The South Wales (Cymru) Secular Dharma discussion group was started by myself and two other people in January 2022. We connected via the Secular Buddhist Network website’s local groups section. Since the group first formed, we have been meeting once a fortnight and have gained more members and managed to sustain regular online meetings. Below, the members of the group describe their experience of being part of this discussion group in their own words.
The thread that connected us was the vision of a democratic community/sangha as outlined in Stephen Batchelor’s book, After Buddhism. In this ‘Ten Theses of Secular Dharma’ Batchelor defines a democratic sangha in these terms: ‘The community of practitioners is formed of autonomous persons, who mutually support each other in the cultivation of their paths. In this network of like-minded individuals, members respect the equality of all members while honouring the specific knowledge and expertise each person brings.’
We were very pleased that others soon joined us at our fortnightly, hour-long meetings on Zoom and our membership has been a constant 7 to 9 people at each meeting. Here is how the meetings are structured:
- We rotate the host for the meetings.
- The host will choose an article, a chapter from a book or an audio and send it out to everyone before the meeting.
- We start our gathering with a short sit followed by a check in.
- The host then introduces the reading or audio and we have a discussion.
- At the end of the meeting, we have a short sit.
The enthusiasm and energy in the group is amazing and the attendance rate is probably the highest compared to any other group that I have been part of. A highlight was a lunch meet up in a vegan cafe in Cardiff in December last year, where most of the group were able to attend. It was fascinating to see each other as embodied beings!
For me, I appreciate the variety of the discussion papers, the meaning for the person that chose them, and how the rest of the group responds.
We are supportive of each other, and we have fun!
There’s an ease about the group that’s distinctive; it’s like hanging with old friends. Yes, we have a formula – a minute’s pause to begin, a round-the-zoom check in how we are and then an ad hoc discussion about an article. We stick strictly to one hour – no more. The timekeeping is liberating – I can do other things in the evening. You can say what you want – personal or linked to your spiritual journey or just comments on what’s been written. We rotate article selection. That’s a bit stressful for some people I think and when it’s been my turn I couldn’t decide where to pitch and chose one from Tricycle by a sommelier. It was an honest, open discussion. What was best was the absence of judgement. I felt I could have said I down a bottle a night and not be met with the ‘tut tut’ I’ve felt in other situations. I think maybe that’s because no one sets themselves up as the ‘expert’. We don’t really have a leader, though we do need Lorna to keep us on the path as to whose turn is next. It feels wholesome and real – I don’t get the sense we are ‘trying’ to be good or say the right thing; for me at least, I just speak from the hip and the heart and that feels worthwhile and nourishing.
I joined the Wales Secular Dharma group after years of wrestling with different traditional Buddhist practices. The opportunity to share people’s experiences of how they apply the principles of secular Buddhism to their everyday lives is both rewarding and enriching. Our democratic approach enables members to suggest specific articles and issues that are of importance to them and encourages multiple, often challenging discussions and perspectives to develop. These fortnightly on-line meetings provide a much-needed anchor during these stormy times!
It was with some trepidation that I submitted my first article for discussion into the WhatsApp group chat. As with so many things in my life, the stories that I had told myself did not actually manifest. My fears that the article would not be of a high enough quality or that it would not provoke enough discussion were unfounded.
The article that is submitted forms the basis of the discussion in each of the fortnightly discussions on zoom. We will quite often deviate from the article into many other fascinating avenues and explore many Buddhist concepts. This is the beauty of how our group works, the open-ended discussions that embrace not just elements of Buddhism but a myriad of other spiritual and wellbeing aspects of everyday life.
It is the link that the discussion has with everyday life that I find so beneficial and quite a contrast to the traditional approach to Buddhism that the previous group that I was part of favoured.
Since joining the Secular Dharma group of South Wales I feel like I have found a great fit for my views and approach to Buddhism. Coupled with the friendliness and approachability of all the group’s members I feel that my understanding of some of the key Buddhist concepts has been enhanced. I look forward to each and every meeting that we hold; and even though they are held virtually, I feel a real connection to all of the members. So, thank you to all members of the group for making me feel so welcome.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when contacting the nearest Secular Dharma group to find out when and where they meet up. It turned out that the group was not active at that time, but as a few other new people had coincidentally also reached out to the group contact to enquire at around the same time, a new secular Dharma group was born.
After having attended a number of different Buddhist meditation groups over the years, I found it refreshing to meet with other Buddhists who are interested in a secular practice and who choose to structure the group in ways that coincide with my own values of egalitarianism. Our group is discussion based. There is no guru, priest or leading authority in the group although we do recognise that the various members all have their own areas of life expertise and experience. Every two weeks a different person takes it in turn to offer an article for us to read and then they lead the discussion. To me it feels like a safe place where everyone has an equal voice and there is no hierarchy and no person who we are looking to for confirmation that our views are ‘authentic’ or ‘true’. There is room for different perspectives and viewpoints.
The topics vary widely and the conversation often goes off on tangents removed from the original article. As secular Buddhists, we tend to focus on practice in the day-to-day world that we live in rather than the metaphysical or obscure spiritual states.
It is likely that the group will change and evolve over time, but right now we have a consistent core of members who keep are keeping it going and are supporting each other on our collective paths.
My interest in Buddhism was first piqued after a friend invited me along to attend an in-person mindfulness workshop just over 10 years ago. I went on to do an 8-week mindfulness course (followed by another with a different provider and then their advanced follow on). These courses changed how I see the world, how I think, and how I related to people, my quality of life generally. They also compelled me to attain an MA in Buddhist studies.
When my studies were nearing an end, I wanted to stay in touch with the Dharma/the teachings, so I found a local Tibetan Buddhist group (part of the Awakened Heart Sangha). Although a fan of the Dalai Lama, I knew at the time that this was not a branch of Buddhism that really resonated with me. However, I was a part of it for about four years and really appreciate the connections I made and what I learned there. For me, its religiosity, including the devotional aspects with its many deities – the bells and whistles shall we say – never sat right and this led me, about a year or so ago, to the Secular Buddhist Network and the online secular group that I now attend fortnightly via zoom (with an alternate week short meditation option). Here there is no hierarchy or teacher as such, and we start each hour-long session with a short formless meditation. We follow this by taking it in turns to choose and talk about an article (shared before-hand) that appeals to our secular Buddhist leanings. There is no pressure to participate.
Currently, it is a small, intimate group, where even I, an introvert with performance anxiety, and a ‘lurker’ who really struggles with groups, feel comfortable and at ease. I really enjoy our discussions and it feels good to share with like-minded people. I am grateful to be a part of this group.
2 Replies to “A secular Dharma discussion group – perspectives from South Wales”
Hello, It’s good to hear about the existence of this group! I hope you might consider meeting face-to-face for a day or weekend retreat some time, in which case I’d be very glad to welcome you at Tirylan House in South Wales, which is set up for both Buddhist and non-Buddhist retreats: see https://tirylanhouse.org for more details.
Useful article, thanks. Have forwarded it to others.