Author Topic: Secular Buddhism  (Read 1505 times)

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Secular Buddhism
« on: March 25, 2017, 06:05:41 am »
Greetings to all visitors to this forum for the very first time, and to old friends and associates I have known of Free and Other Sanghas, some for years.

Having thought about the topic for many years, mostly due to concerns about the culturally derived fantasies, and beliefs to which I was exposed over my many years since beginning my path(s) exploring, studying and practicing Buddhism, I, just yesterday decided to drop all of the "names" associated with various Buddhist Traditions, both coming and going, identifications, tradtions, sects, isolating practices, which appeared (to me) to be creating islands of isolation within the larger of the Buddhist Community.

My first exposure to Buddhism was in 1963 in South-East Asia, while serving in The U.S. Intelligence Service in South Vietnam.  I was baptized, raised, confirmed, and married as a Roman Catholic, superficially explored various other Euro-Centric Christian religions, did some teaching in service to Catholic children and their parents regarding The Old Testament, went on to investigate Bahai,  Mormonism, Judeaism, and The Jehovah's Wittnesses.

Due to a wide variety of real life circumstances, a wife of over thirty-eight years dying of metastatic colorectal cancer, and having prayed to various versions of God for her rescue, I rediscovered and began exploring Buddhism in earnest, sticking my nose into Zen, Tibetan, and The Laotian Theravada, eventually settling with The Theravada, only with a Bhikkhu from Celon / Sri Lanka, where I resided from March of 2004 after my wifes early death due to cancer till yesterday, March 24, 2017;  thirteen years by my accounting.

My education, work / vocation and professional certifications were in the fields of mathematics, sciences, and technology, with an early substantial trip down the wrong lane in Experimental Psychology, which I eventually reconized as a life-choice error and as a departured from my real interest in the fields of Biology, Chemistry, and in later life, Physics.

After three years in Military Intelligence, I worked  for two large technical companies in my life-time:  A.T. & T. (Western Electric/ Bell Labs ) installing and testing newly developed telephonic systems, which eventually evolved into what is known now in the technical community as semi-conductor communications systems.  Later and for the next thirty-two years I worked for Xerox Corporation in various technical capacities, eventually settling in the Environmental Safety and Health Organization from which I retired in June of 1998.

After my retirement I occupied my time with online investing, long-distance sports (cycling, running), wilderness activites (exploring our magnificent national parks), and caring for my dying wife till her death with the assistance of our four wonderful children, now all adults with children of their own (five grandchildren, and one great grandchild).

So, even though it has taken me awhile, I eventually came to realize that, what has now become my avocation, Buddhism, is loaded with cultural baggage, which in my old age of 72 & 8/12  has become too burdensome to carry any longer, and I have decied to dump.  These include:  naggas, devas, gods, Gods, Bodhisattvahs, healing dieties, and all  other forms of magical manisfestations including Mara, Happi Hottei, and Santa Claus.

I must admit that I love these mythical ideas and totally embrace them as beneficial metaphors.

I do accept the idea of Bodhiness, and a Buddha, at least for now.  I see these as humans who have achieved a degree of wisdom beyond compare.  For now I will equate them with the idea of genius, and agree that they too can be flawed like the rest of us.

I am sticking with the other fundementals of Buddhism including The Four Noble Truths, kamma, impermanence, dependent origination, emptiness, pysical and psychological rebirth, and nibbana as a goal, because, with only minor modifications I can find no reason to reject these concepts at the present, and because they work in behalf of my personal benefit, the benefit of others, and so far as I can tell are scientifically valid.

It is in these aspects of Secular Buddhism that I intend to begin to document and share in this thread.  All are welcome to join me, to comment and to share without fear of criticism, argument, or rancor.  Please!  "No trolls allowed!" Please!!

My approach for now will be to explore each of Buddha's teachings from a secular perspective.  You are most welcome to join me and to do the same.  I will write to Hakan, the owner and developer of FreeSangha and ask him later to provide another forum if it appears to be warranted.  But, for now, Buddhism and Science seems to be the right forum for this beginning.

I consider this thread to be an experiment and as such should remain open to redirection, warranted correction, and beneficial change.

Please let me know what you think.   :listen:

_/\_Ron
« Last Edit: March 25, 2017, 03:39:32 pm by Ron-the-Elder »
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline lisehull

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Re: Secular Buddhism
« Reply #1 on: March 25, 2017, 08:45:27 am »
Thank you for starting this. I have recently become interested in Secular Buddhism, mainly through the website SecularBuddhism.com and am hoping to learn more about how to apply it in my practice.

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Secular Buddhism
« Reply #2 on: March 26, 2017, 02:21:31 am »
I'm in! I've been gradually rewriting Buddhist stuff into everyday English, leaving out the supernatural and cultural-specific, but leaving in the key ideas. It seems that when I do this it becomes secular anyway. Looking forward to discussions about translations of different words, phrases and ideas  :eek:
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Secular Buddhism
« Reply #3 on: March 26, 2017, 07:34:34 am »
Great!  Looks like we have a core gathering.

I have been thinking about this issue for the last couple days and I would like to begin with a discussion of "morality" since it is fundamental to all religions.  Under this topic I see "kamma" / "karma" primarily and "non-violence".  Any disagreement, departures, suggestions, or adds? :listen:

But, before we go there, I suggest we discuss what stays and what goes:

Can we all agree that "magical" acts and beings must go, except for their value as metaphors?

Purely from a procedural standpoint, do we want to have seperate threads for each topic, or do we want to go with potpourri and see where it lands?   :listen:

 :lipsseald:  <-- Me shutting-up now.   :-P
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline IdleChater

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Re: Secular Buddhism
« Reply #4 on: March 26, 2017, 08:12:46 am »
Two questions for Ron:  one is could you explain what you mean by a "secular perspective" and two,  why  is scientific validity important, seeing as the Buddha's teachings and science address entirely different concerns?

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Secular Buddhism
« Reply #5 on: March 26, 2017, 07:19:26 pm »
Two questions for Ron:  one is could you explain what you mean by a "secular perspective" and two,  why  is scientific validity important, seeing as the Buddha's teachings and science address entirely different concerns?


Q1:  From "Secular Buddhism" website (  http://secularbuddhism.com/what-is-secular-buddhism/)  "a pragmatic approach to explaining and applying Buddhist teachings ... based on humanist values."

Q2:  Because my approach to Buddhism has always been based upon truth.  I see science as the modern, most effective method of determining truth
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline francis

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Re: Secular Buddhism
« Reply #6 on: March 27, 2017, 12:43:06 am »
Hi Ron,

Thanks for the starting the topic. I think it’s an excellent idea because much of what we see today portrayed as Buddhism is loaded with religion, beliefs and rituals.

I was brought up a Roman Catholic, but rites and rituals based on blind belief didn’t do it for me.  From there, it was a journey through the counterculture of the 1960s/70s, Age of Aquarius, Carlos Castaneda, New Age spirituality and self-development. Then one day, a friend asked me along to a Buddhist meditation class. I went, and spent a couple of years learning about Buddhism before moving on.

As a Westerner, who grew up with the hollowness of religious rites and rituals, I see Buddhism as a philosophy, a belief system that is not a religion and definitely non theist. After all, the Buddha was a human being, a gifted human being, who on awakening saw ‘things for what they really are’.  He didn’t pretend to be a God, and sidestepped the whole God thing. His goal was to end of suffering (dukkha).  However, what impressed me most about the Buddha was his insight into human nature.

Walpola Rahula expresses this insight in Chapter 6 The Doctrine of No Soul: Anatta of his book What the Buddha Taught:

Quote
Buddhism stands unique in the history of human thought in denying the existence of such a Soul, Self, or Ātman. According to the teaching of the Buddha, the idea of self is an imaginary, false belief which has no corresponding reality, and it produces harmful thoughts of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism, and other defilements, impurities and problems. It is the source of all the troubles in the world from personal conflicts to wars between nations. In short, to this false view can be traced all the evil in the world.

Two ideas are psychologically deep-rooted in man; self-protection and self-preservation. For self-protection man has created God, on whom he depends for his own protection, safety and security, just as a child depends on its parent. For self-preservation man has conceived the idea of an immortal Soul or Ātman, which will live eternally. In his ignorance, weakness, fear, and desire, man needs these two things to console himself. Hence he clings to them deeply and fanatically.

The Buddha’s teaching does not support this ignorance, weakness, fear, and desire, but aims at making man enlightened by removing and destroying them, striking at their very root. According to Buddhism, our ideas of God and Soul are false and empty. Though highly developed as theories, they are all the same extremely subtle mental projections, garbed in an intricate metaphysical and philosophical phraseology. These ideas are so deep-rooted in man, and so near and dear to him, that he does not wish to hear, nor does he want to understand, any teaching against them.


And, it doesn’t get more real than that. Well except for the Heart Sutra.
"Enlightenment, for a wave in the ocean, is the moment the wave realises it is water." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Offline Pixie

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Re: Secular Buddhism
« Reply #7 on: March 27, 2017, 01:21:13 am »
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« Last Edit: March 27, 2017, 01:39:23 am by Pixie »
May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May they all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May they never be deprived of true happiness devoid of any suffering.
May they abide in great impartiality, free from attachment to loved ones and aversion to others.

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Secular Buddhism
« Reply #8 on: March 27, 2017, 03:12:33 am »
Great!  Looks like we have a core gathering.

I have been thinking about this issue for the last couple days and I would like to begin with a discussion of "morality" since it is fundamental to all religions.  Under this topic I see "kamma" / "karma" primarily and "non-violence".  Any disagreement, departures, suggestions, or adds? :listen:

So which definition of morality to go by: right/wrong behavior, good/bad behavior, system of values, principles of conduct, or what? I was always interested in whether following a set morality is essential for enlightenment, or essentially follows enlightenment. Did the Buddha set up morals to live by or did he ask us to decide for ourselves? Is secular morality the same as religious morality? Does morality have to be universal, part of the human condition, or is it culturally-based?
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Secular Buddhism
« Reply #9 on: March 27, 2017, 06:08:18 am »
Quote
stillpointdancer:  "So which definition of morality to go by: right/wrong behavior, good/bad behavior, system of values, principles of conduct, or what? I was always interested in whether following a set morality is essential for enlightenment, or essentially follows enlightenment. Did the Buddha set up morals to live by or did he ask us to decide for ourselves? Is secular morality the same as religious morality? Does morality have to be universal, part of the human condition, or is it culturally-based?

After some thought, but so far not too much practice under the secular Buddhist banner, my thinking is "all the above", which will probably be unacceptable to the religiostic practitioners, but, such as these are the primary reason for Secular Buddhism arising in the first place:

Right to me means "what works" under the current circumstances.  For example:  Maple Syrup is "right" with pancakes, but not with .....???

You arrive at such conclusions based upon experience and experiment, which is where science comes into the picture, and taste, except that taste can be acquired through what is forced upon us by life circumstances.

My next consideration, since the whole idea is to prevent "non-beneficial" suffering and dissatisfaction is health.  But whose health?  Again, it depends on the circumstance.    For example:  In the case of The Love Canal Incident in Niagara Falls, New York, U.S.A., where children were widely developing cancers from hazardous waste exposures,  it is both the general community health as well as the health of the individual that matters.  And, even though they protested at first, the corporation which was identified as partially to blame for the incident (Hooker Chemical), along with local politicians, who acted stupidly in building an elementary school over a hazardous waste dump despite warnings from Hooker Chemical, it ultimately improved the health of the corporation to learn that trusting greedy politicians was always going to result in harm.

So, The first precept I would call one of those Buddhist practices, which is a keeper.

The same for the other five as far as I am concerned, based upon my life experience, education and training.

But, what about The Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eight Fold Path?  Any thoughts :listen:

My initial reflex is that they are pretty much keepers as well, since they are designed and selected to prevent harm, which is kind of the "prime directive" of Buddhism.
« Last Edit: March 27, 2017, 06:15:51 am by Ron-the-Elder »
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Secular Buddhism
« Reply #10 on: March 27, 2017, 06:49:09 am »
Quote
francis:  "And, it doesn’t get more real than that. Well except for the Heart Sutra.

Glad that you decided to join us, francis.

Buddha's insight into human nature struck me with awe as well.  The concept of "soul" was an imprisoning attachment , as was, most certainly, the belief in an all powerful, all seeing (G)od, an idea culturally induced having been raised and indoctrinated as a Roman Catholic like yourself.  These left me clinging and grasping foolishly as well and left me with a sense of resentment and betrayal when I realized their foolishness and gave them up.   

In my estimation that is why Buddha's teachings regarding emptiness and anatta are best retained, as you wisely stated, not because of any attachment to them, but, because they are  valuable and critical facts of life, which, if understood and embraced referentially, will lead to better life choices, directed towards preventing harm, wherever and whenever possible.

And, I believe this is where the idea of "ignorance" causing harm arises, I think.  For, if out of ignorance, we are unaware what harm we are causing, why would we ever be motivated to prevent harm?

I am not certain if this idea is profound, or just so fundamental that it is constantly overlooked, requiring the insight of a Buddha to point it out to us as in The Four Noble Truths, and his Dependent Origination.
« Last Edit: March 27, 2017, 07:12:33 am by Ron-the-Elder »
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Secular Buddhism
« Reply #11 on: March 27, 2017, 07:55:17 am »
As to process:

So, should we leave the topic of "Secular Morality" here, or move it to a separate thread for the sake of clarity?   :listen:

What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline Solodris

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Re: Secular Buddhism
« Reply #12 on: March 27, 2017, 10:03:18 am »
Religion and secularity is both a bond to free will and therefore a cause of suffering. How will the secularization of The Great Middle Way reduce suffering by destroying "half of the bridge" so to speak. How do you teach buddhist psychology to non-secular individuals by alienating their beliefs?

What you proclaim to be myth I have experienced to simply be psychological conditions.

Thanks,
Solodris

Offline IdleChater

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Re: Secular Buddhism
« Reply #13 on: March 27, 2017, 10:11:26 am »
As to process:

So, should we leave the topic of "Secular Morality" here, or move it to a separate thread for the sake of clarity?   :listen:

I don't want to get into this too much, but this question is interesting.

Most, if not all morality has it's basis in religion, so to find a truly "secular" morality would be difficult if not impossible, because any discussion would eventually, if not immediately, circle back to a non-secular source for the moral in question. 

Would you be satisfied with relative morality?

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Secular Buddhism
« Reply #14 on: March 27, 2017, 11:28:40 am »
Religion and secularity is both a bond to free will and therefore a cause of suffering.


Not sure as  to your meaning.  Would you please expand this idea and give more detailed explantion?



Quote
How will the secularization of The Great Middle Way reduce suffering by destroying "half of the bridge" so to speak.

From my study, education, and experience, Buddha's teachings did not do this.  His approach to elimination of dukkha (rebirth, pain, suffering, aging, disease, and death) was all-inclusive, which includes Non-Violence, The Four Noble Truths, Anatta, Emptiness, Kamma, Impermanence, and Dependent Origination / Arising. It is my intuition, and my educated guess that traditions within the cultures in which his "experience" was disseminated that put lingering religious and cultural spins on what he taught.  It is difficult to eliminate these psychological filters through which any new learning or even first hand experience   As time passed, corruption and warping of Buddhism as he conceived it only worsened.  We see this happening today as what I will call "hairy-fairyness" and outright delusion arises within Buddhist communities.  Stories meant for children become dogma, and adults with brains in their heads come to realize the absurdity of it and are forced to move on to something more beneficial to human survival.

Quote
How do you teach buddhist psychology to non-secular individuals by alienating their beliefs?

I don't think it is that difficult.  All it takes is experience like the Buddha recommended to the mother of a dead son, who believed Buddha could tear her deceased son from the grasp of The Prince of Death:

Quote
Having admirable friends
has been praised by the Sage
with reference to the world.
Associating with an admirable friend
   even a fool
   becomes wise.
People of integrity
should be associated with.
In that way discernment grows.
Associating with people of integrity
one would be released from all suffering & stress,
would know stress,
the origination of stress,
cessation & the eightfold path:
   the four noble truths.

Stressful, painful, is the woman's state:
   so says the tamer of tamable people.
Being a co-wife is painful.
Some, on giving birth once,
slit their throats.
Others, of delicate constitution,
take poison.
In the midst of a breech-birth
both [mother & child] suffer destruction.

Going along, about to give birth,
I saw my husband   dead.
Giving birth in the road,
I hadn't reached my own home.
Two children deceased,
my husband dead in the road
   — miserable me!
My mother, father, & brother
were burning on a single pyre.

   "Your family all gone, miserable,
   you've suffered pain without measure.
   Your tears have flowed
   for many thousands of lives."[1]

Then I saw,
I the midst of the charnel ground,
the muscles of sons being chewed.
With family killed,
despised by all,
my husband dead,
      I reached the Deathless.
I've developed this path,
   noble, eightfold,
   going to the Deathless.
Having realized Unbinding,
I've gazed in the mirror of Dhamma.
I've cut out the arrow,
put down the burden,
done the task.
I, KisaGotami Theri,
my heart well-released,
have said this.
Notes

1.
According to the Commentary, this was the Buddha's message to Kisa Gotami. See SN 13.8 and Thag 3.5.


Quote
What you proclaim to be myth I have experienced to simply be psychological conditions.

Thanks,
Solodris

Yes.  No complaints here with that interpretation.
« Last Edit: March 27, 2017, 08:36:54 pm by Ron-the-Elder »
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

 


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