Introduction to secular dharma – a study group

What is secular Buddhism, or a secular dharma? Recently, Wellington’s secular dharma practice community, One Mindful Breath, ran a successful study group which investigated this question. This is what we did.

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What if I’m doing it wrong?

Have you ever thought ‘What if I’m doing it wrong?’ We’ve all had that feeling when learning something new. This is no less true when the new activity is meditation.

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Sue Hamilton

I’d like to recommend the work of Sue Hamilton, a British Buddhist scholar. Be warned though, this is dense academic stuff requiring some work and patience to understand.

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False starts and blind alleys – bringing secular dharma practitioners together

Nothing is permanent. This includes the ways we come together as dharma practitioners. Without a dharmic Google Maps to show us the way, we are continually developing our understanding of what it means to be part of a community of secular meditation practitioners.

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Creating and maintaining a secular dharma community was never going to be easy

Doing something a bit different, a Buddhism that’s not Buddhist – not my words – was always going to present a number of challenges. Some of these were to be expected, others unexpected. I would like to offer just three key reflections here. Think of this as part of a conversation that you’ve just walked in on.

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Where am I? How did this get here?

I have just met with a group of people to meditate and talk about the dharma, as I’ve been doing weekly for the past two years. I didn’t know any of them before. So where does all this come from?

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On secular Buddhist sangha

Sangha is considered one of the three ‘jewels’ or refuges, along with the dharma and Buddha. According to some Buddhist traditions, however, the sangha is reserved for monks or those who have achieved a ‘high level of awakening’. But interestingly, Gotama would have also summoned his monks to leave their monasteries to go and ‘expound the teaching for the good of the many’.

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Creating a secular Buddhist association in the USA

In the U.S., the Secular Buddhist Association has grown organically around Ted Meissner’s podcast, The Secular Buddhist, and its associated Facebook page. The individuals who were frequent participants on Facebook became the core volunteers who would go on to create the Secular Buddhist Association website and, later, the non-profit organization incorporated under that name.

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Dharma and community for meditators

Like all practices worthy of the name, every form of meditation is informed and moulded by a tradition – the Buddha’s tradition (‘the dharma’) in our case. So what is community, and what is it not?

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Training Buddhist chaplains

In 2013, New Zealand Buddhist Council and Amitabha Hospice started training the first intake of applicants in the first of a three-stage process that was intended to train this country’s first locally-trained cohort of Buddhist chaplains.

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