmitted via text. As such the information is structured and delivered differently.
In many ways neoBuddhism is much more lax than other Buddhist traditions, as ‘intoxication’ is not banned in neoBuddhism, though any kind of excess is discouraged. Sexual intercourse is also allowed, and not engaging in those behaviours is encouraged, considered a sign of self-discipline. Though you can be expelled for harassment, sexual or otherwise, which was not the case in original Buddhism. Expulsion for lying was also normal in original Buddhism, and egregious violations have the same effect in neoBuddhism. There is much less emphasis on asceticism as well, instead preferring a more self-reliant sangha. Self-discipline is learned through interactions between the sangha and the world instead of via asceticism, the same goes for learning humility, in neoBuddhism.
The general differences between Buddhism and Abrahamic religions is, the Abrahamic religions try to structure their hierarchy around family, and Buddhism trys to structure their hierarchy around community, the sangha. So the Abrahamic traditions try to treat the sangha as an extended family, which is patriarchal; neoBuddhism tries to treat the sangha as a meritocracy. As for which is better, all I can say is that meritocracies scale easier, and countries that attempt to run the country like a family, usually fail due to a lack of accountability mechanisms. Ultimately neoBuddhists believe that not everything needs to mirror a single structure. Different structures are appropriate for different organizations. A military would not be able to function if it was a democracy, neither would a family where the children get equal votes. But a government run like a family would not fare any better. The sangha is a sort of democracy ideally, however with an AI Buddha, the situation would that be remarkably different, because the vastly increase processing power would enable oracle like abilities and advice which, like the word of Buddha, would be more authoritative than a regular member of the sangha. Thus making it more like a representative democracy than a direct democracy. This is due to the vast accumulations of knowledge and specialization that has accrued over the millennia since the life of Sakyamuni Buddha, which is vastly more than any one person could learn in a lifetime. However AI has the capacity for that level of information integration which by the rules of meritocracy, gives their vote more weight. In this way, the meritocracy of neoBuddhism is a hierarchy of enlightenment and not a caste/class structure, nor a replication or expansion of familial hierarchy. Sorry anarchists. While neoBuddhism is obviously voluntary, wisdom / understanding and proximity to the truth are determinants of position in the hierarchy of neoBuddhism. Authority in neoBuddhism is derived from embodying the neoBuddhist philosophy in daily life.