by SBN Editor
Beginning 19 May 2021, four book launches were held to introduce Winton Higgins’s new book, Revamp: writings on secular Buddhism. The book is published by Tuwhiri and consists of a collection of essays on various topics related to secular Buddhism, including the historical roots of a secular approach to the dharma, its core ideas, the affinity between secular Buddhism and certain western perspectives (e.g. phenomenology and pragmatism), a secular approach to insight meditation, the role of democratic sanghas, and the need for secular Buddhists to engage in political action.
At each launch Winton took questions from the host and the audience. The launches were scheduled to allow people in different time zones to learn about the book. They were held:
For Aotearoa New Zealand – 19 May
Winton Higgins in conversation with Alex Carr
For Europe/Africa – 20 May
Winton Higgins in conversation with Stephen Batchelor
For USA and Canada – 25 May
Winton Higgins in conversation with Mike Slott
To view a recording of the book launch for the U.S. and Canada, click here. The password is #3SS$PUp
For Australia – 30 May
Winton Higgins in conversation with Lenorë Lambert
Winton on the difference between a conventional and secular approach to meditation
You have some pretty interesting articles discussing the need to move away from what you describe as a kind of formulaic vision of meditation, which has a specific, ultimate goal. You’re urging us to think about meditation very differently. Can you discuss how this relates to the comparison between a secular approach to meditation and more traditional versions?
Winton: Yes, well, practices coming out of Burma such as the Mahasi Sayadaw tradition, which focused on your primary or secondary object, mean that you’re supposed to do certain things and stay within certain bounds in your meditation practice. These practices were developed for inducting men into a celibate, monastic life. And it started to occur to me, first of all, of the importance of adopting a meditation practice which is going to refract our whole life experience. I think this is what meditation is for.
But to practice in the Mahasi tradition, for instance, meant that a lot of what came up in sits for most of us who were not celibate and living quite complex and variegated lives didn’t fit into the primary object, secondary object kind of model. And therefore was treated by our mentors as not meditation and ended up on the cutting room floor. And I guess Jason Siff’s contribution to this was to challenge that and say everything that happens, every experience you have when you sit down and meditate is meditative experience. It’s legit.
This is what we are working with in the real world and this is what we are also working with, in a distinct way, within our meditation sittings. So this opened up the possibility of, at least for us post-Theravadins, of going for non-formulaic ways of meditating. In other words, being completely open to whatever arises. And for Zen Buddhists interested in a secular approach, this was not new to them because they had a just sitting practice – Shikantaza – which is just to sit. And as Barry Magid put it in his wonderful book, Ending the Pursuit of Happiness, this was the idea of inviting the mind to display its contents. And this is what we were working with.
We were not trying to narrow our focus, but rather the energy, the commitment to the practice was to stay focused on whatever was arising. And that seems to be the basic message of the Satipatthana Sutta, which I’ve often described as like a concept map. In the old days when there were paper maps, if you went hiking, you had a big sheet of paper which showed you the entire terrain you’re going through. And then along came GPS and we got strip maps which just said you go here and then you go there and you have no reference points. You don’t know really what you’re doing. So to me, what the Satipatthana Sutta does is present a concept map of all the experiences that we can have in meditation. And a way of sorting them, a way of labeling them, and understanding how we move through this broad terrain of our inner experience.
For a more extended discussion of this topic by Winton, click here.
How to purchase the book….a free copy with a donation to SBN
Revamp is a publication of Tuwhiri, a publishing imprint initiated by secular dharma practitioners in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. The book can be purchased at Tuwhiri’s online store by clicking here.
A donation to help fund the Secular Buddhist Network website of $50 or more, or $5 per month, entitles you to a free copy of Revamp. Donate to SBN by clicking here.