Why Secular Buddhism is Not True

Include Mahayana, and …Thai? spirit babies, and Myanmar fundamentalism, and misogyny… lots going on in everyone’s midst. Maybe let’s look in our own bowls before those of others, as it were?

Honestly, what’s the density of critical assessments of Secular approaches compared with e.g. Mahayana? It’s a strange thing, this concern over fewer people as compared with the population of the latter group. Bhikkhu Bodhi also needs an intervention, given that he’s extending olive branches to wrong view.

Let’s have consistency, please.


Finally, we have found common ground - three bows!

Well, in some respects.

The trouble is, this is mostly happening on the Secular Buddhist side, while from the Traditional side there’s a lot of pushback… so much more than is given to Mahayana in any capacity. It’s a strange double-standard, a gap that seems to be increasing in leaps and bounds.

I’d like to see Sujato write “Why Mahayana is Not True”, just to get the cards on the table. For example, here is one minor change:

Let us see some urgency here, too, the next time you have coffee in the early hours.


It makes little sense to point at the shortcomings of Buddhist traditions and use that as a justification for the shortcomings in a Secular Buddhist response to dogmatic ideologues in their midst. Its true that we all need to be circumspect.

If Secular Buddhists can recognise the ideological threat in their own Sangha they have a responsibility to do something about it - and not sweep the issue under the carpet.

If the Secularists want to say they have more intellectual integrity than traditional Buddhists then they have to match their words with their deeds? They may then claim the moral and intellectual high ground.

Secular Buddhists need to stop making excuses: acknowledge, forgive and, learn!

Open inquiry is a core Buddhist value that is an indispensable element of the historical Buddha’s teachings.

Its time for Secular Buddhists to openly acknowledge the problem and seek to distance themselves from this non-Buddhist influence. Who is going to step-up - any takers?

Is it really necessary to use so many exclamation points? :slight_smile:

Perhaps people can just practice in the way that seems best to them, rather than taking up danda against enemies, and worrying about “ideological threats”. Let’s say no to sectarian strife and Buddhist Cold Wars.


It’s not a justification, it’s a demonstration of a behavioral double standard when it comes to EBT Apologetics.


Yes, but it’s not a Mexican stand-off! The Secularists believe they are the voice of reason. They are the ones with the modern, new and improved form of understanding that sheds new light in a place that was occupied by myths and fairy tales. They ‘see’ what the ancient world could not have known. Therefore, being the bringers of NEW light requires deeds - not just platitudes.

The Secularists could prove they ascribe to a new and improved form of Buddhism. They could do this through distancing themselves from the myth-makers in their midst i.e. the followers of Scientism. This all seems quite reasonable?

I cannot see how any Buddhist - that is committed to open-inquiry would find this suggestion objectionable? I would hope that you find reasons to agree - apparently not?

Using Secular Buddhist logic, we may find an explanation for the resistance to meaningful change among traditionalists. They find change difficult because their clarity is compromised through their commitment to ancient myths and falsehoods.

Unlike these unfortunate folk the Secular Buddhists with modern insights - are not burdened by the weight of tradition. They can break the ancient fetters that enslave the mind. So - how about it - this should be a walk in the park for the well-informed and progressive thinkers in our midst?

I can think of 3 reasons why Secular Buddhists may be unwilling to deal with the issue of ‘Scientism’ in their Sangha: 1) an inability to recognise the problem; 2) indifference and, 3) Scientism is so entrenched and pervasive that excluding it would be a worrying prospect.

Clearly, the fanatical devotees of Scientism - who have found a supportive and/or indifferent environment to hangout - are going to resist meaningful change in Secular Buddhism.

I don’t see why my suggestion should be a troubling prospect? It would just mean the followers of Scientism in Secular Buddhism would have to establish their own Buddhist Sangha.

A Sangha that was seperate from those Secularists who were not troubled by free and open inquiry based on the Buddha’s original teachings.

A deathly silence descends! :slightly_smiling_face:

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If we are interested in maintaining the integrity of the teachings we will not be able to pretend that Scientism does not belong in a field of open-inquiry. Open-inquiry is not an optional-extra in the teachings of the historical Buddha. Is their anyone who disagrees with this assessment? This is not about sectarianism this is about the Dhamma - pure and simple!

Someone needs to ‘prove’ - through thoughts, words and, deeds - that Secular Buddhism is the bastion of intellectual rigor it claims to be? Stand and deliver - WHY NOT? :slight_smile:

Kay, please note that my reference to the tone of this article was based in fact with direct quotes that elicited that tone provided. I also provided a link to this original work.

If you’re concerned about context, I would be happy to provide the entire sections from which these words were derived, as they are far more harsh in their completeness. I did not do so in order to avoid overstating this case.

I also find irony as others have pointed out that you do not address the other aspects of the guidelines which were violated by Ajahn Sujato, but call out one that was supported by evidence.

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So you would be equally supportive of a secular Buddhist using such disparaging words in a critique of Theravadin views, as long as they met other criteria of truth, well intentioned, etc.? Interesting. I’ll have to try that out sometime and see what the response is really like.

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Hi, Mike. I guess I’m missing specifically what word or phrasing here is dismissive? I really am very curious about that, as I of course could be missing something, but find that a re-engineering check by word switching has it not even vaguely as dismissive:

“John Smith and anyone else who wishes to practice in a secular way, in an institution that matches their beliefs, are welcome to do so and have whatever beliefs resonate with them on a cultural, social, and personal level.”

Again, that sounds like a respectful encouragement to others in their beliefs, what am I missing? Or this:

“John Smith and anyone else who wishes to practice Islam in an institution that matches their beliefs, are welcome to do so and have whatever beliefs resonate with them on a cultural, social, and personal level.”

What is dismissive about that?


Hi Ted,

Thank you for your response, and nice to see you back here.

As I said, perhaps I’m over-interpreting your article, in which case I apologise for the misunderstanding.

I did try to explain in my post that:

I think Bhikkhu @cintita expresses what I was thinking of very well in this essay that others have already referred to:

… I will submit that the Buddha’s teachings are to be
taken seriously, because each one will have an important practical function, or
practice function, to be realized in beneficial results for the practitioner and for
the world at large. …


Of course John Smith is most welcome to practice Islam - that is a foregone conclusion in liberal democracies. Or, should we have a travel-ban applied to all Muslims to prevent their free movement?

What are you suggesting in that comment? Are you saying that the followers of Islam are dangerous people? What about the Sufies and my Muslim friends down at the local falafel outlet? Should I treat them as if they have no right to practice their faith?

I think all practicing Buddhists would be worse-off if we denied others their right to be Muslim and free of persecution and religious intolerance in a multicultural society?

This has nothing to do with insisting that Buddhists - of every kind - should aim for intellectual rigor and encourage open-minded inquiry? This encouragement is in keeping with the Buddha’s teachings that we all value as Buddhists? I take this truth to be self-evident?

I hope you are not prone to mistaking critical thinking for personal criticism? I am untroubled when people are serious and frank with regard to something as important as the Dhamma. This may lead to unnecessary and inappropriate offence? :slightly_smiling_face:


So you would be equally supportive of a secular Buddhist using such disparaging words in a critique of Theravadin views, as long as they met other criteria of truth, well intentioned, etc.? Interesting. I’ll have to try that out sometime and see what the response is really like.

Certainly, you can try as much as you wish, but remember, what really count is your intention behind all this, it’s your own kamma, nobody else :wink:.
As long as you don’t criticize the person but only the view or the act, I have no issue. Sometime being straightforward and even harsh is necessary. The Buddha did that all the time, especially when people misrepresented him .


What is slightly hilarious in all this is the Buddha would also attack the person - vigorously! I am not suggesting we emulate the LION with his lion’s ROAR!

In no uncertain terms, the Buddha would refer to heretics, eel-wrigglers, can you think of other colourful word-play from the mouth of the Buddha? It is good-fun to hear the Buddha talking in this way - evocative! I think this topic deserves a thread in and of itself?

Would the Buddha be flagged if he appeared on this site - most certainly - especially if he was up for a debate.

The Buddha was no ‘Wilting Lily’ - he seemed like a very sober, peaceful and wisened ascetic. Given to an infrequent joke and the occasional smile - he was not backward, in coming forward? This would have been required due to the many wrong-views prevalent at the time.

This thread is about wrong-view: Why Secular Buddhism is Not True.

Maybe we need to add a few more clarifying provisos to the code of conduct on this site? That makes it even clearer that serious and spirited debate is given ‘pride of place’?

Alternatively, we could have a new category other than general ‘Discussion’? How about: Spirited Debate? Afterwards, we could pop into the Water-Cooler for refreshments?

We could even have the category: Dhamma for Eel-Wrigglers - I could post my musings there and leave you all in Nibbanic-peace. Oh no - I ad-hominem’d my not-self :slightly_smiling_face::innocent::slightly_smiling_face:


There may be a similarity to a phrase that I’ve heard many times. One version begins “you can do any damn-fool thing you like as long as …”

{fill-in-the-blank} and anyone else can do any crazy religious practice they want, in any [mental] institution that matches their beliefs . . .

So not so much an obviously inappropriate thing to say except for the unfortunate cultural resonance.

Perhaps want you were attempting to express some along the lines of:

> I believe that Buddhism is best supported when we allow for a plurality of practices and beliefs that resonate with practitioners on various levels.

I note that you use the technique of analyzing sentences by turning them around too. Also sometimes known as turning the table, switching or reversing ground, or “how would you like if someone said that about you?”.
It’s a surprisingly powerful and useful technique.

One that’s kept my :no_mouth: damn-fool mouth closed more than once!

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No need, I have read the entire article.

I utterly disagree.

To clarify, I take the entire article as the context. This, it seems to me, is the only fair and just thing to do.

But even if I did as you seem to have done, I wouldn’t perceive “harshness”, I would perceive passionate, reasonable criticism.

Again…I completely and utterly disagree.

But then that’s perception, isn’t it? You’re free to yours.

Mine’s left me with little worry and an easeful conscience. I have accepted responsibility for myself, internally and as can be seen further up in the thread, in the external world, to the extent that my heart showed me I needed to. I wish you this too.

I’m generally uninterested in nit-picking, fault-finding, fruitless debate. So unless there’s something wholesome to interact with, please accept my warm good wishes and goodbye.

In my opinion the impact of right speech is roughly as consequential as the concerns expressed in this thread about secular Buddhism. To borrow a phrase, **using wrong speech can undermines the capacity for Buddhism to make a real difference; it undermines the transformative potential of the dharma.

In other words, this conversation about right or wrong speech is not just a side-bar or distraction, it is just as important as the concerns raised in the original post.

@Ted_Meissner I think that the speech has to be illustrated in concrete examples that quote sentences and paragraphs. Perhaps much like a scholar might discuss the meaning of a word or phrase in a classic texts.

Of course it’s possible that the readers of this website simply disagree about what constitutes right speech especially in terms of the EBT. (And I believe that right speech doesn’t have to get in the way of verve, passion, wit and interesting writing.) But it’s clear that Buddhists don’t agree on the dharma of how to have this conversation.

Human experience, history and psychology suggest another possibility. That a kind of identity protective reasoning may be in play here, a systemic ‘blindspot’ or unconscious privileging. (Arg! Just writing that last sentence I can feel my clinging ego turning in disgust.)

Every group gathers around certain values that become ‘sacred’ to the group. These values bind us together. But the sacred both binds and blinds.

This phenomena shows up when dealing with difficult issues such as ones which touch on core or unifying beliefs.
Fortunately experience also shows that individuals can be lead to see and acknowledge the gap between the values they espouse and their words.


Actions vs. Espoused Ethics

Added note: The results above are not attributed to narcissism – unless nearly all the leaders studied were narcissists – but are believed to be true of the vast majority of people.

The Righteous Mind: How good people are divided by religion and politics

At the same time, that could be redundant, given that that is the purpose of this forum, if one reads ‘true’ as ‘authentic’, given the premised of this forum.

In fact, The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts could be just what you are looking for. You have likely already read it though!

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I wouldn’t say “true” is by any means a synonym for “authentic.” Determining what are the authentic words and statements of the Buddha is one kind of inquiry. Determining which of the Buddha’s authentic statements are true is in another kind of inquiry.