Religions 

     In ancient times, men vastly improved the quality of their lives by becoming members of groups in which each member specialised in one particular service tothe group and bartered that service for services supplied by other specialists, when required.

     Such is the enormous value of group membership, it is an incontrovertible fact that by being part of and contributing to an interdependent group, an individual [and his family] can more easily achieve his personal goals and maximise his happiness.

     On page 246 of the “Manual of Zen Buddhism” by Professor D.T.Suzuki we find:

Men in life cannot afford not to band together. If they should fail and there be no social distinctions, then they would quarrel and if they should quarrel, they would fall into a state of anarchy. If so, then they would disband: if they should disband they would be weak, and being weak they would be unable to conquer the other creatures.”

I don’t think it was a matter of “conquering the other creatures” as getting the benefits of living more efficiently, reducing stress and feeling a good deal happier.

     In these burgeoning societies, it quickly became apparent that in order to sustain this invaluable cooperation, a set of rules governing the behaviour of individual group members was essential. Over many centuries, probably through bitter experience, the wisest members of those groups arrived at definitions of attributes beneficial to group performance and the overall viability of the group. These rules were designated as virtues or morals.

     Throughout history, the formulation and enforcement of morality in communities seems to have been the prerogative of religions.

 Religions are the archaic sciences of viable human relations. [Nowadays, these basic moral rules have, to some extent, become enshrined in a system of law.] 

     In their quest for group efficiency and viability, the originators of religions made every effort to find the behaviours that would facilitate the best ways of collectively satisfying the appetites, solving the problems and achieving the ambitions of group members; they found various ways to  maximise the happiness of individuals in the group. As we are all well aware, there are many religions. By analysing the activity of group members, a basic set of behaviours conducive to the prosperity of the group was discovered.

     For example, monogamy has been found to be good for one society, while polygamy is found better for another. What produced most happiness in one set of circumstances was found not to be suitable in a different set. However, there are not many exceptions to rules like, “do not lie, cheat, steal, covet or murder.” Breaking any of these fundamental rules drastically reduces the sum of happiness of those affected and weakens the all-important communal bond. It was also found to be advantageous if group members were punctual, resourceful, reliable, trustworthy, and dependable.      

      Two examples of the sets of rational and pragmatic rules early societies adopted are The Ten Commandments of Christianity and the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. Though derived to maximise the overall efficiency, general well-being, prosperity or even survival of these highly advantageous communities, these moral codes were taken on faith and, in Christianity, attributed to a vengeful all-powerful higher authority – a God. In spite of the fact the legitimate authority behind these edicts was maximising the efficiency, general wellbeing and prosperity [or even survival] of these highly beneficial early communities.

     But because the Christians had anthropomorphised that authority into an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient God, the ancients were obliged to answer the questions that most worried their flock. If their “God” was omniscient, they could not deny he knew where we came from and where we would end up after death. He would also know how the world was created. Answers to that kind of question were given, within the restrictions of the limited scientific knowledge available at that time.

     Various rewards and penalties for encouraging people to adhere to the moral codes were postulated.  For example, those exhibiting exemplary behaviour in this life have been promised eternity in heaven or a better rebirth. Those whose behaviour fell seriously short of the ideal – the sinners - were threatened with eternity in hell or rebirth in a lowly form. With those outcomes looming, no one could escape retribution for antisocial behaviour by dying. These promises and threats were intended to strongly motivate believers to behave morally.

     Later developments even went so far as to encourage us to love our enemies, bless those who curse us and refuse to react to all kinds of personal abuse. No doubt behaving in that manner would eliminate some kinds of social animosity. But if someone is charging towards me wielding a bloodstained axe, the last of my reactions would be to love him.

     How can we be surprised that the science these early men had access to is out-dated. Scientists work continually at explaining how things work. It’s an ongoing process. We now know when the Earth came into existence. We understand how life evolved, including us. The myths those early philosophers promoted [heaven, hell, rebirth, karma etc] don’t stand up to critical analysis. The modern insistence that God is omniscient and that the explanations attributed to him thousands of years ago are still true has seriously weakened the religions they once buttressed. For instance, we know for a fact that the world was not created in seven days as some Christians stubbornly affirm in the face of over whelming scientific evidence to the contrary.

     But the morality that religions promote is as relevant today as it ever was. Our general good and well-being - the prosperity of the human race is the real authority behind religious edicts, and is a concept well worth revering. The ideas of rebirth, karma, heaven and hell should be replaced by the knowledge that our present actions determine what kind of future world we will have to live in.

     Satisfying our appetites, solving our problems and achieving our ambitions make us happy. Achieving any of those aims is good for us. Perfect good is perfect happiness.     So, the driving force behind morality is not the will of an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient father figure who watches over and cares for us, but the ideal of viable human relations; of aims reached and of happiness achieved for the whole of the human race.

     Long before the birth of Christ a prolonged drought had emptied the granaries of the Hittites. Their Queen appealed for help to a sworn enemy, an Egyptian Pharaoh. In spite of their previous animosity he obliged and sent food. This example should be followed by all the rich countries of our present-day world. We are one species and the fortunate should take the less so under their wing.

 

     Modern Christians promote happiness through the love of thy neighbour.  The aim of the Buddhist religion is to give us unfettered access to happiness – nirvana. But both carry the burden of the warnings and incentives introduced by those early, well-meaning philosophers. Zen removes the religious connotations from the quest for peace-of-mind and concentrates on the psychology of happiness the ascetic Gautama gave us.

       When the Christian mystics tell us that they “become one with God” when they meditate, they are right for all the wrong reasons.

      Zazen [sitting meditation] aims at giving us direct access to extremes of happiness using the psychology Gautama Sakyamuni gave us and does not depend on belief systems or external circumstances.     

     The authority behind morality is not a physical God; it is the well-being and prosperity of the human race. The next time you go to church, pray for that. But remember, no mythical god is going to do that for mankind; we are going to have to do it for ourselves. As the Buddha is reported to have said, “There is hope for man only in man.” Never was a truer word spoken.

      To truly prosper the human race must have access to happiness. All religions have this aim. Zen assists in the achievement of the common human goal [perfect good] – nirvana – directly without the historical encumbrances that religions impose. It does not concern itself with the big questions that worry mankind. You must find answers to those conundrums else ware.

     There are other aspects of religions that we must reckon with. There can be no doubt that the beliefs they inculcate comfort some people. Those who cannot accept the absolute finality of death are comforted by the belief in an afterlife. They believe that, having lived a good life, they will be reunited with their loved ones in heaven for all eternity. This undoubtedly makes them happier, or at least reduces their fear of death, forcing us to concede that the belief, despite its not being true, is good. Who could resist the temptation to tell the recently bereaved that their departed loved one had gone to a better place?

     In addition, if the fear of eternity in hell makes a person reluctant to sin and so increases the happiness in the world then that also must be good. There is no harm in these beliefs and on the death of the believer, he or she won’t be around to complain that their hopes and expectations have been dashed.

     There is also the fact that if you delegate your welfare to god and sincerely believe he will take care of you, you won’t worry about your welfare yourself. You will think less and therefore be happier, regardless of whether or not god exists.

     These devious devices use Gautama’s psychology. A reduction in the CMA we are using results in an increase in the degree of happiness we feel. The morality and specious claims embedded in religions are designed to make us happy and they  work.

     It has been claimed that religious people are happier than atheists. But I can guarantee that none will be happier than the accomplished meditator.

     It’s possible to find more compelling reasons for acting morally; when the human situation is analysed carefully, it soon becomes apparent that today’s actions create the world we will have to live in tomorrow.