Potential Harm to other Buddhists

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This topic contains 6 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins 1 month, 3 weeks ago.

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  • #40678
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Keymaster

    I recently contacted my closest Traditional Buddhist groups (a temple and a church):

    Greetings!

    Thank you for taking the time to read this and maybe respond. I have to admit that I’m not sure quite how to go about this or if it is even wise to do so. However, I’ve been in conversation with Edwin Ng who often writes pieces for Buddhist Peace Fellowship and other major Buddhist networks. He often experiments with different ways of drawing attention to issues faced by Asian/American/Buddhist communities. One involves calling out the potential harm that Secular Buddhism may cause to these groups.

    I assume that you are familiar with Secular Buddhism, but just in case you aren’t, it’s essentially a school that looks at the Pali Canon and Mahayana sutras with an eye towards developing or determining meaning as individuals. While accepting of older or Traditional lineages and beliefs, generally Secular Buddhism does not take rebirth or supernatural beings (like devas) as being LITERALLY true. It has its roots in the West (Europe / North America) and most adherents are non-Asian converts (though not necessarily all of European descent).

  • #40681
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Keymaster

    Anyways, I was wondering what your (and your partitioners) experience has been in regards to Secular Buddhism. Have any Secular Buddhists come to you to seek that you change schools or beliefs? Have any attacked you/ your group from a racist angle? Have their mere existence done anything to harm you? (Examples might include taking away potential converts) Do you feel as though non-Buddhist Americans see them as more “legitimate” than your own school? Have you ever directly interacted with a Secular Buddhist or asked about their beliefs? Conversely, have you had any positive interactions or benefits due to their existence – or maybe you just never noticed them at all?

    I hope these questions aren’t a lot, but any answers you can provide would be helpful to me as I sit with these questions myself. If you do not wish to answer, that’s also fine. Thank you just for taking the time to read, to be open, and to do all that you do in your community.

    As stated, I got into a conversation with Edwin Ng who is a noted critic of the racial aspects of Buddhism in “the West” and arguably Secular Buddhism in particular. He challenged me specifically to sit with the question of what unintentional harm we may cause just by existing or if we were to let some surrounding racism (since we’re in the “West”) seep into our school. I am of the opinion (still) that our mere existence does not harm, but there’s definitely a need to be on top of anything racist that might try to seep into our school or may accidentally happen as a result of Secular Buddhism. Some of the other questions are just for my own exploration. Anyways, I’m posting this here so we can all sit with the questions because I think we need to as a Sangha and system. It may also be helpful to formulate responses by asking not only ourselves, but others. If there is some kind of “invisible harm,” I’d like to know about it.

  • #40684

    Ben
    Participant

    I think I would need clarification on the unintentional harm to be able to consider it properly. Unintentional harm is often caused by ignorance; this ignorance can make it difficult to recognize the harm let alone recognize the cause of the harm.

    At a very broad level, I have the belief that my existence causes harm through my competition with other beings. I use resources, thereby depriving others the opportunity to use them. I kill countless microorganisms every moment even as I sit still. Even when I try to be careful, I kill many animals (mostly small insects, but sometimes larger animals) by traveling. These are just a few of the more mundane examples. In all of these harms, I can easily understand the causality, so I can think about how I’m causing harm.

    When people claim that I am harming them, my first reaction is to want to understand how I am harming them. When I claim that others are harming me, I try to make the causality clear to them, because I would like them to stop harming me (if possible) and to avoid repeating the mistake. If I am unable to explain to others how they are harming me, it occurs to me that maybe I am mistaken in attributing blame to them.

    As for the racism issue, which is large and complex, my simplified understanding is that people carry all kinds of biases and indoctrination with them into whatever they do. So, anyone entering Buddhism with a racist background is likely to carry that with them. I doubt that the question of secularity enters into it.

    • This reply was modified 2 months ago by  Ben.
    • #40686
      Jennifer Hawkins
      Jennifer Hawkins
      Keymaster

      @sennomo

      I’m kind of where you are. There’s an unwillingness (and I’m not saying it’s necessarily unjustified) to name a specific harm so that the causality can be understood. So I’m trying to see if we can come up with anything on our own. My first thought is “taking away potential converts?” But that seems like a questionable thing to be upset about on multiple levels.

      Also Update: My local Temple replied that they haven’t encountered any negative results from the existence of Secular Buddhism. To their knowledge, no open or known Secular Buddhist has been to the Temple within their memory (which means I have, but there’s no neon sign on me that says “Secular Buddhist”)

  • #40689
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Jennifer Hawkins
    Keymaster

    Update:

    Ann Gleig (UCF) is writing a book, and I got to preview part of it. Reading through the section made me wonder if perhaps the main harm is to the feelings of other Buddhists. For example, I have spoken to other Directors about some of the wording on our site could be changed because it’s problematic. Maybe some of our phrasings or just our existence simply hurts feelings or pride. I don’t say that in an insulting way, but the thought occurred to me – to be more careful in wording and to be more conscious of how letting go of some elements found in other schools might make those other schools feel – like it’s a personal rejection especially because culture can be/ is so tied up in these things. We see Secular Buddhism as a development of our own interactions with the Dhamma, but they might just take it all as a negative. “They are rejecting us and our schools and what we think is right and our culture and that hurts.” We don’t see it as that at all, but maybe that’s the harm?

    • #40691

      Ben
      Participant

      Your interpretation makes sense to me, and I can see how traditional Buddhists might feel personally rejected. However, I can’t help but think how various existing (even rather old) traditions of Buddhism reject each other in multiple respects. For me personally, one of the challenges of approaching Buddhism has been precisely the fact that different schools contradict each other, which I used to interpret as a reason to ignore Buddhism as a whole. More recently, I’m trying to have a more flexible attitude that allows me to gain valuable knowledge from Buddhism without being dishonest with myself. I’m not sure that rejecting Buddhism altogether should be considered better than being a secular Buddhist. (Of course, I’m still rather new to all this, so I’m being very speculative.)

      • #40692
        Jennifer Hawkins
        Jennifer Hawkins
        Keymaster

        Thanks. In additional discussions, I’ve come to think that it’s a more or less accurate line of thought. The question then becomes, “What, if anything, to do about that?” Arguably (and it is something I would argue) that bit of pride or taking things personally is something that Buddhism (of basically any school) would suggest that people work on. I might do what I can to help in the process, but it’s ultimately not going to be something I can control. I don’t want that to sound cold, but it seems like that might be the direction to go.

        Now, I’m kind of working on the other half of this, which is claims that I or Secular Buddhism are in a position of “privilege,” which I swear by the “old gods and the new,” I cannot make heads or tails of. It may be another kind of miscommunication, but I want to work on it.

        As for you, sennomo, I’m really curious about your story now. It never occurred to me to “ignore” Buddhism because it has many schools that disagree on a few points here and there. To me, it’s about equivalent to how Christianity has many denominations – except I can logically following how the questions and answers that led to different Buddhist schools arose and those don’t bother me. (I hope that makes sense.) I certainly think Secular Buddhism / Buddhism in general is worthwhile. I hope you are able to explore and find whatever it is that you are looking for or need. (Let me know if there’s something I could maybe help with?)

        Other notes: flexibility is always good. Goodness knows that that’s something I need to work on more. Also, I’ve recently had more than one …critic… say, “I still think Secular Buddhism is legitimate,” which is a shift that I appreciate. So… there’s that.

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