August 11, 2009

Buddhism: Religion, Science, Both?

Vincent Horn

The "secularization" of Buddhism in the West has its countless proponents. But its secularization may often be little more than a wrong-headed denial of its religious roots. At least that's what we hear from our favorite Buddhist Geek Vincent Horn, who has posted to the Interdependence Project's "One City" blog, hosted by Beliefnet.

While Horn acknowledges some of the positive effects of the secularization of Buddhist practice, in general, the trend doesn't sit well with him:

[L]et me be clear about what I mean when I say, "making Buddhism secular."  I mean, specifically, the attempt to strip away the cultural trappings of the tradition, while preserving and re-packaging the "essence" of the tradition (which usually has something to do with meditation practice). In the process the religious language is jettisoned and new "less religious" language is used instead.   Phrases like, "Buddhism is more a science than a religion" or "The core technology of Buddhism is meditation" are indicators of the secular impulse.  The problem is that Buddhism is a religion.  And it's a science.  And it's more besides...

Read "Secularizing Buddhism—Making it Accessible or Stripping the Root?" here.

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Marsha Lucas, PhD's picture

James, you wrote, " '...The core technology of Buddhism is meditation' [is an] indicator of the secular impulse." I agree. And if the secular impulse is to use meditation for greater compassion, greater ease, and mindfulness (to whatever degree), then we are all in better shape than if the secular impulse remains where it currently dwells.

I don't believe that those who would hew more closely to the roots of Buddhism will be pulled away from that because of the secular pursuits of others. I appreciate your vigilance in protecting the religion. I'm also grateful for all levels of entry into greater compassion, so that as many people as possible can be met where they are.

Paul Maurice Martin's picture

Buddhism is such a practical religion that its spread beyond its earlier cultural contexts strikes me as inevitable and on the whole very positive.