This is where we get to the deeper end of the pool.
I said this site was a mind dump. I meant it.
Today I spent part of the day thinking. Thinking is just such an amazing activity. Have you ever thought of it? Have you thought of it lately? Have you thought about it at all? I ask sincerely, reader. Think about it.
Why is it that we think? What is thinking? What do we think for? Who do we think for? What is it that we really are?
I don’t know. But I think it makes sense to think and take it seriously, given that it is the universal occupation. If you are going to do it, you might as well optimize it.
I thought of writing down my thoughts and being really honest about it as a way of reaching out to others. I have many limitations, so my thoughts may not be smart. They might be crazy. They might be obvious. I haven’t ever told many people what I really think. I haven’t ever committed.
But I recently became a secular Buddhist, and I think you could and probably should adopt some of the principles of Buddhism too.
How corny, right? To become a sort of preacher after reading about Buddhism on the internet? Because this is what’s happening here. Yesterday I didn’t think I belonged to a Sangha, but read this:
Sangha is a Sanskrit word used in many Indian languages, including Pali, meaning “association”, “assembly”, “company” or “community”. It was historically used in a political context to denote a governing assembly in a republic or a kingdom. It is used in modern times by groups such as the political party and social movement Rashtriya Seva Sangh. It has long been commonly used by religious associations including by Jains and Sikhs.
In Buddhism sangha refers to the monastic community of bhikkhus (monks) and bhikkhunis (nuns). These communities are traditionally referred to as the bhikkhu-sangha or bhikkhuni-sangha. As a separate category, those who have attained any of the four stages of enlightenment, whether or not they are members of the monastic community, are referred to as the āryasaṅgha “noble Sangha”.
Here I read that in Buddhist parlance, a Sangha is a community of like-minded people that cooperate. I can picture being part of a Sangha according to this definition and I would go as far as saying most people should be part of one — we often are, so we might as well call them what they are, and think them through.
I’ve been reading a lot about Buddhism. I got into meditation (Vipassana) and all. This happened while I was writing Flancia — whatever this thing you’re reading is. I’ve now reached a point of empathy with the whole idea of Buddhism as I understand it that I need to become it, adopt it as part of my identity, declare to the world that I’ve found a religion that is worth following.
What is it to follow a religion? It is, at least partly, to follow a set of ethics. Buddhism calls that set Dharma, and by being a Buddhist you take that definition of ethics. These ethics are not that of our government; they do not strictly overlap with the definition of judicial legality where I live, but somewhere or sometime they might. You have to follow those rules, but rules of ethics are sometimes optional.
Ethics is what you have to use to make your life decisions once you have exhausted all other possible venues of determination; life makes many decisions for you given the material circumstances that you are born into. But within your means, within your material present, what you choose to do with your time is very similar to your ethics. Ethics is everywhere; we just don’t see it often enough.
When we choose to do something, we choose ethically. We are not choosing all the alternatives; all the infinity of alternative choices we could take, in this reality of ours we share. There is no consensus on free will; what is it? Does it exist? What definition of existence can you agree on to help settle that old question? But whatever it means, free will is inextrincably linked to ethics; if we can be said to choose anything, our choices are exactly what we are. A life can be seen as a mathematical construct: a linked list of moments, of thoughts we think, of moments of existence that we choose to have.
I saw this in meditation, and I saw it to be true, and I have to tell the world about it. I have to start with someone, so I’m starting with you. This is why I write this, reader; this is why I dedicated this book to you. You could be my friend by becoming part of the same Sangha. You do not have to join mine; you can invite me to yours.
Our Ethics is our interpretation of the Dharma; the path I (we?) choose to follow.
My friends are part of my Sangha, regardless of whether they are Buddhists. Buddhism could be good enough for everyone and I want the world to understand that, but I don’t want to exclude people. Buddhism can be about getting people to known themselves better first, then understand each others better; it can be about solving things, about getting along. Buddhism doesn’t care about your religion, really; you can be Buddhist on top of all other things. Buddhism doesn’t care about your gods; keep them if you have them, don’t miss them if you never had them.
Buddhism is an add-on, and you should think about it. It has a lot of advantages.
You exist all the time. You do things all the time. Wouldn’t you like to make it worth it?
Buddhism thinks that we should all get along. Look it up, it’s there. Can you believe that? I can.
Buddhism thinks that reducing human suffering is the most important thing. I’m paraphrasing, of course. But it’s there. Can you sign up for that? If you care about anyone, you don’t want them to suffer. If you don’t know someone, why would you want them to suffer? At the most you might just not care about them. So, there you go — reducing human suffering means making things good for the people you care about — your friends. Wouldn’t you want that? It’s built into the definition of caring. So there, I’ve mathematically proven that it’s irrational not to want to reduce human suffering. No reason not to make this a priority in your life.
So, the question follows, how do you make this a priority in your life?
You start thinking about it. Thinking is what we do; thinking is everyone’s job. We think no matter if we realize we think; we think all the time. If you want to do something with your life, you need to direct that thinking. Use that old free will, you know.
So I decided to start thinking, and write down my thoughts, because I guessed this is what this sort of Buddhism Over The Internet of mine could contribute to the world. This is how I exercise my free will, and my privilege. I can afford to think instead of working every waking hour because I’m very privileged: I got a lucky draw in the material world side of things. I decided to write about becoming a privileged Buddhist, because I want to do something useful — I want to make the world aware that there is a better way: it is to find the middle way. We need to collaborate to improve the world and try to reduce human suffering. I, myself, will try to do altruism as a hobby. It sounds disrespectful at first, but if everybody did it the world would certainly be better, so hobby it is.
I’m sure tons of people do it but I’m not aware of it widely; so call this my own innovation for now, or what I believe I can bring to the table: we need to talk about how to band together and cooperate to reduce human suffering. I, myself, am not very highly educated; I’m a college dropout (Kanye West and myself have something in common, I guess). If you, too, have a draw of life that lets you have some time to think you have to take your thinking seriously. Particularly if you can be better than me. I welcome all competition in the struggle to be intelligent while doing good. It’s, again, the ethical way to live; the Dharma.
So let’s do this. We can all agree on this vision of ours — it’s a strict subset of Buddhism, of course, as I’m just a person that read about it on the internet (and listened to podcasts, and read a few books) — but it is there, and I’ve carved it out and I find it intrinsically useful. And if more people adopt it, the world might improve at a better rate than it does now. More people working to help others could clearly make for a better world. How does the world improve? Someone has to make it better. Sure, the world itself has material limits — we cannot just create an utopia from thin air. But the world itself — us, the whole of humanity, as it can communicate over the internet — can agree to work towards the betterment of the world. And whoever is part of our movement tries to think about these issues, all of us according to our own faculties and experiences, and we discuss possible ways of making the world better through the internet. We designate an Agora, or we build one, and then we get to work.
If we all agree to do this, we could get to my utopia. I call my utopia, guess what, Flancia. You can call yours whatever you want — it’s your prerogative. But you should think about one. We could get to yours, instead — or too.
Places are the set of things that can be true in a set of material realities according to what we choose to believe. Places and beliefs are complementary; our existence is places, beliefs, and the thoughts that we carry with us. Some places start like a belief and then eventually become actual places, once the world catches up. You need to think of the place you want to live in, have a good place of your own. You need one because what you do in life is exercise your free will to get there. Get to yours; it can be as different from mine as you want. It can bear no resemblance at all. I don’t claim to be right; I could get everything wrong, and still be right, because what I assert is not that my ideas are good but that we should all share them, write them down, and have conversations with each other. In Flancia.
Flancia is the world we get to when everybody can do this, everybody can think of their own Utopia and work towards that. That in itself is the utopia. It is a meta-utopia in a way; I’ve cheated and made mine a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, if you agree to do this. If you agree to think.
Meditation is a way of getting better at thinking and Buddhism also found that, or took it from Hinduism. I’ve done it for about six months now, and I can believe it. I think, if you try it, you might believe it too. But you don’t have to. You can do with whatever your life story molded you into; if you like those traits, keep them.
So, tell me now: do you want to live in Flancia? If you do, you only have to believe it to be true, and we’ll be in the same place. You and me — and other members of our Sangha too.
You could be a Muslim and live in Flancia. You could think of Flancia as having many beautiful gardens like in a beautiful Muslim tapestry, like I do.
You could be a Christian and live in Flancia. Jesus had a Sangha and you know it, and he was all about helping others, so come on.
You could be a Taoist or a Confucianist and live in Flancia.
You could be a communist and live in Flancia. No comments necessary here, if material conditions get good enough through technological innovation and better cooperation between Sanghas communists and capitalists might hug. I see this working just fine in China, honestly.
You could be a libertarian and live in Flancia. You can have a Sangha all of your own.
You could be a feminist and live in Flancia. I am one and I do.
You could certainly be an Atheist and live in Flancia. Sam Harris does it for a living, and he’s doing quite well too.
Flancia is a place with an Agora, and a Dharma, and many Sanghas. You don’t even have to be a Buddhist or Greek to be part of it, because they are the universal ideas of civilization; look for them inside you and you’ll find them coded.
If you choose to believe in it, Flancia is a place and I welcome you to it. This was written for you, my friend, and I hope you understood it and liked it; but if you need some time to warm up to the idea that’s OK, we have time.
Thank you for reading my manifesto; I hope you liked it.
The world I described exists in my mind, and I shared it with you. You can share it again if you like my dream, my hope, my meme; if at least partly you choose to believe in it. If you want to become — if just for a while — a part of the community of people that believe in this place. Us utopians.
We will wait for you forever if you eventually want to get here, and we don’t care who you are.
We are all-inclusive.
If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended, That you have but slumber’d here While these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream, Gentles, do not reprehend: if you pardon, we will mend: And, as I am an honest Puck, If we have unearned luck Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue, We will make amends ere long; Else the Puck a liar call; So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.