Secular Buddhism does not embrace any form of spirituality, including a belief in God, deities or souls, but it does not deny that there are forms and forces of nature beyond our five senses or our ability to comprehend them. To quote one of my earliest heroes, Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Let me also apply the analogy of a newt by the side of the highway. The road is there and the cars go by but the newt’s intelligence is insufficient to either perceive or comprehend the road, the cars or what they mean. This issue is not unique to technology but exists also in the world of nature; the eyes of certain creatures cannot perceive color, yet for others, color exists.
So it is with us. There are forms and forces, patterns of existence, not only on some distant star but all around us and even within us, which we are completely unable to perceive or even if we do dimly perceive them, to comprehend. Secular Buddhism’s view is that what is a mystery is a mystery and that it not be labeled spiritual simply because it is beyond our abilities to understand or explain.
Why do we feel such compulsion to label what we cannot understand? I think it is because we are uncomfortable with the unknown, the mysterious. Labeling something as spiritual tames and contains it. It gives us the illusion of knowledge and therefore control.
When the universe is more a clockwork, rather than a mystery, it keeps us important in our sense of the scheme of things. The naked ape that we are is more comfortable when things are predictable. Secular Buddhism refrains from indulging in these temptations and therefore from the use of the label “spiritual”, but it does not deny the existence of mystery nor its beauty.
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” — Albert Einstein
Newt © Dave Ingram’s Natural History Blog
Quantum — Image courtesy of CERN