Relationality is crucial for an intelligent and coherent secular Buddhism

To my friends in the Dhamma:

What follows is a reflection on human relationality and why it is important, I’d argue essential, as a core consideration of the emergent notion of secular Buddhism. It does not enter the usual arena of this inquiry: rebirth, the validity of the discourses, and so on. Where it does answer will, I trust, speak for itself. This is drawn from my talk at the secular Buddhism workshop a couple of years ago at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. May it serve. Wishing all readers ease and insight.

Three Questions and Eight Selected Points of Significance to Secular Buddhism of a Relational Perspective

Insight Dialogue and a relational understanding of the Dhamma raise some important questions facing an emergent secular Buddhism.

  • Secular Buddhism does not enjoy the cloak of faith; “Because the Buddha said so” is not always a good enough answer, nor is, “We’ve always meditated or thought about the mind this way.” How will such a Buddhism face the empirical and theoretical findings of the sciences and psychological practices that point to intrinsic human relationality?
  • Absent religious faith, what is the source of zeal, commitment and joy? What is the basis for secular community?
  • In the absence of ordained Sangha, and acknowledging the greedy and corrosive forces of the wider culture of ignorance, what community is capable of carrying forward the deepest liberative teachings?

The following eight points, selected from a larger body of work based on relational meditation and Dhamma, are offered here as support for addressing these questions. Careful, wisdom- and practice-based attention to human relationality:

  1. Offers zeal and joy without religion’s downside risks of magical thinking
  2. Aligns Buddhist thought with recent science pointing to the evolutionary, genetic basis of human sociality
  3. Enables a Buddhist response to interpersonal neurobiology and suggests a contemplative social neuroscience
  4. Invites coherence between Buddhist and Western psychology and psychotherapy
  5. Addresses social psychology and the social construction of self
  6. Suggests a sacred community without hierarchy of ordained Sangha
  7. Provides an experiential basis for ethics without resorting to religious authority
  8. Bridges the individual liberation of Pali Buddhism and the universal compassion of later Buddhist schools.
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One Comment

  1. Nick Nahlous
    Posted July 23, 2015 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    The ‘Secular’ label can create an unnecessary divide because there are monastic traditions (Buddhadasa, Chah, Sumedho, etc) that take the original empirical (‘secular’) position in relation to the Pali teachings. The Pali teachings provide no non-empirical position. The solution is intellectually comprehending the Pali teachings clearly (which is not too difficult) and then verifying those dhammas in meditation (which may be more difficult). With metta.

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