(This blogpost follows on from the McMindfulness blogpost, and relies on some of the content. Please read McMindfulness for perspective.)
Zandtaomed watched the documentary - “The Mindfulness Movement” - the other day, and as a meditation elder Zandtaomed was interested in seeing how widespread meditation has become. Undoubtedly mindfulness is beneficially contributing to improving society’s wellness. The documovie promoted the secular origin of the current mindfulness movement, understandably this was needed to overcome institutional religious resistance. What has been lost with this secularity?
Firstly there is the lack of inspiration to political action; this was highlighted in a book entitled “McMindfulness” and Zandtaomed discussed that here as a pathtivist’s challenge. The key Buddhist “concept” that was referred to in the Advice was tathata – seeing or knowing what is what; "The Mindfulness Movement" programme itself made no attempt to see what is what. Is seeing what is what Buddhism? Very much so. Is it secular? Yes, if not placed within the context of Buddhist theory. So the premise that mindfulness movement generally has taken the secular content only is not valid. What the mindfulness movement has done is take that part of mindfulness that is not critical of the way society is. This was discussed in the McMindfulness blogpost. It is not a question of secularism but a question of inhibiting the development of mindfulness by ignoring conditioning (as one example), in a sense this inhibiting is manipulation – or even censorship.
Let’s look at this question of inhibiting starting with conditioning. Buddhist theory is strong on conditioning with Idappaccayata-Paticcasamuppada as an example – more recognisable as dependent origination or co-arising. Does "The Mindfulness Movement" accept that there is conditioning? Or does the secular criterion inhibit the consideration of conditioning? Zandtaomed argues that consideration of conditioning is secular, but from a Buddhist point of view when we include anatta dependent origination says there are only causes and conditions. For a “Wellness” audience consideration of anatta as only causes and conditions might be hard for the inexperienced (in Buddhist thinking), but consideration of conditioning is within the ambit of all and is very important for understanding the way society is.
Idappaccayata is a Buddhist concept, the word is Pali and basically says nature. Consideration of nature is also secular, ought to be a part of any understanding anywhere, and yet is limited by the mindfulness secular criterion. When you combine idappaccayata with tathata, you have seeing what is what in nature. Why isn’t this mindfulness boom creating a huge outcry concerning our planet? This mindfulness lack concerns me. What the mindfulness movement is doing is helping people cope; that is why Google and others embrace this mindfulness because it is leading to coping with work – accepting what is happening systemically and coping with work. But that is not tathata. Tathata sees the problems in our world and responds with wise action.
An important aspect of this idappaccayata, the way nature is, is siladhamma. To Zandtaomed siladhamma, moral integrity, is the only way a society can function. Does our society function in a moral way? This fundamental question is intended to arise through the practise of mindfulness. If such a question does arise, then many of the system organisations would be brought into question eg Google, so the way it is taught in the mindfulness movement inhibits the intention of the Buddha. But siladhamma is a secular issue, religions have at their core a moral imperative, whether these institutions act on that imperative is a different matter.
Mindfulness meditation was part of a total Buddhism, which is an understanding of life and the meditation practice to create a state of mind that can have that understanding. But let’s be honest Buddhist institutions are not reknowned for activism, within Buddhist mindfulness there does not necessarily arise tathata and consequent wise action. Zandtaomed asks each Buddhist “why?”
I feel there is a similarity between what happens in Buddhist institutions and the mindfulness movement generally. Mindfulness is understandably used for wellness as for many people they are not in a state of wellness because of the pressures of our system and lifestyles. To me this is true within Buddhism as well as for the mindfulness movement. Within deeper Buddhism however there is an understanding that can lead to action. Within MwB - "Mindfulness with Breathing" by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, not only is there a development of tathata but also a development of the 4 Dhamma Comrades of which mindfulness is one and the other three are concentration, wisdom and wise action (sampajanna). In other words, the wisdom that can arise through mindfulness is acted upon through wise action - sampajanna. As already noted this does not always happen with Buddhist institutions, but the potential is there through mindful development; as with all institutions there are pressures that limit such action. Buddhist institutions can consider whether their practice is governed by sampajanna. Mindfulness developed within Buddhist institutions could place them in the forefront of global leadership for the betterment of daily life, does it?
Equally leaders of the mindfulness movement could also be in the “forefront of global leadership for the betterment of daily life”, do they need to accept all the inhibitions they have under the umbrella of secularity? Instead as noted in McMindfulness this leadership does not happen. Undoubtedly within a systemic context, mindfulness has benefitted people to cope – wellness, but its use has not sharpened the need for change that is so evident in our society – our world. A developed tathata would lead to sampajanna, in other words mindfulness gives us the ability to SEE what is really happening within the system and could develop wise action that might begin that change. But what is not happening within the Buddhist institution is also not happening within the mindfulness movement. Zandtaomed understands the use of mindfulness to develop wellness, but what are the responsibilities of the leadership within the mindfulness movement? Do they simply accept wellness-for-all or do they use their mindfulness for the betterment of humanity – as the mindfulness path intended?