Sunday, April 1, 2012

Can we call the Buddha Sid?

One of the key features of a secular understanding of Buddhism is the viewing of the Buddha as a human being rather than as a supernatural being. It's seen as one of the 'three refuges'....that a human being achieved awakening which serves as an encouragement to the rest of us mere mortals that we too can do this.

In the first blog post on this site (Secular Buddhism: Does a Label Help or Hinder?) I attempted to explore the pros and cons of adopting the label 'Secular Buddhism'. One of the down-sides is the propensity to start locking down one's view as belonging to the 'secular' camp and possibly missing out on helpful things from other 'camps'. One antidote, I suggest is to use whatever means are available to continue encouraging open questioning. In this spirit I'd like to hear views on the pros and cons of continuing to call Siddhattha Gotama 'The Buddha' rather than Siddhattha or even Sid for short.

As I write this post I feel some anxiety which is the result of an expectation that this question will be seen as heretical by some and that it might spark some flames of objection that could come my way. I've actually been 'blow-torched' for questioning things in other realms of my life lately so the anxiety is even higher than normal. However despite the pain that sometimes comes along with it, the freedom to question is one of the few things that feel sacred to me, so despite the flammability of the question, I'm putting it out there.

My current thinking on it (subject to change with the considered views I hope are shared in reply to this post) is that, as with all things, there are advantages and disadvantages. I'll have a go at starting the list:


  1. It reinforces the view of Siddhattha as human and therefore the view of awakening as a real, attainable possibility for us.

  2. It helps keep us away from the slippery slope of pedestals, deifications and the religifying of the dharma.

  3. It prompts us to look at any attachment we might have to Sid being on said pedestal - we can ask 'what is that?' (as the Zennies would say) and does/how does it help?

  4. It keeps us focused on the fact that dharma practice is about getting to the other side of the river, not building a shrine to the raft.

  5. It helps prevent the adherence to the teachings just because they came from Siddhattha rather than subjecting them to the rigour of our own life testing.

  6. It helps us relate to the persona of Sid as a wise friend rather than an authority figure - those of us with a secular orientation are more likely to be influenced by the former.

  7. (For Australians) it's in keeping with Australian culture of nick-naming everything that we feel affection for and/or anticipate will have any kind of longevity in our lives.

  8. (Also especially for Australians) it helps circumvent mistrust of authority figures.

  9. It's a symbolic reminder of the fundamental shifts that come along with Secular Buddhism.


  1. The fact that the Buddha has an honorific title might encourage newcomers to test the teachings out more fully than they otherwise might if he was seen as just another self help guru.

  2. When speaking with the general population it's clearer who we're talking about.

  3. We are less likely to upset those of a more traditional Buddhist orientation

  4. It's easier to avoid 'us and them' identification between the secular and traditional approaches.

Believe it or not, I've tried very hard to be balanced about this. Any omissions in this list are due to the limitations of my own personal experience rather than an attempt to push an agenda. Based on the list above and my own view of the world, the advantages of 'Sid/dhattha outweigh the advantages of 'The Buddha' but I genuinely invite and look forward to hearing others' views.