#9 June 2020
Welcome to our June 2020 newsletter.
This month’s glossary item is MINDFULNESS and we introduce new articles by John Danvers and Stefano Bettera, as well as a new secular mindfulness course offered by Dave Smith. Our feature is an excerpt from a dharma talk by Winton Higgins on secular Buddhist meditation.
Lockdown reflections: transmission, transformation and ‘secular Zen’
In this article John Danvers argues that a secular version of Zen can play an important role in an emerging culture of awakening in which all beings, and the environment in which we live, are valued and cared for. Such an approach takes account of the disciplines and traditions of mindful meditation practice, but is also grounded in a creative, democratic and dynamic educational ethos.
A new secular mindfulness course
Based on the core insights of Early Buddhism and the secular, scientific perspectives of biology, neuroscience, and psychology, Dave Smith is offering an online course on Secular Mindfulness. The course is self-paced and includes introductory video presentations from Dave for each course module, clear and concise explanations of the various topics, and guided mindfulness practices.
Buddhism is dead! Long live ‘Buddhism’!
According to Stefano Bettera, reducing Buddhism to a detached and repetitive liturgical religiosity causes us to lose the potential for a sensitive engagement with tradition. A vibrant and living spirituality must be known, lived, and experienced in our bodies, our practices, and our way of being.
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.
Reading group guide for What is this? available now
Readers can use Martine and Stephen Batchelor’s book, What is this? Ancient questions for modern minds, as both a practice manual and a companion in facing the challenge of living a fully human life in the contemporary world.
To accompany the book, The Tuwhiri Project has brought together questions devised by Jim Champion (Middle Way Society, UK), Bill Cooper (Bellevue Dharma, USA) and Christine Johnson (Upaya Sangha of Tucson, USA) into a guide for reading group and individual study.
Suitable for both individual and group use, you can download it here – https://tuwhiri.nz/what-is-this.
Buddhist terms from a secular perspective
This is the conventional but unsatisfactory translation of the Pali word sati, a central term in the dharma which means both to recollect and to be aware of experience in the present moment. The recollective element refers both to remembering the context in which present experience arises and the dharmic setting in which it is to be understood. Insight meditation rests on both these aspects of sati.
By and large, the current commercial and therapeutic applications of mindfulness drop the recollective element and treat it as simply meaning close attention to whatever is occurring at any point in time, with kindness and with curiosity, and stripped of context. We might be paying attention to a thought, a feeling, physical sensations, other people, or the environment around us.
McMindfulness is the derogatory term for the commercialised and standardised mindfulness meditation techniques that currently abound in psychotherapy and in work life (especially in corporations, corporatised public institutions, and the military). The term derives from George Ritzer’s concept of ‘the McDonaldisation of society’, which refers to the way the fast-food chain McDonalds’ methods of organising production have infected many other functions of society.
– You can read the complete glossary here:
The goal of secular Buddhist meditation practice
– by Winton Higgins
Why do we practice? What is our goal? Our motivation? If we want to energise and sustain our practice, we need to be clear about this.
As I noted above, the Buddha hints at a preliminary answer in the Kalama sutta. In our terms, the dharma guides our search for meaning. It sketches an answer to the basic questions all members of our species must answer (whether they think about it or not): How should I live? What sort of person should I become? These are fundamental ethical questions to which the dharma provides clear answers.
But I think there’s a supplementary answer that also goes to the heart of our meditation practice. My primary source for it is Peter Watson’s 2014 book The age of atheists: how we have sought to live since the death of god. Before God died, doing His will oriented the search for meaning for our western forebears.
In 1881, however, Friedrich Nietzsche announced that He was dead, in the sense that the leading thinkers of the day were no longer referring back to God as the starting point for any inquiry into the big questions. Humans had to find their own way, and set their own priorities, without reference to their Creator and His supposed priorities.
Western practitioners and thinkers in various artistic and intellectual disciplines thereupon took up the search for meaning in the new godless dispensation. They provided many different suggestions for how we should set our own human priorities. But all these suggestions have one common element: we should live as intensely as possible. Better a Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied, and so on.
One way to live intensely is to practise insight meditation, and to bring that sort of awareness to bear on every waking moment. Stephen Batchelor dramatises that thought by making the experience of the everyday sublime the ‘goal’ of meditation. As he puts it in After Buddhism: rethinking the dharma for a secular age:
… Meditation is about embracing what is happening to this organism as it touches its environment in this moment. I do not reject the experience of the mystical. I reject only the view that the mystical is concealed behind what is merely apparent, that it is anything other than what is occurring in time and space right now. The mystical does not transcend the world but saturates it. ‘The mystical is not how the world is,’ noted Ludwig Wittgenstein in 1921, ‘but that it is’.
So we meditate to experience this world and this life as vividly as possible. Intensely. The way we experience it reflects back at us – it tells us who we are and where we’re at in this moment. It banishes dullness, jadedness, axioms, and routine-induced torpor. It saves us from having a life unlived.
– you can find the complete article here: