Recently I was put onto the Chris Hedges interview with Ron Purser, and today I was meditating and couldn’t leave this alone – I wanted to look at Mcmindfulness, Ron’s book. I banged out some words I might use, and dilemmas started coming at me – explained throughout this article. Is truncated mindfulness helpful to the path? Has Purser got a fixation about Kabat-Zinn? Why didn’t Purser question Chris Hedges about ditthupadana? Why did Purser accept Chris Hedges put-downs of all religions? I would read a bit of the book and agree, another bit and completely disagree. Loved it, this is wonderful – a challenge, and as it is all about the path and activism it is a challenge that a pathtivist has to take up and be clear about. And the good thing about it is that I am – I am clear.
Firstly Zandtaomed teaches pathtivist meditation. This follows the technique of Buddhadasa’s “Mindfulness with Breathing” (MwB) with Zandtaomed as elder, so of course I am teaching mindfulness (and so much more). Without mindfulness we cannot follow the path, but without the path what happens to mindfulness? I have not seen a Google mindfulness course but it appears that calling what they teach as mindfulness is like calling the times table mathematics; it has so little to do with the path.
In the interview Chris and Ron were in unison of their criticism of the Mcmindfulness industry, and as Ron explained clearly early on in the interview mindfulness is only part of the 4 Noble Truths. A brief and totally incomplete summary of the 4NT is that we live in a world of suffering but we don’t have to suffer. Suffering is caused by becoming attached to desire, and the Noble Eightfold Path helps you not become attached and helps end suffering; right mindfulness is part of Noble 8Fold path. In this article “Beyond Mcmindfulness”, Ron Purser explains more clearly the role of mindfulness within Buddhism.
The full title of Ron Purser’s book is “Mcmindfulness: How mindfulness became the new capitalist spirituality”. For me capitalist spirituality is an oxymoron, if you are genuinely spiritual you cannot be capitalist. Using Buddhist terminology a spiritual person is compassionate and that means helping all people be free from suffering. In this world of the 1%-satrapy, capitalism is quite clearly a source of suffering so there cannot be a spiritual capitalist - the oxymoron. Ron, how could you accept such a title if you are a Buddhist? More challenge!
For me this raised a number of questions concerning Ron Purser, and so I looked at his book, and reading it started to raise some good questions. In the Companion I have spoken of complete engagement, and when you start reading Mcmindfulness you can see this engagement; but there is a question “Has he lost the essence of Buddhism – the spirituality of the path?” Is he a Buddhist in doctrine only? And that led me further to accept the challenge of this article.
I have looked at Kabat-Zinn and mindfulness meditation before (see links below), and I like the summary I came up with:-
So anything I now write must move on from there.
As part of the Companion I talk of the 4 Dhamma Comrades which Buddhadasa talks of as arising in MwB; these comrades are mindfulness (sati), wisdom (panna), wisdom-in-action (sampajanna) and concentration (samadhi). By Dhamma comrade we can also say they are characteristics “you” develop as “you” follow the path, these are path characteristics that are beyond self. This mindfulness as it arises on the path is beyond corruption, it is not something that can be pressed into the service of capitalism. This very awareness of sati that comes as you follow the path would not allow for capitalism. The teaching of sati that Zandtaomed uses could not conform for Google (conform for you personally maybe but not for Google), the military or as stated above schoolchildren.
So how can I make sense of Mcmindfulness, that is the challenge that is this pathtivist’s challenge.
I have talked above about the 4 Dhamma comrades arising from (MwB). What also arises is tathata, knowing what is what, knowing the suffering that is caused by capitalism or the suffering that is caused in war, knowing delusions. Pathtivism, following the path, could not use mindfulness in this way, mindfulness could not use itself in this way.
But what is so important about tathata as what is what is seeing clearly. Mindfulness sees clearly. It sees without kilesa (defilements), without greed, aversion or delusion – Ron’s words greed, ill will and delusion. “However, mindfulness programs do not ask executives to examine how their managerial decisions and corporate policies have institutionalized greed, ill will and delusion, which Buddhist mindfulness seeks to eradicate” [p26 of 453 in Mcmindfulness]. Ron and I are of like minds when I discuss the defiled world we live in, and as Ron says, paraphrasing, Buddhism seeks to let go of the egos that attach to defilements, to let go of kilesa. In my terms the 1%-satrapy have institutionalised greed, aversion and delusion, I am totally in agreement with the sense of the quote and equally I have no doubts that if corporations are using mindfulness programmes then they will only be used for enhancing the state of defilement in the world.
But I don’t buy into all of Ron’s criticism of Kabat-Zinn and the mindfulness industry. Kabat-Zinn talks of mindfulness revolution “has the potential to ignite a universal or global renaissance”, I accept Ron’s crit of this, how can any of the programmes that have been put forward in corporations, the military or schools possibly be legitimately called revolutionary? Without being too Marxist about class and revolution, how can mindfulness change who controls the power? “Anything that offers success in our unjust society without trying to change it is not revolutionary — it just helps people cope” [p6 of 453 in Mcmindfulness]. However in his discussion with Chris Hedges there was a mutual agreement somewhere along the lines that a class change was needed, and I use Marxist terms here for clarity, the proletariat ousting the bourgeoisie, the 99% ousting the 1%. Look at what is what, look at tathata, when are you ever going to see such a change happen in the immediate future? When are you going to see the 99% united? This is complete delusion as well. Here we have two delusory positions put forward, socio-political change to socialism and a mindful revolution. Neither has a chance, that is what is what.
Ditthupadana is clinging to views. Chris Hedges was clinging to the possibility of socialism yet there is no evidence that the 99% will ever be united to overthrow the 1% - a socialist prerequisite. Chris himself has found his money on RT, a channel whose very existence is there to divide the 99% - I tend to support Chris’s views but clinging to them is clearly divisive. Why didn’t Ron raise this – I am sure he has met the term “ditthupadana”? At best it was edited out.
When you look at what is what you see delusions with Ron’s approach and delusions with Kabat-Zinn’s approach. Can they both be right? If they are both following their paths then they can both be right, if they are both being authentic then there is no problem. This appears to make no sense but it is a good dilemma.
Sense comes from mindfulness itself. Fundamentally any mindfulness that can be used for the benefit of capitalism or the military is truncated, intentionally limited as a tool by the organisation that is implementing its use. As with the path full mindfulness is there to help us find our true selves. Clearly the truncated mindfulness that is the mind-calming of Google etc is a limited application, and the corporate emphasis will not be on full awareness of the path or awareness of the 1%-satrapy. To be fair to Kabat-Zinn even when claiming a mindful revolution he has never suggested that MBSR, his course that can be the base of corporate mindfulness training, is full mindfulness. According to Purser Kabat-Zinn hopes it will be “While MBSR does not, nor should it, explicitly address these classical foundations in a clinical context with patients, the Four Noble Truths [of human suffering, its source in desire, and Buddhist teachings that help to remove it] to have always been the soil in which the cultivation of mindfulness via MBSR and other mindfulness-based programs is rooted, and out of which it grows” [p389 of 453 in Mcmindfullness]. I suggest that truncated mindfulness can open the door. The first step in finding the path is to go inwards, and calming techniques are going inwards. Google employees are not stupid, and amongst them will be people who feel the broader benefits of mindfulness. So they google mindfulness. For me Mindful.org comes up, and this appears to me Mcmindfulness – the mindful industry. But Kabat-Zinn is there and people could find Buddhism that way – leading hopefully to the path; Kabat-Zinn quotes Thay. And I found a booklink to Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh), and he follows the path. The more mindful you become, the greater the chance you have of finding your path – being authentic, your true self. And to be fair finding Buddhism doesn’t necessarily find your path either. To me the essence of “What the Buddha taught” is finding the path but there are millions of Buddhists not even considering this. Following the doctrine of Buddhism is not following the path, it is the essential understanding behind Buddhism that is spirituality.
To be blunt if Purser wants corporations to sow the seeds of their own destruction he is deluded. If he wants the military to sow discontent so soldiers don’t want war he is deluded. If he wants schools to be any more than places to prepare for wage-slavery he is deluded. I therefore agree with Kabat-Zinn that sowing the seeds through truncated mindfulness is a positive step.
But most important such truncated mindfulness is not the path, is only limited awareness, and much proper meditation work needs doing for people to begin to start on the genuine spiritual path.
But what about Purser’s delusion in allying himself with Chris Hedges and the socialists. Despite the sound analysis in Marx socialism has now been turned into division by right-wing investment; this is tathata. Where is the strategy of unity of the 99% especially on RT? As part of tathata, for me came complete disenchantment in the political process especially electoral politics, we must find a way for spirit to express itself in activism but until we have reached complete disenchantment we are deluded if we think change will come through politics.
Again from the position of tathata we need to see the reality that in this world we must earn a living. Look at the players in Mcmindfulness. Purser is an academic, found a successful article in “Beyond Mcmindfulness”, and wrote a book, publishing being a prerequisite of academia. Did he promote his Buddhism with Chris Hedges? Did he criticise Chris Hedges for ditthupadana? Did he promote the spiritual path on TV or in his book? Whilst he used Buddhism to criticise Kabat-Zinn, in my view he was not promoting the path. He has to earn a living in this 1%-satrapy. Maybe he has latched onto Mcmindfulness as a money-earner and a way of holding his academic position – a compromise? If that is his compromise just accept tathata, the 1%-satrapy we live in. Do the best you can.
I was a maths teacher – a compromise. If Google had offered me a position teaching truncated mindfulness I would have taken it – at least it was some form of mindfulness, some way of earning that included spiritual work. How many of the thousands of students that I taught followed the path in their lives? I was lucky if I got them a good maths result. We cannot demand life without compromise in the 1%-satrapy. Whilst it is not the purpose of corporate mindfulness, maybe someone working at Google is following their path, maybe they are working on improving the algorithm for the betterment of society, for anti-racist or gender equality purposes. Maybe?
As it is now I don’t have to compromise, my maths teacher compromise gave me a pension that enables me to teach Zandtaomed pathtivist meditation at no cost.
When people such as Purser raise the issue that corporate mindfulness has been appropriated that is positive because it contextualises the commodification. People who have studied truncated mindfulness can further begin to question using their mindfulness, and eventually though Buddhism or otherwise they can find their paths. So as a pathtivist I like Mcmindfulness because it raises the questions about mindfulness and might help trigger genuine mindfulness, an aim Kabat-Zinn might well have had. Genuine mindfulness has to lead to the path, that is a law of nature.
On 4/6/22 after watching "the mindfulness movement" movie zandtaomed wrote a new advice (an update) entitled "SEEing - the mindfulness movement".