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Author Topic: How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
stoky
Warming up
Posts: 31
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Post How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
on: February 24, 2012, 07:09
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Whenever I mention Buddhism while talking to my friends they react kind of hesitant. I assume they do this because they don't like religion (me too) and don't know that you can have a religious pratice while beeing not religious at all.

Recently I engaged in a discussion about Glenn Wallis' Post Mindful Lobotomy. I defended Ajahn Chah and argued against thinking. Something that - to strangers - must look like I'm a religious person defending her beliefs.

So my question is, how can we avoid this confusion, when talking to persons who're not familiar with Buddhism at all? Should we use different terms? Secular Buddhism, when talking to other Buddhists and "Humanist" when talking to others?

I'm still kind of confused by the discussion about "Mindful Lobotomy" but I think this issue will also come up in other places. So I would love to hear about the thoughts/experiences by other secular Buddhist.

Mark-
Knickelbin-
e
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Posts: 578
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Post Re: How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
on: February 24, 2012, 10:20
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Hi, Stoky --

First off, I hope you don't put too much energy into worrying about what Glenn Wallis says. Increasingly, it seems that he considers any practice to ameliorate human suffering as bad and wrong. He is full of clever vehemence in attacking "x-buddhism" but has nothing to offer in its place. It seems that his site is dedicated to asserting his intellectual superiority and belittling others. At least I can't discern any other purpose to it.

The problem you point out is a real one, and we who frequent this site disagree about the best approach to deal with it. My opinion is that we need to be quite clear that secular dharma practice is not a religion. While Gotama's teaching provides a rich support to our practice, we don't practice because the Buddha told us to, or because we have faith in him. We practice because we can observe in our own experience that mindfulness develops the equanimity that frees us from emotional reactivity and permits us to respond more skillfully to our lives. I practice with a mindfulness group in which Buddhist terminology is seldom referred to, but which is all about fully knowing dukkha and learning how to still craving and grasping. One of the goals of our movement, I think, ought to be to demonstrate that religion is not necessary to life a flourishing human life; the concept of a "secular religion" only confuses people.

stoky
Warming up
Posts: 31
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Post Re: How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
on: February 24, 2012, 12:58
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Thanks for your reply Mark,

Quote from Mark Knickelbine on February 24, 2012, 10:20
First off, I hope you don't put too much energy into worrying about what Glenn Wallis says[...]

No I don't. It just made me realize that as a secular Buddhist you're very much likely to be labeled "buddhist", hence "religious". Usually, labels are useful but this one isn't (e.g. it transports a sense of intolerance that maybe contributed to my statement being received more aggressive than it was supposed to be).

Quote from Mark Knickelbine on February 24, 2012, 10:20
The problem you point out is a real one, and we who frequent this site disagree about the best approach to deal with it. My opinion is that we need to be quite clear that secular dharma practice is not a religion. [...] One of the goals of our movement, I think, ought to be to demonstrate that religion is not necessary to life a flourishing human life; the concept of a "secular religion" only confuses people.

That's already an interesting advice. Until now I always tried to explain that "Buddhism is not like most religions", which then needs to be explained. Saying "I'm not religious" doesn't need further explanation. Thanks for that :)

Tom Alan
Noone Going Nowhere
Posts: 448
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Post Re: How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
on: February 25, 2012, 19:20
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Traditionally, the word "religion," derived from the Latin "religionem," has been closely associated with the Christian religion. If you asked an ancient Greek what his religion was, he wouldn't know what you were talking about. He'd tell you how he worshiped the gods and which school of philosophy he believed in. There was no story of stone tablets with a code of ethics engraved on it by Zeus. In fact, there were embarrassing stories about Zeus' misbehavior -- committing adultery with mortal women, for example. The word "secular" originated in medieval Europe. The following is from the Wikipedia article "Secularity," under the heading "Etymology."

Secular and secularity derive from the Latin word saecularis meaning of a generation, belonging to an age. The Christian doctrine that God exists outside time led medieval Western culture to use secular to indicate separation from specifically religious affairs and involvement in temporal ones.

People have argued about whether Buddhism should be considered a religion or a philosophy for ages. As I've just shown, there's a semantic problem.

Like the practice of dental hygiene, the practice of mindfulness is not of itself religious. Obviously, we wouldn't call it religion if a counselor or physical therapist who has no interest in Buddhism is administering Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which is not to say that this constitutes an affront to Buddhism, be it religion or philosophy.

stoky
Warming up
Posts: 31
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Post Re: How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
on: February 26, 2012, 07:00
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Thanks for your reply Tom, I'm always fascinated about how much etymology tells us about our history and culture.

However, I would prefer not to have to go (*) into such a detailed explanation, because not all of my friends share my interest in etymology. I'm also not a "plain" mindfulness/meditation-practitioner, because I find the framework of ethics and wisdom quite helpful.

(*) is this correct english?

P.S.: I stumbled upon a little poem that relates to this "practicing Buddhism without being a Buddhist"-approach.

Don't follow
in the footsteps
of the old masters.
Seek
what they sought
-- Basho

Dana-
Nourie
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Dana Nourie
Post Re: How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
on: February 26, 2012, 11:26
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This is an interesting discussion, and Ted and I touched on it the other day while chatting. I find when I'm talking with my fellow non-religious friends or acquaintances that they totally get *secular* Buddhism because they understand the word secular. Sometimes they will ask how secular Buddhism works, as opposed to traditional, what the differences are, etc. But most atheists understand the word secular to mean non-religious.

I find the confusion or resistance comes when I'm speaking with either Christians or traditional Buddhists. Their reactions are similar. The Christians can be put off by both the terms secular and Buddhism, or one or the other. But I encourage discussion with them, as I find they have misconceptions. Generally their problem is my lack of belief in their god concept.

Traditional Buddhists have actually been the people who react with the most hostility towards me. This was surprising because I had the erroneous stereotype of Buddhists as people being open to new ideas, to change, and to a practice that includes what they're doing: meditation, mindfulness, ethics and morality, compassion, etc. And I just leave out the "beliefs" in things for which there isn't compelling evidence and that I can't test in my practice.

I have been told I will be reborn in many hells (that's not new, as I've been told that from my Christian background, but it was one hell, now many) and I was told that I am sending everyone I talk to about this to many hells. I don't recall Buddha ever saying that people's words would send others to hell realms.

Anyway, point being, when I'm asked what secular Buddhism is, I explain what I can. I always make a point not to call myself a Buddhist, but to say I practice secular Buddhism, because it helps me focus on the practice and not fall into dogma. I'm not saying you shouldn't. And I agree with Mark that secular Buddhism is not and must not become a religion. I know we disagree with Stephen Batchelor on this point, as Stephen feels secular Buddhism is a religion. While technically his definitions may be sound, the connotation, at least in the US of religion, means a belief in god or metaphysics. I share no beliefs in those, and do NOT consider myself religious.

So, in short to answer the original question, I do not claim to be both secular and religion. I claim only to be secular and to practice Buddhism through mindfulness meditation, ethics, and compassion.

Dana Nourie
All Around Geek Girl

Tom Alan
Noone Going Nowhere
Posts: 448
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Post Re: How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
on: February 26, 2012, 12:37
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Quote from stoky on February 26, 2012, 07:00
not all of my friends share my interest in etymology. I'm also not a "plain" mindfulness/meditation-practitioner, because I find the framework of ethics and wisdom quite helpful.

Maybe it would be clearer to them if you used the word "philosophical" instead of "secular."

"Buddhist" is one of those words that can be defined different ways, but I don't think it should be applied to people who don't believe in Buddhism's core beliefs, such as its ethical precepts. (By that, I mean either literal belief or belief in the "spirit" of the precepts.) At times, it seems that the time devoted to discussions of mindfulness and meditation is such that these things of themselves are regarded as Buddhism. I'm not saying that "plain" mindfulness is necessarily a bad thing. That physical therapist I suggested in my previous post, the person with no interest in Buddhism, might be a fine, upstanding Christian. For that matter, the person might not be associated with any organized religion but still be principled. We all need some code to live by.

Tom Alan
Noone Going Nowhere
Posts: 448
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Post Re: How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
on: February 26, 2012, 12:37
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.

Dana-
Nourie
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Dana Nourie
Post Re: How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
on: February 26, 2012, 19:54
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Tom, I agree there is a difference between someone who practices mindfulness meditation only, and one who practices the Buddhist path, as in examining the three marks of existence, the four noble truths, and the eightfold path. One is practicing Buddhism, and the other uses the tools we also use in Buddhism.

However, I still see Buddhist practice as secular, at least how most of us here practice it. We follow the teachings of the suttas, including what I said above. The practices are by nature secular, meaning non-religious, without requiring beliefs or metaphysical beliefs.

Buddhist practice is more than philosophical. I don't see Buddhism as a philosophy, but as a way of life. The difference is philosophy attempts to explains things. In Buddhist practice we examine and see the way things are, and because of that our perspectives change, our actions and behaviors change, even if only subtly. We can all learn different philosophies, and carry on as we always have without doing anything different. Practicing Buddhism is active, exploring, being mindful, becoming aware, and seeing reality as it really is. That is quite different than reading about existentialism, or hedonism, or whatever other philosophy you want to study.

But, of course, feel free to disagree!

Dana Nourie
All Around Geek Girl

David.M
Grasshopper
Posts: 7
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Post Re: How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
on: February 26, 2012, 20:24
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I was listening to some lectures by Joseph Campbell the other day, and something he pointed out seems to apply here. His point was that the path beyond duality and the pursuit of unity come from the "wisdom body". I think the "wisdom body" comes in many different flavors (religion, philosophy, practices). His point was, and I agree, unless you live your path, it is not authentic. Campbell goes on to point out that myth (coherent way of integrating the reality of your existence) is only valid if it explains your reality AND is in accord with the world as it is. Under this rule, Buddhism and many Christian sects are due for some reorienting. Just because we put all the aboriginal people on reservations, doesn't mean they were backward.

I feel (and feel free to disagree) that Secular Buddhism is a healthy thing. I don't think shaking the tree from time to time is bad! But I also strongly believe that human beings need a way to feel connected to the "wisdom body". Religion can fill this role for many people, and does. There is not total agreement within any wisdom tradition on doctrine, interpretation and practice. This is why explaining secular Buddhism is so difficult. You have to summarize your practice and use language that does not mean the same thing to people who actually share a common language. Funny thing language...I don't know any fundamentalists who speak and read ancient Greek or Aramaic. And I don't speak or read Pali or Sanskrit or Chineese. Communicating our personal connections to the "wisdom body" to someone who is connected differently is a difficult task and probably not a very fruitful one unless you have lots of time and trust between you and your audience.

Tom Alan
Noone Going Nowhere
Posts: 448
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Post Re: How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
on: February 27, 2012, 08:10
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As I said, the religious-secular dichotomy originated in the Christian religion.

Guest
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Posts: 26
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Post Re: How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
on: February 29, 2012, 00:40
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Quote from stoky on February 24, 2012, 07:09
So my question is, how can we avoid this confusion, when talking to persons who're not familiar with Buddhism at all? Should we use different terms? Secular Buddhism, when talking to other Buddhists and "Humanist" when talking to others?

Words are slippery things that mean different things and hold different connotations with different people. I would personally approach this problem the same way I'd approach any important issue where there may be misunderstanding: find out how the person uses words and then phrase it to best suit that individual.

In my experience, it's been the case that more than a label's needed to explain my position to others who are interested in learning about it. But this isn't a problem unique to secular Buddhism.

Another tradition that's dealt with the issue of being a "secular religion" is the Society for Ethical Culture and the American Ethical Union. Many of their members insist on calling it a religion although it lacks most of the doctrinal aspects that many would consider definitive of a religion. In short, they're a "secular religion". Google around if you're curious to see how they handle it.

stoky
Warming up
Posts: 31
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Post Re: How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
on: February 29, 2012, 04:02
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Thanks to you all for your help.

I pretty much like Danas approach of declaring to be secular and following a Buddhist practice. I think if people only get "secular" that's more convenient to me as if they only get "Buddhism".

It also seems reasonable to me to use different words for different people. To the most of us Buddhism is secular, but most people consider it to be a religion and even more a set of beliefs.

So I'll try out your different ideas, and will see what works the best. Thanks!

Candol
Noone Going Nowhere
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Post Re: How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
on: February 29, 2012, 23:49
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There's definitely a confusion of terms here. Dana says she sees buddhism as a way of life so it couldn't be a mere philosophy. Well i have often heard it said that that's what religion means.

I was listening to stephen batchelor talk about buddhism being a religion but i didn't quite catch his point about how it could be so unless he meant it was a way of life.

What i find the easiest way to distinguish and make myself plain when talking about it is to think along these lines.

The buddhist religion is one which includes a set of beliefs that cannot be validated in practice. I mean Supernatural belief where as buddhism as a philosophy does not include any such beliefs. This i htink is the standard description of secular buddhism. I read a very clear and good article it on it some time ago. Its a question of how you practice that makes it count. If you don't hold belief as part of your practice then you are not following buddhism as a religion.

I"ve even taken to saying i practice buddhism as a philosophy and a psychology. As a philosophy its a set of thoughts giving us a worldview. Philosophy is thought and it can't be denied that there has been a lot of intellectual activity involved in formulating and expounding the dharma. That it is supposedly drawn from experience is by the by i think with regard to it being a philosophy. I think all philosophies can be experienced. I think, though i haven't tested the idea. They are meant to be lived out.

As a psychology, buddhism I would say provides a clear set of practice models that we can follow to alter our own psychology.

So there you have beliefs v worldview v mental practices.

You can have all three together, or you can just pick one or two. Which combination gives the best results. I say its philosophy plus psychology. Note: Western psychologists who teach mindfulness do not call what they do buddhism. It doesn't include the philosophy. Note that some poeple simple believe in rebirth and karma but don't know the first thing about buddhist philosophy adn don't try to practice it. Some know the philosophy and try to practice it etc.

But this is my formulation and i realise others may not care for it. However, in answer the OP's question, i think the easiest way for people to know where you stand is to say quickly and clearly secular buddhist practice involves no supernatural belief. (there might be a better for word for supernatural). I think people will understand this very easily. I think there's also some thing about western values or not importing foreign cultural values along iwth it too but that's perhaps not what concerns those people you are talking to.

Dana-
Nourie
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Dana Nourie
Post Re: How to explain that youre both "secular" and "religious"?
on: March 1, 2012, 00:29
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Condol,

You make some good distinctions and connections. I can see secular Buddhism as a philosophy and psychology and a practice of intentionally being in the direct experience of life, reality. People who follow traditions are following the Buddhist religions which includes beliefs and dogma.

I agree with our formulation. I think you worded it very well. Good points!

Dana Nourie
All Around Geek Girl

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