A few days back I blogged about a Washington Post article that discussed mindfulness’s uses in dealing with diseases like cancer (“It’s mindfulness but is it Buddhism? Does it matter?“). Given the number of comments and a few mentions on other blogs (our friend the Rev. Danny Fisher‘s, to name one), I invited B. Alan Wallace to comment. It was Wallace whom the Dalai Lama spoke to about this, the latter saying that while mindfulness applied in a number of disciplines is certainly a good thing, “it’s not Buddhism.”
Here’s Alan’s comment:
What the Dalai Lama was referring to was this: mindfulness as popularly defined these days does not correspond to any traditional Buddhist definition in either the Pali canon or Sanskrit canon, so in this regard it’s not Buddhist. But more importantly, the Buddhist practice of mindfulness is embedded within the three training of ethics, samadhi, and wisdom and within the Eightfold Noble Path. The modern practice of mindfulness, in contrast, is often presented as a stand-alone, secular practice, with little or no reference to ethics or samadhi. Finally, there’s nothing distinctively Buddhist about the practice of “bare attention,” with which the Buddhist practice of mindfulness is falsely conflated. It was practiced long before the Buddha and it’s practiced widely outside the Buddhist tradition, so in this regard, too, it’s not Buddhism.
Jon Kabat Zinn, for instance, does not feel the need to refer to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction as “Buddhist,” preferring simply to invite all to benefit from mindfulness practice within whatever tradition they practice, or none at all. It’s Alan’s point, I think, to not confuse this with Buddhist practice, and to understand that Buddhism has much, much more to offer than, say, “bare attention.”
As for “Does it matter?” No, as long as it’s clear what it is we’re practicing, for Wallace, and that MBSR works to alleviate suffering, for Kabat Zinn.
Thanks for the comment, Alan!
Sign up for Tricycle’s newsletters
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.