Tim grew up in a Christian household, but found a disconnect between his church’s teachings and how church members lived their lives. He was introduced to Buddhism over 20 years ago and learned about secular Buddhism in the course of his explorations. Colette Descent edited the interview for SBN.
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?
Tim Raine: I grew up in a Presbyterian household, and attended almost every Sunday with my family.
SBN: At what point did you find that tradition less appealing to you? Why?
TR: In my early teens, I became aware of how “Sunday Christians” didn’t seem to carry those principles into their daily lives, especially regarding how they treated others. Also, church seemed more and more like a social event.
SBN: Did you gravitate to Buddhism at that point?
TR: No. I found anything that smacked of religiosity to be repellent.
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?
TR: In 2000 I was a bachelor, and met a woman who would later become my second wife. After only a couple of months, she announced that she was giving up her lucrative career in real estate to get her MS in psychotherapy . . . at Naropa University – which I hadn’t heard of before. She sent me the syllabus for the course, and I began reading. Everything just made sense to me, so I read even more.
When she returned, I would occasionally join her for her daily meditation. We checked out a vipassana group locally, but found the Sunday morning sit time just too inconvenient.
In 2007 she was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an always-terminal brain cancer. Our mindfulness practice not only enabled us to weather that challenge with some equanimity, but also helped us to help family and friends to deal with it.
After her death in 2009, I really became immersed in studying (reading, listening, practicing) mindfulness and meditation.
SBN: When and how did you learn about a secular approach to the Dharma? Why were you drawn to this approach?
TR: I encountered Stephen Batchelor’s works in the course of my explorations, which led me to others such as John Peacock, Akincano Marc Weber, and Leigh Brasington. I appreciate their scholarship and explications of early Buddhism – before any religiosity was appended.
SBN: What ideas and practices of a secular approach do you find most impactful in your life?
TR: It seems to me that the buddha was teaching and existential approach to living in peace. All of the machinations around metaphysics and ontology are irrelevant in that framework.
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?
TR: Buddhism, especially the secular variety, doesn’t conflict with anything.
SBN: What do your friends and family think about your interest in secular Buddhism?
TR: They all have noticed ‘positive’ changes in the way I interact with others, so they are quite supportive, but don’t join in.
SB: Do you have a regular meditation practice? How much is your practice influenced by secular Buddhism?
TR: I have seven formal weekly sitting times with others (online Zoom), and I usually also sit for about an hour on days when nothing else is scheduled.
SBN: Please describe your current involvement in secular Buddhist (and other Buddhist) activities.
TR: I haven’t understood Buddhism as something to ‘be involved with.’ Practice is practice, on or off the cushion. I do find that sitting with others reinforces my practice, and I really enjoy exploring the Dharma.
SBN: How would you like to see secular Buddhism develop in the years ahead?
TR: As Buddhism has migrated, it has taken on the cultural trappings that pre-exited its arrival. However, most forms of Buddhism in the West are sustained by and support trappings of other cultures; Zen and Tibetan are particularly obvious examples, making uptake even more difficult for beginners. That said, it seems that many – maybe most – folks want that, and feel that it adds a desirable mystery.
I feel that a secular approach might be less conflictive culturally. Most of all, I feel that it must encourage practitioners to “become self-reliant in the practice of the dharma,” as Batchelor notes in closing the Fourfold Task.
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.