Interview with Winton Higgins on The Mindful Cranks podcast

February 14, 2020

Winton Higgins has made important contributions to the development of secular Buddhism through his numerous articles and dharma talks. He has been a Buddhist practitioner since 1987 and is a senior teacher for Sydney Insight Meditators and Secular Buddhism in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Winton is a member of the Tuwhiri Project editorial board. Set up in 2018, The Tuwhiri Project produces educational resources for secular dharma practitioners and communities, helping people find meaning in a difficult world.

Winton has a wide range of interests beyond meditation practice and secular Buddhism. He has written and taught on social democratic theory and practice, genocide studies (with special reference to the Holocaust) and standardization.

The Interview

Hosted by Ron Purser and David Forbes, The Mindful Cranks podcast broadly explores the cultural translation of Buddhism in the West, various facets of Buddhist modernism, and the mainstreaming of mindfulness in secular contexts. The podcast serves as a forum for voices that go beyond the dominant narratives which have been thus far uncritical of consumerism, medicalization, psychologization, corporatization and self-help approaches.

In this interview Winton talks with Ron Purser about several key topics.

First, he highlights the difference between what he calls ‘scientistic’ versus ‘interpretive’ approaches to secular Buddhism. The former approach, which is predominant in the U.S., is based on the notion that a dharma shorn of the rituals and supernatural deities of traditional Buddhism is a ‘science’ of the mind, closely allied with neuroscientific studies of the brain. In contrast, an interpretive approach to secular Buddhism emphasizes the secular dharma as a way of ethically living in the world based on how we interpret our experience, other beings, and the world around us. Such an approach abandons the effort to prove that Buddhist insights are metaphysical truths about the nature of the mind and the world. Rather, secular Buddhism is an effort to promote human flourishing at both an individual and collective level.

Like Purser and Forbes, Winton is critical of the tendency of Western Buddhists to focus on mindfulness meditation as a form of self-help and self-improvement. He strongly contends in the interview that the predominant approach to mindfulness leads to a type of ‘bystanderism’, a lack of political engagement.

At time when neoliberal economic and political policies have led to poverty and income inequality, as well as facilitated a process of climate change which will cause untold suffering and disasters for the most vulnerable people in the world, Winton asserts that we, as Buddhists, must reject ‘bystanderism’ and become caring dharmic citizens, politically engaged in the struggles to create a just and sustainable society.

To listen to the interview, go to



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