Like other religions, Buddhism has numerous sects, big and small. The sect of Secular Buddhism, mostly found in the West, places much emphasis on Dharma practice revolving around the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, ethics, mindfulness, meditation, loving kindness and insight.
Secular Buddhists approach the teachings rather exclusively from a daily practice point of view. Some of us would consider this a narrow perspective.
I do not get the sense that the majority of secular Buddhists are anti-religious, though some influential voices in secular Buddhism express regularly existential doubts about the Buddhist tradition.
Most secular Buddhists that I know respect the Buddha’s discourses. Many secular Buddhists do not appear dogmatic about the Pali Suttas. Secular Buddhists often give much emphasis to Western research in neuroscience, psychology and standard mindfulness practices.
There are secular Buddhists who know little or nothing about the Buddha-Dharma, the Buddhist tradition and the relationship of deeply religious Buddhists to the Buddha-Dharma-Sangha. Secular Buddhists have a useful contribution to make as the Triple Gem takes root in the West.
12 Reasons why I am not a Secular Buddhist
- I spent six years as a monk in religious Buddhism in Thailand and India. Religious Buddhists fully supported 24/7 my practice in the monasteries, on pilgrimages and in the cave.
- This year marked 45 years of annual teachings in the Thai Monasteries in Bodh Gaya, the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment including the past 20 years of teaching in Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first talk. The Thai monasteries have never made a charge for our retreats.. We simply gave a donation. The monastery used the money and much more in recent years to improve the meditation facilities.
- Chanting has enabled unhappy, depressed and suicidal people to get through their despair.
- Religious Buddhism offers ordination, monasteries, forests and caves, with lay support for practitioners.
- Monasteries welcome people to come any day and take refuge in the monastery.
- The Buddhist tradition has kept faith in Dharma-Dana (donations to support the Sangha) for more than 2600 years rather than asking for payment for services. The Sangha is the world’s oldest ongoing organisation. Religious faith has sustained this ongoing support for the Sangha.
- The Buddhist tradition recognises the importance of devotion to the Three Jewels of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The tradition appreciates the beauty and power of devotion.
- The Buddhist tradition preserves and translates ancient and modern Buddhist texts. Translators, the ordained and householders, engage in huge works of scholarship without expecting an hourly rate for their years of precious service.
- The Buddhist traditions encourage pilgrimages (yatras), as a spiritual practice, to experience intimacy with the elements and reach sacred destinations or the ‘holy’ places. These holy places include Lumbini, Nepal (birthplace of the Buddha) Bodh Gaya (place of Tree of enlightenment), Sarnath (first discourse) and Kushinagar, India, where the Buddha died. Pilgrims also travel to Mount Kailash, a place of breath-taking beauty in western Tibet. There are numerous places of pilgrimage worldwide,
- The Buddhist tradition keeps alive the depths of a variety of experiences, the preservation of the Buddha-Dharma, reflections on karma, the support for dramatic shifts of consciousness, religious rituals, the mystical, a sincere belief in a seemingly endless rebecoming of name and form and more.
- The majority of fine Dharma teachers were trained in monasteries. Monasteries provide extended periods of time for spiritual practices ranging from months to years. Practitioners do not have to worry about costs.
- The religious tradition can serve like the pod that protects the peas. The best of the religious tradition keeps alive the priority of awakening, liberation and knowing Nirvana.
May all beings explore the benefits and limits of religious traditions
May all beings explore the benefits and limits of secular society
May all beings live an awakened life.
Thank you, Christopher, for this wonderful article.
I feel so grateful for the teachings and the meditation opportunities
offered by the various Buddhist traditions.
Bowing to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha is
the first thing I miss when returned to the West.
Keep on keeping on.