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Thread: The Dalai Lama's Secular Turn

  1. #1

    The Dalai Lama's Secular Turn

    Doug Smith of the Secular Buddhist Association talks for just over 9 minutes about two recent books by the Dalai Lama .






    Any thoughts about what he said ?


  2. #2
    Forums Member Olderon's Avatar
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    Thanks for this post, Aloka:

    My first thought which arises is the speaker's choice of the word "good". Goodness has been pretty much exorcised from my vocabulary in exchange for the word "beneficial". Part of this intentional exchange of my part is due to a quotation from Jesus The Christ, which states that only God is truly good. And from a secular perspective, we cannot have goodness without God. At least that is my admittedly stuck thinking.

    The second part which creates dissonance in my mind resulting from his presentation is the word "spiritual", which I have abandoned all together, because, as the speaker said, it has been co-opted by religiostics. I am reminded of an error which was introduced into the beginning chapters of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, in which Carl Jung concluded that only those who had a "spiritual" experience could be expected to recover their disease. By spiritual he meant a person who became able to recognize their own personal feelings, to have them arise out of any psychological depression, or alleviate any chemical depression brought about by the central nervous system depressant, namely ethanol, which was the attractive nuisance in alcoholic beverages, upon which they had come to rely to kill their feelings which were disturbing them and motivating them to drink in the first place. With that the Christians were off and running introducing "God" into all of the writings and programs of Alcoholics Anonymous.

    I agree that we all suffer. That is the basis of The First Noble Truth.

    However, I don't agree that our happiness is dependent upon the effects / affects of others. Happiness resides in each of us independently of each other. Each of us can work the Noble Eight Fold Path independently to beneficial effect in our lives and afterwards until additional lives are no longer a consequence of our kamma.

    I am happy for The Dali Lama that he recognizes the value of Buddha's teachings in this regard, but I think that goes without saying. My understanding is that Buddhism as taught by The Buddha is secular. At least I hope so. ; )

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    There are a few interesting elements here. One is about the word 'spiritual' which has too many unfortunate connotations in English, tied up in the word spirit which has dualistic meanings, which separate body from an incorporeal aspect. Of course you can't point to this 'you' that does the thinking and feeling, but it does allow the hijacking of the term for religious concepts of body and soul and no amount of re-interpretation of 'spiritual' by the Dalai Lama can remove the religious aspect of the word.

    Another aspect is the hijacking of 'ethics' by religions, that they are the gatekeepers of what is moral and what isn't. Part of the problem is that all societies above a certain size need a shared world view to be successful, so that most people accept both written and unwritten laws and guidelines for behavior. The constant battle between church and state over centuries has ensured the political nature of accepting or rejecting shared understanding of what the world is about, with with formal and informal consequences for going your own way.

    Which affect all of us following the path in non-Buddhist communities.

  4. #4
    I think it might also be a good idea if we're all on the same page as far as the meaning of the word "secular" is concerned in connection with Doug Smith's talk.

    Here's a dictionary definition:


    Definition of secular

    1 a : of or relating to the worldly or temporal ...eg.secular concerns

    b : not overtly or specifically religious...eg. secular music

    c : not ecclesiastical or clerical... eg.secular courts secular landowners.


    2 : not bound by monastic vows or rules; specifically : of, relating to, or forming clergy not belonging to a religious order or congregation - a secular priest.


    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/secular

    and from another dictionary:



    secular

    "Not connected with religious or spiritual matters"


    https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/secular


    .

  5. #5
    Technical Administrator woodscooter's Avatar
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    Doug Smith is very aware of the difficulties in spreading Secular Buddhist thinking. As he himself says in this short talk

    The secular approach to Buddhism is often caricatured as a kind of Western conceit, as something that's anti-religious or anti-traditional.
    From the Dalai Lama's book "Beyond Religion", Doug takes the idea that the world needs a spiritual revolution, and he goes on to clarify the meaning of "spiritual" in this context. It has two parts: (1) The essence of kindness and compassion that makes a good human being, and (2) the cultural and metaphysical side that leads to a religious or supernatural path.

    In his two recent books, the Dalai Lama puts aside Type(2) spirituality and concentrates on Type(1). Here, he calls for a common core of ethical principles that can be shared by all.

    Doug calls this Secular Ethics and says it also has two parts: (1) Our sense of humanity, freedom from suffering and the pursuit of happiness, and (2) The interdependence of all humanity, evidenced by the problems of population growth and global warming.

    Having selected all the aspects in these books that correlate with the values of the Secular Buddhist Association, "Dalai Lama supports Secular Buddhism!", claims Doug Smith.

    He goes on to say that although His Holiness The Dalai Lama is not the "Pope" of Buddhism, he is as close as you can get without having any papal power over Buddhists. He is the figurehead for traditional Buddhism (as much as anybody is), and his writing is an indication of the power of a secular approach within contemporary Buddhist belief and practice.

    I really have to take issue with all of Doug Smith's conclusions here.

    Firstly, the Dalai Lama is not the actual, official head of Tibetan Buddhism, or of the Gelugpa tradition (one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism). The head of the Gelug school is the Ganden Tripa. The Dalai Lama is nevertheless important to the Tibetan people, and he acted as the head of government of Tibet until 1959. Buddhism on the other hand is a world religion represented for centuries in many Asian countries with many paths of development. Comparison of the Dalai Lama with the Pope of the Roman Catholic church is wildly off-target.

    Secondly, I have seen no indication of the Dalai Lama advising the followers of Tibetan Buddhism to shake off their Type2 spirituality and put aside cultural practice and supernatural beliefs.

    Third and finally, this interpretation of the two books, 'Beyond Religion' and 'Ethics for the New Millenium' leads nowhere. Kindness, compassion, freedom from suffering has been wished for before, with little or no visible progress on a world scale. The only difference we can make to the world is in ourselves.

  6. #6
    Forums Member Olderon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aloka View Post
    I think it might also be a good idea if we're all on the same page as far as the meaning of the word "secular" is concerned in connection with Doug Smith's talk.

    Here's a dictionary definition:




    and from another dictionary:





    .
    Hi, Aloka.

    What seems to be missing here from the definition of "secular" is the idea of defining right behavior from wrong behavior, or that behavior which causes harm, and that which does not cause harm: in essence: "morality".

    Now, this is a higher order of Buddhist consciousness than simply eliminating dukkha (suffering, stress, and dissatisfaction; birth, aging, disease and death); also studying, understanding, and adopting the concepts taught by Buddha in The Four Noble Truths. Why? Because, what results from this is a set of laws, or at least recommendations, which guides societies and cultures from family units through world organizations. Without this we wind up with a kind of Buddhist anarchy in which the only thing that matters is enlightenment, unbinding and release to the state of nirvana / nibbana.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Olderon
    What seems to be missing here from the definition of "secular" is the idea of defining right behavior from wrong behavior, or that behavior which causes harm, and that which does not cause harm: in essence: "morality".
    Hi Ron,

    Doug Smith describes Secular Buddhism as a compassionate, non-harming and ethical approach to this life, which also isn't anti religious or anti traditional. He can be heard saying that in his video "What is Secular Buddhism" which can be found on YouTube.


    Time for bed now as its late evening in my part of the world ....and may all beings have peace and happiness.



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