Why we come together

Hopefully, ‘secular Buddhism’ will prosper in the world, I believe it can. However, in Auckland as presumably elsewhere, we seem to have no formal structure, practices, or leaders, nor perhaps any consensus views, aims, or philosophy. How therefore might we create a sense of coherence, even direction?

I offer the following simple thoughts as a means to focus our participation in building a new community of Buddhists, by asking the question: why would we come together as a group and therefore what might we do when we meet?

I came up with four answers: for Buddhism, for meditation & ethical practice, and for people; then realised, of course, these are essentially the ‘three jewels’ of classical Buddhism (not incidentally my favourite metaphor). So perhaps we may meet to:

  • Discuss and deepen our understanding of the Buddhist insight, and in particular its secular expression
  • Meditate, share our experiences of meditation and perhaps learn more
  • Explore how to live ethically (perhaps in the light of Buddhist philosophy)
  • Spend time with like-minded people; perhaps even be inspired by them!

I think we could happily come along for any one of these alone. How we might do all this remains to be discovered….

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  1. Posted January 22, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    In Wellington, the sitting group has done this in a different order. We started off with your point two, meditation, then included points three and four and only then perhaps did we approach your point one, an understanding of Buddhist insight.

  2. Peter Goble
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Dear John

    I’m interested in your question, and particularly interested in where it’s coming from, if that’s not a rather inelegant way of framing it. If – as you suggest – there’s no consensus, may I take it that the question about creating a sense of coherence or direction is a personal one, based on your own assessment, rather than one group participants have agreed amongst themselves?

    Am I right in supposing that the lack of apparent structure concerns you, to the extent that you think a structure should be developed and/or imposed? Or are you acting as spokesman for a wider dissatisfaction with the apparent status quo?

    I also wonder how long you’ve been meeting, how many of you meet, how often, and for how long. How was the meeeting first advertised (presumably those who responded to the advertisement had some idea of what was on offer from the outset). The answers to these basic questions will maybe help readers to get some sense of context within which the apparent concerns expressed by your post have arisen.

    Presumably, the fact that people meet at all indicates that they get something out of meeting each other. What is that something? Perhaps they all have different reasons for attending; maybe some of you share reasons, or your reasons somehow overlap with those of others. Have you looked into this (you yourself or with others) so as to find out?

    I see also that you mention participation in ‘building a new community of Buddhists’, and that reads seriously like an aim, and a serious aim at that. It’s possible, of course, that this is an aim you’ve decided yourself is worthwhile and achievable. Is it an aim (or an aspiration) you’ve shared with other group participants? What do they think of that idea?

    I can imagine a situation in which other participants might agree strongly with that aim, agree that it’s achievable, have some idea of how to reach it, and what their individual contribution might be.

    I can also imagine a situation in which other participants might say (or think), “This community-building sounds like hard work. I’m not cut out for it, I wouldn’t enjoy it: I like meeting just for the company and the opportunity to share experience and have a general chat.”

    Others might take (and possible express) other positions, or no position at all.

    I wonder what you mean to convey by “a sense of coherence”? In what sense are your meetings lacking a sense of coherence? Is the perceived lack (by you or others) of consensus contributing to this sense? Moreover, is it important to you that people agree with each other, or do you celebrate diversity, difference and even dissonance?

    Do you see yourself as having, or aspiring to, some sort of leadership role within the group? You’ll forgive me for my inference that your post seems to express a need on your part to influence the group towards a state of being that satisfies your expectations: of coherence, of direction towards some aim, of some kind of consensus.

    You don’t say that you need structure, although you point to a lack of formal structure (and of practice, and philosophy). I’d suggest that – if carefully investigated – your meetings will evidence a coherent structure, some practices that have been consensually agreed (maybe implicitly), and a discernable philosophy of sorts. These may not be very evident at first sight, but they will be there. They may indeed be as rigorous, as robust, and as ethical even as the criteria that might reasonably be applied to groups anywhere. They may point to shared aims, even if they aren’t as explicitly stated as community-building. Does community-building require explicit aims? Is there another way? I don’t claim to know, I’m just asking out of curiosity.

    Apropos nothing in particular, I belonged to and serviced (booked a room, sent out postal reminders) a similar ‘secular’ Buddhist group as the one I think you’re describing for about twenty years; it arose out of friendships that grew out of involvement with the Buddhist Hospice Trust, many participants were not Buddhists. It met monthly in Central London, our meetings lasted about five hours (we shared a simple lunch). It operated to what we described (and agreed) as ‘an emergent agenda’. It had no declared aim except perhaps as expressed in its vague title “The Inner Work School” – this was never codified nor was any working method ever agreed. It was an entirely open meeting and people were welcome to come if they were able to, and wanted to. The average attendance was six, sometimes only one person other than myself turned up. There was no leader.

    I’ll be interested to hear from you about my questions and comments, but only if you can respond and want to.


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