Religion 21st Century

Some Topics


“What do like to do best in the whole world, Pooh? “Well’, said Pooh, what I like best…” and then he had to stop and think because although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called. Winnie the Pooh. AA Milne

Many years ago when the Tibetan Karmapa visited Vancouver, I attended a Bodhisattva initiation ceremony and he placed a red string around my neck that signaled my new status. The task of the Boddhisattva is to develop compassion in the service of fellow sentient beings. This book is one expression of my Boddhisattva duties. I have studied Buddhist texts from many countries, practiced meditations and developed a personal version of Buddhist philosophy which I will outline here. This is the Pacific Coast school of Buddhism circa year 2550 (Buddhist calendar). When I am asked on a census form to state my religion, I will write Buddhist. I was not born a Buddhist, nor am I documented member of a Buddhist group. My wife is a real Buddhist from Thailand and does not discourage my claim to be a Buddhist, although we have many discussions about the differences between my version and her version. My wife’s name is Sanskrit, Sumala (Rathaporn) Pawakanun. She recites devotional chants in Sanskrit and Pali, the ancient language of Theravadan Buddhism.

A central principal of Buddhism is that each person is ultimately responsible for whatever happens. Buddhism is nontheistic and esoteric. Buddhism developed in Nepal, India, Tibet, China, Japan, Southeast Asia and Indonesia. Some shared Hindu and Buddhist concepts are:

1. Dharma the lawful path of self development that includes precepts, ethics and duties.

2. Samsāra, the impermanent world of suffering, birth, life, sickness, death and rebirth.

3. Karma the meshwork of causes and effects.

4. Moksha, the liberation from suffering in samsara.

5. Yogas are paths and practices required for self-discipline, health and self development. Meditations and yoga are different aspects of the practices required to study and tame a wild mind.


Ashoka (294-232 BC) is recalled as the greatest King of India who embraced and promoted the values of the Buddha -- truth, charity, kindness, purity and goodness. After years of military conquests, he became a pacifist, declaring an official policy of nonviolence (ahimsa) in his kingdom. Ashoka was the first of a succession of kings who promoted and exported Buddhism. They are responsible for the world religion status of Buddhism, a religion that uniquely spread by peaceful means and promoted the idea of civil society, free of war He protected domestic animals and wildlife and advocated vegetarianism. Ashoka had a clear vision of an educated civil society. He built universities, hospitals, roads and aquaducts. He built stone pillars with Buddhist teachings engraved; some of these have survived as an enduring record of his teachings.

His son, Mahindra, and daughter, Sanghamitra, took Buddhism to Ceylon (Shri Lanka). Asoka dispatched Buddhist teachers throughout Asia and Mediterranean regions - Syria, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Tibet and southeast Asia (now Buddhist countries --Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam). He organized a Buddhist council in 250 BC at Pataliputra (Patna).

The Three Jewels

There is no single contemporary Buddhism and no central authority. The “religion” is multicultural and has been inflected quite differently at different times in different places. Several versions of Buddhism have been transplanted and transliterated into Canadian and US society. Buddhist ideas have permeated European societies.

Buddhism is based on the understanding that divinity is in the world and in us. The three jewels of Buddhist practice are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Dharma refers to the teachings, the practice and conduct which should follow the eight fold path. The Sangha is the fellowship of other Buddhists who guide and support each other.

Buddhism has many forms from ascetic world denial to the great love for all sentient beings. Access to an enlightened Buddha mind is available to all who stop and tune into the wisdom of the universe. Each human works toward liberation attempting to escape from the ignorance that obscures the radiance of a clear, untroubled mind.

Scientists and mind scientists in particular have been attracted to Buddhism because it is a religion based on a coherent psychology, epistemology and ethics that requires no belief, although beliefs and superstitions are often attached by local groups. Buddhism is an original form of scientific humanism. Thurman wrote:” When Buddha established educational practices, reality was approached as both outer environment and inner self, the same as in the West. The self was chosen as the more important to understand and control. “

Although Buddhism is a self-reflective religion that proposes to alter the expression of human nature, Buddhist groups still develop typical human structures with dogmatic members, bureaucracies and hierarchies. Human tendencies are well described in old Buddhist texts with warnings not to perseverate, but innate tendencies prevail, despite insightful teachings. I have preferred Buddhist paths that are relatively independent and sometime solitary, although the support of fellow travelers (Sangha) is considered to be one of the three foundations of practice.

There are several precepts from Buddhism that differentiates this philosophy from dogmatic religions:

1.All events are manifest in the mind.

2.The cause of all suffering is unexamined desire.

3.Suffering can be alleviated through self-development.

4.The really real is the flux –everything is impermanent

5.Nature is the sacred temple.

6.The divine principle lives in each person.

7.Heaven and hell are not places but states of mind.

8.God and the Devil are not rival politicians, but aspects of the dialectic process alive in every human mind.

This mind-based understanding merges easily with ideas of neuroscience and psychology, which recognize that the mind is indeed the center of the universe. The brain is the organ of the mind and all human experience and knowledge is a function of the human brain. Each person must bring the universe into existence and each person is responsible for the intelligent rendering of the really real. Some do a better job than others.

Einstein stated that "Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and the spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity."

  • Religion for the 21st Century is available as an eBook download. The book is intended for a well-educated smart reader who is interested in a world view of religious expressions past, present and future. The main theme is that each religious group has its own claims and stories and will tend to reject others. A reader committed to one point of view may not accept the egalitarian review presented here. Innate tendencies are expressed as religions and in the past have created conflicts that hinder progress towards the real and true. The book examines paths for religious renewal in the 21st century.

    The author is Stephen Gislason

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    Pieces of Puzzle
    Sound of Music
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      I and Thou
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      Neuroscience Notes
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