By Enrico Blanca
After reading Leo Babauta’s article The Reality of Mindfulness, I noticed he presented Vipassana style mindfulness practice, in its current Western form, approvingly and as bereft of an ethical framework.
The piece cheerfully accepts contemporary Vipassana practice, a deracinated, secularized, instrumentalized and commodified pale imitation of its classical Buddhist model, and it begins by saying that it is “wonderful” that mindfulness is now a “buzzword.” Yet, can there be anything good to say about the reduction of a venerable and profound tradition to another commodity that is bought and sold among all the other self-help pseudo therapies?
It seems Vipassana has now been denuded of its centuries-old focus on rigorous meditation and disciplined morality. What remains can be any or all of the following: a technique for stress reduction (what I like to call “relaxationism”), being alert instead of zoning out, a treatment for medical problems, a way to increase cognitive capacities, a version of psychotherapy, and an aide to the great American pursuit of happiness.
When a word is applied so broadly, it comes to mean not much of anything.
Now, one thing that hip white professionals of a certain “spiritual” bent (as for me, I am religious but not spiritual) do not much care for are the rituals, moral guidelines and soteriological functions of religion. Thus, while mindfulness markets itself as drawing from a 2,500 year old religious tradition, it gets rid of all the hocus-pocus and pesky cautions against doing “whatever ya wanna.” Against this, suburban New Agers would surely revolt.
Despite the article’s claims that mindfulness meditation is “powerful” and hard,” in its current Westernized forms it is just another consumer-friendly adjunct to the good life. Nothing is mentioned about its widespread adoption by business via coaches holding workshops which try to turn disgruntled employees into efficient, docile and pliable drones. Criticize your bastard of a boss? No. You are being judgmental. Organize colleagues for just a small say on working conditions? No. Your problems are internal and can be meditated away.
Presumably the chronically over-worked and under-employed, those lacking health care and those exploited by structure of class, racial and gender privilege, should not “blame…external forces” but better to spend their time adjusting their minds by following their breathing.
But, good news at last!
The article goes on to say that mindfulness is only “part of the work [which] also requires compassion—for yourself and others.” But how is this compassion to be expressed without any notion of Right Livelihood? Indeed, the military makes much use of mindfulness training for its soldiers. “….without needing to control things” we can love everything just as it is. Tempted to speak out, critique and protest against injustice? You need to correct habitual negative thought patterns which do not allow you to contentedly sip your decaf and munch your raisins, as if that takes “courage.”
I do not wish an ad hominum attack on the author. He seems like a well-meaning chap. And, who knows, what he recommends may serve as a kind of gateway drug to stronger, more authentic stuff. He identifies himself as the founder of a group which focuses on “creat[ing] something amazing [and finding] happiness.” But maybe it is our relentless, driven pursuit of happiness through every version of self-care and self-improvement coming down the middle way which is making us so miserable.
Fellow seekers, avoid the mindfulness craze. Rather, make the transition from your cushions to the streets. Bring your meditational insights and compassion to activism for all suffering sentient beings.
Enrico Blanca is a free range intellectual (of pecking intelligence), poet, flaneur, socialist and cosmopolitan bon vivant who lives in New York City. He has had a nearly 30 year career as an academic librarian and is now embarking on a second one as a substance abuse counselor. A long-time Zen practitioner, he now studies with Barry Magid at the Ordinary Mind Zendo. He has a passion for music, cooking, writing and performing his poetry, and cherchez les femmes. Right now he is all about Ikkyu.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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