Mindfulness and the four arrows
Jan05

Mindfulness and the four arrows

This article is adapted from a thread submitted to and published in Shabda, the in-house journal of the Triratna Buddhist Order, in October 2014. It addresses the issue of practising or promoting secular mindfulness within a Buddhist context, and in particular the Triratna context.   A series of meetings were held early in 2014 to talk about live issues for practice within the Triratna Buddhist Community (TBC) and one of the topics was ‘Mindfulness,’ specifically how secular mindfulness should be integrated into our Buddhist movement. I was not at this meeting but as I have been thinking independently about this topic for a number of years, I would like to share my views with you about it. First of all I would like to say that to the extent that secular mindfulness-based therapies help people overcome suffering I am completely behind them. The work that Breathworks do in this area is brilliant, and the fact that mindfulness and compassion are becoming valued in secular society is a good thing. Having said that, there are people who have voiced the concern that secular mindfulness lacks an ethical dimension, and the evidence they have given is that it is now being used in corporate business and by the military, whose ethics are often questionable.   I think the main reason why this is the case is because of something well known in religious education circles: the difference between a professional approach and a confessional one. A confessional teacher teaches their own faith to children of that faith, whereas whatever the beliefs of a professional teacher are, they have to teach as if all religions are equal options. So in this age – secular just means ‘of the age’ – in the West, in order to gain approval and funding, things have to be professionally presented, in the sense that they do not promote a particular value system, including a particular ethical system. So in this system you can teach mindfulness to soldiers to help them deal with their stress – ethics to do with personal health and well being are non-controversial – but you cannot teach them mindfulness in order that they don’t go round shooting people. That has to be left to their own consciences.   With our self designated project of bringing Buddhism to the West, what we are dealing with here is our main collective problem – in the sense Bhante means it: not a difficulty. This is our MAIN COLLECTIVE KOAN. How do you deal with the boundary between the actual values of the majority of society in the West and the values of Triratna Buddhism or...

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