This is the first issue of Reimagining Community – the successor to ‘In This Moment’, the Aotearoa New Zealand secular Buddhist newsletter. It will go out monthly with news and updates from a brand new website at secularbuddhistnetwork.org. You can expect:
info on courses and retreats of interest to secular Buddhist practitioners
articles and reviews of new books on themes related to secular dharma
news on the activities of secular Buddhist communities worldwide, and
discussion of the key elements of secular dharma, including meditation practice, starting a local group, and social/political engagement by dharma practitioners.
We welcome your comments and feedback.
A new secular Buddhist website
The Secular Buddhist Network website is now live. Our intention is that this website is a hub in a global secular Buddhist network, helping to connect individuals and communities that are interested in developing a secular understanding and practice of the dharma. Let us know what you think of the new site.
In this online course, which begins November 4th, Martine and Stephen Batchelor provide a positive, constructive vision for a secular understanding of the dharma and meditation practice. The course will be addressed to committed Buddhists, mindfulness practitioners, and complete beginners alike.
Awakening is a meditative experience (thus also a process), however momentary, whereby the mind sees clearly into and is suffused by the two basic currents of conscious life: insight into conditionality, and nirvana.
It is an altered state of consciousness. Depending on its intensity and duration, an awakening experience can have a formative effect on the meditator, especially if repeated.
Because awakening constitutes the apex of dharma practice, it inspires the movement of dharma practitioners who together contribute to a culture of awakening in their sangha life and their wider engagement in the community as a whole.
In conventional ‘Buddhism’, by contrast, awakening is often called ‘enlightenment’ and stands for the achievement of perfection and an irreversible change of status into an ‘awakened (or enlightened) being’. Such a beyond-human being is supposedly completely free of the ‘taints’ of greed, hatred and delusion, and is considered to have gone beyond suffering.
The Tuwhiri Project and Secular Buddhist Network are co-sponsoring an online course to explore a secular dharma based on Stephen Batchelor’s, After Buddhism (Yale 2015), and Winton Higgins’ After Buddhism: a workbook (Tuwhiri 2018).
The course is available on an individual (self-paced) basis or by participating in the course as part of a learning cohort, with opportunities for discussion and feedback.
I’ve just listened to the second talk Stephen Batchelor gave at a Son retreat in 2016 at Gaia House in Devon,’ Good snowflakes – they don’t fall anywhere else’. In fact I’ve listened to it more than once as the first time I did so while very tired and lying down, and however engaging the content sometimes it’s not enough to keep you awake.
In this talk, Stephen is on as good form as he was in the first talk in which he gives instructions for a meditation on ‘What is this?’, perhaps a bit perkier than he’s seemed in previous talks I’ve listened to. In one of the talks he explicitly acknowledges those ‘listening on the podcast’, so he’s well aware that what he’s saying includes a wider community beyond the fifty or so people in the hall with him at Gaia House.
He introduces his theme using the koan ‘Good snowflakes: they don’t fall anywhere else’, which I’d not come across before, and goes on to expand on it – trying to resist attempts at explaining it – using examples from modern, Western culture, specifically from the natural sciences.
His examples turn out to be about the sublime (that which is beyond expression, in one way of defining it). In some ways he’s looking at the awesome aspects of the way that physics, chemistry and biology have provided answers to the question of ‘what is this thing, and how did it get here?’.
The sheer uniqueness of you being you, considering all the possibilities involved during human sexual reproduction. The unfathomable depth of outer space, the ungraspable perspective of looking out into the night sky.
The answers provided by science amount to descriptions, perhaps not ‘satisfying’ as answers to ‘What is this?’ but they do provide us with a perspective on how impossible it is for us to get a perspective on these issues.