Starting Out


Narrative by Ted Meissner.

Whether you are new to Buddhism or you are coming from one of the other Forms of Buddhism, we hope this area of the site helps you get started in your practice, and that the rest of the site continues to be a source of useful information, encouragement, and support.

How Did This Start?

In May of 2009, the podcast called The Secular Buddhist was published by Ted Meissner. It was the first time the term “Secular Buddhism” appeared in popular media.*

*So what do we mean by “secular?”
Though the word can sometimes be used in other contexts to mean “against religion,” that’s NOT how we’re using it here. Rather, we find value in the meaning of its Latin root saeculum, which focuses on this world and life. Rather than having as a core goal of ending rounds of a literal Rebirth, Secular Buddhism’s primary focus is on how we are and what we do in this lifetime, and how that influences the world and generations to come. This is not to say there isn’t any value in the idea of Rebirth. Some Secular Buddhists do believe in literal Rebirth, others in non-literal Rebirth (i.e. Rebirth from moment to moment), etc. Kamma (or Karma) is also meaningful without being tied to literal Rebirth; just think of any long gone inspirational leader whose actions are still making an impact on the world today.

– Ted Meissner (edited)

It quickly developed a diverse, global following.

The development of the site sprang from the needs of our members who wanted to learn about Buddhism and also to understand how Secular Buddhism differs from other Forms of Buddhism.

That podcast began out of a very common experience: while there are many different Forms of Buddhism in the world today, the teachings and practice are finding new ways to connect with people in different personal, social, and cultural contexts. Heritage Buddhism has had hundreds, if not thousands of years to co-evolve with their communities, and is an embedded and beneficial aspect of cultural lives. But for some, this is not always the right fit for various reasons, including not being part of those cultures, or even if one was born into them, you may have different ideas about the world.

Can We Check This Out For Ourselves?

Within Buddhism is the idea of checking it out for yourself, or “Ehipassiko,” translated as “come and see.” Secular Buddhism allows for genuine exploration of teachings like Rebirth and is willing to suspend required adherence to literal interpretations. Questioning, “How do we know that’s true?” and “How might this help me grow and learn?” is welcomed and encouraged while at the same time, harmful or false questioning is avoided.

Collaborative Exploration, New Ways of Thinking

Secular Buddhism is not in antagonism to Heritage Buddhism, or against ritual, or any other ways in which people find the sasana to be of benefit to them and others. It’s acknowledging that not everyone is culturally Asian/Diasporic, and to suggest otherwise would itself be cultural appropriation. Instead, the Dhamma is doing what it has always done: touching lives as they are and making changes.

Buddhism is a huge topic with a lot of history. If you’re new to Buddhism, the amount of information out there can be overwhelming and confusing. To help you get started, this section covers some of the basics with links to more information:

Secular Learning and Practice for Living Mindfully

Some Secular Buddhists study the Pali and/or the Mahayana Canons (also referred to as the Suttas and/or Sutras). Also, there are good books out there by practitioners of other Forms of Buddhism. But in general, we agree the following Buddhist concepts are very important to understanding Buddhism in general and to Secular Buddhism in particular:

What Are the Four Noble Truths?

What Are the Three Marks of Existence?

What is the Eightfold Path?

As for Secular Buddhist practice, it varies little as compared to practices of other Forms of Buddhism (and yes, we can practice chanting meditations as well as other forms~!);

Ethical Behavior — Ethics is important in Buddhism, because without it we create harm for ourselves and others. Developing ethics is built into the Eightfold Path in several areas, and is talked about in many of the teachings. The Buddhist view is to see others with compassion, and do them no harm.

Directing Wholesome Intentions
The Ethics of Impermanence

Developing Mindfulness– In the Eightfold Path, mindfulness and concentration are both mentioned. Mindfulness and concentration are the tools to help you become more aware of how you operate in the world, how you affect others, and how your mind works. These skills are crucial to recognizing suffering and how to reduce if not eliminate suffering.

Meditation — Meditation is the practice where you develop mindfulness and concentration, practice loving kindness and self compassion, as well as bringing those skills into your daily life. Here are a few articles to help:

Basic Meditation Instructions
Guided Meditations
Weekly Practice
The Whiner’s Meditation Guide
Body Meditation

We also encourage you to read our FAQ and the articles below, as they can answer many questions that you may have about Secular Buddhism:

What is a Secular Buddhist, and What Do They Believe
The Four Foundations of Secular Buddhism
On the Path
Is Secular Buddhism Cherry-Picking?
What is Secular Buddhist Practice
How an Atheist Practices Secular Buddhism
Secular Humanism and Secular Buddhism
Who is the Ultimate Authority?
On Subtracting What You Don’t Like

Making It Real

There are several ways to get support for your practice. The obvious one might be find a local Buddhist community, but not everyone has such a community, and in-person Secular Buddhist communities are even harder to find. Please consider joining us for Practice Circle or [eSangha eSpañol] – our virtual communities where we get together at regular times for video chat (in English and Spanish respectively).

If you have questions about any of this, you are welcome to use the Contact page and let us know!