by Richard Winter
Richard Winter was for many years professor of education at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK. For more than twenty years, he has studied and practised Buddhism and meditation at the Cambridge Buddhist Centre, and he currently teaches meditation at the Buddhist Centre for students of the Cambridge University of the Third Age. His 2011 book Power, Freedom, Compassion explored the intersection of Marxism, Buddhism, and politics. His website, giving further details and publications, is www.richardwinter.net.
The title of my recently published book, Don’t Expect a Standing Ovation, is the last of fifty-nine ‘slogans’ (mottos or maxims) that make up a set of ancient Tibetan teachings on ‘Mind-Training’ (or in other words: meditation). When I first came across them, I enjoyed their pithy, down-to-earth irony. (Other nice ones are ‘Don’t Act with a Twist’ and ‘Don’t Wait in Ambush’.) They seemed to offer a practical and quite contemporary perspective on problems of everyday interaction and ethical decision-making, both the finest details and the most general principles – from ‘How shall I respond to this situation now?’ to ‘How shall I lead my life?’ And the slogan format enables us to meditate on the teachings using an individualised, ‘random’ method to select a different focus each day, once the basic principles have been established.
This really appealed to me, as a life-long teacher. This, I thought, could be a genuinely learner-centred approach to Buddhist meditation, and also an approach that would help to continually invigorate our daily meditation practice with a reminder of a fresh ‘angle’. Appreciating the benefits of meditation for myself over twenty-five years, this seemed an excitingly valuable project.
So, I set about re-presenting the slogans. I compared a number of different translations, noting that they all assumed the reader would have some level of commitment to traditional Buddhism. I then re-wrote the teachings in a style that would seem familiar and accessible not just for ‘Buddhists’ but for any of us who, irrespective of systems of belief or cultural allegiances, are open to the appeal of Buddhist-inspired meditation practice, as a resource for trying to flourish in a difficult world.
The Buddhist teachings create a subtle and challenging synthesis of philosophy, psychology, and ethics. Their principles illuminate our understanding, but always in such a way as to guide our practical actions – with regard to the general nature of our experience and the precise nature of our responsibilities to ourselves and to others. In this sense they do not constitute a Buddhist ‘religion’ but anticipate the path towards what Trevor Ling, in his book The Buddha, calls a Buddhist ‘way of life’ or ‘civilization’ and what Stephen Batchelor calls a ‘culture of awakening’, and what we might simply call Secular Buddhism.