Secular Humanist Buddhism

February 1, 2024


Secular humanism constitutes a worldview that places paramount importance on reason, ethics, and the overall welfare of both individuals and society. It distinctly avoids any reliance on religious or supernatural beliefs, carving its path based on the principles derived from human experience and rational thinking. This comprehensive philosophy stands as a beacon for human values, fostering a commitment to moral principles without the inclusion of rituals or a centralized authority. In essence, it provides a non-religious framework that champions critical thinking, the scientific method, and the cultivation of compassion in societal ideals.

Conversely, the concept of secular Buddhism emerged as an adaptation of traditional Buddhist teachings, focusing on the ethical and contemplative dimensions while consciously distancing itself from supernatural elements. It promotes key elements such as mindfulness, meditation practices, and the Four Noble Truths, without necessarily adhering to the cosmological or divine components found in some traditional Buddhist interpretations. The primary objective of secular Buddhism is to align Buddhist principles with a more secular and rational framework, ensuring a relevant and accessible approach to personal and societal well-being.

Secular humanist Buddhism, as a synthesis of these two philosophies, involves an intricate weaving of ideas from both perspectives. It encompasses the emphasis on reason, ethics, and human values derived from secular humanism, while simultaneously integrating the mindfulness, meditation, and ethical principles advocated by secular Buddhism. This fusion aims to cultivate a compassionate and just society, where critical thinking and self-awareness flourish without the reliance on supernatural beliefs.

In the practice of secular humanist Buddhism, mindfulness meditation assumes a central role. This practice, drawn from secular Buddhism, becomes a conduit for cultivating self-awareness, focus, and emotional balance. It intertwines with the secular humanist emphasis on reason, providing a holistic approach to understanding and navigating the complexities of human existence.

The ethical dimensions of both philosophies harmonize in the pursuit of ethical living. Secular humanism's commitment to moral principles aligns seamlessly with the ethical teachings of secular Buddhism. The amalgamation of these ethical frameworks serves as a guide for individuals to navigate moral dilemmas and contribute to the creation of a just and compassionate society.

Central to secular humanist Buddhism is a commitment to the betterment of individual well-being. The synthesis encourages individuals to embark on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth, drawing inspiration from secular humanism's emphasis on the flourishing of human potential and secular Buddhism's focus on mindfulness and mental well-being.

In this synthesis, the rejection of supernatural beliefs becomes a unifying principle. Both secular humanism and secular Buddhism share a common ground in eschewing supernatural elements, promoting a worldview that is rooted in the tangible and observable aspects of human experience.

The concept of compassion takes center stage, as both philosophies converge on the idea of fostering empathy and benevolence towards others. Secular humanist Buddhism seeks to create a compassionate society where individuals are motivated by a shared commitment to the well-being of all, drawing from the compassionate ideals embedded in both secular humanism and secular Buddhism.

Education becomes a key component of secular humanist Buddhism. It involves the cultivation of critical thinking skills, scientific literacy, and a deep understanding of ethical principles. This educational approach draws inspiration from the secular humanist emphasis on reason and the Buddhist commitment to understanding the nature of suffering and its alleviation.

The synthesis encourages a sense of interconnectedness. Secular humanist Buddhism promotes the idea that individuals are interconnected with each other and the broader natural world. This interconnectedness fosters a sense of responsibility towards the environment and all living beings, aligning with both secular humanism's concern for societal well-being and Buddhism's emphasis on the interdependence of all phenomena.

Secular humanist Buddhism recognizes the impermanence of all things, a fundamental Buddhist teaching. This recognition encourages individuals to approach life with a sense of openness and adaptability, drawing strength from the understanding that change is inevitable and embracing the transient nature of existence.

The concept of wisdom, derived from secular Buddhism, integrates seamlessly with the secular humanist perspective. Wisdom involves the cultivation of insight, discernment, and a deep understanding of the human condition. This synthesis encourages individuals to seek wisdom through a combination of rational inquiry, mindfulness practices, and the exploration of diverse philosophical perspectives.

The pursuit of social justice becomes a shared goal. Both secular humanism and secular Buddhism advocate for a just society where individuals are treated with dignity and equality. The synthesis encourages activism and advocacy for social change, drawing inspiration from the principles of justice embedded in both philosophies.

In conclusion, secular humanist Buddhism represents a nuanced and holistic approach that combines the strengths of secular humanism and secular Buddhism. It intertwines reason, ethics, mindfulness, and compassion, creating a philosophy and practice that addresses the complexities of human existence while promoting individual and societal well-being.


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One Reply to “Secular Humanist Buddhism”

Ric Streatfield

Thank you Kirk. You have given us an excellent synthesis and a very important development for humanity. What you have presented is a thorough and fair summary of the core insights from both Humanism and Buddhism.

Not that it really matters today, 2500 years later, but do these very similar worldviews have their common origin in the one person, Sidhartha Gotama, the Buddha as he was called, in his Great Causes Discourse, often called Dependent co-Arising?

The question confronting us now of course is, how are we going to put this worldview and these insights into effect towards solving our current disastrous worldwide problems?
I’m 81 years old, and a long retired Public Health Physician. My understanding is that Clinical Medicine is a branch of Applied Biology, and Public Health Medicine is a branch of Ecology. Some years ago I found a Pali version of Dependent co-Arising and translated it back into English using the online (non-)Buddhist Pali Dictionary rather than the Buddhist Pali Dictionary. To cut the story short I found that the Buddha’s rational and logical discussion with Ananda was his detailing of the very biological, human-animal-instinctual behaviours which lie at the origins of our status-seeking, cheating, thieving, possessive, and murderous behaviours. There was no mention of gods or devils, or evil spirits being at fault. No mention of karma or reincarnation. It was humanity absolutely in, and an integral part of, the natural world.

So, perhaps we could say that Gotama was our first biologist-humanist. How can we follow on with his methodical, rational, logical way of understanding our behaviours – murderous wars, racism/caste, modern slavery, misogyny and Domestic Violence, child abuse, and destruction of our planet? I have some ideas about a Community Education Project I call ‘A Biologian’s Workbook’ which acts as a framework for discussion that I have been developing and testing with friends and local community groups. It is very much a work-in-progress, and only a drop in the ocean.

Kirk, thanks again for your article. It has given me new heart that maybe there is a movement away from the deadly and disastrous grip of the Doctrinal Religions over the last ten thousand years of human history, and Animism/Shamanism, which originally split the Supernatural off from the Natural world for tens of thousands of years before.
I would welcome any ideas and discussion.

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