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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3 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.

  3. Jeremy Fyson
    Posted August 29, 2018 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    My path also followed the stages outlined by Ramsey. I would be interested to know if others have had similar experiences.

    I initially came to meditation hoping it might ease my nagging sense of unsatisfactoriness. I did initially experience a few moments of ease. However, as I continued to practice, difficulties remained and often most visibly during meditation. As a result I mistakenly lost faith in the practice and sought relief through other means.

    As the insubstantial nature of these other means (people, positions, experiences etc) slowly became evident, I returned to practice with greater resolve, but more importantly, I embarked on a more sustained and honest enquiry into the roots of my predicament, investigating how Buddhist teachings might apply to that. For me, it was only through the support of this enquiry that meditation practice transformed from a haphazard stress reduction technique into an indispensable component of a broader path.

    The importance of making this enquiry relevant to the context of Aotearoa New Zealand here and now has become increasingly clear to me. While I am grateful for the inspiration I have drawn from those who have appropriated elements of distant cultures, letting go of much of their associated baggage has allowed me to begin practicing in a more unified way.

    It hasn’t been easy but it has been extremely worthwhile.

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