Episode 208 :: Gil Fronsdal :: Atthakavagga, The Book of Eights

| September 12, 2014 | 10 Comments


Gil Fronsdal

Gil Fronsdal joins us to speak about his upcoming book, a translation of the Pali Atthakavagga, The Book of Eights.

Not all the books in the Pali canon are easy to find in English, let along translations that resonate with contemporary sensibilities. The books of the Sutta Nipata are some of the earliest in the chronology of the canon, and our guest today will be discussing naturalized Buddhism, and how it relates to the Atthakavagga.

Gil Fronsdal is the primary teacher for the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California; he has been teaching since 1990. He has practiced Zen and Vipassana in the U.S. and Asia since 1975, was a Theravada monk in Burma in 1985, and in 1989 began training with Jack Kornfield to be a Vipassana teacher. Gil teaches at Spirit Rock Meditation Center where he is part of its Teachers Council. Gil was ordained as a Soto Zen priest at the San Francisco Zen Center in 1982, and in 1995 received Dharma Transmission from Mel Weitsman, the abbot of the Berkeley Zen Center. Gil has an undergraduate degree in agriculture from U.C. Davis where he was active in promoting the field of sustainable farming. In 1998 he received a PhD in Religious Studies from Stanford University, studying the earliest developments of the bodhisattva ideal. He is the author of The Issue at Hand, essays on mindfulness practice; A Monastery Within; and a translation of The Dhammapada.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Earl Greyer tea.


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Category: The Secular Buddhist Podcast

Ted Meissner

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the host of the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science. He has been a meditator since the early 90’s, has been interviewed for Books and Ideas, Mindful Lives, and The Whole Leader podcasts, spoken about mindfulness with various groups including Harvard Humanist Hub, and has written for Elephant Journal and The International Journal of Whole Person Care. He is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association, host of the SBA’s official podcast The Secular Buddhist, and is on the Advisory Board for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. Ted’s background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions, and is interested in examining the evolution of contemplative practice in contemporary culture. Ted teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care & Society, where he is the Manager of Online Programming and Community Development.

Comments (10)

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  1. Ron Stillman Ron Stillman says:

    Ted, do we need to have a conversation about changing secular to natural? I saw the following definition at an online dictionary: “Characterized by spontaneity and freedom from artificiality, affectation, or inhibitions.” I like it a lot. What do you think?

    • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

      Hi, Ron. There are advantages to both terms, certainly, and I have a personal inclination to naturalism, as that also simply pertains to what we can know in the world. I like it a lot too! And that’s one of the reasons it comes up quite frequently in conversations that include describing what secular Buddhism is, in very broad strokes.

      Of course, there is no perfect term, each will come with its own baggage and misperceptions. Natural is a good term, too, we’ve simply taken the choice to use secular instead.

      • Ron Stillman Ron Stillman says:

        What do you think about some way of incorporating the definition of natural into the broad heading of secular? Could one possibly say that secular is natural and natural is secular?

  2. Mark Knickelbine says:

    Ah, our aversion to certain words! I can understand how someone who came up in traditional Buddhist lineages and even ordained as a priest would be hesitant to embrace a word that can be perceived as being antagonistic to those traditions. I don’t think that “natural” is much of an improvement, however. If someone sees the phrase “natural Buddhism” without supporting context, what is one to think of it? That it is not artificial or synthetic Buddhism, whatever those might mean? That its whole grain or pesticide-free? It’s not intuitive that “natural” means the opposite of “supernatural” unless someone explains. Even if someone jumps to the conclusion that “Secular Buddhism” means anti-religious, at least they’re in the right general vicinity. Secular carries the connotations both of naturalism and of being “of this world” and so more directly points at what we’re concerned with. “Natural Buddhism” requires much more semantic scaffolding and is unlikely to catch on without being part of some larger cultural phenomenon to associate it with. We ought not choose our words simply to avoid offending someone; besides, the traditional Buddhists who dislike our project will continue to dislike it whatever we choose to call it.

    • Mark Knickelbine says:

      I am, however, delighted that Gil shares our perspective on the dharma, and I keenly anticipate his translation of the Octet Chapter. I hope it includes some analysis of the text’s significance in early Buddhist thought, as it so clearly de-emphasizes supernatural concepts that later texts are preoccupied with. If its message of avoiding attachment to supernatural speculation is characteristic of the earliest Buddhist teaching, then might that message in other texts also be a marker of their relative antiquity, or at least the antiquity of their doctrine?

  3. Carl H Carl H says:

    Thanks for the nice interview. He’s one of the teachers I really appreciate listening to.

  4. Carl H Carl H says:

    Stephen Batchelor has nice translations of the first 4 poems in the Book of Eights. He went though them in his presentations at Upaya earlier this year.

  5. John Haspel John Haspel says:

    I enjoyed Mr. Fronsdal’s talk very much. The Atthaka Vagga’s 16 poems all teach that clinging is what must be abandoned in order to free ourselves from the distraction of Dukkha.

    Of course it was (and is) clinging to views that has led to the non-secular embellishments to the Dhamma. This is a point that should be made and that Secular Buddhist is very effective making and in preserving the original teachings.

    As far as the discussion on the words secular v natural, it would be very easy to express a view rather than what is most closely an aspect of Right Speech. Perhaps “secular” is most to the point of presenting un-embellished teachings where “natural” can have many connotations even pointing to Tibetan Buddhism and how it is natural to engage in rituals and worship that were not part of the original Dhamma. Most non-secular Buddhist religions and schools are “natural” to their culture and other influences.

    I am happy to have found this site and to be a part of this community. Peace.

    John Haspel

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