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

Can a Person Attain Enlightenment Just by Practicing Mindfulness?

Can a Person Attain Enlightenment Just by Practicing Mindfulness?

enlightenment 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ven. Edo Shonin & Ven. William Van Gordon

 

Further Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Second Generation of Mindfulness-based Intervention

A Second Generation of Mindfulness-based Intervention

present moment 3

Clicca qui per l’Iataliano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Una nuova generazione di interventi basati sulla Mindfulness

present moment 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Ulteriori letture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Scientific Study of Buddhism and the Noble Eightfold Path: Dividing the Whole into Many

The Scientific Study of Buddhism and the Noble Eightfold Path:

Dividing the Whole into Many

eight steps

The Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path is sometimes referred to as the “eight steps to freedom”. This tends to give the impression of a graded approach to liberation – we begin at white belt and then progress through the various colours until we reach black belt. However, this is decidedly not the case with the Noble Eightfold Path. As the Mahãcattãrisaka Sutra (The Great Forty Sutra, Majjhima Nikãya, 117) explains, each of the eight factors that comprise the Noble Eightfold Path (i.e., right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration) are the individual parts that make up the whole. They are like the single strands that collectively make up a mountaineer’s rope – the rope is at its strongest when all of these fundamental strands are present and closely interwoven.

Rope strength

However, in certain scientific and medical contexts, the intricate and complex process of meditation has been dissected into the individual practices of  ‘mindfulness’, ‘concentrative meditation’, ‘insight meditation’, ‘self-compassion’, ‘compassion’, ‘loving kindness’, and so forth. Consequently, a growing number of scholars (including ourselves) have expressed concerns in the academic literature that by isolating these elements from one another, we may be taking unnecessary risks. Indeed, if we start to remove strands from a rope or work with only a single rope strand, there is a danger that the rope will snap. In this week’s post, we briefly attempt to highlight the deeply interconnected and interwoven nature of the Noble Eightfold Path, and of Buddhist meditation more generally.

Right view(Sanskrit: samyag-drsti / Pali: sammā-ditthi) essentially refers to the ability to see and understand the absolute nature of reality. Seeing that both we and reality are empty of inherent existence liberates us from suffering. However, in order to develop this clarity of vision, we first need to be able to give rise to a particular form of concentration. In this case we don’t just mean the ability to keep our attention placed on a particular task or object. Right concentration (samyak-samādhi / sammā-samādhi) refers to the meditative state whereby we have completely encompassed all mental activity within a single state of meditative calm. It means that we have effectively tranquilised the mind and in this state, we are profoundly aware of everything that is happening both internally and externally. The only problem with right concentration is that because this state is so blissful, we can forget that the blissful experience is also empty of inherent existence. Thus, although right concentration is a prerequisite for cultivating right view, we need the wisdom of right view to help us transcend any attachment and ignorance that remains when we are dwelling in right concentration.

Wisdom 5

If we want to develop meditative concentration, then we need to know when the mind is succumbing to attachment or aversion. If we are attempting to engulf the mind in tranquillity but we become attached to a particular thought or object, then this will interfere with our concentration and it may well cause us to lose awareness altogether. Consequently, we need to watch over the concentrating mind to ensure that it is in fact still in a state of meditative concentration. This is where mindfulness comes in. Right mindfulness (samyak-smrti / sammā-sati) allows the mind to remain fully concentrated in the here and now. If the mind becomes too excited or too drowsy and begins to drift out of its state of concentration, mindfulness observes that this is happening, so that we gently loosen or tighten our concentration as required.

mind 2

As you can imagine, until we reach a certain level of awakening, constantly being mindful of the mind requires a lot of determination. So right effort(samyag-vyāyāma / sammā-vāyāma) is needed to continuously remind ourselves to be mindful. However, it is not just with regard to right mindfulness where we require right effort – right effort essentially underlies and fuels every other element of the Noble Eightfold Path. For example, right effort is required to cultivate right speech (samyag-vāc / sammā-vācā), right action (samyak-karmānta / sammā-kammanta), right livelihood (samyag-ājīva / sammā-ājīva) and so forth. Likewise, an active and focussed effort is required to cultivate right view and to see all phenomena exactly as they are – empty of intrinsic existence. Thus, as with every other aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path, right effort cannot be treated in isolation.

Right speech, right action and right livelihood are basically concerned with our ethical conduct. Everything we think, say and do in this present moment will create the next present moment – not just for ourselves but also for others. In other words, before we open our mouths we should stop and ask ourselves “is what I am about to say going to cause me or anybody else harm”? If we are not very nice to other people or to ourselves, then this is actually going to cause us a lot of worry and a lot of bother. We are constantly going to be involved in internal and external squabbles. If we get caught up in things it is extremely difficult for the mind to relax and find peace. It becomes difficult to establish right effort and, therefore, it becomes difficult to establish right mindfulness. Without maintaining mindfulness of our mental processes, it is impossible to rest in meditative concentration and – in turn – cultivating right view and meditative wisdom becomes a very distant prospect.

Ethics

Thus, it is absolutely essential for effective spiritual and meditative development that we infuse all of our actions with gentleness, awareness, and compassion. This is where right intention (samyak-samkalpa/sammā sankappa) comes in. Right intention means that we live our whole life with the primary goal of helping ourselves and others to develop spiritually. Right intention should permeate each of the other seven aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path. For example, when we are practicing mindfulness, we should be practicing with others’ long-term wellbeing in mind. Some people have told us that they practice mindfulness in order to overcome a medical problem or to get ahead in their career. However, this doesn’t embody the meaning of right intention and so actually, these individuals are not practicing mindfulness at all.

Because we allow right intention to completely pervade our being, everything else falls nicely into place. By having the right intention, the spiritual path becomes very enjoyable and progress happens automatically. As we discussed in our recent post on the ‘Top Ten Mistakes Made by Buddhist Meditation Practitioners’, it is because people don’t have the right intention that their spiritual practice fails to bear fruit. Some people sit in meditation for hours each day and/or they diligently study the teachings for many decades. But right intention is something that comes from within – it can be learned but it is actually quite intuitive. You either really want to evolve spiritually or you don’t. You’re either willing to subdue your ego or you’re not. It is quite simple. In a nutshell, right intention means that due to knowing all phenomena are impermanent and our time here is limited, we are ready to work hard in order to leave suffering behind.

To summarise, each aspect of the meditative journey is intrinsically connected to every other aspect. We need to practice all of the components of the Noble Eightfold Path at the start of our journey, and we need to practice them all at the end. If we only focus on one component of the path, things will be unbalanced. We will end up like one of those people who only works on their biceps when they go to the gymnasium – they end up with huge arms stuck onto a matchstick body. If we dissect the individual elements of the spiritual path and we treat them as isolated units, then we are basically misconstruing the Buddha’s instructions of how to practice and apply the teachings. By getting caught up in categorising and analysing things – it is a sign that we are becoming attached to the teachings. No doubt some people find this very interesting, but it basically means that we are moving things from the spiritual to the academic plane. At this point, the practice is no longer going to be of any long-term benefit. The Buddha explained that the Buddhist teachings are rather like a raft or a boat that we can build and use in order to cross the ocean or a wide and turbulent river. We are born on one shore of this turbulent river (life) and in order to get to the other shore, we build ourselves a boat. When built, we set sail with joyful effort, great diligence, and equanimity. However, when we arrive on the other shore, we don’t lift the boat onto our shoulders and carry it around with us. We let go of the raft, we let go of the teachings.

 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.

Bodhi, B. (Ed.). (2009). Majjhima Nikaya: The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (4th ed.). (Bhikkhu Bodhi, & Bhikkhu Nanamoli, Trans.) Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications.

Buddharakkhita (Trans.). (1966). Dhammapada: A Practical Guide to Right Living. Bangalore: Maha Bodhi Society.

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

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

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, 6, 123-127.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2013). The consuming mind. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-013-0265-z.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). The top ten mistakes made by Buddhist meditation practitioners. The Buddhist Voice, 1(5), 22-24.

Suzuki, D. T. (1983). Manual of Zen Buddhism. London: Rider.

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.