What is this thing called secular Buddhism, and how did it get here?
Most dharma practitioners in western countries belong to Asian diasporas and preserve the practices of their countries of origin.
The next most numerous group of practitioners consists of ethnic westerners who have adopted, and sometimes adapted, one or more of the longstanding Asian forms of practice, with their associated beliefs and organisational culture (including discriminatory gender relations, hierarchy and concepts of authority).
The third, emerging category of practitioners in the west encompasses those who seek to develop forms of practice, community and thought that harmonise with their own culture and its more progressive values – starting with egalitarianism, inclusiveness and democratic self-rule. It is this third group which attracts the label of a secular dharma.
Secular Buddhism is not a ‘school’ of Buddhism: it has no orthodoxy, no separate canon and no institutional presence. For the most part, its sympathisers participate in lay practice communities with friends of other Buddhist persuasions or of none in particular.
Rather, a secular dharma stands for a developmental direction that is typically Buddhist in its open-minded scepticism and its desire to let the dharma speak most effectively, that is in culturally available terms.
In a primary, existential sense, human experience is no different today than what it was in the time of the Buddha. However, it is clear that as these teachings spread from country to country they changed, adapting to the conditions and the cultures of the host societies.
As we develop our own understanding of what we need to do in this particular place and time – 21st century Aotearoa New Zealand – our intention is to foster a culture of openness and generosity among ourselves and in our interactions with others.
Rather than an organisation, this website is an expression of a network of people. Scattered the length and breadth of the land of the long white cloud, we are a small and diverse network of spiritual friends whose practices focus around the four tasks offered by Gotama to his followers in India two and a half thousand years ago.
Also, valuing meaningful and insightful dialogue, a critical examination of other Buddhist traditions improves our understanding of our practice.
A secular approach to the dharma shares authority and responsibility among peers, believing that everyone is capable of understanding and practicing the four tasks, of taking responsibility for their own practice, and being the spiritual friend for others.
As well as the resources on this website, our intention is to help create the conditions whereby people can become involved in secular dharma community in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Here’s an excellent introduction: ‘I am a secular Buddhist,’ writes Stephen Batchelor. ‘It has taken me years to fully ‘come out,’ and I still feel a nagging tug of insecurity, a faint aura of betrayal in declaring myself in these terms.’ Read this article here and, if you wish, leave a comment.
Also, take a look here:
Join the conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions: let those of us who are keen to share our experience with you know how we can do so.