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January 4, 2015 full moon

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A Philosophical Assessment of Secular Buddhism

By Dale S. Wright

I can’t pretend that this lives up to a philosophical assessment of Secular Buddhism, so in honor of Stephen Batchelor’s leadership for this conference, let me just call this my “confession.” Everything about my own life would appear to align with a secular form of Buddhism–I could be the poster child of the movement. Although I’ve been existentially engaged with Buddhism for half a century, I’ve never at any point been able to:

  • Join a particular sect or lineage
  • Take vows
  • Wear medieval robes
  • Adopt an Asian name
  • Accept someone as my personal guru
  • Take an interest in future lives or parinirvāna
  • Or, due to a knee injury, even manage to sit in an appropriate Asian meditation posture

Talk about a “Buddhist failure!” The problem has been that whenever I’m tempted to do anything that looks traditionally Buddhist, I begin to feel like an imposter, someone posing as what he can’t possibly be. Yet even though all the surface signs of being a Buddhist are missing, I can’t help but conceive of myself as a Buddhist, a real Buddhist, albeit a contemporary American one. I’ve been meditating, studying Buddhism, and conceiving my life in Buddhist philosophical terms most of my life. And I grew up in a secular American family, so perhaps the advent of “secular Buddhism” saves me from a devastating form of identity confusion. Maybe this is my true sangha-finally.

Maybe, but something is missing for me, because if secular means “not religious” then my sense of impropriety returns. By any definition of religion that interests me, I am a religious person, or at least aspire to be. I can’t help but think that something important is lost if English speaking Buddhists make a particular point of identifying with secularity. Although a few secular Buddhists claim to see the religious element in secular Buddhism, secularity is so thoroughly identified in our culture with anti-religion that I don’t know how those connotations can be eclipsed. But perhaps the question is, should they be eclipsed, and to that my best answer is “I don’t think so.”

Click here to read more…

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December 6, 2014
Mapping the Mind
A presentation by Andrew Olendzki

November 6, 2014
Wise Attention
A conversation with Sayadaw U Jagara

October 8, 2014
Secular mindfulness: potential & pitfalls
By Jenny Wilks

September 8, 2014
Some (mostly secular) thoughts on Emptiness
By Gay Watson

August 10, 2014
Neuro-Bhavana: The Mindful Cultivation of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom
A video series with Rick Hanson

July 12, 2014
The Evolving Sangha
Talking with Jay Michaelson

June 13, 2014
Awareness of Thinking: Recollective Awareness Practice
Talking with Jason Siff

May 14, 2014
Jhāna Practice and True Happiness
Talking with Shaila Catherine

April 15, 2014
Natural Buddhism
By Gil Fronsdal

March 16, 2014
How is the Medium Changing the Message?
By Ken McLeod

February 14, 2014
Buddhist Roots & Ethics
Talking with Lynn Monteiro & Frank Musten

January 15, 2014
Silent Illumination
By Guo Gu

December 17, 2013
New Horizons: Talking with Andrew Olendzki

November 17, 2013
Not Knowing, Bearing Witness, & Compassionate Action
Robert Chodo Campbell and Koshin Paley Ellison

October 18, 2013
Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening
a conversation with Joseph Goldstein

September 19, 2013
MIT Meets the Monastery
a conversation with Rajesh Kashturirangan

August 20, 2013
Secular Buddhism: New vision or yet another of the myths it claims to cure?
By Akincano Weber

July 22, 2013
The Essence of Dhamma
By Ajaan Thanissaro

June 23, 2013
Seeing the Āsavas
By Gloria Taraniya Ambrosia

May 25, 2013
Meeting your thoughts at a resting place
By Jason Siff

April 25, 2013
New rivers, new rafts
By Chris Talbott

March 27, 2013
Wheels of Fire: The Buddha’s Radical Teaching on Process
By Kate Lila Wheeler

February 25, 2013
True & False: Dharma After the Western Enlightenment
Talking with Rita Gross

January 26, 2013
Honoring a Life & Legacy in the Dhamma
Talking with Mirka Knaster about Munindra

See Archive page for some older editions.