About :: How This Podcast Started
Several years ago (okay, a whole bunch at this point), I'd became curious about meditation and how it was supposed to help one's concentration. A friend told me that, conveniently only a few miles from home, was the MN Zen Meditation Center. So one evening I headed on over, and my delicate midwestern sensibilities were thrown a bit by a robed, shave-headed monk greeting me at the door. Happily, an open mind won out, and thus began an education and practice in meditation. But that initial culture shock was to be repeated many times over the years, and I continue to struggle with separating the actual teaching of Buddhism from the religious and cultural manifestations.
More recently, some events shaped an interest in creating The Secular Buddhist podcast. First, I was honored to participate in a two-part interview with Grant Steves for the MN Atheist group podcast, Atheist Talk. They've interviewed people from many different religious backgrounds, typically from the stance that they no longer are a part of those faiths. However, they hadn't yet interviewed a Buddhist, let alone one who openly stated he was also an atheist. It was a wonderful experience, and I've linked the two half-hour segments here on the web.
The segments, much to my surprise, received some positive feedback from two groups -- atheists, and Buddhists. The atheist community was interested in learning a bit more about the philosophical aspects of Buddhism and how it is not dependent on the worship of the supernatural, which is a bit rare in the religious realm. The Buddhist community seemed to like having a more relaxed, open talk about the teaching itself, without it being a "dharma talk."
Finally, I was listening to The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, and as is his tradition, Jay Novella was giving a quote towards the end of the show. In this particular episode, the quote was from one of my favorite early Buddhists talks, the Kalama Sutta. This is, essentially, one of the prime examples of Buddha's encouragement to use skeptical thought. And though the SGU folks may very well be aware of that, I suspect most people in our modern Western culture are not.
What It Boils Down To
Early Buddhism is very rational, practical, and natural. The practice itself lacks a dependence on the supernatural, instead relying solely on one's own efforts. It is an empirical method for seeing things as they really are -- not necessarily how we want them to be. It is utterly devoid of mysticism and worship, but much of the world now practices Buddhism laden with the trappings of religious doctrine and pantheistic devotion.
As others have said about science, there are those of us passionate about a method of inquiry, not a set of beliefs. Buddhism rejects rigid adherence to views, even its own. This podcast is about delving into that teaching and practice from a non-religious perspective, sharing information without the trappings of a particular dogma, and hopefully giving some folks a new understanding of a very old path.