Update: I’ve decided that I have to forge my own spiritual path. I have been deeply influenced by Buddhism, and generally its been a very good influence. But I’ve been moving toward forging my own path for several years already. I practice Engaged Buddhist Naturalism, which I now call Dharmaecology, and there is no group or institution that teaches Engaged Buddhist Naturalism, with the possible exception of some Ambedkar Buddhists. My two Buddhist Naturalists influences (although they wouldn’t call themselves that) are Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and Joanna Macy. It’s a path I began to walk on my own five years ago.
Engaged Naturalism makes up the bulk of my concepts and practices, but Buddhism puts that into a spiritual and ethical context, into a unified cosmology and world view. The dharma perspective and practice keeps me connected to that inner experience of one-ness, that inner connection and compassion for the world. As well, the ‘Buddhist’ or ‘mystical’ element is important to me as a source of creativity and imagination, of appreciation for the mythical and fantastic, which I count as an important part of my human experience. The mythical and mystical experiences are closely connected with aesthetics and artistic creation. I could just as well call it Engaged Mystical Naturalism, but that would be rather contradictory and confusing to most people. The combination of ‘outer’ knowledge of science and society (people), and the ‘inner’ knowledge of mystical experience leads to what I would call “wisdom.” It is the mystical aspects that support and encourage love, compassion and wisdom; scientific knowledge alone does not produce love or compassion.
In a similar way, Dr. Ambedkar fashioned his Navayana to employ that human delight in the mystical and mythical as a source of social cohesion, creating the mystical community. Ambedkar combined the very simple ethical principles of Buddhism, the Five Precepts and the Eight-fold path, as a minimal set of principles around which a social community can be formed. Keeping the name “Buddhist” is a way to tap into the mystical sense of unity and connection that helps unify a group of people feel like a spiritual community.
Jayarava has written on Buddhist Naturalism: “My quick definition of Naturalism is that the universe has to be understood without any reference to anything supernatural. I think for Buddhism to be relevant long term, it will have to come to terms with Naturalism in some form because it accurately describes the world we live in.” I recommend reading Jayarava’s article on Buddhist Naturalism as it explains many facets of Naturalism that I espouse and in a very succinct and logical order. In terms of the Eight-fold Path, Naturalism would work as Right View, because it is our best description of reality, our best explanation of how the world works.
One of the differences between Engaged Buddhist Naturalism and most forms of Buddhist practice is that I practice a balance between action and contemplation. The goal of practice is not transcendence, to be as calm and undisturbed as possible. The goal is to balance action and contemplation so that I can engage in cultural creation and eco-social justice work with a degree of sanity and humility. Consequently, meditation is not the most important practice, but a supportive practice that supports both engagement and inner connection.
In the end, I choose a name for my particular spiritual practice as a means of social communication. It’s the same with my gender. I don’t really think of myself as ‘transgender.’ My gender identity has all sorts of personal nuances that aren’t suggested by that categorical name. But I choose the label “transgender” for social reasons, because many people have come to understand what ‘transgender’ means, i.e. a person with mixed or unconventional gender characteristics. So I use the term ‘transgender’ in order to communicate something about my gender in a way that other people understand. Likewise, I use the term Buddhist Naturalism as a categorical label to communicate something about what I believe and practice in a way that other people understand. It’s a social label, not a personal one.