#6 March 2020
Welcome to our March 2020 newsletter.
This month’s glossary item is the FOUR FOCUSES OF MINDFULNESS and we introduce new articles by John Danvers and Bernat Font. Our feature article is an excerpt from a dharma talk given by Stpehen Batchelor, What if our ordinary experience is all that matters.
Creating a home for secular Buddhists
After many years of Soto Zen practice, John Danvers created a home for secular Buddhists by establishing the Exeter Meditation Circle in England in October 2016. The meetings of the group are simple and non-ritualistic, non-dogmatic and free of attachment to any particular teacher or tradition. Together, the group members are developing a secular Buddhist way of life that is of our time and place.
What would you ask a Buddhist teacher from Extinction Rebellion?
Bernat Font, a contributor to the SBN website, will be interviewing Buddhist meditation teacher and Extinction Rebellion activist Yanai Postelnik this month. Given the unfolding climate catastrophe, Extinction Rellion activists are engaging in non-violent, disruptive civil disobedience to demand that governments act immediately to create a sustainable economy. What questions would you like Bernat to pose to Yanai?
Bodhi College’s Secular Dharma course
Bodhi College’s Secular Dharma course takes a secular rather than a religious approach to the teachings of the Buddha. Taught by Martine and Stephen Batchelor, the course will emphasize the humanity of Gotama and the practical applications of his teaching in this world, and encourage each student to find his or her own way of practice within the secular/religious spectrum of their own lives.
Applications for the course will open in mid-March. To receive Bodhi College’s newsletter, click here.
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.
Stephen Batchelor’s new book, The art of solitude
Yale University Press has just released Stephen Batchelor’s new book, The art of solitude. In this book Stephen turns his attention to solitude, a practice integral to the meditative traditions he has long studied and taught. He aimed to venture more deeply into solitude, discovering its full extent and depth.
Buddhist terms from a secular perspective
FOUR FOCUSES OF MINDFULNESS
The Pali word satipatthāna means ‘the focuses of awareness’, but is usually translated as ‘the four foundations of mindfulness’. This is a pragmatic way to parse our meditative experience into distinct facets so we can explore its multi-layered nature. In fact, these facets go to the heart of insight meditation as set out in the Buddha’s discourse, the Satipatthāna sutta. The four focuses are:
… the body = the physical sensations we feel, internally and through our physical senses
… feeling tones = the instant reaction (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral) we have to everything we see, hear, smell, touch, taste, or think of
… mind = emotions, moods and other mind states
… phenomena (dhammas in Pali) = under this heading we systematically contemplate all elements of direct experience in terms of sets of central teachings that the Buddha developed in list form, starting with the five hindrances, and ending with the four tasks.
This teaching prompts us to repeatedly probe these four facets of our experience, observing for ourselves how every experience we have contains the seeds of impermanence, dukkha and not-self.
Experiencing these three ubiquitous characteristics of experience for ourselves viscerally brings us closer to awakening via a more balanced and sane way of life.
– You can read the complete glossary here:
What if our ordinary experience is all that matters
– by Stephen Batchelor
What often creeps into Buddhism, including Seon, is the notion that there is something more than this experience that we’re having right now, that we need to break through into this something else. It’s a very seductive idea, one that’s characteristic of most traditions that would consider themselves to be ‘mystical.’ Whether they speak in terms of God, the Absolute, or the Unconditioned, there’s often an underlying assumption that what we’re experiencing now is somehow not enough, it’s inadequate, at best only a tiny bit of something far vaster. An the practices taught in these traditions provide us with a methodology that, if we follow it, enables us to reach this ‘something else.’
I’m reminded here of a short sutta, a discourse, in the Connected discourses of the Buddha, which is called the Sabha Sutta. Sabha means ‘everything’ or ‘the all’. Gotama says:
Mendicants, I will teach you the all. Listen to this. And what is the all? The eye and forms, the ear and sounds, the nose and odors, the tongue and tastes, the body and tactile sensations, the mind and dharmas. This is called the all. If anyone, mendicants, should speak thus: ‘Having rejected this all, I shall make known another all,’ that would be a mere empty boast on their part. If they were questioned they would not be able to reply and, further, they would meet with vexation. For what reason? Because, monks, that all would not be within their domain.
Now I find this passage terribly engaging. You find a similar approach in the writings of Nagarjuna and Madhyamaka philosophy, where there’s also a deep suspicion of the idea that the purpose of practice is to lead us to something outside of what we can see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and know within our own moment-to-moment, ordinary consciousness. And it’s this, I feel, that characterizes the early Seon tradition. My sense is that Seon started life in China as an explicit rejection of a grandiose mysticism that had begun seeping into Buddhism. The early Seon masters had no time at all for notions of an ultimate truth that lies beyond our ordi-nary experience. Instead, it sought to recover the simplicity and the primacy of the experience we’re having in this body, in these senses, in this flesh, right now. That’s where we begin.
The legend of the Buddha himself points to the same thing. It was by waking up to the existential facts of his own life that he was prompted to embark on his quest. The fact of birth, the fact of sick¬ness, the fact of aging, and the fact of death became questions for him. These experiences are utterly of this breathing, feeling body. These experiences are utterly of this breathing, feeling body. And that’s where we begin too. That’s what we come back to, again and again and again when our minds wander off into the past, into the future, or simply into unstructured threads of associated thought. We come back to the dull, blunt immediacy that is intimate but inarticulate: in other words we are experiencing right now.
– you can find the complete article here: