Archive | December, 2015

Adults and fun

12 Dec

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Picasso

These days, with the graying of a large portion of the population, we read many articles about how to stay young and nimble minded. This blog reflects another suggestion for adults in maintaining a sense of spontaneity and fun in their life.

A while ago I was at the seaside in Central Italy, living in a small bungalow in a seaside village. We were only a few steps from the beach and in the evening, sitting on our porch; I could see the full moon reflecting its silver glow on the water.

In these villages there are the young families and we middle aged to older adults. Down our little avenue there were about twenty small bungalows. All were occupied by young families with the usual crowd of small children running and playing and exploring everywhere when the families were not at the beach. Then, in other sections, there were the older adults who came to the village to relax, get some sun and generally enjoy the beach environment – constant breeze, cool nights and seeing different friends and distractions.

One of the contrasts in this village was the activities of these two groups. The children were in constant motion, laughing, occasionally bickering or crying, playing, drawing, exploring, digging, inventing games, meeting new friends and chattering with one another. They really enjoyed the opportunity to safely run outside and have new experiences. While the adults did crosswords, sat in chairs, watched the small TV they brought from home, read a book, slept as they tanned, played bocce ball and kept mostly to themselves and their families. Rarely to never did I see the adults smiling, giggling, laughing, tickling, playing or being creative and spontaneous as the children.

What would have happened if the adults began playing hide and seek, go around collecting small pretty stones just because it seemed like a good idea, build sand castles or talk to other people out of interest of possibly meeting someone new? How would their experience of life be different if they colored some coloring books, danced in a silly manner to some music and, in general, laughed and smiled?

What impressed me in observing this dichotomy of living was how the adults, when compared to the children, were just not having “fun”. Perhaps habits, routines, rules, embarrassment, and other considerations, which I am not sure of, has come to restrict the life experiences of adults, taken away their creative, fresh ways of living life and, therefore, their fun and enjoyment of spontaneity in life.

After this stay for a few days, the next time my wife and I went to another beach, I told her, “let’s go run and jump in the big waves” on that windy day. We did and it was easy to laugh and smile and have fun with each other. Not unexpected the only other people laughing, doing silly screaming and jumping into the big waves were the children.

I learned a lesson from the children of the beach village. To really have some fun in life, don’t forget spontaneity, creativity and just silly, nonsensical behavior. Since as one gets older the impulse for spontaneity reduces (for whatever reasons), the best course of action is to do. To act creative and spontaneous and, then, the feelings and experience accompanies the action. Now I could end by going into the biology of the brain and how the brain is changed through interaction/action or even point out healthy body tips regarding laughing and spontaneous physical activity but I think the most valuable thing, provided by the children, I noticed at the seaside was enjoying life through spontaneous fun.


Do We Really Know Life?

10 Dec

I’ve looked at life from both sides now 

From up and down and still somehow

It’s life’s illusions I recall

I really don’t know life at all -Joni Mitchell

This is the true question that the Buddha’s teachings really address – ‘Do I Really Know Life At All?’ And in investigating the question, the answer becomes quite clear- for the uninvestigated mind, No…I don’t. All existence is much too complex, interrelated and deep for us prideful humans to truly comprehend and indeed mystery is the result. But this is not a defeat but an affirmation of our embeddness and interrelatedness with All of other existence. Not the folly, alienation and separateness of the conceit of being the supreme being of the universe or even earth but the authentic identification of the true ecological, co-arising nature of all things. You will hear people say, ‘I am trying to find myself.’ But if you want to find yourself, then transcend yourself. When we transcend our-self, we truly find each other and our interconnection with all. We are not alone! Just look around you, there are creatures of life everywhere. If we feel alone, that is our blindness to life all around us, our suffering of alienation created by the illusion of separateness and ‘I’.

This blog presents my putting several pieces of a puzzle together regarding the teachings of the Buddha. A fuller examination of this discussion you will find in my book, The Buddha’s Teachings: Seeing Without Illusion. However, in this blog the overarching framework is provided by Sue Buddhist scholar Hamilton from her book, Early Buddhism: A New Approach. While, of course, these pieces from her book are only a part of her discussion, they are exciting to me in that they provided the framework with which a couple of other ideas that I have thought pertinent can be integrated into Hamilton’s work with which I think strengthens the comprehensibility of all.

So I begin with Hamilton’s ideas as represented by quotes from her book.

‘In his teachings the Buddha consistently directed the attention of his listeners to the understanding of cognitive processes. Objects, be they concrete or abstract, are subjectively reified: that their characteristics conform to and are correlated with the way cognitive processes operate and that further aspects of the structural framework, of the objective world are similarly subjectively reified.’

‘The heart of the teachings of early Buddhism: that there is a correlation between the entireties of the structure of what is experienced as the world about us – all objectivity- and the way it is subjectively processed.’

‘We feel that we are separate objects, albeit also experiencing subjects, in a separately existing plurally comprised world of other objects. And we take it that that what we are what there is. However, we cannot actually ever get outside of ourselves to check whether this is in fact the case.’

‘The problem with expressing views, ontological or in fact otherwise too, is that they can be only expressed within a conceptual framework. And the only conceptual framework with which we are familiar, that has any meaningful reference for us, that is, indeed, conceptual as we mean the term, is one which is appropriate only from the standpoint of ignorance as to the nature of Reality. Specifically, talking in terms of things and nothing, existence and non-existence, is within the conceptual framework of manifoldness and permanence. What is more, when associated with the nature of Reality, it is talk that in fact assumes transcendental realism: that the structural framework of the experiential world is external to and independent of us. But in fact its meaningfulness is wholly limited to the world of experience understood not as it really is but as it seems to us in our ignorance to be.’

‘Transcendental idealism: what we take to be external world-in the cosmic sense- about us, with us in it, only appears to us like that because that is the way our cognitive apparatus presents it to us, not because Reality is in itself really like that. We are unable to see Reality as it is in itself because we cannot transcend our cognitive apparatus. But we only experience the world at all because Reality is there: what we are experiencing is our interpretation of a transcendentally existent reality. In fact, being transcendent of the entire framework of our conceptual categories, Reality itself can properly be indicated only apophatically- even the notion of existence being problematic in this respect in that the properties so predicated are meaningful only within our conceptual framework.’

‘The experiential world as a whole, in which all subjectivities and the whole of objectivity are as it were parts of what is dependently originated, is dependent- period. And it follows from this that there must be something else. There must be a Reality which is transcendent of experience on which the experiential world is dependent.’

‘Voidness or emptiness of the world is understood as regarding permanence, of the independence we erroneously assume it to have. This is related to the sensory process as it does, the point is not that something does not exist, but that the notion of independence is a product of the subjectively dependent cognitive structuring of the world.’

‘The correlation of the structure of the empirical world with subjective cognitive processes informs us that the limits of the empirical world as we know it are associated with the limits of cognition as we know it.’

‘This is what experience is: neither the world nor ‘I’ in it are other than experience. Cognitive processes are experiences as a whole subjective/objective correlation.’

‘The status of the world is dependently originated and therefore not understandable in terms of existent or non-existent. The reality of experience is experiential. The reality of Reality is unknowable in –normal- experiential terms.’

‘Earthly or worldly existence is characterisized according to the name and form structure. …those who have achieved enlightenment still see, know and so on. That what is different about them is not that their cognitive structure no longer operates, but they have achieved insight into what is happening, are are no longer affectively responding to their experiences in a binding way. Such statements as ‘the cessation of consciousness’ should…be taken metaphorically to refer to the cessation of ignorance.’

‘…if the structure of the world of experience is correlated with the cognitive process, then it is not just that we name objects, concrete and abstract, and superimpose secondary characteristics according to the senses. It is also that all the structural features of the world of experience are cognitively correlated. In particular, space and time are not external to the structure but are part of it. …there is no such thing as experience as we know it that is not characterized by space and time.’

‘If the entirety of the structure of the world as we know it is subjectively dependent, including space and time, it follows that the very concept of there being origins, beginnings, ends, extents, limits, boundaries, and so on, is subject dependent. The entirety of temporality and special extension are concepts which do not operate independently of subjective cognitive processes. The entirety, that is to say, of dim and distant history, and of the furthest flung regions of outer space – the entirety of whatever is knowable in temporal and special terms – is not independent of subjectivity. The framework within which is meaningful is in a very real sense a conceptual one.’

‘In regards to the classical unanswered questions of the Buddha, the questions of is the world eternal or finite, presuppose that space and time are transcendentally real- that is, that they operate externally to subjective cognitive process. As with the questions on the self, they seek to find a permanence or immortality. However, if space and time are part of the structural characteristics of the experimental world, and that that is cognitively dependent, then one can see that the presupposition of the transcendental reality of time and space is false, and that the fundamental premises on which the questions rest are therefore also false and unanswerable.’

Now, in support of her point that the experiential world as a whole, in which all subjectivities and the whole of objectivity are, as it were, parts of what is dependently originated, is dependent- period, is found in F.J. Varela, Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch’s book, The Embodied Mind. They wrote: ‘Embodied action- cognition depends upon the kinds of experience that come from having a body with various sensorimotor capacities, and second, that these individual sensorimotor capacities are themselves embedded in a more encompassing biological, psychological and cultural context. By using the term action we mean to emphasize that sensory and motor processes, perception and action, are fundamentally inseparable in lived cognition. Indeed, the two are not merely contingently linked in individuals, they have also evolved together.’

‘Since local situations constantly change as a result of the perceiver’s activity, the reference point for understanding perception is no longer a pregiven, perceiver-independent world but rather the sensorimotor structure of the perceiver – the way the nervous system links sensory and motor surfaces. This structure – the manner in which the perceiver is embodied- rather than some pregiven world determines how the perceiver can act and be modulated by environmental events. Thus the overall concern of an enactive approach to perception is not to determine how some perceiver-independent world is to be recovered; it is rather to determine the common principles or lawful linkages between sensory and motor systems that explain how action can be perceptually guided in a perceiver-dependent world.’

‘The neuronal network does not function as a one way street from perception to action. Perception and action, sensorium and motorium, are linked together as successively emergent and mutually selecting patterns.’

‘Color categorization in its entirety depends upon a tangled hierarchy of perceptual and cognitive processes, some species specific and others culture specific. They also serve to illustrate the point that color categories are not to be found in some pregiven world that is independent of our perceptual and cognitive capacities. The categories red, green, yellow, blue, purple, orange – as well as light/warm, dark/cool, etc- are experiential, consensual, and embodied- they depend upon our biological and cultural history of structural coupling.’

‘We can now appreciate how color provides a paradigm of a cognitive domain that is neither pregiven nor represented but rather experiential and enacted. It is very important to note that just because color is not pregiven does not mean it does not exhibit universals or that it cannot yield to rigorous analysis by the various branches of science.’

Now regarding Hamilton’s analysis of space and time from the Buddha’s perspective we see concurrence from physicist Wolfram Schommer’s in his book, The Visible and the Invisible: ‘The physiological apparatus has an influence on space as it appears to us. The constancy of space and also time, which results from direct experience, is not due to the fact that space exists absolutely and independently of all things and processes, but that the physiological apparatus has developed a constancy mechanism.’

‘Events occurring in the cosmos are presented inside a biological system only as symbols in a picture. The difference between reality and its picture can be as large as the difference between a cinema and a cinema ticket. That reality corresponds to what appears in front of our eyes is a view which has shown itself to be more or less untenable. The picture in the mind contains aspects of reality only in symbolic form, i.e. the elements in reality are not identical with the pertinent elements in the picture. Moreover, the elements of which a picture is composed do not occur in reality at all.’

‘The picture and also its frame, space and time, is located in the head of the observer. We know from experience that space-time arises only in connection with objects and processes i.e. an empty space-time cannot be perceived.’

Also he wrote: ‘Basic reality, i.e., reality which exists independently of the observer, is in principle not accessible in any DIRECT WAY. Rather, it is observable or describable by means of pictures on different levels, i.e., levels of reality. And ‘Everything is located in the head, not only the products of fantasy and scientific laws, but those things which we understand as “hard” objects. This is because we do not have the “hard” objects actually in front of us but “only” their pictures.’

Regarding this same point, B. d ‘Espagnat wrote: ‘The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with facts established by experiment.’

Also, H.R. Maturana wrote: ‘The observer as an observer necessarily always remains in a descriptive domain, that is, in a relative cognitive domain. No description of an absolute reality is possible. Such a description would require an interaction with the absolute to be described, but the representation which would arise from such an interaction would necessarily be determined by the autopoietic organization of the observer, not by the deforming agent; hence, the cognitive reality that it would generate would unavoidably be relative to the knower.’

These are not the only modern writers supporting these insights but for now they are examples. Also, of course, for one to “know” what the Buddha wanted us to understand we must have insight through the meditative training and experience as described in the Noble Eightfold Path.

Therefore, the Buddha was not concerned with trying to understand ultimate reality because he understood that and similar metaphysical questions were unanswerable. The Buddha was, therefore, as David J. Kalupahana characterizes, a radical empiricist. Kalupahana wrote in his book, The Principles of Buddhist Psychology: ‘ For the pragmatic Buddha, the search for ultimate causes and conditions ( as well as the conceptions of self or substance) is as futile as the search for the unseen beauty queen (janapada-kalyàni).’





Meditation Retreat

4 Dec

My weekend retreat began similar to others I had attended at the Buddhadharma Center, in a pleasant suburban setting about 30 miles outside Chicago, Illinois. I arrived by car on a sunny, summer Friday afternoon with my sleeping bag, meditation pillow, mat and a small bag of clothes and toothbrush/shampoo and towel. I was grateful to again have an opportunity to practice a few days of Mindfulness meditation in a supportive and relaxed atmosphere.

As I walked into the renovated small church, now temple, I was greeted by the friendly smiling faces of volunteers who were going to provide us visitors with delicious Thai vegetarian meals as well as evening tea and cookies. One of the helpers showed me to the large room where the male meditators would be sleeping and, looking around the sparsely furnished room, I found a spot where there wasn’t an open sleeping bag on the floor and, firstly, I put my mat down and then on top of it, my sleeping bag. Next to my sleeping bag I set down my clothes bag.  No one else was in the room.

Shortly after setting up my ‘bedroom’ I heard a bell ringing which meant for all participants to go to the main Temple room. Leaving the ‘bedroom’, I put my shoes back on and walked up stairs where there were already about thirty people, men and women, young and older, sitting. I again took my shoes off and went into the Temple room, which, in the front, on a small stage, had a large gold painted statue of the Buddha, beautiful flowers on both sides and three monks in light brown robes were sitting quietly in front of the Buddha statue. With my meditation pillow in hand I found a comfortable spot, sat down on my pillow and quietly focused on my breathing and centering myself in this new situation after a three hour drive.

Everyone sat quietly. I heard birds chirping in the field outside. There was a pleasant smell of incense and the light whirling sound of the three ceiling fans. My meditation weekend had begun. After about ten minutes, one of the monks went to the microphone and greeted everyone and then gave a short talk on the five precepts, which is the basic Buddhist code of ethics, undertaken by lay followers, that we were expected to observe during the retreat. He said that the precepts were meant to provide a harmonious situation for the best practice of meditation and cooperation among all the participants. The five precepts are

  1. Not to harm living beings

  2. Not to steal

  3. Not to participate in sexually harmful behavior

  4. Not to lie

  5. Not to take alcohol or other intoxicating drugs

After this short introductory talk and ‘Taking the Precepts’, we all participated, for an hour, in first chanting and then sitting meditation. After that we had individual time during which I went to the Temple’s small bookshop where I browsed through the titles. With the again ringing of the bell, we were informed that lunch was ready for us so everyone went to the auditorium area where tables had been set up and we chose our lunch of Thai cooking, buffet style. Sitting at tables with our food, we all ate silently and mindfully. After lunch, the program had a pause and I went outside behind the temple where there was an acre of lawn with neat rows of different fruit trees. Sitting in the warm sun, I enjoyed my contentment of the moment.

So that day and the next two included the following: mindfully meditating on loving kindness, walking, sitting, yoga, chanting; Dhamma instruction by the monks followed by Q&A; individual time to read, write, think, rest, and eating nourishing and tasty vegetarian meals for breakfast and lunch and refreshments in the evenings. All activities were done in silence to help keep our focus on the here and now and to quiet the mind and body. As in previous retreats, I noticed a gradual transformation of my mind/body condition. With the meditation practices, the instructive Dhamma talks and peaceful environment, my mind/body began to shed the stress and tension of everyday life and I began to melt into a deeper state of present awareness and mindful absorption.

On the last day, in the late morning, during walking meditation, I chose to walk outside among the trees. It was a beautiful warm sunny day. I began my walking meditation by finding a place where I could walk unhampered for about ten yards. I started walking slowly, mindful of each step, keeping my gaze forward, right foot rises and falls, left foot rises and falls. Arriving at the end, stop, stand and turn, begin walking again. And so it went for about twenty minutes. Then, intuitively, I shifted to a standing meditation by just standing and gazing out without a particular concentration. At this moment I had a wonderful, profound transformative experience. I stood without thinking, without a subject/object split. I experienced a state of profound freedom and deep happiness and relief. I was ‘one’ with existence. I realized that my ‘happiness’ was dependent not on the external but on my internal state. I experienced a sense of timelessness. Without attempting to keep ‘creating’ my experience but only to continue to allow it, my ‘pure experience’ continued for possibly fifteen minutes until I felt the need to return to the schedule of the retreat. After that, my continued meditation and ‘mundane’ activities had a continued profound peacefulness and ‘selflessness’. When I ate, I just ate, when I walked, I just walked. I had a sensitive awareness of everything/everybody. Even in the rolling up of my sleeping bag, my experience was as the Japanese philosopher Nishida wrote, “In pure experience there is no prior or posterior, no inner or outer; no experience precedes or generates experience” and (there is) “not the slightest interval between the intention and the act.”. There was only the rolling up of the bag, an oneness of action.

After having had this lovely transformative experience, later the retreat ended, I drove home and went back to work the next day. However, my transformed understanding of ‘myself’, happiness and the ‘oneness’ of life has remained deep for me and has continued to be a spiritual inspiration, guide and direction in my life as well as has my continued meditation and Dhamma study. Practically, I have continued to explore how to relieve myself from the burdens of the ‘virtual’ self and the accumulation of objects which, in the past, was a vain and destructive attempt to find happiness in ‘things’. I now understand how to better resist the obsessions that our modern mass consumption society attempts to create in our minds. Also, I have since adopted a voluntary simplicity to my life both for ethical and environmental concerns as well as for my own happiness. I try to create environments –both physically and emotionally – which nurture kindness and wisdom. Last, but not least, I continue to try to be mindful, accepting, compassionate and sensitive to my own being and to other living beings.

Reflecting back on my meditation experience, I understand that there was nothing ‘special’ about its creation, indeed, only the correct conditions caused what took place. A deep, spiritual, life altering transformation is available to anyone who is willing to devote time to study and practice, have a “beginner’s mind” and finds wise teachers.

With metta


The Buddha’s teachings are merely helpful means, ways of looking at sensory experience that helps us to understand it. They are not commandments, they are not religious dogmas that we have to accept or believe in. They are merely guides to point to the way things are. So we are using the Buddha’s teachings to grasp them as an end in themselves, but only to remind ourselves to be awake, alert, and aware that all that arises passes away. This is a continuous, constant observation and reflection on the sensory world, because the sensory world has a powerfully strong influence. Having a body like this with the society we live in, the pressures on all of us are fantastic. Everything moves so quickly – television and the technology of the age, the cars – everything tends to move at a very fast pace. It is all very attractive, exciting and interesting, and it all pulls your senses out. Just notice when you go to London how all adverts pull your attention out to whiskey bottles and cigarettes! Your attention is pulled into things you can buy, always going towards rebirth into sensory experience. The materialistic society tries to arouse greed so you will spend your money, and yet never be contented with what you have. There is always something better, something newer, something more delicious than what was the most delicious yesterday… it goes on and on and on, pulling you out into objects of the senses like that. Using wisdom by watching the impulses, and understanding them. That which observes greed is not greed: greed cannot observe itself, but that which is not greed can observe it. This observing is what we call ‘Buddha’ or ‘Buddha wisdom’- awareness of the way things are.  Ajahn Sumedho

In agreement with Ajahn Sumedho, I would just add that since he wrote the above passage in 1987, modern society has become even faster, more hectic and stimuli bound with the continual evasiveness of technology in everyone’s life. Of course, the newer technology includes mobile phones, computers, electronic games, computer social networking, TV screens everywhere, MP3 players, bigger, brighter high definition TV, DVDs, CDs, 3D movies, etc., etc.. The adverts and sensory impingements are becoming more sophisticated in their intensity and appeal as well as it’s availability. So his critique of not only the powerful impact of the growing hyper sensory world is very relevant but also his observation on the greed factor because adverts and the drive behind most of the technology is create desire and to sell, sell, sell. Rodger
To continue this line of thought is a piece from Alan Watt’s book, “The Wisdom of Insecurity” while published in 1951 his observation is just as valid: “Thus the ‘brainy’ economy designed to produce this happiness is a fantastic vicious circle which must either manufacture more and more pleasures or collapse – providing a constant titillation of the ears, eyes, and nerve cells with incessant streams of almost inescapable noise and visual distractions. The perfect ‘subject’ for the aims of this economy is the person who continuously itches his ear with the radio, preferably using the portable kind which can go with him at all hours and in all places. (Of course, now update to smartphone) His eyes flit without rest from the television screen, to newspaper, to magazine, keeping him in a sort of orgasm-without-release through a series of teasing glimpses of shiny automobiles, shiny female bodies, and other sensuous surfaces, interspersed with such restorers of sensitivity – shock treatments- as ‘ human interest’ shots of criminals, mangled bodies, wrecked airplanes, prize fights, and burning buildings. The literature or discourse that goes with this is similarly manufactured to tease without satisfaction, to replace every partial gratification with a new desire.”

Psychology and Mindfulness

4 Dec

There have been several attempts to integrate psychology theory with the Buddha’s teachings. For example, the collaboration of Erich Fromm, Zen Buddhist teacher and author D. T. Suzuki and Richard De Martino led to the publication of Zen and Psychoanalysis in 1960. This work represents one of the first serious attempts to effectively blend Buddhist teachings with Psychoanalytic thought. Alan Watts (1961) was also a key figure in some of the more popular efforts at mixing Western forms of psychology and psychotherapy with Buddhist and Daoist approaches. For some contemporary Psychoanalysts, Zen Buddhist meditation remains an acceptable way to explore the unconscious and to bring hitherto unknown or unacknowledged (repressed) desires and material into consciousness awareness (Cooper 2004). Also, clinicians and writers such as Carl Jung, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Fritz Perls and Mark Epstein have attempted to bridge and integrate psychology and Buddhism.

With the recent rise of influence of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in psychology, there has been a fruitful yet limited integration between certain aspects of ‘Buddhist psychology’ and certain parallel areas of psychology. For example, for the control of unwanted, intrusive cognitions, which particularly hinder one’s meditative efforts and can therefore be a major problem, several strategies are recommended; to reflect on an object which is associated with thoughts which are the opposite of the unwanted thought; ponder on harmful consequences or the perils and disadvantages of the thought; one strives not to ignore and distract the unwanted cognition; to reflect on the removal or stopping of the causes of the target thought. Interventions similar to these meditation strategies and techniques are also used for related problems in cognitive-behavior therapy. Thought-stopping, thought-switching, distraction and covert sensitization are all foreshadowed in the meditation techniques.

Another aspect of Buddhist psychology for modern therapeutic purposes lies in the area of prophylaxis. Several Buddhist techniques can have a role to play in the prevention of certain kinds of psychological disorders. For example, training in meditation, leading to greater ability to achieve calmness and tranquility, can help enhance one’s tolerance of the numerous inevitable stresses in modern life. With meditation one can achieve a degree of

immunity against the psychological effects of stress and frustration. The facility and skill in self-monitoring one can acquire with the aid of mindfulness meditation can provide a valuable means of self-control. The role of self-monitoring is well-documented in the self-regulation of behavior. The overall self-development that Buddhism encourages and recommends also has something to offer for prevention purposes. Some of the meditation exercises and other personal development behaviors found in

Buddhism can potentially enable a person to develop a positive outlook on life and patterns of response, which, in turn, will help cope with the problem of living; by enabling greater calmness and assurance, and with reduced vulnerability to common psychological disorders. A positive modern wellness program can easily incorporate many of the practices of the Eightfold Path.

Recently, another Buddhist meditation practice called Mindfulness has grown in usage and popularity in both the medical and psychological fields. Now there are many programs offering Mindfulness training to the general public with assertions that Mindfulness can help reduce negative thinking and habits and increase positive experiences and thinking – to name a few. Mindfulness has become a treatment for depression, anxiety and reducing stress and relapses (Williams, Teasdale, Segal, Kabat-Zinn 2007). However, these adaptations of mindfulness are being used to reduce our stress, to make us less depressed, more fulfilled and happy but are rarely requiring us to make the necessary life changes that the accompanying practices of the Eightfold Path require. Remember in Buddhism meditation is not a standalone practice but is closely intertwined with the wisdom and ethical practices. As a consequence, Buddhism has mistakenly become part of a secular quest for happiness even though the Buddha‘s understanding of happiness was radically different. The Buddha’s teachings addressed suffering and cessation of suffering. He consistently taught that the pursuit of happiness based upon our erroneous and pre-awakened understanding of the world with our craving for sensory delights and distractions was at the heart of our problems. The Buddha taught that in the eyes of the awakened the very things we consider to be the sources of our happiness are actually the very sources of our misery. Not surprisingly the aspects of Buddhism which appear to be most popular in the West have little or nothing to do with renunciation and more to do with ‘enhancing’ life and seeking personal fulfillment. As a consequence the Buddha’s teachings become ignored by our sense of entitlement to happiness often irrespective of our moral conduct.

Indeed, examples of this entitlement to happiness are easily found on Mindfulness websites by psychotherapists and psychologists on the application of mindfulness to psychotherapy: “The practice of meditation and mindfulness will clear away the dullness of being on autopilot and free you to live more fully than you ever have before.”; “LIBERATE your true Self and discover inner balance, wellbeing and happiness as well as RESPOND to life and relationships with greater intelligence, creativity, intuition and compassion.” and “The more we increase mindfulness, the more we increase happiness.” Also we are often reminded that mindfulness was originated by the Buddha, -“Mindfulness meditation, as it is called, is rooted in the teachings of a fifth-century B.C. Indian prince, Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha” – and all cite meditation ( ‘non-judgmental awareness of the now’) as the sole technique to be used. Quite different from the Buddha’s original teachings, these psychotherapeutic/wellness adaptations of mindfulness are usually presented independent of any ethical/moral requirements and instead emphasize an amoral immediacy of being. While, in fact, Buddhist meditation is supported by the factors of ethical training as taught in the Noble Eightfold Path. The eight factors complement each other and are an integrated practice. Therefore, if psychotherapists and researchers want to clearly apply the use of meditation as in Buddhist practice, with its accompanying positive results, they need to look at how all factors of the Eightfold Path are involved and how this complete package would have a positive effect on wider diagnostic categories of clients of psychotherapy being now treated with the intervention of mindfulness.

Mindfulness in popular western psychology has now only become yet another coping mechanism for dealing with the stresses of modern life. While the central teachings of the Buddha and the original purpose of cultivating mindfulness was to reach full and complete awakening; to completely overcome ignorance, hatred and craving and to put an end to suffering. While, as in the similarity of meditative techniques and other cognitive-behavioral techniques, there is a complementary aspect which can enhance each other, another problem with the current popular psychologizing of mindfulness is the name of the meditation that the Buddha originated is being converted and misrepresented into something very different. This is harmful as the Buddha’s message of Awakening is lost as it becomes represented as the rush for happiness and self-fulfillment.

The Buddha was not a psychologist and there is a real risk that the psychologizing of the Buddha’s teachings does a great disservice to, and distorts, the original purpose of them and, specifically, reduces the practice of mindfulness to a self-centered pursuit more concerned with allowing us to have more productive and intense experiences than the original purpose which was for us to reach awakening, to overcome ignorance, hatred and craving and to put an end to our suffering and re-birth. Psychologizing the Buddha’s teachings can twist and subvert them into a mental health gimmick, and thereby prevent them from introducing the sharply alternative vision of life they are capable of bringing us. In fact, beyond some positive interaction and influence that Buddhist psychology can have on modern psychology, as mentioned above, it is neither feasible or desirable to assume that the two systems in their entirety can ever be integrated because the highest goal of psychology/psychotherapy is limited to various forms of psychological adjustment, higher functioning or promoting self-actualization and individual fulfillment and these are simply not what the Buddha wanted us to understand. In fact, those goals are merely band aids for the deeper problem which is our suffering due to the ignorance of our pre-enlightened existence.

Enough is Enough- The cause of Suffering is not a Mystery

4 Dec

Even though recent events in the world of beheadings, mass murder, slavery, forced starvation, kidnappings, assault, domination, war and poverty are not a new phenomenon of the human race, with the newer mass communications these horrific acts created by human beings against each other are now exposed in all of its evil so vividly and graphically for all to see that this is yet another compelling reason for this suffering to end. Of course, this refrain against war and the ‘inhumanity’ of human beings to one another is an old often unheeded refrain, however, now the root causes of this abhorrent behavior is clear to be seen and, therefore, changed and, therefore, extinguished through the knowledge and application of the Buddha’s teachings. For it is now possible and, in an explanatory way, to confirm the truth of the Buddha’s teachings and this support and explanatory teachings  of the Buddha is now available through science. With the application of the Buddha’s teachings as a framework or schema for the science of psychology, personality and the consequent perspective from this, allows the possibility of the ending of man’s inhumanity to each other in a scientific and rational way. Even though the Buddha’s teachings are over 2500 years old, with the new support from the findings of science, these teachings of the Buddha will now provide the framework for the new rational consciousness that will end the suffering which human beings create and have created for each other and other living creatures since civilization began. The quote attributed to Albert Einstein is supportive of this point of view: ‘The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description.’  It is with great anticipation and excitement that we can look forward to our future as a species in which we will be able to create a civilization based on a harmonious relationship between the human race and the other creatures that share this earth with us, as well as our relationship with the earth itself. Even though this vision of harmonious relationship has been promised in the past by religions and other philosophical groups with their own particular identities, the vision created by the understanding of the Buddha’s teachings supported by modern science is radically different and avoids the great pitfalls of the static identification of one group versus another which is at heart, one of the causes of past/current conflicts. Therefore, the Buddha’s teachings are indeed a peaceful revolutionary and radical approach which can and will be successful in the final reduction and elimination of this great suffering that human beings experience primarily because of their own folly of separation from the truth of existence as we experience it and understand it here on this planet Earth. Therefore, there is no time to lose to begin the explanation and expounding of the Buddha’s teaching to the world so that we do not have to continue to create the immense suffering that is now daily experienced and broadcast around the world. This suffering is not only the direct experience of those who experience the perpetration of these horrific acts of violence- psychologically and physically and emotionally and spiritually – but also by the people who are committing these horrific acts. For let us not forget that from the Buddha’s perspective, a person who commits an act of violence and is angry and actively hostile and actively ignorant and actively greedy and actively selfish and actively feeling superior is suffering from a foolish, ignorant, unwholesome mind-set. It is this ignorance that creates the actions which are at the basis of the suffering we see in the world today and which has occurred in the history of humankind.  Let us be very clear about this – the suffering that we continually learn about,  where another human being creates violence not only against others but also against themselves is created through their mind-set which is based in ignorance and once that ignorance is dispelled, the violence, the depression, the greed, the hostility, the selfishness, the uncompassionate feelings both towards others and towards oneself is ended. When one properly understands the teachings of the Buddha and follows those teachings in one’s life, happiness, compassion and wisdom are the result. So now with the rational support and explanation of how the Buddha’s teaching can be explained so that all human beings can understand the psychological basis for their own happiness and for the world’s happiness and the ending of human caused suffering in this world is available now. There’s no reason to ignore the Buddha’s teachings because many think the teachings are some esoteric training or they are thought to be some mystical explanation of the universe and they have no relevance to the common man and the common human experience and, therefore, the Buddha’s teachings have been relegated by many only to be important to the life of obscure monks living in a forest monastery. Now we can see this is a misconception and a great misunderstanding of the significance and foundation of the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha’s teachings are for everyone and are pragmatic and are rational and are based on empiricism or facts. The Buddha did not indulge in mystical thinking nor did he encourage mysticism or religion as an explanation for human suffering. The Buddha, through years of study of psychological study, understood that the foundation of humanity’s suffering is based on an ignorance, a wrong perspective, a misunderstanding and he taught how to gain a perspective based on a correct understanding and this correct understanding relieves the suffering that is created through anger and greed and hostility and selfishness and other forms of ignorance. The result of Enlightenment is a sense of peace and calm and happiness and compassion both for oneself and for the other living creatures not only  human but all living things on this earth because we are all interconnected and to see us separate is one of the facets of ignorance. So there is an immense and great possibility available to us through the perspective of the teacher Buddha who gave his first teachings over 2500 years ago and it is now possible to show his teachings from a scientific point of view. Therefore, we can see that they are not an obscure esoteric understanding of reality instead they are a pragmatic, fact based understanding of how we as human beings create our suffering not only for ourselves but also for other people when we relate without a correct perspective. So now is a time for the new Renaissance of awareness of our functionality, of our psychology, of our ecology, of our sociology, of our neurology, of our biology, of our physics and astronomy and more supporting the principles of the Four Noble Truths in which the Buddha summarized and made into a framework the essential principles of his insights into humanity. Now is the time for us and opportunity for us to understand the profound and radical Buddha’s teachings from an empirical, pragmatic and scientific point of view which will have radical positive consequences in the future of humanity and now is the time for us to begin that Reformation towards happiness and non-suffering of all beings living on this earth.