Ignition

by Winton Higgins • wintonhiggins.org

For many years Bluegum sangha in Sydney has dedicated one session a month of its weekly insight meditation practice evenings to ‘sutta study’. In 2015 we finished an 18-session study of our foundational text, the Satipatthāna sutta. So where to next? Bluegummers had exuded pluck and stamina throughout, but some had often found the text hard going.

Stephen Batchelor had sent me the manuscript of what became After Buddhism: rethinking the dharma for a secular age for comment, and I recognised it as a leap forward in the long process of articulating the dharma in terms that made immediate practicable sense to inquiring people steeped in modern western culture.

More than that, his book represents a fresh, rigorous and erudite approach to mining the rich seams of the sutta material in the Pali canon – the most prominent source of the Buddha’s own teaching. Among other things, Stephen could forge links between the ancient teachings and influential strands in modern western thought, not least post-metaphysical philosophers such as continental phenomenologists and American pragmatists.

When I told Bluegummers about it, they voted unanimously to adopt it as their next study text, and I landed the job of catapulting us into discussion of its contents, session by session and chapter by chapter, over the following sixteen months. From the beginning this text sparked a great deal of energy and enthusiasm in our study meetings, and I found my task of articulating my own responses to it in written speaker’s notes quite enthralling.

Another practice community in Sydney, Golden Wattle sangha, asked me to rerun the course for them, which prompted me to rethink what I’d already written in the light of earlier conversations.

For some years I’ve flicked the notes for my dharma talks to Ramsey Margolis in Wellington, and he’s put some of them up on secularbuddhism.org.nz. But to my surprise he suggested assembling the After Buddhism talk notes into a workbook. While we’re at it, he added, we may as well create an imprint from which to launch it, one that could also meet the future publishing needs of secular-minded dharma practitioners.

So here we are!