Secular & Theravada

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This topic contains 10 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by Shane Presswood Shane Presswood 5 months ago.

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  • #41755
    Shane Presswood
    Shane Presswood
    Participant

    Hey All! As I continue on my studies and application of Secular Buddhism I am often finding articles on the Theravada teachings. While I have read the “FAQS” page about what Secular Buddhism is I am still conflicted as I feel the Theravada is quite instilled in Secular Buddhism. Another question is, are there secular buddhist out there that believe in an afterlife (not rebirth, but such as heaven etc.)?

    Any direction on finding out more about this would be great!

    Thanks!

    Here is one of the articles I have read:

    A Secular Buddhist

    Gassho,
    Shane

  • #41757
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Keymaster

    I have to say that I’m enjoying your topics, Spresswood82.

    I just wanted to share what my response has been the few times I’ve been asked to “explain” Secular Buddhism (copy paste):

    Anyways, this might get complicated for a second, so bear with me.

    Secular Buddhism is a form (school) of Buddhism that says that you can interact with the Dhamma as yourself. That means that you don’t have to appropriate Asian/Diasporic culture if that’s not your culture (which I’m betting it’s not in this group) and you don’t have to take everything you hear as literal, unquestionable truth (generally this means supernatural elements). You can, that’s cool, but you don’t have to.

    So basically any Buddhist resource is fine. Read or listen to the Suttas for yourself and explore what you see in them and get from them. Listen to what others have found in the Suttas – but you don’t have to blindly accept another’s interpretation. Your own is valid as well. Engage in different kinds of meditative practice and see if minor modifications might work better for you. Attend retreats. Go and explore various centers and Temples in all of their beauty and complexity. All Secular Buddhism itself says is that some of the differences between schools of Buddhism are reflections of the specific Asian contexts/ cultures in which they arose. And that’s fine… but if you aren’t specifically Asian/Diaspora, it may not be appropriate for you to just walk up into a Zendo wearing a kimono like you own the place. You can explore what all or most schools have in common. You can discover what your own culture might have to add to the mix. You can (within reason) interpret for yourself instead of “not really being X kind of Buddhist” if you don’t 100% agree with everything a specific teacher says.

    Sorry for all of the philosophy, but I think I kind of had to to get to this point:

    I think I might begin with something that overviews the differing schools of Buddhism and their commonalities. Book-wise, I’d recommend: https://www.amazon.com/Foundations-Buddhism…/dp/0192892231 and similar titles. A class that helped me on my own journey (and I’m one of the mentors for it now) was Coursera’s free online class from Princeton called Buddhism and Modern Psychology that also covers the basics and refers to Gethin’s book.

    From there, it’s honestly a lot of allowing yourself to explore – looking at different schools, different ideas, visiting different centers or Temples, trying different meditations. Along those lines, I’d recommend looking at the (Pali) Suttas for yourself. There’s a couple of good places for that, but Access to Insight (website) is one of the best. There are also Mahayana Sutras and Tantric texts which I won’t go into here, but those can also be found by googling, basically. Among those, I’d particularly note the Lotus Sutra, the Heart Sutra, and the Diamond Sutra… but there are many more. Go, read for yourself, see how you react to what you find.

    For meditation, I absolutely recommend: http://www.vipassana.com/…/mindfulness_in_plain_english… as a starting place, but there’s just a lot of good resources online for that.

    (I fully realize that I may not be doing a good job here) To get a bit more concrete:

    You can always come hang out with my Sangha (we’re mostly online and kind of global). Every other Sunday at 9PM EST (US), we have a free online meditation together called Practice Circle. We also have forums and resources on the website. And our siblings offer online study together (http://www.onemindfulbreath.org.nz/…/what-is-this-a… – these are our siblings down in New Zealand).

    Anyways, our Facebook page is The Secular Buddhist. I’m one of the Directors and lurk around posting social justice stuff, lol.

    (Sorry, I’m really tired at the moment, but wanted to do a good job for you guys).

    1. Learn about Buddhism in general.
    2. Start directly experiencing Buddhism (practice and suttas, etc) for yourself.
    3. Allow yourself to fully experience what you encounter – how does it make you feel, what do you understand or question, etc
    4. Apply Buddhist ideas (ethics) to your daily life
    5. Join up with Buddhist groups that welcome you and that are helpful – which includes directly practicing with other Secular Buddhists. I stick mainly to online stuff here because I’m mainly online, but also because I don’t know where you live, lol. Also understand that a Secular Buddhist can fit into any space, if that makes sense. It’s more of an approach than anything else.
    6. Be aware that you might run into some hostility. Because we are different school and most (but not all) of us are nonAsian/Diaspora, some other Buddhists can get defensive. We emphasize deep respect and love for other Buddhists of any or all backgrounds and try to just roll with the “new kid on the block” hostility that sometimes happens. Buddhists and Asian Americans have been mistreated in this country just like African Americans and the weariness around Secular Buddhism and/or non Asian//American Buddhists is the consequence of those traumas. So like a heads up that you could run into that, but come at that with compassion. It’s less about you than about fears around, say, White people appropriating Buddhism or something (if you don’t know much about Secular Buddhism and are on the outside looking in).

    I promise I’ll look at this again when I wake up, but I hope this helps as a starting place. Learn about Buddhism, practice, come join with us or others to learn, practice, and grow more together.

    All of that said, you’re right that we look to Theravada a bit more than Mahayana (and Vajrayana), which isn’t to say that we don’t also look to them as well.

    And there’s a lot of diversity of individual beliefs in Secular Buddhism. I personally don’t believe in an afterlife, but I”m sure that someone somewhere does.

    Hope this is food for thought.

    Listen to the Suttas!
    https://tinyurl.com/yaeza39j

  • #41763

    Mark Knickelbine
    Keymaster

    Spresswood82, as Jennifer notes, there are Secular Buddhists all over the map on this topic. For me, “Theravada” is what Buddhagosa codified in the 5th Century CE. This includes many elaborate beliefs required to patch over the inconsistencies and contradictions in the Pali texts, especially on topics such as karma and rebirth. To that extent, Secular Buddhism is not Theravada at all.

    We do tend to rely heavily on the Pali texts, because they present, in texts like the Satipattana Sutta, the most complete working out of the project of living a mindful life. Concepts like the Four Truths, the Three Marks of Existence, and dependent origination, represent an accurate and powerful analysis of the human condition and help us understand how mindfulness can lead to freedom. We don’t ignore the Mahayana texts, but to the extent that they often are talking about a quite supernatural understanding of Buddhist practice, they tend to be less useful in helping Secular Buddhists understand how to live a mindful life. (That last statement is an over generalization, however; there are many Chan, Zen and even Vajrayana texts that are as helpful to us as anything from the Pali tradition.)

    Having said that, the most important way Secular Buddhism is different than Theravada is that we don’t take The Buddha’s word as dogma, but the way he suggested we should — we try the teachings and see if they work to alleviate suffering and increase happiness and ease. The teachings in the Pali texts are not valuable because Gotama said them, but because they point to universal aspects of living human beings. That is where the authority of any dharma teaching lies.

    Hope this helps!

    • #41822
      Shane Presswood
      Shane Presswood
      Participant

      Jennifer this was GREAT! I realized I was not Getting notified of replies so sorry for the delayed response! I will add your suggestions to my list! I have just recently completed my first formal study of the 4NT (Four Noble Truths) and am in constant contact with Rabgye for occasional pointers. I would love to send the PDF to bounce ideas off others and become more engaged! Hope you got some sleep lady!

      Gassho,
      Shane

    • #41847

      Mim Donovan
      Participant

      Hey Shane – I am a newb too 🙂 Jennifer sent me over here to see what I could see. A hugely helpful post J- enough reading and research there to keep me off the streets and out of trouble for some while to come! Will check into the forum regularly for updates and chats.

      • #41849
        Shane Presswood
        Shane Presswood
        Participant

        Welcome! J is quite helpful indeed! I almost wish we had an SBA group or chat that we could ll communicate more in real-time. But for now I shal practice the virtue of patience and continue my studies!

        Gassho,
        Shane

  • #41767
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Keymaster

    “To that extent, Secular Buddhism is not Theravada at all. We do tend to rely heavily on the Pali texts, because they present, in texts like the Satipattana Sutta, the most complete working out of the project of living a mindful life… however; there are many Chan, Zen and even Vajrayana texts that are as helpful to us as anything from the Pali tradition… Having said that, the most important way Secular Buddhism is different than Theravada is that we don’t take The Buddha’s word as dogma, but the way he suggested we should — we try the teachings and see if they work to alleviate suffering and increase happiness and ease. The teachings in the Pali texts are not valuable because Gotama said them, but because they point to universal aspects of living human beings. That is where the authority of any dharma teaching lies.”

    I agree with Mark. This is perfect.

    Listen to the Suttas!
    https://tinyurl.com/yaeza39j

  • #41768

    Mark Knickelbine
    Keymaster

    For example, the Benefactor practices and tonglen we teach began in the Mahayana tradition of Tibetan Buddhism; Silent Illumination is from Chan; and we often discuss the Bodhisattva
    ideal to examine how the cultivation of compassion can lead to awakening. One of the advantages of being Secular Buddhists is that we can embrace all Buddhist traditions and learn from the wisdom that thousands of generations of practitioners worked to preserve, develop, and extend. Understanding and honoring the history of Buddhism, rather than clinging to the idea that any one tradition best represents “what the Buddha taught,” is what what our naturalist perspective brings to the table.

  • #41770
    Michael Finley
    Michael Finley
    Participant

    On the relationship between secular/naturalistic Buddhism, the Theravada school, and the i texts it preserved, I’d strongly recommend these pieces by Doug Smith:

    Early Buddhism and Secular Buddhism https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v-iNe1wVZ0
    Secular Buddhist roots in S.E. Asia https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2kuztpY9hA

  • #41823
    Shane Presswood
    Shane Presswood
    Participant

    Thank you all for your comments! I will look more into this very soon!

    Gassho,
    Shane

  • #41848

    Mim Donovan
    Participant

    Thanks to everyone from me too, piggybacking on Shane’s thread.

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