We have been emphasizing the jodo or devotional tradition through our study of the Visualization Sutra. (For more on this see this month's Dharma talk) This stresses a personal relationship that can exist between ordinary humans and a trans-human presence, such as Amitabha, Jizo Kwan Yin or many others.
Within the phenomenon of Western Buddhist culture there is a form of Buddhism called secular Buddhism or Buddhist atheism or a number of other things. Prominent proponents of this position are Stephen Batchelor and Rick Harris. The American Stephen Batchelor, author of After Buddhism: Rethinking Dharma for A Secular Age ; Buddhism Without Beliefs and Confessions of A Buddhist Atheist is a controversial figure who explores the ideas that bridge conventional Buddhist teaching and the views of modern atheism. Harris another American mindfulness teacher is author of Secular Meditation: 32 Practices for Cultivating Inner Peace, Compassion, and Joy.
There is an excellent blog which acts as a base-camp for Secular Buddhism. It offers a distinction between traditional and secular Buddhism :
Much of secular Buddhist practice is the same as traditional, but there
are some differences, which are noted where appropriate.The bottom line
in Buddhism is to eliminate suffering for yourself and others. All the
teachings strive to that end. The difference with secular Buddhism is
that the focus is on this lifetime, in this world, whereas some
traditions believe the practice takes many life times, and their goal is
to end the cycle of rebirth.
The Secular Buddhism site features some instruction in this approach. More valuably, it is full of book reviews and great podcasts with significant teachers in modern Dharma. One I especially enjoyed is the podcast interview with David McMahan. His book The Making of Buddhist Modernism is an excellent examination of
the causes and conditions which have contributed to the overall
landscape of contemporary Buddhism. McMahan is
Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin and Marshall College, having
earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His
research focuses on Buddhism and modernity, South Asian Buddhism, and
the effects of globalization. He has published a number of journal
articles about these topics, and has presented lectures all over the
world, most recently by invitation at Minzu University in Beijing,
China. This hour-long interview explores his ideas from the Buddhist Modernism book.
in the Dharma,