What are the Active Ingredients of Mindfulness-based Interventions?

What are the Active Ingredients of Mindfulness-based Interventions?

active 1

Mindfulness-based interventions typically comprise numerous elements, including some or all of the following: guided mindfulness exercises, guided loving-kindness and compassion meditation exercises, group discussion, psycho-education (sometimes in the style of a university lecture), yoga, one-to-one discussion with the programme facilitator, a CD of guided meditations to encourage at-home practice, and a full or half-day silent group retreat. Given that each of the above techniques arguably have therapeutic utility in their own right, ascertaining why MBIs are effective is problematic because they have numerous ‘active ingredients’.

Not controlling for other active ingredients is a common limitation of MBI intervention studies. Indeed, although scientific evidence demonstrates that certain MBIs are equally or more effective than other treatments for improving specific health conditions, it is currently unclear whether it is mindfulness, or mindfulness in combination with other therapeutic techniques, that results in health benefits. One way to overcome this methodological limitation is to employ a purpose-designed ‘active’ control condition. This is a control intervention that mirrors the main intervention in terms of its design, but does not include any mindfulness techniques. By conducting a randomised controlled trial that compares the effectiveness of an MBI against a suitably formulated active control intervention, we can determine that superior outcomes in the MBI versus control group are caused by mindfulness.

It could be argued that it doesn’t matter whether it is specifically mindfulness or other intervention components that make MBIs effective. If we are only interested in treatment outcomes and adhere to a ‘what works’ approach to alleviating illness symptoms, then establishing which intervention components are most effective becomes less important. However, from the point of view of advancing scientific understanding of how the human mind reacts to given psychotherapeutic techniques, it is useful to establish which ingredients are most active within a given intervention. Such knowledge can also help to inform the development of more effective and ‘therapeutically streamlined’ MBIs.

When designing an active control intervention for MBI efficacy studies, in addition to matching the design of the target and control interventions (i.e., minus the inclusion of mindfulness techniques), it is also important to match the ‘competency’ of the instructor or instructors delivering the two interventions. For example, a number of meditation intervention studies employing an active control condition have used an experienced clinician and meditation teacher to deliver the MBI, whilst leaving a relatively inexperienced student to administer the control intervention. Clearly, such an approach can introduce bias and weaken the strength of the evidence from MBI studies.

In order to overcome the above methodological limitation, in a recent randomised controlled trial that we conducted, the study was designed such that the same instructor delivered the MBI and comparison intervention. To control for potential bias on the part of the instructor, participants in each intervention condition were asked to rate the instructor’s levels of enthusiasm and preparation. Statistical tests were then performed to determine if there were significant differences between how participants from the intervention and control group rated the instructor’s performance.

We decided to control for an ‘instructor effect’ because in our opinion, the mindfulness instructor is one of the most active ingredients in MBIs. Part of our research has involved the development and empirical investigation of a ‘second-generation’ of MBI. Second-generation MBIs (such as Meditation Awareness Training) are designed slightly differently compared to ‘first-generation’ MBIs (such as Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction or Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy). More specifically, second generation MBIs are overtly spiritual in nature and teach a greater range of meditative techniques. Given that second-generation MBIs comprise different design elements compared to first-generation MBIs, it is reasonable to assume that these two types of MBIs will result in different outcomes. However, despite the design differences between first- and second-generation MBIs, it is our view that if a mindfulness teacher with authentic spiritual realisation was to administer a first-generation MBI, the outcomes would be very similar to them administering a second-generation MBI.

In other words, if the mindfulness teacher is genuinely rooted in the present moment, the specific design of the MBI becomes less important. As we discussed in our post on The Four Types of Psychologist, we would argue that the same principle applies to the majority of psychological therapies. If the clinician knows their own mind, has genuine compassion for the client, and is skilled in helping the client understand their problems, then the choice of therapy becomes less important.

Although preliminary findings (including from some of our own clinical case studies and qualitative studies) support the notion that the mindfulness teacher is one of the (if not the) most important ingredients of MBIs, there is clearly a need for further research investigating how the instructor influences outcomes. However, in the absence of extensive empirical investigation into this subject, we hypothesise that what participants of MBIs need most (and therefore respond best to), is the unconditional love and spiritual wisdom of a teacher who is without a personal agenda, and whose mind is saturated with meditative awareness.

 

Ven. Edo Shonin and Ven. William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Baer, R., Smith, G., Hopkins, J., Krietemeyer, J., & Toney, L. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13, 27-45.

Chiesa, A. (2013). The difficulty of defining mindfulness: Current thought and critical issues. Mindfulness, 4, 255-268.

Chiesa, A., & Malinowski, P. (2011). Mindfulness-based approaches: Are they all the same? Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67, 404-424.

MacCoon, D., Imel, Z., Rosenkranz, M., Sheftel, J., Weng, H., Sullivan, J., . . . Lutz, A. (2012). The validation of an active control intervention for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Behavior Research and Therapy, 50, 3-12.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Dunn, T., Singh, N. N., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Meditation Awareness Training for work-related wellbeing and job performance: A randomised controlled trial. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 806-823.

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

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

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

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., 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.

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

Thupten Jingpa on Compassion and Mindfulness

Thupten Jingpa on Compassion and Mindfulness

thupten-jinpa-e1384194795512

We recently had the pleasure of talking with Thupten Jingpa, who has been the principal English translator of the Dalia Lama for the past 30 years. The theme of the conversation was the interrelated practices of compassion and mindfulness, including (i) their role in contemporary society, (ii) the traditional context for learning and applying these techniques, (iii) the utilisation of compassion and mindfulness in contemporary behavioural interventions, (iv) issues relating to teacher training, and (v) whether lessons learnt from more than two decades of researching and rolling-out mindfulness-based interventions can be carried forward in order to facilitate the effective integration of interventional approaches based on compassion and loving-kindness meditation.

The interview is now published in Mindfulness and is available for free download from the following link. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-015-0448-x

Calling a Spade a Spade: The Need for Authentic Meditation Teachers

Calling a Spade a Spade: The Need for Authentic Meditation Teachers

spade

Some time ago, we uploaded a post that featured a vajragiti that we wrote called Hearken to the Dharma. A vajragiti is a type of spiritual song or poem. The Sanskrit word vajra means ‘diamond’ or ‘indestructible’ and the word giti means song. Some of our vajragitis have been spoken or written spontaneously, while others have been written at the request of a particular person or for a particular occasion. Since the post was published, we have received several enquiries as to what some of the terms means. Today’s post provides information on the meaning of these terms, and on the theme of the vajragiti more generally.

Hearken to the Dharma’ is a four-verse vajragiti written in the style of the spiritual songs of certain yogic traditions of Vajrayana Buddhism. In essence, it refers to the view of certain systems of Buddhist thought that we are currently in an era in which the Buddhist (and spiritual teachings more generally) are degenerating. More specifically, it refers to the fact that not all individuals who are currently teaching mindfulness, meditation and Buddhism have the ‘right intention’. When people with a selfish intent and who are without authentic spiritual realisation choose to teach meditation or Buddhism, it can result in negative consequences.

It could be argued that by writing a spiritual song such as the below, we are being judgemental. However, we wouldn’t agree with this because it is not judgemental to call a spade a spade. If things aren’t right, sometimes we need to speak up and raise awareness about the issue.

In the below vajragiti, the term ‘two accumulations’ refers to the Buddhist view that spiritual practitioners need to accumulate both spiritual merit and wisdom. Spiritual merit is accumulated by engaging in acts of generosity, patience, loving-kindness and compassion. Wisdom is accumulated by practising meditation, especially insight meditation. Spiritual merit and wisdom are necessary if we want to overcome the tendency of making our lives all about the ‘me’, the ‘mine’ and the ‘I’. Living a life that is always centred upon the ‘me’, ‘mine’ and ‘I’ is what is meant by the term ‘self-grasping’.

True renunciation’ means that we are no longer interested in mundane pursuits such as accumulating wealth or status. It means that we are aware that death is a reality that we will have to face, sooner or later. When we cultivate true spiritual renunciation, it is a liberating experience. However, it is important to remember that spiritual renunciation doesn’t mean that we turn our back on the world. Rather, it means that because we are free of selfish intentions, we can fully taste, enjoy and engage with the world.

In some Buddhist sutras, the Dharma is sometimes referred to as the ‘Law’. Therefore, the term ‘Law Holder’ means an authentic spiritual practitioner – somebody who has transcended the ego and given rise to a high level of spiritual awakening. A Law Holder could be a fully enlightened Buddha, or it could be somebody who is well on the way to attaining Buddhahood. A person who holds the Law of Dharma embodies and emanates spiritual awareness. They are not necessarily a Buddhist scholar.

In the context referred to in the vajragiti, our use of the term ‘Mara’ invokes the connotations that this term has with the notion of the Devil in Christianity. However, the term ‘Mara’ has several different meanings in Buddhism, which include negativity in its broadest sense. The ‘lower realms’ refer to realms of existence in which there are high levels of ignorance and suffering. The animal world is an example of a lower realm (i.e. when compared with the human realm), but Buddhism asserts that there are realms of existence that are lower than the animal realm (e.g. the hell realms).

The terms ‘View’, ‘Meditation’ and ‘Action’ in the final verse refer to the three components that comprise an authentic Buddhist spiritual path. For example, in the Noble Eightfold Path referred to previously on this blog, each of the eight individual components of the path are understood to be primarily concerned with the cultivation of either: (i) wisdom or a ‘view’ that transcends the notion of self and other, (ii) meditation, or (iii) ethical ‘action’. If each of these three aspects (i.e. wisdom/view, ethics/action and meditation) are present, then a particular Buddhist path can be considered whole and complete. The three path elements of wisdom, ethics and meditation are known in Sanskrit as ‘trishiksha’, which means the ‘three trainings’.

The term ‘three doors’ refers to the three ‘doors’ through which we interact with the world: (i) body (i.e. actions), (ii) speech (i.e. words), and (iii) mind (i.e. thoughts). Finally, the term ‘Mind as all’ refers to a view amongst certain Buddhist schools that existence unfolds within the expanse of mind. According to this view, waking reality is no more ‘real’ than what we experience while dreaming.

Hearken to the Dharma

All you great teachers and meditators,
Who mistake self-grasping and pride for the two accumulations,
In whom true renunciation and devotion never arise,
You, pleasure seekers, hearken to the Dharma that keeps death in mind.

Proudly claiming to be great Buddhists,
Judging others as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’,
Spreading doubt and disparaging the Law Holders,
You, Dharma destroyers, hearken to the Dharma beyond all concepts.

Practicing sophistry you deceive the foolish,
Competing for renown like Mara princes,
Dragging your followers to the miserable realms,
You, evil doers, hearken to the Dharma of karmic cause and effect.

For View you delight in ‘self’ and ‘other’,
For Meditation you indulge in scheming thoughts,
For Action you mindlessly vomit through your three doors,
You, delusion revellers, hearken to the Dharma that knows Mind as all.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Should Mindfulness be Taught to the Military?

Should Mindfulness be Taught to the Military?

military

A few months ago, we wrote a post on whether mindfulness should be used in military (and business) settings?  As we mentioned in our earlier post, the issue of using mindfulness in military settings is a reasonably hot topic at the moment because although some people – including ourselves – believe that there is no reason why mindfulness should not be taught to military or business personnel, others are of the view that because mindfulness was originally taught as a means of fostering peace and spiritual awakening, it is inappropriate to teach mindfulness to the armed forces. Since writing the above post, we have received a few emails/comments from people disagreeing with or requesting additional clarification on some of the arguments that we made. Thus, in today’s post, we revisit this topic and provide five reasons why – in our opinion – teaching mindfulness to military personnel is in keeping with Buddhist values and ideals.

  1. The Dharma is for everybody: The Buddhist teachings (known as the Dharma) – which include teachings on mindfulness – are universal in their application. It does not matter if a person is rich or poor, good or bad, famous or obscure, young or old, male or female, or if they purport not to have an interest in matters of a spiritual nature – the Dharma is available for everybody to benefit from. Indeed, it is not for anybody – not even the Buddha – to decide which people should be denied the spiritual teachings and which people should receive them. Each person must make that choice on an individual basis and, really and truly, the only way they can make an informed decision about whether a particular form of spiritual practice is right for them, is if they have the opportunity to try it first. Therefore, introducing military personnel to the mindfulness teachings brings people working in military settings into contact with the Dharma and gives them the opportunity to make an informed decision as to whether mindfulness is a practice they would like to integrate into their lives. This is a good thing.
  2. The Dharma is 100% effective for transforming suffering: The Buddhist teachings are 100% effective for uprooting the causes of suffering and for cultivating wisdom. Indeed, ithas been said by Buddhist teachers of the past that if just one word of the Buddha’s wisdom is correctly put into practice, then lasting benefit will ensue. In other words, if the Buddhist teachings – in whatever form they mayappear – are correctly taught and correctly practiced, then there is only one outcome for the practitioner – an increase in wisdom, compassion, and awareness. In the event that such qualities do not begin to manifest in theindividual, this means that either the teachings are not being taught correctly, or they are not being practiced in the right way.Thus, if a person is not being taught correctly or is not practising the Dharma properly, then no meaningful benefit will arise from their practice and they cannot be called authentic Dharma or authentic mindfulness practitioners. Therefore, as we discussed in our original post on mindfulness and the military, we don’t need to be worried about people potentially misusing the insight or abilities they accrue when practicing the Buddhist teachings – it simply can’t happen. Perhaps a better way of understanding this principle is to think of the Buddhist teachings – including the mindfulness teachings – as having a natural protection or defence mechanism. If a person comes into contact with the Dharma who is not ready to receive the teachings or who intends to use them for selfish or negative purposes, their wrong intention will prevent the teachings from taking root within their being. In fact, all that they will receive will be a theoretical and superficial account of the teachings – and even this won’t be properly understood. Of course, one might argue that with this newly-accumulated theoretical knowledge military personnel may play a part in passing on wrong information or a watered-down version of the Buddhist teachings from one person to another. However, given that there are a lot of (so-called) Buddhist and mindfulness teachers already doing this, then we don’t see why the military should be targeted for criticism over and above anybody else.
  3. Wise and compassionate military leaders are better than mindless ones: In one of the sets of feedback that we received on our original post on this subject, a person commented that “My take is that they [people in the military] should resign and renounce their military affiliations.” Although there is nothing greater we would like than to live in a world where there is no need for countries to have armed forces, unfortunately, this is not the world wecurrently live in. Indeed, if a country decided to disband its armed forces, then because of peoples’ greed and ignorance, thelikelyhood is that the country in question would be subject to invasion from other armed forces, attacks from terrorist groups, and/or a greater amount of civil unrest and rioting. Therefore, if we are going to teach the Dharma, then we have to do so in a way that is realistic, up-to-date, and relevant to the world that we live in. To propose that anybody in the military who wants to live an ethically and morally wholesome life (which in most countries probably includes the overwhelming majority of military personnel) simply resigns their post is not a realistic suggestion and would jeopardise the safety and wellbeing of countless people across the globe.Therefore, a much more pragmatic solution is to have soldiers and military leaders that practice spiritual development and who execute their role with wisdom and loving-kindness for all beings. In fact, if all military personnel who aspire to live a good life and to be good world citizens were to resign from the military, then we think there would be much more conflict and acts of military brutality than there already are. To explain this idea in a different way, we would like to share with you a discussion we had this morning with a young Sri Lankan man who has been assigned by the community we are staying with at the moment to use a sling shot to keep the crows away from washing and feeding in the clean water. We noticed the young man was looking very sad and so we decided to ask him what was upsetting him. He responded by saying that he was upset because the job he had been assigned meant that he could not uphold his Buddhist vows because he was constantly firing stones at the passing crows. We asked the young man how many crows he had actually hit since he took up his post. He said that to his knowledge, he hadn’t actually hit a single crow because he always aims for roof tops or for a branch of a tree so that the birds fly away when they hear the noise. We then asked the man if everybody assigned to do this task does the same thing as him or if some people actually try to hit the birds. The young man responded by explaining that there are some young men in the village who take great pleasure in hitting the crows and who even have competitions with each other to see who can hit or kill the most birds in one day. After hearing this we suggested to the young man that he was actually conducting his role with great compassion and wisdom because on the one hand, he was performing his job effectively by protecting the water from dirt and disease, but at the same time he was preventing other people from causing harm to sentient beings. On hearing this the young man gave the most beautiful smile and happiness returned to his face.In a world where there is lots of greed, negativity and extreme views, it seems that some kind of armed force is essential for acting as a deterrent and for maintaining a relative amount of peace and wellbeing. However, it is definitely possible for military leaders to apply wisdom and compassion in the way in which they conduct their roles and to do their best to find peaceful resolutions to conflicts. For such military leaders, the use of weaponry would be kept to an absolute minimum and weaponry would be used only after all other options had been exhausted. You see, it is all very well saying that under no circumstances must a person take another person’s life, but from time to time situations arise that mean such an approach is not realistic. One obvious example would be eliminating the threat caused by a terrorist who was about to set off a bomb in order to cause harm to hundreds of people. In our opinion, if there was no way to capture and disarm the terrorist without causing them harm, then in the interests of preserving life, it would be acceptable and in keeping with Buddhist values to take defensive action in order to eliminate the threat to many others. The difference is that the mindful or Buddhist practitioner would do so with the greatest amount of love and compassion for the terrorist and would understand that it is ignorance that has led them to such extremist behaviour.
  4. Military personnel often make good Dharma practitioners: Some of the most sincere mindfulness/Dharma practitioners that we have come across have been people with a military background. We are not 100% sure why some people with a military background take very well to the practice of mindfulness but we believe individuals that have completed military service in hostile areas seem to better understand just how harsh and unpredictable life can be. The process of having first-hand experience of death and suffering can sometimes jolt a person out of selfishness and of taking everything for granted. Indeed, here in the West, most people enjoy a privileged lifestyle and do not have to worry about finding food, shelter, or medicine. Despite this, many people in developed countries take their situation for granted and spend all of their time complaining about things or being bigoted and passing judgement on others. Depending on the person and on where they have completed active service, working in the armed forces can sometimes shake a person out of this selfish attitude and cause them to become disillusioned with the soap opera that a large number of civilians choose to adopt as their way of life.
  5. Research supports the use of mindfulness for military personnel: The use of mindfulness in military settings is supported by two different areas of mindfulness research (see further reading list below for examples of studies). The first area is research demonstrating that mindfulness actually helps people to become more compassionate (both for themselves and for others) and to grow in spiritual insight. The second area is research that has been specifically conducted with military personnel and demonstrates that mindfulness both prevents and helps individuals recover from psychological distress.

We hope the above helps to clarify why we cautiously advocate the responsible integration of mindfulness into military settings. However, we appreciate that this is quite a sensitive topic and that not everybody will share our view.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

 

Further Reading

Le, T. N. (2014). Mindfulness-Based Adventure Camp for military youth. Journal of Extension, 52, Article No. 2FEA5.

Rice, V., Boykin, G., Jeter, A., Villarreal, J., Overby, C., & Alfred, P. (2013). The Relationship between mindfulness and resiliency among active duty service members and military veterans. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, 57, 11387-1391.

Stanley, E.A., Schaldach, J. M., Kiyonaga, A., & Jha, A. P. (2011).  Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training: A case study of a high-stress predeployment military cohort. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 18, 566-576.

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.

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). Loving-kindness and compassion meditation in psychotherapy. Thresholds: Quarterly Journal of the Association for Pastoral and Spiritual Care and Counselling (A Journal of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy), Spring Issue, 9-12.

Trousselard, M., Steiler, D., Claverie, D., & Canini, F. (2012). Relationship between mindfulness and psychological adjustment in soldiers according to their confrontation with repeated deployments and stressors. Psychology, 3, 100-115.

Williams, M. J., McManus, F., Muse, K., & Williams, J. M. (2011). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for severe health anxiety (hypochondriasis): An interpretative phenomenological analysis of patients’ experiences. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 50, 379-97.

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

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

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., 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.

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

A Guided Meditation on Loving-kindness and Compassion

A Guided Meditation on Loving-kindness and Compassion

present moment 3

In a recent post, we focussed on the practices of loving-kindness and compassion and discussed their role within Buddhism and within spiritual practice more generally. Following on from this post and further to several emails we have received requesting more information on these practices, here we provide a short introductory meditation on loving-kindness and compassion. This meditation is adapted from a guided meditation that we included in an article entitled ‘The psychotherapeutic applications of loving-kindness and compassion meditation’ that was recently accepted for publication in Thresholds (a journal of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy). The first part of this meditation focusses on establishing equanimity, calm, and meditative awareness, and the second part provides a gentle introduction to the practices of loving-kindness and compassion. There are many ways to practice this meditation, but our suggestion is that you adopt a suitable meditation posture, and then spend one or two minutes on each of the ten exercises.

An introductory meditation on loving-kindness and compassion

 

  1. Breathing in, I am fully aware I breathe in; Breathing out, I am fully aware I breathe out.
  2. Breathing in, I am aware whether my breath is deep or shallow, short or long; Breathing out, I allow my breath to follow its natural course.
  3. Breathing in, I am aware of the space and time that exists between my in-breath and out-breath, and between my out-breath and in-breath; Breathing out, I relax into this space and time.
  4. Breathing in, there is nowhere else I need to be; Breathing out, I am already home.
  5. Breathing in, I am here; Breathing out, I am now.
  6. Breathing in, I enjoy breathing in; Breathing out, I enjoy breathing out and I smile gently to myself.
  7. Breathing in, I am aware of the suffering that is present inside of me; Breathing out, I allow any difficult feelings to calm and relax.
  8. Breathing in, I cultivate feelings of joy and happiness; Breathing out, I bathe in those feelings of joy and happiness.
  9. Breathing in, I am aware that other people also suffer; Breathing out, I radiate feelings of joy and happiness to others.
  10. Breathing in, I return to simply following my breathing; Breathing out, I enjoy the experience of simply being.

 

 

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

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.

Hutcherson CA, Seppala EM, Gross JJ. (2008). Loving-kindness meditation increases social connectedness. Emotion 8: 720-724.

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

Mascaro JS, Rilling JK, Negi LT, et al. (2012). Compassion meditation enhances empathic accuracy and related neural activity. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. DOI:10.1093/scan/nss095.

Shamay-Tsoory SG. (2011) The neural bases for empathy. Neuroscientist 17: 18-24.

Shonin E, Van Gordon W, Griffiths, MD. (2014). The psychotherapeutic applications of loving-kindness and compassion meditation. Thresholds: Journal of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Spring Issue, In Press.

Shonin E, Van Gordon W, & Griffiths MD. (2014). The emerging role of Buddhism in clinical psychology: Towards effective integration. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, In Press.

Loving-kindness and Compassion

compassionLoving-kindness and Compassion

Within Buddhism, loving-kindness (Sanskrit: maitri) is defined as the wish for all beings to have happiness and its causes. Compassion (Sanskrit: karuna) is defined as the wish for all beings to be free from suffering and its causes. Loving-kindness and compassion are traditionally practiced as two of the ‘Four Immeasurable Attitudes’ (Sanskrit: brahmaviharahs) – the other two being joy and equanimity. ‘Joy’ (as one of the four immeasurable attitudes) highlights the fact that authentic loving-kindness and compassion can only manifest from a mind that is infused with meditative bliss, and that has transmuted all afflictive mental states. Equanimity emphasizes the need for unconditionality in the cultivation of loving-kindness and compassion that are extended in equal and unlimited measure to all sentient beings (i.e., irrespective of whether we consider them to be a “friend” or an “enemy”).

‘Bodhichitta’ is a Sanskrit word that means the ‘mind of awakening’. Bodhichitta refers to an attitude or motivation to undertake spiritual practice for the primary purpose of benefitting others. People who adopt and act upon such an attitude are known as bodhisattvas (or aspirants thereof). The bodhisattva essentially dedicates their live (and all future lives) towards alleviating the suffering of other beings. From the Buddhist perspective, this represents a win-win situation because it not only aids other beings both materially and spiritually, but also helps us as practitioners to adopt a humble demeanour. Being humble is a favourable quality because it aids us in dismantling our attachment to the ‘ego-self’. As we discussed in our recent blog about ‘Mindwithness’, ego-attachment is considered to be the root-cause of all suffering.

As aspiring bodhisattvas we should try to allow loving-kindness and compassion to suffuse all of our actions. Being a bodhisattva doesn’t mean that we single-handedly have to “save the world”, or end poverty in the third world. If that was the case then we would have to conclude that all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas had failed in fulfilling their role. Rather, what we should do is follow in the footsteps of all of the enlightened beings who have already walked the path to liberation. The first steps on this path involve us cultivating compassion and loving-kindness towards ourselves.

When we have unconditional love for our own being then all of our thoughts, words, and actions become an expression of that love. In fact, until we resolve the hatred and conflict within ourselves, we are not in a strong position to try to resolve the conflict and problems that exist in the world around us. If we try to convince others to live peacefully and responsibly when we have tension and conflict in our own hearts, then despite our best intentions, we are just going to create more suffering and confusion.

When we are gentle and kind towards ourselves, and when we have deep compassion for our own suffering and pain, then we begin to see the world in a very different way. We no longer experience life as a constant struggle or an unending flow of dissatisfaction. In fact, not only do we begin to see the world differently but the world begins to see us differently. We begin to tune into how to act skilfully in any given situation – phenomena begin to talk to us and the path becomes clearer and clearer. When unconditional kindness and compassion have flowered in the mind, the earth breathes out a huge sigh of relief. She relaxes a little because amidst all of the chaos and exploitation of her natural resources, the earth knows that she has a new friend and guardian – a child of the Buddhas who walks gently and gracefully upon her shoulders.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

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.