Mindfulness Meditation is Buddhist Meditation

Recently, Lion’s Roar published an article entitled, Conservative Christian Group Launches Campaign Against “Buddhist Meditation” in Public Schools. They promoted the article with a Tweet that read, “One commentator called the mindfulness programs (which are nonreligious, scientifically-validated stress relief practices) ‘aggressive Buddhist teaching’.”

According to Lion’s Roar, “The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a conservative Christian watchdog group … takes issue with the secular mindfulness programs that have been implemented in some schools … (and) says that mindfulness practices ‘equate to Buddhism’.” The ACLJ was founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, the guy that said you shouldn’t buy second hand clothes because they might have demons and curses attached to them (this would be almost my entire wardrobe), and that maybe we ought to bring back the custom of beating rebellious wives.

The Lion’s Roar piece features a quote from someone who called in to a conservative talk radio program saying, “This could be corrupting our children’s eternal souls. I have two small children, and I don’t want them sitting around just thinking about creation and goodness and peace. I mean, if my two angels, who are innocent, are gonna be learning about explorers, they should be learning about Jesus or Trump.”

So, yeah. There’s some folks out there saying pretty kooky stuff.

But are mindfulness programs really “nonreligious, scientifically-validated stress relief practices”?

If you ask me, “mindfulness meditation” is Buddhist meditation. That makes it harder to make money off of, but denying that it’s based in Buddhism is dishonest. And stripping mindfulness away from Buddhism is not a good idea.

Many years ago, a friend’s conservative Christian mother feared that meditation might open me up to demonic possession. I made fun of this idea in one of my books, saying that Zen retreats were often so boring that I wished I’d get possessed by demons, just to break up the tedium.

But the fact is, her fears were not without merit. Mindfulness meditation continues to rise in popularity. As it does, more and more people are discovering that this practice that’s promoted as a perfectly safe way to relieve stress can have other, quite different effects. Take, for example, one meditator who reported having, “thoughts like, ‘Let me take over you,’ combined with confusion and tons of terror,” and “(a) vision of death with a scythe and a hood, and the thought ‘Kill yourself’ over and over again.” Sounds a little like the kind of thing some might call “demon possession.” It’s not really demon possession — obviously, because there’s no such thing as demon possession. But I can see why people in the past might have described it that way.

Look. I’m a Buddhist who has meditated most of his life. Yet I would not be comfortable with some random elementary school teacher teaching mindfulness meditation to, let’s say, my niece when she was 10 after as little as six days of training. That’s like saying, “Hey! You want to be a psychiatrist? I can teach you how in a week. It’s just talking to people!”

Because it’s easy as pie to teach someone how to meditate. It takes me literally about three minutes to show someone how to do zazen. The follow-up to that, though, takes a lot of skill. After 20 years of working at it I’m finally starting to feel somewhat competent, though I still encounter plenty of incidents where I’m totally out of my depth.

Some people classify Buddhism as a religion. I tend to think of it as a meditation system with 2,500 years of research and development across multiple cultures and eras. Programs like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction have a lot of work to do before they get to that point.

I get the problem, though. We all know meditation has beneficial effects. Science has proven it! Or so I’m told.

But we live in a Christian culture. Christianity is an exclusive religion. “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” and all that. The Greek and Roman religions that preceded Christianity in the west weren’t like that. No one complained if you worshipped both Jupiter and Apollo. Heck, you could even throw in Zeus and Mithras. Nobody cared. Same with Hinduism. You’re not a bad Hindu if your altar contains Krishna and Ganesh. You can even put Buddha on there if you want. 

Likewise, Buddhists don’t mind if you’re both Christian and Buddhist. But Christians sure do! So do Muslims. This is a serious problem for people of those faiths who also want to practice meditation forms that derive from Buddhism. And there can be no question that the current best-selling meditation systems come straight outta Buddhism.

You can try telling Christians and Muslims that Buddhism is not a religion. I do that a lot. But I have to admit that it sure looks and feels an awful lot like a religion sometimes. And some forms of Buddhism definitely are religions that worship Buddha as a god. Which doesn’t help my case.

I wish I had a nice, neat solution to offer, but, sadly, I do not.

Before I go, though, I’d like to bring up another issue around this.

I do not like the way articles like this one invite us to mock Christians and Christianity. I am not a Christian. But I do feel that Christians are justified in saying they feel like Christianity is under attack these days.

It’ll be Christmas next week, and both social and mainstream media have been all a-buzz with people making fun of the supposed “War on Christmas.” Honestly, though, I think the people who claim this are somewhat justified. Calling it a “war” overstates things, certainly. But they’ve got a point.

When I read pieces like this one, I feel sorry for my perceived role in heckling and ridiculing Christians. Writer Sam Littlefair ought to be ashamed for using that quotation about “learning about Jesus or Trump.” It’s an easy dig at those who believe in a religion different from his. It’s really sad to see someone from “my religion” stooping to such cheap tactics.

I really wish Buddhist writers would stop doing shit like that. It makes us all look petty.

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