Mindlessness and Hallucination

Mindlessness and Hallucination

The state of ‘mindlessness’ is generally considered to be the opposite of the state of ‘mindfulness’. Mindlessness, therefore, refers to a lack of present moment awareness whereby the mind is preoccupied with future (i.e., fantasized) conjectures or past (i.e., bygone) occurrences.

A person who is mindless might be said to be engaging in the ‘non-perceiving of that which is’. There appears to be a strong resemblance between the phenomenon of mindlessness and the phenomenon of hallucination. Rather than ‘not perceiving that which is’ (i.e., mindlessness), hallucination is generally considered to be ‘the perceiving of that which is not’. Given that both states involve an erroneous perception of the ‘here and now’, it could be argued that mindlessness is actually a form of ‘inverted hallucination’.

According to the Buddhist teachings, ‘mindlessness’ is actually assigned as the default disposition of the population en masse. Thus, the majority of individuals considered to be ‘mentally healthy’ by Western conventions (e.g., as defined by the World Health Organization), are regarded as being ‘delusional’ according to Buddhist philosophy. That is to say, those ‘mentally healthy’ individuals are not aware of each and every moment of their lives and are therefore experiencing an hallucinatory reality.

Ven Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon

A Close Truth

be free 2

A Close Truth
Like the repose that follows,
When waking from a nightmare.

Like the reprieve of an isolated General,
Who recognizes the encroaching soldiers as his own troops

Like the relief that arises, when realizing that the snake,
Was, all along, just a piece of old rope.

Like the rapture of the despairing treasure hunter,
Who returns to find the riches buried beneath his own home.

Oh self who has enslaved me for so long,
Now I have shed the shackles of ignorance,
And entered the non-returning blissful abode.

Ven. Edo Shonin and Ven. William Van Gordon

The Life Gamble

making choices

The Life Gamble

Along with Professor Mark Griffiths who is one of the world’s leading experts in the study of behavioural addictions, we recently published an article in the Journal of Behavioural Addictions entitled ‘Buddhist Philosophy for the Treatment of Problem Gambling’. In our article, we made reference to a phenomenon that we call ‘the life gamble’.

The life gamble refers to a basic ‘universal choice’ that all people have. It is a choice that transcends religion, ethnic origin, wealth, sex, and culture. What we are referring to here is the choice of whether or not to engage in spiritual practice. Given that this is a choice that affects everybody, then we might all be referred to as ‘life gamblers’.

On the one hand, the life gambler can choose to adopt a self-centred outlook and bet ‘all-in’ on the belief of no ‘afterlife’ and no karmic consequence to actions in this life or beyond. After all, if this life is all there is then why should we waste our time thinking about anything other than ourselves? On the other hand, the life gambler can choose to ‘hedge their bets’ and integrate spiritual practice (in whatever guise) into their life in order to cultivate spiritual wellbeing during this life, and to prepare themselves for death.

According to the Buddhist perspective, the first scenario reflects a ‘high-risk low-reward’ strategy because if the life gambler is wrong and ‘mind-essence’ continues beyond this lifetime, then there is a strong probability of mental anguish, regret, and disorientation during the death phase transition. The second scenario therefore reflects a ‘low-risk high-reward’ strategy because if it transpires that there is no ‘existence’ after death, then there will be no stream of consciousness to experience regret due to having needlessly engaged in spiritual practice.

However, if it transpires that the thread of subtle-consciousness does indeed endure throughout successive lifetimes, then the life gambler not only reaps the benefit of spiritual practice during this life, but is also better prepared for experiencing the various (and otherwise petrifying) death visions, sounds, and faints with greater confidence and awareness. Similarly, they are also in a better position to further their spiritual progress during subsequent lifetimes (i.e., until the attainment of liberation).

The saying ‘gambling with their life’ is sometimes used to refer to people who engage in life threatening or potentially harmful activities. However, from the Buddhist perspective, the person who doesn’t engage in spiritual practice might be said to be ‘gambling with their lifetimes’.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

moment 4

Further Reading

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Buddhist philosophy for the treatment of problem gambling. Journal of Behavioural Addictions. DOI: 10.1556/JBA.2.2013.001


Meditation: A Three-fold Approach

Meditation: A Three-fold Approach

Within Western research settings, interest into the health-related applications of Buddhist and Buddhist-derived meditation techniques is rapidly growing. Indeed, Buddhist meditation has been shown to be effective for treating a large variety of both somatic and psychological health conditions. Examples of such conditions include chronic pain, cancer, fibromyalgia, anxiety, stress, depression, and addiction disorders.

As part of trying to understand Buddhist meditation, scientists have begun to dissect and analyse the various components and processes of meditation. A result of this is that in the research and clinical setting, individual meditative components have been removed from their original context and deployed as standalone clinical techniques.

Consequently, there now exists an entire plethora of Buddhist-derived interventions including (for example): Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction,  Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Compassion Focused Therapy, Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (targeting drug and alcohol abuse), Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Therapy, Loving-Kindness Interventions, Vipassana Therapy – and the list goes on. Whilst a number of these interventions have demonstrable efficacy as healthcare interventions, many of them are working with just one element of the overall meditative process.

In their traditional Buddhist setting, rather than standalone techniques, mindfulness, compassion, loving-kindness, vipassana – and all the other individual aspects of meditation – are practiced only as part of a composite and interdependent array of spiritually inclined perspectives and trainings. According to the Buddhist perspective, the development of sustainable meditative realisation arises as a result of the inter-play of three key elements:

(i) wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā), (ii) ethical discipline or ethical awareness (Sanskrit: śīla), and (iii) meditative concentration (Sanskrit: samādhi). These three elements are known in Buddhism as the ‘three trainings’ (Sanskrit: trishiksha) and provide a stable platform and context for the successful cultivation of meditative proficiency.

Let’s take mindfulness and the Noble Eight Fold Path as an example. The Noble Eight Fold Path represents a fundamental Buddhist teaching and can be practically and theoretically stratified according to the abovementioned threefold division:


  • 1. Right view, 2. Right intention

Ethical Discipline

  • 3. Right speech, 4. Right action, 5. Right livelihood, 6. Right effort


  • 7. Right mindfulness, 8. Right concentration or meditation

Thus within Buddhism, mindfulness is taught as only one aspect (i.e., the 7th aspect) of the Noble Eight Fold Path. As part the teachings on the Noble Eight Fold Path, ‘right mindfulness’ arises interdependently with, and in reliance upon, the gradual and simultaneous practice of each of the other seven aspects of the path. In other words, in traditional Buddhist practice, mindfulness enters into a process of ‘cross-fertilisation’ with wisdom, ethical discipline, and concentrative elements. The importance of this ‘cross-fertilisation’ process can be highlighted by the examples of ‘right view’ and ‘right intention’ (that appear as the 1st and 2nd aspects of the Eight Fold Path). ‘Right view’ refers to the realisation of an accurate view of self and reality as a result of intuiting concepts such as impermanence, non-self, and emptiness. According to the Buddhist teachings, it is not possible for a person to become fully mindful of the present moment unless they have a solid understanding of the true and absolute mode in which the present moment exists. The same applies to ‘right intention’ which refers not only to a decisive determination to develop spiritually, but also to the cultivation of an altruistic (i.e., rather than selfish) motivation for practice. Buddhism teaches that a person cannot establish ‘right mindfulness’ of their thoughts, words, and deeds without a profound awareness of how such actions will influence the ‘spiritual happiness’ (Sanskrit: sukha) or suffering (Sanskrit: duhkha) of others.

Thus, all of the elements involved in the practice of meditation are intimately and intrinsically interwoven with one another – they are all mutually interdependent. In forthcoming posts, we will explore these elements in more detail and will begin with ethical awareness. Ethical awareness will assist us in living a steady, stable, and centred life that is wholesome for us and for others.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Chiesa A., & Malinowsko, P. (2011). Mindfulness-based approaches: Are they all the same?

Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67, 404-424.

Dalai Lama. (2001). Stages of Meditation: Training the Mind for Wisdom. London: Rider.

Dalai Lama. (2005). The Many Ways to Nirvana. London: Mobius.

Nanamoli Bhikkhu. (1979). The Path of Purification: Visuddhi Magga. Kandy (Sri Lanka):

Buddhist Publication Society.

Nhat Hanh, T. (1999). The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into

Peace, Joy and Liberation. New York: Broadway Books

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Mindfulness-based therapy: A tool for spiritual growth? Thresholds (In Press)

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for improved psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Religion and Health. DOI: 10.1007/s10943-013-9679-0.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Sumich, A., Sundin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for psychological wellbeing in a sub-clinical sample of university students: A controlled pilot study. Mindfulness. DOI: 10.1007/s12671-012-0191-5.

%d bloggers like this: