On 9 February 2022 leaders and facilitators of secular Buddhist groups and sanghas from nine countries – the UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Austria, Germany, Japan, Australia, and the USA – met on Zoom to discuss their current projects, future goals, and how to strengthen collaboration.
The conversation was initiated by the Secular Buddhist Network and Buddha-Stiftung, our sister secular Buddhist organization in Germany.
After a welcome and introductions, Stephen Batchelor offered opening remarks to the 20 participants. Stephen reflected on how a secular approach to the dharma has evolved since he first self-identified as a secular Buddhist over 15 years ago. He discussed the relationship of a secular approach to traditional versions of Buddhism, the role of mindfulness and secularity, and whether the term ‘secular dharma’ is a better representation of this emerging trend than ‘secular Buddhism.’
Breakout groups focused on a wide variety of topics, reflecting the diversity of activities and projects among group members. While some participants are meditation and/or mindfulness teachers, others are involved in writing, facilitating sanghas, editing websites, and publishing secular dharma books.
Among the participants, there were also differences in terms of how individuals self-identify in relation to secular Buddhism For many of the participants, secular Buddhism or the secular dharma is their primary identity. On the other hand, some participants find great value in a secular approach, but identify more closely with a related perspective, such as Early Buddhism or the Middle Way philosophy.
There was a strong consensus that we need to develop closer connections as we explore and debate the role and meaning of a secular dharma. The importance of creating a sense of belonging and community is crucial, but we need to ensure that we are open to other perspectives as well.
Finally, the participants agreed that greater collaboration among secular Buddhist groups should be aimed at:
- Providing education about secular Buddhism
- Encouraging dialogue and debate among those interested in a secular approach to the dharma
- Facilitating the creation of local sanghas