"As Buddhism finds itself subject to the gaze of the intrusive media of the modern twenty first century world, we find that Buddhist institutions and teachers are human and subject to human failings. In this regard, Buddhism is no different from any other religion. But it can still trick Westerners, bemused by its novelty and unfamiliarity, into thinking that it might have avoided the ossification and corruption that tend to seep unnoticed into any establishment that has come to take its authority for granted.
As a result, secular buddhist spaces have sprung up in various parts of the world and like-minded individuals and groups are committing to a practice of the dharma that has no affiliation with a traditional school of Buddhism. These spiritual nomads tend to be informed more by writings and podcasts from across the Buddhist spectrum than by a teacher of any particular lineage. So it was that in 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 now—the kind of space I have been writing about in this book."
Stephen Batchelor, after buddhism: rethinking the dharma for a secular age
What Is Secular Buddhism?
Secular Buddhism is relatively new on the scene and gaining momentum in contemporary culture as a viable way to practice. Inherent with the early stage of its development, however, is some expected confusion about the nature of having a secular approach to an ancient religious tradition.
What is below should help clarify some of the larger questions. More will come in the form of Frequently Asked Questions, books, and more, hopefully taking some of these principles into account. It is not a perfect description of this practice, but a starting point for the continued development of Secular Buddhism.
Secular Buddhism is concerned with the practice of Siddhartha Gautama’s four noble truths in this world. It encourages a naturalistic and pragmatic approach to the teaching, seeking to provide a framework for personal and social development within the cultural context of our time.
Secular Buddhism understands Siddhartha Gautama as a human being, having lived within the cultural context of his time.
Secular Buddhism understands the four noble truths as an accurate, empirical description of the experience of living, and as a methodology of understanding, social behavior, and mental development.
Secular Buddhism understands the community of practitioners as integral to the positive development of society.
Secular Buddhism supports a culture of awareness, encouraging the availability of this teaching and practice.
Secular Buddhism supports a culture of development, incorporating personal growth with interpersonal growth to improve social interactions and society.
Secular Buddhism supports a culture of awakening, finding its inspiration from Buddhist and non-Buddhist, religious and secular sources alike.
Secular Buddhism is naturalistic, in that it references natural causes and effects, demonstrable in the known world.
Secular Buddhism is form independent, making it flexible for integration into daily life in a variety of cultural contexts.
Secular Buddhism is inclusive, fostering learning and practice across cultural and traditional bounds.
Secular Buddhism values all people as being capable of, and having equal rights to, understanding and practice.
Secular Buddhism values sharing authority and responsibility among peers.
Secular Buddhism values meaningful dialogue and critical examination for the purpose of continued improvement of understanding and practice.
Secular Buddhism values the stories of Buddhist traditions as metaphorical expressions of meaningful and practical lessons.
Secular Buddhism values the texts of Buddhist traditions as tools for study, learning, and practice.
Secular Buddhism values individual preference and creativity on the forms of practice appropriate to them.
This first version of Secular Buddhism’s Guiding Principles is not the work of one mind, but of many. Contributors to this include but are not limited to Stephen Batchelor, Stephen Schettini, Glenn Wallis, Rick Bateman, Stanford M. Forrester, Marc Wilson, and Ted Meissner.