Jim Bronson connected with the Theravāda tradition and Insight meditation over 25 years ago, after the death of his first wife. As a scientist, he was attracted to the secular aspects of Theravāda and began to learn more about secular Buddhism. He finds inspiration in Stephen Batchelor’s view that ‘a secular Buddhist is one who is committed to the practice of the dharma for the sake of this world alone.’
SBN Editor: When you were younger, were you religious? Did you strongly identify with a particular spiritual tradition? If so, what was appealing to you about that tradition?
Jim Bronson: I have always thought of myself as a scientist – I got as far as a Master’s Degree in Physics and Geophysics, and worked in research for the University of Washington (Arctic Ocean Hydrography). So, no, I have never thought of myself as religious. I remember going to church with my grandma (Divine Science Church), but my parents were silent atheists.
SBN: So, how and why did you become interested in Buddhism? Did you join a sangha? Did you read books by Buddhist authors? What was the impact on you?
JB: I became interested in Buddhism in 1995 after the death of my first wife, Merrily. I joined a book group at the Insight Meditation Center (IMC) in Redwood City, California, – Gil Fronsdal was IMC’s guiding teacher. The book group was reading Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. Merrily had just died of breast cancer and my life was a shambles.
SBN: When and how did you learn about a secular approach to the Dharma? Why were you drawn to this approach?
JB: From the beginning, I was always interested in the secular teachings of the Theravāda, never the religious stuff.
SBN: What ideas and practices of a secular approach do you find most impactful in your life?
JB: Secular and Theravāda teachings. From Stephen Batchelor, I particularly like this statement from his 2015 book After Buddhism: rethinking the dharma for a secular age: ‘A secular Buddhist is one who is committed to the practice of the dharma for the sake of this world alone. The practice of the dharma consists of four tasks: to embrace suffering, to let go of reactivity, to behold the ceasing of reactivity, and to cultivate an integrated way of life.’
SBN: Do you find that secular Buddhism conflicts with other perspectives that you have? In short, has a secular Buddhist approach created any conflicts or tensions in how you think and act in the world?
SBN: What do your friends and family think about your interest in secular Buddhism?
JB: They think it is my business and don’t interact with me about it.
SBN: Do you have a regular meditation practice? How much is your practice influenced by secular Buddhism?
JB: Yes, I have a daily practice of Metta meditation and centering on presence.
SBN: Please describe your current involvement in secular Buddhist (and other Buddhist) activities.
JB: After being in a Stephen/Martine Batchelor course I facilitated a zoom gathering of Stephen’s former students for several years. I subscribe to Tricycle and attend IMC and Spirit Rock Meditation Center gatherings by zoom from time to time. I also participate in several of SBN’s groups.
SBN: How would you like to see secular Buddhism develop in the years ahead?
JB: My interest is in the dharma. I think secular dharma as a practice will grow slowly as humans wake up. I think the religious version (Secular Buddhism) will slowly disappear. Hopefully, there will never be a Secular Batchelorism. I have read that the Buddha at the end of his life counseled his followers ‘Behold, O monks, this is my last advice to you. All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation.’
If you are interested in sharing the story of your journey, we’d be happy to hear from you! Please contact Colette at firstname.lastname@example.org.