In this answer, I was told,

Many Mahayana schools of Buddhism, including at least some Zen sects and some Tibetan Vajrayana lineages, understand the supernatural as skillful means (upaya), i.e. useful metaphors/simplifications pointing to aspects of "reality".

Assuming this to be true, can these schools of thought discard the supernatural aspects (which we may refer to as "myths of Buddhism"), as such metaphors may be less useful or not useful in the modern age? In other words, may we "modernize" Buddhism as an upaya?

If the supernatural elements or "myths" (such as Buddhist cosmology etc.) are skillful means rather than integral to The Buddha's teachings, then is it correct to say that "modernizing" the teachings could also be an Upaya?

Has any recent guru (within the past 50 years or so) mentioned such a possibility of "modernizing Buddhism" in his writings or his speeches? Kindly give references.

  • 2
    This seems like a duplicate of Shouldn't Buddhist discussion use modern metaphors (instead of metaphors from the ancient past)?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 13:14
  • @ChrisW - Except, now we are not talking about just metaphors, we are talking about the entire cosmology -- 31 lokas etc. Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 13:24
  • The premise (i.e. "context" in the 1st paragraph) of this question is that "the cosmology" is a metaphor.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 13:44
  • @ChrisW - Exactly. If this premise is incorrect, then I guess people will say so. Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 14:06
  • 4
    @KrishnarajRao I think you should take on the task of modernizing Buddhism, since you are so passionate about this. No sarcasm intended. First you'd have to learn everything of course, and then re-structure in modern terms... should not take more than 25-30 years... If you are serious about this, you can finish it before you die.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 16:27

1 Answer 1


Here's a quote from Science at the Crossroads by Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama,

Because of this methodological standpoint, I have often remarked to my Buddhist colleagues that the empirically verified insights of modern cosmology and astronomy must compel us now to modify, or in some cases reject, many aspects of traditional cosmology as found in ancient Buddhist texts.

I don't know whether this quote (therefore this answer) addresses the "metaphor" and "upaya" and "supernatural" parts of your question, but I think it's partially relevant given your mention of cosmology.

This speech was composed for "the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience".

  • I think that the dalai lama has probably contributed the most in terms of modernising buddhism by concessions like this. Scientists will find it difficult to criticise anyone who immediately abandons the unprovable or seemingly illogical.
    – Sam Reeve
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 21:11
  • The Dalai Lama also said in his book "The Universe in a Single Atom" that if Science were to conclusively disprove Buddhism (or any of its beliefs) then we should abandon Buddhism (or the belief in question).
    – Zell Faze
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 20:12

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