June 25, 2010
A lot of people are ditching Buddhism and teaching meditation, and their students may scarcely know that the mindfulness meditation they're practicing was taught by the Buddha. The Guardian's Ed Halliwell writes:
So what happens when Buddhism meets our secular world? Whereas some students of Asian emigre teachers in the 60s and 70s appeared spellbound, wide-eyed with enchantment at exciting foreign rituals, many western teachers have moved on – Jack Kornfield recently explained that "more and more, we're teaching meditation not as a religious activity, but as a support for living a wise, healthy and compassionate inner life". He added that some of his students don't identify as Buddhists, "which is absolutely fine with me".
Baby-with-the-bathwater considerations are cast aside as meditation gains popularity, promoted by organizations like Mind & Life, which often tout the salubrious neuro-effects of the practice, and individual proponents like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction guru Jon Kabat-Zinn, who brought meditation to the medical field.
Most of us have read by now studies conducted by University of Wisconsin professor Richie Davidson, whose fMRI studies monitor the brain in meditative states. His most highly publicized subjects have been Tibetan meditation pros, which makes me wonder: If—as is believed in the meditative traditions of his subjects—the mind is separate from the brain, how do these monks understand the value of the studies' results?
Tomorrow, I'll have dinner with one of Dr. Davidson's accomplished meditators and I'll ask—and report back.
For Halliwell's part:
Traditionalists will complain about babies being thrown out with bathwater [there's that phrase again!], and they may have a point – in our urge to connect with a wider audience, there is the danger of losing important, less palatable messages, honed over thousands of years. But if the Buddha's insights are durable, then surely they can stand the creative tension that comes from attempts, Buddhist and secular, to forge new stretches on the road to enlightenment.
Photos: (l) Swashbuckler © 2002, who adds: "Bought a baby doll, my wife acted as focus model and thrower. She threw the baby and water out, while I tried to 'capture' the moment. This was the best. Sorry, we have no children, so the doll was the best we could do." (r) ebay blog, image may be subject to copyright.