virus: <Buddhism>

Eric Boyd (
Sat, 15 Nov 1997 23:43:29 -0500

Hi James,

Your e-mail has given me much to think about...
I've decided that you have a major point
about the multiplicity of the Buddhism ideas --
I'm not at all sure how you can view differing
ideas as part of the "same" meme-complex.

(But then, I'm not sure how you can call them
all "Buddhism" either!)

Anyway, on to my responses:

quotes from:
Date: Wed, 12 Nov 97 12:52:00 EST
From: "Wright, James 7929" <>
Subject: virus: RE: virus-digest V2 #300

sum up : BELIEVE = blind faith
Believe = "good" assumptions, rationally extending
trust to other ideas from people
you trust, "scientific" faith.
believe = I can "prove" (to whatever standard I
hold for proof) this, and make you believe
too, probably.

> I maintain that I believe Buddhism, not BELIEVE or
> Believe in it. Your definition of <faith> seems
> to depend on BELIEF; I maintain that it is not only
> possible but demonstrable to believe in Buddhism.

I'm not really sure why it would be necessary to
BELIEVE -- all that is necessary is that one
hold the belief, and think it valuable, for that
is sufficient to begin propagating it.

It might be argued that actually having a cogent
argument for the belief would make it easier to
propagate, but I think that would be crediting
the average human with too much intelligence.

I have this wonderful quote here:

"The average woman would rather have beauty than brains,
because the average man can see better than he can think."

(came from this very list, right?)

Similarly, getting people to Believe has more
to do with your skills as a speech maker (your
knowledge of memetics) then how good the ideas
are supported by reason and experience.

(and people so convinced would SAY they believed)

> Thought experiment: replace "Buddhism" with "science"
> in your paragraph above (it will also be necessary to
> replace "taking refuge" with "accepting validity", or
> something similar). <Snip!>

Indeed, this is lots of fun! It would be interesting
to write an essay on the memetics of science... just
to see how far you could go.

I think it all really comes down to this: all
idea complexes are subject to memetic pressures,
and nothing is immune... if the system does not
have some major safeguards built in, eventually
all that will survive is the memetically evolved
propagation engine[1]. (this is basically what I
think fundamentalist Christianity is now)

Science, like Buddhism, has several "anti-memetic"
guards in it, BUT IT IS NOT IMMUNE, and neither
was Buddhism. That's why we must be on our guard
at all times -- let us not let the powerful forces
of memetics take down the best institution humans
have ever constructed.

> A more subtle point, perhaps -
> How does one distinguish <faith> from <understanding>?

I don't think there is any real difference once
the opinion is HELD -- the only difference is HOW
one got there. This is why it is BETTER to TRAVEL
than to ARRIVE.

(I'm amazed how long this truth has held for me)

quote: <snip good story about speed of light>
> I'll try to find the URL for any who might be interested.

I'd certainly be interested... if only because it
shows the memetic effects on science.

> The question I propose, however, is how do you
> distinguish between BELIEF and belief, as I used
> them above, from an outside / disinterested
> perspective (which I am attributing to Eric, here)?

YOU CAN'T on the face of it -- however, if you
ASK someone to justify their BELIEF, it will
become obvious which form it is...

> I am also questioning the existence of the "Buddhist
> meme complex" in the singular - it would seem there
> must at least two, since the Buddhism I am familiar
> with does not include FAITH as you apparently consider
> it to be. Or, more simply, the existence of "forms of
> Buddhism" negates the existence of a "Buddhist meme
> complex"; the existence of disparate characteristics
> among schools prevents attributing FAITH or even <faith>
> to all of them, which I thought you were proposing.

This is a very good point -- I have no idea
how I could modify my thesis to take this
into account. Perhaps simply narrow the scope
to some school of Buddhism which exhibits the
signs (or enlarge it to deal with each separate

The other question I could have done on Buddhism
was to show how all the schools of Buddhism maintained
the basic core of ideas -- perhaps in doing that
essay, it would become clear how I could justify
a single Buddhist meme complex. Perhaps not.

One thing that does strike me is this, though:
monks did not have to adhere to any one school,
it was quite common in a monks travel (which
they did quite often) to just stay with any
of the local groups.

Perhaps that could provide the link between
the memetic complexes.

But I'm just thinking out loud here...

> Ideology is another loaded word. I need a definition
> from you on this one, because I associate ideology
> with leftist and Marxist organizations, which Buddhism
> does not resemble.

Sorry -- I was completely unaware of the negative
connotations of that word. It is my synonym for
"world view" or -- my personal favorite -- "thought

> No. It took thousands of years to develop the first
> Buddha - why would we wish to repeatedly lose the
> value of his experiences and truth, and wander about
> trying to rediscover it again and again? "Common
> sense" isn't all that common <snip>

hehehe. I don't know about you, but I had basically
decided that desire was the enemy years before
I found Buddhism (I think... my child hood
memories are dim, but I do recall saying that
HOPE was the worst of all evils BEFORE I read
that Zen book) -- of course, I hadn't worked
out the Four Noble Truths as such, nor found a
sure way to the elimination of desire, but
it was coming. Anyway, you are right here --
preservation of knowledge is important.

EVERYTHING depends on the slow accumulation
of knowledge -- indeed, I found a quote in
The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors that
is simply right -- that the Bible is a book
of it's time -- and that the flaws and ignorance
we see in it proves that.

It's not that the book is "wrongheaded" but
rather that it represents the "state of
knowledge" *2000*+ years ago, and so it's
not surprising we know better now.

> Buddha learned certain truths
> and generated certain ideas, which were then preserved
> for humanity, in exactly the same way medical textbooks,
> science textbooks and psychology textbooks preserve
> knowledge.

Of course, I've also been reading Confucius lately:
it's surprising, but we still have MUCH to learn
from this man -- who lived 2600 years ago.

China was WAY ahead back then, and it shows.

> Any ideas which are not personally understood
> and verified as truth result in BELIEF - which
> the Buddha warned about.

"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it,
no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own
reason and your own common sense." -- Buddha

Of course, that didn't stop them...

> If it is tested, found true and attributed to the
> Buddha, it can be considered part of Buddhism.

Of course, if it is tested, found FALSE, and
ascribed to the Buddha -- well, what can we
say but that is it Buddhist anyway?

> You ascribe the Four Noble Truths to Buddha, as I
> would - but your ascription is based on the same Pali
> Canon that you later accuse of corruption with other
> persons' ideas, as it may well be. Are the Four Noble
> Truths a corrupted, foreign idea? If so, how can one
> discuss Buddhism at all? If not, how would you prove it?

I like analogies -- this case is similar to Christianity
as well. Does it matter if a concept actually came
from Jesus or Paul? Both are ASCRIBED to Jesus, and
both are now treated as "Christian" ideas.

So what if we can prove Paul was an impostor?

No -- what people *say* is the Buddha's we might
as well *treat* as the Buddha's, for I can't see
how we gain by arguing over names.

So it's *all* part of the Buddhist meme-complex[s]

> The last question, "who decides what is REAL Buddhism",
> is what moved me to write in the first place. It seemed
> that in ascribing certain conditions of existence
> involving the Sangha, State support, the existence of
> FAITH and the need for <faith> to propagate Buddhism,
> etc. you were in fact presenting yourself as the authority
> who decides what Buddhism really is.

"Authority". That is something we all need to pay
very much attention to -- memetics tells us that
authorities are key memetic vectors, REGARDLESS of
whether they actually have any qualifications in
the field in which they speak.

You are right -- I think that coming across as
an "authority" is part of the MEDIUM of essays.


I was told in grade 12 never to put "I" into an
essay -- do you know WHY? It's because removing
"I" makes your essay more authoritative, more
"true" in the eyes of the reader.

So I deliberately put many "I"'s into my essay.

Honestly, though, if one wants to avoid seeming
like an authority, essay's are best avoided.

You are right -- I am NOT an authority on
Buddhism -- my three books (several chapters from
the religion text book) hardly qualify me
as an expert in the field.

I just think that trying to write an essay
where I DON'T come across as an authority
would be like trying to talk without
making any sounds...

> I suppose in the last resort, my post was to try to
> convince you that there are large areas of Buddhism
> in the modern world that your essay totally ignores,
> yet associates (unwantedly) with <faith>,FAITH,
> State support and so forth.

True enough. I was aware of this on writing --
the books I read had only a small section on
"protestant" Buddhism, and it sounded very different,
but I couldn't spend either the time or the words
(I was already 500 words over the limit) to
do better.


quote: <snip mantra stuff>
> What would qualify as treating the words of the
> Buddha as sacred and infallible would be actions
> intolerant of defamation, such as: Persecuting
> defamers (such as Scientology practices), killing
> and jailing persons who believed otherwise (such
> as Communists and religious regimes practice) and
> deciding civil laws / court cases on Buddhist text
> principles (as above). None of these things happen,
> as far as I know. By the way, is not the recitation
> of Bible verses from memory going as far as mantras?

Your view of "infallible words" seems very strange.
How exactly would believing in the Absolute Truth
of the Four Noble Truths cause people to kill?

(after all, they highlight compassion highly)

Because, you see, it's only the Christian's view
that theirs is THE ONLY WAY which makes them
violent. The Buddha's words have no such
exclusivity, and so we should not expect to see
this behavior, even if they did have ideas
about "infallibility".

You are right about recitation of Bible versus,
though -- I've still think it is a form
of Bible Idolatry -- which is, of course,
condemned by the very same book!

> You have very generous standards - was Idi Amin a good
> Islamicist, Torquemada a good Catholic, and Stalin a
> good Communist as well?

My knowledge of history sucks, but it seems to
me that Stalin at least was a VERY GOOD ruler.

The people loved him.

Of course, he was EVIL too -- but that doesn't
mean he wasn't good at what he did.

The other two I've never even heard of.

> You seemed to be proposing in your essay that the
> existence of a community was equivalent to creating
> a self-propagating meme complex - and I was arguing
> that people form communities independent of meme
> complexes, using my housing subdivision as an example.
> "Piedmont Chasism" does not exist, as far as I am aware -
> the existence of a community does not imply the existence
> of a meme complex, as far as I can tell, in modern America.

No -- but the other way, I would argue, IS TRUE.

The existence of a meme-complex IMPLIES the existence
of a community to support it. (now for the question
of the hour: if I say meme-complexes don't exist,
what does the former sentence mean? unnnn *bsssstt*
three strikes, I'm out)

A revision of my essay is in order, if it implied
the above. (and I think you are right it does)

>I'm not willing to agree that <Buddhism> exists!

unoh... I'm very interested in the continuing
development of my idea that perhaps NO MEME'S
exist -- that, "in fact", memetics is not science
but rather a POINT OF VIEW.

Working from within an intention entity stance
is like working within an inertial frame in physics
-- it's just your view point.

One is then forced to wonder what would
correspond to the Speed of Light (which
is the ONE absolute in relativity -- mass, time
and distance all vary to MAKE it never change)

Ideas, virions? What is the absolute idea
in "intentional entities" which everything
else varies to make absolute? Could that be

What a sweet idea! Give me a couple of days here...

(last I checked I had four of five different ideas
about what God could be...)

quote: <snip faith, zen stuff>
> The existence of a singular "Buddhist meme complex"
> is something I dispute. I consider there to be too
> many varieties and schools to speak of it as a
> single entity, with common traits but not exclusive
> and common memes to all schools.

Agreed... but then, you could say the
same thing about Christianity.

Interestingly, the same sort of issue
comes up in genetics... when do we begin
to say this gene-sequence has mutated
too far to call it the same species
(or family, or whatever)?

Anybody know how they deal with it in genetics?

> Zen in particular and Buddhism in general utilize the
> reasoning power of humans as a way to reach spiritual
> or insightful truth - this is a central difference
> between Buddhism and other organizations, with several
> observers stating that Buddhism cannot be considered
> a "religion" for exactly that consideration.

I would tend to agree... since I have a generally
negative view of "religion" as a class of things.

However, I suspect that our definition of
religion as something with that evil component
"FAITH" is quite unusual in religious studies,
and is really doing disservice to the idea.

And beside, ever debated with a f. Christian?

Believe me, they have LOTS of "rationalizations"
about their faith!

> If it relies on individual reasoning power of humans,
> it cannot DEPEND on tradition and authority - although
> it may use them as a starting point, if it chooses,
> and to reduce waste of time to arrive at truth.
> While reason may not be totally opposed to faith,
> especially when you reach details, it does not coexist
> well with FAITH or BELIEF - just ask David McF.!

I still see no reason to think that
a propagation engine needs "FAITH" rather
than faith -- perhaps the former is
stronger (indeed, I predicted this) but
the later is still enough.

> Memetics in general suggests that memes spread
> independent of their truth value; no argument
> there. It also suggests that better-adapted memes
> use "hooks", calls to sex, death, fear and so
> on to spread. Buddhism is composed of memes,
> but is in general indifferent to propagation;
> it has spread, but seems to lack "sex appeal",
> "fear" and so forth, although many people study
> it beginning with a fear of death that they wish
> to avoid.
> Buddhism might be considered an "anti-meme complex"
> that spreads using memetic techniques at their
> minimum level - "I learned it, and don't fear
> death anymore. You can too!"

Sure it can -- but as I showed, it can also be
viewed as a full scale memetic complex.

Everything falls to the the God of memetics!

You must BOW DOWN!


quote: <snip burning insense (typo intentional)>
> Any organization is only as strong as its weakest link,
> but you can't judge an effort by its flaws - or no
> work of art would ever be well known.

Good one! I was recently talking with someone
about "a house divided against itself will fall"

Until yesterday, I thought that was basically

But then it occurred to me that SCIENCE is a house
ALWAYS divided against itself -- as is a modern
court of law.

These institutions (at least the first one!) stand
quite well -- in fact, if all of science can be
viewed as one institution, it probably stands
better than any other around.

Why is that?

I maintain that it stands BECAUSE it is divided
against itself -- the doubt, the ever careful
checking to be sure each part is right, the
peer review journals, the repetition of
experiments -- all are science hammering at
it's own structure, to be sure it stands well.

I think we need to begin a campaign to kill
that "a house divided against itself will
fall" meme -- FOR IT IS *THE* EXPRESSION

It, David, is a meme you should be fighting.
It seems far enough away from the source of the
problem -- faith -- that you could actually
take it on and NOT activate peoples
"danger" memes, and yet it's destruction
would be of immense help to your fight.

> Your statement begs the question - are there any
> genetic flaws? If I am born with a condition that
> ensures my death at age ten, am I flawed? Or am I
> a perfect being, perfectly me, simply issued with
> a ten-year warranty instead of a four-score-and-ten
> version?

I guess the answer is that "flaws" is a
subjective word. What makes something
flawed? Me not liking it.

I've forgotten now why I even brought this
up... (does research) ahh.

Right -- we are all affected by both
genetic and memetic flaws.

The point is to BE *AWARE* (can I hit this
meme any harder?) of the problems -- to
try and solve them if we can, or find
ways to USE them, if possible.

To be always on guard against the God
of memetics -- who is not interested in
the truth, but rather in propagation,
that -- THAT -- my friends, is the real
power that studying memetics gives us.

> Hmm, "holds to the truth of" - how is this different
> from science, again? Or is "faith" part of science?
> I think this is a definition problem, again.

"faith" is a part of science, too.
(under my definition, of course)

> I greatly appreciate your civil tone and thoughtful
> response - and I hope I have matched you in this
> response.

Indeed you have!

> We do view Buddhism differently, but
> that need not cause conflict - there are still several
> questions regarding intent, faith, and so on to be
> resolved - if they can be!

Yes -- it's clear to me that my essay needs work. Perhaps
in a few weeks (maybe over the winter solstice) I will
fix it up. I'm afraid it will be much bigger, as I
will have to expand many sections.

Anybody interested in having me repost it when I'm

[1]The other serious project I'm working on is the
application of entropy to memetics -- a sort
of philosophy of decay towards the "pure meme".
Or perhaps towards oblivion... I have not decided

The problem with all these new ideas is that
my head swims in them... I think I'm absorbing
new material TOO FAST... all the connections
between them just flow in and all I can do
is write them down and hope I'll have time
later to develop them!


(BTW, I got the essay back: 74%!!!)