By Alex Chong Do Thompson
I just finished reading Buddhism Without Beliefs, by Stephen Batchelor.
I enjoyed the book immensely, and it’s making me look at the dharma in a new way. The secularized Buddha that Batchelor presents is completely lacking any religiosity. In fact, he strikes me more as a scientist than a spiritual teacher. I could easily picture him standing in an auditorium, presenting his data on the causes of suffering to college students, and then jetting off to give a Ted Talk on the eight-fold path. As a result, I can’t help but wonder what American Buddhism will look like 100 years from now.
Will Buddhism even be called “Buddhism?” Or will we give it a new, more modern sounding name? Or maybe we’ll keep the name, but strip the practice of all the trappings that are normally associated with Buddhist teachings.
Perhaps the robes will be replaced with button-down shirts, and the Buddha statues will be replaced with cool-looking rocks. I don’t know, but it’s interesting to think what will happen if the idea of Secular Buddhism, which Batchelor teaches, is taken to its natural conclusion; and meditation practice goes the way of yoga.
Many people don’t realize that when yoga came to the United States it was part of a spiritual practice that included ethics, mind-training, and even dietary restrictions. However, it has now been secularized to the point that it’s primarily a form of exercise that people squeeze in between brunch and their morning lattes. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing, necessarily—healthy bodies often lead to healthy minds.
But it’s strange to think about a future where one can be certified as either a 200-hour, 300-hour, or 500-hour meditation teacher in much the same way that you find in yoga.
The Mindfulness Based Stress Relief movement is certainly heading in this direction. In fact, I once worked for a company that had a mindfulness coach come in to teach employees breathing exercises so that we could be more focused while working in our cubicles. Will future practice require us to trade enlightenment for greater work productivity?
Will the Buddha still be welcome when American Buddhism comes into its own? I don’t know. But it’s interesting to think about.
Editor: Dana Gornall