#10 July 2020
Welcome to our July 2020 newsletter.
This month’s glossary item is NOT SELF and we introduce new articles by Stefano Bettera, Ted Meissner, and Mike Slott. Our feature is an excerpt from an article by Lenore Lambert.
Take on the challenge of the unknown
In this article Stefano Bettera contends that we have to choose between the freedom that is the condition of an open, awakened mind or defending any kind of orthodoxy, traditional or not. If we choose the former, we need a wisdom that is capable of capturing every moment of wonder and in the next instant letting it go without any sense of regret or bewilderment.
Ted Meissner reflects on the past, present, and future of secular Buddhism
Ted Meissner has been interviewing Buddhist practitioners and writers involved in a wide range of lineages and approaches on his podcast, The Secular Buddhist, and is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association (USA). Ted offers his views of how secular Buddhism has evolved, its current status, and his hopes for its future development.
Transforming ourselves and transforming the world
Meditation is invaluable in developing the skills and qualities needed by individuals to play a productive role in movements for social change, but engaging in social change with others is essential if we want to fully develop these skills and qualities. We should see individual and social transformation as a simultaneous, mutually interactive process.
Connect with Secular Buddhists worldwide
If you have a sangha, centre, meditation group, resource or website, or are an individual who would like to connect with other secular Buddhists, fill out our simple form and we can add you to our listing of secular Buddhist groups and individuals.
We’ve also developed an interactive map as a visual aid to encourage communication and also make it easy to see where we might find others travelling the same spiritual path.
Online meditation group
Since March, Linda Modaro (https://satisangha.org/) and Nelly Kaufer (https://pinestreetsangha.org/) have been leading an online, daily meditation group to share their secular dharma practice – Reflective Meditation. In this stressful period the group has become a time for daily connection and refuge. If you can’t join online, Linda and Nelly record and post their daily dharma talks so that practitioners can listen to them before they meditate and for individual reflection or with another sangha.
Buddhist terms from a secular perspective
NOT SELF (anattā in Pali)
This expression refers to a recurring experience that insight meditators encounter. Among the countless experiences we discern during a meditation session (or a whole retreat), not one of them points to a permanent, enduring self. Direct evidence of such a self is simply not findable.
As we note this absence again and again, we realise at a deep level that nothing and no-one exists independently of supportive conditions. (See conditionality.) Rather, we become conscious of how all the elements of our experience are conditional, impersonal, and not to be clung to as ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘mine’.
This liberating aspect of meditative experience accompanies those of impermanence and dukkha. Together they’re called ‘the three characteristics of conditioned existence’ and they teach us not to attach to conceptions of self and other longed-for objects as if they were real.
Anattā is sometimes mistranslated as ‘no-self’, which carries the implication that the self doesn’t exist according to the Buddha’s teaching. The Buddha, however, explicitly refused to affirm or deny the existence of a self. In general, he repudiated all metaphysical beliefs of this kind.
On the other hand, his teaching assumes a continuous, developing self who practises the dharma. This self corresponds roughly to the philosophical concept of moral agency. The practitioner takes responsibility for her or his actions and spiritual development – but because of this s/he is in a state of constant change, and so not a fixed entity.
– You can read the complete glossary here:
How to stop bigotry
– by Lenore Lambert
We’ve known for a long time that human beings have a tendency towards ‘us and them’. Psychologists call it Social Identity Theory. We focus on some characteristic in someone that is different to ourselves. It could be the football team they support, the nation they come from, the suburb or part of town they come from, the university they went to, the sex they are, the way they speak, whether they are religious, which brand of religion they subscribe to, or in this case, their skin tone.
It can be anything at all really. We allow the momentum of that thought to continue, and before we know it, we’ve got our ‘in-group’. From there, we over-emphasise the similarities between ourselves and other members of the ‘in-group’ and we over-emphasise the differences between ourselves and the members of the ‘out-group’.
Then because we’ve defined them as ‘other’, as outside of our circle, we close off our empathy. “I don’t need to feel for them because they are not ‘like me’.” Add fear to the equation, and violence often follows.
Now the problem is not actually the moment when the idea of an ‘in-group’ arises. Much of what arises in our minds is involuntary. It just appears based on our conditioning – what our families told us, the messages we receive from our society, our schooling, the people we grew up around, the things we’ve been exposed to, the mood we’re in. No, in that moment we are not to blame.
The tendency of the mind to think this way is natural. We don’t need to beat ourselves up for it. But cyclones are natural too. That doesn’t mean they’re good. We need to understand that we have a natural tendency to do this – a tendency that probably helped our distant ancestors survive, but that this tendency belongs with the law of the jungle and has no place in a civilised compassionate world.
If we’re serious about undermining the kind of violence we’re reeling from now, we need to undermine the seeds of it in ourselves. To do that, we need to recognise our own capacity for creating in-groups and out-groups, and undermine that process.
We may not personally be killing people because of their skin colour, but we are engaging in the very same process that leads to that dark place. All of us! And if we are serious about ridding our world of this kind of hideousness, we need to “be the change we want to see” as Mahatma Gandhi famously urged. If we’re not willing to do our best with this in our own lives, what right do we really have to be appalled?
So how do we do this? If we don’t even control what arises in our minds, where does our choice, our responsibility, come in? How do we undermine this pattern?
The moment that is ours to own is the one after the ‘in-group idea’ arises. This is the moment that defines whether we’re really committed to undermining bigotry. It’s the moment when we become aware that the ‘in-group’ idea is present, and we decide what to do with it.
Do we ignore it and let our ‘natural’ impulses drive us forward on automatic pilot? Or do we stop it in its tracks and choose differently?
– you can find the complete article here: