Is Reflective Meditation Secular?

Reflective Meditation has a chameleon quality. It takes on the values and conditions of the person who practices it. Same with the teachers. So why do I consider Reflective Meditation a non-traditional, secular, ethical approach to practice? Likely because that is how I feel most comfortable teaching the dharma these days.

Below is an excerpt and link to an article for your reflection, with some minor rearranging from me. Winton Higgins offered this dharma talk in New Zealand last year. He speaks eloquently about a secular approach to mindfulness (or sati) meditation.


“I suggest that the central Buddhist practice of insight meditation based on mindfulness (to use that problematic term for now) is a highly developed approach to opening up our inner lives in the interests of our personal development as reflective human beings, and pursuing our personal search for meaning. The Buddha’s foundational teaching for this meditative practice is the Satipaṭṭhāna sutta (the discourse on the focuses of awareness).

Let’s reframe our meditation practice to serve the aspiration to deepen and enlarge our humanity rather than leaving it and its life-world behind as an irredeemable vale of tears. We take sati’s hand and invite this human body-and-mind to reveal its contents. At first it might look like an uncharted jungle in there, but that’s the nature of the beast, and that’s okay.

We have the body as a constant, grounding reference point. Never leave home without your body! At the beginning, and at any subsequent stage, we can ‘check in’ to the body, by watching our breathing, taking note of our posture, and of what we’re doing in the physical realm. And sati holds the map.

We should pass up artificial navigation aids, such as technical instructions and supposed milestones on our way. We have no use for formulas. We follow our experience wherever it leads us, and we have the map to reveal to us where we find ourselves at any given moment.

We’re not heading towards a goal, or chasing any particular experience. We don’t need to be ‘redeemed’, or ‘saved’ – swept off to some post-human, post-suffering plane of existence that would in fact demean our human dignity.

Instead, we’re patiently exploring our inner world and getting to know its myriad inhabitants. We’re clarifying ourselves, becoming more connected, balanced and intelligent. We need to be alert to these processes. Gradually patterns will reveal themselves and ethical discrimination will arise, especially as we master the conceptual framework of the discourse – that is, of the dharma itself – in the course of our meditative lives. And our insights will have the supreme authority of our very own experience.”

– you can find the complete article here:

Winton Higgins has been a Buddhist practitioner since 1987 and a teacher of insight meditation since 1995. A member of The Tuwhiri Project editorial board, he has contributed to the development of a secular Buddhism internationally, and is a senior teacher for Sydney Insight Meditators and Secular Buddhism in Aotearoa New Zealand.