What is a Secular Buddhist, and What Do They Believe?

| July 9, 2012 | 233 Comments

A few months back I addressed the question we were receiving frequently What is Secular Buddhist Practice? Now, we are seeing stereotypes of secular Buddhists cropping up, and some assumptions about the beliefs or lack thereof regarding secular Buddhists. I’d like to address both questions in one article, because they tend to roll into one another in conversations.

What is a Secular Buddhist?

To define a secular Buddhist is not easy, and anything we come up with that may fit one person is not going to apply to many others. One thing we can say with accuracy is that secular Buddhists are a diverse bunch. People are coming to secular  Buddhism from many walks of life from Christianity and Judaism, from Atheism and Humanism, to many of the various established Buddhist traditions.

Secular Buddhism is new on the block compared to our sister traditions, and secular Buddhists’ approaches to practice is almost as varied as the people themselves. Yet, I would like to take Gotama’s approach to self and say what secular Buddhists are not:

  • In spite of what’s being bandied about the ‘net, secular Buddhists are not Stephen Batchelor clones. Not all secular Buddhists know about Stephen Batchelor, and while many do, not all are in 100% agreement with him on every aspect of Buddhism. And while many of us like him immensely, he is not our god, he is not our Buddha, and we do not aspire to be Stephen’s twin.
  • We do not all approach practice the same way, nor do we all view the suttas in the same light, and many of us don’t even agree on Gotama himself (more on this in beliefs below).
  • Secular Buddhists do not feel the need to erase the colorful rich, history of Buddhism, nor do we want to destroy traditions, their practices, their rituals, or their beliefs. Most secular Buddhists do not consider traditional Buddhism as “wrong” and secular Buddhism as “right”.

It’s impossible to say a secular Buddhist is this. In doing so, we’d create a stereotype that simply wouldn’t fit many secular Buddhists, and frankly secular Buddhists and Buddhism does not exist in and of itself any more than anything else. However, we do have some commonalities, but again, these are not going to apply to all secular Buddhists:

  • Many secular Buddhists approach Buddhism from a practice point of view only.
  • Many secular Buddhists are not dogmatic about the suttas but have great respect for the teachings.
  • Many secular Buddhists consider the most relevant teachings to be the four noble truths, the eightfold path, and the ethics and compassion that comes out of both of those. However, there is much variation on how they define these teachings and put them into practice. In fact, we have a lot of healthy discussion and disagreement on these topics with each other.
  • Many secular Buddhist approach the sutta translations enthusiastically, skillfully, and skeptically. There is also much disagreement and agreement over the suttas.
  • Many secular Buddhists don’t care at all about the suttas, Buddhist history, or even Buddha. What they want is the practice itself; they want to know what to do.

What do they believe?

As for beliefs . . . Many Buddhists, if they have worked with meditation and mindfulness much, get to the point where they are good at discovering their own beliefs, dissecting them, and letting go of them  where appropriate. Belief, after all, is simply an idea that one clings to, in some cases with compelling evidence, and in other cases with no evidence at all. We all have beliefs. It’s how human beings form world views, but this Buddhist practice is wonderful in helping us examine them.

  • Some secular Buddhists believe Buddha was a historical figure and his authenticity is of importance to their practice.
  • Some secular Buddhists don’t believe Buddha was a historical figure, and view Gotama as a myth and the teachings as full of wisdom, and some nonsense.
  • Some secular Buddhists have never thought about whether Gotama is a historical person or a myth, and some don’t care either way.
  • Some secular Buddhists practice rituals they learned in traditional Buddhism, while other secular Buddhists reject those very same rituals.
  • Some secular Buddhists believe all the teachings should be approached with scientific scrutiny, tested out in the Lab of Life, and they let go of anything in the suttas that can not be practiced in life.
  • Some secular Buddhists believe in rebirth or reincarnation, while many do not.
  • Some secular Buddhists believe one can reach a fixed state of enlightenment and end suffering completely, while others do not.
  • Some secular Buddhists view enlightenment as moments of being awake, mindful in the present without mental embellishments and the suffering that creates.
  • Some secular Buddhists believe it’s unBuddhist to call oneself a Buddhist of any sort.

I could go on, but I’m hoping you’ll see that defining  secular Buddhists is difficult and perhaps unnecessary. The one thing we do share is an interest in Buddhism, the practice, and we want to suffer less or not at all.  We  agree we are practicing or learning about Buddhism on some level, even if it’s just an interest in mindfulness.

Secular is a controversial word that is gaining a variety of definitions. Secular is sometimes defined as not religious or not supernatural; concerning this world and this single lifetime; or allowing for all traditions and religions and not adhering to any single one in particular.

Additionally there are other Buddhist group names: Natural Buddhism, Pragmatic Buddhism, and Non-Buddhism. Frankly, all these names are just labels. They help on a conventional level, but they are not worth arguing about, certainly not worth clinging to. If you feel more comfortable calling yourself a Pragmatic Buddhist, go for it. If Secular Buddhist appeals to you, then have at it. If you call yourself a Zen practitioner and are enjoying the content on this site, awesome!

I’d like to give warning by using a phrase from the suttas I really like: don’t get caught in a thicket of views. As soon as you say, secular Buddhists believe such and such, you’ll come across a person who doesn’t believe that. If you define secular Buddhists in one particular way, you’ll come across someone else who defines it another way. Better to refer to yourself regarding these labels by saying something like: For me and my practice secular Buddhism is . . . Or saying: I call myself a secular Buddhist because. . . .  Define yourself if you wish, but be careful about defining others. And be mindful of what that definition means to you and how tightly you wear the label.

The secular Buddhists (with all other Buddhist types) have countless differences among us. What we all have in common is we are human beings who suffer, who want to be free of suffering. Let’s just start from that foundation, have compassion for one another, enjoy healthy disagreements, the sharing of information, and enjoy the benefits of this practice.

May we all be free of suffering!

 

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Dana Nourie

About the Author ()

Dana is Technical Director of the Secular Buddhist Association. She learned Buddhism through a DVD course on Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, followed by a two-year course in person. She then studied Theravada Buddhism through the Insight Meditation South Bay with teacher Shaila Catherine. She has been a practitioner now for over a decade. Dana has been working in the internet industry since 1992, has held the positions of web developer, technical writer, and online community manager. She is a geek girl with a passion for science and computing.

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  1. Mark Knickelbine says:

    Nice piece, Dana!

    If I can risk beating around the thicket of views, I think one thing most Secular Buddhists would agree with is that practice is about responding to life as we live it each moment. The practical implication is that we are not motivated by fear of an afterlife or achieving some final, eternal, blissful state, but about living a flourishing human life here and now.

  2. Candol says:

    Excellent Dana!

  3. Pete strawdog56 says:

    Well said Dana.

  4. mufi says:

    Nice job, Dana.

    Like I’ve said before: At the very least, “Secular Buddhist” is an apt name for this site (and forum and podcast). Whether those of us who are drawn here choose to take that label into our daily lives is another (more personal) matter.

  5. jonckher says:

    hi dana, kudos for taking this on as it’s certainly one of those efforts that will generate discussion and disagreement.

    having said that, I am going to be the first to question as gently as an atheist can.

    I was always under the impression that secular buddhism was effectively atheist – that supernatural components of buddhism (pure land paradises, buddhist hells, angelic boddhisatvas, cosmic buddhas, karmic indulgences via buddha/boddhisatva worship and yes after-death reincarnation) were considered pure poppycock.

    Admittedly, I haven’t really been calling myself a Secular Buddhist – I have always insisted on modifying the B with an A(theist) so I’m probably more curious than anything else*.

    Anyway, kind regards and once again congratulations on attempting a definition.

    * however, if it is acceptable that some secular buddhists (however few) can claim after-death reincarnation of some self-life entity in another living body (human or otherwise) and still be considered secular buddhists, as an Atheist Buddhist, I’ll have to start putting Secular Buddhism into the religious shelf of the bookstore (as opposed to the philosophy and self-improvement shelves).

    • Candol says:

      I think you are missing the middle option. Just because a secular buddhist doesn’t claim certainty of disbelief, doesn’t mean he/she is a believer in rebirth etc. They prefer to hold the uncomfortable position of agnosticism or perpetual doubt or uncertainty. I think you didn’t consider this position in your post.

  6. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Hi Jon,

    There really are no “rules”, no dogma that secular Buddhist have to follow, so I don’t see “acceptable” as being a part of this community. I’ve gotten into arguments in the past with traditional Buddhists over rebirth and karma, and ultimately decided it’s not worth my time.

    I welcome anyone here who is interested in the practice of Buddhism, of learning more, exploring our own minds and how we create self. I don’t agree with many of the beliefs of others, and while I’m happy to share my own view I’m not going to tell people if they can or can’t call themselves a secular Buddhist, a Zen Buddhist, or a whatever Buddhist.

    The bottom line is we all seem to feel that Buddhist practice is a good way to learn about suffering, the causes, and how to stop creating suffering, at least within ourselves.

    As an Atheist I appreciate and understand your view, and for myself secular Buddhism is not a religion. How others practice it in their lives is up to them:-)

  7. jonckher says:

    Hi Dana

    Well, I’m just confused now – looking up the definition of secular versus atheist suggests that any secular person or organisation would not display any religious belief or religion regardless of their personal views. (http://conservapedia.com/Atheist_vs_Secular)

    So maybe a Secular Buddhist may believe in reincarnation but would not express it and that a Secular Buddhist organisation will remain silent on any area within Buddhism that is religious.

    Gosh, I’m just thankful that I’m an atheist. It seems rather too complicated to me. It is however, very useful.

    kind regards

    • frankjude says:

      Hey Jonckher,

      Maybe those ‘secular’ buddhists who believe in rebirth and karma take the traditional view that these beliefs are NOT super-natural. The tradition holds that these are just more subtle aspects of the natural order.

      Of course, as a contemporary empiricist (which it seems you may be) you would not buy such poppycock! 🙂

    • Candol says:

      Where exactly did anyone say that a secular buddhist believes in rebirth. I’m reading all these secular buddhist sites and i have not come across a single person who asserts this belief. Can you please find a quote.

      IT seems there are people who are just traditional buddhist believers who hang out on the facebook page and even a little bit in dana’s forum but those people have not identified themselves as secular buddhists. Just because they are on these sites, does not make them so. So it would be handy if you could find some evidence of anyone doing this.

      • jonckher says:

        hi Candol,

        The FAQ on this site and Dana’s post above indicates that some Secular Buddhists may believe in rebirth/reincarnation. This non-boundary is insufficient for me.

        As I’ve said somewhere else in this thread, as an atheist I require nothing short of a categorical rebuttal of reincarnation / rebirth as anything else than a metaphor or psychological theory of the mind.

        In short, a statement along the lines within this site within the FAQ at least:

        “Secular Buddhists and Secular Buddhism hold that rebirth/reincarnation is nothing more than a Buddhist metaphor or a Buddhist psychological theory of the mind.”

        And I am being moderate because personally I see reincarnation and karma as first a Hindu holdover when Buddhism formed and later as a corruption of Buddhism.

        Also, just because some Buddhists visit this site or are investigating / early down the path of Secular Buddhism (ie not Secular Buddhists yet, ie haven’t given up on the carrot of rebirth) doesn’t mean that you need to be overly sensitive to them. In fact, I’d say that it is critical to define the ideal of a Secular Buddhist.

        Something along the lines of “The ideal Secular Buddhist is an atheist who applies their critical faculties to traditional Buddhism (skeptical dharma), is engaged within a real-life community of Secular Buddhists (atheist sangha) and applies those principles and practices to their own life for the betterment of humanity (socially engaged upaya).”

        Note that this is a restatement of the traditional three jewels removing the Buddha as an object of veneration and replacing him with socially engaged efforts. I’d like to think that the historical Buddha would approve.

        best regards

        • Linda Linda says:

          Your definition definitely leaves me out, jonckher, and I think it will, ultimately, leave out anyone who really understands the Buddha’s message, which is one of agnosticism, not atheism. That is, if there is a line drawn between atheist and agnostic, it is one of certainty: the Buddhist atheist rests in relative certainty not only that there is no creator god, but no deities except those we create in our own minds, and no system of cosmic justice which would include metaphysical karma or literal rebirth (as in “a next life after death”) and this Buddhist atheist will argue that this is the stance that makes sense, given the facts. The Buddhist agnostic says there is no point in arguing a stance that cannot be proven and it isn’t conducive to the reduction of dukkha to do so, so just set it aside — let go of it.

          It is largely because there is an element of atheism in the title Secular Buddhist that I can’t define myself as such. My practice is certainly secular, but I’m not an atheist.

          • mufi says:

            Linda: The Buddhist agnostic says there is no point in arguing a stance that cannot be proven and it isn’t conducive to the reduction of dukkha to do so, so just set it aside — let go of it.

            One does not have to prove (in the deductive sense) that God does not exist. One need only demonstrate that the concept suffers from logical problems, is too poorly defined to be tested empirically, or, to the degree that it does yield testable claims, that those claims do not fit the latest body of evidence as well as contrary claims.

            I call the outcome of these demonstrations “knowledge”, and if I were to put a Buddhist spin on that, I might even call that knowledge “right view.”

            But the point is that 100% certainty is not required – only a sufficient degree of confidence that’s enough that we feel safe to work under the assumption that there is no God (or gods).

          • Linda Linda says:

            I was defining my terms as I was using them in the comment (and defining the way I use them); it wasn’t an attempt to define these for all people everywhere to use exclusively. That said, I agree that one does not have to prove that God does not exist, and I agree with your statement about certainty. My point is that if we are going to use the words “agnostic” and “atheist” to represent some difference in point of view, the only line I see is more or less along the lines of (1) willingness to admit that we just don’t know and (2) willingness to argue about it. Otherwise the base stance, “I don’t see evidence for a god but if you present good enough evidence I’ll accept that there is a god” (or “accept that there is is a cosmic order to the universe” e.g. karma-rebirth or whatever, since “atheist” is here being stretched to cover that too) seems to be the same for both the agnostic and the atheist. Both of us work under the assumption that there is no God (or gods), too.

            How would you define the difference between agnostic and atheist (including the Buddhist sense of cosmic order)?

          • mufi says:

            Linda: I generally shun the use of the “agnostic” label, since I find the concept epistemically uninteresting. That’s a fancy way of likening the God agnostic to the Santa Claus- or Tooth Fairy agnostic.

            In other words, I think it’s fair (even conventional) to say that I know that those imaginary characters don’t really exist. That the “agnostic” label is still in social currency with respect to the god(s) of the Abrahamic faiths is, in all likelihood, an artifact of politeness (if not fear) towards adults who refuse to acknowledge the analogy to childish beliefs – adults who, in many countries, out-number atheists (!)

            That said, I think it’s possible to make too much out of the “atheist” label. All it says is that I lack a theistic belief. Big deal, right?

            I prefer “naturalist” (which entails atheism) and tend to reserve “atheist” only for those situations when & where I feel challenged by theists.

          • mufi says:

            PS: I’m not sure what you mean by “the Buddhist sense of cosmic order”, but if it’s a reference to the supernatural elements that we find in Buddhist tradition (e.g. karma, rebirth, devas, demons, supernal realms, etc.), then atheism (in the Abrahamic sense) is barely relevant. However, naturalism (and, what’s closely related, scientific skepticism) is.

          • Linda Linda says:

            What I’m trying to get at, mufi, is not so much about the words you or I find useful when we’re thinking about describing our own views about the world, but the words that are being used by others in discussing the things we are discussing — Buddhism particularly.

            On one of the other forums out there (dharma wheel? dhamma wheel? I forget which) the word “atheist” is being extended to mean a statement of certainty that not just gods but all the things that represent a cosmic order (particularly one involved with justice or morality, perhaps?) are non-existent. I’m not aware of any popular term that covers a-“all cosmic moral systems” rather than just a-theism. I believe the lack of another clear word is the reason I am hearing atheism extended to karma and rebirth and multiple levels of heavens and hells. Yes, atheism in the Abrahamic sense is barely relevant to this discussion, but I know of many people who label themselves as atheists who don’t really give a whit about the natural order, either, so they aren’t calling themselves naturalists — yet they don’t believe in karma and rebirth for the same reasons they don’t believe in God (no evidence).

            The atheist label may mean to you that you simply lack a theistic belief, but mostly — out there in the wider world — I don’t see it used that way. I see it used as “I believe there is no God.” And, quite often, in an in-your-face “There is no God” way. (I am an active member of the local “Freethinkers” group, where I see this a lot.) Some of these atheists types also show up in forums saying “There is no such thing as rebirth” in the same “in your face” way. So I can’t say that all that atheism is, is a simple lack of belief in god (a-theos); it may be that to you (and others — I’ve met a few too who make the finer distinction), but not to the majority of atheist types I deal with.

            Similarly, I am defining agnosticism in a somewhat different way. The wider-world usage seems to call on “doubt” first but I’m not talking about “doubt” I’m talking, foremost, about a-gnostic “not knowing” — admitting I don’t know. There’s no element of “doubt” involved at all — I am just admitting I don’t know, then taking it further by saying that since I don’t know, I’m just not going to concern myself with it (until I do know/have some evidence); so doubt doesn’t even enter into it.

            I see this as what the Buddha was suggesting that we do — without the ability to see cause and effect, trying to come up with answers about how we should behave based on guesswork is clearly not useful (whereas the methods he teach are based on cause and effect that we can see; which is why they prove to be useful). But I also see that he takes this one step further — and this address your point, above, about “politeness” (though definitely not fear): the Buddha is saying that the in-your-face nature of atheist dialog (atheist as more broadly defined above, relating not just to gods but to cosmic orders) is not useful, either; it results in divisions, it results in wars. The whole set of arguments over what happens after we die — whether it is arguments that something does, or that nothing does — serve only to cause problems. If everyone just set that aside and worked on what we can see, what we can change and see the results of right here in this life, we’d all be better off for it. He sets the example in doing this by, himself, not saying what happens after death (that the traditions teach that he does say — that he appears to say it — is another issue altogether).

          • mufi says:

            Linda:

            I take your word for it that you’ve witnessed people using these terms differently than I do. Call me a snob, but I believe that I use them more carefully and precisely than they do. In any case, so long as you understand me, I’m satisfied.

            On that note, it bears repeating that I don’t have to be 100% certain in order to feel justified in proclaiming that I know that God (or Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy) is a fiction. I’m about as certain of that knowledge as I am certain that you, Linda, are not a fiction (i.e. there is a flesh-and-blood agent, who calls herself “Linda”, reading these words). In other words, insofar as human knowledge is possible, I feel confident enough to say that I am “gnostic” on these matters.

            That said, I’m no fan of the “in your face” approach, either.

          • Linda Linda says:

            Is there some other word for — or can we invent a word — for disbelief in a cosmic moral system rather than disbelief limited to God?

          • Linda Linda says:

            And, while mufi may take my word for the meaning of “atheist” being extended, in case anyone else doesn’t want to, here’s a link to a question from someone in a non-Buddhist setting experiencing the same phenomenon (and objecting to it):

            http://tinyurl.com/atheistvsnaturalist

          • mufi says:

            Linda: I certainly don’t believe in a cosmic moral system, so how would I label my role?

            Well, given that my gut reaction to that concept is to ask “What’s the evidence in its favor?”, I suppose that “scientific skeptic” is apt choice of label for that role.

            On the other hand, given my understanding of nature (according to the modern sciences), which sees morality as a particular phenomenon of biology and culture (nature in general being otherwise amoral), the concept of a cosmic moral system strikes me an an example of a supernatural belief, such that “naturalist” also seems like an apt choice of label for that role.

          • Linda Linda says:

            mufi, as I went out looking for examples of how other people define the word “atheist” nowadays — hoping for clues to a better word to use to cover disbelief in Cosmic Moral Orders, it occurred to me that the word for what one is disbelieving in that case is “supernatural” and so clearly what one is, is an a-supernaturalist or — to simplify — a naturalist. Worked my way right around to where you started from in this conversation. So I think I shall go ahead and agree with you.

          • mufi says:

            Linda: Glad we agree.

            It occurred to me last night that the leap from an impersonal cosmic moral order (e.g. karma) to a personal one (e.g. the God of Abraham) is not such a large one, conceptually speaking. Whereas the language, rituals, and imagery that each entails is likely to differ quite a bit, their moral function (e.g. of meting out rewards and punishments) is basically the same. In that sense, I can see why someone (who is less nit-picky about semantics than myself) might refer to all naturalists (or a-super-naturalists) as “atheists.”

            But then the flip side of that is the implication that Buddhism is a version of theism, which I doubt that many religion scholars would endorse.

            Indeed, I’m aware that at least some folks (e.g. Western refugees of the Abrahamic faiths) find Buddhism attractive precisely because it is an atheistic religious option – one that is comparably widespread and time-tested.

            That Buddhism is also awash in supernaturalism, however, poses nearly as much of a challenge for us naturalists/scientific-skeptics as the Abrahamic faiths.

        • Candol says:

          “Some secular Buddhists believe in rebirth or reincarnation, while many do not.”

          I see, it is indeed something Dana wrote but i have never found heard anyone state this. I gotta say i’m surprised that she’s included this. I wonder if she’s just being inclusive. To me it simply doesn’t make any sense that a secular buddhist would be believe in rebirth or karma.

          It would only make sense to me if that particular type of secular buddhist called themselves secular because they didn’t want to align themselves with any of the existing traditions. But then i am still not sure that it would be accurate to call themselves secular. I probably need to look up the word secular again.

          The point just baffles me. But there’s no point caring about jok. I mean all you have to do is say well i disagree with the secular buddhist who holds that view. What’s so problematic about that.

          It seems you want the term pinned down so we can all identify as the same thing and holding the same values and understandings as well as beliefs. But that is exactly the point as far as people like STephen Batchelor are concerned. ie Secular buddhists as he envisaged would resist being pinned down to mean someone who holds with criteria a b and c.

          So Jok, why don’t you let it go and just worry about what you position you are without worrying whether or not it fits in with what other people are doing.

          I mean its not as if anyone else cares or has any stake in what you personally believe. I don’t care what DAna believes and she doesn’t care what i believe. I don’t care what Ted believes and he doesn’t care what I believe. That’s maybe how it should be for all of us if we follow a certain buddhist approach which is the one that would seem to fit best with what the buddha taught when he was on about self-reliance and looking to your own experience rather than feeling that you must fit in with what someone else tells you you must do.

          • Linda Linda says:

            “To me it simply doesn’t make any sense that a secular buddhist would be believe in rebirth or karma.”

            I believe in karma.

          • Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

            Exactly, Candol. I was referring to people who are on the fence about rebirth, and some who want to remain open, agnostic about it.

            Literal rebirth is definitely not something that will be taught through secular Buddhism, but if individuals still cling to that idea we are certainly not going to exclude them.

            Anyone can call themselves purple for all I care. I know people who call themselves Christian, yet they don’t go to church, they don’t prey regularly, and the ideals they push are not what Jesus taught.

            We will have people who call themselves secular Buddhist who don’t fit our idea of it. The point I was making, and that you nicely states is that it’s up to individuals to decide where they are on this path and how they want to label themselves, or not label themselves.

            Frankly, I’m surprised that anyone in this crowd is so demanding of definitions for others, given what we learn in Buddhism about identity.

          • jonckher says:

            Hi Candol,

            From following this thread, I think you’ve nailed the definition of a secular buddhist on the head: “someone who is interested in non-traditional forms of Buddhism.” IE, Buddhism that is not linked to traditional religious forms of Buddhism.

            So, based on that, it’s certainly possible for a Secular Buddhist to believe in literal reincarnation and karma as even though these are supernatural, the fact that a Secular Buddhist is accepting and adhering to these supernatural concepts with fresh non-religious eyes means that it’s acceptable.

            My mistake. As an atheist I am always confusing non-religious as being the same as non-supernatural – because you know from my perspective it’s all the same cosmic Buddha, reincarnation, God(s), dowsing powers, telepathy, precognitive tarot reading, fairies in the garden, yadda yadda.

            Also, I hope this answers your question as to why as an atheist I am particularly interested in this. As with Secular Buddhists who wish to frame their conversation with non-religious parameters, as an Atheist I wish to frame my conversations within non-religious and non-supernatural parameters.

            Personally, I don’t think this is that snobbish or exclusive of me. But then as an atheist, I do tend to take certain non-beliefs for granted.

            Anyway, I’m am very appreciative of this post as it has assisted me greatly in understanding the position of Secular Buddhists vis-a-vis the supernatural and the religious.

            kind regards.

    • Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

      Jon, if secular Buddhism went to promoting rebirth, I would no longer be a part of it. I really think that among this crowd a belief in rebirth is rare, and as a group I don’t see secular Buddhism supporting rebirth, as that goes against all definitions of secular.

      I was really only pointing out that when traditional Buddhists come here, they are generally interested in the teachings content. They may hold onto their rebirth believes, but all the info we have on the Buddhist path is in common with what they get in traditions. We have the 4 noble truths and the 8 fold path in common, none of which have supernatural elements. Well, some argue that Right View does, but most of us disagree with that.

      Atheists need not worry about the direction of secular Buddhism. Truth be told, the majority of Buddhist are atheists/agnostics (I’m not going to quibble over those definitions). Most people who visit this site lack supernatural beliefs, but still I don’t want to make assumptions for everyone. I feel it’s important we realize it’s not for us to judge.

      Personally I really like the direction secular Buddhism is moving, and I feel it fills a strong need for many groups of people who are interested in aspects of Buddhism, or the whole enchilada.

  8. stoky says:

    Hi Dana,

    thanks for your post. However, it creates more confusion then clarification on my side:

    Your definition is very open. So open that almost everyone who’s slightly interested in Buddhism is probably a Secular Buddhist.

    Many secular Buddhists don’t care at all about the suttas, Buddhist history, or even Buddha. What they want is the practice itself; they want to know what to do.

    Why would one call this “Buddhism” and not simply meditation or something similar.

    What we all have in common is we are human beings who suffer, who want to be free of suffering.

    What about Soto-Zen-Buddhists? Some of them claim that they don’t try to end suffering. So they can’t be secular?

    I know I called myself a secular Buddhist some time ago, but if I look back it looks a bit stupid. I’m also interested in Stoicism, I read books about it and I follow some of the ideas there. But I don’t call myself a secular Stoic. Why would I?

    I’m still confused about the concept. Maybe that’s only me, maybe its the concept. I’m not sure yet.

    • Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

      Stoky, I don’t label myself a Buddhist, because for myself personally, I am trying to avoid attachments, trying to avoid identifying through that label, etc. But Buddhist practice is my lifestyle, at least I try. I find the four noble truths and the 8 fold path to be full of wisdom, and I find meditation and mindfulness to be empowering, incredibly educational tools for seeing how my tricky mind work.

      I still label myself an atheist because I am mindful I have attachments there. It’s also a defense mechanism for me from childhood hurts. When I am able to let go of that label too, I know I will have completely healed and forgiven previous pain. Right now I just can’t do that.

      Secular Buddhism, as a group, is moving in a direction I am comfortable with as an atheist, in alignment with what I discover through my practice, and just plain helpful over all.

      I like Zen. I still read books by zen practioners, and I consider it to be a path of wisdom as well. Some of it completely confuses and baffles me, and the zendos I’ve been to are just too formal for my taste, but I don’t criticize zen as a practice by any means, and we have a great deal of overlap with them.

  9. Danny says:

    Hi Dana,

    Thanks for this essay. My question is along the lines of Stoky’s, in the comment above.

    I have a friend who will really appreciate this article and your definition of a secular buddhist because of the simple nature of his practice.

    He only embraces one of the Buddhist beliefs; the first truth, the truth of suffering. Is he a secular buddhist?

    Thanks!

    • Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

      Danny, it’s not for me to say if he’s a secular Buddhist. We label ourselves how we choose to. If your friend is interested in learning about the first truth, then that’s awesome. What difference does it make what he calls himself?

      The four noble truths and the eight fold path is very important to my practice, yet I don’t call myself a Buddhist:-) But I do practice secular Buddhism. Am I right on either count? Does it matter?

      We are working towards defining secular Buddhism, but what we as individuals decide to labels ourselves as, or not at all, is a separate matter.

      One might ask: What is a Buddhist? Do you have to understand all the teachings and meditate daily to be a Buddhist? Do you have to understand the four noble truths to be a Buddhist? What if you are new and interested, but not sure about any of it?

      What does calling ourselves Buddhist really mean?

      Those questions are for thought, not to answer to me:-)

  10. Mark Knickelbine says:

    I think what Dana is attempting here is not to draw lines and define people in or out of the circle of Secular Buddhism. It’s more an attempt to describe the characteristics of those who are drawn to the discussion of what Secular Buddhism may be. One of the reasons this is necessary is because individuals, critics mostly, have a tendency to talk about Secular Buddhism as if it is a clearly defined set of doctrines, or even an institution, and it is important to remind us that this is not the case.

    There are individuals, including several folks at the Secular Buddhism U.K. site, who question whether naturalism is an inevitable aspect of secularism. Others would not embrace the term “atheism” because it suggests to them a settled attitude toward metaphysical questions they find wholly irrelevant to dharma practice. While I would bet most of us here would not hesitate to call ourselves atheists, it’s not a point of doctrine, because we’re not really about cooking up doctrine. What joins us is a search for mutual support for a secular dharma practice and a desire to support others in that quest. It’s not a church; it’s a conversation.

    Re: Danny’s question, I think Gotama’s position would be that if you really and fully embrace the first truth, the reality of the other three would unfold on their own. To fully know suffering is to know how it is conditioned by craving, and that craving can be released. All that can only happen in this moment, in this life. IMHO, all dharma practice is secular, because our seculum is the only place we can practice.

    • Danny says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for responding.

      What about the suffering that comes from the “craving” to feed ones family on the two dollars a day he/she earns in a hot factory far from home making my TV , laptop, i-thing, etc.? Isn’t this persons suffering indirectly coming from MY craving, not his?

      This project just doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere close to what it professes to be. Talking about a “thicket of views”, jeez. In the very least, a secular Buddhism should strive tword seperating the “wisdom of the Buddha from the trappings of the religion of Buddhism”, quote from a recent article by Sam Harris.
      http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/killing-the-buddha/

      I don’t know…but looking again at your last sentence, it doesn’t look very encouraging.

      Again thanks and best of luck.

      • Linda Linda says:

        But Danny, the suffering that comes from craving to feed one’s family has been recently addressed in the series of posts I did on dependent arising, and the approach in the article is part of a project to “separate the wisdom of the Buddha from the trappings” — were you suggesting that we aren’t doing that? or were you suggesting that we are failing to *state* that we are doing that?

        The suffering of the person in your opening lines isn’t the suffering the Buddha is saying can be ended with Buddhist practice — craving for the requisites of life isn’t what “cessation” is about. Sure the awful position that people earning too little in factories are suffering from is caused by other people’s craving — craving that those others can end. I can’t see that anyone here is saying otherwise.

  11. stoky says:

    I think what Dana is attempting here is not to draw lines and define people in or out of the circle of Secular Buddhism.

    Please pardon my language, but: that’s your fucking job.

    That’s part of the game of developing secular Buddhism. How do you plan to make any progress towards a secular Buddhism if you’re never drawing lines anywhere?

    Of course certain things are irrelevant, but Dana doesn’t even make an attempt to make a distinction between things that are irrelevant and things that are still in discussion.

    In my opinion this post is one more sign that the project secular Buddhism will fail on the long term…

    • Candol says:

      As much as I am cheesed off with Dana, i totally endorse this post of hers above and have no hestitation in saying so. (That’s me practicing “not-self ” as opposed to her failing to practice not-self when she and others around here didn’t endorse my project, not because they think its a bad idea but because they don’t seem to want to pat me on the back. But i am like that. If something is good i will say regardless of how hypocritical i think a person may be. )

      But I digress, Stoky you are wanting Dana to tell you how to understand secular buddhism. But it seems that Dana is telling you how all the secular buddhists are in the process of defining themselves – and its a very very broad church.

      Don’t you see that secular buddhism doesn’t want to be limited by fixed lines drawn in the sand.

      Don’t you see that secular buddhism doesn’t want to create an Other against which it can rail. The Other already existed but secular buddhism has come into being and the Other will rail against us. We should try to avoid railing against what was there already. That would undermine the project of secular buddhism.

      Just find your own way. Just as the buddha did. Learn from what is around. Learn from the experience of the past and then carve your own little niche. Don’t be a conformist. Be an artist. Follow your own heart. your own path.

      By all means start out by walking in the footsteps of others but don’t hold to the tracks of others when it doesn’t feel right or when your experiences suggests you take a divergent path.

      Be your own boss. Be your own person.

      This is pretty much what Dana has shown is happening. In doing that she is not telling what we should do. She is just reporting what she has seen/read/heard. That’s a legitimate position to take.

  12. mufi says:

    stoky, What if “the circle of Secular Buddhism” is just us? that is, folks with enough interest in the topic of how 21st-Century Western secular thought and Buddhism intersect (if they do) to be drawn to a site like this one? If that’s too wide of a net for your tastes, then I understand, but it suits some of us just fine.

    • stoky says:

      mufi,

      first I really do think that’s too wide of a net. For example it would include people who only have an “academic interest” to this question. It would include people who don’t have any Buddhist practice, it would even include Christians who think that Buddhism and Secularism are both straight roads to hell, but who’re interested in learning about the intersection of these two roads.

      Personally, I’m interested in the intersection (if it exists) of the thoughts of German Romantics and National Socialism. Would you call me a Romantic Nazi? Does your personal bullshit-detector ring alarm? If not you should tune it.

      But let’s assume we use that word, then what about Danas last statement:

      What we all have in common is we are human beings who suffer, who want to be free of suffering. Let’s just start from that foundation, have compassion for one another, enjoy healthy disagreements, the sharing of information, and enjoy the benefits of this practice.
      May we all be free of suffering!

      Everything is open to discussion in secular Buddhism. But the truth about suffering is not? What if I’m interested in the intersection of Buddhism and secular thought but don’t believe that we’re really suffering or that we should seek liberation? What if I don’t believe in compassion but I think that hate and egoism are useful properties of every human being? What if I don’t believe that the practice has benefits but actually is damaging?

      Please not all the “if”s. But let me provide you a concrete example:

      Meditation reduces stress. What about the danger that people will use meditation to reduce stress instead of changing the things that create the stress? If we have a significant amount of people suffering from burnout society will have to do something about that. If we have a significant amount of people who meditate, they don’t.

      My point here is: There is a difference between the statement “science shows us that meditation reduces stress” and the statement “science shows us that we benefit from the practice”.

      • mufi says:

        stoky:

        Perhaps because I don’t self-label as a “Secular Buddhist”, I’m not particularly concerned about any of your “what if” scenarios. There’s simply a lot of content on this site (and on the Facebook page) that I happen to find interesting and the site name seems apt enough.

        That said, I see nothing wrong with saying that “science shows us that we benefit from meditation”, provided that we’re clear about what we mean by “benefit.” To use your example: Given what I know about the long-term effects of stress – or, to be more precise, chronic stress (or “distress” vs. “eustress”) – it’s something that I wish to avoid and/or relieve. Insofar as meditation provides such relief, I feel that I “benefit from meditation.” The meditative practice that I follow happens to derive from Buddhist tradition, but far be it from to argue that no other traditions can provide comparable benefits.

        This is all very mundane, 21st-Century Western, lay-medical-speak – not something that you’re likely to find in the suttas (without a large dose of “reading in”) – but so what?

        • stoky says:

          mufi,

          you’re flinching in both points you raise

          I never talked about the site name. I talked about people and the project itself. It’s a difference whether you identify yourselve with Secular Buddhism or whether you have a website about it. Just use the Romantic Nazi example again.

          That said, I see nothing wrong with saying that “science shows us that we benefit from meditation”, provided that we’re clear about what we mean by “benefit.”

          My point there was to show that one could disagree with the statement that the practice contains provides benefit. If you’re waiting for a revolution to be happen meditation with it’s calming effect will be considered to be harmful.

          Dana refuses to make a clear definition but then does so anyways. And although she doesn’t want to exclude anyone she excludes quite some people. Interesting isn’t it?

          I once did something similar. By thinking about the reasons for that I realised that I had more faith than I wanted to admit to myself. Thinking about that helped me to move forward. It even deepened my understanding of Buddhist thought. Obviously people here refuse to do the same…

          • mufi says:

            stoky: I’m not aware of any flinching, but then perhaps you’re not aware of how anxious your what-if’s sound.

            Why the anxiety? Because it’s possible to “disagree with the statement that the practice contains provides benefit”? Nothing is certain in life, but given how I define “benefit”, I’m reasonably confident that the practice delivers such benefits.

            But then, admittedly, I’m not trying to foment a revolution.

          • stoky says:

            mufi,

            it’s not anxiety, it’s called critical thinking and encouraged by various members of the community here. And now have a (critical) look at some of the responses here. For example:

            This is not a philosophical debating society

            Wait, what? Critical thinking is philosophy!

            And I don’t think that my what-ifs are unlikely. If you look at Soto-Zen they have a totally different understanding of suffering. if you look at marxist (marx seems to be pretty en vogue these days…) thought its not totally absurd to consider religion an “opium”. If you look at capitalist thought its not totally absurd to say that egoism creates a lot of progress, innovation and wealth.

            But let’s stay focused. Dana claims that Buddhists are not attached to their believes. Well, a lot of the people here seem pretty attached to compassion, mindfulness and the four noble truths. Interesting, isn’t it?

          • mufi says:

            stoky: OK, let’s stay focused then.

            I share your discomfort with the “[non-]attachment” language that’s native to Buddhism, which Secular Buddhism (as represented by this site) apparently inherits to some degree.

            My overall solution to problems like these is to simply disavow any commitment to Buddhism (secular or otherwise) in favor of a more cherry-picking, cosmopolitan approach to the world’s wisdom traditions. (See my conversation with Linda, elsewhere in this thread, for more on that.)

            I don’t know if that approach entirely averts your critical eye, but I welcome the challenge.

          • Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

            Mufi, I’m glad you wrote non-attachment rather than detachment, which is different. Non-attachment is extremely important as a practice. When you learn to let go, then you can experience joy without fear of losing it, without fear of change, without need to cling to it. In that way, joy is experienced more fully and freely. Letting go is the hard part, but once you do, wow, it is a treat!

            I agree, no one should restrict themselves to Buddhism alone. There certainly are valid philosophies, modes of being. I’m all for cherry-picking myself, but I do find Buddhism offers a lot of good cherries!

          • mufi says:

            Dana:

            I’m with you insofar as the idea applies to the hindrances in life (e.g. bad habits or prejudices) that get in the way of our flourishing.

            But I think the non- vs. de- distinction is a bit too subtle for many folks (even if it is one of the many shibboleths of Buddhism as it’s been commonly translated into English). We ought to be clearer about what it is that we practice, bearing in mind that even the word “practice” connotes a kind of attachment (if only provisionally, so long as the behaviors in question continue to deliver us goods) that we nonetheless would recommend to others.

          • Linda Linda says:

            The distinction between non- and de- is not a shibboleth in the sense of the word as (quoting Wikipedia) “especially a long-standing [belief] regarded as outmoded or no longer important”. It is actually critical now as ever.

            You probably know all this but for the sake of clarity:

            On Dictionary.com we have:

            detachment: 3. aloofness, as from worldly affairs or from the concerns of others.

            And though there is no listing for nonattachment there, the word it is based on which is given as:

            2. a feeling that binds one to a person, thing, cause, ideal, or the like; devotion; regard…

            The “non” isn’t exactly an opposite (so it’s not “a feeling that unbinds one to a person or thing” nor is it “a feeling that distances one from a person or thing… lack of regard”) it’s a “the absence of” so we then have

            nonattachment: the lack of a feeling that binds one to a person, thing, cause, ideal, or the like: lack of devotion or regard.

            It’s not lack of feeling for a person, it’s lack of feeling that BINDS one to a person, in that particularly bad sense of “bind” that causes overreactions: “She must be mine! No one else can come near her!” “I need *all* the goodies! no one else may have any!” (hyperbole, sorry).

            But I believe that even that doesn’t express it well enough, because, at the base of it all, what we’re translating as “non-attachment” isn’t about attachment to people, places, things, or ideas themselves, but to our sense of self, and the way we incorporate those things into our sense of self — it’s not lack of regard for others, or lack of feeling for them at all — it’s not aloofness or detachment from the world — it’s distance from the over-reaching self.

            We can’t throw out the distinctions that may seem “too subtle” and still have Buddhism work to the depth it can work. The distinctions are critical to understanding what’s being said.

          • mufi says:

            Here’s the full definition of “shibboleth” from that same source:

            a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important. It usually refers to features of language, and particularly to a word whose pronunciation identifies its speaker as being a member or not a member of a particular group.

            You picked out the one part of that definition that I did not intend.

            But perhaps a more apt word choice would have been “jargon.”

          • Linda Linda says:

            Jargon’s a good word. I couldn’t understand the use of shibboleth unless you were using its sense of “outmoded” — my sense was that otherwise you’d probably have chosen another word (like jargon). I’m glad you weren’t thinking that the distinction isn’t important.

  13. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Mark nailed it pretty well.

    Please notice in the title I am referring to individuals, not secular Buddhism as a whole. Yes, secular Buddhism is moving in the direction of Buddhism without the supernatural, a natural, critical approach. Our FAQ and About page explains all that.

    What I am referring to is others thinking they know the mind of the individual secular Buddhist. In talking to you folks, I have come across a variety of opinions and beliefs, as expected. While most of you fit what many would call ‘secular Buddhist’ some vary and certainly we have to expect different degrees of Buddhist understanding, experience in practice, etc. We also welcome traditionalists on the site and in conversation.

    What bothers me is when I come across sites where people saying things like, “Secular Buddhists think . . . ” Or claims that we all agree with everything Stephen Batchelor says, or that we bow down to Stephen. There are also accusations that just aren’t going to fit every individual.

    As for this site, we represent one branch of the secular Buddhist community. We are a varied bunch, but we definitely as a whole have much in common. Many of us are science minded. Many of us are critical thinkers. The atheist mindset is common, as is the agnostic view. Our views about Buddha differ widely. I’d like to see us embrace how secular Buddhism is evolving and turn it into what we need it to be . . . AND

    Stoky, it is NOT our job to define secular Buddhism and most certainly not individuals. We are creating space for secular Buddhist here on the site where there are commonalities, but in no way do I or any of my peers wish to dictate that to any of you. That is also my point. While we have started with a set of common concerns, practices, and favorite teachings, the secular Buddhist community must define where it’s going, not an individual.

    On an individual basis, I am by no means going to tell you whether you fall into the title of secular Buddhist. I’m not getting into “I’m a real Christian and you’re not!” debates, but in regard to Buddhism. I’ve traveled that road and I’m not going there again.

    I understand the need for secular Buddhism to formalize into some kind of structure that we can call secular Buddhism. And that is happening. What I hope as “Buddhists” of any kind, is that we all will avoid stereotyping people, thinking for them, speaking for them, and making assumptions about their opinions. This group is good here, and really this article is calling out to those who think they know of the mind of all of you, as though you are all cut from one cloth.

    I appreciate the color, the variety, the concerns, the confusions, the experiences, and the knowledge each of you bring to this site, and quite frankly some groups are pissing me off with their assumptions that sap the individualist traits of each of you.

    But, I also do not wish to stop this discussion, the discomfort and confusion some of you are expressing. I think this is good. Secular Buddhism is so new, just developing, and discussions like this will help it evolve in a direction that hopefully will help the community grow out of it needs.

    “I” am not a dictator, though I do have strong opinions on what secular Buddhism is currently, what direction I’d like to see it go, what my secular Buddhist practice is, etc. I’m happy to discuss that from my viewpoint, but I am not going to speak for other individuals. I leave that up to them.

    The point of this article was to speak to the fact that secular Buddhists are individuals, though they are part of a greater group that does have some loose definitions that are becoming more solid, and people’s beliefs vary.

    Here is one scenario I am familiar with here, but I’m not naming names. A traditional Buddhist comes to secular Buddhism and this site because they really like Buddhism, but the tradition they were in felt too religious. They like the more practical approach, the practice, but still believe rebirth might be correct. There is doubt, and they want more info.

    I know of several people who fit into this. Right now that description fits. In a few months, that may change. We all come in through different doors, different stages of learning, etc.

    So, keep in mind folks commenting here are really talking about three different things:

    * Secular Buddhism as a group, org, whatever you want to call it
    * Secular Buddhist as individuals (this is what my article addresses)
    * People’s beliefs (this is also based on individuals, what my article addresses and is going to vary with some similarities)

    This may be a good time to discuss where we want Secular Buddhism to go, how we define it. If that’s the case, we have a discussion forum just for that purpose and by all means, do start talking there. We are all ears!

    That’s not to say you can’t continue here as well. By all means, just pointing out that forum has been there for some time:-)

  14. Mark Knickelbine says:

    Stoky, no one handed me a “fucking job.” I have no authority to issue commandments about what secular Buddhism is or is not; neither does Dana, Ted Meisner, Stephen Batchelor, nor anyone else. This is not a philosophical debating society, nor an opportunity for people to beat on each other with their intellectual bona fides. The prinicple of anatta calls us to face the radical aporia that constitutes the existential experience of human beings, and that means some questions will never be closed.

    Per your question

    This might be a problem if anyone here were advocating meditation merely as a means of aleviating stress, but no one is. As Dana noted, we do discuss living the Four Truths, which require us to fully acknowlege and experience human suffering. The result of such a practice, in my experience, is not indifference and withdrawal but compassion and engagement; and, what is more, the ability to see situations more clearly and respond more effectively to them without the compulsion to withdraw, hide, ignore, or indulge in all kinds of distractions.

    As for your list of ifs, if you like hatred and egoism and either feel that you don’t suffer or you really don’t want to be free from a life chained to reactive habits, then you’re perfectly free to do so. IMHO, none of these things is conducive to either personal happiness or social change; rather, they render us easily manipulated and are the chief stock in trade of social, political and religious demagogues of all kind. They are the cement that holds the social order together, the enforcers of the identities in which social power is enscribed. In my opinion, without practicing mindfulness as individuals and promoting the value of mindfulness in our culture, we will never have the vision or courage to create a more just society.

  15. Mark Knickelbine says:

    The block quote thing got screwed up and now I can’t edit or delete it. What I meant to say was:

    Per your question, “What about the danger that people will use meditation to reduce stress instead of changing the things that create the stress? If we have a significant amount of people suffering from burnout society will have to do something about that. If we have a significant amount of people who meditate, they don’t.”

    This might be a problem if anyone here were advocating meditation merely as a means of aleviating stress, but no one is. As Dana noted, we do discuss living the Four Truths, which require us to fully acknowlege and experience human suffering. The result of such a practice, in my experience, is not indifference and withdrawal but compassion and engagement; and, what is more, the ability to see situations more clearly and respond more effectively to them without the compulsion to withdraw, hide, ignore, or indulge in all kinds of distractions.

    As for your list of ifs, if you like hatred and egoism and either feel that you don’t suffer or you really don’t want to be free from a life chained to reactive habits, then you’re perfectly free to do so. IMHO, none of these things is conducive to either personal happiness or social change; rather, they render us easily manipulated and are the chief stock in trade of social, political and religious demagogues of all kind. They are the cement that holds the social order together, the enforcers of the identities in which social power is enscribed. In my opinion, without practicing mindfulness as individuals and promoting the value of mindfulness in our culture, we will never have the vision or courage to create a more just society.

    • mufi says:

      Mark:

      “This might be a problem if anyone here were advocating meditation merely as a means of alleviating stress, but no one is.”

      At least for me, meditation (or mindfulness practice, in general) is the main attraction in Buddhism and the reason is precisely because of the empirical case for its benefits – which include, but are not limited to,* stress reduction. Let’s call these benefits “primary goods.”

      There may be “secondary (or tertiary, etc.) goods”, as well, which manifest at a higher, social level, but those are rather more speculative, I think.

      That aside, it helps (communally speaking) that many folks here (albeit, in varying degrees) seem to share my interests in (and endorsements of) philosophical naturalism, scientific skepticism, and/or secular humanism. But I can find such kindred spirits elsewhere in the “secular web.” Only some such kindred spirits meditate (or do so in a Buddhist fashion) and here you are.

      * e.g. better immune system function and positive affect also come readily to mind

    • Linda Linda says:

      I’m going to quibble over stress reduction as “primary” unless you mean “first” in an ordinal sense, rather than in the sense of “the primary reason for the practice”. Stress reduction may be the first thing one sees as a result of meditation — it may be the first thing one is attracted to, that gets someone interested in checking out Buddhism — so it might be primary in that it is the first draw or first result. But simple stress reduction is far from the primary reason for Buddhist meditation; it is just an introduction; it leads on to something much deeper that has far more profound effects. Of course, the more profound effects also reduce stress, but they do it by reducing a *whole* lot more than that: confusion, conflict, wastes of time, and so on — thereby reduce not just one’s own stress but those we come in contact with as well.

      • mufi says:

        Stress reduction (and the other “primary goods” that I referred to) may, in fact, turn out to be the first and last thing in Buddhism that one is attracted to. I think it depends on the individual.

        For example, Rep. Tim Ryan (the Ohio Congressman who recently authored the book A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit) seems to have no intention of trading in his Roman Catholic faith and identify for a Buddhist one. As he put it:

        Practicing present-moment awareness does not entail joining any religion or accepting any belief system. As a Catholic, I find mindfulness helps me participate in my religion more wholeheartedly. If you are praying the rosary, participating in the rituals at Mass or listening to the priest preach, you will actually be paying attention! Whatever your religion is, it can enhance the experience of participating in that religion.

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/16/tim-ryan-meditation_n_1429854.html

        By analogy, my interest in the suttas and the rest of the Buddhist tradition(s) is superficial at best. To be sure, I recognize that there are other goods, besides mindfulness, in Buddhism that are compatible with my prior (secular, naturalistic) outlook, but then I can say the same about Christianity (once it’s been naturalized a la the Jeffersonian Bible or what Owen Flanagan calls “Jesusism”), let alone the wisdom tradition of Western philosophy (i.e. that very long commentary on Plato and Aristotle).

        What matters most is that sentient creatures like ourselves have opportunities to achieve well-being or flourishing (a.k.a. eudaimonia). Buddhists, I think, have something useful to say about this, but they’re not the only ones.

        • Linda Linda says:

          True. However, I was not stating that for every human being who encounters Buddhism, stress reduction is the first thing they meet, and then every single one of them goes on to the deeper aspects. I was simply saying that Buddhist mindfulness is not primarily about simple stress reduction.

          • mufi says:

            Agreed, but then I think that begs the question:

            What if someone practices mindfulness primarily as a means of stress reduction, or so as to achieve some other desirable end (or collection of ends), based on what the latest and best empirical research (plus whatever norms we already take for granted) – and not necessarily the Buddha – has to recommend?

            Does it matter?

            I think the answer depends on how committed one already is to a Buddhist identity.

            Some of us here may be more so committed than others.

          • Linda Linda says:

            Meditation and mindfulness alone aren’t Buddhism. Even when practiced using the structures the Buddha set out for them, they are not inherently Buddhist. They are great tools and do marvelous things — I have no quibble at all with people who want to use them and them alone. But that’s not what Buddhism is.

            I do have a definition of “Buddhist” I created for my own use: It is anyone who self-identifies as a Buddhist and makes a sincere and continuing effort to understand and practice what the Buddha taught. This allows for the people who are just practicing mindfulness a friend told them about to “be a Buddhist” if that’s all they know about it, as long as they are still trying to learn more, and continuing to study and practice. I constructed my definition to include ongoing study because it will lead to understanding that mindfulness isn’t the whole tamale. Once a person understand that mindfulness isn’t all there is to it — should that person choose not to study more and not to try to put the Buddha’s lessons into practice, then they aren’t a Buddhist (in my book) even if they call themselves one.

            So if someone is practicing mindfulness which seems similar to the Buddha’s but is not taught as part of the practice, they’re not a Buddhist just because they’re practicing mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness *in Buddhism* has a very specific, deep purpose; mindfulness that doesn’t address that deep purpose isn’t Buddhist mindfulness. If someone comes to this site because they have come to understand that the mindfulness they are taught is based on the Buddha’s mindfulness, that’s wonderful. Curiosity doesn’t equate to Buddhism, but is sure welcomed. If curiosity leads to trying out the “more than mindfulness” aspects of Buddhism, then at the point the person decides to give it a real go, and chooses to call themselves a Buddhist, then they’re a Buddhist (in my definition; no official “taking refuge” is necessary).

            Not sure if I addressed your “does it matter” in a way that satisfies, but I’m willing to try again if not, if you’ll illuminate the question further.

          • mufi says:

            Linda:

            I feel as though we’re talking past each other. I’ll put it this way.

            I’m well aware that “Meditation and mindfulness alone aren’t Buddhism.” Yet, if one is like me (here and now) and is not consciously striving to be a Buddhist or to embody Buddhism, so what? After all, nothing in the empirical research that I alluded to suggests that a prior Buddhist identity is a prerequisite for reaping the rewards of mindfulness practice. If that were the case, then mindfulness popularizers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nhat Hahn, and even the Dalai Lama would have a much narrower audience and appeal than they already have.

            Now, if you wish to argue that Buddhism (en large) is itself a primary good – one that a non-Buddhist like myself should aim for – I’m all ears (or eyes). But then I should warn you: I’m skeptical in this regard.

          • Linda Linda says:

            “Now, if you wish to argue that Buddhism (en large) is itself a primary good – one that a non-Buddhist like myself should aim for – I’m all ears (or eyes). But then I should warn you: I’m skeptical in this regard.”

            I believe this is what I have been trying to get across. I have often been told that what the Buddha taught doesn’t belong exclusively to the Buddha, and not only do I agree with that, I believe he indicated that he believes that is true. What he saw and pointed out was a truth about human nature, one that when understood improves lives. It may well be that others have expressed the same — but I am not aware of anyone doing so in such a comprehensive package of insights and skills with which to see them. It may well be that in the future someone will do a better job of getting the point across — I hope so, because the body of talks we have was clearly not designed to reach a modern audience — but I’m not holding my breath for someone to come along in my lifetime and make the whole clearer to us.

          • mufi says:

            Linda:

            I know that you’re well read in Buddhism, but I’m not sure how well read you are in other wisdom traditions. I’m no comparative-lit scholar myself, but I’ve already read enough to know that multiple wisdom traditions still have goods to offer.

            Buddhism is up there on my list (along with Western philosophy), but even if it were clearly at the top, I’m about as likely to identify as a Buddhist as I would be to identify as a Platonist, Aristotelian, Confucianist, Jesusist, etc., were one of those at the top, instead, which is to say: Not likely at all.

            For each one of these wisdom traditions carries plenty of baggage (albeit, some more than others), and no one of them has a monopoly on what’s good, true, or beautiful, such that a less parochial and more cosmopolitan approach to their subject matters (e.g. ethics, politics, epistemology, and metaphysics, to use Western categories) seems most advisable.

            Anyway, that’s where I’m coming from.

          • Linda Linda says:

            Well, I was raised first in the Christian church, and then the Unitarian, and I’ve read up some on Hinduism and Islam, and have many pagan friends, so I have some small familiarity with other wisdom traditions. But I was not saying that other wisdom traditions don’t have good stuff to offer, I am saying I’ve never found one system that is so comprehensive — and I’d add “useful” in so many ways. For example, I did not find Christianity particularly intelligible or useful in my daily life. I don’t see the basis for belief in any god-based religion, though some of the lessons taught are good ones; the whole thing doesn’t “hang together” with not only good lessons but a basic structure that makes sense. What it really comes down to, for me, is entirely too much wishful thinking underpinning most religions, and far too few actual skills taught to make a difference.

            Just about *anything* can be used as a filter to get the mind working on the subjects of ethics, politics, epistemology, and metaphysics. I did my philosophy term paper in high school on “The Philosophy of Snoopy” (I could find something that spoke of each great philosophy we learned in those comic strips); but that doesn’t mean that Snoopy is going to be able to provide a whole lot of deep insight into life that I couldn’t come up with myself . I guess I am saying that all the world’s wisdom traditions to me seem just chock full of things that can be used to trigger one insight or another, some of them are stunningly beautiful. But I have yet to find any other system that puts everything together in a way that fits top-to-bottom and inside-to-out, large-to-small. Any scale I use to look at life, I find what the Buddha is saying is there, and seeing that makes it all make sense in a way that is really helpful to me.

            Doesn’t mean it’s the secret of Life, The Universe, and Everything. Does mean the man was damned good at coming up with something useful though.

  16. Jan says:

    As I’ve pointed out before the SBA is a work in progress. We are starting out at the beginning of a project. As such we are casting as wide a net as possible to encourage discussion and mutual understanding. As things develop, ideas and beliefs will coalesce around a less diffuse more cohesive set of values. This is inevitable, and, indeed useful. Some or many will disagree and will disengage either as individuals, or as perhaps a fissioning group. Again, inevitable and useful. My own prediction is that the group will continue to move toward a position where in the unity Secular/Buddhist, the former is the primary aspect, and the latter the secondary aspect of the contradiction.

    At this point, if a tiny minority holds the idea that rebirth can be verified as a materialistic I’m going to disagree but not demand they be expunged. If that became the majority viewpoint then I would remove myself from this group.

    Right now the healthiest thing we can do IMHO is to let a hundred flowers bloom, and have confidence that a clearer direction will emerge (hopefully without a lot of antagonism marring the process).

    • jonckher says:

      Hi Jan

      Well said.

      For myself as an affirmed atheist, I’ll wait until the “Atheist or Not” question is settled before “signing” up. Rebirth is only one of a much larger issue. The stance of Secular Buddhism wrt religious beliefs IMO must be completely settled and defined in a far less inclusive fashion.

      I appreciate that Secular Buddhism is not Stephen Batchelor but as with many people, it is “Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist” that has led me here.

      By clarity I mean a statement along the lines of “Secular Buddhist are atheists who believe that Secular Buddhism offers a practical atheist method of living within the world.”

      Until I see something like that, I remain an interested observer (or lurker if you will).

      Kind regards and good luck with your endevour.

      • Candol says:

        Jon you are looking for someone to stand up and be the authority on secular buddhism. But secular buddhism doesn’t want anyone to stand up and be that authority. But since you want an authority figure, why don’t you nominate who you want and then ask them to tell you what to believe and think and do.

        I also read confession of a Buddhist Atheist and i really like it too. However as i’ve gone a bit in my own study, i’ve shift a little bit away from some aspects of the way Stephen B teaches. But that’s ok. I still think he’s a great person but i don’t want him to define for me what i should believe or not or how i should practice or not.

        All i see that he is doing is saying thsi is what I stephen batchelor think and believe. If that resonates with you, that’s good. Use it.

  17. stoky says:

    Mark and Dana,

    I explained what I mean by “job” one sentence later:

    That’s part of the game of developing secular Buddhism. How do you plan to make any progress towards a secular Buddhism if you’re never drawing lines anywhere?

    Both of you expressed an serious interest in developing this project. If you don’t have that interest, then why are you here? Why are you writing these articles?

    On an individual basis, I am by no means going to tell you whether you fall into the title of secular Buddhist. I’m not getting into “I’m a real Christian and you’re not!” debates, but in regard to Buddhism. I’ve traveled that road and I’m not going there again.

    What about the roads “Let’s find out where I want to go” and “Oh, you’re going somewhere else? Tell me more about it!”?

    And Dana, there is a huge difference between having a definition and “dictating” it. Maybe you have a look at the Anguttara Nikaya II 48.

    One last word: Why do you think I’m bothering to write here? Out of compassion.

    Thinking about what I think Secular Buddhism is and talking to other people about it has helped me to understand where I want to go. One result of this was that I stopped calling myself a secular Buddhist. Is that what you’re afraid of? Are you afraid of realising your own faith, like the one you expelled in the last paragraph in the main article?

    Anyhow, this is my second last post here. No one seems to bother to answer my questions, so I will move on.

    • Mark Knickelbine says:

      Stoky, did you not see my posts at July 11, 2012 at 2:25 pm? I thought it was an attempt to answer several of your questions directly. You may not like or agree with those answers but it was an attempt to address your points.

      I certainly have put some effort into developing this project — I hope, like you, out of compassion. But we have to be careful about what we consider that project to be. I consider it to be promoting an environment where people can discuss the significance of Gotama’s teachings in a secular context, and where people who are trying to practice those teachings can share and support one another. We are not trying to be a revolutionary vanguard waving a book of polemic ideology. The implication of mindfulness is that we should cultivate the equanimity to allow things to unfold and relinquish the illusion that we can and should control that unfolding. That’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, of course.

    • Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

      Stoky, I have never called myself a Buddhist, let alone a secular Buddhist. Yes, true. Buddhist is simply a label, one I chose not to use so I don’t develop attachments, so I don’t identify through that label. So you have made some wildly wrong assumptions about me.

      Faith, I don’t have faith. I do have confidence in this practice based on previous experience. I have been practicing Buddhism for about 10 years now and meditation and mindfulness have been useful in countless ways. So I have a lot of confidence in secular Buddhist practice.

      Secular Buddhism as a group is evolving in a direction that I believe is beneficial to the current, modern needs of those who are secular. As for individuals, you continually skip over my point. It’s on individuals for themselves to decide if they want a label and what they want that label to be. We aren’t going to offer secular Buddhist ID cards. You decide that for yourself. And if you don’t want to call yourself a secular Buddhist, or even a Buddhist, fine!

      I have said many times on this site, and I will say it again as you seemed to have missed it, I am an atheist who practices secular Buddhism. What secular Buddhism is is a different topic than I addressed here, and you can read the FAQ at the top of the page for that.

  18. Darlene Darlene says:

    Guess that means I can take down the poster of Stephen Batchelor from my bedroom wall ; )

    Having a diversity of folk embracing a diverse secular (or Secular – it seems to change in relation to whether that first letter should be capitalised or not) Buddhism is great. Thus, agree with the general sentiment of the post. However, if you don’t have some definition in place the whole thing runs of the risk of being wishy-washy and incoherent. To use a political example, the Australian Democrats used to include centrists, leftists and economic conservatives/social liberals. They imploded so badly the last meeting they held was in one person’s head.

    Diversity and definition is the way to go, please.

    This sentence makes me uncomfortable:

    “Some secular Buddhists believe in rebirth or reincarnation, while many do not.”

    Shirley you can’t be serious. It just doesn’t ring true.

    • Linda Linda says:

      I agree. Seems like a contradiction in terms; someone who is secular isn’t involved with things-not-in-evidence. I guess one could call oneself a Secular Buddhist and believe in rebirth, but calling myself an eagle doesn’t mean I can fly. It would require either some very different definition of “secular” or some other way of recognizing “rebirth”, wouldn’t it?

      I agree with Candol, way above. I want to have a secular Buddhist who believes in rebirth pointed out to me, so that I am not spending time considering the views of “persons not in evidence” and so that I can ask them how they reconcile the two.

    • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

      Just to weigh in, here — we have had a definition for quite some time under About, Guiding Principles:

      Secular Buddhism is concerned with the practice of Siddhattha Gotama’s four noble truths in this world. It encourages a naturalistic and pragmatic approach to the teaching, seeking to provide a framework for personal and social development within the cultural context of our time.

      Note that these are guiding, not ruling, and they are principles, not commandments.

      The rule of thumb for secular Buddhism is that it is focused on the natural world. Some people may have rituals as part of that, but (for example) my own lighting of incense as part of meditating is done because it helps set the tone of my session, not because it’s a supernatural offering to invisible beings. So to say rituals are excluded, you can’t do them, isn’t so. Of course you can if it helps you with your practice.

      As for rebirth, some people believe it, others do not, and those who do may expect this is not via supernatural agency, but a perfectly naturalistic function. We often hear quantum physics as being used to explain it. I disagree, and am not agnostic about it, I’m an outright atheist about rebirth. That doesn’t mean my mind is closed, as I will happily change my mind based on new evidence. I’m not a tooth fairy agnostic, either, but if Tinkerbell’s body is provided, I’ll reassess. The question we continue to ask of those who do have a belief in rebirth is what evidence has convinced them of it? As a critical thinker and a skeptic, familiar with scientific standards, I’ve seen nothing convincing, falsifiable, or testable.

      But, our real point here is simple: this is a place for people who want to discuss Buddhism outside of the context of the traditional ideological requirements to do so. That’s it. If you don’t want to designate as a sB, that’s fine, don’t, many wonderful contributors here do not — it’s just a reference, not a doctrine.

  19. ernie says:

    As a relative newcomer to this site, this seems a good place to begin engaging in the discussions. (I come from a nominally Christian background and have spent about 10 years in and around Theravadan groups with a strong ‘western’ flavour). Dana’s original post, and much of the discussion, is helpful because of its focus on exploring ideas without becoming dogmatic.

    What follows is a personal take on what I understand by Secular Buddhism. I am not yet sure whether I consider myself a Secular Buddhist, but I feel very comfortable participating in this discussion. I feel comfortable also in questioning many aspects of the Buddhist teachings; and I retain a strong sense that such a questioning attitude is encouraged in the teachings themselves, in fact this was a major reason I was attracted to them in the first place.

    By using the word ‘Buddhist’ in the label you operate under (either individually or as a group), I presume you are broadly acknowledging the teachings attributed to The Buddha. The question really is what meaning do you intend by adding the qualifier ‘Secular’? I know what the dictionary says, but this discussion does not seem to be constrained by the dictionary definition, and nor should it.

    For me, the first step is to distinguish Secular Buddhism from the traditional variants. It seems that there are two key aspects. One is the rejection of the different forms of rites and rituals. The other is an overtly sceptical approach to all aspects of the teachings.

    Rites and rituals typically take the form of chanting, ordination and a variety of practices that resemble religious services. Few of them contribute directly to the progress of an individual practitioner, but it’s not difficult to see how they develop over time and how they can facilitate the growth of an organisation around a particular school of practice. I wonder whether Secular Buddhism will be able to resist the development of an organisational structure with its own rites and rituals!

    But it is the sceptical approach that is more relevant here. A good example is the debate around the doctrine often called ‘rebirth’, with many different positions adopted and some heated exchanges. For now, it is the fact of the debate that is important, not the particular views expressed. There are numerous calls within the teachings for followers to question and to investigate the messages for themselves, but the sometimes aggressive scepticism that characterises Secular Buddhism goes much further.

    I would like to suggest that such a debate is inevitable and necessary now that the teachings are being explored widely throughout the English-speaking world. The reason is simple – a lot of the key concepts are represented by words in the English language that do not adequately convey the true sense of the original. Often there is no word in English corresponding to the Pali (dharma, for instance). In other cases, the translations, or rather our understandings of them, reflect a very English (and Christian) world-view (I put rebirth in this category).

    So the sort of discussion promoted on this website is crucial to fostering a more authentic appreciation of the true sense of the original teachings (and one that is more easily seen to be relevant in the modern world). The series of posts recently on ‘dependent arising’ is a great example.

    My thanks to all who have contributed to this discussion.

    • Linda Linda says:

      Great comments, ernie, thank you for them. I stand outside the “secular Buddhist” label so am never sure I quite understand the sB points of view, but I don’t see most of the group as questioning doctrines like rebirth so much as simply setting them aside as not worth the time or trouble, or perhaps due to the divisiveness created by arguing about them. They are simply ignored as later corruptions or taken as metaphorical, and just left alone.

      It is my particular type of skepticism that keeps me somewhat outside the flock here. Because I find so much sense in what I read of the old Pali works, I question whether we understand enough of what’s being said about its meaning; I’m not willing to dismiss or ignore. Unfortunately this puts me in a position different from what I see as “the usual” mild acceptance my peers here practice toward traditional teachings: they seem to say, “Whatever you practice is fine” and I keep coming along saying, “but what if it’s not what’s meant? what if there’s better to be gained from close study?” So I label myself a Skeptical Buddhist because I question *everything*, even my own understanding, along with everyone else’s.

      • Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

        Linda, that’s why we love you.

        Just want to say for the record, I didn’t set rebirth aside without exploring the issue. I ultimately found that literal rebirth collides with the teaching and my subject experience of everything being impermanent, and with the teaching and subject experience of not self. On top of that, my understanding of consciousness as an emergent property of the brain leaves me throwing my hands in the air and concluding there is nothing to be reborn.

        However, there is still rebirth as a metaphor for how we repeatedly create and cling to that old booger sense of self that can get in the way and cause suffering.

        So I did not do a quick dismissal. Looking for literal rebirth turned up the same thing my search for god did, and it was a thorough search!

        Please don’t assume any of us have dismissed rebirth lightly. In the end we may be doing that, although most of us still make use of it metaphorically.

        • ernie says:

          Dana, it is no surprise to see that you draw a parallel between the search for literal rebirth and the search for god. And also no surprise that you have a very different take on rebirth as a metaphor.

          My question is, are those two understandings of rebirth the only ones possible? To me they look like two points near each end of a spectrum, with a whole lot of possibilities in between. The key, I think, is to take a broader view of the concept, which is easier if we look beyond the term rebirth. My Pali studies are pretty basic, but the terms ‘punabbhava’ and ‘abhinibbati’ clearly aren’t congruent with rebirth in a literal sense, or indeed in any sense within the Anglo/Christian paradigm.

          Unfortunately I still have more questions than answers, but I am optimistic that this forum can help with that.

          • Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

            Ernie, You may very well be right. While I don’t have the inclination to investigate rebirth farther, I have no criticism of others doing so. In fact, if you investigate this more, discover some new possibilities, especially regarding the Pali, do be sure to open a thread in the discussion forums and let us know. I’m open to new information, but I wary of the old arguments, such as stream of consciousness, the idea of a sole. But I’m alway open to evidence, new translations of the suttas, and different angles of looking at subjects.

      • ernie says:

        Hi Linda,

        Yes, I appreciate the value of a persistent scepticism (skepticism – same thing, different continent!). The concept we call rebirth really needs to be subjected to your questions: “do we understand enough of what’s being said about its meaning?” and “but what if it’s not what’s meant? what if there’s better to be gained from close study?” Can you point me towards any studies along these lines?

    • frankjude says:

      Hi Ernie,

      I think the following quote from you deserves a response:

      “For me, the first step is to distinguish Secular Buddhism from the traditional variants. It seems that there are two key aspects. One is the rejection of the different forms of rites and rituals. The other is an overtly sceptical approach to all aspects of the teachings.

      Rites and rituals typically take the form of chanting, ordination and a variety of practices that resemble religious services. Few of them contribute directly to the progress of an individual practitioner, but it’s not difficult to see how they develop over time and how they can facilitate the growth of an organisation around a particular school of practice. I wonder whether Secular Buddhism will be able to resist the development of an organisational structure with its own rites and rituals!”

      My position is that I do not identify as a ‘secular buddhist,’ because I find the original meaning of religion (as in to tie back; restrain; YOKE) similar to the meaning of “yoga.” It is not about doctrine or dogma, but about practice! SO, I am ‘religious’ AND an atheist, scientific naturalist teaching what I call “zen naturalism.”

      In zen naturalism, there is a refutation of all and any concept of the ‘supernatural.’ That means, among other things, we drop the traditional understanding on karma and rebirth. Open to constant revision as science (in particular neuro/cognitive science) develops, we are empirically oriented.

      AND we do utilize ‘rites and rituals’ as deep mindfulness practices as well as in contributing to community building.

      See http://www.zennaturalism.blogspot.com for further definition and explanation. This post in particular speaks of the two forms of ‘religion,’ neither one requiring any supernatural belief:
      http://zennaturalism.blogspot.com/2009/02/is-zen-naturalism-religion.html

      • Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

        Hi Frank,

        It seems to me, and I could be wrong, that secular Buddhism, Zen Naturalism, Pragmatic Buddhism, and Naturalistic Buddhism are all the same. I don’t see any differences so far anyway. All focus on the practice of Buddhism, such as meditation and mindfulness, all seem to have respect for all living things and nature, all take a scientific approach through investigation and to some degree verification.

        What do you see as the difference? You say you don’t identify as secular Buddhist, but we also consider this not a dogma but a practice.

        Maybe I’m misunderstanding you and the blogs I read on your site, but they both seem to be saying the same things.

        • frankjude says:

          Hi Dana,

          The distinction is one the humanist movement has also had to face; there are those secularists who are completely uncomfortable with including any aspect of what may even ‘smell’ of religion. The difference is based upon different understanding of ‘religion.’ My practice IS religious. It’s just that it is a completely naturalist religion. For many (most?) people, that is a contradiction in terms; so what, I say!

          My comment was in direct response to Ernie who asserts above that ‘rites and rituals’ would be one aspect of buddhism that a secularist would reject, in particular he says, “few of them contribute directly to the progress of an individual practitioner,” to which I say, “Bullshit!”

          Did you read the link to “Is Zen Naturalism A Religion?” There I talk about the two aspects of religion that I find valuable: the ‘yoking’ aspect and the communal aspect.

          In terms of belief (especially metaphysical beliefs such as rebirth and karma) however, we’re probably quite on the same page.

          • Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

            Ah, thank you for the clarification, Frank. Ok, so we have a lot of overlap, and likely differ concerning the idea of “religion” and the need for rituals. Although, one could claim that sitting regular is a ritual:-)

            So, someone like me would likely pop back and forth between our sites, as I see no reason to box myself in with any particular Buddhist label. I read Zen Theravada and books, as well as secular mindfulness and meditation stuff.

            While I understand the need to define secular Buddhism, and it is in moving in a particular direction that I like, I’m loath to define individuals. For myself personally, it’s just too confining. Natural Buddhism, Pragmatic Buddhism, Zen Naturalism, and Secular Buddhism all offer something to me, and I just don’t feel the need to say I’m one or the other.

            I do, however, consider my Buddhist practice as vital to my life style and world view.

          • Linda Linda says:

            frankjude: Nice to have someone else around who considers their practice an aspect of their religion.

            Unlike Dana, I don’t have a problem labeling myself as this kind of Buddhist or that. If the label did fit, I’d call myself a secular Buddhist and at other times a skeptical Buddhist, and sometimes just a Buddhist. I’m not attached to any one of the labels; for me they are merely descriptive and a way of communicating the approach I take. I’m a religious Buddhist because, like you, I see religion as incorporating social aspects.

          • ernie says:

            I’m sorry Frank, I didn’t express myself very clearly – I was hanging too much meaning onto the word ‘directly’ in that quote.

            I agree that rituals are supportive of ones practice where their purpose remains firmly in mind. My point was that they are often pursued without any thought to their purpose, in which case they become empty and meaningless (or worse).

    • Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

      Ernie, welcome to the site, and thank you for your input!

  20. Matthias says:

    Hi, there seems to be consensus here that the four noble truths are something all secular buddhists accept. Can anybody point me to a text where a secular buddhist interpretation of the four noble truths is to be found. It seems something of a law here that being is suffering (or more technically: everything compound equals suffering). But what is suffering? I am a bit suspicious that ‘suffering’ is a bit of an empty signifier: often mentioned, seldomly thought about.

    • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

      I’m with you, Matthias. I would suggest that part of our ongoing discussion about our practice include questioning that focus on suffering with a capital S, and what that means. THAT would be a good (separate) thread. Accepting is, as in science, provisional — not permanent.

      Also, we don’t have “texts”, this is new and represents the start of conversations and exploration.

    • Mark Knickelbine says:

      Matthias, I attempted to discuss this topic here: http://wp.me/p2oPr6-bj

      • Matthias says:

        Ted & Mark: Thanks

        Mark thanks for the link. I find it good in your text that you put into question the meaning of “suffering”. You put into question the relevance of the equation of english word suffering to the pali word dukkha. It is the same with other Buddhist buzz-words like shunnyata = emptiness, karma = the law of cause and effect etc.

        These words are used in such a wide range of meanings and circumstances that they loose the power of definition.

        If it is true that these equations/translations transport little or no meaning but they are used at the same time so extensively to still define something (like in the thread here) than, I suspect, they have a hidden/unconscious meaning.

        The question is, what do people really do with this word? This is Ted’s question too, I think. This question has to do with the non-buddhist critique of Secular Buddhism too. It is about hidden structures which define us. If I should define any form of Buddhism which interests my than only the one which is interested in learning about the hidden structures which inform our life.

        Have a good day

        • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

          Thanks, Matthias. It seems the question of what we mean by “suffering” is not exclusive to a secular approach to Buddhism, but to Buddhism as a whole. Of course we’re focusing on secular here. so we’ll stick to that.

          One thing that seems to be a common idea we’re seeing in these conversations is that secular Buddhists alone are starting from suffering — however we end up defining that — as a given, that we’re pulling that out of nowhere, it’s an assumption we’re not questioning. I disagree with going that far, however, and suggest that we probably all have had unpleasant experiences in our lives, and have not just observed them, but have had an associated experience we can refer to as suffering.

          What do we mean by that? Simply put, not having what we want, and having what we don’t want. Nothing magical, nothing mystical, nothing that is not openly and freely experienced by anyone taking a gander at daily living.

          So what is classically referred to as the first noble truth (and I really don’t like these kinds of scriptural descriptions, but that’s a personal aversion!) is something we haven’t just accepted uncritically, it’s something we provisionally understand as being an accurate reflection of the very pragmatic experiences we have.

          And like the provisional understandings we have in the realm of science, I want to ask: What is the new evidence or incorrect way of looking at that which falsifies that provisional understanding? I’m sincerely asking, and am happy to be shown where I may very well be getting this wrong.

          Again, thanks for the insights, I really do appreciate the dialogue.

        • Linda Linda says:

          An aside on the use of “Buddhist words” like dukkha (“suffering”), sunnata/shunyata (“emptiness”), and so on — I believe they and their common translations get used and re-used because they are touch-points for understanding what’s being said in the oldest works attributed to the Buddha (the Pali suttas). We could certainly reframe the whole lesson he teaches in modern language and leave all of the Pali references out. But then if we wanted to see how well what someone is saying the Buddha said matches up to what we have as a record of what he said, we’d be lost.

          The common language is a tool, and should be used as such — not clung to! ; ) It’s the raft to the other shore.

          On the other hand, whatever words we use are going to be challenging to express what the Buddha is saying, because what he is saying is subtle and deep and goes against every instinct we have. That’s, unfortunately, the nature of the beast, because what the Buddha is saying is that there is a part of us that wants to BE but is not necessary and is in fact harmful; and what he is teaching is the undoing of that part of us that wants to BE and because that instinct is so strong it’s going to make it really difficult for us to understand the points he’s making. It “goes against the stream” — it’s counterintuitive. We don’t have language designed to express it simply; we have to use language that was created to express something different (this is true whether we use the Pali or modern English that bears no relation to the Pali) and the challenge for us is to try to understand how what is being said is different from the things usually said with the same words.

          This is why I think the point Ron got Dana started on in the forums about the 4nt (four noble truths) being more than is usually simply stated (“There is suffering… ” etc) is important: the first isn’t just “dukkha.” It isn’t: “Believe it! There is dukkha!” nor is it “Life is dukkha! It’s intrinsic in everything!” but it’s a request: Understand dukkha; understand what I mean by it, understand how it comes to be, understand how it can end, understand the practice that leads to its end — but first and foremost, understand what it is that’s being defined as dukkha.

          Even in the Buddha’s day, this would have been a challenge, because dukkha was much-discussed, and there were many different approaches and definitions. Understanding his particular take on it was as critical then as it is now.

          • Matthias says:

            Ted, I don’t want to look like I am avoiding an answer but I think it is impossible to answer your question in a few sentences.

            We could just start with “suffering” or “life is suffering” as an axiom. Why not? And we could take the definition “Not having what we want, and having what we don’t want.”

            The problem is if we take this alone we don’t know what makes us need certain things and avoid others. A lot of structures are hidden from your ‘eyes’. Of course there are answers to this but the old buddhist ones are not satisfactory anymore. The whole discussion about ideology at the non-buddhist site is about these hidden structures, their corruptive power, structuring necessity etc.

            What do I really want? Well, the answer lies not in the old scriptures. Linda shows that.

            And that’s the point where I have to run. Linda, you show that there are no old scriptures but only that what you put into them. The first sentence of your post is simple circular reasoning. I am baffled by this display of naivety. Really.

            Your third paragraph is also very ‘interesting’. It shows how your own ‘wisdom’ which you just projected into poor Buddha now is raised to the ranks of a transcendental principle. The “harmful part in us” you speak about at last brings us to the heart of the problem. It’s classic. You fantasize a savior which tells you that your problems, for which you have no other solutions, is something bad. The fantasized savior then tells you that this bad part is to be banned. “It’s counterintuitive” for sure because it’s you. And “we don’t have language designed to express it simply”, because if you had, the plain truth would threaten you beyond your capability.

            This whole paragraph is really fascinating.

            If we do not understand such structures, “Not having what we want, and having what we don’t want”, makes us running in circles.

            Sorry if I sound cryptic, but I have to leave it there.

          • Linda Linda says:

            What I see is that your understanding of what’s going on (with me; with the Buddha’s teachings) colors your understanding of what I’m saying, warping it. This makes me rather suspect that we’re not going to be able to communicate very well, so I’m not sure that me saying, now, that I don’t see “dukkha” as being simply about “Not having what we want, and having what we don’t want” is even close to an adequate start on clarifying things.

            I wasn’t putting words in the Buddha’s mouth with “harmful” (I was paraphrasing what I understand him to be saying) –and I certainly wasn’t defining any part of us as “bad” — I was saying in extreme brief something that really is much more complex and subtle. When you treat it as if what I’ve said is the whole of what there is to say on a subject — and then push it from “harmful” to “bad” you are putting your ideas about what I’m saying in my mouth. If I want to follow the same pattern you followed with me, I will next say that you did this because you don’t want to deal with what I am actually saying (“would threaten you beyond your capacity”). But this is silly; I have no need to guess at your underlying motives and tell you what they are in doing what you do. It would be much simpler for me to point out that you just aren’t understanding what I’m saying, and that your cryptic remarks give me too little information to respond to — I’m not actually tempted to guess at what you mean and respond to my guesses as if they are actually what you mean.

  21. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Stoky, all of us have attempted to answer your questions, in fact several times.

    Yes, I totally get the difference between dictating and helping to gel something. We are definitely on board for creating direction for secular Buddhism. What I have said several times is, we have to be compassionate, understanding, and tolerate of all people who come to this site and non-judgemental of anyone who calls him/herself a Buddhist of any kind.

    My article addresses the last aspect, of what a secular Buddhist is, how they define themselves and what they believe.

    We have a good size number of people here, who are atheists who do not and will not define themselves as Buddhist of any sort. I am one of those people. But you won’t catch me criticizing anyone for calling themselves a Buddhist of any type. I have my own personal reasons for not labeling myself a Buddhist, but my secular Buddhist practice is of extreme importance for me, it’s a way of life for me, just as a scientific mindset is for me.

    EVERYONE is welcome to this site, to take the information and develop a practice that suits them. As for what content we publish . . . this is where we take the word SECULAR seriously. And as a group, indeed, secular Buddhism is in the process of finding out where the boundaries are, what makes secular Buddhism different from other traditions, and how we can hold that space so that it’s a good fit for the needs of the COMMUNITY. Not for Dana, but for the entire secular Buddhist community.

    Stoky, I do hope you don’t go away, as your input is valuable, and we do appreciate your interaction with us.

  22. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    I don’t want anyone to get the impression that we poopoo philosophy, or that we think comparisons to other philosophies are unimportant. We do agree these are valid discussions, and perhaps the problem has been that we haven’t provided a good outlet for discussion.

    Soooooo, to that end, I have created a discussion forum dedicated to Buddhist philosophy and comparative philosophies: http://bit.ly/OAHBkI

    Enjoy. It will be interesting to see what develops there!

  23. Jan says:

    Some seem to act as if SBA is a formal organization and as such needs to articulate an ideology. But it is not and doesn’t need to at this point. There is nothing to join. SBA is a forum for discussion that over time will either fade away or move in a direction that compels it to format itself organizationally and develop ideologically. We are far from that happening at the present and the task at hand is to draw out and discuss a myriad of ideas and points of view focused around the dialectic of secular/Buddhism. Time will pass and more formal directions will be articulated. I guarantee it.

  24. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Nuts & Bolts Buddhism 🙂

  25. stoky says:

    Alright, one last, mindful™ and compassionate™ statement.

    Thanks

    I still like the idea of this project. Secular Buddhism has introduced me to certain things that I wouldn’t want to miss in my lives. And the reason why I’m still here, is because I still have some hope left that something great will come out of it. Even if I move on (which, in some way I already did) SB was a gateway I’ll always be thankful for. In some sense I’m still in love.

    Criticism, someone said, is the strongest form of love. Mark you have expressed here and at other places your aversion against anger and the importance of compassion and mindfulness. I don’t know about your parents, but my parents love me. And they got angry at me countless times. Because they cared. Is your understanding of love and compassion so limited that you can’t see through anger and fierce intellectual arguments and detect all the love and compassion? Have you never loved someone so much that you got angry, simply out of love? Did you never receive love in such a strong form?

    Dana, I think you just tried to describe the current situation and constitution of the Secular Buddhist community. So far, so good. But in the last paragraph you totally failed.

    The secular Buddhists (with all other Buddhist types) have countless differences among us. What we all have in common is we are human beings who suffer, who want to be free of suffering. Let’s just start from that foundation, have compassion for one another, enjoy healthy disagreements, the sharing of information, and enjoy the benefits of this practice.

    I have no idea anymore what suffering means exactly or if I really want to be free of it. Noah Levine is a meditation teacher, he’s supposed to know what suffering means. And he once wrote that he feels like relationships (with sex and all that, you know) ultimately create suffering for him. But he still decides that it’s worth it. He doesn’t want to be free from suffering. You excluded him from the community of secular buddhist. Love for everyone, but not for Noah. May he be free of suffering (= may he never be in a relationship again!) , my ass. Dana, you’re an asshole. You’re a bad, bad person. Shame on you!

    And Noah Levine is not the only one. One of the most secular and critical Buddhists I know is a gay Soto-Zen-Buddhist. He doesn’t want to be free of suffering, too. I suppose there are many other people like that. Why did you exclude them?

    Ted, you often quote people who support critical thinking. Here is one of them “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Why do you use, what Glenn Wallis calls a double standard? Why didn’t you use this principle for the Guiding Principles of this website? (Yes, I know they are only guiding and still in development.) But it’s still worth questioning it. Where are the proofs exactly (I’ve listened to a lot of your podcast, but never saw any)?

    Linda, I don’t have anything to say to you. I didn’t read enough of your contributions. Nothing personal. Just a coincidence 🙂

    Finally I don’t think that the points I raised are just individual flaws. I think they are systematic. It’s not solved by creating a philosophy forum (are you trying to build a trap for critical thinking?).

    Oh and do me one favour, don’t write an answer. I’m not interested in them. Still, I think they’re good questions. I’m confident that they will help you whatever your answer might be.

    With all love, compassion, equanimity and mindfulness I have:
    FUCK YOU!

    • Linda Linda says:

      “I have no idea anymore what suffering means exactly or if I really want to be free of it. Noah Levine is a meditation teacher, he’s supposed to know what suffering means. And he once wrote that he feels like relationships (with sex and all that, you know) ultimately create suffering for him.”

      Somewhere, probably on one of the secular Buddhist sites, someone said something to the effect of “The suffering you can tolerate is not dukkha; the suffering you cannot tolerate is.” While I might debate the complete accuracy of that statement, it’s a fairly good rough guideline to seeing what dukkha is. In Noah’s case, what he’s calling “suffering” — something he chooses to take on — isn’t, then, dukkha. The very fact that he’s made a conscious choice to open himself up to the likelihood of pain is an indicator it’s not dukkha, because dukkha is grounded in ignorance of how dukkha happens and the underlying causes, whereas your description makes it sound like he has examined the causes.

      The above definition is consistent with Dana’s closing paragraph that you’ve objected to: “What we all have in common is we are human beings who suffer, who want to be free of suffering.” I’m proposing that Dana’s definition of suffering here is dukkha as “suffering we cannot tolerate”. Clearly we all want to be free of suffering we experience as intolerable.

  26. Mark Knickelbine says:

    Holy smoke. My parents? Really?

    Yes, love can be adjacent to anger or all kinds of reactive emotions. As a parent, I get angry at my kids all the time. I always regret it, because it makes me behave stupidly, and the last people I want to behave stupidly toward are my kids. Anger suggests self-righteousness, and self-righteousness suggests some stance from which I can judge other people. The more I examine my experience, the harder it is for me to assume my own omniscience. I find that if I can recognize anger as just another fleeting emotion and let it go, I can actually do a better job of figuring out what my kids need from me and act not out of my own grasping ego but from what’s best for them. And, as a byproduct, I’m happier and my kids seem happier too. My question for you, Stoky, is why such a thing moves you to swearing.

  27. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    So, a statement is posted, we’re asked questions, but told not to reply? I’ll reply anyway, since having answers available to others might be of value to them, even if you may not be interested.

    Ted, you often quote people who support critical thinking. Here is one of them “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Why do you use, what Glenn Wallis calls a double standard? Why didn’t you use this principle for the Guiding Principles of this website? (Yes, I know they are only guiding and still in development.) But it’s still worth questioning it. Where are the proofs exactly (I’ve listened to a lot of your podcast, but never saw any)?

    Yes, nice quote from Carl Sagan, I use it often. Let’s look at it — is it really an extraordinary claim that we’ve all had the experience of having what we don’t want, and not having what we do want? That’s my definition of suffering, yours may be different. As I said further up in this dialogue:

    So what is classically referred to as the first noble truth (and I really don’t like these kinds of scriptural descriptions, but that’s a personal aversion!) is something we haven’t just accepted uncritically, it’s something we provisionally understand as being an accurate reflection of the very pragmatic experiences we have.

    And like the provisional understandings we have in the realm of science, I want to ask: What is the new evidence or incorrect way of looking at that which falsifies that provisional understanding? I’m sincerely asking, and am happy to be shown where I may very well be getting this wrong.

    Is this experience a “proof” in the scientific sense? Good question! What measure can we use for experiential “evidence” that’s externally verifiable? That’s an ongoing question for all experiential discussions, not just this one. What do you propose to test it, I’d be very interested in pursuing a way to do that.

    • mufi says:

      Ted,

      If I may jump in here:

      is it really an extraordinary claim that we’ve all had the experience of having what we don’t want, and not having what we do want?

      Not at all – now that you’ve clearly defined how you interpret “suffering” (or “dukka”). Mileage may vary, however. 🙂

      As a rule-of-thumb, the more specific we are in our claims, the more likely we are to yield testable hypotheses. From what I’ve gathered of the relevant research thus far, there’s enough evidence that meditation affords certain benefits (some of which are mentioned elsewhere in this thread) as to render the practice appealing to scientific skeptics like myself.

      But I still have plenty of questions, two of which come readily to mind:

      1) Must the practice derive from Buddhist tradition in order to afford those same benefits? (After all, non-Buddhists have meditative or contemplative traditions, too.)

      and (more to the point):

      2) Is it accurate to summarize these benefits as relief (let alone cessation) of suffering, as defined above?

      Re: #1, it seems that most of the attention in the research has gone to Buddhist techniques, and I suspect that’s because they have the widest appeal, given such down-to-earth/secular/universal objects of meditation as one’s breathing. No belief in [fill in the name of your preferred deity or supernatural agent/force] required.

      Re: #2, I’m reluctant to answer in the affirmative. Anecdotally, I suppose it’s accurate to say that the practice has gotten me through some strong, counter-productive emotions, which is presumably why mindfulness now plays a significant role in cognitive-behavioral therapy (or in closely related therapies derived from Buddhist thought, like DBT and ACT).

      But Buddhism (even in secular/naturalized form) seems to advertise more than just a coping strategy, no?

      • frankjude says:

        Mind if I step into the discussion here?

        I think the translation of “nirodha” as “cessation” is problematic. Here’s an excerpt from a longer piece I wrote about a processive, naturalistic approach to the four realities:

        “Often translated as “cessation,” a perhaps more accurate meaning of nirodha is “confine,” “restrict,” “enclose” or “contain.” (http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/romadict.pl?page=88&table=macdonell&display=simple) Rodha originally meant an earthen bank, dam or blockade, with the denotation of “holding back, restraining, and shutting up in” (http://dsal.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/romadict.pl?page=136&table=macdonell&display=simple) and ni means “down.” If you’ve ever gone camping and made a fire, you know this image as the earth and stone bank with which you surround the fire in order to confine it and keep it from spreading disastrously.”

        So, in my more process-oriented approach:
        1. shit happens; you lose something/someone you love or you get something you don’t want (like an illness or a parking ticket) which are two aspects of dukkha

        2. reactivity arises (samudaya here translated as “what comes up,” but not what causes dukkha to come up, but what comes up when faced with dukkha

        3. and we contain our reactivity; we do not act from our conditioned impulsivity

        4. we embody the aspects of the path

        http://zennaturalism.blogspot.com/2009/07/meaning-of-duhkha-for-zen-naturalism.html

        • Linda Linda says:

          Great comment. Truly. Illuminating. This is what I keep seeing the Buddha as saying: that there is cessation — but that it happens again and again and again (not once and for all). How lovely that one of the words for liberation reflects this in its origins with that sense of containing that natural reaction that arises. I had never looked at the word’s origins. Thanks for this!

      • Linda Linda says:

        mufi, I’m parsing your question to Ted as: does meditation (Buddhist or otherwise) provide relief from dukkha when defined as “not having what we want, and having what we don’t want”. Is my understanding of your question correct?

        (from the post: http://secularbuddhism.org/2012/07/09/what-is-a-secular-buddhist-and-what-do-they-believe/#comment-1702 )

        • mufi says:

          Linda:

          Yes, but with the caveat that (when viewed in context) it’s not a question that can be answered without reference to relevant research (e.g. randomized controlled trials, or RCT’s). Here’s an example of a related hypothesis:

          Subjects who practice X hours of mindfulness meditation will report fewer cravings for Y [be it food, alcohol, money, sex, etc.] than a control group in which the subjects did not practice mindfulness meditation.

          There might already be such research. If so, I’m as yet unfamiliar with it.

  28. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    jonckher and all,

    We need not get into the atheist/agnostic/god conversation at all, IMHO, because Buddhism, no matter which one, is non-theistic. God(s) is not a part of the teachings. While Buddha does mention gods, he is speaking to people who believed in a bunch of them, and his point was suffering exists everywhere. No Buddhist is required to pray to any god. Tibetan Buddhists have their deities that comes from their old Bon religion, but secular Buddhism does not have deitiy worship.

    In my mind, theism is not an issue in Buddhism, and most certainly not secular Buddhism. To drag in words like atheist or agnostic is pointless, as it’s not an issue for us anyway.

    So I see no need to get into those arguments. Also, I would not exclude Christians who want to practice secular Buddhism. In fact, I encourage them. But for the definition of Secular Buddhism, it’s simple enough to say it’s non-theistic, though I doubt that is even necessary.

    • frankjude says:

      Ooops, I put one link in my comment above and it’s being held back for ‘moderation.’ Sorry about that Dana…… More work for you, eh? 🙂

      No problem, Frank. I’m going to see if I can change how many links appear before it gets tagged as spam, as I don’t want to discourage people from sharing links, while we don’t want spammers getting in here:-) I’ll see what I can do. Dana

  29. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Mufi,

    Buddha was not the first, nor the last, to come up with these ideas around meditation, mindfulness, or suffering. What is unique to Buddhism is the way he organized the teachings and developed a path (not a linear one), in conjunction with the tools. This is laid out in the 4 Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path.

    Certainly one can meditate to develop mindfulness, and just doing that alone gives you powerful tools to alleviate your own suffering, see that it’s best not to create suffering for others, and to help ground one firmly in the moment of reality.

    None of us here, I’m pretty sure, would say Buddhism is the only way to improve your life, to overcome suffering. Some people approach this from many angles, and quite successfully.

    For me, I’m fascinated at how granular Buddha’s teachings get in regard to how the mind/body/experience works, and my interest in neuroscience has led me to science that validates these teachings through studies and fMRI scans, etc. I find combining my reading of neuroscience helps my understanding of the teachings and the path helps me put it into practice.

    Could you do that another way, through other philosophies? Quite possibly. Use what works!

    • mufi says:

      Dana:

      Mufi, Buddha was not the first, nor the last…

      I’m not sure, based on the thread placement, but I think this was a response to my reply to Ted [July 13, 2012 at 8:44 am (UTC -7)], which boils down to questions about epistemic methodology or science, as it relates to Buddhist claims.

      That said, it’s not clear to me that neuroscience (or the cognitive/behavioral/medical sciences, in general) can validate Buddhist teachings, unless we translate those teachings into terms like “brain-wave modification”, “reduced cortisol levels and blood pressure”, “improved immune system function “, etc. – i.e. terms that may yield scientifically measurable phenomena, which suggest enhanced fitness, but that would likely have been regarded as alien to the Buddha and by most Buddhists throughout history. [Note: We can also find scientifically gathered subjective reports of “positive affect”, which I suppose one can interpret as a kind of dukkha-relief, but it doesn’t take an fMRI to gather that. Just ask the subject: How do you feel right now? Even the Buddha could have done that, had he been so inclined.]

      In other words, it’s one thing to claim that the 4 Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path tickle your fancy or give your life meaning (which pretty much any religious adherent can claim). I’ll take your word for it.

      It’s quite another to claim that “neuroscience…validates Buddhist teachings.” I think it’s more accurate to say that neuroscience allows us to probe what’s happening in the body of a practitioner at a deeper level, from a third-person perspective, than was ever possible before. And, yes, many of the results have been positive (again, in fitness or affective terms) – but not quite in the ways that the Buddha taught. To make that leap, I think we have to read much into the Pali texts, thereby carving the Buddha into our own image.

    • Linda Linda says:

      “Buddha was not the first, nor the last, to come up with these ideas around meditation, mindfulness, or suffering.”

      Would you please define “these ideas”? Because I think he certainly was the first to come up with his approach to meditation, his aim with mindfulness, and his definition of what dukkha is.

      Other people may have done meditation, perhaps they practiced mindfulness too, and they certainly talked a lot about dukkha (suffering), but the Buddha’s “ideas around these” seem to me to have been uniquely his.

  30. stoky says:

    Haha, now we’re getting somewhere 🙂

    Mark, how you raise your kids and live your life is totally up to you. But as soon as you request compassion from other people you become self-righteousness, too. Can you see this?

    Also, I don’t think you should feel guilty everytime you get angry. You should have more compassion with your self! You’re a human being, so you make mistakes. And your kids will have to learn how to deal with people and their faults anyhow. If I think about my parents I don’t want them to feel guilty for being angry at me and I understand that they did most of this out of love for me, and so will your kids eventually 🙂

    Ted,

    nice move calling me on the non-reply thing. Finally, someone with guts!

    Let’s look at it — is it really an extraordinary claim that we’ve all had the experience of having what we don’t want, and not having what we do want? That’s my definition of suffering, yours may be different.

    But sometimes that’s a beautiful experience. What about the excitement it creates when you really want to have e.g. your favourite food but have to wait for it? What about tickling? You want it to stop, but then.. it’s so much fun! Also there is some kind of pleasure in ‘negative’ feelings like sorrow. So “unpleasant” is not a good option here.

    Personally I think this is enough to remove the attribute “accurate”. Of course there are more accurate descriptions in various traditions of Buddhist philosophy, but then which one do you choose?

    From a neuro-scientific point of view it seems ridiculous to use a description from another time, language and culture, because these three things do influence how we process the world.

    Personally, I think it is pretty unclear what this project is supposed to be. If it is just about exploration of Buddhist teachings in a secular World you have to remove quite some bits. For example statements like the last paragraph of Danas original post and others. If it is about providing a place for people who believe in mindfulness/compassion and the four noble truths then I would recommend to remove some other bits, like the word “critical examination” in the Guiding Principles.

    And this is not hair splitting. If you have a look at the comments at this thread you clearly see these two aspects and you clearly see a conflict that won’t last forever. One side will win eventually.

    • Linda Linda says:

      “Personally, I think it is pretty unclear what this project is supposed to be. If it is just about exploration of Buddhist teachings in a secular World you have to remove quite some bits.”

      I’m fascinated by this. When you describe it this way I imagine you imagining folks with spreadsheets and databases designing Secular Buddhism with a big carafe of coffee and half-filled boxes of donuts scattered around the table, still working at 3 a.m. trying to decide which bits must go and which should be kept.

      You don’t seem to be recognizing that we’re just a bunch of individuals who want to take a fresh look at Buddhism and find out how it applies to our lives here and now. There is no “project” other than the effort of offering a network (a forum) for people who are interested in doing the same.

      • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

        What?! We have no cunning plan of Buddhist world domination?

        *sigh* Okay…

        😉

      • stoky says:

        Linda,

        the texts you publish, the environment you create influences the project even if it is only “a network (a forum) for people who are interested in doing the same”. And the SBA has a significant impact on the sB community.

        When Mark says

        This is not a philosophical debating society, nor an opportunity for people to beat on each other with their intellectual bona fides.

        or when Dana writes

        What we all have in common is we are human beings who suffer, who want to be free of suffering.

        it clearly outlines what they think secular Buddhism should be.

        For example they suggest that this place is not for me I don’t think we should be completely free of suffering and I think intellectual competition is a good tool. If you think differently, that’s fine. If the SBA decides that this is not the place for philosophy or questioning liberation, that’s fine.

        But then, please do me one favour: Don’t put the word “critical” in your Guiding Principles, because that’d be hypocritical.

        Do you get my point? Because right now we’re exactly where I ultimately wanted to go.

        • stoky says:

          Maybe I should end with a more positive remark:

          If you got my point. If you understand that everything you write here influences other people in the way they think and the way they live their lives, then you can do one thing: better.

          You can find ways to have a better impact on other people! I think that’s great 🙂

          (you also can compare it to my last answer to Ted, it’s the same thought)

        • Linda Linda says:

          I think that’s the point, Stoky: each of us is *trying* to have a good influence. Each of the many and varied voices here is presenting their case for what Buddhism is or could be, for what they see and why they would like others to see it the way they do. It’s likely that a synthesis will come out of all these different points of view eventually (though I, for one, don’t expect to still be around when that happens), but even while each of us is presenting what we think is important, we are, none of us, wanting to drown out the others who have a different point of view. It’s far too early in the growing season to start calling this a weed and that a flower and pulling things up, training plants to climb the bean pole when maybe they aren’t even beans, trimming things because we think they’re the sort that grow better when cut regularly. We’re still, as Jan said, in the “let a thousand Buddhisms bloom” (well, he said flowers, but you know what we mean).

          It’s good for us that you point out how certain statements make you feel excluded. I pointed this out, myself, in various early definitions of Secular Buddhism that excluded me — and jonckher’s “atheist Buddhism” would have the same effect on me. We need to hear it when we’re being too inclusive (“some secular Buddhists might believe in rebirth”?) or too exclusive; these are valid criticisms.

          But Dana’s original point is relevant here too — and needs to be made again and often: we are not the committee to design Secular Buddhism, we are individual voices just trying out things and looking at possible directions. If someone’s statement seems to exclude *you* that doesn’t mean you’re excluded from Secular Buddhism because there is no official party line that is Secular Buddhism. If you don’t like something one of us says, just say so; this is a conversation and we are here talking not to hear ourselves, but to hear *you* respond.

          • jonckher says:

            Hi Linda

            I have to disagree with your statement that “there is no official party line that is Secular Buddhism”. This site has clearly become one of the main sites (if not the only one) that actually does state even in general guideline terms what Secular Buddhism is. This post is part and parcel of the “party line”.

            Perhaps from the inside and from your intentions, you guys do not see secularbuddhism.org as an official party but from the outside even the ownership of the domain name itself sends a strong message that you, like it or not, intentionally or not, are the official party at the forefront of the conversation with a vibrant on-line community for the nascent Secular Buddhism movement.

            This is fair enough because you have put in the hours and effort to get here and it is to be highly commended.

            But your influence (as a collective and individually) should also be recognised by yourself. Like it or not, you are now in a position of authority.

            For example, I see myself as attempting to influence the core group of this site (ie those with admin rights) to modify the FAQ and remove all references to rebirth as being acceptable within Secular Buddhism. This then influences your hundreds or thousands of daily visitors. You, or Ted or whoever, can choose to listen to me and act or listen and not act. It is your site and from that comes power. And on that power stands the committee: Ted, Dana, Linda, Ron, Mark.

            Like it or not, you have become the Secular Buddhist committee.

            And even though I come across as hard-line, I do actually believe that so far* the movement is in good hands.

            kind regards

            * except of course for the rebirth issue

          • jonckher says:

            ps:

            I should have looked at the website a bit more thoroughly. Seeing as the Secular Buddhism Association has an advisory council and directors, I can’t actually see how this is different from an official party with a committee. The thing I am curious about is whether there is a formal process for raising questions to the Council to be settled once and for all.

            If there is, I’d be the first to use this process in order to raise the question of literal rebirth within the FAQ to the Council for a formal pronouncement on the matter (preferably within the Guidelines and including literal karma).

            As I have no idea of how to influence the contents of this site except through various comment threads, I can’t see how all of this talk of inclusiveness translates into reality.

          • Linda Linda says:

            I guess we have arrived! Thanks for letting us know that your perception is that our soap boxes are taller than we think they are. We should — you’re right — keep that in mind.

            Your p.s. makes a good question — I have no idea what the answer is. We’re not as official and organized as you might hope. : )

          • Candol says:

            To Linda and Jonkher

            As a general statement, Its starting to get really difficult to follow this conversation in this format. I”m getting email updates and i wasn’t reading them all but i read some and now i want to reply.

            I’m replying to a hardline one by Linda in which she talks about the committee and to one by Jonkher (are you also Ron otherwise who is Ron).

            Anyway, as far as i’m concerned, when this site defines what secular buddhism, that definition only applies to this site. It does not necessarily mean it applies to all other groups calling themselves secular buddhism. I think that should be remembered.

            Five self chosen people do not have the authority to speak for people all over the world. Just because you’ve given yourselves the name Secular Buddhism does not mean you are THE secular buddhism, the beginning and end of it.

            If you want to bring along a lot of members of the public with you, it would probably pay to bear in mind that if you define yourselves in a certain way, you might lose yourselves a lot of adherents to this site or at least you might not be able to bring them along to anything beyond this site.

            Its already clear that even amongst the five or so poeple on the sec bud committtee there are profound differences of view on important doctrines. Linda to my ear you are starting to sound like someone is more than healthily sure of her self and her position on what the buddha meant. Its one thing to be sure about it for your own practice but quite another to assert that that is what he meant and everyone else must follow my lead too which if you bring your attitude to the committee for making definitions, is what you are doing.

            To be blunt, i for one would have no part of agreeing that LInda knows best what the buddha meant. I prefer the more humble lead that stephen batchlor and others have adopted that they don’t know what the buddha really meant but they feel they’ve a right to be selective and cobble together something that makes sense for our times. Even if i haven’t articulated that very well, the point i’m making is that you are being really hardline in knowing for sure what the buddha meant and no one else is anywhere near this hardline and dogmatic about it.

            Even if people find your work compelling, i wonder if they would go along with you in saying that they trust that you know what the buddha meant. Already in one other post Dana has said that “we” dont’ even know whether the buddha aka as siddharth gotama was a real historical person. Which if you are going ot assert you know what he meant you have to first accept he was a historical person.

            So right there are strong divisions of attitude between You and Dana.

            I think that to keep the peace over these strong divisions of view, you would have to adopt a definition of secular buddhism that can live with both and more versions of some of the finer questions. Personally i can’t abide the idea that rebirth or karma have any place in secular buddhism and i would be curious how someone who held these views could call themself a secular buddhist.

            I think its for people like that to try to articulate and persuade the rest that their interpretation could belong under the umbrella term of secular buddhism.

          • jonckher says:

            Hi Candol,

            I agree a simple numbering system for the comment so I can refer to it would be more effective.

            However, given the constraints, I’ll just muddle through.

            No I am not Ron.

            Also, if even Linda is uncertain as to how to influence the contents of this site, then the circle who defines the Guidelines and the FAQ, then I guess it is not the listed Contributors but the Directors and the Advisory Council (note the word advisory) who have final say on the contents.

            Once again, if the process of influencing what has effectively become the voice of Secular Buddhism internationally is opaque and limited only to the Board (Ted and Dana) and maybe the Council, then how much of the inclusive talk is matched by a corresponding walk?

            I mean do the Advisory Council sign-off on the contents of the Guidelines and the FAQ (and subsequent modifications) or are they just being nice and inclusive?

            If this is an association, can any interested person become a member and hence have more influence on the contents and the direction espoused by this site?

            The more I think of it, the more questions I have (i blame it on being in the public service in real life). But then, at the end of the day, as an Atheist Buddhist – I don’t have a lot of skin in the game*. So feel free to ignore my questions as being nosy.

            Secular Buddhists who want greater involvement then just commenting may be more interested however.

            kind regards

            * that is until someone sets up an Atheist Buddhist site and starts unilaterally including literal rebirth as an acceptable thing for Atheist Buddhists to believe in.

            ps: hmm. I might have to buy atheistbuddhism.org.

          • Candol says:

            Jon

            “If this is an association, can any interested person become a member and hence have more influence on the contents and the direction espoused by this site?”

            As someone who is in the throws or creating an association myself, and as someone with a very clear vision about what will go on in it, how it will be run and so on, i don’t want to make it easy for anyone to walk in off the street and switch the whole agenda of the association i am working so hard to set up.

            I think you should consider that if you are don’t agree with what’s going on here, you should branch out on your own and set up something that defines your own understanding and operates they way you think that secular buddhism should. You may not be able to call it the same thing as Ted and Dana but they were smart enough to get in first and therefore are entitled to hog the limelight until it goes wrong or something better shows up. But have you got the energy and commitmet to put in what Ted and Dana have done.

            Certainly for my part, i don’t find it necessary to agree with everyone here. I don’t agree with either Dana or Linda or Jan or Mark on all points. For the most part i haven’t come up against Ted but that’s only because he doesn’t get heavily engaged in conversations on the forum.

            Its a mistake to think you can carry everyone along with you and your own narrowly defined understanding. Its why its better that there’s room for a bit of fraying at the edges. It is afterall about what people believe and as they say in INdia there are as many forms of hinduism as there are hindus. That would be a better approach for secular buddhism than trying to be too stringent about the definition.

            For your information, i recommend you read up on some of Andrew Kennedy’s posts on the secular buddhistUK websites. REad through some of those blog posts looking for his views. He was the first person i was aware of who suggested the sec bud people incorporate “provisional beliefs” in stuff that i would normally prefer to rule out. I don’t really care what people believe but i prefer the original definitions put up on these sites when they were first put up. I think its much too soon to be changing them to suit the odd individual from left field.

          • Linda Linda says:

            “Linda to my ear you are starting to sound like someone is more than healthily sure of her self and her position on what the buddha meant. Its one thing to be sure about it for your own practice but quite another to assert that that is what he meant and everyone else must follow my lead too which if you bring your attitude to the committee for making definitions, is what you are doing. ”

            What committee is that, Candol?

            I’m sorry if you mistake my confidence in my understanding for an unhealthy state of mind. I’ve been studying these suttas for several years now, and been a Buddhist for longer than that — I would hope to have gained confidence in my understanding and practice by now (if I hadn’t, then why would I still be at it?). I’m at a loss to figure out where you find that I am asserting that not only do I understand what he meant but “everyone else must follow my lead too” — perhaps you’re perceiving my certainty and ongoing effort to be clear when I continue to answer your questions and comments on my approach as insistence that you come around to my way of thinking? Obviously I’m trying to persuade you; that’s not the same thing as saying you *must* agree.

            “To be blunt, i for one would have no part of agreeing that Linda knows best what the buddha meant. I prefer the more humble lead that stephen batchlor and others have adopted that they don’t know what the buddha really meant…”

            That’s amusing coming from you, Candol, that you want people to speak humbly — one of your charms (for me, perhaps not for all) is that you don’t mince words; but you dislike it when I don’t mince words? You’d have me pretend to be less confident than I am? It seems likely to me that the people you mention are not being humble and “adopting” a stance that they don’t really know; perhaps they aren’t confident that they do, which is fine. I will also point out many places where I don’t know what the Buddha is talking about, or when I have the sense that he’s saying X but haven’t gotten enough evidence to be confident of my guesses — it just happens that these points don’t come up in our conversations here because they are less fundamental and more obscure.

            “Already in one other post Dana has said that “we” dont’ even know whether the buddha aka as siddharth gotama was a real historical person. Which if you are going ot assert you know what he meant you have to first accept he was a historical person.”

            What a remarkable conclusion you have drawn there — but perhaps I misunderstand you. I am hearing you say that I must accept that the Buddha of the suttas has to have been a historical person if I am to interpret the teachings as being something I can understand as coming from a person. But perhaps you’d accept the statement that what I see is that the teachings we have, have to have come from a person who existed a long time ago (therefore a “historical person”) who does not have to have done exactly what is portrayed in the suttas? If that’s actually what surprises you — that I’d think that some human came up with these ideas — what alternative do you propose? That they were handed down by the devas?

          • Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

            Candol you said:

            “Even if people find your work compelling, i wonder if they would go along with you in saying that they trust that you know what the buddha meant. Already in one other post Dana has said that “we” dont’ even know whether the buddha aka as siddharth gotama was a real historical person. Which if you are going ot assert you know what he meant you have to first accept he was a historical person.”

            Your logic fails here. One does not have to believe the historic Buddha in order to find the teachings of immense value, nor is it impossible to find common themes in threads through the suttas. I don’t know what Linda believes about the Buddha, whether he really lived or not. However, I find her study of Pali and the suttas trustworthy. She is a stickler for details and accuracy. She has been spending heaps of time studying these text. She has also been a Buddhist practitioner for some time.

            While she and I do not agree on everything, I have stood correct on several occasions with her, and I am always willing to listen respectfully to what she has to say, because I have little interest in reading the suttas myself, but I what the gist of it to practice with. So I yield to her growing expertise, just as I do with others who are doing this kind of work.

            I choose not to view the Buddha as a historic person, but that is my choice. I’ve not seen any great evidence that he did, and maybe he did, but I choose to view the teachings in a metaphoric/mythic manner.

          • mufi says:

            Dana: I choose not to view the Buddha as a historic person, but that is my choice. I’ve not seen any great evidence that he did, and maybe he did, but I choose to view the teachings in a metaphoric/mythic manner.

            I choose to stay out of debates (which is a bit different) over whether or not Gautama is an historic figure (as opposed to merely a fictional, literary character) – same as I do with regards to other religious figures (e.g. Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed).

            My general rule-of-thumb (for fields that I lack expertise in myself) is to provisionally trust the “dominant paradigm” of the field, whatever it may be. In this case, I admit that I’m not even sure what that the dominant paradigm is – presumably because I don’t much care as much about that as I do about how folks interpret “the Buddha’s message” in practice.

            On a more existential note, I assume that we are all (minimally) here because – at least as far as surviving, ancient religious/spiritual traditions go – Buddhism seems a (relatively) appealing option. Whether or not we can “have our cake and eat it too” (i.e. enjoy all of the wisdom, virtue, and beauty of an ancient/spiritual tradition without all of its supernatural baggage) is at least a question worth exploring, even if it remains a merely esoteric interest.

    • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

      nice move calling me on the non-reply thing. Finally, someone with guts!

      *chuckle* What’s funny about that is I technically have no guts whatsoever, having had them surgically removed years ago. I’m convinced a Scottish doctor just ran out of haggis.

      But sometimes that’s a beautiful experience. What about the excitement it creates when you really want to have e.g. your favourite food but have to wait for it? What about tickling? You want it to stop, but then.. it’s so much fun! Also there is some kind of pleasure in ‘negative’ feelings like sorrow. So “unpleasant” is not a good option here.

      Oh, dude, totally agree! Zen set the stage for me to really experience what’s happening, whatever it is. Dispensing with the idea of escaping rounds of rebirth — not a part of either my materialistic world view or my understanding of the natural world — also frees you up from the often misplaced idea that you’re supposed to not feel things. Of course we do, we evolved that way! Ever see a Buddhist Zombie? Yeah, that. Not for me.

      But that doesn’t mean we have to let our visceral reaction to the experience determine what we do next. Enjoy the tickle! Savor that salad! And when it’s done, let it be done. That’s (to me) the difference between detachment and non-attachment.

      From a neuro-scientific point of view it seems ridiculous to use a description from another time, language and culture, because these three things do influence how we process the world.

      Yep, again, with ya.

      Personally, I think it is pretty unclear what this project is supposed to be. If it is just about exploration of Buddhist teachings in a secular World you have to remove quite some bits. For example statements like the last paragraph of Danas original post and others. If it is about providing a place for people who believe in mindfulness/compassion and the four noble truths then I would recommend to remove some other bits, like the word “critical examination” in the Guiding Principles.

      I’m okay with setting lots of stuff aside, we do that in science all the time. Belief in the tooth fairy? Set it aside. Belief in rebirth? Set it aside. The idea that we have negative reactions to shit happening? Hm. We do see that, let’s look some more and see what’s going on.

      • stoky says:

        So now we moved very far from the “traditional” Theravada-version of the four noble truths and a bit from your original wanting/not-wanting-version.

        My point here (and in the general discussion) is the following: When we say something works, then this is strongly determined by what we define by “working”. A conservative Theravadin would consider the pleasure of a meal to be counter-productive. To him your statement would “prove” that your practice is not working.

        We don’t have scientific prove that the 4NT are true, but we interpreted them in a way that is scientifically provable.

        Maybe the subtle difference gets more clear in your next statement

        […] you’re supposed to not feel things. Of course we do, we evolved that way!

        It’s anything but logic to draw that conclusion. Just because we’re evolved that way doesn’t mean we should act that way. We also evolved to be a species who kills each other from time to time, does that mean we should?

        This, Ted, is your faith. You believe that it’s not good to be zombie. If you interpret the Pali-canon in a way that is supported by neuro-science and then conclude that science proved the Buddha to be right then your faith is that the Buddha intended this interpretation.

        Now, why is this interesting? Well, only if your aware of your beliefs you can let them go if necessary and take upon better beliefs. Great News, in my opinion!

        (I hope this is clear, because I won’t be able to answer questions the next two days)

        • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

          Hi, Stoky. There’s a subtle shift being made here. I don’t think I made any statement about “should”. I said we “do”, not that we “should”. So the example that we evolved killing most certainly does not mean we should, I agree. There was no ‘aught’ conclusion that was made, sorry if that was the impression I gave. ‘Supposed to’ is not meant in any externally judged way, it’s meant naturalistically — we’re ‘supposed’ to not fly off into space because of the effects of gravity, do we really have to distinguish what we mean by ‘supposed to’ for all this?

          So this is one of the points upon which we disagree: this is *not* my faith, at least in the Judeo-Christian sense of “things unseen” from Corinthians. This is faith in the ‘confidence’ sense, but as there is so much likelihood of misinterpretation, I just avoid using the word at all. There was curiosity about meditation, and then I tried it, got some experience with it, which led to confidence about it. That isn’t faith. What is it about what my way of describing it says faith to you? What are you looking for that would demonstrate to you that it’s confidence based on experience, not uncritical acceptance?

          I do believe it’s good not to be a zombie, that’s true. I also believe the sun will rise tomorrow, based on previous experience. I believe it’s good to be more positive in our social interactions, based on previous experience. I believe that the evidence presented by researchers about what’s happening in the brain when someone meditates is far from conclusive due to the limited controls put on the researchers potential to read the data a certain way, but I do expect based on that data they can do better studies to more clearly ascertain whether it’s the meditation specifically, or if listening to a story is all it takes. That someone named Gotama may have existed thousands of years ago, may have said such and such, and it may be in alignment with what science is finding? Cool, but not causative beyond the simple fact that we have this practice because of the institutions and people which carried it forward. e=mc2 regardless of Einstein having written the formula, and meditation *may* be helpful to us regardless of Gotama having talked about it. But, Stoky, I’m a far cry from science “proving” anything, it’s always provisional, and I have absolutely nothing to say about what someone so far in the past intended — I have no idea, and am very open about that.

          That is not a faith, that’s a reasonable provisional expectation of a rich avenue for exploration — like checking into what a non-religious way of studying and practicing Buddhism might be.

          There also seems to be a suggestion that we’re not being critical enough here, so maybe that’s an area to explore. We’re not starting from acceptance of, say, the 4NT’s, we’re discussing them based on our experience. We provisionally accept them based on that experience, so can you help me understand what is uncritical about that?

          Thanks, Stoky. I know you’re away for a couple of days, hope to hear from you again on this when you can get back to it!

          • stoky says:

            I hoped to be able to escape the samsara of the internet for two days but my karma was not good enough, so I’m back earlier.

            I think I might be wrong about that 4NT-description thing. As long as you use it as a description it should be ok.

            However, this is rarely the case. Why would you bother to understand suffering and attachment if not to be free of suffering and learning how to let go. As soon as you suggest to “let it go” it becomes prescriptive.

            Of course you may argue that your experience tells you that letting go is a good thing. But this is exactly the point where the subtle shift you described happens. How do you “measure” good?

            The difference between the sun and the zombie is that you don’t judge the sun. You don’t say “it’s good that the sun rises” it just does. The corresponding statement about zombies would be something like “If you’re afraid of feelings then you become a zombie”. That’s what you’re experience tells you.

            But then there’s a second step: You start to interpret and value that experience. You decide that you don’t want to be like that. This has nothing to do with your experience, this is your decision or your faith.

            Let’s assume Buddhism is the ultimate way to happiness. That’s a description. Stating that we should follow that path because we all should be happy is “faith”.

            This is very difficult to see, because everybody wants to be happy in some way. But it is not “natural”. A lot of communist don’t seem to believe in “happiness”. Kant didn’t care about happiness. The stoics didn’t think happiness is worth anything. They only cared about their moral integrity and were in total opposition to Epicurus. There’s a famous quote about a philosopher (I forgot his name) who was asked whether he’s happy or not and he replied something like: “As a professor of philosophy I’m not concerned with such minor issues”.

            That’s exactly the point where, in my opinion, you’re not critical enough. Why should we care about liberation? Why should we care about happiness?

            Personally, I do value happiness and liberation. But it becomes dangerous when you’re not aware that this is prescriptive and not descriptive. One example is the original post of Dana here. She just wants to give an overview and a description of secular Buddhists today. She doesn’t want to exclude anyone. But then she does.

            My explanation for this is, that she can’t even imagine anyone who doesn’t think we should escape suffering. I’m in no position to question her attempt for liberation. That’s her faith and that’s ok. But she doesn’t seem to be aware of it. If she was, she wouldn’t have excluded those of us who don’t believe in liberation.

            P.S.: One completely different thing I haven’t really thought about enough is the conflict between tolerance and critical thinking. Critical thinking may lead to judgement and not accepting something. From a point of critical thinking I don’t see a reason to accept the belief in rebirth. No matter what secular Buddhism will include in the future. In my opinion it only can contain criticial thinking or a tolerance for the belief in rebirth. There are ways to resolve this (e.g. tolerating that some people are simply wrong), but I think these are important questions that have to be answered at some point.

  31. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Matthias — sorry, the page isn’t letting me post a Reply to you, so putting it down here.

    Totally understand and agree this is complex, you don’t look like you’re avoiding anything, ‘sall good. Can you tell me what is meant by hidden structures? Sounds interesting, just want to get in the right ballpark with you.

    So, bear in mind, Linda and I have had many discussions about where our thoughts on secular Buddhism diverge. My interest in recreating what a figure in history may have said is, I think it fair to say, less than Linda’s. There’s nothing wrong with that line of questioning, it’s just not my focus. My personal interest is more in what we do have today from the suttas, kick the tires, and see how it does in the lab of one’s own experience from our own cultural point of view instead of one from thousands of years ago. If it’s sound, awesome, we can dive deep and question things like how much we’re inadvertantly setting up confirmation bias by describing what will happen in the meditative state, what we mean by that big term “suffering”, all that good stuff. Seems that’s what we’re doing now?

    I don’t perceive that as taking an ideological stance, and could be wrong, so if it is can you help show me where that’s being ideological?

    You said something very interesting, “The problem is if we take this alone we don’t know what makes us need certain things and avoid others.” Is there an example we can use? I’m just not quite coming up with a good enough one for this conversation, something like the stimulus response to chocolate always comes to mind for some reason.

    Milk chocolate. That Dark stuff is nasty 🙂

  32. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    “Milk chocolate. That Dark stuff is nasty :-)”

    I am so onboard with you, Ted!

  33. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    I’ve said this several times, but want to reiterate because of some of the posts above:

    * Secular Buddhism as a group is moving in the direction that we state in our About pages. Secular Buddhism will likely at some point solidify on these ideas. And no, it’s very unlikely literal rebirth would have a place in that.

    * The individuals who run this site are not the people who will ultimately define secular Buddhism. We are coordinating with other groups around the world. There are thousands of people who will help in these decisions, including all of you.

    * Buddhism, any branch of it, is considered non-theist. Getting into atheist versus agnostic has no place as gods are not worshiped in Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism crosses the line a bit, but secular Buddhism does not hold deity beliefs.

    * As for individuals, a label of identity is up to each his/her own. Call yourself a secular Vampire if you want. My point is, it’s not up to any one to tell someone else if they are a Buddhist, a secular Buddhist, a Zen practitioner, etc. There not no well defined qualifications. How someone views themselves is up to them. If you have a problem with this, maybe you need to investigate your own attachment to identity.

    I’m surprised at the number of people saying you can’t call yourself a secular Buddhist if . . . Anyone can call themselves a secular Buddhist. You may not consider them as such because they may not fit your idea of the traits a secular Buddhist should have, but consider whether it really matters and if it’s really your business.

    The reason I wrote the above is because there are people out there talking as though they know the mind of the secular Buddhist. I read sentences like, You secular Buddhist think blah, blah. As you can see from all the comments above, we are a diverse group. Don’t think for us, don’t speak for us, and don’t claim to know what we should be believing.

    But if you have ideas on the direction secular Buddhism is going that is a good area for discussion.

  34. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Linda pointed out to me that my statement “Getting into atheist versus agnostic has no place as gods are not worshiped in Buddhism.” suggested I meant we can’t talk about it at all. I don’t mean that! What I am pointing to is the arguments people get into over atheism versus agnosticism are moot in Buddhism because there is no god worshiping.

    Sorry if that sounded like I was saying we could get into discussion about remaining open minded.

  35. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Stoky, replying down here, can’t directly on your most recent post. Sorry my dogma is running over your karma. *cough* Yeah, don’t worry, I’m going to smack myself for that one.

    Why would you bother to understand suffering and attachment if not to be free of suffering and learning how to let go. As soon as you suggest to “let it go” it becomes prescriptive…. How do you “measure” good?

    Well, if we were saying you have to think this way to be a secular Buddhist, or you have to think this way to escape suffering, or you have to accept that suffering is bad, that would be prescriptive. We’re not doing that. We’re saying that our experience leads us to provisionally accept that we tend to have negative responses to bad things happening, and if like most people you find that stress / suffering / dukkha / whatever to be something you’d rather not have, there is a methodology which has some evidence for attenuating that negative response. Note that I don’t talk about enlightenment, I know what that is supposed to be in the traditional religious context, I simply see no evidence for it — you give me someone who claims to be perfectly enlightened, and then we’ll start talking about how we can measure it.

    As for measuring “good”, for me it’s a very simple scale:

    • Am I having those negative responses more or less often?
    • Are they stronger or weaker when they do happen?
    • Am I making decisions in the midst of those situations that result in more or less negative responses?

    I don’t need a detailed unit of measure for more or less often, more or less strong, and to see what it leads to. I’m very interested in seeing that kind of thing developed, but am realistic about experiential “evidence” not having the same kind of capabilities for external measurement as, say, the rate of objects falling in a vacuum. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep being the clever little monkeys we are and try to improve our methodology and measurements, it just means we don’t have to throw out the entire spectrum of experience because we don’t have everything nailed down. It’s iterative, we’re learning and growing.

    Now, if you want to discuss is good good, should we want good, etc., I’m going to refer you to the new philosophy thread that got started on the Discussion forum. I’m just not interested in quantum philosophy.

    I do want to avoid becoming a meditation zombie, that’s true. I do judge that as being “bad” for me, and expect it’s “bad” for most people. If someone wants to become a zombie, though, that’s entirely their business, it’s up to them, in the same way they are welcome to like that nasty dark chocolate.

    And yes, I do decide I don’t want to be that way. Again, that doesn’t make it faith, that’s a decision based on experience about what I find most beneficial to me (see above). We continue to repeat on this thread, again and again, that we’re not laying out a dogma for everyone — this is what we are most inclined to. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, go find something you do like, more power to you.

    None of us here has said Buddhism is the ultimate way to happiness, or that such a pursuit is even what people should be doing.

    As for us not being critical enough because we’re not talking about liberation, it’s because that’s not even vaguely a focus of what we’re doing. That’s a nice myth, in my opinion. Opinions vary, but again, bring me a perfectly enlightened person, and then we can talk about how to measure it. That *is* being critical.

    Stoky, from experience, Dana has absolutely no faith in liberation whatsoever. Neither do I. Convince us that it exists, provide a means for it to be unambiguously demonstrated, and we’ll talk — THAT is critical thinking. What’s not critical thinking is speaking for someone else, like saying, “…. she can’t even imagine anyone who doesn’t think we should escape suffering.”

    As for rebirth, as we’ve said many times and will do so again, there is no clear, demonstrable, falsifiable, and unambiguous evidence for it. Nor does it fit with anything we know about the natural world, so I’m inclined to say I disbelieve it, just like I disbelieve in the tooth fairy. I am NOT saying it’s false, as I could be wrong, and have an open mind in that I could be convinced otherwise. Are you saying you couldn’t, if evidence we both would find acceptable was presented?

    • stoky says:

      And yes, I do decide I don’t want to be that way. Again, that doesn’t make it faith, that’s a decision based on experience about what I find most beneficial to me (see above).

      Well, call it ideology or something else. I never talked about blind faith in the religious sense. If I wasn’t able to explain the difference between experience and how you interpret it, then I’m sorry but I can’t do better so continuing would be a waste of time.

      Stoky, from experience, Dana has absolutely no faith in liberation whatsoever. Neither do I. Convince us that it exists, provide a means for it to be unambiguously demonstrated, and we’ll talk — THAT is critical thinking.

      If a sentence like “May we all be free of suffering!” is not a prove that she thinks we should be free of suffering then I don’t know what to say. Sorry if it was sloppy to use the word “believe in liberation” here.

      I’m inclined to say I disbelieve it, just like I disbelieve in the tooth fairy. I am NOT saying it’s false, as I could be wrong, and have an open mind in that I could be convinced otherwise. Are you saying you couldn’t, if evidence we both would find acceptable was presented?

      No of course not. I’m always only talking about the tooth-fairy-level of truth.

      Now, if you want to discuss is good good, should we want good, etc., I’m going to refer you to the new philosophy thread that got started on the Discussion forum. I’m just not interested in quantum philosophy.

      Well, to me there’s more in life than philosophy, which certainly can be a waste of time. However, I’m still convinced that thinking about these things helps to create and organize communities like these better. If this discussion seems like a waste of time to you then I’m sorry.

      • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

        Stoky, thanks for clarifying. This is tough, but I do think we’re covering ground. Just don’t know how far we have to go is all!

        Well, call it ideology or something else. I never talked about blind faith in the religious sense. If I wasn’t able to explain the difference between experience and how you interpret it, then I’m sorry but I can’t do better so continuing would be a waste of time.

        You’re doing fine, I just have strong reaction to the word based on how it’s used here by conservative Christians in their position of priviledge in this country.

        Good point about the may we all be free from suffering, I suspect that was just a friendly phrase use, not an ideological commitment.

        So, on organizing the community better, what would you suggest, what would make it better?

        • Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

          Ted said: “Good point about the may we all be free from suffering, I suspect that was just a friendly phrase use, not an ideological commitment.”

          Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! May all beings be free from suffering is often said at the end of metta meditations, it’s often said by nuns and monks of most Buddhist traditions, and it’s said by those who are simply sharing good will to others.

          I just thought it a nice way of closing the article on a note of compassion. That’s it.

          Making a mountain of a mole hill comes to mind . . .

          • stoky says:

            Dana,

            I’m sorry for using your text as an example again and again. It’s nothing personal and I could have chosen a totally different text by a different person.

            If it was only one line I wouldn’t mind. Often nice things are stupid in some way and that’s ok.

            The reason by I bothered to “think and talk” for yourself was because I’m interested in this project of “secular Buddhism” you’re engaged with and because I think your post represents some of the things we can improve and I want to contribute to it. Thus, I would like to replace the mole hill by another image: the tip of the iceberg.

            Even though you tried to avoid giving a definition of secular Buddhists you gave one in the last paragraph (before the one-liner). After I asked many questions people came up with a different definition:

            “People who are interested in taking a fresh and critical look at Buddhist teachings and how they apply to their lifes in a secular context”

            I think this is a good definition. What do you think? If you agree you can use it the next time you need a definition and you can write a text even better than the one above.

        • Linda Linda says:

          I will point out again the definition I borrowed (above) of dukkha as suffering one can’t tolerate — suffering that one can tolerate (often demonstrated by choosing to tolerate it) isn’t really dukkha. “Oh hurt me! Hurt me! I love it when you hurt me!” definitely isn’t dukkha, for example.

          So when Dana wishes an end to the suffering of all beings, I expect she has that intolerable suffering in mind, not the suffering one is okay with.

      • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

        In reply to Linda, I suspect Stoky may mean that we’ve not done a good enough job of being critical about dukkha as something that should be ended, and that’s not necessarily in the kink way.

        For example, I’ve had very (please forgive the term) enlightening conversations with a Baptist friend about his tradition’s perspective on the value of suffering, that it can be a teaching tool. Of course, that’s within the Christian framework, the suffering of Jesus on the cross is a significant part of their religion.

        Another example might be that suffering builds character. Why both of those don’t quite measure up for me is:

        • They seem to assume we have to suffer, and the only consideration for non-suffering is post-mortem.
        • They seem to assume (of course I may be incorrect in these, which is why I’m openly saying “seem to”) the positive benefits can only be had from suffering, instead of some other means.

        More and more of the modern books on Buddhism, particularly those from the more scientifically minded authors, use evolutionary explanations for why we have the responses we do to our environment. If you stress about a potential sabre tooth tiger, that prompts you do something about it, either running, hiding, or whatever is appropriate in the moment. If the tiger is there, you’re good. If the tiger isn’t there and your pattern seeking is running on overtime, you’re still good.

        If, however, you don’t stress about the tiger, you aren’t prompted to run and hide, and it’s really there, you get eaten. Those who stressed, even on imaginary threats, survived to pass on their genetic propensity for stress.

        Today, however, our stresses are of a different nature most of the time. We still see patterns real or imagined, but it’s not something we can run away and hide from. I see that mental stress, at least, as something I would like to more effectively deal with as there are plenty of studies showing its harmful effects on health.

        Stoky, if I’m totally off base with my thoughts about what you might be seeing as us missing the boat on our being critical, please do let us know — I want to understand more, and rely on your help for that. Thank you!

        • Linda Linda says:

          “I suspect Stoky may mean that we’ve not done a good enough job of being critical about dukkha as something that should be ended, and that’s not necessarily in the kink way.”

          I was not limiting my definition to kink — I was just using an extreme/humor to show a different end of the range from the one I started with because I’d talked enough about Noah Levine’s love life (see posts above).

          What I’m trying to say is that Stoky — and Noah — appear to be defining dukkha more or less along the lines of traditional understanding “It’s all dukkha. Life is dukkha. Even if you don’t think it’s dukkha, it’s dukkha. You should want to escape from the cycle of samsara because it’s all dukkha all the time.” I hear Stoky saying that maybe there are people who don’t want to end every ounce of discomfort they feel. He is saying that dukkha includes feelings people might not want to get rid of, and I am saying that this is an incorrect understanding of dukkha. If it’s a feeling you don’t want to get rid of — and you have a good understanding of what the Buddha is actually saying — then it’s not dukkha.

          The understanding that dukkha is all unhappiness, discomfort, dissatisfaction, misery (etc) is consistent with the rebirth model — it’s actually *necessary* to the rebirth model of Buddhism — but it’s clear to me that this is not what the Buddha is saying. There is a certain way in which we suffer that is within our control, and that is dukkha. It is not all suffering, but something that we can recognize, when we begin to get a grasp of what the Buddha is pointing to that we will want to get rid of. If when we understand how the pieces fit together (not-self and impermanence, and dependent arising — which describes those two) there is suffering we don’t feel we need to be free of, then that suffering is not dukkha.

          This is one of the big underlying problems with Buddhist teachings that I’ve encountered. The “This is samsara, it’s all dukkha, you should want to escape from it” model is what gives us the idea of *detachment* — that we should get to the point that we avoid *all feeling*. (This comes in part from misunderstanding dependent arising as meaning the end of “all consciousness, all contact, all feeling, all craving”.) But that’s not what’s being addressed, not every feeling is evil, and not every twinge of pain or loss we feel is dukkha. Dukkha is actually defined by being something that you can see that you want to not have in your life. The traditional approach of saying, “Gee, you’re just an ignorant puthujjana and don’t know any better — you think you aren’t suffering but buddy you are because it’s all suffering and you just haven’t seen it yet” is a nice, holier-than-thou answer but it isn’t what the Buddha says: he says we *can* see it, and we don’t have to be fully enlightened *to* see it. We just need to actually understand what’s being said.

          So I take Stoky’s point that we don’t want to be telling Noah he’s not a Buddhist if he’s willing to keep falling in love because the pain he goes through in so doing is worth what he gets out of it. My point is that when I say “All Buddhists want to be free of dukkha” I am not saying that Noah is not a Buddhist because he’s willing to take on dukkha; I’m saying what he’s willing to keep is *by definition not dukkha*. He has apparently examined the issues involved in love, and realized — with a fair understanding of impermanence, and self vs not-self — that the pain of love isn’t a problem for him; it therefore is not dukkha. (Of course, nothing is really as simple as that — there are likely issues causing problems in his relationships that do revolve around self and impermanence, and do cause dukkha — and he would probably want to be free of those, just not free of the relationship in which he is working on those.) If he says it is, it may be that he is operating from the traditional definition of “It’s all dukkha” in which case “life is dukkha” and we should, every one of us, want to escape from it — or we’re not Buddhists. Do we all want to escape from life?

          • stoky says:

            I think I got your point already earlier. We all want to be free of dukkha, because it’s a property of dukkha that we want to be free of it.

            (Of course, nothing is really as simple as that — there are likely issues causing problems in his relationships that do revolve around self and impermanence, and do cause dukkha — and he would probably want to be free of those, just not free of the relationship in which he is working on those.)

            Do you believe it’s possible to be in a relationship without these issues? That’s my whole point here. If you assume he can have the same kind of relationship without the dukkha he might want that. But what if (that’s my opinion now not Noahs) such a kind of relationship is just the light-version of love? What if part of loving someone is taking the risk of suffering (even in your definition)?

            Also I find this “may everybody just get what they want”-approach rather simplistic. In psychoanalysis they say that we don’t want what we want. Wouldn’t it be a reduction of the human life if there are no things anymore that we don’t want? Isn’t suffering a part of human life and we’re missing something if we don’t suffer?

            Ted, I’ll write an answer to your post later. I want it to be a thoughtful one and I need more time for this.

          • frankjude says:

            Linda,

            You write: “This comes in part from misunderstanding dependent arising as meaning the end of “all consciousness, all contact, all feeling, all craving”. But that’s not what’s being addressed, not every feeling is evil, and not every twinge of pain or loss we feel is dukkha”

            and while I agree with you that this understanding is something we need to jettison, I disagree with you that the buddha didn’t intend this! That is to say, I think the buddha wrong, and that he got ‘carried away’ a bit!

            Over and over the Pali suttas have some form of this formula: “Then it occurred to me: ‘I have discovered this path to enlightenment, that is, with the cessation of name-and-form comes cessation of consciousness; with the cessation of consciousness comes cessation of name-and-form; … the cessation of the six sense bases.. cessation of contact…. cessation of feeling…. SUch is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.'”

            The buddha seems to have been one of the many who see the best thing one can do with life is to act in such a way that one is never reborn again. Not to be born is the ultimate act of liberation and cessation of dukkha.

            As I write in the essay I quoted from above, to psychologize dukkha into merely the feeling of anguish/suffering is to reduce the definition the buddha gives: “dukkha is birth, aging, illness, death, pain, suffering, anguish and grief. Dukkha is losing what is pleasant and being in the presence of that which is unpleasant.” These are things that HAPPEN to us; he is not saying it is merely anguish we have when we lose something we treasure that is dukkha; he seems to be saying that losing something that we treasure IS dukkha!

            And that is why I believe we cannot “end” dukkha and we shouldn’t expect or want to: that is tantamount to ending life! How we respond to losing what we treasure can either be ‘noble’ or ‘ignoble,’ of if you prefer, “skillful” or “unskillful.” And THAT will be determined by our ability to ‘restrain’ or ‘contain’ our reactivity to “shit happening.”

          • Linda Linda says:

            It seems likely, frankjude, that for anything I say here to make sense, you’d need to read my paper on dependent arising (it’s called “Burning Yourself” — try this search for it: http://tinyurl.com/dabyjocbs ).

            What you understand the Buddha to be saying is what the tradition of Theravada has taught for quite a long time. But they have not accurately seen the structure of dependent arising — it’s there though, and it’s not an endorsement of rebirth (quite the contrary). The Buddha wasn’t wrong; his lessons are just being misunderstood because somehow, somewhen early on some group got certain that he was talking about literal rebirth (after a period in which the keys to dependent arising got misplaced) and they perpetuated this mistaken notion (and like any religion, it will go on for aeons once started up).

            The problem we have now is that the Buddha isn’t using language the way we use language — the way people spoke about things isn’t the way we speak about them (and, also, our translators slant translations to say what they believe should be said even when there are alternate ways to translate the Pali). I’ve made an attempt at explaining in my series of blogposts on DA, on this site, how it is that name-and-form conditions consciousness and vice versa and all the others — without it meaning that the cessation of consciousness, feeling, birth etal means the end of life (obviously it doesn’t mean the end of life — the Buddha didn’t die or even stop thinking when he was awakened). When he says these things (without name-and-form there is no consciousness, etc) he is saying something important, it’s just not as absolute as it can seem at first glance.

            Dukkha isn’t “reduced” by understanding that it isn’t inherent in things like aging and death. Dukkha is made into a useful concept when we realize it isn’t inherent in aging and death. And it CAN’T be inherent in aging and death — because the Buddha tells us nothing is inherently anything — there is nothing that has any inherent nature at all! so dukkha cannot actually BE birth, death, aging. What he is describing is things that are the food for dukkha — dukkha is (in some sense) “made of these” (as in “sweet dreams are made of these”).

          • Linda Linda says:

            “Do you believe it’s possible to be in a relationship without these issues? That’s my whole point here. If you assume he can have the same kind of relationship without the dukkha he might want that.”

            I think my point is that it isn’t the *relationship* that is causing dukkha. Dukkha is caused by one’s own way of thinking and being. Could he have a relationship without dukkha? If he was fully awakened (if such a thing is possible) that should be possible. At the least he should be able to have a relationship with *less* dukkha by working on the problematic sense of self. If he were awakened would he feel no sorrow or anguish if things didn’t work out, or she died? Even if awakened, I would expect him to *feel* it. But he’s not going to be the one who beats himself up with it, blames her over it, goes out and gets drunk and rams his car into a tree, or whatever.

            “Also I find this ‘may everybody just get what they want’-approach rather simplistic. In psychoanalysis they say that we don’t want what we want. Wouldn’t it be a reduction of the human life if there are no things anymore that we don’t want? Isn’t suffering a part of human life and we’re missing something if we don’t suffer?”

            Yes, the wish that everybody gets what they want is simplistic — but it’s not any part of my definition of the end of dukkha. But the above question makes me dizzy. I have explained that in the paradigm of the dukkha that I recognize, one still experiences feeling — joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain — we still get some things we like, and lose some things we love. We just aren’t adding extra layers of unnecessary “Woe is me! Poor me!” grief to the whole experience. Having explained that the dukkha I understand still leaves one to feel in my paradigm, you ask a question based on your paradigm by asking me if life wouldn’t be reduced if we always got what we wanted and never felt suffering. But I’m not talking about suffering of all kinds. I’m talking about dukkha, which is not the base emotions of joy and loss — I’m talking about the extra, stupid sh!t we add to it that we make ourselves *extra* miserable with. Could I live a fulfilling life full of highs and lows, love and sorrow without that? Yes! Gladly!

            So your question, essentially, is “Wouldn’t life be boring if we all got what we wanted? Wouldn’t our lives be flat without emotion?” and my answer is: yes, but that is not the result I am talking about at all.

          • stoky says:

            Linda,

            I’m starting to get pissed that nobody gets my point on dukkha. Everybody seems to assume that I’m just to stupid to get it. But the more responses I read the more I’m convinced that I pretty much exactly get the point on dukkha, but you are too stupid.

            So your question, essentially, is “Wouldn’t life be boring if we all got what we wanted? Wouldn’t our lives be flat without emotion?”

            No. That’s not true. I did never ask that. My question is exactly:

            Wouldn’t be life boring without the “extra layers of unnecessary “Woe is me! Poor me!””?

            You seem so ideologically blind that you can’t imagine anyone suggesting that what you *fucking defined* as unnecessary is indeed necessary. Personally you might consider this to be stupid (and in some way I do this too), but the fact that you can’t imagine this tells me a lot about your way of thinking.

          • Linda Linda says:

            I get your point about dukkha. I simply think you’ve misunderstood. I get that you think beating yourself up for the rest of your life about something so far in the past that can’t be changed can be a *good thing*. (I talked to a lady this week whose father gave up on life and let himself die because he couldn’t drive anymore — because his life was no longer what it had been and he couldn’t bear the limitations; I looked at my mom who had a hard time dealing, 12 years ago, with having to give up her car and so much more, and am so grateful she had the ability to accept her situation and deal with it instead, still deals with it.) I disagree with you, that’s all. I survived the recent breakup of my marriage and family life by paying keen attention to working with what I could change, and accepting what I can’t. Perhaps if you knew all the details you’d argue about the things I let go that you think I should still have worked on — but that’s just a matter of opinions, each case individual, and only the person whose responsibility to do the work to make the change can judge which things are work-on-able and which are beyond. It’s that sort of situation on a metta level that we’re talking about here, you and I. It’s exactly like I’m saying, “I can’t change THIS” and you’re saying, “Yes you can you have to get ANGRY enough!” and I’m saying, “I don’t see it as worth it” and you’re saying “It IS worth it! Get ANGRY!” I’m defining THIS as something that is unnecessary and needs to be let go of; you’re defining it as NOT unnecessary and needs to be worked on. We can go around and around this forever. But it’s unnecessary to do so.

            What you understand, my friend, is traditional Buddhism, and you seem to understand that *just fine*. In a fresh post to Ted, you note that “One example was that people seemed to feel guilty for not being compassionate enough. Buddhism seemed to add ‘extra layers’ of dukkha to them.” I’ve seen this too, and what I see is that a lot of this is caused by the confusion generated by traditional takes on Buddhism — especially caused by a lot of the stuff around merit-making. I admit that it is difficult to understand how one should be selfless in Buddhism in just the right way without making an effort (because having goals, we are told, is part of the problem). All the talk about merit-making only confuses the issue, by setting a goal of Doing Good Things as if there is some checklist we have to fulfill to be enlightened (or at least born again in a good next world so maybe we’ll have a chance of being enlightened). The outside-in application of morality *does* add dukkha — this is part of the point I am making — but you aren’t seeing that because there is this paradigm shift from your understanding (of traditional Buddhism) to my understanding (of what the Buddha is actually saying through DA and MN 117, for the two best examples).

            You are quite welcome to think that the problem of the extra dukkha you’re seeing is caused by Buddhism Itself — and that I am confused and stupid for thinking that Buddhism is being misunderstood. Well, it is caused by “Buddhism” where “Buddhism” is defined as “what people think Buddhism is about”. But it’s not caused by what the Buddha meant us to understand; by how the pieces actually fit together.

            You can stamp your feet and get frustrated and call me stupid all you want — you think anger is useful? go ahead and use it if it makes you feel better — I see it as pointing out how invested you are in the ideas you’re defending which brings up strong emotion in you. Useful as an alarm bell, but not particularly useful in conversation. Bothers some people when you say they’re stupid; I think your use of insults only reflects on you, not me.

            I’m sorry it frustrates you that I keep answering from my understanding of the Buddha’s teaching rather than accepting yours; but I’ve spent enough time working in the system that you’re pointing out as — simultaneously — what Buddhism *is about* and *fundamentally flawed*, to have come to discover *why* it doesn’t work and what works better, not by inventing a new and better way myself (I’m not that smart), but by giving up on the traditional teachings (as a whole — I still study them and learn good things from them) and going back to the source and having *it* point out to me why I’m seeing the problems I’m seeing in traditional Buddhism.

            If you mistake that for stupidity — if you aren’t recognizing that I understand what you’re saying but that I reject it as mistaken — then who is blind here?

        • stoky says:

          Ted,

          maybe it will become more clear why I believe that thinking about group structures is helpful when I provide examples:

          Although Linda and Candol think I simply know shit about Buddhism I’m at a point where I suspect that I know more about it than most members of my meditation group. Quite soon after I joined their group I recognised that Buddhism in some cases seems to be counter productive. One example was that people seemed to feel guilty for not being compassionate enough. Buddhism seemed to add “extra layers” of dukkha to them. Sometimes Buddhism seemed to make things more complicated. Rather than asking “what should we do?” they asked “what would a good Buddhist do?”.

          When I read Glenns blog I could somehow relate to some of the things there. He offered explanations and theories about some of the issues.

          At some point while following the SBA I realized that some of Glenns criticism also applies to the group around the SBA.

          Why does Dana refuse to give a proper definition in the article here? Of course, she’s simply trying to be nice. She doesn’t want to exclude everyone. She is, im my opinion, trying to be a good Buddhist. Accepting, non-judging and tolerant. To me, it seems like she is mixing tolerance and indifference.

          This happens all the time in Buddhism. It’s a common mistake. Glenn would argue that it’s “built-in”. Somehow everybody is right and we’re not allowed to tell them that they’re just wrong.

          If you have a sincere look at the discussion following Stephen Schettinis essay “So what?”. You’ll realize that Dana is not alone. Somehow some Buddhist seem to be unable to take a fight. In one of the current essays on SNB M. Steingass asks: “Are Buddhists stupids?”. Are Buddhists weak? I ask you.

          When I explained to my meditation group that I don’t think that Buddhism suits me. They seemed irritated. They simply couldn’t imagine this. And they had a proper solution. They said “well everybody has his own way, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Atheists. Do something different. Ultimately it will be the same”. Then, they were happy.

          They simply couldn’t accept that we disagree. It’s not possible within their worldview.

          My understanding of acceptance and tolerance is totally different. My tolerance is so big, that I have respect for people even when I think they bloody-fucking-wrong. Some of my best friends are people I tend to disagree with. This doesn’t mean that we set aside our disagreement to protect our relationship. It means that our relationship is strong enough to survive the tension.

          This was my argument to Mark. He seemed to suggest that being mindful and nun-judging means that we’re not allowed to be angry or judging. Maybe he has not “a clear grasp of the practice”, Linda?

          Ted, I guess you have some respect for Glenn. You had him on the podcast a couple of times and you commented on his blog. Ask yourself one simple question: Why does he show all the anger?

          There’s a reason for that. Buddhism somehow automatically starts to create a structure that does not allow anger nor a proper conflict. This happened in my meditation group and it happens here.

          And Ted, if you’re not able to see this, then you’re not criticial enough.

          That’s it, I have offered all knowledge I have. It’s likely that I won’t have the time to respond to questions or criticism. Besides that I already spent to much time here. I have to focus on my work now, so that I’m able to attend a retreat with Martine and Stephen Batchelor in September. I think they’re totally-fucking-wrong. But it doesn’t mean we cannot learn through that disagreement.

          So long,
          Stoky

          • Linda Linda says:

            “Somehow everybody is right and we’re not allowed to tell them that they’re just wrong.”

            I love this because this *is* what I’ve been saying to you, and it just pissed you off! When I did it, and stuck to it, your perception became that it’s because I’m stupid, not because I was standing up for what I believe and saying you’re wrong, and continuing to argue in the hopes that you’ll see it. Too funny, Stoky!

            “This was my argument to Mark. He seemed to suggest that being mindful and nun-judging means that we’re not allowed to be angry or judging. Maybe he has not ‘a clear grasp of the practice’, Linda?”

            Or maybe he’s just telling you what he has found useful in his practice, and suggesting you try it. Did he say “not allowed”? or did you read that into it?

            You’re, again, missing the point of the article: each of us is individuals, sharing what we think is useful from our own practice. If you see what any of us say as restrictions on what you’re allowed to do and not — that’s *your perception* (it’s Glenn’s perception too). Yes, there is a social force being applied that pressures people into behaving a certain way — that’s true in any group — and Buddhists aren’t alone in wanting civil discourse on blogs like this — the wider world tends to ask the same. Yes, some of it comes out of Buddhist practice because we use what we are working with and finding useful — so I can understand how it is perceived as Buddhist group-think; I suppose to some degree it is, but hardly to the rate of raising alarms and calling in the constructive force of destruction some people are so heavily into: Raze the structure! It’s got bad bits!

            We *have* been making judgments all along: we judge what’s useful in Buddhism, and what’s not; we judge that anger is not useful to us, and, in suggesting that you might find the same true if you took a closer look, we judge that you haven’t got the same grasp of things as we do, and offer you the opportunity to try something different. You react by screaming about the way we’re tromping on what you find useful. What a comedy we have here.

  36. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Geez, since Stoky is so busy thinking and speaking for me, I’m hoping next he’ll pay my bills.

  37. frankjude says:

    JONCKHER:

    This site wasn’t allowing me to reply to your comment way up there, so I do hope you find this response!

    A couple of things:

    1. I do not believe in rebirth and karma, but I think it important to at least understand that the tradition itself does NOT see these as “supernatural.” The buddhist traditions take a broader (and for me untenable) position that rebirth and karma are completely “natural.” The have a broader understanding of the “natural” order and argue from “subtle” forms. I don’t buy it, of course, BUT there is an internal logic of their own: what you and I seeing as necessarily “supernatural” is simply accepted as ‘subtle nature’ by the early buddhist traditions.

    2. And now to completely fuck up your modeling: I am a thorough atheist and naturalist, AND identify AS religious! I practice and teach a purely naturalistic form of religion! Go figure! 🙂

    Check it out: http://www.zennaturalism.blogspot.com

    thanks,
    frank jude

    Hi Candol,

    From following this thread, I think you’ve nailed the definition of a secular buddhist on the head: “someone who is interested in non-traditional forms of Buddhism.” IE, Buddhism that is not linked to traditional religious forms of Buddhism.

    So, based on that, it’s certainly possible for a Secular Buddhist to believe in literal reincarnation and karma as even though these are supernatural, the fact that a Secular Buddhist is accepting and adhering to these supernatural concepts with fresh non-religious eyes means that it’s acceptable.

    My mistake. As an atheist I am always confusing non-religious as being the same as non-supernatural – because you know from my perspective it’s all the same cosmic Buddha, reincarnation, God(s), dowsing powers, telepathy, precognitive tarot reading, fairies in the garden, yadda yadda.

    Also, I hope this answers your question as to why as an atheist I am particularly interested in this. As with Secular Buddhists who wish to frame their conversation with non-religious parameters, as an Atheist I wish to frame my conversations within non-religious and non-supernatural parameters.

    Personally, I don’t think this is that snobbish or exclusive of me. But then as an atheist, I do tend to take certain non-beliefs for granted.

    Anyway, I’m am very appreciative of this post as it has assisted me greatly in understanding the position of Secular Buddhists vis-a-vis the supernatural and the religious.

    kind regards.

    • jonckher says:

      hi frank

      IMO, what you get when you remove superstition, deities and the rest from religion is the combination of philosophy and committed practice. Unfortunately calling oneself a practising philosopher sounds rather pretentious.

      I’m sure many people have terms for this but IMO whatever that term is, it should not have the word “religion” or “spiritual” in it. I’ve been around too many kirtan gatherings to not break out into shudders when hearing the term “yogic”. So that’s not it either.

      And I think someone mentioned something about identity – maybe there’s a certain element of that but I prefer to see a nicely defined term as a short-hand for cutting through the FAQ stage. Saves on time.

      For example, an evolutionary biologist would prefer to not have to engage in discussions with young earth creationists at an Evolutionary Biologists forum. If the definition of evolutionary biology includes young earth creationism as an acceptable thing to consider and discuss, then it’s pretty much a waste of time for any evolutionary biologist to consider engaging.

      Hence my insistence on focusing on rebirth/reincarnation and Secular Buddhists.

      Is this “In your face?” Perhaps. But it’s also useful.

      • frankjude says:

        Well, as you say it’s your opinion. As for kirtan, don’t get me started talking about what passes as yoga in contemporary north america. That still doesn’t negate the original and still relevant meaning of yoga. AND that has nothing inherently to do with anything ‘supernatural.’

        I don’t hear you addressing my original point. Super-natural implies something truly outside/transcendent of nature. The early buddhists did not see rebirth and karma as being so. Again, I am not being an apologist for the belief in either which I reject. I am just saying one starts from an incorrect assumption when positing that early buddhists were basing their belief in rebirth and karma on the supernatural. They simply asserted and believed the natural world included such nonsense as asuras, gods, hungry ghosts, hell realms and heaven realms and rebirth and karma. Hence, they wanted to get out of it all and ‘attain’ the truly supernatural nibbana.

        In your face? Don’t get it, sorry….

        • jonckher says:

          Hi Frank,

          The “In your face” reference was to somewhere else within this thread and not directed to you.

          I’m not sure I get your original point. The early Buddhists believed a lot of things as did/do the Mahayana Buddhists and the Vajrayana Buddhists etc. The label “supernatural” is not something they applied/apply to some of their beliefs any more than Young Earth Creationists would apply the label “utter nonsense” to the majority of their beliefs.

          The label “supernatural” is something that I’ve applied to certain concepts and beliefs. I’m happy to substitute that particular label with “utter nonsense”. From an atheist point of view they are both pejorative and pretty much synonyms – IMO the former is just a little more polite than the latter.

          But maybe not.

        • mufi says:

          frankjude: one starts from an incorrect assumption when positing that early buddhists were basing their belief in rebirth and karma on the supernatural.

          For that matter, I’m not sure that early Hebrews held distinct concepts of nature and “super nature.”

          For example, when I read Genesis 1 & 2, I get the sense of an embodied deity who is most powerful (more so than any other deity, such as Baal, who is alluded to in the Hebrew Bible) – so much so that he is able to form the earth, protect it from the watery cosmos (i.e. “the waters above and below”), and populate it with animals and humans – but is nonetheless a part of that same cosmos. [The more abstract notion of Yahweh as somehow existing outside of the natural order seems to have developed later on (e.g. when Hebrew culture came into contact with Hellenistic culture).]

          In any case, I think the more important point to make here is that the concept of a “super nature” really only makes sense in relation to a concept of nature.

          Modern-day scientific skeptics (some of whom, like myself, have an interest, however limited, in Buddhism) conceive of nature on the basis, not only of ordinary sensory-motor experience (which can safely be said of virtually anyone, past or present, Western or Eastern), but also (unlike our ancient forbears) on the basis of knowledge derived from the modern sciences. Since an assertion like karma or rebirth (or gods, demons, other realms of existence, etc.) is at odds with that science-based understanding of nature, it’s meaningful for us to describe it as a “supernatural” belief.

          • mufi says:

            PS: That last sentence seems more accurate like this:

            Since an assertion like karma or rebirth (or gods, demons, other realms of existence, etc.) exceeds (or is at odds with) that science-based understanding of nature, it’s meaningful for us to describe it as a “supernatural” belief.

          • frankjude says:

            There’s no reply link to your appended re-working of your last sentence, with which I totally agree….

            For those of us within a scientific naturalist worldview, all such ‘phenomena’ would have to be understood as ‘supernatural’ and rejected. I was merely wanting to make the point that the worldview of what is now “india” was quite different 2500 years ago!

            thanks!

  38. Matthias says:

    Ted, sorry, I havn’t seen your response.

    re “Ideology”: I use the word as it is used in the discussion at the speculative non-buddhist site. Ideology is like the water in which the fish swims, the air we breath, every word we exchange. So I don’t use it in the pejorative sense as it is often used. Ideology in a sense sets the rules how we function in a given society. At the same time it is not set by anyone in person, it rather is a structure of words, kinds of behavior, institutions, arts, economy, etc. Ideology often enough feels like natural, given by nature. Romantic love, the things we eat and eat not, how we dress, even basic things like freedom, humanity, democracy are all in this sense ideology. In one word: nothing is god-given, everything is ‘made’ by (…). The important thing would be to become aware of ideology in this sense. Not being aware of ideology would mean to take a lot of things as given by nature or god which are in fact effects of social and biological evolution. The latter said, this means often, it is not the best solution which this more or less blind process produces. Awakening would mean to become aware of this processes and how ideology is created, developed or how it emerges form them. The critical and difficult point, I think, is that we are ideology. Nobody else than us is it, does it, develops it, changes it. These are the “hidden structures” I meant above.

    When you ask for an example for what makes us need certain things and avoid others, take Facebook. Mark Suckerberg’s call for the “one identity” everybody is forced to use exclusively and the timeline in his Facebook are examples for certain trends in society (e.g. transparency) which a lot of people see as natural occurring developments. “One identity” changes the way we look at identity. These changes have far reaching consequences. They are subtle but powerful changes in ideology. Especially Buddhists should think about that: “One identity!” It is much more Orwellian than any body might think and exactly that nobody recognizes how Orwellian that is, shows how far we have come. To become aware of this particular part of ideology would be a question above all for Buddhists because their special interest is identity – isn’t it? But Buddhists most often aren’t aware of these hidden structures because they look for enlightenment in texts or derivatives of texts which are 2500 years old and which therefore give not the least clue about modern day transparency and its “One Identity”. Essentially this means a betrayal of the very heart of Buddhism – if I define Buddhism as a movement to better understand the human condition and to be in this regard well grounded in the 21st century.

    Have a good day, Matthias

    • Linda Linda says:

      Mathias, I know the above was not addressed to me, but I’m grateful for your less-than-cryptic description here of how you see things.

      “But Buddhists most often aren’t aware of these hidden structures because they look for enlightenment in texts or derivatives of texts which are 2500 years old and which therefore give not the least clue about modern day transparency and its ‘One Identity’.”

      I think you mistake texts that are meant to be taught at the most basic level of social interaction so that they might have a fair chance of being understood by, and applicable to, other times and places for “texts that are limited to their time”. We are given a structure and some examples of how they work, and metaphors that *for the most part* are still comprehensible to us now (e.g. “the raft” as a metaphor for a structure that helps move us/move our understanding from one place/one way of seeing the world to another). Using those metaphors and examples, we can see what’s being pointed to and apply it at to our lives just as people could apply the same understanding 2,500 years ago to their very different world — because the insight is about human nature, which hasn’t changed significantly.

      You are quite right that Buddhists should be concerned about the identities they are being wedged into, and your description of ideology matches what I hear the Buddha saying about the things we construct our sense of self out of — he is pointing out that when we don’t question what it is that we build our self-concepts out of, we are likely to get into trouble.

      • Matthias says:

        Linda, what you are addressing, as I understand it, is the hermeneutical problem – how to interpret a text. How to interpret ideology.

        The point is, texts are never limited to their time. As soon as we can read/decipher them they are a text of our time. Ideology makes us reading a text in a certain way. Ideology makes us interpreting ideology in a certain way. Ideologies change. In my view we have strong indications that our ideology is one which developed over roughly the last 350 years. If this is true, then, at the time when ‘early Buddhism’ developed, a different ideology was structuring consciousness. From this follows: we never read/interpret something as it was meant by early Buddhists.

        The raft metaphor might be useful or not. It is can only be understood in our terms in our times. It is in this view absolutely impossible to have “the same understanding as people 2,500 years ago”, as you say. At least, we never can rule out the possibility that they understood it differently. Either way it is bye bye to “true understanding”.

        This is it in a nutshell. This position can be substantiated by a number of supporting arguments.

        You might take a look at this discussion
        which addresses the problem.

        • Linda Linda says:

          Matthias, would you then say that no amount of effort in studying an ancient text can get us any closer to understanding the original meaning? I’m not asking if we can ever understand the original meaning, I’m asking if effort gets us closer — or is your stance that we should just take it as we read it and not make any effort toward understanding what was meant?

    • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

      Agreed, and my intention isn’t to use ideology with negative connotation, either. Sometime I may fail to exercise that intention.

      My own thought is that the people who examine and contribute to a particular point of view certainly make up the primary functionaries of that ideological perspective, but they are not “it”. Perhaps the ideas and views being considered make up an ideology, manifested via the people?

      It seems that part of Dana’s post is that codifying one identity for secular Buddhists as we’ve seen so far, is going to be very broad. We’re not all coming at this from the same direction, and yet the reference applies. Stoky’s term for us seems to be a pretty good one, what do you think of it?

      And I’ll have to apologize, we’re getting into deeper waters of thought than I’m familiar with, and I may not have much more to contribute to the conversation, but will do my best to keep up. Thanks for taking the time and for your patience.

  39. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Stoky:

    “People who are interested in taking a fresh and critical look at Buddhist teachings and how they apply to their lifes in a secular context”

    I like that! It leaves us able to define secular separately, but linked.

  40. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Stoky, the last line was only one of intention, to wish people well. It’s a common line used in meditations and in all traditions. I by no means think we can end the suffering of all. Just being human, or alive for that matter, means you are going to deal with suffering. Rocks have it best as far as suffering goes, because they have none.

    The line was a bit tongue in check with the intention of good will. No more!

    When I talk to strangers in person, and they end the conversation with, “God bless you!” I say “Thank you, you have a wonderful day!” I’m an atheist and by no means believe they or an imaginary god can bless me, but I understand their intention is one of good will. That’s why I say thank you. And when I say have a good day, I don’t mean they must have a good day or that they will have a good day because I said so, I just mean good intentions towards them.

    You’re being totally anal over something that is just about good well. Some do take that line literally and really think that they intend to end the suffering of all beings, but whatever. Their heart is in the right place.

  41. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Stoky, on the topic of Noah, I in no way exclude him with that last line. Noah can call himself whatever he chooses. You keep missing my point. It’s not for anyone to decide who calls himself a Buddhist. It’s only up to individuals how they label themselves or choose not to label themselves.

    And all of Buddhism, to my knowledge, focuses on knowing dukkha. Perhaps Noah has chosen to know dukkha by getting right into the thick of it. Some of it he may decide to let go of and some of it he may decide to cling to. That doesn’t exclude him from secular Buddhism, or labeling himself however he chooses.

    When I say may all beings be free of suffering, I mean that in the sense of good will to all. I’m not excluding anyone who is oblivious to their suffering, those who choose to be with suffering, those who choose to let go of suffering. I also accept a certain amount of suffering in my life because that is the nature of being alive. BUT I’ve also added to my suffering in the way of dukkha, and that is where my practice comes in. Your practice may be entirely different. Practice is a personal thing, which we are guided by with the teachings of Buddhism. How much Buddhism is individualist.

    You are reading way too much into a closing line. It’s a closing line to a metta meditation where we practice good will to others. Some may think they can actually relieve the suffering of the world, and uh yeah, good luck with that!

    But I agree with you secular Buddhism will need to be defined, and I have no issue with your definitions so far.

  42. stoky says:

    Ted,

    Now we get to the hard part. Now we really have to work.

    First step in this approach would be to know what we want to do. Sometimes this already helps. For example through this discussion we have found a (imho better) definition of Secular Buddhism. That’s something positive.

    Then, if we know what we want to do we can consciously make decisions that help us doing this.

    At the Secular Buddhist FB-Page there was an interesting incident, recently:

    TSB: “*Today* — Sometimes we treat those closest to us less kindly, simply because we’re more openly ourselves with them. So for *today*, let’s see if we can be as kind with our dearest family and friends as we are with our co-workers and acquaintances.”

    D. W.: So, what TSB suggests is to be LESS “openly ourselves” (whatever that means) with our close family and friends… ?

    I found the question quite interesting. Isn’t one of the beautiful things about our family and friends that they take our shit even if we’re not mindful and kind? Aren’t human beings both? Unkind and kind?

    I’m not suggesting that we treat our friends like shit on purpose (we do this often enough already), but that we should be aware of the danger of trying to be mindful/compassionate. Maybe such an exercise could include critical reflection afterwards? Maybe after one day of compassionate behavior we understand better how lucky we are to have friends that support us even when we’re not able to be nice and friendly.

    Furthermore, maybe it’s not even good to be compassionate all the time. Somehow, in Buddhism the assumption is that compassion is always good, but is it really?

    Someone told me that the Amish people have the lowest rate of aggressive acts like using violence and other crimes. But at the same time they have a really high rate of depression. If we propose to be more compassionate we have to be aware of such dangers.

    The founder of my meditation group said that the danger of being present in the moment and being mindful is that we suppress feelings that we have in our unconscious mind. Now that’s interesting, maybe being mindful is not always good? We could ask people to think about the dangers of mindfulness and when it’s maybe less useful to be mindful.

    Another claim of Buddhism that I have found unquestioned so far is that it’s good to “let go”. Of course everybody has a different understanding of what that means, but most interpretation seem to include that we’re not disappointed after failure. Now look at the following quote from a study published in science (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6081/612.full)

    Because opportunities to undo consequences of regrettable behavior decline with age, responsiveness to regret becomes a critical factor for life satisfaction in older adults (7, 8). At a young age, active attempts to overcome regretful situations may help to optimize future behavior.

    I think we seriously have to consider the possibility that attachment is actually useful. Maybe your interpretation of disattachment allows regrets and anger and all of these things. But then you’re very far from most other Buddhist traditions and there’s a need to make this clear. Agreeing to the 4NTs in the Guiding Principles creates the impression that we’re still concerned with the “original” teachings of the Buddha. Maybe these don’t suit us anymore because we live in totally different circumstances? The chances to actively change things are way bigger today than in India 2500 years ago.

    As for beliefs . . . Many Buddhists, if they have worked with meditation and mindfulness much, get to the point where they are good at discovering their own beliefs, dissecting them, and letting go of them where appropriate.

    Do we have any science to back this up? As far as I know most discoveries in neuro-science/psychology/psychoanalysis seems to suggest that it’s not possible to discover all of your own beliefs. It seems very dangerous to me to assume that “well, we’re meditators, we got it covered”. Having beliefs is one thing, assuming we’re aware of all of them is another thing.

    You said certain things work for you and your faith/ideology is based on experience. Well, as far my knowledge goes our interpretation of our experience is always biased. If we want to be critical we also have to question our own experiences.

    To me that seems like a double-standard. We’re not as critical about these things as we’re supposed to be.

    So far I didn’t offer very much “concrete” to improve this project, except a couple of questions and a little twisting of words. But when you interviewed John Peacock he talked about creeping Brahmanism. Sometimes I feel like there is also a kind of “creeping Buddhism” here. If we want to avoid this we have to actively question certain things, even if they are to us the core-teaching. In that sense, maybe questions are already concrete?

    I’ll come back to you as soon as I have more ideas, but for now I have to go back to work. Publish or perish, they say.

    P.S.: I don’t intend to convert the SBA to become a second Speculative Non-Buddhism. I think there’s definitely some value in using your approach, in looking for things that work rather than destroying them and in using natural science instead of philosophy.

    • Candol says:

      I wonder if you actually understand much about buddhist concepts like attachment and letting go very well at all.

      Although of course i know that many people who do not know buddhism consider attachment a good thing.

      But the thing that made me want to reply was what you said about supressing things in our unconscious. You can only suppress what is conscious. You can’t suppress what is unconscious. But its true there is a danger in meditation that people do suppress things rather than let them go.

      The thing is you see, when there is a disappointment, letting go does not necessarily follow immediately and nor should it. Its ok to feel the loss or the regret but when you see that there is nothing to be done or achieved by holding on to the loss or the regret, then you need to let it go.

      Lets take a concrete example to make it more clear. Lets say i just found out i can’t have a kids and i’m only 25 years old and female. If i tried to let that go without any processing i would be suppressing it and it would undoubtedly come back up later and cause problems. but with meditation, i think you can process this information so that you are not suppressing it. Letting go of something is not forcing yourself to drop it. You have to be able to literally let go, like you might let go a rope you are holding. Its not a forceful gesture, letting go. Its just a release, a relaxation of tension, of holding, of hanging on. How do you process this information using meditation so that you can get to the point of being able to let go.

      Well lets stick with the story of not being able to have a baby. I know it could be the same difficult for a man as for a woman but for some reason most women apparenlty feel this loss more acutely than men. Maybe there’s a biological reason for that. Maybe its cultural. I don’t know. Anyhow, so i’ve had this bad news. I always thought i’d have kids one day and now i find out i can’t.

      For me in the process of letting involves a certain degree of thinking. I think it requires a recognition and acceptance sooner or later that here’s a fact of life you can’t change. Acceptance of that fact enables you to let it go. When you recognise and understand that clinging to the feelings of regret and loss over it, you shut out all the possiblities of other good things in life that could still happen. You push those away and cling to an idea that having a child is the only thing that could make you happy. You need to recognise this aberrant thinking and face up to a healthier way of seeing the life ahead.

      People grieve for these things, some for a long time, some for a short time. Many people prolong grief but not being able to accept the facts by clinging to some ideal that they can no longer access. The dead mother won’t come back. The boyfriend won’t come back. The job won’t come back. The fertility won’t come back. You’ve jsut got to come around to accepting things . Fighting reality is what causes suffering. Clinging, grasping and craving are all about fighting against reality as it is.

      Being attached to those things that are gone, means you can’t move on, you waste time, you get depressed, you suffer and you distribute your pain and suffering to those around you as well.

      In Buddhism, we are taught to recognise that all things will pass or change. So if we get attached to them, we will have to come to terms with their absence when they are gone and while we are coming to terms with those changed conditions, we are suffering. If we are not already attached, then we will probably not suffer. That is the theory anyway. I am not certain if its always true or possible.

      But it sounds pretty good to me. It sounds like its worth trying.

      So what good things come out of being attached to your boyfriend. I mean we all know about needy people. That’s attachment. No one likes needy people. What good things come out of being attached to your money? Usually the bad thing is stinginess. What good things come out of being attached to your job? When its gone, you get depressed and it takes you longer to find another one.

      Not being attached does not mean you can’t be committed, diligent or care. Being attached is not realising that things could change at any time. And being attached is likely to be the thing that lets you take things for granted. I’ve gone on enough.

      • Linda Linda says:

        Wonderful post, Candol, really really good. I especially like the point you make clear that “letting go” is not repressing (or, I’d say, “pushing it away”) — we can only let go when we realize there is nothing more we can do. So Stoky’s point about regrets motivating behavior to take up an opportunity to undo something regretted is covered by this — it’s not letting go before one is done, it’s not until there is nothing more to do that we let go. This is the difference between, say, “discomfort” and “dukkha”. It’s fine to feel discomfort over something we’ve done; it is good motivation to change behavior. But dukkha is the unnecessary part that we add on to that discomfort — the continuing to beat ourselves up over it, or to hold onto the regrets, long past them having any actual usefulness.

        It’s not about avoiding emotion, it’s not about turning away from events (“detachment”), it’s about turning to face events, recognize emotions, examine the situation and figure out what’s going on, so we can get more clarity on the factors and the possibilities, and deal with it *instead* of being detached and ignoring.

      • stoky says:

        Candol,

        first of all it’s possible that I get things wrong, for sure. I’m relatively new to Buddhism and I’m looking forward to learn more! However, I don’t think that’s the problem here (so far your post has not added anything new to my understanding of Buddhism.).

        Additionally I have to confess that I share most of Buddhist beliefs (yes, I call them beliefs). In some way I do belief in compassion and disattachment.

        Having said that it might even be possible that I’m wrong at some/all of the raised questions. But there are reasons why I’m willing to risk that. First of all it’s about attitude. If we agree that secular Buddhism has to do with being “critical” we have to be willing to question everything. Not everybody all the time (there’s more in life than that), but in general: yes.

        Even if certain things persist the process of questioning it might be useful to do it. One example is shown in my reply to Linda. If the attachment/letting-go-thing (sloppy-language alarm!) simply describes the process of giving enough space to an emotion but not more, then it is more of a system of categories than a “truth”. In that case we might be able to even find better categories.

        The question is: Is Buddhism right? If that’s the case: can we do even better? I think we’re missing an opportunity, if we stop at the first part.

        • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

          You’re doing well, Stoky, and I do appreciate the input and active positive dialogue.

          *thank you*

          Yes, I agree. We need to be critical, I would consider that a part of helping us discern what is accurate in the natural world, and what is not. If it’s not in the natural world, critical thinking is useless, as there is no means to validate or falsify hypothesis — it’s why I have no commitment to literal rebirth, but can see how the metaphor can be helpful, or taken as a reference to mind states rather than embodiment states.

        • Linda Linda says:

          “The question is: Is Buddhism right? If that’s the case: can we do even better? I think we’re missing an opportunity, if we stop at the first part.”

          My problem is this: it’s hard enough getting people to understand “the first part” (there is so much conflicting information out there, much of it entwined in religious beliefs that have been beautifully worked out with fair consistency over the last two millennia).

          Would I like to see Buddhism improved upon? Certainly. But other than by starting over from scratch (re-inventing the wheel and *then* improving on it) it’s hard to improve on something that’s not even understood. *First* we have to understand what’s being said, *then* improve on it. Or go off and try to invent something better or entirely different.

          I am not a brilliant thinker of new ideas. I’m quite good at really listening to what people say and trying to understand what they *mean* rather than just doggedly holding onto their words (I’m not one who tends to correct people when they misuse words — I am too focused on the gist of what they’re saying). I’m unlikely to ever be the one who improves on Buddhism — maybe you, Stoky, will be able to do that and come back and show me a better way — but my focus is on (first) understanding what the Buddha actually said, and trying to determine why he said it, and what he most likely meant by it and (second) how it applies to my life, and the lives of others and (third) sharing what I learn with others. That task seems just HUGE to me and takes up more time and attention than I, by rights, should give it (just ask my poor ignored family and friends) — even if I were a brilliant thinker, I’m not sure I’d have time to go from working on helping folks see the teaching that is there to trying to find ways to improve on it. But I hope you will — or Candol (who says in the forum she doesn’t think the Buddha was smarter than our modern smart folks are — and I agree — but he seems to have been a different smart from me) will — improve on it.

    • Linda Linda says:

      “… we should be aware of the danger of trying to be mindful/compassionate…”

      You go on to give a possible example for this (passive Quakers being depressed?), but I see no evidence for mindfulness and compassion (as used in the Buddha’s teachings) being a danger. I’d want some good evidence before I spent time worrying about it. I suspect the fear is based on a misunderstanding of what’s being said, rather than an accurate grasp of the practice.

      “I think we seriously have to consider the possibility that attachment is actually useful. Maybe your interpretation of disattachment allows regrets and anger and all of these things. But then you’re very far from most other Buddhist traditions and there’s a need to make this clear. Agreeing to the 4NTs in the Guiding Principles creates the impression that we’re still concerned with the “original” teachings of the Buddha.”

      It may be that I’m standing in a lonely corner of this crowded room — I’m certainly the one furthest out on the edge here — but I think that one of the things going on in these pages is an effort to be clear that what we see as secular Buddhists is pretty far from most Buddhist traditions. But if you have the impression that “we’re still concerned with the ‘original’ teachings of the Buddha” I believe that’s an accurate impression. Perhaps you are mistaking “traditional” for “original”? We are pushing *back* beyond the traditions *to* the original. Because the original *does* make sense (whereas some of the stuff added by the traditions doesn’t, to me).

      “You said certain things work for you and your faith/ideology is based on experience. Well, as far my knowledge goes our interpretation of our experience is always biased. If we want to be critical we also have to question our own experiences.

      “To me that seems like a double-standard. We’re not as critical about these things as we’re supposed to be.”

      This is often my sticking point — when reading Batchelor, when talking to various sorts of traditional Buddhists, with Speculative Non-Buddhism maybe, and elsewhere — being critical and questioning is important, I agree, but there is a point at which one has seen enough in one’s own life to be confident that what we’ve seen and understood is, for the most part, accurate (say, about how the Buddha’s teaching works and why) and working (as it plays out in our lives). Maybe it’s a “return on investment” thing. One can endlessly question, but there’s a point after which the effort doesn’t give much reward.

      But there’s always more *application* of the practice to work on — I, for one, seem to have an endless supply of “extra sense of self” to keep discovering and working with. We don’t want to fall into complacency but I don’t think that when we’ve found something that works we need to endlessly question “Is it working? Is it *really* working? Is it really *truly* working?” I’ve got a hammer, I’ll occasionally try different tools to drive in the nail but, hey, most the time I’m just going to go with the hammer and not strain my brain looking for an improvement on it. Call me lazy.

      “The founder of my meditation group said that the danger of being present in the moment and being mindful is that we suppress feelings that we have in our unconscious mind.”

      I have found quite the opposite. I have found that, being mindful, I more readily recognize when I need to let my unconscious work on something and get my discursive thinking to step aside for a bit; and I am better *able* to convince my discursive processes to let the quieter parts do some of the work.

      “So far I didn’t offer very much “concrete” to improve this project…”

      I think you offer plenty — you’re asking good, thought-provoking questions.

      • stoky says:

        I suspect the fear is based on a misunderstanding of what’s being said, rather than an accurate grasp of the practice.

        Well, I wrote about “trying to be mindful/compassionate”. The upcoming question about not-being open shows that it’s possible to get a wrong understanding.

        That’s something we have to be aware of. Not everybody on a FB-page with >3k likes has the same understanding of Buddhism. Moreover the words already have non-Buddhist meanings. A lot of people understand being kind in a way that prevents them to be honest for example. If we are aware of these things we can do a better job.

        but there is a point at which one has seen enough in one’s own life to be confident that what we’ve seen and understood is, for the most part, accurate (say, about how the Buddha’s teaching works and why) and working (as it plays out in our lives).

        Well, I’m confident the Dalai Lama and the Pope have a similar feeling. 😉

        About the “return on investment”-thing: I agree. I’m also in the constant fear that I waste your/my time here. The discussion moved a bit from my initial interest and maybe the thread is already too bloated. It’s also not one of my strengths to communicate such things properly.

        • Linda Linda says:

          “I’m also in the constant fear that I waste your/my time here. ”

          Please don’t, Stoky. Really. The questions you have (as I see it) you have in part because you haven’t yet got a clear grasp of what the Buddha is saying and why he says it the way he does. His whole set of teachings is holographic — it really is — with a clearer understanding of any one piece adding to the detail and clarity of all the rest of it. It’s not a linear construction, and it is built on a framework/way of thinking about the world that is really very different from the way we are accustomed to seeing things. How much of that can be attributed to there being a different point of view in a place and time so far from ours (which was, I believe, Matthias’ point) and how much is an aspect of the insight itself being one that goes against our nature (perhaps because our nature is to protect the overbearing “self” whereas this takes apart that “self”) I can’t say.

          But the questions *you* have are questions other people will have, also. This conversation seems to be primarily between the few of us here, but there are now and will be in the future, others who have similar questions who may find answers here because you asked good questions. I am very protective of my time and effort — I have far too many things I need to do and want to do to be less than careful with them — but I spend time here because you are doing a great job of asking questions, and I think many people will find the discussion useful.

    • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

      Will reply soon, I’m a bit swamped right now. But for your consideration, I’m having buyer’s remorse with your new definition of Secular Buddhism about not being traditional. Not being a part of any existing tradition doesn’t mean it isn’t supernatural, unfortunately.

      So, for example, if someone thinks that suffering is caused by Space Lizard People eating our brains, and we need to pray to the god Buddha to escape from their vile predations, that is not only not traditional, but it’s also not secular.

      I return to a core attribute of secular Buddhism as pertaining to the natural world.

  43. stoky says:

    Maybe I should add that this doesn’t mean we have to remove disattachment, compassion and everything else from Buddhism. These can be inspiring stories and things like the four noble truths can be valuable tools for contemplation about suffering.

    In my opinion we just have to make a distinction between these beautiful myths and what we might consider “truths”.

    Btw Linda, did you publish a summary of your thoughts about dukkha somewhere? Are they contained in your essay about DA? I found them inspiring and a valuable contribution to the discourse.

    • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

      Short Comment reply first: agreed. And I say that in the podcast all the time, that these stories can be interesting, open new ways of thinking about our daily experiences, without us having to accept them as literal truths. The problem is which stories do we accept as informative but not compatible with the natural world, and which do we accept as information and compatible with the natural world? This is the problem with rebirth, for me, as being an accurate representation of reality rather than a metaphor, and why I (again think we’re in agreement) ask for unambiguous evidence.

      • jonckher says:

        hi ted,

        The thing that puzzles me most is that within this thread pretty much everybody says that they don’t accept literal rebirth or that there is no evidence for it etc and yet the FAQ and this post still accepts that some Secular Buddhists believe in rebirth / reincarnation.

        I mean there is a huge difference between being welcoming of visitors who believe in all sorts of things versus having your otherwise reasonably well defined set of beliefs include theirs – especially where there is IMO an obvious contradiction.

        The paragraph I have issue with is from your FAQ with regard to rebirth: “Some secular Buddhists may have a belief in rebirth, though many do not. The word secular can have the meaning of having to do with this lifetime, this natural world, or may also be interpreted as to be lacking in religious tradition. Neither is more correct than the other, and this allows for secular Buddhists to have a belief in rebirth if it helps their practice, but not have to belong to any one religious group or adopt a cultural context that isn’t a good fit for them.”

        There is an inherent conflict and contradiction between the “natural world” definition of Secular with the “not part of religious tradition” portion where the non-religious portion believes in the supernatural.

        And I don’t see it as a problem that some argue literal rebirth is natural. I mean Young Earth Creationists argue that the fossil record and carbon dating were all created by God at the same time and hence is “natural” too and I don’t see evolutionary biologists going OMG who am i to say you’re wrong.

        Anyway I can’t help but see this as a fundamental problem because IMO there is a completely different approach and world-view between naturalists and super-naturalists and the two simply do not mix.

        But then, I appear to be the only one here and have started being rather repetitive about it. So this is pretty much my last post on the subject – with some apologies for banging on and on about it. But as a strident atheist, I guess it’s part of my make-up.

        kind regards

        • jonckher says:

          oops – i should really substitute naturalist for atheist seeing as that is the correct term. my bad: pretty much everyone i know in real-life who identify as atheist are de-facto naturalists, skeptics, etc.

          • frankjude says:

            You’re not alone! I agree that if one is truly ‘secular’ it seems to me you’d be a naturalist. As I am. Though I do have a naturalist religious view, so I guess I’m some kind of living proof that one can be a naturalist and religious…

        • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

          You’re right, and I don’t see any evidence for literal rebirth. I think the point here is that there are many people who may have accepted it as a perfectly natural, not supernatural, process. I disagree with that concept, and suspect *most* people here would, but not all. We are not going to turn someone away and say You Can’t Play Here because they might not have really checked into what the evidence does and does not say.

        • Linda Linda says:

          Could this: “… this allows for secular Buddhists to have a belief in rebirth if it helps their practice…” be interpretted as allowing an agnostic (such as my self) to be open to the possibility that the Buddha *did* mean us to read his talk of rebirth as literal and to be open, further, to the possibility that he was correct, without accepting it? I have encountered many Buddhists who take this stance (though I am not one of them). They don’t “believe in rebirth” but are more open to its possibilities than the naturalists (formerly referred to here as “atheists”)?

    • Linda Linda says:

      Thanks, Stoky. I think what I have to say about dukkha has been covered by my posts on dependent arising — it’s deeply embedded in all of them. Dependent arising is a description of how dukkha comes to be, so when I describe DA, I am defining what dukkha is. By describing the conditions that create dukkha, I describe what dukkha is (that is a very “early Buddhist” way of describing things — this mates up to my point to Matthias that when the Buddha says “Dukkha is sickness, aging, and death” he is not describing “what dukkha is” the way we define things but “what dukkha is made of” e.g. the conditions it comes from).

      You can find posts in which I (and others here) have specifically mentioned or addressed dukkha by looking for the word in the tag cloud (right hand side near the top of the page, under the heading “popular topics”.

  44. Linda Linda says:

    NO REPLY BUTTON? For those of you who have encountered the narrowest threads where comments have no reply button, the answer is to go upthread to the next (slightly wider) post above it, where there will be a reply button. Use that. Your post will appear at the bottom of the narrow thread. To tie it to the post you’re answering, perhaps quote a line you’re responding to.

    (just FYI)

  45. NaturalEntrust says:

    Wow thanks to all for participating in this commentary thread to Dana.
    Very interesting to follow for a new nobody like what I am here.

    Dana thanks for taking up this subject. I know too little for to comment.
    I maybe tend to be skeptical to all these claims that everybody is good
    at non-attachment. I get the impression that many are attached to Buddha.
    Or at least to the teaching of Buddha as they perceive it. I am like that too.

    • Linda Linda says:

      The word “attachment” is (like so many of our words) problematic. Being attached to/fond of my children, my parents, or my friends isn’t necessarily the problem the Buddha was speaking of. Being “overly attached” (in a specific way) is the problem. So when it comes to “attached to the Buddha” (or his teachings) the question to ask is:

      Is there any aspect of this attachment that will cause me to feel as though I’ve lost myself when I lose it?

      So, for example, if being given incontrovertible evidence that the Buddha never existed would cause a crisis for me, then I am definitely too attached to the Buddha.

      As for the teachings of the Buddha, that might be a little trickier to address “attachment”. One possibility would be: If I have come to understand the teachings as meaning X and I then get good evidence that the Buddha didn’t say X, will that make me feel, for example, really stupid? cheated? Will I be upset for a long time? Then I have probably been too attached *to my interpretation of the teaching* (obviously the attachment was not to the teaching itself, because I never quite understood it in the first place).

      Another way of looking at “attachment to the teaching” might be: If I have understood the teaching of the Buddha to be X, and I have tested it in the world, and have seen for myself that it bears out under much scrutiny, and then I find out the Buddha didn’t mean what I thought he meant, will I be upset by that? Or, worse yet, if I have come to understand how we create our own problems, and someone can show me *that* is wrong, will I be upset by the conflict between my previous understanding and the new one? (I associate this last with the term “nervous breakdown” — when one’s worldview gets tested and found faulty, the disconnect is very disturbing.)

      But if we are attached to the Buddha’s teaching because it works for us, and it continues to work for us, that fondness for and confidence in the teachings isn’t really a problem. For myself, if someone came along and proved the Buddha never existed, I’d be fine with that (someone came up with the ideas we’re given — I don’t really care who it was). If someone came along and proved to me that GOD gave us the Buddha’s teachings, I would be dizzy for a little while but I expect — given incontrovertable proof — I’d adjust to it fine. If someone could show me that the problems in my life have as their basis something other than what the Buddha taught, I’d be grateful, because seeing how *that* worked would surely give me better information that I could use to get along better in the world; more accurate insights are welcomed.

      So my “attachment” to the Buddha is provisional and is not much bound up with my sense of self. I rather expect that, of the bunch of us hanging out here, I’d be the one most likely to be accused of attachment to the Buddha and his teachings, but that impression is given, I think, by me being an admirer of the usefulness I’ve found in what we’ve been given, as well as the almost mathematical beauty of its structure, how bound up in its time the original insight was, and how bright the originator must have been to come up with it, as well as conveying it in his time, and in a way that it (sorta) survives to the present day — and my passion for actually understanding what was said and why accurately, rather than taking on faith that our present-day teachers have a perfect grasp of the original meaning.

  46. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Stocky, no one is forcing any type of Buddhism on you, and clearly you disagree with all the basics of Buddhism. So instead of being juvenile and insulting the people here who find the teachings valuable, maybe your time would be better spent yammering on a site that appeals to you.

    • stoky says:

      Dana,

      that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’m sorry if I was insulting to anyone this was not my intention, really.

      So long and thanks for all the fish
      stoky

      P.S.: You prove my point.

  47. NaturalEntrust says:

    Thanks Linda,
    I guess the word attachment or being attached is an English translation of a Pali word 🙂
    Doesn’t such have very special meaning withing the Buddhism of the time when they got written.

    So when I from my North European Swedish culture read the English word and try to grasp it then it is bound to be huge misunderstanding.

    Take the Four Noble Truth. Some versions use the word desire and other versions chose craving.
    Looking them up they are not exactly the same.

    From the Guiding principles

    Secular Buddhism values the stories of Buddhist traditions as metaphorical expressions of meaningful and practical lessons.
    Secular Buddhism values the texts of Buddhist traditions as tools for study, learning, and practice.
    Secular Buddhism values individual preference and creativity on the forms of practice appropriate to them.

    I am new here so I don’t feel for deciding what these words should mean to me.
    I want to look around and read all of you for to get a hang on how you together chose to use these old traditions and texts as tool for personal growths.

    I also try to fit in my own personal experience of a metaphoric interpretation of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism without claiming to really know that tradition at all. I only know what I felt and that my experience seems to be rather similar to what I read about what Jodo Shinshu Buddhists have told about their personal experiences of Shinjin and Tariki and what Amida Buddha is to them.

    I try to do all this fully within Secular Buddhism obviously on the level a nobody would.
    Wanting to learn and share in learning by exchanging understanding on important secular buddhist views as they get presented here at SBA.

    • Linda Linda says:

      “I guess the word attachment or being attached is an English translation of a Pali word
      Doesn’t such have very special meaning withing the Buddhism of the time when they got written. ”

      Yes, and because “attachment” is a translation of a word that had a very special meaning in its own time, we have lots of trouble understanding it (even when it’s translated into English and read by English-as-a-first-language readers).

      The concept of “attachment” comes from the “clinging” part of dependent origination — upadana — and it actually doesn’t even mean “clinging”! It’s a reference to *fuel*. It says that we find we need our fuel to continue to exist, and here it’s not talking about food for our bodies, but the fuel that feeds our sense of who we are.

  48. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Jonckher: You have good points. We’re simply trying to exercise patience and openness with people who may not have had the benefit of studying critical thinking, may not know why skepticism is helpful, or what the difference between valid evidence and simple anecdotes is. We’re not all in the same place in our understanding, and if that’s not okay with you that we are, I’m sorry. I’m also an atheist active with my local atheist and skeptic groups, but I’m also a participant on interfaith dialogues because good things can come from them.

    Stoky: Unless you can actually read my mind, and if so go win a million dollars from the JREF, stop telling me I’m not being critical enough. You don’t know what’s going on in my head, so maybe your accusations can stop with a little explanation:

    I live with discomfort, pain, and utter rage every single day. And until I learned more and started this secular practice, successfully chased away people more dear to me than life because of my inability to attenuate my words and violent actions.

    Buddhism doesn’t remove anger, we still feel it. But we can make better choices, and I choose to not let that feeling be *me* anymore. It’s toxic to some of us, Stoky, and we have to do better that fall into “proper” anger. That’s why I avoid that kind of confrontation, for me it’s like a double Scotch for an alcoholic.

    So yes, I am critical of this. I have to be to make sure it’s going to keep me able to live as a social being. So I do question, I do put it to the test, I do check into suffering and joy and all the rest of the full spectrum of being human.

  49. Jan says:

    discomfort, pain, and utter rage

    as probably the only person here who understands what you are saying on a deep level because of the physical condition we share [with important differences], I just want to give all the support I possibly can my friend

  50. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Egads this page is long! I had asked that people take their views about secular Buddhism to the discussion forum just for that purpose, which has been there since we created the forums. THAT is a good place to express views on what Secular Buddhism should be.

    Again, again, and a last time, this article is about people’s personal self labeling and beliefs. Those are decided by individuals, not by groups. Just ask 5 Catholics what their beliefs are. You get interesting contradictions and assortment of beliefs! I know a Catholic atheist. He labels himself a Catholic in spite of my reminding him Catholics are supposed to believe in god. Well he doesn’t but he still wants that label.

    There are a lot of good points brought up in regard to defining Secular Buddhism, there is a forum for it called Secular Buddhist Association, and I want to also point out that those of us who work on this site and our community here are not alone in defining secular Buddhism. This is a global growing group with secular Buddhist sites popping up worldwide.

    Personally, I’m not concerned with defining secular Buddhism. I consider my practice to be both secular and Buddhist in nature, and I prefer not to label myself for a number of reasons. I have beliefs I am sorting through and I have a lot of lack of belief that gets people’s panties in a bunch. I don’t believe in god, rebirth, and I don’t care if Buddha existed as a historical person or is a created myth. Not everyone here agrees with me, and I’m totally cool with that.

    Linda and I don’t agree on everything but I have great respect for the attention and detail she gives to her Buddhist studies, and there is much I agree with her on. I also agree much with Stephen Batchelor, but not on everything. I’m learning a lot from John Peacock’s talks.

    We don’t need and can not make Secular Buddhist clones, but I do think we all agree on some level of secular, on many of the teachings of Buddhism, and I suspect we are mostly godless if not entirely.

    We don’t rely on literal rebirth for our practice. Maybe that is a way it can be worded without telling people they can’t be here if they do think they have to go through rebirth. Most of us are happy to discuss the evidence against rebirth, the teachings that contradict it, and the hopelessness of going down that path. I also think most of us see secular Buddhism as a naturalistic, pragmatic approach. That means actually doing the practice.

    I’ve been told outside this site that I can’t be a Buddhist because I don’t believe in rebirth, and that not only am I going to hell, I’m going to many hells and taking all of you with me for writing an article against rebirth.

    Ok, many hells for Dana according to Christians, Muslims, and Traditional Buddhists. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what they think or how I choose to define myself because in the end, for me, it’s the practice that matters, and my passion for science that gets me out of bed in the morning.

  51. Candol says:

    “”Even if people find your work compelling, i wonder if they would go along with you in saying that they trust that you know what the buddha meant. Already in one other post Dana has said that “we” dont’ even know whether the buddha aka as siddharth gotama was a real historical person. Which if you are going ot assert you know what he meant you have to first accept he was a historical person.”

    Your logic fails here. One does not have to believe the historic Buddha in order to find the teachings of immense value, nor is it impossible to find common themes in threads through the suttas. I don’t know what Linda believes about the Buddha, whether he really lived or not. However, I find her study of Pali and the suttas trustworthy. She is a stickler for details and accuracy. She has been spending heaps of time studying these text. She has also been a Buddhist practitioner for some time.

    While she and I do not agree on everything, I have stood correct on several occasions with her, and I am always willing to listen respectfully to what she has to say, because I have little interest in reading the suttas myself, but I what the gist of it to practice with. So I yield to her growing expertise, just as I do with others who are doing this kind of work.

    I choose not to view the Buddha as a historic person, but that is my choice. I’ve not seen any great evidence that he did, and maybe he did, but I choose to view the teachings in a metaphoric/mythic manner.”

    No Dana its your logic that fails here. YOu can’t say on the one hand you believe an assertion that the buddha meant something and then say you are not confident the buddha as a person existed.

    My point was not that what LInda says is dubious or wrong. I was just pointing out that you two have a difference of opinion about whether the buddha existed. Linda frequently asserts that she knows what he meant. You on several occasions have asserted you are not sure if the buddha existed. This is a fundamental difference of position. I am not saying you don’t or can’t find Linda’s work useful. Clearly you do. I was never challenging that.

    I was only pointing out that even amongst the committee the members do not hold all the same views.

    As to whether the buddha existed, for my part it makes a lot less sense to think that he didn’t exist than if he did. Generally i find in history that its usually one individual who comes up with major breakthrough. Yes there usually one person builds on another ones work over time but when there’s a breakaway from the dominant body of thought there’s usually a single maverick mind behind it.

    When you study a religious tradition you see leaders come and go all the time, you might know there names because of this or that they did but to get to be so incredibly famous as the buddha, there is usually a person who has done something very significant.

    of course there are many big breakthroughs for which we don’t know about the inventor. The wheel is the same. I am inclined to think it was one person who had the inspiration to invent the wheel. That of course does not mean there could have been numerous separate occasions of inspiration and invention.

    Anyway whatever, Linda believes in the buddhas existence and you don’t. I did not say as you assert that you have to believe in the existence of the buddha in order to find the body of thought of immense value. So again, Dana, its not my logic that has failed but yours.

  52. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Hi, Stoky. Earlier up in a thread with Dana you have a new definition:

    “Secular Buddhism understands the four noble truths as one of many possible description of the experience of living, and as a methodology of understanding certain aspects of social behaviour and mental development.” I think my new version fits better to the attitude you and Ted try to support.

    Why, yes, of course we understand this is one of many possible descriptions. Poetry, music, etc. are not at all excluded from the breadth of one’s experience. You’ll notice that I have podcast episodes about fiction books as well, and devoted one to music alone.

    But as Linda said, that’s not our topic here. Your own site is still up — if you find this one lacking in clarity and content, you can always do something on your own that suits you better.

    • stoky says:

      Hi Ted,

      my site’s not really active anymore. I stopped blogging in April. One of the reasons was because I found the concept of secular Buddhism didn’t suit me anymore. I already have plans for starting something else but it won’t be Buddhism. At least it won’t be labeled that way – the substance might still look very buddhi-sh.

      However, I really appreciate what you guys are doing here (believe it or not). But I’m still convinced that there’s more potential and one way of using that potential is looking at some of the appearant contradictions and reflect critically on them. Maybe I’m wrong here, maybe time will resolve them, maybe they don’t matter at all. Time will tell.

      Good luck to all of you Dana, Linda, Mark and Ted!

      • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

        Yes, I noticed it’s not active. That’s a choice, it’s up to you, but it seems you have some kind of alignment to what a secular kind of Buddhist practice might be.

        Creating something new is very difficult work, criticizing is simple. Are you going to build up or take down? Do you have the time and energy to do yourself what you suggest we’re failing at doing? Are you willing to put your own work out in the world, and subject it to the same critical thought from others?

        You might find that’s very hard work. And you might also find us being helpful and supportive in sharing that common goal of making things better.

        • stoky says:

          I don’t share Glenns enthusiasm for destruction. What I have, however, is a certain enthusiasm for exploration, which is not possible without destruction. What I have in mind will be “building up”.

          As for criticism: I hope to make this one of the key features of my project. Sure it’ll be very hard work. More likely it won’t “work” at all. But I think it’s worth it.

          P.S.: I hope to find the time to write a more detailed criticism at during the next months. I hope you will find that more “constructive”.

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