December 5th 2015 is Lama Tsongkhapa Day, the celebration of the life of Jey Tsongkhapa (1357 – 1419), the founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. He was also the author of the Lamrim Chenmo, the exhaustive theological and doctrinal treatise that the Gelug school relies upon to this day.
Buddhism is often put in a different category from other world religions. It’s been called nontheistic or atheistic, even not really a religion but a philosophy, or just a “way of life.” This all may seem harmless, but it is not OK.
Categorical assertions that Buddhism is atheistic/nontheistic are deeply problematic because they erase centuries of history of how Buddhism was actually practiced by people across Asia – people whose practices were jeered at and dismissed as “superstitious” and “irrational” by white, western missionaries.
This must be borne in mind when dealing with the Secular Buddhist movement. One of its main proponents is Sam Harris, an outspoken atheist. In his book, Waking Up, Harris claims to be promoting a “Buddhism shorn of its miracles and irrational assumptions.” (p.27).
Think about that for a moment. Sam Harris is white, wealthy, and American. Most Buddhists are none of those things. Yet he feels free to criticize their faith as “irrational.” That is a demonstration of privilege in action.
That is why I am skeptical of Secular Buddhists.