The Secular Buddhist Association has grown a great deal from its humble beginnings. In May of 2009, the podcast The Secular Buddhist was first made available, with an interview format about engaging with the tradition in something of an admittedly fringe perspective. Secular Buddhism was not a term commonly heard at the time, and there was a gap of understanding to fill for everyone involved, including us. The journey led to the formation of life-long relationships, joyous meetings, and heartbreaking losses that continue to reverberate to this day, well outside the confines of that first episode and static website.
Very quickly, the listeners and online followers reached out to express their interest in making connections, building a community with others who also found a secular approach to the dhamma more in alignment with their world views, interests, and practice. Many offered to help make this happen, some in very pragmatic and direct ways, lending their particular skills and insights to the project of exploring what Secular Buddhism is today, and what it might become. There was an intentional and planned structural shift in technology, opening the doors to interaction and engagement in addition to passive receiving of podcasts and articles, and The Secular Buddhist grew into being part of a larger Secular Buddhist Association, or SBA. Others began to blog, lending their writing talents and scholarly efforts into sharing ideas with the wider public about more nuanced aspects of a secular approach to Buddhism, and how they apply in contemporary life. Books have been published from excellent blog series content that it’s been our deep honor to host, partner sites have been formed independently and are creating their own unique and complementary perspective, attracting their own dedicated and passionate voices to join the chorus of secular Buddhism across the world in many different languages.
And the voices continue on the podcast, with over a million and a half downloads worldwide, each contributing insights, practice, and new ideas to the mix. We’ve welcomed voices with different views, sometimes having to close doors that weren’t fruitful, but more often than not creating new friendships with those who listen, share, and not just cordially but companionably disagree in the spirit of friendly exploration of our common human experience. Without that open-hearted dialoguing, our community would not thrive. There has also been engagement in our Practice Circle since 2012, offering those who may be geographically, mobility, or ideologically constrained to join others live online and sit together with guidance, learning, and companionship.
Throughout the years, people would reach out asking us to nail down exactly what Secular Buddhism was, insisting that it be packaged to fit into a neat box of intellectual designation — which we would not, and could not do in the early and very tentative exploration of what might be, anymore than we would open the oven door every minute to see if the cake was done.
This is an ongoing journey, not a destination, and the destination is this moment.
Some have asked how they might join the SBA. Joining wasn’t something to encourage, as secular Buddhism is a way of being in the world, more than an identity to assume. We continue with that exploration today, though some of the themes have begun to coalesce, little by little, and are still actively fluid in nature. Ossified identity is something that tends to constrict rather than lend itself to creative exploration of the present, so living as a secular Buddhist has always been a tall and wide tent with room for growing and change, less about setting up barriers to being whatever is called for in the moment.
The SBA has reached another milestone in this ongoing journey, one that’s been called for many times by community members wanting to contribute and help this organization continue to provide the platform as a hub for secular Buddhism. We have recently received acceptance of our status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, which means a number of progressive changes to our internal structure and to you. The SBA has been an organization for some years, but not at this level. To meet those requirements, we now have a Board of Directors as follows:
- Chair — Ted Meissner
- Vice Chair — Mark Knickelbine
- Secretary — Jennifer Hawkins
- Treasurer — Dana Nourie
- Board Member — Doug Smith
Those initial roles are a small but important step in the sustainment of a cohesive group, and reflects the personal care and contributions of only some key people who have been such an active, engaged, and generous part of the SBA.
Another aspect to this shift is the ability of the SBA to accept financial support. I will admit, I have struggled with this possibility, not wanting to grow too much too fast and in some unforeseen way harm the work that’s been done, and having concerns about this group being used by those with non-aligned motives. But my wiser colleagues and companions, the kalyāṇa-mitta family which makes the very heart of the SBA, have been very compelling. We have created a means for those who wish to make a donation to the SBA to do so, and I would like to stress that this is not required to participate in what is offered here — no one is required to contribute, there are no fees or advertising on this site, and all the contents continue to be freely available to the public.
Thank you, one and all, for your ongoing care and interest in secular Buddhism.