Key elements of secular Buddhism – a framework

While all secular Buddhists share a skeptical view of the supernatural deities and processes of traditional Buddhism (e.g. rebirth), there is a wide range of views among secular Buddhists concerning various beliefs, perspectives and practices.

Even though there is no secular Buddhist orthodoxy, all secular Buddhists share a framework for a more mindful and compassionate life.

Awakening in the context in which we find ourselves, this framework is in essence a pragmatic programme for human flourishing that has no use for metaphysical beliefs and religious truth-claims. A secular dharma stands for a developmental direction that is typically Buddhist in its open-minded scepticism and its desire to let the dharma speak most effectively, that is in culturally available terms.

The Buddha as a historical person

Secular Buddhists understand Gotama, the man we know as the Buddha, to have been a human being who taught a way of living in the world which promotes human flourishing. A great teacher who lived an ethical life, he had no supernatural powers.

Retain the essential insights, jettison the cultural accretions

Gotama’s insights are crucial for promoting human flourishing and a just society. As his teachings were assimilated with Indian, Chinese and other Asian perspectives, those insights were transformed into an institutionalized, hierarchical and other-worldly religion. In this sense, secular Buddhism is what is left after the cultural accretions are removed from Gotama’s original insights, and this is the reason Stephen calls his 2015 book, After Buddhism: rethinking the dharma for a secular age.

A pragmatic, ethical path – not a set of truths

Rather than identifying a set of metaphysical “truths” about the world, Gotama provided us with tools and insights that when put into practice will enable us to live in an uncertain world skillfully, with compassion towards oneself and others.

Promoting a culture of awakening

Secular Buddhists value meditation practice and understand the need for transformation on an internal level. Just as importantly, though, secular Buddhists emphasize the importance of building democratic communities or sanghas to help promote human flourishing.


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2 Replies to “Key elements of secular Buddhism – a framework”

Deb Gilson

Much of what you say rings true for me.

Deb Gilson

Much of what you say rings true for me.

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