Each month, we highlight the path that brought an individual to explore and then fully engage in a secular approach to the dharma.
Ronn Smith’s interest in Buddhism began with a trip to Korea in 1997, where he recognized that he needed to learn about Buddhism to understand the Korean culture. He began a more intensive study of Buddhism at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (BCBS) in 2008 and gravitated toward a secular approach through an engagement with Stephen Batchelor’s writings. For Ronn, the ethical and philosophical dimensions of secular dharma are crucial; in particular, the emphasis on flourishing and care rather than on suffering.
Steve Holdsambeck and his family were deeply involved for many years in the southern (USA) Methodist Church. However, through a very emotional and difficult transition, he began to question his Christian faith and developed an increasing interest in meditation, which eventually led to an interest in Stephen Batchelor’s books and secular Buddhism. Steve is a regular participant in SBN’s monthly discussion group.
Keith Clanton’s initial religious experience was with Christianity but he has been interested in Buddhism for many decades. He finds that Buddhist teachings in a secular/agnostic form fit well with how he sees the world. Keith has taken vows with a group called the Secular Buddhist Tradition (SBT) and is also active in various SBN groups.
Katie Pope first became interested in meditation and Buddhism through her yoga practice. As she learned more about Buddhism, she found that secular Buddhism’s focus on how we can live a good and full life while we are here, with however much time we have, deeply resonated with her. Katie facilitates SBN’s monthly reading group.
As a journalist, Ira met some of Buddhism’s most important teachers and became interested in the dharma. As an agnostic, he finds a secular approach particularly valuable because there is less emphasis on beliefs and more on what contributes to wellbeing in this life.
Kate’s interest in Buddhism began when she was a college student and developed further while she was a Peace Corps volunteer and program manager. Over time, she became increasingly skeptical of the adherence to hierarchy and rituals in many Buddhist traditions and moved toward a secular approach to the dharma, one which does not lean on enlightenment as a goal, but fosters a practice that is ethical, practical, compassionate and forward looking.
Katya grew up in a culturally Jewish, Leftist family in New York City and became involved with a Buddhist sangha in 2001. When her sangha refused to engage politically around issues of racism after the murder of George Floyd, she connected with the Secular Buddhist Network and has become an active participant.
Tim grew up in a Christian household, but found a disconnect between his church’s teachings and how church members lived their lives. He was introduced to Buddhism over 20 years ago and learned about secular Buddhism in the course of his explorations. Colette Descent edited the interview for SBN.
Jeff was deeply involved in orthodox Judaism for 15 years, but eventually moved away from this spiritual tradition to explore secular Buddhism: a non-dogmatic, ethical approach to life.
Colette Descent explored many spiritual traditions before engaging with secular Buddhism. She is an active participant in several SBN groups. She is part of SBN’s monthly online discussion group, the weekly meditation group, a reading group, and an ageing and secular Buddhism group. Finally, Colette is currently participating in the Spring 2022 SBN course on secular Buddhism, Exploring a Secular Dharma.