All of the discussion on this website can be said to revolve around a single question: What is Secular Buddhism? How is it secular, and how is it Buddhist? What can we take from the traditional texts and practices, and what ought we leave behind? How does the dharma fit in with our knowledge from other realms, such as science, political culture, and the various wisdom traditions?
By and large, beyond our general Guiding Principles, the SBA has resisted promoting a set of settled answers to these questions. We have not been interested in creating a new set of doctrines, with their potential to ossify, first into dogmas and then into institutions and hierarchies. Taking Gotama’s teachings about anatta and his warnings about the thicket of views at face value, we have preferred to allow an open conversation to continue, watching to see what may arise organically from this process.
One of the voices in that conversation is Stephen Batchelor. In his new book, After Buddhism, he shares his most recent thinking about the nature of secular dharma practice in what he calls “Ten Theses of Secular Dharma.” I found them very interesting and provocative, and I thought it might be useful to share them here as a way of spurring consideration and discussion.
How do these theses sit with you? Do you think they’re useful? What do you agree or disagree with? Is this what Secular Buddhism is? How do these theses jibe with the SBA Guiding Principles? I look forward to participating in this discussion!
Ten Theses of Secular Dharma
1. A secular Buddhist is one who is committed to the practice of the dharma for the sake of this world alone.
2. The practice of the dharma consists of four tasks: to embrace suffering, to let go of reactivity, to behold the ceasing of reactivity, and to cultivate an integrated way of life.
3. All human beings, irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, nationality, and religion, can practice these four tasks. Each person, in each moment, has the potential to be more awake, responsive, and free.
4. The practice of the dharma is as much concerned with how one speaks, acts, and works in the public realm as with how one performs spiritual exercises in private.
5. The dharma serves the needs of people at specific times and places. Each form the dharma assumes is a transient human creation, contingent upon the historical, cultural, social, and economic conditions that generated it.
6. The practitioner honors the dharma teaching that have been passed down through different traditions while seeking to enact them creatively in ways appropriate to the world as it is now.
7. The community of practitioners is formed of autonomous persons who mutually support each other in the cultivation of their paths. In this network of like-minded individuals, members respect the equality of all members while honoring the specific knowledge and expertise each person brings.
8. A practitioner is committed to an ethics of care, founded on empathy, compassion, and love for all creatures who have evolved on this earth.
9. Practitioners seek to understand and diminish the structural violence of societies and institutions as well as the roots of violence that are present in themselves.
10. A practitioner of the dharma aspires to nurture a culture of awakening that finds its inspiration in Buddhist and non-Buddhist, religious and secular sources alike.
— Stephen Batchelor