Why Secular Buddhism is Not True

We don’t need to speculate on what he taught were the results of holding wrong view.

Now, there are two destinations for a person with wrong view, I tell you: either hell or the animal womb. -SN 42.3

And what is wrong view? ‘There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no contemplatives or brahmans who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.’ This is wrong view. -MN 117

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Wrong view seems to involve various ways of saying that “post-death ethical stuff” doesn’t happen. Well, it’s possible, even probable, but as yet uncertain. That it does happen is only to be ascertained as a psychic power - and here’s the crux of the issue.

Buddhists believe in psychic powers, Secular Buddhists (as yet) do not, and each group thinks they’ve got the most reasonable approach to evidence.

But agnosticism isn’t wrong view, at least, so maybe that’s a nice place for everyone to meet halfway.

(The necessity of vigorous assertions about psychic powers are cards to play close to the chest, you know? It’s nice to clearly see the shape of it here: if you’re certain that there’s no post-death ethics, you’re going to hell or going feral; if you’re certain of rebirth, you’re either mostly right, or a stream-enterer. It’s good to have this clearly stated, I think.)


I’m sorry, @Feynman., you seem to me to be overthinking this thread. If you would like to address some of the points I have made, by all means do so.

If you would like a suggestion about how to interact on this Forum, my suggestion would be to drop the meta-discussion and simply express your opinion or ask a question. If you would like me to answer a specific question, such as: “Did you mean that Ted was being dismissive?” please ask the question directly. If you think I am being unfair in my assessment of Ted’s article, please say so. That would progress the discussion much more effectively.


For people (like myself) who believe quite strongly in rebirth - forcing agnosticism doesn’t make sense. Others are free to believe what they will - but no matter what anyone believes, the Buddha did in fact seem to teach about the process of rebirth.


Hi everyone,

It took me sometime to read Venerable @Sujato’s original article and then follow the discussion on this long thread, arriving finally at Mr. Ted’s responses, so i’m sorry for replying late.

I just checked Mr. @Ted_Meissner profile and it appears to me that he is no longer here!! And he wasn’t even here before he comes just to make his statement and then disappear. In other words, what I want to say is that he is not really a member of our community, not yet at least! His behaviour so far is similar to someone who makes an account to post a commercial or something and then leaves for ever. I grant you that he might perhaps intend to be a member of this community and will come back to attend to our discussion over his statements sometime in the future, but so far, he never did. He posted a link from a website that he directs and he probably awaits you there if you want to respond to him! And that in itself is already characterised by disrespect to this forum and its members; an unsophisticated attention-seeking behaviour, which has unfortunately succeeded in creating some buzz in our midst. And to add to the humiliation, if you did go to respond on his website, you will find that he has actually restricted registration to it! And now I have to wait for an administrator to ‘approve’ my registration request, in order for me to be able to respond to him at all; and, should they deign to finally approve me, I will probably have to wait again for another approval of my comment! You see what happened here?!

Anyways, here is what I want to say about this. And please bear with me, because though I do my best to be careful, I may still be far less experienced than others here, when it comes to right speech! So please do correct me if I say something wrong ok?!

AXIOM: Right speech doesn’t mean suppression of self-expression, and necessity of entering in “collaborative dialogues”, even if one’s views are contradictory with those of others. This being the case ‘particularly’ in a “secular” context!

And so it is perfectly fine for Venerable Sujato to state that Secular Buddhism misrepresents Dhamma. And it would have been just as perfectly fine for a Secular Buddhist to respond by saying that it is Theravada that misunderstands Dhamma and is superstitious and dogmatic etc. This already happens all the time, and as I understand it, Ven. Sujato’s article is a response to this already established duel! All this is fine because it remains within the sphere of ideas and views. Just like with Mahayana, debates and disagreements have lasted for too long now and we have learned to coexist with the fact that we have irreconcilable differences and stopped complaining or reacting emotionally each time we read a thorough criticism. We don’t make a fuss about this anymore. And we have learned to respect and learn from each other even as we continue to point out our differences, and at least to ‘never’ take anything “personally” and accuse each other of bad conduct.

But unfortunately these standards were neglected, when Mr. Ted made the reckless suggestion that Ven. Sujato may have succumbed to “divisive speech”. You may argue that some passages in his article are strongly worded or dismissive, etc.; but friends, there simply isn’t such divisive speech in Ven. Sujato’s article; and i’m not one who takes sides haphazardly! Do you know what is the “divisive speech” from which we refrain?! It is similar to this:

“Hey, hey my friend, you know, that other guy, he was talking trash about you behind your back! You gotta get even with him right? ooooh yeah you gotta do something about it right away!”

That’s how it is defined in the Canon, including in Pacittiya no. 3 from the bhikkhu Vibhanga for example. If you thought “divisive speech” meant otherwise all those years, then you haven’t been keeping your precept with the same understanding as others do; and therefore you cannot hold others accountable for not keeping it in the same unique way you do!

To suggest that a Theravadin criticism of Secular Buddhism is a “divisive” act, is erroneous and misleading, because a divisive act can only apply to that which is whole or united, or that can aspire to be so! If you know Theravada, you know well that it cannot possibly be viewed to be in such unity with Secular Buddhism. Rather it is surely the case that Secular Buddhism would comfortably fit in the list of “wrong views” at Brahmajala sutta! And again, this is only the Theravadin understanding; it doesn’t mean that it is right for everyone; and it doesn’t mean that Secular Buddhists are morally bad or breaking precepts!

Vigorously criticising each other’s ideas is perfectly fine; this is the best thing about the Internet if you ask me, and about “civilisation” in general! And it is surprising to me that I have to point this out to make my case vis à vis a “secularist” Buddhism! But tossing reckless and irresponsible accusations in response to views that we don’t like - it is precisely this that constitutes a preach of not only right speech, but probably every other right thing in the Noble Eightfold Path. And you can be sure about this as you observe the immediate negative karmic consequences of such action: It only discourages people from expressing themselves and participating freely and with a feeling of safety and confidence and trust in each other.

That’s why I suggest that if someone ‘genuinely’ finds a preach of guidelines that deserves a reaction, then silently flag it, and privately contact a moderator about it if you must. There is certainly no need to point it out to others that they are bad and deficient. We must endeavour to support each other and enjoy each other’s presence and company, and that could only happen by giving each other a sense of safety and trust.

Venerable @Sujato please don’t be bothered by this. Your restraint and humility, and clear-intention, is apparent for everyone to see. And if it is still before midday where you are now, please accept this nourishing and refreshing dessert from me: :cake:



Okay, now I might be starting to get an idea of where you’re coming from!

I’m not coming from the same place.

Indeed, at this very moment as I type this, I’m coming from a place of reflecting on Kamma. Having made that clear, here’s my current reflection: I do feel, from reading Ted’s opening sentences…

Many years ago I took lifetime precepts at Bhavana Society under Bhante Gunaratana, and have renewed them several times. One in particular is challenging me lately:

Pisunavacha veramani sikkahapadam samadiyami.

I take the precept to abstain from divisive speech.

…that he may have been coming from a place of having reacted to Bhante’s article in a way that left him feeling upset. Well part of the kammic impact of that for me, as a reader, was that I experienced similar feelings! And thus wrote from that place too. And of course, part of the kamma I created putting that Intention out there, like bait sitting on the end of a fishing line, is that you caught the bait and it seems have reacted in a similar fashion too! And now it’s coming right back to me!

This will teach me to walk away from my keyboard when I feel upset!

I’m sorry you’ve felt so strongly that you were crying. The tragedy of existence being we all know how that feels!

In such situations, these are a few things that I see in the Dhamma that might be helpful:

What I focus on grows.
I learn more by reflecting on Success than on Failure.
Letting go
I let people be who they are
Demanding of others, that they engage with me on my terms, is like trying to control the wind!

Naturally, it’s a work in progress for all of us, we’re all just 5 conditioned khandas reacting and responding away…sometimes our Dhamma conditioning kicks in, sometimes something else does. This is at the heart of the reflection that helps me - when the Dhamma conditioning kicks in - to move on when I perceive someone’s been unskillful, to be able to still think well of them, to focus on their positives.

So based on all this, I think it would be skilful, now, to focus on this:

and this

and this

One of the aspects of the Dhamma that I love (and have not mastered) is that whatever you focus on grows. You are allowed to walk away from something that is giving you grief, that is binding you to it tightly. It takes courage because our ego is often so caught up in this situation and we often have convinced ourselves that it’s important to continue to sit in the muddy emotional mess we’re in (talking from too much experience here!). But we can walk away or change our focus. It’s much healthier for us. And frankly, my perception of @Sujato and @Robert_Wright is that they focused on their own and each other’s goodness and peace. I imagine that their doing this will be mirrored in the effect on the rest of this community, if it’s individuals will allow themselves to experience this.

Unfortunately that old kamma I put out came back to me and I took the bait and responded again by refocusing on something negative someone else had said. Luckily, I have allowed myself to let that go now.

Once I reflected further on the conversation between Bhante and Robert, it “peaced me out” a lot more about the contents of this thread. I allowed myself to let the good kamma they made here, impact me too. :slight_smile: They led the way to a more wholesome focus, and frankly I’m following! Actually, it’s interesting how wholesomeness leads to fading away. :slight_smile: Because now that I’ve followed them on this, the real, practical outcome is that I’m no longer going to think about it, fester on it, tie up my head space to it. I’ll go peacefully about the rest of my business. My goal, in terms of helping the groups I belong to, is to look after my own heart most of the time and forgive myself and others when we’ve fallen over in this.

Basically, there’s nothing more for me to say on this particular aspect of this thread.

With peace and metta


Wow, it’s literally 11.58 right now, so let me accept your gracious gift and enjoy it, mindfully of course!


Anagarika, you then seem to have different standards than I about what constitutes contempt. Let’s review this passage:

Let’s now reflect in more detail on these charges:

“The secularists are not prepared to question their own deep assumptions.”

This implies that “the secularists” are suffering from some combination of irrational emotional blockage or inappropriate stubbornness. But how does Bhante Sujato know that? Most scientifically-minded people I know question their assumptions all the time, and are generally willing to listen to interesting arguments from opposing corners. The fact that when they do, they don’t always end up adopting the positions the orthodox would like them to adopt does not necessarily point to any emotional unpreparedness on the part of those scientifically-minded people. It instead sometimes points to severe weaknesses in the orthodox arguments that thus do not provide their non-orthodox with any reason to re-evaluate their current assumptions.

“[The secularists] … never imagine that Buddhism might critique materialist rationalism.”

Of course they do. Many of the secularists are well aware that the Buddha appears to have believed in a variety of non-material planes of being, or realms, or spheres, and to have believed in the existence non-material beings occupying those realms. For what it’s worth, they also know that the Buddha appears to have believed in a variety of material beings occupying planes of existence not generally accessible to ordinary human perception. The issue they focus on is whether we have any reason to believe in the actual existence of such beings. Unfortunately, Bhante Sujato prefers to avoid this issue by attributing to the secularists another cognitive deficiency: in this case, the inability to imagine various things.

"This is an essentially psychological, or better, existential lack. "

Wow, the mental impairments of the secularists are getting more and more profound aren’t they? Now their psychological deficiency has progressed all the way to “existential lack.”

“The secularist ideology is shallow and arrogant.”

Nothing demeaning there! I mean, who could possibly object to being called shallow? Who could think that regarding other people as shallow is a kind of contemptuousness?

Of course, perhaps the outlook of the secularists is shallow. Bhante Sujato could attempt to establish this by providing compelling arguments for a contrary outlook that is both (i) true, and (ii) in some meaningful sense, “deeper” than the secularists’ outlook. Perhaps such arguments will be forthcoming. But so far, I’m afraid, the posturing we have seen is - to use an old American cowboy expression - “all hat and no cattle.”

Bhante Sujato has many times provided very good arguments for claims about what the Buddha believed, including documenting the Buddha’s belief in the reality of rebirth. But such arguments are not arguments for the truth of the propositions that the Buddha believed. And that is what the debate is about.

“[The secularist ideology] … remains blind to its own errors, and after many years is still unable to correct them.”

Of course, being blind to one’s errors is a serious cognitive problem. If they really are errors, the secularists would do well to correct them. So let us see some evidence for the claim that the secular views actually are errors. If they are in error about the unreality of rebirth, or in error simply because they refrain from believing in rebirth despite compelling evidence for rebirth, then let us see that evidence. If the evidence isn’t there, then there is no basis for claiming the secularists are blind to anything.

“They spend their time and energy explaining away rebirth as a mere superstition, rather than putting in the effort to figure out what it is all about. To put it plainly: rebirth is not a superstition. To claim otherwise is to misunderstand both rebirth and superstition.”

So now we have another explanation for the intellectual deficiencies of the secularists: lack of effort. They just haven’t worked hard enough to figure out what rebirth is all about. One might think that after penning such a aggressively dispositive sentence such as this, Bhante Sujato would feel compelled to explain both the nature of rebirth, as it was understood by the Buddha, and the reason why rebirth of that kind is a real phenomenon in the world, and why belief in it amounts to more than a mere superstition. But no such explanations are offered.

Later, Bhante Sujato claims:

“Rebirth is an observable, empirical phenomenon, which can be understood as a simple extension of the same psychological principles we observe here and now.”

But I’m afraid this is rather preposterous. It’s like claiming that because functioning automobiles are all constituted by the same physio-chemical processes involving iron and aluminum bonding, electrodynamic currents, rubber vulcanization, refined petroleum burning etc., then one who claims that the car that he wrecked and burned last year was reconsitituted in another automobile realm is only describing “an observable, empirical phenomenon”, one which can be understood as a “simple extension of the same physio-chemical processes we observe here and now.” But obviously there is nothing at all simple or observable about the conjectured new automobile.

There is an important red herring to dispose of in this debate. One might reasonably doubt that the mental phenomena we observe via our first person perspective really are, ontologically speaking, just material or physical processes. Maybe there is a separate ontological category or realm of mental entities that is not reducible in any way to the physical realm. Let’s grant that for the sake of argument. It has to be noticed that this concession brings us no closer to a confirmation of the claim that people survive their deaths in the sense that they are psychologically reconstituted elsewhere. The question is not what the processes that make up a person are composed of. The question is rather about what happens when one of these integrated processes - for example, the one that comprises the mental life of me, Dan Kervick, a processes that persists over several decades and is held together by a somewhat coherent and aggregating collection of memories, consistent patters of intention and desire, characteristic emotional patterns, etc. - reaches that point in time at which the organic body it appears to be yoked to, and dependent on, expires.

We can’t know for sure. But we do have abundant evidence, coming from many different directions, that these mental processes come to an end. That’s because we have abundant evidence that, whatever our mental processes might be made of, they are at least causally dependent on biological processes taking place in my body. We know that if brains are damaged or modified, mental processes are damaged or modified as well. We know that by having people ingest chemicals which do things to their brain, they can be rendered unconscious. Etc. etc.

Does this prove that aspects of a person’s mental stream cannot survive the death and destruction of their bodies? No. But it certainly puts the burden of proof heavily on the back of the person who wants to defend the belief in the continuation of these processes after death. And if the view is not just that a scattered few of these processes continue, but that the whole person is in some sense “reborn”, and yoked to an entirely different human or non-human body, the burden of proof is immensely greater.

Now after all his ranting a bit about the deficient intellects of the secularists, Bhante Sujato takes most of it back, because he says:

Wait. It now turns out that it might be rational after all to believe that the Buddha was wrong about rebirth? What happened to all of that “existential deficiency”, and “psychological unpreparedness”, and “shallowness”, and “arrogance”, and “blindness”???


I did. Twice. You didn’t answer either time.

It could be that your diagnosis of “overthinking” was correct. Right diagnosis, wrong patient.

Ok, that last sentence about diagnosis was a bit snarky. I’m kinda stuck on how to say it more graciously.

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This is a very unfair ad hominem attack. Ted Meissner is entirely within his rights in joining this forum for the purpose of responding to a lengthy and demeaning public attack on his views.


Can’t we all just get along and drink some hot cocoa together?:upside_down_face:


I did answer several questions that you asked. If I missed some, or my replies have been unclear, please ask them again.

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At least what you call a “demeaning” attack was entirely confined to the realm of thought and opinions. What I consider “demeaning”, however, has to do with observable behaviour. You so readily grant Mr. Ted the “right” to express himself freely on this forum, but deny me that same right! And then you readily pardon his inconsiderate behaviour on this forum, but condemn my criticism of that behaviour. And I wasn’t even talking about “rights”, I’m talking about appropriateness. Every aspect about Mr. Ted’s engagement is inappropriate, both what he said, and the manner by which he delivered what he said. I have already explained why this is the case.

And you’re being hasty in declaring a personal attack here, by which I am not intimidated. Primarily because the person you are accusing me of attacking is no where to be found! And it is precisely this that I’m criticising, the disappearance of the person, not the person himself!

Out of respect to the community and to the original topic of this thread, I will discuss this matter no more.


Yeah. It’s painful being either a zombie-like doormat or an over-excited debater. The median is better, but since it is in our minds, it stays invisible, like that oh-so-desired Nibbana. :slight_smile:


Great suggestion, Jose. I saw this recipe posted on Facebook this week, and thought (per your post) it might be just the nice, calming warm drink we all need at this point! :anjal:



In no place and in no way did I deny you the right to express yourself freely. I simply disagreed with what you said, after you expressed yourself.

I thought Ted Meissner’s comments were remarkably restrained and temperate, given the bigotry contained in the previous attack on his views.

I didn’t try to intimidate you. I only expressed my opinion that your criticism of Ted Meissner was very unfair.

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Hi guys, just a friendly reminder:


I skimmed through the essay “Take Seriously but Hold Loosely (perspectives on Secular Buddhism).” It’s 39 pages long, but from what I read it seems like it would be a good investment of time for those of a more skeptical/secular bent to read. His presentation is less, shall we say, clashing than Ven. Sujato’s. And he starts out with what he agrees upon with Secular Buddhism. I don’t want to bias anybody with excerpts because it would be too easy to cherry pick from this kind of essay, but I really do suggest checking it out or giving it a skim.


It’s a very thoughtful article. Thanks for highlighting it.

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A Secular Buddhist could keep an open-mind and be undecided with regard to the transpersonal teachings of the Buddha. An open-minded attitude is next to impossible for those who have strong ideological commitments that deny the existence of transpersonal insights. Secular Buddhist practitioners who are also ‘believers’ of Scientism would not accept the existence of transpersonal insights. See the first definition of Scientism (below):

Scientism is the view that only scientific claims are meaningful.

Scientism can also be used to refer to the methods and attitudes typical of or attributed to the natural scientist.

A believer of Scientism would not be willing to accept those aspects of the Buddha’s teachings that have not been validated through empirical techniques and procedures. They would never accept the truth of any statement found in Buddhist teachings on the basis of the Buddha’s methods of inquiry as for them ‘empiricism’ is the only valid means to arrive at compelling and persuasive evidence and results. The possibility of a ‘contemplative science’ that did not meet empirical requirements would be labelled as: pseudo-science or complete nonsense!

It just so happens that there are many people in society at large - with a secular orientation - that express an interest in Secular Buddhism. It is likely, that many of these ‘converts’ are not aware of the underlying assumptions in Scientism. They may have views and opinions that are scientistic in nature and they view the Buddha’s teachings through a scientistic prism. This is what I was referring to with regard to preset conclusions and ideological commitments - earlier in this thread. It takes time and research to sort out the confusion that arises when viewing the Buddha’s teachings through a scientistic lense. Not everyone has the time or interest to bring all the pieces together. Without this interest and effort misunderstandings proliferate!

I believe Secular Buddhism needs to undergo a ‘Reformation’ - like ‘Luther’s’ break from the Catholic Church’s ideology. Secular Buddhists need to consider a ‘schism’? A split into two groups to remedy the dissonance it has given rise to in the rest of the Buddhist community. Those Secular Buddhists who are open-minded inquirers into the Buddha-Dhamma should distance themselves from those in their midst who are committed to Scientism. The devotees of Scientism are notorious for their intolerance and animosity towards free-thinking and open-minded inquiry. Buddhism can only flourish in an atmosphere of free-thought! It is not a dogmatic belief system whereas Scientism clearly is???

This needs to be recognised by Secular Buddhists and challenged? Secular Buddhists need to stand with traditional Buddhists and defend our core Buddhist values? Then, and only then, will Secular Buddhism be freed from ‘suspicion’ and valid criticism and be (FULLY EMBRACED) within the greater Buddhist community. In other words, it would gain more credibility as a genuine path of Buddhist practice. Who, among the Secular Buddhist community, is going to step-up and address the issue head-on?

Secular Buddhists need to recognise the ‘dubious and questionable element’ in their midst and do something about it - act responsibly! It is the liberating Dhamma we are interested in - this is not a dress rehearsal!