Friday, September 28, 2012

Houston Secular Buddhists / Secular Buddhist Association (SBA)

This is one in a series of "Profile" posts in which different local Buddhist groups and Temples will be described so that seekers will understand fully in advance what to expect should they decide to visit.

Secular Buddhism is an emerging form of Buddhism that discards the religious, cultural, and temporal overprints that largely define many Asian Buddhism lineages.  Secular forms of Buddhism are predicated largely on humanist and agnostic values.  As further described in Wikipedia,
  • "Secular Buddhism proposes that we leave behind the metaphysical beliefs and soteriology endemic to ancient Indian religious culture. This culture saw human life as an irredeemable realm of suffering, from which one should seek transcendence in an enduring beyond-human condition – a stance that virtually all Buddhist schools, as well as Hinduism and Jainism, perpetuate. Secular Buddhism, on the other hand, seeks to deploy the Buddha’s teaching as a guide to full human flourishing in this life and this world. In adopting this post-metaphysical position, it parts company with existing religious forms of Buddhist orthodoxy, which have evolved since the Buddha’s death. Instead, it aligns itself with today’s post-metaphysical philosophy, not least phenomenology, so finding itself on a convergent path with similar movements in Christian thought, as exemplified by the work of thinkers such as Don Cupitt and Gianni Vattimo."
The Secular Buddhist Association (SBA) has created an umbrella website that provides content consistent with the secular movement, as well as networking opportunities for practitioners and seeding resources for new groups.

The Secular Buddhist Association banner as of the date of this post.  The logo graphic symbolizes the practical, minimalist focus of the group by superimposing a photograph of the Earth on a stylized Dharma wheel.   The terminal ends of the wheel spokes are reminiscent of jigsaw puzzle joinery, suggesting that its organizational model has the potential to snap neatly into the lives of practitioners.   
A recent article hosted on the site and titled "What is a Secular Buddhist, and What Do They Believe?" provides a particularly concise summary of the boundaries of the belief structure.

Wikipedia currently links to ten different SBA entities (nine local groups plus the parent website):
However, the SBA site iself lists "like-minded" practice centers as well as those groups that have initiated under the SBA umbrella.
One of those listed is the Houston group.
At the present time, Houston Secular Buddhists networks its approximately three dozen members using its open-access Facebook page. 
The Houston Secular Buddhists page banner.
Users should note that there is also an older group page that has been migrated to that which currently has this header.
Houston Secular Buddhists arranges group meetings for its members, usually at an inner-loop location, although not yet with an established frequency due to the relative newness of the group and the lack of a well-established local meeting venue.

Moderator's Viewpoints.  Every organizational variant on the Buddhism or meditation group model is characterized by features that individual seekers may regard as positive or negative depending on their own personal circumstances and group involvement goals.

Houston Secular Buddhists and its de facto parent organization have the obvious drawback of being largely virtual (i.e., confined to the internet) out of necessity at this early point in their evolution.  That being said, the paradox represented by social media such as Facebook is such that, even though there may be less "human contact", there's actually more potential for awareness connectivity with a group like this than there is with most in-person groups where members may only get to see each other for relatively short periods once or twice a week.  Frequent member updates and posting of articles of interest on the internet help to keep groups like this in touch and can supply enjoyable and informative content within contexts that may not be attainable via individual effort alone (i.e., a crowdsourcing style effect). 

(And that daily posted content often includes cartoons!  Pardon my rampant attachment, but I love the Buddhism-themed cartoons!  Keep 'em coming!!)

Secular Buddhism also provides what some practitioners will see as freedom from those features of traditional Asian Buddhism that entail cultural ornamentation, multi-language comprehensional barriers, dogma, and proscriptions of undemonstrated merit.   Many western convert Buddhists as well as non-denominational meditators and mindfulness learners are explicitly seeking routes to involvement that do not resemble the hierarchical models presented by institutional religion-of-faith formats (e.g., Christianity; Islam).  As such, a secular approach will be perceived by some as a welcome relief from the undesirable impositions presented by other forms of Buddhism.

The Secular Buddhist Association website also furnishes a valuable resource for those who wish to form their own groups: a set-up and administration template that includes instructions on using the Meetup platform.   This is one of the only cohesive, centralized lay group seeding resources available in the western Buddhism / meditation landscape today. 

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