Secular Buddhism and the Real Reasons to Meditate

I’ve just posted an article on “Secular Buddhism and the Real Reasons to Meditate” on the website of the U.S. Secular Buddhist Association which readers of this website may be interested in. In the article I push back against the view expressed by many traditional Buddhists that meditation in the absence of the goal of full liberation from suffering just amounts to stress reduction.

I argue, in the first place, that full liberation in the sense of a complete release from conditioned existence is inconsistent with the naturalistic approach of secular Buddhism.

More important, I assert that the real reason to meditate is to cultivate qualities of the heart and mind which promote individual and social transformation, not to strive to attain the unconditioned or nirvana.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted July 28, 2018 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    You’ve contributed an interesting post to the US Secular Buddhist Association website Mike, and I’m keen to see how it’s received. I was wondering if your post here might initiate a discussion on the reasons that people meditate. To start this off, here’s my 2¢ worth.

    The people who come to One Mindful Breath and those I mentor in secular meditation practice, here in Wellington and online, give different reasons as to why they meditate, those reasons come with different goals, and as their practice deepens they change.

    For most of the people I’ve been mentoring, their practice goes through three stages.

    1 – ‘I want to meditate so I can be happier, less reactive, less anxious, and get to sleep more easily. My goal is to reduce the many ways in which I suffer.’

    2 – ‘Okay, I’ve been meditating for a while and I get it. So what is this secular Buddhism, anyway? My intention is to notice when I stop, and savour those moments of stillness, peace and freedom that come and go when I manage to let go of instinctive reactivity, greed, hatred and confusion, both in my meditation practice and in daily life.’

    3 – ‘Tell me something about a secular Buddhist approach to the eightfold path [or the five precepts, or the five mindfulness trainings] and how I can use them to thrive, find happiness, and lead an ethical life? Now, I practice meditation for its own sake, regularly.’

    Interestingly, what I’ve found is that all three goals can arise during one meditation session, as well as afterwards. This pattern can be seen in the majority of the practitioners I’ve mentored. I’d be keen to see why other people meditate.

  2. Pete Cowley
    Posted July 28, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    My Path followed the above from Ramsey.

    I started with a weekly secular meditation mainly for relaxation, to give some time to myself and secular because I am a progressive Presbyterian where the believing in the supernatural has almost vanished and I was not willing to go backward, and to learn something new.

    I enjoyed the weekly sessions both for their camaraderie and the teachings.

    The teachings took a while before they clicked and that only really happened when Ramsey challenged us all to start a daily meditation session.

    I can see how necessary a daily practice is. The four tasks and eightfold path are so deceptively simple but at the same time so hard to do. So what can I do?

    PRACTICE … practice … practice.

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