Why I Avoid Using the Word “Mindfulness”

mindfulness-nen

Yesterday a guy contacted me because he’s writing an article about whether or not Buddhists should smoke cigarettes. When he asked my opinion I said, “Nobody should smoke cigarettes!”

He wanted to interview me as a Buddhist teacher anyway and he sent me some questions. Rather than getting me thinking about cigarette smoking, though, two of his questions got me thinking a lot about the concept of mindfulness.

The questions were:

Is smoking cigarettes inherently unmindful?”

and

“Can mindfulness help people quit smoking?”

The Japanese word that’s usually translated as “mindfulness” is up there in the graphic I posted. It’s pronounced nen. The character consists of two parts. The top part can be its own separate character, which is pronounced ima and means “now.” The bottom part can also be its own separate character and is pronounced kokoro or shin when it is. This can be translated as both “mind” and “heart” depending on the context. The concepts of “mind” and “heart” (not as in the organ in the chest but the more conceptual meaning) are usually considered to be the same thing in Japanese.

This idea of “nen” (or “smirti” in Sanskrit) is an important concept that has been used by all forms of Buddhism since the very early days of the movement. But the word “mindfulness” as it’s used these days seems to be something very different.

It appears to me that when people I encounter use the word “mindfulness” or its variants like “mindful,” “mindfully,” and so on, they mean one of three things. These are:

1) The commercial meditation products created and endorsed by Jon Kabat Zinn and marketed under the names Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Mindful Living Programs which are taught through an organization called the Center for Mindfulness based in Massachusetts.

2) Sort of, like, y’know, being, like, kinda, present and in the moment and stuff and, y’know, like, kinda thinking about what you do and whatever…

3) Some Buddhist thing that’s good for you but I don’t know anything else about it.

This is why I’ve been avoiding the word “mindfulness” for the past few years. I don’t know anything much about Jon Kabat Zinn’s thing. Though I get kind of annoyed when people pick up some aspect of Buddhism, trademark it and then make a fortune selling a watered down version to a public who assume the folks who own the trademark made the thing up themselves. It’s like if I trademarked Just Sittingâ„¢ and made a fancy logo then sold it to folks in the form of 8-week courses with associated books and paraphernalia (hmmmm… that’s actually a good idea… watch this space!).

I mean, I suppose it’s better than selling people heroin or game shows. I’d rather see people doing mindfulness courses than, I dunno, beating up random folks on the street. Still, I wonder what’s really going on.

Nishijima Roshi, my teacher, commented about this trend back in 2008 on his blog. There he said, among other things, “many people … think that the idea of ‘mindfulness’ is very important in understanding Buddhism. But I think that such interpretation includes very dangerous misunderstandings. Therefore I have been thinking for many years that we should understand the true meaning of ‘mindfulness.’ We should never misunderstand that having ‘mindfulness’ is a kind of True Buddhism. The idea of having ‘mindfulness’ may be an example of idealistic philosophy. The isolated reverence of ‘mindfulness’ can never be Buddhism. It is only idealistic philosophical thought.” He suggested that we use the word “consciousness” instead.

I’ve already edited that quotation a bit to try to make it clearer (I used to do that for him when he was alive, so I don’t think he’d mind), but let me try and explain a little further. Nishijima often talked about “True Buddhism.” I’ve tended to shy away from using that phrase because when I have people reacted badly as if the next step was going to be suggesting that we burn all those who were not True Buddhists at the stake or something.

Instead of that, what I want to hone in on is the part where he says “the isolated reverence of ‘mindfulness’ can never be Buddhism.” In other words, we can’t just remove mindfulness from its context. Well, we can, I suppose. But it would be like the difference between engaging in a full course of good diet, healthy exercise and adequate amounts of rest, or just doing a bunch of push-ups every morning and continuing to eat your normal bag of Doritos and a Twinkie for every meal.

Mindfulness is not a synonym for Buddhist practice. Lots of people, including the guy who sent me those interview questions, appear to think they’re the same thing. They’re not. In fact, I kind of wonder what this “mindfulness” thing even is that people are talking about.

Like Nishijima Roshi, it appears to me that the word indicates some kind of idealistic, intellectual process. It sounds to me as if people might be being taught to get really, really into their heads. Even if that’s not what’s going on in the MBSRâ„¢ courses, the general tone of whatI hear whenever the word comes up appears to indicate a very “heady” sort of thing.

In the context of Buddhist training, mindfulness is one of the Noble Eightfold Path. The full list is:

1) Right View

2) Right Intention

3) Right Speech

4) Right Action

5) Right Livelihood

6) Right Effort

7) Right Mindfulness

8) Right Concentration

Slicing just one of these out and presenting it by itself is not the worst thing you could ever do. They’re all good. But the Buddha regarded them as equally important parts of a full system. The physical ones, like speech, action, livelihood and effort, are just as important as the mental ones like view, intention, mindfulness and concentration. Notice that there are four of each.

To get back to the questions that initially got me thinking about this, I do not teach mindfulness, so I can’t say whether mindfulness would help someone stop smoking. Maybe it would. My dad used to hypnotize people to get them to stop smoking. So I know that works sometimes. As to whether or not smoking is “unmindful,” I just don’t know what that question means at all. I’ve tried and tried but I can’t come up with anything coherent.

I picture a guy smoking a cigarette and really concentrating hard on it, really tasting the smoke, really feeling the burn in his throat and lungs, really getting into his cigarette. I suppose it could be done. When I see people smoking, they usually seem pretty absent minded about it. Then again, when I see people eating they generally seem to be more involved in something else. We’d all be better off if more people got more involved in what they were doing, I think.

But this word “mindfulness,” I just want to stay away from it.

*   *   *

I certainly don’t mind if you send me donations!

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98 Responses

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  1. sri_barence
    sri_barence November 24, 2014 at 9:39 am |

    I don’t know much about Vipassana, but it does seem like a “mindfulness” approach to Buddhist practice, from what I’ve read. Maybe I misunderstood.

    Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say, “Keep clear mind, and help others.” So his point of view was that our practice was not simply to keep our minds clear (“mindfulness practice”), but to do some action – helping others.

    Korean Zen (Seon) has a lot of physical practice, mostly in the form of bowing. Practitioners often do 1000 or more full prostrations every day. Maybe they do it “mindfully.” But I think the Koreans don’t want to focus so much on the mind, but rather on taking direct action in the present.

    And stop knocking on Doritos! Doritos are cool!

  2. Daniel
    Daniel November 24, 2014 at 10:25 am |

    Well…let’s be happy than that the word “Zen” is not overused, also that “Zazen” and “Shikantaza” are not overused and clear to everyone and “Hishiryo” etc. are totally approachable for non-zen-nerds.

    What’s so terribly wrong zen-nerds when buddhist meditation is translated in a way guys like Dan Harris, my mum and even my grandpa can understand and actually put into practice? They feel better, live a happier life and are more friendly and nice to each other. Why is that so terrible? Because they don’t chant the hanya-shingyo before they sit in their chairs and do some meditation? Because they don’t hold their handy in the cosmic mudra and have people behind them hitting’em with a stick? Because they aren’t as hardcore as you are and do rohatsu-sesshins? Why do you even give a shit…just keep on doing your nerd-thing with 20 other guys somewhere in the mountains away from society, away from guys who have normal jobs, kids and stuff…cmon. Grow up. Please.

    When it comes to mindfulness maybe you should read some Suttas from talks from that guy named Budda you know…was sort of before Dogen and Nishijima and stuff. Maybe he has something to say about Mindfulness, like here in the Satipatthana Sutta:

    Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living in the Kuru country at a town of the Kurus named Kammãsadhamma. There he addressed the monks thus: “Monks.” “Venerable sir,” they replied. The Blessed One said this:

    “Monks, this is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the sur- mounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of dukkha and discontent, for acquiring the true method, for the realization of Nibbãna, namely, the four satipaììhãnas.

    “What are the four? Here, monks, in regard to the body a monk abides con- templating the body, diligent, clearly knowing, and mindful, free from desires and discontent in regard to the world. In regard to feelings he abides contemplating feelings, diligent, clearly knowing, and mindful, free from desires and discontent in regard to the world. In regard to the mind he abides contemplating the mind, diligent, clearly knowing, and mindful,free from desires and discontent in regard to the world. In regard to dhammas he abides contemplating dhammas, diligent, clearly knowing, and mindful, free from desires and discontent in regard to the world.

    “And how, monks, does he in regard to the body abide contemplating the body? Here, gone to the forest, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty hut, he sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, and estab- lished mindfulness in front of him, mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out.
    “Breathing in long, he knows ‘I breathe in long,’ breathing out long, he knows ‘I breathe out long.’ Breathing in short, he knows ‘I breathe in short,’ breathing out short, he knows ‘I breathe out short.’ He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body,’ he trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out experiencing the whole body.’ He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in calming the bodily formation,’ he trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out calming the bodily for- mation.’
    “Just as a skilled turner or his apprentice, when making a long turn, knows ‘I make a long turn,’ or when making a short turn knows ‘I make a short turn’ so too, breathing in long, he knows ‘I breathe in long,’… (con- tinue as above).

    “In this way, in regard to the body he abides contemplating the body internally, or he abides contemplating the body externally, or he abides contemplating the body both internally and externally. Or, he abides contem- plating the nature of arising in the body, or he abides contemplating the nature of passing away in the body, or he abides contemplating the nature of both arising and passing away in the body. Or, mindfulness that ‘there is a body’ is established in him to the extent necessary for bare knowledge and continuous mindfulness. And he abides independent, not clinging to any- thing in the world.
    “That is how in regard to the body he abides contemplating the body.

    Complete Sutta here: http://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg.de/fileadmin/pdf/analayo/DirectPath.pdf

    This goes on for a bit longer…but if the budda says that Mindfulness is the direct path to nibbana, maybe it’s worth giving a shit about Mindfulness, huh?

  3. mb
    mb November 24, 2014 at 10:36 am |

    Well, so it goes in our Western society. In Vipassana (I’m mostly familiar with Shinzen Young’s eclectic approach), mindfulness is used in the context of sitting meditation practice as a series of techniques to unravel the tangled strands of sensory experience (mental/emotional/physical), which can lead to mental clarity and equanimity.

    Jon Kabat-Zinn (son of political activist Howard Zinn) saw great potential for helping trauma victims with this and re-adapted what he learned through his own Buddhist meditation practice into a “secular” form and poof! MBSR was born. Now it’s catching on like wildfire and being pressed into dubious service, like helping soldiers on the battlefield be more “centered” during stressful combat situations or helping business executives be more effective in implementing their ruthless profit-making strategies or helping the average Joe
    cope better with overly-stressful situations they may find themselves “trapped” in their everyday lives, or for more banal applications like quitting smoking or weight loss.

    The same exact thing has been going on in the yoga world for quite some time. Physical asana being only 1 of the 8 limbs of yoga is almost exclusively stressed here in the west and being similarly touted for weight loss, used as an activity to sell expensive clothing and create outsized egos for “superstar” yoga teachers. But at its core, it was meant as a way to create and maintain physical health so as to then be able to more easily sit still and meditate!

    Ain’t nothing new going on here. Our profit-driven economic system encourages such adaptations and it’s up to us to separate the wheat from the chaff and find the value in such adaptations…or not.

  4. justlui
    justlui November 24, 2014 at 11:08 am |

    Semantics games in Buddhism usually just result in a big dick measuring contest at best. It’s so hard to really know what is processed in another human being based on a word. Especially an English translation of a Japanese pronunciation of a Chinese translation of a sanskrit word that is being processed by someone with their own patterns doing the programming. One might use the word differently than another, but both might hold a conversation thinking that they get what the other means.

    Language is quite complex, so I usually don’t worry about the words people use if they aren’t meaning any real harm.

  5. Steve
    Steve November 24, 2014 at 11:39 am |

    I don’t disagree with anything you said. But I started meditating with the Jon Kabat Zinn pain treatment center program. All we did was pay attention to our breath all the way in and all the way out. When we realized that our minds were off the breath, we noted what it was on, and then we returned to concentrating on the breath. There was a way in which there was always “you” looking at some object of your awareness. But after doing this for 8 months to a year, I began to suspect that something much more profound was going on that wasn’t being explained or addressed at all. So I started looking around different places to find someone who could teach me more about what was actually happening in meditation. And for various reasons, I settled on a zen teacher. If someone had said to me in the beginning of this, “You know what would really help your nerve damage and constant never ending every single moment of horrible pain? Looking into the true nature of reality the way the Buddha taught!” I would have told them thanks but no thanks. So yeah, I suppose you can use “mindfulness” as a means of becoming a better adjusted criminal. But I’m also really glad it is out there.

  6. theNursePath
    theNursePath November 24, 2014 at 11:46 am |

    Agree with much of what you say Brad.
    However there is a growing evidence base for the real benefits of practices such as MBCT and MBSR on many clinical conditions.

    See here: thenursepath.com/2014/11/23/a-mindfulness-bubble-map/

  7. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 24, 2014 at 11:47 am |

    Good one, Brad! Got no money to light up your life at the moment, but have a Dorrito! (here, it’s right here!)

    Gautama the Shakyan described the setting up of mindfulness, and the four initial meditative states (jhanas) frequently. Aspects of the body, the feelings, the mind, and the states of mind were described, and after each aspect was described, Gautama said: “… and (one) fares along independently of and not grasping anything in the world.” (MN I 57, Pali Text Society volume I pg 74)

    Later on, he gave an abbreviated setting up of mindfulness, which he said was his own practice before enlightenment, as well as the Tathagatha’s way of life (meaning, his practice after enlightenment, if you gave him enough Prozac to eliminate the pyschosis– but who would want to do that!). In the abbreviated version, it’s sixteen particular mindfulnesses in association with in-breaths and out-breaths, rather than only the four mindfulnesses of the body in association with in-breaths and out-breaths (as in the other recitations of the setting up of mindfulness). Gautama then categorizes the sixteen particular mindfulnesses he described, saying the first four are mindfulness of the body, the second four mindfulness of feelings, the third four mindfulness of the mind, and the last four mindfulness of the state of mind. (MN III 82-84, PTS volume III pgs 125-126, and SN V chapter on “Kindred Sayings About In-Breathing and Out-Breathing).

    Lastly, we have this, which I have quoted here before:

    ‘(Anyone)…knowing and seeing eye as it really is, knowing and seeing material shapes… visual consciousness… impact on the eye as it really is, and knowing, seeing as it really is the experience, whether pleasant, painful, or neither painful nor pleasant, that arises conditioned by impact on the eye, is not attached to the eye nor to material shapes nor to visual consciousness nor to impact on the eye; and that experience, whether pleasant, painful, or neither painful nor pleasant, that arises conditioned by impact on the eye–neither to that is (such a one) attached. …(Such a one’s) physical anxieties decrease, and mental anxieties decrease, and bodily torments… and mental torments… and bodily fevers decrease, and mental fevers decrease. (Such a one) experiences happiness of body and happiness of mind. (repeated for ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind).

    Whatever is the view of what really is, that for (such a one) is right view; whatever is aspiration for what really is, that for (such a one) is right aspiration; whatever is endeavour for what really is, that is for (such a one) right endeavour; whatever is mindfulness of what really is, that is for (such a one) right mindfulness; whatever is concentration on what really is, that is for (such a one) right concentration. And (such a one’s) past acts of body, acts of speech, and mode of livelihood have been well purified.’

    (Majjhima-Nikaya, Pali Text Society volume 3 pg 337-338, ©Pali Text Society)

    And now from the plumvillage.org site:

    “Let us support Thay by sustaining our practice of mindfulness throughout the day, wherever we are, keeping Thay alive within us and within our community.”

    Standard stuff, such as might be heard at any Zen center during sesshin, about sustaining practice throughout meals, breaks, and work period, except that whoever wrote the Plum Village piece put a name to the practice (“mindfulness”), which Zen folks would make the sign of the cross at, so as to fend off the evil spirit invoked.

    “With deep conscious breaths and mindful steps, let us allow Thay’s teachings to ripen within us, helping us see Thay’s continuation body and Thay’s sangha body.”

    Now I’m making the sign of the non-cross, as a non-Buddhist, and particularly a non-Zen-Buddhist, so as to avoid the evil spell of the plum village disciple. I’m going with Nan-yueh:

    “The Patriarch asked, “Where do you come from?” Nan-yueh answered, “From Mt. Sung”. The Patriarch said, “What is it that comes like this?” Nan-yueh replied, “To say anything would be wrong”. The Patriarch said, “Then is it contingent on practice and verification?” Nan-yueh said, “Practice and verification are not nonexistent, they are not to be defiled.”‘

    (“Dogen’s Manuals of Zen Meditation”, by Carl Bielefeldt, pg 138)

  8. sfigato
    sfigato November 24, 2014 at 1:34 pm |

    I’ve stopped using “mindfulness” as well (along with “loving kindness). It seems to have become an industry buzzword, which I think makes it seem more like trendy jargon than an actual useful concept. I have no beef with Kabot-Zinn’s work, but every other self-help and business book seems to have latched on to the concept and is selling it, in typical American fashion, as a quick and easy way to solve all your problems.

    That said, I also don’t have a problem with people taking elements of religions or philosophies without the whole thing. I think some of the ten commandments and Christian principles are great – I try to turn the other cheek, not kill, and not judge others. Christians would probably be mad at me for not accepting Jesus Christ as my personal savior, thus missing the entire point of the faith, but I’m getting what I get out of it. If what you get out of Buddhism is to be more mindful, great. So much of our culture is decontexutalized from its beginnings – even most faiths sort of miss some of the main points of their founders’ teachings. People killing in the name of a God that forbade killing. Building huge lavish churches in honor of a faith that was against materialism. Building TWO, count ’em TWO massive churches in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, who was explicitly against that kind of conspicuous opulence.

  9. miguelito
    miguelito November 24, 2014 at 2:00 pm |

    Brad,

    You make a lot of good points here–I especially like your points (and Nishijima’s) about the tendency for mindfulness to become an “idealistic philosophy”, and the weirdness and wrongness of taking one part of the Noble eightfold path and emphasizing that. Both of those things are definitely happening.

    But I think you mischaracterize MBSR. I’m not a trained MBSR teacher, but I’m a Zennie who works as a psychologist in a medical clinic, and have got to say that his stuff has changed the landscape. People sure are a lot more open to meditation these days, and I’d guess that his work is no small part. (Though strangely, I’m not sure that more people are actually going to intensive meditation retreats).

    And part of what I really appreciate about Kabat-Zinn is that he’s pretty specific about saying that he doesn’t “trademark” his program, and that he’s open to anyone teaching his program and even using the MBSR name (as opposed to some other meditation purveyors). He just asks that you sit regularly if you’re going to teach it. And basically MBSR is literally just meditation + yoga + body scan in an 8 week program packaged so as to appeal to medical clinics. At least that’s what I remember from his books. But he doesn’t read, at least to me, as a superficial teacher, but as someone who understands the whole path. The one thing MBSR definitely does not have is like a student-teacher sort of relationship. So there’s that.

    But you have to admit that Full Catastrophe Living is a pretty cool title.

    Anyway, you have a point, and I know you’re criticizing the whole mindfulness things and not just MBSR, and I think it’s good for Buddhists to criticize it. I think mindfulness, and actually Buddhism in general, have become weird sort of totem objects for the culture.

  10. Daniel
    Daniel November 24, 2014 at 2:19 pm |

    Brad Wrote: “I don’t know anything much about Jon Kabat Zinn’s thing.”

    So maybe better learn a bit about him, what he did and does instead of writing negatively about him and his work. Jesus.

    For sure he did a lot more for humanity than you Brad, that’s for sure. So maybe think before you write. Mindfully or not.

    1. Khru 2.0
      Khru 2.0 November 26, 2014 at 6:42 pm |

      Daniel,

      You seem to have an extremely strong emotional connection with your opinions; this must be rather painful.

  11. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer November 24, 2014 at 2:34 pm |

    Daniel,

    Telling people to think and read carefully before they write is very good advice.

    Cheers.

  12. The Idiot
    The Idiot November 24, 2014 at 5:31 pm |

    Lots of Wisdom!

  13. Brent
    Brent November 24, 2014 at 6:30 pm |
  14. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon November 24, 2014 at 6:43 pm |

    “I don’t know what they have to say,
    It makes no difference anyway,
    Whatever it is, I’m against it…”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29E6GbYdB1c

  15. Mumbles
    Mumbles November 24, 2014 at 7:23 pm |
  16. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 24, 2014 at 8:47 pm |

    Now heart-mind.

    What Steve said.

    Where is the heart-mind: to say anything would be wrong.

  17. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 24, 2014 at 8:48 pm |

    not to say anything, also ran.

  18. Sabine
    Sabine November 24, 2014 at 11:03 pm |

    You are correct to assume that mindfulness taught in the MBSR curriculum is not teaching people to get into their heads.
    Being MBSR teacher and Zen student I do not see why teaching mindfulness gets your pants in a twist like that.
    Maybe the money people get for teaching MBSR? Rest assured that I do get less than you for my time with the students. And Jon Kabat-Zinn does not get anything from me or my students. Except when someone buys his books. Like yours.
    As often the crux is in the details. Take a look at programs like Search inside Yourself. There you will find a real nudge towards “optimizing” your brain to better function in the professional life. And those guys take a certification fee that has to be renewed each year to be allowed to teach it. Nothing like that in MBSR.
    I like you a lot, Brad. And have enjoyed the retreat with you in Benediktushof last year. But I would be happy if you would get a little more info before starting rants.

    1. Amiga-Freak
      Amiga-Freak November 27, 2014 at 11:58 pm |

      Hey Sabine,

      I agree with you completely.
      However, I mainly wanted to say “Hello”, since I was there, too. Last year at the Benediktushof 🙂
      Nice to read from you!

      Yours,
      Michael

  19. barryevans
    barryevans November 25, 2014 at 3:28 am |

    Enjoyed Brad’s post, and even more so, the comments, especially about his snarkiness about Jon Kabat Zinn’s program–I do tend to agree with Sabine, “Being MBSR teacher and Zen student I do not see why teaching mindfulness gets your pants in a twist like that.”

    I’m no great fan of MBSR either, from what I’ve read about it, for the reasons Brad offers, but realistically that’s the future of Buddhism (I doubt the Buddha–charitably assuming there was such a person–would recognize what we do as anything like he taught). Get over it and be happy that we’re moving generally in the right direction.

    I’ve started avoiding the word “meditation” on the same lines Brad is avoiding “mindfulness.” All that baggage, expectations, interpretations. Now I just sit quietly. But I’m sure not going to worry about anyone else using the word.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot November 25, 2014 at 5:05 pm |

      Hi, Barry!

      This is the fellow from Boston/Vermont that sat with you ten years ago in Eureka and Arcata.

      You said,
      . . . but realistically that’s the future of Buddhism (I doubt the Buddha—charitably assuming there was such a person—would recognize what we do as anything like he taught). Get over it and be happy that we’re moving generally in the right direction.

      I partly disagree. It’s *one* way we’re moving. I’m glad MBSR and its ilk are palatable and attractive to psychological professionals, just like I’m glad Secular Buddhism is available to materialists who find religious trappings abhorrent. But I’d as soon take the whole package in its traditional form, and I’m glad to say there seem to be lots of teaching lines still providing such. A healthy Buddhism should easily include Toni Packer and Ven. Hsuan Hua.

      Regards to Louisa et al.! May a thousand flowers blossom!

  20. Khru 2.0
    Khru 2.0 November 25, 2014 at 5:17 am |

    Daniel,

    You seem to have an extremely strong emotional connection with your opinions; this must be rather painful.

    1. Daniel
      Daniel November 26, 2014 at 10:24 am |

      Usually I don’t, but there are things that get me emotional yea and Brads posts regularly do. Maybe I shouldn’t read this blog, it really drives me mad sometimes.

      But I guess Brad knows this and this is why he posts stuff like that. It’s just a very easy way to collect “hits” on a website, so it’s a smart thing to do. He gets all the trolls like me to get angry and post…I don’t believe he would do so otherwise. At least I hope he doesn’t, he can’t be that naive.

  21. joerg
    joerg November 25, 2014 at 6:41 am |

    In Zen-context, often the two characters 用心 (joujin) are translated with “mindfulness” (see for example the tale of Ikkyu mounting a skull on his cane, shouting “gojoujin gojoujin” while walking along).

    This “用心/joujin” is more associated with “watch out!” or “take care!”, like in the 火の用心 (“watch out for fire”) signpost near almost every Japanese fire place. I prefer that very practical approach when speaking of “mindfulness”.

  22. RandomStu
    RandomStu November 25, 2014 at 8:25 am |

    People with complicated minds take a puff from a cigarette and, for a moment, their minds become simple.

    Also: if you live too long, your friends die, and you get lonely.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot November 25, 2014 at 5:33 pm |

      Cigarette smoking leads to self-knowledge when you try to quit. Humility, too.

      Actually, quitting isn’t that hard – I’ve done it hundreds of times.

      Can you use Zen tools, like, say, mindfulness, to quit? I’d say it can help you see through the craving, which is the important thing. Doing that, I stopped my tobacco habit with surprising ease.

  23. RandomStu
    RandomStu November 25, 2014 at 8:30 am |

    You’re driving down the road. You approach a red light, so you stop. When the light turns green, you go. One name for that is “mindfulness.”

    Or you’re driving down the road, regretting something in the past, or hoping for something in the future. Being lost in thought, you drive through the red light and hit a van full of nuns. You could call that “lack of mindfulness.”

    Off-hand, though, I’d prefer a word like “attention,” since it’s simpler, less jargony.

  24. econompe
    econompe November 25, 2014 at 11:03 am |

    I am not one to post online, but I feel compelled here since I just gave a lecture yesterday on Buddhism where I focused on the nonjudgment and acceptance within the different schools of Buddhism. I did of course mention the territorial and insecurities of some teachers, and then the subsequent drama and institutionalization that Siddhartha would likely not admire. My points:

    1. My teacher, Kennedy Roshi, embraced my questions about his practice of Zen since I had studied Tibetan Buddhism prior to entering his sangha. He was not defensive. He was open. He was directive. He was warm. All the things one would expect of a Zen teacher.
    2. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has significant empirical evidence of its efficacy to decrease or eliminate suffering. Isn’t that what we practice as Buddhists? Isn’t that the first two of the four noble truths (arguably the first three but since you noted the eightfold path I will leave it out)? Whether people are getting a “watered down” Buddhism is judgmental. I get the point about marketing something that has been around for ages for individual monetary gain- but that is his karma not mine.
    3. I approach my practice in a way that is inviting and if someone is using a word, such as a “mindfulness,” and they are getting a little closer to that enlightened way- then that is success. I am not threatened. I am welcoming. I am nonjudgmental.

    Dr. Pete

  25. justlui
    justlui November 25, 2014 at 12:05 pm |

    Dissing mindfulness is just click bait, like yahoo news or something.

    @econompe – well said.

    Except for this:

    “He was not defensive. He was open. He was directive. He was warm. All the things one would expect of a Zen teacher.”

    No man, that’s a stereotype. Zen people are usually dicks. I am. All those old dead people you read about from ancient China come off as total dicks. This Gesshin nun Brad seems to be friends with has clearly studied under some epic dicks. Brad is a dick. Are there zen people who aren’t dicks out there? Where are these people? Maybe they are all at Blue Cliff and Plum Village and I haven’t met them yet haha.

  26. sri_barence
    sri_barence November 25, 2014 at 1:53 pm |

    Whenever I hear people talk about “mindfulness,” I see that scene from (the terrible movie) Star Wars Episode 1, “The Birth of Jar-Jar Binks,” in which Obi-wan’s teacher Qui-gon Jin tells young Anakin to “…watch me and be mindful.” No wonder Anakin grew up to be Darth Vader! First he gets this lame ‘mindfulness’ directive from a Jedi Master, then he gets exposed to Jar-Jar Binks. Anybody who went through that would be driven to the Dark Side.

    1. Fred
      Fred November 25, 2014 at 2:27 pm |

      “1. My teacher, Kennedy Roshi, embraced my questions about his practice of Zen since I had studied Tibetan Buddhism prior to entering his sangha. He was not defensive. He was open. He was directive. He was warm. All the things one would expect of a Zen teacher.”

      Did he grope you, because that is one of the things you could expect of a Zen teacher.

      1. justlui
        justlui November 25, 2014 at 4:22 pm |

        Haha! God damn that was a real laugh out loud moment for me. That was awesome funny, Fred.

  27. Fred
    Fred November 25, 2014 at 2:51 pm |

    Thinking non-thinking is not the same as doing mindfulness.

    That which is doing mindfulness is a set of thoughts acting as an agent, observing
    other thoughts, emotions, etc..

    It isn’t a deep stillness thinking non-thinking.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot November 25, 2014 at 5:17 pm |

      Better that set of thoughts be paying attention to what’s here and now, than habitually lost in a movie. It might even begin to notice it’s own stillness.

  28. shade
    shade November 25, 2014 at 4:02 pm |

    Personally, I’m highly suspicious of anything – political ideology, psychological practice, and most especially spiritual program – attached to an acronym. It might just be a aesthetic quirk, but it just screams to me of marketing and product placement. Which is not to say something like that might not be an effective form of stress-reduction or pain relief. After all, Tylenol is a product sold on the market and I find it to be pretty useful for that purpose. But unlike some of these methods vaguely associated with “Buddhism”, no one considers the use of Tylenol to be “spiritual” in any way and or associates it with any religious tradition.

    I don’t think stress reduction or pain relief should be the primary goal of any sort of spiritual commitment worth it’s salt. Including Buddhism (uh, “True Buddhism”, rather). It’s not exactly my area of expertise, but it seems to me there’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding what exactly is meant by “suffering” in regard to the four noble truths. However that particular word should be translated (dukkha, right?), I don’t think an “end to suffering” necessarily means an end to every disagreeable thing that might happen to a person.

    The point of spirituality is not to make us happier or more well-adjusted or bring us into a state of perpetual bliss. That is the job of drug dealers and the more inept members of the mental health profession. Not that misery and anxiety should be taken as the ultimate measure of genuine spirituality either. The point is, it’s not about feelings; it’s about things that are incidental to how one might feel at given moment, in body or mind. You know, like justice and compassion and mercy and wisdom and truth.

    I’m not trying to be callow or dismissive about suffering. Nor am I recommending that one have complete disregard for one’s somatic well being, still less the well-being of others. I’m not some crazy sado-masochist penitente. That’s a whole other kettle of fish. But once spirituality is equated with things like analgesia and sociability and cognitive function (or God help us, productivity) we’re not too far from selling doves in the synagogue.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot November 25, 2014 at 7:48 pm |

      I’m not some crazy sado-masochist penitente.

      Perhaps we could get you to reconsider?

      That’s a whole other kettle of fish. But once spirituality is equated with things like analgesia and sociability and cognitive function (or God help us, productivity) we’re not too far from selling doves in the synagogue.

      You had the start of a great rant just when you ended!

  29. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 25, 2014 at 6:00 pm |

    “The point of spirituality is not to make us happier or more well-adjusted or bring us into a state of perpetual bliss. That is the job of drug dealers and the more inept members of the mental health profession.”

    Love that!

    So there is also the open-source approach, and there, things are copyrighted so as to prevent someone from later claiming control and suing others who make use of it. Maybe MBSR is like that? I don’t know.

    The thing is, people can’t conceive that it is possible to act with the exercise of volition, of choice and will. But that’s what sitting is. To my mind, it’s the “not to be defiled” part of “practice and verification are not to be defiled”.

  30. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 25, 2014 at 6:01 pm |

    that should be, “act without the exercise of volition”.

  31. Brent
    Brent November 25, 2014 at 6:32 pm |
    1. justlui
      justlui November 25, 2014 at 9:11 pm |

      Well damn, Brent, I was planning on ferociously defending mindfulness forever, but your mindfulness song just made me sort of sick. I may never be able to remove that correlation now. Yikes. The next person that uses that word around me just might get slapped.

      Bummer. . . my wife loves the word mindfulness. I could be in the dog house in no time.

      1. Shinchan Ohara
        Shinchan Ohara November 26, 2014 at 5:00 am |

        Don’t the bitch have buddha nature?

      2. Brent
        Brent November 26, 2014 at 5:00 am |

        Lol 🙂

        This book (theravada) covers the topic pretty well.

  32. Shinchan Ohara
    Shinchan Ohara November 26, 2014 at 1:37 am |

    My mother-in-law has a Masters degree in Mindfulness(TM). She’s the scattiest neurotic c*** you ever met in your life.

  33. DuzAwe
    DuzAwe November 26, 2014 at 2:49 am |

    I can’t believe this is the post that make me come out from my shell to post a comment.

    It really looks like most of these comments are missing the point of your post. I think I get what your saying here, Mindfulness is by no means a bad thing, but its not Buddhism. It might be but there seems to be no agreed upon interpretation of what it means.

    It is part of the path and is certainly mentioned in Buddhist texts but its far more complicated than just simply applying all mindfulness to be the same as a practice any school may follow. To put a personal spin on it I wouldn’t have found the path and fallen into Buddhism if it weren’t for an initial course in mindfulness.

    Thich Nhat Hanh teaches both mindfulness and Zen as very different things. The world would certainly be a better place if more people meditated. But a Buddhist practice is different from a mindfulness one.

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon November 26, 2014 at 5:19 am |

      “Mindfulness is by no means a bad thing, but its not Buddhism.”

      The Noble Eightfold Path
      1) Right view
      2) Right intention
      3) Right speech
      4) Right action
      5) Right livelihood
      6) Right effort
      7) Right mindfulness. Right MINDFULNESS. RIGHT MINDFULNESS.
      8) Right concentration.

  34. Shinchan Ohara
    Shinchan Ohara November 26, 2014 at 4:32 am |

    What I love about Brad is that he makes these inflammatory posts, so that asshole pseudonymous internet hecklers like me can teach ourselves the truth during the process of berating him.

    Much buddhier than those self-impressed greeting card writers over at Sw**p**g Z**.

    Man, your Upaya Kahunas are seriously low-hanging.

    1. Brent
      Brent November 26, 2014 at 5:39 am |

      **ee*in* *en?

      Q: Are we are not men?
      A: We are DEVOtees!

  35. Mumbles
    Mumbles November 26, 2014 at 4:38 am |

    And I can’t believe Mark hasn’t posted this response yet:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgUDJDbSwg0

    Weren’t were having a serious discussion about Doritos earlier?

    And if you don’t mind, just be mindful that I am mindless.

  36. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon November 26, 2014 at 5:30 am |

    Meanwhile, in Ferguson, Missouri we have so much MINDLESS destruction and anger on behalf of someone who thought that he could attack a police officer and not be subject to the laws of cause and effect.

    1. Hungry Ghost
      Hungry Ghost November 26, 2014 at 7:39 am |

      You should call yourself the Grand Wizard

  37. Shinchan Ohara
    Shinchan Ohara November 26, 2014 at 6:33 am |

    The Brad-isattva MahaKarunieKahunie,
    While working deeply his PornoPunkGojira,
    Saw all five PseudoBodhis were superficial
    And got OverHimself(tm).

    Therefore, O EckhardTolley,
    Thich is no spiritually creamier than Chopra,
    Chopra is no wankier than Kabat-Zinn.
    The same is true of Dalai Lama, Billy Graham, Chogyam Trungpa and Oprah Winfrey.

    O TolleyHoley,
    All dollars bear the mark of emptiness,
    their GreenbackSvabhava is the Svabhava of
    No audio boxsets and no blu-ray video,
    No lecture tours and no t-shirts,
    No screenprinted yoga mats,
    No books and no blog donations.

    The eighteen categories of Amazon.com,
    Which are Kindle eBooks,
    General Merchandise,
    Sex Toys,
    Et cetera,
    Are all one big empty co-erupting dollar bong.

    Whoever can see this has Black Friday by the scrote.

    Brad-isattvas who practise deeply the PornoGrungeGojiraGojira
    See no more hindrances,
    Overcome all foo fighters
    And rejoin Nirvana.

    Therefore, O EckhartSchmeckhart,
    PornoPunkGojira is the inestimable mantra,
    The Santana Black Magic Panto Mantra,
    The Santa Tantra Claus Yantra Mantra,
    That pulverises dukkha.

    Let us proclaim the mantra to praise the PornoPornoGojiraPunkGojira.

    Gojira, Gojira, PayPalGojira, AmazonGojira, eBay Svaha!
    Gojira, Gojira, PayPalGojira, AmazonGojira, eBay Svaha!
    Gojira, Gojira, PayPalGojira, AmazonGojira, eBay Svaha!

    1. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer November 26, 2014 at 8:22 am |

      Shinchan,

      Bravo.

      Even my wife, who knows none of this Zen mumbo-jumbo laughed at your satire.

      “Black Friday by the scrote” makes me snort every time I think of it.

      Cheers.

    2. justlui
      justlui November 26, 2014 at 3:27 pm |

      Holy smokes someone needs to print this on wood blocks for a thousand years. The e-cart sutra. Instant classic.

    3. Mumbles
      Mumbles November 26, 2014 at 4:43 pm |

      Sublime.

  38. The Idiot
    The Idiot November 26, 2014 at 7:21 am |

    Wait but didn’t the Buddha pop into a culture and repurpose an existing spiritual system to suit his purposes?

    Pot Kettle Black?

  39. Fred
    Fred November 26, 2014 at 7:41 am |

    Right mindfulness is observing the arising and passing away without a centre or a purpose.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzrRz47BJfk

  40. The Idiot
    The Idiot November 26, 2014 at 7:56 am |

    Nice

  41. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 26, 2014 at 9:45 am |

    Thanks, John. Hadn’t seen that. Peggy’s rendition of the harmony is wonderful!

    I might do three prostrations to Shinchan this morning- so rich, so full of small scissor blades and 3-inch knives permissible at the courthouse, I don’t know what to say. Thank you, I had many laughs.

    My sittings in the mornings are a highlight of my day, have been for awhile. I slept thru last night, almost 8 hours, which I never do, and I think that’s why the whole body didn’t seem to have motion. At the close of forty minutes, motion was everywhere, and the weight of my bones was keeping the back of my tailbone warm while I worked on the mindfulness around my freak rib.

    My bottom-most rib juts forward half an inch, or something. The docs used to ask me if it ever gave me any problems. Other than my appearing to be on the asperger spectrum and having to study kinesthesiology intensely for 50 years to avoid looking like Shakey when I sit, no, can’t say that it does.

    These thoughts brought to you by the inspiration of Neil Young’s “Words”, in concert.

    I don’t do mindfulness; I do necessity.

    1. Fred
      Fred November 26, 2014 at 11:50 am |

      The necessity of the ceasing of volition ……….

      1. Fred
        Fred November 26, 2014 at 12:02 pm |

        in the still, still .

  42. woken
    woken November 26, 2014 at 6:49 pm |

    “Mindfulness” is just another late capitalist-era concept designed to take something authentic (in this case Buddhist meditative practice) and attch ts authenticity to something completely fabricated: something that can be purely commercialized: Bought, sold franchised out and marketed. It is meaningless

    Baudrillard explained it thus;

    Baudrillard theorizes that the lack of distinctions between reality and simulacra originates in several phenomena:[7]

    1.Contemporary media including television, film, print, and the Internet, which are responsible for blurring the line between products that are needed (in order to live a life) and products for which a need is created by commercial images.

    2.Exchange value, in which the value of goods is based on money (literally denominated fiat currency) rather than usefulness, and moreover usefulness comes to be quantified and defined in monetary terms in order to assist exchange.

    3.Multinational capitalism, which separates produced goods from the plants, minerals and other original materials and the processes (including the people and their cultural context) used to create them.

    4.Urbanization, which separates humans from the nonhuman world, and re-centres culture around productive throughput systems so large they cause alienation.

    5.Language and ideology, in which language increasingly becomes caught up in the production of power relations between social groups, especially when powerful groups institute themselves at least partly in monetary terms.

    In this case, meditation is ripe for this kind of exploitation, and this s also the reason why Zen can never be practiced on any meaningful level in Late capitalist Europe/America. Its authenticity cannot be tolerated as it undermines the illusion of the simulacra. Nothing authentic can be tolerated.

    1. Shinchan Ohara
      Shinchan Ohara November 27, 2014 at 5:06 am |

      Thanks, woken, +1 for the Baudrillard

      But maybe Master Dogen would differ? For him simulacra are awakened?

      http://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/Dogen_Teachings/Gabyo_JoshuJoshin.htm

  43. The Idiot
    The Idiot November 26, 2014 at 8:24 pm |

    I was here?
    I here was?
    Was I here?
    Was here I?
    Here I was?
    Here was I?

  44. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 26, 2014 at 9:29 pm |

    幸せな七面鳥の日

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6G-qb1RRCo

  45. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 27, 2014 at 6:23 am |

    Okay, so I was ready to hop in the comments and pile on, because that’s what I do, when I went ahead and read the article… and it took the steam (and fun!) out of it all.

    Thanks a lot.

  46. A. Tzelnic
    A. Tzelnic November 27, 2014 at 7:05 am |

    As the guy who sent you those interview questions, I can’t help but feel proud of the depth (and remarkable shallows) of conversation my questions have provoked! Ah, the internet message board – occupying the spot just above bathroom walls in the literary hierarchy (don’t interpret that as a knock on bathroom lit, by the way). Anyway, I very much enjoyed the post Brad, and just want to clarify that I don’t equate mindfulness with Buddhism. As a Zen practitioner for a dozen years, and as someone who majored in Buddhist Philosophy, I hope I can grasp the distinction between what you get by putting your ass on the zafu and what you get from loose associations with heady words. Nonetheless, in the context of my piece on Buddhism and smoking, mindfulness does play an interesting role, as many people perceive the act of smoking itself as “unmindful”, and Buddhists as “mindful”. Thus for many, the sight of a Buddhist smoking is as striking as that of a pacifist punching, and I wanted to examine this (mis)conception by talking to a teacher. Anyhow, I greatly appreciate your responses and your extension of the conversation to mindfulness itself. Clearly, it’s a topic worth investigating!

    1. Anonymous
      Anonymous November 27, 2014 at 7:58 am |

      Your pride is a stick of shit, Mr. Buddhist Philosophizer.

  47. A. Tzelnic
    A. Tzelnic November 27, 2014 at 8:28 am |

    But it stinks so good, Mr. Anonymous.

Comments are closed.