An interview with Stephen Batchelor on secular dharma

In this interview, conducted 21 June 2022, Stephen Batchelor discussed the historical antecedents and development of secular Buddhism, the divergent ‘core logics’ of traditional and secular Buddhism, and the need to create a new Mindfulness Based Human Flourishing program.

A video recording and the text of the interview – edited for conciseness and clarity – are provided below.

SBN Editor Mike Slott and Stephen Batchelor

Here is Stephen’s view of why a secular approach to the dharma has been opposed so strongly by some traditional Buddhists:

I think the root of the problem lies in the fact that secular Buddhism, as I’m developing it operates according to a different operating system, a different core logic. And once you accept and understand how that core logic differs, then you begin to realize that traditional Buddhism operates according to a different kind of core logic that sends it off effectively towards the goal of some kind of transcendence. In other words, in traditional Buddhism we start with suffering, that all human life is suffering. Then, we have the causes of suffering: craving and ignorance. You then get rid of the causes of suffering, craving, and ignorance; this means you get rid of suffering, which means you’re not born again. And everybody lives eternally, forever after.

…If we turn the core logic from one that is a logic of transcendence about ending suffering to a secular approach, I would argue this logic operates according to a logic of care. So, in other words, rather than having as your goal the elimination of suffering, the ending of suffering, it has as its goal the embracing of suffering, the responding to suffering. Not in some abstract sense but caring for and responding to specific instances of suffering that occur in your own felt life, in your own personal life, in your social life, and your political life. In other words, the suffering that is instantiated in human and animal and other experiences on planet Earth right now.

So, the core logic of secular dharma is one that starts with the embracing of suffering, which leads to a different relationship to life in which you begin to question your habitual, reactive patterns of greed and hatred, letting that die down, opening up a space in which you can be more nonreactive. And from that nonreactive space, responding to the specific situations of suffering, from the most personal to the most global. We’re learning, therefore, to cultivate a way of life both individually and in terms of a community, a sangha, that is supporting each other in that practice. Now, if I’m correct here, then I think, effectively, these two approaches are incompatible; they simply do not marry very well at all.

And that leads me more and more to realizing that a secular dharma may very well end up decoupling itself from traditional Buddhism and perhaps dropping the word Buddhist altogether. There are certain disadvantages to that, namely that we don’t have that immediate name recognition that the word Buddhist grants us even though we may not go along with a lot of Buddhist ideas. And it kind of puts you out into a new field that is clearly rooted historically in the Buddhist traditions, but no longer seems to be playing the same language game, as Wittgenstein would have put it. And it’s opening up the possibility of generating a form of thinking, a form of practice, a form of ethics, a form of social and political engagement that is premised on a different set of assumptions from traditional Buddhism. So, I think the reason people get deeply irritated by what I’m doing even if they don’t understand the underpinning logic is that they can sort of feel and sense that this is a different kind of beast. Secular Buddhism is a different kind of animal; it doesn’t behave and react in the way that Buddhist animals normally do. It does other stuff, which we don’t really quite understand and which sometimes doesn’t make sense; and seems to be rejecting extraordinarily central, common positions that the Buddhist community has held for hundreds of years, like dispensing with the Four Noble Truths, which is the key example of the logic of transcendence that secular Buddhism is departing from.

Interview with Stephen Batchelor

SBN Editor: I’m here today with Stephen Batchelor who is a translator, teacher, artist and writer; and the most prominent developer and advocate of a secular approach to the dharma. His books include Buddhism Without Beliefs, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, After Buddhism, and Secular Buddhism; and his most recent publication, was the Art of Solitude. Stephen is a co-founder of Bodhi College, which provides online and in person courses which focus on the exploration of early Buddhist teachings, which are the basis of many contemporary forms of practice today, including mindfulness and vipassana.

Stephen, thank you very much for joining with me today. You’ve seen the whole development of a secular approach to dharma; you were the person who began to think in those terms and began to develop this kind of approach. And it’s now probably over 20 years since the notion of a secular approach has become prominent. What’s your sense of the development, the history, of secular Buddhism?

Stephen Batchelor: Well, thank you very much, Mike, for inviting me to this conversation. The question as to the origins and the history of secular Buddhism is very long and very short on the other. On the one hand, in terms of the short version you just gave, it’s a term that’s been around for maybe 20 years, if that. But I think we have to return also to the beginnings of this tradition, where we have Gotama, the Buddha, laying out a vision for the kind of community that he envisaged. And that was a community that he thought of as a fourfold assembly in which monastics and lay people would have equivalent roles. He doesn’t set out a community where we have religious professionals on the one hand, and then we have their lay supporters who provide for them and finance their operations. We have a much more inclusive and egalitarian kind of community that’s envisaged.

Over the course of history, in early Indian Buddhist history, particularly, we see that vision fading from view and we find Buddhism evolving into another Indian religion, with the same goals as Brahmanism and Jainism, which were the two major traditions with which it found itself. They sought as the goal of practice the liberation from the cycle of birth and death, the attainment of some eternal nirvana, and effectively a move away from the concerns of this world, to the concerns of transcendence, of going beyond life on Earth and aspiring for something greater.

Now, throughout the history of Buddhism from then on, we do get periodically movements that resisted this tendency; the most famous one, of course, being the emergence of Mahayana Buddhism, which sought to shift the emphasis back towards compassion, concern for the suffering of others, and the bodhisattva vow, which continues to this day to be very inspirational elements within all forms of Buddhism. But nonetheless, the Mahayana movement did not significantly challenge the religious status quo; on the one hand, with monks and lay people quite separated, nor did it really challenge some of the assumptions that have become built into Buddhism of that time, namely, that the goal of the eightfold path is to attain nirvana and no longer to be born. The difference being that in the Mahayana the bodhisattva works for all beings to be liberated from birth and death, to attain nirvana before that person will attain nirvana themselves. In other words, it leaves intact the idea that the highest good is not flourishing on this earth; the highest good is not being born at all.

Now, that model has remained largely in place up until today. However, there are movements, particularly in Japan, where the was a more explicit break with that religious model of Buddhism. We find figures like Shinran and Nichiren in 14th century Japan making a rather more radical break with many of the norms of religious Buddhism. Shinran leaves the monastic order, he goes to work with the poor in Kyoto, and founds what is now known as the Pure Land School, which is very much a movement dedicated to working in the world. And this is perhaps even more true with Nichiren, who founded the movements that carry still his name, and which in Japan, became extremely popular in the wake of the Second World War. Today, we now have an organization called the Soka Gakkai, which has cut itself off from the religious priesthood of the Nichiren school. In fact, it’s been evicted; it was kicked out of the Nichiren community of priests and is now actually offering what I think is in many ways the most visible form of secular Buddhism that we currently know. Its teachings have expanded across the world. And it has movements pretty much everywhere, particularly still very strong in Japan. But the Nichiren movement and the Pure Land movements have not moved in terms of their philosophy and their worldview really much beyond traditional Buddhist views; they still believe in reincarnation and rebirth and the general worldview of Buddhism.

So, the contemporary secular Buddhist movement – and perhaps we should highlight that as a contemporary movement that is not struggling with issues in 14th century Japan but is seeking to apply a Buddhist perspective to the issues of the 20th and the 21st centuries of a globalized modernity – finds itself, I think, with a much greater challenge. It’s not a question of just separating yourself from the monks; that’s relatively straightforward. When we look at the vipassana communities that are flourishing all over the place, relatively few of them are run by monastics. Monasticism has not really taken off yet in the West to any significant degree. But what we do find, I think, in modernity is a much greater skepticism amongst the broad community of those who are drawn to Buddhist ideals and practices about the elements of the underlying worldview. In other words, reincarnation, the law of karma, different realms of existence; this is all very much a legacy of ancient Indian cosmology and does not really make a great deal of sense to many people who live in our world today. In addition to that, we have a scientific worldview that has emerged over the last couple of hundred years which has cast in a very compelling light a view of human evolution, the evolution of life through natural selection, and an enormously expanded notion of our place in the cosmos that really renders a lot of the standard Buddhist tropes about the meaning of life as somewhat questionable.

So, the secular Buddhism of our time, which I think both you and I are committed to, is one that’s actually calling upon the need to go back to the very beginnings of the dharma, and perhaps to start again. It’s for this reason that, although we’re a long way away from the fifth century BC, I do find that by going back to that period and uncovering the historical Buddha as far as we can and trying to identify what were his key ideas that were not derivative of Indian culture, we have a fairly solid core of values, ideas, philosophies, and practices that we can turn quite easily into a thoroughgoing secularity, a secular perspective that can inform a Buddhism, a dharma of our time. To what extent we should continue calling this Buddhism is questionable. Secular dharma, as I almost prefer now, doesn’t have a great deal in common in many respects with what most people understand as Buddhism. And Buddhism, in many ways, still perpetuates a certain view of the world that secular dharma has left behind.

 

SBN: You know, as you’ve developed this approach, and others have worked with you on this, there’s been a fairly significant pushback from folks who support a more traditional, religious version of Buddhism. Of course, you’ve had a number of dialogues and debates with representatives of that perspective. How do you see that evolving, that dialogue between those who support a secular approach and more traditional Buddhism? Has it changed much since you began to present those ideas or has it gotten more intense? There was a recent book that came out called Secularizing Buddhism by Shambala Publications, which had a pretty negative perspective on your views and on secular Buddhism; in some ways, it was very much a distortion of what secular dharma is trying to accomplish and its perspective. So, what’s your sense of this? Do you see the opposition getting stronger? And how do you relate to it personally?

SB: Well, again, as you might expect, I’m very curious as to how the traditional Buddhist world are receiving some of these new ideas. And you’re quite right in pointing out that there are many spokespeople of those traditions who are really quite disturbed and irritated by this secular approach. In the book you mentioned, there is an essay by a man called Philippe Turenne, which is purportedly a conversation with Stephen Batchelor’s secular Buddhism. And one of the things that he tries to answer is why do the writings of Stephen Batchelor lead to people becoming extremely irritated. And he doesn’t really have an answer to that, although he does explore it, I think, in in some ways quite well. But for me, the person in question, it is very odd to think that, you know, I’m just sitting in my office writing my books and reading other people’s books and trying to meditate a bit and be a good person. And yet, there’s some group of people out in some Buddhist center in Nepal who are getting extremely irritated about something I might have written 10 years ago for all I know. So, what is it that’s being irritated? What is it that people don’t like? What is it that prompts the knee jerk negative reaction that is so widespread? I think some of the people who best understand what I’m doing are those who like it the least. And so, people like Bhikkhu Bodhi and others who are very, very accomplished and learned Buddhist scholars; they can see what’s going on probably a lot better than others who may not have that sort of background but who just find that what I’m saying contradicts with what their own teacher may have said. I think the root of the problem lies in the fact that secular Buddhism, as I’m developing it operates according to a different operating system, a different core logic. And once you accept and understand how that core logic differs, then you begin to realize that traditional Buddhism operates according to a different kind of core logic that sends it off effectively towards the goal of some kind of transcendence. In other words, in traditional Buddhism we start with suffering, that all human life is suffering. Then, we have the causes of suffering: craving and ignorance. You then get rid of the causes of suffering, craving, and ignorance; this means you get rid of suffering, which means you’re not born again. And everybody lives eternally, forever after.

That is a view of the world that is underpinned by a certain core way of thinking about what you’re doing. Now, probably the vast majority of people who practice mindfulness and go to Buddhist centers and so on, don’t actually think of those things a great deal. These are really ideas that are the preserve of what in Christianity would be called theologians. And I think of myself as a kind of Buddhist theologian; I’m fascinated with the core logic that defines and underpins the whole way in which your scheme of beliefs and practices makes sense to you. If we turn the core logic from one that is a logic of transcendence about ending suffering to a secular approach, I would argue this logic operates according to a logic of care. So, in other words, rather than having as your goal the elimination of suffering, the ending of suffering, it has as its goal the embracing of suffering, the responding to suffering. Not in some abstract sense but caring for and responding to specific instances of suffering that occur in your own felt life, in your own personal life, in your social life, and your political life. In other words, the suffering that is instantiated in human and animal and other experiences on planet Earth right now.

So, the core logic of secular dharma is one that starts with the embracing of suffering, which leads to a different relationship to life in which you begin to question your habitual, reactive patterns of greed and hatred, letting that die down, opening up a space in which you can be more nonreactive. And from that nonreactive space, responding to the specific situations of suffering, from the most personal to the most global. We’re learning, therefore, to cultivate a way of life both individually and in terms of a community, a sangha, that is supporting each other in that practice. Now, if I’m correct here, then I think, effectively, these two approaches are incompatible; they simply do not marry very well at all.

And that leads me more and more to realizing that a secular dharma may very well end up decoupling itself from traditional Buddhism and perhaps dropping the word Buddhist altogether. There are certain disadvantages to that, namely that we don’t have that immediate name recognition that the word Buddhist grants us even though we may not go along with a lot of Buddhist ideas. And it kind of puts you out into a new field that is clearly rooted historically in the Buddhist traditions, but no longer seems to be playing the same language game, as Wittgenstein would have put it. And it’s opening up the possibility of generating a form of thinking, a form of practice, a form of ethics, a form of social and political engagement that is premised on a different set of assumptions from traditional Buddhism. So, I think the reason people get deeply irritated by what I’m doing even if they don’t understand the underpinning logic is that they can sort of feel and sense that this is a different kind of beast. Secular Buddhism is a different kind of animal; it doesn’t behave and react in the way that Buddhist animals normally do. It does other stuff, which we don’t really quite understand and which sometimes doesn’t make sense; and seems to be rejecting extraordinarily central, common positions that the Buddhist community has held for hundreds of years, like dispensing with the Four Noble Truths, which is the key example of the logic of transcendence that secular Buddhism is departing from.

 

SBN: I think that’s very true. And I think that these issues, of course, are never just matters of rationality and intellect; there’s also always a deep emotional attachment to these core logics. The approach that you’re describing, this new operating system, is in a fundamental conflict with what, for many people, are deeply held attachments and connections with certain beliefs, such as nirvana and karma. So, it becomes for many people a kind of existential conflict.

I want to get back to what you mentioned before – the notion of care – which is a crucial concept for a secular approach to the dharma. We’ve got so many tremendous problems in the world: the climate crisis, social inequality, etc. Not to ask you for a blueprint for solving these problems, but just in general, how do you see a secular approach to dharma contributing to facilitating a wiser response to these issues? How do you see secular Buddhists or secular dharma practitioners making a fruitful contribution to solving these problems?

SB: Well, as you say, this is a huge issue, and I’m not going to do anything but scratch the surface on it, and maybe just float a few suggestions. But I think the starting point really is to acknowledge that secular dharma is concerned exclusively with the fate of life on this particular planet, and nothing else. It is agnostic, really, as to what happens after death. But being agnostic doesn’t mean you’re equally balanced as to there being life after death or not. No, I think we have to take into account of what we understand of our neurobiology, of the structure of the brain in the evolution of the person as a social creature, to realize that it is very, very unlikely that I’ll be reborn in any meaningful sense. But that doesn’t mean, of course, the consequences of my actions now do not have consequences on generations who will come to live in this place and in the world after my death. So, there’s no problem at all. And this is one of the criticisms you get if you don’t believe in the continuity of life after death. What will be the basis for your ethics and so on? I don’t really find that at all compelling because whether or not you continue as a reincarnating entity, the consequences of your acts clearly will.

And we can see this now particularly in terms of climate change. The consequences of our economic and political behavior at present are laying the foundations for disasters and maybe even a premature extinction of the human race within the next 100 years or so. Some of the projections now are bringing this cataclysm even closer to us in terms of time, but let’s say in the next 100 years or so. So, in other words, we now are in a position where I think we have a much clearer sense of what our actions as individuals and as communities are liable to inflict on those who come to live here after our death. And so, by envisaging a form of dharma that puts its attention fairly and squarely on this life, this world – the kinds of creatures that over millions of years have evolved on this planet and whose existences are now under threat – that I think provides an even more powerful frame for a practice of life that values wisdom and compassion and tolerance and care, these virtues that we find in Buddhism. It has, I think, the additional advantage of not being premised on a belief that I will be lucky and I will be reborn in a future life . But this is actually founded on the broad consensus of scientific opinion over the last 50 years.

We, likewise, are increasingly made aware of the extraordinarily destructive consequences of war. We see a war now raging not far from where I’m speaking, in France. And we can see very clearly the knock-on effects environmentally, economically in terms of food access, and so forth. So, we don’t need, as perhaps ancient India and other cultures needed, some sort of bigger picture that requires many lifetimes in which to somehow give our practice here and now some weight. We have, I think, ample evidence now of what we’re doing to the world that I think can sustain a deep and committed practice to the dharma.

But I also think it does require that we do seriously learn how to rethink our practice of the dharma. And that requires, in some cases, unlearning what Buddhism has taught you. In my own case, I spent 10 years – all the whole period of my life during my 20s – as a monk, studying the different forms of Buddhism. And I think it took me another 20 years at least to begin to decondition myself from that way of thinking. Because people are taught Buddhism in perfectly good faith by entirely honorable teachers, who are not seeking to pull the wool over their eyes or mislead them, but are genuinely motivated by concern and compassion. And we often take on board those ideas at moments of great crisis and vulnerability in ourselves. So, it’s not surprising that we become attached to some of these ideas, some of which settle within inside us almost at a level that is unconscious or subconscious in some way. So, we’re not even aware that we’re thinking in that way. It just seems natural; it seems a matter of course.

And also, of course, we need to recognize that people are drawn to Buddhism, for many, many different reasons. And probably relatively few people are drawn to Buddhism because of an interest in Buddhist philosophy. The chances are Buddhism meets emotional needs; they might be to do with learning to find a greater sense of peace and acceptance psychologically within yourself. They apply also to social needs, to feel part of a community, to feel part of a body of people who are committed to the same values. And it’s not easy to somehow just let all that go. And so, although you might not agree with a lot of the doctrines, you might struggle with the idea of reincarnation, in the end – the strength of the community, the friendships, the meditation practices, the retreats – all of these things outweigh in significance your philosophical worries. And a lot of traditional Buddhist teachers will say, ‘Well, if you have difficulty with this idea, don’t worry about it’. But the problem with that is that you are still reinforcing and strengthening a particular worldview of which you may not actually be terribly conscious simply by your participation in these traditional forms of the Buddhist religion. So, people are sometimes reluctant to leave that all behind and embrace a secular dharma that doesn’t provide you with gorgeous temples and rituals and large communities. But is rather a solitary affair that largely exists online, in discussions such as this. So, it’s always rather uncomfortable and even a little scary sometimes to leave behind the consolations of religion and embark on a path where you’re kind of on your own more; you’re with a relatively small group of people who think in the same way. And you may not actually really quite get why these philosophical issues matter. People will think – Well, four noble truths, four tasks, they’re just different ways of saying the same thing. I’ve heard that quite a lot too.  Why make a fuss about all that? Why bother rethinking the whole of Buddhism when on most levels, the old model works perfectly well?

 

SBN: To follow up on that, the groups of people who are mostly online and who are interested in a secular approach to the dharma are having to create this movement without institutions and existing structures. And I think that is difficult; it certainly provides less assurance about what we’re doing. But in some ways, I find that to be more exciting, more positive, because we are actually creating it together. It’s not clear where this leads; as you say, maybe it means decoupling from Buddhism. Or how does a secular dharma connect with other perspectives, psychology, politics and so forth? In terms of your sense of how the secular dharma is evolving at this point, would you like to see it take on a more institutional role? Or do you think where it is now is where it needs to be, at least for the near future?

SB: Well, there’s nothing much I can really do about it. I’m fully aware that I don’t have the set of skills needed to set up a big Buddhist movement or organization. And I’m in awe, frankly, of those Buddhist teachers who seem to do this quite effortlessly. I just don’t have that, I’m afraid. So, it’s not really something that really crosses my mind, added to the fact that I’ve always found any involvement in Buddhist institutions something that in the end I’ve started rebelling against. There’s a reluctance to somehow move towards institutionalization, which means, you know, making certain things more normative, defining yourself perhaps more and more in contrast to others, and becoming a little bit more self-standing, independent. Then you have all of the brick-and-mortar problems of owning property and everything that comes in the wake of that. Now, of course, that might happen at some point. I have no idea. If I think of someone like Nichiren, he’s someone who basically at the end of his life was living in a little hut with a few followers, nothing much going on. And it took another 600 years before his teachings suddenly burst onto the scene. And one should perhaps try to think in those terms as well. My own work I really see as just following through everything I’ve been studying and thinking about over the last 50 years and trying to sort of articulate it in a way that addresses the concerns of our time. And that’s my job, I feel, as a writer and a thinker. But it’s really not my business to consider how that’s going to find some form in a society. I’m quite happy with the way things are moving along in their slightly slow and muddled way. Certainly, in the last 10 or so years, there’s been quite an expansion of people who formally belong to different secular Buddhist networks.

Also, another thing that I’m experimenting with and exploring now is to develop a more systematic training program, which I’m calling Mindfulness Based Human Flourishing. And in October, with the Buddha Stiftung in Germany, I’m going to offer four consecutive weekends to explore what that might look like. And maybe that will form a model that will be somewhere between secular dharma and traditional Buddhism, and the mindfulness community as well. That might enable another way of practicing and thinking about this material to evolve. I honestly don’t know; we will wait and see what happens from that. But I do have a very strong, intuitive conviction that this is the way to go. I feel very confident in that. But apart from that, I don’t really know.

I recently spoke with my mentor and friend, Don Cupitt, the Anglican theologian whose work mirrors mine in many ways; I should say, my work mirrors his really. Don once told me that he, too, didn’t have organizational skills and could not possibly have done something like Luther did, which was to rethink Christian doctrine, to translate the Bible and to establish a church. That’s really quite mind boggling how a single person can pull that off. But at the same time, Don, when I spoke to him just a few weeks ago – he’s now 89 – he was saying, ‘You know, I don’t think that in our lifetime, people will really come in large numbers to these ideas’. It’s something he feels that will perhaps grow over the next generation or two, I frankly, don’t know. When I look at Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work, he probably didn’t think in the early 1980s that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction would somehow become a global phenomenon. So, we really cannot tell how these things will unfold. All I think that I can do, and maybe the few of us who are committed to this path can do, is to pursue our convictions and our faith, as it were, full heartedly, with as much energy and time as we can dedicate to them; and leave behind us as much as we can possibly do that might make a difference in the lives of those who live on after we have gone.

 

SBN: You mentioned, Mindfulness Based Human Flourishing; as you say, you’re going to be doing a four-part workshop for Buddha Stiftung in October. Do you see that as in some ways an alternative to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programs? Because I think it’s a wonderful idea; it’s mindfulness, but it’s going to have obviously an ethical component, it’s going to have a philosophical component. One of the critiques of the MBSR programs is that that they lack that to some extent. Did you come up with this as an alternative to MBSR? Can you tell us a little more about this?

SB: I don’t see it as an alternative either to MBSR or to MBCT, or to the other mindfulness-based interventions that are continuously emerging. I think of it as perhaps the next step that could be taken. And on the other hand, I’m very clearly conscious that I wanted to take this mindfulness- based living out of a medicalized framework. MBSR and MBCT are both basically forms of medical intervention at the outset. And yet, as we know, people initially do them for medical reasons and end up finding that this actually affords them another perspective on their whole lives. That mindfulness is not only useful just to deal with anxiety attacks but to deal with most things. So, for some, maybe a small percentage, it opens the door to something else. But as of now, there’s really nowhere else to go. Some of these people end up in Buddhist centers and are often not particularly happy with that; they don’t really find what they’re looking for. They find another religion, but they don’t really want to become Buddhists or join another religious organization. So, I think of Mindfulness Based Human Flourishing as the next step for people who have arrived at these Buddhist practices through MBSR. But also, I think of it as a free-standing project, a free-standing approach, that would not require any previous forms of mindfulness-based practices. Perhaps it would be something that would be a helpful way for people who are frustrated by the Buddhist practice to shift to something more secular. But the problem is Mike, I came up with the idea, I thought – this sounds like a good idea. And now I’ve got to figure out what it means. Well, not say much what it means, but how you can apply it.

 

SBN: I was just going to say that I’ve noticed with the groups that have formed around the Secular Buddhist Network – our discussion groups, our meditation group – that there’s a fair number of people who do come from MBSR programs and are looking for something more and are a little put off by traditional versions of Buddhism. And I think, that is what’s really promising about this Mindfulness Based Human Flourishing program. Maybe this program is something that those of us who are interested in secular dharma can work with you on developing.

SB: Oh, well, funnily enough, that’s been my current thinking, too. I would take it even a little bit further; I’m thinking of running these four workshops as basically a kind of invitation to the participants to develop such a program of Mindfulness Based Human Flourishing, not to think of it as another project for me to do much more about. I just like to, in a way, start a ball rolling. And if the community, the secular Buddhist community, could come together around this idea and further develop it in different ways, that would be the ideal outcome. In other words, the community would take it forward rather than one person.

SBN: I think you would find a lot of people who would be interested in doing that.

SB: I have a funny feeling that that’s true, too. And I’ll certainly in the course be inviting the participants to get involved if they would like to develop this further, and not wait for someone to think it out for them.

 

SBN: So, Stephen, it’s been wonderful to talk to you today. And thank you so much for offering your views on the secular dharma. And also some of the things you said in the beginning about the history, the antecedents of secular Buddhism. So, I think unless you want to say anything more, I think we’re done for today.

SB: I have nothing more really to add, Mike. It’s been a great pleasure talking to you. And I hope this conversation reaches others and they may find something of value in it too. And again, I’m really very touched by the way that the Secular Buddhist Network has developed and how you keep it as a living thing. Its website is a very active one. There’s a lot of input coming in and stuff being shared. So, this is all good.


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4 Replies to “An interview with Stephen Batchelor on secular dharma”

Ric Streatfield

Greetings Stephen and Mike
If you are looking for an “-ism” to call what you are proposing my suggestion is, let’s call it ‘Buddhism’. It has the original ‘core logic’ the Buddha himself uses in explaining Dependent co-Arising (DcoA) in step-by-step rational, logical sequence to his assistant Ananda in the paticca samuppada. Please let’s discuss this before we ‘throw in the towel’ to the ‘Hindu-ised’, samsara based, cyclical version of DcoA that seems to have been used for the last couple of thousand years. The Buddha’s original version is linear, and describes how bad behaviours (and of course good ones as well) are developed, as an example in a man and a woman, and then passed on generation to generation to their offspring. This is so simple and clear that it must have taken a frustrated, celibate male scholar monk in the humid heat of SE Asia to twist it into a cycle. This, the Buddha’s own version of DcoA, is completely compatible with modern day science. Please let’s talk about this. DcoA understanding can help us understand the origins of our present day problems. Understanding and acceptance of the origins of our problems (that is, the first two Tasks) then lead on to how we might mitigate them.
This is exciting stuff…..even for an 80 year old like me!
Ric

Trish Hawkins

Hi Mike,

Thank you for the conversation with Stephen Batchelor, new ideas on the horizon for secular practitioners.
Kind regards,
Trish Hawkins.

luis del val

Wonderful Stephen. I think this approach of the Dharma opens many doors for living as a human being in this precious planet.
Thank you very much.
Luis

Thanks to you both, Stephen and Mike, for this stimulating conversation. So many useful ideas for us to consider, and to assume responsibility for developing further, as we participate in Secular Buddhism’s ongoing evolution.

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