The odd thing with secular Buddhism, including pop Buddhism, there seems to be no Buddha in their Buddhism. This ignored Buddha is the Buddha of the discourses, including the Nikayas, the Agamas and Mahayana discourses.
In secular and pop Buddhism there is a notable absence of the nirvana experience, and how it is presented through the discourses. There is little or no treatment of the Buddha’s attitude towards worldlings (prithagjana) and noble ones (arya) and how, in particular, the differences between the two apply when we come across terms like chatvâri ârya-satyâni (the four noble truths). The four dhyânas the Buddha discovered are given too little consideration except in scholarly works. The Buddha who spoke a great deal about rebirth is given little voice. The Buddha who says that the Five Aggregates are not the self and to reject what does not belong to the self is all but ignored.
While it is true that secular and pop Buddhists talk about the Buddha, it is not the Buddha of the discourses. It is a Buddha of their own creation of which they speak. It is as if each pop Buddhist teacher has his own image of the Buddha which he is trying to present. We can think of this image being analogous to something like a sock puppet, the voice and ideas coming through the sock puppet Buddha being the teacher’s—not the Buddha’s. In other examples, the Buddha becomes Nagarjuna or Dogen Zenji, or even the Dalai Lama (he says he is only a monk). Perish the thought that it is entirely feasible Nagarjuna and Dogen could be wrong or not quite in tune with the Buddha of the discourses.
Of course, the gullible public who are curious about learning Buddhism, hardly ever doubt what they read about Buddhism, or never doubt that the Zen master at their local Zen center is not other than a Buddha. They have their own ready-made image of what a Buddha is supposed to be like which, more than likely, doesn’t match up with the Buddha of the discourses.