Forward, by Ted Meissner – Founder of the Secular Buddhist Association
In its 2,600 year history, Buddhism has continually evolved to suit the environmental conditions in which it finds itself. Core principles of the Four Truths remain a constant, along with the underlying poisons of greed, hatred and delusion as foundational contributors to our dissatisfaction in daily life, as do their remedies so brilliantly articulated as the Eightfold Path. With each new culture it encounters, Buddhism finds resonance in our shared human experience of suffering, and the possibility of its attenuation and eventual extinguishing. Far from being damaging or a watering down of Buddhism, this allowed the tradition to grow, flourishing with new and distinct branches. Without that planting of Buddhist seeds in new and fertile soil, the world would have been deprived of the unique pragmatic quality of Zen, or the wondrous beauty and wisdom of Vajrayana, the third commonly recognized traditional school we see from our Tibetan brethren.
It is not surprising, then, that a secular approach is becoming recognized as a unique and distinct branch of Buddhism. Rather than having a critical dependency on the validity of the practice being based on a supernatural belief system, Secular Buddhism focuses on a naturalistic interpretation of the Dharma. Secular Buddhism opens the door for participation, setting aside ideological narratives about other worlds and lifetimes in favour of that which is shared by all humanity, our common experiences, trials and joys in daily life, as people rather than as Buddhists.
There is an understandable aversion by many to the term “secular”, which can often be interpreted as being in opposition to the sacred. As with many criticisms, such problems can be resolved by an open exploration of what is meant by secular. Though it can and often is viewed as a rejection of sanctity, Secular Buddhism meets people where they are, honouring that as human beings we are all deeply moved, inspired and energized by that which we find meaningful. There are many kinds of Secular Buddhists, those who light incense, bow and find a spiritual value in the practice as it positively impacts them and those around them, all within this natural world.
Karma Yeshe Rabgye has written Life’s Meandering Path to nurture what we do as people, rather than what we must believe to be Buddhists. His selection of the Mangala Sutra is brilliant in that it relies on that very notion, that the teaching and practice is for everyone in that we all suffer in daily life, and our intentional words and actions can influence the outcome and character of that life. The sutra is not as well known to Secular Buddhists as the more commonly quoted Kalama Sutra, often referred to as the Buddha’s discourse on free inquiry, and is a relatively short scripture. Yeshe Rabgye unpacks the thirty-eight principles of the Mangala Sutra with a strong foundational exposition of the core principles of Buddhism, all the while showing how they are equally applicable to all people in this very moment. Each principle in the Mangala Sutra is accompanied by an exploration of what it means to the contemporary practitioner, with clear instructions for contemplative inquiry to discover how it may provide beneficial insight to the reader’s unique experiences in life.
Throughout this book and his previous work, The Best Way to Catch a Snake, Yeshe Rabgye elegantly navigates the difficult waters of tradition and contemporary thought, honouring both, and making this transformative practice meaningful to all. Neither book should be simply read and accepted with the intellect, but fully absorbed and incorporated into one’s daily life, creatively in each moment.
Founder, Secular Buddhist Association