View Full Version : Beyond scientific materialism and religious belief

01 Dec 17, 14:07
An article from the Bodhi College website:

Beyond scientific materialism and religious belief

by Akincano M. Weber

Secular Buddhism, a concept still somewhat vague yet emotive, is being exalted or vilified across net and media – and so are its users occasionally. We need to be clear: secular Buddhism is neither Stephen Batchelor’s invention nor the final triumph of scientistic rationalism over religion. History is full of examples of social change due to processes of secularization involving religious movements – notable examples include Ancient Greece (5th–4th century BCE) and the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th century in Europe and Northern America.

To disentangle the topic of a secular Buddhism it may be useful to distinguish four related, yet different, notions connected with the term secular:

Continues at this link (https://bodhi-college.org/buddhist-articles-videos-links/beyond-scientific-materialism-and-religious-belief)

Any thoughts about the article?


01 Dec 17, 15:10
I find the whole notion of secular Buddhism problematic because at its core the dharma is neither secular nor religious. Religious institutions develop when founders pass away. Their structures have helped transmit the dharma to us today but they are arguably not synonymous with the dharma.

I think the problem some westerners have is that they are looking for Buddhism to answer a plethora of modern issues. What would Buddha have said about genetic engineering? Why didn't Buddha know the planet was a certain size if he was enlightened? Where would Buddha have stood politically and was he an advocate of equal rights. What about Buddhist cosmology? It doesn't accord with modern scientific data etc etc etc.

On the other hand westerners have been very keen to adopt a retributive take on karma - a sort of replacement for god dishing out punishment. Others go the other way and throw themselves at the feet of a guru with a more unquestioningly worshipful attitude than most conservative Christians can ever dream of.

I encounter these stances on a frequent basis at my local informal group and I don't know where to start. I just find it disturbing how people pick the Dharma apart in order to filter out the bits they like, or dismiss other traditions as inferior. Such people have rarely gained any experience in meditation and are thus using discursive intellectual benchmarks to judge a reality which lies behind this discursive process, and that's lamentable.

I don't think swallowing a foreign culture wholesale is the right option either, rather a steady immersion and an open mind are the key, with a good cross-reference to all traditions. Find out what works for you and go with it. Don't slam doors closed which you may regret in the future. Go gently and keep an open mind. We don't know what we don't know but our problem is when we think we do.

On the other hand, if you find yourself with some dude putting his hand in your pants in the name of progress, punch him one. It's never straightforward...

This is an important point:

If as secular Buddhists we are to be more than just secularists, we need to sift through Buddhist traditions with as little prejudgement as possible. This means actually trying to understand things like ethical conditionality (kamma-vipāka), renewed becoming (punabbhava), the status of the supramundane(10) (lokuttara) and the role of absorptions (jhāna) – rather than just trying to write them off because they sit uncomfortably with Western values and current beliefs.

There is a whole set of teachings pertaining to the topics of realization and the aspect of lokuttara, (a ‘transcendent’ dimension). These teachings emphatically insist on the possibility of an embodied, subjective and numinous experience through the practice of meditation. I see some secular Buddhists struggle to even acknowledge this aspect of the teachings. At the very least, I sense the question of and the quest for personal realization needs to be seen as legitimate. If we give up the possibility of realisation, we risk turning these teachings into just another brand of critical humanism, thus making secular Buddhism into one of the ‘near enemies’ of the Buddha’s message.