Secular Buddhism

General discussion, particularly exploring the Dharma in the modern world.
[N.B. This is the forum that was called ‘Exploring Buddhism’. The new name simply describes it better.]
hkvanx
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Secular Buddhism

Post by hkvanx »

Is it possible to practice secular Buddhism?

I like to meditate to calm my mind and lower my desires.

Do you have to believe in the other aspects like karma, incarnation, Mara, etc to get the full benefit of Buddhism (enlightment, nirvana, etc)?
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Johnny Dangerous
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

If one is uncomfortable with those things, they can just meditate, practice ethics. No belief system is required other than a very simple altruism.
Most Dharma centers I've been to are made up people calling themselves Buddhist, and those who simply are interested in the meditation and basic ethical teaching.

Calling it 'Buddhism' would be absurd though, if one's viewpoint rejects core tenets of Buddhism, such as those you mention.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

-James Low
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Könchok Thrinley
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Könchok Thrinley »

I really dislike the entire "secular buddhism". It seems to me like a bunch of westerners who think they know better so they gut the buddhist teachings and create this dharma lite stuffed animal.

However, it is definetly better to arrive to some experience through practice that those "uncomfortable" notions are true. Be it logical reasoning, or some other way.
“Observing samaya involves to remain inseparable from the union of wisdom and compassion at all times, to sustain mindfulness, and to put into practice the guru’s instructions”. Garchen Rinpoche

Formerly known as Miroku.
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tobes
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by tobes »

hkvanx wrote: Tue Oct 29, 2019 8:54 pm Is it possible to practice secular Buddhism?

I like to meditate to calm my mind and lower my desires.

Do you have to believe in the other aspects like karma, incarnation, Mara, etc to get the full benefit of Buddhism (enlightment, nirvana, etc)?
Stephan Batchelor thinks so, and in fact, basically coined the term 'secular Buddhism.' It's very appealing to some people, and I'm sure one can benefit from it, especially to calm the mind and lower your desires. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_B ... r_(author)

However, you will definitely not get the 'full benefit' of Buddhism, because this is entirely predicated on dependent origination, which entails both karma and rebirth.

So, if you just want calm, secular Buddhism is fine.

If you want enlightenment, not fine.

:anjali:
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LastLegend
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by LastLegend »

hkvanx wrote: Tue Oct 29, 2019 8:54 pm Is it possible to practice secular Buddhism?

I like to meditate to calm my mind and lower my desires.

Do you have to believe in the other aspects like karma, incarnation, Mara, etc to get the full benefit of Buddhism (enlightment, nirvana, etc)?
Buddhism is about enlightenment. You should ask yourself: what is enlightenment and do your search.
Make personal vows.

End of the day: I don’t know.
Simon E.
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Simon E. »

tobes wrote: Wed Oct 30, 2019 12:21 am
hkvanx wrote: Tue Oct 29, 2019 8:54 pm Is it possible to practice secular Buddhism?

I like to meditate to calm my mind and lower my desires.

Do you have to believe in the other aspects like karma, incarnation, Mara, etc to get the full benefit of Buddhism (enlightment, nirvana, etc)?
Stephan Batchelor thinks so, and in fact, basically coined the term 'secular Buddhism.' It's very appealing to some people, and I'm sure one can benefit from it, especially to calm the mind and lower your desires. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_B ... r_(author)

However, you will definitely not get the 'full benefit' of Buddhism, because this is entirely predicated on dependent origination, which entails both karma and rebirth.

So, if you just want calm, secular Buddhism is fine.

If you want enlightenment, not fine.

:anjali:
And yet the large group around Stephen and Martine Batchelor spend more disciplined meditation time on the cushion than any traditional Sangha I know. Which must have an effect despite their not holding on to belief systems while they do it.
In the end “Secular Buddhism” seems in many cases to simply mean “Buddhism that does not hold the same set of beliefs that I do despite my not yet having had personal experience of their veracity”.
“You don’t know it. You just know about it. That is not the same thing.”

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to me.
SteRo
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by SteRo »

hkvanx wrote: Tue Oct 29, 2019 8:54 pm Is it possible to practice secular Buddhism?

I like to meditate to calm my mind and lower my desires.

Do you have to believe in the other aspects like karma, incarnation, Mara, etc to get the full benefit of Buddhism (enlightment, nirvana, etc)?
Of course it is possible to practice secular Buddhism. In the present life it may (but not necessarily does) yield results other than traditional Buddhism but it's open anyway whether one will change lineage, i.e. become a traditional Buddhist, in the course of practice.

As to believe: I am convinced that the Buddha had good reasons why he taught what he taught.


:namaste:
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Queequeg
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Queequeg »

Secular Buddhism is a misnomer in that I don't think it is Buddhism for this single reason - it does not aim for Nirvana. No Nirvana, no Buddha path.

Whatever it is, maybe a Buddhism flavored drink, its not Buddhadharma.

Its basically existentialism using some of the practice methods that have been handed down by Buddhists.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta
Simon E.
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Simon E. »

The question becomes for me..if an individual uses tried and tested upayas, meditative techniques, and follows sila, but does not frame that in terms of aspiration towards a particular goal, does that lack of stated aspiration render those practises null and void? What if they aspire to Bodhicitta but purely in terms of the present moment, does that mean that Bodhicitta does not arise?
“You don’t know it. You just know about it. That is not the same thing.”

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to me.
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Queequeg
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Queequeg »

I don't think it voids anything, just as similar practices in a Shaivite or Jain contexts are functional and have effects. But it's the orientation that organizes those practices toward a particular end. Whether Nirvana is a imminent or far away, and there are Buddhist who abide everywhere on that spectrum, we agree that Nirvana is the goal. If you're goal is some sort of perfecting practice but does not aim at nirvana, whatever it's merits, it's not Buddha Dharma. If you want to borrow Buddhist vocabulary, no one will stop you. Personally, I'll even let you hang around, but we don't share the goal and so without aversion, our ways part at some point. I will point out to others that your claim to the label Buddhist is suspect and the reasons for that.
SteRo
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by SteRo »

Simon E. wrote: Wed Oct 30, 2019 2:41 pm The question becomes for me..if an individual uses tried and tested upayas, meditative techniques, and follows sila, but does not frame that in terms of aspiration towards a particular goal, does that lack of stated aspiration render those practises null and void?
From my perspective it is impossible to start practice without any aspiration. But not every aspiration is based on Right View, is Right Resolve/Intention. But I guess that most beings who start practicing along the lines of 'secular Buddhism' which does include ethical conduct do so with an aspiration that is compatible with traditional Buddhism. Therefore I think that the resolve to practice 'secular Buddhism' is a state of maturation which is quite close to the resolve to practice the Eightfold Path in any of its scripturally based variants.

:namaste:
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Matt J
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Matt J »

I've never fully gotten the desire that people feel to narrow the gates of Buddhism. For me, I would like to see it flung open as far and as wide as possible. The Mahayana teaches that Buddhas will take any measure of forms in order to help other beings. I don't see why Buddhism cannot take a secular form, as its core tenants largely do not depend on holding firmly to particular thoughts in one's head. In fact, secular Buddhism may provide a solvent for fixed beliefs evidenced by many materialists.
"The essence of meditation practice is to let go of all your expectations about meditation. All the qualities of your natural mind -- peace, openness, relaxation, and clarity -- are present in your mind just as it is. You don't have to do anything different. You don't have to shift or change your awareness. All you have to do while observing your mind is to recognize the qualities it already has."
--- Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
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Johnny Dangerous
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

Simon E. wrote: Wed Oct 30, 2019 2:41 pm The question becomes for me..if an individual uses tried and tested upayas, meditative techniques, and follows sila, but does not frame that in terms of aspiration towards a particular goal, does that lack of stated aspiration render those practises null and void? What if they aspire to Bodhicitta but purely in terms of the present moment, does that mean that Bodhicitta does not arise?
Traditionally refuge in the Three Jewels is one of the things that defines someone as a practitioner of Buddhadharma or not, I am not sure in this department that it is happening. I mean, there is some sense of refuge but the focus of these practitioners is generally on worldly well-being, rather than on enlightenment, etc.

One of the effects of this is that meditation becomes a means to ends for a better life, this is present in traditional Buddhism too, but it is only half the equation. I also have known many 'secular Buddhist' types who are avid meditators, many better than more "religious" Buddhists.. but I notice their take on meditation, it's very purpose is different from my own.

My question is, why do people in this category even want to be called "Buddhist", rather than simply doing something "Buddhist inspired"?

I mean I can read a book on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (which I did, great stuff), and it has the same range as 'secular Buddhism", there is no goal of liberation beyond reduction of suffering in this life, greater autonomy etc. That is there (or should be) for any Dharma practitioner, but for the Dharma practitioner this is only half the story.

Still, I would not go out of my way to tell any of my friends who were doing this that they 'weren't Buddhist - though I would (and have) discuss this particular issue with them, and personally I see what they are doing as "Buddhism lite", or more positively, a seed of a deeper Dharma practice.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

-James Low
Simon E.
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Simon E. »

The only “Secular Buddhists” I have met personally have been those associated with the Batchelors, Stephen and Martine, and it seems too cut and dried to say that they are interested only in worldly well being. I think what they are saying is more nuanced than that. Malcolm once said something along the lines of “ if practises aid a better rebirth next time or the time after then those who follow those practises are doing a lot better than most”.. If I am remembering that wrongly, my apologies.
“You don’t know it. You just know about it. That is not the same thing.”

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to me.
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Johnny Dangerous
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

In what way is it more nuanced? To be fair, the well-being is not only for themselves, but also others. However, their viewpoint is one of unspoken scientific materialism, where the observable effects of their interactions are all that determine the results. The unstated belief that mind is solely an epiphenomena of the physical brain is a very different view from traditional Buddhism of any variety really.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

-James Low
Simon E.
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Simon E. »

If I understand what they are saying correctly, what they leave unsaid results from an attempt to stay within an honest expression of what they have experienced themselves rather than a denial. It’s a tight discipline.
“You don’t know it. You just know about it. That is not the same thing.”

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to me.
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Johnny Dangerous
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

Have you personally read Batchelor? He goes way beyond just ‘testing gold’, he argues that a large portion of Buddhism is simply not necessary, and affirms his own approach as essentially more in ‘the spirit’ of Buddhism.

I’ve seen the sort of approach you are talking about from individuals, the ones I know resist labeling themselves, Batchelor does not.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

-James Low
Simon E.
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Simon E. »

I used to live near him when he lived in Devon UK. I got to see him responding to various questions in various situation to different people.
What his community has in common with the very different approach taken by the Aro people In another thread is a warmth and openness and a commitment to meditation not always found among traditional groups although the latter might state their goals firmly within the limits of impeccable orthodoxy. I think both groups in their different ways show Buddhadharma finding its place in the very different culture of the secular west. It’s a work in progress.
“You don’t know it. You just know about it. That is not the same thing.”

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to me.
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Queequeg
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Queequeg »

Simon E. wrote: Wed Oct 30, 2019 7:12 pm I used to live near him when he lived in Devon UK. I got to see him responding to various questions in various situation to different people.
What his community has in common with the very different approach taken by the Aro people In another thread is a warmth and openness and a commitment to meditation not always found among traditional groups although the latter might state their goals firmly within the limits of impeccable orthodoxy. I think both groups in their different ways show Buddhadharma finding its place in the very different culture of the secular west. It’s a work in progress.
That's well and good, except for the part of calling it Buddhadharma, though I suppose no one owns that trademark.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta
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Hazel
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Re: Secular Buddhism

Post by Hazel »

I see my journey this way...

I am walking around outside and a good friend comes up to me. He tells me there is a three headed donkey just down the street and to the left and I should go to that donkey posthaste because my opportunity for doing so is short . I have never heard of a three headed donkey before, but he is a good and trusted friend who I know has never led me astray. I therefore put my doubts aside and follow his directions to the letter and determine that I will understand what he meant when I get there.

I think when I have no doubts I will be better equipped on that journey, but I have to start somewhere.
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