February 21, 2013
Over at the Buddhist Peace Fellowship website, frequent Tricycle contributor David Loy has published a letter, "Can Mindfulness Change a Corporation?" to William George, a Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil board member who has been meditating since 1974 and frequently advocates for the introduction of mindfulness techniques into the American corporate world. Loy's insights into the social implications of Buddhism's transmission to the West have been a highlight of Tricycle for years (check out his piece "Why Buddhism Needs the West" and his review of David McMahan's book The Making of Buddhist Modernism), and this letter is another thought-provoking read from the professor and Zen teacher. Loy writes to George:
The debate within American Buddhism focuses on how much is lost if mindfulness as a technique is separated from other important aspects of the Buddhist path, such as precepts, community practice, awakening, and living compassionately. Traditional Buddhism understands all these as essential parts of a spiritual path that leads to personal transformation. More recently, there is also concern about the social implications of Buddhist teachings, especially given our collective ecological and economic situation. ...
What I’m concerned about is the “compartmentalization” of one’s meditation practice, so that mindfulness enables us to be more effective and productive in our work, and provides some peace of mind in our hectic lives, but does not encourage us to address the larger social problems that both companies [Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil] (for example) are contributing to.
Tricycle's Richard Eskow brought up these same themes in his Fall 2012 article "Buying Wisdom," which took a look at the 2012 Wisdom 2.0 conference; a conference, as Eskow wrote, on "mindfulness for the Silicon Valley crowd." With the 2013 Wisdom 2.0 conference beginning today, there's no better time to revisit Eskow's thoughts on the true potential of mindfulness:
If “mindfulness” is to create genuine change in our society, it must involve being mindful of more than just our own need for comfort, good health, or serenity. It must entail being mindful of the social and economic forces that allow some to prosper while others struggle, forces that promote and perpetuate certain behaviors and thought patterns while discouraging or suppressing others. Without that awareness, “mindfulness” will quickly descend into another luxury item that permits the few to ignore the impact of their behavior on others.