Sceptical Buddhism

There are many approaches to Buddhism and to scepticism, and we all have to develop our own thoughts as to what approach makes most sense and is most useful.      I am drawn to a Buddhism that:

has few ornaments of ritual;

is non-dogmatic – having no attachment to beliefs that are not open to questioning and testing in the laboratory of our experience;

does not involve unquestioning attachment to a teacher or unmindful adherence to a set of rules or teachings;

draws on learning from all quarters, including the scholarship of everyday life, mindful contemplation, academic study and scientific investigation.

I am also drawn to a practice that is centred upon the following processes:

one, the embodied mind observing itself without judgment or commentary (mindfulness/zazen);

two, the acceptance and celebration of what IS – without attachment, aversion or indifference;

and three, clearly observing how everything in the universe is interwoven with everything else, and how everything arises and fades away at each moment – an experience of interconnectedness and impermanence that gives rise to empathy, a sense of kinship, and compassion for all beings.

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Three-legged practice

My particular practice is like an old stool or tripod with three legs:

one leg is firmly in the Soto tradition of Japanese Zen Buddhism – the tradition of Dogen;

another is in the sceptical tradition of Pyrrho, Sextus Empiricus, Montaigne, et al;

and the third is in the Vietnamese Zen tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.

The Soto leg is old and well-worn (I began to practice Zen meditation fifty years ago) ; the sceptical leg dates from the 1980s (when I began to study Pyrrho and his successors); and the Thich Nhat Hanh leg is fairly new (dating from a retreat with him in 2012). Somehow these three legs form a relatively stable platform on which to sit – though with sufficient wobbles to keep me awake and alert.

Of course a stool or tripod is only as steady as the ground upon which it stands and my practice is grounded in the diverse and ever-changing experiences that make up my life. I try to be open to, and to learn from, these experiences. It is this ground of changing experiences that is my primary teacher.