The historical Buddha, Gotama, is not properly characterized as either an atheist or agnostic. He does not deny or affirm, but chooses silence, a ’strategic‘ silence which affirms a precise idea: any discourse on the absolute is inadequate. It is not a question of arguing that this dimension is unthinkable or unrealizable. It is about rejecting any attempt by language to establish a definitive truth in one sense or another.
The lightness of laughter can help us to break the connected dualisms of right/wrong, true/false, internal/external, and us/the others. These standards ways of viewing the world keep us hooked to our ego and hold us back from the freedom to experiment, to be open, to enjoy the time we have and all our experiences, including the negative ones.
We have to choose between the freedom that is the condition of an open, awakened mind or to defend 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.
Whether we like it or not, to reduce Buddhism to a detached and repetitive liturgical religiosity, means to keep our heads turned towards the past and also means losing 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.
Several contributors to the Secular Buddhist Network website offer their insights on how we can best respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The common theme 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 to this current crisis.
The coronavirus emergency is a great opportunity to cultivate patience, care and integrity and rediscover what is truly ‘urgent’. When it is fragility that becomes the predominant characteristic in our lives, the superfluous becomes less urgent and the need to rediscover a more authentic, more intimate dimension becomes apparent.
Counter to the stereotype that sees East and West as two distant worlds, with entirely different cultures and value systems, the Buddha and the ancient Greeks spoke a very similar language and provided us with wise insights that we can rediscover today for our secular practice.
Our challenge is to remain lucid, aware, and present. This is Gotama’s injunction and one of his main teachings. To understand this reality means, in traditional Buddhist terms, to understand the middle way, emptiness and not-self. It means entering the stream of the river of life to go against the current.
Meditative practice enables us to develop a more present, lucid and conscious connection with what surrounds us, in the precise moment and place where we find ourselves. Meditative practice does not take us beyond that present moment in its totality. If anything, it leads us deeper, to union with it.
Secular Buddhism doesn’t need to be understood as a new ‘Buddhism’ but more as a different approach to practice. This approach starts from our perspective as modern people, and thanks to this lens, revises the meaning of the teachings of an ancient tradition so that they can speak to human beings today.