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Buddhadharma : Fall 2015
fall 2 0 1 5 buDDhaDharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 63 W hy would someone who is interested in enhancing their general sense of happiness and well-being get involved in Buddhism when they could more easily learn what they need to know from secular mindfulness? Bud- dhism, after all, feels to some like an exotic Eastern religion, cloaked in cryptic chanting with mysteri- ous rituals, and often taught by robed Easterners or senior Westerners. Why not just go to the essential training of mindfulness and learn it free from all the religious trappings? This is the question a small group of Vipassana teachers pondered last year. Stand-alone mindfulness seems to offer tre- mendous benefits for many facing emotional and psychological difficulties. Statistically, many more Westerners are entering mindfulness meditation training through secular mindfulness than through traditional Buddhist practices, and according to cur- rent research, secular mindfulness lessens emotional reactivity, allows a greater sense of happiness, and reduces stress in the lives of the practitioners. At that gathering of teachers, we posed this ques- tion: given the overall positive effect of mindful- ness as a stand-alone practice, what does Buddhist practice offer that secular mindfulness does not? The answer, we felt, is that Buddhism offers a freedom and depth that is far greater than the psy- chological healing or physical well-being associated with mindfulness alone. And the key to that depth is the realization of anatta, the absence of a per- manently abiding self or soul. The Buddha made the realization and integration of anatta central to his teaching, but some of us in the Insight tradition have begun to ask ourselves if we are giving the realization of anatta the prominence it deserves. Those of us who teach Buddhism try to impart a strong philosophical understanding of selflessness within the broader context of the teaching while also guiding students through their experiences of emptiness—all in service of realization. But when I speak of realization, I do not mean the samadhi- induced experience of seeing the sense of self aris- ing, passing away, or vanishing completely that is so strongly encouraged within our Insight Meditation tradition. Nor do I mean awareness of the egoic maneuvering that takes place throughout the day. What I mean by realization is the integration of self- lessness into our lives, a process that usually occurs A Better Self or No-Self? The realization of no-self is integral to the Buddhist path, but as Insight teacher rodney smith explains, sometimes your practice can pull you in the opposite direction. Woven photographs by DaviD samuel stern (Opposite) Katie Wynne, Artist (detail) Woven vellum photographs, 2011 (2013)