Peace Paul (Reverend Ananda of the Amida Order) writes:
If you have an interest in Buddhism, then you have some sort of karmic connection with the Buddha. Those who do not have such a karmic connection, simply will not encounter the Buddha or the teachings of the Buddha.
Even individuals who have a strong karmic connection with the Buddha Dharma may not become practitioners. They may instead be in a situation where they are near the Dharma. They may live close to a Buddhist temple. Perhaps they have a relative or spouse who is a practitioners, or maybe they have met Buddhists teachers or read Buddhist books.
A Wonderful Ten Days Presenting Dharma in California
I am now at the end of what has been a wonderfully successful visit to the Bay Area in California, staying at San Francisco Zen Center, attending the Mindfulness & Compassion Conference at SF State Uni and the post conference meeting at the Mangalam Centre and, finally, conducting a wedding.
Last weekend I gave a day seminar at SFZC on Buddhist psychology and on the Sunday I spoke at Stone Creek Zen Center on the theme “All One Dharma”. Both meetings went very well with attentive audiences and intelligent discussion.
In the Mindfulness and Compassion conference I spoke firstly in a panel, emphasising the importance of compassion as a basis for all aspects of Buddhist practice. Then, in my main presentation I spoke about how mindfulness in Buddha’s original intention and mindfulness as it is currently popular are not the same thing. The mind always has an object, so is always paying attention to something. Is the person walking I passed on the street that morning who was walking along with eyes half closed and headphones on being mindful or not? Attention fixes the mind on one thing and simultaneously excludes other things, thus attention creates more unconsciousness than consciousness. It may well be that many of the effects of mindfulness as attention are really the positive effects of distraction. One feels less stress because the mind has been distracted from its worries. Buddha’s mindfulness was less a distractor and more a protector. To be mindful was to have in mind something higher that would carry one through difficulties.
In the Friday night talk at SF Zen Center I spoke about how Buddhism can be looked at as science, spirituality, therapy and/or religion. I spoke of them in this order suggesting that each subsequent perspective goes a little deeper. As an inner science, Buddhism cultivates objectivity in regard to the flow of human experience. Buddhism is spiritual in that so many of its major historical developments (Buddha’s going forth, Atisha going to Indonesia and subsequently becoming the great teacher of Tibet, Shinran going to become a disciple of Honen Shonin, and so on) were precipitated by powerful spiritual experiences or divine interventions in the lives of people who were thus empowered to take actions that became pivotal and highly consequential. Looking at Buddhism through the therapeutic window we see that the transmission of the Dharma is a person to person affair in which lives are radically changed through encounter. Finally, Buddhism is a religion, both in its social forms which include just about every known aspect of religious expression (temples, rituals, priesthood, monks, liturgy, altars, icons, etc.) and also in its fundamental sensibility as a faith that creates and unites communities in a spirit of faith and practice.
The conference at the Mangalam Center was called “Conversations at the Edge” and I was part of a panel with Stephen Jenkins, Humboldt State University and Steven Stanley, Cardiff University to address “Buddhist philosophy and the perennial concerns of Western philosophy”. I had already had some good contact with Stephen and Steven and this proved a good conversation. An emergent theme was the manner in which the Western tendency is to look for a key true principle as the unifying meaning of the message whereas much in Buddhism is more concerned with opening up possibilities and appreciating the nuanced subtlety of ethical situations and wisdom propositions. The manner in which Dogen or Shinran approach texts, for instance, is very different and more creative than the Western academic search for the one true authentic original meaning. Another preoccupation of Western thought is the relationship between the individual and the collective. I talked about how “individualism” is generally not real independence in the sense intended by the Buddhist term ekagata, but rather a pose that is socially constructed and intended for social consumption. I also talked about some of the ideas of the French philosopher Alain Badiou in relation to Western and Buddhist ideas about oneness, voidness and complexity.
Subsequent discussions looked at (1) how, on the one hand, Buddhism adapts when it enters a new culture, but, on the other hand, it also contains powerful resources to critique a culture and change it. (2) how the current conversation between Buddhism and neuro-science serves both parties but also involves substantial compromise on both sides.
(3) the importance of opening up conversations between Buddhism and other areas of Western academic culture was proposed.
All in all, the visit has been a huge success, especially in my connection with SFZC where I have felt myself to be among good friends throughout. It is very nice to feel such a good connection between Buddhists.
Mindfulness as a psychological aid is very much in fashion. Recent reports on the latest finding suggested that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is as effective as anti-depressants in preventing the relapse of recurrent depression.
While the authors of the paper interpreted their results in a slightly less positive light, stating that (contrary to their hypothesis) mindfulness was no more effective than medication, the meaning inferred by many in the media was that mindfulness was superior to medication.
Mindfulness is a technique extracted from Buddhism where one tries to notice present thoughts, feeling and sensations without judgement. The aim is to create a state of “bare awareness”. What was once a tool for spiritual exploration has been turned into a panacea for the modern age — a cure-all for common human problems, from stress, to anxiety, to depression. By taking this “natural pill” every day, we open ourselves up to the potential for myriad benefits and no ill-effects, unlike synthetic pills, such as anti-depressants, whose potential for negative side-effects we are all aware of.
We don’t know how it works
Mindfulness has been sold to us and we are buying it. After all, thousands of studies suggest that it produces various kinds of measurable psycho-biological effects. However, despite what is commonly propagated, the idea that science has unequivocally shown how meditation can change us is a myth. After examining the literature from the last 45 years on the science of meditation, we realised with astonishment that we are no closer to finding out how meditation works or who benefits the most or the least from it.
I'm an Acharya (a senior teacher) with the Order of Amida Buddha, which is a Pureland Buddhist Order. I'm a minister, teach on-line and hold Pureland Buddhist sangha gatherings in Perth, Scotland. I mainly write about Buddhist matters and share the teachings of the Head of our Order, Dharmavidya David Brazier