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Buddhadharma : Spring 2015
52 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2015 clear, calm, sane, and good, and if we practice, then we’re going to realize it eventually. BARRy BOyCE: Before I met Jon Kabat-Zinn, I was a critic—not a vocal or rabid one, but I’m a natural skeptic. I think what is lacking in most of the criti- cisms of the mindfulness movement is an investiga- tion of the people who are teaching and the context in which they’re teaching it. Certainly, we’re ready to criticize people who are cheapening mindfulness, for example by calling themselves a mindfulness teacher after a short online course; that’s watered down by definition. To my mind, it really does come down to the person doing the teaching, because mindfulness training isn’t just a case of passing on information. It’s something that needs to be embodied. MELISSA MyOZEN BLACKER: If you’ve seen Jon Kabat- Zinn teach, he’s a fully embodied, clear teacher. There are a number of people like that, for whom a felt sense of authentic embodiment shines through, no matter what their training has been. I even know someone who started teaching mindfulness after reading Jon’s book—that was the only training he had, and he was a marvelous teacher! He was very popular and really got the deepest message across. So it’s a big question for me, how these people come to be. One issue that does concern me in Diana’s list is the self-improvement angle. I think that emphasis may be a product of a teacher not quite getting the nondual aspect of mindfulness; this is a presentation of something that isn’t just for making everything better but of something that will eventually wake everybody up to their true nature, to what it means to be a human. So this goes back to the training question: if teachers are just presenting informa- tion, then people go on with their lives after the eight-week course and nothing has happened. But I was always amazed at how much really did hap- pen after eight weeks; people in these classes were really touched, even transformed. They were getting glimpses into the same thing that people encounter when they’re on retreat or studying with a dharma teacher. BuDDhADhARMA: But is it fair to say that people first approaching a mindfulness class may still be drawn in by the notion that it’s going to be a self-help class? Isn’t that how it’s largely marketed in the mainstream? BARRy BOyCE: There’s such a range of what self-help I’m not so concerned about watering down the dharma. I don’t think the dharma can be watered down. —Trudy Goodman to anaesthetize children, and in corporations to increase productivity and further the bottom line. That’s a fairly common critique, but not what I have witnessed in the people doing it on the ground level. The third critique is that it’s narcissistic and about self-improvement, that it’s teaching people to acquire, that people’s responses to toxic workplaces are being subdued and they’re just learning how to be better producers. The last critique is coming more from the socially engaged Buddhist world. The concern is that mindfulness is teaching people to ignore the larger cultural and economic forces that produce so much suffering. I don’t see any of these as reflective of the actual movement. TRuDy GOODMAN: I think these critiques come from more fundamentalist Buddhists. I mean, if you want to see watered-down Buddhism, travel to the beautiful Zen temples of Korea, a country where Buddhism is still alive and well, and you’ll see all the ladies in the temples working their malas, chat- ting about their kids, sometimes shucking peas; the temples are very much village and urban gathering places. How many people are deeply practicing? I don’t know, but I think in any center, it’s always the minority who are doing what dyed-in-the-wool Buddhists would recognize as pure practice. There has always been a range of benefits for people. The early Zen texts refer to “bonpu Zen,” Zen that’s just supposed to make one’s health bet- ter and is considered a lesser vehicle. And there has always been a range of reasons why people come to practice. That’s why the dharma is called the wish-fulfilling jewel. Whatever wish you come with—reducing stress at work, high blood pressure, migraines—you can generally find some relief. I don’t take the charges seriously. I heard the same charges leveled against psychotherapy decades ago—that it helps people adjust to a bad situation, that instead of questioning the social order and capitalism, it’s basically palliative care. So I’m not so concerned, especially about watering down the dharma. I don’t think the dharma can be watered down, actually. If it really is our true nature to be