Should Mindfulness be taught to Improve Military and Business Effectiveness?

Should Mindfulness be taught to Improve Military and Business Effectiveness?

military

During one of our recent talks on mindfulness, we were asked whether we feel it is ethically and morally correct for mindfulness to be taught for the purposes of improving military or business effectiveness. Given that mindfulness was originally taught as a means of fostering peace and spiritual awakening, some people are of the view that it is inappropriate for businesses and the military to teach mindfulness to their employees in order to give them a strategic advantage over the competition. This seems to be quite a hot topic at the moment – especially because projects investigating the applications of mindfulness in military and business settings are already underway. Consequently, we have decided to dedicate this entire post to providing our view on this issue.

In the Buddhist teachings, mindfulness occurs as just one aspect (the seventh aspect) of a fundamental teaching known as the Noble Eightfold Path. Although the Noble Eightfold Path (obviously) consists of eight different elements, these elements do not function as standalone entities. In other words, it is not the case that one starts at the first practice of the Noble Eightfold Path (known as ‘right view’) and concludes one’s training in this practice before moving onto the second practice (known as ‘right intention’.). Rather, although the Noble Eightfold Path has eight different elements, it is in fact just one path and just one practice. This means that whenever one aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path is present and functioning correctly, then all of the other aspects are also present and functioning correctly. For example, without, ‘right view’, ‘right intention’, ‘right speech’, ‘right action’, ‘right livelihood’, ‘right effort’, and ‘right concentration’, there cannot be ‘right mindfulness’.

Thus, if a person in the military is taught mindfulness correctly, then they are also being directly or indirectly instructed in practices intended to cultivate ethical awareness (i.e., ‘right speech’, ‘right action’, ‘right livelihood’), a compassionate and spiritual outlook (i.e., ‘right intention’), and wisdom (i.e., ‘right view’). Accordingly, people in the military or in business that practice mindfulness correctly will also be learning how to become more responsible, wiser, and compassionate world citizens. Therefore, we don’t really need to worry about whether such people will “miss-use” the mindfulness teachings. In actual fact, many accomplished Buddhist practitioners believe that the Buddha’s teaching on mindfulness are so potent and effective that anybody that practices them correctly can’t help but become a better human being.

Of course, there is a strong possibility that people in the military or in business could be taught to practice “mindfulness” outside of the above system of ethical and spiritual values. However, we also don’t particularly need to concern ourselves about this because in such situations it is no longer mindfulness that is being taught. In other words, one can’t really raise a grievance that an organisation is misusing mindfulness if in fact what they are teaching isn’t mindfulness.

Apologies if you were expecting a lengthier discourse but we don’t think there is much else to discuss on this topic.

 

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

 

Further Reading

Bodhi, B. (1994). The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society.

Dalai Lama. (2001). Stages of meditation: training the mind for wisdom. London: Rider.

Gampopa. (1998). The Jewel Ornament of Liberation: The wish-fulfilling gem of the noble teachings. (A. K. Trinlay Chodron, Ed., & K. Konchong Gyaltsen, Trans.) New York: Snow Lion Publications.

Khyentse D. (2007). The heart of compassion: the thirty-seven verses on the practice of a Bodhisattva. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). The emerging role of Buddhism in clinical psychology: Towards effective integration. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, DOI: 10.1037/a0035859.

Life: A Near Death Experience

Life: A Near Death Experience

bubble 3

“Do not pursue the past. Do not lose yourself in the future. The past is history. The future yet to come. Looking deeply at life as it is in the very here and now, the practitioner dwells unshaken and free in heart. We must be diligent today, as death may strike tomorrow, for there is no bargaining with the lord of death” – The Buddha, 500 BCE (sutra 131, Majjhima Nikaya)

In the 1960s and 1970s, psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and psychologist and medic Raymond Moody played a pivotal role in bringing the phenomenon of near death experience (NDE) to the attention of both the general public and the wider scientific community. The scientific study of NDEs – especially prior to the 1990s – met with a certain amount of scepticism amongst psychologists and medical professionals. However, in recent years, the psychological and medical community have become more open to the possibility that the NDE is a bone fide phenomenon that falls within the range of possible human experience. The NDE is typically associated with a particular set or pattern of experiences that may occur when a person is close to dying (e.g., due to illness), when they believe they are close to dying (i.e., life-threatening situations), or when they find themselves in the period between clinical death and resuscitation.1-3 NDEs often involve one or a combination of the following features: an out of body experience, the experience of moving through a tunnel, communicating with a being of light, observing a celestial landscape, meeting with deceased persons, and/or a life review.1-3 Rather than the traditional approach of viewing NDEs as a phenomenon explicitly associated with death or the imminent threat thereof, here we adopt a slightly different slant and consider whether there is scope to consider human existence and life-more-generally as a near death experience.

According to the US Central Intelligence Agency4, the world mortality rate for 2013 is 7.9 deaths per 1000 people per year (i.e., 0.79%). Based on these figures, an average of 107 people die each minute. This means that if you are somebody that normally goes to bed at 11pm and sleeps for eight hours, by the time you wake up at 7am the next morning over 50,000 people have died. Death is a very common occurrence. There exist no scientifically-verifiable instances of any sentient being – human or otherwise – being able to defeat death. The most common cause of death is illness (especially illness in old age). Other reasonably common causes of death include accident, suicide, and homicide. Less common causes of death are occurrences such as spontaneous human combustion and death by lightning strike (although these could arguably be classed as accidental).

The human body is a beautiful and wondrous entity – but invincibility is not one of its strengths. A small pin prick, contact with a hot pan, a finger trapped in a door – these are just a few examples of how the smallest mishap can cause tremendous discomfort and pain. In fact, there only has to be the slightest imbalance in the external environment and the human body starts to rapidly shut-down. Environmental conditions such as being too hot, being too cold, a shortage of water, or a lack of food can all quickly lead to death. Even such minor things as eating a mouthful of spoiled food, catching a common flu bug, or slipping on ice can lead to death. In fact, at any one time, the only thing that separates us from death is a single breath in or out. It seems that the human being operates a ‘just in time’ survival system which means that the slightest delay in taking in air, water, or food can be fatal. From the moment we are born, every single second that passes by brings us closer to our death. Even being young provides no assurance of life as death can occur at any age. Indeed, some people die while still in the womb, some in infancy, and some in adolescence. Some people die in the prime of adulthood and some in old age. Life is like the sand moving through an hour-glass – some people start with more sand than others but it runs out just the same.

To help explain this in a slightly different way, the Buddhist teachings use the analogy of a prisoner being led to their execution – every step they take draws them closer to death.5 We are born, we live, and we will die. All phenomena are transient occurrences and are subject to decay and dissolution. Absolutely nothing escapes the cycle of impermanence. The human body is impermanent, friends and family are impermanent, the planet we live on is impermanent, and even the universe will ultimately cease to be. This is what the Buddha said about the fleeting nature of existence: “This existence of ours is as transient as autumn leaves. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky, rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.”

In general, there is a tendency for people to be complacent about death and to assume that it is something that will never happen to them. However, such complacency quickly disappears when people find themselves at death’s door. At this time, it is not uncommon for people to experience overpowering feelings of regret, anger, and fear. Indeed, at death, people often manifest a fierce clinging and attachment towards their family, friends, possessions, reputation, and life achievements. However, when the last few grains of sand are about to slip through the hour glass – these things count for absolutely nothing and cannot be carried forward. We have to leave life in exactly the same manner that we entered it – all alone.

You might think that it is inappropriate to discuss the reality of death in as direct and open a manner as we are here. However, in our humble opinion, the sooner a person starts to fully accept that at some uncertain point they will certainly die, the sooner they can begin to prepare themselves for death rather than waiting until it is too late. In a paper that was recently accepted for publication in the American Psychological Association journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality,6 we discussed how accepting the impermanent nature of life can actually be a very rewarding process. In fact, the academic literature indicates that impermanence awareness can actually buffer against mental illness. It has also been suggested that an increased acceptance and internalisation of impermanence can assist with post-traumatic growth.7,8

The Buddhist teachings explain that a wise person is someone who, in every single breath and every single heartbeat, is deeply aware of the uncertainty of the time of death as well as its inevitability.5 This awareness of impermanence is believed to help a person prioritise what is important in life.6 Findings from our own research indicate that cultivating a deep-rooted understanding of impermanence can bring great joy and can be spiritually enriching.9,10 By allowing the realisation of impermanence to infuse our being, we can gradually learn not to hold onto things too tightly. This means that when the people and things we love are present, we can truly cherish them, but when they dissolve we can let go of them more freely. A useful thing to remember is that every time we do something, we do it for the first and last time. A moment of time never repeats itself. The recognition of this can help to invest the things we do and say with great meaning. We no longer have to sleep-walk through life – we no longer have to be walking corpses. Based on the consensus definition, near death experiences are not particularly common and typically involve what some people might describe as ‘mystical’ experiences. However, given that life is incredibly fragile and using slightly different defining criteria, we believe that every single sentient being is essentially currently partaking in a near death experience. We would like to finish this post with a brief reflection on death entitled ‘A Bubble in the Wind’:

A Bubble in the Wind

“Life is like a bubble carried by the wind. Some bubbles burst sooner, others later. Some burst of their own accord, others by accident. Some are deliberately burst. However, one way or another, all bubbles burst. The difference between the realised spiritual practitioner and the everyday person, is that the practitioner recognises they are not only the bubble, but are also the wind that gently carries it along. That wind has no point of origin and is without destination. It blows freely wherever it likes. How wonderful!”

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

References

  1. Ring, K. (1980). Life at death. A scientific investigation of the near death experience. New York: Coward, Mc Cann and Geoghenan.
  2. Lommel, P.V., Wees, R.V., & Meyers, V., et al. (2001). Near death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospective study in the Netherlands. Lancet, 358: 2039-45.
  3. Moody, R.A. (1975). Life after Life. New York: Bantam Books.
  4. Central Intelligence Agency. (2013). The World Fact Book. Available from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/xx.html (Accessed, 15th January 2014).
  5. Gampopa. (1998). The Jewel Ornament of Liberation: The wish-fulfilling gem of the noble teachings. (A. K. Trinlay Chodron, Ed., & K. Konchong Gyaltsen, Trans.) New York: Snow Lion Publications.
  6. Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). The emerging role of Buddhism in clinical psychology: Towards effective integrations. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, in press.
  7. Kumar, S. M. (2005). Grieving mindfully: A compassionate and spiritual guide to coping with loss. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
  8. Wada, K., & Park, J. (2009). Integrating Buddhist psychology into grief counseling. Death Studies, 33, 657-683.
  9. Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013a). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for improved psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Journal of Religion and Health, DOI: 10.1007/s10943-013-9679-0.
  10. Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). The treatment of workaholism with Meditation Awareness Training: A Case Study. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, in press.

Acknowledgment: This post was used as a platform for developing themes, insights, and elucidations to be included in an expanded article written for the Mindfulness in Practice section of the journal Mindfulness.

Meditation: A Three-fold Approach

Meditation: A Three-fold Approach

Within Western research settings, interest into the health-related applications of Buddhist and Buddhist-derived meditation techniques is rapidly growing. Indeed, Buddhist meditation has been shown to be effective for treating a large variety of both somatic and psychological health conditions. Examples of such conditions include chronic pain, cancer, fibromyalgia, anxiety, stress, depression, and addiction disorders.

As part of trying to understand Buddhist meditation, scientists have begun to dissect and analyse the various components and processes of meditation. A result of this is that in the research and clinical setting, individual meditative components have been removed from their original context and deployed as standalone clinical techniques.

Consequently, there now exists an entire plethora of Buddhist-derived interventions including (for example): Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction,  Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Compassion Focused Therapy, Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (targeting drug and alcohol abuse), Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Therapy, Loving-Kindness Interventions, Vipassana Therapy – and the list goes on. Whilst a number of these interventions have demonstrable efficacy as healthcare interventions, many of them are working with just one element of the overall meditative process.

In their traditional Buddhist setting, rather than standalone techniques, mindfulness, compassion, loving-kindness, vipassana – and all the other individual aspects of meditation – are practiced only as part of a composite and interdependent array of spiritually inclined perspectives and trainings. According to the Buddhist perspective, the development of sustainable meditative realisation arises as a result of the inter-play of three key elements:

(i) wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā), (ii) ethical discipline or ethical awareness (Sanskrit: śīla), and (iii) meditative concentration (Sanskrit: samādhi). These three elements are known in Buddhism as the ‘three trainings’ (Sanskrit: trishiksha) and provide a stable platform and context for the successful cultivation of meditative proficiency.

Let’s take mindfulness and the Noble Eight Fold Path as an example. The Noble Eight Fold Path represents a fundamental Buddhist teaching and can be practically and theoretically stratified according to the abovementioned threefold division:

Wisdom:

  • 1. Right view, 2. Right intention

Ethical Discipline

  • 3. Right speech, 4. Right action, 5. Right livelihood, 6. Right effort

Meditation

  • 7. Right mindfulness, 8. Right concentration or meditation

Thus within Buddhism, mindfulness is taught as only one aspect (i.e., the 7th aspect) of the Noble Eight Fold Path. As part the teachings on the Noble Eight Fold Path, ‘right mindfulness’ arises interdependently with, and in reliance upon, the gradual and simultaneous practice of each of the other seven aspects of the path. In other words, in traditional Buddhist practice, mindfulness enters into a process of ‘cross-fertilisation’ with wisdom, ethical discipline, and concentrative elements. The importance of this ‘cross-fertilisation’ process can be highlighted by the examples of ‘right view’ and ‘right intention’ (that appear as the 1st and 2nd aspects of the Eight Fold Path). ‘Right view’ refers to the realisation of an accurate view of self and reality as a result of intuiting concepts such as impermanence, non-self, and emptiness. According to the Buddhist teachings, it is not possible for a person to become fully mindful of the present moment unless they have a solid understanding of the true and absolute mode in which the present moment exists. The same applies to ‘right intention’ which refers not only to a decisive determination to develop spiritually, but also to the cultivation of an altruistic (i.e., rather than selfish) motivation for practice. Buddhism teaches that a person cannot establish ‘right mindfulness’ of their thoughts, words, and deeds without a profound awareness of how such actions will influence the ‘spiritual happiness’ (Sanskrit: sukha) or suffering (Sanskrit: duhkha) of others.

Thus, all of the elements involved in the practice of meditation are intimately and intrinsically interwoven with one another – they are all mutually interdependent. In forthcoming posts, we will explore these elements in more detail and will begin with ethical awareness. Ethical awareness will assist us in living a steady, stable, and centred life that is wholesome for us and for others.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Chiesa A., & Malinowsko, P. (2011). Mindfulness-based approaches: Are they all the same?

Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67, 404-424.

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

Dalai Lama. (2005). The Many Ways to Nirvana. London: Mobius.

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

Buddhist Publication Society.

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., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Mindfulness-based therapy: A tool for spiritual growth? Thresholds (In Press)

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for improved psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Religion and Health. DOI: 10.1007/s10943-013-9679-0.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Sumich, A., Sundin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for psychological wellbeing in a sub-clinical sample of university students: A controlled pilot study. Mindfulness. DOI: 10.1007/s12671-012-0191-5.

Buddhist teachings: A brief introduction

Buddhism originated approximately 2,600 years ago and is based on the teachings of Siddartha Gautama who is said to have been born in Lumbini (near the Nepalese/Indian border). At approximately 29 years of age, Prince Siddartha is believed to have left behind worldly and palatial life (against his parent’s wishes) to become a homeless mendicant who attained ‘enlightenment’ approximately six years later whilst meditating under the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya in east India. He henceforth became known as Shakyamuni Buddha who ‘turned the wheel of Dharma’ in Varanasi and taught elsewhere throughout India before passing away in Kushinagar (north India) at approximately 80 years of age.

Although accounts of the Buddha’s life are well-documented, rather than the worship of an historical figure, Buddhist practice is quintessentially concerned with the everyday application of spiritual and meditative principles as a means of transforming suffering and realising the ‘Buddha nature’ (Sanskrit: sugatagarbha) that lies within each and every one of us.

To call ourselves a real Buddhist, we have understood that the Buddhist teachings are just one means of actualising a universal truth. They are a finger pointing to the moon and not the moon itself. For this reason, the Buddhist practitioner should be as comfortable with visiting a church, a synagogue, or a mosque, as they are with visiting a Buddhist Temple. In other words, to call oneself a real Buddhist, one has to let go of any kind of attachment to that label.

Please don’t try to own the Buddhadharma. Please don’t feel the need to retaliate against those who defile it. Please don’t try to make people become Buddhists. Please don’t try to become a great meditation teacher. Just simply be the teachings. Work in harmony with the conditions around you and allow your enlightened presence to grow organically. In time, that presence will be felt by everyone you meet. It will sound throughout the entire universe – like the roar of a lion in full prime.

Ven Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon