Secular Buddhist Meetup Group Guidelines
As the awareness of Secular Buddhism increases, it is natural that practitioners seek out others with whom to investigate this approach. The sangha, or community, is an indispensible component of supporting the actualization of practice. Secular Buddhism is, however, fairly new on the scene as a distinct approach. As such, there isn’t the same wide variety of choices for the individual who may not feel particularly comfortable with a cultural or religious setting for meditation, study, and the support a social group has to offer. Our modern world, however, has helpful tools to assist in finding others with the secular Buddhist inclination.
This page is the product of a number of individuals with experience in this area — Rick Bateman of Victoria Secular Buddhists, Tim Kiely of Cambridge-Somerville Secular Buddhists, Mark Knickelbine, and Andy Hagel.
Benefits to Starting a Secular Buddhist Meetup Group
As the interview with Rick Bateman and Tim Kiely described, there are lots of very good reasons to start a Secular Buddhist group. Here are just a few of them:
- Support for your own meditation. It can be hard to get on the cushion on a regular basis, we’re all challenged with that. Participating in a group of any kind encourages us to make a greater effort to show up, and starting one even more!
- Social connections. Part of the Triple Gem is sangha, community. We’re social creatures, and typically are comforted with being a part of a compatible group. You may find life long friends with whom you can share this journey towards awakening.
- Learning. Often when one is asked to speak about a topic, or even simply facilitate discussion with like-minded people, there is a need to brush up on our own understanding. We’re positively incented to do our best, and that helps us to study in preparation for our meetings.
- Resources. As we have meetups and build our social network, opportunities arise to learn from others. This is sharing not only our experiences on the path, but books, information about upcoming seminars, retreat centers, and of course podcasts!
- Experience. All of the reasons mentioned above, and many more you’ll uncover as time goes on, provide a rich, vibrant, and lifelong wellspring of experiences that you’ll find invigorating, challenging, sometimes frustrating, but always in some way helpful to your journey.
Before you go to Meetup.com, there are a number of prerequisites it would be helpful for you to have ready, in addition to some information you’ll want to know before starting a group.
There are a number of different names you can come up with for your group, to help make it clear what it’s about, and to distinguish it from other Meetups in your geographical area. Where you are, and what you’re about are two key qualities you should have in your group name. Here are a few ideas:
- [Your Location] Secular Buddhists
- [Your Location] Secular Buddhist Community
- [Your Location] Secular Meditation
Remember, these are just ideas — you’re encouraged to come up with your own unique name!
Home Page Headline
The home page headline is the tagline of your group. It can be as basic as “Welcome!”, to a more robust, impression-making sentence. You can be serious, funny, whatever you like.
- In Search of a Secular Mindfulness Practice
- Modern Secular Application of Early Buddhist Thought
- Non-Denominational Buddhism
- Buddhism for This Life
- Put Your Metta Where Your Mouth Is
According to Meetup suggestions, the group description is supposed to include:
- Why I decided to start up the group
- The purpose of the group
- Who should join
You can have a very short description, or could have several paragraphs, it’s up to you! Remember, the idea is to create a community that is supportive of secular Buddhist practice, not to create a group intentionally disparaging of other people’s beliefs. This is about being inclusive — the advantage of secular Buddhist practice is that it can fit into anyone’s life, regardless of tradition or lack of tradition.
Here are some ideas to get you started, based on the work of Rick, Tim, Andy, and Mark:
- This is a non-denominational, secular Buddhist group particularly appropriate for those new to Buddhism. It is intended to help connect like minded people and kindred spirits who want to explore Buddhism or to learn and grow in their Buddhist studies and practices.
- This is a secular meditation group for people looking to practice and to discuss their meditation practice with others. It is intended to connect people of diverse backgrounds who want to explore mindfulness practice. Our members have a broad range of meditation experience. We strive to make this a welcoming group for everyone from beginners to experienced meditators.
- We meet Sunday afternoons in the very nice space above Mimosa Books on the corner of State and Gilman. No robes or rituals, just a safe and supportive space to share our mindfulness practice. We’ve been doing two 25-minute seated meditation sessions with five minutes of walking meditation in between. Afterward we have time for readings and discussion. Come sit with us!
- The [name] is a new local gathering which meets once [or twice] a month in friendly supportive fellowship to share, study, and meditate in the Secular Buddhist tradition.
- Secular Buddhism emphasizes a pragmatic practice and study of the Dharma. The philosophical orientation is nondenominational, non-dogmatic, non-orthodox, and non-metaphysical. The work of Stephen Batchelor is an inspiration for formation of this Sangha. Recommended reading includes his Buddhism Without Beliefs.
- The Sangha meets to explore Buddhist philosophy and ethics, including the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, and discusses books and other related media. Simple silent meditation is participated in as a group. The Sangha supports and encourages growth and development of a personal practice. When possible, the group hosts Dharma talks by recognized teachers and experts in secular Buddhism.
What Are Members Called
Usually this is simply left as “Members”, but you can change this to “Meditators” or something more indicative of what your particular group’s focus is.
This will automatically fill in based on the name you enter, but you can change that to specify what web address is appended to www.meetup.com/. The specific requirements are linked on Meetup, and indicate:
- Good web addresses reflect the purpose and location of your Meetup Group
- Put dashes between words in your web address. It helps search engines find your group
- Your old group web addresses will work — links will be redirected to the new one
- Names must be at least 6 characters, no longer than than 70
- Names can only contain letters, numbers and dashes
- Topic names (like singles, pets, politics) and cities and states (on their own) cannot be used as your web address
- Names of other groups cannot be used
- You can update your choices at any time
These are the words used to categorize and describe, in a word or two. Well-picked topics help the right members find your Meetup Group, and your Meetup Group will be listed in the directory under each topic you choose.
You can have up to fifteen topics, and here are a few ideas for you:
- Secular Buddhism
- Critical Thinking
Finding a Location to Meet
Where you meet can help support the growth of the group in many ways — or hinder it, depending on some qualities that would be beneficial to have:
- Physical location. Your living room is wonderfully convenient for you, but might not be so easy to get to if most of your members live downtown and you’re ten miles away.
- Parking. Make sure there’s adequate parking, and if you can find a location that doesn’t require members to feed the meters, so much the better.
- Space. You’ll need a room large enough to allow meditation practice for people who have cushions on the floor, and those who sit in chairs. Consider that your group may expand as time goes on.
- Quiet. A downtown city location is central to many people, but may not be conducive to meditation. If your location has a room that is relatively quiet despite traffic sounds outside, that’s helpful.
- Social space. A room for meditation and discussion can do an excellent job of being your social space, too. But if there is a cafe or restaurant in the same building or next door, that can be a nice place to go after your formal meetup is done for the day.
Many local libraries have most of these qualities, and are willing to let you reserve meeting rooms for local groups. Several also have cafes as part of them, too. Yoga studios are an excellent option, and have some wonderful crossover for people interested in learning more about meditation (or meditators interested in learning more about yoga!). Other options include churches, synagogues, and local Buddhist centers interested in expanding their member base.
There are a few basic costs in starting a group, here are a few considerations:
- Organizer Dues. According to Meetup, “Yep, Meetup Group Organizers pay Organizer Dues (as little as $12 a month). Some Organizers choose to share this cost with their members.” It’s suggested that you can be open with the participants about this being their group, and any help they can give (that generosity practice!) would help ensure it continues to thrive.
- Location costs. Depending on where you meet, there may be no cost whatsoever, to a monthly membership fee.
- Incidentals, like parking, coffee, food afterwards, etc.
Your group will evolve over time, both in size and possibly scope. This is merely one possible format to get you started, but there are others, and you should elicit input from the members about what suits them best.
- 10 minutes social settling in (chit-chat)
- 5 minutes concentration meditation teaching (how and why)
- 10 minutes meditation (concentration style – counting breaths to ten over and over)
- 30 minutes teaching about Buddhism (currently following the Eight Fold Path at a very light level to provide an overview of the teachings)
- X minutes discussion period about anything to do with Buddhism
- X minutes social break
- 5 minutes insight meditation teaching (how and why)
- 10 minutes meditation period (insight style — let go of everything one’s mind attaches to and keep returning to the present)
Your First Get Together
The most important thing to remember about the first meetup is that it is only one meetup — you can set the tone with this one, but you’re not stuck keeping things the same way every time. Here are a few ideas for your first meetup, and those that follow:
- Get a bell for meditation.
- Provide chairs if possible.
- Don’t have incense. Many people are very sensitive to scents, and some locations won’t allow it.
- Try to arrange the seating in a circle rather than classroom style. It takes the pressure off you and helps create an atmosphere of equals.
- Have a donation box out clearly, mention it at some point, and explain the need to help offset costs for the space and the Meetup site.
- Do establish a regular format, as people feel a lot more comfortable with consistency. It doesn’t mean you’re stuck with the format with which you start — let the group decide how it’s going to evolve to meet their needs.
- Consider keeping the meditation length fairly short, as many people are new to Buddhism. Traditional meditation periods are 45 minutes long — way too long for most people. The shorter meditation periods also allow for more teaching and discussion time. Sometimes the lesson may involve an additional meditation period, for example when the subject is the four immeasurables or the four foundations of mindfulness.
- Brief introductions are helpful for social reasons.
- Welcome the sharing of personal stories, possibly with time limits to ensure everyone can share if they want. This makes the teachings less academic and demonstrates their real world personal value. Lead by example, others will share when you do.
- A meeting can involve handing out a sheet with lesson notes, which can be used as speaking notes. Questions after the lesson segues nicely to social discussion.
- Keep an eye on the clock and agenda as most people are more comfortable with that consistency. It also lends support if the discussion gets off topic.
- You don’t have to be the teacher/facilitator every time, but can share that role with others. This is a very powerful way to learn anything, by teaching it.
Recommendations to Keep the Ball Rolling
Well established may groups often have separate meditation and study meetings. See Victoria Vipassana Community Study Group as an example. This can be something your group can work towards if members want it.
Having a regular course of study can be helpful, as long as new members are able to join in wherever you are. Readily available notes from previous meetups can be helpful, especially if potential members can view them ahead of time. This can be as simple as posting a topic of discussion for the week, or a practice for people to try out before the next meetup.
If you have the funds to do so, consider putting an ad for your Meetup group in the local paper. They will likely consider your group as religious in nature, and you may be able to get a reduced ad rate in that section of the paper because of it.
Remember that The Secular Buddhist is a resource for you and your members. Use the Contact button on that website to get added to the Resources, Practice Centers page in the Meetup Groups section. Also, feel free to advertise your group on The Secular Buddhist FaceBook fan page, as there may be potential members who are not yet active on Meetup and would not otherwise find out about your group.
Expect about 5% of your membership to show up at meetings as a rule of thumb. Some people will simply not be able to make meetings due to weather, the odd commitment, or unplanned family responsibilities. You may see a core set of regular attendees, and should make sure that you as the organizer are one of them.
Be prepared for the occasionally challenging person. The way Rick Bateman handles these is two-fold: 1) he takes a leadership role, acting in the best interest of the group (they will want and expect you to), and 2) to perceive challenges as opportunities for spiritual growth and try to handle them from a Buddhist perspective.
Remember, your group is going to change and grow over time — this is a good thing! — so it’s important to share the responsibility and encourage active participation with the members.