Secular Buddhism — What’s Your Take?
I just finished Stephen Batchelor’s latest book After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age. While I would say I didn’t agree with everything he had to offer, the book struck me as an authentic scholarly examination of the Dharma. He makes some very compelling arguments, based on an examination of the Pali canon, for stripping away much of the metaphysical trappings of modern Buddhism. The book is similar to some of the modern works on the historical Jesus, moving beyond the Buddhist texts for corroboration as well as probing the text for hints of edits and biased later additions. Anyone interested in examining the historical Buddha and the Sangha as a means to discern what might be considered the authentic teachings of Gautema, will like (or at least be interested in) this book.
The book offers some of Batchelor’s translations of early Pali texts, including one of my favorite, the Sutra of the All (or as I learned it — the Sutra of Totality). The book’s afterward ends with his pondering the question he posed in the title — how should the Dharma evolve in this secular age. He offers something of a definition of Secular Buddhism, by way of the following ten theses:
- A secular Buddhist is one who is committed to the practice of the dharma for the sake of this world alone.
- The practice of the dharma consists of four tasks: to embrace suffering, to let go of reactivity, to behold the ceasing of reactivity, and to cultivate an integrated way of life.
- All human beings, irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, nationality, and religion, can practice these four tasks. Each person, in each moment, has the potential to be more awake, responsive, and free.
- The practice of the dharma is as much concerned with how one speaks, acts, and works in the public realm as with how one performs spiritual exercises in private.
- The dharma serves the needs of people at specific times and places. Each form the dharma assumes is a transient human creation, contingent upon the historical, cultural, social, and economic conditions that generated it.
- The practitioner honors the dharma teaching that have been passed down through different traditions while seeking to enact them creatively in ways appropriate to the world as it is now.
- The community of practitioners is formed of autonomous persons who mutually support each other in the cultivation of their paths. In this network of like-minded individuals, members respect the equality of all members while honoring the specific knowledge and expertise each person brings.
- A practitioner is committed to an ethics of care, founded on empathy, compassion, and love for all creatures who have evolved on this earth.
- Practitioners seek to understand and diminish the structural violence of societies and institutions as well as the roots of violence that are present in themselves.
- A practitioner of the dharma aspires to nurture a culture of awakening that finds its inspiration in Buddhist and non-Buddhist, religious and secular sources alike.
— Stephen Batchelor
Secular Buddhism — What’s your take? Is this blasphemy? Has Batchelor abandoned the Dharma, or has he uncovered its untainted essence? Is he just creating a new age Buddhism, or is this a gift?
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Originally published at www.andrewfurst.net on December 4, 2015.