Episode 219 :: Alexander Wynne :: Creative Engagement with Tradition

| February 22, 2015 | 2 Comments


Alexander Wynne

Alexander Wynne joins us to speak about how we may creatively engage with tradition.

Just today the latest issue of Buddhadharma arrived in my mailbox, with a cover story about the mindfulness movement. The piece was introduced by my friend Jenny Wilks, who like many of us lives in the two overlapping but perhaps growing apart worlds of Buddhism, and mindfulness. What does that mean for the tradition, and what are some of the important questions around creative engagement with contemporary society?

Alexander Wynne, a former student of Richard Gombrich, is currently Academic Head of the Dhammachai Tipiṭaka Project, at Wat Phra Dhammakaya, preparing a critical edition of the Pali canon. He is the author of Buddhism: An Introduction, The Origin of Buddhist Meditation, and Mahabharata Book Twelve (Volume 3): “The Book of Liberation”.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Jasmine Tranquili-Tea.


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Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of this podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. You can visit his website to hear more of his music, get the full discography, and view his upcoming tour dates.

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 (2)

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  1. Doug Smith Doug Smith says:

    Great podcast, thanks Ted and Alex. Yes, what we are trying to do here (and what I am trying to do in my own little way) is to come up with a philosophical understanding of a new sort of Buddhism, secular Buddhism.

    In my (Vipassana) sangha in NYC, a secular approach to Buddhism is the unstated norm. That is, issues of rebirth and active kamma are rarely if ever discussed, and teachers there do not put them forward as dogma. A significant percentage of our sangha members do not believe in rebirth, or at least when the subject comes up I am very far from alone in professing skepticism or disbelief. Theirs is a secular approach in allowing for a spectrum of belief or disbelief among sangha members. Nobody is discouraged from belief in rebirth, but it is treated as optional.

    There is also a very deep syncretization, which is less to my personal liking, where concepts from early Buddhism are readily mixed with Mahāyāna concepts such as non-dualism, the ground of being, the distinction between conventional and ultimate reality, and so on. That is, although our center is nominally Theravādin, doctrines from Zen or Tibetan dharma (or even non-Buddhist sources) are used without distinction, much as one might find in Unitarian Universalism. I would expect that a modern, Western Buddhist school would be syncretic in this sense. I myself resist this move because I find the later traditions less coherent with a rational, scientific approach, although I know some disagree.

    Also Andy Olendzki, former head of the Insight Meditation Society and senior scholar at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies follows an expressly secular path, one in which supernatural elements to early Buddhist belief and practice are avoided or played down, when teaching the dhamma. I don’t think one can overstate the role of the IMS and BCBS on teaching dhamma in the US, at least on the East Coast.

    Secularization of the dhamma is already occurring, and it’s occurring in high profile US dhamma centers as well as on the internet. This leads me to believe that a secular dhamma does not require one to abandon all talk of Buddhism per se, as may happen in some MBSR contexts for example. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that).

    Whether this turns out to be a stable development over time we will see; it is of course possible that secularized dhamma collapses into some more religious form in relatively short order, as might happen if for example secular dhamma centers could not raise funds to continue operating. Fundraising ends up being a big deal, particularly among urban dhamma/dharma centers, and to raise funds one needs a committed sangha. Will secular approaches cultivate the necessary commitment? Or will commitment require some form of overtly religious allegiance? The latter might be implied by the work of anthropologists like Scott Atran on the irrational nature of religious belief, but we will see.

    I would also love to hear more about what your revisions of the Pāli Canon are turning up. Are there any famous or important sections that we have got wrong, due to the inadequacies of prior source texts? I’d be interested to know if you have much contact with Bhikkhu Bodhi on this as well.

    • Doug Smith Doug Smith says:

      I should probably add that popular contemporary dhamma teachers like Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg (both on the IMS board), as well as folks like Sylvia Boorstein teach virtually always in a secular manner. I think we all know this but it’s good to repeat.

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