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Frame of Reference - Index

Quintus Decimus Stele


1) Religions are essentially an affair of the community rather than of individuals. Society also has a power over its members in the way organized religion does and can arouse the sensation of the 'divine' in the minds of its members, i.e. warriors sacrifice their lives willingly for the safety of Society.

For its members, society can be what a god is to the worshippers of religion. So when capitalists proclaim "In God We Trust" are they saying the same thing as communists when they defend their allegiance to "the ultimate good of society?"

The great events of life, birth, adolescence, marriage and death (and lesser events such as sex) are the concerns of religions as a means of holding an organized society together year after year, generation after generation. The tension between instinctive needs and strong emotional experiences has led to the development of complicated cults and beliefs and indeed, varied belief systems. Both Art and Religion, and their compelling force on the individual, spring from the desire of the individual to retain his/her place in society (or better it) as a means of survival (and for some, virtual immortality).

The following is a survey of some important religious traditions and issues confronted by those who discuss religion seriously.

2) Two hundred years after the death of Gautama a group of his disciples adopted a new interpretation of his teaching. They preached a doctrine based on his personal example of selfless devotion in sharing his enlightenment. This doctrine became known as "Mahayana" or "the Greater Vehicle," and this had wide appeal to the common man. These believers referred to orthodox southern Theravad Buddhists as Hanayana or "the Lesser Vehicle." Mahayana Buddhism spread in the north and its popular aspects differed so greatly from those of Hanayana in Ceylon, Thailand and Burma that it essentially constitutes a different religion.

The ideal Buddhist of the Mahayana became a saintly figure known as a "bodhisattva," a holy man who vowed that he would not enter Nirvana until the whole human race had achieved salvation with him. Gautama became superseded by a glorious redeemer, a god known as the mythical Amitabha Buddha or the "Buddha of Infinite Light," to whom prayers of the faithful were addressed. His dominant virtue is compassion and inhabits a heaven known as the "Great Western Paradise" or "Pure Land" to which all good Buddhists can hope to go.

This promise of a joyous afterlife is a strong motivating factor to sustain conscientious religious practice.

One ancient Buddhist text describes this paradise as a place "surrounded by radiant beams and brilliant jewels of untold price. In every direction the air resounds with harmonious tunes, the sky is full of radiance, large heavenly birds of paradise are flying to and fro... [Amitabha] Buddha sits on a lotus seat like a gold mountain in the midst of all glories, surrounded by his saints." Some Mahayana sects developed a conception of hell to which the souls of evildoers passed at death. Subsequently a goddess of compassion known as Kuan Yin (Kwannon in Japan) developed to guide the faithful to the promised land. She eventually came to occupy a place equal to the great Amitabha Buddha in the affections of the Mahayanists.

3) "Now all religious terms seem... to be used as similes or allegorically. For when we speak of God and that he sees everything and when we kneel and pray to him all our terms and actions seem to be parts of a great and elaborate allegory which represents him as a human being of great power whose grace we try to win, etc. etc." When people say that god created the world, they are doing the same kind of thing. The feeling of intense guilt, feeling that god disapproves of our conduct, is a similar expression in which we seem constantly to be using similes.

"But a simile must be the simile for something. And if I can describe a fact by means of a simile I must also be able to drop the simile and describe the facts without it. Now in our case [expressions about God] as soon as we try to drop the simile and simply to state the facts which stand behind it, we find that there are no such facts. And so, what at first appeared to be a simile now seems to be mere nonsense... It is a paradox that an experience, a fact, should seem to have supernatural value." (Ludwig Wittgenstein, "Lecture on Ethics," 1930) (see Vicesimus Alter Stele, Ethical Decisions, verse 16.)

4) In 1776, (Niskyuna, New York) Mother Anne Lee established the first settlement of American "Shakers" (the Millennial Church or United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing).

The Shakers observed celibacy, held all property in common, and believed that Mother Lee was Christ reincarnated.

Their nickname was derived from their peculiar bodily movements during religious meetings under the influence of rapture.

The wide variety in Christian religious practice alone, leaves one with the quandary, in a historical perspective, of which description of god, if any, to accept.

"To follow foolish precedents, and wink with both our eyes, is easier than to think." (William Cowper)

5) "Inspect every piece of pseudoscience and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold.

What have we [science] to offer in exchange? Uncertainty! Insecurity!" (Isaac Asimov, The Skeptical Inquirer, tenth-anniversary issue)

Atheists can add creativity, spontaneity, self-fulfillment, integrity of self, leadership, enlightenment, refinement, cultural advances, companionship, mature love, social justice, peace of mind, tolerance, enthusiasm for life and eagerness to begin each day with a diverse palette with which one might, with a little luck, create another masterpiece. In fact, we can learn from nature, even from animal conduct, how best to organize our lives, and the superstitions of 2,000 year old religions (or 10 year old cults) are, if not anachronistic, at least superfluous.

6) Eskimo belief was among the simplest known and it incorporated the two common denominators of all religions everywhere: spirits and magic. It lacked the other ideas of religion found in advanced societies: revelation, a redeemer, a priesthood, orthodox rituals and articles of faith.

Probably, the Eskimo's spiritual beliefs did not differ much from man's earliest, prehistoric groupings toward religion. Religious ceremonies are rarely concerned with the group as a whole, but rather with the rites of passage of the individual and his immediate family: birth, puberty and death.

The Eskimo technology and inventiveness was considerable, including thousands of cultural elements. The kayak, for example, can be measured, described, photographed and diagrammed, but no matter how perfect this likeness, the reality or essence of the kayak and its significance for the Eskimo is left unstated. A kayak is not an end in itself; rather, it was manufactured to achieve an end, and is thought of as incorporating this sense of life saving mission.

There are parts of a kayak that no one can ever transport to a museum. These parts include: who owned it, who was allowed to ride in it; taboos concerning it; rituals connected with its launching and its use; the blessing or magic it received; and only when these many other details are known can anyone understand what the kayak truly meant to an Eskimo. The same principle applies to all other aspects of Eskimo material culture, these were intrinsically connected to the spirituality of the family they supported.

Eskimo magic differed from other religions in that it did not attempt to regulate behavior in the society as a whole or to propagate a code of conduct and belief. It did not serve as proof of divine intervention; there was no such need because there was no doubt (in the primitive society). Magic was limited to the individual's relationship, to his food supply, to his physical environment and to shamanism including witchcraft. There were hundreds of taboos that constrained his every action. "What do we believe? We don't believe; we only fear." The question of belief did not occur.

The taboos must be scrupulously observed. To violate one was a sin and the community united in compassion and tolerance around the sinner. He was encouraged to purge his sin, and he did so by hiring a part-time religious practitioner, a shaman, who encouraged confession of exact details of each taboo violation. The extended family sat in the background chanting cries of forgiveness for this pitiful sinner. (Peter Farb, Man's Rise to Civilization, 1968)

7) Mr. Hold-the-world: "...I can count him but a fool, that, having the liberty to keep what he has, shall be so unwise as to lose it. Let us be wise as serpents. It is best to make hay while the sun shines. You see how the bee lieth still all winter, and bestirs her only when she can have profit and pleasure. God sends sometimes rain and sometimes sunshine; if they be such fools to go through the first, yet let us be content to take fair weather along with us. For my part, I like that religion best that will stand with the security of God's good blessings unto us; for who can imagine, that is ruled by his reason, since God has bestowed upon us the good things of this life, but that he would have us keep them for His sake? Abraham and Solomon grew rich in religion; and Job says that 'a good man should lay up gold as dust';..."

Mr. Money-love: "...for he that believes neither Scripture nor reason (and you see we have both on our side), neither knows his own liberty nor seeks his own safety...

"...I see the bottom of your question, ...suppose a minister, a worthy man, possessed of but a very small benefice, and has in his eye a greater, more fat and plump by far, he has also now an opportunity of getting it, yet so as by being more studious, by preaching more frequently and zealously, and, because the temper of the people requires it, by altering of some of his principles; for my part, I see no reason why a man may not do this, provided he has a call, ay, and more a great deal besides, and yet be an honest man.

"For Why? 1. ...His desire of a greater benefice is lawful:

"2. ...Besides, his desire after that benefice makes him more studious, a more zealous preacher, etc., and so makes him a better man; yea, makes him better improve his parts, which is according to the mind of God.

"3. Now, as for his complying with the temper of his people, by deserting, to serve them, some of his principles, this argueth, first, that he is of a self-denying temper; secondly, of a sweet and winning deportment; and, thirdly, so more fit for the ministerial function.

"4. I conclude, then, that a minister that changes a small for a great, should not, for so doing, be judged as covetous; but rather, since he has improved in his parts and industry thereby, be counted as one that pursues his call, and the opportunity put into his hands to do good.

"And now to the second part of the question, which concerns the tradesman... by becoming religious he may mend his market, perhaps get a rich wife, or more and far better customers to his shop; for my part, I see no reason but this may be lawfully done.

"For why? 1. To become religious is a virtue, by what means soever a man becomes so. [The ends justify the means.]

"2. Nor is it unlawful to get a rich wife, or more custom to my shop.

"3. Besides, the man that gets these by becoming religious gets that which is good of them that are good, by becoming good himself: ...therefore, to become religious to get all these is a good and profitable design...

Christian: "...To answer the question, therefore, affirmatively, as I perceive you have done, and to accept of, as authentic, such answer, is heathenish, hypocritical, and devilish; and your reward will be according to your works." (John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress 1678)

8) Just as Confucianism evolved from a school of thought into a cult, so in time Taoism became overlaid with occultism and magic. Practitioners developed a myth of their own in which the hereafter sometimes became a kind of wonderland ruled by a fairy queen and peopled with happy immortals. Two influential passages were used to support what became the religious practice:

"He who contains within himself the richness of Tao's virtue is like a babe. No poisonous insects sting him. Nor fierce beasts seize. Nor birds of prey strike him..."

"He who attains Tao is everlasting.
Though his body may decay, he never perishes."

In time the hope of attaining Tao became the hope of attaining immortality on Earth. Taoist teachers began to claim supernatural powers: they could foretell the future, engender tempests, and prolong life through breathing exercises and diets of powdered dragon bones, moonbeams and mother of pearl.

During the First Century AD Taoism was threatened by the official importation from India of Buddhism, which rapidly gained acceptance. In response to this challenge Taoism transformed itself into a formal religion.

By the end of the Second Century, AD the religion had grown into a semi-clerical state with organized worship, monasteries, fixed tributes and a priesthood. Where the Buddhists had thirty-three different kinds of heaven, the Taoists came up with eighty-one. They dedicated gods to stars, metals, occupations, ancient heroes, epidemics, mythical animals and even to robbery and drunkenness. The supreme god, the fabled Jade Emperor, was allegedly invented in 1012 AD by the Emperor Chen Tsung who, for political reasons, needed a revelation from heaven. Taoism went down-hill from there into gloomy levels of idolatry and superstition, regarded by contemporary Chinese as a source of folklore.

9) "Is speech essential for religion? I can quite well imagine a religion in which there are no doctrines, and hence nothing is said. Obviously the essence of religion can have nothing to do with the fact that speech occurs -- or rather: if speech does occur this itself is a component of religious behavior and not a theory. Therefore nothing turns on whether the words are true, false, or nonsensical.

"Neither are religious utterances figurative, for else they should be also expressible in prose. Thrusting against the limits of language: Language is not a cage.

"I can only say: I don't belittle this human tendency; I take my hat off to it. And here it is essential that this is not a sociological description but that I speak for myself.

"For me the facts are unimportant. But what men mean when they say that 'The world is there' lies close to my heart." (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lecture Notes, December 17, 1930)

10) The worship of Hotei in Japan as one of the Seven Lucky Gods is of interest because this is the one God based on a real living person. Hotei is the god of fortune, guardian of children, patron of fortunetellers, wits, bartenders and the god of popularity and magnanimity. His description is of a corpulent man, big, full, fat, bald, smiling with bristly whiskers and chest hair. The stoutness indicates inner wealth and largeness of soul, therefore not necessarily a defect in Japanese society.

(I received a statue and this explanation from a friend, who thought this god had a passing resemblance to myself, hopefully in character more than in appearance.)

"Hotei's" name in Chinese was Kaishi and records indicate he died in March, 916. He was a Zen priest with a mendicant lifestyle, and in China he was often ridiculed for his casual attire, exposed chest and careless habits.

He ate fish and meat which were otherwise forbidden to the priest class. He was a marvelous speaker and had a huge repertoire of Buddhist texts and verses by memory. As a fortune teller, he was given credit for always predicting what would happen and refused to tell for anyone who did not want to know misfortune and absolute truth."

In Japan belief in Hotei began in the Edo era. According to a legend, before Zen came to Japan, a belief in the world of mercy would be brought to Japan by an unlikely looking priest who would be a manifestation of Buddhist Kwannon, (see verse 2 above) Shi-Bosatsu, or Miroku.

Miroku was the saint who would save those people not saved through Buddha. This belief is more complicated than suggested here, but suffice it to say that "Hotei" is regarded as the Miroku of the legend.

11) "A religious world is one that structures existence around sacred things... this is something that exists or does not exist outside the participants' own world... that is enough; that is the fact.

"Sacred objects play a powerful role in organizing human behavior. To the insider, the holiness of Christ, or Amida Buddha, or the Qur'an is absolute; to the outsider, in contrast, these symbols have no special value at all and may even be considered illusory...

"The very nature of a religious world is to experience the universe through its own focal symbols, to see the whole of time in terms of its own history, to find the absolute in its own churches and temples, and to equate its particular moral order with the ultimate order of the entire world." (William E. Paden, Religious Worlds, 1994)

12) Numinous: "Gods appear to us reciprocally according to our attitudes toward them, and our attitudes toward them are reciprocal with the way gods appear to us. As the fourteenth-century mystic Meister Eckhart put it, the eye by which we see God is the same eye by which He sees us."

These patterns of interaction are of two main types. First: humans on the receiving end of the relation; Second: humans are the active agent in the relations.

"When god is received, this is connected with the sense of the numinous. Rudolf Otto's term is useful here for naming the feeling of being encountered by a powerful 'other' -- of being faced by a reality or being that is astonishingly greater than one's self... producing awe, amazement, ecstasy." The elaboration of numinous experience is frequently the source of a religion and often a continuing element in personal faith.

"Human responses to gods follow certain patterns. There are identifiable, thematic ways that people relate to numinous objects, and these actions form the stuff of much daily religious life... The long-term relationship... service... faith and trust is the realm of loyalty, steadfastness, and commitment... obedience... positively in terms of obligations, and negatively in terms of interdictions and sanctions... There are also more specific, patterned ways the behavioral relationship between humans and gods are acted out... 1} petition (ask), 2} atonement or confession (purify), 3} offering (give), 4} celebration (honor) , and 5} divination (inquire)." (William E. Paden, Religious Worlds, 1994) "Cultivation" may be a new pattern, see verse 40 below, or a word for all these combined.

13) The Buddhism of China is most often Zen Buddhism, which is Buddhism transformed by Taoism. Taoism, often referred to as "Lao-Chuang philosophy," is one (along with Confucianism) of the native religions that has grown up in China.

Taoism is "the philosophy of the Tao." The two most important Taoist philosophers were Lao Tzu (sixth century BC) and Chuang Tzu (fourth century BC). Taoism rests on two books: Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tzu's The Book of Chuang Tzu.

"...When a superior man truly has the virtue, to look at his face you'd think he was simple-minded. Get rid of all this dignity and pretense, get rid of all this pose and aspiration. None of it does you any good..." Lao Tzu developed and practiced the Tao and its Energy, but this was a hermetic art he practiced by himself. It was not a "How To" that he publicized or sold. Today's men that study Lao Tzu scorn Confucian scholarship, concerned with day-to-day rules of conduct; and today's Confucian scholars scorn Lao Tzu, a more spiritual level of concern.


Knowers don't speak.
Speakers don't know.
Know you don't know: that's superior...

Look, if you have flaws and say they're flaws,
that's how you lack flaws.
The sage lacks flaws. He takes his flaws to be
flaws, and that's how he lacks flaws.


The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but
differ in name; this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.

14) In Shinto of Japan, man is physiologically a son of the gods "Kami-no-ko" and is entitled to that name after being presented to the Kami in the temple (jinja) on the thirtieth day of his life.

It is understood that man and the divine are the same; there is no worship, per se, there are ways of showing respect and concentrating the mind on its spiritual being and divine ancestry.

(If the Jewish are the chosen people, how much more self confidence, possibly arrogance, would you have knowing you were the same as god?) The Japanese religious attitude is both respectful and friendly towards all ancestors, both human and devine, undifferentiated.

The use of the word "Kami" is more broad than the use of "god" in the English language. One needs to think as follows: "...the deification of life-force which pervades all beings, animate and inanimate. Kami is the invisible power which unites spirit and matter into a dynamic whole, while it gives birth to all things without exception." Thus it is much less anthropomorphic than the Western version of god, more often referring to the Sun-Goddess or sacred entity, and never to god-the-father.

15) Islam, the youngest of man's popular religions, is also in many ways the simplest and most explicit. It venerates a single, all-powerful God (not a trinity). Its founder, Mohammed, was neither savior nor messiah, but one through whom God chose to speak, the last and the greatest prophet. Its faith is unclouded by subtle dialectic and concerns itself as much with man's behavior in this world as with his fate in the hereafter.

Islam was not an accidental development of history, in a few years of Mohammed's death in 632 AD it had overwhelmed the entire Middle East. In another hundred years its domination extended from Gibraltar to the Himalayas, not unlike the original Roman Empire intended.

Islam's continued strength and durability derive in part from the nature of its appeal -- simple, lucid and affirmative. It is more than a doctrine, more than a formal religion, it is an all-pervasive way of life guiding thought and action without parallel in the Western world. To the believer, religion, life, faith and politics are inseparable.

The God of Islam, Allah, is basically the God of Judaism and Christianity. But in Moslem [one who submits] eyes his word was incompletely expressed in the earlier scriptures and fulfilled only in the Koran.

Islam was beset from the beginning by internal discord. The first differences arose over the question of Mohammed's successor, and out of these early conflicts rifts developed that persist today. As one might expect, in time doctrinal differences gave rise to schismatic sects and to splinter groups that can be violently opposed to each other.

16) "Sometimes even a wrong view, which is held with fervor, may indirectly invite an experience that opens the gates to spiritual life. Even at the stage of shariat, [external conformity to religious traditions and rituals] or karma-kanda, allegiance to religions is not infrequently a source of inspiration for many selfless and noble acts. For while the dogmas or creeds are blindly accepted, they are often held with fervor and enthusiasm. ...Dogmas and creeds, as compared with barren views and doctrines, have the distinct advantage of being embraced not only by the intellect but also by the heart. They cover and affect a wider part of personality than purely theoretical opinions."

"Dogmas and creeds generally, however, are as much a source of evils as of good, because in them the guiding vision is clouded owing to degeneration of suspension of critical thinking... it has more often done harm...

"When a person gives up uncritically accepted dogmas and creeds in favor of views and doctrines to which he has devoted thought, there is a certain amount of advance -- insofar as his mind has now begun to think and critically examine its beliefs... The mind has been emancipated from the domination of uncultured emotion, but this is often achieved by sacrificing the cooperation of the heart. If the results of critical thought are to be spiritually fruitful, these results must again invade and recapture the heart so as to enlist its cooperative functioning." (Meher Baba, Discourses, 1967)

Atheists can accept this advice and internalize their humility and sense of wonder, creating reverence for life, rationally, that improves on religious fervor. Poetry is one source of inspiration about the beauty in Universe and nature. Religion can have this affect, but as suggested, "it has more often done harm."

17) Dateline: Tel Aviv, October 23, 2000; On the eve of Yom Kippur, two Sundays ago, Azmi Bishara heard on a radio call-in show that a Jewish mob intended to torch his house. Bishara, an Arabic member of parliament from Nazareth, advocates an end to Israel's Jewish character in favor of "a state of all its citizens." He rushed home to evacuate his pregnant wife and two-year-old daughter, and at midnight a crowd gathered outside his home and stoned it.

Israelis' Arab minority rioted in the Galilee and in major cities like Jaffa and Haifa. Jewish mobs responded with attacks of their own.

"Coexistence between Arabs [who are mostly Islamic] and Jews in Israel has started to collapse," says Salah Tarif, a Druze Arab [Christian] member of Prime Minister Ehud Barak's One Israel party. The problem is that the 1 million citizens of Israel called 'Israeli Arabs' tend to think of themselves as Palestinians who happen to live in Israel, not as Israelis of Arab descent. It's a crucial distinction and has always been a potential trigger.

The Government fears more outbursts of violence from both sides of the religious divide -- meaning Israel itself could be turned into a real battleground. Television stations did not broadcast the full footage of two Israeli soldiers being lynched by Palestinians in the West Bank, out of concern that it would prompt reprisals against Israeli Arabs. "It's a very, very ugly situation," says Bishara. "Here, in this democracy, you have to fear for your life because of your ethnicity." (Time Magazine)

18) Lucretius (circa 99-55 BC) wrote a master poem, De Rerum Natura, that should be required reading for every high school senior. Lucretius was an original thinker among the Roman elite, who interpreted the teachings of Epicurus, and emphasized that sense perception is the foundation of knowledge. He determined that it is possible to investigate natural phenomena with no religious inhibitions and to explain them on purely materialistic lines, rejecting divine purpose, providence, and the immortal soul, without sacrificing the joys of reverence and adoration. He finds the basis of social cooperation, not in calculated self-interest, but in a natural instinct that impelled the strong to take pity on the weak. He taught this 2,000 years ago.

19) Gautama now at the age of thirty-five had become a Buddha. He arose and found the five ascetic monks who had abandoned him. To them he preached the middle way to Enlightenment, which became the essential doctrine of Buddhism:

The Holy Eightfold Path

Right Views
Right Intentions
Right Speech
Right Conduct
Right Livelihood
Right Effort
Right Mind-fullness
Right Concentration

And the Four Holy Truths

First: that all existence -- birth, decay, sickness, and death -- is suffering
Second: that all suffering and rebirth are caused by man's selfish craving.
Third: that Nirvana, freedom from suffering, comes from the cessation of all craving
Fourth: that the stopping of all ill and craving comes only from following the Holy Eightfold Path.

These steps to the extinction of self were the way of the Buddha, the way of Enlightenment.

(If you don't want anything -- "cessation of craving" -- and that's what you get -- nothing -- it makes sense that you might think yourself in Nirvana or paradise -- which is nowhere.)

20) Religion in the News! There are not enough vultures left in India to take care of the religious needs (disposing of the dead) of the Zoroastrians in Bombay, according to one recent report. The Parsi sect, also know as Zoroastrians, practice the tradition of placing their dead on a dakhma, or platform in the open to be devoured by birds of prey, specifically White-backed Vultures.

These birds are near extinction because of an epidemic of an unidentified virus sweeping through South Asia.

"To protect their way of death, Parsi leaders plan to build a 50-ft high aviary around their jungle-shrouded "Towers of Silence" in... Bombay to breed vultures and to cope with the three human corpses placed there on an average day." Khojeste Mister, the leader of this effort to develop the first captive vulture-breeding center, said: "It may seem perfectly normal for some people to bury a body in the ground. To me it is repulsive that worms are eating a body for as long as 60 years." (Time, Nov. 13, 2000) One can imagine a rather large aviary that might be used for golf practice, as a golf driving-range on slow days.

21) "No attempt has apparently been made...to establish any connection between the Shinto Genesis and the various Hindu descriptions of the creation of the universe... Hinduism considers the creation (srishti) of our world as a fall from a higher state...as a cycle, periodical, alternating with dissolution of the world. Shinto...views creation as a development for which man should be unqualifiedly grateful, makes no reference whatever to an eventual dissolution of the world and completely ignores the concept of cyclic return."

"When one considers the most apparent esoteric meaning of the Shinto myths of Genesis...one sees the remarkable similarities they offer with the most apparent esoteric meaning of the myths of the ten Avatars of Vishnu as given in the various Hindu Scriptures...it would be extraordinarily difficult to explain the concordance of the two series of myths as purely accidental." The text proceeds to compare verse by verse the development of both myths with a convincing argument that strongly suggests that Shinto is a derivative of the original oral tradition of Hindu teaching. "Kojiki and Hihongi...the original Shinto myths were written before AD 720 '...to preserve the true traditions from oblivion,' because 'the records preserved by the chief families contained many errors'." (Jean Herbert, Shinto, 1967)

This is more than 1,000 years after the written origins of Vedas of Hinduism. When this is taken with the recent discoveries of a well developed culture in the Indus Valley dating more than 4,500 years old, it seems very likely that this region could have been the source for many ancient religious traditions around the world.

22) In the Zoroastrian faith it is the individual's duty not only to earn salvation from his individual cycle of birth and death, but also to assist the Creator in helping others, the whole world and ultimately the entire creation attain their respective salvation. Praying throughout the day is a practice intended to create virtue and speed the return of the individual to the oneness with the creator.

The most common prayers in the "Avesta" are the Gahs. At the core of the gahs lies the concept of time. The Avesta has three distinct concepts of time. Each individual has his own personal time period, called Thwashe Khadat, which is one cycle of birth to death. The world we live in has its own time frame, called Zurvane Darrego Khadat, a repeating cycle of 81,000 years from creation to destruction.

These two are part of Zurvane Akarne, or endless time, cosmic, immeasurable and merged within three dimensions. (see Octavus Stele: Time, verse 17)

23) John Locke was a rational philosopher who nonetheless was a Christian and defended his faith. He described the centuries before the arrival of Christ and the contemporaneous Jewish religion as a period of religion of convenience.

"Next to the knowledge of one God; maker of all things; a clear knowledge of their duty was wanting to mankind [not just to the Jews]. This part of knowledge [duty], though cultivated with some care, by some of the heathen philosophers, [Greek?] yet got little footing among the people.

All men indeed, under pain of displeasing the gods, were to frequent the temples, every one went to their sacrifices and services; but the priests made it not their business to teach them virtue. If they were diligent in their observations and ceremonies, punctual in their feasts and solemnities, and the tricks of religion, the holy tribe assured them, the gods were pleased; and they looked no farther. Few went to the schools of the philosophers, to be instructed in their duties and to know what was good and evil in their action.

The priests sold the better penny-worths, and therefore had all their custom. Lustrations and processions were much easier than a clean conscience, and a steady course of virtue... No wonder then, that religion was every where distinguished from, and preferred to virtue, and that it was dangerous heresy and prophaneness to think the contrary... But natural religion, in its full extent, was nowhere, that I know, taken care of by the force of natural reason..."

Moving forward in time, Locke suggests that virtue and morality are not so easy to achieve by reason alone. "Native and original truth, is not so easily wrought out of the mine, as we who have it delivered, ready dug and fashioned into our hands, are apt to imagine... Experience shews that the knowledge of morality, by mere natural light (how agreeable soever it be to it), makes but a slow progress, and little advance in the world... 'tis plain in fact, that human reason unassisted, failed men in its great and proper business of morality... And he that shall collect all the moral rules of the philosophers, and compare them with those contained in the new testament, will find them to come short of the morality delivered by Our Saviour, and taught by his apostles; a college made up, for the most part, of ignorant, but inspired fishermen." (John Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity, para. 241, 1691)

24) Jainism is all about 'Live and let Live' and is considered the oldest religion in India (by its adherents, a sect of Hinduism by others). The use of the four-way symbol, now associated with the swastika, is connected to the practice of pacifism, ahimsa - nonviolence, and belief in this credo. All those who follow the religion are vegetarian and follow the practice of repeating the Mahamantra called 'Navkara.'

Namo Arihantanam
Namo Sidhdhanam
Namo Ayariyanam
Namo Uvajzayanam
Namo Loe Savva Sahunam
Eso panch namokkaro
Savva Pav ppanha Sanho
Mangalanam cha savvasim
Padhamam havai mamgalam

This is like breathing for a Jain and occupies a prominent place in every ritual in Jain life from birth to death.

Many esoteric practices have been based on a different mantra, Namaskara Mahamantra. Other mystical practices for immediate benefit are used, but have as their essence the Navkara alone. Even while practicing the Mantra the aspirant must have mokhsa [salvation] alone as his aim. As medicines cure diseases, so too Mantras can remove or mitigate karmas, give peace of mind, provide mental pleasure, call forth deities before the aspirant and make them follow the command of Jina.

Some historians suggest Jainism sprang into practice in the 6th century BC as a revolt against the unworthy practices of Hinduism. However, Vardhamana, the first recorded 'fordmaker,' claimed to be the successor of the previous 23 Tirthamkaras, who help the faithful cross the stream of existence and so obtain release. He is also referred to as 'Jina' or the Victorious One, and Mahavira, or Great Hero. Jainism does not recognize the validity of the Vedic (Hindu) scriptures and thus is considered open to the lessons of other great, inspired religious teachings.

25) For most people the essential characteristics of religion are a belief in a god, a supernatural spirit associated within the human body and an afterlife. For some this is a too restrictive definition, and they prefer to describe religion in terms of accepting 'the sacred.' Others look for a functional definition of how religions operate to influence human life. In this case the concern is for what religion does for an individual psychologically or for a group socially. At a more fundamental level religion can be defined as a body of thought that provides support for a group or brings a sense of comfort or well-being to an individual.

The matter of definition is considerably more difficult than common sense would suggest, because once one acknowledges the differences between one religion and another, which often are in dramatic conflict, identifying the similarities or a single common element might be impossible.

This kind of oversimplification led, in the eighteenth century during the 'Age of Enlightenment,' to the proposition of 'natural religion' consisting of the single, basic and original religious concepts shared by the entire human family. These theorists were called 'Deists' and included philosophers and statesmen such as John Toland, Matthew Tindal and David Hume all of Britain; Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin; and Denis Diderot and Voltaire in France. The gist of this concept is a belief in a creator god who made the world and then left it to its own natural laws, provided Man with a moral code and promised an afterlife if the faithful were good and avoided evil.

The best hope for humanity, according to the Deists, was to try to recover this original faith and live by it in peace, tolerance and serenity as a universal brotherhood of all people.

The culprits according to this interpretation are those who distorted the natural religion, the magicians, churches, bishops and theologians. The origin of natural religion was said to be human reason, fear and ignorance -- not a doctrinaire god by way of supernatural revelations.

This effort at intellectual synthesis is still active. The hope of saving some vestige of respectability and legitimacy for religion in general, rather than any single religion, is a pale form of agnosticism. Concluding that none of the organized religions seems quite right but we can salvage the idea by taking the best from each, is a childish solution to a difficult emotional problem. The problem is multifaceted: overcoming the nurturing, brainwashing and conditioning of being raised in religion; not having the courage or strength to leave this nurturing behind; this is certainly an emotional, not just an intellectual struggle. Striking out for independent free-thinking is a huge intellectual step into the great unknown. Jump into the water of Atheism? The water can be turbulent for the beginner without first developing an educated frame of reference.

26) In quite a different interpretation, religion is unjustly described as a system of beliefs, doctrines and a strict moral code. It is more appropriate to describe the component of experience, what religion does for believers, quite apart from the pursuit of history, knowledge or morality. In this interpretation there is an aesthetic and affective character to religions (not considering the limited affect on casual believers). In his writings, Friedrich Schleiermacher in 1799, "...wanted to show the artists and critics with whom he associated that what they despised was not religion but the dogmas and institutions that result from mistaking external forms for the inner life of the spirit, and that real piety is identical with the spiritual integrity and sense of harmony with the universe which they sought in the aesthetic and cultural life." In addition he suggested that Religion is "...a sense that precedes and is independent of all thought, and that ought not to be confused with doctrine or practice, religion can never come into conflict with the findings of modern science or with the advance of knowledge in any realm. It is an autonomous moment in human experience and is, in principle, invulnerable to rational and moral criticism." This is certainly seeing the glass half full.

27) There are few subjects about which Karl Marx is so brief or as blunt. "Religion, he says, is pure illusion. Worse, it is an illusion with most definitely evil consequences.

It is the most extreme example of ideology, of a belief system whose chief purpose is simply to provide reasons -- excuses, really -- for keeping things in society just the way the oppressors like them. As a matter of fact, religion is so fully determined by economics that it is pointless to consider any of its doctrines or beliefs on their own merits... Marx asserts, that belief in a god or gods is an unhappy by-product of the class struggle, something that should not only be dismissed, but dismissed with scorn." (Daniel L. Pals, Seven Theories of Religion, 1996) This is seeing the glass half empty (or entirely empty.)

28) The more we learn about Universe and Earth, the more mysteries we discover because we are just tracking along an infinite path. It may be that knowing the questions is more important than the answers? But what would a religion be like if it worshipped the questions only?

When we separate the mysteries from the known facts there is still room for the most constructive religious faiths to teach different ways to celebrate these mysteries and incomprehensible infinity. But, if a religion discourages its adherents from looking for and accepting new facts, that religion should be suspect and even discarded. That portion of religious experience that has nothing to do with descriptions of Universe, clinging to archaic answers, devoid of mythical explanations; that part that enriches our lives and helps us celebrate the wonders of nature, can be useful and artistic (the rest can be ignored.) The facts of nature don't disprove this kind of religious or 'spiritual' experience nor should the mute laws of nature be used to 'prove' religious beliefs.

Universe is essentially amoral and it takes man to show, not just tell, explicitly and in simple language what makes life so worthwhile.

29) "Let me explain what I mean by religion.

It is not the Hindu religion which I certainly prize above all other religions, but the religion which transcends Hinduism, which changes one's very nature, which binds one indissolubly to the truth within and which ever purifies. It is the permanent element in human nature which counts no cost too great in order to find full expression and which leaves the soul utterly restless until it has found itself, known its Maker and appreciated the true correspondence between the Maker and itself.

"...it may perhaps be more correct to say that I have no word for characterizing my belief in God... There is an indefinable mysterious Power that pervades everything. I feel it, though I do not see it. It is this unseen power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses... For I can see that in the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists. Hence I gather that God is Life, Truth, Light. He is Love. He is the Supreme God.

"...Faith then does not contradict reason but transcends it. Faith is a kind of sixth sense which works in cases which are without the purview of reason... God is not a person... God is the force. He [it] is the essence of life. He [it] is pure and undefiled consciousness.

He [it] resides in our hearts.

If we could completely obliterate in us the consciousness of our physical body, we would see Him [it] face to face. " (M. K. Gandhi, All Men Are Brothers, 1960) If one feels this "Power" then it is reasonable to accept a positive religion, if one does not feel the "Power," there is no amount of convincing that will create the feeling. It is like being in love; contrast that with the feeling of being infatuated.

30) 'Humanism' may be the 20th century anti-religion, if it were not for the fact that some people in religion use the term as readily as do Atheists. The most critical irony in dealing with modern Humanism is the inability of its advocates to agree on whether or not this worldview is, or might be religious.

The earliest 'Renaissance Humanists' encouraged study and learning and they had confidence in the ability of human beings to determine for themselves truth and falsehood. This arrogance is actively opposed to most organized religions, certainly fundamental Christians who require a scriptural basis for their truth.

The most commonly accepted definition is: "...a naturalistic philosophy that rejects all supernaturalism and relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and human compassion." (Corliss Lamont) However, the Christian Humanists suggest: "a philosophy advocating the self-fulfillment of man within the framework of Christian principles."

The catholic Pope has subscribed to this concept, but for others it is an oxymoron, internal self-contradiction to suggest that Humanism could be placed in any religious framework.

For fundamentalists, Secular Humanists are the arch-enemy for espousing the teaching of evolution in schools, banning prayer in public schools and meetings and defending the strict interpretation of the US Constitution establishing the separation of church and state. Because of all this confusion, I tend to shun the label, although it otherwise seems harmless enough, in an ambiguous sort of way.

31) In 1826 some Shakers built community halls in Sodas Bay, only thirty miles from Palmer, New York, where the young Joseph Smith, first prophet of the Church of Christ (established April 6, 1830), might have watched the dervish-like worship. During the fantastic services, the spinning and whirling believer soon fell exhausted on the floor uttering an incoherent gibberish generously referred to as 'the gift of tongues.' Brigham Young, the second leader of the Mormon Church was known to have practiced this 'gift' in the early days of what was subsequently named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"For all their incongruity the Shakers had a certain dignity, which came from their cleanly habits and intense industry. Such was not true of the entourage of another female subdivinity ruling in Jerusalem, twenty-five miles from Joseph Smith's home. This was Jemima Wilkinson, the 'Universal Friend,' who thought herself to be the Christ... she governed her colony by revelations from heaven and swore that she would never die. She was a handsome woman with fine eyes and jet-black hair, which curled over the purple robe hanging from her shoulders...

"Nowhere was lapse from the old codes more evident than in the churches, which were racked with schisms. The Methodists split four ways between 1814 and 1830. The Baptists split into Reformed Baptists, Hard-Shell Baptists, Free-Will Baptists, Seventh-Day Baptists, Footwashers, and other sects.

Unfettered religious liberty began spawning a host of new religions.

"There was Isaac Bullard, wearing nothing but a bearskin girdle and his beard, who gathered a following of 'Pilgrims' in 1817 in Woodstock, Vermont... Champion of free love and communism, he regarded washing as a sin and boasted that he had not changed his clothes for seven years." (Fawn W. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 1973) Religions grow like weeds in the metaphysical landscape of US culture.

32) "The senses are God's gateway to the human mind and imagination. For this reason, Catholics emphasize ritual more than learning. If the imagination is not excited, the intellectual and philosophical underpinnings are meaningless. The bells, beads, and candles used in Catholic rituals are not just decorations; they are essential to spirituality and to effective Catholicism.

"One of the strengths of the Catholic tradition is that Catholics are a people convinced that everyone is able to sense God. They can touch God, feel him, taste him, bring him inside themselves through the scent of incense, and see him in the colors of the vestment. Upon entering church, they dip their fingers in water. Incense at Mass fills the nostrils. The priest wears vestments of various colors: purple at Advent and Lent, white at funeral masses celebrating the Resurrection, Easter, and Christmastime, and green on all other Sundays. These vibrant colors touch the eyes.

"Catholics call these things -- holy water, incense, rosaries, and vestments -- sacramentals or little sacraments...

"Each age has attempted to use language to express belief in the real presence of Jesus.

"Transubstantiation is a term from the Middle Ages. This term was used to describe the belief that the priest's blessing during the Mass changes the substance of the bread and wine. It expressed the difference between the appearance of the bread and its actual 'substance,' now believed to be Jesus' body and blood. [Cannibalism] But this language is incomplete today. More important than the substance of Jesus is his reality as a force or presence in the Catholic spiritual life. The church uses the term transubstantiation as one way to talk about the action of the Eucharist, but it is by no means the complete way." (Bob O'Gorman and Mary Faulkner, Understanding Catholicism, 2000)

33) The Mormon religion "...was not a revivalist sect. Although [Joseph Smith] followed some of the revivalist patterns, he appealed as much to reason as to emotion, (1830-1844) challenging his critics to examine the evidences of his divine authority -- The Book of Mormon, the lost books of Moses and Enoch, the sworn statements of his witnesses, and numerous Bible-like revelations.

The importance of this appeal cannot be overestimated, for it drew into the Mormon ranks many able men who had turned in disgust from the excesses of the local cults. The intellectual appeal of Mormonism, which eventually became its greatest weakness as the historical and 'scientific' aspects of Mormon dogma were cruelly disemboweled by twentieth-century scholarship, was in the beginning its greatest strength.

"He [Joseph Smith] believed in the good life... 'Man is that he might have joy' had been one of his first significant pronouncements in the Book of Mormon, and from that belief he had never deviated. He was gregarious, expansive, and genuinely fond of people. And...his theology in the end discarded all traces of Calvinism [strictness] and became an ingenuous blend of supernaturalism and materialism, which promised in heaven a continuation of all earthly pleasures -- work, wealth, sex, and power."

This religion "...has grown into a vast pyramidal organization, in which the workers finance the church, advertise it, and do everything but govern it. The Mormon people are still bent on building the Kingdom of God, and everyone from the twelve- year-old deacon to the eighty-year-old high priest is made to feel that upon him depends the realization of that ideal.

Here as in no other church in America the people are the church and the church the people. It is not only work and sacrifice, but a sense of participation and responsibility that generates the steadfast Mormon loyalty."

(Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History, 1971)

Much of the church literature and lessons are based on 'proof' of the restored gospel, and in many cases the doctrines cure the defects of other Protestant faiths. Material success and wealth are thought to be one of the rewards of righteousness. Furthermore, participation feeds the ambitions of leadership in male members and leads to self-satisfaction and personal growth.

34) What is the difference between a religion and a cult? It's not just somebody else's religion, there are some consensus distinguishing factors. A Cult is generally a new religious dogma, where the founder is alive and usually in autocratic control based on divine inspiration. Other factors include a blind obedience from followers and devotion to this charismatic leader, often maintained by threats and coercion. Many cults are made up of 'chosen people' who are in some way superior by virtue of being devout. Frequently secret rituals, covenants and obligations become part of the cult.

"Unlike traditional religions, the primary goals of most cults seem only to be growth and wealth.

Traditional religions can point to thousands of church-sponsored programs designed to help those in need in America as well as abroad. Similar programs sponsored by even the richest and most powerful cults are rare... Because debate is discouraged and unquestioning obedience praised, followers learn to suppress critical thinking. They do not weigh, evaluate, or question the reliability of information they are given... Learning to think critically is one of the most important skills an individual develops. [A central purpose of Frame of Reference.] ...That skill can be lost or its growth stunted if it is not constantly used...the typical cult [not all] has little interest in developing a strong, adult personality in its followers... The longer a follower remains within a cult, the longer he or she allows the cult to override personal growth, the greater their dependency on the cult becomes." (Joan Johnson, The Cult Movement, 1984) A useful religion should have as a goal helping individuals integrate into society in a free, constructive and healthy way. Any organization that opposes or falls short of that goal, might be suspect as a destructive cult.

35) What is the role of religion in the economy?

If an economy is organized by principles of capitalism or socialism it does make a difference to the individual because his success in that economy relates to his personal choices and motivation. "You didn't need a god to reward or punish by some mysterious system to make it [the economy] work. If religion had initially organized society to achieve this dynamic stage of enlightenment, [Christianity in western society during AD] it had also supplied it's own share of confusion, possibly as a means of self-preservation.

"Religion had preserved the tradition and tamed the beast in man, music could do that. Now a pluralistic culture could do that [with the aide of compulsory education]. Religion has been a convenient tool for the organization of society in the same way that a dictatorship is an efficient way of meeting the goal of industrialization and economic growth of emerging nations. But, religion is only necessary to those who were attracted to it...

"Jack realized he could live with the question of infinity without imagining or rationalizing answers. He could live without religion and still be civilized and lead a constructive life... Belief was irrelevant, a mind game played by people caught in a mental cramp like the mindless passion some people displayed for professional wrestling.

"Understanding this doesn't mean he solved the mystery of the Universe, infinity is still there, everywhere, at the end of every trail for discovery. No, not at the end. Because there wasn't any end. You just couldn't use this limited language and say it any other way." (IJ, Jack and Lucky, 1993)

A theocracy can organize an economy as can a fascist dictator, but only coercive force can ensure the longevity of that form of government, and in every historical case that coercive force has failed, i.e. the Islamic control of the Mediterranean economies during the 'dark ages.' The separation of church and state is a relatively modern phenomenon, but it seems to be key to thriving, in a successful, long-term political economy.

36) "The best alternative to religion he had found is to recognize life as an art-form. This was probably the most significant success Jack had during his sojourn [two years, four months] in Italy, [as a Mormon missionary] paradoxically. He went to teach others about the Mormon God, and ended teaching himself to appreciate the beauty in life without dependence on a belief in any god.

Along the way there were those who argued that life had no meaning without a concept of god or an after-life.

Jack learned that the meaning of life was more poignant and sensible when he finally discovered how to explain it in this very new, more realistic context. Solving such a riddle is even more exciting than having the solution handed to you [by religion]...

"Living in a religion such as the Catholic Church is like being an artist slavishly captive to a certain technique of painting. Each new work of art, each new life was caste in the same medium, with the same style, yet displaying a family resemblance.

"The Hindu had their own brush and tinted the world they found with their own biases and shades of color.

Leading a simple, ascetic life was an eternal triumph but they became blind to the need to contribute their innate talents to the enrichment of mankind.

"The unique Islamic symbols were symptoms of a different formalism. A strict association with a way of life derived from a single charismatic leader should always be suspect. A life that follows these forms can be elegant but will never move beyond to the beauty that is possible when life is inspired by independent thoughtfulness.

The basic human need for security and authority is satisfied, but beyond that is where the art of life begins."

37) "How does one go about creating a meaningful life in the absence of any of these structures, unconstrained by doctrine or myth? It's reasonably simple to look around and find out what works in society.

Those actions that lead toward a better functioning society ought to be given strong consideration. An enlightened, thoughtful society creates its own morality.

"Religious belief is fearful and desperate if it is based on the fire and brimstone Evangelism or emotional blackmail. This belief is simpleminded if it is only a convenient reaction to the need to have answers, any answers. It is more profound if it is consciously based on an appreciation of the mystery that engulfs the world. Man can be forgiven for surrendering to a realization of his insignificance in the face of infinite Nature. When we acknowledge the limitations of our own perceptions as the roots of religious belief, we begin to acknowledge the possibility for life as art...

"Those who captured this mystery and incorporated it into their ritual came closer to giving proper homage to the vastness of Universe and to the conspicuously limited role of humanity.

Ritual is metaphor for reality when it engenders connection to infinity...It is more honest to say 'I don't know,' then proceed to solve the puzzle of life." (IJ, Jack and Lucky, 1993)

38) Martin Buber describes an existential concept, giving a distinction between two functionally different kinds of mental activity in relation to human experience and the environment. These are "orientation" and "realization." (Martin Buber (German), Daniel, 1913)

Orientation is the objective attitude that gives order to the environment for knowledge and use. (This might otherwise be referred to as "positive" or factual knowledge, phenomena, derived from the senses. This includes the scientific approach.)

Realization is the mental attitude that finds or identifies the inner meaning of life in intensified perception and existence. This is characterized by the mental gymnastics necessary for intellectuals to overcome their doubts -- or agnosticism -- and retain attachment to a 'living god.' Realization is what people do when they have an epiphany of faith and emotion in front of the wailing wall, or develop spirituality elsewhere (numinous). (This is associated with the beginnings of 'normative' thinking, that which leads to opinions, values and biases.)

If Buber had accepted his natural religion, as more than 90% of his kinfolk, he would not need to entertain these complicated explanations. His independent thinking (Orientation) might be called 'self-realized.'

Accepting one's natural religion, on the other hand, is the kind of thinking (developed by nurturing and by example) that most often leads to racism and prejudice, and keeps most people in their religions in spite of their "orientation" -- in lieu of "rationalization." In other words, most people just don't think as deeply about the subject as Buber implies.

At still another level we all have instincts that speak to us in that 'still small voice.' "Save yourself, run." Buber identifies the first two kinds of thinking but ignores the third (following tradition) and this fourth (instinct), which are probably more powerful in considerations of religious belief.

Intuition and creative thinking are combinations of the above. Some people have the ability to arrange facts into original patterns (i.e. Buber); more power to them; may they be safe and protected from the destructive, stultifying influence of religion.

39) "Some people oppose a modification of laws [changing the social order] relating to the right of a married woman to own property on the ground that economic independence of woman would lead to the spread of immorality among women and disruption of domestic life. What is your attitude on the question?

"...Has not independence of man and his holding property led to the spread of immorality among men? If you answer 'yes' then let it be so also with women. And when women have rights of ownership and the rest like men, it will be found that the enjoyment of such rights is not responsible for their vices or their virtues. Morality which depends on the helplessness of a man or woman has not much to recommend it. Morality is rooted in the purity of our hearts." (M. K. Gandhi, All Men Are Brothers, 1960) The right to wallow in religious nonsense, (be part of a priesthood) as with the right to economic freedom, should not be denied on the basis of gender or sexual orientation, if any.

40) The cycle of creating new religions to replace old ones continues into the 21st Century. One of the most recent, popular religions is Falun Gong. This religion based on a synthesis of the Chinese traditions of Buddhism and Taoism, is the work of Li Hongzhi. "On one occasion I had my mind connected with four or five great enlightened people and great Taos from extremely high levels…their levels were so high that everyday people would find it simply inconceivable. They wanted to know what was on my mind. I have practiced cultivation for so many years…With my consent, therefore, they linked my mind with theirs for a period of time. After the connection…I am among everyday people and…my heart is devoted to saving people…

"…After reaching high-level cultivation…cultivation practice is completely automatic. As long you improve your xinxing [moral character], your gong [cultivation energy] grows. You do not even have to do any exercises. Our exercises are for reinforcing the automatic mechanism. Why does one sit still in meditation? One is completely in a state of wuwei [no intention]…" (Li Hongzhi, Zhuan Falun, 2001) This may be enough to suggest the intent of the religion, to foster self-improvement and spiritual enlightenment, to move adherents and society further along the path toward some betterment. A new charismatic leader has emerged. Accepting one religion or another might be as much about style and inclination as trying to find truth.

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