#7 April 2020
Welcome to our April 2020 newsletter.
This month’s glossary item is the FOUR IMMEASURABLES and we introduce new articles on secular Buddhists’ responses to the coronavirus, how an Irish, working class radical became one of the first western Buddhist monks, and a book review of Evan Thompson’s Why I am not a Buddhist. Our feature article is an excerpt from a blog post by Bernat Font on secular Buddhism.
Love and compassion in the time of the coronavirus: responses of secular Buddhists to the pandemic
Winton Higgins, Stefano Bettera, Bernat Font, Linda Modaro, and Nelly Kaufer offer their thoughts and insights on how we can best respond to the current pandemic.
A common theme in their articles is that by fully understanding core Buddhist insights regarding impermanence, suffering, and interconnection, as well as cultivating an ethical stance of care and compassion, we can skillfully respond in a time of great uncertainty and danger.
How are you responding to the coronavirus?
With many people facing limits on social interaction and our normal routines, this is a very difficult time. However, many of us are taking the opportunity to have a self-retreat and/or connecting with others to discuss and practice the dharma. Sponsored by meditation centers and Buddhist magazines like Tricycle, online meditation sessions are being offered by various teachers and many sanghas have gone online.
How are you responding to the pandemic? What resources would you like to see to help secular Buddhists engage and connect with each other.
Click here to let us know.
A secular Buddhist ancestor?
A working-class western radical who was born in Ireland, U Dhammaloka was one of the first Europeans to become a Buddhist monk. Rather than understanding Buddhism as a philosophical perspective, he focused on affirming Buddhism and critiquing Christianity as part of his anti-colonial activism.
For those who want to learn more about U Dhammaloka, his biography, The Irish Buddhist: the Forgotten Monk who Faced Down the British Empire, will be available on April 20.
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.
A review of Evan Thompson’s Why I am not a Buddhist
In his recently published book, the philosopher Evan Thompson critiques Buddhist modernism and the notion that Buddhism is superior to other spiritual traditions because it provides us with a scientific understanding of the mind and our world. Is Thompson’s criticism of Buddhist modernism valid? Do his criticisms apply to secular Buddhism?
Buddhist terms from a secular perspective
Four Immeasurables (brahma viharas in Pali)
The four immeasurables, or divine abodes – or more literally the sacred dwellings – are the four emotional tones of the awakening mind:
… universal unconditional friendliness (metta in Pali) – also known as loving kindness, a feeling of kindness & good will towards all sentient beings, human & otherwise
… compassion (karuna in Pali) – an understanding, empathic care towards all other beings in their moments of suffering
… empathic joy (mudita in Pali) – often known as ‘sympathetic joy’, this is a genuine happiness at the joy and achievements of others
… equanimity (upekkha in Pali)- a calm, positive emotional balance in the face of both good fortune and bad.
– You can read the complete glossary here:
– by Bernat Font
At just under two decades old, secular Buddhism maintains at least an agnostic view of doctrines such as rebirth, karma, or the various realms of existence. It works with what the natural sciences tell us about our environment and evolution, and seeks a new language that articulates dharma not only for today’s world, but from it. Author Stephen Batchelor, a leading voice of this trend, uses ‘secular’ to connote ‘of this world’ or ‘of this century (saeculum)’. The search for this new language involves interrogating even the most central dogmas of Buddhism, moving the Indian tectonic plates that underlie the entire edifice. And while experimentation has its seismic risks, it is stimulating and creative—it is something that many Buddhist generations have done in the past. Instead of something to believe, Buddhism becomes something to do. In addition to questions of doctrine aside, the secular approach rethinks those structures that reflect the feudal mentality that has accompanied Buddhism in the past. Democratic values of equality and inclusiveness mark secular Buddhism as well as other contemporary schools.
If we look into its logic, we will see how secular Buddhism is born from applying the very Buddhist principles of impermanence and conditionality to Buddhism itself. Seen in this way, each tradition owes its features not to an absolute truth accessed by privileged spiritual beings, but rather to historical, cultural, and even economic circumstances. It is the unique combination of those conditions that gave rise to forms such as Thai Buddhism, Tibetan, Ch’an, Shingon, etc. Furthermore, a secular Buddhist wonders, if the dharma has survived thanks to its enormous ability to be reconfigured, why stop at Tsongkhapa or Nichiren?
Reforms have a habit of going back to origins, as Buddhism itself demonstrates throughout its history. Due to this return, and to the other half of its DNA being the Insight Meditation tradition (a modernized Theravada), secular Buddhism tends to focus on the earliest texts, preserved in the Pali canon and in Chinese translation. However, such a reformist attitude could likewise be applied to any other Buddhist strand.
At the center of this new movement lies a rereading of the Buddha’s first discourse, transforming the doctrine of the four noble truths into four tasks. Instead of affirming that existence is unsatisfactory, we welcome our suffering and dissatisfaction. Instead of claiming that the source of suffering is craving, we release compulsive reactivity, which not only generates discomfort but very often springs from it. While the third noble truth promises a state beyond all suffering, the third task calls us to experience for ourselves the cessation of reactivity, even momentarily. And instead of seeing the eightfold path as leading to nirvana, we aspire to cultivate a way of life born from that space emptied from greed, aversion and confusion—a space that we could call nirvanic.
Thus, secular dharma lowers the moon of nirvana down to our reach. It is no longer treated as a metaphysical reality distinct from everything we could conceive, or as a goal farther than far: it is about living each moment of our life from that place of non-greed, non-aversion and non-confusion. By becoming familiar with the moments when such forces subside, we learn to live from the perspective of appreciation and generosity, of kindness and compassion, and of wisdom.
– you can find the complete article here: