3 useful articles

The March 2016 Bodhi College newsletter contains links to longer articles by three of the four core members of the college faculty, Ancincano M. Weber, John Peacock and Stephen Batchelor. As there’s no facility to discuss them on the Bodhi College website, feel free to comment on them here.


Beyond scientific materialism and religious belief
Akincano M. Weber

Is there a middle path, a living Buddhism, beyond approaches either conveniently tailored to my likings and congenial to my comfort-seeking habits and one demanding credulous traditionalist partisanship to one of the existing lineages?

Maybe the option between self-serving arbitrariness and dogged orthodoxy is the old Western Enlightenment project. Leaving behind familiar perceptual grounds, moving out of the comfort zone of personal views and beyond an intellectual world where the only alternatives seem to be scientific materialism or religious belief takes effort, independent thinking and maturity of mind.

This entails going beyond the various traditions’ exclusive claims to correctness in their interpretation of Buddhist teachings and, more generally, the mythification of their own history. It also means going beyond the simplistic impulse to debunk all these traditions and start from scratch with a ‘reasonable’ Buddhism.



Reflections on language, culture and social identity
John Peacock

The Buddha’s treatment of language would perplex scholars trained in Brahmin philology and offers an entirely different perspective on our relationship to language. One of the discoveries I have made in the course of my own study of the Buddha’s Dhamma is that it is distorted when not understood in its own terms. This applies very particularly to his understanding of language.



The Secularisation of Buddhism
Stephen Batchelor

3 bhikkhus and Stephen Batchelor

3 bhikkhus and Stephen Batchelor

The emergence of Secular Buddhism is seen by its advocates as an overdue reformation of the tradition: one that empowers the individual by returning him or her to the core principles, values and practices taught by the historical Gotama before they mutated into an Indian religion.

In this light, Secular Buddhism may be far closer in spirit and style to the Hellenistic philosophies of Scepticism, Epicureanism or Stoicism than to Judaism, Christianity or Islam.

A secular Buddhist celebrates the adoption of mindfulness in non-religious settings, while recognising that for its potential to be fully realised a meditative practice alone is insufficient.

Just as Jon Kabat-Zinn and others have secularised Buddhist mindfulness, the challenge now is to secularise Buddhist ethics and philosophy in such a way that they can address the current conditions of our world by articulating a way a life in which humans and other beings can flourish together on this earth.


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  1. Leon Frampton
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting these three articles Ramsey. They provoked some interesting thought-streams for me, some of which I will detail below for those who care to read further 🙂

    Firstly, reading this reminded me that the dharma has always been a secular force. From what I read I can see the buddha’s own secular perspective. In the intervening years many buddhist teachers have promoted a secular perspective – sometimes as a direct challenge to the rigid structures that emerged as former secular buddhist groups became formalised, and the original purpose somewhat lost.

    Secondly, one thing that I’m not sure gets stressed in the debates about secular versus traditional, is that they could actually both meaningfully co-exist in the present day. Traditional forms suit some people, and less (or non) traditional suits others – in the same way that some were drawn to Tibetan buddhism while others preferred Zen. All forms of buddhism share the dharma, and I am just as concerned to end greed, hatred and delusion, it’s just that my focus is on this lifetime and setting up the next generation to do the same, and so on. As buddhists we like to talk about breaking down barriers between people, fostering a compassionate heart and so on, seeing the common ground (being human!), so we need to make sure we don’t lose sight of that in this debate.

    I think Akincano Weber is right to suggest we pick up some “tasks”. Although I doubt I would ever be fluent in pali, I think the idea that we not only translate, but interpret, the dharma in a way that is meaningful now, and makes sense now, is critical. The Christian church is clearly way ahead of us on this 🙂 I have read many different editions of the new testament and remember on numerous occasions being struck by how different the interpretation could be from the good ol’ King James edition.

    I just listened to an audio talk by Stephen Batchelor on Mara. When I went back to the textual source I read it in a different way as a consequence – it is so easy to get caught in the assumption that the buddha meant these things in a certain way when it is quite possible it was intended to have a different interpretation. The beauty of having several interpretations is that you then find it harder to accept any one of them as the “right” one.

    I also agree that secular buddhists need to question their motives for promoting a secular approach, and be honest with each other about their “agenda”, but I also think that the traditions need to do the same – I don’t think as secular buddhists we are suggesting we are better than anyone else. If you are like me, you are simply trying to find the best tools to respond to the situation we all find ourselves in, and I quite like how Stephen Batchelor has phrased it –

    “What matters for secular Buddhists is to live life in such a way that it results in a better world for those who are alive now as well as those who will inhabit it after their death. They understand how both their personal actions and the deeds of a society or state that they endorse will have consequences long after their own death. In accepting degrees of responsibility for these acts, they affirm a belief in natural justice, but they can do so without needing to entertain the idea that they will survive in any form to experience the results of those acts themselves.”

    Thanks for reading, warm regards to you all.

    • Posted June 13, 2016 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

      Thank you Leon, an excellent comment. Here are a few musings around what you write.

      Has the dharma always been a ‘secular force’? Not so sure, depends on our understanding of ‘secular’ I suppose. There are times when it’s used the tools of religious fundamentalism, seen in the ways that Tamil people in Sri Lanka and Rohingya people in Myanmar are treated by their Buddhist neighbours.

      The reforms to Thai Buddhism in the 19th century that, for instance, led to the refreshed dharma practice we now see in the forest sangha, were a response to how the dharma had been used by the monarchy, and those who surrounded them. Now it seems horribly reactionary; I can imagine at the time it appeared quite refreshing.

      On the other hand, in the Pali Canon the Buddha likened himself to a doctor, and has been called the first psychologist. Chan/Son/Zen buddhism, it is often argued, arose in part as a response to the difficulties people had relating to the dharma that came to China from India and Tibet.

      My sense is that this ‘secular’ dharma we are developing now is also itself contingent, the product of this time and this place and these people, and in a hundred years from now people will look back on our efforts to practice and understand with a different perspective. I hope some of the practices and ideas we develop now will remain useful, but can’t be certain.

      A somewhat bitty response…

  2. Leon Frampton
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for grammar and typo’s – rather tired tonight 🙂

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