Born in Ireland, U Dhammaloka was one of the first Europeans to become a Buddhist monk. Rather than understanding Buddhism as a philosophical position, he focused on affirming Buddhism and critiquing Christianity as part of his anti-colonial activism.
In an interview for The Mindful Cranks podcast, Winton Higgins discusses different approaches to secular Buddhism, the tendency of Western Buddhists to focus on mindfulness meditation as a form of self-help and self-improvement, and the need for practitioners to become caring dharmic citizens, politically engaged in the struggles to create a just and sustainable society.
We need both the Buddha’s insights on the human condition and a non-deterministic, humanistic Marxism to create a ‘culture of awakening’ and just society in which all human beings have the opportunity to flourish. As each perspective has strengths and weaknesses, we need to bring these perspectives together in a complementary, mutually enriching way.
After many years of Soto Zen practice, John Danvers created a home for secular Buddhists by establishing the Exeter Meditation Circle in England in October 2016. The meetings of the group are simple and non-ritualistic, non-dogmatic and free of attachment to any particular teacher or tradition. Together, the group members are developing a secular Buddhist way of life that is of our time and place.
Counter to the stereotype that sees East and West as two distant worlds, with entirely different cultures and value systems, the Buddha and the ancient Greeks spoke a very similar language and provided us with wise insights that we can rediscover today for our secular practice.
I’m not questioning the wonders of critical thinking, but the reactivity and lack of awareness with which we engage in mental and communicative patterns. We listen to find fault, we exaggerate the positions of others, and we look for that one example which does not work so we can disagree or invalidate. What if discussions were not about arguing, refuting and convincing?
Meditative practice enables us to develop a more present, lucid and conscious connection with what surrounds us, in the precise moment and place where we find ourselves. Meditative practice does not take us beyond that present moment in its totality. If anything, it leads us deeper, to union with it.
Upcoming courses, workshops, and retreats led by Stephen Batchelor and other teachers which focus on issues essential to developing a secular dharma.
Secular Buddhism doesn’t need to be understood as a new ‘Buddhism’ but more as a different approach to practice. This approach starts from our perspective as modern people, and thanks to this lens, revises the meaning of the teachings of an ancient tradition so that they can speak to human beings today.
Stefano Bettera offers his reflections on the two year course on the Secular Dharma at Bodhi College and what the next steps are for the course participants. He asserts that it is the ‘creative, adaptable, non-dogmatic and unorthodox characteristic of the secular Dharma that is an opportunity’ for contributing to a culture in which awareness and compassion are predominant.