July 25, 2014

From Monastery to Marketplace

Mindfulness is no longer just a form of meditation—it’s a lifestyle that can be bought and sold. Is there an upside?Jeff Wilson

“Use mindfulness to overcome stress, anger, anxiety, depression and more,” counsels the cover of Mindfulness for Dummies ($24.99). If you find that suggestion compelling, perhaps you’ll want to investigate other books written or coauthored by Shamash Alidina. There’s the Mindfulness Workbook for Dummies ($19.99), which will help you experiment with different mindfulness techniques; Mindfulness at Work for Dummies ($24.99) promises mastery of your mind in the office; or maybe you’d prefer Relaxation for Dummies ($24.99). Short on time? There’s good news: the Kindle edition of Become More Mindful in a Day for Dummies is just $3.99. If you’re in London, or willing to work with Alidina online or via the phone, you can attend seminars, participate in retreats, take courses, and even be trained yourself as a mindfulness teacher.

Alidina is an example of a new figure on the economic landscape: the professional mindfulness instructor. Non-monks like Alidina who earn much or all of their income through teaching mindfulness in secular settings now number in the many hundreds, perhaps thousands, and can be found in every Western country. The existence of such instructors attests to the mass-marketing and commercial diversification of mindfulness, and to the fact that it has become a big business. According to federal data, Americans spend billions every year on mindfulness courses, books, and related products.

At first blush, mindfulness may seem like the ultimate anti-product, immune to the capitalist impulse. Indeed, the origin of mindfulness as a practice in Asian monastic communities seeking transcendence of the worldly makes it an unlikely candidate for adoption by non-Buddhist urban fashionistas, suburban hockey dads, and tech cognoscenti. But it’s never a good idea to bet against the ingenuity of late capitalism to find a way to make a buck off anything and everything. To make mindfulness saleable, it has been submitted to processes of recontextualization, adaptation, and creative application to meet the desires of new consumers.

Not surprisingly, the claimed benefits of mindfulness practice tend to mirror the anxieties of society at large. Feeling overwhelmed? Try Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World ($15.99). Kids running you ragged? Buy Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutions for Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today’s Hectic World ($15.99). Got food issues? Pick up Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life ($15.99). Bored in the sack? Take a peek at The Joy of Mindful Sex: Be in the Moment and Enrich Your Lovemaking ($18.95). Relationship issues? Read Mindful Loving: 10 Practices for Creating Deeper Connections ($17). Difficulty at work? Maybe you need Inner Productivity: A Mindful Path to Efficiency and Enjoyment in Your Work ($14.95). And this is just the tip of the mindful iceberg.

In the transition from monastery to marketplace, there is no dearth of creative adaptations. If the seller doesn’t have particularly strong practice credentials, or is trying to reach an audience for whom Buddhism or religion in general may not be a selling point, he or she will downplay the Asian origins of the practice. Instead, the mindfulness professional will usually try to draw on secular sources of authority: Buy my book because I am a medical doctor and know what is best for your body (mindfulness); become my client because I am a counselor and know what your mind needs (mindfulness); follow my tips for managing your home life because I too am a parent and know what it takes to get your kids to eat their veggies (mindfulness); attend my seminar because I’m an expert consultant and know what your business needs to be competitive in a weak economy (mindfulness). The ability to present mindfulness as either spiritual or, in this case, secular, depending on circumstance, greatly extends the seller’s reach.

Beyond selling one’s expertise in mindfulness and touting the benefits of its practice, a further way to make money on mindfulness is by selling paraphernalia alleged to support or enhance meditation practice. At first, this mostly consisted of cushions and benches for use during extended periods of formal seated mindfulness meditation. These days, many mobile apps are available that draw on mindful activities. Some are electronic variations on earlier meditation aids, such as timers, meditation instructions, music designed to calm the mind, or collections of Buddhist quotations. For example, Mindfulness Bell from Spotlight Six Software ($0.99) sounds a chime at predetermined intervals. Others are more ambitious: Mindfulness Academy ($69.95) utilizes biofeedback via special Iom Active Feedback devices ($279.95) fitted onto the user’s fingertips to run a computer game that, according to its creators, will help the user achieve success and cultivate a balanced life.

None of these entrepreneurial adaptations should surprise us. Buddhism still exists today after 2,500 years because it has always adapted to new cultures, very often through new applications that meet the concerns of each society it encounters. We find that Buddhism spread across Asia through attempts to provide better funeral rituals to honor ancestors, enhanced methods of faith healing, and new strategies for avoiding a painful afterlife, to name just a few benefits sought by different cultures. New host cultures even developed their own Buddhist scriptures that described how to acquire supernatural protection for the ruling class and the country as a whole. Since the West and the modern world in general have very different desires and fears, Buddhism is once again repackaged to meet new circumstances—work stress, relationship issues, health problems, and other concerns. The quest to sell mindfulness as a universal panacea is then not a wholly crass enterprise: what would we expect compassionate Buddhist teachers to do other than seek ways to alleviate the stresses, low self-esteem, family conflicts, and other common afflictions of the people around them?

Since the value of “mindfulness,” with its associated concepts, has become recognized by a segment of the consumer populace, a new trend has developed. Now mindfulness is no longer simply being sold itself as a commodity; mindfulness is put to use selling other, possibly unrelated products. The hard work of previous promoters to convince us of mindfulness’s spiritual, medicinal, and practical value has associated mindfulness with good health, beauty, ecological awareness, peace of mind, and the power to get what you want. Sellers of new products can use the word “mindful” to cast the glow of such qualities upon their own goods and services.

For example, Mindful Minerals sells a line of beauty products that use ingredients collected from the Dead Sea. The company claims that their soaps ($6), creams ($30), and other offerings are naturally effective for treating skin conditions, lack preservatives, and are nondamaging to the environment. All well and good. But they don’t call themselves “Healthy Minerals” or “Eco Minerals.” Instead, they use the word “mindful” to imply these qualities. Likewise, Earth Balance sells a vegan, preservative-free mayonnaise that it labels Mindful Mayo ($4.99). Mindful Clothing sells hemp and organic fiber hoodies ($55), t-shirts ($25), and other comfy apparel. There’s no implication that buying their clothes makes you meditative; rather, “mindful” has become synonymous with being aware, with “awareness” understood in a particular way that supports progressive values, alternative lifestyles, environmentalism, and a left-leaning political orientation.

Consider Tranquilista: Mastering the Art of Enlightened Work and Mindful Play ($15.95). The author invites her young female readers to identify with her in the pursuit of “mindful extravagance”: “We’re forgoing spreadsheets and stodgy office politics to forge ahead with a new way of designing our lives as self-defined entrepreneurs who care about blending balance, bliss, and beauty.” This blend involves fashion, tech-savvy self-promotion, philanthropy, and meditation. Mindfulness is a key component in this mix, “an important trait to adorn yourself with at all times.” The result will be an empowered, self-branded woman who sparkles.

Such applications become possible because mindfulness is no longer just a form of meditation, it is a type of lifestyle. Mindfulness becomes the symbol of a way of moving through the world, a way of building a self-image even as an opposing identity is inevitably projected onto the unmindful masses.

Naturally, a mindful lifestyle requires appropriate accessories (yoga pants, hybrid vehicles, organic foods) that can be bought and sold, so the wheel of mindful commodities rolls on and on. Where will it all end? There are those who fear that the commercialization of mindfulness is a grave threat to the dharma, and others who feel that it is the way that Buddhism will ultimately penetrate and transform Western society from within. Others see little relation to Buddhism at all. Perhaps the popularized version of mindfulness is simply a fad that will fade with time, becoming a footnote in cultural history alongside Cabbage Patch dolls and twerking. But one thing remains certain: as long as there is money to be made from mindfulness, there will be someone willing to sell it.

Jeff Wilson, a Tricycle contributing editor, is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies at Renison University College, University of Waterloo. His newest book, Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture, is out from Oxford University Press in August.

Image: Gallery Stock

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MindfulnessTherapistOnline's picture

The Mindfulness Movement is one of the most exciting developments happening right now and it is well worth exploring in detail because its potential for healing suffering both in the mind, the family and society is truly immense.
However, it is really important not to allow mindfulness (sati) to be reduced to a set of techniques; rather see it as a path of exploration, and indeed, the investigational aspect of mindfulness is one of its main characteristics. Mindfulness is the invitation to look deeper (vipassana) and transcend the limitations of belief, views, and other constructs (sankharas) of the mind to discover the truth of what is there (dharma). As the saying goes, "it is the truth that liberates, not our efforts to be free."
Another major characteristic of mindfulness that I try to address in my book, The Path of Mindfulness Meditation, is that mindfulness is not just awareness; it is much more than that. It must also embrace metta, loving kindness to be true mindfulness (sammasati). As I teach my students: Mindfulness = Conscious Awareness + Metta.
Through mindfulness meditation (vipassana) we also begin to gain the realization and direct experience of our True Self, as not the contents of our mind, but rather the conscious space that allows that content to exist - We are the Sky, not the clouds.

Janejenn's picture

Sure, there will always be those out to make a buck. But my first exposure to meditation was in a "Mindfulness/Stress reduction class...which led me on to meditation classes, and further study and practice in meditation and Buddhist thought. Many of the fellow meditators in my sangha have followed a similar path. There are many portals to awakening.

In my sangha, we are of different minds about whether we identify as Buddhist, which is totally fine with everyone.

Re: being "a Buddhist"- I just read the book The Empty Mirror by Janwillem van de Wettering, in which he recounts his time in a Zen monastary in Japan. At one point, he told the master he wanted to "become a Buddhist". After the master described an elaborate ceremony for this purpose, the master asked, " do you think becoming a Buddhist will help you solve your koan?" The writer answered, "no". The master never mentioned the ceremony again. Creating an identification as Buddhist would have no effect on his progress or awakening, and seemed to defeat the purpose of the practice at hand - letting go of ego and self, and learning to just "be" in life. (My interpretation). In addition, my observation is that holding tight to this identification can create an "us vs. them" mindset.

conroy.r's picture

I was passing a nearby shop and stopped to look in the window. There was a lovely display of angels, Buddhas, dream catchers, tarot cards, crystals and polished stones.

I am reminded of a remark made by a clergyman on BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day:

"Spirituality is all that is left of religion when it has been mugged by consumerism."

wsking's picture

Once years ago, when I was still a nun, I went to graduate school and took a course in Modern Business Management. I forgot about the class and was late, so I went straight to class without changing out of my Tibetan robes. I walked in the side door, just as the lecturer announced the title and focus of the evening was "How to Dress for Success"! It caused quite a stir! The professor just burst out laughing. Then she requested me to go up and explain what the robes were, how to wear them, and I told a few funny stories about them as marks of my "Success".

I did a quickie "Cat Walk" exhibition of my robes, and had a warm and laughing audience, So I tried to introduce people to Buddhist meditation on the way. I never thot I was repackaging Dharma, but I suppose that actually did happen. I approached it from the angle of fashion, the importance of virtue and honesty in first impressions, and a whole new kind of "Ultimate Success" than you have ever thought of! Then I quickly covered the ten non-virtuous actions, especially speech, and positive karma leading to Enlightenment. I suppose it was unorthodox, but it sparked some friendly interest.

Years later, HHDL came to my college and spoke for a commencement address. I hope it is not presumptuous of me to hope that my years there prepared the ground for such a blessing.

"Dharma Gates are numberless, I vow to enter them."

I think using the Dharma as a marketing technique is wrong, but it is happening and so we must accept that Dharma is becoming mainstream in that way. Its just a fad, and it will pass. However, people who come to us for instruction will bring some familiarity with terms, and that may help them to feel more comfortable with the Dharma. The teaching may seem less strange and foreign for them, than it was for us. Didn't we say it would take several hundred years for Buddhism to really become part of the culture?
Dedicate the merits!

Dominic Gomez's picture

The modern West is in the midst of an unprecedented religio-spiritual transition. Its history of exploration, colonization and mercantilism has been the most common point of entry for non-Western notions, including Buddhism. A more effective means of maintaining the integrity of Buddhism may be inter-faith discussions in the comfort of our own homes.

drleroi's picture

I wrote a piece many years ago, called "How to dress spiritual", it involved wearing dirtinsocks, dying all your clothes either purple or orange, etc. Apparently there is nothing that cannot be used as a vehicle for making money, from Chaucer's Pardoner's tale of selling fake saints relics to mindful soap, nothing has changed. At the very least, this probably does little harm.

keving's picture


keving's picture

I've learned much from this discussion. I agree as long as people are helped and their suffering lessened by secular mindfulness it's hard to be against it. It's just the commercialization I have a hard time with. I think commercialization generally leads to greater trivialization, opportunism, misrepresentation and abuse, than in more modest circumstances where no money is exchanged.
From my perspective this certainly has happened to yoga in the West. Witness the yoga- wine - chocolate workshops taught at the biggest yoga centers. I see it beginning to happen with Ayurveda too. Everyone is an expert , everybody is out there marketing themselves, clamoring for attention, trying to capitalize on the popularity of the word. As one of my teachers says when people do this they are "exchanging a pile of gold for a pile of shit" Something precious is lost when the marketing geniuses take over and start calculating how much money they can make for themselves with this or that product that once was something sacred.

I think healers, therapists, nurses and doctors ,ought to be the main one's bringing meditation and mindfulness to our society, because they:

1) Are already earning their income by other means
2) Are members of altruistic orientated professions,
3) Exist in greater numbers than monastic meditation teachers

I personally think they should not charge any fee for this training but offer it out of love and concern for their patients and communities. In this way perhaps Bodhichitta can be maintained.

Jeff Wilson... I think you are mistaken when you characterize mindfulness as originating in the monasteries or even just in the East. Perhaps the monastics preserved and developed mindfulness over time but they did not invent it and are not necessarily the only masters of it. Of course they have had more free time than householders to practice it but they may also have overindulged in ritualizing and mystifying it . Also I think you've left out the people /sages/yogi's / Nagpas/ immortals from whom the monastics learned everything they know about meditation and mindfulness and who developed their meditation skills not in monasteries but in wild places, caves , crematoriums etc.
Perhaps this is just a minor point but I would love to see a thorough history of the meditative arts.

wsking's picture

Why don't you write it?

keving's picture

Thank you Gassho ! I am researching the topic and am finding some interesting details. Peace to you .

lynnoc's picture

I so much agree with you about the commercialization, opportunism potentially having a negative impact. I am not so sure about psychologists/psychotherapists teaching meditation; I'm one of them and I can't yet begin to bring the profound shift in world view that I think is so important. My own "home" teacher is an 80 year old Tibetan Buddhist monk who is a scholar who doesn't speak much English; he works with a wonderful young monk who translates for him, at least in our one-on-one meetings. Geshe-la (my teacher) said "If anyone tells you that they (he/she) are enlightened, run as fast as you can because they are just after money." And he laughed.

I think he is right which is back to your point (and the article's point) about opportunism etc. and who should be bringing meditation back to people in the US. While we (clinicians etc) may make our income from seeing people in psychotherapy but in no way does that make us appropriate teachers. I feel so much this way that when my own clients get interested in learning meditation, I give them a blog post I wrote on my Psychology Today blog, "Our Empathic Nature" (just google "our empathic nature" and you can find it) for students in a beginning meditation class (which is all about meditation on the breath) and I give them copies of DVDs of different teachers, some Tibetan Buddhist and some secular ones, (Rick Hanson, Jon Kabat Zinn, Jack Kornfield, etc.) I don't claim to be able to teach it myself, because I don't feel qualified. But then, I think the shift in world view is crucial, i.e. I'm not so sure about the secular world. So I'm not sure you're right about doctors, psychologists etc being the ones who should introduce people to meditation. Unfortunately many of the secular opportunists are the very professionals you note.


keving's picture

Great points Lynn. Your teacher sounds wonderful. His full time ,life long dedication to meditation and spiritual practice clearly have born fruit. Who of us native to this culture even among those whose guided teachings you share ( which is a great idea) have that level of mastery and reliability as guide from A-Z , as he does ? The issue is that there are so few like him and so so many who will never have access to such a guru. That's why I was suggesting a simultaneous , fill in the gaps type of grass root, "barefoot" meditators movement. I do wish we in the healing professions , who are not just in it for the money , who aspire to healing on an altruistic level , would sit at the feet of masters such as your teacher and bring a translated , non-sectarian version of his knowledge to our communities and practice members at no charge . We would not have to hold ourselves out as experts/gurus or claim to be enlightened in order to help others with the meditative & contemplative arts. When community /patient needs moved beyond our skills and knowledge we could make simply do what we are trained to do , make a good referral . :) Anyway call it a dream , but I have personally started to do this where I live.

wsking's picture

Any way the Dharma techniques can help people is wonderful. I am so glad to hear that young people are helped by it. Teens and twenties are scary and confusing times....not to mention the rest of life!

Metteyya Brahmana's picture

Mindful awareness of the thoughts that arise during meditation (i.e., 'mindfulness') is simply the first step, and allows you to determine what the mind is clinging to or pushing away. The second step is actually overcoming the clinging and aversion, which goes well beyond mindfulness and requires one to develop a concentration practice. So if hate or anger towards others is arising, then concentrating one's thoughts on unconditional loving kindness (metta) is the antidote. If lust for the body is arising, then concentrating on the 32-parts of the body (patikulamanasikara) is the antidote. Etc., etc. The problem with MBSR - and mindfulness training in general - is that it never gets to this second step, and therefore is not able to address the root cause of stress and suffering.

grjan's picture

You're right, MBSR does not get anyone to the second step of letting go of clinging. As a student and practitioner of Buddhism and MBSR, I want to make it clear that MBSR helped get me to a more free state of mind and its practice has opened me to the "second step."

lynnoc's picture

First: We've conducted a fairly large study (approximately 2400 people participated so far), comparing practitioners from 5 different meditation traditions to non-meditators, and to one another. Traditions were: Tibetan, Theravada, Centering Prayer, Mindfulness, and Yoga. We asked questions about length of meditation sessions (10 minutes, 20, an hour etc), frequency of sessions (every day, twice a week, etc.) and for how long has practitioner been practicing (in years, months etc), which combined gave us an "intensity"of practice score. We also asked about "your goal" of meditation (relieve stress, improve relationships, for the benefit of all living beings etc.) allowing us to compare "self-focused" to "other focused" meditators. We also categorized by "religion-based" vs "secular." We were predicting outcomes such as depression, anxiety, levels of empathy-based guilt (survivor guilt proneness, omnipotent guilt proneness), and compassionate altruism directed towards family, friends and strangers. What we found: 1) all traditions had better outcomes than non-meditators; 2) religion-based meditators had better outcomes than secular meditators; 3) "other-focused" meditators had better outcomes compared to "self-focused" meditators. In all groups, the greater the intensity of practice the better the outcomes. Our findings confirmed our hypotheses. Perhaps most striking was the religion based practices, including centering prayer, and the "other-focused" practices predicted significantly higher levels of compassionate altruism directed towards strangers, although there were no differences between the traditions in altruism to family or friends. The intensity of practice finding was similar to what Davidson found when comparing people with different number of hours overall, spent meditating, although he was using sophisticated neuroscience methods and we were using simple (although reliable) questionnaires. Our anonymous online study is still going on, we're collecting more data.

If anyone wants to participate, go to: http://www.eparg.org/cultureb/emotions2.html

Second: While its true that it appears that secular meditation, even after a short program (8 weeks) predicts improved psychological and physiological wellbeing, there has been a meta-analysis of mindfulness/meditation studies where they found that the benefits of mindfulness practices have been over-rated, (or exaggerated --the findings aren't as great as they appear in individual studies). I first read about this study in Tricycle and then got ahold of the journal article in which the study appeared (I don't have the reference with me, but if anyone is interested, email me at loconnor@wi.edu and I'll find it). While it's true that Buddhism adapts to the culture remarkably, I find it hard to believe that the benefits of secular mindfulness programs will --in the long run-- have the same powerful effect as religion-based meditation and the shift in world view that involves. The goal of practice may be more important than is realized. When the goal is to make money --well I think that has to, in the end, be counter to meditation as taught by the Lord Buddha or other religion-based traditions, i.e. centering prayer, hindu-based or kundalini yoga. We're beginning to collect data on religion-based yoga (as different from our western fitness-program type yoga).

All my own doubts aside, it is obvious from our own data that any type of practice, including secular mindfulness, is associated with better psychological outcomes compared to no-practice.

Jprestongren's picture

The information you have shared is interesting, thanks for the insight.

keving's picture

Can you be more specific about the what the actual differences are between religious and secular meditating techniques as well as self versus other focused ?

My own assumption is that differences lie primarily in the realm of intention, which then shapes any difference in technique between both opposing subsets ?

Also where does simple meditation on breath fall in this continuum ?
Were Taoist methods of meditation evaluated? If so would they be categorized as Religious and self focused?

lynnoc's picture

These are great questions. I'll try to answer them.

The differences show up in what participants select as "reason" or main goal of practice --they are given these options and one was "for the benefit of all living beings." So you are right, that is statement of intention. These formed the "self-other" distinction. as for religious-secular, it was again self-identification. So if someone says they're Tibetan Buddhist, that's religion based, or Theravada or Centering Prayer likewise. We didn't capture any Taoist meditators. But we're still collecting data. I have one doctoral student going after religion based yoga practice, and another who is Mongolian, attempting to get that population.

I assume meditation on the breath occurs across traditions, including secular. I suspect a great deal of mindfulness meditation is done through "guided" meditations where there is someone reading a meditation, and I'm not sure how well that works in terms of rewiring the brain. Davidson --in a talk I heard, don't remember where, maybe that event in Washington DC --anyway Davidson said that the real rewiring happens in bringing the attention back to the breath, over and over and over. In guided meditations that doesn't exactly happen, which is why I'm so unsure of them in terms of effectiveness. The Tibetan Buddhist "analytical meditations" likewise don't get one to come back to an object of focus, and are more mind training in philosophy and world view -that I think is important but others probably don't agree.

Thanks for these questions

keving's picture

Thank you ! I also think that those doing primarily guided meditations are being short changed and are missing some of the real benefits of meditation practice which I think has a lot to do with volitional focus of attention and the disentanglement of pure awareness from the objects of (mis)identification , words, thoughts, emotions ( the three poisons) , judgements , memories classifications which is extremely liberating. Also the volitional exercise of attention can be nothing less than the budding of real free will and choice in a person's life . There is a saying of Buddha's that I use in these circumstances and when teaching meditation. Meditative skill can transform us from dogs into lions. ( Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are called "Lion's among men" and women) The difference between a dog and a lion is when you throw a dog a bone it chases the bone, when you throw a bone to a lion it charges the origin of the bone. Of course from a Mahayana point of view the mind of enlightenment and Bodhichitta / altruistic intent, love , compassion and wisdom are inseparable

myers_lloyd's picture

I don't see a problem!
Marketed or clinical mindfulness isn't Buddhism, doesn't purport to be (I think), and never will be. This secular training is an often-effective and researched mental health technique. Buddhist self- enquiry and the EightFold path is not that.

The Buddhist roots of secular mindfulness training have been severed for practical and frequently well-intentioned reasons. I don't doubt at all that many suffering people benefit from honest mindfulness courses. Nonetheless,the flower in the vase isn't the plant.
Buddhist practitioners may teach mindfulness, but that doesn't make them qualified Buddhist teachers -nor does it make their training sessions a Zen sesshin nor a Vipassana retreat. Zen recognizes Bumpo meditation training- it's for alleviation of worldly suffering, "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". I suppose masters hope these people might continue on the Zen path. They may or may not.

Thank you, Donna Torney, for making it clear that the Buddha taught suffering and the way out of it. He wanted even to protect insects and legendarily offered himself to a tigress as food for her hungry cubs.
Would he hesitate to support clinical secular mindfulness training?
I wish my mother, who committed suicide, had had it.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Mindfulness is only the sizzle. The Buddhist philosophy of life is the steak.

candor's picture

Bad analogy. Buddhist philosophy is not a hot, rotting piece of corpse. Nor is mindfulness mere sizzle.

Mindfulness is more like a practice of awareness that can be used to implement Buddhist philosophy (or any other philosophy) or to enhance one's life generally.

I also see no problem with the marketing of mindfulness. The Buddha meets Adam Smith.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Buddhist philosophy is not a rotting piece of corpse. It's the moon. Mindfulness is a finger pointing to the moon.

candor's picture

Okay, so we agree that Buddhist philosophy is not a hot, rotting piece of corpse (for which various euphemisms exist, such as "steak"). But if we switch analogy to the moon, then mindfulness is more than a finger pointing to the moon. Mindfulness is the rocket that takes one to the moon (if one aims the rocket well). A finger pointing to the moon would be the articles and comments on Tricycle, although some of the articles and many of the comments are metaphorical fingers pointing in various directions other than the moon.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Mindfulness could be a rocket, as one in comic books or sci-fi. Buddhism is grounded in your daily reality. It's what you do and how you do.

candor's picture

Yeah, I agree. Metaphors are silly and almost as out of touch with reality as comments sections on the Net. Serious people are grounded in reality and take reality very, very seriously.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Shakyamuni teaches in the Lotus Sutra that metaphors are expedients that help people realize their own Buddhahood.

candor's picture

Not mu.

Dominic Gomez's picture

mu(t) point.

franschaper's picture

5 years ago everything was "zen". Now "mindfull" is the catch phrase. HH Dalai Lama is a rock star... Now we have the cult of Sharon & Joe. Buy a mala and walk around looking drunk, you can start a movement. Deepak called himeself "The Profit" and spelled it on TV. Sometimes it makes my head want to expode, but mostly, we should watch...wait and be "mindful" (ha!). Come on, my fellow Buddhists... Bardo Soap... Samadhi My Body Lotion... Guided mediations with lunch... brunching in Samsara Park. Vipassana & Metta practice one would think are impossible to merchandise, but I am sure someone will find a way to merchandize t shirts and foot cream ( for after walking meditation) soon.
Yes, makes my head want to explode. Just consider it another meditation and breathe.

wsking's picture

You forgot Samsara perfume! How could you?! LOL!
A trip to India and China will disabuse you of the notion that religion should not be marketed. A trip to Japan's temples and to Italy and Lourdes will do the same thing.
Have you been to a LifeWay Christian bookstore lately?

Okay, we are just catching on! It may be bad karma, but it puts rice on the table.

keving's picture

Here's a question dear Gassho , to what extent do you think the focus and motivation placed by us on money erodes the altruistic intent / Bodhichitta ? Seems to me it's important to watch ourselves and others to make sure this happens the least amount possible especially when dealing with sacred, existential , spiritual practices , teachers etc.

keving's picture

Here's a question dear Gassho , to what extent do you think the focus and motivation placed by us on money erodes the altruistic intent / Bodhichitta ? Seems to me it's important to watch ourselves and others to make sure this happens the least amount possible especially when dealing with sacred, existential , spiritual practices , teachers etc.

keving's picture

Here's a question dear Gassho , to what extent do you think the focus and motivation placed by us on money erodes the altruistic intent / Bodhichitta ? Seems to me it's important to watch ourselves and others to make sure this happens the least amount possible especially when dealing with sacred, existential , spiritual practices , teachers etc.

Dominic Gomez's picture

"Jesus Christ Superstar" 1970 rock opera, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Tim Rice. Go figger

wsking's picture

'scuze me, O Best Beloved, but Buddhist colleges and programs cannot be 'self-accredited.' They have to be credited by the state, by regional college boards, and by national standards of higher education. They must have a certain level of courses, organizational standards and procedures, professional staff, and environmentally healthy and safe campuses. If they have a physical campus, they must be OSHA compliant. Its a serious deal.
This goes for online courses also. They must be affiliated with an accredited institute of higher education/adult education and be certified and accredited themselves, before they can be offered. All that takes at least three years of state and regional observation before the accreditation is bestowed. Otherwise, their diplomas and certificates of completion are meaningless.
Hope that sets your mind at rest?

keving's picture

I notice how we are obsessed with the "best", "most qualified" , most "credentialed" people in all areas of choosing; doctors, lawyers , teachers, gurus etc. This seems off to me and not so productive. Having the best seems based on egocentric hubris. Why do we deserve or even need the best? Can't good enough be good enough ? If we take the best of everything what does that leave for the rest ? If someone has credentials and qualifications is it really a good idea to check our intelligence and own deliberations at the door ? Can't they still be mistaken or untrustworthy at times ? Also who determines who is the "best"? What criteria do they use and which do they leave out ? What exactly makes them best? Can there even be a best for all times, places and circumstances. Seems to me this talk about only trusting the best etc. is all an authoritarian mind scam that keeps people from using their own internal guidance systems ,common sense and making more informed choices for themselves.

wsking's picture

Have you ever tried to put on a course? To rent the space, the housing, hire a lawyer if necessary to work with visas, organize the meals, hire the cooks, the secretaries, the computer crew for recording and taping, the sound system and stage lighting and the guys who arrange it, the visas for teachers, the flights, the baggage, taxis, the tips,the printing of brochures, the prayers, the text, the whatever, the insurance, the medical care if necessary? The taxes? The AC or heating, the water, the lights, sewer, garbage pick up? All that costs money. The flowers, the offerings, the offerings to teacher and ordained Sangha, offerings to the public, decorating the site, providing furniture for the presentation area, etc. etc. etc. All of that costs money. And if you do it in or near NYC? or San Francisco? $$$ !, or at a college, or monastery, or retreat center? Someone has to be paid and prices will vary.

America is not the back woods in Nepal, and even Nepal is expensive these days. . A thorough and comfortable presentation of the Dharma costs money. It is not selfishly spent and nobody is getting rich. Any extra money that is made goes to India to feed little monks and nuns in the monasteries and to buy them medicine and clothing. Sometimes it goes to medical clinics. Sometimes it builds monasteries. I hope that is okay with everybody.

wsking's picture

You are responsible for making sure you know what you are getting in a teacher.

How can you know? By studying the original teachings of the Buddha in Bhikku Bodhi's translations, by reading "The Heart of Buddhist Meditation" by Nyanaponika Thera, and "What the Buddha Taught", by Venerable Walpola Rahula, all of Venerable Bhante Gunaratna's books and "The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha" a Mentor paperback classic, studying Buddhist History and Development, Art and Architecture, and the cultures Buddhism developed in. You should know the "Lam Rim" of Tsong Khapa and the "Jewel Ornament of Liberation" of Gampopa. You should be familiar with the writings of Chinese Zen poets and "The Blue Cliff Records", Japanese Masters like Dogen's "Shobogenzo" and Hakuin Zenji's "Embossed Tea Kettle"/ "Ora Te Gama". Read "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones". If you can find it, read "Zen Dust". The "Book of Tea", and Bassho's, "Complete Haiku" and "Narrow Road to the Deep North". Find the American poet masters Gary Snyder and Phillip Whalen. Read all of Suzuki Roshii's books, "Zen Mind, Beginners Mind".
find "Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China" and everything by John Blofeld.

Read the autobiographies of Paramahansa Yogananda, Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyal, Milarepa, Ramana Maharshi, Nityanada, Muktananda, everything by Baba Ram Das.
You should know the "Lam Rim" of Tsong Khapa, the "Jewel Ornament of Liberation" by Gampopa, Nagarjuna's "Letter to the King" and Shantideva's "Bodhicaryavatara." You should know the Great Heart Sutra and what it means, and be familiar with Lojong training and find out everything you can about Vipassana meditation. and meditate, meditate, meditate. With this background and your experience in meditation, you will be able to judge whether or not a teacher is for you. Countless roads will branch off from these.

Then visit centers from each tradition, learn all their prayers and chants by heart. You will have Dharma friends everywhere and be able to speak with everyone. Always go to ordained native monks for teachings first, and ordained westerners second. Support them and study with them.
Treasure Hunt! Have fun!

Kesho's picture

Mindfulness lifestyle is a goal after 61 years of being driven by capitalism. Loved the article.

sanghadass's picture

How has the capitalism been removed from this approach to teaching?

jackelope65's picture

I guess just be mindful of what you buy; the ethics of what makes mindfulness effective and useful can not be sold, however, an that is why the next step is to mindfully seek out a true master teacher. Otherwise, we could have mindful killing, bank robbery, swindling, and so forth.

ShellyA's picture

I do agree that there needs to be integrity with all of this and balance, and there are people just jumping on the mindfulness band wagon.

Before buying courses or books, check the background of these folks. If they are mindfulness teachers, where were they trained, are they supervised and do they practice this themselves, etc.? If they are a mindfulness author writing about mindfulness are they including the huge amount of research and work that underlies some of the accredited secular mindfulness courses such as MBCT and MBSR which has been omitted here.


Dominic Gomez's picture

The tougher sell is mindfulness to the Israelis and Palestinians, the Ukrainians and the Russian separatists. (Talk about stress, anger, anxiety, depression and more!)

ShellyA's picture

Hold on a minute! I am a practicing Buddhist as well as a well trained Mindfulness teacher who is just finishing a 5 year Masters in Teaching Mindfulness-based Courses. I teach from my own mindfulness practice, I am supervised, etc., as I follow the good practice guidelines for mindfulness teachers.

Some of us take this seriously and are helping a lot of people! By the way Savour was co-written by Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. Have you heard of him?

I don't really think you did your homework and hopefully this won't discourage individuals from the help they could have from a sincere mindfulness teacher.

donnatorney's picture

ShellyA - Glad to see your response. I'm a Licensed Mental health Counselor in Cambridge, Ma. Every day I see how mindfulness improves and sometimes saves the lives of overwhelmed and isolated young adults. Like you I've spent a lot of time learning about the art and science of mindfulness. I'm not a monk, and yes, mindfulness is a marketing meme these days, but the fact that it has become mainstream doesn't diminish it's power and gift. Let's not discourage lay people and householders from passing on the torch of mindfulness in a responsible way, especially in the era of constant distraction.

Donna Torney

keving's picture

I agree with both of you. Let's not allow the perfect/best to become the enemy of the good or stand in the way of relieving suffering. It's silly to think that only monks or enlightened beings can share the benefits of meditation and mindfulness . Thank you for the good you do. That said , I hope any meditation teacher who gets certified in a narrowly focused method ( like mindfulness) will not miss out on a broad view of the full range contemplative arts and how they can be integrated to support liberation. For instance let us not forget that the five precepts in Buddhism and the Yama's and Niyamas in Yoga are essential foundations and preliminaries for meditative progress. Leaving them out of meditation programs is a mistake. It's one thing to teach one part of a larger system at a time but to forget , ignore or not get the bigger picture altogether, is a travesty and a big loss. It's important to stay humble and maintain respect for and contact with these holistic contemplative systems with their long histories and generations of genius contributors.

keving's picture

I agree with both of you. Let's not allow the perfect/best to become the enemy of the good or stand in the way of relieving suffering. It's silly to think that only monks or enlightened beings can share the benefits of meditation and mindfulness . Thank you for the good you do. That said , I hope any meditation teacher who gets certified in a narrowly focused method ( like mindfulness) will not miss out on a broad view of the full range contemplative arts and how they can be integrated to support liberation. For instance let us not forget that the five precepts in Buddhism and the Yama's and Niyamas in Yoga are essential foundations and preliminaries for meditative progress. Leaving them out of meditation programs is a mistake. It's one thing to teach one part of a larger system at a time but to forget , ignore or not get the bigger picture altogether, is a travesty and a big loss. It's important to stay humble and maintain respect for and contact with these holistic contemplative systems with their long histories and generations of genius contributors.