What is the "essence of religion"?
It is about control of the population, primarily control, but there is a secondary concern of guidance toward virtue, but each religion has a different set of virtues that they hold high. We could describe any religion as a list of do and do not do's. We could take the five pillars of Islam or the ten commandments as the start of those lists. That give an idea about what those two are about, maintaining the religion first, and then perhaps the people. This is just wrong. I think that our personal list of the virtues we hold high is important, while the religions are of low importance or even evil.
Buddhism and Stoicism is about virtues, and living by virtues, but Buddhism gets sidetracked into meditation practice, rather than the use of meditation or contemplation. It is through contemplation that one can select the better looking available path. Note that I did not say correct, for until we get to the end and evaluate the then past, can we really make the judgement of correctness.
The next problem arises in selecting from the better looking available paths. It must be known, be available, and practical give all of life's constraints. When I look back over all the career choices that I made, some were likely poorer choices, but I owned a house, debt free. I had a run of good fortune early on in life, and was then tied to the property, location, and similar encumbrances when the economy turned down here. Now what? Do I sell at a loss, or do I wait the economy out? Well, I decided to wait it out, and recovery took too long, and by the time it recovered, I was too old. But I did OK, just not as well as in the early years. Decisions should not come with regret.
Contemplation is great, but we must stay in the present time, not get tracked into the past as I did there. A bit of a plan for the future is fine, even necessary, but religions do not help much there. They a like positive psychology, lay out a path, but not provide a clear direction, when it is the lack of direction that creates much of the problem. Meditation, as described in the modern Buddhist literature, Surya Das or Kabat-Zinn, are lovely ways of sitting but may not produce tangible results for a long period of time. Oh well. These require faith that meditation has value. Not a good thing in such time as we live in with tremendous amount of possible concepts to choose from.
The first item on the virtue list is faith, faith that the belief system is right. Stoicism considers faith to be a vice, and that is where it belongs. So if we accept this one tenet of Stoicism, all religions are screwed. We also need to consider one virtue at a time, and we soon see that as we sort, belief in any supernatural concepts must go. Meditation as taught by the early Buddhists and some forms of Buddhism, seems like a different cat from most of the modern teachers. It is much more of quiet contemplation, and there are even writing forms, as the candle meditation, where each distracting thought is written. That quickly get to the problem. It may also be that each person has a style that best suits there personality.
So religion may serve as a distraction from life, or a subject to focus on as a group for the benefit of community. A community needs a cause that can never be realized, for as soon as it it reached, it stops being a motivator. We also see dropout rates along the way, as well as washouts, those that leave before they have seen substantial progress. We saw this same phenomena in OA, and in most service clubs, even sports clubs.
We have the responsibility to choose which virtues that should be where on our personal priority list. I think that non-violence need to move up in my personal list. Non-violence is more stringent than peace, in that peace, the current connotation is no fighting, whereas nonviolence suggests that even preparation for violence and even swatting a troublesome child would be forbidden. This is something that a whole culture or community would need to undertake for it to work.
Food pushing is another think that is cultural and not helping the obesity situation. That alone may be one of the single largest factors in the obesity epidemic. It is everywhere. We must resist.
Respect, truth, non-violence, moderate compassion, and moderation in self control.... But what do I know?