What does zandtaomed teach?
Zandtao is recovering from flu and has not fully returned to the writing of his practice. Towards the end of his flu he watched Ruby Wax as a castaway, his assessment was that she got something from the process although the program edit just focussed on the negatives of her isolation for entertainment value. Bill had always been interested in “alternative”, and so had often come across her but was not a fan. Ruby had written a book called “Mindfulness for the frazzled”, and zandtao is reading it to try to understand McMindfulness from a distance. Zandtao realised that he didn’t want zandtaomed associated with just “mindfulness-teaching”, and hence the writing of this advice.
So what is zandtaomed about? Firstly he is not a teacher, he offers advice. In some situations, the difference between teaching and advising is semantic so let’s address that difference through the word “autonomy”. Can autonomy be taught? Doesn’t teaching imply some form of following, and how can following be autonomy? When advice is offered, the seeker must choose to accept or not so there is some degree of autonomy in advice. But simply calling it advice and therefore assuming that autonomy will arise is a delusion, working with the seeker so that the seeker develops autonomy is a different objective than can arise from advising. But if the seeker does not reach autonomy then the seeker is not following their path, and this would have to be noted as some form of failure.
Zandtaomed advises on practice, and to begin with zandtaomed teaches practice. There is a minimal description of the formal method here, and zandtaomed admits there have not been seekers who have completed the formal training. Throughout his advice zandtaomed asks the seeker to develop a relationship with their Inner guide, this is the beginning of autonomy. What has zandtaomed’s limited interaction with seekers achieved? He hopes his seekers are still seeking and practicing meditation.
Because of his limited contact with advising seekers the following is speculation. Through the formal method zandtaomed hopes a seeker will develop a MwB practice - "Mindfulness with Breathing" by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, a practice in which the seeker will follow the 4 tetrads with 4 stages similar to the MwB practice described by Buddhadasa in his book "Mindfulness with Breathing". For zandtaomed this infrastructure is the beginning of a seeker’s practice. Whilst zandtaomed still has 16 stages (4stages x 4tetrads), his own practice might be considered very different from the teachings of Buddhadasa. Zandtaomed would hope that any seeker would use their own autonomy to develop their practice based on the MwB infrastructure.
Zandtaomed’s practice led to a significant event for him – the crossing of the threshold of autonomy and since then his writing and the Prajna portal on his website is considered to be zandtao’s quest into the unknown. In this speculation zandtaomed would hope that a seeker develops their own autonomy and begins their own quest into the unknown - that is zandtaomed’s objective:-
Zandtaomed helps a seeker build their practice so that the seeker develops their own autonomy and starts their quest into the unknown – path.
This advice arose from consideration of mindfulness, so where does mindfulness fit into this zandtaomed objective? Buddhadasa described 4 Dhamma comrades arising out of his MwB practice – mindfulness/sati, wisdom/panna, concentration/samadhi and embodiment/sampajanna; zandtaomed notes that love arises as part of Buddhadasa’s teaching but not specifically in MwB. Zandtaomed’s advice is that his ZAP – zandtaomed autonomous practice – should include love arising, and talks of 5 Dhamma comrades - mindfulness/sati, love/karuna, wisdom/panna, concentration/samadhi and embodiment/sampajanna - arising.
What does the term arising mean? It simply means that the seeker practicing ZAP (or practicing MwB) will develop these Dhamma comrades. These comrades can be focussed on as part of the meditation process and therefore developed through this attention; or they will simply arise as attachments are removed, conditioned egos released, and the true connection that comes from reconnecting with Dhamma or Source happens. With the “mindfulness-teaching” that Jon Kabat-Zinn started as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy MBCT - beginning with mindfulness-based stress reduction MBSR, there is an emphasis on developing mindfulness through attention. Is there mindfulness/sati, love/karuna, wisdom/panna, concentration/samadhi and embodiment/sampajanna arising? Is there autonomy and an ensuing quest into the unknown? Is there path in MBCT? Whilst Ruby’s depression has clearly been helped by MBCT (as described in her book), could Ruby gain more if she looked at practices that develop path? Maybe she was beginning to do that through her castaway? Concern in this advice is with the objective rather than considering Ruby herself who zandtao does not know.
Does the word spiritual help in terms of clarification? Zandtaomed is offering advice for a seeker who wants to follow a spiritual path, JK-Z was offering MBCT to cope with depression. When Google was asked “does Jon Kabat-Zinn talk of a spiritual path?”, it answered with this very interesting clip (only 5 mins). For JK-Z meditation does not stop with MBCT but with consideration of heart and interconnectedness. The meditation objectives described in this clip are not inconsistent with the objectives of autonomy and quest into the unknown described above. Zandtaomed was surprised and somewhat ashamed that he had not investigated this question further in his consideration of MBCT, JK-Z and McMindfulness. In this clip JK-Z used the word meditation and not mindfulness, zandtaomed considers this interpretation:- that meditation is more than mindfulness and that JK-Z is using mindfulness in MBCT for a specific purpose. Zandtaomed does not know JK-Z to develop an understanding with him about this distinction further.
If spiritual means restrictive in a dogmatic religious sense, then this is upadana (ditthupadana and silabattupadana) that has little to do with autonomy and quest. But a spiritual path that is concerned with heart and interconnectedness can bring clarification for the seeker and what zandtaomed advises. For zandtaomed this zandtaomed advice has developed as a consequence of looking at Ruby’s book. It has been helpful for zandtaomed in clarifying the objectives of autonomy and quest for the unknown, and that clarification can be beneficial for any seeker; sadly zandtaomed does not have the expertise to help with MBCT.
It is worth considering what mindfulness is and therefore considering what the limitations of mindfulness-based teachings are. 20 years ago mindfulness was described to bill by a monk (Ajaan Munindo at Harnham) as judgement-free awareness; this is one of the things that has stuck in many spiritual perambulations. What does awareness do? It sees – it senses. When awareness is judgement-free it means we see/sense without any blinkers or filters or judgements, we see/sense what is. Does mindfulness act/change? No, it is only awareness. So mindfulness-based therapy or teaching in and of itself does nothing.
Ajaan Brahm has introduced the term kindfulness to illustrate this point – his book. Zandtao has not read this but heard Ajaan reference mindfulness as awareness only – and zandtao interprets kindfulness as needing compassion with that awareness. In other words for zandtao awareness on its own doesn’t cut it. So let’s consider actions, we receive info and based on who we are we act on this info. Nothing contentious there. Where does mindfulness come in? It receives the info, and with highly-developed mindfulness (judgement-free) we can know that info is what is – it is truly what is. Before we act correctly, we need to know the info we have is what is. This is the wonder of well-developed mindfulness, we can rely on what we receive as info.
It has always been the case that the info we receive has had bias – for zandtao patriarchal bias. More people are seeing the problem with bias through all the talk of fake news, but sadly many of the people describing the news as fake are attempting to undermine the info people receive for their own benefits. For example climate crisis is claimed by some as just weather; this viewpoint has arisen because the oil lobby wanted to create the delusion that oil was not the problem that was causing climate crisis. This was using fake news as a delusion to increase their profits – part of patriarchal bias. By developing mindfulness, we can receive info that is judgement-free awareness.
But awareness is not action so if there is only mindfulness then we act on that mindfulness in the same conditioned way we have always acted. Ruby mentioned compassion – karuna/love is compassion, compassion is one of the 5 Dhamma comrades - mindfulness/sati, love/karuna, wisdom/panna, concentration/samadhi and embodiment/sampajanna; so compassion can decide what should be done with the awareness. But when we look at our society we can see that expressing compassion is not enough, even deciding with compassion is not enough there needs to be right action – sampajanna/embodiment.
Not having studied MBCT zandtao doesn’t know how much the emphasis is on action. In this clip JK-Z talks of heart and interconnectedness but is that part of MBCT? Does heart and interconnectedness include embodiment? It is my feeling (unsubstantiated) that MBCT is specifically designed for working with depression, and that does not have path implications. What implications it has for compassion and embodiment would be something for zandtao to examine if as an elder he were to meet many depressed people – but this is not likely to happen.
Zandtaomed tries to develop an autonomy that includes all of this but awareness cannot exist in isolation – because of the totality of what humans are awareness leads to some change. Consider socialism arising in our education institutions. As young people become aware of the injustice in our society’s patriarchy, many turn to socialism as part of that awareness. Such people then – ever? – might not consider compassion and embodiment as part of their understanding yet clearly their actions have some basis in compassion and embodiment. So mindfulness from MBCT does not arise on a blank canvas. But it does arise on a canvas that has been misdirected by the conditioning of daily life, and if MBCT does not address that conditioning maybe the tricks inspired by the conditioning will control the more accurate awareness of mindfulness and not lead to actions for change. This essentially is a theme of McMindfulness, that conditioning can still control mindfulness – the new awareness. But worse if the new awareness is directed towards benefitting the productivity of companies such as Google. When we consider mindfulness in these contexts awareness cannot be seen as sufficient.
Zandtao is unsure how Google misuses its mindfulness training, but here is a speculation based on his own upheaval. Prior to upheaval bill’s mind was clouded. Whilst some people saw things in him his recollection of those times was a clouded unclear mind addicted to alcohol, but much more a numb mind that had no direction – just limited conditioning for a job. When some of this conditioning broke down, during upheaval there was a new awareness – having rejected an amount of conditioning from his upbringing. This awareness was a great feeling of opening up. Can Google use this feeling of opening-up? From outside Google, zandtao sees BigTech making huge profits that are essentially unjust – just typical patriarchy. Maybe within Google this mindfulness-trained awareness was redirected towards compassion or perhaps intellectual achievement aligned with Google productivity and the individual’s need for money. If a more aware person is comfortable working for Google, then that is a benefit for the company, greater awareness applied to Google productivity and profit-making can only be of benefit. Undoubtedly Google’s profits have increased whilst they have done mindfulness training – or else they would not have done it. How is a part of McMindfulness, but not a detail that matters here.
There is an important aspect of mindfulness – of awareness – that needs to be considered, and that is Source under its many guises such as Dhamma, Nibbana, sunnata, spiritual unity, consciousness etc. Now mindfulness can be aware of Source if it is judgement-free, but the problem with this particular judgement is that it is so integral to our conditioning that we are not aware that a judgement has been made - the judgement of focussing on the individual and not "seeing Source". When we examine spiritual traditions (not necessarily religious) then (spiritual) Unity is common. As such a Unity or consciousness is infinite, descriptions are vague and can be conflicting. Descriptions of such are often ascribed as a belief, so as part of awareness do we see a belief in Unity as being aware that there is Unity? So mindfulness can miss out on an awareness of Unity because of prior judgements.
Such Unity is essential to spiritual understanding. When we consider the 5 Dhamma comrades – mindfulness/sati, love/karuna, wisdom/panna, concentration/samadhi and embodiment/sampajanna – it is in connection with Unity, how we reconnect with Unity – with Dhamma – with consciousness - with Source. But if our understanding presupposes individuality as promoted by conditioning - an apparently obvious “educated” observation and a fundamental of science eg Rupert Sheldrake’s scientific assumptions, then mindfulness and awareness cannot see Unity because such Unity has been prejudged as not existing. For people who have some understanding of Unity, then creativity, “in the zone”, can easily be understood in relation to this Unity. But if prior judgement prevents awareness from seeing such Unity then our mindful awareness is limited – it is not judgement-free.
How do we know when our mindfulness is impaired – restricted? It is then we seek advice that we can trust. When trustworthy advice matches up with mindfulness then there is understanding. Of course that is difficult. Because prior judgements that are part of our culture/patriarchy limit our awareness, mindfulness is also limited. How would Unity go down with Google? How does Unity go down with patriarchy?
If mindfulness is part of MBCT addressing the important issues of the depressed, confusing seekers with Unity might not be appropriate – unless it arises. It is legitimate to limit the vision of truth in certain circumstances – so long as avenues are left open to explore those visions. Wellness as a whole is such a limitation. Whilst there is no clear boundary between wellness and spirituality, individuals using wellness to cope with daily life and perhaps regain some health might not benefit from broader spiritual insights and perceptions. What matters there is advice. Find, if possible, a spiritual elder to give you advice even if you seek wellness, such an elder will leave the door open and not restrict boundaries to the safe. MBCT, mindfulness and other restricted practices have their place but there always needs to be signposts to the path.
Halt, this is going down a rabbit-hole of definitions, descriptions and terminology, and as such is losing clarity. Zandtaomed went back again to Jon Kabat-Zinn to discover that he introduced MBSR – mindfulness-based stress reduction; he thinks that developed into MBCT? Watching the early parts of this podcast it is clear that JK-Z wanted to bring benefits of Buddhism and meditation when he introduced MBSR at the medical centre. Has that happened? Certainly not with McMindfulness. From Ruby Wax’s book she has benefitted from MBCT but has she moved towards Buddhism? Not according to the book.
When zandtao looks at the objectives of zandtaomed the meditation elder – autonomy and quest, he sees freedom. With autonomy the seeker is free from conditioning and teachings (including those of zandtaomed) and is questing into the unknown. On his path zandtao looks at his own autonomy and questing and sees freedom – is free to quest on spiritual liberation (new book not online yet).