The continuing public interest in meditation has led to a huge marketing growth industry supporting mindfulness (estimated $1 Billion industry in US alone) and secular mediation teaching through apps (eg Sam Harris Waking Up app), online guided meditations, corporate workshops and even colouring books.
Mindfulness practice may indeed be a useful tool to help individuals relax, de-stress and focus but it often develops a mission creep, promoting itself as a one-stop panacea for all the vicissitudes of life. All you need do is subscribe for the introductory price of $12.99 a month.
In a recent article published in the journal of the American Psychological Association, Australian Zen teacher Geoff Dawson looks at comparisons between mindfulness or secular meditation practices and the traditional practice of Zen Buddhism.
He examines potential counterproductive aspects of some mindfulness offerings including commodification, lack of a moral/ethical container, co-opting by business as a worker productivity tool and potential for increased narcissistic focus.
I might add to this, the dangerous consequences of inexperienced and incompetent individuals branding themselves as mindfulness teachers, spiritual influencers and/or gurus.
Whilst mindfulness focuses on improving mental and physical health fostering personal introspection and enhancing productivity, Zen has the single goal of supporting a spiritual awakening.
There is no doubt there is much benefit in studying the self through mindfulness, as all the research into mindfulness continues to discover, but in Zen, we refer to the calmness that this limited practice cultivates as the consolation prize. One may cultivate a calmer and more kindly acceptance of one’s thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and emotional life, but the sense of a separate self remains. The deeper sense of fulfilment comes from forgetting the self and being embraced wholeheartedly by the intimate experience of suchness—life as it is. This is referred to as the awakened life, where the false sense of a separate self has fallen away and is replaced with a deeper sense of connection to the whole of life.
The shift from a calm mindfulness of self to the vibrancy of the awakened life requires a very deep letting go of attachment to results and personal ambition, including spiritual ambition. It is a radical act of surrender, like jumping out of an airplane and free falling through the empty sky—only you realize there is no ground to crash into.
A beginner’s experience of this insight, kensho, or a deeper, more mature experience, satori, is not something that is likely to occur in the brief, pragmatic, goal-directed atmosphere of a mindfulness workshop where the intention is to learn a new technique or gain a qualification. Rather, it is more likely to occur through a long-term commitment to a teacher, a meditation group, and a particular teaching, whether it is Zen, Vipassana, Tibetan Buddhism, or other spiritual traditions such as Christianity or Sufism. — Geoff Dawson.
Featured image by Photo by More Shani.