In an August 2020 talk to Bluegum Sangha in Sydney, Australia, Winton Higgins offered some thoughts on This life: secular faith and spiritual freedom, a recently published book by the Swedish philosopher, Martin Hägglund.
He explored some of the ways the book might prompt us as dharma practitioners to refocus our practice by clarifying some of our underlying assumptions – ones we often file under ‘Let’s not go there’.
Hägglund starts out from this premise, Winton tells us: we’re all vulnerable and dependent on others all of the time; our lives will end in death; and death is final. Our lives entail finite life spans and possibilities, so philosophers call this widely accepted premise ‘finitude’.
Some of you might question our finitude, out of a belief in rebirth or some other post-mortem existence that implies endless life, like going to heaven. If so, you can treat the rest of what I’m going to say as an interesting counterfactual that still might have implications for your spiritual practice.
Those of us who acknowledge our finitude, on the other hand, must take this, our one and only life, extremely seriously – hence the book’s title, This life. But we may scratch our heads and wonder about the first term in Hägglund’s sub-title ‘secular faith’.
Winton asks us: ‘I mean, isn’t “faith” what religious people talk about when committing themselves to achieving ultimate salvation in eternal things – things different from us mere mortals, then, such as God, heaven, eternal life, or the nirvana of conventional Buddhism?’
Sound morbid? Not at all. As the US poet Mary Oliver reminds us in her poem ‘The summer day’:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Watch Winton Higgins speak on Mortality and spiritual freedom – Winton Higgins
Winton delved extensively into Martin Hägglund’s This Life in his Tuwhiri book, Revamp: writings on secular Buddhism.
Photo Bob Howell, Maldon, Essex, Britain: ‘Boat owners around here do not have a scrapyard – a lot end up like this’