Is this a Buddhist organization?

Filed under: — Matt @ 12:37 pm

This is a central question, with important implications for the mission and scope of the project.  It is related and perhaps underlying the discussion on the naming of the project.  Although I do not currently have a definitive answer to the question, I have several main thoughts on this subject:

  • As I see it, the most fundamental mission of the organization is to help people cultivate more wisdom, compassion, and liberation in their lives (and, by extension, in the world around them).
  • As described in the rationale and overview, the center will use teachings and practices from three main areas of training to accomplish this goal.
  • Although one of these three main areas (Mindfulness and Dharma) is obviously most associated with Buddhist teachings, it is possible to effectively use core Buddhist principles and practices in a non-sectarian fashion.  A classic and very successful example of this is the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. 
  • One possible approach for this project would be to follow the MBSR model and refrain from using Buddhist-oriented language in the courses (or, at least, in the name of the center).  This would have advantages and disadvantages:
    • Pro:
      • greater appeal to non-sectarian groups, including corporations,schools, and mental/physical health organizations
      • focus of attention on the functional benefits and practical applications of the teachings, without a perceived need for belief in any religious or philosophical system
      • The MBSR work provides an excellent example of how a skillful non-sectarian presentation of these teachings can reach many people who might be dissuaded by a “religious” or “belief-centered” approach.
    • Con:
      • reduced appeal to those with an existing inclination towards Buddhist teachings and practices
      • loss of the benefits of the rich historical, cultural, and devotional context of Buddhism
      • reduced motivation for deep, intensive, and transformational work if the fundamental goal is simply “stress reduction” and not liberation
      • The Buddhist teachings have, for me, been the clearest and most powerful guidance on my own path.  I have found many aspects of the tradition (historical, cultural, philosophical, didactic) to be both inspiring and useful.  I would want this organization to have full access to wealth and richness of this tradition and to appeal strongly to those with an existing inclination towards this path.
  • Given these considerations one approach would be to:
    • Choose a name (e.g. Wilderness Meditation Center) which does not include any specifically Buddhist language.
    • Include acknowledgment (and full-disclosure) of our Buddhist heritage in a core organization document.  As an example of this kind of statement, here is an excerpt from Spirit Rock Meditation Center’s Vision Statement:
      • Spirit Rock Meditation Center is founded to create an enduring Dharma retreat, practice, community and study center rooted in the Buddhist tradition. The teachings at Spirit Rock Meditation Center are based upon the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha, as expressed in the suttas of the Pali Canon. These suttas offer clear, ethical, social and ecological teachings supportive of a wise and compassionate life in the world, as well as instruction in a range of meditative practices.
    • Offer specifically non-sectarian, non-dogmatic programs that could appeal to a very broad range of populations and organizations, from corporations, to schools, to youth groups.  These programs would likely have more of a “workshop” feeling and would tend to be shorter in duration (1 - 3 days).
    • In the remainder of our programs, draw without hesitation from the full richness of inspiration and skillful means of the Buddhist tradition


  1. HI Matt,
    I am so excited about this!! The website looks great. lots of good info, good questions, and beautiful articulation. My brain is getting very fuzzy in these late days of pregnancy so it may be several months before I join this conversation with any capacity to actually contribute. I hope I can be of help in the future. meanwhile I am here cheering you and this project along!!! lots of love Lynn

    Comment by Lynn Cheatham — 11/9/2004 @ 3:52 pm

  2. If inspiring the interest in a wide spectrum of people is an important part of this organization’s mission then the treatment of Buddhist materials will need to be considered accordingly. I think that it is possible to approach the Buddhas teachings from a non-sectarian standpoint, while inspiring people to search deeper and transform. This is a topic I am very interested in. Lets talk about it.

    Comment by sam — 11/23/2004 @ 1:38 pm

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