Buddhism and a Secular Path – Part V

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Secular Buddhist groups are arising in the West, most notably in America. Overall mission statements for these groups vary with one constant; they walk the Middle Path without any religious or spiritual context. Groups like the Secular Buddhist Association and many individuals practice the dharma without any affiliation with a traditional Buddhist lineage or school. These practitioners look to the wide variety of Buddhist writings, podcasts and You Tube videos, along with in-person sessions with other avowed secular Buddhists for information and instruction. They view dogmatic beliefs, unquestioning devotion, and religious ritual as having no value, though many still find value in the facilities and training offered by traditional Buddhist groups.

In his book ‘After Buddhism’, Stephen Batchelor offers Ten Theses of Secular Dharma. He prefaces the list with β€œIn 2005 I started to formulate a series of theses to define the kind of secular Buddhist space in which I found myself then and continue to find myself today – the kind of space I have been writing about in this book. I offer a revised version of them here.”

We’ll continue now with the seventh theses: The community of practitioners is formed of autonomous persons who mutually support each other in the cultivation of their paths. In this network of like-minded individuals, members respect the equality of all members while honoring the specific knowledge and expertise each person brings.

The first sentence is the definition of a sangha (community), religious or secular. All members are equal and their knowledge and expertise honored while accepting the role of the teacher as mentor and monitor. A danger here is that a strictly secular view of equality may lead to everyone trying to be the teacher. In non-denominational Buddhist groups, like the Engaged Dharma (EDIG) sangha at the Buddha Center in the virtual world of Second Life (SL), the desire for some members to make truth claims about their chosen tradition arises. It is the responsibility of the individual on the teacher’s cushion to guide members away from what they think they know, to learning and accepting the value of lessons and ideals from other traditions.

The eighth theses: A practitioner is committed to an ethics of care, founded on empathy, compassion, and love for all creatures who have evolved on this earth.

This is the proper attitude whether from a religious or secular view. (Note: I guess Mr. Batchelor doesn’t believe in life on other planetsπŸ™‚ )

The ninth theses: Practitioners seek to understand and diminish the structural violence of societies and institutions as well as the roots of violence that are present in themselves.

This is proper thought and action whether from a religious or secular view.

Bathelor’s theses seven through nine are pragmatic ways of being whether a practitioner views their path as secular or religiously oriented. These views are instrumental in the forming of ethical ideals that lead to taking morally appropriate actions in a given situation.

It is theses ten where the religious and the secular find the broadest divide: A practitioner of the dharma aspires to nurture a culture of awakening that finds its inspiration in Buddhist and non-Buddhist, religious and secular sources alike.

Mr. Batchelor is swiping a broad brush over β€œreligion” based Buddhist practices. He is inferring that Buddhist practitioners who commit to a traditional path hesitate to look outside those teachings and texts to strengthen their practice. Admittedly there are instances where this is true. There are those who choose the Mahayana path and vehemently will defend that path while denigrating the path chosen by others. There does arise the statement that, ‘this Buddhism is the True Buddhism’. This statement is a direct view into the immature practice of the speaker. This is not a new development in Buddhism, it has been happening since the Buddha’s death.

The practice of Buddhism now, in the West is encountering a culture and social system new to its experience. It has found itself in a society that favors individualism in its most selfish form over awareness of societal impact, and a society that favors consumerism over altruism. What is needed to counter these aspects of Western society is a pragmatic path that accepts that the ‘walls’ between traditions will have to be pulled down. The Buddhism that will eventually arise will have components of all the Buddhist traditions, humanism, naturalism, pluralism and science. It will be a Pragmatic Buddhism.

Engaging the Three Refuges

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

Across Buddhist traditions the Three Refuges (P., tritratna) is the initial step for all on the Noble Path. In the Chinese Ch’an tradition reciting the Three Refuges (also known as the Three Treasures or Three Jewels of Buddhism) is how a person β€œbecomes” a Buddhist, it is known as Taking Refuge (P., sarana). It is a recognition that at any time, when needed a Buddhist can return to, or find sanctuary in the Three Refuges. It is not an act of conversion. It is a choice. We can choose approach the Noble Path with the knowledge that Siddhartha was a human being like ourselves, one whose example we can follow. We can approach the Noble Path with the realization that the dharma is a dynamic reality. We can approach the Noble Path alongside others who have similar goals and are searching for similar experiences.

The precise meanings of each of jewels, their interconnectedness, and how to honor each differs between traditions, while the intent remains steadfast. The intent being that once on the Noble Path the practitioner can return to the ideals of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha whenever needed to reinforce and strengthen practice.

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Contenment from Not Knowing: Ancintita Sutra

by Wayne Ren-Cheng

In many aspects of human endeavor competition plays a valuable role. Competition spurs new invention and new extremes of human physical and mental strengths. Competition can also be a contributing causal factor in fear, hatred, anxiety, frustration, anger and envy; all negative dispositions that can tag along in the unconscious mind. In Chan practice there is no room for dispositions and actions that hinder progress. That is why, in the sangha is no place for competition between members. In Buddhist practice there is no place for competition because all people are unique expressions of the Universe, so one’s level of progress cannot be measured with another’s.

Siddhartha, the historical Buddha didn’t have to imagine the detrimental effects that competition could cause. After all, he had been to school, had siblings, had a father’s legacy to look up to, and he’d experienced who could deprive themselves the most when he traveled with the ascetics. The Awakened One must have contemplated what aspects of human existence were most likely to cause the arising of competition and conflict. In the Acintita Sutta he offered four and the negative consequences of pursuing them.

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Schrodinger’s Dharma – A Cat Reveals Buddha-nature

by Wayne Ren-Cheng
The Buddhist concept that β€œform is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form” found most famously in the Heart Sutra can be difficult to wrap the mind around. Emptiness is well . . . empty, and form has substance so how each can be both requires a thought experiment followed by a realization of experience. Today scientific research is proving aspects of Buddhism, in particular the changes that occur as a result of meditative practice to have beneficial effects on the bodymind. To better understand the conundrum of emptiness and form there is a scientific thought experiment that is useful.

 
In Buddhist philosophy everything, all dharma is causally conditioned. It becomes what it is in a particular moment as a result of the causal process of the Universe, of its interaction with other phenomena. This would not possible if all dharma had inherent and permanent form. It has neither aspect and until it is acted upon physically and/or mentally it has only potential (emptiness) to take on form. Causal conditioning, the who, what, when, where, why and how of the causal process enacts the transformation from emptiness to form. Very philosophical concept but it can be experienced if one is mindful. Still, for Westerners caught up in concrete definitions and concrete descriptions it isn’t an easy concept. Let’s look to a contemporary science model for help.

BUD_CATOM

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Do Not Leave Your Baggage Unattended: The Art Of Skillful Detachment

Do Not Leave Your Baggage Unattended: The Art of Skillful Detachment
Ven. Dr. Jim Eubanks, Sensei

The following Dharma talk was given by our root teacher, Ven. Eubanks, Sensei, on February 18, 2010 in St. Louis at the CPB Meditation Center.

Acculturation and Attachment: What It Is and What It Is Not
No matter how much we seek absolute personal sovereignty (what is traditionally called β€œfree will”), a deep and honest look at the human condition reveals that existential baggage is unavoidable because we live in a causal world.Β Β  The key is to make sure that the baggage we carry is on our terms to the extent it can be, and that it contains expressions of ourselves that we can be proud of and use skillfully.Β  No matter how long I sit in the silence of a secluded forest, the causal conditions that converge to make me the kind of human being I am, do not go away.Β  The Zen master who develops Alzheimer’s will not enlighten himself out of his condition.Β  I am a causally-conditioned β€œexpression of the Universe,” and there are many causal conditions that are not up to my wants OR non-wants.Β  No amount of philosophy cuts me off from those conditions which create me, no matter who I am or how long I’ve been sitting.Β  Instead, it is the goal of the reflective and considerate person to understand the major sources of influence in his or her life, to β€œattend” to the baggage that he or she does and must carry.Β  There is a term for this existential baggage: acculturation.

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