The Heart of Buddhism: Liberation through Emptiness

The Heart of Buddhism: Liberation through Emptiness

Emptiness

As we have discussed in a number of posts on this blog, emptiness (Pāli: suññatā, Sanskrit: śūnyatā) is a fundamental Buddhist teaching that refers to the fact that phenomena do not intrinsically exist. This empty characteristic of phenomena relates as much to animate objects such as a flower, a car, or the human body, as it does to inanimate constructs such as the mind, space, or the present moment. In essence, emptiness means that nothing exists as a discrete entity and in separation from everything else. For example, a flower in the garden manifests in reliance upon numerous causes and conditions, without which, it would not exist. Amongst countless others, these causes and conditions include the water in the earth and atmosphere, nutrients in the soil, respiratory gases carried by the wind, heat of the sun, and so forth. Therefore, at the simplest level, it can be said that interconnectedness is an important principle of emptiness. Phenomena do not exist in isolation of each other and by logical default, they are empty of an independent and inherently existing self. However, for the same reasons that phenomena are empty of an intrinsic self, they also are “full” of everything else that exists. Therefore, as we have previously discussed on this blog, the term emptiness could actually be replaced with the term fullness. In emptiness there is fullness, and vice-a-versa.

Investigating emptiness through the lens of interconnectedness is a perfectly acceptable means of becoming familiar with emptiness, but as demonstrated in our post on Dream or Reality, other lines of reasoning can (and ideally should) be followed. Indeed, one of the drawbacks of relying on interconnectedness to internalize the principle of emptiness is that interconnectedness still implies that phenomena inherently exist (otherwise it would not be possible for them to be connected to each other). Therefore, although interconnectedness can help to give rise to a basic understanding of emptiness, it is nevertheless based on a dualistic manner of perceiving and constructing the world. In Buddhism, even the slightest inclination towards perceiving reality dualistically (i.e., in subject-object terms) is understood to reinforce an individual’s belief in the inherent existence of phenomena, and to constitute a departure from the direct path to spiritual awakening.

The Heart Sutra (Sanskrit: Prajna Paramita Hrdaya Sutra) is a key Māhāyana Buddhist teaching on emptiness that emphasizes the importance of not being bound by dualistic modes of thinking and perceiving.  As shown in the Heart Sutra below, it is by immersing themselves in emptiness (referred to in the Sutra as the perfection of wisdom [Sanskrit: prajna paramita]), that the bodhisattvas and all Buddhas of the past, present, and future are able to break free of the tendency to perceive things dualistically and thus permanently liberate themselves from suffering:

[Note: The Heart Sutra refers to the “five aggregates” of (i) form, (ii) feelings, (iii) perceptions, (iv) mental formations, and (v) consciousness. The five aggregates are understood in Buddhism to represent the different components that come together and give us the impression that we exist as a definite “self”.]

The Heart Sutra

“The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara,

whilst immersed in the perfection of wisdom,

perceived that the five aggregates are empty,

and overcame all suffering and anguish.

 

Listen Shariputra,

form is identical to emptiness,

and emptiness is identical to form.

Form is of the nature of emptiness,

and emptiness is of the nature of form.

The same applies to feelings,

perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.

 

Listen Shariputra,

all phenomena are sealed with emptiness.

They do not arise or dissolve,

are neither impure nor pure,

they neither increase nor decrease.

 

Thus, in emptiness, there is no form, feelings,

perceptions, mental formations, or consciousness.

There are no eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind.

No sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, or object of mind.

No eye consciousness and so forth until no mind consciousness.

 

There is no ignorance and no cessation of it,

and so forth until no old age and death.

However, there is also no cessation of old age and death.

There is no suffering, no cause of suffering,

no cessation of suffering, and no path.

There is no insight and there is nothing to attain.

 

The Bodhisattvas who immerse themselves,

in the perfection of wisdom,

overcome all mental obstacles,

and therefore they overcome all fear.

They are forever parted from deluded views,

and thus awake to Nirvana.

 

All Buddhas of the three times,

attain unsurpassed perfect enlightenment,

by immersing themselves in the perfection of wisdom.

 

Therefore know that the perfection of wisdom is:

the great transcendent mantra,

the great bright mantra,

the highest mantra,

the unsurpassed mantra,

and the truth that eradicates all suffering.

 

Thus, the perfection of wisdom mantra should be proclaimed as follows:

Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha

Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha

Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha”

 

At a future point, we aim to provide a full commentary on the above version of the Heart Sutra. However, for the time being, the most important message to take from the Heart Sutra is arguably the statement: “form is identical to emptiness and emptiness is identical to form”. In no uncertain terms, these spiritually profound words explain that emptiness is not a mystical state of mind or an alternative non-worldly dimension, but constitutes the very nature and fabric of the reality in which we currently find ourselves (i.e., the present moment). According to Buddhist thought, when an individual awakens to this fundamental truth—that has always been right in front of their eyes—they move beyond the concept of this and that, of existence and non-existence, and they encounter their indestructible Buddha nature.

Please note: This post adapts and summarises a section of the following (forthcoming) book chapter: Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Singh, N. N., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Mindfulness of Emptiness and the Emptiness of Mindfulness. In: Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Singh, N. N. (Eds). Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness. New York: Springer. [In Press]

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Dalai Lama. (2004). Dzogchen: Heart essence of the Great Perfection. New York: Snow Lion.

Gampopa. (1998). The jewel ornament of liberation: The wish-fulfilling gem of the noble teachings. New York: Snow Lion Publications.

Michalon, M. (2001). “Selflessness” in the service of the ego: Contributions, limitations and dangers of Buddhist psychology for Western psychotherapy. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 55, 202-218.

Nhat Hanh, T. (1999). The heart of the Buddha’s teaching: Transforming suffering into peace, joy and liberation. New York: Broadway Books.

Shonin, E. & Van Gordon, W. (2014). Using mindfulness and insight to transform loneliness. Mindfulness, 5, 771-773.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). The emerging role of Buddhism in clinical psychology: Toward effective integration. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 6, 123-137.

Urgyen, T. (2000). As It Is. Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Griffiths, M. D., & Singh, N. N. (2015). There is only one mindfulness: Why science and Buddhism need to work together. Mindfulness, DOI 10.1007/s12671-014-0379-y.

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.

Accurately Predict Your Future using a 10-Minute Buddhist Meditation Technique

Accurately Predict Your Future using a 10-Minute Buddhist Meditation Technique

Future 4

Regular readers of our blog will know that we advocate a very down-to-earth approach to Buddhist practice and are not great supporters of any spiritual approach promising quick-win results or mystical experiences. It may therefore come as a surprise that in today’s post we provide instructions on a 10-minute Buddhist meditation technique that, if correctly practiced, we guarantee will enable a person to predict certain events in their future with 100% accuracy.

However, a word of caution before you read on. Before practicing the 10-minute meditation technique that we outline below, readers should know that for individuals in the past who have taken this practise to heart, it has completely changed their entire outlook on life. In fact, based on the accounts of previous practitioners of this meditation approach, there is a very strong possibility that if you practice it regularly not only will you be able predict with clarity the ultimate outcome of certain events and situations pertaining to both yours and others’ lives, but it will instil in you a firm desire to awaken spiritually and to regard the cultivation of lasting happiness as more important than all other aspects of your life. Therefore, if you are somebody that does not want to know the truth about your future and/or who is completely satisfied and fulfilled by your life as it is, then we suggest you do not attempt to practice the technique we describe. However, if you are somebody who thinks that it might be time for a change in how you live your life and who would like to know what fate the future holds, then feel free to read on.

The Buddhist meditation technique to which we are referring is divided into 2 separate phases – each of 5 minutes duration. The first phase simply involves collecting and calming the mind in order to prepare it for the second phase (which is where the procedure for predicting the future is carried out). Although phase 1 is effectively ‘inactive’ from the point of view of being able to see the future, it is important to know that the meditation undertaken in phase 2 simply won’t work if phase 1 is not completed properly.

All that is required for phase 1 is to rest one’s awareness on the natural flow of the in-breath and out-breath. We use the words ‘rest one’s awareness’ quite deliberately because it is important to differentiate between (i) meditation that engages a one-pointed focus on its object (which in this case is the breath), and (ii) meditation that uses the meditative object more as an anchor or reference point for the mind. The type of meditation that we are referring to and the type of meditation that is required during phase 1 is the second of the abovementioned meditative formats (i.e., where the breath is used as a meditative anchor). What this means in practice is that although the breath should be the main object of concentration, one’s attentional focus should not be so narrow that it prevents other sensory and psychological experiences from entering into the attentional sphere.  In other words, one uses the breath to steady the mind in the present moment, not to shut-out the present moment.

Having followed the natural flow of the in-breath and out-breath for about five minutes, the mind should have begun to establish at least a small degree of meditative calm and spiritual presence. This should be adequate preparation for commencing phase 2 of the meditation. In phase 2, the objective is to keep observing the breath as in phase 1, but to now begin contemplating and tuning-in to a particular truth or law of existence.  The truth or law of existence that we are referring to is that of impermanence. As we discussed in our post on Exactly what is the Present Moment’, everything that exists is in a constant state of flux. Without exception, phenomena are born, they live, and they die. Nothing – absolutely nothing – endures indefinitely. Due to the fact that all things ultimately cease to be, animate and inanimate phenomena are flowing in a stream of continuous transience and this stream culminates in their complete dissolution.

Rather than engage in excessive mental activity, what we should be aiming to do during phase 2 of the meditation is to simply relax into and observe impermanence. In other words, impermanence is a truth – it is all around us. Therefore, if we sit in meditation and contemplate or mentally envisage what is implied by the term impermanence, then we are already separating ourselves from the impermanence that is happening all around (and within) us. We don’t need to think about impermanence, we just need to tune into it. We do this by observing it, breathing it, and becoming it.

When we perform phase 2 of the meditation correctly and begin to abide in unison with impermanence – this is the stage where we begin to see with absolute clarity the future that lies ahead of us. By meditatively resting our awareness on the truth of impermanence, we will see clearly that in the future it is inevitable that we will meet with our death. At the point of experiencing this profound insight, if we are intelligent, we will put off whatever task or event was next on our ‘to do list’ in order to reflect upon its implications. What we should have observed during phase 2 of the meditation is something that we already knew but probably chose to ignore – at some uncertain point it is certain that we are going to die. Allowing this knowledge to penetrate and infuse our being should cast every single thing we do in life in a totally different light. Everything we are sweating blood for – career, wealth, status, good looks, possessions – will amount to absolutely nothing. These things simply cannot endure. No matter how hard we try or how determined we are, none of our efforts to get ahead can actually bear any long-term fruit. As we discussed in our post on ‘Life: A Near Death Experience’, these endeavours are, in effect, completely meaningless.

After reading the introduction to this post, perhaps some readers were hoping the 10-minute meditation we described would help them to predict things such as whether they will be rich, who they will marry, or what position they will rise to in their career. However, in our opinion, the ability to predict such trivialities pales in significance to the value of the spiritual vision that arises from seeing and accepting the truth of impermanence. The reason for this is because, by taking to heart the message of impermanence and the looming nature of our death, there is a chance that we will not completely squander this life and dedicate ourselves to evolving spiritually.

Ven Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon

Having Fun with the Four Noble Truths

Having Fun with the Four Noble Truths

logic3

Arguably the most well-known of the Buddha’s teachings is that of The Four Noble Truths. The teaching of the four noble truths is recorded as being the first teaching given by the Buddha after he attained enlightenment. Due to this teaching’s significance and central role within Buddhism, it is not surprising that a great deal has been written about the four noble truths by both contemporary and historical Buddhist teachers and scholars. However, irrespective of how many commentaries or books have been written about a particular aspect of the Buddha’s teachings, more often than not, there is always some additional wisdom that can be gleaned by revisiting a particular teaching – especially if one is willing to do so with a fresh and open perspective. In today’s post, we take a fresh look at the four noble truths and offer what we believe is a slightly different perspective compared to what has already been written on this subject. In particular, we briefly look at the use of logic in the four noble truths and highlight how a greater understanding of some of the logical and experiential assertions made by the Buddha in this teaching can help us to enter and advance along the path of spiritual awareness.

For readers of our blog that are not aware of the four noble truths, they can be summarised as follows (to see a more detailed version of the Buddha’s teaching on the four noble truths, see the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta – The Discourse That Sets the Wheel of Truth in Motion):

  1. Suffering exists
  2. There is a cause to suffering
  3. There is cessation of suffering
  4. There is a path that leads to the cessation of suffering

Basically, what the Buddha is saying with the teaching on the four noble truths is that until we attain spiritual liberation (the third truth), we are going to suffer (the first truth), and the only way to end this suffering is to walk the path (the fourth truth) that acts upon the causes of suffering (the second truth). With this teaching, the Buddha was just presenting some simple facts and making some basic logical assertions about suffering. For example, because Buddhism accepts the principle of causality (i.e., all effects are the result of a cause), the second and fourth truths follow on logically from the truths that immediately precede them. In other words, since in the first truth the Buddha has already stated that suffering exists, then it is logical to assert that this suffering has a cause (i.e., the second truth). Likewise, because in the third truth the Buddha states that there is an end to suffering, then it is logical to assert that this end to suffering also has a cause (the cause of the end of suffering is walking the path that eradicates suffering – the fourth truth).

Thus, if we really wanted to, we could actually condense the Buddha’s teaching on the four noble truths to a single phrase such as: ‘There is suffering which has a cause and there is liberation which has a cause’. However, because Buddhism accepts the principle of causality, even the above phrase could actually be further condensed. For example, if we state that there is suffering, then as discussed above, we actually don’t need to state that there is a cause to suffering because that is already implied. Likewise, since we know that suffering exists because of certain causes (principally ignorance, attachment, and aversion), then we know that by removing these causes, suffering will also be eradicated. Thus, when we state that suffering exists, not only is it implied that suffering has a cause, but it is also implied that removal of the causes of suffering will lead to the cessation of suffering.

Therefore, if you are somebody that likes to reduce things down to their simplest level, perhaps you could capture the entire meaning of the teaching on the four noble truths just by simply saying ‘suffering exists’. Alternatively, if you wanted to be less pessimistic, you could simply say that ‘liberation exists’. In fact, perhaps these phrases could be made use of in your meditation practice: with the in-breath you could quietly say to yourself that ‘suffering exists’, and with the out-breath you could quietly say ‘but so does liberation’.

A person might accept that the statement ‘suffering exists’ implies that suffering has a cause and that removing the cause will lead to cessation of suffering, but they might not accept that it can be logically inferred from the statement ‘suffering exists’ that a path exists (i.e., the forth noble truth) that can eradicate this suffering. However, such an objection can be easily overcome because just by stating that ‘suffering exists’, this automatically establishes the existence of ‘non-suffering’ (i.e., liberation). In other words, at the same time we accept the existence of something, we also have to accept the existence of its opposite. For example, if we accept that the ‘left’ exists, then we have to accept that the ‘right’ also exists. Left only exists because there is right – if we take away right, then we no longer have left.

Therefore, when we state or accept that suffering exists, we must also accept that liberation exists. Based on the principle of causality, having accepted that liberation exists, we can now make a logical deduction and accept that liberation has a cause. The cause of this liberation is none other than the path (i.e., the fourth truth) and we must now accept that the meaning and essence of all four of the Buddha’s noble truths is implicit within each truth individually. Of course, although the Buddha’s teaching on the noble truths is perfectly grounded in logic, when the Buddha gave this teaching, he wasn’t just making logical assertions, but was talking from his experience. Nevertheless, a good way to determine whether a discourse given by a spiritual teacher is authentic is to test whether it is logically grounded. This is because as a person moves closer to enlightenment, their ability to use logic and reasoning tends to dramatically increase. Therefore, in their expression of the truth, authentic spiritual teachers naturally and frequently resort to using logic – it happens naturally and without them having to think too hard.

There are examples of Buddhist teachers – such as the 2nd century Indian saint Nagarjuna – whose logical reasoning skills had developed to such an extent that a lot of modern-day scholars and philosophers have difficulty in keeping up with him. Because they can’t follow the logic utilised by Nagarjuna, they assert that his logic is flawed or that he leaps around too much in his argumentation. Of course, it is definitely possible for a person to get muddled-up when they are following a course of logic, but this wasn’t the case with Nagarjuna. Both Nagarjuna and the Buddha fully understood the limits of their logic and for this reason, they were able to use it effectively and were not in any way bound by it.

It is quite enjoyable examining the use of logic in the Buddha’s teaching on subjects such as the four noble truths, and it is also enjoyable to investigate whether such teachings can be condensed to a simpler form. However, unless we learn something that helps us in our spiritual practice, then there is really no point in doing this. One of the most important things we can learn by familiarising ourselves with the four noble truths in the manner described above is that this teaching has a very simple but profound message: ‘we will suffer – for an indefinite period – until such time that we choose to dedicate ourselves to spiritual development in order to stop creating the causes of suffering. It really is that simple. Life is fleeting and before we know it old age is upon us – so choose to embrace the path now, my dears. The Buddha taught that everything is impermanent, and this includes suffering. But in the case of suffering, bringing about its impermanence is something that rests entirely in our own hands. This is the quintessential message of the four noble truths.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Can Meditation Improve Work-related Stress and Job Performance?

Can Meditation Improve Work-related Stress and Job Performance?

work0

Along with some research colleagues, we recently conducted a randomised controlled trial to investigate the effects of meditation on work related-wellbeing and job performance in office managers. In today’s post, we provide a brief overview of some of the main findings of our study and discuss whether meditation/mindfulness has a role in the workplace setting. The full findings of the study have recently been published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction (IJMHA) – see below for the full reference.

According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE), work-related stress accounts for 40% of all work-related illness and approximately 20% of British adults are stressed as a result of their work. The HSE also estimates that between mid-2011 and mid-2012, 10.4 million working days were lost in Great Britain due to work-related stress, which in conjunction with other work-related mental health issues, costs the British economy billions of pounds every year. Work related stress can have serious negative consequences for both employees and the organisations they work for. Some examples are mental illness, somatic illness, work-related injury, mortality, reduced productivity, absenteeism, presenteeism (where people turn up for work when they are not really well enough to do so), high staff turn-over, unsafe driving, and employee compensation claims.

Due to its potential to improve both work-related wellbeing and job performance, employers and employees are becoming increasingly interested in meditation. However, despite the growth of interest into the applications of meditation in the workplace, there still remains a paucity of methodologically-robust studies. To overcome this problem, we conducted a randomised controlled trial whereby office managers (152 in total) received either an eight-week meditation intervention (known as Meditation Awareness Training – ‘MAT’ for short) or a control intervention (that did not involve any meditation).

In order to be included in the study, participants had to be in full-time employment (working more than 30 hours per week) and have management responsibility for at least one salaried direct report (excluding secretaries or personal assistants). They also had to report to a line manager and meet various other eligibility criteria (e.g., be office-based for at least 50% of working hours, over 18 years of age, not undergoing psychotherapy or meditation training, etc.).

As we have discussed in other posts on this blog, the MAT intervention that managers received is an eight-week secular intervention that follows a more traditional and comprehensive approach to meditation. Existent mindfulness-based therapies tend to teach mindfulness ‘out of context’ and in isolation of the factors that are traditionally deemed to underlie effective mindfulness training (e.g., right intention, right effort, right livelihood, right view etc. – see our recent post on the Scientific Study of the Noble Eightfold Path for a discussion of how all of these practices link together and support each other). Although mindfulness is an integral component of MAT, it is not the exclusive focus. Indeed, in addition to mindfulness, MAT incorporates meditation techniques that are specifically intended to engender: (i) citizenship, (ii) perceptive clarity, (iii) ethical and compassionate awareness, (iv) meditative insight (e.g., into subtle concepts such as non-self and impermanence), (v) patience, (vi) generosity (e.g., of one’s time and energy), and (vii) perspective. These practices are taught via seminars and/or workshops and are integrated into a graded-series of guided meditations. Participants attend eight x 90-minute workshops and receive a CD of guided meditations to facilitate daily self-practice. Weekly sessions comprise three distinct phases: (i) a taught/presentation component (approximately 35 minutes), (ii) a facilitated group-discussion component (approximately 25 minutes), and (iii) a guided meditation and/or mindfulness exercise (approximately 20 minutes). A short break (5-10 minutes) is always scheduled immediately prior to the guided meditation. On a four-weekly basis, each participant is invited to attend a one-to-one support session (of 50-minute duration) with the program facilitator. The support sessions provide an opportunity to discuss individual progress or problems with the meditation training.

Following completion of the eight-week MAT intervention, and compared to non-meditating control group participants, managers that received MAT demonstrated significant and sizeable improvements in levels of (i) work-related stress (HSE Management Standards Work-Related Stress Indicator Tool [HSE, n.d.]), (ii) job satisfaction (Abridged Job in General Scale [Russel et al., 2004], (iii)  psychological distress (Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale [Lovibond & Lovibond, 1995]), and (iv) employer-rated job performance (Role-Based Performance Scale [Welbourne, Johnson, & Erez, 1998]):

As we discussed in our published IJMHA paper, these findings have a number of important implications for the ongoing integration of meditative approaches into workplace settings. Existing psychological models of work-related stress tend to be based on an ‘exposure-environmental’ model of work stress. In other words, work-related stress is deemed to be a function of the extent to which employees are exposed to sub-optimal working conditions (e.g., inadequate support systems, inflexible working hours, conflicting demands, overly-taxing and/or unrealistic deadlines, low-work autonomy, etc.). In effect, this manner of conceptualising work-related stress emphasizes the importance of the employee’s ‘external’ work environment (i.e., as opposed to their ‘internal’ psychological environment). However, in our study, although the intervention exclusively involved training participants in how to practice meditation and did not make any changes to their external working conditions, the meditating managers began to derive much more satisfaction from their work and began to see the workplace as a more enjoyable place to be. Thus, findings from our study indicate that rather than make changes to the external work environment, a more effective means of reducing work-related stress (and improving job performance) might be to focus on changing employee’s ‘internal’ (i.e., psychological) environment.

Of course, we are not saying that organisations should not seek to improve the working conditions that they provide for their employees. However, by using meditation to facilitate a perceptual-shift in how they respond and relate to sensory and psychological stimuli, it seems that employees are better able to objectify their cognitive processes and to apprehend them as passing phenomena. This manner of transferring the locus of control for stress from external work conditions to internal attentional resources can be analogized as the difference between covering the entire outdoors with leather (i.e., in order to make walking outside more comfortable), versus simply adorning the feet with a leather sole. We conclude that certain meditation-based interventions might be cost-effective approaches for improving work-related stress (and job performance) due to them not actually requiring any (‘externally-orientated’) modifications to human resource management systems and practices.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Allen, T. D., & Kiburz, K. M. (2012). Trait mindfulness and work-family balance among working parents: The mediating effects of vitality and sleep quality. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 80, 372-379.

Dane, E. (2010). Paying attention to mindfulness and its effects on task performance in the workplace. Journal of Management, 37, 997-1018.

Griffiths, M. D., & Karanika-Murray, M. (2012). Contextualising over-engagement in work: Towards a more global understanding of workaholism as an addiction. Journal of Behavioural Addictions, 1, 87-95.

Health and Safety Executive. (2007). Managing the causes of work-related stress. A step-by-step approach using Management European Approaches to work-related stress. Nottingham (UK): Author.

Health and Safety Executive. (2008). Improving health and work: Changing lives. Available from: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/hwwb-improving-health-and-work-changing-lives.pdf. (Accessed 24th December 2013).

Health and Safety Executive. (2012). Stress and psychological disorders. Available from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/index.htm. (Accessed 24th December 2013).

Karanika-Murray, M., & Weyman, A. K. (2013). Optimising workplace interventions for health and wellbeing: A commentary on the limitations of the public health perspective within the workplace health arena. International Journal of Workplace Health Management, 6, 104-117.

Manocha, R., Black, D., Sarris, J., & Stough, C. (2011). A randomised controlled trial of meditation for work stress, anxiety and depressed mood in full-time workers. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, DOI:10.1155/2011/960583.

Malarkey, W. B., Jarjoura, D., & Klatt, M. (2013). Workplace based mindfulness practice and inflammation: A randomized trial. Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, 27, 145-154.

Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health. (2007). Mental health at work: Developing the business case. London: Author.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Dunn, T., Singh, N., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). 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. (2014). Managers’ experiences of Meditation Awareness Training. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0334-y.

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

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.

Warneke, E., Quinn, S., Ogden, K., Towle, N., & Nelson, M. R. (2011). A randomized controlled trial of the effects of mindfulness practice on medical student stress levels. Medical Education, 45, 381-388.

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.

Can a Person be Ignorant and Intelligent at the Same Time?

Can a Person be Ignorant and Intelligent at the Same Time?

ignorance 3

A few years ago, we made the decision to add a new dimension to our role as Buddhist monks by immersing ourselves in Western academia and undertaking research into the health benefits of meditation and Buddhist philosophy. After having devoted decades to the study, practice, and teaching of Buddhism (that is obviously based on Eastern philosophical principles), and despite the fact we are both originally from the West, the move into the Western academic setting has – for various reasons – been an eye-opening experience. This doesn’t so much relate to the challenges of writing for academic journals (because in just the last two-years we have accrued over 100 academic publications – including numerous articles in leading peer-reviewed psychology and medical journals), but relates more to coming to terms with what many  Western academics appear to perceive as desirable qualities for the modern scholar.

As regular readers of our blog will know, Buddhism places a great deal of importance on the generation of wisdom. Wisdom is that which overcomes ignorance, and ignorance is that which prevents people from realising their enlightened nature. Therefore, according to Buddhist thought, the amount of respect awarded to a practitioner or teacher should be based on how much spiritual wisdom they have accumulated. Essentially, the meaning of wisdom – at least in the sense that we are contextualising it here – is identical to the meaning of the word enlightenment. Thus, from the Buddhist perspective, the wiser a person is the more enlightened they are and vice-versa.

There are lots of definitions of Buddhist wisdom but we would briefly define it as the extent to which an individual accurately apprehends and understands both themselves and reality. A wise person knows every inch of their mind. They know why it exits, where it exists, and how it exists. Not only do they know their mind, but they also know that part of them that knows that it knows the mind. They appreciate fully that they are both the observed mind as well as the mind that observes. Because they know their own minds, they also know every inch of everybody else’s minds andthey are fully aware that all minds are interconnected. They are aware that their mind is without limitations and they know that all other sentient beings also have the potential to have a mind without limitations. In short, their outlook is vast and unconditionally compassionate – everything is encompassed in it.

Although the wise person has realised the full potential of their mind, they are in no way conceited or boastful about this. In fact, the wiser a person is, the more humble they are. Wise people don’t have goals or agendas per se, and they place no importance on being recognised for their efforts or successes. Their main objective is to simply be, and from this state of simply being, profound tranquillity and lucidity arises that allows them to act in a way that is inconceivably skilful yet completely uncontrived.

An interesting observation concerning the Buddhist construal of wisdom is that intelligence is not a prerequisite for being wise. Obviously, there are lots of different types and interpretations of intelligence, but here we are using the term ‘intelligence’ as per its popular (and Oxford English Dictionary) definition of: the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. Thus, although there is a strong probability that a wise person will be intelligent or academic in the conventional sense, there is also the possibility that they won’t be. Intelligence is a tool that wise people can cultivate and make use of if they wish to, but wise people understand that intelligence needs to be developed and handled carefully. This is because in the absence of wisdom, intelligence can significantly limit the mind. It can become an obstacle to enlightenment and therefore an obstacle to the ongoing development of a dynamic and fluid wisdom.

In effect, what we are saying here is that incorrectly handled, intelligence can actually make you more stupid. This is quite a strange thing to say but it does seem to us that there are quite a number of people – including many academics – who are thought of (or think of themselves) as being intelligent, but who seem to think and act without any wisdom. In Western academia, it is often the case that people obtain their PhD and then continue to develop knowledge and expertise in what is often a relatively narrow field of study. In fact, in many cases, academics often end up shaping the terrain, rules, and boundaries of their given field of study.

In our opinion, what seems to happen reasonably often is that academics (and indeed many other professional groups) live in a bubble that they themselves have created. In this bubble, they are the masters, the game developers, and rule keepers. Living in the bubble means that they can command respect from people that are not in the bubble – from people that don’t really have a clue what they are talking about but just presume it is tremendously complicated and important. However, when one looks at the crux of what is actually being proposed within a given scholarly theory, it can more often than not be reduced to some very simple themes and ideas. And for those instances where things cannot be explained in simple terms, then, in our experience, it normally means that the bubble owners have got so caughtup in the language and rules of their own self-created reality that they have begun to lose sense of how their research or sophistry relates to the real world.

Since such individuals (and there is quite a lot of them) are more interested in being intelligent than wise, the thinking and reasoning skills that they develop become useful only within their own (often very narrow) field of study. Consequently, when they are presented with a completely new idea or way of working, they have difficulty in assimilating it – principally due to their own ego construct. This is particularly the case when a bubble-dweller meets with a wise person. The bubble-dweller’s normal reaction is to feel threatened by the wise person and to reject them and/or their ideas. Because the wise person is just simply being and is not trying to be somebody in particular, their wisdom is very powerful, unshakeable, incredibly piecing and absolutely logical. By piercing, we don’t mean that they have a smart retort to everything, we just mean that their basic presence – even when they aren’t saying anything – is very penetrating. The wise person’s wisdom gives the intelligent person’s ignorance a sudden and massive shake. The intelligent-ignorant person (or, if you prefer, the ignorant-intelligent person) starts to feel threatened because they know that if they remain in the presence of the wise person, they will be forced to accept that they have created and are living in a very small bubble. They know that the wise person’s wisdom will burst their bubble and they will no longer have any ground to stand on.

Please don’t misunderstand what we are saying here – we are not saying that contemporary academics are actually quite stupid. Indeed, we are fortunate to know some very wise people – from both the East and West – that are also incredibly intelligent. However, in our humble opinion, it does seem that there are increasingly fewer and fewer “true” scholars – people that can think freely and with a big mind, but who also know the limitations of their intelligence and can therefore transcend it.

 

Further Reading

Fancher, R. E. (1985) (Ed.). The Intelligence Man: Makers of the IQ Controversy. W. W. Norton & Company: New York.

Gottfredson, L. S. (1997). Mainstream Science on Intelligence. Intelligence, 24, 13-23.

Hunt, E. (2011). Human Intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Jensen, A. R. (2011). The Theory of Intelligence and Its Measurement. Intelligence, 39, 171-177.

Robinson, A. (2011). Genius: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University

Trewavas, A. (2002). Mindless mastery. Nature, 415 (6874): 841.

The write stuff: Diary writing and psychological wellbeing

A very interesting article written by my friend and colleague Prof Mark Griffiths who is himself a very gifted writer.

drmarkgriffiths

Since my first day as a university student back in October 1984, I have kept a diary. What started out as my attempt to write a real-life Secret Diary of Adrian Mole has turned into 30 years of detailed journals where my whole life has been detailed and catalogued in 400-500 words every single day. Sometimes I wish I could stop as they have certainly got me into trouble (as a number of my ex-girlfriends will testify). But I won’t. The advantages of writing about my day-to-day life far outweigh the disadvantages. Even though I have never published any research on diary writing, I did appear on Radio 4’s All In The Mind radio programme where I was given free reign to speculate on why people write diaries.

Writing a diary is nothing new. Millions of people do it. A 2011 article in The Times of India on ‘Why we keep…

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Face[book]ing the future: A brief look at social networking addiction

Another interesting article written by my friend and colleague Prof Mark Griffiths

drmarkgriffiths

In many areas of behavioural addiction, there has been debate about whether some excessive behaviours should even be considered as genuine addictions (e.g., video game playing, internet use, sex, exercise, etc.) and the same debate holds for addiction to social networking. I recently published an editorial in the Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy examining the empirical research on the topic.

I have has operationally defined addictive behaviour as any behaviour that features what I believe to be the six core components of addiction (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, and relapse). I have also argued that any behaviour (including social networking) that fulfils these six criteria can be operationally defined as an addiction.

Researchers have suggested that the excessive use of new technologies (and especially online social networking) may be particularly problematic to young people. In accordance with the biopsychosocial framework for…

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