The Mystical Positivist: Interview about Secularizing Buddhism

The Mystical Positivist is a podcast hosted by Stuart Goodnick and Robert Schmidt and dedicated to the application of reason in the pursuit of spiritual practice and development. It consists of commentary, book reviews, interviews, and discussion in and around the local and larger spiritual community. The thesis of the show is that rationality is in no way the antithesis of deep mystical experience, in fact, we assert that it is a necessary ally.

This week on the show we feature a pre-recorded conversation with Richard Payne, editor and contributor to the 2021 Shambhala publication, Secularizing Buddhism: New Perspectives on a Dynamic Tradition. This collection of essays explores how secular values impact Buddhism in the modern world, what versions of Buddhism are actually being transmitted to the West, whether it is possible to know if a given interpretation of the Buddha’s words is correct, and whether “Secular Buddhism” is purely a Western invention. Contributors to this volume include Bhikkhu Bodhi, Kate Crosby, Gil Fronsdal, Kathleen Gregory, Funie Hsu, Roger R. Jackson, Charles B. Jones, David L. McMahan, Richard K. Payne, Ron Purser, Sarah Shaw, Philippe Turenne, and Pamela D. Winfield.

Richard K. Payne is the Yehan Numata Professor of Japanese Buddhist Studies at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California. During his dissertation research into tantric fire ritual (Homa) on Mt. Kōya in Japan, he also completed training as a Shingon priest (ajari). Clustering around his core research program on tantric ritual are broader theoretical concerns about the conduct of such research. This includes the study of ritual across cultural boundaries and over long durations, and the use of language in tantric Buddhist ritual. He also serves as editor-in-chief of the institute’s annual journal, Pacific World, and is the chair of the Editorial Committee of the Pure Land Buddhist Studies Series. His other publications include, Pure Lands in Asian Texts and Contexts: An Anthology, co-edited with Georgios Halkias (2019); Language in the Buddhist Tantra of Japan: Indic Roots of Mantra (2018); and Homa Variations: The Study of Ritual across the Longue Durée, co-edited with Michael Witzel (2016).

More information about Richard Payne’s work can be found at:

Mystical Positivist episodes with contributors to Secularizing Buddhism and related guests: 

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