Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Greater Manchester Humanists - June 2012 Newsletter


Next Meetings:

Wednesday 13 June - 7.00pm for 7.30pm

Friends Meeting House, Mount Street, Manchester, M2 5NS (Room ONE)

Tuesday 26 June - 6.45pm for 7.00pm

The Waldorf, 12 Gore Street, Manchester, M1 3AQ (Upstairs room)

13 June meeting:

Robert Owen – Father of Cooperation: Simon Sheppard – project archivist, National Co-operative Archive

Simon will explore the life and work of social reformer and co-operator Robert Owen. He will include an account of his work cataloguing the 3000 items of correspondence in the Robert Owen Collection.

Post meeting get-together:

Our meetings at FMH have to end around 9.15pm. For those who would like to continue, we shall as usual be going on to The Waterhouse which is in Princess Street opposite the Town Hall.

26 June meeting - Exploring Humanism:

Showing of the BHA Voltaire Lecture 2011 - via BHA YouTube channel

Natalie Haynes – What the Romans and Greeks did for us – including Q&A session.

Notes on 9 May meeting at FMH: Buddhism – a religion for Humanists? – Tim Thorne, lay Buddhist practitioner from the Kadampa Buddhist Tradition and a lawyer


Tim said his aim was to explore the roots of Buddhism, its major teachings and some of the many overlaps with Humanism. Buddhism is a 19th century western word invented in an attempt to categorise and label a vast set of teachings and philosophies that came out of India 2500 years ago and spread throughout the eastern world, known in the East as the Buddhadahrma i.e. the teachings of the Buddha. In the God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says that in his view Buddhism is not a religion at all – more a philosophy or a set of precepts by which people can live their lives. And according to Sam Harris, Buddhism ‘represents the richest source of contemplative wisdom that any civilization has produced’. Tim thought the easiest way to introduce Buddhism was to start with its founder – the Buddha himself, Siddhartha Gautama, born a prince some 2500 years ago. The word ‘Buddha’ is a title, which means ‘one who is awake’. So a big difference between Buddhism and other religions is that there is no belief that the Buddha was a God. In fact there is no place for a creator God at all in Buddhism. The life story of the Buddha is representative not only of the roots of Buddhism but also its core teachings.

What the Buddha taught, in 84,000 teachings over 45 years, can be condensed into his first major teaching – the four noble truths, whose purpose was to identify why people (and other sentient beings such as animals) suffered and how to reduce that suffering and maximise happiness. He identified that everyone and everything is equal in wanting to be happy and have no suffering. The teachings are not sermons or laying down the law like Moses communicating orders from a God as to how to behave, rather personal advice as to how to behave in order to maximise happiness and minimise suffering - for ourselves and others. The Buddha often said don’t do what I say because I say it – or because anyone in authority says it. Don’t take anything on trust or on faith. First see if it accords with your own experience and only follow what I say if it works for you. This is still the teaching of Buddhist schools. He said in summing up all his teachings – ‘I teach about suffering and how to end it. That's all I teach’. Tim then looked at the Four Noble Truths in more detail:

1. The First Noble Truth – Suffering (Dukkha)

Suffering comes in many forms. Gross old age, sickness and death. But according to the Buddha, the problem of suffering goes much deeper. Dukkha is unsatisfactoriness. Life frequently fails to live up to our expectations.

2. The Second Noble Truth – the Origin of suffering

People think that external factors are the cause of suffering. But we cannot alter them very much. The real cause of suffering is our mind and its attitude towards external conditions. If you have a positive mind – you experience a positive world.

3. The Third Noble Truth – the Cessation of suffering

The Buddha taught that the way to extinguish desire or misplaced craving, which causes suffering, is to liberate oneself from attachment. This is the third Noble Truth - the possibility of liberation. Nirvana means extinguishing.

4. The Fourth Noble Truth – the Path to the cessation of suffering

The eight divisions: Right Understanding, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration

Tim then considered the central role of meditation in Buddhism. Meditation involves the last 3 of the 8-fold path (right effort, mindfulness and concentration).The Buddha found enlightenment through meditation, so what is it? According to Sam Harris (who is a long term meditator as well as a leading atheist), ‘meditation’ in Sanskrit is defined as ‘familiarization’ - strategies to familiarize a person with her own mind.

Meditation refers to mental practices that can be used to cultivate attention and emotion regulation. For example, some practices involve focusing attention on breathing and returning the attention to breathing each time a person notices that her mind has wandered. In this way, gradually over time, selective attention can be improved. Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation during which practitioners are instructed to pay attention, on purpose and non-judgmentally, to everything that happens without getting attached to what arises. Placement meditation is where the practitioner concentrates single pointedly on a positive state of mind such as love and compassion with a view to cultivating that positive emotion or state of mind so that it becomes a habit of the way he or she lives. In other words you change your behaviour over time to become more loving and compassionate by concentrating the mind on love and compassion.

All these techniques were taught by the Buddha. He had 45 years to teach and hone them. Practitioners have since used them for thousands of years. The Buddha’s teachings are therefore very practical and scientific step by step techniques to increase happiness and reduce suffering for ourselves and others through training the mind. They are scientific in that they are based on observation and tested by results.

Example: Meditations on Love. The problem is suffering of humans and animals. How can we reduce suffering and increase happiness? One technique is to meditate on and cultivate loving kindness. It is acknowledged that not all of us have the innate ability to love everyone and everything. Therefore the Buddha provides practical techniques to train our mind to cultivate love. Begin by cultivating love for ourselves and those close to us. Then realize equanimity. Then realise how dependent we are on everyone and how kind everyone is. Generate feelings of gratitude and respect. Gradually extend our circle of loving kindness out to strangers and then people who give us problems. Practice and habit. Love brings inner peace, happiness to ourselves and others.

Tim concluded with comments on the overlap between Buddhism and Humanism, by reference to two key principles of Humanism from our website:

(1) ‘Humanists oppose prejudice and discrimination based on race, culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental abilities, or age’. Buddhists practice total equanimity. All beings are equal and have the potential to become a Buddha.

(2) ‘Humanists believe that moral values have developed naturally as people have learnt to live and work together, and are properly founded on human nature and experience alone. They do not derive from supernatural authority.’ Buddhists believe that you should follow the teachings of the Buddha because they work not because of any authority, supernatural or otherwise.

His final observation was that a Buddhist would say that we are all equal in this room and that we have much in common. Points arising in the subsequent discussion included:

- the teachings were initially passed on orally but later written down.

- does Buddhism advocate an afterlife or rebirth? Tim said there is a belief that everything dies. Some

Buddhists believe in rebirth and some see it is an ephemeral thing.

- a Buddhist deity is not the same as God. Buddhists sometimes meditate on a particular historic Buddha

figure that represents a positive characteristic in people’s minds.

- Buddhism seems concerned with individuals – not society as a whole! Tim said there is one division that

engages in politics, and the aspect of improving one’s own life and that of others must have a wider effect.

- Humanism is concerned with practical ways to improve the human condition and Buddhism doesn’t seem

to be! Tim’s response was that Buddhism has only been around for about 100 yrs in the West. It may

have a longer term practical effect.

- what about teaching children, if Buddhism is something that you have to experience for yourself? Tim

said he doesn’t try to encourage his own children to adopt it, except to lead by example. There are

Buddhist schools and monasteries in the East.

- meditation can be done individually or in groups – the latter can be very powerful.

- asked if there were Buddhist churches, Tim said there are meditation centres which have a social aspect.

- there seems to be a fatalistic attitude to suffering in Buddhism, but Tim said the aspiration is to cease

suffering. Most Buddhists are happy people.

- many Buddhists are vegetarians, but some are not. Tibetans eat meat. Others attempt to reduce their

meat intake. There is nothing that says you cannot eat meat - Buddha ate pork!

- asked about abortion, Tim said the aim is to do no or least harm to others, everything should be

motivated by compassion for all.

2012/13 Subscriptions:

Thanks to those who have taken out a standing order or paid their subscription. For other members, sub-scriptions for 2012/13 (£15 waged; £10 unwaged) are now due and can be paid by cheque (made out to Greater Manchester Humanists) sent to Reg Boot, GMH Treasurer, 65 Adelaide Road, Bramhall, Stockport, SK7 1NR, or in cash at a meeting. Alternatively, members are invited to take out a standing order for subscriptions and any additional donation – always welcome. (Note: a renewal date in May/June is fine and will simplify matters if subscription rates are changed at some point in the future.)

For those who are not currently a member: We rely on subscriptions to support our activities to further Humanism in Greater Manchester. We now offer 18 months membership for your initial subscription if you take out a standing order. To take up this offer, please complete a membership application form and a standing order form and return them both to Reg Boot (or me at a meeting) with your cheque for your first subscription plus any additional donation. The date of first payment under your standing order should be 18 months after the date on which you complete the membership application form.

Membership application and standing order forms can be downloaded from http://gmh.humanist.org.uk/ home/contact-us/ Note for members – if you arrange a standing order, please do so directly with your bank and let me know that you have done so.

Humanist Any Questions? – Tuesday 19 June:

Our next Humanist Any Questions? will be held on Tuesday 19 June 2012 as part of Humanist Week. Admission to this public meeting will be free but a collection will be taken for the charity we support – the Uganda Humanist Schools Trust (UK). The meeting will start at 7pm and formally end at 8.30pm, though we are likely to continue for a little longer. Speakers: Duncan Battman, Nayyar Naqvi, Richard Scorer, Carole Truman. Chaired by Guy Otten. A flyer for the event is attached. Please forward to anyone you think might be interested.

Introduction to Humanism course:

The next presentation will run at The Waldorf on Tuesdays, 7pm-9pm, in October/November 2012. The first three sessions of the course proper will be held on 2/9/16 October and the last three on 30 October and 6/13 November. Participants will be invited to attend the normal GMH 4th Tuesday meeting on 23 October, and the programme will be designed to suit them. (This arrangement has been adopted as no suitable rooms are available to us at FMH during July-December 2012 because of the building work there.) The course fee is £14 for bookings received by 15 September, and £16 thereafter. A booking form will shortly be available to download from http://gmh.humanist.org.uk/

Stockport group:

The group meets on the third Wednesday of the month at 7.15pm for 7.30pm, currently at the Boars Head, 2 Vernon Street (near the Market Place). See http://stockporthumanists.blogspot.com/ 
Unfortunately, the group was unable to proceed with the May meeting as arranged: instead, the group enjoyed a chat together. At the next meeting on 20 June, Robin Grinter will give a talk on Spinoza, one of the most important philosophers and certainly the most radical of the early modern period. All welcome.

GMH on Meetup:

The GMH Meetup group – see http://www.meetup.com/Greater-Manchester-Humanists/
- currently has 85 members, a small increase on last month. We hope this group will help to make GMH better known and increase attendance at events – please sign up if you have not yet done so.

Evening walk and pub meal – Monday 2 July 2012:

GMH members are invited to join members of SCANS (South Cheshire and North Staffordshire Humanists) for a walk of 4-5 miles a few miles south of Congleton on 2 July 2012, starting at 6pm and followed by a pub meal at about 7.30pm. If you are interested in going, please get in touch with me by Friday 29 June so that I can tell the organisers how many of us will be coming and we can make appropriate travel arrangements.

Notice of Special General Meeting on 11 July 2012:

Notice is hereby given of a Special General Meeting of Greater Manchester Humanists to be held at Friends Meeting House, Mount Street, Manchester, M2 5NS at 7.30pm on Wednesday 11 July 2012, at which

the following business will be conducted:

To consider and if thought fit adopt the following resolution submitted by the Committee:

That Greater Manchester Humanists joins Northwest Humanists as a full member.

The quorum for the meeting is 15% of paid-up members.


GMH has been working informally with other local Humanist groups in the Northwest, in particular in organizing last year’s regional conference. We are about to put Northwest Humanists on a formal footing. Local Humanist groups operating in the region which are partners of, or affiliated to, the BHA will be eligible to be full members, other Humanist groups may become associate members.

Following the SGM on 14 December 2011, this is permitted by Clause 8 of the GMH Constitution subject to approval at a General Meeting.

Marking our 20th anniversary:

The first meeting of the group was held on 9 October 1992 and we are planning to mark our 20th anni-versary by a special event in October 2012, as close as possible to 9 October 2012 (a Tuesday). I hope to announce definite arrangements in the next newsletter.

NWhumanists regional conference 2012 – preliminary notice:

The second NWh conference will be held in Preston on 19-21 October 2012, Friday evening – Sunday midday, including a conference dinner on the Saturday evening. Proposed theme: Humanism for a Better World. Further details and booking arrangements will be provided in the next newsletter.

Forthcoming meetings at FMH:

July 11: SGM + What do we mean by ‘Humanism’ – discussion led by Graham Connell and David Milne

Aug 8: An Ethical Jury – led by Guy Otten

Sept 12: The International Humanist and Ethical Union – Bob Churchill, IHEU Communications Officer


We need to meet the cost of room hire and providing refreshments at FMH out of the collection at the meeting. So please remember to contribute your £2 at FMH and The Waldorf (£1 for students, and £3 for non-members at FMH).

John Coss






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