Secular Buddhism is concerned with the practice of Siddhattha Gotama’s Four Noble Truths in this world. It encourages a practical approach to the teaching using reflective human experience as a basis of judgement, and seeking to provide a framework for personal and social development within the cultural context of our time.
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Welcome to the Secular Buddhism in the UK website. The purpose of the site is to raise awareness of Secular Buddhist practice and how its development can have a real purpose in our secular society. It is hoped that a Secular Buddhist Community will grow in the UK as a result. Please have a browse around the site. If you have any comments let us know via the “Contact ” page. For futher information click “About“. Do visit our “Blog” which we hope you will find informative and “Forum” pages where ongoing discussions take place.
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Secular Buddhist practice
What would a secular Buddhist meditation practice be like? It would be non-dogmatic in the sense that it would be open to different techniques. What is important is not the technique of meditation but the two essential components that one cultivates when meditating: samatha and vipassana, concentration and inquiry. It is vital to notice that samatha and vipassana can refer to the cultivation of something and the effect of something.
Samatha can mean concentration and the result of cultivating it, calm. Vipassana means looking deeply but it is also translated as insight, the result of enquiring experientially. One can cultivate these two in so many ways in the different Buddhist traditions: through questioning in Zen, watching the breath in the Theravada tradition and reflecting on the stages of the path in Tibetan Buddhism.
I would hope that secular Buddhist teachers and practitioners would see that human beings are multi-perspectival, similar and different from each other at the same time and that no technique can fit everyone nor all the times. So hopefully a secular meditation practice would be multi-choice and adapt itself to different conditions that they be physical, mental, emotional, or relational.
At the same time it is essential to cultivate the three trainings of ethics, meditation and wisdom together. There is inner practice and outer practice. A secular Buddhist practice would put emphasis on both equally. Ethics is about how we relate to ourselves, others and the world. Compassion and empathy do not belong to one tradition more than another but it could be the basis of a secular Buddhist practice in the world with the world. Compassionate ethics is a challenge of every moment as it is not sacred nor based on rules and regulations coming from ancient times but a situational ethics, which respond to conditions as they arise and pass away.
A Secular Buddhism
The history of Buddhism is the history of its own ongoing interpretation and representation of itself. Each Buddhist tradition maintains that it alone possesses the “true” interpretation of the dharma, whereas all the other schools either fall short of this truth or have succumbed to “wrong views.” Today, from a historical-critical perspective, these kinds of claims appear strident and hollow. For we recognize that every historical form of Buddhism is contingent upon the wide array of particular and unique circumstances out of which it arose. The idea that one such school has somehow succeeded in preserving intact what the Buddha taught whereas all the others have failed is no longer credible. Whether we like it or not, Buddhism has become irrevocably plural. There exists no independent Buddhist judiciary that can pass judgment as to whose views are right and whose wrong.
In terms of my own theory of Buddhism 2.0, I need to be alert to the tendency of falling into the very trap that I am critiquing. The more I am seduced by the force of my own arguments, the more I am tempted to imagine that my secular version of Buddhism is what the Buddha originally taught, which the traditional schools have either lost sight of or distorted. This would be a mistake; for it is impossible to read the historical Buddha’s mind in order to know what he “really” meant or intended. At the same time, each generation has the right and duty to re-interpret the teachings that it has inherited. In doing so, we may discover meanings in these texts that speak lucidly to our own saeculum [“this age,” “this siècle (century),” “this generation.” ] but of which the original authors and their successors may have been unaware. As the term itself suggests, “Buddhism 2.0” contains a touch of irony. I take what I am saying with utmost seriousness, but I recognize that it too is as contingent and imperfect as any other interpretation of the dharma.
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Source: Journal of Global Buddhism, 13 (2012): 87-107