Ron Purser’s critique of modern mindfulness is thoroughgoing, and extends beyond chastising its skepticism of political engagement. Purser also criticizes modern mindfulness on other grounds, grounds that I think are considerably closer to the views of classical (early) Buddhist texts.
In particular, Purser’s article “The myth of the present moment” (from the journal Mindfulness 6:680–686) points to a central element of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and other modern mindfulness practices which is not present in the classical texts. Namely: Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of MBSR and modern medical mindfulness generally, defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally”. So a key goal of modern mindfulness practice is “reducing thoughts and ruminations of the past and future, which keeps us from being in the present moment.” (Purser 682) Purser notes that this focus on the present moment is exemplified in the common introductory practice (included in BU’s mindfulness workshop) of mindfully paying attention to the experience of slowly eating a raisin.Continue reading
We think these days a lot about Buddhist ethics, which often involves some thought about Buddhist politics. We tend to think a lot less about Buddhist aesthetics.
Now there’s an obvious explanation that could be given for this: the Buddhist dhamma teaches that worldly pleasures mire us in suffering. So aesthetics, insofar as it deals with pleasurable phenomena like art, is something Buddhists should avoid. In response I give you this:
By his own account, Thomas Kasulis developed the distinction between intimacy and integrity worldviews while trying to understand and express the differences between Japanese and American culture: though each culture contains elements of both, Japan is a culture where intimacy predominates and America one where integrity predominates. But once he’s established this genesis in the introduction, in the rest of the book Kasulis deliberately – and helpfully – makes his analysis more abstract. It’s no longer about Japan and the US, it’s about a pair of ideal types that can be applied to many different kinds of cultural differences, including those within what we think of as a single culture.
One such difference is the presumed difference between men and women. Continue reading
I noted two weeks ago how Ken Wilber’s recent post/modern turn (“Wilber-5”) is right in important respects, but suggested important problems with it. Last week I noted empirical problems: sociological data on Christianity show a very different picture from his. This week I want to turn to a deeper philosophical problem, which I suspect underlies last week’s sociological picture.
We cannot go back to premodernity. This much is true and important. Our options going forward must take account of the post/modern world, be developed within it. On all of this I agree with Wilber. But what I don’t think Wilber makes room for is this: one can take account of the post/modern world, understand it, know it, and still reject it. Continue reading
I have often found myself somewhat bewildered by the philosophy of the early- to mid-20th century, associated above all with the names of Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein. These two thinkers cast their shadow widely over the traditions of philosophy that followed – Heidegger over “continental” philosophy, Wittgenstein over analytic. (The split between the two traditions was not nearly as pronounced in their day; in many respects they helped create it.) They are far apart in many respects, but they do share at least two tendencies I have strongly disliked – an indifference to ethics and concerns about the good life, on one hand, and a rejection of the bulk of philosophy that came before them on the other. I have tended to view these two tendencies as going hand in hand – but do they?
I’ve been thinking anew about Heidegger and Wittgenstein from perhaps an unusual angle: Chad Hansen’s fascinating A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought. I don’t yet know early Chinese thought well enough to assess whether Hansen’s account of it is accurate. But I can at least say that Hansen, like Nietzsche, is more interesting and thought-provoking even when he’s wrong than most people are when they’re right. Continue reading
I’m currently at the 2010 SACP conference in Asilomar. I had the good fortune to be on a panel about emptiness with Bret Davis, who was presenting on the Kyoto School philosophy, especially Nishida Kitarō. Davis’s discussion of Nishida and Ueda pushed me to think further about the idea of irreducible encounter, which I’d recently examined in posting about Skholiast and Ken Wilber.
I’ll admit often feeling a certain impatience with philosophers of encounter like Lévinas (which probably makes me what Skholiast called an “ātmanist”). It has never been clear to me why, exactly, we’re supposed to be so limitlessly bound by “the Other” (usually with the capital letters). Lévinas’s philosophy strikes me as ruthlessly Abrahamic: at its core is a bowing and scraping before God, drastically opposed to any embrace of the divine with ourselves, parallel to Sirhindī‘s insistence on God’s distance from his creation. As I noted in the comments to that post, Sirhindī advocated not merely intolerance to, but subjugation of, indigenous Indian traditions. Likewise Davis, in our conversation after his talk, noted that Lévinas uses the term “pagan” in an extraordinarily negative sense; his Abrahamism reminds me of Tertullian asking rhetorically “What has Athens do to with Jerusalem?” And while I am somewhat uncomfortable with the lack of humility expressed in a humanist view, I’m even more uncomfortable with trusting an Abrahamic god.
Davis’s talk, however, helped me put many of these ideas in perspective. Nishida’s thought, it turns out, is close to Lévinas’s in a number of ways, though far removed from Abrahamic traditions. (Intriguingly, Nishida even wrote a book entitled I and Thou, while apparently entirely unaware of Buber‘s work of the same title.) Nishida tells us that “there is no universal that would subsume I and thou,” for that would deny the individuality and otherness of the two terms. The other must remain other. Nishida has a Zen take on the matter rather than an Abrahamic one: there must be something shared between the self and the other or no encounter can take place; but one must speak of this shared universal as emptying itself out, a “None” rather than a “One.”
But why should we think this way? A particularly evocative quote in Davis’s talk helped give me a clue in explanation: “I am truly myself by way of not being myself; I live by dying.” Now it seems like we are dealing with the paradoxes of hedonism: when all we seek is our own happiness, we don’t get it. We are most fulfilled when we live for something bigger than ourselves; a life centred entirely on the self will fail even on its own terms. Perhaps I’m getting more sympathetic to this sort of view as I approach marriage – realizing the fulfillment in a life choice that requires a certain self-overcoming, requires you to live for someone else as they live for you.