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Buddhadharma : Spring 2015
46 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2015 forum melissa myozen blacker • barry boyce • diana Winston • trudy goodman IN MY DOG-EARED 1956 edition of Nyanaponi- ka’s The Heart of Buddhist Meditation, the preface by Graham Howe makes a prescient observation: Founded in the East, as wisdom usually is, I believe that satipatthana [the establishment of mindfulness] will prove at least equally beneficial to us in the West, especially when it has been digested by us in our experience, and perhaps been a little modified to meet our special tradi- tion and requirements. The current explosion of interest in mindful- ness—including eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy courses, mindfulness programs in schools and organizations, and smartphone meditation apps—would suggest that this prophecy is coming to pass. This key dharma practice has indeed been modified in various ways and is touching the lives of more and more people. One might therefore assume that long-standing practitioners and teachers within Buddhist traditions would be delighted. Yet what we find is a very mixed range of responses—from enthusiasm to ambivalence to outright criticism. Concerns include the question of whether, in being extracted from its Buddhist roots, mindful- ness might lose its ethical stance: Is it still “right” mindfulness, and what is its relationship to the other limbs of the eight-fold path? The Buddha’s teaching is often described as “going against the stream” of greed, ill will, and delusion. What are the implications of this when teaching mindfulness in the modern world, where these are in evidence on a global scale? Concerns are also expressed in the secular realms of science, education, and health care, including the suspicion that mindfulness instructors are propagat- ing some kind of stealth Buddhism or covert recruit- ment drive for dharma centers, as well as a caution that the current enthusiasm for mindfulness-based programs outstrips the evidence for their efficacy. For those of us who teach both secular mindfulness programs and Buddhist meditation, it can some- times feel like we are under attack from both sides. These issues raise valid questions that need to be expressed and debated. An uncritical convergence of aspects of Buddhism and Western psychology could lead to a superficial understanding of both, greatly reducing any potential benefits. But it is unhelpful for the debate to become polarized or for it to be based on a lack of understanding of what is actually going on or the motivations of those in either field. Entrenched positions do nothing to untangle the views and opinions surrounding mindfulness. We are still in the very early phase of the estab- lishment of a “Western” Buddhism—if the term even has any meaning in this age of globaliza- tion—and it is much too early to see where this is all going and how it may be influenced by the wider applications of mindfulness. The process is likely to be enriched by well-informed and open communi- cation that addresses concerns and enables mutual learning to support the shared aim of relieving suf- fering and enhancing well-being. The following dis- cussion offers a small step on the journey. The Mindfulness Movement: what Does It Mean for Buddhism? Jenny wilKS is a clinical psychologist who works as a mindfulness- Based cognitive therapist and trainer at exeter university in england. She also teaches insight meditation retreats at Gaia house in devon. introduction by Jenny Wilks PHOTO (OPPOSITE) | mark mahaney