Dear Reverend Cheen,
Perhaps we must consider whether there can be any accuracy with regard to observing any religious traditions.
Cultural radiation assures us that over time every culture, every religion, will change; often the new forms will resemble each other less and less over time.
This is a natural process that can be resisted only at great cost to the liberties of the individual and collective members of any cultures or religions resisting change.
When our communities' cultures and religons resist their members' natural proclivites to change, when our communities' cultures and religons resist their members' natural proclivites to adapt their own cultural or spiritual customs and beliefs, or to adopt new traditions or beliefs, then our communities' cultures and religons become more rigid, more inflexible; they evolve to rely more upon rules and less upon their individual members' wisdom or common sense.
Specifically with regard to religions, this may often defeat their true purposes; purposes we would regard as being to facilitate each persons' individual direct experiences of their Divines.
Over time, many religions take on roles as intercessors, mediators between their faithful members and their Divines.
It may be argued that such intercession or mediation may drive a wedge between such a relgion's members and their members' Divines if their doctrines become too politicized as tools for manipulating their members in a manner that may attempt to presume they have the power or authority to restrict their members direct access to their Divines in their members' own hearts in order to support agendas that may have little or nothing to do with the true spiritual welfare of their members.
We hesitate to charaterize any religion as in any way mistaken, even when their authorities are corrupt, because true religion always begins in the hearts of the people, and their individual experiences of their Divines.
The social institutions we call religions arise around our efforts to share our personal experiences regarding our Divines.
Like any social institution, many people will be attracted to participate for personal power and self-agrandizement, to manipulate their people's cultural or religious beliefs to their own best advantages.
This means that over time, each social institution, including perhaps all religions, may become increasingly more corrupt as the interpretation of their rules or spiritual messsages become more distorted in order to increase benefits to their corrupt members at the expense of the well-being of those members who may feel they must accept being dominated in this manner.
Over time, the corruptions of individual members may become insitutionalized; many people who are conditioned to reactively defend their cultural or social instituions may also, often unwittingly. wind up defending the corruption of their insitutions as a consequence.
When anyone speaks out against the corruption at the heart of their own institutions they may often risk coming under attack by those institutions' auto-immune cultural defense mechanisms.
All large social institutions, such as governments and religions, but including schools, hospitals, and workplaces, etc. are capable of enormous resistance to change, due in part to their rule systems, and due in part to their social inertia.
Resistance to cultural change requires traiining members of each culture to preserve their culture, to defend it whenever it seems threatened, internally, or externally. This places a burden on the members who defend their religions and communities that may disadvantage them in several ways.
Perhaps foremost, a person must be conditioned to fear change in order to make them more resistant to change within their own cultures; any application of fear may be harmful, however, those applications of fear that may make us each more reactive, while making us less thoughtful and considerate, may be particularly harmful.
Traiing in cultural defensiveness is a process of short-circuiting higher cognitive functions to emotionally direct reactively conditioned responses.
Learning to be more reactive impairs nearly anyone who accepts such conditioning to defend their religions or cultures.
This short-circuiting of higher cognitive functions helps cultures and societies maintain their conditioning of their members.
Many rules of our cultures and social systems are more for the convenience of those who hold their populations in thrall by political power, economic power, or brute force.
Consequently, whenever anyone rises to defend their cultures or traditions they may incidentally harm themselves in the process by reinforcing their fear conditioning by reinforcing their reactively conditioned responses to their fears, thereby conditioning them to further disable their higher cognitive abilities, abilities that might otherwise help them find accomodation, agreement, and peace.
The emotional state of fear is typically heightened when our reactive defense postures are triggered; this further conditons us to be fearful and more reactive.
Cultural defense mechanisms typically try to keep the members of their cultures isolated from other cultures, but in the Information Age it becomes increasingly more difficult to maintain cultural or relgious segregation.
The reactively conditioned defensive postures of all cultures were once very valuable to their survival, however, in the information age these defense mechanisms become liabilities that impede communications.
The age of revelations is upon us, information is the key.
We must learn to adopt better communication skills.
The free exchange of information is vital to this process.
We must all learn to be less defensive, less reactive; we must all learn to redirect those energies that we might once have used reactively, defensively, to become more intelligent, more creative, and more enabling.
When two or more defensive postures meet they often engage in a manner that locks them together so that no matter how much energy each side puts into their defenses, all sides remain feeling threatened.
Over time, our institutions internalize or institutionalize prolonged conflicts or engagments; these internalized impasses become parts of the accepted state of affairs.
People fail to realize that these issues remain mutable, subject to change, because these issues adopt inertia from culutrual reinforcement that helps these deadlocks to resist change more effectively.
However, we are all capable of change and new growth, both as individuals, and as collective societies and cultures.
We never need to abandon our own cultures or religions to grow, however we may sometimes need to sample the fragrant aromas and sweet smells of many other flowers to be satisfied that the perfumes of our own religions and cultures are truly the sweetest to ourselves.
If we do happen to find a sweeter-smelling flower we may like better, we will always take our roots with us into our explorations of those gardens where our new flowers grow, new gardens where we may meet new people with whom we may learn to share our native traditions and beliefs in our processes of adopting their own beliefs in traditions.
Regardless of our traditons or beliefs, or what may be regarded as the best or most proper way to respect our own traditons or beliefs, or the traditons or beliefs of anyone else, the best respect we can always give to all beliefs and traditons transcends our capacities for tolerance when we embrace all beliefs and traditions of all people, everywhere, with acceptance, regardless of the individual forms or nuances of their individual or collective traditions or beliefs.
Dear Reverend Cheen,
We expect a North American Buddhist Network group to help manifest world peace.
A Buddhist network in North America might help make many individual Buddhists feel more secure in their cultural identiites.
Developing an effective structure will require acceptance of the mutual differentnesses regarding each person's expressions of their beliefs or traditions.
We have met many isolated or networked groups of Buddhists.
To our inexperienced knowledge, they each seem different in their practices, possibly they may be different in many of their beliefs, or their interpretions of their beliefs as well.
We are aware of at least two major differences in approaches to expressing Buddhism in cultural beliefs and practices, alas, we cannot name them or their details.
We know we have benefitted from meeting many different Buddhist people; we believe that the wisdom all Buddhist people share in common transcends all of their differences.
Nonetheless, we have observed fear in some Buddhist people in response to meeting Buddhists with different traditions or beliefs. Arguments sometimes arise where tensions build; it often seems that everyone so engaged may become more distant from their unity as a result.
To network as many Buddhists as possible there should be a manner of introducing an emerging network that respects each potential member's uniqueness, their diversity.
We might organize this in two primary circles, one within the other.
The outer circle would consist of circles of people who are closely related to one another by their choices of beliefs and traditons regarding their expressions of Buddhism in their lives.
This allows room for circles of people of other non-Buddhist faiths to join, people who admire Buddhism but who may have very different relgious or cultural backgrounds or beliefs.
Each circle may adopt whatever internal structures or rules are most comfortable to them, electing leaders, or taking turns at leadership, either formally, or on an ad hoc basis.
The inner circle would be open to anyone who wants to explore the inter-relatedness of their experiences of Buddhism with other members of different circles.
Those people whose curiosity or fears attract them to debating the various perceived virtues or faults of different forms of expressing Buddhism may join together in the iner circle to explore their interests in a moderated community.
Moderators must hold unity above any favoritism.
Only the inner circle would be moderated by the network, the outer circles would remain the domains of their respective members who may choose whether to use moderators or rely on self-moderation.
Possibly they will evolve their own inner circles for moderated exchanges.
We would suggest that any heated arguments in any circle be taken to their respective inner circles for moderation, as a possible option.
HEated argumetns betwen members of different circles would be referred to the primary inner circle of the network.
There are several next steps that may be taken together, rather than in any sequence.
One critical step will be Discovery.
The purpose of discovery is to identify as many groups of Buddhists in North America as possible and to create and maintain contact lists for them.
Another critical step will be contact.
Contact must be tailored to each individual group for best effect.
Members of the Contact teams should immerse themselves in the beliefs and practices of the group they will approach sufficiently to be accepted among them as a fellow, but without deceitfully misrepresenting their own beliefs or practices.
Contact team members must be good cultural anthropologists and diplomats.
Another critical step will be Networking.
Because many Buddhist groups may already be networked with like-minded groups, their own networks may help accelerate the networking processes.
Once contact has been made, the contact team members should introduce their new friends to friends already established within the network by being aware of their common ideals and interests and bringing them together where they may effectively mentor each other to learn about their shared issues more easily.
Perhaps the only other critical step is Design.
We have proposed a network architecture design for you here, but you should get other anthropolgists' opinions about your network's social architecture, as each different person's ideas will include things we may have neglected by over-simplification.
We have reserved responding to the questions about networking in a second comment.