SuttaCentral

Secular Buddhism


#1

I’ve thought a lot about what exactly “secular Buddhism” might be and how it manifests? Is it somehow a unified “movement”? Do secular Buddhists accept the teachings, but devoid of belief in heavens, devas, hells, and so on? Afterlife? Some combination? Does it go further? Thanks for sharing ideas, especial those who call themselves secular Buddhists.


#2

I’m not a Secular Buddhist (I have confidence in the concepts of heaven, hell, rebirth, nibbana, etc.), but I’m familiar with the ideas of Secular Buddhism. Your assumptions about it are correct, they reject all “supernatural” claims found in the Pali Canon, instead taking them as allegory, metaphor, or psychological phenomena. Here is a great YouTube channel were you can learn more about it (and about Buddhism in general). It’s called Doug’s Secular Dharma, and stays within the Early Buddhist Texts in its discussions.


#3

Curious about this, I read A Secular Buddhism by Stephen Batchelor. There is a sense of separatism that most notably hardens itself into the term “Buddhism 2.0”.

I find that exclusion peculiar and not particularly useful in relating to all those who follow the Buddha’s teachings.


#4

Thanks @Jose. I’d only add that there are many ways to be a secular Buddhist. Not all reject such claims. Some may be agnostic about them or simply more interested in a this-life practice. But whatever the case, I personally wouldn’t regard it as “Buddhism 2.0” or anything of the sort. It’s just another way to approach the dhamma.


#5

You’re right @dougsmith, I apologize for stereotyping all secular Buddhists. Many do leave the issue of the supernatural open-ended, instead focusing on the benefits of meditation and being a moral person. I do also leave open-ended many supernatural claims, or take them to be metaphors for psychological processes, but nevertheless have conviction in rebirth, kamma, and nibbana.

Keep doing a great job with your YouTube channel. Your discussions are informative and easy to understand, and I enjoy them immensely.


#6

Thank you all! Here’s a thought I’ve harbored for quite a long time: if one realizes non-self and impermanence through the five aggregates and the four noble truths using whatever practice tools are at one’s disposal, it makes no difference whether one buys into the supernatural aspects of the teaching or not. The result will be the same. I’m not concerned about the celestial, hell, ghost, or asura realms. At the same time, I’m most comfortable practicing in a traditional Theravada setting. So, what does that make me?


#7

I like this framework. There’s also not necessarily a strict duality between secular and religious concepts, as if the whole belief system could be neatly divided in two. Some concepts have more or less of the supernatural about them to varying degrees.

Thus I consider myself a relatively secular person, but I’ve also come to believe some things that my very secular friends think are completely bonkers.


#8

When I first came to Buddhism; profoundly wary of the problematic tendencies of institutional structures I was reliant on a self-defined secular Buddhism to go further into Buddhism. My primary, or perhaps only, interest in making this construct for myself was to give myself the space to associate myself with the teaching I found had something thoroughly moving and relevant to the problem of existence as I experienced it, without getting caught-up in the difficulties, and perhaps some redundancies of tradition (though my relationship to the Buddhist world has changed some, I feel my basic apprehension proved to be completely valid pretty quickly, but by that point it didn’t matter so much any more, I was comfortable enough with the development of my relationship to the teachings to not feel so vulnerable identifying as Buddhist).

Still at that early exploration stage, when I encountered Secular Buddhism (as a movement) in the first instance I thought, “oh neat, a bunch of folk who are interested in pursing the teaching outside of the religious form”, but soon enough recognized that a key drive within this movement is connected more to the “of or relating to worldly as opposed to sacred things” definition of “secular” and not just the “not concerned with or related to religion” aspect of the word.

As someone whose love for the teaching in a large part grew out of reading the suttas, I couldn’t help but observe that a materialistic presentation of the teaching is entirely unsupportable from the point of view of the suttas, at least to my mind. It was roughly at this point that I set aside my interest in secular Buddhism; I saw it would just be too difficult to distinguish my brand of secular Buddhism from Secular Buddhism, but then, as I say, my position started to change anyway.


#9

I agree. When we are unnecessarily vocal about someone’s beliefs regarding the supernatural, or lack thereof, we’re creating conflict and division in regards to the Dhamma. We should instead focus on understanding our common interests with open arms.


#10

Or even work on myself, address issues in the first person, and avoid viewing ideas as dichotomies — my thought opposed to yours, that is.


#11

There is really no need to take a position on these questions. They can be placed to one side, or filed under “don’t know”. Agnosticism is fine.
Attachment to disbelief (aversion) can be just as problematic as attachment to belief (craving).


#12

As a general observation, I’ve noticed that the people who are most vocal in their objection to rebirth and the realms aren’t Secular Buddhists.


#13

There was a long discussion about Secular Buddhism (in the sense of https://secularbuddhism.org/) here:
Why Secular Buddhism is Not True


#14

If not secular Buddhists, then what?


#15

On this, and the rest of your post, I agree happily and whole heartedly.


#16

“The usual suspects”. :yum:

But seriously, if you spend some time on Buddhist forums, you will notice a variety of agendas.


#17

Yes ! “You need to believe this” “You don’t need to believe that”
So much time cogitating instead of looking at what is.


#18

I’m happy to hear different points of view on dhamma, but I spend little time on the forums. Often the posts are way over my head.


#19

Same here. Well, mostly. :laughing:


#20

How does secular Buddhists separate from secular Christians?