Tag Archives for dharma talks

‘The goal’

Eighteen months ago I was asked to give a talk at the Metta Centre in Bankstown, in Sydney’s western suburbs. The wonderful Tina Ng founded and leads this centre, which is non-denominational even if the Theravādin influence is strongest. Tina was running a series of talks on the different traditions within Buddhism, and wanted me to introduce secular Buddhism.

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Secular Buddhism and the western search for meaning

Since the late nineteenth century Buddhism has been promoted in the west in various different guises – as an alternative, ‘scientific’ religion; as an alternative to religion; as a psychotherapy; and as a practical philosophy in the ancient Greek sense of a set of ideas to actually live by. It has been promoted in this way on both sides of what we might now think of as a religious/secular divide.

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Mindfulness: looking for a quick fix?

Something that goes by the name ‘mindfulness meditation’ is a hot commodity these days. You can find many models on the market, some are more or less expensive, and of varying quality (like cars and dishwashers). The brands that are on the market either claim claiming origins in the Buddhist tradition, which lends them the kudos and the aura of ancient wisdom, or studiously avoid doing so.

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Challenges to meditation practice now

What were the expectations of people living in the Buddha’s era (5th century BCE) about meditation practice, and how do they compare to our own?

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Dharmic citizenship

In a number of Buddhist traditions political activism is discouraged. Almost certainly this stance arises from their institutions’ heavy reliance on royal or other powerful patronage, which could be withdrawn if dharma practitioners translated their ethics into political convictions, let alone action.

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A dharmic understanding of evil

The mythical figure of Mara in the Pali canon provides us with an obvious starting point for understanding evil. He appears again and again to the Buddha and his advanced disciples, preferably when they’re meditating. He’s disguised as a well-meaning stranger offering friendly, banal advice, the import of which would throw the hearer right off course if s/he heeded him.

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Not-self and the narcissism epidemic

Western countries accord their citizens the freedom to practise the religion of their choice. But also as harbingers of the narcissism epidemic, they give Buddhists an extra incentive to practise ardently, in order to remain in good non-narcissistic health and so live skilful, fulfilling lives – including the nurturing of deep relationships.

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Good snowflakes

Using the koan ‘Good snowflakes: they don’t fall anywhere else’, Stephen Batchelor goes on to expand on it – trying to resist attempts at explaining it – using examples from modern, Western culture, specifically from the natural sciences.

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Awakening in the real world

The Buddha left us with some invaluable pointers about how to direct our spiritual ambition so we recognise what’s important and don’t drive it into dead ends. The four great tasks, and the eightfold path in particular, articulate these pointers to awakening. But was the Buddha ultimately concerned not so much with individual awakenings as a communal development towards a new civilisation based on a shared awakening?

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Heidegger for dharma wallahs

Well, you asked for it: a commissioned talk on that notoriously impenetrable philosopher, Martin Heidegger, whom I’ve mentioned on various occasions as someone who can help us express something that’s foundational to the dharma, but rarely articulated.

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