Mark Knickelbine

SBA Board Member Mark Knickelbine speaks with us about secular approaches to a contemplative practice, and the new Practice Circle.

There are many ways to approach secular practice. You might, for example, come to Buddhism from a different religious tradition, and find that the teaching is helping you, but the supernatural assertions as as problematic in your new environment as they were in the one you left. You might have come to Buddhism directly, as part of your own cultural heritage, or you may have adopted it as fulfilling a need for personal development. Or, like today’s guest, you may have started with a secular practice that lead you to learn more about its Buddhist roots.

All are perfectly valid, there are many roads to having a meaningful and beneficial secular practice. And this diversity is further supported by each other, by that community of fellow practitioners who share in our challenges, setbacks, successes, and moments of joy. We’re social creatures, us human beings, and we find social identity and support in a wide variety of ways. For secular practice, this can be difficult, as there aren’t brick and mortar secular Buddhist centers within arm’s reach.

“Buddhism Without Beliefs” and “The End of Faith” led me Mark Knickelbine to seek out a dharma practice without the religious trappings of Buddhism. He found it at a local health clinic, where he learned mindfulness in the manner of Jon Kabat-Zinn. Mark has continued to study texts from the Pali, Chan, and Zen traditions, and practices with a secular mindfulness group in Madison, Wisconsin. Mark is a writer, editor, and political activist, and has a masters in English, which qualifies him to pontificate on nearly any topic.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice kocha.


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Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The track used in this episode is “Eleven Waterfalls” from his CD, The Shakuhachi.

No Comments

  1. Candol on December 30, 2012 at 12:24 am

    Well that was an interesting talk. Thanks. First off, i would like to hear more about that UW group you mentioned. Second i had thought the practice circle was basically just meditation which is why i haven’t joined in before now. But on hearing that there are these other aspects of it, i am more interested in checking out. Although i must say that it strikes me as a very head-based ie intellectually oriented program also. But until i’ve sat in on it, i’ve no idea if there might be something there that is worth checking out.

    It was also interesting for me to hear your reflections on trying to start a group and also what you had to say about how you found Zen ie the thing that it seemed to be primarily all form. I guess there is an idea that it trickles down, inwards but even so it might not do that for some people.

    I also wonder what the book by sam harris you read was. It reminds me of the premiss of Alain de Botton’s book Religion for Atheists.

    • Ted Meissner on December 30, 2012 at 3:05 am

      Hi, Candol. The Sam Harris book Mark referred to is titled The End of Faith, and it should be appearing as the first book displayed on this page in the Books section.

    • Mark Knickelbine on December 30, 2012 at 11:01 am

      Candol —

      I’ve done a number of articles about the UW program you might want to check out. “Buddhism Without Buddha” and “Meditation Only?” were the first two, and the “Scenes from a Mindfulness Retreat” series covers a retreat led by the UW folks. Happy to answer any questions you might have after reading them.

      I would call what we try to do in Practice Circle “practice-based.” It doesn’t focus on doctrine or philosophy but on building the skills to bring mindful awareness to our lived experience. Our discussion time is centered mainly on what arises for us in experience as we practice together.

  2. Candol on December 30, 2012 at 5:06 am

    Righto thanks.

  3. Candol on December 30, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Mark, i read your article scenes from a mindfulness retreat. I don’t know if you did the follow up article but the first one didn’t describe much about the guts of the retreat as i recall. Of course i also didn’t realise the connection either of UW. All i really wanted to know was briefly how the sessions are handled. You mentioned one thing – that the meditation leader may change from week to week. I’m mainly interested in how the organisation is set up, what it does and how it does it. I’m asking from the point of view of what i’m doing with our meditation centre here.

    I’ve just started our meditation sessions and had that awful experience of no one showing up (to the second one). Here our population is very small and so patchy numbers are to be expected for a while. I was also told by the yoga centre and a martial arts person here that it would be like this and i saw it with another guy who tried to start a meditation group. I would determine the thing a failure if people don’t continue coming on a regular basis. I saw with another lady who had a session that every week she had new people show up. Apart from having a tiny population to appeal to, there really is a problem of perception amongst people and what to expect when they come and of course what they want. It really probably is very difficult to have a “product” that satisfies a lot of people.

    So part of what i’m trying to do is get people on board with the bigger picture of the meditation proposed plans and activities – which is more than just a weekly session. So i’ve done what i can to share that vision and i realise there are still people who haven’t heard of our project. And then there’s lots of people who know about the project, think its a great idea, want to see it happen here but don’t feel the imperative of getting involved. Its very tempting to yell out to them from the newspaper in blatant terms – if you want this centre in our town, you are going to have to come along and meditate – otherwise the project will collapse for lack of interest.

    The newest idea i’ve got is to get the existing members to write a column for the local paper talking about what meditation is for them and why they want to promote it in the community. I have to ask the editor if we can do that first of course. I thought a variety of voices might be more effective than just one in the mission to breakdown any continuing misconceptions about meditation and entice them to join in and check us out.

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