For mindful teaching of mindfulness – The Psychologist

This letter was written by colleagues in response to my recent interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn. The letter has just been published in The Psychologist. For mindful teaching of mindfulness – The Psychologist.

“This is not McMindfulness by any stretch of the imagination” – The Psychologist

I was recently asked by The Psychologist to interview Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction. The interview has now been published online and can be accessed via the following link:

“This is not McMindfulness by any stretch of the imagination” – The Psychologist.

Edo Shonin

 

Fearlessness on the Path of Meditation

Fearlessness on the Path of Meditation

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Some people are of the view that in order to enter the spiritual path one has to forget about the world and everything we know. However, rather than forgetting about or turning one’s back on the world, a true meditation practitioner is a person that completely surrenders themselves to, and becomes fully immersed in, the world. In order to surrender ourselves to the world we first have to abandon hope and fear. When we have hope, we leave ourselves exposed to suffering. We suffer when our hopes and expectations are not met. Wherever there is hope, there is also fear – the fear that our hopes will not be realised.

Many people think that in order to be happy they need hope. But this kind of happiness is very conditional and is reliant upon the presence of external factors. Relying for our happiness on external factors will never lead to lasting happiness because situations and phenomena are changing all of the time – there is no way we can control them all. By always hoping to be somewhere else, be someone else, or have something else, we effectively turn our back on the present moment and deep spiritual peace can never take root in the mind. This is not to say that we should not make efforts to improve our current situation, but we should do so in such a way that we do not allow the mind to intoxicate itself with hope that our efforts will bear fruit. In other words, if we wish to change or improve our current circumstances, we should do so with absolute focus to the task at hand but remain completely unattached to expecting that we are somehow going to gain something or get somewhere.

It is by engaging in, yet remaining completely unattached to, all that we experience that we create the correct conditions for gaining our first taste of unconditional fearlessness. When they have become adept at abandoning hope and desire, absolutely nothing can shake the meditation practitioner’s confidence. Without trying, they begin to emanate strength, courage, and contentedness. They remain centred and un-phased by any situation. People can’t help but notice the fearlessness that exudes from the person walking the path of meditation. However, because the meditator’s fearlessness stems from a place of calm, compassion, and non-attachment, people invariable feel reassured and safe in their presence.

Of course, there will always be some people who feel threatened and unsettled in the presence of a person that has wholeheartedly entered the path of meditation. However, rather than actually being afraid of the meditation practitioner, it is more the case that such people are afraid of themselves. Due to being free of hope and the idea of being somewhere else or being somebody else, the mind of an accomplished meditator is calm and completely clear. When others encounter this clear awareness, it acts as a mirror and reflects back upon them that which is prominent in their mind. Therefore, upon meeting a genuine meditation practitioner, some people are forced to face up to the fact they are living a meaningless soap opera and that they are effectively devoid of spiritual awareness. Understandably, this is a difficult pill to swallow but having it pointed out is a good thing because it gives people the opportunity to examine their life choices and to make changes where appropriate. However, it is often the case that people don’t want to admit that there is no substance to the self they have worked so hard to create. They become angry at themselves and at what is reflected in the meditation practitioner’s mind.

As referred to above, the quality of fearlessness that arises naturally as part of walking the path of meditation stems from a place of wisdom, compassion, and having abandoned all hopes. Consequently, it has absolutely nothing to do with being macho or deliberately trying to be courageous. These types of fearlessness are very much reliant on the presence of a ‘me’, a ‘mine’, and an ‘I’. The fearlessness that exudes from the authentic meditation practitioner is what is left after the ‘me’, ‘mine’, and ‘I’ are removed from the equation. For this reason, the fearlessness that the meditator experiences is completely devoid of aggression and is without a personal agenda.

An important source of the authentic meditation practitioner’s fearlessness is absolute commitment to the path that they are walking. They do not make a distinction between spiritual practice and time at work or time with the family. Whatever they are doing and wherever they find themselves, they strive to perfect each breath, moment, and activity of their lives. This unremitting commitment to their chosen path provides them with access to an immense resource of spiritual energy. It is the energy of the present moment that flows through and connects all phenomena. By tapping into and nourishing themselves in this energy, the authentic meditation practitioner is able to respond with fearlessness and take whatever happens in their stride. Everything that they encounter forms part of their practice. It doesn’t matter if they are seen as a national hero or if the whole country despises and rises against them – a person that has truly entered the path of meditation has absolute confidence in what they are doing. This is a beautiful and invigorating way to live.

Ven Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Chah, A. (2011). The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah. Northumberland: Aruna Publications.

Dalai Lama. (2001). Stages of Meditation: Training the Mind for Wisdom. London: Rider.

Khyentse, D. (2007). The Heart of Compassion: The Thirty-seven Verses on the Practice of a Bodhisattva. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Nanamoli Bhikkhu. (1979). The Path of Purification: Visuddhi Magga. Kandy (Sri Lanka): Buddhist Publication Society.

Santideva. (1997). A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life. (V. A. Wallace, & A. B. Wallace, Trans.) New York: Snow Lion Publications.

Tsong-Kha-pa. (2004). The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Vol. 1). (J. W. Cutler, G. Newland, Eds., & The Lamrim Chenmo Translation committee, Trans.) New York: Snow Lion Publications.

Trungpa, C. (2002). Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Boston: Shambala.

The Hidden Aspects of the Five Precepts

The Hidden Aspects of the Five Precepts

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The five precepts (Pāli: pañca-sīlāni) provide a basic code for living a life that is in-keeping with Buddhist ethical ideals. They are recited by lay and monastic Buddhist practitioners all over the world and a great deal has been written about their literal meaning. In today’s post, we offer an interpretation of the five precepts that focuses on their hidden meaning.

First Precept: I undertake the training rule to abstain from killing (Pānātipātā veramanī sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi)

The hidden meaning of the first precept is that we should not kill the Buddha within. Whenever we chase after mundane goals such as wealth and status, this is killing the Buddha within. Our time on this earth is limited and sooner or later we will encounter death. At the point of death, all of our various life encounters and accomplishments mean absolutely nothing. They have no more significance than the fading memories of a dream and no matter how hard we try, nothing from this life can be taken into the next. The only exception to this is the spiritual insight that we manage to accrue on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, if we don’t use this precious human rebirth to nourish and develop ourselves spiritually, we suffocate the Buddha within.

When we are with someone who is talking with us, confiding in us, and our mind is thinking about either what we want to say or what we could be doing instead of being with that person, then we are killing the Buddha within that person and we kill the Buddha within ourselves. When we do not listen to the bird that is singing for us then we kill the Buddha within ourselves as well as the Buddha in the bird. That bird spent many lifetimes training to sing that song so that we could hear it and we spent many lifetimes training so that we could listen to what the bird has to say. The bird sang, we couldn’t care, the moment passed and we were not aware. We are as good as dead alongside the Buddha within.

Second Precept: I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given (Adinnādānā veramanī sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi)

The hidden aspect of the second precept is that we should not steal from ourselves the opportunity to attain enlightenment in this lifetime. The second precept also means that we should not steal this opportunity from others. The opportunity to attain enlightenment is the birth-right of every living being in the universe. We steal away this opportunity from ourselves each time we practice mindless, selfish, and unskilful ways. We steal away this opportunity from others when we do not act with kindness, awareness, and gentleness in their presence.

When people set themselves up as ‘Buddhist’ teachers without having dedicated their lives to spiritual practice (or in some cases after having taken part in just one or two meditation retreats facilitated by people who have no real spiritual experience), they are putting their own spiritual lives in jeopardy. More concerning however, is that they are stealing the spiritual breath of others. They are stealing other people’s opportunity to attain enlightenment. People come to them obviously in need of spiritual nourishment and all they get is the unfortunate experience of being robbed – both spiritually and materially.

Third Precept: I undertake the training rule to avoid lustful conduct (Kāmesumicchācāra veramanī sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi)

The innermost aspect of the third precept is that we should not lust after being a ‘me’, a ‘mine’, or an ‘I’. Because of wanting to be somebody, people are unable to be themselves. The more we want to be someone, the more difficult it becomes to just simply be. Wanting to be a ‘me’, a ‘mine’, or an ‘I’ causes us to develop a big ego which acts as an obstacle to spiritual growth. When we let go of the idea that we inherently exist, we cease to separate ourselves from the energy and dance of Dharmata that is all around us. Phenomena do not exist as discrete entities. They exist as one. When the universe breathes in, all of the phenomena that it contains breathe in with it. When the universe breathes out, all of the matter and space that it contains also breathes out. When we stop wanting to be a ‘me’, a ‘mine’, or an ‘I’, we are able to relax into and once again abide in unison with the energy of all that is.

Forth Precept: I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech (Musāvādā veramanī sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi)

The hidden aspect of the fourth precept means that we should not utter false speech by giving Dharma teachings on subjects that we have not fully and directly realised ourselves. It seems that the number of so called Dharma and meditation teachers is rapidly increasing. More and more people are writing books about the Buddhist teachings (including mindfulness), and more and more people are offering meditation retreats and courses. Whenever we try to instruct others in spiritual teachings that we ourselves have not fully realised, we lie to them and we also lie to ourselves. This false speech serves to water down the Dharma, bolster our egos, and distance us (and those listening to us) from the possibility of cultivating true meditative calm and insight.

The same applies when we utter words such as “I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha”. If during our day-to-day existence, we are only concerned with the petty affairs of our lives and getting ahead in the world, then these words are untrue. If we wish to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, we have to stop thinking that the world revolves around us. We have to stop living a soap opera. We have to make our entire life a spiritual practice and not just engage in (what we deem to be) Buddhist practice when it is convenient to us or when we are going through a particularly difficult time.

Fifth Precept: I undertake the training rule to abstain from ingesting intoxicants (Surāmerayamajjapamādatthānā veramanī sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi)

The innermost meaning of the fifth precept is that we should not fill up and intoxicate our own mind or other people’s minds with concepts, clever ideas, and wrong views. Too many people have their minds full-up. If our minds are too full then there is no room for wholesome thoughts to grow and flourish. In a full mind there is no space for simply being, and there is no emptiness to nurture and refresh our being. Having our minds full-up all of the time becomes very stressful and tiring not only for ourselves but also for those with whom we interact.

Some people that practice Buddhism fill up their minds with the idea that they are a Theravada Buddhist, a Mahayana Buddhist, or a Vajrayana Buddhist. However, a Theravada Buddhist who is caught up in the idea of being a Theravada Buddhist is not, in truth, a Theravada Buddhist. The same applies to Mahayana and Vajrayana practitioners who foolishly attach themselves to the name and label of their particular Buddhist practice modality.  In Theravada Buddhism there are strong Mahayana and Vajrayana elements, and in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism there are strong Theravada elements.

In our work as Buddhist monks, we meet lots of people that proudly introduce themselves as (for example) a vegetarian, vegan, spiritual teacher, meditator, or philanthropist. If people want to be a vegetarian or a vegan that’s great – good for them. But if they over-identify with the idea of being a vegetarian and/or believe that it somehow makes them a more spiritual or virtuous person, then they have allowed their life choices to intoxicate their mind. We abstain from intoxicating the mind with concepts and wrong views when we observe but do not attach ourselves to thoughts and feelings. When we allow thoughts, feelings, and other mental processes to roll freely through the mind and not to stick to it, the mind becomes completely immune to all forms of intoxicant.

Ven. Edo Shonin and Ven. William Van Gordon

Can a Person Attain Enlightenment Just by Practicing Mindfulness?

Can a Person Attain Enlightenment Just by Practicing Mindfulness?

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The answer to the question of whether a person can attain enlightenment by only practicing mindfulness (obviously) depends on what definition of mindfulness and enlightenment one chooses to work with.

Let’s start by establishing what is actually meant in Buddhism by the term “enlightenment”. As part of our role as Buddhist monks and Psychologists (that specialise in researching Buddhist meditation), we come across a lot of Buddhist and non-Buddhist meditation teachers who are only too pleased to inform us that they have attained enlightenment. In our opinion, there are many reasons why these individuals decide to inform us (and others) that they are enlightened. Some of the most obvious reasons (in ascending order of “believability”) are that these people:

  •  Are in fact enlightened beings and like to tell other all about their hidden qualities.
  • Believe that enlightenment simply means having a superior intellect compared to other people around them.
  • Have had – or believe they have had – some kind of genuine spiritual experience.
  • Know full well that they are not enlightened but claim to be so in order to get an ego-kick or because they think it will help their career or reputation.

If it is accepted that (for example) enlightenment means simply being more intelligent than the average person or having given rise to genuine spiritual experiences, then it is certainly possible that exclusively practising mindfulness (i.e., rather than combining it with other spiritual and meditative practices) could lead to enlightenment. However, in our opinion, none of the meditation teachers we have met who informed us that they are enlightened, were, in fact, enlightened. Based on a synthesis of the Buddhist commentaries and canonical texts, we recently explicated enlightenment as a state in which all gross and subtle forms of suffering have completely ceased and in which the following “competencies” are present: (i) omniscience, (ii) deathlessness, (iii) dwelling in emptiness, (iv) unconditional blissful abiding, (v) freedom to take rebirth in any realm according to the needs of beings, (vi) great compassion (Sanskrit: maha karuna), and (vii) command over animate and inanimate phenomena.

Now that we have (hopefully) provided a clearer picture of what constitutes a Buddhist interpretation of enlightenment, and before we provide our opinion on whether mindfulness alone can lead to enlightenment, let’s move on now to briefly examine what is meant in Buddhism by the term “mindfulness”. Providing an absolute definition of the Buddhist depiction of mindfulness is not an easy task because Buddhist traditions do not necessarily interpret and practice mindfulness in the same way. In terms of the foundational (i.e., Theravada) Buddhist vehicle which is what might be regarded as constituting a more ‘exoteric’ approach to Buddhist practice, mindfulness – which is the seventh factor of the Noble Eightfold Path – is principally understood to play an important role in regulating meditative concentration. In this more exoteric interpretation, mindfulness is generally practised as a means of ensuring that concentration remains positioned on a specific meditative object (which can also include the present moment).

Based upon how mindfulness is interpreted in exoteric Buddhist contexts, there do not exist strong grounds for arguing that the exclusive practice of mindfulness can lead to enlightenment. The primary reason for this is because mindfulness – according to the traditional Buddhist model – is just one component of the “right path” to enlightenment. The other components of this path are the remaining seven aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path (for a more detailed discussion of the Noble Eightfold Path see our post on the Scientific Study of the Noble Eightfold Path).

Although we have just argued that it is improbable that enlightenment could be reached just by practising mindfulness, if we make a slight adjustment to what is meant by the term mindfulness by adopting a more esoteric definition, then our opinion on this matter changes accordingly. A more esoteric definition of mindfulness, using the words of Dudjom Rinpoche, is the “simple recollection of the recognition of your own nature”. We would argue that exclusively practising mindfulness in a manner consistent with this more esoteric definition could actually lead to enlightenment.

There is a great deal of synergy between the abovementioned exoteric and esoteric Buddhist delineations of mindfulness because both of these approaches effectively view mindfulness as a faculty that regulates meditative concentration. The main difference between the two models is that in the exoteric approach something external and separate from the individual is taken as the object of meditative concentration, while in the esoteric approach the individual’s inherent enlightened nature becomes the main focus of meditation. Both of these methods constitute completely valid approaches and – as far as we see it – there isn’t any contradiction between them.

Although we are using the terms “exoteric” and “esoteric, it should be remembered that esoteric Buddhist practices will never bear fruit unless a person has first internalised and mastered the exoteric Buddhist teachings. Likewise, even very basic or seemingly exoteric practices such as simply observing the breath can become extremely potent and esoteric if they are practised in the right way.

Mindfulness plays an essential role in helping us progress along the path to enlightenment. As we grow in spiritual insight and awareness, our understanding of both mindfulness and enlightenment should also evolve. As we discussed in a recent (and free to download) article that we wrote called The Lineage of Mindfulness, it is important to allow our understanding of mindfulness and enlightenment to constantly change. Indeed, if we become attached or try to hold onto what we think constitutes mindfulness or enlightenment, then we distance ourselves from the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. It is likewise very important that we avoid becoming attached to the idea of “attaining” enlightenment because for as long as enlightenment is seen as a future goal, it will remain exactly that.

 

Ven. Edo Shonin & Ven. William Van Gordon

 

Further Reading

Dalai Lama. (1995). The Path to Enlightenment. New York: Snow Lion.

Dudjom Rinpoche. (2005). Wisdom Nectar: Dudjom Rinpoche’s Heart Advice. New York: Snow Lion Publications.

Nhat Hanh, T. (1999). The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation. New York: Broadway Books.

Nanamoli Bhikkhu. (1979). The Path of Purification: Visuddhi Magga. Kandy (Sri Lanka): Buddhist Publication Society.

Nyanaponika Thera. (1983). The Heart of Buddhist Meditation. London: Rider.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2015). The lineage of mindfulness. Mindfulness, 6, 141-145.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Griffiths, M. D., & Singh, N. N. (2025). Mindfulness and the Four Noble Truths. In: Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Singh, N. N. (Eds). Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness. New York: Springer. [In Press]

A Buddhist’s Guide to Safe Sex

A Buddhist’s Guide to Safe Sex

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In our capacity as Buddhist teachers we are sometimes asked questions regarding the role of sex in Buddhist practice. In the last few months, we have also received several requests for us to write a post on this subject. The nature of these questions and/or requests generally relate to misunderstandings as to the Buddhist teachings on this subject. Specifically, it appears that there is uncertainty over what appear to be conflicting Buddhist teachings regarding how a Buddhist practitioner should relate to sex so that it does not become an obstacle to spiritual awakening. Therefore, in today’s post we provide our perspective on the role of sex in Buddhist practice and provide five recommendations to help individuals contextualise and/or engage in sexual activity in a manner that is conducive to spiritual practice:

1. Have sex responsibly: The Buddha did not provide extensive details as to what constitutes having responsible sex and what sexual activity was acceptable or inappropriate. However, the sentiment of the Buddha’s teachings on sex (and on life more generally) were that nobody should ever be hurt or abused as a result of a sexual encounter. This not only includes the individuals having sexual intercourse but also includes anybody else that might be adversely affected. For example, before two people have sex together, they should ensure that an unwanted child will not be born as a result of their actions. Similarly, promiscuous sex should also be avoided because it invariably causes suffering for all concerned. We have always taught that sex within the context of a loving and stable relationship is the most ideal situation. However, if this is not possible then it is important to at least make sure that nobody is taken advantage of or hurt as a result of a sexual encounter.

2. Don’t turn sex into something it isn’t: We are not sure whether any credible research has been conducted to determine the average number of people per day in the world that have sexual intercourse. However, since there are credible estimates of the number of babies born each day in the world, then we can be fairly certain that at least twice this number of people in the world have sex on any given day. For example, current estimates place the birth rate at approximately 370,000 new born babies each day. This means that about nine months prior to this, approximately 740,000 people had sexual intercourse (this does not take into account babies that were born due to artificial insemination, premature births, or instances where twins or triplets were born). However, common sense tells us that in reality, the figure is much higher because not all acts of sexual intercourse result in the birth of a child. Some explanations for this might be that: (i) the act of sexual intercourse was between individuals of the same sex, (ii) contraception was used, (iii) one or both of the individuals had fertility issues, and (iv) there was a miscarriage or the foetus was aborted.

The reason for emphasising the fact that sex is very common is to help us see sex for what it is and not to assign it more importance than it warrants. As human beings, we have certain biological needs. We need to eat, drink water, sleep, and go to the toilet. At the point human beings reach the pubescent stage, the human body also has a biological need to discharge sexual energy. If any of the aforementioned biological needs are not addressed in one way or another, then sooner or later discomfort and pain arise. There are various ways an individual can deal with the build-up of sexual energy in the body, of which having sexual intercourse or masturbation are probably the most obvious (but there are also other means depending on a person’s level of meditative awareness and their familiarity with the various gross and subtle energies in their body). Nevertheless, the point is that just like eating or going to the toilet, sex is neither a wholesome nor an unwholesome act, and it is neither important nor unimportant. The way in which sex is viewed by an individual (and society) depends entirely on the level of importance and meaning they assign to it. The energy that is created and discharged during sex can be incredibly pleasurable, and sex is also necessary for bringing new life into the world. However, it seems to us that sex is afforded too much significance in modern society and this has actually cheapened this otherwise natural and neutral aspect of human behaviour. In other words, sex has become such a big part of peoples’ thoughts and conversation and has been given so much importance, that it has been debased and become unimportant.

3. Practice mindful sex: Research demonstrates that there are various health benefits associated with practising mindfulness. The Buddha did not teach that the idea was to practice mindfulness when engaging in some activities but not in others. Rather, he taught that mindfulness should be practised at all times. Therefore, when you are having sex, try to do so mindfully. We are not aware of a program of empirical research that has investigated whether mindful sex heightens sexual pleasure, but there are preliminary research findings indicating that mindfulness can improve sexual dysfunction (see further reading list below). The way to practice mindful sex is – as with all other forms of mindfulness practice – to be fully aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, bodily movements, and bodily sensations during and after sexual intercourse. In other words, mindful sex involves the individual becoming a participating observer. They fully participate in the act of having sex but allow a certain perceptual distance to be introduced between them and the psychosomatic experience of sexual intercourse. This prevents the act of sex and the powerful feelings and sensations that it produces from causing the spiritual practitioner to lose their meditative awareness and to succumb to mindless ways of thinking and behaving.

4. Don’t reject the experience of having sex:  Some Buddhist practitioners take vows of celibacy in relation to sexual activity. If, for example, a Buddhist nun or monk has taken a vow of celibacy, then it is very important that they honour that vow. However, for individuals that have not taken such vows, it is essential not to consider the act of having sex as something that happens outside of one’s spiritual practice. The Buddha taught that a mind intoxicated with desire for sensual and/or sexual pleasure is not conducive to spiritual awakening. Despite this, the Buddha certainly never implied that the act of having sex was wrong in and of itself. As we discussed in our post on False Spiritual Economy, the crucial point is not to become attached to any objects or experiences that we encounter – including sex. Attachment and/or desire are considered to be primary mental poisons in Buddhism and will definitely present an obstacle to spiritual growth. In fact, as our colleague and friend Professor Mark Griffiths has written extensively about on his own blog, it is actually possible for people to become so preoccupied with sex that they eventually become addicted to it.

The exact same principle applies to being averse to having sex as it does to being attached to it. If a person rejects the sexual feelings and energy that they experience, then they are effectively rejecting a part of their being and introducing a degree of conflict or resistance into their mind. It is for this reason that in place of the path of celibacy advocated by certain Buddhist monastic traditions, other (mostly tantric) Buddhist approaches advocate accepting sexual energy and using it as a means of making spiritual progress. The point in tantric Buddhism is for the spiritual practitioner to accept and work with sexual energy but in such a manner that they use it as a means of realising the inherent emptiness of all that exists (including feelings of sexual pleasure). However, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that the fairly graphic nature of some of the tantric Buddhist teachings means that they can be easily abused or misunderstood. The tantric teachings relating to sex and sexual energy are intended for experienced meditation practitioners that have already acquired advanced levels of spiritual insight and that are already well on the path to enlightenment. Despite this and due to not keeping their egos under control, some Buddhist practitioners and teachers automatically assume that they are already at an advanced stage of meditation practice and use these tantric teachings as an excuse to behave irresponsibly (i.e., they think they can go around sleeping with anybody and everybody and they lose sight of their original goal).

5. Enjoy the wonder of sex: As discussed above, the way in which we relate to sex largely depends on the level of meaning and importance that we assign to it. In other words, it is basically up to us whether sex and our thoughts and behaviours in relation to it becomes something that advances spiritual development or impedes it. Given this choice, it is completely within the power of every spiritual practitioner to turn sex into a wholesome practice and conduct. The way to do this is to load the act of having sex not just with mindful awareness but with positive and compassionate intentions. Sex can be a way for people to be intimate together, to be naked as human beings, and to show love and kindness. If one loads the act of having sex with such positive intentions and awareness, then it becomes a spiritual act. The same applies to everything we do. If a person eats or goes to the toilet with spiritual awareness and a compassionate intention, then these actions also become spiritually productive.

We sometimes observe Buddhist teachers attempt to side-step questions or requests for advice relating to sex. However, sex is a part of human existence and so we definitely don’t need to be afraid of it or steer away from talking about it just because we consider ourselves to be spiritual practitioners. Becoming comfortable with sex and knowing how to relate to it helps us to grow in wisdom and confidence as spiritual practitioners. In other words, if we are a person that wants to take spiritual practice seriously, we have to accept, love, and be comfortable talking and working with everything that we encounter in life. Therefore, if a Buddhist practitioner so wishes, they can certainly make use of sex as part of their spiritual practice. They can also fully enjoy and intricately experience the natural wonder of sex. This is very different than the person that becomes preoccupied with sex and uses it as an excuse to engender lustful, disrespectful, or smutty thoughts.

A great deal has been written about sex and Buddhism, including a lot of misinformation. The above suggestions are by no means exhaustive but we hope they will provide some food for thought for individuals seeking to make sense of this subject. The main thing to remember is to always have virtuous thoughts and intentions. If one can do this then having sex will certainly become an aid rather than a hindrance to spiritual awakening.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Barker, M. (2014). How social is your mindfulness? Towards a mindful sex and relationship therapy. In: Bazzano, Manu (ed). After Mindfulness: New Perspectives on Psychology and Meditation. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 81-100.

Brotto, L. A., & Heiman, J. R. (2007). .Mindfulness in sex therapy: Applications for women with sexual difficulties following gynecologic cancer. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 22, 3-11.

Laurent, H., Laurent, S., Hertz, R., Egan-Wright, D., & Granger, D. A. (2013). Sex-specific effects of mindfulness on romantic partners’ cortisol responses to conflict and relations with psychological adjustment. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38, 2905-2913.

McCarthy, B., & Wald, L. M. (2013). Mindfulness and good enough sex. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 28, 39-47.

Trungpa, C. (2011). Work, sex, money: Real life on the path of mindfulness. Boston: Shambala

 

A Second Generation of Mindfulness-based Intervention

A Second Generation of Mindfulness-based Intervention

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Clicca qui per l’Iataliano

In one of our research papers that was published this summer in the journal Mindfulness, we identified and discussed a recent development in mindfulness research and practice. Until a few years ago, mindfulness research within psychology has primarily focussed on what have been termed First Generation Mindfulness-Based Interventions (FG-MBIs). FG-MBIs refer to interventions such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) developed by Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970s and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) developed by Segal, Williams, and Teasdale in 2002. According to Professor Nirbhay Singh and colleagues, one of the primary purposes and achievements of FG-MBIs has been gaining acceptance of mindfulness within Western clinical and scientific domains.

However, due to the speed at which mindfulness has been integrated into western research and public healthcare settings, concerns have been raised by scientists and Buddhist teachers regarding the ‘authenticity’ of FG-MBIs and whether they actually teach mindfulness in a manner that still bears any resemblance to the traditional Buddhist model. These concerns do not detract from the fact that there is a growing evidence-base that supports the efficacy of FGMBIs as clinical and behavioural interventions, but they give rise to a number of questions that have important implications for mindfulness research and practice:

  1. If mindfulness is efficacious when it is taught in isolation of many of the practices and principles that are traditionally deemed to make it effective, then how much more effective will it be when taught in a manner that includes and embodies these supporting elements?
  2. Is it ethically correct to inform service users and members of the public that they are receiving training in a method that is grounded in Buddhist practice (a claim often made about FG-MBIs), when in fact this is not the case?
  3. Is it essential to “de-spiritualise” psychological interventions before they can be used in clinical contexts, or – based on a “what-works approach” – can interventions that are openly spiritual in nature be considered as viable and mainstream public healthcare treatments?

In an attempt to overcome some of the above issues concerning FG-MBIs, efforts have been made in recent years to formulate and empirically evaluate a second generation of mindfulness-based interventions. Second Generation Mindfulness-based Interventions (SG-MBIs) are still intended to be used in public healthcare contexts (i.e., they are still secular in nature)  but – as explained in the following quote from our recently published Mindfulness paper – they are openly spiritual in nature and are more traditional in the manner in which they construct and teach mindfulness:

Due to the suggestion that some individuals may prefer to be trained in a version of mindfulness that more closely resembles a traditional Buddhist approach, recent years have witnessed the development and early-stage evaluation of several Second Generation Mindfulness-Based Interventions (SG-MBIs) … Although SG-MBIs still follow a secular format that is suitable for delivery within Western applied settings, they are overtly spiritual in aspect and teach mindfulness within a practice infrastructure that integrates what would traditionally be deemed as prerequisites for effective spiritual and meditative development. At the most basic (but by no means the least profound) level, such prerequisites include each element of the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path comprises each of the three quintessential Buddhist teaching and practice principles of (i) wisdom (i.e., right view, right intention), (ii) ethical conduct (i.e., right speech, right action, right livelihood), and (iii) meditation (i.e., right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration). Each of these three fundamental elements (Sanskrit: trishiksha – the three trainings) must be present in any path of practice that claims to expound or be grounded in authentic Buddhadharma and they apply to (and form the basis of) the Fundamental or Theravada vehicle just as much as they do the Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist vehicles. Thus, for mindfulness practice to be effective, it must be taught as part of a rounded spiritual path and it must be taught by a spiritual guide that can transmit the teachings in an authentic manner.

The development and empirical evaluation of a second generation of mindfulness-based intervention appears to represent an emerging trend in mindfulness research. Outcomes from our own research work with the eight-week SG-MBI known as Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) suggest that SG-MBIs may have applications in the treatment of (i) workaholism, (ii) work-related stress, (iii) stress, (iv) anxiety, (v) depression, (vi) schizophrenia, and (vii) pathological gambling. Recent MAT studies that we have conducted have also demonstrated that SG-MBIs can help to improve work effectiveness, decision-making competency, and leadership/management skills more generally. SG-MBI studies by other researchers also indicate a range of clinical and non-clinical applications for SG-MBIs. For example, studies led by Professor Nirbhay Singh indicate that SG-MBIs may have utility as (i) a smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disabilities, (ii) an anger regulation method for individuals with schizophrenia, and (iii) a training and support program for parents in order to reduce the aggressive and disruptive behaviour of their children/adolescents. However, it needs to be remembered that research into SG-MBIs is still at a very early stage and so although the abovementioned outcomes are promising, further empirical investigation is obviously required. Furthermore, it is our view that rather than directly compete with FG-MBIs, SG-MBIs simply provide an alternative approach to practising mindfulness that – for some individuals – may be more appealing.

Please note: This article provides a summary of, and is adapted from, a discussion that first appeared in a paper we published in the journal Mindfulness.

 Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Carrette, J., & King, R. (2005). Selling spirituality: The silent takeover of religion. New York: Routledge.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.

McWilliams, S. A. (2014). Foundations of Mindfulness and Contemplation: Traditional and Contemporary Perspectives. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 116-128.

Rosch, E. (2007). More than mindfulness: when you have a tiger by the tail, let it eat you. Psychological Inquiry, 18, 258-264.

*Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2014) Manager’s experiences of Meditation Awareness Training. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0334-y. [Source Article].

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013a). Mindfulness-based interventions: Towards mindful clinical integration. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 1-4. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00194.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014c). The treatment of workaholism with Meditation Awareness Training: A case study. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 10, 193-195.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Dunn, T., Singh, N., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014d). Meditation Awareness Training for work-related wellbeing and job performance: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction,  DOI 10.1007/s11469-014-9513-2.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014e). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for the treatment of co-occurring schizophrenia with pathological gambling: A case study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 181-196.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for improved psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Journal of Religion and Health, 53, 849-863.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J. Curtis, W. J., Wahler, R. G., & McAleavey, K. M. (2007). Mindful parenting decreases aggression and increases social behavior in children with developmental disabilities. Behavior Modification, 31, 749-771.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Karazia, B. T., Singh, A. D. A., Singh, A. N. A., & Singh, J. (2013). A mindfulness-based smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disability. Mindfulness, 4, 148-157.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Karazsia, B. T., & Singh, J. (2014a). Mindfulness-Based Positive Behavior Support (MBPBS) for mothers of adolescents with autism spectrum disorders: Effects on adolescents’ behavior and parental stress. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0321-3.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Myers, R. E., Karazsia, B. T., Winton, A. S. W., & Singh, J. (2014b). A randomized controlled trial of a mindfulness-based smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disability. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 153-168.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Karazsia, B. T., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J., & Wahler, R. G. (2014c). Shenpa and compassionate abiding: Mindfulness-based practices for anger and aggression by individuals with schizophrenia. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 138-152.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Sumich, A., Sundin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014b). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for psychological wellbeing in a sub-clinical sample of university students: A controlled pilot study. Mindfulness, 5, 381-391.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Zangeneh, M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Work-related mental health and job performance: Can mindfulness help? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 129-137.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Mindfulness and the Four Noble Truths. In: Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Singh, N. N. (Eds). Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness. New York: Springer.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2013). Searching for the present moment, Mindfulness, 5, 105-107.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Compare, A., Zangeneh, M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Buddhist-derived loving-kindness and compassion meditation for the treatment of psychopathology: A systematic review. Mindfulness, 6, 1161-1180.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M. (2015). Towards a second-generation of mindfulness-based interventions. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 49, 591-591.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Meditation as medication: Are attitudes changing? British Journal of General Practice, 63, 654.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2015). The lineage of mindfulness. Mindfulness, 6, 141-145.

Una nuova generazione di interventi basati sulla Mindfulness

present moment 3

In uno dei nostri documenti di ricerca che è stata pubblicata questa estate sulla rivista academica Mindfulness, abbiamo identificato e discusso un recente sviluppo nella ricerca e nella pratica della mindfulness Fino a pochi anni fa, la ricerca di mindfulness all’interno della psicologia si è concentrata principalmente su ciò che sono stati definiti Interventi di Prima Generazione cioè First Generation Mindfulness-Based Interventions (FG-MBIs). FG-MBI si riferisce a interventi quali Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) sviluppato da Kabat-Zinn alla fine del 1970 e Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) sviluppato da Segal, Williams e Teasdale nel 2002. Secondo il professor Nirbhay Singh e colleghi, uno degli scopi e conquisti principali di FG-MBI è stato di ottenere l’accettazione della mindfulness all’interno dei domini clinici e scientifici occidentali.

Tuttavia, a causa della velocità alla quale la mindfulness è stato integrato nella ricerca occidentale e nelle strutture sanitarie pubbliche, le preoccupazioni sono state sollevate da scienziati e insegnanti buddisti per quanto riguarda il ‘autenticità’ di FG-MBI e se insegnano effettivamente mindfulness in un modo che ancora oggi porta qualsiasi somiglianza con il modello tradizionale buddista. Queste preoccupazioni non toglie il fatto che vi è una crescente evidenza empirica che sostiene l’efficacia di FGMBIs come interventi clinici e comportamentali, ma danno luogo a una serie di domande che hanno importanti implicazioni per la ricerca e la pratica della mindfulness:

  1. Se la mindfulness è efficace quando si è insegnato in isolamento di molte delle pratiche e principi che sono tradizionalmente considerati a renderla efficace, allora quanto più efficace ne sarà quando insegnato in un modo che include e incorpora questi elementi di supporto?
  2. È eticamente corretto a informare gli utenti del servizio e membri del pubblico che essi ricevono una formazione in un metodo che è radicato nella pratica buddista (un’affermazione spesso fatta dai FG-MBI), quando in realtà questo non è il caso?
  3. È necessaria che gli interventi psicologici vengono “de-spiritualizzate” prima di poter essere utilizzati in contesti clinici, o – basati su un approccio “ciò che funzione” – possono gli interventi che sono apertamente spirituali nella loro natura essere considerati come trattamenti sanitari pubblici attuabile, accettabile e affermati?

Nel tentativo di superare alcune delle questioni di cui sopra riguardanti FG-MBI, si sono compiuti degli sforzi negli ultimi anni per formulare e valutare empiricamente una seconda generazione di interventi basati sulla mindfulness. Interventi basati sulla mindfulness di seconda generazione (SG-MBI) ancora sono destinati ad essere utilizzati in contesti sanitari pubblici (vale a dire, essi sono ancora secolari in natura) ma – come spiegato nel seguente citazione tratta dal nostro articolo recentemente pubblicato nella rivista academica Mindfulness -sono apertamente spirituale in natura e sono più tradizionali nel modo in cui costruiscono e insegnano la mindfulness:

Grazie al suggerimento che alcuni individui possono preferire di essere formati/addestrati in una versione della mindfulness che assomiglia più ad un approccio tradizionale buddista, negli ultimi anni si è assistito alla valutazione di sviluppo e le fasi iniziali di diversi interventi basati sulla mindfulness di seconda generazione (SG-MBI) … Sebbene SG-MBI seguono ancora un formato secolare che è adatto per essere insegnato in tutta una gamma di impostazioni psicologiche, sono apertamente spirituale in aspetto e insegnano la mindfulness dall’interno di un’infrastruttura di pratica che integra quello che è tradizionalmente considerata come prerequisiti per un effettivo sviluppo spirituale e meditativo. Al livello più basilare (ma non il meno profondo), tali prerequisiti includono ogni elemento del Nobile Ottuplice Sentiero. Il Nobile Ottuplice Sentiero comprende ciascuno dei tre quintessenziale principi delle pratiche e degli insegnamenti buddisti di (i) la saggezza (cioè la retta visione, la retta intenzione), (ii) il comportamento etico (cioè la retta parola, la retta azione, il retto sostentamento), e (iii) la meditazione (cioè, il retto sforzo, la retta mindfulness, la retta concentrazione). Ciascuno di questi tre elementi fondamentali (sanscrito: trishiksha – i tre addestramenti) devono essere presente in qualsiasi percorso di pratica che pretende di esporre o di essere radicati nella autentica Buddhadharma e sono applicabili a (e costituiscono la base del) veicolo fondamentale o Theravada tanto quanto sono applicabili ai (e costituiscono la base dei) veicoli Mahayana e Vajrayana buddista. Così, per la pratica più efficace della mindfulness, essa deve essere insegnato come parte di un percorso spirituale comprensivo e deve essere insegnato da una guida spirituale che può trasmettere gli insegnamenti in modo autentico.

Lo sviluppo e la valutazione empirica di una seconda generazione di interventi basati sulla mindfulness sembra rappresentare una tendenza emergente nella ricerca della mindfulness. I risultati dal nostro lavoro di ricerca con Meditation Awareness Training (MAT), un SG-MBI corso di otto settimane, indicano che SG-MBI possono avere applicazioni nel trattamento di (i) workaholism, (ii) stress legato al lavoro, (iii) stress, (iv) l’ansia, (v) la depressione, (vi) la schizofrenia, e (vii) il gioco d’azzardo patologico. Recenti studi MAT che abbiamo condotto hanno anche dimostrato che SG-MBI possono contribuire a migliorare l’efficacia al lavoro, competenza decisionale e capacità di leadership/gestione più in generale. Studi di SG-MBI da parte di altri ricercatori anche indicano una vasta gamma di applicazioni cliniche e non-clinici per SG-MBI. Ad esempio, studi guidati dal Professor Nirbhay Singh indicano che SG-MBI possono avere utilità come (i) un programma di cessazione di fumare per persone con disabilità intellettiva lieve, (ii) un metodo di regolazione ddella rabbia per gli individui con schizofrenia e (iii) un programma di formazione e sostegno per i genitori al fine di ridurre il comportamento aggressivo e dirompente di loro bambini/adolescenti. Tuttavia, è necessario ricordare che la ricerca di SG-MBI è ancora in una fase iniziale e quindi, anche se i risultati di cui sopra sono promettenti, ulteriori indagini empiriche sono ovviamente necessari. Inoltre, è nostra opinione che piuttosto che competere direttamente con FG-MBI, SG-MBI semplicemente forniscono un approccio alternativo alla pratica della mindfulness che – per alcuni individui – può essere più attraente.

Please note: This article provides a summary of, and is adapted from, a discussion that first appeared in a paper we published in the journal Mindfulness.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Ulteriori letture

Carrette, J., & King, R. (2005). Selling spirituality: The silent takeover of religion. New York: Routledge.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.

McWilliams, S. A. (2014). Foundations of Mindfulness and Contemplation: Traditional and Contemporary Perspectives. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 116-128.

Rosch, E. (2007). More than mindfulness: when you have a tiger by the tail, let it eat you. Psychological Inquiry, 18, 258-264.

*Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2014) Manager’s experiences of Meditation Awareness Training. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0334-y. [Source Article].

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013a). Mindfulness-based interventions: Towards mindful clinical integration. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 1-4. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00194.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014c). The treatment of workaholism with Meditation Awareness Training: A case study. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 10, 193-195.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Dunn, T., Singh, N., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014d). Meditation Awareness Training for work-related wellbeing and job performance: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction,  DOI 10.1007/s11469-014-9513-2.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014e). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for the treatment of co-occurring schizophrenia with pathological gambling: A case study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 181-196.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for improved psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Journal of Religion and Health, 53, 849-863.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J. Curtis, W. J., Wahler, R. G., & McAleavey, K. M. (2007). Mindful parenting decreases aggression and increases social behavior in children with developmental disabilities. Behavior Modification, 31, 749-771.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Karazia, B. T., Singh, A. D. A., Singh, A. N. A., & Singh, J. (2013). A mindfulness-based smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disability. Mindfulness, 4, 148-157.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Karazsia, B. T., & Singh, J. (2014a). Mindfulness-Based Positive Behavior Support (MBPBS) for mothers of adolescents with autism spectrum disorders: Effects on adolescents’ behavior and parental stress. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0321-3.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Myers, R. E., Karazsia, B. T., Winton, A. S. W., & Singh, J. (2014b). A randomized controlled trial of a mindfulness-based smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disability. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 153-168.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Karazsia, B. T., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J., & Wahler, R. G. (2014c). Shenpa and compassionate abiding: Mindfulness-based practices for anger and aggression by individuals with schizophrenia. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 138-152.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Sumich, A., Sundin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014b). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for psychological wellbeing in a sub-clinical sample of university students: A controlled pilot study. Mindfulness, 5, 381-391.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Zangeneh, M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Work-related mental health and job performance: Can mindfulness help? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 129-137.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Mindfulness and the Four Noble Truths. In: Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Singh, N. N. (Eds). Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness. New York: Springer.