This is what my Secular Buddhist practice looks like

Home Forums Secular Buddhist Practice This is what my Secular Buddhist practice looks like

This topic contains 15 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by  Martin B 1 month ago.

  • Author
  • #10696
    Dave S
    Dave S

    I came to Secular Buddhism from very naturalistic interpretations of Japanese Mahayana Buddhism which is highly “religious” (aka liturgical) in format. So while I have moved away from the Lotus Sutra and Pure Land Sutras recitation (I was into Rissho Kosei-kai and Shin Buddhism), my practice still looks somewhat formal and I guess “religious” in some ways (but certainly not supernaturalist).

    It is very stripped down from what I used to do and includes Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels, Taking the Five Precepts, and a short meditation practice such as Ānāpānasati (mindfulness of breath) or shikantaza as I went for that Theravada (modern Vipassana Movement)/modern Zen blend so popular with us naturalistic secular Westerners.

    I am also vegan – partly for some severe health reasons but it also helps that I find that, for me, compassion for other living things including animals stems from a more constant mindfulness of interdependence. I use that mindfulness of interdependence as a basis for ethical decision making as well so I make use of Buddha Dharma in everyday life (which is the point to me, not worrying about “rebirth”).

    What does your “formal” and “informal” practice look like?

  • #22881


    In the thread “What is Buddhism to you?” it turned out that the expression “secular buddhism” may stand not only for the type of ideology that the Secular Buddhism Association suggests but that it is actually up to any individual to define its own “secular buddhism”. So actually “secular buddhism” and how it is used in common communication is not determinable. Therefore I feel free to understand my “buddhist non-buddhism” (or “non-buddhist buddhism”) as a variant of “secular buddhism” and that is why I respond.
    Having said that my practice is unconventional mindfulness and unconventional just-sitting. Why unconventional? “unconventional” because my mindfulness differs from all that may be commonly known from buddhist traditions and may be associated with the term “mindfulness” and my “just sitting” differs from all that may be commonly known from buddhist traditions, especially Zen buddhism. The latter I say because although in Zen there is much talk about “just sitting” their “just sitting” is embedded in a mental environment of cultivating views (literature, scripture, teachers). So actually there is nothing that can be said about my just sitting because “just sitting” is an exhaustive description.
    As to my unconventional “mindfulness” I refrain from trying to describe it again because I have learned in another thread that trying to express it with words may arouse aversion and I think that aversion is stress (buddhists would say “dukkha”) and that the opposite – relaxation – is better.
    I would call my whole practice “informal practice”.

  • #22883

    Mark Knickelbine

    Formal practice: 25 minutes of sitting first thing in the morning, which varies depending on what seems to be needed. Lately it has been John Makransky’s “Three Letting Be’s” (body breath and mind) with the last five or ten minutes incorporating some benefactor imaging and heart cultivation.

    Also movement practices, including 15 to 30 minutes of tai chi daily and some yoga several times a week.

    My sanghas include Practice Circle, the UW Health Mindfulness Drop-in Sessions, a weekly lunch time group affiliated with Madison Insight, and the weekly sits led by Dr. Sarah Moore at Monona Terrace (starting again this Monday!)

    I try to get out on multi-day residential retreat at least once a year and fit in as many one day retreats as possible.

    Informal: The list could go on and on, but some of my favorite/most consistent include: dropping in to the body whenever a conversation becomes emotionally charged in some way; cultivating metta and compassion when they arise spontaneously in my experience; feeling into my standing posture whenever I’m waiting in line; mindful eating; doing a quick “breathing space” whenever the deadline pressure starts to feel panicky; trying to be openhearted in my encounters with my fellow shoppers at the supermarket (when I really connect with this one it can be a mind-blowing experience!)– as I said, I could go on, but you probably get the point.

  • #22885

    Jason Malfatto

    Although I’ve become increasingly reluctant to label it “Buddhist” (Secular or otherwise – more on that below), my practice is undeniably derived from Buddhist vipassana/insight as taught in the West by students of Buddhism, like Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, and (in a clinical context) Jon Kabat-Zinn. That practice includes common meditations on breath, body, sound, and walking, which vary in length from 10-30 minutes per day and are sometimes punctuated by 3-minute “breathing spaces” as taught in MBSR programs.

    Also, I am in no hurry to fix my dish washer, as washing the dishes several times a day (I work from home nowadays) affords me more opportunities for mindfulness practice, as do other mundane household chores.

    More generally, I just try to slow down, avoid multi-tasking, and lead a more reflective, less impulsive lifestyle. That there is an ethical dimension to this approach seems obvious to me, although its effects on my behavior are not necessarily always aligned with any particular Buddhist code or precept, which partly explains my reluctance to adopt the label. (For example, I still consume moderate amounts of meat, alcohol, and sexy entertainment.)

  • #22895
    Dave S
    Dave S

    I love some of your shared examples. Mark’s and Mufi’s examples have caused me to look more into MBSR and related practices (I work in the field of social work). I do have to admit that I also use household chores as an informal mindfulness practice (which is something we were also encouraged to do on Zen retreats).

    Coming from years of being immersed in Japanese Buddhist traditions which tend to be VERY “religious” and liturgical in practice, although curiously open to naturalistic interpretations in outlook, I found that Secular Buddhism did not involve a change of outlook (as supernaturalist interpretations of Buddha Dharma were not emphasized and sometimes even discouraged). I had more dissonance with the change in practice where my prior traditions relied more on sutra recitation and chanting (moreso as a ritualized way of doing ancestral veneration which was a very Japanese way of recognizing interdependence and dependent origination – traditionally these daily recitations at the home butsudan were done for the “benefit” of ancestral kami or “spirits” and later seen as at least an expression of gratitude towards the ancestors in a naturalistic sense – Rissho Kosei-kai altars even had ancestral tablets next to the butsudan).

    I found an article which speaks to some of this in Japanese Buddhism (and why also we are starting to see a decline in membership in the Japanese Buddhist institutions both here in America, especially with Westerners, as well as Japan – although SGI/Soka Gakkai is declining at a slower pace).

  • #22905

    Jason Malfatto

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Dave.

    I also looked into local religious Buddhist communities (sanghas), which are perhaps most easily summed up by their countries of origin: Korea, Japan, and Tibet. Mind you, I live in a rural area, so the options in my neck of the woods are not exactly numerous – unless I suppose one doesn’t mind regularly driving long distances – although a lot of folks come here to escape the regional cities (primarily NYC), so in that sense you could say that I’m lucky to live in a rich breeding ground for Buddhist retreats & dharma centers.

    That said, it quickly became clear to me that these sanghas were basically Asian ideologies in search of Western converts, and whose outlooks were by no means secular or naturalistic…unless one broadly defines those (admittedly vague) terms to include deities, quack medicine, or woo in general. Suffice it to say that I found the philosophical distance between myself and these communities to be palpable, and if anything mindfulness practice has only increased my self-awareness of discomfort in these situations…although perhaps it’s also better prepared me to respond to such aversion with equanimity and aplomb.

    …as I politely head for the door. 🙂

  • #22909
    Dave S
    Dave S

    Yep and yep. While Rissho Kosei-kai is decidedly more “modern” (it is considered more of a “new Buddhist” school – from the mid 20th Century) and is more modernist (and thus open to naturalistic interpretations) than the older more traditional schools, one can easily get a feeling of disconnect between the daily liturgy practice called Kyodan which mentions devas and kamis, etc. in the Lotus Sutra and “prayers” (even if interpreted metaphorically which is what was done) while the Hoza practice was a group discussion of applying core Buddhist teachings to everyday life situations (which is very “secular Buddhist”).

    Even the primary text of Rissho Kosei-kai, “Buddhism for Today” by Niwano, used the Lotus Sutra as a backdrop to discuss basic, core Buddhist teachings which were more “Theravada” rather than “Mahayana” in practice. It seems they adopted the Japanese Mahayana Buddhist “religious” practice of Lotus Sutra recitation for ancestors as the cultural centerpiece which is why it attracted Japanese who might have been less interested in Dharma study. It was really easy for me to drop the Lotus Sutra piece as there was too much disconnect with what I was reciting and core Buddhist teachings, but keep what I found useful from Hoza as that was consistent.

  • #22924


    Foreign cultures, foreign traditions. The advantage of buddhism is that there are plenty of foreign countries with a diversity of buddhisms from which all these religions are imported and that since all are called “buddhism” this makes transparent the absurdity of assigning “truth” to any of these buddhisms since what they all are is just products of cultural creativity.

  • #24079
    Dave S
    Dave S

    I wanted to share an update. I have added back in some “chanting” back into my practice. No, not daimoku or nembutsu or sutra recitation as I find some of the metaphorical symbolism and some more traditional practitioners’ insistence on literal interpretations distracting. Instead I use the Peace Phrase practice – “Be One. Be Love. Be Peace.” It acts as sort of a metta exercise and I view “Oneness” in the Buddhist sense of interdependence/dependent origination view of the self not having permanency and being interconnected with the larger environment. I find that daily recitation helps to keep it going as a practice during my everyday which helps me to pause and reflect and center before I respond to external stimuli (I found this was one of the benefits of nembutsu or daimoku too when I was into Jodo Shinshu and then Nichiren Buddhist practice).

    For those interested I use a picture of an Enso in calligraphy as a focal point in my “altar” rather than a Gohonzon scroll or scroll of Amida Buddha or Nembutsu calligraphy.

    So now my daily practice is: Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels, Taking the Five Precepts, a short meditation practice such as Ānāpānasati (mindfulness of breath) or shikantaza/seiza, and Peace Phrase recitation.

  • #24082
    Carl H
    Carl H

    This sounds like it is working for you, and that’s the bottom line. The sound of the spoken word can be a powerful thing. Mantras and dharanis didn’t come along for nothing. Here our practice days are modified Soto. We sit for 2 35 minute periods with 10 minutes of slow walking in between. Our service is the repentances 3 times, the refuges 3 times, and the 4 vows 3 times. Then the Heart Sutra (which I am not a fan of, but “just do the practice”) and the dedication. It’s a good way to start the day. Of course, the majority of our “practice” is off the cushion and not in front of an altar. It’s the hardest practice of all. 🙂

  • #39096
    John Tate
    John Tate

    My secular Buddhist practice looks much like it did when I started over 35 years ago with Nichiren Shoshu (SGI) of America and later with the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. I recite the Second and Sixteenth Chapters of the Lotus Sutra in classical Japanese on a daily basis. I don’t understand the language but I know what is being expressed, and the meaning, the feel of the recitation, and the sound of the words are beautiful to me.

    With this liturgy, I also chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, read Silent Prayers, and focus on our object of worship, which is a calligraphic representation of what we consider to be the eternally compassionate aspect of existence. This mandala, called a Gohonzon, is enshrined in a very well kept alter (mostly due to my wife’s traditional devotion) in the living room of our home. The entire ceremony takes about forty-five minutes in the morning and thirty minutes in the evening.

    The only difference with the ritual now and how I practiced in the beginning is the content of the Silent Prayers, a copy of which is available below through a link to my website. The one I read is entitled, “Secular Shoshu Silent Prayers.” If you have a chance to review these prayers, I believe you will see how they transform the traditional meaning of the practice into a secular one.

    Also, since the Silent Prayer portion of the ritual is performed quietly by all in our branch of the faith, I can participate in the full ceremony at home with family members and at the temple when attending weddings and funerals, while staying true to my beliefs and not disturbing anyone.

    Lastly, I should also mention that study and propagation of the teachings are essential parts of our practice. As for study, my inclinations these days are for Buddhist academic publications and secular-related materials. As for propagation, I try through my website to encourage others from our tradition to consider transitioning into a secular practice, publish posts like this to attract attention to the site, and discuss Buddhism with my family and friends at appropriate times.

    My situation may not sound ideal, but I love my practice and the niche I’m in with it.

    Thank you.

    Nichiren Secular

  • #39153


    Hi all. This is a very interesting thread to read. I wondered how many of you see it as important to commit to a path or type of practice? Or do you move between different paths and practices? What are your reasons for doing one or the other?

    My practice is that I try to drink my morning coffee in a quiet, mindful way. I do some yoga asana practice around breakfast time for however long I have, usually about ten minutes, sometimes longer. During the day I try to take little breaks to breathe, hear and feel how my body is, and I also try to be mindful of what’s happening. I’ve found that there are various phrases that help me with this, eg ‘life just as it is’, ‘now I’m…’ (Eg ‘making dinner’) etc. I do sitting practice in the evening for ten to twenty minutes, usually just sitting letting things come and go, re-orientating to breath or body when I feel I’ve got a bit lost in thought. And I try to remember to think of three things that day that I’m grateful for at the end of each day. The last two slip often, but they’re getting more established.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 2 months ago by  philbee.
  • #40333
    Dave S
    Dave S

    Change is the only constant. Now there is no recitation ~ no taking of refuges or precepts or anything like that. Just sitting and observing thoughts, feelings, breath, sensations come and pass. Sometimes washing the dishes. Sometimes petting the dog or cat. Everyday life stuff. And sometimes I have to gently refocus back on what I was doing.

  • #40402

    steve mareno

    Mine is stripped down to the bone. I’ve been a Zen practitioner for over two decades, and practiced both Soto and Rinzai at Zen centers throughout America. I have met two people that I would consider authentic teachers, but don’t feel that is a requirement to Zen or any other Buddhist practice. Better no formal teacher than a bad or wrong one. We should learn to live in the moment. I did take a vow to save all sentient beings, and do follow the precepts. If you have right view, you have all the rest. I offer a basic Buddhist meditation course for free, but no one is ever interested. Next is to try mental health facilities and halfway houses and see how that goes.

    I’ve slowly but thoroughly given up on formalized Zen centers as they have turned them all into a religion. So my practice is sitting meditation daily, mindfulness as much as I can (like everyone, this tails off when things are going well and increases when life goes into the tank), and on Sundays there is twenty five minute sits that are broken up w/ 10 minute walking meditation for around 1 1/2 to 2 hours total. Mindfulness is very powerful, and very difficult to do consistently. In addition I volunteer at different places w/ homeless groups, and think that Buddhism is really about action in the world to help all others, not just sitting in meditation. Everything is an opportunity for practice at all times. Like Suzuki said, walking to the restroom is a good time for enlightenment.

    It’s easy to forget that this practice has totally changed my life. Like you, I avoid eating dead animals (and animal products as much as possible), and keep a small footprint on the earth by not driving. The goal each day is to not harm the world. My health has been great, my mind clear, and things that used to really bother me for ages roll right off now. Seung Sahn has a philosophy that he calls “don’t know” mind, which is another way to look at mindfulness. With our mind or ego activated all the time, trouble and suffering is at every turn, and it sticks. W/ mindfulness, there is no mind for it to stick to. So, small mind…..big problems. No mind… no problem! I do miss having a sangha. Oddly, the least authentic Zen centers that I went to often had the greatest number of members, whereas those two authentic teachers I talked about had only a few. That’s just how it goes in samsara.

  • #40601


    My formal parctice consists of a daily period of sitting, usually for 30 minutes but sometimes more and sometimes less. This normally involves breath watching but I also practice a variety of different Buddhist meditations.

    As a less formal practice I abstain from eating meat and take care in my speech to check that I am communicating in a respectful, honest and tactful way. I am lucky enough to be able to earn my living in a way which I feel is beneficial to society.

    I try to manifest the bodhisattva ideal by engaging in small acts of altruism throughout the day and through involment in activist groups and other local groups.

    I used to have a more consistent awareness of my body and it’s sensations as I went about my daily business but recently I have let this slide. I would really like to take more time to watch my physical sensations, movements and external sights and sounds as I go about my daily business.

  • #40727

    Martin B

    Interesting discussion. I don’t have a formal practice. Outwardly what I do probably resembles what Dave S wrote back in December, though without the pets. The nearest to formality is that at night, as I drop off, I mentally go through the Three Signs of Being, the Four (as Stephen Batchelor recently reduced them to), the Five Trainings and a dedication to all beings. For the rest, I would like to do some regular meditation practices, but haven’t quite got there. So I use opportunities as the day presents. I might focus on the breath or the bodily sensations or sounds if I am sat somewhere or in a queue. Today I tried focusing on the breath in an MRI scanner for half an hour – but it got quite noisy! Secular Buddhism has allowed me to let go of the ‘ought’ in life and let things grow organically as I engage more. It is also good to sometimes just sit and pay attention to someone else or to enjoy the sunshine or the rain. For now it is enough to let go of the negativity I got from trying to live up to this form of Buddhism or some other I have tried (Theravada, Shinshu, Tibetan, WBO). I hope there never is a formal, designated Secular Buddhist practice.

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.