Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is Mindfulness Out?

Twice today, I heard the use of the word mindfulness questioned. First, was by a well-known teacher of Vipassana meditation, and second by someone at work, a person with a long time practice. Both expressed annoyance with the way mindfulness has now been co-opted by the mainstream and put to uses that are denaturing its original intent. 

While I value this purist assessment, I can also appreciate Jon Kabat-Zinn's diverging view.  Not everyone has the good fortune of awakening to the Dharma on their own. In fact the percentage of dedicated practitioners is infinitesimal. That leaves 99% of the population without potentially any chance of ever tasting the sweetness from mindfulness practice. And in there lies the genius of Jon Kabat-Zinn, to make the Dharma palatable to many, even those with lots of dust in their eyes. What's wrong with using the promise of less stress and less suffering, to get regular folks to eat a few raisins and finally sit still? I have seen some pretty wondrous transformations during the course of MBSR classes.

Sure, there are those now teaching 'some mindfulness', and who only have a shallow understanding of the Dharma, and little practice. I have had the opportunity to sit and listen to their words, and caught myself wishing they would not speak. And I realize that is a small price to pay.

I say let us keep spreading the good news about mindfulness practice, and let us do so skillfully, respectfully, while drawing deep from our own practice. 

9 comments:

  1. Nicely put. Tough subject. On the one hand, a wide open playing field could lead to beginners being led astray by the inexperienced, or worse, the unscrupulous. On the other, a rigid lineage structure of dharma transmission, while ok for traditional Zen, could alienate many. Hopefully the right amount of regulation will evolve naturally. I'm with you on the side of growth rather than restriction.

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  2. Yes Marguerite, Mindfulness is used by many people hee in bay area. The councilor of my kids asked them to study mindfully. I am not sure my kids understand the difference of the study with or without mindfully. So it would be nice to have definition of mindfulness for high school children.

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  3. I very much agree. There are always going to be folks that "jump in" and start teaching that have little experience of what they are teaching- i think that Jon and Saki are trying their very best to avoid this by setting up training programs that, if nothing else (and there are problems i agree with any set of "certifications") help slow down the process so that people have a ground in knowledge and experience before they go out and teach others.
    Mindfulness, when viewed as a version of "Buddhism without beliefs" (a la Stephen Batchelor) is a more accessible version of the full-on Buddhism that will turn off many North Americans before they really have a chance to see for themselves what this is really about (and what it is not about as well!) .

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  4. Thank you David. The middle way . . . not grasping . . . both notions embedded in this wider sharing of mindfulness practice . . . Letting go of our rigid views, and embracing the whole, including imperfections.

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  5. Neela, you may want to invite your kids to participate in the Dharma Teens Group at IMC. It is led by my friend Alicia McLucas, and is a great opportunity for local kids to explore together the true meaning and practice of mindfulness.

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  6. Buddhismmd, I am with you regarding the phenomenal work done by both Jon and Saki. Both are restoring a secular view of mindfulness, that is in a way more true to the Buddha's original intent of seeking liberation from suffering. The religious layer of Buddhism is extra, and not helpful for the task at hand.

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  7. I agree wholeheartedly. Even someone with a small amount of knowledge can help someone with none.

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  8. Yes, the Dharma cannot be owned, even by the best of practitioners, whatever that means . . . :)

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  9. I too agree. Yes, there needs to be vigilance to maintain some clarity in what mindfulness really is, acknowledgment that one course and a month of sitting is insufficient to start guiding others, BUT it really helps people. It is a revolution, especially for people who have been going the rounds in psychiatric/psychological treatment and have become weighed down by the sheer volume of stories that creates. Just to be able to take a break from fighting and make even a small step towards just being... That alone is such a liberation!

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