Letting Go

Letting Go

The following post is from a friend in Thailand. Roughly, the words translate as: ‘If you let go, time will heal’. This is sound advice. However, better still is not to hold on in the first place! This is the path of meditation.

Condivido il seguente post da un’amica in Thailandia. Grossomodo, le parole si traducono come: ‘Se si lascia andare le cose, con il tempo tutte le cose possano guarire’. Questo è un consiglio sano. Tuttavia, Forse è meglio non trattenere delle cose già dall’inizio! Questo è il percorso della meditazione.

Ven Dr Edo Shonin & William Van Gordon

Mindfulness for Pet Dogs

Mindfulness for Pet Dogs

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Unsurprisingly, a search of the academic literature reveals that there has been little (if any) scientific investigation into whether dogs can be taught mindfulness. In fact, you would be forgiven for thinking that teaching dogs mindfulness is taking things too far and that it is another example of how ancient mindfulness teachings are being misappropriated in modern society. However, based on personal experience, it’s our view that under certain conditions and to a certain extent, some dogs can learn to practise a form of mindfulness. In this post we present the cases of Vajra, Tara, and Zeus – three beautiful dogs with whom we are fortunate to have shared our lives – and share how they have each come to embody a form of mindfulness practice.

Vajra

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Vajra was a medium sized mixed-breed male dog who lived with us at a Buddhist monastery and retreat centre that we ran in North Wales. Vajra (pictured above) was fawn coloured and his weight as an adult was approximately 18kg. Vajra came to us as a puppy from a dog rescue centre. He grew up in the monastery and met new people on a day-to-day basis. The monastery followed a daily routine of meditation practice involving formal seated meditations in the morning and evenings as well as periods of silence, walking meditation, working meditation, study, and chanting. At various times throughout the day, the monastery bell would sound in order to invite people to a particular practice or to remind them to stop, breathe, and remember that they are alive.

When Vajra was two years old, of his own accord he would come and lie in the meditation hall during the formal meditation sessions. To begin with, he would often just go to sleep and he could sometimes be heard snoring when people were trying to meditate. However, from the time Vajra reached three years of age, rather than lay on his side and go to sleep during meditation, he would assume a squatting position whereby he was still effectively lying down, but was upright and sat directly over his front paws. When sat in this manner, Vajra would hold his head off the ground and in addition to remaining alert, he would stay still and as quiet as a mouse. We suppose this posture would be similar to that which professionally trained dogs assume when they are given the “platz” command.

As mentioned above, walking meditation was practised on a daily basis at the monastery and this involved participants walking very slowly, in single file, and remaining meditatively aware of all that they experienced during each moment of every step. When he was young, Vajra would ignore the people practising walking meditation and would use the practice as an opportunity to play, sniff, and run around. However, as he grew older, Vajra started to join in with the walking meditation; he would take his place in the line of participants and place one foot in front of the other in a slow and focussed manner.

Of course, it is impossible for us to know what was going through Vajra’s mind when he exhibited these behaviours and it could be that all along, he was thinking about what he would receive for dinner or was just unconsciously mimicking our behaviour. However, many of the visitors to the monastery commented on Vajra’s calm nature and we like to think that in his own way, Vajra had learned to practice a form of meditation.

Tara

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Tara (pictured above) is a toy Jack Russel Terrier. She weighs about 5kg in adulthood and came to us as a puppy. Like many Jack Russel Terriers, for the first few years of her life, Tara was somewhat naughty. Despite almost being small enough to sit in the palm of a person’s hand, it seemed Tara thought that she was a Rottweiler and she would even try to dominate dogs that were ten times her size. Also, Tara had a habit of climbing trees and getting stuck high up in the branches such that in order to bring her down, we had to perform acrobatic manoeuvres that easily exceeded our tree-climbing capabilities. It’s fair to say that Tara was hard-headed and despite understanding fully our commands, she would frequently test how far she could cross the line.

However, when Tara turned four years old, she began to settle down and assume a much calmer demeanour. The house that we lived in with Tara was visited by a large number of practicing Buddhists (as well as spiritual practitioners from non-Buddhist traditions). In the house, there was a chiming clock that was used as a mindfulness reminder. When the clock chimed to announce the turn of the hour, people in the house were invited to stop whatever they were doing in order to return to awareness of their breathing and awareness of their being. Each time she heard the clock chime, Tara would freeze her position and remain perfectly still and quiet. In fact, there reached a point when not only would Tara take a moment of pause when the clock chimed, but if – as was frequently the case – visitors ignored the chiming clock, Tara would bark at them to remind them to stop and be present. Therefore, in the house at that time a system of a ‘double mindfulness reminder’ was in place; Tara reminded people to remember to be mindful of the mindfulness reminder!

Zeus

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Zeus is approximately one-year-old and his current weight is 42kg. Zeus was abandoned when he was five months old and as a stray dog, he roamed the countryside and streets for about three months. Zeus has been with us for four months and we are informed by the vet and a dog breeding specialist that Zeus is an American Mastiff. It is expected that Zeus will reach a weight of 50-60kg. Zeus is highly protective of us and through training, we are attempting to temper some of his protective instincts. He is making exceptionally good progress and we think that although his time in the wild has been difficult, it has helped him to think for himself and perhaps even to understand something about the nature of suffering.

Zeus appears to really enjoy joining in with meditation and related forms of spiritual practice. For example, when we practice chanting, Zeus makes deep humming and groaning noises, and if he hears the gong sound to announce the start of a meditation session, he comes running in from the land and sits in a relaxed but attentive manner at our side. When Zeus is practising canine meditation in this manner, if somebody throws him a treat or ball to fetch, he remains completely undistracted and won’t retrieve it until after the meditation session has concluded. Zeus has adopted these behaviours of his own accord and several individuals have commented that Zeus sometimes appears to exude an air of wisdom and elegance.

Concluding Thoughts

We have shared our lives with other dogs in addition to Vajra, Tara, and Zues. For example, in addition to mixed-breed and cross-breed dogs, family members have included a Border Collie, German Shepard, and Rottweiler. All of these dogs have been beautiful companions in their own right but it is only Vajra, Tara, and Zeus in whom we feel there was some genuine form of meditative practice. We have always attempted to obedience train any dog that has lived with us and to do so in such a manner that the dog enjoys the training and feels loved and cared for. However, we have never specifically sought to teach mindfulness to a dog and have found that just by practising mindfulness ourselves, most dogs gradually assume a calmer demeanour but a minority of dogs actually go onto practice what appears to be a canine form of meditation.

It should be noted that the type of canine mindfulness we are referring to here is very different from the high level of concentration exhibited by a working dog that is following their handler’s commands. As we have discussed in previous posts, mindfulness is not simply about being alert or concentrating in a focussed manner. It is more about being aware of one’s being and about the nature and dance of the present moment. There is no doubt in our mind that being in an environment or family where people practice mindfulness is of benefit to dogs and that in turn, the dog’s calmer demeanour is of benefit to family members. However, in the absence of empirical research, it is difficult to know what factors predispose a dog to learning mindfulness and, just as with humans, it could be that some dogs are simply more spiritually inclined than others. Empirical research to investigate some of these knowledge gaps would be both welcomed and interesting.

 

Ven Dr Edo Shonin and Ven William Van Gordon

 

Further Reading

Carbonell, H. J., Waite, D., & Jackson-Grossblat, A. (2016). The therapeutic effects upon dog owners who interact with their dogs in a mindful way. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 56, 144-170.

Epstein, R. (1984). On mindfulness and our relation to animals. Between the Species. Available at: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1423&context=bts

Fox, M. (2007). Dog body, dog Mind: Exploring canine consciousness and total well-being. Lanham, Maryland: Lyons Press.

Henry, C. L., & Crowley, S. L. (2015). The psychological and physiological effects of using a therapy dog in mindfulness training. Anthrozoös: A multidisciplinary journal of the interactions of people and animals, 28, 385-402.

Karen L. Dean (2005). Mindfulness meditation: Learning from dogis and mystical dogs. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 11, 319-321.

Thupten Jingpa on Compassion and Mindfulness

Thupten Jingpa on Compassion and Mindfulness

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We recently had the pleasure of talking with Thupten Jingpa, who has been the principal English translator of the Dalia Lama for the past 30 years. The theme of the conversation was the interrelated practices of compassion and mindfulness, including (i) their role in contemporary society, (ii) the traditional context for learning and applying these techniques, (iii) the utilisation of compassion and mindfulness in contemporary behavioural interventions, (iv) issues relating to teacher training, and (v) whether lessons learnt from more than two decades of researching and rolling-out mindfulness-based interventions can be carried forward in order to facilitate the effective integration of interventional approaches based on compassion and loving-kindness meditation.

The interview is now published in Mindfulness and is available for free download from the following link. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12671-015-0448-x

Should a Buddhist Eat Meat?

Should a Buddhist Eat Meat?

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We never cease to be amazed by the number of non-Buddhist individuals that we encounter who believe that abstaining from eating meat is a prerequisite for being a Buddhist. However, it is not just amongst non-Buddhists where this view is prevalent because in the region of about 25% of Buddhist individuals that we meet (in both the East and West) also appear to share the same view. The question of whether or not it is appropriate for Buddhists to eat meat raises a number of important ethical (and practical issues) that are as relevant today as they were when the Buddha was teaching some 2,500 years ago. In this post, we examine the logic and scriptural provenance underlying some of the leading arguments for and against Buddhists eating meat.

A Scriptural Account

We have sometimes read or heard it said that the Buddhist scriptures are ambiguous on the matter of meat eating. However, this presumption is incorrect because the Buddha gave some very specific advice on this topic. According to the Jivaka sutta, the Buddha stated that there are three particular instances where it is acceptable for a Buddhist practitioner to eat meat, and three circumstances where it is inappropriate. The exact words as recorded in the English language Pāli canon edition of this sutta (Majjhima Nikāya 55) are as follows:

“Jivaka, I say that there are three instances in which meat should not be eaten: when it is seen, heard, or suspected that the living being has been slaughtered for oneself. I say that meat should not be eaten in these three instances. I say that there are three instances in which meat may be eaten: when it is not seen, not heard, and not suspected that the living being has been slaughtered for oneself. I say that meat may be eaten in these three instances.”

Thus, the Jivaka sutta, which contains one of the Buddha’s most direct references to meat eating, makes it clear that although the Buddha was adverse to a spiritual practitioner consenting for an animal to be killed on their behalf, he was not adverse per se to the idea of a spiritual practitioner eating meat.

Arguments against Eating Meat

The main argument against Buddhists eating meat is that meat eating is incongruous with the core Buddhist precept of abstaining from taking life, as well as with the general emphasis placed in Buddhism on cultivating loving-kindness and compassion towards all sentient beings (including animals and fish). Of course, it could be argued that if a person buys meat in the supermarket then they haven’t personally killed the animal. However, the robustness of this position is questionable because clearly the consumer is a vital link in the chain of meat production (i.e., if there wasn’t a demand for meat then the number of animals slaughtered for the purposes of supplying meat would be significantly less).

There are several other views relating to why Buddhists should not eat meat but they are mostly encompassed by the primary argument outlined above. An example of such a secondary argument is that by capturing and killing a mature wild animal (i.e., an animal that has not been specifically bred for meat production), it is possible that: (i) its offspring will suffer (and possibly die) due to being without the protection of their mother or father, or (ii) an animal (or animals) higher up the food chain will suffer (and possibly die) due to not being able to find a prey. In other words, due to a human being eating just one single animal, it is possible that numerous other animals will incur suffering.

A further example of a secondary argument relates to the Buddhist view of reincarnation in which it is implied that a living being that is currently an animal may, in its recent past, have been a human. Since most people would be repulsed by the idea of eating a human being, the question arises as to whether it is ethically correct to eat an animal that was a human being during a previous lifetime. These secondary arguments add additional ‘food for thought’ but they are all basically encompassed by the view that human beings are in many ways responsible for the wellbeing of the insects, fishes, and animals with whom we share this earth, and that it is cruel to kill them or cause them to suffer.

Arguments for Eating Meat

From the point of view of practicality, there are certain geographical regions where, without going to great expense, it would be very difficult for a Buddhist practitioner to live on a meat-free diet. In arctic, sub-arctic, and tundra regions, it is much more difficult to grow produce compared to regions that are much warmer. The same applies to very arid regions where droughts can last for months on end. In such areas, it is probably unrealistic for a person on an average or below average income to live on a diet that excludes meat or fish.

In addition to influences and limitations imposed by the elements, an individual’s level of wealth may also affect the dietary options that are available to them. For example, there are regions of the world that are conducive to growing produce but where poverty places restrictions on the types of food a person can buy. In the West, it is becoming increasingly easier to be vegetarian without it meaning that one’s health and nutritional intake somehow has to suffer. Indeed, some Western supermarkets now have entire sections of the shelves, chillers, and freezers that are dedicated to meat alternatives and vegetarian meals. Many restaurants in the West also have vegetarian sections of the menu and there are also some restaurants that are exclusively vegetarian. However, this isn’t the case all over the world and it is probable that in abstaining from eating meat, some individuals of below average means would not be able to afford to buy everything they need for a balanced and healthy diet.

The above arguments are not necessarily in favour of Buddhist practitioners eating meat but they simply highlight the fact that there are certain circumstances where it is impractical for an individual to be vegetarian. In addition to such practical considerations, there are also arguments that support meat eating that are more philosophical in nature. In particular, there is the argument that by eating meat, Buddhist practitioners (and anybody else for that matter) are actually sustaining life. This somewhat paradoxical argument relates to the fact that if there wasn’t demand for meat, then a large proportion of animals currently being bred for meat production simply wouldn’t exist. It is true that some animals bred for meat production live in conditions that are far from ideal (or that in some instances constitute cruelty to animals). However, it is also true that many of these animals – particularly in developed countries – live in conditions that are deemed to be comfortable and conducive to their health and wellbeing. Therefore and according to this line of thought, by eating meat a Buddhist practitioner plays an integral role in the process of giving and sustaining life.

The above slightly paradoxical argument could be challenged by asserting that although the meat eater is a contributing factor for new life being brought into the world, they are also the cause of that life coming to a premature end. This is a valid counter-argument but it can be easily undermined by taking into consideration the fact that even when living in the wild, a lot of animals die ‘prematurely’. The reason for this is because unless they are at the top of the food chain, animals are predated upon. In fact, even animals that are at the top of the food chain are an easy target for a carnivorous or scavenging animal when they become sick or old. Thus, in the wild, there are probably very few animals that die of old age, and it is not uncommon for an animal that becomes the prey of another animal to meet with a brutal end (in some cases probably much more brutal than being slaughtered in a controlled environment). 

Concluding Thoughts

There are strong arguments both for and against the Buddhist practitioner eating meat. According to the suttas, the Buddha’s personal view on this matter was that spiritual practitioners should avoid killing, or directly consenting to the killing of, an animal intended for consumption by human beings. However, the Buddha was seemingly not opposed to a person eating meat where the animal had been killed without that individuals ‘direct’ knowledge or consent. Our own personal view on this matter is that Buddhist practitioners should appraise themselves of the key arguments for and against meat eating, and then come to an informed decision.

As far as we see it, although we would encourage people to make sure that whatever they eat (meat or otherwise) has not somehow resulted in the subjecting to cruelty of an animal or human being, there isn’t really a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ position here. If a spiritual practitioner makes an informed decision and decides that they would like to eat meat, then that’s fine. Likewise, if a spiritual practitioner understands all of the options and decides that they would like to be vegetarian, that’s also fine. In other words, from the point of view of authentic spiritual development, the issue of eating or abstaining from eating meat is actually of limited relevance. Today, some people that call themselves Buddhists make a big deal out of this issue, but according to the record of the scriptures, it wasn’t considered to be a big deal by the Buddha. In terms of its spiritual significance, rather than ‘what’ a person eats, we would argue that ‘how’ they eat counts for a lot more. If a person eats meat or a vegetarian meal with spiritual awareness, gentleness, and good table manners then this will certainly contribute towards their spiritual growth. However, if a person eats meat or a vegetarian meal in a greedy and mindless manner (e.g.,  by slouching over their meal and shovelling it into their mouths), and if they eat without being considerate of other people who might be in their presence, then such comportment actually counts as a hindrance towards progressing along the spiritual path.

 Ven. Edo Shonin and Ven. William Van Gordon

For mindful teaching of mindfulness – The Psychologist

This letter was written by colleagues in response to my recent interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn. The letter has just been published in The Psychologist. For mindful teaching of mindfulness – The Psychologist.

“This is not McMindfulness by any stretch of the imagination” – The Psychologist

I was recently asked by The Psychologist to interview Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction. The interview has now been published online and can be accessed via the following link:

“This is not McMindfulness by any stretch of the imagination” – The Psychologist.

Edo Shonin

 

Can a Person Attain Enlightenment Just by Practicing Mindfulness?

Can a Person Attain Enlightenment Just by Practicing Mindfulness?

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The answer to the question of whether a person can attain enlightenment by only practicing mindfulness (obviously) depends on what definition of mindfulness and enlightenment one chooses to work with.

Let’s start by establishing what is actually meant in Buddhism by the term “enlightenment”. As part of our role as Buddhist monks and Psychologists (that specialise in researching Buddhist meditation), we come across a lot of Buddhist and non-Buddhist meditation teachers who are only too pleased to inform us that they have attained enlightenment. In our opinion, there are many reasons why these individuals decide to inform us (and others) that they are enlightened. Some of the most obvious reasons (in ascending order of “believability”) are that these people:

  •  Are in fact enlightened beings and like to tell other all about their hidden qualities.
  • Believe that enlightenment simply means having a superior intellect compared to other people around them.
  • Have had – or believe they have had – some kind of genuine spiritual experience.
  • Know full well that they are not enlightened but claim to be so in order to get an ego-kick or because they think it will help their career or reputation.

If it is accepted that (for example) enlightenment means simply being more intelligent than the average person or having given rise to genuine spiritual experiences, then it is certainly possible that exclusively practising mindfulness (i.e., rather than combining it with other spiritual and meditative practices) could lead to enlightenment. However, in our opinion, none of the meditation teachers we have met who informed us that they are enlightened, were, in fact, enlightened. Based on a synthesis of the Buddhist commentaries and canonical texts, we recently explicated enlightenment as a state in which all gross and subtle forms of suffering have completely ceased and in which the following “competencies” are present: (i) omniscience, (ii) deathlessness, (iii) dwelling in emptiness, (iv) unconditional blissful abiding, (v) freedom to take rebirth in any realm according to the needs of beings, (vi) great compassion (Sanskrit: maha karuna), and (vii) command over animate and inanimate phenomena.

Now that we have (hopefully) provided a clearer picture of what constitutes a Buddhist interpretation of enlightenment, and before we provide our opinion on whether mindfulness alone can lead to enlightenment, let’s move on now to briefly examine what is meant in Buddhism by the term “mindfulness”. Providing an absolute definition of the Buddhist depiction of mindfulness is not an easy task because Buddhist traditions do not necessarily interpret and practice mindfulness in the same way. In terms of the foundational (i.e., Theravada) Buddhist vehicle which is what might be regarded as constituting a more ‘exoteric’ approach to Buddhist practice, mindfulness – which is the seventh factor of the Noble Eightfold Path – is principally understood to play an important role in regulating meditative concentration. In this more exoteric interpretation, mindfulness is generally practised as a means of ensuring that concentration remains positioned on a specific meditative object (which can also include the present moment).

Based upon how mindfulness is interpreted in exoteric Buddhist contexts, there do not exist strong grounds for arguing that the exclusive practice of mindfulness can lead to enlightenment. The primary reason for this is because mindfulness – according to the traditional Buddhist model – is just one component of the “right path” to enlightenment. The other components of this path are the remaining seven aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path (for a more detailed discussion of the Noble Eightfold Path see our post on the Scientific Study of the Noble Eightfold Path).

Although we have just argued that it is improbable that enlightenment could be reached just by practising mindfulness, if we make a slight adjustment to what is meant by the term mindfulness by adopting a more esoteric definition, then our opinion on this matter changes accordingly. A more esoteric definition of mindfulness, using the words of Dudjom Rinpoche, is the “simple recollection of the recognition of your own nature”. We would argue that exclusively practising mindfulness in a manner consistent with this more esoteric definition could actually lead to enlightenment.

There is a great deal of synergy between the abovementioned exoteric and esoteric Buddhist delineations of mindfulness because both of these approaches effectively view mindfulness as a faculty that regulates meditative concentration. The main difference between the two models is that in the exoteric approach something external and separate from the individual is taken as the object of meditative concentration, while in the esoteric approach the individual’s inherent enlightened nature becomes the main focus of meditation. Both of these methods constitute completely valid approaches and – as far as we see it – there isn’t any contradiction between them.

Although we are using the terms “exoteric” and “esoteric, it should be remembered that esoteric Buddhist practices will never bear fruit unless a person has first internalised and mastered the exoteric Buddhist teachings. Likewise, even very basic or seemingly exoteric practices such as simply observing the breath can become extremely potent and esoteric if they are practised in the right way.

Mindfulness plays an essential role in helping us progress along the path to enlightenment. As we grow in spiritual insight and awareness, our understanding of both mindfulness and enlightenment should also evolve. As we discussed in a recent (and free to download) article that we wrote called The Lineage of Mindfulness, it is important to allow our understanding of mindfulness and enlightenment to constantly change. Indeed, if we become attached or try to hold onto what we think constitutes mindfulness or enlightenment, then we distance ourselves from the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. It is likewise very important that we avoid becoming attached to the idea of “attaining” enlightenment because for as long as enlightenment is seen as a future goal, it will remain exactly that.

 

Ven. Edo Shonin & Ven. William Van Gordon

 

Further Reading

Dalai Lama. (1995). The Path to Enlightenment. New York: Snow Lion.

Dudjom Rinpoche. (2005). Wisdom Nectar: Dudjom Rinpoche’s Heart Advice. New York: Snow Lion Publications.

Nhat Hanh, T. (1999). The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation. New York: Broadway Books.

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

Nyanaponika Thera. (1983). The Heart of Buddhist Meditation. London: Rider.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2015). The lineage of mindfulness. Mindfulness, 6, 141-145.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Griffiths, M. D., & Singh, N. N. (2025). Mindfulness and the Four Noble Truths. In: Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Singh, N. N. (Eds). Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness. New York: Springer. [In Press]

A Second Generation of Mindfulness-based Intervention

A Second Generation of Mindfulness-based Intervention

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Clicca qui per l’Iataliano

In one of our research papers that was published this summer in the journal Mindfulness, we identified and discussed a recent development in mindfulness research and practice. Until a few years ago, mindfulness research within psychology has primarily focussed on what have been termed First Generation Mindfulness-Based Interventions (FG-MBIs). FG-MBIs refer to interventions such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) developed by Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970s and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) developed by Segal, Williams, and Teasdale in 2002. According to Professor Nirbhay Singh and colleagues, one of the primary purposes and achievements of FG-MBIs has been gaining acceptance of mindfulness within Western clinical and scientific domains.

However, due to the speed at which mindfulness has been integrated into western research and public healthcare settings, concerns have been raised by scientists and Buddhist teachers regarding the ‘authenticity’ of FG-MBIs and whether they actually teach mindfulness in a manner that still bears any resemblance to the traditional Buddhist model. These concerns do not detract from the fact that there is a growing evidence-base that supports the efficacy of FGMBIs as clinical and behavioural interventions, but they give rise to a number of questions that have important implications for mindfulness research and practice:

  1. If mindfulness is efficacious when it is taught in isolation of many of the practices and principles that are traditionally deemed to make it effective, then how much more effective will it be when taught in a manner that includes and embodies these supporting elements?
  2. Is it ethically correct to inform service users and members of the public that they are receiving training in a method that is grounded in Buddhist practice (a claim often made about FG-MBIs), when in fact this is not the case?
  3. Is it essential to “de-spiritualise” psychological interventions before they can be used in clinical contexts, or – based on a “what-works approach” – can interventions that are openly spiritual in nature be considered as viable and mainstream public healthcare treatments?

In an attempt to overcome some of the above issues concerning FG-MBIs, efforts have been made in recent years to formulate and empirically evaluate a second generation of mindfulness-based interventions. Second Generation Mindfulness-based Interventions (SG-MBIs) are still intended to be used in public healthcare contexts (i.e., they are still secular in nature)  but – as explained in the following quote from our recently published Mindfulness paper – they are openly spiritual in nature and are more traditional in the manner in which they construct and teach mindfulness:

Due to the suggestion that some individuals may prefer to be trained in a version of mindfulness that more closely resembles a traditional Buddhist approach, recent years have witnessed the development and early-stage evaluation of several Second Generation Mindfulness-Based Interventions (SG-MBIs) … Although SG-MBIs still follow a secular format that is suitable for delivery within Western applied settings, they are overtly spiritual in aspect and teach mindfulness within a practice infrastructure that integrates what would traditionally be deemed as prerequisites for effective spiritual and meditative development. At the most basic (but by no means the least profound) level, such prerequisites include each element of the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path comprises each of the three quintessential Buddhist teaching and practice principles of (i) wisdom (i.e., right view, right intention), (ii) ethical conduct (i.e., right speech, right action, right livelihood), and (iii) meditation (i.e., right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration). Each of these three fundamental elements (Sanskrit: trishiksha – the three trainings) must be present in any path of practice that claims to expound or be grounded in authentic Buddhadharma and they apply to (and form the basis of) the Fundamental or Theravada vehicle just as much as they do the Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist vehicles. Thus, for mindfulness practice to be effective, it must be taught as part of a rounded spiritual path and it must be taught by a spiritual guide that can transmit the teachings in an authentic manner.

The development and empirical evaluation of a second generation of mindfulness-based intervention appears to represent an emerging trend in mindfulness research. Outcomes from our own research work with the eight-week SG-MBI known as Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) suggest that SG-MBIs may have applications in the treatment of (i) workaholism, (ii) work-related stress, (iii) stress, (iv) anxiety, (v) depression, (vi) schizophrenia, and (vii) pathological gambling. Recent MAT studies that we have conducted have also demonstrated that SG-MBIs can help to improve work effectiveness, decision-making competency, and leadership/management skills more generally. SG-MBI studies by other researchers also indicate a range of clinical and non-clinical applications for SG-MBIs. For example, studies led by Professor Nirbhay Singh indicate that SG-MBIs may have utility as (i) a smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disabilities, (ii) an anger regulation method for individuals with schizophrenia, and (iii) a training and support program for parents in order to reduce the aggressive and disruptive behaviour of their children/adolescents. However, it needs to be remembered that research into SG-MBIs is still at a very early stage and so although the abovementioned outcomes are promising, further empirical investigation is obviously required. Furthermore, it is our view that rather than directly compete with FG-MBIs, SG-MBIs simply provide an alternative approach to practising mindfulness that – for some individuals – may be more appealing.

Please note: This article provides a summary of, and is adapted from, a discussion that first appeared in a paper we published in the journal Mindfulness.

 Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Carrette, J., & King, R. (2005). Selling spirituality: The silent takeover of religion. New York: Routledge.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.

McWilliams, S. A. (2014). Foundations of Mindfulness and Contemplation: Traditional and Contemporary Perspectives. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 116-128.

Rosch, E. (2007). More than mindfulness: when you have a tiger by the tail, let it eat you. Psychological Inquiry, 18, 258-264.

*Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2014) Manager’s experiences of Meditation Awareness Training. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0334-y. [Source Article].

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013a). Mindfulness-based interventions: Towards mindful clinical integration. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 1-4. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00194.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014c). The treatment of workaholism with Meditation Awareness Training: A case study. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 10, 193-195.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Dunn, T., Singh, N., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014d). Meditation Awareness Training for work-related wellbeing and job performance: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction,  DOI 10.1007/s11469-014-9513-2.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014e). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for the treatment of co-occurring schizophrenia with pathological gambling: A case study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 181-196.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for improved psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Journal of Religion and Health, 53, 849-863.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J. Curtis, W. J., Wahler, R. G., & McAleavey, K. M. (2007). Mindful parenting decreases aggression and increases social behavior in children with developmental disabilities. Behavior Modification, 31, 749-771.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Karazia, B. T., Singh, A. D. A., Singh, A. N. A., & Singh, J. (2013). A mindfulness-based smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disability. Mindfulness, 4, 148-157.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Karazsia, B. T., & Singh, J. (2014a). Mindfulness-Based Positive Behavior Support (MBPBS) for mothers of adolescents with autism spectrum disorders: Effects on adolescents’ behavior and parental stress. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0321-3.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Myers, R. E., Karazsia, B. T., Winton, A. S. W., & Singh, J. (2014b). A randomized controlled trial of a mindfulness-based smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disability. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 153-168.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Karazsia, B. T., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J., & Wahler, R. G. (2014c). Shenpa and compassionate abiding: Mindfulness-based practices for anger and aggression by individuals with schizophrenia. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 138-152.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Sumich, A., Sundin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014b). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for psychological wellbeing in a sub-clinical sample of university students: A controlled pilot study. Mindfulness, 5, 381-391.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Zangeneh, M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Work-related mental health and job performance: Can mindfulness help? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 129-137.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Mindfulness and the Four Noble Truths. In: Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Singh, N. N. (Eds). Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness. New York: Springer.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2013). Searching for the present moment, Mindfulness, 5, 105-107.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Compare, A., Zangeneh, M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Buddhist-derived loving-kindness and compassion meditation for the treatment of psychopathology: A systematic review. Mindfulness, 6, 1161-1180.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M. (2015). Towards a second-generation of mindfulness-based interventions. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 49, 591-591.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Meditation as medication: Are attitudes changing? British Journal of General Practice, 63, 654.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2015). The lineage of mindfulness. Mindfulness, 6, 141-145.

Una nuova generazione di interventi basati sulla Mindfulness

present moment 3

In uno dei nostri documenti di ricerca che è stata pubblicata questa estate sulla rivista academica Mindfulness, abbiamo identificato e discusso un recente sviluppo nella ricerca e nella pratica della mindfulness Fino a pochi anni fa, la ricerca di mindfulness all’interno della psicologia si è concentrata principalmente su ciò che sono stati definiti Interventi di Prima Generazione cioè First Generation Mindfulness-Based Interventions (FG-MBIs). FG-MBI si riferisce a interventi quali Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) sviluppato da Kabat-Zinn alla fine del 1970 e Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) sviluppato da Segal, Williams e Teasdale nel 2002. Secondo il professor Nirbhay Singh e colleghi, uno degli scopi e conquisti principali di FG-MBI è stato di ottenere l’accettazione della mindfulness all’interno dei domini clinici e scientifici occidentali.

Tuttavia, a causa della velocità alla quale la mindfulness è stato integrato nella ricerca occidentale e nelle strutture sanitarie pubbliche, le preoccupazioni sono state sollevate da scienziati e insegnanti buddisti per quanto riguarda il ‘autenticità’ di FG-MBI e se insegnano effettivamente mindfulness in un modo che ancora oggi porta qualsiasi somiglianza con il modello tradizionale buddista. Queste preoccupazioni non toglie il fatto che vi è una crescente evidenza empirica che sostiene l’efficacia di FGMBIs come interventi clinici e comportamentali, ma danno luogo a una serie di domande che hanno importanti implicazioni per la ricerca e la pratica della mindfulness:

  1. Se la mindfulness è efficace quando si è insegnato in isolamento di molte delle pratiche e principi che sono tradizionalmente considerati a renderla efficace, allora quanto più efficace ne sarà quando insegnato in un modo che include e incorpora questi elementi di supporto?
  2. È eticamente corretto a informare gli utenti del servizio e membri del pubblico che essi ricevono una formazione in un metodo che è radicato nella pratica buddista (un’affermazione spesso fatta dai FG-MBI), quando in realtà questo non è il caso?
  3. È necessaria che gli interventi psicologici vengono “de-spiritualizzate” prima di poter essere utilizzati in contesti clinici, o – basati su un approccio “ciò che funzione” – possono gli interventi che sono apertamente spirituali nella loro natura essere considerati come trattamenti sanitari pubblici attuabile, accettabile e affermati?

Nel tentativo di superare alcune delle questioni di cui sopra riguardanti FG-MBI, si sono compiuti degli sforzi negli ultimi anni per formulare e valutare empiricamente una seconda generazione di interventi basati sulla mindfulness. Interventi basati sulla mindfulness di seconda generazione (SG-MBI) ancora sono destinati ad essere utilizzati in contesti sanitari pubblici (vale a dire, essi sono ancora secolari in natura) ma – come spiegato nel seguente citazione tratta dal nostro articolo recentemente pubblicato nella rivista academica Mindfulness -sono apertamente spirituale in natura e sono più tradizionali nel modo in cui costruiscono e insegnano la mindfulness:

Grazie al suggerimento che alcuni individui possono preferire di essere formati/addestrati in una versione della mindfulness che assomiglia più ad un approccio tradizionale buddista, negli ultimi anni si è assistito alla valutazione di sviluppo e le fasi iniziali di diversi interventi basati sulla mindfulness di seconda generazione (SG-MBI) … Sebbene SG-MBI seguono ancora un formato secolare che è adatto per essere insegnato in tutta una gamma di impostazioni psicologiche, sono apertamente spirituale in aspetto e insegnano la mindfulness dall’interno di un’infrastruttura di pratica che integra quello che è tradizionalmente considerata come prerequisiti per un effettivo sviluppo spirituale e meditativo. Al livello più basilare (ma non il meno profondo), tali prerequisiti includono ogni elemento del Nobile Ottuplice Sentiero. Il Nobile Ottuplice Sentiero comprende ciascuno dei tre quintessenziale principi delle pratiche e degli insegnamenti buddisti di (i) la saggezza (cioè la retta visione, la retta intenzione), (ii) il comportamento etico (cioè la retta parola, la retta azione, il retto sostentamento), e (iii) la meditazione (cioè, il retto sforzo, la retta mindfulness, la retta concentrazione). Ciascuno di questi tre elementi fondamentali (sanscrito: trishiksha – i tre addestramenti) devono essere presente in qualsiasi percorso di pratica che pretende di esporre o di essere radicati nella autentica Buddhadharma e sono applicabili a (e costituiscono la base del) veicolo fondamentale o Theravada tanto quanto sono applicabili ai (e costituiscono la base dei) veicoli Mahayana e Vajrayana buddista. Così, per la pratica più efficace della mindfulness, essa deve essere insegnato come parte di un percorso spirituale comprensivo e deve essere insegnato da una guida spirituale che può trasmettere gli insegnamenti in modo autentico.

Lo sviluppo e la valutazione empirica di una seconda generazione di interventi basati sulla mindfulness sembra rappresentare una tendenza emergente nella ricerca della mindfulness. I risultati dal nostro lavoro di ricerca con Meditation Awareness Training (MAT), un SG-MBI corso di otto settimane, indicano che SG-MBI possono avere applicazioni nel trattamento di (i) workaholism, (ii) stress legato al lavoro, (iii) stress, (iv) l’ansia, (v) la depressione, (vi) la schizofrenia, e (vii) il gioco d’azzardo patologico. Recenti studi MAT che abbiamo condotto hanno anche dimostrato che SG-MBI possono contribuire a migliorare l’efficacia al lavoro, competenza decisionale e capacità di leadership/gestione più in generale. Studi di SG-MBI da parte di altri ricercatori anche indicano una vasta gamma di applicazioni cliniche e non-clinici per SG-MBI. Ad esempio, studi guidati dal Professor Nirbhay Singh indicano che SG-MBI possono avere utilità come (i) un programma di cessazione di fumare per persone con disabilità intellettiva lieve, (ii) un metodo di regolazione ddella rabbia per gli individui con schizofrenia e (iii) un programma di formazione e sostegno per i genitori al fine di ridurre il comportamento aggressivo e dirompente di loro bambini/adolescenti. Tuttavia, è necessario ricordare che la ricerca di SG-MBI è ancora in una fase iniziale e quindi, anche se i risultati di cui sopra sono promettenti, ulteriori indagini empiriche sono ovviamente necessari. Inoltre, è nostra opinione che piuttosto che competere direttamente con FG-MBI, SG-MBI semplicemente forniscono un approccio alternativo alla pratica della mindfulness che – per alcuni individui – può essere più attraente.

Please note: This article provides a summary of, and is adapted from, a discussion that first appeared in a paper we published in the journal Mindfulness.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Ulteriori letture

Carrette, J., & King, R. (2005). Selling spirituality: The silent takeover of religion. New York: Routledge.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.

McWilliams, S. A. (2014). Foundations of Mindfulness and Contemplation: Traditional and Contemporary Perspectives. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 116-128.

Rosch, E. (2007). More than mindfulness: when you have a tiger by the tail, let it eat you. Psychological Inquiry, 18, 258-264.

*Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2014) Manager’s experiences of Meditation Awareness Training. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0334-y. [Source Article].

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013a). Mindfulness-based interventions: Towards mindful clinical integration. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 1-4. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00194.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014c). The treatment of workaholism with Meditation Awareness Training: A case study. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 10, 193-195.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Dunn, T., Singh, N., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014d). Meditation Awareness Training for work-related wellbeing and job performance: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction,  DOI 10.1007/s11469-014-9513-2.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014e). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for the treatment of co-occurring schizophrenia with pathological gambling: A case study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 181-196.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for improved psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Journal of Religion and Health, 53, 849-863.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J. Curtis, W. J., Wahler, R. G., & McAleavey, K. M. (2007). Mindful parenting decreases aggression and increases social behavior in children with developmental disabilities. Behavior Modification, 31, 749-771.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Karazia, B. T., Singh, A. D. A., Singh, A. N. A., & Singh, J. (2013). A mindfulness-based smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disability. Mindfulness, 4, 148-157.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Karazsia, B. T., & Singh, J. (2014a). Mindfulness-Based Positive Behavior Support (MBPBS) for mothers of adolescents with autism spectrum disorders: Effects on adolescents’ behavior and parental stress. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0321-3.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Myers, R. E., Karazsia, B. T., Winton, A. S. W., & Singh, J. (2014b). A randomized controlled trial of a mindfulness-based smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disability. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 153-168.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Karazsia, B. T., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J., & Wahler, R. G. (2014c). Shenpa and compassionate abiding: Mindfulness-based practices for anger and aggression by individuals with schizophrenia. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 138-152.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Sumich, A., Sundin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014b). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for psychological wellbeing in a sub-clinical sample of university students: A controlled pilot study. Mindfulness, 5, 381-391.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Zangeneh, M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Work-related mental health and job performance: Can mindfulness help? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 129-137.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Mindfulness and the Four Noble Truths. In: Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Singh, N. N. (Eds). Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness. New York: Springer.

A Guided Meditation on Mindful Working

A Guided Meditation on Mindful Working

work mind 4

A particular arm of our research work at the moment is concerned with evaluating the utility of an eight-week secular (i.e., non-religious) mindfulness intervention we developed called Meditation Awareness Training (MAT). Part of our empirical work with MAT involves exploring its potential applications in the workplace setting. The version of MAT that we use in work-related contexts is still based on the original intervention protocol (that was primarily developed for use in clinical settings), but it has undergone a number of modifications. These modifications mostly relate to making the intervention more appealing to organisations who are more likely to support the introduction of mindfulness to their employees where it can be demonstrated that any benefits to psychological wellbeing resulting from participation in MAT also somehow improve overall work effectiveness. Consequently, the majority of mindfulness exercises taught in MAT specifically focus on how to cultivate and practice mindfulness whilst engaging in everyday work situations (e.g., working at the computer, attending meetings, speaking on the telephone, undertaking manual work, etc.). Today’s post features part of a guided mindfulness meditation that is used in week one of the eight-week MAT program in order to help introduce employees to the basic principles of breath awareness and to idea of practising mindfulness ‘on the job’.

Guided Mindfulness Meditation: Mindful Working

  1. Breathing in, when I am working, I remember that I am also breathing; breathing out, I remember to observe my breath as it enters and leaves the body.
  2. Breathing in, I notice whether my breath is deep or shallow, short or long; breathing out, I allow my breath to follow its natural course.
  3. Breathing in, I become fully aware of each individual moment of my breath; breathing out, I taste and experience the texture of breath.
  4. Breathing in, I am aware of my lungs as they rise and fall; breathing out, I am aware of my heart beat.
  5. Breathing in, when I am working, I am fully aware of my bodily posture and movements; breathing out, I remember to go calmly and gently.
  6. Breathing in, there is nowhere else I need to be; breathing out, I am already home.
  7. Breathing in, when I am working, I observe my feelings; breathing out, I cradle my feelings in awareness.
  8. Breathing in, when I am working, I observe the thoughts moving through my mind; breathing out, I allow my thoughts to come and go.
  9. Breathing in, I listen deeply to what others are saying and not saying; breathing out, I observe how these words influence my feelings and thoughts.
  10. Breathing in, I am here; breathing out, I am now.

 

 

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Chapman M. Mindfulness in the workplace: what is the fuss all about? Counselling at Work. 2011; 74 (Autumn):20-24.

Chapman M. Where are we now? Counselling at Work. 2013; 82 (Autumn):4-9.

Dane E, Brummel BJ. Examining workplace mindfulness and its relations to job performance and turnover intention. Human Relations. 2014; 67:105-128.

Grégoire S, Lachance L. Evaluation of a brief mindfulness-based intervention to reduce psychological distress in the workplace. Mindfulness. 2014; DOI::10.1007/s12671-014-0328-9.

Malarkey WB, Jarjoura D, Klatt M. Workplace based mindfulness practice and inflammation: A randomized trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 2013; 27:145-154.

Shonin E, Van Gordon W Managers’ experiences of Meditation Awareness Training. Mindfulness. 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0334-y.

Shonin E, Van Gordon W, Dunn T, Singh N, Griffiths MD. Meditation Awareness Training for work-related wellbeing and job performance: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. 2014; DOI 10.1007/s11469-014-9513-2.

Shonin E, Van Gordon W, Griffiths MD. The treatment of workaholism with Meditation Awareness Training: A Case Study. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing. 2014; 10: 193-195.

Van Gordon W, Shonin E, Zangeneh M, Griffiths MD. Work-related mental health and job performance: Can mindfulness help? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. 2014; 12:129-137.

Should Mindfulness be Taught to the Military?

Should Mindfulness be Taught to the Military?

military

A few months ago, we wrote a post on whether mindfulness should be used in military (and business) settings?  As we mentioned in our earlier post, the issue of using mindfulness in military settings is a reasonably hot topic at the moment because although some people – including ourselves – believe that there is no reason why mindfulness should not be taught to military or business personnel, others are of the view that because mindfulness was originally taught as a means of fostering peace and spiritual awakening, it is inappropriate to teach mindfulness to the armed forces. Since writing the above post, we have received a few emails/comments from people disagreeing with or requesting additional clarification on some of the arguments that we made. Thus, in today’s post, we revisit this topic and provide five reasons why – in our opinion – teaching mindfulness to military personnel is in keeping with Buddhist values and ideals.

  1. The Dharma is for everybody: The Buddhist teachings (known as the Dharma) – which include teachings on mindfulness – are universal in their application. It does not matter if a person is rich or poor, good or bad, famous or obscure, young or old, male or female, or if they purport not to have an interest in matters of a spiritual nature – the Dharma is available for everybody to benefit from. Indeed, it is not for anybody – not even the Buddha – to decide which people should be denied the spiritual teachings and which people should receive them. Each person must make that choice on an individual basis and, really and truly, the only way they can make an informed decision about whether a particular form of spiritual practice is right for them, is if they have the opportunity to try it first. Therefore, introducing military personnel to the mindfulness teachings brings people working in military settings into contact with the Dharma and gives them the opportunity to make an informed decision as to whether mindfulness is a practice they would like to integrate into their lives. This is a good thing.
  2. The Dharma is 100% effective for transforming suffering: The Buddhist teachings are 100% effective for uprooting the causes of suffering and for cultivating wisdom. Indeed, ithas been said by Buddhist teachers of the past that if just one word of the Buddha’s wisdom is correctly put into practice, then lasting benefit will ensue. In other words, if the Buddhist teachings – in whatever form they mayappear – are correctly taught and correctly practiced, then there is only one outcome for the practitioner – an increase in wisdom, compassion, and awareness. In the event that such qualities do not begin to manifest in theindividual, this means that either the teachings are not being taught correctly, or they are not being practiced in the right way.Thus, if a person is not being taught correctly or is not practising the Dharma properly, then no meaningful benefit will arise from their practice and they cannot be called authentic Dharma or authentic mindfulness practitioners. Therefore, as we discussed in our original post on mindfulness and the military, we don’t need to be worried about people potentially misusing the insight or abilities they accrue when practicing the Buddhist teachings – it simply can’t happen. Perhaps a better way of understanding this principle is to think of the Buddhist teachings – including the mindfulness teachings – as having a natural protection or defence mechanism. If a person comes into contact with the Dharma who is not ready to receive the teachings or who intends to use them for selfish or negative purposes, their wrong intention will prevent the teachings from taking root within their being. In fact, all that they will receive will be a theoretical and superficial account of the teachings – and even this won’t be properly understood. Of course, one might argue that with this newly-accumulated theoretical knowledge military personnel may play a part in passing on wrong information or a watered-down version of the Buddhist teachings from one person to another. However, given that there are a lot of (so-called) Buddhist and mindfulness teachers already doing this, then we don’t see why the military should be targeted for criticism over and above anybody else.
  3. Wise and compassionate military leaders are better than mindless ones: In one of the sets of feedback that we received on our original post on this subject, a person commented that “My take is that they [people in the military] should resign and renounce their military affiliations.” Although there is nothing greater we would like than to live in a world where there is no need for countries to have armed forces, unfortunately, this is not the world wecurrently live in. Indeed, if a country decided to disband its armed forces, then because of peoples’ greed and ignorance, thelikelyhood is that the country in question would be subject to invasion from other armed forces, attacks from terrorist groups, and/or a greater amount of civil unrest and rioting. Therefore, if we are going to teach the Dharma, then we have to do so in a way that is realistic, up-to-date, and relevant to the world that we live in. To propose that anybody in the military who wants to live an ethically and morally wholesome life (which in most countries probably includes the overwhelming majority of military personnel) simply resigns their post is not a realistic suggestion and would jeopardise the safety and wellbeing of countless people across the globe.Therefore, a much more pragmatic solution is to have soldiers and military leaders that practice spiritual development and who execute their role with wisdom and loving-kindness for all beings. In fact, if all military personnel who aspire to live a good life and to be good world citizens were to resign from the military, then we think there would be much more conflict and acts of military brutality than there already are. To explain this idea in a different way, we would like to share with you a discussion we had this morning with a young Sri Lankan man who has been assigned by the community we are staying with at the moment to use a sling shot to keep the crows away from washing and feeding in the clean water. We noticed the young man was looking very sad and so we decided to ask him what was upsetting him. He responded by saying that he was upset because the job he had been assigned meant that he could not uphold his Buddhist vows because he was constantly firing stones at the passing crows. We asked the young man how many crows he had actually hit since he took up his post. He said that to his knowledge, he hadn’t actually hit a single crow because he always aims for roof tops or for a branch of a tree so that the birds fly away when they hear the noise. We then asked the man if everybody assigned to do this task does the same thing as him or if some people actually try to hit the birds. The young man responded by explaining that there are some young men in the village who take great pleasure in hitting the crows and who even have competitions with each other to see who can hit or kill the most birds in one day. After hearing this we suggested to the young man that he was actually conducting his role with great compassion and wisdom because on the one hand, he was performing his job effectively by protecting the water from dirt and disease, but at the same time he was preventing other people from causing harm to sentient beings. On hearing this the young man gave the most beautiful smile and happiness returned to his face.In a world where there is lots of greed, negativity and extreme views, it seems that some kind of armed force is essential for acting as a deterrent and for maintaining a relative amount of peace and wellbeing. However, it is definitely possible for military leaders to apply wisdom and compassion in the way in which they conduct their roles and to do their best to find peaceful resolutions to conflicts. For such military leaders, the use of weaponry would be kept to an absolute minimum and weaponry would be used only after all other options had been exhausted. You see, it is all very well saying that under no circumstances must a person take another person’s life, but from time to time situations arise that mean such an approach is not realistic. One obvious example would be eliminating the threat caused by a terrorist who was about to set off a bomb in order to cause harm to hundreds of people. In our opinion, if there was no way to capture and disarm the terrorist without causing them harm, then in the interests of preserving life, it would be acceptable and in keeping with Buddhist values to take defensive action in order to eliminate the threat to many others. The difference is that the mindful or Buddhist practitioner would do so with the greatest amount of love and compassion for the terrorist and would understand that it is ignorance that has led them to such extremist behaviour.
  4. Military personnel often make good Dharma practitioners: Some of the most sincere mindfulness/Dharma practitioners that we have come across have been people with a military background. We are not 100% sure why some people with a military background take very well to the practice of mindfulness but we believe individuals that have completed military service in hostile areas seem to better understand just how harsh and unpredictable life can be. The process of having first-hand experience of death and suffering can sometimes jolt a person out of selfishness and of taking everything for granted. Indeed, here in the West, most people enjoy a privileged lifestyle and do not have to worry about finding food, shelter, or medicine. Despite this, many people in developed countries take their situation for granted and spend all of their time complaining about things or being bigoted and passing judgement on others. Depending on the person and on where they have completed active service, working in the armed forces can sometimes shake a person out of this selfish attitude and cause them to become disillusioned with the soap opera that a large number of civilians choose to adopt as their way of life.
  5. Research supports the use of mindfulness for military personnel: The use of mindfulness in military settings is supported by two different areas of mindfulness research (see further reading list below for examples of studies). The first area is research demonstrating that mindfulness actually helps people to become more compassionate (both for themselves and for others) and to grow in spiritual insight. The second area is research that has been specifically conducted with military personnel and demonstrates that mindfulness both prevents and helps individuals recover from psychological distress.

We hope the above helps to clarify why we cautiously advocate the responsible integration of mindfulness into military settings. However, we appreciate that this is quite a sensitive topic and that not everybody will share our view.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

 

Further Reading

Le, T. N. (2014). Mindfulness-Based Adventure Camp for military youth. Journal of Extension, 52, Article No. 2FEA5.

Rice, V., Boykin, G., Jeter, A., Villarreal, J., Overby, C., & Alfred, P. (2013). The Relationship between mindfulness and resiliency among active duty service members and military veterans. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, 57, 11387-1391.

Stanley, E.A., Schaldach, J. M., Kiyonaga, A., & Jha, A. P. (2011).  Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training: A case study of a high-stress predeployment military cohort. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 18, 566-576.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for improved psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Journal of Religion and Health, 53, 849-863.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2014). Managers’ experiences of Meditation Awareness Training. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0334-y.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Loving-kindness and compassion meditation in psychotherapy. Thresholds: Quarterly Journal of the Association for Pastoral and Spiritual Care and Counselling (A Journal of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy), Spring Issue, 9-12.

Trousselard, M., Steiler, D., Claverie, D., & Canini, F. (2012). Relationship between mindfulness and psychological adjustment in soldiers according to their confrontation with repeated deployments and stressors. Psychology, 3, 100-115.

Williams, M. J., McManus, F., Muse, K., & Williams, J. M. (2011). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for severe health anxiety (hypochondriasis): An interpretative phenomenological analysis of patients’ experiences. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 50, 379-97.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2015). The lineage of mindfulness. Mindfulness, 6, 141-145.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Meditation as medication: Are attitudes changing? British Journal of General Practice, 63, 654.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M. (2015). Towards a second-generation of mindfulness-based interventions. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 49, 591-591.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Compare, A., Zangeneh, M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Buddhist-derived loving-kindness and compassion meditation for the treatment of psychopathology: A systematic review. Mindfulness, 6, 1161-1180.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2013). Searching for the present moment, Mindfulness, 5, 105-107.

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