I was moved to write this book because I had so many people asking for it. Like me when I started my dharma exploration, newbies are often a bit overwhelmed by the dharma – how vast it is, the huge number of lists and ideas and teachings, the different ‘Buddhisms’ out there and where to start.
Of course, there are loads of great books around but I didn’t know any that were basic enough for new-comers AND secular in orientation. As part of the secular orientation, I include being palatable to the evidence-based thinker and not straying into ‘displaced divinities’. Examples of the latter are mistakenly speaking of Buddha Nature as if it’s ‘who we really are’ or referring to ‘the divine’ without ever defining what that is, or if they do, the definition wandering off into vague spiritual-speak. This can turn away people with a sceptical approach (in the positive sense) to new ideas.
The small selection of books that ARE secular tend to assume a basic knowledge of the dharma. Newcomers who don’t have this can easily get lost or feel like they’re drowning because they don’t have an overall architecture to help them retain and understand the ideas. I remember this feeling and the desire to get my arms around it more quickly so that I could ingest it and practice it more fully.
My secret super-power
On my very first retreat which was many years ago with Gregory Kramer, he called me ‘the curious one’ because I was so full of questions – which he did an excellent job of answering. Winton Higgins too, was for many years my go-to-for-answers man, filling in the gaps for me between retreats with various teachers, workshops, books, podcasts and sangha meetings. And importantly Stephen Batchelor, mostly through his books and podcasts but also on retreat, has also helped me understand and absorb it.
Years later as I began to teach the dharma myself, I found that I seemed to have a bit of a knack for helping newcomers do the same. Sangha participants who had an evidence-based mindset and a preference for practicality would express such enthusiastic gratitude for helping them understand or apply ideas that they’d been struggling with. And it was this experience that often ended in the newbies asking me to recommend a book for them….which I could never quite do wholeheartedly. So I wrote it.
I actually started writing it eight years ago!! In fact I finished the first draft about four years ago. But between work and my sporting commitments and then thinking I’d do a crowd-funding project to fund it, then realising that was another big project in itself, I’ve been knocked off track many times. Then someone would ask me for a book recommendation again and I’d get energised and go back to it.
The end product is called The Buddha for Modern Minds: A non-religious guide to the Buddha and his teachings. It has two parts.
Part One is called ‘An Orientation’ and it gives secular answers to the questions that often arise for newbies like: Who was the Buddha? What is the dharma about? Is Buddhism a religion? What are the different ‘schools’ of Buddhism? Do I have to believe in rebirth? Is the dharma anti-pleasure? Is the dharma just meditation or mindfulness? Does the dharma teach passivity? Is the dharma anti-passion? Do I need to find a teacher or go to an Asian country to learn the dharma? How do I start my own practice?….and more.
There are also some incidental ones like: is the Dalai Lama a Buddha? Why are some Buddha statues fat? 😊
Part Two of the book is a deeper dive into the Four Great Tasks as I call them (the orthodox Four Noble Truths). The focus here is on using our own cultural terms to understand and apply the core teachings.
By ‘our’ I mean Western cultures, for example I use characters like the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street, Davey Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and Gimli the dwarf from Lord of the Rings to demonstrate ideas.
I also integrate some relevant ideas from the field of psychology (my professional background) and share lots of examples of how to apply it using my own experience both in normal home and work life. I’ve also included some stories from my experience as an elite Masters athlete, as my dharma practice has been a huge part of a very fast trajectory to winning several Masters world titles and Australian Records as a hurdler.
My main hope for the book is that it’s a dharma door on the high street. That is, it’s aimed at those with little or no knowledge of the dharma, as an easily accessible way for them to approach it. Whether those people are agnostic, atheist or religious doesn’t matter because it follows Stephen Batchelor’s translations of suttas in the Pali canon which reveal the dharma as a recipe for flourishing in life. Metaphysical propositions are irrelevant to the practice so the reader’s stance on such matters is not a barrier.
I’ve also found though, that it’s a really helpful reference book for those who’ve been around the dharma-tracks for a while and want a quick way to refresh their memory on some of the key ideas and lists. I say ‘they’ but I also mean ‘me’ – I’ve found myself looking up my manuscript for refreshers on these things when I haven’t come across a concept for a while.
As a first-time author who has only been teaching the dharma for six years I have to admit to moments of self-doubt writing this – ‘who are YOU to be writing about THIS?’ asks the inner voice with a tone of disbelief. I have to admit that voice has helped knock me off track a few times. Lately I’ve just tried to see that voice as Mara and keep going.
I’ve also been really encouraged by the people who’ve read it so far. This includes several beta-readers (a service where people are paid to read your book and fill out answers to questions about the experience of reading it), some people from my sangha, and my editor who ended up giving me a discount because she enjoyed reading it so much and said she had already started using some of the ideas in her daily life. One of the beta-readers said the same thing.
To me this is the highest praise and was just the encouragement I needed to keep going through the tedious finishing-off process of self-publishing. I decided to self-publish because I didn’t want a publisher deciding to take it out of print if it wasn’t making them enough profit. If one person a year would benefit from reading it, I want it to be available! This does entail quite a bit of cost and hassle, so that encouragement was the boost I needed to help me see it through to the end.
In the end, my encouragement-tank was turbo-filled when Stephen Batchelor not only agreed to endorse the book (which he doesn’t do for every request that comes his way), but went through it and helped me fine tune a few translations of Pali words and clarify or correct a few little things. They might have been 11th hour fine-tunings but they were so helpful! I saw that as such a gift and it banished the voices of fear which seemed to be growing louder the closer I got to publication.
Getting it out there
My hope for the book is that it finds everyone who is ripe for benefitting from the dharma. So if there’s anyone in your life who’s expressed a bit of an interest in it but doesn’t know much, or has a bit of a sceptical mindset and would be wary of anything too ‘spiritual’ let alone religious, please do send them a link to it….or maybe even buy it for them!
If you’re part of a meditation group, it’d be great if you could let them know it exists.
I’d love it if you could help me help it find everyone who is ripe for a bit of dharma in their life but hasn’t quite found an approachable way in. It’s unlikely to find its way into book-shops, so if you could help me get it out there through your networks, that would be fabulous!
The book is now available in digital and print versions on Amazon.
Lenorë Lambert is an entrepreneur, athlete, and organisational psychologist. After a decade in the corporate world, letting the spiritual life lie fallow, she began attending meditation retreats, learning about the dharma through the Insight Meditation tradition, and implementing those teachings in her life.
In the almost two decades since then, Lenorë has run a meditation group on the northern beaches of Sydney, at which she is a regular teacher. She is also an elite Masters track and field athlete and competes at the international level. She has earned several world titles and Australian Records and as with all things, her sport is part of her dharma practice.